Foxconn could move some iPad and MacBook production to Vietnam

Following a request from Apple, Foxconn could be shifting production out of China for some iPad and MacBook models according to a report from Reuters. The new assembly lines would be based in Vietnam.

As a recent investigation from The Information highlighted, both companies are intrinsically connected. The Taiwanese manufacturer is Apple’s main production partner. Apple is also Foxconn’s main client. When it comes to raw numbers, Foxconn is making 60% to 70% of iPhones, Apple’s main product.

Over the past few years, Apple has tried to diversify its supply chain in two major ways. First, Apple is trying to work with other manufacturing companies, such as Luxshare Precision Industry and Wistron.

Second, Apple is trying to manufacture its products in different countries. New tariffs and import restrictions have made that issue more pressing.

According to Reuters, Apple asked Foxconn to move some iPad and MacBook assembly to Vietnam. The assembly line should be operating at some point during the first half of 2021.

In addition to Vietnam, Foxconn also produces iPhone 11 devices in a plant near Chennai, India. Wistron also assembles iPhone models in India. Foxconn has also manufactured some iPhone models in Brazil.

Gift Guide: 7 great gifts for anyone working from home

Let’s just get this out of the way: for the past several years, I’ve contributed the “Best Gifts for Frequent Travelers” segment to TechCrunch’s annual gift guide. I love it. It was easily my favorite gift guide to write, and it was an audience favorite, as well. But I am no longer a frequent traveler. I’ve left New York City exactly once since March. Odds are that special person in your life isn’t traveling much, either.

So, in honor of this new sedentary life to which we’ve all grown accustom over the past eight or nine months, I’m bringing you the polar opposite. This, friends, is the gift guide for those who have come to carve out office space in their homes. For everyone who’s come to blur the important lines between work and personal life.

The transition hasn’t been an easy one for everyone, but here are a handful of gifts that can help ease the transition and make someone’s home office a…well, a home, I guess. They’re not necessary the most fun gifts, but odds are someone in your life can really use them.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Hyken Mesh Task Chair

Image Credits: Staples

I never truly appreciated the value of a good office chair until this pandemic. I’ve been lucky to work for a corporation that considers Herman Millers a necessary expense. I honestly can’t remember which manner of ratty Amazon bargain bin chair I had held onto for the last several years, but a month or two into this, I rolled it into the donation pile.

There’s truth in the conventional wisdom that you get what you pay for when it comes to office chairs. And, indeed, it’s an investment. But there are deals to be had. I didn’t spend an arm or leg, so I’m not going to encourage you to. After a good about of research, I landed on this beast from Staples. It’s big, and comfortable and offers great full body support that won’t leave you sore after eight hours in front of the computer (I mean, do get up and move around at least once an hour for your health and sanity).

Best of all, it’s almost shockingly affordable.

Price: $169-200 from Amazon, depending on color

Apple iMac

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Remember how I told you I wasn’t going to encourage you to spend an arm and a leg on the chair? Well, consider this a gift for the person in your life who was really good this year. If a good office chair is an investment, a computer is lifeline. I wouldn’t recommend an iMac for, say, a 3D designer, but for many or most, you can’t really argue with ease of use for Apple’s all-in-one.

Apple refreshed the system earlier this year, with some improved features, including, notably, an improved webcam — that’s obviously an important upgrade these days. There are no external monitors to deal with and minimal futzing required out of the box. There is, of course, a big Apple Silicon redesign coming in the next year or two, but that won’t do you a whole lot of good in the meantime.

Price: Starting at $1,019 from Apple

Razer Kiyo

Image Credits: Razer

Much like the office chair, Webcams were one of those those things I really didn’t pay much mind to before the pandemic. But the truth is this: Built-in webcams, as a category, suck. There are exceptions to this, of course, but unlike with smartphone makers, cameras have nearly universally been an afterthought with PC manufactures. I do suspect there’s a good chance this will finally shift in the next year or so, but for now, you really want to avoid using your computer’s built-in camera for those important Zoom meetings, if you can.

There are a ton of options out there, and you can get a decent webcam at a decent price — Logitech is usually a pretty solid choice. This time out, however, I’m giving the prize to Razer. The gaming company has delivered a clever and versatile camera. It’s got an adjustable clip/stand, can capture video at 1080p @ 30FPS / 720p @ 60FPS and best of all, there’s a built-in light ring. It’s not going to replace a pro-level camera set up, obviously, if they do a lot of conference appearances or frequently appear on CNN. But if they’re looking to liven up a Zoom call or two, this is a solid choice.

Price: $100 from Razer 

RØDE NT-USB Mini

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Okay, so, as a long-time podcaster this is something I’ve been thinking about well before the pandemic started. The truth is a decent set of headphones should double as an okay meeting mic. But if conference calls are central to work days, a good mic is a great way to up that game. And hey, everyone’s starting a podcast these days, right?

RØDE has some great USB mic options. The NT-USB Mini wouldn’t be by first (or probably even 10th) choice for podcasting. But its price and size make it a nice option for augmenting meetings and other calls. It also has the advantage of size and a removable stand that will make it a good travel companion if we’re able able to travel again.

Price: $100 from Amazon

Cubii Pro desk elliptical

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Living in Queens at the height of the pandemic in New York — and dealing with my own personal health issues — I basically didn’t leave my apartment in April or May. Cubii’s sit down elliptical isn’t a replacement for full body exercise, but it’s a nice supplement, if you’re housebound for any reason.

 

I might have to put it under my desk again as the weather starts getting cold. There’s a mobile component, as well, that tracks progress and integrates it into third-party trackers like Apple Health.

Price: $349 from Amazon

Nest Audio

Headphones are necessary for working from home, but I’d also recommend getting a semi-decent speaker for your desk. A smart speaker is likely the path of least resistance for listening to streaming services like Spotify, and Nest Audio is probably the most well-rounded of the bunch. Google Assistant is great for all of the smart stuff and the new hardware sounds really solid.

Price: $100 from Amazon

Aarke Carbonator

Image Credits: Aarke

Did I need to spend $200 on a seltzer maker? No, of course not. Do I regret spending $200 on a seltzer maker? Also no. Aarke’s system looks great, has a solid build and the pulling down that hand crank is decidedly satisfying. Hydration is important, friends. Honorable mention to the LARQ UV disinfecting bottle. You’ll need something to drink that carbonated water out of, after all.

Price: $200 from Aarke

Really good, customizable lighting for the entire office

Image Credits: Philips

Bonus entry, this one from TechCrunch Editor Greg Kumparak:

I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and honestly the most important change I’ve made this year is vastly improving my home office’s lighting situation. Lighting — both natural and artificial — is hugely important to how we feel throughout the day, and being able to customize the lights to your exact likings is one of the huge plusses of working from home. No more awful flickering fluorescent lights! Want to make the lights purple and blue? You do you.

Smart lighting lets you do fancy things like shifting the colors to those that make you feel alert/productive, or dim them as evening approaches. During the California wildfires, when smoke and haze dyed the sky a terrifying orange, I shifted all of my lighting to be way more blue than it otherwise would be to help my brain realize it was the afternoon and not, as it seemed, an impossibly long sunrise.

Philips Hue bulbs are a solid pick, generally. They offer a ton of flexibility and options, the downside being that they’re generally on the more expensive end. I also don’t expect Philips to drop support for the Hue line or go out of business any time soon. New competition has been entering the market at lower price points, but my hesitation there is always how well they’ll be supported in the years to come.

If they’ve already got other smart lights around their house though, try to stick within the same brand. It makes things considerably easier to not have to deal with new hubs, apps, etc.

Price: $90 for a starter pack of two Philips Hue color shifting bulbs from Amazon

Tech in the Biden era

President-elect Joe Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing plans to regulate tech.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

Daily Crunch: Apple cuts App Store fees

Apple is making a big shift in App Store fees, Duolingo raises more funding and Pfizer releases updated vaccine results. This is your Daily Crunch for November 18, 2020.

The big story: Apple cuts App Store fees

Apple is cutting the 30% fee it normally charges for App Store transactions to 15% for some developers — specifically, those who, after Apple’s commission, earn less than $1 million per year.

The company estimates that this will impact the “vast majority” of apps, with more details about eligibility coming in December, before the change takes effect on January 1. Apple has faced increasingly vocal criticism over these fees from companies like Epic Games (whose founder Tim Sweeney compared Epic’s legal battle to “civil rights fights”), and the issue has also come up during antitrust hearings.

“The App Store has been an engine of economic growth like none other, creating millions of new jobs and a pathway to entrepreneurship accessible to anyone with a great idea,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “Our new program carries that progress forward — helping developers fund their small businesses, take risks on new ideas, expand their teams, and continue to make apps that enrich people’s lives.”

The tech giants

Trump will lose protected Twitter status after his presidency — Twitter has at various times acknowledged that Donald Trump isn’t bound by the same rules that govern the rest of us, but CEO Jack Dorsey said that won’t be the case after he vacates the White House.

Google Pay gets a major redesign with a new emphasis on personal finance — With today’s update and redesign, Google is keeping all the core features intact but also taking the service in a new direction.

Facebook launches E.gg, an experimental collage-making app — The company has described the app as a “digital zine creator” and “GIF collage bonanza.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Marissa Mayer’s startup launches its first official product, Sunshine Contacts — It’s designed to improve the process of organizing, updating and sharing contact information with others.

Language-learning app Duolingo confirms it has raised $35M on a $2.4B valuation — This is a sizable jump from Duolingo’s $1.65 billion valuation earlier this year, when General Atlantic quietly put $10 million into the company.

Quid raises $320M to loan money to startup employees using their equity as collateral — Quid has already provided loans to employees at 24 companies, including Unity, Palantir, Crowdstrike, Uber and Lyft.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

What China’s fintech market can teach the world — In China, digital payments through mobile phones are ubiquitous, and there is incredible innovation around lending, investments and digital currencies.

With a 2021 IPO in the cards, what do we know about Robinhood’s Q3 performance? — Robinhood’s payment for order flow rose only modestly during Q3, according to a TechCrunch analysis of the company’s disclosures.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp? — The latest edition of attorney Sophie Alcorn’s advice column answering immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective in final clinical trial results analysis — This is an even better efficacy rate than Pfizer reported previously.

Trump fires top US cybersecurity official Chris Krebs for debunking false election claims — Last week, Krebs’ agency released a statement noting that there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ will air on PBS, in spite of Apple TV+ rights exclusive

Call it a holiday miracle. Apple today announced that animated holiday classics “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will, indeed, be appearing on television this year. The news comes after some pushback against an Apple TV+ exclusive that found the Peanuts cartoons being pulled from TV broadcast.

As we noted last month, the deal would mark the first time in 55 years the beloved Christmas special wouldn’t be broadcast on network television. Both holiday specials appeared to be resolved to a similar fate as the 1966 Halloween special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

While Apple’s rights had a clause that involved a window for free broadcast, it was hard to shake the feeling that relegating a holiday tradition to a premium subscription service flew in the face of the original special’s staunch, anti-consumer message.

Thankfully, in addition to appearing on TV+, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” will appear on PBS and PBS on November 22, 2020 at 7:30 pm local time/6:30 pm CT, while “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air on December 13, 2020 at 7:30 pm local time/6:30 pm CT.

It’s a small victory, perhaps, but these days we’ll take them where we can get them. And this time without ads.

Apple embraces iOS 14 home screen customization by fixing how app shortcuts work

Apple is making a change to how app shortcuts work in the next release of the iOS 14 operating system. In iOS 14.3, beta 2, the Shortcuts app will now no longer open when you tap on an app shortcut on your iPhone’s home screen. That means users who have created custom icons for their favorite apps as part of their iOS 14 home screen makeover will no longer be annoyed with this intermediate step where the Shortcuts app opens before the actual app does.

The change was first spotted by MacStories’ founder Federico Viticci.

A tweet from Apple Terminal shows the update in action. (You’ll notice a small pop-up still displays when the app opens, but the full launch of the Shortcuts app has been bypassed.)

Though only a slight tweak, the change will be welcomed by those who have customized their home screen following the release of iOS 14.

The launch of iOS 14 in September had introduced one of the biggest updates to the iPhone user’s interface in years. Users were finally able to customize their home screen to their liking by offloading less-used apps to their App Library as well as by adding customizable widgets to their home screen. Though widgets were originally designed to allow important information — like your next calendar appointment, to do’s, or today’s weather, for example — to sit directly on the home screen, they soon began to be used for much more.

Widget makers — like Widgetsmith and Color Widgets, for example — launched tools that let users design their own widgets, by picking the font, the size, the color and more. Users could even choose a particular photo to pin to their home screen using these tools.

The next step in the customization process relied on a previously available but little used trick: creating alternative app icons using Apple’s Shortcuts app. This somewhat cumbersome process was detailed and demonstrated by users on TikTok, which helped make the home screen customization craze go viral. Simply put, the process let you assign your own icon to any app using a particular function within Shortcuts.

This allowed you to create icons that matched your home screen aesthetic, which now consisted of a wallpaper, custom widgets, and only the handful of icons that earned home screen (instead of App Library) placement.

However, one of users’ biggest complaints with their custom icons is that, when tapped, the Shortcuts app would briefly open to run the process that then opens the app in question. It was an annoyance of sorts.

Apple, it seems, is addressing the Shortcuts issue. In the beta version of iOS 14.3, the app will open directly.

Now, if only Apple would allow users to hide their widgets’ labels, we’d be all set. Unfortunately, that change doesn’t seem to be in the works.

Charge, please: Apple will pay $113M to settle 34-state ‘batterygate’ lawsuit

Apple has agreed to pay $113 million to 34 states and the District of Columbia to settle allegations that it broke consumer protection laws when it systematically downplayed widespread iPhone battery problems in 2016. This is in addition to the half billion the company already paid to consumers over the issue earlier this year and numerous other fines around the world.

The issue, as we’ve reported over the years, was that a new version of iOS was causing older (but not that old) iPhones to shut down unexpectedly, and that an update “fixing” this issue surreptitiously throttled the performance of those devices.

Conspiracy-minded people, which we now know are quite numerous, suspected this was a deliberate degradation of performance in order to spur the purchase of a new phone. This was not the case, but Arizona Attorney General Mike Brnovich, who led the multi-state investigation, showed that Apple was quite aware of the scale of the issue and the shortcomings of its solution.

Brnovich and his fellow AGs alleged that Apple violated various consumer protection laws, such as Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act, by “misrepresenting and concealing information” regarding the iPhone battery problems and the irreversible negative consequences of the update it issued to fix them.

Apple agreed to a $113M settlement that admits no wrongdoing, to be split among the states however they choose. This is not a fine, like the €25M one from French authorities; if Apple had been liable for statutory penalties those might have reached much, much higher than the amount agreed to today. Arizona’s CFA provides for up to $10,000 per willful violation, and even a fraction of that would have added up very quickly given the amount of people affected.

In addition to the cash settlement, Apple must “provide truthful information to consumers about iPhone battery health, performance, and power management” in various ways. The company already made changes to this effect years ago, but in settlements like this such requirements are included so they can’t just turn around and do it again, though some companies, like Facebook, do it anyway.

Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney likens fight against Apple to fight for civil rights

Earlier today, Apple announced it will reduce the App Store commissions for smaller businesses so that developers earning less than $1 million per year pay a 15% commission on in-app purchases, rather than the standard 30% commission.

Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games, says the move — an apparent reaction to current investigations into Apple by Congress, the European Union, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission on antitrust grounds — doesn’t go nearly far enough. He told the Wall Street Journal that Apple is merely “hoping to remove enough critics that they can get away with their blockade on competition and 30% tax on most in-app purchases. But consumers will still pay inflated prices marked up by the Apple tax.”

Sweeney — whose company has been embroiled in a battle since launched a direct-payment system in its popular “Fortnite” game to bypass Apple’s fees — went even further today in conversation with Dealbook during a two-day event.

Asked about Epic’s fight with the tech giant — which began in August with its payment system, which led to Apple kicking Fortnite off the App Store, which led to Epic filing a civil lawsuit against Apple in the U.S. and more newly to begin legal proceedings against Apple in Australia using the same argument that Apple is acting monopolistically — Sweeney didn’t mince words. He even likened Epic’s ongoing campaign to the fight for civil rights in the U.S.

Epic vs. Apple

Said Sweeney:  It’s everybody’s duty to fight. It’s not just an option that somebody’s lawyers might decide, but it’s actually our duty to fight that. If we had adhered to all of Apple’s terms and, you know, taken their 30% payment processing fees and passed the cost along to our customers, then that would be Epic colluding with Apple to restrain competition on iOS and to inflate prices for consumers. So going along with Apple’s agreement is what is wrong. And that’s why Epic mounted a challenge to this, and you know you can hear of any, and [inaudible] to civil rights fights, where there were actual laws on the books, and the laws were wrong. And people disobeyed them, and it was not wrong to disobey them because to go along with them would be collusion to make them status quo.”

While the analogy undoubtedly prompted some eye rolls by attendees, Apple’s announcement today suggests that Epic, which has itself evolving into a powerful and lucrative platform — one valued at $17.3 billion during in August following a $1.78 billion funding deal — is moving the needle, if slightly.

Per a New York TImes report that cites Sensor Tower data, Apple’s fee change will affect roughly 98% of the companies that pay Apple a commission — but those same developers account for less than 5% of App Store revenue.

The company reportedly derives the vast majority of its revenue from 2% of developers.

In the meantime, the question is where it all ends. Interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin noted that Epic has a price in its own app store, asking if there is any “fair price” in Sweeney’s mind that Apple could charge.

Sweeney noted that Epic itself pays 2% to 3% in transaction costs in developing countries, another 1% for payments support and “maybe 1%” of revenue to cover its bandwidth costs and suggested that an 8% Apple tax, as it has come to be called, might be acceptable in exchange for the service it provides to developers.

In fairness to Apple, Sorkin also observed that similar to Apple, Sweeney talks about “Fortnite” as a platform, one that is “right now not open; there’s not a competitive marketplace where others can effectively develop on top of [the] platform [to] create their own in app purchases right now.” He asked if that might be changing.

Sweeney said the company is “moving in that direction.” Pointing to Fortnite Creative, a mode in Fortnite allows users to freely create content,  he said that “tens of millions of creators are sharing their content with their friends and with the general public, and there’s a little bit of a business model there. But it’s in the very early stages of development.”

 

Daily Crunch: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

We review each of Apple’s new M1-powered Macs, Twitter launches its new Stories-like format and Amazon launches a pharmacy service. This is your Daily Crunch for November 17, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

We’ve got three big hardware reviews today, each one highlighting a new Mac with Apple’s M1 chipset.

First up, there’s the MacBook Air, which Brian Heater says offers strong performance gains and is probably the right Apple Mac for most consumers. Then there’s the new Mac mini desktop, which Matt Burns writes is also a winner.

Lastly, there’s the MacBook Pro, where Matthew Panzarino was most impressed by the battery life:

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum.

The tech giants

Twitter’s new Stories feature ‘Fleets’ is struggling under the load — Many Twitter users are reporting Fleets are lagging and moving slowly.

Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medications — Customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions and choose payment options all through Amazon’s service.

Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving mode — Google is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to resources from local governments.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docks with the International Space Station for first operational mission — SpaceX’s astronaut-ferrying Crew Dragon spacecraft is now docked to the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit.

Hover secures $60M for 3D imaging to assess and fix properties — Hover has built a platform that uses eight basic smartphone photos to patch together a 3D image of your home that can then be used by contractors, insurance companies and others.

Trust & Will raises $15M as digital estate planning hits mainstream — Estate planning is a growth business in 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry — Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper.

Why some VCs prefer to work with first-time founders — It all depends on the type of venture capitalist you ask.

Five questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing — The company’s S-1 detailed an expanding travel giant with billions in annual revenue that was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Conan O’Brien will launch a weekly variety show on HBO Max — “In 1993 Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: ‘As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.’ ”

Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups and more characters — Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year, and now it’s following up with additional sets.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.