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iPhone, MacBook repairs a rip-off? We’ve lost money on them for years, insists Apple

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Bulletproof your latest iOS update following these steps
If you are the type that is security conscious, here are some steps you should take to lock down an iPhone running iOS 13.2 and iPad running iPadOS 13.2.

Given the cost of repairing an iPhone or MacBook screen, it would seem very unlikely that Apple isn’t making money off your broken devices.   

But the company has suggested to a US House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust that its repairs operations loses money. Asked to detail its yearly revenues from repair services since 2009, a top Apple lawyer said it had no revenue to reveal. 

“For each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs,” Apple said in its written response.

SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF)

Any Apple customer who’s paid the company for repairs would find this statement a surprise at the least. Apple is known for using technical measures to encourage and ensure customers buy genuine Apple components and, where possible, to do so from Apple itself. 

iPhone 11, for example, recently started displaying system warnings if iOS detected a non-genuine screen replacement. Apple said it was for safety and security reasons. 

The warning didn’t prevent owners from using these devices as it did in the Error 53 bricking scandal, but informed users that Apple had “updated the device information maintained for your iPhone for service needs, safety analysis, and to improve future products”. 

Similarly, its T2 chip on new MacBook Pros serves a security function, but also prevents third-party repairs for some components. 

But Apple may be losing money on repairs because of employee training issues. The T2 chip was behind a $10,000 repair bill that Apple unnecessarily footed under warranty because several Apple Geniuses didn’t know how a T2-enabled firmware password affected display behavior prior to signing in. 

Apple Genius workers replaced two motherboards on the device before one brighter Apple Genius realized the screen was just dimmed because the user had not logged in. 

Consumers often feel Apple overcharges for replacements, too. Apple’s US website lists the cost of replacing an iPhone XS screen at $279, but that’s without tax. Consumers in the UK are charged £282.44 ($366) inclusive of tax for the same repairs. The cost is similar across Europe. 

And thousands of MacBook Pro owners have complained that Apple designs laptops in a way that makes, for example, a $6 repair job cost $600.      

These were some of the issues the subcommittee touched on in its questions to Apple’s vice president of corporate law, Kyle Andeer. 

To questions about Apple preventing independent repair shops from accessing Apple components and repair manuals, Andeer responded that these business can now apply to participate in Apple’s independent repair provider program (IRP), which launched in August.

Andeer also denied Apple blocks consumers from using non-authorized repair shops.

“Apple does not take any actions to block consumers from seeking out or using repair shops that offer a broader range of repairs than those offered by Apple’s authorized technicians. Customers are free to obtain repairs from any repair shop of their choice,” he said.

SEE: Tim Cook’s dream: Every enterprise run on an iPhone

As for difficultly of repairing components, such as a damaged screen on a MacBook Pro, Andeer had this to say. 

“We currently do not provide same unit repairs for all products due to the challenge of reliably reassembling devices after disassembling the unit for repair. For example, it is not possible to reliably repair some products because it is not feasible to split products into their component parts without significant risk of damage to those components.”

Andeer also denied that Apple would refuse its customers repair services in future if a device owner had received repair work from an unauthorized technician. 

But there were several exceptions, such as when repairs required “special tooling” to reassemble the device and when “repairing the device would result in greater cost to the customer than replacing the device”.

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Apple: “For each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs.”


Image: Angela Lang/CNET



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SAIC Mobility Robotaxi valued at $1B after $148M Series B – TechCrunch

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SAIC Mobility Robotaxi, an arm of state-owned Chinese automaker SAIC aiming to launch a commercial robotaxi service, raised $148 million (RMB 1 billion). The funds will be used to scale its robotaxi service in China, which it will operate in partnership with autonomous vehicle company Momenta.

SAIC Group led the Series B round that also saw participation from Momenta, Gaoheng Management Consulting and other institutions. The funding brought SAIC Mobility’s total valuation to more than $1 billion, according to the company.

SAIC Mobility’s robotaxis are powered using Momenta’s “Flywheel L4” technology, which is designed to use deep learning rather than a rules-based, machine learning approach. Momenta contends that the technology allows the robotaxis to quickly iterate and improve its algorithms.

The funding comes eight months since the two companies launched two 100-day trials in the cities of Shanghai and Suzhou. The pilot, which launched in December, tested a fleet of 60 vehicles, all of which had a safety driver behind the wheel at all times. SAIC says it reached a daily order volume of about 20 rides per vehicle, and that its overall user satisfaction rate was 98%. About 80% of riders used the service two or more times after their initial experience, according to the companies.

The next step is to advance SAIC’s trial in Shanghai and Suzhou into a service as SAIC Mobility gears up for eventual commercialization. Local regulations don’t support commercialization and SAIC wants to be ready when new regulations are released early next year, according to a SAIC spokesperson.

With Momenta on its side, SAIC Mobility has a good chance of scoring a commercial deployment permit in Suzhou. The company has a joint venture with the Suzhou branch of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), which has oversight of more than 100 large state-owned enterprises, to “scale up” robotaxi deployment in the city.

Launching in Shanghai will put SAIC Mobility in competition with other big players, like Baidu, which also has an autonomous ride-hailing service, Apollo Go, in the city. Baidu also recently got the green light to operate a commercial robotaxi service, without a human driver present, in Wuhan and Chongqing. Baidu is also operating Apollo Go commercially in Beijing, with a human safety operator present, alongside Pony.ai.

Momenta and SAIC have said in the past that they aim to deploy 200 vehicles across China by 2022. To reach this aim, the two companies will use the Series B to buy and develop more vehicles, more than doubling the current number in its fleet, and to continue to improve on both the ride-hailing app, as well as the autonomous capabilities of the vehicles, said the spokesperson.

“SAIC Mobility Robotaxi’s success is the organic combination of ‘operational experience’ and ‘leading autonomous driving technology,’” said Cao Xudong, CEO of Momenta, in a statement. “Our two companies together will continue to develop the technology, products and commercial implementation to meet the future and diverse travel needs of end users. We believe that this will become the industry benchmark for autonomous driving and in-depth cooperation between leading car companies and operating platforms, and the future of scalable [uncrewed] driving.”

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Pomelo exits stealth mode with $20M seed to rethink international money transfer – TechCrunch

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Eric Velasquez Frenkiel had a seemingly simple thought when visiting his family in the Philippines, impressed by the cashless economy that had formed. Instead of sending money to his family once a year – a costly, fee-heavy affair – why can’t he just leave his credit card there?

As with many things in fintech, it wasn’t that simple. But the seed of the idea made the former enterprise chief executive turn his career into a bet on one of fintech’s most elusive problems.

Pomelo, Frenkiel’s new startup launching out of stealth today, wants to make it easier to send remittance payments and conduct international money transfer, with a credit twist.

To execute on that vision, Pomelo has raised a $20 million seed round led by Keith Rabois at Founders Fund and Kevin Hartz at A* Capital, with participation from Afore Capital, Xfund, Josh Buckley and the Chainsmokers. The round also included a $50 million warehouse facility, which will allow Pomelo to give upfront cash to people who want to make transfers.

Venture investors are not the only cohort showing interest; over 120,000 people have joined Pomelo’s waitlist over six months, according to Frenkiel. (It’s important not to confuse this Pomelo with another Pomelo, a fintech-as-a-service platform for Latin America that has raised $9 million in funding). Oh, fintech.

Here’s how the startup works: if someone wants to send money overseas, they make a Pomelo account, which comes with up to four credit cards. The creator of the account – let’s just assume that they’re the one that is sending the money – can set limits, pause cards and view spending habits.

Pomelo’s key tweak is around credit. Senders can give cash, in the form of credit, to family members – which the startup thinks will help with instant access to funds, fraud and chargeback protection and, for potential immigrants that may use this to send money back home, a way to boost one’s credit score with more transaction history.

Challenges still await any fintech, whether traditional or scrappy upstart, that is betting its business on backing potentially risky individuals. For example, Pomelo doesn’t want to rely on credit score when deciding whether or not to trust a sender, because the metric historically leaves out those who don’t have a bounty of access to financial literacy or spending.

Image Credits: Pomelo

“If you do have a credit score and you have enough credit history, you would get up to $1,000 a month,” Frenkiel said. “But if you don’t have credit or wish to improve your credit, we give you a credit builder.” Customers are invited to supply a secure deposit, so that there’s a way to prove creditworthiness down the road, and Pomelo is able to “actually balance the need to extend credit but also ensure we stay in business long term.”

International money transfer continues to be an expensive affair for senders. Unsurprisingly, that pain point has led to a plethora of startups. Startups offer a sliding scale proposition, meaning it costs more to send more money, or a flat-fee value proposition, with a $5 fee for all transfers regardless of size. Per the World Bank, around 6% of a total check is removed via fees and exchange rate markups.

Rethinking remittance thus feels like a common pitch. Frenkiel says that Pomelo’s closest competitors are Xoom and Remitly, although he thinks they differentiate in two keys ways: the focus on credit, and a “fundamentally new revenue model.”

Pomelo doesn’t make money from senders via transfer fees, instead leaning its business on interchange fees paid by merchants. “You shouldn’t have to pay money to send money,” Frenkiel adds.

While interchange fees have their own slew of issues as a business model, let’s end with some insurance: both Visa and Mastercard were interested in partnering with the startup, but the latter won the deal.

“MasterCard allows us to work in more than 100 countries,” Frenkiel said. “Obviously, we’re starting off with a few, but the idea is that there’s far more endpoints to take MasterCard or Visa than having banking as a prerequisite to send money… we hope we can eventually deliver a product to wherever MasterCard is accepted around the world. ”

The startup is servicing the Philippines, but soon plans to expand to Mexico and India as well as other geographies.

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Watch NASA roll out the mega moon rocket Space Launch System ahead of launch – TechCrunch

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NASA engineers have completed final tests of the Space Launch System (SLS), clearing the way for the mega moon rocket to roll out to the launch pad today instead of Friday as originally planned.

The space agency was able to move up the date for the rollout — when a transporter-crawler moves the 322-foot-tall SLS from the Vehicle Assembly Building to launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center — because it completed key tests of the rocket’s flight termination system (FTS). The FTS is a critical series of components that ensure a rocket can be safely destroyed after launch in the case of a major failure. Testing of the FTS was “the final major activity” on NASA’s pre-launch to-do list, the agency said.

Image Credits: NASA

Testing and installing the FTS was last on the list because the system starts a proverbial “clock” of around 20 days for launch. If launch does not occur within this period, the system must be retested. This time frame is set by the U.S. Space Force and by the FTS’s own battery system. NASA was able to get an extension from Space Launch Delta 45, the USSF unit that has jurisdiction over launches on the east coast, from 20 days to 25 days.

That means NASA is on track for a first launch attempt of the Artemis I mission on August 29. Thanks to the extension, NASA can now make backup launch attempts on September 2 and September 5.

Artemis I is the first in a series of planned launches aimed at returning humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo era. The primary goal is to test the Orion spacecraft and ensure it can safely carry humans. (SLS is not reusable, so while a successful launch will surely give engineers plenty of confidence about the rocket, it will not make a second flight.) During the mission, Orion will journey around the moon before conducting a reentry and splashdown back on Earth.

The next flight in the manifest, Artemis II, is scheduled for 2024. This mission will carry humans, though they won’t touch down on the moon. That privilege will go to the next cohort of astronauts, which will include the first woman and person of color to go to the moon, during the Artemis III mission scheduled to launch in the middle of the decade.

Today’s rollout is expected to take around 11 hours. Click on the video above to watch it live.

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