Daily Crunch: Pakistan un-bans TikTok

TikTok returns to Pakistan, Apple launches a music-focused streaming station and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. This is your Daily Crunch for October 19, 2020.

The big story: Pakistan un-bans TikTok

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the video app 11 days ago, over what it described as “immoral,” “obscene” and “vulgar” videos. The authority said today that it’s lifting the ban after negotiating with TikTok management.

“The restoration of TikTok is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content & societal values will not be abused,” it continued.

This isn’t the first time this year the country tried to crack down on digital content. Pakistan announced new internet censorship rules this year, but rescinded them after Facebook, Google and Twitter threatened to leave the country.

The tech giants

Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV —  The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content.

Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool — The tool is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents.

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram — The update means businesses will be able to integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing total delivered to orbit to more than 800 — That makes 835 Starlink satellites launched thus far, though not all of those are operational.

Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2M seed round — Propseller combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly.

Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class — Ready Set Raise has changed its programming to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women.

Advice and analysis for Extra Crunch

Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election? — Several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making these decisions.

Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes — With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed.

Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups — Investors backed a record 88 megarounds of $100 million or more.

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

Everything else

US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack — Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion — SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora.

Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’ — The show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit.

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.

Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion

SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora across all tiers of the streaming service. The deal brings top Stitcher titles to Pandora, including “Freakonomics Radio,” “My Favorite Murder,” “SuperSoul Conversations from the Oprah Winfrey Network,” “Office Ladies,” “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” “Literally! with Rob Lowe,” “LeVar Burton Reads” and “WTF with Marc Maron,” among others.

On Pandora, the podcasts will be indexed using the company’s proprietary Podcast Genome Project technology. This system leverages automated technology — like natural language processing, collaborative filtering and other machine learning approaches — then combines that with human curation to make personalized recommendations to podcast listeners on Pandora’s app.

The podcasts will also continue to be available in the Stitcher app in North America, the company says.

The Stitcher acquisition brought with it several key assets, including its own mobile listening app, which includes a premium tier of exclusives, and the Midroll Media network for podcast advertising. Stitcher also creates its own original programs and runs multiple content networks, via Earwolf.

That means SirusXM gained thousands of top podcasts with the deal’s closure. The company also now claims it has the “largest addressable audience in North America” across all categories of digital audio, including music, sports, talk and podcasts thanks to the combination of satellite radio service SiriusXM, streaming app Pandora and now Stitcher.

The company believes the deal will help it attract more creators to its platform, thanks to the enhanced production, marketing and distribution capabilities it offers, following the deal’s close. Advertisers, meanwhile, will be able to more precisely target podcasts for better ad efficiency, and will gain access to improved measurements, says SiriusXM.

In terms of Stitcher’s execs, CEO Erik Diehn will now report to Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM, who also oversees content at Pandora. Stitcher’s chief revenue officer, Sarah van Mosel, will report directly to John Trimble, chief advertising revenue officer of SiriusXM.

“We are deepening our position in podcasting, the fastest-growing sector in digital audio, and with completion of this transaction, our vision is taking shape,” said SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer, in a statement about the deal’s completion. “With Stitcher and its varied assets, we are now a one-stop shop able to meet the needs of podcast creators, publishers and advertisers, while also providing listeners with access to great shows, series and programming.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted many consumer trends and accelerated others, podcasting still remains one of the fast-growing digital audio industries. Podcast downloads returned to pre-COVID levels this summer, and Spotify reported that podcast consumption more than doubled in Q2, and nearly a quarter (21%) of its active users now listen to podcasts.

Stitcher was not SiriusXM’s first acquisition focused on podcasts or ad technologies. It also bought podcast management platform Simplecast this June, and before that, it acquired AdsWizz for $66.3 million to power Pandora’s advertising efforts.

Apple launches a U.S.-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour livestream of popular music videos and other music content, including, exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.,

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic (if uncensored) experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the livestream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream would disconnect and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films, and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage with it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus as exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special livestream fan event.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres – Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other livestream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO, or more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

Google Pixel 5 review: Keeping it simple

I’m going to be totally honest with you. I don’t really understand Google’s phone strategy right now. And for what it’s worth, I’m not really sure Google does either. I wrote about it here, but I’ll save you from having to read an additional 800 words on top of all these. The short version is that Google has three phones on the market, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of distinction between them.

The Pixel is a portrait of a hardware division in transition. That applies to a number of aspects, from strategy to the fact that the company recently saw a minor executive exodus. It’s pretty clear the future of Google’s mobile hardware division is going to look quite different from its present — but 2020’s three phones are most likely a holdover from the old guard.

What you’re looking at here is the Pixel 5. It’s Google’s flagship. A device that sports — among other things — more or less the same mid-range Qualcomm processor as the 4a announced earlier this year. It distinguishes itself from that budget handset, however, with the inclusion of 5G. But then here comes the 4a 5G to further muddy the waters.

There are some key distinctions that separate the 5 and 4a 5G, which were announced at the same event. The 5’s got a more solid body, crafted from 100% recycled aluminum to the cheaper unit’s polycarbonate. It also has waterproofing and reverse wireless charging, a fun feature we’ve seen on Samsung devices for a few generations now. Beyond that, however, we run into something that’s been a defining issue since the line’s inception. If you choose not to use hardware to define your devices, it becomes difficult to differentiate your devices’ hardware.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Since the very beginning of the Pixel line, the company has insisted that it will rely on software advances to push the products forward. It’s a nice sentiment after years of feature arms races between the likes of Apple and Samsung. But that means when it comes time to introduce new devices, the results can be fairly lackluster. That certainly applies to the Pixel 5.

From a hardware perspective, it’s not a particularly exciting phone. That’s probably fine for many. Smartphones have, after all, become more commodity than luxury item, and plenty of users are simply looking for one that will just get the job done. That said, Google’s got some pretty stiff competition at the Pixel 5’s price point — and there are plenty of Android devices that can do even more.

There are certainly some upgrades in addition to the above worth pointing out, however. Fittingly, the biggest and most important of all is probably the least exciting. The Pixel 4 was actually a pretty solid device hampered by one really big issue: an abysmal battery life. The 2,800mAh capacity was a pretty massive millstone around the device’s neck. That, thankfully, has been addressed here in a big way.

Google’s bumped things up to 4,080mAh. That’s also a pretty sizable bump over the 4a and 4a 5G, which sport 3,885mAh and 2,130mAh, respectively. That extra life is extra important, given the addition of both Battery Share and 5G. For the sake of disclosure, I should mention that I still live in an area with basically no 5G (three cheers for working from home), so your mileage will vary based on coverage. But using LTE, I was able to get about a day and a half of use out of the handset, besting the stated “all-day battery).

This is helped along by a (relatively) compact display. Gone are the days of the XL (though, confusingly, the 4a 5G does have a larger screen with a bit lower pixel density). The flagship is only available in a six-inch, 2,340 x 1,080 size. It’s larger than the Pixel 4’s 5.7 inches, but at a lower pixel density (432 versus 444 ppl). The 90Hz refresh rate remains. Compared to all of the phones I’ve been testing lately, the Pixel 5 feels downright compact. It’s a refreshing change to be able to use the device with one hand.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The camera is probably the aspect of the handset where the opposing hardware-first and software-first approaches are the most at conflict with one another. Google was fairly convinced it could do everything it wanted with a single lens early on, but eventually begrudgingly gave in to a two-camera setup. The hardware is pretty similar to last year’s model, but the 16-megapixel 2x optical telephoto has been replaced by a 16-megapixel ultra-wide. Whether that represent progress is largely up to your own personal preference. Frankly, I’d prefer a little more non-distorted zooming.

Google, of course, is building on a solid foundation. I really loved the Pixel 4’s photos. The things Google’s imaging team has been able to do with relative hardware constraints is really impressive, and while you’re lacking the scope of a premium Samsung device or high-end iPhone, casual photo snappers are going to be really happy with the shots they get on the Pixel 5.

[gallery ids="2061057,2061047,2061059,2061056,2061058,2061055,2061053,2061052,2061060,2061051,2061049,2061048"]

Night Sight has been improved and now turns on when the phone’s light sensor detects a dark scene. My morning walks have gotten decidedly darker in recent weeks as the season has changed, and the phone automatically enters the mode for those pre-dawn shots (COVID-19 has made me an early riser, I don’t know what to tell you). The feature has also been added to portrait mode for better focused shots.

The Pixel’s Portrait Mode remains one of the favorites — though it’s still imperfect, running into issues with things like hair or complex geometries. It really doesn’t know what to do with a fence much of the time, for instance. The good news is that Google’s packed a lot of editing options into the software here — particularly for Portrait Mode.

You can really go crazy in terms of bokeh levels and placement and portrait lighting, a relatively subtle effect that lends the appearance of changing a light source. Changing the effects can sometimes be a bit laggy, likely owing to the lower-end processing power. All said, it’s a good and well-rounded photo experience, but as usual, I would really love to see what Google’s imaging team would be able to do if the company ever gives it a some real high-end photography hardware to play around with. Wishful thinking for whatever the Pixel 6 becomes, I suppose.

In the end, the two biggest reasons to recommend upgrading from the Pixel 4 are 5G and bigger battery. The latter is certainly a big selling point this time out. The former really depends on what coverage is like in your area. The 5G has improved quite a bit of late, but there are still swaths of the U.S. — and the world — that will be defaulting to LTE on this device. Also note that the $200 cheaper 4a 5G also offers improvements in both respects over last year’s model.

Still, $700 is a pretty reasonable price point for a well-rounded — if unexciting — phone like the Pixel 5. And Google’s got other things working in its favor, as well — pure Android and the promise of guaranteed updates. If you’re looking for something with a bit more flash, however, there are plenty of options in the Android world.

Daily Crunch: Apple introduces the iPhone 12

Apple embraces 5G, Facebook Messenger gets better integrated with Instagram and Kahoot raises $215 million. This is your Daily Crunch for October 13, 2020.

The big story: Apple introduces the iPhone 12

Apple’s big event today kicked off with the announcement of the HomePod Mini, but the real focus was on the iPhone — specifically, the iPhone 12.

Pricing for the new iPhone starts at $799. New features include 5G, a magnetic adapter for various accessories (including wireless chargers) and a more durable Corning glass display.

There are four models, so if you’re trying to decide which one you want, we’ve even created a handy chart to keep them all straight.

The tech giants

Alphabet’s latest moonshot is a field-roving, plant-inspecting robo-buggy — Announced with little fanfare in a blog post and site, the Mineral project is still very much in the experimental phase.

Messenger’s latest update brings new features, cross-app communication with Instagram – The changes are a part of Facebook’s overhauled messaging platform, announced in late September, which introduced the ability for Instagram users to communicate with people on Facebook.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Kahoot picks up $215M from SoftBank for its user-generated, gamified e-learning platform — After announcing a modest $28 million raise earlier this year, the user-generated gamified e-learning platform revealed a much bigger round today.

Astroscale raises $51M in Series E funding to fuel its orbital sustainability ambitions — The Japan-based company has been focused on delivering new solutions for orbital end-of-life.

Caliber, with $2.2M in seed funding, launches a fitness coaching platform — The company says it brings on about five of every 100 applications for coaches on the platform, accepting only the very best trainers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Is the Twilio-Segment deal expensive? — A quick look at the deal’s historical analogs and what we can tell from the numbers.

Should you replace your developer portal with a hybrid integration platform? — Changing your integration approach can reduce time to market and boost revenue.

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

Everything else

Walt Disney announces reorganization to focus on streaming — Disney’s media businesses, ads and distribution and Disney+ will now operate under the same business unit.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is thoroughly mediocre — I did not enjoy this movie.

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.

Apple’s stock dips and Verizon’s recovers during iPhone event

Earlier today Apple announced a slew of new hardware. In case you’ve not yet caught up, there’s a $99 HomePod Mini coming, new iPhones, a new method for shouting at your electronics, the return of MagSafe, some cost-cutting masquerading as environmentalism and, of course, new flagship phones.

And in a move that caused telecom investors to sit up straight and pay attention, Apple trotted out Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg for part of the presentation — which is why we add our parent company’s parent company to our usual post-Apple-event share price reaction roundup.

Market reaction

Shares of Apple were mixed before the event, managing to work their way back to flat during morning trading ahead of the event. Down before Apple kicked off its iPhone shebang, equity in the phone giant dipped and then rallied as the event got underway.

But the partial erasure of losses were short-lived, and Apple wound up losing ground during the presentation (chart via YCharts, annotations via TechCrunch):

For Apple shareholders then, not a day worth writing home about.

The Apple event appeared to have a more electric impact on my employer. See if you can spot the point at which Verizon appeared as part of the event (chart via YCharts, annotations via TechCrunch):

Now that is the sort of reaction that we hope to see from events of this sort. Why? Because it implies that the company on stage has managed to do something so notable that its share price moved; this is another way of saying that investors were surprised by what they learned.

Apple events tend to leak in advance these days, so perhaps the usual lack of share price movement from the company’s equity is to be expected.

Verizon’s news, in contrast, was more of a surprise. The company “announce[d] its nationwide 5G network” in the words of The Verge. Investors liked that, but later sold the company’s shares back down a bit.

Apple’s iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max: what’s the difference?

Gone are the days a company like Apple could simply roll out a single flagship handset or two. Consumer demands have evolved quite a bit in the more than 13 years since the company released its first smartphone, and its offerings have had to evolve with it. That means now, more than ever, offering a broad range of choice in terms of feature set, size and price.

Apple actually announced four phones at today’s event: the iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. Add to that the fact that the company is keeping the 11 around at a lower price point, and that leaves iOS devotees with more options than ever when it comes to purchasing a new handset, with starting prices ranging from $599 to $1,099. And, of course, configurations go up from there.

All of the new devices announced today share some key common features: 5G connectivity, the new magnetic MagSafe connector, OLED displays and the A14 chip, for starters. They also get the new iPad Pro-style design, complete with straight edges that allow for the placement of additional antennas for the next-gen wireless connectivity. From there, however, things get more complicated. There’s a range here in size, cameras and capacity for starters.

Here’s a handy chart to keep it all straight:

Here’s everything Apple announced at its ‘Hi, Speed’ iPhone event today

Just shy of one month after their last event, Apple was back today with another one. Everyone had a pretty good feeling this would be the one where they announced this year’s new iPhone… instead, Apple announced four new iPhones, plus a new HomePod, for good measure.

Didn’t have time to follow along live? Here are the highlights:

HomePod Mini

Image Credits: Apple

Apple kicked things off by announcing the HomePod Mini — which, as you’ve probably gathered from the name, is a smaller version of its HomePod speaker.

Apple’s focus with the HomePod Mini definitely seems to be getting you to buy multiple units and spreading them around your house — they started off by recapping Siri’s smart home capabilities, then introduced a new feature called “Intercom,” which lets you broadcast a message to all of your HomePods from your iPhone, Apple Watch, CarPlay or another HomePod. Put two HomePods in the same room, Apple says, and they’ll automatically become a stereo pair.

HomePod Mini will cost $99, and, like its bigger counterpart, will come in two colors: white and space grey. Pre-orders will start on November 6th, with the first units shipping “the week of November 16th.”

Four new iPhones

iPhone 12 family lineup

Image Credits: Apple

Why would Apple announce one new iPhone when they could announce four?

With a lineup that will probably lead to a bit of confusion, Apple today announced the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The devices get a little bigger, a little fancier and a bit more expensive as you go down the line. Want a deeper look at how the specs on the four new models compare? Find our side-by-side here.

The big focus here is on improved displays, improved cameras (night mode on the wide and ultra-wide cameras!) and the introduction of 5G support across the lineup. The form factor borrows some angles from iPhones of yesteryear, with flat sides that’ll probably remind you of the iPhone 4 or 5.

The iPhone 12 Mini will start at $699 and come with a 5.4″ display, while the iPhone 12 will start at $799 with a 6.1″ display. The iPhone 12 Pro will start at $999 with a 6.1″ display, but polishes up the spec sheet with a stainless steel body (versus aluminum on the non-pro models) and the addition of a 12MP telephoto lens. The iPhone 12 Pro Max will start at $1,099, but packs a massive 6.7″ display. The Pro models also pack lidar sensors, allowing them to do things like ultra-fast focusing in low-light situations, or 3D room scanning.

The displays on all of the new iPhones will feature a new “Ceramic Shield” technology that Apple built in partnership with Corning, which the company says improves the odds of your device surviving a fall by 4x. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini will come in blue, green, red, white and black; the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, meanwhile, will come in blue, gold, black and white.

All four phones will run on Apple’s A14 Bionic chip — the same one that powers the iPad Air the company just announced last month.

So when will these things actually start shipping? The pre-order/ship dates are a liiiiittle bit tangled — so if you’ve got a model picked out already, make sure you’ve got the right date marked on your calendar: the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro go up for pre-order on 10/16, shipping on 10/23. The iPhone 12 Mini and the 12 Pro Max, meanwhile, go up for pre-order on 11/6 and ship on 11/13.

(Apple also noted that it will continue to sell the iPhone 11, dropping the base price by $100 down to $599.)

MagSafe

iPhone 12 Pro Silicone Case_Leather Wallet with MagSafe

Image Credits: Apple

“MagSafe” is back! Sort of. Well, in name, at least.

Borrowing a name from the charging system of Apple laptops past, the new iPhone’s MagSafe system allows it to automatically snap into the optimal place on a wireless charger, while also allowing for snap-on accessories like magnetic cases or credit card holders.

The company also announced the MagSafe Duo Charger (a folding setup meant to allow you to charge both an iPhone and an Apple Watch) and noted that MagSafe-compatible accessories from third parties like Belkin were on the way.

MagSafe Duo Charger

Image Credits: Apple

No more power adapter or headphones in the box

It’s been rumored for months, but now it’s official: Apple will no longer be including headphones or a wall power adapter with the iPhone. The company cites the potential environmental impact as their reasoning, noting that there are already “billions” of compatible chargers out in the world. The new iPhones will ship with a USB-C to Lightning cable — just not the bit that plugs into the wall.

Apple’s iPhone 12 starts at $799, sporting 5G and a magnetic adapter

It took a bit longer than usual (thank COVID-19 for some insurmountable manufacturing delays), but the iPhone 12 is here. And as expected, it comes bearing 5G. The latest version of Apple’s smartphone also arrives in a variety of different sizes, as the company continues to adjust to changing consumer purchasing patterns around mobile devices.

The inclusion of next-gen wireless is, of course, the flagship feature here. Apple is far from the first company to offer 5G on a handset, but given a bit of a bottleneck in adoption given the extremely odd year we’ve been experiencing. According to recent numbers from Canalys, only 13% of handsets shipping in the first half of the year were 5G capable. That means there’s a long way to go, and Apple finally adopting the tech will certainly move the needle.

CEO Tim Cook kicked off the announcement by inviting Verizon (TC’s parent co.) on stage to sell the carrier’s UWB take on the tech and announce that it’s gone “nationwide.” 5G will be available on all of the new models announced today. The specifics of the 5G will vary based on location — here in the States, for example, mmwave will also be available.

As expected, the line gets a full redesign, borrowing cues from the iPad Pro, including a flat edge more in line with older devices than the newer curved models. The device is also 11% thinner and lighter than its predecessor. The redesign also makes it possible for the company to pack more antennas into the edge of the device.

There’s a Corning glass display. Apple says it worked directly with with the Gorilla Glass maker to develop ceramic shield, which it states is around six-times more reliable in drop tests. The smartphone sports an OLED display (which appears to be consistent across the new devices, as well), with double the number of pixels as the iPhone 11.

The handset sports the already-announced A14 bionic chip. Apple’s silicon sports six-cores on its CPU and four on its GPU. The latter will go a ways toward extending its position in mobile gaming. The company used that opportunity to announce that it will be bringing Riot Games’ League of Legends: Wild Rift to the handset. As anticipated, the base model 12 sports a dual-camera rear — with 12-megapixel wide and ultra-wide lenses. Night Mode has been improved across the devices and added to the front camera.

The MagSafe name is back — albeit far removed from the version we all fondly remember from the Mac. Here it refers to a magnetic system built into the rear of the device that lets compatible accessories snap directly onto the device. That includes a slew of different products from Apple and third-parties, including wireless charging pads and cases. The list includes Apple’s own combination phone/Watch charger — not quite AirPower, but still fun.
Speaking of charging, the Lightning port is still very much on-board, in-spite of dropping it on some iPad models. Speaking of dropping things, Apple is getting rid of a bunch of the inbox accessories, including Earpods and the adapter, ostensibly for environmental purposes.
The new iPhone starts at $799 — $100 more than the also-announced iPhone 12 mini. The model will also be joined by the higher-end Pro and Pro Max, priced up to $1,099. The 12 and 12 Pro are available preorder on Oct 16 and starts shipping the 23rd. The Pro Max and mini versions ship on November 13.

 

Family tracking app Life360 launches ‘Bubbles,’ a location-sharing feature inspired by teens on TikTok

Helicopter parenting turned into surveillance with the debut of family tracking apps like Life360. While the app can alleviate parental fears when setting younger kids loose in the neighborhood, Life360’s teenage users have hated the app’s location tracking features so much that avoiding and dissing the app quickly became a TikTok meme. Life360 could have ignored the criticism — after all, teens aren’t the app’s paying subscribers; it’s the parents. But Life360 CEO Chris Hulls took a different approach. He created a TikTok account and started a dialogue with the app’s younger users. As a result of these conversations, the company has now launched a new privacy-respecting feature, “Bubbles.”

Bubbles work by allowing any Life360 Circle member to share a circle representing their generalized location instead of their exact whereabouts. To set a bubble, the user can adjust the radius on the map anywhere from 1 to 25 miles in diameter, for a given period of time of 1 to 6 hours. After this temporary bubble is created, Life360’s other existing safety and messaging features will remain enabled. But parents won’t be able to see precisely where their teen is located, other than somewhere in the bubble.

Image Credits: Life360

For example, a teen could tell their parents they were hanging out with some friends in a given part of town after school, then set a bubble accordingly. But without popping that bubble, the parents wouldn’t know if their teenager was at a friend’s house, out driving around, at a park, out shopping, and so on. The expectation is that parents and teens should communicate with one another, not relying on cyberstalking. Plus, parents need to respect that teens deserve to have more freedom to make choices, even if they will sometimes break the rules and then have to suffer the consequences.

A location bubble isn’t un-poppable, however. The bubble will burst if a car crash or another other emergency is detected, the company says. A parent can also choose to override the setting and pop the bubble for any reason — like if they don’t hear from the teen for a long period of time or suspect the teen may be unsafe. This could encourage a teen to increase their direct communication with a parent in order to reassure them that they are safe, rather than risk their parent turning tracking back on.

But parents are actively discouraged from popping the bubbles out of fear. Before the bubble is burst, the app will ask if the user if they’re sure they want to do so, reminding the them also that the member will be notified about the bubble being burst. This gives parents a moment to pause and reconsider whether it’s really enough of an emergency to break their teen’s trust and privacy.

Image Credits: Life360

The feature isn’t necessarily going to solve the problems for teens who want to sneak out or just be un-tracked entirely, which is where many of the complaints have stemmed from in recent years. Instead, it’s meant to represent a compromise in the battle between adult surveillance of kids’ every move and teenagers’ needs to have more personal freedom.

Hulls says the idea for the new feature was inspired by conversations he had with teens on TikTok about Life360’s issues.

“Teens are a core part of the family unit – and our user base – and we value their input,” said Hulls. “After months of communicating with both parents and teens, I am proud to launch a feature that was designed with the whole family in mind, continuing our mission of redefining how safety is delivered to families,” he added.

Before joining TikTok, the Life360 mobile app had been subject to a downrating campaign where teen users rated the app with just one star in hopes of getting it kicked off the App Store. (Apps are not automatically removed for low ratings, but that hasn’t stopped teens from trying this tactic with anything they don’t like, from Google Classroom’s app to the Trump 2020 app, at times.)

In his TikTok debut, Hulls appeared as Darth Vader then took off the mask to reveal, in his own words, “just your standard, awkward tech CEO.” In the months since, his account has posted and reacted to Life360 memes, answered questions, asked for — and even paid for — helpful user feedback. One of the ideas resulting from the collaboration was “ghost mode,” which is now being referred to at launch as “Bubbles” — a name generated by a TikTok contest to brand the feature.

In addition to sourcing ideas on TikTok, Hulls used the platform to rehabilitate the Life360 brand among teens, explaining how he created the app after Hurricane Katrina to help families reconnect after big emergencies, for example. (True). His videos also suggested that he was now on teens’ side and that building “ghost mode” was going to piss off parents or even lose him his job. (Highly debatable.)

In a related effort, the company posted a YouTube parody video to explain the app’s benefits to parents and teens. The video, suggested to teen users through a notification, hit over a million views in 24 hours.

Many teens, ultimately, came around. “i’m crying he seems so nice,” said one commenter. “ngl it’s the parents not the app,” admitted another.

In other words, the strategy worked. Hulls’ “life360ceo” TikTok account has since gained over 231,000 followers and its videos have been “liked” 6.5 million times. Teens have also turned their righteous anger back to where it may actually belong — at their cyberstalking parents, not the tech enabling the location-tracking.

Bubbles is now part of the most recent version of the Life360 app, a free download on iOS and Android. The company offers an optional upgrade to premium plans for families in need of extra features, like location history, crash detection and roadside assistance, among other things.

Family trackers are a large and growing business. As of June 2020, Life360 had 25 million monthly active users located in more than 195 countries. The company’s annualized monthly revenue was forecasted at $77.9 million, a 26% increase year-over-year.

To celebrate the launch of Bubbles, this past Saturday, Life360 launched a branded Hashtag Challenge on TikTok, #ghostmode, for a $10,000 prize. As of today, the hashtag already has 1.4 billion views.

 

 

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