I am a very busy man with a couple of jobs, three daughters, a house, and a wife, all of which occupy my time. Thus, if I can find ways to have today’s modern electronics take care of tasks and lift the chore load, then I am going to pass off what I can.
See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon
One area that I’ve given over to robots is vacuuming the lower level of my house, which is primarily composed of hardware floors and a couple of area rugs. Various models have been tested over the past couple of years, so I have some practical experiences with these devices. Most people have heard of Roomba, Samsung, and Neato in this space, but there are some other options out there that are worth consideration.
Also: Beyond vacuums: Home robotics
A couple of months ago the Roborock S5 arrived, and it has been cleaning my lower level floors since then. This has included through a couple of business trips, vacations, and weeks of activity with two dogs, a cat, and a family of five moving around throughout the house.
Hardware and box contents
The Roborock S5 arrived in a plain cardboard box with some identifying words in black. It was actually shipped from Amazon since that is the retail partner for Roborock and Xiaomi. You may recall that the Mi Electric Scooter I tested in April was also from Xiaomi and sold through Amazon.
The Roborock brand is not prevalent in this space or in the US, but it seems to be gaining traction with highly rated reviews on Amazon and a selection as Amazon’s Choice. After using it for a couple of months, it is definitely one of my favorite robot vacuums due to its capability, reliability, functionality with smartphones, and effectiveness at cleaning up the house.
There is a power button on the top center with two other buttons on either side. The left button is for spot cleaning, and the right button is to send your vacuum home to the charger. I only used these occasionally, as I relied on the smartphone integration and apps for most functionality.
The top houses the LDS (laser distance sensor) in a central round area that rises above the top of the vacuum about half an inch. Behind this is the lid to access the dust bin and other internal parts of the vacuum. A wall sensor sticks out from the front half of the vacuum with a rotating side brush over on the right side peeking out from under the vacuum. The speaker and an air vent are found around the back.
Lifting up the lid reveals the Wi-Fi indicator light, system reset button, main brush cleaning tool, and the dust bin with a removable filter for fine dust.
Also: Hands-on with the iLife A7 robot cleaner: A must-have for automated office and home cleaning
On the bottom, we have two large main wheels with silicone tire treads that are sure not to scuff up your hardwood or tile floors. There is a main brush, the side brush, an omnidirectional wheel, and two charging contacts.
The Roborock S5 also supports wet mopping with a slim water tank, mopping cloth, and moistureproof mat. One of the primary problems I have had with robot vacuums is having them return every time to the charging station and recharge on their own. The moistureproof mat connects to the dock charger so that the vacuum properly aligns with the charging contacts every single time and the only time the vacuum has died on me was when it ended up in a stuck position under a chair or behind some other obstacle.
The dust bin, 480ml capacity, has proven to hold one to two vacuum sessions for the approximate 700 square feet of coverage on my wood floors with a few raised area rugs. My floors look pretty clean, but it is stunning to everyone how much dog hair and other things are picked up by this vacuum on a regular basis. There is a washable E11-grade strainer/filter in the dust bin that is rated to provide 95 percent filter performance after a year of normal use.
Our acacia hardwood floors are beautiful and well taken care of. My wife was concerned about the vacuum creating marks on the floors, but the soft silicone wheels turn and navigate around the floors with no trace of their passing. The bumper also quickly detects obstacles so has not dented or marked up our walls, table legs, or chair legs in any way.
The retail package also includes a main brush cleaning tool with a hook end that slices through hair stuck on the brush bar. With my long-haired dog and women in the house, hair is a constant battle for the vacuum.
Software and services
You can control the vacuum using your iOS or Android device by downloading and installing the Mi Home app. This is the same app used to manage the electric scooter that I tested earlier this year, along with other products from Xiaomi.
Simply walk through the setup of the Mi Home app to connect your phone or tablet to the Roborock S5. The great thing about this Mi Home app is that you can install it on multiple devices, which can all control the Roborock S5 with the same login. Unlike some other robot vacuums I have tested, the Roborock S5 map translates over to all connected devices. This was a major frustration with other vacuums that constantly wanted to recreate my floor map.
The Mi Home application launches with the floor plan (after it creates it the first time), history of last cleaning event, and quick controls below the map. These controls currently include Go, Dock, Clean, and Zoned Cleanup. The Go option lets you designate spot cleanup and manual control over where you want the vacuum to operate. The Dock option sends the vacuum back to its charging station. The Clean option initiates a full cleaning operation.
Also: Startup Kindred brings sliver of hope for AI in robotics
Zoned cleanup lets you designate one or more square zones for targeted vacuuming. This takes some time if you want to vacuum most everywhere except for one or two spots, so I am hopeful that a future software update will take the opposite approach and let you designate exclusionary zones.
I would also like to see virtual barriers supported, so I could draw lines across some areas that really do not need cleaning as often as other areas.
The smartphone software provides the ability to control the vacuum volume, carpet mode, level of suction (higher levels are louder), setup a cleaning schedule, update the firmware, monitor the status of accessories, and much more. It is a full-featured software application that is easy to use.
Price and competition
The Roborock S5 has a MSRP of $579.99, but the white model can be found on Amazon for $463.99.
Competition includes the array of Neato Botvac Connected vacuums ranging in price from $500 to $700, the iRobot Roomba vacuums priced $400 to $550, and the Samsung POWERbot line from $400 to $900. All these have different capabilities, so there is a lot to check out when comparing these vacuums to the features included in the Roborock S5.
Also: Best Robot Vacuum Cleaners for 2018 CNET
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
The Roborock S5 has proven to be a very reliable vacuum with a floor map that is captured and then maintained across devices. It is very powerful and does an excellent job of sweeping and mopping while having battery power to easily vacuum my entire main floor of the house. The Z-shape cleaning pattern has excellent coverage to make sure everything is cleaned. The 5200mAh battery is advertised to last 150 minutes and that is just about what I have been seeing over the last couple of months.
See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon
I appreciated using the floor wet mopping feature, as the system adds just enough to wet and clean the floor without soaking it or leaking water everywhere. It seems to be an effective system and has helped keep our floors clean, although it is obviously not as powerful as cleaning your floor on your hands and knees.
Also: Photos: Robot vacuums and rolling laptops TechRepublic
It rarely gets stuck, unless someone in the house changes the arrangement during vacuuming. One time, the vacuum had some issues going back and forth attempting to vacuum over a thick carpet, but that only occurred once in the two months of use.
Another area for improvement in the software is to include voice assistant support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and others.
Overall, the Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner has proven to be a great performer at a price that is reasonable given its power, efficiency, and utility.
Previous and related coverage:
Automation: How iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner became part of the family
CEO Colin Angle talks about Roomba’s path from research thesis to vacuuming your house, and why nearly everyone names their robot.
iLife V8s robot vacuum hands on: A great 2-in-1 cleaner for the office
I wanted to see if the iLife V8s could handle the day to day cleaning of a small to medium office. Here’s what I found.
Ecovacs Deebot R95 review: Amazon Alexa and smartphone control bring us closer to the Jetsons’ lifestyle
The Ecovacs Deebot R95 is the most affordable high end robotic vacuum that gives you full control over your cleaning experience while also making sure the job is done well.
Neato announces Botvac D7 Connected: Robot vacuum controlled by your smartphone, Google Home, or Amazon Echo
As a busy person working two jobs, finding the time to vacuum can be a challenge. Robot vacuums used to be a Jetsons fantasy, but products like the Neato Botvac D7 Connected are capable, functional, and make chores enjoyable.
DIY vacuum actuators make robots that squirm and squish
Video demonstrates the flexibility of robots that run on air
Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch
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.
Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch
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.
Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch
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.
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.
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.
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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