Apple joins the open-source Cloud Native Computing Foundation

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of open-source projects like Kubernetes, today announced that Apple is joining it as a top-level Platinum End User Member. With this, Apple is joining 89 existing CNCF end-user members like Adidas, Atlassian, Box, GitHub, the New York Times, Reddit, Spotify and Walmart.

Apple, in typical fashion, isn’t commenting on the announcement, but the CNCF notes that end user memberships are meant for organizations that are “heavy users of open source cloud native technologies” and that are looking to give back to the community. By becoming a CNCF end-user member, companies also join the Linux Foundation .

As part of its membership, Apple also gets a seat on the CNCF’s Governing Board. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomerdoron, a senior engineering manager at Apple, will take this seat.

“Having a company with the experience and scale of Apple as an end user member is a huge testament to the vitality of cloud native computing for the future of infrastructure and application development,” said Chris Aniszczyk, CTO of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. “We’re thrilled to have the support of Apple, and look forward to the future contributions to the broader cloud native project community.”

While you may not necessarily think of Apple as a major open source company, the company has open sourced everything from the XNU kernel that’s part of the Darwin operating system to its Swift programming language. The company has not typically participated all that much in the open source cloud infrastructure community, though, but today’s move may signal that this is changing. Apple obviously runs its own data centers, so chances are it is indeed a heavy user of open source infrastructure projects, though the company doesn’t typically talk about these.

Fintech platform Synapse raises $33M to build ‘the AWS of banking’

Synapse, a San Francisco-based startup that operates a platform enabling banks and fintech companies to easily develop financial services, has closed a $33 million Series B to develop new products and go after international expansion.

The investment was led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from existing backers Trinity Ventures and Core Innovation Capital . Synapse — which recently rebranded (slightly) from ‘SynapseFi’ — announced a $17 million Series A back in September 2018 so this deal takes it to $50 million raised to date.

The startup was founded in 2014 by Bryan Keltner and India-born CEO Sankaet Pathak, who came to the U.S. to study but grew frustrating at the difficulty of opening a bank account without U.S. social security history. Inspired by his struggles, Synapse, which operated under the radar prior to that Series A deal, is focused on democratizing financial services.

Its approach to doing that is a platform-based one that makes it easy for banks and other financial companies to work with developers. The current system for working with financial institutions is frankly a mess; it involves a myriad of different standards, interfaces, code bases and other compatibility issues that cause confusion and consume time. Through developer- and bank-facing APIs, Synapse aims to make it easier for companies to connect with banks, and, in turn, for banks to automate and extend their back-end operations.

Pathak previously told us the philosophy is a “Lego brick” approach to building services. Its modules and services include payment, deposit, lending, ID verification/KYC, card issuance and investment services.

“We want to make it super easy for developers to build and scale financial products and we want to do that across the spectrum of financial products,” he told TechCrunch in an interview this week.

Synapse CEO Sankaet Pathak

“We don’t think Bank Of America, Chase and Wells Fargo will be front and center” of new fintech, he added. “We want to make it really easy for internet companies to distribute financial services.”

The product development strategy is to add “pretty much anything that we think would be an accelerant to democratizing financial services for everyone,” he explained. “We want to make these tools and features available for developers.”

Interestingly, the company has a public product roadmap — the newest version is here.

The concept of an ‘operating system for banking’ is one that resonates with the kind of investment thesis associated with A16z, and Pathak said the firm was “number one” on his list of target VCs.

With more than half of that Series A round still in the bank, Pathak explained that the Series B is less about money and more around finding “a partner who can help us on the next phase, which is very focused on expansion.”

As part of the deal, Angela Strange A16z’s fintech and enterprise-focused general partner — has joined the startup’s board. Strange, whose portfolio includes Branch, described Synapse as “the AWS of banking” for its potential to let anyone build a fintech company, paralleling the way Amazon’s cloud services let anyone, anywhere develop and deploy a web service.

Having already found a product market fit in the U.S. — where its tech reaches nearly three million end users, with five million API requests daily — Synapse is looking overseas. The first focuses are Canada and Europe, which it plans to launch in before the end of the year with initial services including payments and deposits/debit card issuance. Subsequently, the plan is to add lending and investment products next year.

Members of the Synapse team

Further down the line, Pathak said he is eager to break into Asia and, potentially, markets in Latin America and Africa, although expansions aren’t likely until 2020 at the earliest. Once things pick up, though, the startup is aiming to enter two “key” markets per year alongside one “underserved” one.

“We’ve been preparing for [global expansion] for a while,” he said, pointing out that the startup has built key tech in-house, including computer vision capabilities.

“Our goal is to be in every country that’s not at war or under sanction from the U.S,” Pathak added.

At home, the company is looking to add a raft of new services for customers. That includes improvements and new features for card issuance, brokerage accounts, new areas for its loans product, more detailed KYC and identification and a chatbot platform.

Outside of product, the company is pushing to make its platform a self-service one to remove friction for developers who want to use Synapse services, and there are plans to launch a seed investment program that’ll help Synapse developer partners connect with investors. Interesting, the latter platform could see Synapse join investment rounds by offering credit for its services.

More generally on financial matters, the Synapse CEO said the company reached $12 million ARR last year. This year, he is aiming to double that number through growth that, he maintains, is sustainable.

“If we stop hiring, we could break even and be profitable in three to four months,” said Pathak. “I like to keep the burn like that… it stabilizes us as a company.”

A first look at Amazon’s new delivery drone

For the first time, Amazon today showed off its newest fully electric delivery drone at its first re:Mars conference in Las Vegas. Chances are, it neither looks nor flies like what you’d expect from a drone. It’s an ingenious hexagonal hybrid design, though, that has very few moving parts and uses the shroud that protects its blades as its wings when it transitions from vertical, helicopter-like flight at takeoff to its airplane-like mode.

These drones, Amazon says, will start making deliveries in the coming months, though it’s not yet clear where exactly that will happen.

What’s maybe even more important, though, is that the drone is chock-full of sensors and a suite of compute modules that run a variety of machine learning models to keep the drone safe. Today’s announcement marks the first time Amazon is publicly talking about those visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors, which it designed in-house, and how the drone’s autonomous flight systems maneuver it to its landing spot. The focus here was on building a drone that is as safe as possible and able to be independently safe. Even when it’s not connected to a network and it encounters a new situation, it’ll be able to react appropriately and safely.

When you see it fly in airplane mode, it looks a little bit like a TIE fighter, where the core holds all the sensors and navigation technology, as well as the package. The new drone can fly up to 15 miles and carry packages that weigh up to five pounds.

This new design is quite a departure from earlier models. I got a chance to see it ahead of today’s announcement and I admit that I expected a far more conventional design — more like a refined version of the last, almost sled-like, design.

Amazon’s last generation of drones looked very different.

Besides the cool factor of the drone, though, which is probably a bit larger than you may expect, what Amazon is really emphasizing this week is the sensor suite and safety features it developed for the drone.

Ahead of today’s announcement, I sat down with Gur Kimchi, Amazon’s VP for its Prime Air program, to talk about the progress the company has made in recent years and what makes this new drone special.

“Our sense and avoid technology is what makes the drone independently safe,” he told me. “I say independently safe because that’s in contrast to other approaches where some of the safety features are off the aircraft. In our case, they are on the aircraft.”

Kimchi also stressed that Amazon designed virtually all of the drone’s software and hardware stack in-house. “We control the aircraft technologies from the raw materials to the hardware, to software, to the structures, to the factory to the supply chain and eventually to the delivery,” he said. “And finally the aircraft itself has controls and capabilities to react to the world that are unique.”

(JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)

What’s clear is that the team tried to keep the actual flight surfaces as simple as possible. There are four traditional airplane control surfaces and six rotors. That’s it. The autopilot, which evaluates all of the sensor data and which Amazon also developed in-house, gives the drone six degrees of freedom to maneuver to its destination. The angled box at the center of the drone, which houses most of the drone’s smarts and the package it delivers, doesn’t pivot. It sits rigidly within the aircraft.

It’s unclear how loud the drone will be. Kimchi would only say that it’s well within established safety standards and that the profile of the noise also matters. He likened it to the difference between hearing a dentist’s drill and classical music. Either way, though, the drone is likely loud enough that it’s hard to miss when it approaches your backyard.

To see what’s happening around it, the new drone uses a number of sensors and machine learning models — all running independently — that constantly monitor the drone’s flight envelope (which, thanks to its unique shape and controls, is far more flexible than that of a regular drone) and environment. These include regular camera images and infrared cameras to get a view of its surroundings. There are multiple sensors on all sides of the aircraft so that it can spot things that are far away, like an oncoming aircraft, as well as objects that are close, when the drone is landing, for example.

The drone also uses various machine learning models to, for example, detect other air traffic around it and react accordingly, or to detect people in the landing zone or to see a line over it (which is a really hard problem to solve, given that lines tend to be rather hard to detect). To do this, the team uses photogrammetrical models, segmentation models and neural networks. “We probably have the state of the art algorithms in all of these domains,” Kimchi argued.

Whenever the drone detects an object or a person in the landing zone, it obviously aborts — or at least delays — the delivery attempt.

“The most important thing the aircraft can do is make the correct safe decision when it’s exposed to an event that isn’t in the planning — that it has never been programmed for,” Kimchi said.

The team also uses a technique known as Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (VSLAM), which helps the drone build a map of its current environment, even when it doesn’t have any other previous information about a location or any GPS information.

“That combination of perception and algorithmic diversity is what we think makes our system uniquely safe,” said Kimchi. As the drone makes its way to the delivery location or back to the warehouse, all of the sensors and algorithms always have to be in agreement. When one fails or detects an issue, the drone will abort the mission. “Every part of the system has to agree that it’s okay to proceed,” Kimchi said.

What Kimchi stressed throughout our conversation is that Amazon’s approach goes beyond redundancy, which is a pretty obvious concept in aviation and involves having multiple instances of the same hardware on board. Kimchi argues that having a diversity of sensors that are completely independent of each other is also important. The drone only has one angle of attack sensor, for example, but it also has a number of other ways to measure the same value.

Amazon isn’t quite ready to delve into all the details of what the actual on-board hardware looks like, though. Kimchi did tell me that the system uses more than one operating system and CPU architecture, though.

It’s the integration of all of those sensors, AI smarts and the actual design of the drone that makes the whole unit work. At some point, though, things will go wrong. The drone can easily handle a rotor that stops working, which is pretty standard these days. In some circumstances, it can even handle two failed units. And unlike most other drones, it can glide if necessary, just like any other airplane. But when it needs to find a place to land, its AI smarts kick in and the drone will try to find a safe place to land, away from people and objects — and it has to do so without having any prior knowledge of its surroundings.

Amazon Prime Air drone

To get to this point, the team actually used an AI system to evaluate more than 50,000 different configurations. Just the computational fluid dynamics simulations took up 30 million hours of AWS compute time (it’s good to own a large cloud when you want to build a novel, highly optimized drone, it seems). The team also ran millions of simulations, of course, with all of the sensors, and looked at all of the possible positions and sensor ranges — and even different lenses for the cameras — to find an optimal solution. “The optimization is what is the right, diverse set of sensors and how they are configured on the aircraft,” Kimchi noted. “You always have both redundancy and diversity, both from the physical domain — sonar versus photons — and the algorithmic domain.”

The team also ran thousands of hardware-in-the-loop simulations where all the flight services are actuating and all the sensors are perceiving the simulated environment. Here, too, Kimchi wasn’t quite ready to give away the secret sauce the team uses to make that work.

And the team obviously tested the drones in the real world to validate its models. “The analytical models, the computational models are very rich and are very deep, but they are not calibrated against the real world. The real world is the ultimate random event generator,” he said.

It remains to be seen where the new drone will make its first deliveries. That’s a secret Amazon also isn’t quite ready to reveal yet. That will happen within the next few months, though. Amazon started drone deliveries in England a while back, so that’s an obvious choice, but there’s no reason the company could opt for another country as well. The U.S. seems like an unlikely candidate, given that the regulations there are still in flux, but maybe that’s a problem that will be solved by then, too. Either way, what once looked like a bit of a Black Friday stunt may just land in your backyard sooner than you think.

Foxconn halts production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.

TikTok parent Bytedance is reportedly working on its own smartphone

It’s been a busy couple of months for Bytedance, one of the world’s most valuable startups and the operator of globally popular video app TikTok. The Beijing-based company has continued to grow its list of apps to include the likes of work collaboration tool Lark, an instant messenger called Feiliao as well as a music streaming app, and now it appears to be taking a bold step into the hardware realm.

Bytedance is planning to develop its own smartphone, the Financial Times reported (paywalled) citing two sources. A spokesperson from Bytedance declined to comment on the matter, but the rumor is hardly a surprise as smartphone pre-installs have long been a popular way for Chinese internet companies to ramp up user sizes.

There’s also urgency from Bytedance to carve out more user acquisition channels. After a few years of frantic growth, Bytedance failed to hit its revenue target for the first time last year amid slowing ad spending in China, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Some of Bytedance’s predecessors include selfie app maker Meitu, which builds smartphones pre-loaded with its suite of photo editors and recently sold this segment to Xiaomi as the latter tries to capture more female users and newcomers, including Snow-owned camera app B612 and Bytedance’s Faceu, close on Meitu’s heels.

Others have taken a less asset-heavy approach in the early days of the Chinese internet. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — known collectively as the BAT for their supremacy in China’s tech world — all worked on their own custom Android ROMs, which come with extra features compared to a stock ROM pre-installed by a phone manufacturer.

Alibaba’s ambition also manifested in a $590 million investment in Meizu in 2016 that saw the eommerce giant take up the challenge to develop a tailored operating system for the handset maker. More recently in March, WeChat owner Tencent teamed up with gaming smartphone maker Razor on a number of initiatives that cover hardware.

There were early clues to Bytedance’s smartphone endeavor. The company confirmed in January that it has acquired certain patents and some employees from phone maker Smartisan, although it said at the time the deal was done to “explore the education business.” That was a curious statement as Smartisan’s business has little to do with education. At the very least, the tie-up confers hardware development capability on the mobile internet upstart.

Indeed, a source told the Financial Times that Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming “has long dreamt of a phone with Bytedance apps pre-installed.” Nonetheless, this is tipped to be an uphill battle, at least in China where smartphone sales are cooling and competition intensifies between entrenched players like Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, Xiaomi and Apple.

Bytedance has built a leg up away from home, thanks to its empire of mobile apps. The company is one of the few — and many would argue the first — Chinese internet startups that manage to gain a meaningful foothold globally. TikTok has consistently topped the worldwide app ranking in the last handful of months, though it’s also encountered a few stumbling blocks in some of its larger markets.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission imposed a fined on TikTok for violating children’s privacy protection law. The government of India, which has driven much of TikTok’s recent growth, also took issue with the app to temporarily ban it on account of illegal content.

While the US market may be difficult to penetrate given Washington’s concerns around the security threat that Chinese companies may present, India is now crowded with Chinese brands. A research done by Counterpoint found that in the first quarter, Chinese manufacturers led by Xiaomi controlled a whopping 66 percent of India’s smartphone market. That means Bytedance, alongside its potential ally Smartisan, is not only up against local rivals in India but also the familiar faces from its home market.

Tencent CEO warns companies must keep innovating to survive amid US-China tensions

On Tuesday, Tencent’s usually low-profile founder and CEO Pony Ma made rare comments to weigh in on escalating tensions between the United States and China, calling domestic tech companies to build more self-reliance in a bid to stay competitive.

“China has come to the forefront of development. There is less and less room for taking the best from outside and improving on them. As the ZTE and Huawei cases have intensified recently, we are also constantly watching whether the trade war will turn into a tech war,” said Ma at an event in China’s Yunnan Province per a transcript Tencent provided to TechCrunch.

Ma’s concern is not unexpected. As recent US-China negotiations show, the Shenzhen-based telecommunication and smartphone giant has become deeply entangled in the trade spat. The Commerce Department last week restricted American companies from selling components and other technology to Huawei — which the Trump administration has labeled as posing a national security threat — though it has since scaled back the ban. That would eventually cut Huawei off from certain services from Google, chips made by Qualcomm and Intel, and its other American suppliers.

Despite China’s efforts to lead in global innovation, many of its tech startups and champions still rely heavily on imported technologies to deliver products and services. People have celebrated this level of interdependence as a result of trade, but increasingly they worry decoupling the US and China will hurt companies on both sides and lead to a bifurcation of the global tech economy.

“[China]’s digital economy will be a high-rise built on sand and hard to sustain if we don’t continue to work hard on basic research and key knowledge, not to mention the transformation from old to new forms of drivers or high-quality development,” Ma pointed out.

Jack Ma, founder of Tencent’s arch-foe Alibaba, remarked along the same line following a similar ban placed on the sale of American components to Huawei rival ZTE in April of last year.

“It is the compelling obligation for big companies to compete in core technology,” said Alibaba’s Ma at an industry event per a report from the South China Morning Post.

The latest technology ban from the US has now accelerated Huawei’s efforts to become more technologically independent. That includes designing its own chips and rolling out its own smartphone operating system, though observers and stakeholders, including Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei himself, have raised questions on their viability in the short run.

“We will give it a try. Making the operating system isn’t too difficult. What’s difficult is the ecosystem. How do you build an ecosystem? This is a big project, and it will take time,” said Ren during an interview with state media on Tuesday.

When it comes to Huawei’s homegrown chips, Ren said the company is “capable of making American-quality semiconductors, but that doesn’t mean it won’t buy them.” On the other side, chip experts interviewed by Reuters have called out Huawei for its claim, saying it would be difficult for the Chinese company to manufacture network gears without American suppliers.

Smart TVs add fuel to Xiaomi’s Q1 earnings

Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi just released its first quarterly results since announcing its $1.48 billion pledge to focus on smartphones and ‘AIoT’, an acronym for Internet of Things powered by artificial intelligence.

Xiaomi’s adjusted net profit for the first quarter increased 22.4 percent year-over-year to 2.1 billion yuan ($300 million), while total revenue climbed 27.2 percent to 43.8 billion yuan ($6.33 billion).

Sales in India, where Xiaomi handsets dominate, as well as other countries outside China, continued to be a bright spot for the company. International markets brought in 38 percent of its total revenue over the first quarter, representing a 35 percent increase. Xiaomi’s overseas momentum came amid a global slowdown in the smartphone sector and at a time its rival Huawei copes with a technology ban that threatens to hobble international sales.

Smartphones remained as Xiaomi’s biggest revenue driver, though the segment had shrunk from 67.5 percent of total revenue in Q1 of 2018 to 61.7 percent a year later. According to Canalys, Xiaomi was the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker by units shipped in the first quarter. A brand traditionally popular among male consumers, Xiaomi has made efforts to court female users by taking over Meitu’s smartphone business that would allow it to sell selfie-optimizing devices.

Xiaomi’s ‘IoT and lifestyle’ unit, which churns out a wide range of home appliances from air purifiers to suitcases, saw its share of revenue jump from 22.4 percent to 27.5 percent year-over-year.

Xiaomi said growth of this segment was primarily driven by smart TV sales, a new area of focus at the smartphone company. In January, Xiaomi announced taking a 0.48 percent stake in TV manufacturer TCL, deepening an existing alliance that saw the two work together to integrate Xiaomi’s operating system into TCL products.

Xiaomi has long tried to differentiate itself from other hardware firms by making money not just from gadgets but also from software and internet services sold through those devices. But the latter portion is still relatively paltry, accounting for just 9.7 percent of Xiaomi’s total revenue, compared to 9.1 percent a year before.

As of March, Xiaomi owned 261 million monthly active users through its MIUI operating system installed across all devices, a 37.3 percent growth YoY. The number of IoT devices, excluding smartphones and laptops, jumped 70 percent to reach approximately 171.0 million units.

Smart TVs add fuel to Xiaomi’s Q1 earnings

Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi just released its first quarterly results since announcing its $1.48 billion pledge to focus on smartphones and ‘AIoT’, an acronym for Internet of Things powered by artificial intelligence.

Xiaomi’s adjusted net profit for the first quarter increased 22.4 percent year-over-year to 2.1 billion yuan ($300 million), while total revenue climbed 27.2 percent to 43.8 billion yuan ($6.33 billion).

Sales in India, where Xiaomi handsets dominate, as well as other countries outside China, continued to be a bright spot for the company. International markets brought in 38 percent of its total revenue over the first quarter, representing a 35 percent increase. Xiaomi’s overseas momentum came amid a global slowdown in the smartphone sector and at a time its rival Huawei copes with a technology ban that threatens to hobble international sales.

Smartphones remained as Xiaomi’s biggest revenue driver, though the segment had shrunk from 67.5 percent of total revenue in Q1 of 2018 to 61.7 percent a year later. According to Canalys, Xiaomi was the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker by units shipped in the first quarter. A brand traditionally popular among male consumers, Xiaomi has made efforts to court female users by taking over Meitu’s smartphone business that would allow it to sell selfie-optimizing devices.

Xiaomi’s ‘IoT and lifestyle’ unit, which churns out a wide range of home appliances from air purifiers to suitcases, saw its share of revenue jump from 22.4 percent to 27.5 percent year-over-year.

Xiaomi said growth of this segment was primarily driven by smart TV sales, a new area of focus at the smartphone company. In January, Xiaomi announced taking a 0.48 percent stake in TV manufacturer TCL, deepening an existing alliance that saw the two work together to integrate Xiaomi’s operating system into TCL products.

Xiaomi has long tried to differentiate itself from other hardware firms by making money not just from gadgets but also from software and internet services sold through those devices. But the latter portion is still relatively paltry, accounting for just 9.7 percent of Xiaomi’s total revenue, compared to 9.1 percent a year before.

As of March, Xiaomi owned 261 million monthly active users through its MIUI operating system installed across all devices, a 37.3 percent growth YoY. The number of IoT devices, excluding smartphones and laptops, jumped 70 percent to reach approximately 171.0 million units.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks WWDC student program, coding initiatives and SAP

For the past few years, Apple has been inviting student developers to attend its WWDC conference, which centers on development topics and software. A few students from this year’s batch are getting some more personal attention from Apple as it tries to raise awareness of the program and coding literacy via its Swift Playgrounds and other resources for students and teachers.

Most of those students, though, won’t get a surprise personal visit from CEO Tim Cook, which is what happened this week when Lyman High School student Liam Rosenfeld got to the Millenia Mall Apple Store in Orlando, Florida. Liam was there to participate, he thought, in an interview with myself and a local journalist from the Orlando Sentinel about his admission to the program.

As a surprise, and fresh off an appearance at the SAP Sapphire conference to announce an expanded partnership, Cook came to visit the store to greet employees, and to spend some time with Liam and his teacher, Mary Acken.

I was on hand to spend some time of my own with Liam, to talk to him about his experiences coding in high school and shipping on a global App Store. I also spoke to Cook about coding literacy, the SAP partnership and some other interesting topics.

The confab was set for Wednesday afternoon, with the store making an ideal meeting place given its rough proximity to the conference and airport. Liam arrived earlier than expected and some interference had to be ran so that Cook’s appearance and the surprise, could be kept secret.

Android Q devices will get over-the-air security updates — but there’s a catch

Devices shipping with Android Q will receive over-the-air security patches without having to go through device manufacturers.

A lack of steady security updates has been a major pain point for Android users over the years. Google finally has a fix for the problem. At its annual developer conference Tuesday, the tech giant said it’ll bypass mobile makers and push security updates directly to devices.

The benefit is that users won’t have to wait lengthy periods for device manufacturers to test and quality assure the patches for their devices for fixes to critical security vulnerabilities that put users at risk.

Better yet, the updates won’t require Android to restart.

Security updates for Android Q will be focused on 14 modules crucial to the operating system’s functioning — including media codecs, which have long plagued the Android software with a steady stream of security flaws.

There’s a catch — two, in fact.

Devices updating to Android Q will not work with over-the-air security updates and some manufacturers can opt-out altogether, according to The Verge which first reported the news, rendering the feature effectively useless. The new feature will also not be backported to earlier versions of Android. Google hasn’t updated its Android software version distribution pages for some months. Given that based on the figures available, more than half of all Android users are still on Android 5.0 Lollipop and earlier, it could take years for Android Q to match the same usage share.

Still, Google has to start somewhere. Android Q is expected out later this year.