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We test out Apple’s lost item finder, Google Fi gets a new unlimited plan and Facebook tests new video ad targeting features. This is your Daily Crunch for April 22, 2021.

The big story: First impressions of Apple’s AirTags

AirTags are Apple’s new Tile competitor designed to help owners locate lost objects. They use Bluetooth technology to announce their presence to nearby devices with iOS 14.5 or above.

Matthew Panzarino tried them out and reported that it could take 30 seconds or more to locate an AirTag. But once located, Apple was able to provide directions that were “extremely accurate down to a few inches.”

Matthew also got his hands on the purple iPhone and was extremely excited.

The tech giants

Google Fi turns 6 and gets a new unlimited plan — The new “Simply Unlimited” plan starts at $60 per month for a single line.

Apple downplays complaints about App Store scams in antitrust hearing — Apple was questioned on its inability to rein in subscription scammers on its App Store during yesterday’s Senate antitrust hearing.

Facebook tests topic targeting for in-stream video ads — The company says there are now 2 billion people each month who watch videos that are eligible for in-stream ads.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Tiger Global backs Indian crypto startup at over $500M valuation — CoinSwitch Kuber allows young users in India to invest in cryptocurrencies.

Universal Hydrogen raises $20.5M Series A to help launch hydrogen aviation — Universal Hydrogen aims to develop hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.

MasterClass co-founder’s Outlier.org raises $30M for affordable, virtual college courses — Like MasterClass, Outlier offers beautifully shot online courses; unlike MasterClass, students can actually earn college credit.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How are VCs handling diligence in a world where deals open and close in days, not months? — For venture capitalists, the timeline for reaching conviction around a startup’s thesis and executing due diligence has become compressed.

Five emerging use cases for productivity infrastructure in 2021 — Cloud communications services, API platforms, low-code development tools, business process automation and AI software development kits grew exponentially in 2020.

Customer care as a service: Outsourcing can help your startup wow clients 24/7 — Your clients might not demand 24/7 customer service yet, but they’re certainly hoping for it.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Look at this tiny new Polaroid camera can you believe it — The company says its latest camera, the Polaroid Go, is the world’s smallest analog instant camera.

To ensure inclusivity, the Biden administration must double down on AI development initiatives — EqualAI’s Miriam Vogel argues that left unchecked, seemingly neutral artificial intelligence tools can and will perpetuate inequalities.

Alexa von Tobel will join Disrupt 2021 as a Startup Battlefield judge — Battlefield applications are now open, so don’t hesitate to throw your hat in the ring!

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.





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Apple was questioned on its inability to rein in subscription scammers on its App Store during yesterday’s Senate antitrust hearing. The tech giant has argued that one of the reasons it requires developers to pay App Store commissions is to help Apple fight marketplace fraud and protect consumers. But developers claim Apple is doing very little to stop obvious scams that are now raking in millions and impacting consumer trust in the overall subscription economy, as well as in their own legitimate, subscription-based businesses.

One developer in particular, Kosta Eleftheriou, has made it his mission to highlight some of the most egregious scams on the App Store. Functioning as a one-man bunco squad, Eleftheriou regularly tweets out examples of apps that are leveraging fake reviews to promote their harmful businesses.

Some of the more notable scams he’s uncovered as of late include a crypto wallet app that scammed a user out of his life savings (~$600,000) in bitcoin; a kids game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app scamming users out of $5 million per year. And, of course, there’s the scam that lit the fire in the first place: A competitor to Eleftheriou’s own Apple Watch app that he alleges scammed users out of $2 million per year, after stealing his marketing materials, cloning his app and buying fake reviews to make the scammer’s look like the better choice.

Eleftheriou’s tweets have caught the attention of the larger app developer community, who now email him other examples of scams they’ve uncovered. Eleftheriou more recently took his crusade a step further by filing a lawsuit against Apple over the revenue he’s lost to App Store scammers.

Though Eleftheriou wasn’t name-checked in yesterday’s antitrust hearing, his work certainly was.

In a line of questioning from Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff, Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer was asked why Apple was not able to locate scams, given that these fraudulent apps are, as Ossoff put it, “trivially easy to identify as scams.”

He asked why do we have rely upon “open-source reporting and journalists” to find the app scams — a reference that likely, at least in part, referred to Eleftheriou’s recent activities.

Eleftheriou himself has said there’s not much to his efforts. You simply find the apps generating most revenues and then check them for suspicious user reviews and high subscription prices. When you find both, you’ve probably uncovered a scam.

Andeer demurred, responding to Ossoff’s questions by saying that Apple has invested “tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars” in hardening and improving the security of its App Store.

“Unfortunately, security and fraud is a cat-and-mouse game. Any retailer will tell you that. And so we’re constantly working to improve,” Andeer said. He also claimed Apple was investing in more resources and technologies to catch wrong-doers and noted that the App Store rejected thousands of apps every year for posing a risk to consumers.

The exec then warned that if Apple wasn’t the intermediary, the problem would be even worse.

” … No one is perfect, but I think what we’ve shown over and over again that we do a better job than others. I think the real risks of opening up the iPhone to sideloading or third-party app stores is that this problem will only multiply. If we look at other app stores out there, we look at other distribution platforms, it scares us.”

Ossoff pressed on, noting the sideloading questions could wait and inquired again about the scam apps.

“Apple is making a cut on those abusive billing practices, are you not?” he asked.

Andeer said he didn’t believe that was the case.

“If we find fraud — if we find a problem, we’re able to rectify that very quickly. And we do each and every day,” he said.

But to what extent Apple was profiting from the App Store scams was less clear. Ossoff wanted to know if Apple refunded “all” of its revenues derived from the scam billing practices — in other words, if every customer who ever subscribed got their money back when a scam was identified.

Andeer’s answer was a little vague, however, as it could be interpreted to mean Apple refunds customers who report the scam or file a complaint — procedures it already has in place today. Instead of saying that Apple refunds “all customers” when scams are identified, he carefully worded his response to say Apple worked to make sure “the customer” is made whole.

“Senator, that’s my understanding. There’s obviously a dedicated team here at Apple who works this each and every day. But my understanding is that we work hard to make sure the customer is in a whole position. That’s our focus at the end of the day. If we lose the trust of our customers, that’s going to hurt us,” he said.

For what it’s worth, Eleftheriou wasn’t buying it.

“Apple’s non-answers to Senator Ossoff’s great questions in yesterday’s hearing should anger all of us. They did not offer any explanation for why it’s so easy for people like me to keep finding multimillion-dollar scams that have been going on unchecked on the App Store for years. They also gave no clear answer to whether they’re responsible for fraudulent activity in their store,” he told TechCrunch.

“Apple appears to profit from these scams, instead of refunding all associated revenues back to affected users when they belatedly take some of these down. We’ve been letting Apple grade their own homework for over a decade. I urge the committee to get to the bottom of these questions, including Apple’s baffling decision years ago to remove the ability for users to flag suspicious apps on the App Store,” Eleftheriou added.

Apple did not provide a comment.





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With the spring comes color from Apple. The new iMacs are offered in 7 different shades including a nice deep purple. As a refresh to the lineup, Apple has also released an iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini in a purple hue as well. I have a preview unit in hand to look at and so look at it I did. The color is great, closer to a violet on the sides and a lilac on the back.

This is a great color. In my opinion probably the best color of iPhone 12 released so far. Apple releasing this new purple shade also, to me, says to the people that love the mini: don’t worry this will still be available for a while. But, conversely, it could be a sign that this version of the mini might be the only one we get for a while. Maybe I’m reading into it too much and this is a ‘because we could’ thematic tie-in that offers a new option for spring buyers. Either way, it’s a really nice looking phone that ties into the ‘millenial purple‘ (read: lilac) trend that is booming in design and fashion right now. Apple’s color theory team is always pretty well on trend, so no change here.

Apple has also released a nice purple silicon case which complements it well.

If you want a deep dive on the seriously capable offering that the iPhone 12 mini is, feel free to reference our review from late last year.

Here are some nice pictures of the purple iPhone 12 mini for you to look at:





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The past year has changed the way we work, on so many levels — a fact from which podcasters certainly weren’t immune. I can say, anecdotally, that as a long-time podcaster, I had thrown in the towel on my long-standing insistence that I do all of my interviews in-person — for what should probably be obvious reasons.

2020 saw many shows shifting to a remote format and experimenting with different remote recording tools, from broad teleconferencing software like Zoom to more bespoke solutions like Zencastr. Tel Aviv-based Riverside.fm (originally from Amsterdam) launched right on time to ride the remote podcasting wave, and today the service is announcing a $9.5 million Series A.

The round is led by Seven Seven Six and features Zeev-ventures.com, Casey Neistat, Marques Brownlee, Guy Raz,  Elad Gil and Alexander Klöpping. The company says it plans to use the money to increase headcount and build out more features for the service.

“As many were forced to adapt to remote work and production teams struggled to deliver the same in person quality, from a distance—Gideon and Nadav saw an opportunity to not only solve a great need for creators, but to build an extraordinary product,” Seven Seven Six founder Alexis Ohanian said in a release. “As a creator myself, I can say from experience that Riverside’s quality is unmatched and the new editing capabilities are peerless.”

Riverside.fm is a remote video and audio platform that records lossless audio and 4K video tracks remotely to each user’s system, saving the end result from the kind of technical hiccups that come with spotty internet connections.

Along with the funding round, the company is also rolling out a number of software updates to its platform. At the top of the list is brand new version of its iPhone app, which instantly records and uploads video, a nice extension as more users are looking to record their end on mobile devices.

On the desktop front, “Magic Editor” streamlines the multi-step process of recording, editing and uploading. There’s also a new “Smart Speakerview” feature that automatically switches between speakers for video editing, while not switching for accidental noises like sneezing and coughing.

It’s a hot space that’s only heating up. Given how quickly the company was able to piece their original offering together, it will be interesting to see what they’re able to do with an additional $9.5 million in their coffers.

 





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Consumers can now buy ultra large screen TVs from top brands like Hisense, Samsung, and LG at significantly reduced prices.



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It was “the eighth wonder of the world,” Donald Trump said, driving a golden shovel into the ground. The then-president touted Foxconn’s planned Wisconsin factory as a major win for his economic goals.

A year and a half later, the future of the manufacturing deal is far less certain. Earlier this week, the state announced a dramatic scaling back of a plan it had hoped would return blue-collar jobs back to the hard hit state. The Taiwanese manufacturing giant is scaling back its investment from $10 billion to $672 million.

The new plans also call for a massive cut to potential headcount — to 1,454, down from 13,000. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers framed the reduction as a tax-saving deal in a press release issued this week.

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state—the last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me,” Evers said. “Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”

Evers stepped into the role of Governor in 2019, following Scott Walker, who played a key role in negotiating the deal under Trump. The package included in the neighborhood of $4 billion in incentives for Foxconn, a record-breaking deal for the firm.

Plans for the TV factory shifted considerably since it was announced nearly four years ago, and in early 2019, it appeared that Foxconn had abandoned it altogether, before a phone call from Trump apparently put plans back on track.

As Reuters notes, the state has already spent in excess of $200 million on infrastructure, training and other aspects ahead of the planned factory opening.

 





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Electric scooters powered by Gogoro’s swappable, rechargeable batteries now account for nearly a quarter of monthly sales in Taiwan, its home market. But one of the most frequent questions co-founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke gets asked is when will Gogoro launch its scooters in other countries.

“I always said, ‘we’re getting ready, we’re getting ready, we’re getting ready,” he told TechCrunch. Gogoro answered that question today by announcing a strategic partnership with Hero MotoCorp, one of the world’s largest two-wheeled vehicle maker and the market leader in India, where it is headquartered.

Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp’s agreement includes a joint venture to build a battery swapping network in India. Hero MotoCorp will also launch electric two-wheelers based on Gogoro technology under its own brand. This will mark the first time the company has launched electric vehicles. (The partnership is not to be confused with Hero Electric, which is run by relatives of Hero MotoCorp’s founders, but is a separate company).

The deal will focus on India before expanding into Hero MotoCorp’s other markets (it serves a total of 40 countries). Details, like the first vehicle, launch cities and pricing, will be announced later, but Luke said Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp “are deploying very rapidly.”

Luke described the strategic partnership as a validation of Gogoro’s goal to become a battery swapping and smart mobility platform, packaging its technology as a turnkey solution for companies that want to produce energy-efficient vehicles.

“We designed our technology, capabilities and business model in the hope that one day we can solicit a giant like Hero,” said Luke.

The first Gogoro Smartscooter was launched in 2015. Since then, it has struck partnerships with manufacturers like Yamaha, PGO and A-Motor to build electric scooters with its technology under their own brands, but Gogoro’s international rollout has been very gradual: for example, a delivery fleet in South Korea and a partnership with the now-defunct scooter-sharing service Coup in Europe. Its first product launch in the United States was for Eeyo, its electric bike brand, instead of scooters.

Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp have been talking for more than a year and Luke described the the strategic partnership as one of the most important deals the company has made so far.

“In order to make a massive change, we need really massive adoption, and Taiwan has served really well as a pilot market for us to develop technology, refine it and show the world that it is possible, through this swap-and-go technology rather than tethered plug-and-charge scenario, for lightweight personal mobility to take off,” said Luke.

But India is obviously a much larger market, in terms of geography and population, than Taiwan. The Indian government wants to put more electric vehicles on the road with subsidy programs, and the high cost of fuel in the country is another incentive for people to make the switch from gas to electric. One major barrier for many consumers, however, is “range anxiety,” or concerns about how long their electric vehicle can run on a charge.

This is why Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp’s swapping station joint venture is important. In Taiwan, Gogoro now has more than 375,000 riders and 2,000 battery swapping/charging stations, which handle 265,000 swaps a day. That density is a key selling point because riders can find a nearby swapping station quickly through Gogoro’s smartphone app.

A photograph of a woman standing next to a scooter in front of a Gogoro battery swapping station

One of Gogoro’s battery swapping stations

Gogoro’s batteries and charging stations are connected to its Gogoro Network cloud service, which monitors the condition of battery and manages how quickly they are charged. This allows the batteries to last longer–Luke said that the company has not retired any of its Smart Batteries in six years. Data from the Gogoro Network also shows the company where it needs to place more stations. In India, Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp will start with densely-populated areas, before adding stations based on demand, similar to Gogoro’s approach to its network in Taiwan.

After India, Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp plan to enter other markets, furthering Gogoro’s international expansion.

“What is really important about this partnership is their influence on the two-wheel market, and the importance of the two-wheel market in emerging markets,” said Luke.

In a press statement, Hero MotoCorp chairman and CEO Dr. Pawan Munjal said the strategic partnership is an extension of the research and development has already put into creating an electric vehicle portfolio.

“Today marks another major milestone in our journey, as we bring Hero’s leadership in two-wheelers, our global scale and innovation powerhouse, with the leadership of Gogoro in the swapping business model, as they have demonstrated over the years in Taiwan and the rest of the world,” Munjal added.

 





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Samsung announced Galaxy Upcycling a few years back, but has largely been quiet on that front, aside from some stage time at CES back in January. Today the company announced that Upcycling at Home is being opened to beta today for users in the U.S., Korea and the U.K.

It’s a pretty novel program, in a world where consumers are encouraged to scrap their old devices every two to three years for something shiny and new. The program is designed to breathe new life into handsets that might otherwise be tossed in a landfill or stashed away in a drawer.

Image Credits: Samsung

“We are rethinking how we use existing resources, and we believe the key to upcycling is to enable solutions that transform old technology into something new by adding value,” VP Sung-Koo Kim said in a release tied to the news. “We are committed to integrating sustainable practices into our day-to-day lives, and through Galaxy Upcycling at Home, users can join our journey toward a more sustainable future.”

Specifically, the products can be revamped into smart home devices, like childcare and pet monitors.

The feature can be accessed within the SmartThings Labs feature found in Samsung’s SmartThings App. When enabled, the product can send alerts when things like a crying baby or barking dog are detected. The recorded sound will be sent as part of the alert. Another feature uses built-in sensors to turn on a room’s lights when things get dark. The service will optimize device battery so it can operate for an extended period while detecting these inputs.

 





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The big news from today’s Spring Loaded event is, as anticipated, a new version of Apple’s high-end tablet. The new iPad Pro is the first in the line to adopt the M1 chip introduced on the company’s Mac line. The new chip sports an 8-core CPU, with performance up to 50% faster than the A12Z Bionic found on the previous generation. There’s also an 8-core GPU, which it claims is up to 40% faster. The system can be decked out to up to 16 GB of RAM and 2 TB of storage.

The device further blurs the line between the company’s tablet and desktop offerings, as well as improved battery life now listed as “all day.” The Pro also adds Thunderbolt support to the USB-C, which allows for a number of new features including external display support and wired transfers up to 40 Gbps.

Image Credits: Apple

The Pro also joins the iPhone line with the addition of 5G connectivity. Like the new iMac, the Pro features improved imaging, courtesy of the new ISP aboard the Apple silicon. That’s coupled with a new ultrawide camera. That should allow for improved teleconferencing ability, with a 120-degree field of view and the new “Center Stage” feature, which follows the users around, similar to tech we’ve seen on some smart displays. The company describes the experience thusly,

As users move around, Center Stage automatically pans to keep them in the shot. When others join in, the camera detects them too, and smoothly zooms out to fit everyone into the view and make sure they are part of the conversation. So whether whiteboarding with co-workers or attending a virtual family gathering, the experience of connecting is now more engaging than ever.

That’s coupled with a Dolby Atmos-powered four speaker array.

Image Credits: Apple

As reported, the new tablet (12.9-inch only for now) features an improved display — Liquid Retina XDR, according to Apple’s marketing terms. Among other things that brings much improved high dynamic range. The display is powered by 10,000 micro-LED. That allows for a hugely improved contrast ratio and 1,000 nits of brightness, without hammering the battery life.

The 11-inch version starts at $799 and the 12.9-inch, which adds the Liquid Retina display, starts at $1,099. Pre-orders on the tablets starts April 30 and the product is set to start shipping in the second half of May — along with a number of other products introduced at today’s show.





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It’s Apple event day!

From tweaks to the Apple Card to all new iMacs and iPads, Apple crammed this one-hour event with news. Don’t have time to sit down and click through every last announcement? We’ve slimmed it down to just the key points for maximum skimmability. Enjoy!

Apple Card

Apple Card

Image Credits: Apple

Apple kicked things off with a quick but key mention outlining a shift in how Apple Card works. “Apple Card Family” will allow you to share your card with anyone in your family over the age of 13, with customizable spending limits for each added user. You’ll also now be able to “co-own” an Apple card with another adult, with both owners building up their credit equally.

Apple Podcasts

apple podcasts 2021

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will launch a redesigned Podcast app, including an option for paid subscriptions (monthly or annual) to individual podcasts.

Purple iPhones

purple iphone

Image Credits: Apple

No new iPhone this time (those come later in the year, generally), but the existing iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are getting a new color option: purple. They used a song from Willy Wonka to announce it, because … well, purple.

AirTag

apple airtag $99 4 pack

Image Credits: Apple

After literal years of rumors and leaks, Apple has at long last officially announced its accessory for tracking things like keys, wallets and bags through the same “Find My” app you use to find your various Apple devices when you lose them in the couch.

Called “AirTag” (curiously, not “AirTags”), Apple says they’ll cost $29 each or $99 for a four pack, and launch on April 30. They’ll have user-replaceable batteries but, oddly, no built-in attachment loop; if you want to attach it to something like a keyring, you’ll need to add a case. Which, of course, they’ll be making and selling.

Each AirTag has a built-in speaker for helping you track down lost items, and you can engrave them with texts and/or select emoji for free when you buy them online.

Next-gen Apple TV 4K

Image Credits: Apple

Apple announced a big refresh to the Apple TV 4K it first launched back in 2017. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip.
  • You can use an iPhone to calibrate the picture. Start the calibration process, put your iPhone’s front-facing camera near the TV, and Apple TV 4K will automatically optimize its own color/contrast output accordingly.
  • They’ve redesigned the remote! They’ve moved away from the much lamented touchpad remote, building this new remote around a five-way clickpad complete with iPod-esque scroll wheel. There’s a Siri button on the side, in case you feel like talking to your TV instead of pushing buttons. Word is (via WSJ’s Joanna Stern) they’ll also be selling this remote separately for $59 for use with the previous-gen Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD.
  • $179 for 32 GB model or $199 for 64 GB.

New iMacs

back and side views of red 2021 Apple iMac

Image Credits: Apple

Time for the iMac to shift over to M1! Apple announced a new lineup of iMacs — and in a throwback to the iMacs of yesteryear, these new ones will come in an array of fancy colors. Here are the highlights:

  • Built around the absurdly zippy M1 chipset Apple first introduced into its laptops last year.
  • 24-inch “4.5K” display.
  • At last, a decent webcam! These new iMacs will ship with a 1080p FaceTime camera.
  • Pre-orders start April 20, shipping in late May.
  • $1,299 gets you an 8-core CPU/7-core GPU setup, while $1,499 will bump it up to 8-core CPU/8-core GPU.
  • It’ll come in seven colors: green, yellow, pink, orange, blue, purple and silver. Some colors will only be available in the more expensive model.
  • Both models come with a 256 GB SSD, and two Thunderbolt ports. The $1,499 model adds two USB 3 ports.
  • Apple will ship a new version of its Bluetooth Magic Keyboard, now complete with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

    Apple Touch ID on magic keyboard in front of 2021 iMac

    Image Credits: Apple

New iPad Pros

Apple 2021 iPad Pro overview

Image Credits: Apple

The iPad Pro is going M1, too! Apple says this shift brings a 50% performance improvement over the previous iPad Pro. Here’s whats new:

  • 8-core GPU/8-core CPU.
  • The 11-inch model will start at $799, while the 12.9-inch model will start at $1,099.
  • Cellular models will now have 5G support.
  • Thunderbolt and USB 4 support through the USB-C port.
  • The 12.9-inch model will have “Liquid Retina XDR” display that Apple says packs 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness or 1,600 nits of peak brightness.
  • A feature Apple calls “Center Stage” will automatically keep your face in the center of the frame during FaceTime calls, even as you move about the room.
  • Up to 2 TB of built-in storage, and 16 GB of RAM.

 





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