The Morning After: iPhone sales are up 50 percent year over year

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The curse of buying new tech at the wrong time will get us all. In the last year, I’ve seen fellow Engadget employees buy a Nintendo Switch just before the OLED model broke cover, take the plunge with the iPhone SE just before the iPhone 12 mini was unveiled make several more shopping missteps. Now, I might have done the same.

I picked up Sony’s vlogging camera, the ZV-1, earlier this month. I was looking for an agile video setup for the occasional time I have to record footage at Engadget without a skilled member of our video team. It’s very easy to make it work, with great face tracking capabilities even a product showcase mode that helps me really show off whatever gadget I’m handling I was happy with it. 

For a couple of weeks.

Sony

Then I heard the rumors that Sony was about to expits vlogging camera family, my heart sank. Here it is, then. The ZV E-10, a new vlogging camera that fuses the tiny frame of the ZV-1 with interchangeable lenses. 

The two major improvements seem to be a larger 24-megapixel sensor an interchangeable mirrorless mount. The latter means you can use one of the 60-plus E-mount lenses, while that larger sensor should offer improved light sensitivity a shallower depth of field. The ZV-E10 will launch by the end of August will cost $700 for the body or $800 in a bundle with one of Sony’s power zoom lens. The price is roughly level with how much I paid for the ZV-1 earlier this month. It’s probably too late to ask for a refund, right? 

— Mat Smith

Another record-breaking quarter for Apple.

Despite the pandemic, Apple has spent most of the last two years relentlessly upgrading its product lineup, its moves are definitely paying off. During its fiscal year third quarter, all of its product segments (the iPhone, Mac, iPad, services wearables/home/accessories) increased in revenue year over year, leading to total revenue of $81.4 billion. iPhone revenue of $39.6 billion made up almost half of that figure, likely thanks to an unusual four devices making up the iPhone 12 lineup. Continue reading.

The company delayed its launch due to battery cell shortage supply chain issues.

Tesla

Tesla

Tesla has revealed during its most recent earnings call that it has pushed back the truck’s arrival — yet again — to 2022, three years after its original launch target in 2019. Last year, the company announced it had to delay the vehicle’s release to 2021 but didn’t elaborate on why. Now, the company has told shareholders the delay is due to the limited availability of battery cells global supply chain challenges. Continue reading.

A limited-edition online drop will take place on July 31st.

Nothing Ear 1

Nothing

The new hardware startup from the co-founder of OnePlus is almost ready to show off its first product — I hope you like wireless earbuds. Taking a leaf out of Carl Pei’s former company, the dripfeed for Nothing’s Ear 1 hasn’t left much to reveal, although we’ve gleaned an eventual US launch date, mid-August, some battery estimates. Rumor has it, we’ll have some first-himpressions on these see-thru wireless buds very soon. Stay tuned. Continue reading.

They’re demanding the company improve working conditions.

After sharing an open letter decrying the company’s “abhorrent insulting” response to a harassment lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment Housing (DFEH), Activision Blizzard employees plan to hold a walkout.

According to Kotaku, at least 50 employees will protest the company’s recent actions in person call on it to improve working conditions for women by at least temporarily leaving their posts today. In the open letter, the employees call on Activision Blizzard to end the use of forced arbitration for all current future employees, adopt new hiring policies designed to increase representation across the company, publish transparency data on compensation hire a third-party firm to conduct a review of the studio’s HR department executive staff. Continue reading.

But wait, there’s more…

‘The Simpsons’ gets a home arcade cabinet for its 30th birthday

Discord finally adds threaded messaging

Microsoft’s profits skyrocketed by 47 percent in Q4

Waze will warn you about traffic jams detours before you drive

Netflix turned a Twitter account into an animated show

Google parent Alphabet made a whopping $61.9 billion last quarter

Facebook recalls Quest 2 foam inserts over skin irritation issues

US government sells ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli’s one-off Wu-Tang Clan album

AZIO’s colorful IZO collection looks great (that’s about it)

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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TechScape: Facebook’s biggest problem? Mark Zuckerberg | Technology

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What makes Facebook Facebook? I’m not talking about the technology here, or the app, but the company itself: why is Facebook so scandal-prone, so controversial, so aggressive? That was the question I had going in to An Ugly Truth, a new book from the New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel Cecilia Kang.

Sign up to Alex Hern’s weekly technology newsletter, TechScape.

Covering a company like Facebook as a tech reporter, it’s often easy to lose the forest for the trees. With each new scandal, the previous one recedes into memory, or becomes a bullet-point on a list of wrongs. Frenkel Kang, in the great tradition of American journalistic non-fiction, have spent thousands of hours interviewing hundreds of people who were at or involved with the company from 2009 onwards, the result is more than the sum of its parts.

Yes, there are interesting nuggets. The pair say, for instance, that Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice-president of Global Public Policy, interviewed with the Trump transition team in 2016 for the position of director of the office of management budget. Kaplan voluntarily withdrew from the process before a decision was made, but two years later his closeness to the Republican establishment again caused problems for Facebook when he was pictured prominently supporting then-nominee supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh, at the hearings convened to consider allegations that the latter was involved in a sexual assault some years previously. Facebook’s rank-and-file staff were reportedly outraged, particularly when a check of Kaplan’s calendar revealed he was there on company time, having failed to book a day of leave.

Similarly, the book’s standout chapter is a blow-by-blow account of how Facebook flubbed the response to Russian activity on its platform. The protagonist is Alex Stamos, a fiery information security executive hired by Facebook from Yahoo just a year previously to revitalise the company’s reputation in the field. The book details how Facebook, through Stamos’s team, was on the cutting edge of research into the activities of Russian state-sponsored hackers on the platform – but at every point, political considerations stymied attempts to do anything about it. In April 2017, a report from his team had attempted to disclose concrete examples of how accounts linked to Russian security services had collected intelligence on Facebook users then spread hacked documents across the platform. But the published version contained nothing of the sort:

Facebook could not risk going public with its conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections, Stamos was told. The management team considered it politically unwise to be the first tech company to confirm what US intelligence agencies had discovered. “They didn’t want to stick their heads out,” said one person involved in the discussions.

Other considerations were a different sort of political. Stamos reported in, not to Mark Zuckerberg, nor even Sheryl Sandberg, but to Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel. But the power at Facebook lies with the product teams: Zuckerberg’s star lieutenants like Chris Cox Andrew “Boz” Bosworth could perhaps have done something sooner, if they hadn’t been siloed off in a different part of the building.

But aside from the revelations, the value for me lay as much in seeing the last decade-plus of scandals, back-to-back, with enough extra detail to start drawing the connective lines together.

The conclusion I came to isn’t exactly thrilling: Facebook is what it is because of Mark Zuckerberg.

I know, who’d have thought that the unsackable guy who controls Facebook might perhaps have had an influence on how it became the company it is today? But in this, I differ slightly from the conclusion Kang Frenkel draw. They argue that Facebook’s core problem is capitalism: that the company’s neutral – or perhaps even positive – mission to “connect the world” can only end badly thanks to its unstated addendum, “… profit from doing so.” But I’m not so sure.

Every company has a profit motive, but few of them have quite the same energy that Facebook exudes. For me, the most telling anecdote in the book is one I vividly remember seeing from the outside: the moment Zuckerberg decided, unprompted, to use his first major interview in six years to defend Holocaust denial. “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down,” he said, “because I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

I cannot emphasise how weird this was to see from the outside. Holocaust denial on Facebook was not a hot issue at the time: Zuckerberg was being pressed on hate speech, but with far more concrete examples such as the far-right icon Alex Jones’ harassment of the families of children murdered at the Sandy Hook shooting. So why he felt like the useful thing to do was to instead spark a two-week-long news cycle about why he thought some Holocaust denial came from a place of sincere attempts to seek historical truth was unclear.

The answer, Frenkel Kang suggest, is basically that Zuckerberg’s own cleverness ran away with him:

By allowing them to create a community on Facebook, he was showing he could put his personal feelings opinions aside adhere to a consistent rule based on logic. He was confident that people would see his thinking as a difficult but necessary way to maintain the integrity of speech policy on Facebook. Several members of his PR staff pleaded with him to rethink the strategy. There was no need to invoke such an extreme case of what Facebook considered free speech; it would only blow up in his face. But he ignored their advice.

What makes Facebook Facebook isn’t the fact that it seeks profit. In fact, I would say it is almost the opposite: it’s the fact that uniquely, a company with geopolitical power is ultimately governed, not by the cold calculus of the profit motive, but by the unpredictable motivations of a single, strange man.

Want more?

This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing about The Ugly Truth. Next Wednesday, I’ll be interviewing Kang Frenkel as part of a Guardian event that I’ve unilaterally decided to declare “the first TechScape live show”. It starts at 8pm UK time, will be live-streamed online, tickets can be bought for just £4 here. Do join us!

If you want to read the complete version of this newsletter please subscribe to receive TechScape in your inbox every Wednesday.

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Spotify added more paying customers than free ones

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Three months ago, Spotify predicted that user growth would start falling, because COVID-19 had prompted so many people to sign up than expected. Today, the audio giant was proved right, as new signups fell to nine million new users in the most recent quarter, but slower growth isn’t always a bad thing. Of that nine million figure, seven million users signed up for Premium, versus just two million who went ad-supported. It means that Spotify was also able to announce a second successive quarter of profitability after a long period of losses.

The total number of Spotify users now stands at 365 million, of which 165 million are paying for Premium, while the remaining 210 are ad-supported. Converting more of Spotify’s vast ad-supported user base into Premium users is one way to ensure the company remains profitable. Another, of course, is to boost its growing advertising business, which has been bolstered by Spotify’s numerous podcast offerings. The company said that it saw “triple digit” year-on-year gain in ad-sales for the company’s owned podcast outlets, including The Ringer, Parcast Gimlet.

The last three months has seen Spotify intensify work to push users toward cheaper forms of audio content than music. It says that Joe Rogan’s podcast has performed “above expectations,” while shows out of The Ringer saw big bumps in listenership as the NBA headed into the playoff season. No mention this month of how many people are tuning in to listen to former President Barack Obama Bruce Springsteen hang out, which was the second biggest podcast on the platform from the start of the year.

As for the future, Spotify says that it’s hoping to add at least 12 million more users in total, at least another five million more paying customers. It is still expecting to reach the coveted 400 million user figure by the end of the year, although given the uncertainties still present with COVID-19, you never can be sure.

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Watch Cassie the bipedal robot run a 5K

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Cassie, a bipedal robot that’s all legs, has successfully ran five kilometers without having a tether on a single charge. The machine serves as the basis for Agility Robotics’ delivery robot Digit, as TechCrunch notes, though you may also remember it for “blindly” navigating a set of stairs. Oregon State University engineers were able to train Cassie in a simulator to give it the capability to go up down a flight of stairs without the use of cameras or LIDAR. Now, engineers from the same team were able to train Cassie to run using a deep reinforcement learning algorithm.

According to the team, Cassie teaching itself using the technique gave it the capability to stay upright without a tether by shifting its balance while running. The robot had to learn to make infinite subtle adjustments to be able to accomplish the feat. Yesh Godse, an undergrad from the OSU Dynamic Robotics Laboratory, explained: “Deep reinforcement learning is a powerful method in AI that opens up skills like running, skipping walking up down stairs.”

The team first tested Cassie’s capability by having it run on turn for five kilometers, which it finished with a time of 43 minutes 49 seconds. Cassie finished its run across the OSU campus in 53 minutes, 3 seconds — it took a bit longer, because it included six-and-a-half minutes of dealing with technical issues. The robot fell once due to a computer overheating then again after it executed a turn too quickly. Jeremy Dao, another team member from the lab, though, said they were able to “reach the limits of the hardware show what it can do.” The work the team does will help expthe understanding of legged locomotion could help make bipedal robots become more common in the future.

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LG will reportedly sell iPhones in its South Korean stores

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Rumors swirled last week that LG would start selling iPhones in some of its South Korean stores, since it has stopped producing its own smartphones,. Now, LG has confirmed that it will start selling iPhones other Apple products next month, ZDNet has reported. 

LG Samsung agreed in 2018 to only sell their own smartphones at their respective stores so they wouldn’t compete with smaller phone distributors. As such, when LG started to consider selling iPhones, it reportedly faced resistance from a smartphone reseller trade organization. Now that it has stopped making its own phones, however, that group has reportedly signed a new contract that allows LG to sell phones from other manufacturers. 

On top of selling iPhones starting next month, LG will reportedly sell the Watch other Apple products. The company has 400 stores in South Korea, so the move could provide a significant boost to Apple. It could be to the detriment of Apple’s arch-rival Samsung, though, which has essentially had the local smartphone market to itself since LG dropped out. 

Apple supposedly started negotiating with LG to sell phones in its retail spaces after the Korean company announced it would end production of its own devices. Both Samsung Apple have been offering to pay LG smartphone owners up to 150,000 won ($135) to trade in their phones. 

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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