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The 2019 iPhone 11 will be annoying, boring, and expensive

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Why Apple and Microsoft should be allies, not rivals
Imagine Siri with the back-end capabilities of Cortana or Apple Watch with Azure’s machine learning services.
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One of the things about Apple that never ceases to amaze me is how the company can make the boring and mundane seem new and exciting. Combine that with an unnerving ability to be able to make eye-wateringly large price tags seem almost charitable, and you begin to see why the company is the success it is nowadays.

Must read: Poor battery life after installing iOS 12.4? Try this

The excitement is building ahead of the official unveiling of the iPhone 11, expected to happen September. But all the rumors and leaks, combined with past experience of how Apple operates, suggests that while Apple will push the 2019 iPhone 11 as the best iPhone ever, the reality is that it will bring with it most of the flaws and annoyances of the previous generation.

Not convinced? Pull up a chair while I explain.

New iPhones have become increasingly annoying

From dumping features such as the headphone jack, to unnecessarily tweaking with features that already worked well, to launch bugs that take time to fix, new iPhones are an annoyance.

While on their own dropping the headphone jack for Bluetooth or making the leap from Touch ID to Face ID doesn’t seem all that big, the cumulative effect of constant tweaking and change means having to continually adjust your workflow around Apple’s desire to have a new feature to put on the box.

Then there’s having to deal with a new iOS release. Again, more change, and much of it simply because of a desire to have something new to talk about.

New iPhones are boring

When was the last time you heard someone complain about the speed of their new iPhone? Or the camera quality? Or about the display? No. People don’t care, and yet these are the areas that Apple seems to focus on.

When I talk to users, what I hear them being dissatisfied about are things like battery life and durability, and yet these seem to be aspects of the iPhone that Apple are neglecting. I think that having twice the battery life or a super-durable display would be far more exciting than a faster processor or a camera that’s slightly — almost imperceptibly — better than the old one.

And you don’t notice just how bad things like the battery life on the iPhone truly is until you start looking around at Android devices and realize that far cheaper handsets — such as the Moto g7 Power — have vastly better battery life and overall durability. Rather than focus on features that would benefit tens of millions, Apple seems to be focused on gimmicks like Animojis.

And despite the focus on aspects such as the camera, there are devices out there with much better cameras. Handsets like the Huawei P30 Pro blow the iPhone out of the water.

No matter what Apple says, the iPhone is not the best handset out there.

Apple also seems to be behind the curve in terms of adopting new technologies. For example, it seems that 5G iPhones won’t hit the market until late 2020, which for those who like to be at the bleeding edge of technology — and pay big money for the privilege — means either having to wait or buy an Android device.

iPhones are expensive

Crazy expensive. An iPhone XS Max starts at $1,100, going all the way up to $1,450. The cheapest iPhone in Apple’s lineup is the aging iPhone 7, a handset that’s coming up to its third birthday, and this starts at $450.

From any other manufacturer, $450 buys you something much fresher and better.

This trend of focusing on ever more expensive iPhones is something that I see Apple doing for the foreseeable future because it is a way to keep revenues up in the face of falling unit sales.

While it’s likely that Apple will throw a bone to those looking for a “budget” iPhone, the emphasis will be on selling expensive iPhones, because iPhone buyers have shown themselves to be willing to pay big bucks. 

Yes, we’ve brought this upon ourselves.

Do you think that the iPhone 11 is going to be annoying, boring, and expensive, or do you think that each update builds logically on the previous models?

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How a16z’s investment into Adam Neumann further solidifies the ‘concrete ceiling’ – TechCrunch

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It was the fundraise heard around Twitter.

Adam Neumann, the infamous entrepreneur behind WeWork, raised a stunning $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz for a yet-to-launch real estate company called Flow. The investment gave Neumann’s latest venture a more than $1 billion valuation, as reported by The New York Times, and came amid what is supposed to be an investor pullback in a bear market.

It is the largest individual check a16z has ever written and the second time the firm backed a Neumann-founded company this year.

There is no need to rehash every single thing that Neumann did wrong; AppleTV+ did that already in the miniseries “WeCrashed.” His calamitous tenure at WorkWork garnered him a reputation for worker mismanagement and he led his company to a disastrous IPO. He nevertheless walked away with a roughly $1 billion exit package. He failed up, and the announcement of his a16z round was a reminder that he is still failing up.

“The news [of Neumann’s raise] was not shocking to me,” Nicole Tinson, the founder of the inclusion platform HBCU 20×20, told TechCrunch. “I actually anticipated this because discrimination in funding is no different than discrimination in any avenue.”

One cannot out-educate, out-network and out-assimilate the systemic barriers designed to discriminate against them.

The news put reality in a harsh light, a breaking point for many. Women are tired of shattering glass ceilings; their hands are slashed from the dropping shards. Some founders are also exhausted from taking swings at the concrete ceiling, where gender, racial and often socioeconomic conditions combine to create a discriminatory barrier so strong it cannot shatter like glass; it’s sturdy like concrete and must arduously be drilled through.

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SAIC Mobility Robotaxi valued at $1B after $148M Series B – TechCrunch

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SAIC Mobility Robotaxi, an arm of state-owned Chinese automaker SAIC aiming to launch a commercial robotaxi service, raised $148 million (RMB 1 billion). The funds will be used to scale its robotaxi service in China, which it will operate in partnership with autonomous vehicle company Momenta.

SAIC Group led the Series B round that also saw participation from Momenta, Gaoheng Management Consulting and other institutions. The funding brought SAIC Mobility’s total valuation to more than $1 billion, according to the company.

SAIC Mobility’s robotaxis are powered using Momenta’s “Flywheel L4” technology, which is designed to use deep learning rather than a rules-based, machine learning approach. Momenta contends that the technology allows the robotaxis to quickly iterate and improve its algorithms.

The funding comes eight months since the two companies launched two 100-day trials in the cities of Shanghai and Suzhou. The pilot, which launched in December, tested a fleet of 60 vehicles, all of which had a safety driver behind the wheel at all times. SAIC says it reached a daily order volume of about 20 rides per vehicle, and that its overall user satisfaction rate was 98%. About 80% of riders used the service two or more times after their initial experience, according to the companies.

The next step is to advance SAIC’s trial in Shanghai and Suzhou into a service as SAIC Mobility gears up for eventual commercialization. Local regulations don’t support commercialization and SAIC wants to be ready when new regulations are released early next year, according to a SAIC spokesperson.

With Momenta on its side, SAIC Mobility has a good chance of scoring a commercial deployment permit in Suzhou. The company has a joint venture with the Suzhou branch of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), which has oversight of more than 100 large state-owned enterprises, to “scale up” robotaxi deployment in the city.

Launching in Shanghai will put SAIC Mobility in competition with other big players, like Baidu, which also has an autonomous ride-hailing service, Apollo Go, in the city. Baidu also recently got the green light to operate a commercial robotaxi service, without a human driver present, in Wuhan and Chongqing. Baidu is also operating Apollo Go commercially in Beijing, with a human safety operator present, alongside Pony.ai.

Momenta and SAIC have said in the past that they aim to deploy 200 vehicles across China by 2022. To reach this aim, the two companies will use the Series B to buy and develop more vehicles, more than doubling the current number in its fleet, and to continue to improve on both the ride-hailing app, as well as the autonomous capabilities of the vehicles, said the spokesperson.

“SAIC Mobility Robotaxi’s success is the organic combination of ‘operational experience’ and ‘leading autonomous driving technology,’” said Cao Xudong, CEO of Momenta, in a statement. “Our two companies together will continue to develop the technology, products and commercial implementation to meet the future and diverse travel needs of end users. We believe that this will become the industry benchmark for autonomous driving and in-depth cooperation between leading car companies and operating platforms, and the future of scalable [uncrewed] driving.”

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Pomelo exits stealth mode with $20M seed to rethink international money transfer – TechCrunch

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Eric Velasquez Frenkiel had a seemingly simple thought when visiting his family in the Philippines, impressed by the cashless economy that had formed. Instead of sending money to his family once a year – a costly, fee-heavy affair – why can’t he just leave his credit card there?

As with many things in fintech, it wasn’t that simple. But the seed of the idea made the former enterprise chief executive turn his career into a bet on one of fintech’s most elusive problems.

Pomelo, Frenkiel’s new startup launching out of stealth today, wants to make it easier to send remittance payments and conduct international money transfer, with a credit twist.

To execute on that vision, Pomelo has raised a $20 million seed round led by Keith Rabois at Founders Fund and Kevin Hartz at A* Capital, with participation from Afore Capital, Xfund, Josh Buckley and the Chainsmokers. The round also included a $50 million warehouse facility, which will allow Pomelo to give upfront cash to people who want to make transfers.

Venture investors are not the only cohort showing interest; over 120,000 people have joined Pomelo’s waitlist over six months, according to Frenkiel. (It’s important not to confuse this Pomelo with another Pomelo, a fintech-as-a-service platform for Latin America that has raised $9 million in funding). Oh, fintech.

Here’s how the startup works: if someone wants to send money overseas, they make a Pomelo account, which comes with up to four credit cards. The creator of the account – let’s just assume that they’re the one that is sending the money – can set limits, pause cards and view spending habits.

Pomelo’s key tweak is around credit. Senders can give cash, in the form of credit, to family members – which the startup thinks will help with instant access to funds, fraud and chargeback protection and, for potential immigrants that may use this to send money back home, a way to boost one’s credit score with more transaction history.

Challenges still await any fintech, whether traditional or scrappy upstart, that is betting its business on backing potentially risky individuals. For example, Pomelo doesn’t want to rely on credit score when deciding whether or not to trust a sender, because the metric historically leaves out those who don’t have a bounty of access to financial literacy or spending.

Image Credits: Pomelo

“If you do have a credit score and you have enough credit history, you would get up to $1,000 a month,” Frenkiel said. “But if you don’t have credit or wish to improve your credit, we give you a credit builder.” Customers are invited to supply a secure deposit, so that there’s a way to prove creditworthiness down the road, and Pomelo is able to “actually balance the need to extend credit but also ensure we stay in business long term.”

International money transfer continues to be an expensive affair for senders. Unsurprisingly, that pain point has led to a plethora of startups. Startups offer a sliding scale proposition, meaning it costs more to send more money, or a flat-fee value proposition, with a $5 fee for all transfers regardless of size. Per the World Bank, around 6% of a total check is removed via fees and exchange rate markups.

Rethinking remittance thus feels like a common pitch. Frenkiel says that Pomelo’s closest competitors are Xoom and Remitly, although he thinks they differentiate in two keys ways: the focus on credit, and a “fundamentally new revenue model.”

Pomelo doesn’t make money from senders via transfer fees, instead leaning its business on interchange fees paid by merchants. “You shouldn’t have to pay money to send money,” Frenkiel adds.

While interchange fees have their own slew of issues as a business model, let’s end with some insurance: both Visa and Mastercard were interested in partnering with the startup, but the latter won the deal.

“MasterCard allows us to work in more than 100 countries,” Frenkiel said. “Obviously, we’re starting off with a few, but the idea is that there’s far more endpoints to take MasterCard or Visa than having banking as a prerequisite to send money… we hope we can eventually deliver a product to wherever MasterCard is accepted around the world. ”

The startup is servicing the Philippines, but soon plans to expand to Mexico and India as well as other geographies.

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