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iPhone XS Max review: The iPhone’s future is big and bright Review

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The future of the iPhone is here. The home button, an iconic part of the iPhone’s design for the past decade, is no more. For at least the immediate future, the iPhone will feature a display that goes nearly edge to edge, broken up only by a notch at the top of the device.

The overall size of the iPhone has not increased, but the display size has increased. So too has the cost.

Also: Battle of the big smartphones: Apple iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Apple announced a trio of new iPhone models this year, with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max as modest upgrades from last year’s iPhone X. The iPhone XR looks similar to the XS, but incorporates different display technology and is the cheapest of the group.

For the past week, I’ve been using the iPhone XS Max; the biggest and most expensive iPhone ever. This is the phone I had said I was all in on. And you know what? It’s shaping up to be my favorite iPhone ever.

Familiar design


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With the iPhone XS Max, Apple kept the same overall design as the iPhone X. A stainless steel housing band wraps the sides, broken up only by a new antenna band along the bottom. The front and back of the phone are covered in glass, once again allowing for Qi-standard wireless charging. The iPhone XS and XS Max come in three colors this year: Space gray, silver, and a new gold color.

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The iPhone now carries an IP68 water and dust resistance rating, meaning it can withstand a dip in up to 2m of water for 30 minutes. Whenever this rating is mentioned,Apple has made sure to mix in references to testing the iPhone XS in other liquids such as beer. I opted to not test my iPhone XS Max in a pint of beer, namely because I didn’t want to waste a good beer.

The XS Max’s OLED display is a massive 6.5 inches, with a resolution of 2688×1242 and a pixel density of 458ppi. The Max’s display is slightly larger than Samsung’s Note 9, which measures 6.4 inches.

Also: iPhone XS Max teardown: Here’s what $1,249 flagship costs Apple in parts

As with last year’s iPhone X, the top of the display has a notch or cutout. In that cutout, Apple has placed one of the phone’s speakers, along with the various components for its True Depth camera system, which is a crucial part of its Face ID system.

The iPhone XS Max supports HDR, both Dolby Vision and HDR10. To sum up the display in a word: Stunning. Watching HDR-enabled YouTube videos, I was mesmerized by the saturation and clarity. Unlike Samsung’s Note 9 and its oversaturated color replication, the iPhone XS Max takes a more realistic approach.

In fact, DisplayMate’s Dr. Raymond M. Soneira recently tested the iPhone XS Max display and awarded it the “Best Smartphone Display” award, surpassing the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Despite the size of the display, the phone is actually smaller than Apple’s previous Plus iPhone model and the Note 9.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the dimensions in inches:

iPhone 8 Plus iPhone XS Max Galaxy Note 9
Height 6.24 6.2 6.37
Width 3.07 3.05 3.01
Depth 0.30 0.30 0.35

As you can see, the XS Max is the smallest of the group, even if it’s just barely so.

On the bottom of the XS Max, you’ll find a Lightning port to charge, sync, and listen to audio via Lightning compatible headphones. Yes, the headphone jack is still missing. Also missing this year is the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone plug adapter that Apple had previously included in the box with previous iPhone models after ditching the headphone jack.

Along the right side of the phone is where you’ll find the SIM card tray and the side button. On the opposite side is the traditional Ring/Silent switch, along with volume up and down buttons.

The back of the phone features a dual-camera system, complete with a camera bump. Both cameras are 12 megapixels and dual optical image stabilization.

Also: iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X: Apple’s latest flagship’s display sets new records

The only notable difference between the iPhone XS and XS Max is the size. The XS is nearly identical to last year’s iPhone X, save for a slightly bigger camera bump and the antenna band.

As I said in my first impressions of the XS Max, yes, the phone is big… but it’s not that big. Reading through a spec sheet, it’s easy to see the display size and figure the phone is unwieldily, but for me, that’s just not the case.

Again, I don’t have what I would consider large hands, and I’ve resisted the phablet trend by opting for the smaller iPhone and Galaxy devices over the past few years.

And yet, I’ve had no issues adapting to the XS Max. I’m able to use it with one hand when needed, thanks in part to Reachability.

The combination of more content on the screen, combined with the picture quality for my frequent YouTube binges and the overall comfort of using a phone I would have previously thought too big for me, the iPhone XS Max is a joy to use.

Performance

iphone-xs-max-3.jpgiphone-xs-max-3.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Powering the iPhone XS Max is Apple’s latest processor, the A12 Bionic. The 7-nanometer chip has six cores, two performance cores that are only used for resource-intensive tasks like gaming. The four remaining cores are used for more common tasks, like sending messages or checking email.

Another benefit of the new processor is the ability to handle storage of up to 512GB. Yes, that means that Apple now offers an iPhone with 512GB of storage, along with 64GB and 256GB.

According to iFixit’s teardown of the XS Max, it has a 3,174mAh battery and 4GB of memory.

Battery life for me has been nothing short of stellar. I routinely go the entire day and halfway into the next before I need to charge the XS Max.

Also: iPhone XS and XS Max reveals some battery surprises

I’m annoyed that Apple is still shipping a 5W wall adapter with all iPhone models, instead of a wall adapter that’s capable of fast charging the iPhone. And despite sticking to 7.5W wireless charging, the iPhone XS Max chargers faster thanks to a resigned wireless charging coil inside the phone. The coil is wound tighter, making it more efficient, and in turn capable of charging the phone faster via a Qi wireless charging pad. Another benefit of this year’s wireless charging redesign is that the coil is more forgiving in the phone’s placement on the pad.

As far as speed goes, apps open without hesitation, and there’s been no slowdown in my short time with the phone.

Thanks to the upgraded processor, Face ID is reportedly faster than it was with the iPhone X. If it is faster, it’s not enough for me to notice.

Let’s talk reception

Apple updates the processor and internals with every iPhone release, but this year there’s a notable change that could potentially impact all users. Instead of using Qualcomm modems in every iPhone model, Apple has fully switched to Intel modems. Previously, only GSM iPhone models (example: AT&T, T-Mobile) used Intel modems for connectivity.

Shortly after the iPhone XS launched, reports of reception and throughout issues began to surface. In some cases, users report the iPhone XS is unable to connect to an LTE network in an area with poor reception, despite other smartphones able to find and hold onto an LTE signal.

Also: New Apple connection problem? iPhone XS users report subpar cell and Wi-Fi reception

With an iPhone XS Max, iPhone X, and Galaxy Note 9 on hand, I decided to run some speed tests using an AT&T SIM card.

I checked the signal strength of each device, as measured in dBm, prior to running any tests. Using the Ookla Speedtest app, I ensured all three devices used the same test server and then I ran each test three times. The first series of tests were in an area of poor reception, and the second series ran outside where reception isn’t an issue. I then averaged the three tests. Download and update speeds are listed in Mbps.

Poor reception

Download Upload Signal strength
iPhone XS Max 9.41 0.48 -118
iPhone X 25.90 1.14 -110
Note 9 29.00 3.24 -109

As you can see, the iPhone XS Max performed very poorly, with the Note 9 coming out on top. Once I moved outside, however, the story changed a bit.

Improved reception

Download Upload Signal strength
iPhone XS Max 47.97 18.77 -98
iPhone X 38.83 11.77 -93
Note 9 52.53 23.17 -95

The iPhone X performed worse than the XS Max when reception improved, which is exactly what should happen despite both devices I have on hand using an Intel modem. With the XS line, Apple added an additional antenna that enables 4×4 MIMO and Gigabit-class LTE. The Note 9 still offered the best performance.

I also ran the same tests when connected to my Wi-Fi network, but all three devices performed the same, each reaching the speed limit provided by my ISP (125 Mbps down/10 Mbps up). I have experienced no issues with Wi-Fi on the iPhone XS Max.

As for why the iPhone XS Max struggled in an area with poor reception in my testing, I’m not sure. There are a number of factors that can go into impacting reception and throughput, not all of which are Apple or even a wireless carrier’s fault. I plan on continuing to test and monitor reports over the coming days and weeks.

Photo quality

A few years ago, it felt as if we reached a plateau when it came to camera performance. The picture quality from Samsung, Google, and Apple devices is nearly identical and boils down to personal preference.

The iPhone XS Max boasts a new sensor with enhancements to image fidelity, faster auto-focus, deeper pixels, and larger pixels. There’s even a new Smart HDR feature that goes beyond the precious HDR mode of combing three photos of varying exposure to capture more detail and light in a photo.

Also: Apple iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR: Features and specs compared

All of that sounds fancy, but what does it mean exactly? For me, it means one of the best cameras I’ve used on a smartphone in recent memory.

The amount of detail captured in situations with low light, or with difficult shadows, has been impressive. Look at this photo:

instagram-jc.jpginstagram-jc.jpg

Jason Cipriani

I took this on an overcast day, in an alley, without much thought. After I took it, I zoomed in to see how much detail of the wall was captured in the shot. Every single bump and imperfection of the wall is there and properly lit. The only editing done on this photo was to crop it for Instagram. I did not adjust any colors or saturation.

Apple also made improvements to Portrait Mode on the XS Max. Specifically, Apple has added the ability to adjust the amount of blur — or bokeh — after the photo has been taken. Previously, when a photo was taken in Portrait Mode, you had to live with the amount of background blur.

I’m still not entirely sold on Portrait Mode, and honestly, it hasn’t been a feature I’ve used very often in the past. I need to test it out more, but so far the ability to adjust the background after the fact has been intriguing.

Conclusion

The iPhone XS Max is the best iPhone Apple has ever made. Sure, that can be said about each year’s new iPhone crop, but the iPhone XS Max sets the bar for iPhone and Android smartphones.

The only downside to the XS Max is its price tag. It starts at $1,099 for the 64GB model and maxes out at $1,449 for the 512GB model. Those prices for a smartphone are insane, and yet Apple is confident that users are willing to pay a premium.

Also: iPhone XS Max: How much profit does Apple really make on each one sold?

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 is arguably the XS Max’s biggest competition. In that regard, the decision comes down to which operating system you prefer and whether or not having a stylus is important to you.

Before writing off the size of the iPhone XS Max, I recommend visiting a store where you can spend a few minutes and get a better idea of what the XS Max is all about. If you recently upgraded to an iPhone X, or maybe even an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, don’t feel left out if aren’t ready to upgrade. It’s an expensive decision! The future of the iPhone is big and bright, and the iPhone XS Max is the embodiment of that future.

Previous and related coverage:

iPhone XS smartphone beauty really is only skin deep

So, you bought a beautiful new iPhone XR or iPhone XS Max. Are you planning to use it without a protective case? Then you’re living dangerously.

iPhone X expensive? No, $999 is a ‘value price’, says Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple’s new iPhone X $999 price tag only looks expensive, according to Apple chief Tim Cook.

Apple’s Tim Cook: Facebook’s privacy blunder ‘so dire’ we need regulations

Cook thinks Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal is so big that it warrants “well-crafted regulation”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: It’s still too early for quality AR headsets

The technology just isn’t available to create a flawless augmented reality headset, says Apple’s chief.

The iPhone with a laptop price tag: Will Apple’s iPhone XS Max convince business pros to upgrade? TechRepublic

Jason Hiner and Bill Detwiler discuss Apple’s latest mobile hardware, including the most expensive iPhone ever and the increasingly health-conscious Apple Watch Series 4.

iPhone XS Max review: Gigantic-screen phone for a gigantic price CNET

Gigantic-screen phone for a gigantic price

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VCs approached Facebook to fund a spinout of Workplace valued at over $1B, but Facebook declined – TechCrunch

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Workplace — the app originally built as a version of Facebook for employees to communicate with each other — now has more than 7 million users, carving out a place for itself as an app help companies communicate internally using essentially the same tools that have proven sticky in their lives with friends and family. That traction, it turns out, has been giving Workplace attention of another kind.

We’ve learned that Facebook (before it was rebranded as Meta) was approached by enterprise investors offering the social network a proposition: spin off the organization, they said, and let us back it as a startup. A deal would have valued a newly independent Workplace as a “unicorn” (at least at $1 billion) according to the source.

A source tells us that conversations didn’t progress, primarily because Facebook (and now Meta) saw Workplace as a “strategic asset” — not because Workplace generates sales anywhere close to the billions Meta makes from advertising on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but important rather for presenting a more diverse face to the market. For regulators, it shows that Facebook/Meta is more than just a too-powerful social network; and for organizations, that Facebook can do more for them than just sell ads.

“It helps make Facebook [and Meta] look like an adult,” the source said.

Spokespeople from Meta and Workplace said that they had nothing to share and declined to comment for this article.

It’s not clear which investors were involved, but a source says that they were among those focused on late-stage, growth round investments with a view to injecting capital specifically in enterprise opportunities.

Their approach to fund a spun-out Workplace last year would have come at a time when late-stage and private equity investors were (and still are) ramping up their activities to snap up big, mature tech businesses. Thoma Bravo last year was reported to be raising $35 billion to hone in on more acquisition opportunities in the space (and it’s been making a wide number of investments and acquisitions to that end). Bloomberg estimates that private equity acquisitions totaled more some $80 billion in 2021, up more than 140% compared to 2020.

That pace does not look like it is slowing down this year, and it includes PE firms approaching larger technology behemoths to spin out operations as they look to streamline and realise more capital from less core, or possibly unprofitable, or more generally lagging, assets. Just earlier today, Francisco Partners announced a deal to snap up IBM’s Watson Health business, reportedly for around $1 billion.

Building a SaaS beachhead

For Meta, an approach to spin out Workplace highlights developments on two fronts.

On the corporate side, there have been calls to break up the company — the latest development on that front from earlier this month is that the courts ruled that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission can proceed with a lawsuit mandating a sale of WhatsApp and Instagram, alongside, reportedly, a separate probe of its VR division for antitrust violations. It’s a situation that some investors and shareholders will see as an opportunity, a tension that Meta might increasingly need to weigh up as it justifies holding on to its various assets.

For Workplace, the division has found itself at a key crossroads in the last several months.

On one side, Workplace has seen a number of key departures, including no less than its top two executives, Karandeep Anand (who this month was named chief product officer at Brex) and Julien Codorniou, who left to become a partner at London VC Felix Capital. A number of others have also left the building to move on other opportunities elsewhere.

The logic behind some of that movement was described to me, charitably, not as a response to the bad PR that Meta has faced, but natural attrition: here was a group of people assembled to create and build Workplace from the ground up, and now that it’s a more mature product with a clearer focus, it’s the right time for new people to come in and work on the next stage. (My personal opinion: Workplace’s new head, Ujjwal Singh, feels like a solid choice to lead it right now.)

But even if there has been reporting contradicting that workers might feel worn down by Meta constantly being bashed in the court of public opinion, Workplace has not been immune to it, either. We understand that Workplace signed a huge deal with a major chain of restaurants, one of the biggest, but the customer asked to hold off on announcing the win last autumn because of the bad news cycle and “reputation issues.”

“That shit doesn’t happen to other SaaS companies,” one person said.

That, it seems, would have been one argument in favor of distancing Workplace further from its parent, perhaps by way of a spinout, but it seems that Meta has the opposite idea.

Workplace has actually changed a lot over the years since it was first rolled out as a product.

Founded originally as a “work” version of Facebook — expanding how Facebook employees were already using Facebook to communicate to each other in private groups — Workplace was launched as a response to the rise of Slack and other chat apps for the workplace. Workplace’s logic was that it had a natural advantage since billions were already using Facebook. And, bringing in a new service targeting a different kind of user, with a different business model — paid, not ad-supported — opened the door to new business possibilities for the company.

That’s largely remained the strategy for the company even as the focus has changed for Workplace. Originally it introduced a number of integrations with other workplace productivity tools aimed at knowledge workers, part of a bigger effort to compete more directly against the likes of Slack and Teams. But over time, almost on accident, Workplace found an audience with deskless workers who communicated with their employers mainly by mobile. So what has emerged as the sweet spot for Workplace is being a communications app for both categories of workers simultaneously.

“We realised that instead of asking our customers to choose between Teams or Slack and Workplace, you could have both,” a source said. “Others could handle real-time messaging communications for knowledge workers, while Workplace does asynchronous best for everyone.”

And that appears to be the guiding idea for Workplace’s strategy now, which has seen it recently integrate more functionality from Microsoft Teams into its platform to complement Workplace, and yesterday to announce a new integration with WhatsApp, which is already very popular with frontline teams, and will now become a more formal interface for Workplace communications. From what we understand, closer integrations and services involving Meta’s VR business and the Portal are also in the works.

While the company is not due to update on user numbers until later this year, a source told us that there are now closer to 10 million users on Workplace, with key customers including some of the world’s biggest employers like Walmart, Astra Zeneca and others.

While Workplace had in the past been sold to customers as a standalone product, “I don’t think it will be sold as a standalone application ever again,” a source said.

Instead, it will part of a suite, for example selling business messaging plus Workplace, or along with a Facebook login feature, opening up the prospects of how Meta can engage with those businesses. (The wider sales pitch to enterprises is also likely a behind its motivation to acquire Kustomer, the CRM startup, although that deal has yet to close.)

So far from being ready to part with Workplace, it seems that Meta is now positioning it as part of a beachhead comprising a bigger SaaS business. Can it mobilize as an independent company might have done to realize that opportunity? VCs might still be waiting in the wings if it doesn’t.

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The first big tech antitrust bill lumbers toward reality – TechCrunch

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A major Senate bill that would prevent tech companies from giving preference to their own products and services just passed a significant hurdle in Congress, bringing it one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, moving the prominent antitrust bill toward a vote before the full Senate. The bill passed its committee vote 16-6 Thursday, with five Republicans joining Senate Democrats to press forward with the legislation.

The bill would prohibit tech platforms from “favoring their own products or services, disadvantaging rivals, or discriminating among businesses that use their platforms in a manner that would materially harm competition on the platform.” It would also forbid dominant platforms from preventing interoperability with other services and from leveraging another company’s data on the platform to compete against them.

To accomplish its goals, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act would empower antitrust enforcers with “strong, flexible tools,” including “civil penalties, authority to seek broad injunctions, emergency interim relief, and potential forfeiture of executive compensation.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, hailed the legislation as the first major tech competition bill to head toward the Senate floor “since the dawn of the internet.” The bill could still see changes from a handful of amendments that didn’t impede its progress Thursday but may still impact its final language.

While it still has an uphill slog to make it into a crowded and mostly stalled out legislative agenda, the bill’s momentum was significant enough to prompt Google and Apple to both weigh in with comments earlier this week.

“Every day, millions of Americans use online services like Google Search, Maps and Gmail to find new information and get things done,” Alphabet Global Affairs President and Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker wrote in a blog post. “…Legislation being debated in the House and Senate could break these and other popular online services, making them less helpful and less secure, and damaging American competitiveness.”

Apple also sought to intervene, penning a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, the committee’s ranking Republican Chuck Grassley as well as Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar that subcommittee’s ranking member Mike Lee.

“After a tumultuous year that witnessed multiple controversies regarding social media, whistle-blower allegations of long-ignored risks to children, and ransomware attacks that hobbled critical infrastructure, it would be ironic if Congress responds by making it much harder to protect the privacy and security of Americans’ personal devices,” Apple Senior Director of Government Affairs Tim Powderly wrote. “Unfortunately, that is what these bills would do.”

Both companies argued that the bill along with another piece of legislation, the Open App Markets Act, would be a detriment to consumer security. The latter bill would force companies that control operating systems to allow third-party apps and app stores and allow developers to tell consumers where they could find the same software at better prices.

 

A group of tech companies that included Yelp, DuckDuckGo, Sonos, Spotify, Proton, Match Group and the startup accelerator Y Combinator along with the venture capital firm Initialized Capital spoke out in favor of the anti-self preferencing legislation earlier this week.

“Findings from the United States and governments around the world reveal the many anticompetitive self-preferencing tactics dominant technology companies use to attain and entrench their gatekeeper status in the market to the detriment of competition, consumers, and innovation,” the companies wrote. “The American Innovation and Choice Online Act… targets self-preferencing to help restore competition in the digital marketplace and remove barriers for consumers to choose the services they want.”

Regulating the tech industry is a rare issue that inspires bipartisan cooperation in Congress — another sign that the tech industry should expect new restrictions on its business, even if those proposals still progress at a crawl.

The bill was introduced by by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and is co-sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Steve Daines (R-MT).

The House version of the bill, led by House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and Ranking Member Ken Buck (R-CO), is already out of committee and ready for a vote.

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TikTok begins testing support for paid subscriptions – TechCrunch

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TikTok is testing support for paid subscriptions, the company confirmed to TechCrunch on Thursday. As first reported by The Information, the popular short-form video app is exploring the option for creators to charge subscriptions for their content. The feature is part of a limited test for the time being and is not broadly available. TikTok declined to elaborate on the feature or share additional details.

“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email, when reached for comment.

It’s unclear how the paid subscription model will be implemented in the app. For context, TikTok’s popular algorithmic “For You” page surfaces videos from creators that users don’t follow. If a creator chooses to charge a subscription for their content, it’s likely that their videos won’t appear on users’ For You pages. However, it’s also possible that the subscription will apply to additional content that’s exclusive to paid users, as opposed to being applied to the entirety of a creator’s account.

News of the test comes a day after Instagram launched subscriptions in the U.S. The feature is now in early testing with a small group of creators who are able to offer their followers paid access to exclusive Instagram Live videos and Stories. Creators can choose their own price point for access to their exclusive content. Paid subscribers will be marked with a special badge, differentiating them from unpaid users in the sea of comments.

TikTok’s paid subscriptions test follows recent confirmation that it’s testing an in-app tipping feature on its platform that allows creators to accept money from fans outside of TikTok LIVE streams, where gifting is already supported. Creators who are part of the limited test can apply for the feature if they have at least 100,000 followers and are in good standing. Those who have been approved are given a Tips button on their profiles, which their followers are able to use to send them direct payments.

The company’s newest test is its latest push toward monetization and helping creators earn a living through its platform. Last year, the company introduced a $200 million fund aimed at helping creators in the U.S. supplement their earnings. TikTok also helps creators sign brand partnerships and sponsorship deals and also provides monetization for livestreams. Considering TikTok’s focus on monetization efforts, it’s no surprise that the company is experimenting with a way for creators to offer paid subscriptions for their content.

TikTok and Instagram’s tests follow Twitter’s launch of “Super Follows,” a paid subscription offering that launched in September 2021. The feature allows users to subscribe to accounts they like for a monthly subscription fee in exchange for exclusive content. Eligible accounts can set the price for Super Follow subscriptions, with the option of charging $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99 per month. Similar to Instagram’s model, subscribers are marked with a special Super Follower badge, differentiating them from unpaid followers.

TikTok, Instagram and Twitter’s paid subscription offerings outline the companies’ efforts to court creator communities. The offerings are also a way for the companies to compete with each other, along with other digital platforms such as YouTube, which offers lucrative ways for creators to make money.

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