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Peak iPad Pro: The end of major advances?

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So the new iPad Pro came out this week. And I subsequently spent over $1,200 for a new 12.9-inch 256GB WiFi model. Ouch.

I would have bought the 512GB version, but I’ve already spent enough money this year on the iPhone XS Max and the Apple Watch Series 4.

Look, I love Apple stuff, but I enjoy having a low credit card balance and a stress-free relationship with my wife. If I spend any more money on Apple this year she will almost certainly kick my ass.

I actually decided on the 256GB because I use the iPad primarily for apps and streaming at home as my main after-hours computing device; I don’t travel with the thing or load it up with music and other content. My iPhone XS Max is the 512GB version because it has my entire music library on it. It’s still probably overkill for my needs.

A number of the things I predicted about this crop of iPad Pros came true. But some important things did not.

For starters, I expected the CPU horsepower of the A12X SoC to be somewhat lower — it’s a 4X4 asymmetrical chip, rather than a 3X4 or a 3X6 in terms of core arrangement. It actually exceeded my lowest expectations in that respect; even the GPU is a 7-way versus a 6-way.

The actual real-world performance remains to be seen, and I am optimistic. With that much computing horsepower, you can absolutely drive a very high-resolution 4K or 5K display. It even can do it on an external monitor with the USB-C capability on this device and I can’t wait to test that out.

But on the 12.9-inch model, we didn’t get a built-in 4K display in the new iPad Pro, we got the same display resolution we got last year, and the year before that… and the year before that.

Look, 2,732 x 2,048-pixel resolution is nothing to scoff at; that’s a lot higher resolution than virtually all broadcast and subscription TV content, which is at 1080p or 720p in many cases. But it’s not 4K, which is 3840×2160.

I expected better for this year’s price bump. Sure, it’s an edge-to-edge display with the reduced form factor, and it has the FaceID stuff from the new iPhones. But I am not exactly a huge fan of FaceID because in real-world use, it’s less reliable and nowhere near as fast as the TouchID it’s replacing.

Granted, the new Apple Pencil is a huge improvement for creatives with the induction charging and magnetic connector to the iPad. But I don’t use an Apple Pencil — mine from 2015 is still sitting in the box, unopened. And apparently, I can’t use it on the new iPad Pro, so I guess I need to sell it or give it away.

The USB-C, however, I did not expect, given that the iPhones this year did not migrate to USB-C. So while I am overjoyed the iPad Pro has now joined the rest of the Apple MacBook family and the rest of the personal computing and mobile world, I am annoyed that we have to go through yet another year of charging cable insanity because my iPhone XS Max doesn’t match charge connectors now.

It means I need to have a dedicated charging area for my iPad Pro versus using the same ones I use for my iPhones. It was an ideal setup having the same USB-C to Lightning USB PD cables for my 2017 iPad Pro and my iPhone X. When one was done charging, I charged the other. With USB PD, it’s very fast, so it’s rare that one of the devices completely dies out while the other is charging up.

For my Android devices, I use a separate USB PD charging station, or I use USB-A to USB-C cables on the spare ports. It isn’t particularly fast, but it gets the job done.

Sure, I could just yank the USB PD to Lightning cable I use for my iPhones and switch out with a USB-C to USB-C cable when it needs to happen, but I absolutely hate pulling cables constantly. I buy cables and connect them to chargers and leave them there.

And forget the legacy ports on those chargers — you really don’t want to charge an iPad Pro with a USB-A to USB-C cable. It’s so ungodly slow at 2W. It takes forever.


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Okay, I admit that is a minor nitpick. I have my (arguably much slower) Qi charging pads I can use with my iPhones and Androids too when the iPad Pro is using up USB-C PD cords. I got multi-port wall chargers plugged into receptacles all over the house. I can make this work, right?

Ultimately, what disappoints me is the realization that — like the current crop of iPhones — iPad may have hit its “peak”.

We have reached a point in the development of these products where there are very few new features that can actually be improved upon without significant advances in the telecommunications infrastructure they actually run on.

The lack of a 4K display reflects a barrier that won’t be broken until we have ubiquitous 5G, gigabit-plus broadband and next-generation WiFi capabilities in the average residence.

I am probably one of the very few people that can actually reliably consume streamed 4K content because I have gigabit fiber to the home (FTTH) broadband and an 802.11ac 5Ghz WiFi network that an iPad Pro with its MIMO baseband transceiver can talk to in excess of 400Mbps. Most people do not have extreme connectivity setups like this, not even in the most connected areas of the country.

4K media files in high-quality — even when compressed in lossless formats — use up a lot of data and chew up a lot of bandwidth. With the rate caps and throttling that are likely going to come in place under the current FCC rules, few people are going to want to download that and wait that long to get it on their device before watching it.

And while I am hopeful that we will have nationwide 5G deployments in the next few years, the reality is very different from what is being promised to us.

Honestly, this may be one of the last new iPads I buy over the next few years. Even for someone who writes about technology and wants to keep up with things, it’s too expensive to do it each year along with all the other stuff that’s on an upgrade cycle, given the ever smaller incremental advances that are possible.

And that makes me sad.

Was the 2018 iPad Pro everything you thought it would be or hoped for? Or have we hit “Peak iPad?” Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch

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If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.

Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.

But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.

The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.

“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”

Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo e-commerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.

“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s chief business officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”

In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.

Beyond e-commerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.

 

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Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.

Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.

More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.

Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.

He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)

“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.

A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.

Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.

“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.

Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.

However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.

 

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Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch

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The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

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