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The limits of coworking – TechCrunch

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It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

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2021 iPad Pro is worth the wait: Here’s why

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Apple iPad turf is overly saturated. If you are in the market for an iPad this holiday season, there are a few options you can instantly close on. For a certain set of users, there is the A12Z Bionic chip-powered 2020 iPad Pro. Then is the recently introduced iPad Air that dishes out ruthless performance and is high on substance. For the budgeted buyer, the fifth-generation iPad Mini is a suggested option. To add to choices, Apple is already working on the next edition of the iPad Pro with improved display, power, and 5G connectivity, and it is slated for an early 2021 release.

Information of likely improvements is bound to put all those looking for an Apple tablet in a fix – should they upgrade now or wait on. Of course, there are many options already out there and holiday season is a good reason to shop, but if you want the new and fantastic – waiting for a few months sure will be painful but worth it.

The rumors

A new iPad Pro was initially tipped to launch toward the end of this year, reports now have it that the unveiling is pushed back to sometime in spring of next year. Reliable Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo has also validated the delay suggesting, a brand new iPad Pro launch may have been pushed for the first quarter of 2021. Kio had initially predicted that multiple iPads could debut in fall 2020.
Easily referenced as the 2021 iPad Pro, the forthcoming flagship will reportedly share a lot of traits with its siblings, which means we should not be expecting major design changes. LiDAR scanners, dual-lens camera setups are here to stay since nothing is heard about any alterations in this department.

Maybe the storage tiers and RAM options are beefed up. But this is also just an assumption for now. What is more certain is that the new iPad Pro will be 5G enabled (just like the iPhone 12 line-up this year), will feature a powerful processor, and a brighter, energy-efficient mini-LED display. This will send Apple on a new display tech journey – it’ll be for the first time an iPad will roll out with a LED screen.

Several rumors suggest Apple will launch two iPad Pro variants next year. While the higher-end 12.9-inch model with mini-LED screen is very likely – rumors have hinted at a possibility of an 11-inch iPad Pro, with a similar display, but there is no substantial detail to back the early claims.

New display technology

Although Apple is not going to bring about a radical change to the next-generation iPad Pro in terms of design – a new display technology is on the cards. Multiple rumors suggest 12.9-inch 2021 iPad Pro may feature mini-LED display. This type of display basically is a replacement for the cheaper and unfashionable backlight screen (yet an affordable alternative to OLED – used in iPhone 12 series). It can greatly increase color, contrast, and brightness and give the iPad Pro improved local dimming – possibility to brighten or dim lights at specific areas of the display.

Reportedly, these screens in the upcoming iPad Pros will likely be produced and supplied by LG. It may eventually find itself as a replacement for LCDs on almost all products in Cupertino’s lineup – including the MacBook. Mini-LED may not be as bright as OLEDs, but they are by no means slacks – these super bright displays look beautiful and are energy-efficient, thus offering better battery life too.

The iPad is already a brilliant device – a brighter display is only going to do more good to its image as a designer’s/artist’s daily driver. LED display will make everyone awaiting a new iPad Pro anxious as it sets the supposed 2021 iPad Pro apart from the other major siblings in the Apple lineup, which are equally capable. Currently, there is no information on whether Apple will continue selling iPad Pros with LCD displays.

Newer processor

The 2020 iPad Pro comes with A12Z Bionic chip, which in its own right is powerful enough for most set of users. The newer iPad Air however comes with A14 Bionic chipset in the body, which certainly makes it a better option for the power-hungry consumer base.

If you’re still not satisfied, Apple is expected to launch the new iPad Pro in 2021 with an upgraded 5-nanometer-based processor – perhaps called the A14X Bionic chip. If this is true, then undoubtedly the iPad performance is going to shoot through the roof – leaving not only its siblings but the completion high and dry. The new processor will mean more power and better performance, of course, it will also enhance battery life and prove more beneficial for gaming and multitasking.

5G is biggest reason to wait

iPhone 12 lineup announced a few months back, is the first set of Apple devices launched with 5G support, and now this prowess is only going to grow. Apple will be extending 5G connectivity to other devices and 2021 iPad Pro will, most likely, be the first outside of iPhones to get it. Now, it’s one of the biggest reasons to hold back and wait for the new iPad Pro.

According to the latest report, Apple’s next-generation iPad Pro will be 5G enabled with mmWave support. mmWave or millimeter wave is 5G band that promises ultra-fast speeds in short distances – it is available in this year’s iPhone 12 models but supported exclusively in the US for now.

Even more existing are rumors suggesting, the 2021 iPad Pro will be first to test Apple’s own in-house mmWave Antenna in Package (AiP) module. The AiP modules were initially tipped to be included in the next year’s iPhones, but Apple’s self-sufficiency in developing its own 5G mmWave modules has increased likelihood of new high-end iPad Pro being the first to include the antenna in the package. AiP modules will provide the 2021 iPad Pro with support for the mmWave 5G.

Wrap-up

What we have detailed are only rumors and the final product could land with or without the abovementioned features. If you’re still interested in the new iPad Pro, you should wait around for more information to roll out as we inch closer to the supposed launch next year. If reports of the 2021 iPad Pro launching in first quarter next year are believed, we will hear a lot more about the forthcoming device along the way before the imminent official launch.

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This holiday, check your old phone for a fat battery

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I found something in a junk drawer this week that was at first exciting, then alarming. In the drawer was an old smartphone that I’d not powered on for several years, at least. Cool, I’ll just start it up and time travel back to the point at which I last turned it off, right? But wait a moment here… this phone is significantly thicker than it was when I last saw it. This is not good.

Why did this phone get thick?

The thickness came from a chemical failure of the device’s lithium ion battery. I’d never opened this device before – I never had a reason. The only reason a person might open up a device like this would be to fix a component inside, or replace a component inside.

We’ve seen this sort of thing happen in a bunch of phones over the past decade, from all sorts of manufacturers. Most of the time we see this sort of thing happen, it’s because new phone users are working with off-brand plugs and such.

With a phone that’s been left in a drawer for several years, there’s a chance the chemical-based setup within will… fail. If you see this sort of thing happen, you have a few options and at least one NON-OPTION.

What to avoid

One NON-OPTION is charging the device. Do not charge the device. Do not plug your phone in to any sort of wire, nor set your device on any sort of wireless charger. You absolutely do NOT want to agitate the battery package if at all possible.

Can I fix a swollen battery? No, you can not fix a swollen battery. The deed is done. The only thing left to do is isolate the battery and/or the phone with the battery inside before you contact a professional.

Do NOT put your phone in the fridge or make any attempt to “cool it down.” The expansion is not temperature-dependent. The expansion cannot simply be reversed.

Do not do ANYTHING that may result in you piercing the battery’s protective layer. If you do that, the battery may explode and start a fire. See our feature Where to put your old phone batteries to see some explosions, courtesy of batteries that’ve been disposed of incorrectly.

What needs doing

It is not easy to open most smartphones not meant to be opened – especially one like this, held together with glue AND clips, with no easily accessible screws. The manufacturer of this phone, Samsung, did not build this phone with the intent that it be easily opened or its hardware replaced (or even removed) by the average user.

As such, you’ll more than likely want to seek the assistance of a professional. Gadget repair specialists are used to seeing this sort of thing – it happens far more often than you’d think. They’ll know how to safely remove the battery and potentially replace the battery IF that is possible.

There’s a real possibility that your phone will need to be brought to your city’s official landfill. You may want to call ahead, as your city’s waste management specialists will want to take special care of the battery and the phone to avoid an explosion and/or fire.

What if today is a holiday?

If you find an expanded battery in a smartphone and it is a holiday, chances are your local battery-handling professional won’t be available to dispose of your fire hazard of a phone. The LEAST you can do is place the battery (or the phone with the battery inside) in a safe place. Isolate the phone and/or the battery – away from paper, away from anything flammable.

Get the device outside as quick as possible if you can. Put the device in a fireproof container, like a metal bucket with a layer of sand inside. Above all else – get this thing isolated so WHEN it starts on fire, it’ll cause minimal damage.

This advice was as good a decade ago as it is today. New smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables, etcetera, still use lithium ion batteries, and lithium ion batteries still fail.

Take caution, and don’t take a risk. This one’s full of fire.

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Nokia 9.3 PureView might be a no-show this year

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HMD Global has flooded the market with affordable Android phones but its track record on higher tiers has been less impressive. To date, only the Nokia 8 Sirocco and Nokia 9 PureView can be considered top-tier, at least based on the premium Snapdragon chips they’re carrying. The latter’s successor would have not been on par, at least based on the earliest information we had, but it would have given the PureView brand yet another stab at the market. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening any time soon, as the Nokia 9.3 PureView has reportedly been delayed to 2021.

The Nokia 9 PureView was quite the oddity, though it wasn’t surprising considering HMD Global partnered with mobile camera company Light. It utilized five co-equal cameras to independently take shots of the same scene and stitch them together into a single hi-res image. It mostly delivered on that promise but left plenty of room for a version 2.

By late 2019, Qualcomm seemed to be quite excited for a Nokia 9 PureView successor that would showcase its Snapdragon 765’s capabilities despite not being an 8-series processor. It might have disappointed some who were hoping for a true Nokia premium flagship. For better or worse that successor never came, which ironically leaves the door open for a better device.

Twitter user @Nokia_anew now claims that the Nokia 9.3 PureView has been pushed back to 2021. When that will be is still unknown but it might be sometime in the first half of the year. That potentially means HMD could switch to using a Snapdragon 875 but, considering its preferences for mid-range to entry-level chips, we won’t be too optimistic about the chances.

Even more concerning, however, is the absence of a Nokia PureView in 2020, which could call into question HMD Global’s ability to even make one now that Light is out of the mobile market. The company still has to come out with a new high-end phone but, then again, Nokia was better known for flooding the market with innumerable phones anyway.

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