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Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff – TechCrunch

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Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

“Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

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Apple reports double-digit sales booms for every product category in Q1 2021

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Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The last 24 hours have been flooded with stock market news, from the normal to the nutty. But based on Apple’s performance in recent quarters, the earnings the Cupertino company reported today for its first quarter of 2021 were very much on the normal side. And by that, we mean big numbers yet again.

According to the report, Apple crossed the threshold for $100 billion in revenue in a single quarter for the first time, and the company posted double-digit sales increases for every single one of its defined product categories. Overall, sales were up 21 percent year-over-year, despite many consumers’ struggles in the pandemic-stricken economy.

iPhone revenue was $65.6 billion, surpassing analysts’ expected $59.8 billion, and beating the same quarter last year by 17 percent. This coincides with the introduction of the iPhone 12 lineup (iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max), which was the most substantial redesign and upgrade to iPhones since the iPhone X three years earlier.

While the iPhone is Apple’s big-ticket item, that product’s growth was actually modest compared to a couple of others. The iPad’s sales were up 41 percent year-over-year, reaching $8.44 billion. This was likely driven in part by the launch of the redesigned iPad Air.

And services—that business segment that Apple executives and investors are always looking to as the obvious growing revenue source—were up 24 percent year-over-year. This quarter included the launch of Apple Fitness+, but otherwise, this growth appears to have been driven by existing services like Apple Music, Apple TV+, or Apple Arcade.

Not all of them grew in equal measure, though: an Apple spokesperson said on the investor call that AppleCare has grown slower than other services because of its dependence on retail stores to provide its full value to Apple’s customers.

In any case, total services revenue for the quarter was $15.76 billion.

The Mac also rose—21 percent in this case, up to $8.68 billion. (This quarter included the launch of the M1 Macs.) And a catch-all for all other products, of which wearables like the Apple Watch and AirPods make up a significant part, grew 29 percent year-over-year to $12.97 billion.

CEO Tim Cook told investors on the call that the total install base for iPhones has risen to 1 billion, up from the 900 million he stated last time that metric was reported. Total active install base for all Apple products was 1.65 billion—so yes, the iPhone is still Apple’s dominant product, and the one that forms the foundation for many of the services and wearables the company has introduced over the past few years.

These positive numbers follow a two-year rally that itself followed some investor skepticism about declining iPhone sales.

Apple again declined to provide guidance to investors for the next quarter. The company hasn’t given guidance on upcoming quarters since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic just under a year ago.

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Samsung’s reportedly ready to supply foldable displays to rival companies

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Enlarge / The Galaxy Z Flip (left) and Galaxy Z Fold 2 (right). Samsung will be selling both of these display styles to competitors now.

A report from ETNews claims that Samsung Display is ready to expand its foldable-display business and start selling to companies other than Samsung Electronics’ phone division. Flexible panels were previously exclusive to Samsung’s phone division, but the report says Samsung Display plans to sell 1 million panels this year in the open market. ETNews quotes a source saying “multiple Chinese smartphones markets” are working with Samsung and plan to ship devices in the second half of 2021.

A million panels isn’t a huge supply compared to the ~350 million smartphones sold annually, but that is about the size of the foldable market in these early days. Canalys’ last numbers said 1.74 million foldables were sold from September 2019 to June 2020, which represents the first generation of foldables, before the launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. Samsung hopes to see that number grow a lot in 2021, with ETNews reporting Samsung Display will supply 10 million foldable displays to the phone division.

It doesn’t sound like the third parties buying from Samsung will have a lot of wiggle room in terms of form factor. According to the report, Samsung is supplying two types of displays: one that folds across the horizontal axis like the Galaxy Z Flip, and one that folds across the vertical axis like the Galaxy Z Fold. The industry isn’t quite sure what a flexible display smartphone should look like, and at trade shows, various companies have pitched all sorts of wild form factors. There are concepts for rollable display smartphones, outward-folding displays like the Huawei Mate X, and tri-folding smartphones that fold up like a wallet or a brochure. It doesn’t sound like Samsung will be humoring any of those form factors just yet.

Not the normal way Samsung does business

This report signals an end of Samsung’s exclusivity period on its foldable display technology, which has been an exception to the way Samsung normally does business. Samsung Display and the Galaxy phone division are both under the “Samsung Electronics” label, but often the various divisions of Samsung treat each other like any other customer. If your goal is “sell as many phones as possible,” it would be a good strategy to keep any special technologies in house, but if you’re focused on making as much money as possible, it’s better to sell to the entire industry. As a whole conglomerate, Samsung makes more money selling iPhone parts to Apple than it does selling Galaxy Phones to consumers. We recently saw a good example of this “components-first” approach with the rise of faster-refresh-rate OLED smartphone displays, where OnePlus, Google, and others were using Samsung-made 90Hz OLED displays a generation before Samsung.

The foldable displays are special, though. Samsung Display says it invested six years and $130 million in R&D to bring foldable displays to market, and so far, the phone division has had exclusive access to the technology. Presumably, the plan was that Samsung Electronics would have a huge head start over the competition and would be the only company selling Foldable phones for a few years. Samsung’s plans didn’t work out, though. According to Korean prosecutors, Samsung’s foldable display technology was stolen in 2018 and sold to “two Chinese companies” that have never been officially named. A report from Nikkei Asia pegs China’s biggest display manufacturer, BOE, as a recipient of the stolen display technology, and that certainly seems plausible given that BOE is the closest thing Samsung has to competition in the foldable-display market.

BOE foldable displays power Samsung’s two biggest foldable rivals, the Huawei Mate X and the Moto Razr. Like we listed above, there are plenty of other companies that bring prototype foldable smartphones to trade shows, but as far as products that are actually brave enough to come to market, there are devices powered by Samsung and BOE and maybe one or two tiny boutique outlets like Royale. ETNews still qualifies Samsung as the only “mass market” flexible-display panel provider, a fine conclusion given that other devices seem to mostly be paper launches with either minimal distribution or constant stock problems. If you want to zoom in on the extremely small foldables segment, a report from industry tracker Display Supply Chain Consultants recently put Samsung’s 2020 foldable smartphone market share at 88 percent.

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Microsoft earnings: Xbox hardware sales shot up 86% with Series X/S

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Enlarge / The Xbox Series X, which launched in November.

Microsoft delivered its earnings report for Q2 2021 yesterday, and the company has continued its sprint of very strong quarters, again driven primarily by Azure and the cloud. But that same old story isn’t the only one here: the report also tells us a thing or two about the new Xbox’s performance, as well as Windows and Office.

Overall, Microsoft beat analyst expectations. The company’s top-level revenue grew 17 percent year over year, reaching $43.08 billion. Analysts had expected $40.18 billion. $14.6 billion of that was from the business segment Microsoft calls “Intelligent Cloud,” which most notably includes Azure but also some other professional services like GitHub.

Cloud wasn’t the only positive story, though. Personal Computing including Windows, Xbox, and Surface grew 15 percent compared to the previous year to just over $15 billion. That included an 86 percent increase in Xbox hardware sales, as well as a 40 percent increase in Xbox content and surfaces—the former of those includes the launch of the Xbox Series X/S consoles in November, and the latter includes Game Pass, which Microsoft has been pushing hard as a core value proposition for the Xbox game platform.

It also includes Microsoft’s streaming games service, though that service is still nascent, and it’s unlikely to have had a significant impact on driving those services numbers up.

That said, the cost of producing and marketing the new Xbox actually shrank Microsoft’s margins during the quarter—down from 40 percent to 34.6 percent in that Personal Computing segment.

Windows had a somewhat less impressive quarter, as it was essentially stagnant at 1 percent growth, despite the fact that IDC reported traditional PC sales were way up last quarter. Admittedly, part of the big numbers presented by IDC came from the expansion of ChromeOS beyond the education market and relative growth for Apple’s macOS-based hardware.

There is also the Productivity and Business Segment—including Office and LinkedIn. That, too, grew. Total revenue for the segment was $13.35 billion, which means it was up 14 percent.

Microsoft gave somewhat more conservative guidance to investors for the next quarter, with a range between $40.35 billion and $41.25 billion.

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