This Week in Apps: OnlyFans bans sexual content, SharePlay delayed, TikTok questioned over biometric data collection

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content

OnlyFans logo displayed on a phone screen and a website

(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.

However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.

The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.

U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images

U.S. lawmakers are challenging TikTok on its plans to collect biometric data from its users. TechCrunch first reported on TikTok’s updated privacy policy in June, where the company gave itself permission to collect biometric data in the U.S., including users’ “faceprints and voiceprints.” When reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

  • ⭐ Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
  • Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
  • In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
  • The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails, which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.

Platforms: Google

  • A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
  • Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
  • An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.

Augmented Reality

  • Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.

Fintech

  • Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.

Social

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
  • Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
  • The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
  • Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles. 

Photos

  • Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
  • WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
  • Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
  • YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
  • Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
  • Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well, reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.

Dating

  • Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.

Gaming

Image Source: The Pokémon Company

  • Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
  • Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut, reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
  • Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War. 

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Health & Fitness

  • Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
  • Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.

Image Credits: Samsung

Adtech

Government & Policy

  • China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.

Security & Privacy

  • A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.

Funding and M&A

? South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.

? Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.

? Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.

? Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.

? Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.

? Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.

? Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.

? U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.

Public Markets

?Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.

?Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2.  Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.

Downloads

Polycam (update)

Image Credits: Polycam

3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.

Jiobit (update)

Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.

Tweets

When your app redesign goes wrong…

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said. 

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Anyone have app ideas?

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Wix launches a no-code app builder for $200 per month

This morning, Wix announced a new product for business owners called Branded App by Wix, which allows users to develop native apps without writing code. The publicly-traded company provides tools for people and businesses to manage their online presence, but it’s most well-known for its drag-and-drop website builder. Now, the platform is expanding its user-friendly approach by making it possible for anyone to build an app without learning how to code.

“Users came to us with the need to create a native app that is branded with their name and logo,” said Ronny Elkayam, SVP of Mobile, App Market & Strategic Products at Wix. “Many of our users are businesses, and businesses have a desire to portray a situation that they are bigger than they are. They want to follow the big businesses that have native apps.”

At $200 per month, Branded App by Wix is no small investment; users will also have to pay a yearly $99 fee to be on the App Store, and a one-time $25 fee for Google Play. But according to Wix, native mobile apps can help businesses ultimately drive more sales. For users that already have a Wix website, the app builder can automatically integrate features from their website, making the process more simple.

“If you’re a restaurant, and you have your menu configured on your website for online ordering, the same menu is going to show up on the app. You don’t need to configure it. Any purchases or any orders from that menu are going to show up in your dashboard,” Elkayam said.

Out of Wix’s 200 million users, 5 million are paid subscribers. For businesses, Wix’s most popular plan is $27 per month for a website, which includes access to e-commerce features. Even users with a free website (which has limited capabilities and is emblazoned with the Wix logo) can create an app — Branded App by Wix is a new product, not an additional feature for existing subscribers. Business owners can customize their app’s icon, layout, and content, including product pages, booking services, forums and groups, chat functions, blogs, push notifications, and more. Wix will automatically update users’ apps to remain compatible with the latest versions of iOS and Android.

A competitor in the no-code app building space, Bubble charges between $29 and $529 per month, with a free plan for users to learn how to use the product and develop their app. But Bubble’s offerings are web-based, while Wix’s apps are native, which means they can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

In 2020, Wix had 31 million new users — Elkayam said that Wix’s growth increased under the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic. The company will announce its Q2 earnings tomorrow, but in Q1, the company had $304 million in revenue, up 41% year-over-year.

After beta testing with hundreds of users, Branded App by Wix is now available to all users. Those who sign up during the temporary “presale” will get the product for 50% off for life.

#app-builder, #app-store, #apps, #google-play, #mobile-app, #no-code, #software, #svp, #technology, #web-hosting, #wix, #wix-com, #world-wide-web

Atomic-backed Jumpcut uses data to advance diversity in film

Jumpcut founder Kartik Hosanagar is a professor at the Wharton School, but about ten years ago, he spent his summer in an unlikely way: he wrote a screenplay. Set in India, his script garnered some interest from producers, but no one took the plunge to fund a film by a first-time Indian director.

Now, films featuring diverse casts are gaining traction – this year, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman ever, to win the Academy Award for Best Director. At the previous ceremony, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Still, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, Hollywood leaves $10 billion on the table each year due to the industry’s lack of diversity.

“How do you make a bet on underrepresented voices or underrepresented stories?” asked Hosanagar. “While there’s awareness, there’s no action, because nobody knows how to do it. So that’s what got me into Jumpcut. It’s this rare company where 20 years of my work on data science and entrepreneurship meets with who I am outside of my work.”

At Wharton, Hosanagar is the Faculty Lead for the AI for Business program. He was a founder of Yodle, which was acquired by web.com for $340 million in 2016. But for this next venture, he wanted to tackle Hollywood’s homogeneity hands-on by using his experience with data science to de-risk media projects from underrepresented creators.

“The vision is to create a more inclusive era of global content creation,” he said to TechCrunch.

Hosanagar started working on Jumpcut in 2019, but today, the Atomic-backed company launches out of stealth as the first data science-driven studio working to elevate underrepresented voices in film. Already the studio has 12 TV and film projects in the works with partners like 36-time Academy Award nominee Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting”), Emmy Award-winning producer Shelby Stone (“Bessie,” “The Chi”), and showrunner Scott Rosenbaum (“Chuck,” “The Shield”).

Jumpcut models itself after Y-Combinator in its approach, pairing emerging talent with buyers and producers. First, Jumpcut uses an algorithm to scan hundreds of thousands of videos from platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Wattpad to find promising talent. The algorithm narrows down the extensive field to locate creators who are consistently finding new audiences and increasing their engagement. Then, the Jumpcut team – including advisors and veterans from Netflix, Buzzfeed, CBS, Sony, and WarnerMedia – identifies who to connect with.

In one example of the algorithm’s success, Hosanagar pointed to Anna Hopkins, an actress who has appeared on shows like “The Expanse” and “Shadowhunters.” Though Hopkins has found some success in front of the camera, she also wants to write.

“We discovered some of her short films, and the algorithm identified it because people had strong emotional reactions in the comments, like, ‘heartwarming but in a positive way,’ or ‘give me a tissue,’” Hosanagar explained. Since Hopkins isn’t publicly known as a writer, she assumed that Jumpcut found her through a television network she had pitched a script to, but that wasn’t the case. “We said, ‘no, our algorithms found you.’”

Once a creator is identified by Jumpcut, they can A/B test their ideas with audiences of over 100,000 potential viewers, which helps the company prove to funders through data science that these ideas can sell.

“The idea there is that we don’t wait for creators to get discovered by the traditional Hollywood agencies, because that requires the creators to have access to the top agents, and that again brings you back to the old boys club,” Hosanagar said. “We’re automating a lot of that process and discovering these people who are creating great stories that are resonating with audiences, not waiting for some Hollywood agency to discover them.”

Once the creators have an idea that tests well with a wide audience, they’re invited to Jumpcut Collective, an incubator program that helps artists develop an idea from a concept to a pitch in 6 weeks. Then, Jumpcut helps match projects with producing partners and buyers.

So far, Jumpcut has hosted three incubator programs. Out of the twelve Jumpcut projects currently underway, Hosanagar says that nine or ten of them came out of the incubator. One project, for example, is now being developed in partnership with Disney’s Asia Pacific Division.

Jumpcut isn’t disclosing the amount raised in this round of seed funding, but confirms that Atomic is the only investor in their seed round.

Hosanagar is joined on the project by Dilip Rajan, his former student and a former product manager at BuzzFeed, and Winnie Kemp, a former SVP of Originals at Super Deluxe and CBS. There, she developed and executive produced “Chambers,” the first show with a Native American lead, and “This Close,” the first show with deaf creators and cast. Most of their funding will go toward payroll, which includes engineers, data scientists, and product managers on the product side of the company, as well as development executives on the creative side, who run the incubator.

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In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

This one email explains Apple

An email has been going around the internet as a part of a release of documents related to Apple’s App Store based suit brought by Epic Games. I love this email for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that you can extrapolate from it the very reasons Apple has remained such a vital force in the industry for the past decade. 

The gist of it is that SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet, sent an email in October of 2007, just three months after the iPhone was launched. In the email, Serlet outlines essentially every core feature of Apple’s App Store — a business that brought in an estimated $64B in 2020. And that, more importantly, allowed the launch of countless titanic internet startups and businesses built on and taking advantage of native apps on iPhone.

Forty five minutes after the email, Steve Jobs replies to Serlet and iPhone lead Scott Forstall, from his iPhone, “Sure, as long as we can roll it all out at Macworld on Jan 15, 2008.”

Apple University should have a course dedicated to this email. 

Here it is, shared by an account I enjoy, Internal Tech Emails, on Twitter. If you run the account let me know, happy to credit you further here if you wish:

First, we have Serlet’s outline. It’s seven sentences that outline the key tenets of the App Store. User protection, network protection, an owned developer platform and a sustainable API approach. There is a direct ask for resources — whoever we need in software engineering — to get it shipped ASAP. 

It also has a clear ask at the bottom, ‘do you agree with these goals?’

Enough detail is included in the parentheticals to allow an informed reader to infer scope and work hours. And at no point during this email does Serlet include an ounce of justification for these choices. These are the obvious and necessary framework, in his mind, for accomplishing the rollout of an SDK for iPhone developers. 

There is no extensive rationale provided for each item, something that is often unnecessary in an informed context and can often act as psychic baggage that telegraphs one of two things:

  1. You don’t believe the leader you’re outlining the project to knows what the hell they’re talking about.
  2. You don’t believe it and you’re still trying to convince yourself. 

Neither one of those is the wisest way to provide an initial scope of work. There is plenty of time down the line to flesh out rationale to those who have less command of the larger context. 

If you’re a historian of iPhone software development, you’ll know that developer Nullriver had released Installer, a third-party installer that allowed apps to be natively loaded onto iPhone, in the summer of 2007. Early September, I believe. It was followed in 2008 by the eventually far more popular Cydia. And there were developers that August and September already experimenting with this completely unofficial way of getting apps on the store, like the venerable Twitterific by Craig Hockenberry and Lights Off by Lucas Newman and Adam Betts.

Though there has been plenty of established documentation of Steve being reluctant about allowing third-party apps on iPhone, this email establishes an official timeline for when the decision was not only made but essentially fully formed. And it’s much earlier than the apocryphal discussion about when the call was made. This is just weeks after the first hacky third-party attempts had made their way to iPhone and just under two months since the first iPhone jailbreak toolchain appeared. 

There is no need or desire shown here for Steve to ‘make sure’ that his touch is felt on this framework. All too often I see leaders that are obsessed with making sure that they give feedback and input at every turn. Why did you hire those people in the first place? Was it for their skill and acumen? Their attention to detail? Their obsessive desire to get things right?

Then let them do their job. 

Serlet’s email is well written and has the exact right scope, yes. But the response is just as important. A demand of what is likely too short a timeline (the App Store was eventually announced in March of 2008 and shipped in July of that year) sets the bar high — matching the urgency of the request for all teams to work together on this project. This is not a side alley, it’s the foundation of a main thoroughfare. It must get built before anything goes on top. 

This efficacy is at the core of what makes Apple good when it is good. It’s not always good, but nothing ever is 100% of the time and the hit record is incredibly strong across a decade’s worth of shipped software and hardware. Crisp, lean communication that does not coddle or equivocate, coupled with a leader that is confident in their own ability and the ability of those that they hired means that there is no need to bog down the process in order to establish a record of involvement. 

One cannot exist without the other. A clear, well argued RFP or project outline that is sent up to insecure or ineffective management just becomes fodder for territorial games or endless rounds of requests for clarification. And no matter how effective leadership is and how talented their employees, if they do not establish an environment in which clarity of thought is welcomed and rewarded then they will never get the kind of bold, declarative product development that they wish. 

All in all, this exchange is a wildly important bit of ephemera that underpins the entire app ecosystem era and an explosive growth phase for Internet technology. And it’s also an encapsulation of the kind of environment that has made Apple an effective and brutally efficient company for so many years. 

Can it be learned from and emulated? Probably, but only if all involved are willing to create the environment necessary to foster the necessary elements above. Nine times out of ten you get moribund management, an environment that discourages blunt position taking and a muddy route to the exit. The tenth time, though, you get magic.

And, hey, maybe we can take this opportunity to make that next meeting an email?

#api, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-university, #bertrand-serlet, #crisp, #epic-games, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-app, #mobile-phones, #science-and-technology, #scott-forstall, #software-development, #software-engineering, #steve-jobs, #svp, #tc, #technology

Arm launches its latest chip design for HPC, data centers and the edge

Arm today announced the launch of two new platforms, Arm Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2, as well as a new mesh interconnect for them. As you can tell from the name, V1 is a completely new product and maybe the best example yet of Arm’s ambitions in the data center, high-performance computing and machine learning space. N2 is Arm’s next-generation general compute platform that is meant to span use cases from hyperscale clouds to SmartNICs and running edge workloads. It’s also the first design based on the company’s new Armv9 architecture.

Not too long ago, high-performance computing was dominated by a small number of players, but the Arm ecosystem has scored its fair share of wins here recently, with supercomputers in South Korea, India and France betting on it. The promise of V1 is that it will vastly outperform the older N1 platform, with a 2x gain in floating-point performance, for example, and a 4x gain in machine learning performance.

Image Credits: Arm

“The V1 is about how much performance can we bring — and that was the goal,” Chris Bergey, SVP and GM of Arm’s Infrastructure Line of Business, told me. He also noted that the V1 is Arm’s widest architecture yet. He noted that while V1 wasn’t specifically built for the HPC market, it was definitely a target market. And while the current Neoverse V1 platform isn’t based on the new Armv9 architecture yet, the next generation will be.

N2, on the other hand, is all about getting the most performance per watt, Bergey stressed. “This is really about staying in that same performance-per-watt-type envelope that we have within N1 but bringing more performance,” he said. In Arm’s testing, NGINX saw a 1.3x performance increase versus the previous generation, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

In many ways, today’s release is also a chance for Arm to highlight its recent customer wins. AWS Graviton2 is obviously doing quite well, but Oracle is also betting on Ampere’s Arm-based Altra CPUs for its cloud infrastructure.

“We believe Arm is going to be everywhere — from edge to the cloud. We are seeing N1-based processors deliver consistent performance, scalability and security that customers want from Cloud infrastructure,” said Bev Crair, senior VP, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute. “Partnering with Ampere Computing and leading ISVs, Oracle is making Arm server-side development a first-class, easy and cost-effective solution.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba Cloud and Tencent are both investing in Arm-based hardware for their cloud services as well, while Marvell will use the Neoverse V2 architecture for its OCTEON networking solutions.

#alibaba, #arm, #aws, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #enterprise, #india, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #oracle, #oracle-cloud, #softbank-group, #south-korea, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent

Amazon taps ULA as first launch provider for Project Kuiper satellite constellation

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation is one step closer to actually making it to space: The company announced it has secured an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to fly its satellites on nine Atlas V rocket launches. Amazon intends to use multiple launch providers and spacecraft to ultimately get the full complement of 3,236 Kuiper satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), but ULA is the first launch provider that Amazon has signed or announced.

ULA’s Atlas V is a proven workhorse in the space launch industry, having flown 85 prior missions with a perfect track record. The spacecraft was used to launch NASA’s Perseverance rover, for example, as well as Lockheed Martin’s OSIRIS-REx robotic asteroid exploration craft. While Amazon and ULA detailed to total number of launch vehicles that the contract covers, they didn’t share a timeline about when we can expect the launches to take place.

Late last year, I spoke to Amazon SVP of Devices & Services Dave Limp at our TC Sessions: Space events, and I asked him about timelines for launches. Limp said at the time that Amazon was about at the “middle of [its] design phase” for the Project Kuiper satellites, which indicates there’s still work to be done before they enter mass production, which would obviously precede launch.

Limp also pointed out that the clock is ticking for Amazon in terms of its FCC license to operate the constellation, so it essentially has to “have half [its] constellation up in about six years.” That will mean an aggressive launch schedule once the design phase is complete and its actually in the process of building its satellites.

Amazon has invested a lot of capital and time into Project Kuiper, with a commitment to back it with an initial $10 billion investment, and a dedicated staff on the project that now includes 500 people, as well as a dedicated office and research & development facility in Redmond near its global HQ.

#aerospace, #amazon, #atlas, #federal-communications-commission, #lockheed-martin, #osiris-rex, #outer-space, #satellite-constellation, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #svp, #tc, #united, #united-launch-alliance

Duo goes passwordless

Duo, the authentication service Cisco acquired for $2.35 billion in 2018, today announced its plans to launch a passwordless authentication service that will allow users to log in to their Duo-protected services through security keys or platform biometrics like Apple’s Face ID or Microsoft’s Windows Hello. The infrastructure-agnostic service will go into public preview in the summer.

“Cisco has strived to develop passwordless authentication that meets the needs of a diverse and evolving workforce and allows the broadest set of enterprises to securely progress towards a passwordless future, regardless of their IT stack,” said Gee Rittenhouse, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security Business Group. “It’s not an overstatement to say that passwordless authentication will have the most meaningful global impact on how users access data by making the easiest path the most secure.”

If you’re using Duo or a similar product today, chances are that you are using both passwords and a second factor to log into your work applications. But users are notoriously bad about their password hygiene — and to the despair of any IT department, they also keep forgetting them.

In the standard two-factor authentication scheme, the second factor is basically an extra moat around your password. Passwordless is essentially another form of two-factor authentication, but it instead of passwords, it relies on cryptographic key pairs, be that with the help of a hardware security key or biometric authentication.

Duo’s passwordless service relies on the Web Authentication standard which ensures that your data is stored locally and not on a centralized server, too.

According to Duo’s own data, we have now reached a point where the hardware is ready for passwordless, with 80 percent of mobile devices now offering support for biometrics.

“Passwordless is a journey requiring incremental changes in users and IT environments alike, not something enterprises can enable overnight,” said Wolfgang Goerlich, Advisory Chief Information Security Officer, Duo Security at Cisco. “Duo can help enterprises transition their environments and workforces securely and minimize user friction while simultaneously increasing trust in every authentication.”

#access-control, #authentication, #cisco, #computer-security, #cryptography, #microsoft-windows, #multi-factor-authentication, #password, #security-token, #svp, #tc, #work-applications

Okta launches its new open-source design system with a focus on accessibility

Identity and access management service Okta today launched its new design system, both for its own corporate and brand use, but also as an open-source project under the Apache 2.0 license. The Odyssey Design System, as the company calls it, is similar to the likes of Google’s Material Design or Microsoft’s Fluent Design. It may not have quite the same number of features, but what makes it stand out is a focus on accessibility, with every element of the design system being compliant with the W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Brian Hansen, Okta’s SVP of Design, told me that until now, the company didn’t really have a unified design system. Instead, it had what he called a “glorified pattern library.” And while the engineers loved it, because it allowed them to build new UIs quickly, it was hard for the team to add new patterns. “And so it was limited in what it could do,” Hansen said. “And what you ended up having to do sometimes is compromise — particularly as a designer — and kind of shove the square peg into the round hole.”

Image Credits: Okta

Now that Okta has moved beyond its early startup roots, though, the team decided that it was time to go back to the drawing board and build a more fully-featured design system for the company — and you may soon see it yourself in Okta’s sign-in widget, which is where most users are likely to encounter it. But it’s worth remembering that Okta, the platform, also offers a plethora of backend tools for admins that most users never see. Those admins typically want a very information-dense user experience and a design that makes it easy for them to get things done and move on. Okta’s third group of users, Hansen stressed, is developers and what matters a lot to them — in addition to all the technical details — is documentation, which has to be easily readable (from a design perspective).

As Hansen noted, though, internally, it wasn’t a realistic project to simply switch every surface area to Odyssee at once. “As a designer, you want everything to be perfect all at once. But you also have to be pragmatic and live with some things that aren’t perfect,” he acknowledged. So while the Okta brand is now getting this refresh and some of the user-facing services, it’ll take a while before every Okta service can make this move.

For the admin console, for example, Hansen’s team decided that it would take years to switch out the UI. So instead, the team opted for a bridge strategy where it created the style sheets to essentially mimic the Odyssee design. “Then we can cut over to Odyssee-native components and they’ll blend in. We can’t have a Franken app — we can’t have two different generations of UI coexisting. That to me just ruins trust. No one would be happy with that,” Hansen said.

Developers who want to give Odyssee a try for their own projects can do so and explore the different components it has to offer. And designers can try it out in Figma, too.

#cloud-applications, #designer, #developer, #identity-management, #okta, #svp

Amazon’s Project Kuiper will seek multiple launch providers to carry its satellites to space

Amazon SVP of Devices & Services David Limp joined us at TC Sessions: Space today, and he shared some new details about the company’s Project Kuiper broadband satellite constellation. Limp shared more details on the technical design challenges that the Kuiper team solved with its revolutionary customer terminal, but he also shared more info on the company’s plans around launching its constellation, which will number 3,236 per the current plan approved by the FCC.

“We’re launch agnostic” Limp said. “If you know somebody who has a rocket out there, give us a call. “One of the reasons we thought the time was right to do a constellation now is because of some of the dynamics happening in the launch industry. Every day, we see a new demonstration of reusability every day, we see new demonstration of breakthroughs in better engines, whether that’s Raptor [SpaceX’s engine] or BE-4 [Blue Origin’s].”

Part of the FCC’s approval for Amazon’s constellation requires it to send up around half of its planned total constellation within the next six years, which is a significant volume and will require an aggressive launch pace to achieve. SpaceX’s Starlink, for context, has launched 16 batches of 60 satellites each for its network, with 14 of those happening in 2020 alone. In order to achieve that pace, Limp said that while he hopes Blue Origin (the Jeff Bezos-owned private rocket launch company) can provide some of its launch capacity, they will be looking elsewhere for rides to space as well.

“When you have to put 3,200-plus things into space, you will need will need launch a lot lots of launch capacity,” he said. “Our hope is that it’s not just one provider, that there will be multiple providers.”

Depending on the final Project Kuiper satellite spec, this could be a huge opportunity for new small satellite launchers coming on board, including companies like Astra, Kuiper and Virgin Orbit who spoke earlier today at the event on the progress their launch companies are making. It could also be a windfall for existing providers like Rocket Lab – and even potentially SpaceX. In response to a separate question, Limp noted that he doesn’t believe Project Kuiper is in direct competition with SpaceX’s Starlink, since there’s such a broad addressable market when it comes to connectivity for unserved and underserved customers globally.

#aerospace, #amazon, #blue-origin, #broadband, #david-limp, #federal-communications-commission, #internet-service-providers, #jeff-bezos, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #satellite-constellation, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #svp, #tc, #virgin-orbit

Amazon’s Project Kuiper has developed a small, low-cost customer terminal for its broadband satellite network

Amazon’s Project Kuiper is perhaps one of the company’s most ambitious projects yet: Building a globe-spanning broadband wireless network to deliver affordable connectivity to underserved communities. Project Kuiper has made progress this year with a key FCC approval, and now it’s also created a prototype of a key piece of hardware that will help its future customers take advantage of the satellite network on the ground.

This is actually a big part of what will help make Project Kuiper a service that’s broadly accessible, and a development that puts the Amazon project in an industry-leading position with a unique advantage. The prototype developed by the team communicates on the Ka-band of the wireless spectrum, and is the smallest and lightest piece of hardware that can do that. It’s able to achieve speeds of up to 400 Mbps, and Amazon says that it’ll actually get better through future iterations.

For technical details on how this was accomplished and what it means for the final design, Amazon explains from a blog post describing the design process:

Our phased array antenna takes a different approach. Instead of placing antenna arrays adjacent to one another, we used tiny antenna element structures to overlay one over the other. This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band. The breakthrough allows us to reduce the size and weight of the entire terminal, while operating in a frequency that delivers higher bandwidth and better performance than other bands. Our design uses a combination of digital and analog components to electronically steer Ka-band beams toward satellites passing overhead.

The result is a single aperture phased array antenna that measures 12 inches in diameter, making it three times smaller and proportionately lighter than legacy antenna designs. This order of magnitude reduction in size will reduce production costs by an equal measure, allowing Amazon to offer customers a terminal that is more affordable and easier to install.

Image Credits: Amazon

The bottom line is that Amazon’s design for Kuiper can greatly reduce the cost and complexity of building the ground-based infrastructure that will be required in order to provide access to its network to end-users. It’s also low-latency, and Amazon has found that it can provide 4K streaming capabilities even during its testing with geostationary satellites today – which are as much as 50 times further out from where Project Kuiper satellites will eventually be positioned in low-Earth orbit.

Amazon isn’t yet sharing specific pricing information about what the terminal will eventually cost, beyond touting its affordability relative to existing solutions. I’ll be talking to Amazon SVP of Devices and Services Dave Limp at TC Sessions: Space today, and we’ll discuss the antenna along with everything else about the project.

#aerospace, #amazon, #antenna, #broadband, #electronics, #federal-communications-commission, #hardware, #project-kuiper, #science, #space, #svp, #tc, #telecommunications, #wireless-spectrum

Tesla says its battery innovations will deliver its goal of a $25,000 mass market electric car

Tesla held its ‘Battery Day’ event on Tuesday to discuss a variety of innovations it has developed and is pursuing in battery technology for its vehicles. At the event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and SVP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino detailed new anode and cathode technology it’s working on, as well as materials science, in-house mining operations and manufacturing improvements it’s developing to make more more affordable, sustainable batteries – and they said that taken together, these should allow them to make an electric vehicle available to consumers at the $25,000 price point.

“We’re confident we can make a very, very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle, that’s also fully autonomous,” Musk said. “And when you think about the $25,000 price point you have to consider how much less expensive it is to own an electric vehicle. So actually, it becomes even more affordable at that $25,000 price point.”

This isn’t the first time that Musk has talked about the $25,000 price point for a Tesla car: Two years ago in August 2018, he said that he believed the company would be able to reach that target price point in roughly three years. Two years on, it seems like the goal posts have been pushed out again – fairly standard for an Elon-generated timeline – since Musk and Baglino acknowledged that it would be another two or three years before the company could realize the technologies it presented in sufficient quantities to be produced effectively at scale.

Tesla detailed a new, tablets battery cell design that would help it achieve its goal of reaching 10 to 20 terawatts of global battery production capacity per year. The design offers five times the energy density of the existing cells it uses, as well as six times the power and an overall 16% improvement in range for vehicles in which it’s used.

#automotive, #battery-technology, #cars, #ceo, #electric-vehicle, #elon-musk, #greentech, #hyperloop, #svp, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #the-boring-company, #transport