For BioNTech, the COVID-19 vaccine was simply the opening act

BioNTech’s founding story dates back to the late 1990s, when CEO and co-founder Uğur Şahin, his wife and co-founder Özlem Türeci, and the rest of the seven-person founding team began their research.

Focused specifically on an area dubbed “New Technologies,” mRNA stood out as one area with tremendous potential to deliver the team’s ultimate goal: Developing treatments personalized to an individual and their specific ailments, rather than the traditional approach of finding a solution that happens to work generally at the population level.

Şahin, along with Mayfield venture partner Ursheet Parikh, joined us at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, his long journey as a founder, what it takes to build a biotech platform company, and what’s coming next from BioNTech and the technologies it’s developing to help prevent other outbreaks and treat today’s deadliest diseases.

“At that time, mRNA was not potent enough,” Şahin recalled. “It was just a weak molecule. But the idea was great, so we invested many years in an academic setting to improve that. And in 2006, we realized ‘Wow, this is now working. Okay, it’s time to initiate a company’.”

The next healthcare revolution will have AI at its center

The global pandemic has heightened our understanding and sense of importance of our own health and the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. We’ve all come to realize how archaic many of our health processes are, and that, if we really want to, we can move at lightning speed. This is already leading to a massive acceleration in both the investment and application of artificial intelligence in the health and medical ecosystems.

Modern medicine in the 20th century benefited from unprec­edented scientific breakthroughs, resulting in improvements in every as­pect of healthcare. As a result, human life expectancy increased from 31 years in 1900 to 72 years in 2017. Today, I believe we are on the cusp of another healthcare revolution — one driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Advances in AI will usher in the era of modern medicine in truth.

Over the coming decades, we can expect medical diagnosis to evolve from an AI tool that provides analysis of options to an AI assistant that recommends treatments.

Digitization enables powerful AI

The healthcare sector is seeing massive digitization of everything from patient records and radiology data to wearable computing and multiomics. This will redefine healthcare as a data-driven industry, and when that happens, it will leverage the power of AI — its ability to continuously improve with more data.

When there is enough data, AI can do a much more accurate job of diagnosis and treatment than human doctors by absorbing and checking billions of cases and outcomes. AI can take into account everyone’s data to personalize treatment accordingly, or keep up with a massive number of new drugs, treatments and studies. Doing all of this well is beyond human capabilities.

AI-powered diagnosis

I anticipate diagnostic AI will surpass all but the best doctors in the next 20 years. Studies have shown that AI trained on sizable data can outperform physicians in several areas of medical diagnosis regarding brain tumors, eye disease, breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancer. Further trials are needed, but as these technologies are deployed and more data is gathered, the AI stands to outclass doctors.

We will eventually see diagnostic AI for general practitioners, one disease at a time, to gradually cover all diagnoses. Over time, AI may become capable of acting as your general practitioner or family doctor.

9am.health launches with $3.7M to tackle virtual diabetes care

Founders like to create companies around what they know, and Frank Westermann and Anton Kittelberger know diabetes.

They met and bonded over both having type 1 diabetes — Westermann was diagnosed over 25 years ago — and started the MySugr app for diabetes self-management in 2012 (they won a TC pitch-off back in 2011). Four years later, Westermann moved to the U.S. from Austria to introduce MySugr stateside before the company was acquired by Roche for $100 million in 2017.

The pair moved on to their next journey, also in diabetes, starting 9am.health in April, a virtual diabetes clinic designed to provide people living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes access to personalized care and affordable medications from their homes. 9am.health’s clinic was launched in August.

Today, the San Diego-based company announced a $3.7 million seed round from Founders Fund, Define Ventures, Speedinvest and iSeed Ventures to target the 1 in 3 people living with diabetes in the United States, Westermann told TechCrunch.

“We understand the day-to-day challenges that people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have,” he added. “Access to care is the real issue, and rather than have patients wait weeks to get an appointment, we send a kit with tests to your home, and you send it back to us.”

9am.health kicked off in Texas and California, and is now available in 33 states. It is finding patients through digital outreach, community work and hospitals.

Even with insurance, the average person living with diabetes spends about $16,750 per year on medical expenses and has approximately 2.3 times higher the costs than if they didn’t have the disease. Instead, patients can subscribe to 9am.health for $40 per month; that includes online prescription shipping, unlimited personal medical care, medications to manage diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia and at-home lab tests.

Westermann sees other companies working in the diabetes space, but says 9am.health is unique in providing “a digital front door for entire diabetes care,” while others focus on specific pain points. By taking that whole approach, he sees opportunity in going beyond diabetes to the general chronic disease realm as many living with diabetes — 98% of Americans in fact — also have other comorbidities like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues, he added.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team and carve out some of the digital diabetes market share that was valued at $13 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to grow annually by 18.8% through 2027. 9am.health will also invest in advancing its virtual screening ability and expand the types of medication it can offer.

9am.health diabetes kit

“We want to tear down the barriers and make care as easy as possible and managing diabetes part of life,” Westermann said. “When you live with chronic illness, it is an everyday thing, and sometimes you feel good, and others days you don’t. That’s why we named the company 9am.health because you can wake up at 9 a.m. and start your diabetes journey all over again.”

Lynne Chou O’Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, says the future of healthcare is going to be more consumer-focused and will be wrapped around the patient’s care journey. She considers 9am.health to be leading this type of care with a platform that bundles education, community, coaching and care that is direct-to-consumer.

Chou O’Keefe has been investing in healthcare her entire VC career, and sat on the board of Livongo for four years. Through that experience she learned how patients struggle with their care decisions, and finds 9am.health’s founders to have a similar deep expertise and understanding in diabetes, especially with the success they had with MySugr.

“The last place you should receive healthcare is in the doctor’s office, while the first place should be wherever you are,” she added. “This is a very different way than what the healthcare system is today. We feel that people want to manage their diabetes, but then go on and live their lives.”

 

SOSV is building a New Jersey HAX facility for industrial, healthcare and climate startups

SOSV this morning announced work on a $50 million HAX facility in Newark, New Jersey focused on growing industrial, healthcare and climate startups. The five-year development plan utilizes $25 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The facility is set to open in June of 2022, with an eye on early-stage U.S. companies working toward their seed round. SOSV notes that, while HAX’s earliest focus was on wearables, in more recent years, the accelerator has largely shifted to industrial and healthcare, which currently comprise 70- and 20% of its portfolio, respectively.

“Since 2015, HAX started investing in more industrial & health startups and today make up 90% of our new investments,” HAX Partner Garrett Winther told TechCrunch. “These hard tech startups, at their earliest stages, tend to rely on more deep science R&D, high precision prototyping, and only require one to two of their first product before raising funding. These companies also take up a lot of space, easily filling a room with their equipment and prototypes.”

Newark was chosen for myriad reasons, including proximity to New York City and universities like Princeton and Rutgers. It also, frankly, has more space than, say, Manhattan – which is a clear necessity for industrial startups. That’s a big part of the reason companies like AeroFarms and Bowery have looked toward to the area to host their massive vertical farming facilities.

The fact that the state was willing to put up around half the cost of the project likely didn’t hurt, either. New Jersey no doubt has a vested interest in welcoming hardware startups with open arms. It will be interesting to see what sort of incentives the local governments can offer to help keep them there to avoid the allure of nearby NYC.

“Growing New Jersey’s innovation economy both creates high-quality jobs today and generates opportunities for exponential returns in the future,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said in a release. “As startups become successful and scale-up in New Jersey, they build buildings, hire more employees, and become anchors for vibrant communities and small-business supply-chains.”

SOSV says the Newark location will effectively operate as a U.S. equivalent to its offices in Shenzhen, China, which afford easy access to the global supply chain. HAX also operates satellites in San Francisco, Tokyo and New York.

New Zealand startup HeartLab raises $2.45M to bring heart scanning software to the US

New Zealand-based medtech startup HeartLab has raised $2.45 million in seed funding that it says will help the company expand its AI-powered heart scanning and reporting platform to cardiologists in the United States by early next year.

HeartLab provides an end-to-end solution for echocardiograms, the ultrasound tests that doctors use to examine a patient’s heart structure and function. Not only does the software help sort and analyze ultrasound images to help doctors diagnose cardiovascular disease, but it also streamlines the workflow by generating patient reports for doctors that can then be added to a patient’s health record.

Will Hewitt, 21, started HeartLab when he was 18 years old studying applied mathematics and statistics at the University of Auckland and working as a researcher at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. The idea for the startup came to him as he listened to cardiologist, and now co-founder, Patrick Gladding explain how time-consuming and potentially inaccurate it is for doctors to have to review multiple scans manually everyday.

“You’ve got a really repetitive manual task done by a highly trained professional,” Hewitt told TechCrunch. “To start with, we just decided to train the AI to do one really small part of the doctor’s job, which was to look at these scans and generate a couple of different measurements that normally the doctor would have to do themselves,” said Hewitt.

In order to replicate the tedious process that doctors were doing, HeartLab built its own in-house labeling tool with sonographers that includes step-by-step guides and prompts to collect data on a range of different measurements. Hewitt said this initiative was one of the most valuable efforts of engineering the company has invested in to date because it has lead to cross validation, which is used to test the ability of the machine learning model to predict new data, as well as flag problems like selection bias and overfitting.

Once HeartLab was able to successfully replicate the scanning process, the company worked to expand its services in a way that would relieve doctors of further admin minutiae so they could spend more time actually treating their patients. Usually, doctors use a software tool that analyzes the images, another that visualizes patterns and another that actually writes up the report, says Hewitt. HeartLab’s platform, called Pulse, can now condense those processes into one software.

Cardiologists and sonographers at four different sites in New Zealand are trialing HeartLab’s tech now, which is also awaiting regulatory approval from the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration. HeartLab anticipates FDA approval of Pulse by the first quarter of 2022, which is when the startup can begin selling the SaaS product.

“To begin with we want to talk to small and medium clinics over in the U.S.,” said Hewitt. “We’ve actually found that our products are most popular at those clinics because it replaces more software than at a larger clinic. At a larger clinic some of these bits of software they’ve already had to purchase, versus a smaller clinic, it’s stuff that they couldn’t access anyway. So when we get to the states, we want to start shipping mostly to those sorts of users while we work out how to best pitch our value proposition to the larger clinics.”

Hewitt says the funds from this round will also help the startup hire 10 more staff members to join the existing 13-member team based in Auckland. Having more tech talent on board will help HeartLab advance its product offering. At the moment, Pulse is at the point where it sees so many scans and takes so many measurements that it can get through the process quicker than a doctor could on their own and actually pick out patterns that a doctor wouldn’t see, according to Hewitt. The next step, which a good chunk of the seed funding is going toward, is how to be diagnostic about disease rather than just being able to indicate it.

“How do we actually provide something that normally doctors would have to order another scan for?” said Hewitt. “One of the key ideas with AI is you can create mappings from low-resolution images like ultrasounds. How can we try to learn a pattern from an ultrasound that’s similar to what you might see from an MRI, for example?”

If HeartLab can figure out how to glean advanced information from an echocardiogram instead of an MRI, it would be able to save hospitals, clinics and patients a lot of money. Each cardiac MRI can cost about $1,000 to $5,000, which is about five times the price of an echocardiogram.

“I’d say the biggest challenge for us is, how can we transform from a company that at the moment can deliver products to a few local clinics successfully to actually building a product that scales and delivers a really good experience to lots of users and different hospitals?” said Hewitt.

Advancements in early diagnostics and imaging tech like HeartLabs’ is causing an increased demand for such tools. As a result, the global AI-enabled medical imaging solutions market is expected to reach $4.7 billion by 2027. By extending its reach to the U.S., where heart disease is the leading cause of death, HeartLab is poised to take a big piece of that pie.

In total, HeartLab has publicly raised about $3.2 million in funding, which includes a pre-seed last October of about $800,000 led by Icehouse Ventures with support from Founders Fund, the San Francisco-based VC firm that led the round announced on Thursday. Icehouse Ventures also contributed to the oversubscribed seed round, along with another New Zealand firm Outset Ventures and private investor and CEO of design platform Figma, Dylan Field.

“The use of AI in medicine is reducing pressures on health systems and ultimately saving lives,” said Founders Fund partner Scott Nolan, who has led investment rounds for three other New Zealand startups, in a statement. “The HeartLab team has built a really compelling AI-powered platform that doctors love to use.”

The FDA should regulate Instagram’s algorithm as a drug

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported Silicon Valley’s worst-kept secret: Instagram harms teens’ mental health; in fact, its impact is so negative that it introduces suicidal thoughts.

Thirty-two percent of teen girls who feel bad about their bodies report that Instagram makes them feel worse. Of teens with suicidal thoughts, 13% of British and 6% of American users trace those thoughts to Instagram, the WSJ report said. This is Facebook’s internal data. The truth is surely worse.

President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress formed the Food and Drug Administration in 1906 precisely because Big Food and Big Pharma failed to protect the general welfare. As its executives parade at the Met Gala in celebration of the unattainable 0.01% of lifestyles and bodies that we mere mortals will never achieve, Instagram’s unwillingness to do what is right is a clarion call for regulation: The FDA must assert its codified right to regulate the algorithm powering the drug of Instagram.

The FDA should consider algorithms a drug impacting our nation’s mental health: The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act gives the FDA the right to regulate drugs, defining drugs in part as “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.” Instagram’s internal data shows its technology is an article that alters our brains. If this effort fails, Congress and President Joe Biden should create a mental health FDA.

Researchers can study what Facebook prioritizes and the impact those decisions have on our minds. How do we know this? Because Facebook is already doing it — they’re just burying the results.

The public needs to understand what Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms prioritize. Our government is equipped to study clinical trials of products that can physically harm the public. Researchers can study what Facebook privileges and the impact those decisions have on our minds. How do we know this? Because Facebook is already doing it — they’re just burying the results.

In November 2020, as Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel report in “An Ugly Truth,” Facebook made an emergency change to its News Feed, putting more emphasis on “News Ecosystem Quality” scores (NEQs). High NEQ sources were trustworthy sources; low were untrustworthy. Facebook altered the algorithm to privilege high NEQ scores. As a result, for five days around the election, users saw a “nicer News Feed” with less fake news and fewer conspiracy theories. But Mark Zuckerberg reversed this change because it led to less engagement and could cause a conservative backlash. The public suffered for it.

Facebook likewise has studied what happens when the algorithm privileges content that is “good for the world” over content that is “bad for the world.” Lo and behold, engagement decreases. Facebook knows that its algorithm has a remarkable impact on the minds of the American public. How can the government let one man decide the standard based on his business imperatives, not the general welfare?

Upton Sinclair memorably uncovered dangerous abuses in “The Jungle,” which led to a public outcry. The free market failed. Consumers needed protection. The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act for the first time promulgated safety standards, regulating consumable goods impacting our physical health. Today, we need to regulate the algorithms that impact our mental health. Teen depression has risen alarmingly since 2007. Likewise, suicide among those 10 to 24 is up nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018.

It is of course impossible to prove that social media is solely responsible for this increase, but it is absurd to argue it has not contributed. Filter bubbles distort our views and make them more extreme. Bullying online is easier and constant. Regulators must audit the algorithm and question Facebook’s choices.

When it comes to the biggest issue Facebook poses — what the product does to us — regulators have struggled to articulate the problem. Section 230 is correct in its intent and application; the internet cannot function if platforms are liable for every user utterance. And a private company like Facebook loses the trust of its community if it applies arbitrary rules that target users based on their background or political beliefs. Facebook as a company has no explicit duty to uphold the First Amendment, but public perception of its fairness is essential to the brand.

Thus, Zuckerberg has equivocated over the years before belatedly banning Holocaust deniers, Donald Trump, anti-vaccine activists and other bad actors. Deciding what speech is privileged or allowed on its platform, Facebook will always be too slow to react, overcautious and ineffective. Zuckerberg cares only for engagement and growth. Our hearts and minds are caught in the balance.

The most frightening part of “The Ugly Truth,” the passage that got everyone in Silicon Valley talking, was the eponymous memo: Andrew “Boz” Bosworth’s 2016 “The Ugly.”

In the memo, Bosworth, Zuckerberg’s longtime deputy, writes:

“So we connect more people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good.”

Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made Bosworth walk back his statements when employees objected, but to outsiders, the memo represents the unvarnished id of Facebook, the ugly truth. Facebook’s monopoly, its stranglehold on our social and political fabric, its growth at all costs mantra of “connection,” is not de facto good. As Bosworth acknowledges, Facebook causes suicides and allows terrorists to organize. This much power concentrated in the hands of one corporation, run by one man, is a threat to our democracy and way of life.

Critics of FDA regulation of social media will claim this is a Big Brother invasion of our personal liberties. But what is the alternative? Why would it be bad for our government to demand that Facebook accounts to the public its internal calculations? Is it safe for the number of sessions, time spent and revenue growth to be the only results that matters? What about the collective mental health of the country and world?

Refusing to study the problem does not mean it does not exist. In the absence of action, we are left with a single man deciding what is right. What is the price we pay for “connection”? This is not up to Zuckerberg. The FDA should decide.

Patient monitoring startup Doccla secures $3.3M Seed funding for ‘virtual wards’ platform

Doccla, a healthtech startup with a platform that can monitor patients on hospital wards and in the home, has secured a $3.3 million Seed funding round, led by Giant Ventures and Speedinvest. The company allows hospitals to predict when beds will be freed up by monitoring patients remotely via wearable medical devices, thus helping to alleviate bottlenecks in the system.

Founded by health entrepreneur, Martin Ratz, and tech entrepreneur, Dag Larrson, Doccla says it has saved “thousands of bed days for the NHS,” achieving a 29% reduction in Emergency Admissions and a 20% reduction in A&E attendance, the company claimed.

Doccla is similar to competitors Current Health, Huma and Cadence. The latter recently raised $41 million in funding from Thrive and General Catalyst. The company offers a remote patient monitoring platform that enables clinicians to monitor patients at home and provide personalized feedback via texts and ‘video visits’. Doccla says it can also measure patients at home.

The cash raised will be used to invest in its technology, and integrate further with the medical wearables and journal record systems. It also plans to expand into European healthcare markets.
 
Once again, as we have seen with other technologies, Doccla’s development was propelled by the pandemic. It turned out that overwhelmed hospitals needed technologies like this to create ‘virtual wards’ in order to monitor patients’ journey both in the hospital and when they got home.

Dag Larsson, CEO and co-founder of Doccla said. “Our end-to-end virtual ward services are extremely easy for the care provider to take on and extremely hard for them to ignore. The NHS now faces a challenging winter season and we’re evolving our technology to support care providers.”

He added: “We differ a lot from the competition in that we support the entire patient journey (e.g all last-mile activities like logistics, customer service, and even pre-configured mobile phones). This has made us punch substantially over our weight and win contracts with extremely high patient and clinician approval.”

Cameron McLain, Managing Partner & Co-Founder from Giant Ventures added: “Doccla provides a vital solution for a strained healthcare system, delivering a product that improves the patient experience and tackles cost.”

Felix Faltin, Principal and Digital Health Lead at Speedinvest said “Doccla’s platform is more than a product, it’s a full-stack solution that makes care delivery more efficient for providers, cheaper for payors and safer for patients, long past COVID-19.”

Apple adds Fitness+ updates, including a group workout feature

After unveiling the Apple Watch Series 7, Apple shared updates that are coming to Fitness+, its fitness service designed around Apple Watch.

Currently, the $9.99/month service is available in six countries, like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. But at its press event today, Apple announced that the service will become available in many more countries this fall, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, France, Italy, Russia and more. Content will be subtitled in six languages.

Apple also announced that it will add new Pilates and guided meditation content for Fitness+ subscribers starting in the fall. Every day, Fitness+ will add guided meditations that focus on gratitude, mindfulness and calming. These experiences will be available in both video and audio form, and could pose competition to apps like Headspace and Calm.

Also in the fall, Fitness+ will roll out Group Workouts, powered by Share Play. This enables subscribers to exercise alongside their friends via FaceTime or a group message thread, no matter where they are in the world. Up to 32 people can exercise together at once.

Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

Babyscripts secures $12M to roll out its virtual maternity care model

Obstetrics virtual care company Babyscripts raised $12 million in the first round of a Series B investment that will enable the company to accelerate the roll out of its virtual maternity care tool platform to providers.

MemorialCare Innovation Fund led the investment and was joined by Philips Ventures and the CU Healthcare Innovation Fund. The new round of funding gives Babyscripts around $26 million raised to date, Babyscripts co-founder and president Juan Pablo Segura told TechCrunch.

We last checked in on Washington, D.C-based Babyscripts two years ago when Phillips led a $6 million investment into the company. A lot has happened since 2019, Segura said.

At the time, the company had one product and was working with hospitals and healthcare providers to distribute a medical device and mobile app to expecting mothers for monitoring blood pressure and providing neonatal care information.

Today, the company has multiple kits that can be targeted to patients, including blood pressure monitoring, weight and captured blood sugars. Babyscripts can automate 40% to 50% of prenatal care and alert doctors as health problems occur so that both mother and baby are healthy. At one physician site, use of Babyscripts helped open up close to 1,000 appointments in a year so obstetricians there could focus on higher-risk patients, Segura said.

It also has larger population health focuses — driven mainly by the pandemic — to help higher-risk expecting mothers with remote patient monitoring and virtual care, as well as work to solve health inequity issues.

More than 70% of patients using Babyscripts are on Medicaid, which may be the only safety net provider in the patient’s geography, Segura said. As a result, the company began forming partnerships with public health departments, managed Medicaid plans and providers, like Priva Health, so that Babyscripts could be paid for at the local level.

“Right now, one of the biggest challenges for a pregnant patient on Medicaid and working an hourly job is asking moms to choose between prenatal care and putting food on the table,” he added. “Fifty percent of maternal complications can be avoided, but a lot of these issues come from the fact that the model of delivery care hasn’t changed in 40 years. About 12% to 15% of deaths come from blood pressure complications. If we could monitor via Babyscripts or more coordinated care to get intervention faster, we could eliminate massive swaths of delivery events in maternity and reduce mortality events in this country.”

Amid the pandemic, Babyscripts saw enrollments grow 10x. Segura decided to go after a new round of funding to meet that need and opportunities that could be addressed. Babyscripts’s program is now being used by 75 health systems in 32 states, and the company is monitoring 250,000 women each year.

The company continues to receive inquiries from markets and payers that are looking to do more for pregnant patients, so Segura wants to be able to grow to meet that demand and invest in a go-to-market strategy to get its kits into as many hands as possible.

The new funding will also enable the company to release new features. It recently launched a mental health product and is developing a substance use disorder experience amid others, he said. Babyscripts is also working on a national level with payers and is building an infrastructure around that as well.

The company has 45 employees currently, and Segura expects to double that in the next 12 to 18 months in the areas of product, payer growth, clinical expertise, implementation and customer success. Babyscripts is also working toward being available in all 50 states and bringing in more public health departments and payers as partners to get more health systems working together, he added.

Meanwhile, Caleb Winder, managing director of MemorialCare Innovation Fund, said he was attracted to both Babyscripts’ outcomes data and addressing the high rates of complications in pregnancies. It also not only eliminates waiting for hours at the doctor’s office just to be seen for five minutes, but also closes some gaps in care, he added.

“One of the problems in this space is that providers, as much as they want to help, are stretched thin,” Winder said. “There are also access problems. Something like 50% of counties in this country lack one OB, so in-person care is difficult. Babyscripts can help patients anywhere be monitored and their health managed virtually. It can also alert a clinician when there is a real problem. We saw their data, for example, that showed preeclampsia was diagnosed 13 days faster than the standard of care.”

What we expect from next week’s Apple event

We’ve been scouring the latest rumors and leaks and playing all of The Mamas and The Papas songs forward and backward to get the best possible picture of what we’re in store for with next Tuesday’s “California Streaming’” event.

The invites, which went out a week in advance, don’t appear to give the game away here. There was some extremely cool AR trickery, accessible through Safari on mobile, which could point to some fancy camera upgrades, though augmented reality has become a bit of a staple on these invites.

The California Streaming title, meanwhile, seems likely to be more of a nod to the all-virtual nature of the event, rather than anything to do with, say, Apple TV (of course, we’ve been one-more-thinged in the past). And as for that lovely shot of the Sierras — that could well be a nod to macOS, though the company has moved onto Monterey. It seems just as likely to be a reference to the aforementioned title.

The biggest, simplest and most important answer to the question of what to expect is a new iPhone. Last year’s models saw a notable delay due to COVID-19-related supply chain bottlenecking. Supply chain problems have persisted, of course, but by all accounts, the company appears to be back on track with its pre-pandemic release cycle.

The iPhone 12’s biggest upgrade was, of course, the long-awaited addition of 5G. That, coupled with the delay, led Apple to some pretty massive sales quarters amid a broader stalling of the overall mobile market. While other manufacturers have skipped the number out of superstitious concerns, Apple seems firmly on board with iPhone 13 (even as renders of its successor, the iPhone 14 have reportedly already leaked).

Image Credits: Getty Images / Qi Heng/VCG

Recent reports suggest that the iPhone 13 will arrive in four different configurations — much like its predecessor. So: the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The screen sizes should remain the same: 5.4, 6.1 (x2) and 6.7 inches. A separate report, meanwhile, suggests that we’ll see additional colors, with the full lineup being black, white, blue, purple, pink (rather than green) and Product (Red). But, keep in mind that offering different color availabilities in different markets isn’t entirely out of the question.

Unsurprisingly, camera upgrades appear to be the biggest news here. Word from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is that last year’s Pro Max model specs will graduate to the rest of the line (including, potentially, lidar). A ProRes video mode is said to be following the addition of ProRAW to further advance the handset’s bonafides as a semi-pro video shooting rig. Cinematic Video, meanwhile, is said to bring a Portrait-mode-style effect to video. Kuo has also suggested that the devices will be getting a feature based on the Qualcomm X60 that allows for emergency satellite calls — reportedly only available in select markets.

Of course, the phone will also be getting Apple’s latest chip, the A15, said to be coupled with 120 Hz ProMotion display. Apple could also be bringing an always-on feature to the screen, hopefully with minimal impact on battery life. Looks-wise we anticipate it will be more or less the same as its predecessor, albeit with a somewhat smaller camera notch up front — though not to the point of the fake Ted Lasso iPhone. The camera bump around back, meanwhile, is said to be getting larger, perhaps offering an improved telephoto lens.

Oh, and apparently they’ll be more expensive than the iPhone 12 — clearly not one of the new features Apple is going to be actively promoting.

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Watch 7 seems destined to be the other big news of the event. Apple’s massively popular wearable is reportedly set to get more massive, with a larger display, resulting in a slightly larger case size, from 40 mm and 44 mm to 41 mm and 45 mm. The overall size won’t be too large a change, however, as the company is said to be reducing its bezels this go-round.

Perhaps the most exciting rumor around the Watch is the addition of significant battery life. That’s long felt like a blind spot for the product, compared to competing smartwatches — particularly after Apple significantly improved sleep tracking. Most aren’t anticipating major new health features for the Watch this outing, which is a bit of a surprise here, given that health and fitness have been a major cornerstone for Apple.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

AirPods 3 seem like a reasonably good bet. The latest version of the company’s entry-level earbuds (and their case) are said to be getting a more Pro-style redesign, along with a new chip that’s designed to improve battery life. Active noise cancelation and replaceable tips are apparently not going to make an appearance to maintain the distinction between the two models.

With the company’s rangewide upgrade to its own silicon chugging along, don’t be surprised if we see a number of new Macs. Rumors suggest a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and a larger, 27-inch version of its ARM-powered iMac.

The event kicks off Tuesday, September 14 at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT. We’ll be here, bringing you the news as it arrives.
Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch