This Week in Apps: Apple’s event brings a ‘dynamic Island,’ new widgets and iOS 16

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.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

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 much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here:

Want to attend TechCrunch Disrupt? Click here for 15% off passes.

Top Stories

Apple debuts new iPhones — and new ways for app developers to reach users

Image Credits: Apple

Like clockwork, Apple held its annual fall event this week to introduce the latest iPhones to the public. The iPhone 14 line brings some notable new features, like the always-on display for the Pro models, emergency satellite connectivity and the removal of the SIM tray in the U.S. in favor of eSIM support, along with other updated specs across the devices’ camera systems, chips, sensors and more.

But what will most intrigue app developers are a few other changes — both expected and unexpected.

With the updated mobile operating system iOS 16, developers will have a way to reach their users directly from the phone’s Lock Screen, thanks to the new widget platform. Announced at this year’s WWDC, these new widgets join a larger Lock Screen makeover that now includes a built-in editor, wallpaper gallery, theming tools and a Live Activities feature for delivering real-time updates to this key iPhone real estate.

With WidgetKit, developers will be able to build using the same code for both watchOS and the Lock Screen, Apple had explained at WWDC. On the iPhone’s Lock Screen, they can choose from three widget designs: circular, rectangular and inline — the latter being a way to convey information with a small amount of text and SF Symbols above the Lock Screen’s clock, instead of below it like the other two.

Already, developers are coming up with clever ways to take advantage of this new screen space.

In some cases, they see the Lock Screen widgets as the extension of their existing apps — like what Flighty is doing to convey flight status and other travel updates to users. Others see the widgets as part of a larger set of personalization offerings, allowing users to pin their favorite photos, motivational quotes or even favorite app shortcuts to their Lock Screen, as ScreenKit has done.

For apps with real-time updates, the Live Activities feature will allow developers to display further information on the Lock Screen — like when a customer’s pizza is arriving or when their Lyft is nearby, for example.

But what really blew us away was when Apple surprised everyone with an extension of Live Activities that hadn’t yet been leaked: the new Dynamic Island feature. Frankly, it was exciting to learn about a new feature for the first time during the keynote, instead of reading about it in the news — something that’s become a much more common occurrence these days.

A smart combination of hardware and software, the Dynamic Island turns the dreaded sensor “notch” at the top of the device — now more compact in the latest iPhone models — into a feature. The pill-shaped cutout introduces a unique way to interact with activities, alerts and notifications, said Apple, underselling it a bit.

This adaptive area can expand, contract and morph into different shapes and sizes as it delivers information to the end user through animations and transitions — taking advantage of the black space required by the notch, rather than trying to hide it.

You can imagine keeping an eye on your Uber while you text a friend, watching a timer while you read the next steps in a recipe or getting turn-by-turn directions while in another app, among other things. It also works to deliver informational updates in a visually engaging way without interrupting what you’re already doing on your phone. This could include things like confirming your AirPods are connected, muting, starting a charge, starting a FaceID, confirming your transit card was activated when tapping your iPhone in transit locations and more, Apple suggested.

And it can show other background activity, like the music you’re playing when you exit the music app — it even includes a tiny photo of the album art. When you want to access the “now playing” controls again, you can then tap the Dynamic Island to see it expand into a larger, interactive floating widget of sorts with more options. (Will the selfie camera get dirty, we wonder?)

The same goes for phone calls, where a tap can bring up a larger interface for tapping the mute button, speaker button, FaceTime option, the “end call” button and more.

Needless to say, developers and designers were enthralled by the possibilities, praising the feature on Twitter during and after Apple’s event. It’s fair to say we’ll likely see adoption of this feature in the months ahead, when the technology becomes available.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google


Image Credits: Google

  • Not to be upstaged by Apple, Google this week announced it will host an in-person Pixel hardware event on October 6 at 10 a.m. ET in Brooklyn, where the company is planning to introduce the Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel Watch.
  • Android 13 got its first patch, which addresses some issues around wireless charging and battery drains.
  • Google rolled out a broader Android update that includes an upgrade to its AirDrop-like “Nearby Share” feature that now has a “self-share” mode for moving files between your own devices. Other updates include redesigned widgets, sound alerts, audio descriptions for Google TV and live-sharing on Google Meet.

Image Credits: Google

  • Google also touted how Android 13 will make it easier to keep users’ personal data and work data separated thanks to the OS’s new “work profiles,” which let users indicate how apps should be used. This option lets users have separate photo galleries for personal and work use, and can help keep their YouTube watch history separate when used for work or personal use, among other things.
  • Shortly after news came out that Google was blocking Trump’s Truth Social app from Google Play, the company reversed another controversial decision by allowing the conservative-leaning Parler app back in, over a year after its removal following the January 6 violence. Justifying its decision, Google said Parler had implemented the necessary moderation controls required by user-generated apps.


  • Instagram is preparing to test a version of its app that reduces its focus on shopping, according to The Information. The app will try removing the Instagram Shopping page as part of this test. The company says the new version, known as Tab Lite, will be tested over the next few months to see how it fares.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snap

  • Snap is powering several custom-built AR experiences for the Vogue World Event at New York’s Fashion Week. The event on Monday, September 12, will feature a “Skywalk” Lens that transforms the show with AR as blossoming flowers emerge as models walk the runway. Other Lenses bring sunlight or moonlight to users’ faces. The Lenses were built by Arcadia, Snap’s creative studio for AR.
  • A new Wonderlab AR app, powered by Niantic’s Lightship ARDK, allows people in the U.K. to discover the science behind ordinary objects using AR and geospatial technologies.


  • In a crackdown on unethical lenders, India said its central bank will prepare a whitelist of legal loan apps and the IT ministry plans to ensure that only approved apps are hosted on app stores.
  • Trading app Robinhood launched an Investor Index that will be updated monthly to track the performance of the 100 most popular stocks on its platform by weighting its users’ “conviction.”
  • London-based finance app Revolut launched a one-click payments feature to rival PayPal. The feature, Revolut Pay, will work with retailers like Shopify, Prestashop, WH Smith Plc, and Funky Pigeon to start.


  • One year later, Apple’s privacy changes with ATT have helped to boost its own ads business, a new report found. According to a review by the performance insights platform InMobi’s Appsumer, Apple’s Search Ads business has now joined the Facebook-Google advertising duopoly after growing its adoption by 4 percentage points to reach 94.8% year-over-year, while Facebook’s adoption dropped 3% to 82.8%. In addition to the growing advertiser adoption of Apple’s Search Ads, the report also found Apple’s business grew its share-of-wallet by 5 percentage points, to reach a 15% share, while Facebook’s share-of-wallet dropped 4 percentage points, to 28%, from Q1 2021 through Q2 2022.


Image Credits: Twitter

  • Ahead of the U.S. midterms, Twitter said it would begin to add 1,000 contributors per week to its crowdsourced fact-checking tool, Birdwatch, which had been previously tested with 15,000 contributors. The tool will now require users to earn their way to contributor status by rating notes as helpful or not, and earning points based on those ratings’ accuracy.
  • Twitter says its new “edit tweet” feature, now in testing, will allow users to edit their tweets up to five times during the first 30 minutes it’s live. This functionality seems to be designed to better cater to marketers or other attention-getters, who want to find the right combination of words or hashtags, rather than helping everyday users who want to fix a typo — a feature already addressed by Twitter Blue’s “Undo Tweet” option.
  • Twitter is also now testing a new way to share tweets in India by adding a WhatsApp button under the posts for Android users.
  • Instagram confirmed it’s planning to test a feature that will allow users to repost others’ Feed posts — its alternative to something like Twitter’s Retweet. The feature would be a way for aggregator accounts to better credit others’ work, instead of just stealing it.
  • Instagram removed Pornhub’s account for undisclosed reasons. Though the site offers adult material, its social media account only shared nonpornographic images and videos. The move follows a lawsuit where Pornhub parent MindGeek is being sued for allegedly distributed child sexual abuse material on its platform.
  • Nextdoor announced it would again partner with to help increase voter turnout for U.S. midterms by encouraging its users to verify their voter registration, find their polling place and more.


  • Match Group and its flagship app Tinder announced their advocacy for the passage of the “Respect for Marriage Act,” federation legislation that protects the rights to same-sex and interracial marriage. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in July with bipartisan support and now Match Group and Tinder are asking the Senate to do the same. The Act arrives at a critical time, given the threat to people’s rights posed by the current Supreme Court.


  • Signal appointed a former Google manager and Big Tech critic, Meredith Whittaker, as its first president. The new exec will help to determine Signal’s policy and stragey, including its communications policy.
  • In case there was any question about Apple’s position on adopting RCS, CEO Tim Cook put that to rest by telling an audience member who asked a question about this during a tech conference that he should just “buy your mom an iPhone” if she wanted to see clear videos.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Disney+

  • Disney+ released its first AR-enabled short film, ‘Remembering,’ starring Brie Larson. The film uses ShazamKit to listen for an audio cue that will alert users when to launch the AR experience during the film, which focuses on exploring a child’s imagination. When launched, the AR companion app will display a waterfall spilling off the TV and other effects to augment the film’s storytelling.
  • Triller is facing a third lawsuit, this time from a company called Phiture, which offers consulting services to mobile app developers, over non-payment. The company has already been sued by Sony Music for nonpayment and by creators Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, who say they are owed $28 million for selling Verzuz to the company.
  • Spotify’s CFO Paul Vogel said the music streaming platform will begin testing and trialing audiobooks “very soon.” The company last fall had acquired audiobook distributor Findaway to enter this market, allowing it to compete with Amazon and Apple.
  • The Tencent-backed Indian music streaming app Gaana switched to a paid subscription biz model after failing to find an exit or close on new funding, Reuters reported.


Health & Fitness

  • Apple confirmed it will bring its Apple Fitness+ subscription to all iPhone users regardless of whether they own an Apple Watch, as promised earlier this year at WWDC. The service will arrive in all 21 countries where Fitness+ is offered and will ship alongside the iOS 16 update on Monday, including some new workouts.


  • Google Maps expanded its fuel-efficient and eco-friendly routing options to 40 more countries across Europe. The feature was first introduced to the U.S. in 2021, allowing users to plan their drive by how much gas they’d need to expend over other factors.
  • The Compass app will be updated with the release of watchOS 9, Apple said during its keynote this week, where it also unveiled the rugged Apple Watch Ultra. The refreshed app will surface more in-depth information and include three distinct views. A new hybrid view will simultaneously show an analog compass dial and a digital view. Turning the Digital Crown will reveal an additional view that includes latitude, longitude, elevation and incline, as well as an orienteering view showing Compass Waypoints and Backtrack (a feature powered by GPS data to show where the user has been), noted Apple’s press release.

Government & Policy

  • EU privacy regulators are fining Instagram €405 million as a result of a complaint over how the social media app handles children’s data in violation of the GDPR. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) found Instagram, at the time of the complaint, would set accounts of child users to the public by default, among other violations, including the publication of kids’ emails and phone numbers. This fine is the second-highest fine under the GDPR, and DPC’s third for the company.

Security & Privacy

Funding and M&A

💰 LA-based Remento, an app that focuses on capturing and preserving family stories, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Upfront Ventures. The app launched this week on iOS after a year of beta testing.

🤝 Grocery delivery app Instacart announced its acquisition of the e-commerce platform Rosie, which helps local and independent retailers and wholesalers and provides them with tools for powering order flow, fulfillment and customer insights. Deal terms were not disclosed but Ithaca, New York-based Rosie had raised $11.9 million to date.

💰 Latana, a platform that bids on mobile ad space, raised €36 million (~$35.79 million) in Series B funding — €10 million (~$9.94 million) of which was debt — led by Oxx.

💰 Subscription-based Android fintech app Stack raised $2.7 million from Madrona, The Venture Collective, Santa Clara Ventures and others. The app aims to offer crypto education and trading for teens and their parents.

🤝 Headspace Health acquired Shine, a mental health and wellness app dedicated to providing an inclusive mental health experience for the BIPOC community. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.



If you often find yourself making Spotify playlists to get hyped for an upcoming music festival or to relive a favorite past show, a new mobile app called LineupSupply can now help make that process easier. This clever new utility allows you to upload a photo of a music festival’s poster to have it automatically transformed into a Spotify playlist in a matter of moments. Alternately, you can use the app to find playlists created by others or, with a one-time purchase of $1.99, tap into music recommendations based on the artists in the images you uploaded.

LineupSupply also lets you customize the playlist before its creation by removing artists you don’t want to be included in your playlist. And if you don’t want to do the work of finding and uploading your own image, you may be able to find an existing playlist built by other users in the app’s “Discover” section.

There’s no limit to the number of playlists you can create with the free version. But with a one-time upgrade of $1.99, you can gain access to a few additional features, including the ability to set a custom app icon or further customize the playlist by controlling the number of songs per artist, the song sorting options, and the playlist description.


This Week in Apps: Apple’s event brings a ‘dynamic Island,’ new widgets and iOS 16 by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

How to fundraise a Series A

Editor’s note: Jenny Lefcourt is a TechCrunch Live guest on August 31, 2022 where, along with Guillaume de Zwirek, CEO and co-founder of WELL Health, she’s scheduled to speak on the specific steps founders should follow when raising a Series A. The event records live and is available to watch at 12:00pm PDT. It’s free to attend. Register here. Replays will be available and posted here following the event.

Beginning with the first company I co-founded 25 years ago and continuing through the second company I co-founded 15 years ago, I raised over $100M from top-tier VCs. During that time, less capital was floating around, and those numbers were considered enormous. The bad news is that I over-capitalized my companies, but the good news is that the process taught me how VCs think and the best way to pitch them. Since 2014, I’ve been a seed-stage investor at Freestyle and had the opportunity to fine-tune this skill by working closely with founders in our portfolio on raising Series A rounds. The market is demanding right now – founders, I hope the following guide helps many of you fundraise in this challenging environment.

The key when raising is to understand what VCs are looking for in a founder and a business at each stage, and then you can make the call on the best way to pitch them in a way that feels right to you.

There’s a notable difference between raising Seed and Series A rounds: A Seed is often raised solely on a founder’s big vision, whereas a Series A typically needs a big vision and business traction, especially in the current market. Below are general best practices for pitching, followed by specific advice on structuring a Series A story arc.

Fundraising wisdom for any stage

  • Mindset matters! Enter a meeting with the spirit of having an intellectual conversation about your business v being in hard-core “sell” mode. VCs prefer to work with founders who can discuss their business thoughtfully. Be curious, confident, and ready to debate–and, at all costs, resist being defensive. I discuss mindset more here, Learn to Love Fundraising.
  • Trust is table stakes. If you don’t know the answer to a question, saying so gains respect and trust, while avoiding the question destroys it. One of the easiest ways to lose an investor’s interest in a first meeting is for the VC to feel like you aren’t being direct. There’s no expectation of you knowing all the answers–there is an expectation of telling it straight.
  • VCs have short attention spans! You need to get them interested in the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting to earn their attention for the rest. See more below on “Section 1.”
  • Goal of meeting #1 is to get meeting #2. Your goal is not to tell them everything or pre-emptively answer any question they may ask. So keep your story high level and interesting – do not data dump or mire them in the details too early.
  • Tell a good story vs. “present slides”. This is why I recommend that founders spend time crafting their story arc, followed by creating the slides to support that story.
    Make your main points very clear and support those points with the data or color that helps them believe. Don’t make VCs listen to a lot of talk and inundate them with a lot of data in hopes that they connect the dots. Subtle does not win here.
  • Prepare for questions. Have a hearty appendix that covers any question you may get or does a deeper dive into the business. VCs love it when they ask a question and the founder pulls up a slide that directly addresses it. The VCs get the information they are looking for, and you show them that you are just the kind of thoughtful founder with whom they like to work!
    Manage time. Know how much time you have and make sure to make your main key points. Don’t let it get to minute 30, and you’re still down a rabbit hole on a non-critical part of the business.

Series A Fundraising wisdom

When your first Series A pitch is over, ideally, the VC is excited about the opportunity, impressed with you, knows enough to believe you are on a promising path, and is still thinking about you and your business well after the meeting. Typically founders have 30 minutes (often over Zoom) to make this happen.

I recommend thinking about your pitch in three “Sections.”

SECTION 1: The goal is to earn the right to their attention for the rest of the meeting! It may include some/all of the following:

  • Team
  • Vision. The big vision of the company–NOT simply what you do today.
  • Market. Educate VCs about your market, which includes market size and macro trends. VCs should understand that it is a big market and understand a reason for the “why now?” question.
  • Problem/Opportunity. Make it clear who your customer is and what their problem is that you are solving. Sometimes it is less of a “problem” you are solving and more of a new opportunity that now exists, given the changes in the market.
  • Solution for stated problem/opportunity (precisely what your company does!)
  • Early sign of success. Have a visual here where you can imagine the title of this slide being “And it is Working!” This may be a graph of a key metric like revenue or users that goes up and to the right, lots of logos of companies that have already signed up, or other goodness. The goal here is to get them leaning in and excited to learn more.

After pitching this section, take a breath and check in with the investors. Ask: “Any questions? Does this sense?”

SECTION 2: The goal here is to educate them on how you have de-risked the business thus far and presented traction on product and growth. This section typically contains some or all of the following:

  • Where you have started. Note: all startups have to start somewhere. You told them earlier what the big vision is. Now you want to tell them where you started (and maybe why) and how it is going. Just be careful not to get bogged down in too much detail.
  • Your customers. Who they are and what your value proposition is for them.
  • Go to Market. Explain how you target/acquire customers.
  • Traction thus far. You want to be clear about the main levers/metrics that drive your business and share information on how those have evolved. You do not need to cover all metrics and details–you can cover that in the Appendix. Here is a laundry list of potential traction metrics: new customers/total customers, retention/churn, engagement, sales funnel conversion, sales pipeline, average sales price, revenue, gross margins, CAC payback, LTV:CAC ratio,…
  • Unit Economics
  • Product Love. Ideally, you share engagement stats or something that shows that people are not just buying/using your product but are loving it and finding it indispensable. Possibilities here include engagement stats, virality, spending more time or money with your business over time, putting more of their business on your platform, etc. A few testimonials alongside the data can also help.
  • Any other slide that is CRITICAL to your company’s success.
  • Competitive landscape. This is NOT a feature comparison but rather a market mapping to educate them on the players. Many use a 2×2 map to show who is in the market based on two attributes where your company sits alone in the top right quadrant. This may feel counter-intuitive, but you want big, important players on this map as you want your prize to be worth winning. Example from Scenery:

A screenshot from Scenery’s pitch deck

SECTION 3: The goal here is to tell a straightforward story of where you are headed from here and how the business becomes massive. This section typically contains some or all of the following:

  • Product and/or strategic/geo rollout roadmap. Cover your plans and explain why you believe this is the best path forward
  • 3-year financial projections (maybe here, maybe Appendix)
  • Milestones you will hit with this round. Note: most VCs care less about how you will “spend” the capital than what you will achieve with the capital (note: use of proceeds can be a good Appendix slide.). VCs want your business to be more valuable by the time you raise your next round. Potential milestones could include revenue, number of users, product/technology developed, number of markets you will be in, and key partnerships,…

APPENDIX: The goal here is to address any question you may get asked or dive deeper into an aspect of your business. As you get more questions, add more appendix slides! I recommend pulling a specific slide up when asked for more information on a subject. Some potential appendix slides include:

  • Sales productivity
  • Sales pipeline
  • Deeper dive into current customers
  • Acquisition and payback period by channel
  • Deeper breakdown of market
  • Cohort analysis
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Sean Ellis test
  • Product Roadmap
  • Geography rollout plans
  • Organization structure and team + key hires

Unquestionably, fundraising can be daunting and exhausting. However, I would encourage you to recognize some positive aspects of fundraising…the clarity you gain about your business as you prepare to pitch, the wisdom you will get from many of your meetings and something not discussed as much, the customers you can acquire when interested VCs introduce you to their portfolio companies. Lastly, remember, you only need one VC to say yes!

A couple of additional resources:

If you’ve yet to raise your Seed round, you may find this interesting to watch (especially for women founders). Jess Lee @ Sequoia and I dissected a VC pitch for Seed for All Raise’s first Female Founder Office Hours.

Top-tier pitch agency, 4th & King, and I did a session on Series A Fundraising with Freestyle portfolio founders, which you can watch here.


Here’s everything you missed at TC Sessions: Robotics 2022

In case you missed it, robots took over TechCrunch on Thursday, July 21. On that day, we played host to the robotic industry’s leading startups, researchers, and academics at TC Sessions: Robotics. The event was a blockbuster success, and we hope you enjoyed the show. All the features, panels, interviews and podcasts are embedded below.

TechCrunch Editor Brian Heater organized and hosted the event. Subscribe to his robotics newsletter, Actuator. It’s like a robotics conference in your inbox every week.

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on automation and unionization

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was a slam dunk for the event. In addition to having a background as a union organizer, he’s a Boston native, who served as the city’s mayor for six years before being tapped by Joe Biden for a cabinet position in March 2021.

Walsh’s take on automation is pragmatic, noting, “I’ve been in politics for 25 years, and for 25 years, we’ve been talking about automation replacing people.”

He adds, “We were forward-looking in the city of Boston. Innovation does bring different kinds of jobs. How do we make sure people are skilled and trained up to actually be able to access those jobs. If you don’t do that, then obviously it’s going to have an impact on people.”

This gets to an important and nuanced point in the automation conversation. While there’s consensus among many that — in the long run — technology will continue to create more and better jobs, what happens to blue-collar workers in the short term? How can we support and, perhaps, train them to be better prepared for the future? And who, ultimately, does that responsibility fall on?


Robotics scene continues to be bullish, but layoffs are looming

This startup season is filled with goals of profitability, promises of higher margins and whispers about pivoting toward sustainability. So when it comes to robotics, a capital-intensive sector that has a longer sales time horizon and loads of infrastructure hurdles, tensions feel inevitable.

Or at least, you’d think. Crunchbase data shows that, despite a creaky market, venture funding for robotics startups remains strong. It’s a dissonance worth exploring, so that’s exactly what we did at TC Sessions: Robotics 2022 with investors Kelly Chen, partner at DCVC, Bruce Leak, founder of Playground Global and Helen H. Liang, founder of FoundersX Ventures. The trio of investors spoke about how the ambitious sector is surpassing some of the downturn’s harshest symptoms.

The answer includes a shift in investment strategy and Amazon.


Are universities doing enough to foster robotics startups?

A few years ago, I got in the habit of asking researchers the titular question: Are universities doing enough to foster robotics startups? To a one, the answer was invariably, “no.” It was a massive blindspot for some of the world’s leading research institutes, both in commercializing their own work and giving their best and brightest a clearer path into the world of early-stage startups.

The disconnect is, perhaps, understandable. Academic researchers should, ultimately, be focused on the greater good of advancing science and technology. But the fact of the matter is that in our society, commercializing this work can often be the fastest way to move it from the laboratory to the real world.


Agility’s next Digit robot will have a face and hands

Digit, the bipedal robot developed by Agility Robotics, will continue to evolve and improve, including the addition of a head and some digits of its very own, according to co-founders Damion Shelton and Jonathan Hurst.

Just don’t expect Digit to talk or have digits that look like human hands.

Digit, which was introduced in 2019, initially seemed destined for a life in last-mile delivery. Recently, the startup that spun out of Oregon State University has shifted its focus to logistics. The aim: to turn Digit into a platform for general purpose work such as unpacking trucks and moving boxes around warehouses.

“Our whole vision with what Digit is, is as a platform that allows you to turn physical work into a software application,” said Shelton, during an interview and demo of Digit on Thursday at TC Sessions: Robotics.


The Amazon effect is fueling a wave of robotics investments, acquisitions and maybe an IPO

Amazon’s drive to get as many products to customers as quickly as possible combined with a decade of technological breakthroughs, a labor shortage and skyrocketing e-commerce growth have aligned to create ideal conditions for warehouse robotics startups.

This fruitful convergence has led to acquisitions, large funding rounds and at least one robotics IPO next year. And growth appears to be limitless, according to TC Sessions: Robotics panelists Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk, Berkshire Grey SVP Jessica Moran and Melonee Wise, who founded Fetch and is now VP of robotics automation at Zebra Technologies.

“Amazon really started rocking the boat, right?” said Moran during the panel on warehouse robotics. “The Amazon effect of get as many SKUs as possible to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, really put everybody in a position — even pre-COVID to say — ‘Hey, I gotta figure out how to automate how to do things faster.’”


Amazon defined warehouse robotics — so, what’s next?

It took exactly two minutes for today’s TC Sessions: Robotics fulfillment panel to make its first Amazon mention. The retail giant looms over the category like no other. It played a foundational role with the 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems that birthed Amazon Robotics, and remains the 800-pound gorilla looming in the background of any conversation about warehouse automation.

For the past decade, the company has demonstrated an impressive dominance. It’s helped the company set a once-impossible standard of next-day — and even same-day — delivery for many orders. Retailers large and small have sought ways to remain competitive, fostering the growth of an entire industry of warehouse robotics firms like Locus, Fetch and Berkshire Gray.


UC Berkeley shows off accelerated learning that puts robots on their feet in minutes

Robots relying on AI to learn a new task generally require a laborious and repetitious training process. University of California, Berkeley researchers are attempting to simplify and shorten that with an innovative learning technique that has the robot filling in the gaps rather than starting from scratch.

The team shared several lines of work with TechCrunch to show at TC Sessions: Robotics today and in the video below you can hear about them — first from UC Berkeley researcher Stephen James.


Dean Kamen on the power of celebrating your own obsoletion

More than 40 years and 1,000 or so patents after selling his first company, AutoSyringe, to healthcare giant Baxter, Dean Kamen still gets a charge describing breakthrough innovation. It’s been five years since his organ fabricating project ARMI (Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute) divided critics.

The project made more waves early last month, at the CNN-hosted conference Life Itself. Kamen paints the picture appearing on a panel at TC Sessions: Robotics today.


Robotics and AI are going from cage to stage

A lot of promising companies come out of work by researchers at universities, or even grad students who have struck on some new innovation. But the transition from tech-focused research group to product-focused startup isn’t easy to make; fortunately three experts in the matter joined us at TC Sessions: Robotics to discuss a few ways to get through it successfully.

Milo Werner is a new general partner at MIT’s The Engine, an accelerator and fund focused on “tough tech.” Joyce Sidopoulos is a co-founder of MassRobotics, a community and advocacy group for the sector’s startup ecosystem. And Pieter Abbeel is a professor at UC Berkeley and the co-founder of Covariant, which is designing a new generation of warehouse robots (he also just won the ACM Prize — belated congratulations, Pieter).


Harmonizing human-robot interactions for a ‘new and weird’ world of work

Robots have always found it a challenge to work with people and vice versa. Two people on the cutting edge of improving that relationship joined us for TC Sessions: Robotics to talk about the present and future of human-robot interaction: Veo Robotics co-founder Clara Vu and founder Rod Brooks (formerly of iRobot and Rethink Robotics).

Part of the HRI challenge is that although we already have robotic systems that are highly capable, the worlds they operate in are still very narrowly defined. Clara said that as we move from “automation to autonomy” (a phrase she stressed she didn’t invent) we’re adding both capabilities and new levels of complexity.


The TechCrunch Live Podcast: Building Roboticists with Ayanna Howard and Ayah Bdeir

There’s never been a more exciting time to work in robotics. The pandemic changed the face of the industry from research to real world. Today we’ll be joined by two experts who will also serve as judges for the pitch-off at our upcoming robotics event. Ayanna Howard is the Dean of The Ohio State University College of Engineering. She’s worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and founded the Georgia Tech spinoff, Zyrobotics. Ayah Bdeir is the founder of STEM education kit LittleBits and is a Venture Partner at early stage investment firm, E14 Fund.

The TechCrunch Live Podcast: iRobot CEO talks, what else, robots

Colin Angle is the CEO and a co-founder of iRobots, and ahead of TechCrunch’s robotics event, he joined TechCrunch editor Brian Heater on a special Twitter Spaces. The conversation is great, and over the hour-long talk, tells a lot of never-before-heard stories of the early days of iRobot.

Runa Sandvik’s new startup Granitt secures at-risk people from hackers and nation states

A newsroom in Europe with computer screens

For much of her career, hacker Runa Sandvik has worked to protect journalists and newsrooms from powerful adversaries who want to keep wrongdoing and corruption out of the public eye. Journalists and activists are increasingly targeted by the wealthy and resourceful who seek to keep the truth hidden, from nation-state aligned hackers hacking into journalist’s inboxes to governments deploying mobile spyware to snoop on their most vocal critics.

Few know the threats that journalists face better than Sandvik, a native Norwegian. She defended The New York Times newsroom from hackers and nation-state adversaries, trained reporters to cloak their online activity in anonymity at the Tor Project, and helped organizations like the Freedom of the Press Foundation to build tools that allow journalists, like us at TechCrunch, securely communicate with sources and receive sensitive source documents. Sandvik is also a renowned hacker and security researcher and, as of recently, a founder.

With her new startup, Granitt — with Sandvik as its principal — aims to help at-risk people, like journalists and activists but also politicians, lawyers, refugees and human rights defenders, from threats they face doing their work.

“At any point someone finds themselves in a category where there might be some repercussions for them doing whatever it is they’re doing, that’s something I would consider ‘at risk’ and something that I can help with,” Sandvik told me when we spoke in New York City this week.

Sandvik told me about her work and her new bootstrapped startup, how leaders should prioritize their cybersecurity efforts, and, what piece of security advice she would give that every person should know.

Our chat, which has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity, follows.

ZW: You’ve been laying the groundwork for Granitt for the past decade. Tell me how you got here.

RS: If you look at a decade ago when I worked for the Tor Project and they got funding, we set out to teach reporters how to use the Tor Browser. And very quickly realized that it’s not super impactful to just teach someone how to use the Tor Browser if they’re not also familiar with good passwords, two-factor authentication and software updates — things to consider when they’re traveling to conflict zones, for example. And we started building out a curriculum around what you should do to be safe online. I later consulted for the Freedom of the Press Foundation doing somewhat similar work, and also then working on SecureDrop. And my role at The New York Times was building on that type of work as well. And after the Times eliminated my role, I worked with ProPublica, Radio Free Europe, and the Ford Foundation to look at not just security for individuals but also how to help the business side of media organizations to support the newsroom.

Headshot of Runa Sandvik

Runa Sandvik, founder of Granitt. Image: (supplied)

Some of the work that I’ve done has sort of been workshops directly for the newsroom. I’ve had one-on-one chats with reporters about some project that they’re about to take on. But I’ve also had a lot of conversations with the IT and security folks on the business side to help them understand what are the challenges that the newsroom is facing. How can I best solve them? What should they be aware of? And also, how do they go about getting up to speed, and how do they then later on educate staff in the newsroom? There’s sort of been some “train the trainer” type of work as well, because 10 years ago Tor was around but the user experience was clunky. Now in 2022, we have a lot of really neat tools that are very user friendly for being safe online for doing research in safe ways.

One thing that I saw at the Times is that you had a team to do cybersecurity. You had someone focusing on physical security, you had human resources taking care of emotional safety, and you had legal taking care of any sort of legal challenges that might pop up. But if we look at what it’s going to take for a journalist to be safe, it’s really the combination of those four groups — and that means those four groups that need to come together and have a working group, talk to each other, understand what each person brings to the table, and what can actually be done holistically to better support staff.

Right, and we’re starting to see that across newsrooms when it comes to targeted harassment and doxing, but supporting journalism is a team effort and it takes a village and everyone working from the same page. So, why the name Granitt?

The name is the Norwegian spelling of granite. It is really that simple. Over the years I’ve had close friends who have encouraged me to do something on my own, and have pointed out how the work that I do doesn’t really exist anywhere else and that I’m in a good position to do it.

What kind of work will you be doing with your new startup and how do you plan to solve both the security aspect and getting different teams communicating and collaborating with the aim of supporting journalists?

It’s still consultancy, so, I think training workshops and public speaking are still going to be a part of it. There’s still going to be everyday security guidance for newsrooms, guidance around specific projects, so whether it’s someone who’s about to take on a sensitive project, travel, or someone wants to set up a tips channel, how do you create the process to support that internally? That’s definitely still a part of what I do. But then also working more with different teams on the business side to ensure that those four groups of people can actually come together in a working group and better understand what the staff really need, and to understand what are the threats that they’re facing, how do they actually work, and what do we need to figure out to better support them?

There’s a lot of bridge building. I don’t think it’s a case that people don’t care about this, I think that some are not necessarily aware of the challenges that certain people are facing. And also, in many ways, how easy it can be to spin up that kind of effort internally. If you’re The New York Times, you’ll have the resources. But if you’re a smaller newsroom, you can still have a working group of dedicated reporters who can figure out how we can best support our staff with online threats and harassment, or what to do if someone gets phished. If you’re a smaller newsroom, there’s still a lot you can do, and something is better than nothing.

Was there an impetus for you starting this company? Was there a single event that made you think, ‘I have to do this,’ or was it more akin to a gradual series of events over the course of years?

I’ve always been aware that there aren’t a lot of people that do what I do. There aren’t a lot of people that focus on security for reporters. And over the years that has changed and there are more people doing this type of work, educating newsrooms and educating the business side at media organizations. I think that part of my reluctance to just start something on my own was I thought it would just be just this thing I do on the side, and I think I was just getting in the way of myself. Now it’s an official thing with a name, a logo, and website. It’s something that I’m more excited about and ready to invest in. For me, it’s the thing that I’ve always done, but having a company plants the flag that this is something that’s needed, important, and worth investing in.

Tell me more about the threats that you seek to counter and who you are trying to protect. What makes these kinds of individuals a higher risk or a greater target than the average citizens?

I’ve been shifting from talking about people as “high risk” and just talking about it as “at risk.” I’ve found that it’s easier for some to understand or relate to. Just the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade is a good example. A lot of people suddenly became “at risk,” but not necessarily high risk. And while I have certainly focused my work on security for newsrooms and for reporters — that’s still what I am very passionate about — the guidance that I give at the end of the day is good guidance for anyone who’s trying to do whatever it is that they want to do, but in a safe way. At any point someone finds themselves in a category where there might be some repercussions for them doing whatever it is they’re doing, that’s something I would consider “at risk” and something that I can help with.

My goal is to help you work safely and help you do whatever it is that you’re trying to do in a safe way. That means we have to talk about, and take into account, any sort of threat that you’re aware of. We need to come up with a plan for you, it becomes very contextual driven, and it’s about coming up with the right mitigations for you and the work that you’re trying to do at that point in time. Whether the concern is NSO-style spyware, phishing, or traveling and you’re worried about losing your laptop, we can talk about the risks, the challenges, what you can do and come up with something that actually works for you.

It sounds like a very collaborative process between you and your clients; a mix of technical, and education and teaching your clients what to do and what not to do by way of threat modeling and determining what risks you may face.

I could tell you that you should work on a laptop that runs Tails [a highly secured operating system] and a persistent volume and only ever use Tor. But if even the idea of moving to a different browser is something you’re not comfortable with, that whole example is just going out the window. Yes, from a security perspective, it’s a good option, but if it does not fit your workflow or lifestyle as an individual, it’s not guidance that’s likely to stick. In some cases, it really just comes down to figuring out what is actually going to work for you so that we can help you work more safely.

The threats out there vary wildly, depending on the kinds of activities of at-risk individuals, and every person’s threat model is different, if not unique. How does that collaboration work for finding what works for them and what they need as part of the threat model?

I’m sure you’ve seen this post before. “Your threat model is not my threat model.” It’s just fantastic and it’s worth sharing again and again. In some cases, I’ll communicate directly with a person that needs assistance, and in others it will be an individual and one or two other people, like an editor or the security person or lawyer at the company, and it’s very specific to the individual. In other scenarios, it could be a conversation with the teams on the business side supporting the newsroom trying and figure out what guidance that we give to everyone. What would we consider our everyday security guidance that everyone should just know? And then you can build out both a baseline security level for the organization and find ways to then level up year after year, but you also then figure out exactly what are the challenges that you’ve had to date, what do the slightly more complex or sophisticated threats look like, and how do you go about addressing that? And to your question, security guidance and context-specific security guidance is really hard, if not impossible to scale. I think at some point, you do need to invest in having people talk to each other.

You and I both know that attacks are getting smarter and more complex with new capabilities. Is there a single cybersecurity issue that concerns you today more than anything else?

In May I gave a talk at Paranoia 2022 titled “How the Media Gets Hacked.” And instead of looking at how reporters get hacked — because we can talk about anything from your typical scam or phishing, to nation-state backed spyware and zero-click exploits — if you look at how media organizations get hacked, I give several examples in my talk. When The New York Times was hacked by China in 2012, that was phishing. Tribune Publishing in 2018 got ransomware, also because of phishing or outdated systems. Dagbladet [Norwegian newspaper] and Schibsted [Norwegian media giant] had some issues with someone who found credential dumps and decided to try them against their systems, no two-factor authentication was enforced, and they got access. And the last one, Amedia [Norwegian newspaper] again got ransomware, so again, phishing or outdated systems.

We know how to address all of these. So what is happening? It’s interesting that what it really comes down to is: we know what best practices are, so why are they so hard to do? We need to have more of a conversation around that. Every single day, leadership at different organizations have to make choices around what to focus on, what to invest in, where to spend money, and what risks they choose to accept at that point in time. But if the end result is that organizations are compromised as a result of something as foundational as phishing and lacking two-factor, it really begs the question — are we actually prioritizing the right things?

And before we end. If you could give one key piece of security advice that every person should know. What would that be?

Turn on two-factor authentication!

Lead image credits: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP via Getty Images.

Apple revamps the lock screen in iOS 16 with interactive widgets and other personalization features

Apple is giving the iPhone’s lock screen a big makeover in iOS 16. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, the company introduced its plans for a more personalized lock screen that users can customize via a built-in editor, which offers interactive widgets, a wallpaper gallery, and colorful themes. It’s also introducing a new feature called Live Activities that will allow developers to build out interactive, live-updating lock screen widgets.

Previously, widgets were available in the “Today View” to the left of the lock screen. With a swipe to the right, iPhone users could keep track of news, weather, calendar appointments, stocks, and more in a customizable view. Now, widgets will be available directly on the lock screen itself.

In the new lock screen, users will be able to update this key iOS real estate via a new editor that, when tapped, takes you into a mode where you can swipe to try out different themes and styles. These styles can automatically change the color, filter, background, and font  — all of which are designed to coordinate with each other. Using this feature, users can try out different typefaces and pick from different colors.

Photos used on the lock screen will also see a new multilayer effect, says Apple, where the subjects of photos are set in front of the time on the lock screen, creating a sense of depth. Users will also be able to change the look of the date and time itself with different styles and color choices.

Image Credits: Apple

In addition, users can make their lock screen more helpful by choosing new widgets from an available widget gallery.

These features allow users to view information at a glance — like upcoming calendar events, weather, news, battery health, alarms, and more. One option, called Photo Shuffle lets your choose from a set of photos to shuffle throughout the day. Apple offers suggested photos intelligently curated from users’ personal libraries, as well.

From a new lock screen gallery, users can also browse through a selection of Apple collections, where they can pick from pre-configured themes, like a Pride and Unity theme. Another option lets users preview the weather conditions, with a live Weather wallpaper that shows things like lighting or a downpour. An Astronomy wallpaper offers views of the Earth, moon, and solar system. Users can also create lock screens with their favorite emoji or color combinations.

Users can configure a number of different lock screens, too, which they can save and then later switch between.

Developers, meanwhile, can build for the lock screen via Widget Kit, which allows them to build customizable, glanceable information for this part of the iOS 16 experience.

With the changes, Apple is also introducing something it’s calling Live Activities, which help you stay on top of things that are happening in real-time, right from the lockscreen. Developers will be able to access this via the Live Activities API, which is used to create these glanceable experiences.

Apple suggested how these Live Activities could be used — for example, for staying on top of sports game scores, tracking an Uber ride or workout, and more. One would allow users playing music to access playing controls that could expand to a full-screen view. These would co-exist alongside the other lock screen elements, Apple explained.

In addition, Apple’s new Focus Mode will be updated to be customizable via the lock screen. That is, users can customize a lock screen for a given Focus Mode. That means while at work, you could have widgets focused on things like Stocks or your work Calendar, for instance, while in your personal time you may update the screen with different widgets and family photos, perhaps. The wallpaper can change with different Focus Modes, too.

Notification will also now roll out from the bottom of the lock screen, instead of cluttering them, in order to keep the main widgets and features in clear view.

The feature will release with the updated iOS 16 operating system, typically arriving in the fall.

Read more about WWDC 2022 on TechCrunch

Entertainment site Fandom adds long-requested creator features, ‘Interactive Wiki Maps’ and ‘Fandom Trivia’

Fandom, a wiki hosting service and fan platform with over 300 million monthly active users and 250,000 wiki communities, has just announced its newest features and tools, Interactive Wiki Maps and Fandom Trivia.

Creators on Fandom have known about Interactive Wiki Maps and Fandom Trivia via the community blog for over a year as the features have been tested and perfected. Today is the first time the platform is announcing the features to the public.

Interactive Wiki Maps introduces a customizable mapping tool that has been long-requested by the creator community. Fandom Trivia, meanwhile, is a built-in wiki feature that enables creators to enhance a fan’s experience and test their knowledge of every detail of the imagined worlds they can’t get enough of. Now, creators across all Fandom communities can design their own maps and quizzes to further immerse fans into imagined worlds that provide them with information about their favorite games, TV shows, and movies.

The features finally rolled out last month after a period of testing, bug fixes, and receiving feedback from creators. The team is still working on evolving the maps tools and implementing new features such as custom map markers and more.

Some examples of published maps include the world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and the planet Batuu from “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.”

Image Credits: Fandom

The Interactive Wiki Maps feature was created using the open-source Leaflet JavaScript library and is defined using JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). It can be built as a wiki page in the Map namespace and is embeddable in other pages with template transclusion. Transclusion is the use of the template functionality of MediaWiki to incorporate identical content in many documents without the need to edit those documents separately. The JSON file is the source editor and the underlying code. The team also built a much more intuitive editor on top of that.

Then, to make the creation of Interactive Maps available to everyone, Fandom created a visual editor tool that would simplify the building experience. This tool is similar to the current Theme Designer and allows users to comfortably upload a map image, place custom markers on the map, add descriptions, and more without needing to work with the JSON source code. Users who are familiar with JSON can still edit the code in the source editor.

This isn’t the first time Fandom has tried to implement maps. There was an older Wikia Maps feature attempted back in 2014; however, there were fewer resources in Fandom’s arsenal to pull off something that had the right tools and would garner enough user adoption.

Gamepedia, which was a separate wiki platform that Fandom acquired in 2018, had IP-specific solutions for interactive maps but was never centralized into one tool. The development team was smaller than Fandom’s current team as well. This new unified, customizable mapping tool is fulfilling a promise to creators that took years to perfect.

Fandom Trivia has also gone through a series of tests, especially the location of quizzes on the site.

For instance, Fandom found that not a lot of fans were engaging with the feature when it was located on the top, side, or even bottom of the page. With data and research, the team discovered that engagement increases when the feature is placed in the content itself. Over 12 million people (4% of users) engaged with Fandom Trivia when quizzes looked like they belonged as part of the content as opposed to on the side of the page where advertisements go.

Below is an example of what the in-content placement looks like on mobile devices.

Image Credits: Fandom

Unlike the limited Trivia Quiz feature that was developed in 2019, this newly evolved experience uses an internal tool that staff, Wiki Representatives, and Wiki Specialists can access. Staff members and the Wiki team can make quizzes efficiently by using a catalog of pre-written questions or just creating them from scratch.

Also, after lots of research, Fandom determined that gaming users were the most interested in taking quizzes (73%). Meanwhile, 44.4% of anime fans wanted to take quizzes. Additionally, Fandom found there was a strong desire to see both users create quizzes and fandom-created quizzes. In fact, 64% of people who responded said a mix of the two made the most sense.

TechCrunch spoke with Vice President of Community Brandon Rhea, who said that Fandom is in early conversations about opening up quizzes that are made by fans themselves. Difficulty levels, community leaderboards, challenges, and even a gamification element are also being considered.

Fandom Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Fried also chimed in and emphasized that the main goal for the platform is to offer everything a fan could possibly need and to keep returning to the platform for more. With these two features and other enhancements in the future, Fandom aims to be a one-stop-shop for fans. Brandon adds that he wants users to say that Fandom isn’t just the place to go for answers but also the place where they can go for a full fan experience.

“Fandom is thrilled to have passionate creators managing our 250,000 wikis, and their contributions to our platform allow us to be the #1 source of information and the leading site for gaming, television, film, and pop culture,” said Rhea. “These new features will provide them with more immersive opportunities for fan exploration on their wikis and also welcome new users to our communities by providing a more seamless and immersive site experience.”

PSA: Owl City remixed Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’

My Chemical Romance yesterday released their first single since 2014. Kendrick Lamar just dropped a new album. But did you know that this morning, Owl City remixed Smash Mouth’s seminal hit “All Star”?

You might be wondering why we are covering this on TechCrunch, which is not a music website. My editor is probably wondering the same thing. But here are the tech angle(s):

  1. “All Star” is to internet culture as “Jane Eyre” is to gothic literature. It’s a classic. Especially with the rise of TikTok, songs are memes now — be honest with yourself, did you know who Capone was before the “oh no no no” song went viral? How many Gen Z-ers listened to Fleetwood Mac for the first time because of the Ocean Spray longboarding guy? Smash Mouth would have faded from relevance much earlier if “All Star” didn’t appear in the opening sequence of “Shrek,” a film that has become inextricable from its second life on the internet.
  2. Let’s not forget Owl City, the solo project of electronic (tech angle!) musician Adam Young. The dude knows he’s a one-hit wonder, and he’s in on the joke. He wrote the lyric, “You would not believe your eyes/if ten million fireflies/lit up the world as I fell asleep,” then goes on to claim that he got “a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs.” Listen. I might be a writer who is shitposting about Smash Mouth on a Friday to distract herself from other things (uhh, Elon Musk), but I am a writer, and I’ll tell you, that lyric makes no fucking sense. But Owl City did what any butt of a joke on the internet had to do: he committed to the bit, cementing himself as an all star. When a fan asked him what he meant by that lyric — “does each firefly hug you 1,000 times, or do only 1/10th of the bugs give you a hug?” — Young wrote a long Facebook post (yes, Facebook, a tech company — tech angle!) confirming that he “was embraced 1,000 times by 10,000 luminescent insects.” Great stuff here.
  3. John and Hank Green helped shape the creator economy as we know it — their business DFTBA Records fulfills merchandise purchases for a number of independent internet personalities, and they co-founded VidCon, an annual convention about online video. Not to mention that they helm one of the longest-running, large internet communities via their YouTube channel, vlogbrothers. Online video? Big deal. How many letters from Congress have been written to TikTok recently? Tech angle. But to bring things back to “All Star,” the two forty-something-year-old men spent several months over the course of 2020 only uploading YouTube videos titled with lyrics from “All Star.” It was kind of a beautiful project.
  4. Owl City’s remix of “All Star” is only being distributed digitally. Is that a tech angle?

Anyway, if you want to distract yourself from the doom and gloom of tech, have you considered listening to Owl City’s remix of “All Star”? Have you read the very serious press release, in which Smash Mouth’s Paul De Lisle calls the song “a wonderfully creative and unique reimagining,” noting that it is an “honor” that Owl City remixed it? Did you know that Adam Young says “All Star” is one of his favorite songs of all time, and is he serious, or is that part of the joke? Did he really get 1,000 hugs from 10,000 lightning bugs each?

Okay, here’s the song:

FabuLingua wins the TechCrunch City Spotlight: Austin pitch-off!

It’s my pleasure to announce FabuLingua won today’s City Spotlight: Austin pitch-off! The company competed against knowRX Health and Vertikal X on today’s TechCrunch Live episode and won free exhibition space at TechCrunch Disrupt this October.

Mark Begert pitched his company to three Austin-based investors who found his messaging and pitch to be clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Mark explained throughout his four minute pitch that his company teaches kids Spanish through games and stories. He likened FabuLingua to Prodigy Education’s ultra-popular education product that teaches math through a similar gamification service.

In FabuLingua users (kids) interact with stories and games that unlock new functions as the child progresses. The company calls it invisible learning where the text is in Spanish but read aloud in English. Along the way, the service drops the English helpers and presents the child with only Spanish instructions. As the child explores the FabuLingua world, more stories unlock, enable more teaching opportunities. The service is available through a monthly subscription, and is available on Android and iOS devices.

The company was founded by Leslie and Mark Bergert. While Mark is the CEO, he made it clear in his pitch, Leslie, as a polyglot, leads the direction of the company. It’s her passion of teaching languages, he says, that pushes the company forward. She was raised in a multicultural, bilingual environment and studied linguistics at Oxford University along her way to earn a psychology degree. She later earned her Masters degree in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University.

The company says it has over 80,000 downloads, 15,000 registered users and over 1,000 families paying for the subscription.

FabuLingua is based out of Austin, TX and raised $1.3 million in pre-seed funding rounds. The company is currently raising capital through Wefunder where it raised $322,983 with a $7.5 million valuation cap. The campaign is active, and FabuLingua is still accepting new investors through Wefunder.

Two other companies presented in the Austin pitch-off. David Franklin pitched knowRX Health, which partners with physician to collect data that’s sold to pharmaceutical companies. Charlie Sarmiento pitched Vertikal X, a marketplace for athletes based in blockchain technology.

Special thanks to the wonderful Austin-based judges: Krishna Srinivasan, co-founder of LiveOak Venture Partners, Bryan Chambers, President of Capital Factory, and Sarah Brand, founding General Partner at True Wealth Ventures.

Read more stories from Austin, Texas!

Stackblitz raises $7.9M to bring a better IDE to your browser

StackBlitz, a developer-focused startup that uses WebAssembly and WebContainers to give you a full development environment in your browser, today announced that it has raised a $7.9 million seed funding round led by Greylock with participation from GV, GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner, atSpoke co-founder Jay Srinivasan and Appurify co-founder Pratyus Patnaik.

At its core, StackBlitz gives you a full development environment in the browser. The service currently supports JaveScript-adjacent frameworks like Next.js, Nuxt, Node.js, React and Angular. The code editor is powered by a pared-down version of Visual Studio Code, but it’ll soon run a full extensible version of Microsoft’s open-source code editor in the browser that will remove the limitations of today’s StackBlitz editor. Developers can get started with a blank project within seconds, connect to their code repositories in GitHub to work on existing projects or even just work on their local files.

Image Credits: StackBlitz

Stackblitz was co-founded by Eric Simons (CEO) and Albert Pai (CTO). If Simons’ name sounds familiar, he’s the guy who, when he was 19, squatted at AOL’s headquarters while he and Pai were working on what would become Thinkster, their first startup. Thinkster offers online programming courses and tutorials with a focus on full-stack development. In the process, they realized how hard it has become to set up a development environment when you want to teach somebody how to program. “It’s super unreliable,” said Simons. “It’s a total pain. It’s a nightmare. And it’s like: how has this not been solved?”

Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly the problem StackBlitz tries to solve. “[At Thinkster] we were teaching the bleeding edge of what browsers could do,” he explained. “And we had this realization that it should theoretically be possible to actually run a dev environment in a browser tab — kind of like running an operating system in a browser tab so you don’t have to install stuff and you don’t have to spin up a server.”

Image Credits: StackBlitz

Simons noted that the team spent three years building the WebContainer technology which allows you to run this WebAssembly-based system in a browser tab and boot it within milliseconds. “It also means we can give this away for free, which is spiritually important to Albert and I, considering our origins,” Simons explained. “But also, we have 2 million developers a month now using Stack Blitz and our AWS bill is a couple of hundred bucks because all the compute is being offloaded right to the edge.”

The StackBlitz team also argues that using its service enhances security because it’s very hard for code to break out of the browser sandbox. In part, Simons attributes the service’s success in the enterprise to these inherent security features.

While StackBlitz should make for a nice environment to teach programming, it’s important to note that the company isn’t directly going after this market.  So far that seems to be working out. Simons says that during the beta period, StackBlitz saw developers from over 2,000 companies on its platform and that he is seeing strong interest from Fortune 500 enterprises. The company’s enterprise revenue grew 10x in 2021 and quadrupled its headcount to 20 people.

As for monetizing the service, StackBlitz is following the GitHub playbook, with a free service that only allows for public projects and syncing with public GitHub repos, and paid tires starting at $9/month that allow for private projects as well.

Image Credits: StackBlitz

Apple execs on developing Mac Studio and Studio Display for the other pros

The seeds of the Mac Studio were planted 5 years ago next month when, in a rare candid admission of misstep, Apple said it was pushing the reset button on the Mac Pro. Having painted itself into a “thermal corner,” Apple realized that it had to burn down the architecture it had created and start anew. 

One year later, it said that it had created the Pro Workflows Team, a group designed to interact with and gather information from professionals in creative, scientific and other fields to understand their work processes better. That information would go on to be used to develop 2019’s redesigned Mac Pro, a heavily modular system with some highly specialized optional components tailored to high end 3D design, music and film work. 

The Mac Studio is also a child of that process, designed to introduce a brand new kind of desktop to Apple’s lineup that combines pinnacle-level power, accessibility and port-rich extensibility with a modular approach that includes offering the Studio Display – designed alongside the Studio itself. 

“We look very much at Mac studio for what it is, a completely new Mac product line. Which is rare. We don’t add product lines to the Mac very often,” says Tom Boger, Vice President of Mac & iPad Product Marketing at Apple. “Our philosophy was not at all to take a Mac Mini and scale it up, it was ‘we know we’re working on this M1 chip and we want to bring it to those users who want performance and conductivity and a modular system. And let’s allow it to live right on people’s desks so it’s within easy reach. And that’s what we delivered.”

I spoke to Boger, along with Shelly Goldberg, Senior Director, Mac & iPad Product Design and Xander Soren, Director of Product Marketing, Pro Apps at Apple about the design and development of Mac Studio. 

In our convo, Soren noted that there was a clear signal from its creative and pro users that there was a need for a modular system that fell in between the iMac and the Mac Pro. Modular, in this sense, consisting of the Mac Studio offering two levels of M1 chip and a paired Studio Display. 

There is a pretty clear throughline from Apple’s reset of the Mac Pro, to its formation of the Pro Workflows team to the development of Mac Studio. This is a port rich offering that provides users a lot of what they have been asking for both publicly on social media and in meetings with the workflow team. 

The Mac Studio is a bit of an ode to Apple’s creative customer, the ones that kept Apple afloat through the lean years when they were pretty much the only users that saw the value in Apple’s approach to a design-forward suite of software and hardware offerings. 

That group of Mac loyalists hasn’t always been treated to the rapid-fire releases that we’ve seen since 2019. For a while, that group was left to wonder whether Apple cared much about the Mac at all any more given the volcanic success of its iOS suite of products. 

Even when the Mac Pro hit there ended up being a lot more questions than answers given the eye-watering price and narrow market for such a beefy machine. 

The Mac Studio fills in that gap (and more additional left by the deletion, apparently permanently, of the 27” iMac) between all-in-one and Mac Pro with an offering of machine that can be paired with Apple’s monitor or any other. And the performance that it offers is absolutely undeniable. 

I’ve had the Mac Studio for a week or so and have been using it, running benchmarks and pushing it in various ways as well as just trying to see what this new shape of computing feels like to live with.

I’m happy to say that most of those impressions – with one unfortunate exception that I’ll touch on later. I might mention a few here by the way, but if you want to see what kind of benchmark and testing results we got and a more in-depth hardware-centric look at Mac Studio, make sure to read TechCrunch Hardware Editor Brian Heater’s piece here

In my testing, to cite one example, the Mac Studio with M1 Max that I am trying out clocked an 8K timeline export from Final Cut Pro that was 3x as fast as the 2020 M1 MacBook and only 3 minutes slower than a near-completely-maxed-out Mac Pro. The Mac Studio as configured will set you back around $3,200. Only around $20,000 cheaper than the Mac Pro I used to perform this test back in 2020. 

This is an enormous performance delta, and one that Apple is leaning into hard with this offering for pros. 

Soren says that peak performance of its pro apps is, for Apple, about democratization.

“When it comes to pro technologies, things can get expensive. You need a lot of different gear. You need a specific kind of professional space to work in. In the past you needed big teams,” says Soren. “All of that is really, really evolving. And I think that one reason that evolution is really accelerating the last couple years is because of Apple silicon.

We’re talking about how many screens you can have of 8k or that you can do an Atmos mix in 96k audio and the performance meter is hitting like 30%. And the other very consistent thing we’re seeing is that you don’t need a super expensive facility and long term rent. We’re seeing incredible productions being done from a desk or the corner of a desk, and it’s pretty inspiring.”

Boger feels that it will take some time for people to orient themselves around having the option to have this separate desktop option available to choose from in Apple’s lineup. But Apple hopes these will become a cornerstone device in many studios and setups. In order for this machine to serve the needs of these more flexible workers, the machine had to provide optionality.

“I think the way we look at it is we’re happy to provide multiple ways for our users to work,” Boger says. “So you could decide to have a MacBook Pro with an M1 Max chip in it and you could decide to have a setup in your studio where you bring the MacBook Pro back and forth. And if that’s the way that you choose to work, great. But we also have users that prefer to have that desktop that always lives on their desk.”

The number of ports available on the Mac Studio is something that came out of research with its pro customers, talking to them, asking them how many devices that they’re using. The USB-A options were a bit surprising to me, to be honest, but Boger says that their research showed that there was still a legacy need.

“We’re trying to give our users that dynamic range of choice. So when deciding on the array of ports and how many and all of that it’s really just talking to lots of customers, serving our customers and seeing how many devices they’re using. And the USB-A ports is about the fact that people still have some legacy devices they can only connect there and there’s some software that still requires software keys,” Boger notes.

The Mac Studio, he says, was about giving them an extensive array of connectivity while still hitting what they feel like a sweet spot in number of ports for the vast majority of these kinds of users.

Another big design touchstone for the team building the Mac Studio was accessibility of those ports. The M1 Max (and theoretically M1 Ultra) are massively powerful chips that provide some of the best performance you can buy in any size of computer, much less one with a 7×7 footprint. But that compact size was also designed to make all of the ports accessible, even the ones in the back. 

Being able to reach the front and even the back of the Mac Studio at any given moment was something that the team thought about when designing it. More than any mid-tower, the Mac Studio was truly designed to be a desktop desktop.

“We’ve got IO right on the front, and even if you need to get to the back, you just spin it around,” notes Boger. “It’s relatively light; It’s very small; it fits under most displays at 3.7 inches high. We’re really giving users something they’ve never had before. They’ve always had to trade off. If I wanted a smaller form factor computer, I had to trade off performance. And what we wanted to do was give people something where you don’t have to do that. In fact, you can do things no other computer can do like 18 streams of 8k video, or a massive 3d scene that takes up nearly 128 gigs of video memory.”

Fitting that kind of power into the Mac Studio was an engineering challenge, says Shelly Goldberg. The thermal situation alone was a huge endeavor that posed unique challenges from the Mac Pro where there was so much room for large fans and tons of venting. 

Since the Mac Studio was designed to be a true desktop machine, Apple envisioned it operating close to the user.

It was such a fun challenge from a hardware perspective, because we’re trying to deliver like this massive amount of performance, but were really constrained on the form factor,” says Goldberg. “Obviously, if you’re going to keep it on your desk, you don’t want it to be annoying you while you’re doing all those things. So it’s really fun challenge from a hardware perspective, the team did hundreds of thermal simulations for the airflow to try to figure out what’s the best pattern of airflow through the system to try to optimize for performance and acoustics and ultimately, we came up with the the design that we have which has the inlet on the bottom coming in through over 2,000 machined holes that are all machined at [a specific] angle that rotates as you go around the perimeter.”

This special venting design reduces turbulence inside the casing, allowing air to flow smoothly from the bottom, over the components and through the blower without colliding with itself. The holes themselves are not drilled normally either, there’s a custom designed Apple machine built specifically for this purpose that bores 3 holes per second in each casing at those specific angles. 

The dual blower is completely non-standard as well. Goldberg says that the engineering team found that by splitting each impeller of the blower by a divider partway up its height, they were able to make adjustments using the disc that allowed for different pitches of the blades above and below the divider. 

“That results in drawing different amounts of airflow from each section of the box so we can tune for the thermal performance based on the cooling needs, adjust the height of that divider, adjust the the pitch of the blades and each section and then kind of optimize for thermals and acoustics at the same time,” says Goldberg. “Every generation – especially in the pro products we feel like we’re pushing the envelope on thermal performance and what can we do to pack even more power density into a particular form factor. To find new ways to do that every generation is still pretty exciting for my team.”

The extra weight that some people noticed on the specs for the M1 Ultra model of Mac Studio, by the way, is from a “lot” of copper in the fin stack on top of the doubled-up SoC of the Ultra. The blower remains the same between the two models, tuned to each ones needs, of course. 

I personally found the thermal performance of the Mac Studio model that I had to be unbelievably good. Not only did I not notice even a hint of performance falloff in extended operations like renders or compiles, but I never heard the fans emit anything truly audible once. I’m sure some jobs will get it going enough to hear, but those will have to be pretty aggressive tasks.

The other component that makes the Mac Studio an attractive option for anyone, of course, is the Studio Display. The wait for a replacement for Apple’s extremely popular Thunderbolt Display has been a long one indeed. Though the Pro Display XDR exists, and is one of the best monitors my eyes have ever touched – its $5,000 price point puts it out of the reach of many professionals who don’t need the reference monitor aspects of its feature set. 

The Studio Display is excellent. Yes, it is not micro-LED, but it is P3 and extremely crisp. Having the ability to run any of your Macs through this display after years of no target display mode on the iMac 27” is a really welcome option. Though the Studio Display was designed for Mac Studio, Apple is aware that you might run it on other machines. Which is why the A13 is on board doing the heavy lifting on Center Stage and Spatial Audio. It effectively gives older MacBooks a nice upgrade as well as a crisp display.

“We wanted it to be a great, very accessible, very mainstream display for all of our Mac users,” says Boger. “It’s a great display if you want to hook up to the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, Mac Studio, Mac Pro, whatever. And we know that there’s still users out there that are using Intel based Macs and so putting A13 in there processes the audio for Spatial Audio and makes the magic of Center Stage happen. 

While the Pro Display XDR is an amazing display and, we feel, the best display for pros anywhere – are also millions of users out there that wanted Apple to offer a mainstream display for whatever Mac they’re on.”

For those of you wondering, by the way, you can use the display with non-Mac machines, it will light up as a regular display, webcam and set of stereo speakers.

Those speakers are the second big feature of the Studio Display, and I’m happy to report that I found them to sound quite good overall. 

The max peak volume is roughly in the range of the 27” iMac, but with a far richer and broader tonality. The bass response is really impressive for a small chamber speaker array. Even though it’s “small bass” you still feel it a bit at a distance which adds a little texture. The low end does still have that constrained feeling that is common to small chamber speaker setups, but the midrange is pleasantly broad and not tinny at all.

As far as Spatial Audio recordings are concerned, Studio Display presents a far broader downstage than I expected. When comparing the same track in spatial and non spatial, you know, you can hear the sound open up to a much more nuanced soundstage then the very vocal forward mixes common today. 

I was pleasantly surprised to be able to hear it and enjoy it and actually mark the difference just with a casual listen. Though the sound can’t compare to my pair of dedicated on-desk monitors, it’s going to be better sound than most people have on their desktop now. Other people will probably have more educated opinions on it. But just as far as I’m concerned, I think it’s pretty damn good. It’s a new high water mark for monitor audio, hands down.

Goldberg says that the Spatial Audio system in the Studio Display also utilizes the force canceling drivers that they built for the 16” MacBook Pro, a first for a desktop audio system. These specialized drivers provide and internal, oppositional force that dampens unwanted vibration, acting as a shock absorber that prevents the vibration of a speaker cone from traveling into the casing.

“I think that makes a really big difference in the quality of the sound because by having those opposing drivers we’re sending all the vibration that we create into the intentional vibration that’s creating the sound instead of into the enclosure and shaking the enclosure in sometimes less predictable and ways that creates side effects acoustically that are undesirable,” Goldberg notes.

Unfortunately, as you’ll also read in Brian’s review of the Mac Studio, we came across a big performance issue when it comes to the third marquee feature of Studio Display: the new Facetime camera. 

In our testing, the Studio Display’s camera produces grainy, low contrast and generally poor images both locally and remotely. The images that we’re seeing are, at this time, worse than the 2021 24” iMac’s camera produces. 

I noticed the quality issues as soon as I fired up the webcam for the first time. I checked it with other devices, and noticed that it was actually slightly better if it was running from a MacBook Pro running MacOS 12.2, though still not great. Given that there was a difference, my assumption was that it appeared to be some sort of processing error. I asked Apple if the results I had were typical, and sent sample images and video of what I was seeing. After review, an Apple spokesperson told me that the system was not behaving as expected and that Apple would be making updates to address the camera’s performance. 

I do not have a timeline or any specifics on those updates, but Apple is now aware there is an issue with the Studio Display’s camera quality and they said they are working on fixes. It’s worth knowing this going into making your purchasing decisions, and could be a reason to wait to see if those updates improve the quality. 

As of now, it does not live up to the otherwise excellent performance of the display itself and the speakers, which set a new standard for in-monitor audio.

When the Mac Pro dropped. I think there was a little bit of a sticker shock because people saw the lineup with the iMac at one end and the Mac Pro, which is really for a small segment of overall users, at the other. And a large valley in between – both in computing power and in price.

The Mac Pro fell victim to a phenomenon that I think explains a lot of chatter about pricing every time Apple releases a new machine. Much like the classic Porsche print ads of the 80’s and 90’s, much of Apple’s positioning is about how accessible its products are while simultaneously positioning them as objects of desire to be strived for. They are aspirational products, to be sure, but the simple fact that you cannot buy a better iPhone than the best iPhone, and that billions of people own iPhones lends an air of the proletariat – and Apple’s own messaging, even in the interview above – is all about democratization.

That’s definitely an argument worth having about a roughly $3,000 work tool that is, by every measure, one of the most powerful consumer computers ever made. It’s a bit harder once that price tag hits $20,000. The truth is that, while we all loved to imagine ourselves in the seat of one of those crazy powerful Mac Pros, the audience for that machine is vanishingly small when you compare it to the iPhone, iMac or iPad. 

For that audience, the price tag is not really a big factor. For the rest of us, it kills the dream.

It’s a good problem to have. Every time Apple introduces a product it engenders a feeling of ‘how can I see myself in that Mac? The Mac Studio goes a long way towards filling a pricing and performance gap that caused some existential angst along with some professional frustration. It’s a fine machine and, if the webcam issues can be resolved with updates, the Studio Display is a worthy companion. 

The desktop Mac is back.

Read more about the Apple March 2022 event on TechCrunch