Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Samsung tries to deliver a big innovation and fails miserably.
A big story this week on TechCrunch was that in the buildup to the release of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, potentially one of the weirdest, most innovative, most expensive phones shipped in the past decade, there are some signs that this could be a momentous failure. Samsung only sent out about a dozen review units to press outlets, and three of them seemed to fail for three distinct reasons.
Does this inspire much faith in the durability of the $1,980 hardware (which has already sold out in pre-orders)? Not quite.
“A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” a Samsung spokesperson publicly detailed, responding to the issues.
This nascent scandal may lead you to recall the Note 7 debacle, which earned Samsung what was perhaps the worst free advertising ever, with the FAA mandating just about every domestic flight begin with the pilot ensuring that the plane was Note 7-free. A phone spontaneously dying is a cake walk compared to a phablet bomb, but we’ll see whether this was just a big pre-release fluke and the consumer units prove more durable. That said, a failure rate of around 25 percent for models sent to journalists after a few days doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence.
Brian seemed to have some pretty nice things to say about his early time with the device:
I will say I did get a chance to fumble around with the Fold this week while our hardware editor Brian Heater was in town, and I personally found the device pretty inspiring. The screen on his still-functioning device is really quite beautiful and it all just feels like an innovative approach, even if it’s very first-gen at its heart.
Its good qualities all rely on the device continuing to function though, so I won’t get too complimentary until we get some further clarity on that.
Trends of the week
Here are a few big news items from big companies, with links to all the sweet, sweet added context.
- Apple +
IntelQualcomm = best friends
The two companies finally put aside their royalties and patent troll skirmishes, and various media reports suggest Apple’s mobile mea culpa was all about accepting Qualcomm’s command on 5G modems — something the iPhone giant really couldn’t afford to overlook. It was great news for Qualcomm, which had a major stock rally this week, but probably bad news for Intel, which seemed to be embracing a renewed and improved relationship with Apple as it tried to replace Qualcomm’s tech. Oh well.
- TikTok’s shock block
Chinese company ByteDance’s cross-border hit TikTok hit a major stumbling block in India after a judge there ruled that app downloads had to be halted on iOS and Android following a number of issues regarding porn and other “illegal content.” There are 120 million existing TikTok users in India, but they shouldn’t be affected, as the service itself has not been banned — you just won’t find them in the app stores there.
- Move slow, still break things
Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey continued his ill-advised public speaking tour with a chat at TED, where he first said he isn’t sure he’d build Twitter the same way if he got a second shot. “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much … I don’t think I would create ‘likes’ in the first place.” In response to a question about his lack of urgency in fixing some of Twitter’s more egregious problems, Dorsey said, “We are working as quickly as we can, but quickness will not get the job done… It’s focus, it’s prioritization, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network.”
- Sony teases an 8K PS5… Xbox loses a slot
While Google is betting on a world without dedicated high-end gaming hardware with its Stadia game-streaming platform, Xbox is betting on a future without physical media. Microsoft released the Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” this week for $249. The company has been piping out mid-generation upgrades for Xbox One, and this is its most minor hardware update — there are almost no differences beyond the disc drive. Meanwhile, PlayStation kind of stole Xbox’s press lunch by giving some details on the PS5. Also on the gaming front, a report suggests Apple is spending more than $500 million on its Arcade gaming subscription service.
Shoot me tips or feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
How did the top tech companies screw-up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:
- Facebook elaborates more on that “screwing over users’ privacy” thing it does from time to time:
[Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users]
- YouTube managed to add its own conspiracy to videos of the Notre-Dame fire:
[YouTube’s algorithm added 9/11 facts to a live stream of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire]
Our premium subscription service has been off to a great start. I just kicked off my new series this week, “The Exit,” where I interview a lead investor in a recent exit. I talked to Bessemer’s Adam Fisher, who led Bessemer’s investments in Dynamic Yield, which McDonald’s bought last month for $300 million.
“The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say ‘no’ to certain customers…”
Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers —
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Oculus Quest subscriptions roll out for games and apps
Oculus today announced that it’s now allowing developers to offer subscriptions to their apps. While perhaps not the best fit for gaming – which Oculus was centered around at the beginning of its life – the company says that by offering subscriptions, it can offer monetization options that make Quest a better fit for other types of apps. Obviously there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for subscription offerings, but in today’s announcement, Oculus listed several different apps that will offer them to start.
There are six different apps that are adding subscriptions today: FitXR, Rec Room, Tribe XR, TRIPP, vSpatial, and VZfit. Oculus says that content you’ve previously purchased in these apps will continue to be accessible after these subscriptions go live, so it sounds like developers won’t be allowed to remove content that’s already been paid for and stick it behind a subscription.
In FitXR, for instance, Oculus says that subscribers will get a new instructor-led class from the existing Box and Dance studios and the upcoming HIIT studio each day, along with access to multiplayer. Those who already purchased FitXR will keep the content they’ve paid for (which includes Add-On packs). While newcomers to the app will get a seven-day free trial to the FitXR subscription service, those who already own the app will get a 90-day trial.
With Rec Room, we see something entirely different. While the base app will continue to be free, a subscription called Rec Room Plus will be offered as something of a premium tier for those who want it. The monthly subscription will net users 6,000 tokens each month – which translates to $10 of real world cash – along with weekly four-star items and access to a special section of the store that’s reserved for subscribers.
Ultimately, what you get with a subscription depends on the app – some might require a subscription to access the app, while others might just offer the subscription as a bonus for those interested in getting some extra content. Oculus says that you’ll be able to cancel subscriptions at any time. To read more about the subscriptions being offered by these initial six apps, check out today’s blog post on the Oculus website.
Apple Fitness+ adds workouts for beginners plus older and pregnant users
Apple Fitness+ is gaining new workouts today, adding specific sessions for pregnancy and that target older adults and beginners. It’s part of a workout boost for the Apple Watch-centered subscription fitness system, and will also include a new Time to Walk session with Jane Fonda.
Announced last year, Fitness+ opened up its guided sessions in December 2020. It relies on exercise tracking through the Apple Watch, with tutorials and classes delivered via a variety of the company’s screens, such as Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone.
One of the challenges early-adopters have found, particularly those just getting into fitness, is trying to get up to speed. That’s something Apple is addressing today, with new workouts for beginners. Offered across the Yoga, Strength, and HIIT workout types, they consist of low-impact exercises and spend more time on how to perfect form to build good habits.
Much in the same way, the new workouts for older adults focus on the specific needs of older people trying to get – or stay – fit. They center on strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and mobility, Apple says, with a series of eight sessions led by trainer Molly Fox, with guest appearances by Gregg Cook for Strength, Dustin Brown for Yoga, Bakari Williams for HIIT, and Jhon Gonzalez for Dance.
Each workout is 10 minutes long, and many can be completed with either bodyweight or a light dumbbell, Apple says. Alternatively, they may use a chair or involve leaning against the wall. They can also be combined with other Fitness+ workouts, carrying those modifications over.
Finally, there’s a new workouts for pregnancy series. 10 sessions – covering Strength, Core, and Mindful Cooldown – will be led by Betina Gozo alongside trainers Emily Fayette and Anja Garcia, each 10 minutes in length. They’re designed, Apple says, to suit any stage of pregnancy along with any fitness level. Again, as with the older fitness sessions, they also include suggestions on how to modify the more general Fitness+ workouts in ways to accommodate those who are pregnant.
Beyond the three specific categories, there are now two new trainers: one in the Yoga section, and the other in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). From April 19, meanwhile, Jane Fonda’s Time to Walk session will be added. That takes the form of an audio interview with paired walking instructions.
Apple Fitness+ is currently available in the US, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK. Three months access is bundled with a new Apple Watch Series 3 or later, while existing owners can try it free for a month. After that, it’s $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year – for up to six family members to share – or bundle as part of the $29.95 Apple One Premiere plan.
Xfinity Mobile unlimited 5G plans get cheaper (but that’s not the best part)
Xfinity Mobile is trimming the cost of its unlimited 5G plans, with Comcast aiming to undercut its better-known rivals as more Americans hunt for lower prices without sacrificing speed. The new Xfinity Mobile unlimited 5G plans still start at $45 per month for one line, but bring down the price of multiple lines as it blends them with the carrier’s “By-the-Gig” per-gigabyte option.
Under that system, subscribers can purchase data in advance, based on how much they think they’re need. 1GB is $15, 3GB is $30, and 10GB is $60. If users run out midway through the month, they can switch to a higher tier at any time – or, alternatively, switch to a lower tier if their data needs are unexpectedly low.
Now, there’s also a more affordable, more flexible unlimited option. As well as $45 for a single line, Xfinity Mobile 5G plans will be $80 for two lines, $100 for three lines, or $120 for four lines. Previously, two lines would cost $90 per month, three would cost $135, and four would cost $180.
The unlimited plans are also included in the switching system, so subscribers will be able to move between them and the “By-the-Gig” options too. Importantly – and arguably best of all – that’s done via the Xfinity Mobile app, rather than having to call up and speak to a customer service agent. The unlimited plans can be applied to both phones and tablets, too, and Comcast is using Verizon’s 4G/5G network along with its own WiFi hotspot network.
There is, as always, some small print to consider. For a start, you’ll need to be a post-pay Xfinity Home Internet subscriber in order to qualify for Xfinity Mobile. Meanwhile, though the data may be unlimited, that doesn’t mean you’ll always be getting 5G speeds: Xfinity Mobile will automatically reduce the speeds after 20 GB of usage per line. That will trim the rates to 1.5 Mbps downloads and 750 kbps uploads.
Video will stream at SD 480p quality on unlimited plans when on a 4G LTE network, unlike on By-the-Gig plans where it streams at HD by default; if you’re on 5G, unlimited subscribers will get the highest possible resolution instead. For mobile hotspots, that’s limited to 600 kbps downloads when on an LTE connection. If you’re on 5G, however, mobile hotspot data is not capped: you’ll get whatever fastest rate the connection supports.
Up to ten lines can be activated, per Xfinity Mobile subscriber. It’s also possible to include smartwatches on an account – for $10 per line – Comcast says. The new plans are available now, to new and existing users.
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