The 7 great features that will hopefully return to the MacBook Pro

I miss the old MacBook Pro. Remember when the MacBook Pro had a good keyboard? Or an SD Card slot? Or an escape key? I miss the time when the MacBook Pro was 2mm thicker than the current version but had a full-size USB port.

Remember the wonder of MagSafe? Or the glory that was using a MacBook Pro outside because of the matte screen?

Remember when the power adapter for Apple’s laptops had little fold-out tabs to hold the cord? There was also a time that a random brush of the keyboard wouldn’t trigger Siri.

There was a time when Apple made great laptops and there is now.

Yesterday Apple announced an upcoming event where the company will likely release new laptops and iPads. These are some of the features TechCrunch writers hope return to Apple’s notebook computers.

Escape Key

The Touch Bar is clever. I like it most of the time. But I like the escape key more. Right now, on Macs equipped with the TouchBar, the escape key is a temporary button on the TouchBar. It’s positioned off-center, too, which forces users to relearn its location.

It’s silly. The escape key has been with PCs for generations and is critical across applications and use cases. Everyone from causal gamers to coders use the escape key on a regular basis.

Keep the TouchBar, but make it a bit smaller and position it between an escape key and a real power button. Just give me my escape key back. And make Siri optional. I’ve had a TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pro for nearly two years and have yet to find a reason to use Siri.

USB Ports

I’m over living the dongle life. From everything from charging a phone to connecting a camera, standard USB ports need to return to the MacBook Pro. Since we’re dreaming here, I would love to have one per side. The PC industry has been slow to jump on USB-C. Even Apple hasn’t gone all-in and that’s the issue here.

Think about it: If a person buys a MacBook Pro and iPhone, that person cannot connect their iPhone to their new MacBook Pro without buying an adapter or cable. Same goes for an iPad. If a person wants to buy a new iPad and new MacBook Pro, the two products cannot connect out of the box.

Apple launched the USB-C equipped MacBook Pro in 2016. It’s 2018. For a company that understands ecosystems, Apple has done a poor job ensuring all of its products are compatible out of the box. The first USB-C Apple Watch cable was released today.

SD Card Slot

The MacBook Pro is billed as a laptop for the mobile professional yet it doesn’t allow some mobile professionals to connect their gear without adapters.

The SD Card is the overwhelming standard of photographers and videographers — a key audience for the MacBook Pro — and yet these folks now have to use adapters to connect their gear. Until the latest MacBook Pro redesign, there was a built-in SD Card reader, and Apple should (but won’t) build one into the next version.

External battery level indicator

A few generations ago, the MacBook and MacBook Pro had tiny button on the side that, when pressed, illuminated little lights to give the user an approximation of the remaining battery life. It was lovely.

You know the drill: You’re running out the door and need to know if you should bring your large power adapter. You don’t need to know exactly how much time until your laptop dies. You need an idea. And that’s what these lights provided. With just a press of a button, the user would know if the laptop would last 20 minutes or 2 hours.

Clever Power Adapter

For generations, Apple laptop chargers had little tabs that folded out and gave the owner a place to wrap the cable. It’s a simple and effective design. Steve Jobs is even listed on the 2001 patent. Those tabs disappeared when Apple went USB-C in 2016.

The latest charger is the same shape as the previous version but lacks the tabs, forcing owners to store the USB-C cable apart from the charging block. It’s a little thing but little things was what made Apple products delightful.

MagSafe

The elimination of MagSafe is nearly too painful to talk about. It was magical. Now it’s dead.

Here’s how it worked: The power cable was magnetic. Instead of sticking into the laptop, it connected to the side of it. If someone tripped over the cable, the cable would harmlessly disconnect from the laptop.

When Apple first launched MagSafe, the company loudly proclaimed they did so because customers kept breaking the connectors that plugged into the laptop. You know, like what’s in the current MacBook.

A good keyboard

I could forego all of the above if Apple could fix the keyboard in the latest MacBook Pro. It’s terrible.

Our Natasha Lomas said it best in her excellent piece called “An ode to Apple’s awful MacBook keyboard,”

The redesigned mechanism has resulted in keys that not only feel different when pressed vs the prior MacBook keyboard — which was more spongy for sure but that meant keys were at reduced risk of generating accidental strikes vs their barely there trigger-sensitive replacements (which feel like they have a 40% smaller margin for keystrike error) — but have also turned out to be fail prone, as particles of dust can find their way in between the keys, as dust is wont to do, and mess with the smooth functioning of key presses — requiring an official Apple repair.

Yes, just a bit of dust! Move over ‘the princess and the pea’: Apple and the dust mote is here! ‘Just use it in a vacuum’ shouldn’t be an acceptable usability requirement for a very expensive laptop.

Seriously. The keyboard is the worst part of the latest generation of the MacBook.

Alternatives

For the first time in 15 years I’m considering switching back to a Windows laptop. Microsoft’s Surface Book is not without flaws, but it’s a solid machine in my limited experience. I would be willing to try the less-powerful Surface Laptop 2, too. They’re just missing one thing: iMessage.

Review: The tiny $149 Echo Sub is a huge audio upgrade

Want to make your music more interesting? Add a subwoofer. That’s what Amazon did and, suddenly, the entire Echo smart speaker lineup is more interesting. If you were not impressed with the sound of an Echo, consider trying again when the Echo is paired with an Echo Sub. The subwoofer changes the game.

The Echo Sub is a small, round sub covered in the same fabric as the Echo speakers. Currently it’s only available in dark gray. It’s designed to be sat on the floor or a sturdy desk and serve up the low notes the Echo speakers are unable to reproduce. The Echo Sub does its job. When paired with an Echo speaker, the audio is more full and enjoyable, well-balanced and healthy. The Echo Sub is a must-have for Echo owners.

Review

Amazon provided TechCrunch with a pair of $99 Echo speakers and the $129 Echo Sub. This kit is available for $300, but Amazon also sells the Echo Sub bundle with two Echo Plus devices for $329 — that’s the bundle to get since the Plus models have larger speaker drivers. I suspect the difference will be worth the additional $30.

Setting up the system takes about 25 minutes. Each speaker is individually added to the Alexa smartphone app. Once all three speakers are installed, they have to be bundled in a virtual group. The app’s prompts make it easy, but I found the process buggy. When trying to combine the speakers into a group, the app would sometimes fail to locate one of the speakers. Other times, the two speakers were found, but the sub was not. Eventually, I got it configured and ended up with two Echo speakers running in stereo and a subwoofer handling the low-end sounds.

The difference an additional speaker and subwoofer makes is lovely. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Stereo is how music was supposed to be enjoyed.

Years ago the Jambox and its countless Bluetooth speaker clones convinced a generation that one speaker is all that’s needed for music. That’s a lie. One speaker gets the job done, but two, running in stereo will always be better. And in this case, with the addition of a subwoofer, it’s much, much better.

Des Rocs’ Let me Live takes full advantage of the newfound soundstage. The left and right speakers explode with activity, creating an immersive listening experience that’s not possible with any single speaker from an Amazon Echo to Apple HomePod. The stereo arrangement lets the music breath.

AKA George’s Stone Cold Classic comes alive with this setup. The Echo Sub provides dramatically more depth to the track while the stereo Echos offer a full experience. Need more proof? Turn to Van Halen’s Panama. A single speaker cannot give the same experience; the channels get muddled and mixed. But when played in true stereo with the backup of a woofer, the David Lee Roth comes alive.

I’m impressed with the sound quality of this $300 bundle. A lot of the heavy lifting is offloaded to the Echo Sub, allowing the Echo speakers to handle the mids and highs, which are clear and precise for the price point. At $300, it’s hard to find a better audio system than two Echo speakers and the Echo Sub. And the Echo’s smart features sweeten the deal.

Amazon provided two $99 Echo speakers, and they do the job. The Echo Sub can also be paired with two $149 Echo Plus speaker, which feature more significant drivers; I suspect using two of these speakers would result in even better sound and when purchased as part of a bundle, they’re only a few dollars more.

The Echo Sub works well in most situations. Compared to other subwoofers, it’s on the smaller side of the scale. It provides much-needed bass, but the woofer cannot shake walls. It does not pound, per se. It’s a great match for hard rock or pounding pop; it’s not for trunk-rattling rap. Think Arctics Monkeys instead of Post Malone.

The Alexa app allows users to adjust the amount of bass, mid and treble the subwoofer produces. I found the adjustments to be minor and unable to change the sound profile of the woofer drastically. Overall, the Echo Sub is an elegant, little sub that works well in conjunction with a pair of Echo speakers.

The Echo Sub can work with just one Echo speaker, too. Own just Echo smart speaker? Add an Echo Sub for an astounding upgrade in sound quality.

Amazon is not the only company pairing smart speakers for a new age of stereo sound. Sonos has long allowed owners to wirelessly connect speakers to create stereo and surround sound setups. Two Google Home Max can be paired to create a lovely stereo set. The same goes for Apple HomePods: Two $350 HomePods can be wirelessly tied together for a stereo kit. Each of the setups mentioned above provides great audio quality, but they’re more expensive than Amazon’s solution. Only Sonos sells a dedicated subwoofer, though.

Amazon, with the addition of the Echo Sub, now offers a great audio experience for much less than that of its closest competitors. The $129 Echo Sub is compact and capable and the best way to instantly upgrade an Echo smart speaker setup. If possible, add a second an Echo speaker to create a virtual set of stereo speakers.

The Echo Sub is an easy recommendation for homes where an Echo speaker is dedicated to music. If forced to pick between adding a second Echo or adding an Echo Sub, go for the subwoofer first.

Here are the companies that pitched in Startup Battlefield MENA

Today in lovely Beirut, Lebanon TechCrunch held its first Startup Battlefield in the country. Over 700 people watched the show on site, which featured speakers from throughout the Middle East and 15 startups competing in Startup Battlefield.

A winner will be chosen at the end of the day and they will walk away with a $25,000 prize. As of this post’s publication, a winner has not been picked.

What follows, is each company’s Startup Battlefield pitch in the order that they appeared on stage.

[Please note: Videos will be added to this list as they become available]

Startup Battlefield Competition – Flight #1

BuildInk

Real estate construction firms nowadays are struggling to keep up with the fast-moving pace of technological advancements in order to fulfill the market constantly changing demands. Buildink is offering a revolutionary solution for construction firms, via a scalable and mobile friendly Cable Robot Concrete 3D printer and Signature Concrete Mixture. Concrete 3D printing will not only open the space for unlimited architectural designs, it will also reduce the overall construction cost.

Harmonica

Harmonics is the leading marriage making app in MENA that not only match singles but also help them build healthy relationships. Launched in Cairo with a unique matching algorithm of one match at a time, powered by a strong team of phycologists, managed to reach a 100,000 user base in only few months.

Material Solved

MaterialSolved is a data visualization software for chemical/nano compounds. MaterialSolved helps scientists and scientific illustrators create complex scientific 3D models, static illustrations, and animations in an efficient way. Unlike general purpose graphics and visualization software, we use a new model that merges several algorithms to achieve significant time and cost reduction and make many visual representations possible.

MoneyFellows

MoneyFellows enables access to interest free credit and helps savers to easily reach their saving goals. We do this by digitizing the traditional ROSCA model (Rotating Savings and Credit Association).
How it works:
1- Group of people joins together to contribute a fixed monthly installment into a common pot.
2- Every month one of the users takes the whole pot as a payout.
3- Circle ends when all circle participants gets his/her payout once.
4- Circle is then usually repeated with the same group of people over again.”

Neotic AI

Neotic.ai created auto-traders for financial markets, giving the opportunity for everyone to use advanced technology to get higher returns on their savings. In other words, Neotic users can find ready to use, plug and play, live tested, AI powered trading strategies and deploy them directly on the broker account without writing any single line of code.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Flight #2

Naturansa

Naturansa produces high-quality protein from edible insect grown through pre-consumer food waste decomposition. We have built scalable technology that produces insect year-round which then get converted into a protein powder. We currently use our product in pet food market, but our target is to move into human consumption and solve major environmental problems that are present in current protein production.

IT Grapes

IT Grapes is a precision farming platform composed by an internally developed hardware for smart monitoring of environmental data and control of in-field equipment, combined with an online hub that gives access to federated data for selected actors of the agricultural sector in order to help farmers, taking the right decisions and improve the decentralized intelligence included in the in-field devices.

IN2

IN2 is a sports and activities platform that aims to streamline the activity organization process. Whether it’s fitness, sports, music, or other activities, IN2 makes planning and participating in activities a much more enjoyable experience. It does that by empowering businesses & organizers with management tools and connecting them to the relevant stakeholders

Seez

Seez is a mobile app that reduces the time people spend searching for a car from 17 hours down to a few seconds. By fully automating your search, seez uses its AI chatbot, Cesar, to scan all sites, identify the seller, and even negotiate the price down for you. This way you will see all cars for sale in your country and the final price of each car.

Autotell

AUTOTELL is revamping driving experience, Our aim is to give you the right advice at the right moment, helping you reduce consumption, get the maximum return out of your car by providing you with the remote monitoring, detecting faults on road, have an access to an automotive Eco-system and getting instant advice whenever needed through AI personal assistant 24/7.

How the Audi e-tron compares to the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace

Audi just announced its first production electric vehicle. Called the e-tron, the EV is a mid-size SUV loaded with technology with an unofficial range of over 300 miles. It’s nicely equipped, and with a starting price of $74,800, it sits between the Jaguar I-Pace and the Tesla Model X.

The e-tron is most similar to the Jaguar I-Pace though the Audi is slightly better equipped. The e-tron packs a 95 kWh battery over the Jaguar’s 90 kWh battery. It’s also slightly larger and rated to tow 4,000 lbs.

Comparing the e-tron to the Model X gets messy. Tesla sells the Model X in three flavors: mild, hot, and on fire. The mild version starts at $72,100 and packs a 75 kWh battery good for 237 miles. Spend $88,600 to get the 100D and its 100 kWh battery that’s rated for 295 miles. And for $125,800, buyers can get the P100D that’s good for 298 miles and a 0-60 time of 2.9 seconds.

Autonomous driving modes are available for purchase on each version of the Model X. Audi and Jaguar do not offer autonomous driving on the e-tron or I-Pace.

Spec for spec, the e-tron, I-Pace and Model X offer advantages over each other. Here are the most important technical specifications for each vehicle along with the Toyota RAV4, the top selling SUV in the United States.

Here’s how I see each vehicle’s advantage:

Audi e-tron

  • Best price-to-battery ratio: Buyers get a 95 kWh battery on the base model. For the money, the Audi is the best value when it comes to the range it can travel.
  • Competent controls: Audi installed the same dual-touchscreen system found in its high-end A8 luxury sedan. The top screen handles infotainment while the bottom screen handles climate control and text input. Both screens offer tactile and audio response when touched.
  • It looks and feels like an Audi: The e-tron does not stand out, which could be a good thing for some buyers. It looks and feels like an Audi SUV.
  • Audi is not releasing the range yet: The EPA must certify the e-tron before Audi can advertise the range of the e-tron. Without those numbers, it’s hard to place where the e-tron sits in the landscape. But today at the e-tron launch event, the company hinted at a range that’s superior to that of the Tesla Model X.

Jaguar I-Pace

  • Early reviews of the I-Pace praise the driving: The I-Pace is a crossover and it drives like one. It’s sporty and confident and it has the lowest stance of the three EVs listed here.
  • The I-Pace is a Jag: The I-Pace has the quickest time to 60 mph out of the bunch and is capable of hitting the mark in 4.5 seconds. That’s the same as a 2016 Audi TTS Coupe. However, the more expensive Tesla P100D is much, much quicker with a 0-60 time of 2.9 seconds.
  • Well equipped yet the cheapest: Starting at $69,500, the I-Pace is the least expensive of the bunch. And at that price, it’s well equipped

Tesla Model X P75

  • It’s a Tesla: The Model X looks like nothing else on the road inside and out. To some, it’s a big draw while others shy away from the attention-getting design.
  • The Model X is deceptively large: The Model X comes with five seats, but two jump seats can be added to the rear area. With all the seats down, the Model X has an available storage volume of 88 cubic feet — that’s just 6 cubic feet smaller than a Chevy Tahoe.
  • The Model X can drive itself: The Model X can be equipped with Autopilot, Tesla’s self-driving system that can pilot the SUV on its own.
  • More options: The Model X P100 offers more range and the Model X P100D offers more range and insane performance.

The e-tron hits the US market in the middle of 2019, and by then, there will be additional competitors to compare.

Detroit’s StockX raises $44M from GV and Battery to expand marketplace internationally

StockX started as a marketplace for reselling sneakers but has since grown to be much more, bringing its transparent and anonymous marketplace to more verticals. Today the company is announcing a $44 million Series B that will help fuel international and domestic growth while letting the company expand to even more product categories and perhaps opening StockX stores.

The idea driving StockX is simple: Provide a marketplace with fair pricing and ensure the merchandise is authentic. The result scales to nearly day-trading in consumer goods in the same vein as oil futures. In some cases, the seller never touches the product. Sneakers and other in-demand products are priced and sold at rates set by the market rather than the seller. If a particular sneaker is in demand, the price increases.

StockX is among the fastest growing startups in Detroit and Michigan and currently employs 300 in Detroit and 50 in Tempe, Arizona. Founded in 2016 by CEO Josh Luber, COO Greg Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quick Loans, the company has scaled to see more than $2 million in daily transactions and 800,000 users have sold or purchased items on StockX. Today, at an event in Detroit, Luber told the audience that the company is approaching a billion dollar run-rate.

The company has never been capital contrasted and CEO and co-founder Josh Luber told TechCrunch that the company never thought they would have to turn to institutional financing. That’s the comfort of having a billionaire like Gilbert as a co-founder; Luber said Gilbert was always happy to fund StockX.

“We didn’t need money,” Luber told TechCrunch the day before this announcement, adding. “It was really about having external people that that we thought added truly different values than we had around the table.”

Right now the company’s main marketplace centers around sneakers but StockX is built around a platform that works for most ecommerce. It’s a $5 billion market worldwide. Last year the company also launched marketplaces for streetwear, handbags and watches — all verticals with a strong demand in the secondary market.

Scaling the service requires more bodies. Since everything sold on StockX is authenticated — in person — it takes more hands to authenticate more items. With that comes more customer service employees and as the company grows, StockX will need more engineers.

The company is already growing fast but Luber seems ready to double down. In March StockX had 130 people. Today, it’s at 415. He thinks. He confesses it could be a slightly more.

“We have about 50 engineers today and I would quadruple that tomorrow if I could,” he said. “We have about 50 customer service people today. I think it would be safe to double that tomorrow just because the business is growing so fast and we obviously hope it continues to grow as we scale.”

If StockX is going to scale, it needs more employees to ensure the company’s core ethos does not soften. The new round of funding will go far in bringing in the people Luber is seeking including additional members of the C-suite. StockX is running without a CTO, CMO, or CFO — pretty much the entire leadership suite, Luber admits.

It seems this is part of the reasoning behind the funding. The company was not seeking funding but, as Luber tells it, as the company gained attention, investors increasing reached out requesting meetings. Of the meetings they took, there were two firms that meshed with Luber’s vision of growing a marketplace.

The new round of funding comes from GV and Battery Ventures including several high-profile investors including DJ Steve Aoki; model and entrepreneur, Karlie Kloss; streetwear designer Don C; Salesforce founder chairman and co-CEO, Marc Benioff; Bob Mylod, founder and managing partner of Annox Capital; Shana Fisher, managing partner at Third Kind Venture Capital; and Jonathon Triest, managing partner of Ludlow Ventures — only Mylod and Triest are based in the Detroit area.

StockX says it intends to use the funding to expand internationally. Right now StockX only advertises in the US and only supports purchases in U.S. dollars. Going forward it intends to open up local versions of StockX to better support key markets with support for local currency, language and marketing. The company could also open location operations to make shipping and receiving easier and faster.

“In some of these countries, we have, a pretty decent customer base where people are tendered on a VPN,” Luber said. “There are pictures of people that walk around China with a StockX tag hanging off their shoe.”

Fifteen percent of StockX sales currently come from international buyers.

Of the four product categories StockX current sells, sneakers and streetwear make up the bulk of the sales. Before expanding to different verticals, Luber tells me there’s a lot of room for growth in each of the current categories but expanding means more employees.

For instance, each streetwear brand is essentially a sub-vertical, he says, adding that if the company launches a new brand StockX has to assemble a staff around it with brand expertise to build the catalog and product authentication process.

StockX is not ready to announce what other type of products it might sell. Street art seems like one they’re exploring.

Despite the growth, Luber remains committed to Detroit. He said the company will always be headquartered in Detroit and was proud to point to the fact that StockX was the second largest tenant in Dan Gilbert’s marquee Detroit building, One Campus Martius. The company also operates a 30,000 square foot facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

StockX could come to other cities though, Luber says. The company is talking about what a StockX “in-real-life” experience would look like: It could be retail, a brand experience, accepting products to be sold or additional operation centers. The company is exploring all the obvious candidates including LA, NYC, San Francisco and Portland.

Tesla’s sleek wireless smartphone charger will soon be available again

Last month Tesla introduced a limited edition smartphone charger. Even though it was overpriced and slow, the charger quickly sold out. Now Tesla says the charger will soon be available again and at a lower price.

The charger features 6,000mAh of juice and 5W of wireless output charging and 7.5W through USB. The first time around, the charger was $65 but now it will cost $50. Still, as The Verge points out even at the lower cost, similar wireless chargers can be had for less money and often sport a larger battery. But they don’t say Tesla.

This charger is the latest in Tesla’s small electronic lifestyle items. They’ve long sold USB chargers designed to mimic the design and appeal of its Supercharger line. This latest version looks like the Tesla Powerwall battery — but as awesome as the Powerwall is, it cannot wireless charge a smartphone.

Here’s how Airstream is updating the classic American travel trailer

Airstream has been making travel trailers for generations, and it seems the company is ramping up plans to bring connected technology to the product line. The company recently announced several new products that will bring new features expected by today’s consumers.

The iconic silver bullet trailers are a mainstay on America’s highways and byways. Trailers made today have the same classic lines as those made for past generations. For the most part, that’s not going to change. While Airstream has new two new trailers that slightly depart from the shiny aluminum exterior, they’re still Airstream trailers. And for the classic models, which can command prices over $150,000, Airstream is now equipping them with smart control technology that will let owners control various functions through a smartphone app.

Featured on initially the 2019 Classic models, Airstream’s Smart Technology puts a bevy of controls in a smartphone app. It lets owners control the majority of the trailers systems and monitor different levels from an app. Check the propane, water and battery levels from the app or control the awning from afar. The app even lets owners locate the trailer through GPS, in case, you know, you lose your $100,000 trailer among an RV lot of other $100,000 trailers.

“Airstream owners have long been bringing digital technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) into their trailers, often in very creative ways,” said Airstream Vice President of Product Development and Engineering McKay Featherstone, in a released statement. “So, it’s no surprise they embrace the idea of a smart trailer, a recreational vehicle that allows them to adventure with all the digital comforts and connectivity of home.”

Airstream also has two new travel trailers that bring the Airstream product line to lower price points. But without the silver bullet design.

An updated and more capable version of the smallest Airstream was just announced. Called the Basecamp X (pictured above), it’s designed to go places most Airstream trailers would scoff at. It’s more rugged and, frankly, cheaper than most Airstream models.

“Airstream is targeting outdoor enthusiasts with the Basecamp X,” Justin Humphrey, Airstream COO told TechCrunch. “They aren’t always younger, but they certainly index much higher in terms of outdoor activities they participate in a given year versus our more traditional buyers.”

He explained that Airstream built this model, not for a target age group but rather the outdoor enthusiast of any age. The Basecamp X’s features back up that claim, too.

The Basecamp X is a smaller trailer, with room for two to sleep comfortably. It has a 3-inch lift kit for added ground clearance and Goodyear Wrangler tires along with side skirts and wheel flares to help prevent damage. A large back door makes it easy to store kayaks or bikes inside the trailer. The smaller size allows mid-size SUVs or large crossovers to tow the trailer without much effort. The Basecamp X comes pre-wired for solar power, and there are a handful of USB charging ports and lockable gadget compartments. Prices start at $36,000, so while this might be the smallest Airstream, it still commands an Airstream price.

Announced earlier this year, Nest by Airstream is the most substantial departure from the classic Airstream. It’s built from fiberglass and for a good reason. Airstream did not start the development of the Nest. The company bought Nest Caravan in 2016, apparently in a bid to bring to the market a new, lower cost product line from Airstream.

Airstream says the Nest has a lot of the same character found in the Classic trailers but at a lower cost. It sleeps up to two people and has a floor plan similar to Airstream’s base Sport model. But it’s lighter and is loaded with more modern conveniences.

It’s clear Airstream is attempting to reinvent itself while staying true to what made the company an icon. It’s a fine line many companies often walk. Stay in the past too long, and upstarts surpass the incumbent. Change too quickly and alienate current buyers. As long as Airstream keeps the innovations inside the silver bullet, the company should be just fine.

Sonos sees modest gains on first day of trading

Sonos opened its first day of trading at $15 a share though quickly gained 20% as trading began. As of publication, Sonos, trading under SONO, is around $18.50 a share.

Sonos priced its initial shares at $15 a share, below the expected range of $17 to $19. At this price Sonos is valued at just under $1.5 billion and will raise $208.5 million by going public. If the stock price maintains its current levels, Sonos will end its first day of trading up and in the expected range. Pricing their initial shares under the expected range resulted in the company raising as much money, but it also provided a bit of cushion in case Wall Street traders disagreed with the pricing. It’s never a good look to end a company’s first day of trading in the red.

Sonos CFO Michael Giannetto tells me the company priced its IPO price under the expected range in response to recent market movement. As examples he pointed to the volatile market environment caused by multiple down days including Facebook’s big drop in stock price. Sonos, Giannetto said, is more concerned about where the stock price is in three to five years rather than on the first day of trading.

To celebrate its Nasdaq listing, Sonos updated the sound of the Nasdaq bell where it will be used going forward to open and close the day’s trading.

Sonos is nicely positioned as a third-party option in an ecosystem that’s getting increasingly crowded by proprietary speakers from the larger companies that own voice assistants like the Echo, HomePod and Google Home. But Sonos has been around for a considerable amount of time and has clearly built up a significant following to ensure that it could find itself operating as an independent public company. In its fiscal 2017 year, Sonos said it brought in nearly $1 billion in revenue, an increase of 10 percent year-over-year. The initial filing indicated that the company had sold a total of 19 million products in 6.9 million households, with customers listening to 70 hours of content each month.

I spoke briefly with long-time Sonos employee Nick Millington who is now the company’s Chief Product Office. He sees Sonos as a unique offering in today’s consumer market. He explained that the company’s three pillars of focus — openness, quality, and cohesive product family (he called it systemness) — is what makes Sonos unique. He pointed out that because of those three areas of focus, 90% of the products Sonos ever sold are still in operation today. Sonos’ biggest competitor isn’t speakers from Amazon or Apple, but rather a silent home, he said. Because the company has long worked with outside services, it is committed to brining Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant to its products.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the facing increasing competition from the electronic giants of Apple, Google and Amazon — all which want a spot for their own speaker in people’s homes. Sonos responded by building-in Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant into several products. Its most recent product, the $399 Beam sound bar, has Alexa built-in and lets users ask Apple’s Siri to control music on Sonos systems. Google Assistant compatibility is expected to come later this year.

Cisco is buying Duo Security for $2.35B in cash

Cisco today announced its intent to buy Ann Arbor, MI-based security firm, Duo Security. Under the terms of the agreement, Cisco is paying $2.35 billion in cash and assumed equity awards for Duo.

Duo Security was founded in 2010 by Dug Song and Jonathan Oberheide and went on to raise $121.M through several rounds of funding. The company has 700 employees with offices throughout the United States and in London, though the company has remained headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI.

Co-founder and CEO Dug Song will continue leading Duo as its General Manager and will join Cisco’s Networking and Security business led by EVP and GM David Goeckeler. There’s no word if Duo will continue to operate out of Ann Arbor if the deal closes.

The acquisition feels like a good fit for Cisco. Duo’s security apparatus lets employees use their own device for adaptive authentication. Instead of issuing key fobs with security codes, Duo’s solution works securely with any device. And within Cisco’s environment, the technology should feel like a natural fit for CTOs looking for secure two-factor authentication.

“Our partnership is the product of the rapid evolution of the IT landscape alongside a modernizing workforce, which has completely changed how organizations must think about security,” said Dug Song, Duo Security’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Cisco created the modern IT infrastructure, and together we will rapidly accelerate our mission of securing access for all users, with any device, connecting to any application, on any network. By joining forces with the world’s largest networking and enterprise security company, we have a unique opportunity to drive change at a massive scale, and reshape the industry.”

Over the last few years, Cisco has made several key acquisitions: OpenDNS, Sourcefire, Cloudlock, and now Duo. This latest deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2019.


Duo Security’s Dug Song On Company Priorities | Disrupt NY 2017

Microsoft is building low-cost, streaming-only Xbox, says report

It was revealed at E3 last month that Microsoft was building a cloud gaming system. A report today calls that system Scarlett Cloud and it’s only part of Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox strategy. And it makes a lot of sense, too.

According to Thurrott.com, noted site for all things Microsoft, the next Xbox will come in two flavors. One will be a traditional gaming console where games are processed locally. You know, like how it works on game systems right now. The other system will be a lower-powered system that will stream games from the cloud — most likely, Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

This streaming system will still have some processing power, which is in part to counter latency traditionally associated with streaming games. Apparently part of the game will run locally while the rest is streamed to the system.

The streaming Xbox will likely be available at a much lower cost than the traditional Xbox. And why not. Microsoft has sold Xbox systems with a slim profit margin, relying on sales of games and online services to make up the difference. A streaming service that’s talked about on Thurrott would further take advantage of this model while tapping into Microsoft’s deep understanding of cloud computing.

A few companies have tried streaming full video games. Onlive was one of the first; while successful for a time, it eventually went through a dramatic round of layoffs before a surprise sale for $4.8 million in 2012. Sony offers an extensive library of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games for streaming through its PlayStation Now service. Nvidia got into the streaming game this year and offers a small selection of streaming through GeForce Now. But these are all side projects for the companies.

Sony and Nintendo do not have the global cloud computing platform of Microsoft, and if Microsoft’s streaming service hits, it could change the landscape and force competitors to reevaluate everything.