Apple strikes back at Epic Games, Android 11 is here and Microsoft announces a new stripped-down Xbox. This is your Daily Crunch for September 8, 2020.
The big story: Apple files countersuit against Epic
Apple has made the latest move in a legal battle against Epic Games, filing a lawsuit claiming that the company behind Fortnite is in breach of contract.
“Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store,” Apple wrote in its suit.
This follows Epic’s attempt in August to avoid Apple’s 30% App Store fee, which led to Apple removing Fortnite and eventually Epic from the App Store. (Accounts tied to Epic’s Unreal game engine have not been removed.) Epic then launched a lawsuit and a PR campaign against Apple, arguing that the company is abusing its market power.
The tech giants
Android 11 has arrived — Android 11 isn’t a radical departure, but there are a number of interesting new user-facing updates that mostly center around messaging, privacy and giving you better control over all of your smart devices.
Microsoft confirms compact, $299 Xbox Series S arriving on November 10 — The Series S is essentially a stripped-down version of the upcoming Series X, without true 4K rendering and with a lot less processing power.
Apple’s next event is September 15 — The event will almost certainly feature the new Apple Watch.
Startups, funding and venture capital
General Motors takes $2 billion stake in electric truck startup Nikola — Through the deal, GM gets 11% ownership in startup Nikola, and will, in turn, produce Nikola’s wild fuel cell pickup truck by the end of 2022.
Silver Lake leads $500 million investment round in Indian online learning giant Byju’s — The round values the Indian online learning platform at $10.8 billion.
Progress snags software automation platform Chef for $220M — Progress, a Boston-area developer tool company, is boosting its offerings in a big way.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
How to respond to a data breach — How a company responds to a data breach can make or break its reputation.
9 proptech investors talk co-living, home offices and other pandemic trends — TechCrunch surveyed nine firms that are writing checks today, and this second installment focuses on the opportunities and risks for startups.
JFrog’s IPO strong initial price range values it ahead of the larger Sumo Logic — The IPO wave continues to crest as a number of well-known technology companies line up to float their equity on American exchanges.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
‘Mulan’ drove Disney+ app downloads up 68% week-over-week, but didn’t beat ‘Hamilton’ — According to early data, the launch helped grow Disney+ mobile installs by 68%, compared with one week prior.
Original Content podcast: ‘Teenage Bounty Hunters’ is more interested in relationships than bounty hunting — Despite the show’s silly name, we ended up surprisingly invested in the characters.
Drew Houston will talk about building a startup and digital transformation during COVID at TechCrunch Disrupt — This is next week!
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
One man’s quest to bring back the small phone – TechCrunch
In 2017, we noted that smartphone screen sizes had settled into a sweet spot between five and six inches. In hindsight, that may well have been wishful thinking. A brief respite aside, it seems that phones have only continued to embiggen, driven by a continued spec war and panel manufacturers like Samsung.
Heck, even Steve Jobs famously missed the boat when he declared the 3.5-inch a platonic ideal a dozen years ago. “You can’t get your hand around it,” he noted about the four- to five-inch being manufactured by Samsung, “no one’s going to buy that.”
Now, the comparison isn’t entirely Apples to apples, as it were. For one thing, hardware makers have gotten much better at shrinking the phone around the screen in the intervening decade. That is to say that a five-inch phone in 2010 is a very different beast than a 2022 version. Even so, big phones are big. They’re so big, in fact, that folding the screen in half seems like the only reasonable exit ramp.
Where, Eric Migicovsky wonders, did all the small phones go? The man behind Pebble and Beeper (who also serves as a Y Combinator partner), is talking things into his own (self-described large) hands. Or, perhaps more accurately, he’s nudging it in someone’s direction in hopes that he doesn’t have to do the famously hard work of launching yet another hardware startup.
Noting that the dream of a premium, sub-six-inch Android handset is dying or dead, Migicovsky launched Small Android Phone. “My hope is that we can gather support from the community and convince Google (ideally) or another Android manufacturer to build this phone,” he writes on the site. Google may well have been the tipping point here, as the company notably abandoned smaller phones with hardware restructuring that gave us the Pixel 6.
He noted in an email to TechCrunch that he’s already had conversations with hardware companies and launched the site/petition in hopes of getting them to see things his way. “I am busy and happy running Beeper. My goal is to encourage someone else [to] make one.”
The petition cites the following bullets as driving factors in returning to a simpler, smaller, safer time:
- Fits nicely in pocket
- Are much lighter
- Are easy to use one-handed without dropping
- Won’t fall out of my pocket while bicycling
Currently around 20,000, Migicovsky believes 50,000 is the sweet spot for convincing a manufacture to go all in on small. “Just back-of-the-napkin math, but it feels right,” he says. “Probably ~$10 million [non-recurring engineering], means 50K units makes a decent profit at [an] $800 selling price.”
One wonders, ultimately, why the proliferation of the smartphone and increased competition have seemingly resulted in homogeneity. Certainly it’s not for lack of trying. When I mention the Palm Phone, he retorts, “I love that they tried! Also the Light Phone 2 is really interesting, but not great as primary phones.” He adds that — at the very least — he needs a good camera. That certainly doesn’t seem like too much to ask for these days.
Launching a new phone company isn’t an impossibility. We’ve got a close eye on Nothing and OSOM’s efforts. But one certainly questions the soundness of doing so in 2022, based entirely on a potentially niche corner of the market. On his site, Migicovsky makes it clear that he’d rather someone else do it.
“If no one else makes one I guess I will be forced to make it myself,” he writes, “but I really, really don’t want it to come to that.”
WhatsApp ramps up revenue with global launch of Cloud API and soon, a paid tier for its Business App – TechCrunch
WhatsApp is continuing its push into the business market with today’s news it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API to all businesses worldwide. Introduced into beta testing last November, the new developer tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API — WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product — but hosted on parent company Meta’s infrastructure.
The company had been building out its Business API platform over the past several years as one of the key ways the otherwise free messaging app would make money. Businesses pay WhatsApp on a per-message basis, with rates that vary based on the region and number of messages sent. As of late last year, tens of thousands of businesses were set up on the non-cloud-based version of the Business API including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood, and Bank Mandiri, and others. This on-premise version of the API is free to use.
The cloud-based version, however, aims to attract a market of smaller businesses, and reduces the integration time from weeks to only minutes, the company had said. It is also free.
Businesses integrate the API with their backend systems, where WhatsApp communication is usually just one part of their messaging and communication strategy. They may also want to direct their communications to SMS, other messaging apps, emails, and more. Typically, businesses would work with a solutions provider like Zendeks or Twilio to help facilitate these integrations. Providers during the cloud API beta tests had included Zendesk in the U.S., Take in Brazil, and MessageBird in the E.U.
During Meta’s messaging-focused “Conversations” live event today, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global, public availability of the cloud-based platform, now called the WhatsApp Cloud API.
“The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods. And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API,” he said.
He said the company believes the new API will help businesses, both big and small, be able to connect with more people.
In addition to helping businesses and developers get set up faster than with the on-premise version, Meta says the Cloud API will help partners to eliminate costly server expenses and help them provide customers with quick access to new features as they arrive.
Some businesses may choose to forgo the API and use the dedicated WhatsApp Business app instead. Launched in 2018, the WhatsApp Business App is aimed at smaller businesses that want to establish an official presence on WhatsApp’s service and connect with customers. It provides a set of features that wouldn’t be available to users of the free WhatsApp messaging app, like support automated quick replies, greeting messages, FAQs, away messaging, statistics, and more.
Today, Meta is also introducing new power features for its WhatsApp Business app that will be offered for a fee — like the ability to manage chats across up to 10 devices. The company will also provide new customizable WhatsApp click-to-chat links that help businesses attract customers across their online presence, including of course, Meta’s other applications like Facebook and Instagram.
These will be a part of a forthcoming Premium service for WhatsApp Business app users. Further details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.
Apple nabs half of North American smartphone shipments in Q1 – TechCrunch
A little bright spot in a market that was already struggling with declining sales well before a global pandemic, supply chain crisis and inflation concerns struck. The North American market saw a small – but hopeful – 4% increase in shipments over the same time last year, per new numbers from Canalys.
The primary driver – once again – is Apple. Sales of the iPhone 13 propelled the company to 51% of the total market, with 19.9 million units shipped. That’s up 45% from Q1 2021. The firm cites a renewed focus on the company’s home market, as demand uncertainty grows abroad. The new iPhone SE also helped the company capture more of the mid-range market.
Samsung saw an increase of one percentage point to 28% of the total market. What’s happening lower down in the top five, however, may be the most interesting story of the North American smartphones sales right now. That includes Motorola’s continued surprise comeback and a reinvigorated Google cracking the top five.
LG and HTC’s exits from the market (both planned and unplanned) have transformed the market below the top two spots. It’s not quite a profound a change as China has undergone throughout Huawei’s struggles to regain relevance, but it’s always nice to see new names in the mix for a category that’s long been dominated by the same handful of companies.
Motorola (listed as parent company Lenovo here) maintains the number three spot, on the strength of solid phones at budget prices, coupled with a fair bit of legacy name recognition. The company jumped 56% from the same time last year. It’s quite a success story from a brand that’s been in the rearview for all but a few select markets. Its ranking is bolstered by a big 21% drop by fellow Chinese manufacturing giant, TCL.
Google’s newfound focus on consumer hardware, meanwhile, seems to be paying off. The Pixel 6 helped propel the company into the top five, with a (proportionally) massive 380% growth. The company shipped 1.2 million phones for the quarter, versus TCL’s 1.4 million. The recently announced Pixel 6A and upcoming Pixel 7 could give the company a decent hot at taking fourth place before the year is up.
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