Apple and Ireland win appeal against the European Commission’s $15 billion tax ruling

The General Court of the European Court of Justice has annulled an EU decision that involved Apple’s subsidiaries in Ireland. Four years ago, the European Commission said that Ireland had failed to collect €13 billion in taxes from Apple — roughly $15 billion.

According to the press statement, “the Commission did not succeed in showing to the requisite legal standard that there was an advantage for the purposes of Article 107(1) TFEU [Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union].”

Back in 2017, the Commission said Apple received illegal state aid and should have paid more taxes. But the General Court, Europe’s first instance court, says that this argument doesn’t represent a legal basis.

“According to the General Court, the Commission was wrong to declare that [Apple Sales International] and [Apple Operations Europe] had been granted a selective economic advantage and, by extension, State aid,” the court wrote in a statement.

Today’s decision represents a blow to the European Commission’s strategy to track down multinational corporations that have been optimizing their tax structure in order to lower their effective tax rate across Europe — a strategy that was mostly incarnated by then Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Between 2003 and 2014, Apple operated with two main subsidiaries in Europe — Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe. Back then, the Commission said those subsidiaries attributed the vast majority of their profit to a head office that only exists on paper. “This selective treatment allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 per cent on its European profits in 2003 down to 0.005 per cent in 2014,” Vestager wrote in 2016.

Apple’s arguments have always been quite straightforward. According to the company, Ireland never cut a deal with Apple. “The opinion issued on August 30th alleges that Ireland gave Apple a special deal on our taxes. This claim has no basis in fact or in law. We never asked for, nor did we receive, any special deals,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2016.

While Apple has continuously maintained that it complies with tax laws in Europe, it took advantage of favorable tax laws in Ireland and the so-called Double Irish tax structure.

As tax optimization schemes come and go, Apple changed its European structure in 2014. Apple Sales International and Apple Operations International moved its cash stockpile to the tiny island of Jersey.

In 2018, Apple started allocating money in case it had to pay back €13 billion to Ireland. Everything is currently sitting in an escrow account. The defeated side can still appeal the decision on points of law, so the money might remain in the escrow account a little longer.

Update: The Commission sent the following statement to the Financial Times:

Revolut partners with Paxos to bring cryptocurrency trading to the US

Neobank Revolut launched in the U.S. a couple of months ago. The startup is slowly catching up with features that are available in the U.K. and Europe. This time, Revolut is adding cryptocurrency trading through a partnership with Paxos.

Users in the U.S. can now buy, hold and sell Bitcoin and Ethereum from the Revolut app. The feature is going to be available in 49 states as there are some regulatory issues in Tennessee. If you have USD or other currencies in your Revolut account, you can exchange manually whenever you want.

You can also set up alerts in case there are some important price changes happening. Optionally, users can also round up card payments to the nearest whole dollar and convert spare change into crypto assets.

If you’re familiar with Revolut’s cryptocurrency feature, you know that the company gives you access to more cryptocurrencies in Europe, such as Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash and XRP. The company says it is starting with BTC and ETH in the U.S. but is already working on bringing more cryptocurrencies.

When it comes to fees, users with a free Revolut account will pay 2.5% in conversion fees. Users with a Premium and Metal subscription will pay 1.5% in fees. Revolut is waving fees for the first 30 days.

This is in line with the company’s current fees in Europe. Revolut also has some monthly limits on currency exchange in general for free users as well — it can be fiat currencies or cryptocurrencies. You have to pay a 0.5% fee above that limit or pay for a subscription.

Revolut made some changes to its cryptocurrency feature recently. While you now technically own your cryptocurrencies, you can’t send and receive cryptocurrencies from third-party wallets. The feature is all about trading — buying, holding and selling.

In the U.S., Square’s Cash App and Robinhood also let you buy cryptocurrencies in their respective app. While those features don’t offer the same flexibility as a full-fledged cryptocurrency exchange, it makes it easy to get started with cryptocurrencies.

iOS 14 gets rid of the app grid to help you find the app you’re looking for

Apple unveiled the next major version of iOS a few weeks ago. I’ve been playing around with beta versions of iOS 14 and here’s what you should expect when you update your iPhone to the final release of iOS 14 this fall.

The most interesting change is something you’re not going to notice at first. The home screen has been rethought. In some ways, the iPhone now works more like Android devices. You can add widgets to the home screen and there’s a new app launcher called the App Library.

If you’ve been using a smartphone for many years, chances are your device is cluttered with a dozen apps you frequently use, some apps you only need a few times a year and a ton of apps that are no longer useful.

Maybe your home screen is perfectly organized and you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. Arguably, you’re part of the minority. Many people tell me they don’t even know where app icons are located anymore and they just pull down to use the search feature.

With iOS 14, changes are not immediately visible. If you want to keep using your phone just like before, nobody is stopping you. But the home screen is now more customizable.

Image Credits: Apple

When you tap and hold on a home screen icon, there’s a new menu that lists all the widgets you can install on your home screen. Many default apps already support widgets, such as Reminders, Calendar, Stock, Weather, Music, etc. And each widget comes in multiple sizes if you want to see more or less info.

The most interesting thing about widgets is that you can stack them and flip through them. Otherwise, they’d quickly take over your entire home screen. Apple also tries to surface the widget that is more relevant to the time of the day and what you’re doing.

The second big change with the home screen is that there’s a new page at the right of your last page. The App Library groups all your apps on your phone by category. Some icons are bigger than others as Apple tries once again to surface the most important apps to you.

In my experience, categories don’t work that well as they’re based on the broad categories of the App Store. But you can always tap on the search bar at the top to display an alphabetical list of your apps. It could be useful if you can’t remember the name of an app, for instance.

Image Credits: Apple

Fighting app fatigue

Those changes for the home screen might seem minor, but they are important to change the current app paradigm. People simply don’t want to download new apps. They don’t want to create a new account and they don’t want to have another icon.

Now that you can hide pages of apps and that there’s the App Library, downloading new apps has become less intimidating. If you combine that with Sign in with Apple, you can go from no app to interacting with content in no time.

In addition to that, Apple is introducing App Clips. They are sort of mini apps that you can launch without installing an app. It’s a small part of an app that you can easily share. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet as third-party developers have yet to take advantage of App Clips.

There are many ways to share App Clips. You can launch those apps from the web, from Messages, from Maps, from NFC tags or from QR codes. Get ready to see stickers at cafés, on scooters or in museums. Scan a code or tap your phone on it and you get an app-like experience. If you want to dive deeper, you can download the full app from the App Library.

But it’s also going to have some major impacts on utility apps, apps that you don’t use that often or travel apps for instance. Sure, you may keep your favorite social app on your home screen. But you’re going to forget about apps that only live in the App Library.

Developers will be happy that downloading apps is easier. And yet, it is going to be harder to make people come back to your app after the first launch.

Image Credits: Apple

Some app refinements

Let me list some quality-of-life improvements that are going to make your phone work better. In Messages, you can now pin conversations to the top. Group conversations are also receiving a major update with the ability to @-mention people, reply to specific messages and set a group of photos. Once again, Apple is bringing Messages closer to WhatsApp and Telegram. But it’s not a bad thing.

In Maps, there are many new features that I already detailed in a separate post. I encourage you to read it if you want to learn more about guides, electric vehicle routing, cycling directions and more.

The Home app has been improved with a new row of icons that describe the status of your home. For instance, you can see the temperature, see if a door is open, see if lights are on, etc.

Like every year, Notes and Reminders are getting some small improvements. For instance, document scanning has been improved, search has been improved, you can assign reminders to others and more. Those apps have become really powerful with these small incremental updates.

Image Credits: Apple

All the rest

There are many things that I haven’t mentioned yet or that I haven’t tried because I can’t use those features yet. Similarly, it’ll take some time before developers start adopting those features. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Incoming calls don’t take over the entire screen anymore. You get a notification at the top of the screen, which is so much better if you don’t want to answer a call.
  • Similarly, Siri doesn’t overtake the screen. Your display fades out. I think more people are going to use Siri because of this as it doesn’t feel as invasive.
  • Your AirPods will automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.
  • When you’re on a FaceTime call or watching a video, you can switch to another app and keep the video in a corner. There’s not much else to say other than it’s nice.
  • Cycling directions in Apple Maps: I’m a bike lover, but the feature isn’t available in Paris. It’s hard to know whether directions make sense in San Francisco or New York as I don’t know cycling infrastructure that well in those cities.
  • When you pull down to search for something, iOS now automatically highlights the first result. You can tap Go on the keyboard to hit the first result. It’s so much better.
  • HomeKit-compatible security cameras can now recognize faces based on tags in Photos.
  • You can unlock cars with your phone using NFC if you have a compatible car.
  • Following the acquisition of Dark Sky, you’ll be able to see next-hour precipitation in Apple’s Weather app.
  • You’ll be able to choose a different web browser and email client as default apps with iOS 14.

What about stability?

The big issue of iOS 13 was that it was quite buggy when it launched in September 2019. It’s hard to know whether iOS 14 is going to perform better on this front as it’s still a beta.

But, as you can see, Apple didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with default apps. There are a ton of improvements across the board, but no big redesign of Photos or Messages for instance. And I think it’s a good thing.

Changes on the home screen as well as App Clips could have wider implications for developers. It could change the way you discover and install apps today. So it’s going to be interesting to see if the developer community embraces App Clips.

Apple just released the first iOS 14 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS — and iPadOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the next major version of the operating systems for the iPhone and iPad. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download these betas without a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS and iPadOS 14.0 this fall. But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 14 earlier this week. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

But remember, you shouldn’t install an iOS beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. You may even lose data on iCloud. Proceed with extreme caution.

But if you have an iPad or iPhone you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website and download the configuration profile. It’s a tiny file that tells your iPhone or iPad to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

You can either download the configuration profile from Safari on your iOS device directly, or transfer it to your device using AirDrop, for instance. Reboot your device, then head over to the Settings app. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS and iPadOS 13 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

The biggest change of iOS 14 is the introduction of widgets on the home screen, a new App Library to browse all your apps and the ability to run App Clips — those are mini apps that feature a small part of an app and that you can run without installing anything.

There are also many refinements across the board, such as new features for Messages, with a big focus on groups with @-mentions and replies, a new Translate app that works on your device, cycling directions in Apple Maps in some cities and various improvements in Notes, Reminders, Weather, Home and more.

If you want to learn more about iOS 14, I looked at some of the features in the new version:

Lydia expands credit offering in partnership with Younited Credit

French startup Lydia is announcing a new partnership with Younited Credit, which lets you borrow anything between €500 and €3,000 and pay back within 6 to 36 months. The feature will be released in France at some point during the summer.

This isn’t the first time Lydia is playing around with credit. The company already partnered with Banque Casino to let users borrow between €100 and €1,000. But that feature was limited to short-term credit as you had to reimburse everything over three installments.

This time, you can borrow more money and you have more time to pay back your loan. Lydia will try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to interests. And there’s no fee in case or early repayment.

Compared to the first credit product, you can’t borrow money instantly. You apply for a loan in the app and get an answer within 24 hours. If you accept the offer, you have seven days to change your mind — it’s a regulatory requirement in France. You then receive money on your account.

By offering two different credit products, Lydia wants to cover more use cases. If something unexpected happens (your laptop broke down, you have to book an emergency flight, etc.), you can borrow as much as €1,000 in just a few seconds.

You receive the money on your Lydia account and you can start using it instantly using a virtual card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Lydia’s debit cards or Lydia’s peer-to-peer payments.

Fees on instant credit lines are pretty high as you pay 3.13% in interests and a one-time fee of €6.90 to €19.90 to receive the money instantly depending on how much you borrow.

If you’re planning a big purchase but you can wait a week, you can go through the new credit offering with Younited Credit . This isn’t the first time Younited Credit offers an integrated credit product with another fintech startup. For instance, N26 also offers credit lines with Younited Credit in France.

Lydia started as a peer-to-peer payment app with 3.5 million users in Europe. It recently raised a $45 million funding round led by Tencent. The startup now wants to build a marketplace of financial products. And integrating Younited Credit in the app seems in line with that strategy.

Portfolio companies of startup studio eFounders have raised $148 million this year

European startup studio eFounders has looked back at the first half of 2020 to share some metrics about its portfolio companies. The startup studio that is focused on building software-as-a-service enterprise startups has now launched 25 companies in total. Those startups have raised $148 million in 2020 alone.

You may remember that the portfolio of eFounders reached a total valuation of $1 billion late last year. After those new funding rounds, the consolidated valuation of eFounders companies is now at $1.5 billion.

And because we’re talking about SaaS, the monthly recurring revenue has also doubled year over year compared to the first half of 2019. Overall, those companies now generate around $10 million in monthly recurring revenue.

Of course, some companies are doing better than others. In particular, Front and Aircall have raised $59 million and $65 million respectively. Back when I wrote on those stories, Front said its valuation had quadrupled compared to its previous funding round, while Aircall said it had done more than 3x on the valuation.

Slite, Bonjour, Folk, Cycle and Equify have also raised smaller funding rounds. Yousign, an e-signature startup, has also experienced an important growth bump with demand exploding.

eFounders seems particularly well positioned for the current situation. Due to lockdowns around the world, many companies have been looking at tools that help them work remotely and work more efficiently. “We build the future of work,” eFounders writes on its website.

“The changes that were naturally, but slowly, occurring in companies for a decade have accelerated in a matter of months. We've certainly gained a few years of digitalisation in the space of a quarter,” eFounders co-founder Thibaud Elziere said in a statement.

If you’re not familiar with eFounders, the company first comes up with an idea for a new company and hires a founding team. The core team works alongside the founders for a year or two to define product-market fit — eFounders keeps a stake in those startups.

After that initial launch, portfolio companies usually raise a seed round, which helps them build a solid team. eFounders can switch their focus and start working on new startups.

Bolt launches electric bike-sharing service in Paris

Like other ride-hailing companies, Bolt has been suffering from the coronavirus-related lockdown and economic downturn around the world. But the company is trying to find another revenue stream by launching electric bikes in Paris. Bolt plans to launch a similar service in other European capitals this year.

For the past couple of weeks, the only bike-sharing service that has been operating in Paris is Vélib’, the public bike-sharing service based on docked bikes and electric bikes. Many private companies have tried to compete with Vélib’ but they’ve all failed so far — Gobee.bike, Obike, Ofo, Mobike…

The most recent example is Jump, Uber’s micromobility subsidiary. Following a financial transaction with Lime, Jump has removed all its bikes from the streets of Paris, London, Rome, Brussels and more. Those electric bikes now belong to Lime, but Lime hasn’t relaunched the service yet (if it ever gets relaunched).

But it doesn’t mean bikes aren’t popular. The public bike-sharing service in Paris is even reaching record highs these days. Let’s see if it means that people are willing to give Bolt’s e-bikes a try.

In addition to ride-hailing and scooters, you’ll be able to access the bike-sharing service from the same Bolt app. Like other free-floating vehicles, you can unlock a bike by scanning a QR code.

When it comes to pricing, Bolt is trying to make its service as cheap as possible to attract its first users. There won’t be any unlock fee and it’ll cost €0.10 per minute. It’s still unclear how much it’s going to cost after the launch phase.

Vélib’ still feels more attractive when it comes to pricing. It costs €2 to rent an e-bike for up to 30 minutes, or €8.30 per month to rent as many e-bikes as you want in a given month. With Bolt, you pay €2 for a 20-minute ride — and that’s without any unlock fee.

Bolt has 30 million users in 35 countries. It operates a scooter service in 21 cities around Europe.

Banking platform solarisBank raises $67.5 million at $360 million valuation

Despite the Wirecard fallout, German fintech startup solarisBank has raised a Series C funding round of $67.5 million (€60 million). Following today’s funding round, solarisBank is now valued at $360 million (€320 million). solarisBank doesn't have any consumer product directly. Instead, it offers financial services to other fintech companies through a set of APIs.

With solarisBank, you can build a fintech startup and leverage solarisBank’s line of products to do the heavy lifting. It’s an infrastructure company in the banking space.

While solarisBank might not be a familiar name, some of its clients have become quite popular. They include challenger banks, such as Tomorrow, Insha and a newcomer called Vivid, business banking startups, such as Penta and Kontist, trading app Trade Republic, cryptocurrency startups Bison and Bitwala, etc.

Overall, solarisBank works with 70 companies that have attracted 400,000 clients in total.

HV Holtzbrinck Ventures is leading the round with existing investor yabeo committing a substantial follow-on investment. Other new investors include Vulcan Capital, Samsung Catalyst Fund and Storm Ventures. Existing investors BBVA, SBI Group, ABN AMRO Ventures, Global Brain, Hegus and Lakestar are investing again.

The company started the fundraising process back in December. Due to the economic prospects, it has been a mixed process. “A lot of investors looked at their portfolio companies and the appetite to look at something new was not there,” solarisBank CEO Roland Folz told me. But everything worked out eventually as around half of the funding comes from existing investors.

“We originally were looking for €40 million but we were overwhelmed by the interest of investors in spite of Covid,” solarisBank Head of Strategy and Shareholder Relations Layla Qassim told me.

solarisBank’s vision could be summed up in two words — regulation and modularity. The company is a fully licensed bank, which means that its clients don’t have to apply to a banking license themselves.

And the startup lets you pick the modules that you want to use for your product. Maybe you’re building a mobile cryptocurrency wallet and you just want to be able to give an IBAN and a debit card to your users. Maybe you’re building a used car marketplace like CarNext and you want to offer credit. Maybe you want to build a challenger bank but address a specific vertical.

With solarisBank, you can open bank accounts and issue payment cards attached to those accounts. You can also issue cards and attach them to a different account in case you’re integrating with existing bank accounts. The startup also offers various services around payments, vouchers, cross-border transactions and more.

More recently, the company launched a new feature called Splitpay with American Express. When customers check out on an e-commerce platform in Germany, American Express customers will be able to choose a repayment plan to pay over multiple months.

solarisBank generates revenue from its clients as they pay to use the company’s APIs and enable accounts and cards. solarisBank also collects the interchange fees on card transactions and share revenue with its clients. Similarly, solarisBank can offer to share revenue on credit interests with its clients.

In the future, solarisBank plans to make its portfolio of financial services even more compelling by introducing local IBANs in the most important European markets. It should make it easier to convince potential clients outside of Germany to use solarisBank as their banking infrastructure.

Apple Maps to tell you to refine location by scanning the skyline

With iOS 14, Apple is going to update Apple Maps with some important new features, such as cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated guides. But the app is also going to learn one neat trick.

In dense areas where you can’t get a precise location, Apple Maps will prompt you to raise your phone and scan buildings across the street to refine your location.

As you may have guessed, this feature is based on Look Around, a Google Street View-inspired feature that lets you … look around as if you were walking down the street. It’s a bit more refined than Street View as everything is in 3D so you can notice the foreground and the background.

Look Around is only available in a handful of U.S. cities for now, such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas. But the company is still expanding it with Seattle coming on Monday and major Japanese cities this fall. Some areas that are only accessible on foot will also be available in the future.

When you scan the skyline to refine your location, Apple doesn’t send any data to its servers. Matching is done on your device.

When it comes to guides, Apple has partnered with AllTrails, Lonely Planet, The Infatuation, Washington Post, Louis Vuitton and others to add curated lists of places to Apple Maps. When you tap on the search bar and scroll down on the search card, you can see guides of nearby places.

When you open a guide, you can see all the places on the map or you can browse the guide itself to see those places in a list view. You can share places and save them in a user-made guide — Apple calls it a collection in the current version of Apple Maps.

You can also save a curated guide altogether if you want to check it out regularly. Places get automatically updated.

Image Credits: Apple

As for EV routing, Apple Maps will let add your car, name it and choose a charger type — Apple has partnered with BMW and Ford for now. When you’re planning a route, you can now select the car you’re going to be using. If you select your electric car, Apple Maps will add charging spots on the way. You can tap on spots to see if they are free or paid and the connector type.

Waze users will also be happy to learn that Apple Maps will be able to warn you if you’re exceeding the speed limit. You can also view speed and red light cameras on the map.

In some cities with congestion zones and license plate access, you’ll be able to add your license plate. The information is kept on the device. It’ll refine directions for those cities.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, my favorite new feature is cycling directions. It’s only going to be available in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai and Beijing at first. Apple ticks all the right boxes, such as taking into consideration cycling paths and elevation. Turn-by-turn directions look slightly different from driving directions with a different framing and a more vertical view.

Google Maps also features cycling directions, but they suck. I can’t wait to try it out to see whether cycling directions actually make sense in Apple Maps. The new version of Apple Maps will ship with iOS 14 this fall.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will let you port Google Chrome extensions to Safari

Apple unveiled macOS 11 Big Sur earlier this week and talked about some of the improvements for Safari. In addition to native extensions, Apple is adding support for web extensions. It’s going to make it much easier to port an existing extension from Chrome, Firefox or Edge.

The company shared more details about how it’s going to work in a WWDC session. Safari already supports extensions, but if you’re using Safari, you know that there aren’t a ton of extensions out there.

On iOS and macOS, you can install content blockers and apps that feature a share extension. Content blockers let you provide a list of content to block when you load web pages, such as trackers and ads.

Share extensions let you add features in the share menu in Safari. For instance, Pocket or Instapaper take advantage of share extensions to run JavaScript on a web page and return the result to the app.

On macOS, developers can also take advantage of app extensions. 1Password uses that to integrate its password manager with Safari.

“These are great if you’re a native app developer already familiar with Swift or Objective-C,” Safari engineer Ellie Epskamp-Hunt said.

Other browsers have taken a different approach. They leverage web technologies, such as JavaScript, HTML and CSS. That’s why Apple is adding another type of extension with Safari Web Extensions.

Like other Safari extensions, web extensions designed for Safari are packaged with native apps. It means that developers will submit extensions to the App Store. Users will download an app that comes with an extension. The app doesn’t have to do anything, it can just be a place holder.

Apple is shipping an extension converter to let you port your extension quickly. When you run it, it’ll tell you if everything is going to work as expected. You can then package it in an Xcode project, sign it and submit it to the App Store.

Some extensions require a ton of permissions. They can essentially view all web pages you visit. That’s why Apple lets you restrict extensions to some websites, or just the active tab. You can also choose to activate an extension for a day so that it doesn’t remain active forever.

The user will get a warning sign the first time an extension tries to access a site and there will be a big warning banner in Safari settings before you activate an extension that can access all your browsing data.

This change could potentially mean that there will be a lot more extensions for Safari in the future. Many Chrome users don’t want to leave Chrome because they can’t find the same extensions. If developers choose to port their extensions to Safari, Apple could convince more users to switch to Safari.