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.”
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.
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.
Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch
If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.
Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.
But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.
The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.
“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”
Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo e-commerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.
“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s chief business officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”
In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.
Beyond e-commerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.
Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.
Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.
More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.
Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.
He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)
“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.
A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.
Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.
“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.
Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.
However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.
Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch
The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”
But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.
Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.
Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.
Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.
“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”
Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.
“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”
Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.
“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”
Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.
“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.
A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.
“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”
But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”
Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.
“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”
Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.
Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.
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