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Apple’s iPhone XR: Bad marketing or sneakily clever?

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A communication problem? (Image: James Martin/CNET)

It happened during Christmas dinner.

I took out my iPhone XR to check a text — surely someone was finally wishing me a Merry Christmas — and one of my wife’s relatives asked: “What’s that?”

“It’s an iPhone XR,” I replied, sinking, as many people do, to the Eks-R pronunciation.

“What’s that?” she replied.

Also: Apple fixed my biggest complaint about the iPhone XR

I paused, a touch stumped for an explanation. Doesn’t everyone know about iPhones the minute they’re released — and often before?

“Well, it’s the newest iPhone,” I said.

“Never heard of it,” she replied. “Never seen one either.”

My thoughts drifted to how Apple has advertised these new, cheaper beasts. First, it did the usual phones-floating-in-mid-air sort of ad, with all sorts of product benefits featured in words.

Depth control. Liquid retina. Color-accurate LCD.

Did these things impress anyone? Did they even mean anything? And isn’t it a touch odd to see Apple splatter so many product benefits over an ad?

It used to be that Apple would simply present the phone, play a little modern music and the phones would enchant masses.

Then I seemed to remember another iPhone XR ad that had invaded a recent NFL game on my TV. This one touted the phone’s marvelous battery life. (And it is marvelous, for an iPhone.)

Could it be that Cupertino doesn’t have a clue how to sell a phone that, to many eyes — including my own — offers a far more satisfying value than, say, the XS?

It was fascinating that, on the morning of the XR’s launch, there were no lines outside the Apple store I visited. The staff were stunned.

Also: iPhone XS and iPhone XR cheat sheets 

Could it be that, by launching three new iPhones in quick succession, Apple has muddied the perception of all three?

This could be especially troubling at a time when people are keeping their phones longer and not being persuaded to trade up to the next supposed big thing.

And the XR/XS naming conundrum doesn’t offer a true differentiation either. It’s almost as if they’re minor variations on a theme, rather than each being a truly compelling proposition in its own right.

Of course, there are no numbers that reflect whether the XR is doing well or badly — and there may never be, as Apple is no longer releasing sales numbers for individual phones.

This week, however, research company Consumer Intelligence Research Partners emitted a survey suggesting that the XR enjoyed 32 percent of all US phone sales in its first month.


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That’s 2 percent more than the X in a comparable period. Another optimistic suggestion from the survey was that 16 percent of buyers were Android switchers. This compares to a mere 11 percent for iPhone X.

Many might conclude that the XR’s lower price is what makes it more attractive to sensitive Android types.

I wonder, though, whether it’s all so simple.

I fear many people, Android or not, are still attached to their home buttons and headphone jacks. They see these as offering a simpler way of life. They look upon FaceID with a fair helping of skepticism. Indeed, when I demonstrated it to my wife’s relative, she replied: “Hmm, that’s nice, but I’m not sure I’d want to do that.”

“Why?”

“It’s a bit creepy.”

Also: Apple’s iPhone XR: The Reasonable choice 

Many commentators wafted between startled and depressed when Apple created a very generous trade-in offer to potential upgraders from older phones.

Perhaps, though, the balance is shifting for Apple between selling hardware for as great a margin as possible to trying to find every way to get customers to upgrade, so that they disappear more deeply into the company’s service business.

Still, I fear Apple needs to be a lot clearer about its phones’ individual identities.

Otherwise more people will merely wonder “what’s that?” and move right along. If they even notice the phone at all.

Previous and related coverage:

Apple iPhone XR review: Lower cost comes with camera, reception compromises

Apple switched up release strategies a bit in 2018 with the two high end $1,000+ models released initially, followed by one priced $250 to $350 less. The iPhone XR arrives in six color options and honestly it may be the best option for the masses.

iPhone XS review: Everything Apple has to offer, but in a smaller package

The iPhone XS is the smallest of Apple’s 2018 iPhone lineup, but don’t discount it.

iPhone XS Max review: The iPhone’s future is big and bright

Apple’s iPhone XS Max is as big as it gets.

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Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash and integrating video tools into its own app – TechCrunch

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Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash, its short-form TikTok-like video platform, on February 22, 2022. The company says after February, Dubsmash will no longer be available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Currently downloaded apps will stop functioning on the same date.

The company acquired Dubsmash in December 2020 and had said it would integrate its video creation tools into Reddit. Following the acquisition, Dubsmash’s leadership team joined Reddit. Now, nearly a year later, Reddit says the Dubsmash team has been accelerating the app’s video offerings and that parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmash users.

“Since joining, the Dubsmash team has been working to integrate their innovative video creation tools into Reddit — with a goal of empowering Reddit’s own creators to express themselves in original ways that are authentic to our communities,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Combining forces has been a perfect match. Reddit is where passionate communities come together for timely, interactive and authentic exchanges about topics that matter to them, and video is increasingly core to how people want to connect.”

As part of the integration, Reddit has announced that it’s rolling out new video creation tools. New camera features include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.

Image Credits: Reddit

In August, Reddit rolled out a video feed feature for iOS users, which shows a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Similar to TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. The launch of the new video feed came as Instagram’s Reels feature and Snapchat’s Spotlight tool were gaining traction, as social media platforms were looking to compete with TikTok.

Reddit says video content is soaring on Reddit, as it has seen nearly 70% growth in overall hours watched. It notes that there has been a 30% increase in the growth of daily active video viewers. The app has also seen a 50% increase in quarter-over-quarter short video viewership, which it describes as less than than 2 seconds, in its new video player.

It’s worth noting that Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits.

Now that Reddit has completed its Dubsmash integration, it’s no surprise that it’s looking to garner more users with the launch of its new video creation tools as it aims to continue to compete with TikTok. However, apps like TikTok and Snapchat go beyond simple video creation, as they also leverage sounds and music on their platforms. It’s unknown if Reddit will take its video ambitions further by following suit in the future.

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World Mobile Group bringing Zanzibaris online through mobile network built on blockchain – TechCrunch

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As the world quickly transitions into a global village thanks to the rapid penetration of internet networks, it is easy for some people to be left behind owing to the remoteness of their locations. In most parts of Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, for example, services by terrestrial cable and satellite networks are deficient, leaving a big percentage of the population uncovered. But, if plans by the World Mobile Group — a global telecommunications operator — materialize, many Zanzibaris will be connecting to the internet for the first time in the next few months.

World Mobile is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity using spectrums like free-space optical communication and other radio transmitters, which do not require licensing, translating to less expensive internet access.

The spectrums connect to multiple air nodes to create a mesh network, providing internet coverage to far-flung villages.

“There’s a lot of fiber optics that have been laid throughout the continent, and we pick up on the last mile of fiber and use alternative spectrums like free-space optics, or other radio spectrums that do not require licensing,” World Mobile group CEO and founder Micky Watkins told TechCrunch.

Watkins said that because they do not require licenses for these alternative spectrums they get a massive tax saving, which translates to cheaper internet for users.

“We use these alternative spectrums to build the backhaul (connection between an access node and the core network) and then create a device (node) that people can use to pick up from that backhaul,” said Watkins.

For sustainability, the air nodes will be owned by private entities, through a one-off fee of about $7,000 that they will recoup over time by earning income or rewards in the form of World Mobile Token (WMT), the operator’s cryptocurrency, as people connect to the internet through their access points. The network operator is working with micro-lenders in financing entrepreneurs to buy the nodes.

Each air node provides reliable Wi-Fi internet to 500 to 700 people, and other ancillary utilities like public lighting through integrated solar-powered floodlights.

Watkins said the concept of a sharing economy reduces operational expenditures incurred in maintenance, security and leasing costs, while also powering a self-sustaining business model.

“And now the residents have a choice; do I own livestock or is it better for me to own part of a telecom infrastructure and run a telecommunications platform? This option was never there before; so, just like Uber or Airbnb, we are operating under the sharing economy model.”

World Mobile is currently serving about 3,000 customers on the five pilot sites, but has plans to expand to 30 sites by January — as it moves to fast-track the connectivity efforts.

Watkins said that current users spend about $4 a month on internet usage. The operator has a network of vendors where users onboard their fiat cash or buy WMT, the company’s digital currency, to connect to the internet.

World Mobile has a more ambitious plan of covering Zanzibar in five years, making internet available to the entire population of 1.5 million people, stepping up competition for traditional network companies like Zanlink and satellite internet companies like GlobalTT teleport and operator.

“We have a few deals that are coming through the pipeline that will allow us to have connectivity throughout the whole of Zanzibar, including the whole shoreline and in between mainland (Tanzania) and the borders of Zanzibar, allowing us to implement IoT, as well as connectivity for the people,” said Watkins.

The company is set to roll out the network in Kenya and Tanzania, where they already have operations, over the coming months.

“This is a movement, and this can be the biggest mobile network in the world that is run by the people. No one has ever done that before. So that’s what we’re actually going for,” said Watkins.

Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, is a popular tourist destination. World Mobile Group is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity to bring the unconnected online. Image Credits: World Mobile Group

How Zanzibar is tapping connectivity to build a digital economy

As more citizens get connected, the Zanzibar government has started implementing its digital economy framework, a plan it had shelved for over a decade.

Among the many ideas it had laid out and is now on course for includes tapping connectivity to grow its blue economy and to develop solutions that protect Zanzibar’s blue economy from illegal fishing trawlers.

Zanzibar’s ocean-based activities provide employment to 33% of its labor force and contribute more than 29% of the island’s GDP, but could realize more from its ocean-based wealth with better technologies.

It will also help in building infrastructure that will help it automate all its administrative tasks and processes. This means building an e-government system that would allow the interaction of government with its citizens, businesses, employees and between its agencies. The investment will make the government more accessible to its citizens, who no longer need to physically visit offices for services or information.

“The new administration is really focusing on digital transformation. We need to get there. But first we’re going to ensure that everybody can access the internet at an affordable rate,” said Said Seif Said, director general of the E-Government Agency of Zanzibar (eGaz).

The agency was established to promote policies, standards and other practices to improve ICT uptake across the public institutions.

“We might have a different solution like an integrated blue economy management system — which means we’re including satellite automatic identification systems, vessel management systems and drones. So, all this is to solve the problem of illegal unreported and unregistered fishing. And all these technologies need the connectivity to be in place.”

The urgency to digitize has partly been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated Zanzibar’s plan for a digital government and economy. Zanzibar is now compensating for the time lost by quickening its pace toward that transition.

“The COVID pandemic has really changed how we do everything and we need to enable our citizens to do what they need to do from their homes. We have to ensure the sheer accessibility of government services countrywide in an affordable, effective and efficient manner through the appropriate use of ICT, and that’s where this collaboration with the World Mobile Group and Input Output Global (IOG) comes in,” he said.

In the partnership, IOG, a blockchain and digital identity firm behind Cardano blockchain, will automate Zanzibar’s systems by implementing blockchain technology in registry systems to provide “digital identifications with traceability”. It will also integrate back-end government systems to enable business-process automation and facilitate the flow of communication within government institutions.

World Mobile subscribers will access Atala PRISM, IOG’s digital identity solution for services such as education, banking and healthcare.

Meanwhile, Zanzibar is launching a blockchain academy that will, beginning early next year, hold conferences as the tourist destination positions itself as a blockchain center of the future.

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Twitter iOS update prevents tweets from disappearing while you’re reading them – TechCrunch

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Twitter is updating its iOS app to prevent tweets from disappearing while users are still reading them. The change comes as the social media giant recently updated its web platform to no longer automatically refresh timelines with new tweets. Twitter acknowledged that in the past, tweets would often disappear from view as users were reading them when their timeline would automatically refresh, creating a frustrating experience.

“We’ve made some updates on iOS to prevent Tweets from disappearing mid-read. Now when you pause your timeline scrolling to look at a Tweet, it should stay put!,” Twitter outlined in a tweet.

In September, the company noted it would be rolling out updates to the way it displays tweets so that they wouldn’t disappear mid-read. These updates have now rolled out to Twitter’s web and iOS platforms. Twitter notes that it’s working on making changes to the disappearing tweet experience on Android too, but it’s unknown when the updates will roll out.

Twitter also recently announced that it will no longer automatically crop image previews on the web, after rolling out full-size image previews on mobile earlier this year. On Twitter for the web, images will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline, images will look just like they did when you shot them. The social media giant first tested the change in March with a small subset of iOS and Android users.

These tweaks come as Twitter has been working to enhance its platform and make its services more accessible. The social media giant recently rolled out the ability for users to share direct links to their Spaces to let others tune into a live audio session via the web without being logged into the platform. The company also recently introduced its in-app tipping feature to all Android users above the age of 18.

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