Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explains why the company needs a bigger rocket, and why it’s going public to build it

Rocket Lab packed a ton of news into Monday to kick off this week: It’s going public via a SPAC merger, for one, and it’s also building a new, larger launch vehicle called Neutron to support heavier payloads. I spoke to Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck about why it’s building Neutron now, and why it’s also choosing to go public at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the two things are tightly linked.

“We have the benefit of flying Electron [Rocket Lab’s current, smaller launch vehicle] for a lot of customers. and we also have a Space Systems Division that supplies components into a number of spacecraft, including some of the mega constellations,” Beck told me. “So we have very strong relationships with, with a lot of different customers, and I think we get unique insight on where the industry is going, and where the where the pain points are.”

Those pain points informed Neutron, which is a two-stage reusable rocket. Rocket Lab already broke with Beck’s past thinking on what the launch market needed by developing partial reusability for Electron, and it’s going further still with Neutron, which will include a first-stage that returns to Earth and lands propulsively on a platform stationed at sea, much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. But the market has shifted since Rocket Lab built Electron – in part because of what it helped unlock.

“The creation of Neutron came from from two discrete factors: One, the current need in the marketplace today. Also, if you project it forward a little bit, you know, Neutron will deliver the vast majority – over 90% of – all the satellites that, that are around or in some form of planning. And if you look at those satellites, 80% of them are mega constellations, by volume. So, in talking with, with a bunch of different customers, it was really, really apparent that a mega constellation-building machine is what the market really needs.”

Beck says that combining that market needs with a historical analysis that showed most large launch vehicles have taken off half-full resulted in them arriving at Neutron’s 8 metric ton (just over 17,600 lbs) total cargo mass capacity. it should put it in the sweet spot where it takes off full nearly every time, but also can still meet the mass requirement needs of just about every satellite customer out there, both now and in the future.

“We’re covered in scars and battle wounds from the development of Electron,” “The one thing that that Elon and I agree on very strongly is, by far the hardest part of a rocket is actually scaling it – getting to orbit is hard, but actually scaling manufacturing is ridiculously hard. Now, the good news is that we’ve been through all of that, and manufacturing ins’t just as product on the floor; it’s ERP systems, quality systems, finance, supply chain and so on and so forth. So all that infrastructure is is built.”

In addition to the factory and manufacturing processes and infrastructure, Beck notes that Electron and Neutron will share size-agnostic elements like computing and avionics, and much of the work done to get Electron certified for launch will also apply to Neutron, realizing further cost and time savings relative to what was required to get Electron up and flying. Beck also said that the process of making Electron has just made Rocket Lab extremely attuned to costs overall, and that will definitely translate to how competitive it can be with Neutron.

“Because electron has a $7.5 million sticker price, we’ve just been forced into finding ways to do things hyper efficiently,” he said. “If you’ve got a $7.5 million sticker price, you can’t spend $2 million on flight safety analysis, payload environmental analysis, etc – you just can’t do that. With a $60 or $80 million vehicle that you can amortize that. So we’ve kind of been forced into doing everything hyper, hyper efficiently. And it’s not just systems; it includes fundamental launch vehicle design. So when we apply all of those learnings to nNutron, we really feel like we’re gonna bring a highly competitive product to the marketplace.”

As for the SPAC merger, Beck said that the decision to go public now really boils down to two reasons: The first is to raise the capital required to build Neutron, as well as fund “other” projects. The other is to acquire the kind of “public currency” to pursue the kinds of acquisitions in terms of business that Rocket Lab is hoping to achieve. Why specifically pursue a SPAC merger instead of a traditional IPO? Efficiency and a fixed capital target, essentially.

“We were actually sort of methodically stepping towards an IPO at the time and, we were just sort of minding our own business, but it was clear we were pursued very vigorously by a tremendous number of potential SPAC partners,” Beck told me. “Ultimately, on the balance of timelines, this just really accelerated our ability to do the things we want to do. Because, yes, as you pointed out, that this kind of streamlined the process, but also provided certainty around proceeds.”

The SPAC transaction, once complete will result in Rocket Lab having approximately $750 million in cash to work with. One of the advantages of the SPAC route is that how much you raise via the public listing isn’t reliant on how the stock performs on the day – Beck and company know and can plan on that figure becoming available to them, barring any unexpected and unlikely barriers to the transaction’s closing.

“Having all the capital we need, sitting there ready to go, that really sets us up for a strong execution,” he said. “If you look at Rocket Lab’s history, we’ve only raised spend a couple of hundred million dollars to date, within all the things we’ve done. So capitalizing the company with $750 million – I would expect big things at that point.”


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explains why the company needs a bigger rocket, and why it’s going public to build it

Rocket Lab packed a ton of news into Monday to kick off this week: It’s going public via a SPAC merger, for one, and it’s also building a new, larger launch vehicle called Neutron to support heavier payloads. I spoke to Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck about why it’s building Neutron now, and why it’s also choosing to go public at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the two things are tightly linked.

“We have the benefit of flying Electron [Rocket Lab’s current, smaller launch vehicle] for a lot of customers. and we also have a Space Systems Division that supplies components into a number of spacecraft, including some of the mega constellations,” Beck told me. “So we have very strong relationships with, with a lot of different customers, and I think we get unique insight on where the industry is going, and where the where the pain points are.”

Those pain points informed Neutron, which is a two-stage reusable rocket. Rocket Lab already broke with Beck’s past thinking on what the launch market needed by developing partial reusability for Electron, and it’s going further still with Neutron, which will include a first-stage that returns to Earth and lands propulsively on a platform stationed at sea, much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. But the market has shifted since Rocket Lab built Electron – in part because of what it helped unlock.

“The creation of Neutron came from from two discrete factors: One, the current need in the marketplace today. Also, if you project it forward a little bit, you know, Neutron will deliver the vast majority – over 90% of – all the satellites that, that are around or in some form of planning. And if you look at those satellites, 80% of them are mega constellations, by volume. So, in talking with, with a bunch of different customers, it was really, really apparent that a mega constellation-building machine is what the market really needs.”

Beck says that combining that market needs with a historical analysis that showed most large launch vehicles have taken off half-full resulted in them arriving at Neutron’s 8 metric ton (just over 17,600 lbs) total cargo mass capacity. it should put it in the sweet spot where it takes off full nearly every time, but also can still meet the mass requirement needs of just about every satellite customer out there, both now and in the future.

“We’re covered in scars and battle wounds from the development of Electron,” “The one thing that that Elon and I agree on very strongly is, by far the hardest part of a rocket is actually scaling it – getting to orbit is hard, but actually scaling manufacturing is ridiculously hard. Now, the good news is that we’ve been through all of that, and manufacturing ins’t just as product on the floor; it’s ERP systems, quality systems, finance, supply chain and so on and so forth. So all that infrastructure is is built.”

In addition to the factory and manufacturing processes and infrastructure, Beck notes that Electron and Neutron will share size-agnostic elements like computing and avionics, and much of the work done to get Electron certified for launch will also apply to Neutron, realizing further cost and time savings relative to what was required to get Electron up and flying. Beck also said that the process of making Electron has just made Rocket Lab extremely attuned to costs overall, and that will definitely translate to how competitive it can be with Neutron.

“Because electron has a $7.5 million sticker price, we’ve just been forced into finding ways to do things hyper efficiently,” he said. “If you’ve got a $7.5 million sticker price, you can’t spend $2 million on flight safety analysis, payload environmental analysis, etc – you just can’t do that. With a $60 or $80 million vehicle that you can amortize that. So we’ve kind of been forced into doing everything hyper, hyper efficiently. And it’s not just systems; it includes fundamental launch vehicle design. So when we apply all of those learnings to nNutron, we really feel like we’re gonna bring a highly competitive product to the marketplace.”

As for the SPAC merger, Beck said that the decision to go public now really boils down to two reasons: The first is to raise the capital required to build Neutron, as well as fund “other” projects. The other is to acquire the kind of “public currency” to pursue the kinds of acquisitions in terms of business that Rocket Lab is hoping to achieve. Why specifically pursue a SPAC merger instead of a traditional IPO? Efficiency and a fixed capital target, essentially.

“We were actually sort of methodically stepping towards an IPO at the time and, we were just sort of minding our own business, but it was clear we were pursued very vigorously by a tremendous number of potential SPAC partners,” Beck told me. “Ultimately, on the balance of timelines, this just really accelerated our ability to do the things we want to do. Because, yes, as you pointed out, that this kind of streamlined the process, but also provided certainty around proceeds.”

The SPAC transaction, once complete will result in Rocket Lab having approximately $750 million in cash to work with. One of the advantages of the SPAC route is that how much you raise via the public listing isn’t reliant on how the stock performs on the day – Beck and company know and can plan on that figure becoming available to them, barring any unexpected and unlikely barriers to the transaction’s closing.

“Having all the capital we need, sitting there ready to go, that really sets us up for a strong execution,” he said. “If you look at Rocket Lab’s history, we’ve only raised spend a couple of hundred million dollars to date, within all the things we’ve done. So capitalizing the company with $750 million – I would expect big things at that point.”


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

Google updates Workspace

Google Workspace, the company’s productivity platform you’ll forever refer to as G Suite (or even “Google Docs”), is launching a large update today that touches everything from your calendar to Google Meet and how you can use Workspace with Google Assistant.

Image Credits: Google

Indeed, the highlight here is probably that you can now use Assistant in combination with Google Workspace, allowing you to check your work calendar or send a message to your colleagues. Until now, this feature was available in beta and even after it goes live, your company’s admins will have to turn on the “Search and Assistant” service. And this is a bit of a slow rollout, too, with this capability now being generally available on mobile but still in beta for smart speakers and displays like Google’s own Nest Hub. Still, it’s been a long time coming, given that Google promised these features a very long time ago now.

The other new feature that will directly influence your day-to-day work is support for recurring out-of-office entries and segmentable working hours, as well as a new event type, Focus Time, to help you minimize distractions. Focus Time is a bit cleverer than the three-hour blocks of time you may block off on your calendar anyway in that it limits notifications during those event windows. Google is also launching a new analytics feature that tells you how much time you spend (waste) in meetings. This isn’t quite as fully featured (and potentially creepy) as Microsoft’s Productivity Score, since it only displays how much time you spend in meetings, but it’s a nice overview of how you spend your days (though you know that already). None of this data is shared with your managers.

For when you go back to an office, Google is also adding location indicators to Workspace so you can share when you will be working from there and when you’ll be working from home.

And talking about meetings, since most of these remain online for the time being, Google is adding a few new features that now allow those of you who use their Google Nest Hub Max to host meetings at home and to set up a laptop as their own second-screen experience. What’s far more important, though, is that when you join a meeting on mobile, Google will now implement a picture-in-picture mode so you can be in that Meet meeting on your phone and still browse the web, Gmail and get important work done during that brainstorming session.

Mobile support for background replace is also coming, as well as the addition of Q&As and polls on mobile. Currently, you can only blur your background on mobile.

Image Credits: Google

For frontline workers, Google is adding something it calls Google Workspace Frontline, with new features for this group of users, and it is also making it easier for users to build custom AppSheet apps from Google Sheets and Drive, “so that frontline workers can digitize and streamline their work, whether it’s collecting data in the field, reporting safety risks, or managing customer requests.”

Twitter’s ‘Super Follow’ creator subscription takes shots at Substack and Patreon

It’s been an all-around more ambitious year for Twitter. Following activist shareholder action last year that aimed to oust CEO Jack Dorsey, the company has been making long overdue product moves, buying up companies and aiming to push the envelope on how it can tap its network and drive new revenue streams. Things seem to be paying off for the company, as their share price sits at an all-time high — double that of its 2020 high.

Today, the company shared early details on its first ever paid product, a feature called “Super Follow” which aims to combine the community trends of Discord, the newsletter insights of Substack, the audio chat rooms of Clubhouse and the creator support of Patreon into a creator subscription. The company announced the service during its Analyst Day event Thursday morning.

Plenty of details are still up in the air for the feature, which notably does not have a launch timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Screenshots shared by Twitter showcase a feature that allows Twitter users to subscribe to their favorite creators for a monthly price (one screenshot details a $4.99 per month cost) and earn certain subscriber-only perks, including things like “exclusive content,” “subscriber-only newsletters,” “community access,” “deals & discounts,” and a “supporter badge” for subscribers. Creators in the program will also be able to paywall certain media they share, including tweets, fleets and chats they organize in Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor Spaces.

The company’s other big announcement of the event was “Communities,” a product that seems designed to compete with Facebook Groups but also will likely provide “Super Follow” networks a place to interact with creators in close cahoots. They also shared early details on a “safety mode” that will allow users to auto-block and mute abusive accounts.

Introducing paywalls into the Twitter feed could dramatically shift the mechanics of the service. Twitter has been pretty conservative over the years in building features that are intended for singular classes of users. Creator-focused features built for a network that is already home to so many creators could be a major threat to services like Patreon, which have largely popped up due to the lackluster monetization tools available from the big social platforms.

New revenue streams will undoubtedly be key to Twitter’s ambitious plan to double its revenues by 2023.

 

Scope AR launches a browser-based AR creation platform for the enterprise

Enticing the enterprise world to embrace augmented reality has proven a more difficult task than many startups in the AR space anticipated, but as the hardware and software behind the tech becomes increasingly commodified, customers are starting to find use cases that align with their shifting remote workflows.

Scope AR has been selling the vision of using 3D models to help the manufacturing industry scale training and collaboration since they launched back in 2010. Now, the startup is looking to build a more scalable future for themselves as they revamp their central product WorkLink for the web, Scope AR CEO Scott Montgomerie tells TechCrunch.

The new platform called WorkLink Create allows customers to sidestep complexity and author 3D content on top of CAD models without using Unity, an effort to make the product more approachable to non-technical users and customers that might not have access to Unity developers to roll out an integration.

“Unity is awesome but to do anything you have to code,” Montgomerie tells TechCrunch, calling WorkLink Create a “more user-friendly and scalable” option compared to software from its competitors.

The browser-based platform allows users to upload 3D files and edit them with comments, detailed instructions and animations via a drag-and-drop interface. The platform automatically scales down the level of detail on CAD models to meet the capabilities of the devices that will be rendering them. Once published, a customer’s users can access the models and instructions via WorkLink’s mobile and HoloLens apps.

Image via Scope AR

Scope AR’s focus on commercial education, on-the-job training and troubleshooting have seen renewed interest as COVID era guidelines have pushed more meetings into virtual spaces.

While AR hasn’t seen the full embrace of the COVID-era digital transformation, the remote work boom in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also boosted business for Scope AR’s products, Montgomerie says. With the company expanding its list of customers while also helping frontline manufacturing operations that have aimed to quickly build and repair medical equipment necessary for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Montgomerie says that he had always expected AR adoption to take some time, but the the slow pace of AR headset adoption had exceeded his expectations, something that has pushed the company to fully embrace mobile-based AR integrations on phones and tablets over the years. Scope AR is an authorized reseller of the HoloLens 2, though HoloLens makes its own remote collaboration software for enterprise users as well called Remote Assist.

Scope AR closed a $9.7 million Series A back in 2019 — the bulk of the company’s nearly $12 million raised to date from investors.

SolarWinds hackers targeted NASA, Federal Aviation Administration networks

Hackers are said to have broken into the networks of U.S. space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as part of a wider espionage campaign targeting U.S. government agencies and private companies.

The two agencies were named by the Washington Post on Tuesday, hours ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing tasked with investigating the widespread cyberattack, which the previous Trump administration said was “likely Russian in origin.”

Spokespeople for the agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did not deny the breach in remarks to the Post.

It’s believed NASA and the FAA are the two remaining unnamed agencies of the nine government agencies confirmed to have been breached by the attack. The other seven include the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, the Treasury, and the National Institutes of Health, though it’s not believed the attackers breached their classified networks.

FireEye, Microsoft, and Malwarebytes were among a number of cybersecurity companies also breached as part of the attacks.

The Biden administration is reportedly preparing sanctions against Russia, in large part because of the hacking campaign, the Post also reported.

The attacks were discovered last year after FireEye raised the alarm about the hacking campaign after its own network was breached. Each victim was a customer of the U.S. software firm SolarWinds, whose network management tools are used across the federal government and Fortune 500 companies. The hackers broke into SolarWinds’ network, planted a backdoor in its software, and pushed the backdoor to customer networks with a tainted software update.

It wasn’t the only way in. The hackers are also said to have targeted other companies by breaking into other devices and appliances on their victims’ networks, as well as targeting Microsoft vendors to breach other customers’ networks.

Last week, Anne Neuberger, the former NSA cybersecurity director who last month was elevated to the White House’s National Security Council to serve as the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said that the attack took “months to plan and execute,” and will “take us some time to uncover this layer by layer.”

Project management service ZenHub raises $4.7M

ZenHub, the GitHub-centric project management service for development teams, today announced that it has raised a $4.7 million seed funding round from Canada’s BDC Capital and Ripple Ventures. This marks the first fundraise for the Vancouver, Canada-based startup after the team bootstrapped the service, which first launched back in 2014. Additional angel investors in this round include Adam Gross (former CEO of Heroku), Jiaona Zhang (VP Product at Webflow) and Oji Udezue (VP Product at Calendly).

In addition to announcing this funding round, the team also today launched its newest automation feature, which makes it easier for teams to plan the development sprints, something that is core to the Agile development process but often takes a lot of time and energy — something teams are better off spending on the actual development process.

“This is a really exciting kind of pivot point for us as a business and gives us a lot of ammunition, I think, to really go after our vision and mission a little bit more aggressively than we have even in the past,” ZenHub co-founder and CEO Aaron Upright told me. The team, he explained, used the beginning of the pandemic to spend a lot of time with customers to better understand how they were reacting to what was happening. In the process, customers repeatedly noted that development resources were getting increasingly expensive and that teams were being stretched even farther and under a lot of pressure.

ZenHub’s answer to this was to look into how it could automate more of the processes that constitute the most complex parts of Agile. Earlier this year, the company launched its first efforts in this area, with new tools for improving developer handoffs in GitHub and now, with the help of this new funding, it is putting the next pieces in place by helping teams automate their sprint planning.

Image Credits: ZenHub

“We thought about automation as an answer to [the problems development teams were facing] and that we could take an approach to automation and to help guide teams through some of the most complex and time-consuming parts of the Agile process,” Upright said. “We raised money so that we can really accelerate toward that vision. As a self-funded company, we could have gone down that path, albeit a little bit slower. But the opportunity that we saw in the market — really brought about by the pandemic, and teams working more remotely and this pressure to produce — we wanted to provide a solution much, much faster.”

The spring planning feature itself is actually pretty straightforward and allows project managers to allocate a certain number of story points (a core Agile metric to estimate the complexity of a given action item) to each sprint. ZenHub’s tool can then use that to automatically generate a list of the most highly prioritized items for the next sprint. Optionally, teams can also decide to roll over items that they didn’t finish during a given sprint into the next one.

Image Credits: ZenHub

With that, ZenHub Sprints can automate a lot of the standard sprint meetings and lets teams focus on thinking about the overall process. Of course, teams can always overrule the automated systems.

“There’s nothing more that developers hate than sitting around the table for eight hours, planning sprints, when really they all just want to be working on stuff,” Upright said.

With this new feature, sprints become a core feature of the ZenHub experience. Typically, project managers worked around this by assigning milestones in GitHub, but having a dedicated tool and these new automation features will make this quite a bit easier.

Coming soon, ZenHub will also build a new feature that will automate some parts of the software estimation process, too, by launching a new tool that will help teams more easily allocate story points to routing action items so that their discussions can focus on the more contentious ones.

Splice gets $55 million for its software bringing beats from bedrooms to bandstands

Splice, the New York-based, AI-infused, beat-making software service for music producers created by the founder of GroupMe, has managed to sample another $55 million in financing from investors for its wildly popular service.

The github for music producers ranging from Hook N SlingMr Hudson, SLY, and Steve Solomon to TechCrunch’s own Megan Rose Dickey, Splice gained a following for its ability to help electronic dance music creators save, share, collaborate and remix music.

The company’s popularity has made it from bedroom djs to the Goldman Sachs boardroom as the financial services giant joined MUSIC, a joint venture between the music executive Matt Pincus and boutique financial services firm, Liontree, in leading the company’s latest $55 million round.  The company’s previous investors include USV, True Ventures, DFJ Growth, and Flybridge.

“The music creation process is going through a digital transformation. Artists are flocking to solutions that offer a user-friendly, collaborative, and affordable platform for music creation,” said Stephen Kerns, a VP with Goldman Sachs’ GS Growth, in a statement. “With 4 million users, Splice is at the forefront of this transformation and is beloved by the creator community. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Steve Martocci and his team at Splice.”

Splice’s financing follows an incredibly acquisitive 2020 for the company, which saw it acquiring music technology companies Audiaire and Superpowered.

In addition to the financing, Splice also nabbed Kakul Srivastava, the vice president of Adobe Creative Cloud Experience and Engagement as a director for its board.

The funding news comes on the heels of Splice’s recent acquisitions of music-tech companies Audiaire and Superpowered, creating more ways to improve and inspire the audio and music-making process. Splice is also pleased to announce that Kakul Srivastava has joined the company’s board.

Steve Martocci at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2016. Image Credits: Getty Images

Splice’s beefed up balance sheet comes as new entrants have started vying for a slice of Splice’s music-making market. These are companies like hardware maker Native Instruments, which launched the Sounds.com marketplace last year, and there’s also Arcade by Output that’s pitching a similar service. 

Meanwhile Splice continues to invest in new technology to make producers’ lives easier. In November 2019 it unveiled its artificial intelligence product that lets producers match samples from different genres using machine learning techniques to find the matches.

“My job is to keep as many people inspired to create as possible” Splice founder and chief executive, Steve Martocci told TechCrunch.

It’s another win for the serial entrepreneur who famously sold his TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon chat app Group.Me to Skype for $85 million just a year after launching.

Microsoft announces the next perpetual release of Office

If you use Office, Microsoft would really, really, really like you to buy a cloud-enabled subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365). But as the company promised, it will continue to make a stand-alone, perpetual license for Office available for the foreseeable future. A while back, it launched Office 2019, which includes the standard suite of Office tools, but is frozen in time and without the benefit of the regular feature updates and cloud-based tools that come with the subscription offering.

Today, Microsoft is announcing what is now called the Microsoft Office LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel). It’ll be available as a commercial preview in April and will be available on both Mac and Windows, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

And like with the previous version, it’s clear that Microsoft would really prefer if you just moved to the cloud already. But it also knows that not everybody can do that, so it now calls this version with its perpetual license that you pay for once and then use for as long as you want to (or have compatible hardware) a “specialty product for specific scenarios. Those scenarios, Microsoft agrees, include situations where you have a regulated device that can’t accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices on a manufacturing floor and other devices that simply can’t be connected to the internet.

“We expect that most customers who use Office LTSC won’t do it across their entire organization, but only in specific scenarios,” Microsoft’s CVP for Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, writes in today’s announcement.

Because it’s a specialty product, Microsoft will also raise the price for Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual Office apps by up to 10%.

“To fuel the work of the future, we need the power of the cloud,” writes Spataro. “The cloud is where we invest, where we innovate, where we discover the solutions that help our customers empower everyone in their organization – even as we all adjust to a new world of work. But we also acknowledge that some of our customers need to enable a limited set of locked-in-time scenarios, and these updates reflect our commitment to helping them meet this need.”

If you have one of these special use cases, the price increase will not likely deter you and you’ll likely be happy to hear that Microsoft is committing to another release in this long-term channel in the future, too.

As for the new features in this release, Spataro notes that will have dark mode support, new capabilities like Dynamic Arrays and XLOOKUP in Excel, and performance improvements across the board. One other change worth calling out is that it will not ship with Skype for Business but the Microsoft Teams app (though you can still download Skype for Business if you need it).

Google launches the first developer preview of Android 12

Almost exactly a year after Google announced the first developer preview of Android 11, the company today released the first developer preview of Android 12. Google delayed the roll-out of Android 11 a bit as the teams and the company’s partners adjusted to working during a pandemic, but it looks like that didn’t stop it from keeping Android 12 on schedule. As you would expect from an early developer preview, most of the changes here are under the hood and there’s no over-the-air update yet for intrepid non-developers who want to give it a spin.

Image Credits: Google

Among the highlights of the release so far — and it’s important to note that Google tends to add more user-facing changes and UI updates throughout the preview cycle — are the ability to transcode media into higher quality formates like the AV1 image format, faster and more responsive notifications and a new feature for developers that now makes individual changes in the platform togglable so they can more easily test the compatibility of their apps. Google also promises that just like with Android 11, it’ll add a Platform Stability milestone to Android 12 to give developers advance notice when final app-facing changes will occur in the development cycle of the operating system. Last year, the team hit that milestone in July when it launched its second beta release.

“With each version, we’re working to make the OS smarter, easier to use, and better performing, with privacy and security at the core,” writes Google VP of Engineering Dave Burke. “In Android 12 we’re also working to give you new tools for building great experiences for users. Starting with things like compatible media transcoding, which helps your app to work with the latest video formats if you don’t already support them, and easier copy/paste of rich content into your apps, like images and videos. We’re also adding privacy protections, refreshing the UI, and optimizing performance to keep your apps responsive.”

Image comparison from AVIF has landed by Jake Archibald

Obviously, there are dozens of developer-facing updates in Android 12. Let’s look at some in detail.

For the WebView in Android 12, Google will now implement the same SameSite cookie behavior as in Chrome, for example. Last year, the company slowed down the roll-out of this change, which makes it harder for advertisers to track your activity across sites,  in Chrome, simply because it was breaking too many sites. Now, with this feature fully implemented in Chrome, the Android team clearly feels like it, too, can implement the same privacy tools in WebView, which other apps use to display web content, too.

As for the encoding capabilities, Burke notes that, “with the prevalence of HEVC hardware encoders on mobile devices, camera apps are increasingly capturing in HEVC format, which offers significant improvements in quality and compression over older codecs.” He notes that most apps should support HEVC, but for those that can’t, Android 12 now offers a service for transcoding a file into AVC.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, Android 12 now also supports the AV1 Image File Format as a container for images and GIF-like image sequences. “Like other modern image formats, AVIF takes advantage of the intra-frame encoded content from video compression,” explains Burke. “This dramatically improves image quality for the same file size when compared to older image formats, such as JPEG.”

Image Credits: Google

As with every Android release, Google also continues to tinker with the notification system. This time, the team promises a refreshed design to “make them more modern, easier to use, and more functional.” Burke calls out optimized transitions and animations and the ability for apps to decorate notifications with custom content. Google now also asks that developers implement a system that immediately takes users from a notification to the app, without an intermediary broadcast receiver or service, something it recommended before.

Image Credits: Google

Android 12 will now also offer better support for multi-channel audio with up to 24 channels (a boon for music and other audio apps, no doubt), spatial audio, MPEG-H support, and haptic-coupled audio effects with the strength of the vibration and frequency based on the audio (a boon for games, no doubt). There’s also improved gesture navigation and plenty of other optimizations and minor changes across the operating system.

Google also continues to drive its Project Mainline forward, which allows for an increasing number of the core Android OS features to be updated through the Google Play system — and hence bypasses the slow update cycles of most hardware manufacturers. With Android 12, it is bringing the Android Runtime module into Mainline, which will then let Google push updates to the core runtime and libraries to devices. “We can improve runtime performance and correctness, manage memory more efficiently, and make Kotlin operations faster – all without requiring a full system update,” Burke says. “We’ve also expanded the functionality of existing modules – for example, we’re delivering our seamless transcoding feature inside an updatable module.”

You can find a more detailed list of all of the changes in Android 12 here.

Image Credits: Google

Developers who want to get started with bringing their apps to Android 12 can do so today by flashing a device image to a Pixel device. For now, Android 12 supports the Pixel 3/3 XL, Pixel 3a/3a XL, Pixel 4/4 XL, Pixel 4a/4a 5G and Pixel 5. You can also use the system image in the Android Emulator in Google’s Android Studio.