Yesterday was a big day. For technology journalists, every year, Apple’s product event is like a geek version of Thanksgiving, the Superbowl and New Year’s Eve, all rolled up into one massive secular holiday. On behalf of my industry colleagues, I thank you for clicking and paying our bills.
But not everyone is in a celebratory mood. My ZDNet colleague David Gewirtz feels the new wave of Apple iPhones is too expensive and believes that the insanely cash-rich company (with over a 200 billion dollar war chest) is in decline. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, our resident FOSS and Linux greybeard, is an Android disciple and is not easily impressed with Cupertino’s mind tricks.
I appreciate their perspectives, but one needs to look at the big picture to fully understand all of the event’s implications. Superficially, and for those who are obsessed with the annual refresh of shiny devices, the September Apple event may have appeared to have been an iPhone 11 device roll-out. But in my estimation, that was not the most important takeaway.
To use a journalism analogy my two long-time friends and writing mentors can easily understand, Apple — and every pundit who observed them — buried the lead with the iPhone 11 stuff. The real story here is how Apple intends to transform — over the next several years — into a consumer services and digital lifestyle giant; Tim Cook and Company laid it all right out in front of us, in the first 40 minutes or so of the event.
Before I unbury the lead, let us clear the unavoidable, vast debris field first. Yes, the iPhone 11 and 11 Pros are expensive. They cost over $700 after applicable taxes just to get your foot in the door with the entry-level iPhone 11 64GB, and realistically, most people will want at least a 128GB model, so we are talking $750-plus. An 11 Pro will run you over $1,150 with 256GB, and the 11 Pro Max with the same storage config will run you about $100 more.
Guess what? Not everyone needs a Ferrari. Most people need Honda Accords and Hyundai Elantras — dependable, peppy, reliable cars that get the job done and don’t break the bank. Do you know what a damn good phone is for a heck of a lot less money? Your reliable, sports model of a mid-priced commuter smartphone? The iPhone 8.
Earlier this year, I touted the idea of “Diet iPhone” — in which that Apple should release an “iPhone Classic” along the lines of the iPhone 8, at reduced pricing.
Well, do you know what they did yesterday, amidst all the iPhone 11 fanfare? They dropped the prices of both the iPhone 8 and the iPhone XR, which now $449 and $599 for the 64GB versions, respectively.
That’s without any trade-in value applied from an older iPhone. Did you keep it in a case, and it’s not all dinged up with cracked glass? Then your old iPhone has a cash value. An iPhone 6 from 2014 like David Gewirtz’ is worth up to $60. A 6S is worth up to $100, and a iPhone 7 is worth up to $150. The Plus models are worth more. This trade-in program saves you the hassle of trying to sell the thing on the street or shipping it to Amazon (or its contractor, Gazelle) who will give you a few dollars less towards purchasing credits.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The iPhone 8 is a darned good phone for the money. It is the classic iPhone design, with the TouchID, with an excellent single-lens camera.
The iPhone 8 is Apple’s equivalent to the venerable Porsche 911 sports car or Fender’s Stratocaster guitars — yes, like these other famous brands, Apple has more expensive, higher-performance models with more technological distractions to go with them, but these are the industry benchmarks in their category and what defined their brand identity.
These phones — the iPhone 8 and XR — are perfect for your teenager or college student, for mom or dad, and for anyone who doesn’t need or want every bell and whistle of the newer models. I plan on getting one for my mother-in-law, whose Verizon Android device is on its last legs. The A11 Bionic SoC that the iPhone 8 uses is still considerably more potent than most Android phones on the market, especially those competing at the $400 price point using 2017/2018’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (such as in the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 3), or the even less powerful Snapdragon 670 used in 2019’s Pixel 3A.
Speeds and feeds aside, most importantly, with these devices, you get Apple’s yearly OS updates, which are going to be good for at least three years at this stage in the phone’s lifecycle. Moreover, if you have any issues with your iPhone device, especially if you opt for AppleCare — now available indefinitely for a monthly fee — you can walk right into an Apple Store and have a human being deal with it. That’s worth actual money.
Apple won’t convince die-hard Android fanatics to cross over to iOS-land with the iPhone 8. However, for retaining its customer base and acquiring folks who want to try something new or come back into the Apple fold after years of failed Android update promises by their OEMs? The iPhone 8 fits that bill nicely. Are you listening, David Gewirtz? The iPhone 8 has your name written all over it.
So that gets the price discussion out of the way. If you can’t afford to buy a Ferrari, then don’t buy one. You have other options, and a very good one, at that, if you still want an Apple device.
The other thing that my colleagues might have missed yesterday was that the starting price of Apple Watch Series 3 was reduced to $199/$299 for the GPS-only and GPS/cellular versions, respectively. In the fitness/health tracker space, that’s massive. That watch can also now take the update to watchOS 6, which is the latest version and has all sorts of great health monitoring features, including ambient noise level warnings and vital sign alerts. I don’t need to remind you of the value my Apple Watch has been to me, and I had a Series 2 when it changed my opinion of the product, permanently.
At that price point, combined with the iPhone 8, you’ve got a great phone and smartwatch pairing for anyone who seeks an inexpensive way to stay in and take advantage of the Apple ecosystem.
While the prices on these two devices are already desirable, Apple could certainly sweeten the deal by offering an iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 combo under $600. That’s something no Android OEM can match, nor do they have a smartwatch product that comes even close in terms of features and smartphone app support. Are you listening, Cupertino? Crush Android like the insect that it is.
Google’s WearOS and Samsung’s Tizen are, at best, also-rans. Nor do they have unique, home-grown value-added services that solely run on their smartphones and other devices they sell.
Apple’s event on Tuesday may have had iPhones in it, but the real story was about the services and content ecosystem that is now being built:
Apple Arcade, launching with 100 exclusive new games (with new ones added monthly) also for $4.99 a month.
Apple News+, which is $9.99 a month. Arguably, this is the service that I feel needs the most price tweaking and UX work in the app itself, but still has tremendous potential for those interested in consuming premium news content.
iPhones and iPads may get all the attention at events like this, but Apple’s future is in the services that run on them. It represents the only chunk of their business that offers unlimited potential for future growth. Yes, they are in their early versions now, and the company realizes this — which is why they are offering them for such compellingly low prices. It would not surprise me to see Apple bundle these services for all-inclusive costs at discounted rates — particularly when it comes with new device purchases. This is not at all different from what we see from telecommunications providers like AT&T, who offer lower-cost internet access or streaming perks when you purchase their subscription TV or wireless services. For customer retention purposes, I see Apple eventually doing the same thing.
The better that Apple’s services get, the more compelling — and more valuable — that continued membership in their ecosystem gets. That value can be derived even from Apple’s lowest-priced and previous-generation products, which are still better values than what their competitors offer as current generation products at the same price point.
And yes, there is also a vast aftermarket sales channel that consumers can use to stay in Apple land as well if they don’t want to buy their equipment new. Now that Apple just dropped the prices on new iPhone 8 devices, we can expect the value of the used devices of the same generation to fall quite a bit.
That is a massive problem that neither Google nor Samsung can quickly solve — because they are also being challenged by members of their shared ecosystem, such as Chinese firms like Huawei, ZTE, OnePlus and Lenovo, who can build equally good Android devices for considerably less money.
Google and Samsung, unlike Apple, don’t have services that are exclusive to their platforms — ones that make people want to use Android (or Tizen) to get that service. All of the services Google has also runs on the iPhone because Google monetizes primarily by their advertising. Gmail, Maps, and Youtube are not Android exclusives — they all run on iOS. If they didn’t, Google would be alienating a large portion of their customer base.
With Apple, the “Walled Garden” is the value proposition.
The other problem these two have? Those two Android heavies don’t have $210 billion in cash sitting around that they can use to mature these services quickly and to bankroll content. Apple could finance Avengers Endgame, in the top three of the most expensive movies ever made, at the cost of $356 million, about 590 times over. Did that blow your mind? It did for me.
Despite Gewirtz’s assertions, this is not an indicator of slow decline. Apple is a company in the process of transformation — one which Google and Samsung have no chance of disrupting, whatsoever unless the two figure out how to provide actual ecosystem value of their own — and quickly.
Were the services, reduced-price iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 the real news at the Fall 2019 Apple launch event? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
5 tips for brands that want to succeed in the new era of influencer marketing – TechCrunch
If I told you a decade ago that a spin bike would be a social community, you’d have had a good laugh. But that’s precisely what Peloton is: A spin bike with a social community where the instructors are the influencers.
Peloton is just one example of how social is being integrated into every aspect of the customer experience in an increasingly digital world. Whether it’s considering a new restaurant to check out, a movie to see or a product to buy, most people look at reviews before making a final decision. They want social proof as an indicator of quality and relevance.
Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust.
Influencers are a natural byproduct of this desire for social validation, and as social permeates the customer journey, creators have become an essential source of validation and trust. Indeed, social validation is what social platforms are built on, so it’s a significant component of how we derive relevance online — and the deeper integration of social is changing the dynamic between brands and digital creators.
The shifting economy of creator monetization
Brand sponsorships are the holy grail for creators hoping to monetize their online influence. According to an eMarketer report, brand partnerships are still the No. 1 source of revenue for most digital creators.
However, digital creators have a lot more monetization options to choose from, thanks to Patreon, affiliate platforms, paid content platforms and platform revenue sharing, making it easier to earn a living without relying so heavily on brand sponsorships.
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As a result, creators are diversifying their revenue streams, which, for some creators, allows them to be more selective about the brands they work with. What’s more, creators aren’t reliant on just one channel or one form of revenue.
YouTube creators probably have the most diversified revenue, often combining brand sponsorships, subscription models, affiliate deals, tipping/donations, their line of branded products and revenue share. However, it’s important to note that not all monetization options apply to every creator. But with so many options to choose from, making a living as a digital creator is more accessible than ever.
Here are a few of the ways online creators can monetize their content:
Ad revenue sharing: Advertising is the most traditional form of revenue for online creators. With this model, ads are injected into and around the creator’s content, and they make a certain percentage of revenue based on impressions. However, the revenue split can vary based on the platform, and some platforms have a specific threshold creators must hit before they can participate in ad revenue sharing.
Affiliate marketing: Similar to advertising or a brand sponsorship, affiliate marketing is an agreement for a share of revenue based on products sold. This kind of arrangement generally works best when the creator has a blog, website or YouTube account. Affiliate links allow the influencer to proactively choose the products they want to talk about and earn from, rather than having to wait for a brand deal to come their way.
Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide – TechCrunch
Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.
The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.
Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.
The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.
Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.
While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.
But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.
The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.
Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.
Twine raises $3.3M to add networking features to virtual events – TechCrunch
Twine, a video chat startup that launched amid the pandemic as a sort of “Zoom for meeting new people,” shifted its focus to online events and, as a result, has now closed on $3.3 million in seed funding. To date, twine’s events customers have included names like Microsoft, Amazon, Forrester, and others, and the service is on track to do $1 million in bookings in 2021, the company says.
The new round was led by Moment Ventures, and included participation from Coelius Capital, AltaIR Capital, Mentors Fund, Rosecliff Ventures, AltaClub, and Bloom Venture Partners. Clint Chao, founding Partner at Moment, will join twine’s board of directors with the round’s close.
The shift into the online events space makes sense, given twine’s co-founders — Lawrence Coburn, Diana Rau, and Taylor McLoughlin — hail from DoubleDutch, the mobile events technology provider acquired by Cvent in 2019.
Coburn, previously CEO of DoubleDutch, had been under a non-compete with its acquirer until December 2020, which is one reason why he didn’t first attempt a return to the events space.
The team’s original idea was to help people who were missing out on social connections under Covid lockdowns find a way to meet others and chat online. This early version of twine saw some small amount of traction, as 10% of its users were even willing to pay. But many more were nervous about being connected to random online strangers, twine found.
So the company shifted its focus to the familiar events space, with a specific focus on online events which grew in popularity due to the pandemic. While setting up live streams, text chats and Q&A has been possible, what’s been missing from many online events was the casual and unexpected networking that used to happen in-person.
“The hardest thing to bring to virtual events was the networking and the serendipity — like the conversations that used to happen in an elevator, in the bar, the lobby — these kinds of things,” explains Coburn. “So we began testing a group space version of twine — bringing twine to existing communities as opposed to trying to build our own, new community. And that showed a lot more legs,” he says.
By January 2021, the new events-focused version of twine was up-and-running, offering a set of professional networking tools for event owners. Unlike one-to-many or few-to-many video broadcasts, twine connects a small number of people for more intimate conversations.
“We did a lot of research with our customers and users, and beyond five [people in a chat], it turns into a webinar,” notes Coburn, of the limitations on twine’s video chat. In twine, a small handful of people are dropped into a video chat experience– and now, they’re not random online strangers. They’re fellow event attendees. That generally keeps user behavior professional and the conversations productive.
Event owners can use the product for free on twine’s website for small events with up to 30 users, but to scale up any further requires a license. Twine charges on a per attendee basis, where customers buy packs of attendees on a software-as-a-service model.
The company’s customers can then embed twine directly in their own website or add a link that pops open the twine website in a separate browser tab.
Coburn says twine has found a sweet spot with big corporate event programs. The company has around 25 customers, but some of those have already used twine for 10 or 15 events after first testing out the product for something smaller.
“We’re working with five or six of the biggest companies in the world right now,” noted Coburn.
Because the matches are digital, twine can offer other tools like digital “business card” exchanges and analytics and reports for the event hosts and attendees alike.
Despite the cautious return to normal in the U.S., which may see in-person events return in the year ahead, twine believes there’s still a future in online events. Due to the pandemic’s lasting impacts, organizations are likely to adopt a hybrid approach to their events going forward.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an industry that has gone through a 15 months like the events industry just went through,” Coburn says. “These companies went to zero, their revenue went to zero and some of them were coming from hundreds of millions of dollars. So what happened was a digital transformation like the world has never seen,” he adds.
Now, there are tens of thousands of event planners who have gotten really good at tech and online events. And they saw the potential in online, which would sometimes deliver 4x or 5x the attendance of virtual, Coburn points out.
“This is why you see LinkedIn drop $50 million on Hopin,” he says, referring to the recent fundraise for the virtual conference technology business. (The deal was reportedly for less than $50 million). “This is why you see the rounds of funding that are going into Hoppin and Bizzabo and Hubilo and all the others. This is the taxi market, pre-Uber.”
Of course, virtual events may end up less concerned with social features when they can offer an in-person experience. And those who want to host online events may be looking for a broader solution than Zoom + twine, for example.
But twine has ideas about what it wants to do next, including asynchronous matchmaking, which could end up being more valuable as it could lead to better matches since it wouldn’t be limited to only who’s online now.
With the funding, twine is hiring in sales and customer success, working on accessibility improvements, and expanding its platform. To date, twine has raised $4.7 million.
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