I am a freak when it comes to cases for smartphones.
If I see a family member or a friend running around with an unprotected device, my first instinct, after recovering from a panic attack, is to fit that person’s device with a case.
I usually have a few models sitting in my “case box,” and if the case fits, it’s going on the phone if you show up at my house without one.
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I used to say that any case on a smartphone is better than no case at all. The main thing you really need to be concerned with is bezel elevation to prevent the phone from falling flat on the screen and taking a direct impact.
Secondary to that concern, you want edge rigidity and shock absorption to buffer against hits on the side and corners.
Prior to the introduction of edge screen designs first seen in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, followed by last year’s iPhone X and this year’s XS and XS Max, I would have maintained that yes, put on a case, any case.
But given how fragile the design is of this particular phone, and how much this thing dents your wallet when you buy it, and god forbid have to repair it after drop damage, I’m going to have to change my mind on that one.
You want the most protective design money can buy.
There are a few companies that specialize in extreme device protection. One is UAG, and it is an excellent company with great case products. The Monarch is an excellent choice for protecting your new $1,000+ device.
Otter Products is the other major player in this market, and I am a huge fan of its offerings. When I am asked by friends and family which case to get, an Otter case is always my first answer.
My colleague, Matt Miller, has written a nice overview of OtterBox’s offerings for XS and XS Max.
Otter traditionally had one ultra-protective design, which is the Defender. And, for years, I only used Defenders no matter which device I had. I still only use Defender on the iPad Pro, because it’s the only case I trust on that device right now.
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You could just go get a Defender Series Pro (or the original Defender) for your iPhone XS. You would be very safe with that decision and my work would be done. It’s a rugged, proven design, so it’s practically a no-brainer.
But over the past few years, Otter has really expanded its line of case designs not just in its own branded offerings but also with its acquisition of LifeProof, which was once a fierce competitor.
LifeProof cases once distinguished themselves from OtterBox cases in that they were targeting sporty lifestyle customers, with an emphasis on waterproofing. So, their cases were always a little bit more expensive than the OtterBox designs. The FRE, in particular, is the LifeProof flagship.
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For iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, LifeProof introduced two new case designs: the SLAM and NEXT. Based on closer examination, these seem to be very similar two-piece clamshell designs, although, from the samples I received, I noticed that the NEXT had considerably more bumper material on it.
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Both are very tight fitting designs and provide ample bezel elevation and side/corner impact protection. However, neither are waterproof or provide additional screen protection for scratches or front impacts.
I used both cases for about a day, and I would say that the NEXT felt thicker, but it’s not enough of a difference for me to sacrifice shock absorption with the SLAM — although the SLAM can accommodate Alpha Glass, like the OtterBox Defender and the Pursuit, which we will get to momentarily.
Personally, if I was inclined to get one of these two cases, I would get NEXT.
The iPhone XS and XS Max are already IP68 water resistant and can survive 30 minutes of immersion at depths of two meters, so if the primary concern is being dropped with occasionally being rained on, NEXT is what I would go with.
However, nothing is so simple when it comes to making case recommendations for iPhone XS and XS Max.
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I have not yet received the iPhone XS Max version of FRE, as the company didn’t have a production sample ready yet, but I do have FRE installed on my Pixel 2, and I had one on my Samsung Galaxy S8+. So, we can infer that the overall design is going to be similar.
FRE is LifeProof’s tried and true waterproof case design, which also incorporates a permanent scratch protector that is a flexible film. This is the case that traditionally provided brand differentiation from OtterBox and the Defender.
Now, with iPhone XS and XS Max already being fairly water resistant to begin with, it would seem that FRE is overkill.
Perhaps, I would tend to agree with this — if we weren’t talking about a $1,000+ device that costs $275 to $400 to replace the screen regardless of whether you bought the thing outright or you are making lease payments on the Upgrade Program.
On iPhone XS and XS Max, FRE has a watertight lightning charge connector door latch in addition to a permanent screen/scratch protector. I’m not sure how necessary this is, but if you spend time near the water or on the beach, it might be a good idea to have this feature.
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Additionally, given the fact that you are now constantly rubbing your finger with nails on the screen itself instead of pushing a physical home button, I am inclined to say that a screen protector on an iPhone XS or XS Max is a requirement.
You just spent $1,000 or more on a phone, get the $80 case.
Done, right? Forget SLAM and NEXT. Get the FRE.
Not so fast.
With the iPhone X, and now the XS and XS Max, Otter has introduced a new high-end case, the Pursuit.
It appears that the company has created something of a fusion design between Defender and FRE. It essentially merged the DNA between the two companies with this product.
According to the company, the Pursuit is a stronger case than Defender without the additional bulk.
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It’s really more LifeProof than an Otter in terms of overall looks, but it isn’t inherently waterproof. The FRE still offers additional waterproofing. Pursuit doesn’t have a waterproof lightning latch; it has a rubber tab like the Defender instead.
So, is the FRE still better for the money? Well, no.
Scratch resistant cases
All the new OtterBox cases (and the LifeProof SLAM) for iPhone XS and XS Max can accommodate the Alpha Glass accessory, which provides additional scratch and impact protection for $39 more.
Can you buy a third-party scratch resistant film to put on a Pursuit? Sure. But then you should get a FRE. It’s cheaper.
Would you rather have additional glass instead? In terms of aesthetic it definitely looks better and is easier to clean, and I think the few extra microns of glass gives me more peace of mind.
I see no point in using either Defender or Pursuit (or SLAM) without Alpha Glass. So, really, in terms of overall decision matrix of which case to buy, in my opinion, it comes down to:
- You want a holster and full rubberization and the tried and true Otter design (Defender/Pro + Alpha Glass)
- You want it to be thin but still highly protective (Pursuit + Alpha Glass, SLAM + Alpha Glass, or NEXT)
- You want it to be more waterproof than what the device provides out of the box, and you want scratch protection but not additional screen impact protection (FRE)
I spoke with Otter reps and asked them why the company simply did not consolidate the product lines or replace the existing Defender with Pursuit and a Pursuit holster.
Otter and Lifeproof have already consolidated their e-commerce sites as well as the type of packaging used in order to satisfy carrier shelf space display requirements and in-store marketing needs.
This is very much like a Ferrari/Maserati or a Cadillac/Buick thing. Same company, same engineering principles, and likely the same production lines. Different brands appealing to similar but different legacy customers.
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I think the company could have easily made an FRE that can use Alpha Glass as opposed to the integrated film, and then it could just put different branding on it for the OtterBox version along with a holster. This is what I would have done, personally.
I have to assume Otter has done its market research and determined that not everyone wants a true glass protector and that a certain amount of customers, particularly in the vertical market space (construction, military, etc.), want the additional psychological protection of full rubberization with the traditional Defender design.
With any of these three case designs, you’re in good hands. Which one are you planning to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
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Cymulate snaps up $70M to help cybersecurity teams stress test their networks with attack simulations – TechCrunch
The cost of cybercrime has been growing at an alarming rate of 15% per year, projected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025. To cope with the challenges that this poses, organizations are turning to a growing range of AI-powered tools to supplement their existing security software and the work of their security teams. Today, a startup called Cymulate — which has built a platform to help those teams automatically and continuously stress test their networks against potential attacks with simulations, and provide guidance on how to improve their systems to ward off real attacks — is announcing a significant round of growth funding after seeing strong demand for its tools.
The startup — founded in Tel Aviv, with a second base in New York — has raised $70 million, a Series D that it will be using to continue expanding globally and investing in expanding its technology (both organically and potentially through acquisitions).
Today, Cymulate’s platform covers both on-premise and cloud networks, providing breach and attack simulations for endpoints, email and web gateways and more; automated “red teaming”; and a “purple teaming” facility to create and launch different security breach scenarios for organizations that lack the resources to dedicate people to a live red team — in all, a “holistic” solution for companies looking to make sure they are getting the most out of the network security architecture that they already have in place, in the worlds of Eyal Wachsman, Cymulate’s CEO.
“We are providing our customers with a different approach for how to do cybersecurity and get insights [on] all the products already implemented in a network,” he said in an interview. The resulting platform has found particular traction in the current market climate. Although companies continue to invest in their security architecture, security teams are also feeling the market squeeze, which is impacting IT budgets, and sometimes headcount in an industry that was already facing a shortage of expertise. (Cymulate cites figures from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology that estimate a shortfall of 2.72 million security professionals in the workforce globally.)
The idea with Cymulate is that it’s built something that helps organizations get the most out of what they already have. “And at the end, we provide our customers the ability to prioritize where they need to invest, in terms of closing gaps in their environment,” Wachsman said.
The round is being led by One Peak, with Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and strategic backer Dell Technologies Capital also participating. (All five also backed Cymulate in its $45 million Series C last year.) Relatively speaking, this is a big round for Cymulate, doubling its total raised to $141 million, and while the startup is not disclosing its valuation, I understand from sources that it is around the $500 million mark.
Wachsman noted that the funding is coming on the heels of a big year for the startup (the irony being that the constantly escalating issue of cybersecurity and growing threat landscape spells good news for companies built to combat that). Revenues have doubled, although it’s not disclosing any numbers today, and the company is now at over 200 employees and works with some 500 paying customers across the enterprise and mid-market, including NTT, Telit, and Euronext, up from 300 customers a year ago.
Wachsman, who co-founded the company with Avihai Ben-Yossef and Eyal Gruner, said he first thought of the idea of building a platform to continuously test an organization’s threat posture in 2016, after years of working in cybersecurity consulting for other companies. He found that no matter how much effort his customers and outside consultants put into architecting security solutions annually or semi-annually, those gains were potentially lost each time a malicious hacker made an unexpected move.
“If the bad guys decided to penetrate the organization, they could, so we needed to find a different approach,” he said. He looked to AI and machine learning for the solution, a complement to everything already in the organization, to build “a machine that allows you to test your security controls and security posture, continuously and on demand, and to get the results immediately… one step before the hackers.”
Last year, Wachsman described Cymulate’s approach to me as “the largest cybersecurity consulting firm without consultants,” but in reality the company does have its own large in-house team of cybersecurity researchers, white-hat hackers who are trying to find new holes — new bugs, zero days and other vulnerabilities — to develop the intelligence that powers Cymulate’s platform.
These insights are then combined with other assets, for example the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. (Competitors include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, AttackIQ and many more.)
Cymulate’s work comes in the form of network maps that detail a company’s threat profile, with technical recommendations for remediation and mitigations, as well as an executive summary that can be presented to financial teams and management who might be auditing security spend. It also has built tools for running security checks when integrating any services or IT with third parties, for instance in the event of an M&A process or when working in a supply chain.
Today the company focuses on network security, which is big enough in itself but also leaves the door open for Cymulate to acquire companies in other areas like application security — or to build that for itself. “This is something on our roadmap,” said Wachsman.
If potential M&A leads to more fundraising for Cymulate, it helps that the startup is in one of the handful of categories that are going to continue to see a lot of attention from investors.
“Cybersecurity is clearly an area that we think will benefit from the current macroeconomic environment, versus maybe some of the more capital-intensive businesses like consumer internet or food delivery,” said David Klein, a managing partner at One Peak. Within that, he added, “The best companies [are those] that are mission critical for their customers… Those will continue to attract very good multiples.”
Open-source password manager Bitwarden raises $100M – TechCrunch
Bitwarden, an open-source password manager for enterprises and consumers, has raised $100 million in a round of funding led by PSG, with participation form Battery Ventures.
Founded initially back in 2015, Santa Barbara, California-based Bitwarden operates in a space that includes well-known incumbents including 1Password, which recently hit a $6.8 billion valuation off the back of a $620 million fundraise, and Lastpass, which was recently spun out as an independent company again two years after landing in the hands of private equity firms.
In a nutshell, Bitwarden and its ilk make it easier for people to generate secure passwords automatically, and store all their unique passwords and sensitive information such as credit card data in a secure digital vault, saving them from reusing the same insecure password across all their online accounts.
Bitwarden’s big differentiator, of course, lies in the fact that it’s built atop an open-source codebase, which for super security-conscious individuals and businesses is a good thing — they can fully inspect the inner-workings of the platform. Moreover, people can contribute back to the codebase and expedite development of new features.
On top of a basic free service, Bitwarden ships a bunch of paid-for premium features and services, including advanced enterprise features like single sign-on (SSO) integrations and identity management.
It’s worth noting that today’s “minority growth investment” represents Bitwarden’s first substantial external funding in its seven year history, though we’re told that it did raise a small undisclosed series A round back in 2019. Its latest cash injection is indicative of how the world has changed in the intervening years. The rise of remote work, with people increasingly meshing personal and work accounts on the same devices, means the same password is used across different services. And such poor password and credential hygiene puts businesses at great risk.
Additionally, growing competition and investments in the management space means that Bitwarden can’t rest on its laurels — it needs to expand, and that is what its funds will be used for. Indeed, Bitwarden has confirmed plans to extend its offering into several aligned security and privacy verticals, including secrets management — something that 1Password expanded into last year via its SecretHub acquisition.
“The timing of the investment is ideal, as we expand into opportunities in developer secrets, passwordless technologies, and authentication,” Bitwarden CEO Michael Crandell noted in a press release. “Most importantly, we aim to continue to serve all Bitwarden users for the long haul.”
downgrade the ‘middle-men’ resellers – TechCrunch
As well as the traditional carbon offset resellers and exchanges such as Climate Partner or Climate Impact X the tech space has also produced a few, including Patch (US-based, raised $26.5M) and Lune (UK-based, raised $4M).
Now, Ceezer, a B2B marketplace for carbon credits, has closed a €4.2M round, led by Carbon Removal Partners with participation of impact-VC Norrsken VC and with existing investor Picus Capital.
Ceezer ’s pitch is that companies have to deal with a lot of complexity when considering how they address carbon removal and reduction associated with their businesses. Whie they can buy offsetting credits, the market remains pretty ‘wild-west’, and has multiple competing standards running in parallel. For instance, the price range of $5 to $500 per ton is clearly all over the place, and sometimes carbon offset resellers make buyers pay high prices for low-quality carbon credits, pulling in extra revenues from a very opaque market.
The startup’s offering is for corporates to integrate both carbon removal and avoidance credits in one package. It does this by mining the offsetting market for lots of data points, enabling carbon offset sellers to reach buyers without having to use these middle-men resellers.
The startup claims that sellers no longer waste time and money on bespoke contracts with corporates but instead use Ceezer’s legal framework for all transactions. Simultaneously, buyers can access credits at a primary market level, maximizing the effect of the dollars they spend on carbon offsets.
Ceezer says it now has over 50 corporate customers and has 200,000 tons of carbon credits to sell across a variety of categories. and will use the funds to expand its impact and sourcing team, the idea being to make carbon removal technologies more accessible to corporate buyers, plus widen the product offering for credit sellers and buyers.
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