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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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Facebook Messenger is testing a new ‘Split Payments’ feature in the U.S. – TechCrunch

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Facebook Messenger announced today that it’s starting to test out a new “Split Payments” feature that introduces a way for users to share the cost of bills and expenses through the app. The company says the new feature is a “free and fast” way to handle finances through Messenger. The new feature is rolling out next week for U.S. users.

To use Split Payments, users need to click on the “Get Started” button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. From there, you can split a bill evenly or modify the contribution amount for each individual in the group chat, either with or without yourself included. You’ll also have the option to enter a personalized message. Lastly, you will be asked to confirm your Facebook Pay details, after which your request will be sent and viewable in your group chat thread.

“If you’ve struggled with dividing up (and getting paid back for) group dinners, shared household expenses or even the monthly rent, it’s about to get easier,” the company said in a blog post about the new feature.

The launch of Split Payments comes as Messenger added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments a few months ago. The codes launched in the U.S. and allow anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends. The feature can be accessed under the “Facebook Pay” section in Messenger’s settings.

Facebook Pay first launched in November 2019, as a way to establish a payment system that extends across the company’s apps for not just person-to-person payments, but for other things like donations and e-commerce.

Split Payments was introduced alongside a few other Messenger updates, including four new group AR effects designed with creators Emma Chamberlain, Zach King, Bella Poarch and King Bach. The company notes that it also recently launched two new “Stranger Things” Soudmojis, which are emoji that play a sound when you send them within Messenger, and a new chat theme. Messenger also recently rolled out a new Taylor Swift Soudmoji to celebrate the release of “Red.”

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Glorify, an ambitious app for Christians, just landed $40 million in Series A funding led by a16z – TechCrunch

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Religion-based apps, tools and communities aren’t brand new, including to investors. Pray.com, for example, an LA-based app for daily prayer and bedtime Bible stories that was founded in 2016, has raised at least $34 million from investors, including Kleiner Perkins. Ministry Brands, a nine-year-old, Knoxville, Tennessee-based outfit that now includes dozens of software and payments brands tailored to faith-based organizations, was acquired by Insight Partners in 2016 for $1.4 billion (which is reportedly now looking to flip it).

Still, fueled by a pandemic that drove churches to close, faith-based apps and communities are growing faster than ever — the most popular, Bible app, is now on more than 400 million devices worldwide — and getting more notice as a result.

The newest of these is Glorify, a two-year-old, 60-person, subscription-based “well-being” app that offers users guided meditation, along with audio bible passages and Christian music. The London-based outfit — whose 22-year-old co-founder and co-CEO, Ed Beccle, says he spends up to a third of his time in São Paulo — just raised $40 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from SoftBank Latin America Fund, K5 Global and a long string of famous individuals, including Kris Jenner, Corey Gamble, Michael Ovitz, Jason Derulo and Michael Bublé.

We talked yesterday with Beccle about Glorify, which is not his first company despite his young age. In fact, Beccle, who recently sold his previous company for what he describes as a “multimillion-dollar” exit, dropped out of high school at age 16 to work on his startups.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, during our conversation, he laid out a vision that extends well beyond meditation and Bible readings. He also offered a peek into how wealthy celebrities and startup entrepreneurs are being brought together. Excerpts of that chat follow, edited lightly for length.

TC: You say this is your third or fourth startup. With Glorify, did you see an opportunity or are you a religious person or is it a combination of both things?

EB: I think definitely a combination of both. It’s hard not to get a little bit philosophical when you’re young, and you’re doing exciting things maybe you make more money than regular people your own age. For me, at least, I stopped and thought, ‘Well, I can afford all the Ubers and UberEATS in the world, and I don’t really spend any other money. I don’t have a mortgage or dependents. What would I do if I could do anything?’

[The answer] has always been working on tech that changes the way people think and feel. That’s what I’m kind of obsessed with. . . Now I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life than this company because it is so much more than just a business. I’ve come at it from from a lot of different angles and one is very much on an emotional level and my own beliefs around faith. Then the other is: it’s the most incredible commercial opportunity. It’s going to be, I think, far bigger than people realize.

TC: You have a pretty interesting syndicate of investors. How did that come together?

EB: I think it came together a bit like everything that I’ve done, which is just, you know, by my continually trying and chatting to as many people as I can and putting myself in a lot of awkward situations sometimes to get in front of the right people. In terms of the celebrity elements, I have to say that that was a shock. [Former Hollywood agent] Michael Kives has been a complete hero on this front; he sent me a message that said, ‘Are you free’ on whatever the date was. ‘I want you to come to dinner with me and the Kardashians’ and there were probably 25 people on the guest list that he sent over, and I’m not sure there was a single person aside from myself and one other who wasn’t an A lister. Like, it was crazy. I walk through the door, and there was Michael [Bublé] and Jason Derulo, and, I mean, what you see on the press release is literally the tip of the iceberg. We’ve only released some of the names.

It comes down to: why have we done it? Why have I tried so hard to get a lot of these people involved? It’s because we’re trying to create a cultural movement around around faith and making believing in God and something greater, something that’s more than just okay [and into] something that can really change your life. My goal with all of these people is to get them to make Glorify the medium that they talk about their faith through.

TC: Can you talk about some of the business metrics that made these people decide to commit to the venture?

EB: We’re averaging at least 250,000 people daily and we’ve had now 2.5 million downloads over the last or so. I think things have really kicked off in the last six months to be honest, and what’s so exciting is that a lot of this growth has been semi organic. It not from viral K factor that exists within within the app. We always thought it was too early to start introducing stuff like that.

TC: Is the plan to evolve this into a full-fledged social network?

EB: When we talk about it being a social network, 100%. It’s just that trying to look at social very differently. We want to optimize for very different things. I want to be building tight-knit engaged communities that are really meaningful and purpose led, rather than things that are mass, superficially engaged, which is really the trap of social today. We don’t monetize through ads; the user really isn’t the product. We want to bring people closer together and not necessarily in in huge groups but through amazing micro interactions that can exist and bring you closer to a small group of people who you really care about.

TC: Are you close to break-even at this point?

EB: Definitely not, but it’s very intentional. We’ve proven paid conversion, which we’re really happy about . . .  I believe the engaged audience that we will have will probably have a higher propensity to pay for all sorts of other products that we release. That cool daily worship product will [continue to] be in the Glorify app, although far improved, even in over the next few months, but [we think we can] take that audience and direct them to other products that we’ve created, where they’ll have high propensity to pay.

TC: Are you talking about virtual tithing? Bible study?

EB: An example would be in in Christian dating. It’s an amazing, huge space, but anyone who really tries to build within it has to become kind of a Christian Tinder, using visuals to be the primary way you match people. I don’t know if that’s really the right way to go about it. Instead, you know, if you’re a user of Glorify, we’ll be able to match you with people based on shared beliefs [and] your engagement with the Bible [and] all sorts of things where we have almost a competitive advantage over anyone else because of the product that we’ve begun with.

Pictured above: From right to left, Henry Costa and Ed Beccle, co-CEOs of Glorify. The best friends met at a co-working space when Costa was doing angel investing in London. According to Beccle, they instantly hit it off and he asked Costa if he would be his co-founder at Grasp. They later co-founded Glorify.

 

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Social app IRL makes its first acquisition with deal for digital nutrition company AaBeZe Labs – TechCrunch

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IRL, the SoftBank-backed social app and recent unicorn, is today announcing its first acquisition. The company is purchasing, for an undisclosed sum, the “digital nutrition” company AaBeZe Labs and its portfolio of IP with the goal of making IRL a healthier and more ethically designed social networking app.

AaBeZe’s founders Michael Phillips Moskowitz, the former “Global Chief Curator” of eBay, and former Medium Product Lead Brad Artizinega, along with other members of the AeBeZe team, will also now join IRL, where they’ll focus on building its discovery systems and other product features.

Used primarily by younger people under the age of 25 who aren’t active on Facebook, IRL combines social calendaring, group messaging, and events. While the company had originally focused on helping users discover real-world events, it shifted its focus to virtual events amid the pandemic. Today, it offers both, and has also grown to become a more full-fledged social networking app thanks to more recent introductions of features like group chat, user profiles, group calendars, and cross-platform support, among other things.

Before the acquisition, IRL had plotted a course to monetization that wouldn’t include advertising, which it sees as problematic to building a healthier social app. Advertising-driven revenue requires companies to design experiences that addict users in order to increase the time spent in their apps. IRL instead aims to make money by connecting users to their interests — like a paid subscription to a community or the purchase of event tickets, for example, where it can take a cut of the revenue generated by that sale.

It now sees the potential in using AaBeZe’s technology to make even smarter recommendations around the sorts of events and communities its users are interested in, while also being more transparent with users about why those recommendations are being made. This would set it apart from today’s social networks, where it’s not always clear why users are seeing the content that appears in their feeds.

Image Credits: AaBeZe Labs/IRL

AaBeZe Labs had developed a portfolio of IP, including solutions that were aimed at consumers, U.S. military personnel, and enterprise partners. This included digital products like the consumer-facing app Moodrise, for mood-tracking, a mobile tool called Daybreak built for the U.S. Air Force, and MoodTube, which analyzed YouTube content, and other things. The company had also has filed for 16 patents, three of which have been granted and 13 of which are in various stages of approval. And it owns the trademark, “Certified Digital Nutrition.”

Much of its work involved learning how its understanding of being aware of users’ “digital nutrition” and how that impacted our brain psychology. This knowledge, in turn, could be used to address and even prevent habits that led to problematic internet use and other riskier behavior.

Image Credits: AaBeZe Labs/IRL

This is in contrast to how modern social networks, had been built to capitalize on the psychology of addictiveness — for example, a pull-to-refresh gesture or that delivers fresh content also delivers an addictive dose of dopamine. (The documentary “The Social Dilemma,” you may recall, detailed many of the ways big tech had designed products to manipulate their users.)

IRL was particularly interested in AaBeZee’s Daybreak, a mobile calendar where users tracked their mood over time. They could then choose daily sessions designed to elevate their mode by watching, listening, or tapping through specific doses of content.

Image Credits: Daybreak by AaBeZe Labs

“We are focusing on bringing intimacy to the internet, and essentially learning from our predecessors. Right now, social media uses these tactics of understanding dopamine release [and] serotonin release to essentially build habits and habitual patterns around things that are unhealthy for us,” explains IRL founder and CEO Abraham Shafi. “We’re very interested in not participating in that, but in fact, doing the literal opposite — which is helping you build healthy habits, helping you build meaningful habits not just with yourself, but with your friends.”

Shafi says IRL plans to integrate Daybeak’s technology into its app, so that one day, users could launch the app and then be matched to content based on how they’re feeling that day. Users might launch the app and be asked to report their mood, for instance, much like Daybreak’s users did.

“It actually only truly functions with direct input — that’ll be the way that we’re doing it. So there’s a clear understanding between the user and the content that they’re receiving,” Shafi says.

The company plans to roll out the first integrations of AaBeZe’s technology sometime in the first half of next year.

AaBeZe Labs was just over two years old at the time of acquisition and had raised a little over a million dollars from investors.

 

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