Bits of my bezel have fallen away.
Well, not mine, but my iPhone 6‘s. First the screen cracked, then it fell on the floor yet again — of its own accord, of course — and created a shatter pattern and a hole.
It was time, then, to upgrade to a new iPhone. So off I went to a distant Bay Area Apple store to be sold on which one.
I like to go to different Apple stores for, you know, the scenery.
A greeter immediately intercepted me. Is it me, or are they getting a touch more aggressive these days?
She quickly pointed me to the iPhone XS table, but didn’t try to persuade me to part with excess cash.
When I asked her what was so good about the XS, she immediately referenced the screen and the camera.
“I’m sorry, but I’m the greeter today. Would you like to talk to a sales specialist?” she quickly added.
How could I not?
Within around 45 seconds a specialist — let’s call her Augusta — had introduced herself. Within 10 more, I explained that I didn’t know whether to get the XS or the XR, which Apple had omitted to launch last month with the other two.
“Let’s go over to a computer,” she said, with the sort of voice I’d last heard saying: “Let’s just slide this needle into here. You won’t feel a thing.”
The Hard Sell? Or the Soft Sell?
On a beautiful wide screen, she brought up the comparative specs, while I brought up what’s been bothering me: “Why didn’t Apple bring out the XR and the XS at the same time?”
“They want to keep you guessing,” she said, with a touch of irritation. At Apple, not at me. (Come on, this was a good day. I’m relatively charming on those.)
She then proceeded to offer an utterly disarming and frank appraisal of the two phones, using the specs as props.
She started with the screen, but didn’t seem too bothered about the difference between the XR’s Liquid Retina and the XS’s Super Retina.
“They’re both real good,” she said.
She went on to size — the XR is bigger — and then discussed the camera.
“See, the XS has dual wide-angled and telephoto cameras. Do you know what that means?” she asked.
“Nah, neither do I,” she continued. “All these cameras are really good.”
“But the problem is that I can’t compare by holding each of them, can I?” I said.
“Uh-huh,” she agreed.
“Have you tried the XR?”
“Nope. We get them the day they come out. They keep us guessing too.”
“But what do you think? Which one is better?”
Time For An Honest Appraisal.
That’s when we began chatting about her phones. Yes, phones.
“One’s my iPod,” she explained. She keeps it in the car to listen to music. “Well, it’s a 5S and I couldn’t have got any money for it if I’d sold it.”
The other one was a 7. She’s happy with it, but, as I began to realize, she too was wondering whether to upgrade to an XS or an XR.
She didn’t bother with selling me on 3D Touch — which the XS has and the XR doesn’t — and only cursorily mentioned that the XR is less water-resistant than the XS.
“Bottom line, don’t throw you phone down the toilet,” she summated.
She began to scroll along to the pricing, while we chatted about the sorts of customers who go to that store.
The worst, apparently, are “ladies who lunch.” Augusta explained that it can be hard to deal with expensively-dressed types after three too many Chardonnays.
I looked over and espied a couple of women who were leaning toward the garish and gregarious. Augusta raised her eyebrows and nodded.
To Buy Or Not To Buy?
Now, the pricing.
In essence, the 256GB XR would cost me $899, while the 256GB XS would set me back $1,149.
“Is the XS worth the extra $250?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “With a phone, you’ve got to feel it and I can’t tell you if the aluminum of the XR feels better than the stainless steel of the XS. I can’t tell you if the size of the XR will suit you better than the size of the XS. So don’t buy the XS, until you’ve compared, like, right here.”
Also: The iPhone’s 21 most important apps of the decade TechRepublic
What? She wasn’t going to try and talk me into buying today, right now, this minute? She wasn’t even going to talk me into pre-ordering the XR on October 19?
What has happened to the sales industry? Has it become human?
“Come back on the 26th,” she told me. “I’ll be here.” This was true customer service, something that I’ve often experienced in Apple stores.
As she walked me out, she dropped a couple of joyous tidbits.
She said that on the day of the XS launch, the store began to run out of certain models. Three days later, they had every model of both phones. They still do.
She also let slip that sales of the XS and XS Max have been very similar, unlike the trend suggested by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who insisted that the Max was outselling the XS four times over.
But the most in-depth revelation was that everyone, but everyone refers to the phones as Eks-S and Eks-S Max.
And for all that she tried, she couldn’t help doing it herself.
Didi expands, inDriver monetizes to rival Uber, Bolt in Africa – TechCrunch
The on-demand transport space in Africa has evolved since San Francisco-based ride-hailing firm Uber first set up operations in South Africa in 2013, setting the stage for its foray across the continent while radically transforming the entire taxi industry.
Almost a decade later, Africa’s taxi industry is now dominated by tens of local and international tech-led ride-on-demand platforms, with the latest additions being global giants Didi Chuxing from China and Russia’s inDriver.
Looking to edge out its competitors, Chinese behemoth Didi is currently expanding across the continent, stepping up competition for market leaders Uber and Estonia-based Bolt. Evidence shows it is preparing to enter Nigeria, having begun operations in South Africa in March and Egypt just last month when the company posted a job opening for a driver center manager in Lagos – the same role it first advertised for when entering South Africa and Egypt.
A key indicator of the company’s imminent expansion into Nigeria was hidden within the lines of the driver center manager’s responsibilities – “to collaborate with operations and Didi’s team to support the successful launch.”
Didi did not respond to multiple TechCrunch requests for comment about its expansion plans in Africa.
Didi is one of the biggest ride-hailing services in the world. However, unlike global competitors Uber and Bolt, which years ago saw Africa as a key market in their quest for global dominance, the Chinese firm held off the continent until now.
Founded in 2012, Didi has around 600 million users across 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia. The company also has over 15 million annual active drivers.
In addition to launching other mobility platforms, Didi now owns minority stakes in other global platforms — the United States’ Lyft and Uber, Indonesia’s Grab, Egypt’s Careem and India’s Ola. It also fully acquired Brazil’s 99.
As Didi starts its incursion into Africa, Russia’s inDriver is firming up its presence across the same markets, where it recently started taking commissions from drivers.
Unlike other taxi-hailing apps that have a unilateral billing structure, inDriver allows riders to negotiate trip charges with drivers, making it popular among taxi users.
Taxi drivers in Kenya’s capital Nairobi using inDriver, which rolled out its services in Africa in 2018, have over the last few days received notifications from the company confirming the introduction of a 9.52% commission for every trip made. The commission is lower than Didi’s 13%, although both are much lower than Uber’s 25% and Bolt’s 20%.
InDriver inferred that it was introducing the charges due to the increased demand of the service, but it was keen to keep the commission lower than those of its competitors. The app was launched about three years ago across multiple markets in Africa including South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Morocco and Botswana with the promise of a commission-free first year. The company is just now introducing commissions in some of these markets, although the deductions are already in effect in Nigeria and South Africa.
In a notification sent to drivers in Kenya, inDriver said that it “became a noticeable event in the passenger rides market in Nairobi. Many people use it daily and their number is increasing. This extensive work requires significant costs. To cover these costs, we introduce payments for each order in the amount of 9.52%. To keep inDriver still profitable for both passengers and drivers, the amount of payments is lower than in other services, where payments can range from 15% to 30% of each order.”
The new update comes as the company plans to grow in different markets, having already diversified into the courier business.
The company launched its delivery business in April last year, at the height of the pandemic, to tap the demand for parcel delivery services. Courier services enlisted on the app include auto, foot and moto, and are available in over 16 countries. The company is now introducing freight services in different markets around the world.
Founded in 2013 by Arsen Tomsky, inDriver is currently available in 34 countries and recently crossed the 100-million download mark.
As it joins Didi to step up competition in Africa, market pioneers Uber and Bolt are expanding their service range in cities across the continent.
Currently, Uber is rolling out Pool Chance, a feature that lets riders headed in the same direction share the cost of the journey, in Kenya, with plans to offer the low-cost service in Ghana and Nigeria. The company says that the rollout of budget services is part of its plan to attract price-sensitive users.
Across the continent, Uber has over the last few months expanded into new regions and introduced new products as part of its strategy to retain existing customers and attract new ones amid growing competition. Earlier this month, the firm entered two additional cities in Nigeria — Ibadan and Port Harcourt — bringing into the regions a service that is already available in three other cities.
In South Africa, Uber is now available in 40 cities, serving 80% of the urban population, with premium services Uber Comfort, UberX and UberBlack and budget service UberGo. It recently expanded into 21 new cities and added a feature last August that allows the booking of trips a month in advance.
The company plans to continue investments into African cities through collaborations with national and local authorities.
“We know that we face significant competition across local transportation modes in Africa. These are vibrant and competitive with many viable alternatives, including ridesharing, personal cars and public transportation—which consumers can and do choose between,” Frans Hiemstra, the general manager for Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, told TechCrunch.
“We believe competition makes us better, which improves the service for our riders and earners alike,” he said.
Uber is still king in terms of combined market share in Africa; it claims to have about 150,000 drivers in its eight markets across the continent, while Bolt comes in second.
Bolt has been aggressively expanding its services in Africa. The firm is planning to roll out electric taxi options in South Africa four months after introducing e-bike food delivery services in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Bolt also launched its food delivery service in Nigeria last month.
Like Uber, Bolt sees myriad opportunities in the continent.
“We see that there is room for several players across the continent. The infrastructure and experience we have built up with our ride-hailing business give us a good platform to expand and diversify our services,” said Bolt’s regional director for Africa and Middle East, Paddy Partridge.
For new players like Didi, it will be an entry to a market that dealt with drivers and partners demanding better working terms.
In Nigeria and Kenya, both Uber and Bolt faced a series of protests earlier this year as their drivers expressed displeasure with the ride-hailing companies’ decision to increase their commissions, despite burdening users with price surges. However, no notable changes have been made from either of the two companies in line with the demands of drivers.
Didi’s operations elsewhere have not been without drama. Before it went public on the NYSE this year – nine years after operating as a privately held startup and raising $25 billion from investors – the Alibaba, SoftBank and Apple-backed company faced scrutiny from the Chinese government and regulators. It was accused of employing anti-competitive practices and pricing and misusing users’ personal information.
Didi’s fallout with China is just one of the many struggles it dealt with this year. Trying to compensate for the troubles at home, the firm looked to enter the U.K. market, but the move was met with concerns from the British Parliament that China could harvest data from Brits using Didi’s service. However, it seems its entry into African markets has been smooth — and could explain why it wants to keep its operations quiet: to avoid scrutiny.
Twitter Blue introduces ‘Labs’ to give users early access to new features – TechCrunch
Twitter is rolling out a new feature called ‘Labs’ for Twitter Blue, its premium subscription service. Labs will give Twitter Blue subscribers early access to features that Twitter is testing as a part of that bundle, which is currently only available in Canada and Australia.
Now, Labs subscribers now have the ability to upload videos that are up to 10-minutes long from their desktop. Standard users currently only have the option to upload videos that are up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds long. Additionally, iOS users can now swipe to pin their favorite conversations to the top of their direct message inbox.
Twitter says features that are released via Labs may eventually roll out to the rest of Twitter, become a static feature of Twitter Blue, or be scrapped altogether based on feedback it hears from subscribers.
“Labs also provides an opportunity for other internal product teams to submit features, get early quantitative and qualitative data, and then later release to a wider audience. What’s featured in Labs will change as we develop new features,” the company said in a statement.
Twitter had said last month it planned to be more experimental as it released new products, noting that it would share its progress publicly along the way and scrap ideas that didn’t work — as it recently did with Fleets.
“We believe that if we’re not winding things down every once in a while, then we’re not taking big enough bets,” said Twitter Head of Consumer Product Kayvon Beykpour at the time.
In Canada and Australia, a Twitter Blue subscription currently costs $3.49 CAD or $4.49 AUD, respectively. The subscription gives Twitter users access to premium features, including tools to organize bookmarks and an “Undo Tweet” feature, which seems to be the closest thing Twitter will offer in relation to the long-requested “edit” button. Twitter Blue also comes with a reader mode feature.
Hinge launches a new ‘Voice Prompts’ feature to give users a new way to interact – TechCrunch
Hinge is rolling out a new ‘Voice Prompts’ feature to give its users a new way to connect with their matches. Voice Prompts will allow users to answer a prompt through a 30-second voice recording. The new feature is rolling out globally starting today.
Hinge says the new feature allows people to give others a glimpse into their personality and perhaps hint at what a first date would be like. The feature will prompt users to discuss a certain topic or share a specific fun story. For instance, the prompts may ask users to discuss their biggest date fail or share a random fact that they love.
The company says 65 percent of its users say they believe hearing someone’s voice would help them determine interest in a match, as 75 percent of users said it’s difficult to feel connected with a match when their conversation is limited to just text and photos.
Hinge also plans to launch a new ‘Voice Notes’ feature later this fall. Voice Notes will make it possible for users to have a conversation that captures their personality while messaging each other. Hinge says both Voice Notes and Voice Prompts will allow people to better showcase who they are at different points in their dating journey.
Additionally, Hinge is updating its algorithm to help non-binary users better represent themselves while connecting with others on the app. To do this, Hinge will offer a “non-binary” gender category to ensure that their gender is acknowledged.
It’s worth noting that Hinge isn’t the only dating app to add voice features, as audio options are becoming more popular in the space. For instance, Bumble and Happn both have voice note features. Additionally, a new app called String lets users only communicate through voice notes. It’s clear that dating apps are looking to leverage the convenience of voice notes to retain and garner more users, as the feature takes away the awkwardness of a phone call but takes the conversation a step further than texts.
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