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The state of the smartphone – TechCrunch

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Earlier this month, Canalys used the word “freefall” to describe its latest reporting. Global shipments fell 6.8% year over year. At 313.9 million, they were at their lowest level in nearly half a decade.

Of the major players, Apple was easily the hardest hit, falling 23.2% year over year. The firm says that’s the “largest single-quarter decline in the history of the iPhone.” And it’s not an anomaly, either. It’s part of a continued slide for the company, seen most recently in its Q1 earnings, which found the handset once again missing Wall Street expectations. That came on the tail of a quarter in which Apple announced it would no longer be reporting sales figures.

Tim Cook has placed much of the iPhone’s slide at the feet of a disappointing Chinese market. It’s been a tough nut for the company to crack, in part due to a slowing national economy. But there’s more to it than that. Trade tensions and increasing tariffs have certainly played a role — and things look like they’ll be getting worse before they get better on that front, with a recent bump from a 10 to 25% tariff bump on $60 billion in U.S. goods.

It’s important to keep in mind here that many handsets, regardless of country of origin, contain both Chinese and American components. On the U.S. side of the equation, that includes nearly ubiquitous elements like Qualcomm processors and a Google-designed operating system. But the causes of a stagnating (and now declining) smartphone market date back well before the current administration began sowing the seeds of a trade war with China.

Image via Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The underlying factors are many. For one thing, smartphones simply may be too good. It’s an odd notion, but an intense battle between premium phone manufacturers may have resulted in handsets that are simply too good to warrant the long-standing two-year upgrade cycle. NPD Executive Director Brad Akyuz tells TechCrunch that the average smartphone flagship user tends to hold onto their phones for around 30 months — or exactly two-and-a-half years.

That’s a pretty dramatic change from the days when smartphone purchases were driven almost exclusively by contracts. Smartphone upgrades here in the States were driven by the standard 24-month contract cycle. When one lapsed, it seemed all but a given that the customer would purchase the latest version of the heavily subsidized contract.

But as smartphone build quality has increased, so too have prices, as manufacturers have raised margins in order to offset declining sales volume. “All of a sudden, these devices became more expensive, and you can see that average selling price trend going through the roof,” says Akyuz. “It’s been crazy, especially on the high end.”

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Former MoviePass execs are being sued by the SEC for lying to customers • TechCrunch

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Ahead of the official relaunch of subscription-based movie ticketing service MoviePass, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint against three of its former executives, claiming they lied to investors and the public.

The SEC filing targeted former MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe and Ted Farnsworth, the former CEO of parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics (HMNY), claiming they lied about how it planned to be profitable and used “fraudulent tactics to prevent MoviePass’s heavy users from using the [unlimited subscription service],” the SEC wrote.

When under the rule of Lowe and Farnsworth, MoviePass promised users a $9.95 per month subscription that would give them an unlimited number of 2D movie tickets. However, MoviePass quickly kissed “unlimited” goodbye, ending the service that was likely losing a lot of money. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

Last year, Farnsworth and Lowe settled with the Federal Trade Commission after MoviePass was accused of preventing users from using the subscription service they were paying for.

The original founder and owner of MoviePass, Stacy Spikes, hopefully won’t repeat the mistakes of its previous owners. Spikes is launching an updated version of MoviePass, which is currently beta testing in three markets: Chicago, Kansas City, and Dallas. However, there will be no such thing as unlimited viewing, and instead MoviePass will have three subscription price tiers with set limits ranging from $10, $20, and $30 per month.

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Netflix shares trailer for Spotify series ‘The Playlist’ • TechCrunch

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Netflix released the official trailer for “The Playlist” today, an upcoming limited series that loosely tells the story of how Spotify was created. The six-episode show will premiere on October 13.

“The Playlist” will center around Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek, played by “Vikings” star Edvin Endre and how the company became one of the top music streaming services.

The show will also feature other Spotify employees, such as Petra Hansson (played by Gizem Erdogan), Andreas Ehn (played by Joel Lützow), and Christian Hillborg will play the co-founder of Spotify, Martin Lorentzon.

However, it’s important to note that the show is “fictionalized,” Netflix writes in the caption, and is based on 6 “untold stories.”

There are many fictionalized movies and shows about big tech companies. For instance, Apple TV+ has a drama series “WeCrashed” based on WeWork; Showtime released “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hulu’s “The Dropout” is based on the health tech company Theranos, and no one can forget the 2010 Facebook movie “The Social Network.”

Spotify launched in 2006 as a small Swedish start-up and was a response to the growing piracy problem in the music industry. Now, the music streaming service has 433 million monthly active users.

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• TechCrunch AmazeVR wants to scale its virtual concert platform with $17M funding

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AmazeVR, a Los Angeles-based virtual concert platform, said Tuesday it has raised a $17 million funding round to create immersive music experiences through virtual reality (VR) concerts.

Like other industries, the entertainment sector was affected by the coronavirus lockdown. Many music artists had to cancel or push back their live events during the pandemic. Some artists and music agencies have shifted to virtual or online concerts to compensate for those canceled events. AmazeVR is betting that virtual shows, which have become popular among artists and fans since the pandemic, are going to take over the entertainment industry.

Mirae Asset Capital led the Series B round along with returning backers, including another Mirae Asset Financial Group subsidiary (Mirae Asset Venture Investment), CJ Investment, Smilegate Investment, GS Futures and LG Technology Ventures. New strategic investors — Korean entertainment giant CJ ENM and mobile game maker Krafton — participated in the latest round.

“The virtual reality entertainment industry is growing rapidly, and we believe that music and gaming are two of the most promising sectors for future development,” said a spokesperson at CJ ENM.

AmazeVR co-CEO Steve Lee said that his startup plans to use the financing to expand partnerships with artists and their management agencies, labels and publishers. He added that it is currently in talks with potential partners to work with top artists in the U.S.

The startup is preparing virtual concerts and a music metaverse service that would be available across all major VR app stores and work with next-generation headsets such as the Meta Quest Pro and Apple’s own rumored VR headset, Lee continued.

The Series B funding round comes in the wake of the startup’s joint venture announcement with K-pop agency SM Entertainment in July. Both companies plan to launch Studio A in South Korea and produce immersive VR concerts.

“We’re also preparing to produce virtual concerts with SM Entertainment artists and expand to other K-pop companies in South Korea,” Lee said. “We plan to hire more artificial intelligence engineers, [Epic Game’s] Unreal Engine engineers, and visual effects (VFX) artists” to continue the advancement of its technology and the development of premier virtual concerts.

The company’s goal is also to broaden content diversity in order to bring more VR concert fans around the world.

The AmazeVR team traveled to 15 U.S. cities this summer for its first commercial virtual concert, Enter Thee Hottieverse, a tour with rap icon Megan Thee Stallion through AMC Theaters. Lee told TechCrunch that the company had about 75% attendance rates for its concerts, about 4.3 times the average theater occupancy rate estimated at 15%-20%. The ticket prices were $20-$25, ~2.5times more expensive than the average movie theater ticket price (~$9.17).

“CJ ENM plans to convert concerts and music TV shows to VR music experiences with AmazeVR’s prime technology, and additional original content such as dramas and movies in the future to maximize their content value and business opportunities,” the spokesperson of CJ ENM said.

The last time TechCrunch covered AmazeVR was earlier this year when it secured $15 million. Its Series B round brings the startup’s total amount raised to approximately $47.8 million. The Los Angeles-headquartered startup with offices in Seoul now has 62 members on its team.

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