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How Juul made vaping viral to become worth a dirty $38 billion – TechCrunch

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A Juul is not a cigarette. It’s much easier than that. Through devilishly slick product design I’ll discuss here, the startup has massively lowered the barrier to getting hooked on nicotine. Juul has dismantled every deterrent to taking a puff.

The result is both a new $38 billion valuation thanks to a $12.8 billion investment from Marlboro Cigarettes-maker Altria this week, and an explosion in popularity of vaping amongst teenagers and the rest of the population. Game recognize game, and Altria’s game is nicotine addiction. It knows it’s been one-upped by Juul’s tactics, so it’s hedged its own success by handing the startup over a tenth of the public corporation’s market cap in cash.

Juul argues it can help people switch from obviously dangerous smoking to supposedly healthier vaping. But in reality, the tiny aluminum device helps people switch from nothing to vaping…which can lead some to start smoking the real thing. A study found it causes more people to pick up cigarettes than put them down.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How fast has Juul swept the nation? Nielsen says it controls 75 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market up from 27 percent in September last year. In the year since then, the CDC says the percentage of high school students who’ve used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days has grown 75 percent. That’s 3 million teens or roughly 20 percent of all high school kids. CNBC reports that Juul 2018 revenue could be around $1.5 billion.

The health consequences aside, Juul makes it radically simple to pick up a lifelong vice. Parents, regulators, and potential vapers need to understand why Juul works so well if they’ll have any hope of suppressing its temptations.

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It’s tough to try a cigarette for the first time. The heat and smoke burn your throat. The taste is harsh and overwhelming. The smell coats your fingers and clothes, marking you as smoker. There’s pressure to smoke a whole one lest you waste the tobacco. Even if you want to try a friend’s, they have to ignite one first. And unlike bigger box mod vaporizers where you customize the temperature and e-juice, Juul doesn’t make you look like some dorky hardcore vapelord.

Juul is much more gentle on your throat. The taste is more mild and can be masked with flavors. The vapor doesn’t stain you with a smell as quickly. You can try just a single puff from a friend’s at a bar or during a smoking break with no pressure to inhale more. The elegant, discrete form factor doesn’t brand you as a serious vape users. It’s casual. Yet the public gesture and clouds people exhale are still eye catching enough to trigger the questions, “What’s that? Can I try?” There’s a whole other article to be written about how Juul memes and Instagram Stories that glamorized the nicotine dispensers contributed to the device’s spread.

And perhaps most insidiously, vaping seems healthier. A lifetime of anti-smoking ads and warning labels drilled the dangers into our heads. But how much harm could a little vapor do?

A friend who had never smoked tells me they burn through a full Juul pod per day now. Someone got him to try a single puff at a nightclub. Soon he was asking for drag off of strangers’ Juuls. Then he bought one and never looked back. He’d been around cigarettes at parties his whole life but never got into them. Juul made it too effortless to resist.

Concealable

Lighting up a cigarette is a garish activity prohibited in many places. Not so with discretely sipping from a Juul.

Cigarettes often aren’t allowed to be smoked inside. Hiding it is no easy feat and can get you kicked out. You need to have a lighter and play with fire to get one started. They can get crushed or damp in your pocket. The burning tip makes them unruly in tight quarters, and the bud or falling ash can damage clothing and make a mess. You smoke a cigarette because you really want to smoke a cigarette.

Public establishments are still figuring out how to handle Juuls and other vaporizers. Many places that ban smoking don’t explicitly do the same for vaping. The less stinky vapor and more discrete motion makes it easy to hide. Beyond airplanes, you could probably play dumb and say you didn’t know the rules if you did get caught. The metal stick is hard to break. You won’t singe anyone. There’s no mess, need for an ashtray, or holes in your jackets or couches.

As long as your battery is charged, there’s no need for extra equipment and you won’t draw attention like with a lighter. Battery life is a major concern for heavy Juulers that smokers don’t have worry about, but I know people who now carry a giant portable charger just to keep their Juul alive. But there’s also a network effect that’s developing. Similar to iPhone cords, Juuls are becoming common enough that you can often conveniently borrow a battery stick or charger from another user. 

And again, the modular ability to take as few or as many puffs as you want lets you absent-mindedly Juul at any moment. At your desk, on the dance floor, as you drive, or even in bed. A friend’s nieces and nephews say that they see fellow teens Juul in class by concealing it in the cuff of their sleeve. No kid would be so brazen as to try smoke in cigarette in the middle of a math lesson.

Distributable

Gillette pioneered the brilliant razor and blade business model. Buy the sometimes-discounted razor, and you’re compelled to keep buying the expensive proprietary blades. Dollar Shave Club leveled up the strategy by offering a subscription that delivers the consumable blades to your door. Juul combines both with a product that’s physically addictive.

When you finish a pack of cigarettes, you could be done smoking. There’s nothing left. But with Juul you’ve still got the $35 battery pack when you finish vaping a pod. There’s a sunk cost fallacy goading you to keep buying the pods to get the most out of your investment and stay locked into the Juul ecosystem.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

One of Juul’s sole virality disadvantages compared to cigarettes is that they’re not as ubiquitously available. Some stores that sells cigs just don’t carry them yet. But more and more shops are picking them up, which will continue with Altria’s help. And Juul offers an “auto-ship” delivery option that knocks $2 off the $16 pack of four pods so you don’t even have to think about buying more. Catch the urge to quit? Well you’ve got pods on the way so you might as well use them. Whether due to regulation or a lack of innovation, I couldn’t find subscription delivery options for traditional cigarettes.

And for minors that want to buy Juuls or Juul pods illegally, their tiny size makes them easy to smuggle and resell. A recent South Park episode featured warring syndicates of fourth-graders selling Juul pods to even younger kids.

Dishonorable

Juul co-founder James Monsees told the San Jose Mercury News that “The first phase is proving the value and creating a product that makes cigarettes obsolete.” But notice he didn’t say Juul wants to make nicotine obsolete or reduce the number of people addicted to it.

Juul co-founder James Monsees

If Juul actually cared about fighting addiction, it’d offer a regimen for weaning yourself off of nicotine. Yet it doesn’t sell low-dose or no-dose pods that could help people quit entirely. In the US it only sells 5% and 3% nicotine versions. It does make 1.7% pods for foreign markets like Israel where that’s the maximum legal strengths, though refuses to sell them in the States. Along with taking over $12 billion from one of the largest cigarette companies, that makes the mission statement ring hollow.

Juul is the death stick business as usual, but strengthened by the product design and virality typically reserved for Apple and Facebook.

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SiriusXM’s new satellite radio plan is made for two-car households

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Many cars now come with Bluetooth support, which means satellite radio service is less relevant than ever. Despite that, SiriusXM is still a thing and for those who prefer the satellite radio experience while driving, it has a new plan called Platinum VIP. The new plan offers service for two cars, including streaming access, under a single rate.

SiriusXM is best known for its satellite radio service, which provided drivers in the pre-smartphone era with high-quality audio content, including music and radio shows, for their commutes. Though the company has since launched a streaming service that competes with alternatives like Spotify, it still offers satellite radio for those who have a car radio system that supports it.

There are some advantages that SiriusXM offers drivers, namely that you don’t need to mess with your phone at any point and can instead access and control it the way you would old-school radio. As well, SiriusXM has a large library of exclusive content and more niche offerings like talk shows and sports broadcasts.

If you’re someone who owns two cars — or lives with someone who has their own car — and you find value in satellite radio, SiriusXM has a new plan for you. Platinum VIP is priced at $35/month and provides simultaneous access to both the satellite radio service and the company’s streaming app for two cars/users.

As expected, customers get access to the ad-free experience, plus the Platinum VIP plan includes two Howard Stern channels, access to Pandora stations, the company’s original podcasts, a variety of sports content including play-by-play for major games, exclusive comedy bits, and more.

These offerings are joined by what SiriusXM calls “VIP perks,” including access to around 5,000 live concert recordings and videos via Nugs.net. These subscribers also get priority customer service calls. Platinum VIP joins the other newly renamed plans, including Platinum, Music & Entertainment, Music Showcase, and Choose & Save.

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Lucasfilm hires Star Wars fan behind Luke face fix

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The creators of Star Wars at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Lucasfilm aren’t shy about the fact that they employ fans of their most popular creations. After so many decades of creating Star Wars, it was inevitable that Lucasfilm would eventually be working with professionals that grew up watching Star Wars as a kid. This week, we have a friendly reminder that the dream is real: A creative film and special effects individual that went by the name “Shamook” was hired by Lucasfilm after he created his own take on a scene from The Mandalorian.

In the final (pre-credits) scene in The Mandalorian Season 2, we see a digitally-retargeted Mark Hammill performance, de-aged and fixed to look like Luke Skywalker just a short period after the events of Return of the Jedi. The result was fantastic, amazing, mind-blowing, and all that good stuff. But it wasn’t perfect.

Shamook saw what they did with this scene and took it upon himself to digitally edit the scene to make it just a BIT better. Below you’ll see that edited scene.

This update to the scene makes Luke Skywalker look just a bit more like his Return of the Jedi self. It pushes the performance over the edge – to a place where it feels natural enough that it’s apparent that it caught the eye of someone at Industrial Light and Magic. It’s become clear here and now that Shamook was hired by Lucasfilm after the release of that video.

In comments on a different video on his YouTube Channel for Deepfakes, Shamook revealed that he’d joined ILM/Lucasfilm “a few months ago” (a few months before he revealed the hiring in a commend made in early July, 2021). He added, “now I’ve settled into my job, uploads should start increasing again.” He also revealed that his role with ILM is “Senior Facial Capture Artist.”

It’s quite likely that future Star Wars projects won’t shy away from using tech like this again, in the very near future. Imagine what we’ll see in the Obi-Wan Kenobi show on Disney+, or The Book of Boba Fett, or the Lando show – the possibilities are endless!

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Android 12 Beta 3.1 released with major loopy issue fixes

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There’s a new Android update available today, Beta style, just so long as you’re part of the Android Beta program with Google. If you are a part of that program – open to the public, mind you – you’ll likely see a software update to Android 12 Beta 3.1 today. This update works with build SPB3.210618.016 with the usual x86 (64-bit), ARM (v8-A) emulator support, with a July 2021 security patch and Google Play services version 21.24.13, with API 31 for developers.

If you’re already using a device that’s running Android 12 Beta 3, you’ll more than likely see this update to your smartphone this afternoon. The update includes mainly bug fixes, but also adds stability to the build in a wide variety of places. You won’t likely notice any major difference in this software VS the previous most-recent release unless you’ve noticed one of a series of bugs that’ve been fixed.

SEE TOO: Android 12 Beta 3 released: Here’s what’s exciting

This update fixes an issue that caused Android low memory killer daemon (lmkd) to kill processes like a wild maniac. This update fixes an issue “that sometimes caused the System UI to crash.” If you’ve noticed your device getting stuck in the dreaded boot loop of death since the most recent update, this update should… fix that… if you’ve found a way to get out of the loop, of course.

For those of you that’ve never gotten your phone stuck in an “boot loop”, it’s essentially like it’s starting up, getting to the point where you’d expect to be able to interact with it, then oops! It’s starting again, getting to that point where you think you’ll be able to start using it… and so on. It’s an issue that occurs from time to time, and doesn’t necessarily mean the device is broken or useless – but it’s not always easy to fix.

If you own a Google Pixel smartphone released in the last couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ll have access to this Android 12 Beta 3.1 build. Take a peek at release notes for this build if you’re interested in getting far more in-depth as a developer or an Android enthusiast. There are also a variety of other brand phones that can access this Android 12 Beta 3.1 now, as it was with the Android 12 Beta earlier this year.

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