Week-in-Review: Google’s never-ending autonomous road trip

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Alexa wasn’t forgetting what you requested because that data was more valuable than one might think.


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The big story

In thinking about what to highlight in this week’s newsletter, I was tempted to talk about Zoom and Apple and Superhuman and the idea that secure communications can get screwed up when consent is bypassed, and I’m sure that’s something I’ll dig more into down the road, but what intrigued me most this week was single factoid from Google’s self-driving unit.

Waymo’s CTO told TechCrunch this week that the company has logged 10 billion miles of autonomous driving in simulation. That means that while you might have seen a physical Waymo vehicle driving past you, the real ground work has been laid in digital spaces that are governed by the laws of game engines.

The idea of simulation-training is hardly new, it’s how we’re building plenty of computer vision-navigated machines right now, hell, plenty of self-driving projects have been built leveraging systems like the traffic patterns in games like Grand Theft Auto. These billions of logged miles are just another type of training data but they’re also a pretty clear presentation of where self-supervised learning systems could theoretically move, creating the boundaries for a model while letting the system adjust its own rules of operation.

“I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things,” Waymo’s CTO Dmitri Dolgov told us. “One [is] fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale.”

Robotics and AV efforts are going to rely more and more on learning the rules of how the laws of the universe operate but those advances are going to be accompanied by other startups’ desires to build more high visual fidelity understanding of the world

There are plenty of pressures to create copies of Earth. Apple is building more detailed maps with sensor-laden vehicles, AR startups like are actively 3D-mapping cities using crowd-sourced data and game engine companies like Unity and Epic Games are building engines that replicate nature’s laws in digital spaces.

This is all to say that we’re racing to recreate our spatial world digitally, but we might just be scratching the surface of the relationship between AI and 3D worlds.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
[email protected]

On to the rest of the week’s news.

(Photo: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Trump must unblock his Twitter critics
    Twitter is a consumer product, so politicians using it might feel like its their own personal account, but when they use it for political announcements it becomes an official communications channel and using features like blocking stifles national free speech. So says an NY-based appeals court this week of President Trump’s habit of blocking critics. It’s undoubtedly a ruling that’s going to have far-reaching implications for U.S. political figures that use social media. Read more here.
  • Nintendo switches up the Switch
    The Nintendo Switch arrived on the scene with the bizarre notoriety of being a handheld system that was also a home console, but it’s not enough for the Japanese game co to capture the hybrid market, it’s looking to revisit the success it had back in the peak Nintendo DS days. The company announced the Switch Lite this week, which strips away a number of features for the sake of making a smaller, simpler version of the Nintendo Switch which is handheld-only and sports a longer battery life. Read more here.
  • Google and Amazon bury the home-streaming hatchet
    At long last, one of the stranger passive aggressive fights in the smart home has come to a close. Amazon’s Prime Video is finally available on Google’s Chromecast and YouTube is now on Fire TV after a years-long turf war between the two platforms. Read more here.
  • AT&T maxes out its HBO ambitions
    When AT&T bought HBO, via its Time Warner acquisition, execs made clear that they had acquired a premium product and planned to shift its standing in the market. The company announced this week that it will be launching a new service called HBO Max next year that will bring in new content including “Friends.” Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Apple nips a security nightmare in the bud:
    [Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability]
  2. Amazon warehouse workers plan strike:
    [Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike on Prime Day over labor practices]

wannacry hero 2 image

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another great week of deep dives. My colleague Zack Whittaker revisited the WannaCry ransomware that hit in 2017 with a lengthy profile and interviews with the researchers that stopped the malware dead in its tracks. After you dig into that profile, you can check out his Extra Crunch piece that digs further into how security execs and startups can learn from the saga.

What CISOs need to learn from WannaCry

“…There is a good chance that your networks are infected with WannaCry — even if your systems haven’t yet been encrypted. Hankins told TechCrunch that there were 60 million attempted “detonations” of the WannaCry ransomware in June alone. So long as there’s a connection between the infected device and the kill switch domain, affected computers will not be encrypted….”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about the future of car ownership and “innovation banking.”

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

Matterport acquires AI special effects startup Arraiy

Real estate computer vision platform startup Matterport is set to acquire Arraiy, an AI startup aiming to automate special effects processing in film.

Arraiy raised $13.9 million according to Crunchbase, most recently a $10 million Series A in March of 2018. Lux Capital and SoftBank Ventures Asia led the round. Lux Capital notably also led Matterport’s Series A back in 2013. In comparison, Matterport has raised about $114 million to date.

Arraiy used AI tech to more seamlessly overlay digital content on physically captured spaces. The company had been firmly focused on changing the way digital effects houses in Hollywood made films. While plenty of computer vision startups were aiming to use AI and AR technologies to bring live Snapchat-like AR functionality to different corners of the web, Arraiy was banking on the high-fidelity world of film, where special effects production is an expensive, time-intensive process.

Arraiy’s founders previously started Industrial Perception, a robotics startup that Google acquired in 2013.

The startup tackling Hollywood special effects and a startup best known for digitizing real estate properties to give potential buyers 3D tours might not seem like the most idyllic pairing, but the acquisition might allow Matterport to expand its ambitions further beyond its real estate customer base.

Snap shares its in-house accelerator’s next 10 investments

After generally being the butt of the public market’s jokes since its IPO, Snap is having a killer 2019, with its stock price nearly tripling in value. The successes are perhaps giving the company a moment to pause and think more about generating future value.

Part of that equation is certainly the company’s Yellow accelerator that aims to invest in pre-seed startups that bring mobile users to shared experiences.

We covered Yellow’s inaugural batch back in September, now we’ve got the full rundown on Snap’s second class of bets.

Yellow’s latest accelerator class definitely showcases some similarities to their inaugural group, but you’ll notice more online-to-offline startups aiming to bring users into real-world scenarios and communities like a concert subscription service and workout service reviews. This contrasts a bit to the first class which seemed a bit more focused on camera-based startups that centered around selfies, AR and photos.

From an organizational standpoint, things haven’t shifted too much inside Yellow. The broader company has had a standout 2019, building back a healthy chunk of the market cap value it has lost since debuting publicly. One wonders whether this has enabled the company’s accelerator group to push its investment ambitions beyond Snap’s mobile app focus.

Mike Su, Snap’s director of Yellow, tells me that there haven’t been any top-down directives to shift investment strategies for the accelerator and that the prevalence of offline startups in the class is just more representative of the applicants.

“[The class] continues to be an extension of our values and our thesis,” Su tells me. “Snap has always been about people making connections inside and outside the app.”

Here is Yellow’s summer 2019 class of startups.

Active Spaces

ClassPass might toss you in a random workout and say good luck, but Active Spaces is looking to give you more info when searching for your exercising fix. The New York startup is scouring its way through the NYC reviewing gyms and studios one-at-a-time. It’s less about star ratings than it is about giving you a bird’s eye view of what’s there and what’s missing. It’s all really well-done and gives you a ton of info about what you’re in for, and you can book direct from the app.

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Cash Live

HQ Trivia might be falling on hard times but Cash Live is looking to take the daily mobile quiz show in a new direction by leaning on the laurels of gaming, some good ole fashioned casino titles. The Vancouver startup is planning to bring a live host to scheduled 15-minute poker, blackjack and bingo tournaments.

AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

Disko

Finding local concerts sucks and it’s a process that hasn’t found its startup solution yet. Disko is building a concert subscription service that helps users discover new events in their city with a flat rate $25 per month subscription service which will let users attend up to four concerts per month. The LA startup is starting off in its hometown but has ambitions to expand elsewhere soon.

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Dose of Society

We’re missing a lot of diversity in the voices and perspectives we see in the media we enjoy. Dose of Society is a London media startup looking to share “real stories from real people.” The group’s videos have had more than 18 million views since launching at the end of 2017.

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Frame

Snap still has vertical video startups firmly in its purview. Frame is a weekly newsmagazine built for mobile that’s trying to rethink how we get news delivered to us. The NY startup is looking beyond push notifications and is also supporting text updates and calendar updates so that its subscribers can make time to absorb its narrative vertical video  journalism.

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Loco Adventures

Pokémon GO brought people into physical spaces with its location-based gaming, but other startups are seeing the potential to even further localize AR experiences. Berlin-based Loco Adventures is building games that guide you through local areas with a chat message narrative style.

Muze

Muze sees the endless wave of comments on the web and wants to make things a bit noisier, the New York team is working on a way to bring audio commentary “to the always-on stream of internet video” and share it across the web.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Quirktastic, Inc.

The startup has the ambitious goal of building a community for “geeks, gamers and nerds” that’s less toxic to minority groups. The Durham, NC company wants to connect these people with each other and the events they want to check out. Quirktastic says they have 15,000 users since they launched in beta in March.

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SNKRHUD

The sneaker business is a hefty one, but SNKRHUD is betting that it still isn’t as big as it could be. It’s trying to focus on the dormant sneaker heads who are liking shoes on Instagram and searching through online stores but haven’t delved further into communities. The Brooklyn team wants to be the glue between existing platforms.

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Stop, Breathe & Think

There’s a lot in the world to get stressed and anxious about, Stop, Breathe & Think is aiming to build a digital wellness platform to help people feel better. The app lets people check-in with how they’re feeling and then the app is able to recommend short activities like meditation, breathing, yoga, acupressure, guided journaling, and more.

Bumble chief responds to reports of misconduct at parent company

Following an extensive report in Forbes about Bumble’s parent company and its billionaire founder Andrey Andreev, the female-first dating app’s founder Whitney Wolfe Herd has issued a statement.

While Wolfe Herd says she was “mortified by the allegations” and “saddened and sickened to hear that anyone, of any gender, would ever be made to feel marginalized or mistreated in any capacity at their workplace,” the exec also detailed that “Badoo is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations, as well as compiling documentation to expose the factual inaccuracies that exist within the article.”

Wolfe Herd’s statement is provided in full at the end of the article. We’ve reached out to Forbes for comment.

The Forbes report, titled “Exclusive Investigation: Sex, Drugs, Misogyny And Sleaze At The HQ Of Bumble’s Owner,” focused largely on Badoo founder Andrey Andreev and the toxic culture at his company alleged by former employees. The report alleged an early culture at Badoo that ranged from “Ketamine infused afterparties” to engineering updates named after porn stars, and a video shared internally of an employee receiving oral sex.

The allegations went beyond portraying a sexist work environment and detailed racist attitudes of the Badoo founder:

While Badoo’s popularity grew in Europe and Latin America in the early 2010s, adoption was slow in the U.S. The American user base then was mostly Latino. Andreev would complain when he saw too many dark faces on the app—he believed it lowered the value of the brand and made it look cheap, says a former employee who worked on marketing campaigns. “Andrey was always making it clear that white was better,” says the former high-ranking executive. “If someone were to arrive a little bit late to the office and they were Latino or African, he would make comments like, ‘Well, what can you expect,’ as if people who were not white were not hardworking.”

Quoted on-record was the company’s former CMO Jessica Powell, who said she was fired because she didn’t fit into the company’s “patriarchal” environment. The Forbes report further detailed:

“While serving as the company’s CMO, I was told to act pretty for investors and make job candidates ‘horny’ to work for Badoo,” Jessica Powell, Badoo’s chief marketing officer from 2011 to 2012 says in an email. “I was once even asked to give a designer candidate a massage.” She says she refused to do so, adding that “female employees were routinely discussed in terms of their appearance.”

“When female staff spoke up, their concerns were ignored or minimized,” she adds, decrying a “misogynistic atmosphere.”

Wolfe Herd’s comments showcases a broader effort to distance the Bumble brand, which is closely aligned with her own personal brand, from the allegations against Badoo and its founder. It is difficult to separate Badoo and Bumble from a business perspective, as both fall beneath Andreev’s recently created MagicLab parent company, and Andreev reportedly owns 79% of Bumble.

Though Wolfe Herd’s comment strikes a conciliatory tone, “I would never challenge someone’s feelings or experiences,” regarding former employees that alleged negative experiences at Badoo, the company’s billionaire majority stakeholder Andrey Andreev was more direct in his response to those quoted on-record: “There are many ways to promote a fictional book in order to attract attention, and Jessica is a very talented marketing professional,” he said in a statement to Forbes, noting that Powell had recently released a satirical novel.

Responding to Andreev’s statement on Twitter, Powell said, “We’ve all seen the way people try to cut down women who come forward, the way companies craft false narratives of bad behavior and try to make it seem like we were bad at our jobs or troublemakers and should not be listened to.”

A statement from MagicLab given to Business Insider aimed to discredit Forbes reporter Angel Au-Yeung: “We are extremely disappointed in the reckless reporting of the Forbes reporter. Not a single current employee is quoted, our fact-check corrections were largely ignored, and the journalist refused to talk to dozens of former and current employees who came forward to counter the sensationalist narrative of only a few former disgruntled employees.”

The statements from Andreev, MagicLab and Wolfe Herd utilize language that simultaneously takes responsibility for “anything that could have taken place” and portrays a desire to hear from marginalized employees — while also seeking to introduce doubts about the story and its sources.

For Bumble, the association with the alleged toxic culture and Andreev’s alleged discriminatory attitudes in this report could be dangerous to the brand largely because of the reputation Bumble has publicly built for itself as being a platform that puts female safety at the forefront.

“…I would never challenge someone’s feelings or experiences. I offered to the reporter to extend my contact info to anyone who felt their experience was negative and said I would be an ally and open ear to them. That offer still stands,” Wolfe Herd said in the statement. “As a woman who has been through dark times, please know that I am deeply sorry for anything that could have taken place that made anyone feel uncomfortable before my time building Bumble. And know that I feel personally responsible by association for the well-being of each and every team member in the group, regardless of what company or what office around the world, from the past or the present.”

Wolfe Herd’s full statement:

All of us at Bumble are mortified by the allegations about Badoo (Bumble’s majority owner) from the years before Bumble was born, as chronicled in the Forbes story. I am saddened and sickened to hear that anyone, of any gender, would ever be made to feel marginalized or mistreated in any capacity at their workplace. From my time speaking with the reporter, I was only able to share my personal experiences, which have been nothing but positive and respectful, ranging from 2014, before Bumble existed, and during the 5 years since. To this day, we at Bumble have never seen or heard of any of this behavior from any team members, and if we had we would have never tolerated it. However, I would never challenge someone’s feelings or experiences. I offered to the reporter to extend my contact info to anyone who felt their experience was negative and said I would be an ally and open ear to them. That offer still stands. As a woman who has been through dark times, please know that I am deeply sorry for anything that could have taken place that made anyone feel uncomfortable before my time building Bumble. And know that I feel personally responsible by association for the well-being of each and every team member in the group, regardless of what company or what office around the world, from the past or the present. Badoo is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations, as well as compiling documentation to expose the factual inaccuracies that exist within the article. I’d like to take the opportunity to clarify that I was never copied on any email from these allegations, as Forbes suggested. I learned of the majority of these allegations at the same time as the public. We at Bumble remain fiercely committed to our mission, while being openly apologetic to anyone who feels our mission is compromised. We assure you that we would never conduct business in a manner contradictory to our values and would never tolerate the type of toxic behavior described by Forbes.

Week-in-Review: Alexa’s indefinite memory and NASA’s otherworldly plans for GPS

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about the cult of Ive and the degradation of Apple design. On Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal published a report on how Ive had been moving away from the company to the dismay of many on the design team. Tim Cook didn’t like the report very much. Our EIC gave a little breakdown on the whole saga in a nice piece he did.

Apple sans Ive


Amazon Buys Whole Foods For Over 13 Billion

The big story

This week was a tad restrained in its eventfulness, seems like the newsmakers went on 4th of July vacations a little early. Amazon made a bit of news this week when the company confirmed that Alexa request logs are kept indefinitely.

Last week, an Amazon public policy exec answered some questions about Alexa in a letter sent to U.S. Senator Coons. His office published the letter on its site a few days ago and most of the details aren’t all that surprising but the first answer really sets the tone for how Amazon sees Alexa activity.

Q: How long does Amazon store the transcripts of user voice recordings?

A: We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.

What’s interesting about this isn’t that we’re only now getting this level of straightforward dialogue from Amazon on how long data is kept if not specifically deleted, but it makes one wonder why it is useful or feasible for them to keep it indefinitely.  (This assumes that they actually are keeping it indefinitely, it seems likely that most of it isn’t and that by saying this they’re protecting themselves legally, but I’m just going off the letter.)

After several years of “Hey Alexa,” the company doesn’t seem all that close to figuring out what it is.

Alexa seems to be a shit solution for commerce, so why does Amazon have 10,000 people working on it, according to a report this week in The Information? All signs are pointing to the voice assistant experiment being a short term failure in terms of the short term ambitions though AI advances will push the utility.

Training data is a big deal across AI teams looking to educate models on datasets of relevant information. The company seems to say as much. “Our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems use machine learning to adapt to customers’ speech patterns and vocabulary, informed by the way customers use Alexa in the real world. To work well, machine learning systems need to be trained using real world data.”

The company says it doesn’t anonymize any of this data because it has to stay associated with a user’s account in order for them to delete it. I’d feel a lot better if Amazon just effectively anonymized the data in the first place and used on-device processing the build a profile on my voice for personalized . What I’m more afraid of is Amazon having such a detailed voiceprint of everyone who has ever used an Alexa device.

If effortless voice-based e-commerce isn’t really the product anymore, what is? The answer is always us, but I don’t like the idea of indefinitely leaving Amazon with my data until they figure out the answer.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
[email protected]

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • NASA’s GPS moonshot
    The U.S. government really did us a solid inventing GPS, but NASA has some bigger ideas on the table for the positioning platform, namely, taking it to the moon.It might be a little complicated but unsurprisingly scientists have some ideas here. Read more
  • Apple has your eyes
    Most of the iOS beta updates are bug fixes, but the latest change to iOS13 brought a very strange surprise, changing the way the eyes of users on iPhone XS or XS Max look to people on the other end of the call. Instead of appearing that you’re looking below the camera, some software wizardry will now make it look like you’re staring directly at the camera. Apple hasn’t detailed how this works but here’s what we do know here.
  • Trump is having a Twitter party
    Donald Trump’s administration declared a couple months ago that it was launching an exploratory survey to try and gain a sense of conservative voices that had been silenced on social media, now @realdonaldtrump is having a get together and inviting his friends to chat about the issue. It’s a real who’s who, check out some of the people attending here.

Amazon CEO And Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos Speaks At Air Force Association Air, Space And Cyber Conference

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Amazon is responsible for what it sells:
    [Appeals court rules Amazon can be held liable for third-party products]
  2. Android co-creator gets additional allegations filed:
    [Newly-unsealed court documents reveal additional allegations against Andy Rubin]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch reporter Kate Clark did a great interview with the ex-Facebook, ex-Venmo founding team behind Fin and how they’re thinking about the consumerization of the enterprise.

Sam Lessin and Andrew Kortina on their voice assistant’s workplace pivot

“…The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about asking for money and the future of China’s favorite tech platform.

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Tim Cook hits ‘send’

Tim Cook doesn’t seem to be particularly happy with The Wall Street Journal.

A day after an in-depth report describing Jony Ive’s cooling departure from Apple and the degrading nature of the design team at Apple, Cook made the rare move of responding directly to the report in an email sent to a reporter at NBC.

“The report is absurd,” Cook writes. “A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, don’t match with reality.”

It is — of course — worth noting that Cook is responding negatively to a report that said negative things about his company and him specifically. His email also alluded to errors in reporting but didn’t call anything out specifically despite plenty of specific claims.

The report had detailed that Ive had grown “frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook,” also reporting that “people in the design studio rarely saw Mr. Cook, who they say showed little interest in the product development process—a fact that dispirited Mr. Ive.’

For Cook, sending this email is definitely a bit more of a Steve Job-type play, directly attacking the publication and defending the company’s reputation. This is a pretty unusual move for Cook, who has generally seemed to let the Apple PR machine handle unpleasant stories through a web of off-the-record and background comments for journalists on the beat.

The more direct refutation is something that Cook also did in responding to Bloomberg’s story on Supermicro, a move that was noteworthy at the time as well. While the Bloomberg story struck chords relating to the company’s information security and threatened consumer trust, the report from the WSJ threatens the lore of Apple and how the company has positioned itself to move forward as an operations-focused giant.

We’ve reached out to The Wall Street Journal for comment.

AR headsets promise new enterprise productivity, but can the startups building them survive?

Just as the bluetooth headset ushered in an era of hands-free calling, AR startups are trying to convince manufacturing startups that AR headsets will bring new efficiencies with hands-free computing.

As Magic Leap and Microsoft have dropped hundreds of millions trying to spend their way into new tech modalities for enterprise customers, smaller players are relying on less ground-breaking hardware and hoping that easy-to-use software can drive new customers into their arms. One player using this approach is an AR startup based just outside of Portland called RealWear. They aren’t promising digital holograms and floating whales, but they’ve received over $100 million from investors that seem to believe in a more “conservative” approach to enterprise AR.

RealWear’s HMT-1 hardware is akin to the form factor of yesteryear’s Google Glass, but the tech is even more straightforward, it’s not a transparent display just a small screen in a worker’s line-of-site that can be pushed out of the way when not needed. When it comes to differentiating a hardware startup that isn’t relying on its own hardware advances, there are definitely risks that another deep pocketed player can replicate what they’ve done, though RealWear certainly isn’t short on investor cash for the time being.

The company announced today that they’ve pulled in about $81 million in funding since they announced their Series A early last year. About $56 million of that was Series B equity funding, while they also raised $25 million in debt. The latest round was led by Teradyne, with Bose Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Kopin Corporation and JPMorgan Chase Co. also participating. If that last investor draws your attention, the company tells TechCrunch they are closely eying an IPO, a unique move in an industry focused that has proven heavily reliant on VC cash.

Investors have seen major potential in the enterprise AR space, but major players have flared out in the past 12 months leaving some wary of making another bet in the space. Earlier this year, we reported that ODG, which had raised $58 million for its AR glasses, was in the midst of a fire sale or its IP. The same fate came to Meta months later, which raised $73 million. All-the-while Magic Leap has continued to dominate AR venture capital deals, but it isn’t clear what progress they are making with enterprise customers relative to their $2.6 billion raised.

RealWear has raised tens of millions yet most of that cash is going to sales rather than R&D, a benefit the company has from licensing other firms’ tech rather than trying to solve the unsolved AR optics issues. The approach has worked, at least in terms of quickly building a business on its way to being cash flow positive. The company said it had about $12 million in revenue last year, and was estimating $25-30 million this year.

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For now, the name of the game for RealWear is converting pilots into paid rollouts. CEO Andy Lowery tells me that about 95% of the company’s 2018 revenue came from paid pilots but that there have already been some big conversions. The company tells TechCrunch that they have shipped 15,000 units in the past 18 months, though a recent major deal with Turkish telecom company UROS will force them to scale much more quickly. The firm announced in April that they are ordering 10,000 of RealWear’s devices as part of a major tech push in Kazakhstan.

RealWear is also working with customers like Colgate, BMW, Walmart and Coca-Cola.

Week-in-Review: Auditing a dark age in Apple design

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how YouTube was letting its commenting system turn from a festering wasted opportunity into a liability.


Screen Shot 2019 06 28 at 8.37.42 PM

The big story

Plenty happened this week, though most of the news signified something larger looming on the horizon, more on that in a bit.

One undoubtedly meaty news item was that Jony Ive, Apple’s most iconic executive persona, announced that he was leaving the company this year.

Ive has undoubtedly been a powerhouse of industrial design who has helped craft some of the most iconic products from one of the most influential tech companies. The issue is perhaps what Apple’s vision of industrial design transformed into in his final years at the helm.

Jony Ive is leaving Apple to launch a new firm

Ive shifted away from managerial roles in 2015, but the Chief Design Officer’s influence has been evident it the past several years of very beautiful devices designed around the occasional flawed hypothesis.

Poor design is more than the oft-memed Apple Pencil jutting out of an iPad lightning port or the Mighty Mouse with a charger piercing its underbelly. The company’s aesthetic choices in how they curve their screens or shape their aluminum have stayed true but you don’t have to look too far to find a pattern of carelessness in a number of Apple’s device which occasionally have prioritized svelte profiles over actually even working.

Ive is design genius, but like all people we elevate with that title, he and his design ethos grew further disassociated with the public over time. All designers miss the mark occasionally, but an obsession with minimalism pushed the company in some troublesome directions that the company is only now coming to reckon with.

Apple’s design degradation is perhaps nowhere more visible than in the ill-fated AirPower. The device, which designed to charge your iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch simultaneously, was beautiful, but Apple’s aggressive design left physics in the rearview mirror. Ambition is one thing but letting function drive form to the point that you publicly announce a product that wasn’t physically possible showcases where Apple’s marketing showmanship butt heads with actual device capabilities. Apple abruptly cancelled AirPower this year, more than a year after its expected release.

If AirPower was a pithy signifier, the degradation of the company’s Mac line has been Apple’s abasement opus.

The problematic keyboards, the useless TouchBar and the shrinking number of ports on its laptops have defined the past five years of the company’s laptop line. There isn’t much that needs to be said about the anti-consumer design decisions that took Apple’s best generation of the MacBook Pro in the 2011/2012 era and cursed it with an unneeded rethinking.

The about-face that the company took on its Mac Pro line shows just how misguided its thinking was and how Ive and company let innovative design poison the good will it had built up with customers. The company’s 2019 line is a total rejection of the 2013 trash can which showcased some major design hubris.

These missteps don’t fundamentally complicate the legacy of Ive or Apple. The past decade has also seen thoughtful designs take shape from the Apple Watch to the iPhone X to the iPad Pro, but industrial design is a means to an end and the manner in which Apple has determined where the customer fits into its design ethos could perhaps use some rethinking as the company enters a new design era.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
[email protected]

On to the rest of the week’s news.

space starship 4

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • SpaceX preps for a Starship payday
    Elon Musk is still trying to get SpaceX’s Starship off the ground, but the company’s leadership is already planning for the reusable rocket’s commercial heyday. Read more about the aggressive timeline here.
  • SF throws Juul the bird
    San Francisco doesn’t always operate on the right side of interacting with new technologies and startups, but the city government took final steps to be the first city to ban sales of electronic cigarettes, taking aim at Juul, which seems to be one of the more morally bankrupt SF startups out there. Read more on the ban here.
  • Reddit takes steps to isolate r/The_Donald
    Reddit has had a tough time growing up over the past several years, part of that has been a handful of problem communities on the site. This week, Reddit took the unique step of quarantining r/The_Donald after threats against public officials and members of the police. Read more about the quarantine here.
  • Tesla’s cell jealousy
    Tesla electric vehicles are awfully reliant on Panasonic’s battery cells and the company is investigating how it can reduce that dependency, though the company’s significant demands suggest that even if they succeed in the aggressive move, it would take an awful long time to scale to meet their needs. Read more on the report here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s head of spin makes a push:
    [Facebook makes another push to shape and define its own oversight]
  2. FB isn’t sure what to do:
    [Facebook’s content oversight board plan is raising more questions than it answers]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. We had a story that should be interesting to a lot of younger founders that are scaling their entrepreneurial ambitions while they’re still in classes.

How to scale a startup in school

“…Once you have a job in an industry you want to be in, network like your life depends on it. Get to know the talented people around you and try to help them as much as you can…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about the future of marketplaces and you should think about naming your startup.

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Bumble now lets you call your matches without exchanging numbers

Bumble is giving users some new options to get to know each other inside its dating app, announcing today that they are adding voice and video calls to their app.

The feature is double opt-in, meaning you won’t get a video call from some rando the second that you match with them. Instead, users will see an icon inside their chat that they can tap on to enable the features that move beyond text. Once both users get onboard, you can get to chatting without worrying about exchanging your numbers or social media profiles.

You can only get to know someone so well between photos and chat messages though that’s more that enough for some interactions.

The goal of the new features was “giving users a more real life interaction, and saving them time by getting a deeper understanding of who they’ve matched with before they decide to meet in person or share valuable contact information,” MagicLab (the newly-announced parent company of Bumble, Badoo, Chappy and Lumen) CEO Andrey Andreev told TechCrunch in an email.

The ability to have a phone call or video call inside the app without exchanging numbers is a nice way to protect users from harassment. Bumble announced “Private Detector” a couple months ago which analyzes photos sent in chat and lets users know if there’s anything “explicit” in the photo so they know what they’re getting into when they open it. That feature is launching this summer.

MagicLab plans to bring voice and video calls to its other dating apps as well.

Apple Music surpasses 60 million subscribers

Today’s major Apple news may be the departure of its design guru Jony Ive, but the even as the company stomachs the executive loss, their software plows ahead. Today, in an interview with French news site Numerama, Apple honcho Eddy Cue revealed that the number of Apple Music subscribers has now climbed to 60 million.

The company seems to give updates every time it surpasses another additional 10 million subscribers, we last heard that they had crossed the 50 million mark back in April.

Now, the company’s music service is well past the halfway market in its mission to surpass Spotify which currently has 100 million subscribers.