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AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple’s OCD

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ZDNet

On Friday, a year and a half after AirPower was first announced in September of 2017 in conjunction with the rollout of iPhone X and iPhone 8, and after months of speculation about its absence at the most recent Apple hardware events, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio, confirmed that the company would cancel the product. In an e-mail letter sent to technology website TechCrunch, he wrote that AirPower would “not achieve our high standards.” 


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To recap, AirPower was the extremely ambitious high-speed wireless charging pad that was intended to juice up an iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch simultaneously using Apple’s own implementation of the Qi wireless charging standard. 

Unlike other charging pads on the market designed to handle multiple products at once, the AirPower distinguished itself by having the capability of charging the iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch all at the same time regardless of their orientation and positioning in relation to the charging coils. This would have made it the most user-friendly and desirable wireless charger on the market — had it actually been released. 

Allegedly, based on conceptual patent filings, the AirPower was able to achieve this flexible orientation wireless charging by having many 3D coils in extremely close proximity to each other — which also required extremely complex power management in order to prevent the coils from generating excessive heat and to mitigate the generation of overlapping harmonic frequencies between the coils.

As it is, Apple’s own Qi implementation runs at a lower 7.5W rather than the maximum 10W and 15W of its Android competitors, reportedly because the newer generation iPhones with wireless charging capability got way too hot at those increased power levels.

Ultimately, I believe Apple did the right thing. Can you imagine the potential “PowerGate” of cooked iPhones, Watches and AirPods? It’s far less egg on Apple’s face to cancel the product outright than to release a dangerous dud.

Apple very rarely cancels products outright after announcing them. The last time it did this was in August of 1996, when it decided to cancel its Copland OS, which proved too difficult a project for the company. It eventually ended up migrating to Mac OS X, which is heavily based on NeXT’s (and Steve Jobs’) BSD UNIX OpenStep object-oriented graphical OS instead.

The public cancellation of AirPower is a huge embarrassment for Apple. But given the company’s obsession with bleeding edge engineering and its compulsion for thinner, lighter, faster, more densely packed and difficult-to-repair products, such an embarrassment was inevitable.

It was only a matter of time before the technologically ambitious post-Steve Jobs Apple, like Icarus, would fly too close to the sun.

Indeed, Apple’s obsession with sleek industrial designs that outperform rivals is what attracts many customers to the company’s products in the first place.

But AirPower is not Apple’s only problem product: Over the last decade we’ve had Antennagate, Batterygate, Flexgate, Bendgate, iPhone WiFi connectivity issues and various system stability problems over multiple generations of iOS 11 and 12. Most recently, the engineering quality of the keyboards used in the 2015 and later versions of MacBook Pro are under intense scrutiny by even the company’s most loyal adherents.

Many of these problem products are the result of Apple pushing the envelope to release new features, rather than concentrating on product stability. However, we have to give the company credit where credit is due. Without Apple’s push towards innovation, without its capturing of the bulk of mind share in the luxury consumer electronics  market, we probably would not have seen competitors such as Microsoft, Google and Samsung release equally compelling products. 

Without the introduction of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, would we have even seen Microsoft Surface come to fruition and become the most desirable touchscreen Wintel PC laptop line in the technology industry? 

Would we have seen Samsung and Huawei release folding phones — with cutting-edge through-the-screen ultrasonic fingerprint readers and facial recognition — had Apple not upped the game with iPhone X? 

Would we have seen Google push the capabilities of smartphone cameras and image processing in the Pixel Phone had Apple not established the gold standard in mobile device camera performance in the iPhone 5 and later models? 

Would we have even seen an Alexa or a Google Assistant without the introduction of Siri? It’s hard to say.

But all of this thinness, lightness, sleekness and density of features comes at a price. Consumer electronics, not just Apple’s own products — have become virtually unserviceable. There are no batteries on smartphones that an end-user can swap out, there’s no memory or disk storage on most new laptops currently sold that can be field replaced or upgraded. 


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The thinning and sleeking of these devices has killed off the legacy expansion and built-in connectivity that we used to take for granted. We also now enjoy less business-friendliness and durability, and our devices now require thick, rubberized plastic cases — negating much of the sex appeal of the iPhone and iPad — in order to prevent severe damage in even shallow drop scenarios. 

Going case-less with an iPhone and with its Android rivals is now foolhardy at best, and will virtually ensure the device will be damaged with a single misstep or a sweep of the hand.

My recently corporate-issued MacBook Pro 2018 A1990 is a technical marvel of lightweight power. But to make it work on my desk at home, connected to a mouse, external keyboard, two 4K DisplayPort monitors, a HD webcam, a wireless headset and gigabit ethernet, I needed to buy a $300 Thunderbolt 3.1 hub because the thing only has 4 USB-C ports for connectivity. 

Arguably, most laptops requiring desktop peripheral connectivity have needed similar docking stations in the past. But even for basic connectivity in mobility scenarios, MacBook Pro customers complain about having to buy and carry multiple “dongles” to get the functionality they need because they are missing the necessary ports. The dongles on Apple products are so despised that they have become meme legend in recent years.

With the cancellation of AirPower, Apple has an opportunity to reflect on all of these things that have been the focus of customer ire and engineering embarrassment. The company needs to stop the ultra-thin, ultra-light train and focus more on product build quality and reliability. It needs to reconsider right-to-repair and overall ease of serviceability, and improving the customer experience with service requests at their retail stores.

Has Apple finally flown too close to the sun with its cancellation of AirPower? What does it need to do in order to get back on track with shipping reliable and well-engineered products that gave it such loyal fan base in the first place?Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project – TechCrunch

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Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.

Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand, and it’s expected to arrive in about a week.

The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world. 

“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like podcasting and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are under-explored in the area overall.”

Spotify has already supported a fairly productive relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.

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Clubhouse closes an undisclosed $4B valuation Series C round, as tech giants’ clones circle – TechCrunch

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Buzzy “social audio” app Clubhouse has raised a Series C funding round, reportedly valuing the company at $4 billion. Clubhouse said the new round of financing was led by Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from DST Global, Tiger Global and Elad Gil. This round means Clubhouse has tripled the valuation it attained in January when Andreessen Horowitz led its Series B funding round.

The funding comes as Twitter, Spotify, Facebook, Telegram, Discord and LinkedIn are all prepping similar features to Clubhouse’s live audio streaming rooms, which has attracted attention for hosting live chats with the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Indeed, Vox reported that Facebook will announce a series of “social audio” products only today.

But, unusually for such a late stage of funding, the company has not revealed the amount raised. Industry sources say that this is probably because the Series C funding round is “multi-stage” and therefore not officially closed. Alternatively, the company is “hyping” itself ahead of a sale, as is often the case with “hot” startups. Twitter reportedly broke off talks to acquire the startup at a $4 billion valuation, according to Bloomberg.

And despite appearances that this funding round has been timed to coincide with the launch this week of Facebook’s Clubhouse clone, one well-placed source told me “this funding round has been in the works for the last 1.5 months” and that some offers have been “above 2x” the $4 billion valuation. In other words, there are some investors out there who think Clubhouse is worth more than $8 billion.

So far Clubhouse is demurring on all this, and declining to comment more directly to the media. The company disclosed the news about the funding during its weekly “town hall” chat last Sunday night and in a blog post, the company said the fundraising will support a fresh burst of growth for the app.

“While we’ve quadrupled the size of our team this year, stabilized our infrastructure, launched Payments in beta to help creators monetize, and readied Android for launch, there is so much more to do as we work to bring Clubhouse to more people around the world. It’s no secret that our servers have struggled a bit these past few months, and that our growth has outpaced the early discovery algorithms our small team originally built,” said the post.

Noting that “it’s important to us to be building all of this with people who are invested in the community and who represent a diverse set of backgrounds and voices,” Clubhouse has, however, been struck by a wave of problems in the last few days, when anti-Semitic audio rooms seemed to proliferate on the platform. Clubhouse has previously been criticized for its seeming inability to moderate extremism on the app.

The year-old platform, which has reported 10 million weekly active users, has thrived during the pandemic while people were locked down and therefore unable to chat easily in person.

Tech news site The Information first reported details on the Clubhouse funding on Friday.

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Facebook invests in audio with short-form Soundbites feature, podcast support, and a Clubhouse clone – TechCrunch

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Facebook today officially announced a suite of new audio products — an indication that it’s taking the threat from Clubhouse and other audio platforms more seriously. The company is doing more than just building its own take on Clubhouse, however, it’s also announcing tools that allow podcast creators to share long-form audio, a new Spotify integration for music, and a brand-new short-form experience called Sound Bites.

The Clubhouse clone was probably the most-discussed of the new products ahead of today’s announcement, given the increased interest in the audio networking market.

Like Clubhouse, the Facebook experience will also involve live audio rooms, where users can engage in topical discussions.

“I think the areas where is where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist. I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” said Zuckerberg, in a friendly interview with Platformer, timed alongside the official announcement. “When we launched video rooms earlier last year, groups and communities were one of the bigger areas where that took off. So, I think around audio, just given how much more accessible it is, that’ll be a pretty exciting area as well.”

Image Credits: Facebook

The Live Audio Rooms will be available across both Facebook and Messenger, Facebook says in an official blog post.

The company will first test Live Audio Rooms in Groups, reaching Groups’ 1.8 billion monthly users. They’ll also be made available to public figures and experts. Early adopters of the feature will include American football quarterback Russell Wilson, Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA, artist and director Elle Moxley, and five-time Olympic medalist and entrepreneur Nastia Liukin, Facebook says.

Live Audio Rooms will be available to everyone on Facebook this summer. Also this summer, Live Audio Rooms will be made available on Messenger, for an experience that allows friends to hang out, too.

In addition to products that rehash audio functionality available in tech products from other companies, Zuckerberg also revealed that the company was working on an audio-only version of its TikTok competitor Instagram Reels that allows users to quickly move through algorithmically-sorted short audio clips, a project being called Soundbites. In its blog post, Facebook detailed that they will be testing Soundbites over the next few months with a small group of creators before making it widely available.

Image Credits: Facebook

“The idea here is it’s short form audio clips, whether it’s people sharing things that they find funny… or kind of pithy things that people want to share that cover a bunch of different genres and topics,” Zuckerberg said.

For podcast creators, Zuckerberg said the company will build out tools for those who follow podcasts and creators through Facebook Pages, but don’t currently have a way to access podcast content via the social network. He noted that there are now 170 million Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, which it why it wants to ensure they have a way to access this audio content more easily.

Image Credits: Facebook

For these users, they’ll be able to discover the audio and start playing it, even in the background. Or they could choose to launch a second app to continue play it, Zuckerberg said. We understand that the experience will actually allow users to directly open Spotify, if they would prefer to listen to the music or audio there, instead.

The feature will also help users with new podcast discovery based on your interests, and users will be able to comment on podcasts and recommend them to friends.

Related to these audio efforts, Zuckerberg referenced Facebook’s partnership with Spotify, which is now being expanded with something it has internally referred to as “Project Boombox” — is an integration that would allow people to share content from their favorite artists, playlists and other types of audio in their feed. That content would then appear in a little, in-line player for others to click and play.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand. It’s expected to arrive in about a week.

“Facebook’s interest in audio is further validation of the category and reinforces what we’ve known all along — the power and potential for audio is limitless,” a spokesperson for Spotify told TechCrunch. “Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts. We look forward to a continued partnership with Facebook, fueling audio discovery around the world,” they added.

Zuckerberg also referenced the need to serve the growing creator economy with its new products.

With Live Audio Rooms, fans will be able to support creators through Stars, Facebook’s existing in-app tipping feature, or donate to causes. Facebook says it will later offer other monetization tools like access to Live Audio Rooms on subscriptions. There’s also an Audio Creator Fund being made available to kick off the launch of Soundbites.

The exec also spoke about Facebook’s plans for a newsletters product, all under the umbrella of serving the creator community with a suite of tools — something Twitter is now doing, too, with its plans for Super Follow.

“I think a product where a journalist or a creator can basically create a subscription for people who want to follow them, that spans both a newsletter and a podcast, is going to be a really powerful thing,” said Zuckerberg. “So that’s a big part of what we’re going to enable with some of the monetization tools around podcasts. That dovetails with the work that we’re that we’re planning to do…our work on on our newsletters and giving tools for for independent journalists. I think enabling both of those things to come together on extremely favorable terms to journalists and creators, will be a pretty powerful thing,” he noted.

The product launches, which Vox scooped on Sunday, indicate how seriously Facebook considers the disruption to its dominance that could be attributed to the growing number of places where fans connect with creators. The threat for Facebook today is not just a new app like Clubhouse or Substack’s newsletters or even Patreon, but the fact that the creator economy, in general, isn’t being centralized and owned by Facebook itself.

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