Peek into an empty Steve Jobs Theater before tomorrow’s big Apple event

What are you up to this afternoon? If your answer is anything “watching the livestream of an empty Steve Jobs Theater,” honestly, I’m not sure how you call yourself an Apple fan.

A day before the company’s event in Cupertino, Apple’s streaming video of what looks to be an empty theater, bathed in darkness, with some swirling psychedelic designs playing on the big screen. The whole thing is almost certainly a bid to drum up more interest a day out, as fan scramble to figure out if someone accidentally left the feed running after morning rehearsals.

Most likely, what we’re seeing is a composite, CG mockup or pre-recorded video of the space. There’s even the occasional odd pop up on the big screen. Apple’s been known to have fun at our expense just ahead of the big event. Call it a fun goof or good natured trolling, but the company’s certainly got out attention. Not that is needed it.

Apple is expected to launch a number of new products tomorrow, including a  Netflix competitor, news offering and gaming service. There’s even a credit card rumored to be in the works.

Apple could charge $9.99 per month each for HBO, Showtime and Starz

The Wall Street Journal has published a report on Apple’s media push. The company is about to unveil a new video streaming service and an Apple News subscription on Monday.

According to The WSJ, you’ll be able to subscribe to multiple content packages to increase the video library in a new app called Apple TV — it’s unclear if this app is going to replace the existing Apple TV app.

The service would work more or less like Amazon Prime Video Channels. Users will be able to subscribe to HBO, Showtime or Starz for a monthly fee. The WSJ says that these three partners would charge $9.99 per month each.

According to a previous report from CNBC, it differs from the existing Apple TV app as you won’t be redirected to another app. Everything will be available within a single app.

Controlling the experience from start to finish would be a great advantage for users. As many people now suffer from subscription fatigue, Apple would be able to centralize all your content subscriptions in a single app. You could tick and untick options depending on your needs.

But some companies probably don’t want to partner with Apple. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find Netflix or Amazon Prime Video content in the Apple TV app. Those services also want to control the experience from start to finish. It’s also easier to gather data analytics when subscribers are using your own app.

Apple should open up the Apple TV app to other platforms. Just like you can play music on Apple Music on Android, a Sonos speaker or an Amazon Echo speaker, Apple is working on apps for smart TVs. The company has already launched iTunes Store apps on Samsung TVs, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise.

The company has also spent a ton of money on original content for its own service. Details are still thin on this front. Many of those shows might not be ready for Monday. Do you have to pay to access Apple’s content too? How much? We’ll find out on Monday.

When it comes to Apple News, The WSJ says that content from 200 magazines and newspapers will be available for $9.99 per month. The Wall Street Journal confirms a New York Times report that said that The Wall Street Journal was part of the subscription.

Apple is also monitoring the App Store to detect popular apps according to multiple metrics, The WSJ says. Sure, Apple runs the App Store. But Facebook faced a public outcry when people realized that Facebook was monitoring popular apps with a VPN app called Onavo.

Apple could announce its gaming subscription service on Monday

Apple is about to announce some new services on Monday. While everybody expects a video streaming service as well as a news subscription, a new report from Bloomberg says that the company might also mention its gaming subscription.

Cheddar first reported back in January that Apple has been working on a gaming subscription. Users could pay a monthly subscription fee to access a library of games. We’re most likely talking about iOS games for the iPhone and iPad here.

Games are the most popular category on the App Store, so it makes sense to turn this category into a subscription business. And yet, most of them are free-to-play, ad-supported games. Apple doesn’t necessarily want to target those games in particular.

According to Bloomberg, the service will focus on paid games from third-party developers, such as Minecraft, NBA 2K games and the GTA franchise. Users would essentially pay to access this bundle of games. Apple would redistribute revenue to game developers based on how much time users spend within a game in particular.

It’s still unclear whether Apple will announce the service or launch it on Monday. The gaming industry is more fragmented than the movie and TV industry, so it makes sense to talk about the service publicly even if it’s not ready just yet.

Hackers conquer Tesla’s in-car web browser and win a Model 3

A pair of security researchers dominated Pwn2Own, the annual high-profile hacking contest, taking home $375,000 in prizes including a Tesla Model 3 — their reward for successfully exposing a vulnerability in the electric vehicle’s infotainment system.

Tesla handed over its new Model 3 sedan to Pwn2Own this year, the first time a car has been included in the competition. Pwn2Own is in its 12th year and run by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. ZDI has awarded more than $4 million over the lifetime of the program.

The pair of hackers Richard Zhu and Amat Cam, known as team Fluoroacetate, “thrilled the assembled crowd” as they entered the vehicle, according to ZDI, which noted that after a few minutes of setup, they successfully demonstrated their research on the Model 3 internet browser.

The pair used a JIT bug in the renderer to display their message — and won the prize, which included the car itself. In the most simple terms, a JIT, or just-in-time bug, bypasses memory randomization data that normally would keep secrets protected.

Tesla told TechCrunch it will release a software update to fix the vulnerability discovered by the hackers.

“We entered Model 3 into the world-renowned Pwn2Own competition in order to engage with the most talented members of the security research community, with the goal of soliciting this exact type of feedback. During the competition, researchers demonstrated a vulnerability against the in-car web browser,” Tesla said in an emailed statement. “There are several layers of security within our cars which worked as designed and successfully contained the demonstration to just the browser, while protecting all other vehicle functionality. In the coming days, we will release a software update that addresses this research. We understand that this demonstration took an extraordinary amount of effort and skill, and we thank these researchers for their work to help us continue to ensure our cars are the most secure on the road today.”

Pwn2Own’s spring vulnerability research competition, Pwn2Own Vancouver, was held March 20 to 22 and  featured five categories, including web browsers, virtualization software, enterprise applications, server-side software and the new automotive category.

Pwn2Own awarded a total of $545,000 for 19 unique bugs in Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Windows, VMware Workstation, Mozilla Firefox, and Tesla.

Tesla has had a public relationship with the hacker community since 2014 when the company launched its first bug bounty program. And it’s grown and evolved ever since.

Last year, the company increased the maximum reward payment from $10,000 to $15,000 and added its energy products as well. Today, Tesla’s vehicles and all directly hosted servers, services and applications are now in scope in its bounty program

The damage of defaults

Apple popped out a new pair of AirPods this week. The design looks exactly like the old pair of AirPods. Which means I’m never going to use them because Apple’s bulbous earbuds don’t fit my ears. Think square peg, round hole.

The only way I could rock AirPods would be to walk around with hands clamped to the sides of my head to stop them from falling out. Which might make a nice cut in a glossy Apple ad for the gizmo — suggesting a feeling of closeness to the music, such that you can’t help but cup; a suggestive visual metaphor for the aural intimacy Apple surely wants its technology to communicate.

But the reality of trying to use earbuds that don’t fit is not that at all. It’s just shit. They fall out at the slightest movement so you either sit and never turn your head or, yes, hold them in with your hands. Oh hai, hands-not-so-free-pods!

The obvious point here is that one size does not fit all — howsoever much Apple’s Jony Ive and his softly spoken design team believe they have devised a universal earbud that pops snugly in every ear and just works. Sorry, nope!

A proportion of iOS users — perhaps other petite women like me, or indeed men with less capacious ear holes — are simply being removed from Apple’s sales equation where earbuds are concerned. Apple is pretending we don’t exist.

Sure we can just buy another brand of more appropriately sized earbuds. The in-ear, noise-canceling kind are my preference. Apple does not make ‘InPods’. But that’s not a huge deal. Well, not yet.

It’s true, the consumer tech giant did also delete the headphone jack from iPhones. Thereby depreciating my existing pair of wired in-ear headphones (if I ever upgrade to a 3.5mm-jack-less iPhone). But I could just shell out for Bluetooth wireless in-ear buds that fit my shell-like ears and carry on as normal.

Universal in-ear headphones have existed for years, of course. A delightful design concept. You get a selection of different sized rubber caps shipped with the product and choose the size that best fits.

Unfortunately Apple isn’t in the ‘InPods’ business though. Possibly for aesthetic reasons. Most likely because — and there’s more than a little irony here — an in-ear design wouldn’t be naturally roomy enough to fit all the stuff Siri needs to, y’know, fake intelligence.

Which means people like me with small ears are being passed over in favor of Apple’s voice assistant. So that’s AI: 1, non-‘standard’-sized human: 0. Which also, unsurprisingly, feels like shit.

I say ‘yet’ because if voice computing does become the next major computing interaction paradigm, as some believe — given how Internet connectivity is set to get baked into everything (and sticking screens everywhere would be a visual and usability nightmare; albeit microphones everywhere is a privacy nightmare… ) — then the minority of humans with petite earholes will be at a disadvantage vs those who can just pop in their smart, sensor-packed earbud and get on with telling their Internet-enabled surroundings to do their bidding.

Will parents of future generations of designer babies select for adequately capacious earholes so their child can pop an AI in? Let’s hope not.

We’re also not at the voice computing singularity yet. Outside the usual tech bubbles it remains a bit of a novel gimmick. Amazon has drummed up some interest with in-home smart speakers housing its own voice AI Alexa (a brand choice that has, incidentally, caused a verbal headache for actual humans called Alexa). Though its Echo smart speakers appear to mostly get used as expensive weather checkers and egg timers. Or else for playing music — a function that a standard speaker or smartphone will happily perform.

Certainly a voice AI is not something you need with you 24/7 yet. Prodding at a touchscreen remains the standard way of tapping into the power and convenience of mobile computing for the majority of consumers in developed markets.

The thing is, though, it still grates to be ignored. To be told — even indirectly — by one of the world’s wealthiest consumer technology companies that it doesn’t believe your ears exist.

Or, well, that it’s weighed up the sales calculations and decided it’s okay to drop a petite-holed minority on the cutting room floor. So that’s ‘ear meet AirPod’. Not ‘AirPod meet ear’ then.

But the underlying issue is much bigger than Apple’s (in my case) oversized earbuds. Its latest shiny set of AirPods are just an ill-fitting reminder of how many technology defaults simply don’t ‘fit’ the world as claimed.

Because if cash-rich Apple’s okay with promoting a universal default (that isn’t), think of all the less well resourced technology firms chasing scale for other single-sized, ill-fitting solutions. And all the problems flowing from attempts to mash ill-mapped technology onto society at large.

When it comes to wrong-sized physical kit I’ve had similar issues with standard office computing equipment and furniture. Products that seems — surprise, surprise! — to have been default designed with a 6ft strapping guy in mind. Keyboards so long they end up gifting the smaller user RSI. Office chairs that deliver chronic back-pain as a service. Chunky mice that quickly wrack the hand with pain. (Apple is a historical offender there too I’m afraid.)

The fixes for such ergonomic design failures is simply not to use the kit. To find a better-sized (often DIY) alternative that does ‘fit’.

But a DIY fix may not be an option when discrepancy is embedded at the software level — and where a system is being applied to you, rather than you the human wanting to augment yourself with a bit of tech, such as a pair of smart earbuds.

With software, embedded flaws and system design failures may also be harder to spot because it’s not necessarily immediately obvious there’s a problem. Oftentimes algorithmic bias isn’t visible until damage has been done.

And there’s no shortage of stories already about how software defaults configured for a biased median have ended up causing real-world harm. (See for example: ProPublica’s analysis of the COMPAS recidividism tool — software it found incorrectly judging black defendants more likely to offend than white. So software amplifying existing racial prejudice.)

Of course AI makes this problem so much worse.

Which is why the emphasis must be on catching bias in the datasets — before there is a chance for prejudice or bias to be ‘systematized’ and get baked into algorithms that can do damage at scale.

The algorithms must also be explainable. And outcomes auditable. Transparency as disinfectant; not secret blackboxes stuffed with unknowable code.

Doing all this requires huge up-front thought and effort on system design, and an even bigger change of attitude. It also needs massive, massive attention to diversity. An industry-wide championing of humanity’s multifaceted and multi-sized reality — and to making sure that’s reflected in both data and design choices (and therefore the teams doing the design and dev work).

You could say what’s needed is a recognition there’s never, ever a one-sized-fits all plug.

Indeed, that all algorithmic ‘solutions’ are abstractions that make compromises on accuracy and utility. And that those trade-offs can become viciously cutting knives that exclude, deny, disadvantage, delete and damage people at scale.

Expensive earbuds that won’t stay put is just a handy visual metaphor.

And while discussion about the risks and challenges of algorithmic bias has stepped up in recent years, as AI technologies have proliferated — with mainstream tech conferences actively debating how to “democratize AI” and bake diversity and ethics into system design via a development focus on principles like transparency, explainability, accountability and fairness — the industry has not even begun to fix its diversity problem.

It’s barely moved the needle on diversity. And its products continue to reflect that fundamental flaw.

Many — if not most — of the tech industry’s problems can be traced back to the fact that inadequately diverse teams are chasing scale while lacking the perspective to realize their system design is repurposing human harm as a de facto performance measure. (Although ‘lack of perspective’ is the charitable interpretation in certain cases; moral vacuum may be closer to the mark.)

As WWW creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has pointed out, system design is now society design. That means engineers, coders, AI technologists are all working at the frontline of ethics. The design choices they make have the potential to impact, influence and shape the lives of millions and even billions of people.

And when you’re designing society a median mindset and limited perspective cannot ever be an acceptable foundation. It’s also a recipe for product failure down the line.

The current backlash against big tech shows that the stakes and the damage are very real when poorly designed technologies get dumped thoughtlessly on people.

Life is messy and complex. People won’t fit a platform that oversimplifies and overlooks. And if your excuse for scaling harm is ‘we just didn’t think of that’ you’ve failed at your job and should really be headed out the door.

Because the consequences for being excluded by flawed system design are also scaling and stepping up as platforms proliferate and more life-impacting decisions get automated. Harm is being squared. Even as the underlying industry drum hasn’t skipped a beat in its prediction that everything will be digitized.

Which means that horribly biased parole systems are just the tip of the ethical iceberg. Think of healthcare, social welfare, law enforcement, education, recruitment, transportation, construction, urban environments, farming, the military, the list of what will be digitized — and of manual or human overseen processes that will get systematized and automated — goes on.

Software — runs the industry mantra — is eating the world. That means badly designed technology products will harm more and more people.

But responsibility for sociotechnical misfit can’t just be scaled away as so much ‘collateral damage’.

So while an ‘elite’ design team led by a famous white guy might be able to craft a pleasingly curved earbud, such an approach cannot and does not automagically translate into AirPods with perfect, universal fit.

It’s someone’s standard. It’s certainly not mine.

We can posit that a more diverse Apple design team might have been able to rethink the AirPod design so as not to exclude those with smaller ears. Or make a case to convince the powers that be in Cupertino to add another size choice. We can but speculate.

What’s clear is the future of technology design can’t be so stubborn.

It must be radically inclusive and incredibly sensitive. Human-centric. Not locked to damaging defaults in its haste to impose a limited set of ideas.

Above all, it needs a listening ear on the world.

Indifference to difference and a blindspot for diversity will find no future here.

What to expect from Apple’s ‘Show Time’ event

The biggest surprise about next week’s Apple event may be the fact that the company has anything left to announce. This week, several core pieces of Apple hardware received upgrades, including the iPad Air and mini, iMac and AirPods. Given the company’s rush to get all of that out the door, we don’t expect to see much in the way of new devices at Monday’s event.

Apple sent invites announcing that March 25 will be “Show Time.” The wording was a subtle nod to the “It’s Showtime” invites the company sent for its 2006 Special Event, which saw the announcement of, among other things iTV — an early peek at the product that would launch as Apple TV the following year.

This time out, however, the company is all about the services. Taking center stage will be its long-awaited original content play. Apple couldn’t keep the news fully under wraps as it pumped around $1 billion into content, so we’ve been hearing dribs and drabs over the past year or so (more on that below), including hiring everyone from Oprah to Spielberg.

The service is set to compete with the biggest names in streaming, including Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, along with long-rumored newcomers like Disney. Among the more compelling reports we’ve seen surface so far involve the company helping to sell you other streaming services.

In a sense, it wouldn’t be entirely unlike the current Apple TV model. Reports have the company building a new content store focused on offering bundles with cable services like HBO, Showtime and Starz. Put more simply, Apple may be looking to disrupt cable TV by essentially becoming a cable TV provider. Its tremendous hardware outreach will play a major role in helping it gain a toehold — like Apple Music before it.

As for the original content, it’s not clear whether Apple plans to monetize these shows at all. Instead, reports suggest that it could make them available for free to viewers with an Apple device.

Here are all of the projects that have been revealed so far. Keep in mind that they’re in various stages of development, and, as such, may change dramatically or never see the light of day.

  • “Amazing Stories” — a reboot of the science fiction anthology series executive produced (in both its old and new versions) by Steven Spielberg.
  • “Are You Sleeping?” — a crime show about true crime podcasts, executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and starring Octavia Spencer.
  • “Calls” — an adaptation of a French short-form series emphasizing audio storytelling.
  • “Central Park” — an animated musical comedy from Loren Bouchard (creator of “Bob’s Burger”), as well as Josh Gad and Nora Smith.
  • “Defending Jacob” — a thriller adapted from William Landay’s novel, starring Chris Evans.
  • “Dickinson” — a coming-of-age series about the poet Emily Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld.
  • “For All Mankind” — a space race-themed science fiction series from Ronald D. Moore, who created the acclaimed reboot of “Battlestar Galactica.”
  • “Foundation” — an adaptation of the classic science fiction series by Isaac Asimov, with David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman as showrunners.
  • “Home” — a documentary series about extraordinary homes.
  • “Little America” — an immigrant-themed anthology series showrun by Lee Eisenberg (“The Office”) and Alan Yang (“Master of None”).
  • “Little Voice” — a romantic dramedy executive produced by J.J. Abrams and the creative team behind the “Waitress” musical, Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson.
  • “Losing Earth” — a series based on Nathaniel Rich’s New York Times magazine story and book about the history of climate activism.
  • “Magic Hour” — a mystery series inspired by the real-life story of Hilde Lysiak, executive produced and directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”).
  • “My Glory Was I Had Such Friends” — a series that reunites J.J. Abrams and Jennifer Garner (Garner will star, and both will executive produce), based on the Amy Silverstein memoir of the same name.
  • “Pachinko” — a series based on the Min Jin Lee novel, a multi-generational saga about a Korean family.
  • “See” — a science fiction drama written by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) and directed by Francis Lawrence (multiple “Hunger Games” sequels).
  • “Shantaram” — A series based on the novel by Gregory David Robert, about a man who escapes from an Australian prison and ends up in Bombay.
  • “Swagger” — a scripted series inspired by basketball star Kevin Durant’s life.
  • “The Morning Show” — a drama about the world of morning TV, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.
  • “Time Bandits” — a reboot of the cult classic Terry Gilliam film, co-written and directed by Taika Waititi.
  • Untitled Brie Larson series — a show featuring the “Captain Marvel” star, based on the real-life experiences of undercover CIA operative Amaryllis Fox.
  • Untitled Colleen McGuinness series — a comedy series inspired by Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection “You Think It, I’ll Say It.”
  • Untitled Damien Chazelle series — not much is known about the content of the series, but the “La La Land” director is expected to write and direct every episode of the first season.
  • Untitled M. Night Shyamalan series — a thriller written by Tony Basgallop, with Shyamalan directing the first episode and executive producing.
  • Untitled Oprah projects — Oprah Winfrey has signed a multi-year partnership to produce original content for Apple, though what kinds of content remains to be seen.
  • Untitled Snoopy series — a short-form series starring Snoopy and focused on STEM, which is part of a larger “Peanuts” deal between Apple and Canadian broadcaster DHX Media.
  • Untitled Richard Gere series — a drama based on the Israeli show “Nevelot.”
  • Untitled Rob McElhenny/Charlie Day series — a comedy from the team behind “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” with McElhenny playing an employee at a video game studio.
  • Untitled Simon Kinberg/David Weil series — a science fiction series co-written by Kinberg, a longtime writer and producer of “X-Men” movies.

That will no doubt monopolize the majority of the event, but Apple could well have some surprises up its sleeve. The leading contender for a second announcement is the company’s long-rumored subscription news service. As with its movie/TV plans, Apple’s reportedly been talking to a number of different publishers to launch what some are referring to as a “Netflix for News,” which would expand on its acquisition of digital magazine app Texture.

Reports have noted, however, that many outlets are less than thrilled about revenue share that would come with the service’s paid tier. Still, some big publishers, including The Wall Street Journal, are said to already be on-board for launch.

A third major rumor finds the company launching a consumer credit card through a partnership with Goldman Sachs. The investment giant’s CEO is reportedly planning to attend the event in order to launch a co-branded card.

Everything kicks off at 10am Pacific on Monday, March 25. TechCrunch will be on-hand to bring you the news as it breaks.

Daily Crunch: The new iPad mini, reviewed

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

Matthew Panzarino tried out Apple’s new tablet with Apple Pencil support, and he says the experience is “aces.”

His only caveat: After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks the flat edge against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

2. Windows Virtual Desktop is now in public preview

Starting today, any enterprise user who wants to test out a virtual Windows 10 desktop hosted in the Azure cloud will be able to give it a try.

3. MoviePass co-founder’s new startup PreShow gives you free movie tickets for watching ads

As founding CEO of MoviePass, Stacy Spikes has already changed the way we think about paying for movie tickets. Now he’s pursuing a new approach — providing a free ticket to people who watch 15 to 20 minutes of ads.

4. What latency feels like on Google’s Stadia cloud gaming platform

We got our hands on one of their new controllers and pressed play to try out Doom 2016 gameplay on Google’s new platform.

5. Guesty, a tech platform for property managers on Airbnb and other rental sites, raises $35M

The idea for Guesty came about like many of the best startup ideas do: out of a personal need. In 2013, twin brothers Amiad and Koby were renting out their own apartments on Airbnb, and found themselves spending a lot of time doing the work needed to list and manage those properties.

6. Microsoft warns Windows 7 users of looming end to security updates

The patch rolled out Wednesday warning users of the impending deadline, January 14, 2020, when the software giant will no longer roll out fixes for security flaws and vulnerabilities.

7. Amify raises its first venture round on a promise: to boost revenue for third-party sellers on Amazon

Amify now works with a long line of customers, from brands you might not recognize to household names like Fender guitars and Brooks, all of which pay Amify a percentage of their revenue in exchange for its services.

Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

The iPad mini is super enjoyable to use and is the best size tablet for everything but traditional laptop work. It’s very good and I’m glad Apple updated it.

Using Apple Pencil is aces on the smaller mini, don’t worry about the real estate being an issue if you like to scribble notes or make sketches. It’s going to fall behind a larger iPad for a full time artist but as a portable scratch pad it’s actually far less unwieldy or cumbersome than an iPad Pro or Air will be.

The only caveat? After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks that flat edge that helps so much when registering against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

The actual act of drawing is nice and zippy, and features the same latency and responsiveness as the other Pencil-capable models.

The reasoning behind using the old pencil here is likely a result of a combination of design and cost-saving decisions. No flat edge would require a rethink of the magnetic Pencil charging array from the iPad Pro and it is also apparently prohibitively expensive in a way similar to the smart connector. Hence its lack of inclusion on either Air or mini models.

Touch ID feels old and slow when compared to iPad Pro models, but it’s not that bad in a mini where you’re almost always going to be touching and holding it rather than setting it down to begin typing. It still feels like you’re being forced to take an awkward, arbitrary additional action to start using the iPad though. It really puts into perspective how fluidly Face ID and the new gestures work together.

The design of the casing remains nearly identical, making for broad compatibility with old cases and keyboards if you use those with it. The camera has changed positions and the buttons have been moved slightly though, so I would say your mileage may vary if you’re brining old stuff to the table.

The performance of the new mini is absolutely top notch. While it falls behind when compared to the iPad Pro it is exactly the same (I am told, I do not have one to test yet) as the iPad Air. It’s the same on paper though, so I believe it in general and there is apparently no ‘detuning’ or under-clocking happening. This makes the mini a hugely powerful tiny tablet, clearly obliterating anything else in its size class.

The screen is super solid, with great color, nearly no air gap and only lacking tap-to-wake.

That performance comes at a decently chunky price, $399. If you want the best you pay for it.

Last year I took the 12.9” iPad Pro on a business trip to Brazil, with no backup machine of any sort. I wanted to see if I could run TechCrunch from it — from planning to events to editorial and various other multi-disciplinary projects. It worked so well that I never went back and have not opened my MacBook in earnest since. I’ll write that experience up at some point because I think there’s some interesting things to talk about there.

I include that context here because, though the iPad Pro is a whole ass computer and really capable, it is not exactly ‘fun’ to use in non standard ways. That’s where the iPad mini has always shined and continues to do so.

It really is pocketable in a loose jacket or coat. Because the mini is not heavy, it exercises little of the constant torsion and strain on your wrist that a larger iPad does, making it one-handed.

I could go on, but in the end, all that can be said about the iPad mini being “the small iPad” has already been said ad nauseam over the years, beginning with the first round of reviews back in 2012. This really is one of the most obvious choices Apple has in its current iPad lineup. If you want the cheap one, get the cheap one (excuse me, “most affordable” one). And if you want the small one, get the iPad mini.

The rest of the iPads in Apple’s lineup have much more complicated purchasing flow charts — the mini does indeed sell itself.

Back even before we knew for sure that a mini iPad was coming, I wrote about how Apple could define the then very young small tablet market. It did. No other small tablet model has ever made a huge dent on the market, unless you count the swarm of super super crappy Android tablets that people buy in blister packs expecting them to eventually implode as a single hive-mind model.

Here’s how I saw it in 2012:

“To put it bluntly, there is no small tablet market…Two years ago we were talking about the tablet market as a contiguous whole. There was talk about whether anyone would buy the iPad and that others had tried to make consumer tablets and failed. Now, the iPad is a massive success that has yet to be duplicated by any other manufacturer or platform.

But the tablet market isn’t a single ocean, it’s a set of interlocking bodies of water that we’re just beginning to see take shape. And the iPad mini isn’t about competing with the wriggling tadpoles already in the ‘small tablet’ pond, it’s about a big fish extending its dominion.”

Yeah, that’s about right, still.

One huge difference, of course, is that the iPad mini now has the benefit of an enormous amount of additional apps that have been built for iPad in the interim. Apps that provide real, genuine access to content and services on a tablet — something that was absolutely not guaranteed in 2012. How quickly we forget.

In addition to the consumer segment, the iPad mini is also extremely popular in industrial, commercial and medical applications. From charts and patient records to point-of-sale and job site reference, the mini is the perfect size for these kinds of customers. These uses were a major factor in Apple deciding to update the mini.

Though still just as pricey (in comparison) as it was when it was introduced, the iPad mini remains a standout device. It’s small, sleek, now incredibly fast and well provisioned with storage. The smallness is a real advantage in my opinion. It allows the mini to exist as it does without having to take part in the ‘iPad as a replacement for laptops’ debate. It is very clearly not that, while at the same time still feeling more multipurpose and useful than ever. I’m falling in real strong like all over again with the mini, and the addition of Pencil support is the sweetener on top.

Daily Crunch: Apple unveils new AirPods

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple announces new AirPods

The new AirPods are fitted with the H1 chip, which is meant to offer performance efficiencies, faster connect times between the pods and your devices and the ability to ask for Siri hands-free with the “Hey Siri” command.

“They are powered by the new Apple -designed H1 chip which brings an extra hour of talk time, faster connections, hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ and the convenience of a new wireless battery case,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller in a press release.

2. Google fined €1.49BN in Europe for antitrust violations in search ad brokering

Speaking at a press conference today, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the search giant — “by far the biggest” search ad broker in the region, with its AdSense platform taking a share in Europe of “well above 70% since 2006” — had engaged in illegal practices in order to “cement its dominant market position.”

3. All 88 companies from Y Combinator’s W19 Demo Day 2

And there were already 85 startups that pitched on Day 1!

4. The 9 biggest questions about Google’s Stadia game streaming service

Google’s Stadia is an impressive piece of engineering to be sure: Delivering high-definition, high frame-rate, low latency video to devices like tablets and phones is an accomplishment in itself. But the game streaming service faces serious challenges if it wants to compete with the likes of Xbox and PlayStation, or even plain old PCs and smartphones.

5. Disney closes its $71.3B Fox acquisition

The goal of the enormous acquisition is to help Disney position itself for a streaming-centric future.

6. Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen steps down

Chen says he will stay with the service as chairman of the board, focusing “on high-level and long-term company needs.” Kickstarter will be promoting its head of Design and Product, Aziz Hasan, as interim CEO, as Chen steps away from day to day operations.

7. The Oculus Rift S is indeed real and arrives in spring for $399

After years of high-profile onstage announcements, Oculus has decided to quietly deliver the successor to its flagship Rift virtual reality headset, confirming most of our October report with the release of the new Oculus Rift S.

Extra Crunch Daily: Exascale Computing

From Extra Crunch

Wide Angle

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Stories from outside the 280/101 corridor