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Worse than ugly: Why Apple’s iPhone 11 may be the most boring upgrade ever



New iPhone rumors point to a comeback for Touch ID, but is it needed?
Apple’s next iPhone needs more than Touch ID to remain competitive. Jason Perlow and Jason Cipriani talk to Karen Roby in a Face ID face-off. Read more:

It’s July 4th weekend! So you know what that means: It’s the beginning of iPhone speculation season!

We don’t know exactly when Apple plans to have its fall iPhone event, but traditionally, its happened in either late September or early October. So we have about 8 weeks, realistically speaking before we know the real details about what Apple’s new smartphone flagship is all about.

iPhone 11 rumors: Price, specs, features and everything else we know CNET

Armchair Apple watchers like myself can only speculate about what features are going to be in the new phone. However, we already have a bunch of clues based on numerous leaks that have originated from Cupertino’s manufacturing partners in Asia as well as some other notable news items from the company’s partners.

Iterate much?

Many of the iPhone’s upgrades in the last two years have been iterative, especially since the introduction of the FaceID facial recognition technology that has been part of the line since the launch of the iPhone X — it’s now in every current generation phone the company sells, the XR, the XS, and the XS Max.

The iPhone X was a radical departure from iPhone 7 and iPhone 8: the device was virtually bezel-less and hardware button-free on the display area. However, the XR, XS and XS Max were not substantially different from the iPhone X in terms of overall industrial design. Apple introduced a larger form factor in the XS Max and a version with 3D touch removed in the XR, with a lower quality display, at a lower price point, as well as the usual component upgrades in the A-series SoCs.

TouchID to return because FaceID stinks?

However, it appears that the FaceID technology has not been as successful as one might have expected. It has been rumored that TouchID, the fingerprint recognition technology that was initially introduced in iPhone 6 and is now only available on iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, may be making a comeback within the next year, albeit concealed underneath the screen (a la Huawei and OnePlus) rather than as a dedicated hardware button. Apple’s new version of TouchID purportedly works better than the Android in-display alternatives, as the sensor is supposed to function over a much larger screen area, so the finger doesn’t have to align with the sensor precisely.

One of the upshots of re-introducing this new under-the-screen TouchID is that it may also provide for a somewhat improved display.  The rumors are that the already nearly invisible bezel from the iPhone XS on the 5.8-inch version of iPhone 11 is nonexistent, like the Samsung Galaxy S10 or the Huawei P30 Pro. The larger “Max” is also said to have a less prominent bezel as well. No word on the elimination of the controversial and much-maligned “notch.”

More cameras! USB-C! Joy?

The other significant hardware upgrade? It appears that Apple is ready to throw in the towel on the proprietary Lightning connector and may be preparing for a move to USB-C charging and accessory connectivity, just as it has done with the iPad Pro. While I welcome the possibility of Apple moving to USB-C (and the reported 4000 MaH battery on the iPhone 11, which would be the largest it has ever had), I am not sure someone with an iPhone 8 would necessarily justify moving to this device based on the data and charging connector alone.

The not so big? It sounds like the next iPhone is getting a third camera. Also, like Huawei. Yawn. More camera means more better! It also means more ugly, if the renderings of the phones and leaked case designs hold water with the big camera bulge on the back.

Quantum dots? Sorry.

The upgrade I was truly looking forward to is not going to make an appearance — the “quantum dot” sensor technology that Apple was reportedly licensing from Nanoco, a British technology firm, has been canceled in iPhone 11.

Unlike CMOS-based camera sensor technology which can only process about 25 percent of the light that it is exposed to, a quantum dot sensor is much more sensitive, allowing for complete conversion of photons to electrons as they hit the sensor matrix, yielding a 100 percent fill factor and an increase in sensitivity by a factor of four. In English? That means you can now build smartphone cameras using smaller lenses and overall sensor area with the equivalent sensitivity to large format professional SLR and mirrorless cameras which have physically much larger CMOS sensors.

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However, that isn’t coming this year. Had it made it, it would have been an absolute no-brainer upgrade for many people from iPhone X or iPhone 8, including myself.

Could the iPhone 11 still go to higher pixels? It’s possible, especially if they go to a third 12MP sensor on the “Max” and do software tricks to combine them. I’m not necessarily expecting a superior CMOS sensor like the Huawei P30 Pro uses, which has a primary 40-megapixel sensor with an f/1.6 lens, a second ultra-wide 20-megapixel unit, and a third telephoto 8-megapixel sensor for zooming. The iPhone 11 “Max” is said to have a similar ultra-wide configuration to the Huawei P30 Pro, but the CMOS capabilities of the camera sensors on the yet-to-be-released device are so far unknown.

Improved image processing? Nope!

What else isn’t coming? Well, we haven’t seen any indication that Apple has made significant investments in image processing technology such as what Google has done for the Pixel 3, or what Huawei has done with its P30 Pro. This technology would be image processing on-device as well as with cloud-assist using a combination of dedicated hardware and software algorithms for features such as Night Mode and Portrait mode.

While iPhone’s conventional CMOS sensors and camera optics are as good as everyone else’s, Apple lags in software improvements that put it on par with cameras on its competitors’ devices.

I own both a Pixel 3 and an iPhone XS Max, and the quality of the close-up food photographs I take for the restaurant reviews I do for other outlets are vastly superior on the Pixel 3. The results of portrait mode on the iPhone are distorted and weird looking, and having to take photographs in dimly-lit environments are a significant challenge without additional spot lighting. That’s not the case with the Pixel 3 or the Huawei P30 Pro, which have onboard image processing capabilities.

Cloud improvements? Nah.

Apple’s image processing deficiencies is an area that, quite frankly, needs to be addressed in the iOS software and back-end cloud infrastructure itself. Part of the problem is that Cupertino does not have the cloud-based infrastructure dedicated to image processing as Google does. Apple reportedly has a $30M per month spend at Amazon, but it’s unknown to what extent it is using AWS for in terms of machine learning and other processing offload features.

That’s one of the reasons why I use Google Photos on the iPhone instead of the local Photos application. It’s a better experience even though the exposures taken with the iPhone aren’t given the same favored status in Google Photos  that are granted to Pixel 3 and other Android phones, which allow for full-resolution storage and manipulation of the images in Google’s cloud using the device or your personal computer. Unlike the Pixel 3, iPhone images in Google Photos are stored in “High-Quality” compressed size than “Original” uncompressed size.

Analysis: Bor-ring!

So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like the iPhone 11 is shaping up to be one of the most boring upgrades in recent memory. All of these small, iterative improvements are nice, but they aren’t particularly compelling, especially if you have an XS or an XR. Moreover, while the 11 “Max” is going to be a powerhouse with a giant, beautiful screen — just like the current XS Max is — there appears to be nothing coming for those folks who still want a smaller phone, like the iPhone SE.

Am I going to upgrade? Yes, because I am on the Upgrade Program. It means I am just going to continue the same lease payment, probably for only a few dollars a month difference. However, it feels just like bringing your Lexus into the dealership after a two-year lease and being handed the keys to almost the same model of next year’s version of your current car with no substantive improvements in it — routine and unexciting.

Will you be upgrading to iPhone 11? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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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.

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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.

Image Credits: Instagram

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.

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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.

Image Credits: twine

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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