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Decoding OtterBox and LifeProof cases for iPhone XS and XS Max

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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.

Also: iPhone XS Max first impressions: It’s big, but not too big

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.

Protective cases

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.


UAG Monarch for iPhone XS Max

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.

Also: iPhone XS and XS Max reveals some battery surprises

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.

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OtterBox Defender Series Pro for iPhone XS Max

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.

Also: iPhone XS, XS Max, XR specs: Battery size, RAM details revealed in new filings

Let’s go through the LifeProof lineup for iPhone XS and XS Max since it is a relatively easy decision matrix.

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LifeProof’s case lineup for iPhone XS and XS Max

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.

Also: iPhone XS smartphone beauty really is only skin deep

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.

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LifeProof NEXT for iPhone XS Max

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.

Waterproof cases

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.

Also: iPhone XR outshines XS value for upgraders

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.

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LifeProof FRE for Samsung Galaxy S8


(Image: Jason Perlow/ZDNet)

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.

Also: How easy is it to break the new Apple iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max?

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.

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OtterBox Pursuit case equipped with Alpha Glass. The new protection standard for iPhone XS?


(Image: Jason Perlow/ZDNet)

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.

Also: iPhone XS and XS Max reveals some battery surprises

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:

  1. You want a holster and full rubberization and the tried and true Otter design (Defender/Pro + Alpha Glass)
  2. You want it to be thin but still highly protective (Pursuit + Alpha Glass, SLAM + Alpha Glass, or NEXT)
  3. 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.

Previous and related coverage:

Want a new iPhone or Android smartphone? Here’s how to sell or trade

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was just announced and we expect three new iPhones and two Google Pixel phones to launch soon. Now is the time to consider selling your current one before market prices drop or plan to participate in a trade-in program.

10 best smartphones of 2018

he major smartphone launch season is upon us and one of the first out of the gates is the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, immediately taking over the top spot in our list of best smartphones.

Best Wearable Tech for 2018 CNET

Our editors hand-picked these products based on our tests and reviews. If you use our links to buy, we may get a commission.

The best tablets for 2018: Our top picks TechRepublic

Tablet sales may be declining, but there are still plenty of viable use cases and many models to choose from. Here’s our pick of the best.

Apple vs Samsung phones: We compare the Galaxy S series and the iPhone XS

Should you buy the latest Apple or Samsung device? And which size? This guide breaks down the factors that matter most to business buyers and consumers alike.

iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9: We compare the big phones

Apple and Samsung recently released large flagship smartphones priced at $1,000+. They are close to the same size and have the latest specs, but there are also some significant differences that will lead you to one over the other for your business needs.

Will there be an October Apple event? Signs point to yes

Once again, David Gewirtz puts on his mystical prognostication hat (okay, fine, he launches Excel) to delve into Apple announcement history. Will we see new Macs, iPads, and whatnot in October? There’s a pretty good chance, and we’ll even tell you what dates to write in your calendar.

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5 tips for brands that want to succeed in the new era of influencer marketing – TechCrunch

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If I told you a decade ago that a spin bike would be a social community, you’d have had a good laugh. But that’s precisely what Peloton is: A spin bike with a social community where the instructors are the influencers.

Peloton is just one example of how social is being integrated into every aspect of the customer experience in an increasingly digital world. Whether it’s considering a new restaurant to check out, a movie to see or a product to buy, most people look at reviews before making a final decision. They want social proof as an indicator of quality and relevance.

Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust.

Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust. Indeed, social validation is what social platforms are built on, so it’s a significant component of how we derive relevance online — and the deeper integration of social is changing the dynamic between brands and digital creators.

The shifting economy of creator monetization

Brand sponsorships are the holy grail for creators hoping to monetize their online influence. According to an eMarketer report, brand partnerships are still the No. 1 source of revenue for most digital creators.

However, digital creators have a lot more monetization options to choose from, thanks to Patreon, affiliate platforms, paid content platforms and platform revenue sharing, making it easier to earn a living without relying so heavily on brand sponsorships.


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As a result, creators are diversifying their revenue streams, which, for some creators, allows them to be more selective about the brands they work with. What’s more, creators aren’t reliant on just one channel or one form of revenue.

YouTube creators probably have the most diversified revenue, often combining brand sponsorships, subscription models, affiliate deals, tipping/donations, their line of branded products and revenue share. However, it’s important to note that not all monetization options apply to every creator. But with so many options to choose from, making a living as a digital creator is more accessible than ever.

Here are a few of the ways online creators can monetize their content:

Ad revenue sharing: Advertising is the most traditional form of revenue for online creators. With this model, ads are injected into and around the creator’s content, and they make a certain percentage of revenue based on impressions. However, the revenue split can vary based on the platform, and some platforms have a specific threshold creators must hit before they can participate in ad revenue sharing.

Affiliate marketing: Similar to advertising or a brand sponsorship, affiliate marketing is an agreement for a share of revenue based on products sold. This kind of arrangement generally works best when the creator has a blog, website or YouTube account. Affiliate links allow the influencer to proactively choose the products they want to talk about and earn from, rather than having to wait for a brand deal to come their way.

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Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide – TechCrunch

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Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

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Twine raises $3.3M to add networking features to virtual events – TechCrunch

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Twine, a video chat startup that launched amid the pandemic as a sort of “Zoom for meeting new people,” shifted its focus to online events and, as a result, has now closed on $3.3 million in seed funding. To date, twine’s events customers have included names like Microsoft, Amazon, Forrester, and others, and the service is on track to do $1 million in bookings in 2021, the company says.

The new round was led by Moment Ventures, and included participation from Coelius Capital, AltaIR Capital, Mentors Fund, Rosecliff Ventures, AltaClub, and Bloom Venture Partners. Clint Chao, founding Partner at Moment, will join twine’s board of directors with the round’s close.

The shift into the online events space makes sense, given twine’s co-founders —  Lawrence Coburn, Diana Rau, and Taylor McLoughlin — hail from DoubleDutch, the mobile events technology provider acquired by Cvent in 2019.

Coburn, previously CEO of DoubleDutch, had been under a non-compete with its acquirer until December 2020, which is one reason why he didn’t first attempt a return to the events space.

The team’s original idea was to help people who were missing out on social connections under Covid lockdowns find a way to meet others and chat online. This early version of twine saw some small amount of traction, as 10% of its users were even willing to pay. But many more were nervous about being connected to random online strangers, twine found.

So the company shifted its focus to the familiar events space, with a specific focus on online events which grew in popularity due to the pandemic. While setting up live streams, text chats and Q&A has been possible, what’s been missing from many online events was the casual and unexpected networking that used to happen in-person.

“The hardest thing to bring to virtual events was the networking and the serendipity — like the conversations that used to happen in an elevator, in the bar, the lobby — these kinds of things,” explains Coburn. “So we began testing a group space version of twine — bringing twine to existing communities as opposed to trying to build our own, new community. And that showed a lot more legs,” he says.

By January 2021, the new events-focused version of twine was up-and-running, offering a set of professional networking tools for event owners. Unlike one-to-many or few-to-many video broadcasts, twine connects a small number of people for more intimate conversations.

“We did a lot of research with our customers and users, and beyond five [people in a chat], it turns into a webinar,” notes Coburn, of the limitations on twine’s video chat. In twine, a small handful of people are dropped into a video chat experience– and now, they’re not random online strangers. They’re fellow event attendees. That generally keeps user behavior professional and the conversations productive.

Event owners can use the product for free on twine’s website for small events with up to 30 users, but to scale up any further requires a license. Twine charges on a per attendee basis, where customers buy packs of attendees on a software-as-a-service model.

The company’s customers can then embed twine directly in their own website or add a link that pops open the twine website in a separate browser tab.

Coburn says twine has found a sweet spot with big corporate event programs. The company has around 25 customers, but some of those have already used twine for 10 or 15 events after first testing out the product for something smaller.

“We’re working with five or six of the biggest companies in the world right now,” noted Coburn.

Image Credits: twine

Because the matches are digital, twine can offer other tools like digital “business card” exchanges and analytics and reports for the event hosts and attendees alike.

Despite the cautious return to normal in the U.S., which may see in-person events return in the year ahead, twine believes there’s still a future in online events. Due to the pandemic’s lasting impacts, organizations are likely to adopt a hybrid approach to their events going forward.

“I don’t think there’s ever been an industry that has gone through a 15 months like the events industry just went through,” Coburn says. “These companies went to zero, their revenue went to zero and some of them were coming from hundreds of millions of dollars. So what happened was a digital transformation like the world has never seen,” he adds.

Now, there are tens of thousands of event planners who have gotten really good at tech and online events. And they saw the potential in online, which would sometimes deliver 4x or 5x the attendance of virtual, Coburn points out.

“This is why you see LinkedIn drop $50 million on Hopin,” he says, referring to the recent fundraise for the virtual conference technology business. (The deal was reportedly for less than $50 million). “This is why you see the rounds of funding that are going into Hoppin and Bizzabo and Hubilo and all the others. This is the taxi market, pre-Uber.”

Of course, virtual events may end up less concerned with social features when they can offer an in-person experience. And those who want to host online events may be looking for a broader solution than Zoom + twine, for example.

But twine has ideas about what it wants to do next, including asynchronous matchmaking, which could end up being more valuable as it could lead to better matches since it wouldn’t be limited to only who’s online now.

With the funding, twine is hiring in sales and customer success, working on accessibility improvements, and expanding its platform. To date, twine has raised $4.7 million.

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