In the house in which I grew up, a single framed newspaper front page loomed over us. “MAN ON MOON“, it declared jubilantly, in an enormous, suitably momentous typeface. Subheadings included “‘It’s very pretty up here … a fine, soft surface’” and, of course, “A giant leap for mankind.”
What happens next? Well, there we have a quick answer: we’re going back! America is going to land the first woman on the moon by 2024! Absolutely!
…you’re absolutely right to be very skeptical.
There are a numerous “lunar exploration architectures,” or ways to return to the Moon. My friend Casey Handmer, a physicist, space enthusiast, and former levitation engineer, itemizes them in this excellent blog post from a few months ago. One of them is NASA’s proposed Lunar Gateway, which will place a space station into high Moon orbit, from and to which lunar landings will descent and return.
Is this a good idea? …Well, it’s an idea. But it’s better to have a plan and to be making progress on it that not, right? Right? …Except the last few months have seen a bewildering flurry of chaos and confusion which makes NASA’s lunar program more closely resemble a headless chicken than a smoothly oiled machine.
Does this sound like the behavior of a lunar project accelerating to an on-target, on-time landing? Or more like a bureaucratic catastrophe thrashing frantically while failing to get anywhere at all? “As it stands, few experts believe NASA’s plan for returning to the moon in 2024 is feasible,” says Vox mordantly. You don’t say.
I’d be so delighted to see a woman walk on the moon in 2024. But I’m not exactly holding my breath. By 2032 we will have gone sixty years, three generations, between human lunar excursions. Some people think we shouldn’t go back at all, that there is too much of more importance to do here on Earth. I disagree, strongly, but I think even they might still agree that it would be sad beyond belief if, if and when we next land on the Moon, there’s no one around who remembers the last time.
Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.
Last week, I offered up some mildly interesting takes on how Waymo was shaping the future of autonomous vehicles inside of a virtual space rather than wholly on physical roads.
The big story
There are two internets. There’s the one where we click through interfaces and hit menu buttons and dive down predictable lines of inquiry and find predictable ends. And then there are ads. We don’t understand why we get what we get but we the content flows from platform to user with asymmetric information of the “how?”.
Advertising is the economic backbone of the free consumer web, but users are haplessly oblivious to where that generated content comes from and why. What intrigues me here is that a few days ago Instagram announced that it was further rolling out a test to hide like counts from users and that it has been further minimizing the prominence of follower counts on profiles.
It’s an (admittedly small) step in the evolution but it hinges a bit more on how internet giants have come to realize UX transparency can actually lead to some negatives.
There’s of course the ethical argument where you think about the responsibility that Facebook has not to make people feel shitty about themselves by offering a dopamine-hit conveyor belt as a platform, but a more fascinating idea is what a change like this opens up to the company in terms of returns and what it means for how platforms portray the nebulous idea of “engagement.”
One of the easy returns I bet Instagram finds as they expand this test is that by eliminating the conforming social pressures inherent to seeing what other users are enjoying, Instagram might paint a clearer picture of its users. Without giving users a groupthink crutch to influence their own decisions on what to click the heart button on, a web of content less-focused on stats might lead them to things that actually break into.
What’s the most interesting — that this change sort of lightly grazes across — is that we’ve spent the past few decades with the necessary evil of a web predicated on a cause and effect interface. We’ve had a decent idea of why we’re coming across some piece of content and the statistics of why are often user-facing. But do we need to know how the internet works? Do we need to know why we’re seeing anything?
We’ve been thrust fully into this world of algorithmic feeds and while we’re seeing variation across platforms, we’re seeing the potential and pitfalls of the various platforms. Instagram has flirted with serving users content more boldly outside of things they’ve specifically followed with the Explore feed, but the question is when that smartly-sourced content that will come to dominate a user’s central feed and be their main touchpoint with the platform.
We’ve also seen the dangers of algorithmic content where the “why” is invisible to users, YouTube’s platform has grown immensely based off ad-like invisibly sourced “watch next” suggestions, but can social platforms pull this off as well or are the fundamentals of today’s algorithmic feeds based around user actions and follows going to stay true down the road?
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on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
On to the rest of the week’s news.
Trends of the week
Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:
Musk’s Neuralink makes its first promises
The SpaceX founder is known for his moonshots, but this one kind of takes the cake. On Tuesday, Musk spoke about the progress and long-term goals of the company he hoped would allow humans to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” Read more about the promises made in our report.
FaceApp goes viral, again If you used the internet at all this week, chances are that you saw somebody posting an old-looking photo of themselves that was algorithmically generated by an app called FaceApp. There was an awful lot of backlash to the app’s Russian ties and its user permissions, but we tried to break down what was actually happening.
SpaceX’s ‘Starhopper’ bursts into flames It was only a test vehicle, but uncontrolled explosions generally aren’t the best sign when it comes to testing components for space flight. Check out the video and the company’s explanation here.
How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:
Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. This week, we showcased the beginning of our deep dive on Roblox, the wildly popular kids gaming platform that has grown beyond unicorn status.
“…In some ways, Roblox stayed trendy: for instance, it launched sales of its Robux currency in 2008 and virtual goods for developers in 2013, adding microtransactions at a time that much of the game industry was still trying to come to grips with the idea of free gaming. It also supported and nourished a community of unpaid content creators during a time that few other companies had done so, with a few exceptions like YouTube.
Still, the activity taking place in gaming was a philosophical threat. When a company in Roblox’s space hit it big, years before Roblox itself had any hope to, that winning strategy became a temptation. “There are friends, acquaintances, competitors chattering in your ear and saying, maybe you can just do that,” says Dusek…”
Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked about seed stage dilution and startup profitability.
We’re excited to announce The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten Korosec will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.
Upon returning to Apple in the late 1990s, Steve Jobs came up with a 2×2 product grid in an effort to simplify Apple’s then-bloated lineup of computers. The grid was split into four quadrants, including a professional desktop, a consumer desktop, a professional portable, and a consumer portable.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of Jobs unveiling the fourth and final product in the grid, the iBook, at the 1999 Macworld Expo in New York City.
Targeted at consumers and students, the iBook easily stood out from other notebooks of its era with its unique clamshell-like design, consisting of hard, translucent plastic casing topped with soft, colorful rubber. Initial colors included Blueberry and Tangerine, with later models available in Graphite, Indigo, and Key Lime.
The original iBook, priced from $1,599, was equipped with a 12.1-inch display with an 800×600 resolution, a full-sized keyboard, and a trackpad. It also featured a retractable handle along its hinge, with Apple calling it an “iMac to go,” although it was decently heavy at 6.7 pounds — even for its time.
Above all, the iBook was the first mass consumer product with support for wireless networking, with the 802.11b standard allowing for speeds up to 11 Mbps. Wireless support was not built in and required purchasing an optional $99 AirPort wireless card and a $299 AirPort base station.
Jobs demonstrated the iBook’s wireless networking by walking across the stage with the notebook while loading a website, with the audience erupting in cheers. He then placed it through a hula hoop to prove there were no cables attached.
Memorably, a younger Phil Schiller even jumped from a height while holding the iBook as it wirelessly transferred accelerometer data. Referencing the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, Schiller quipped “this is definitely one small step for man, and one giant leap for wireless networking.”
Other tech specs included a 300MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 3.2GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM, ATI Rage Mobility graphics, 10/100 Ethernet, a CD-ROM drive, and up to six hours of battery life. To keep costs down, it had no FireWire port, video out, or microphone, and only one speaker and one USB port.
Apple went on to introduce a redesigned iBook with a more traditional notebook design in May 2001, followed by the white polycarbonate MacBook in 2006, but the original will always be an important part of Apple’s history.
Last year, YouTubers iJustine and MKBHD teamed up to unbox an original, sealed iBook:
“Engage!” Yes, that’s what Sir Patrick Stewart says in this moment, and yes, it’s as delightful in action as that sounds. [credit: CBS
All eyes were on San Diego Comic Con’s Star Trek panel this year, as anticipation continues to build for Star Trek: Picard, the first Trek entry to feature Sir Patrick Stewart since the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis. And on Saturday, the series’ handlers at CBS didn’t disappoint.
A whopping two-minute trailer went well past “teaser” status with a smorgasbord of story, action, and detail for this CBS All-Access exclusive, all clarifying what little we knew from the first teaser in May. Picard’s retirement to a vineyard was further clarified: it came, in part, because “Commander Data sacrificed his life for me.” (This plot point is emphasized in the new trailer by Picard examining Data’s body parts, all spread out and disconnected in a storage facility.)
Roughly two decades after that calamity, however, a mysterious, unnamed woman (Isa Briones) finds Picard on his retirement grounds and pleads with him: “Everything inside of me says that I’m safe with you.” The woman’s shapeshifting powers and athletic prowess are put on display before Picard returns to an apparent Starfleet outpost. That’s where he declares his hunch to an admiral: “If she is who I think she is, she is in serious danger.”
Just to get this out of the way: “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” is a great title. In fact, it’s probably the best thing about the new comedy special on Netflix .
That’s not a complaint about the special itself, which stars David Harbour (a.k.a. Chief Hopper on “Stranger Things”), as both David Harbour Jr — an actor taking on the role of Frankenstein in a play also called “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” — and David Harbour III, an actor who investigates his father’s life decades later.
If this sounds needlessly complicated don’t worry. As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the plot mostly serves as a springboard lots for jokes about actorly jealousy, Chekhov’s gun and the fact that no one can remember that Frankenstein and his monster are two different people. Anthony and Darrell, at least, found the whole thing to be pretty darn delightful.
Jordan, on the other hand, was baffled and unimpressed, and no matter how much time her co-hosts spent over-explaining the various gags, we couldn’t win her over.
In addition to our review, we discuss Netflix’s recent earnings report and try to figure out why, for one of the first times in its history, the streaming service reported a net loss in U.S. subscribers.
After a busy few weeks of news and rumors, things slowed down a little bit this week, but there were still some major stories worth highlighting. Those include our first hands-on look at dummy models of all three upcoming iPhone models, a new iOS 13 beta with some interesting changes and tweaks, a possibility of Apple’s old six-color rainbow logo returning to some products, and of course some emoji news!
Read on for details on all of those stories and more from the past week.
What to Expect From the 2019 iPhones: Hands-On With Dummy Models
We’re almost certainly less than two months away from the unveiling of the 2019 iPhone lineup, which means leaks are heating up. We got our hands on some dummy models for all three devices we’re expecting to see in September.
Rumors suggest we’ll be seeing a very similar lineup to the current trio of models, including the same 5.8-inch, 6.1-inch, and 6.5-inch display sizes. The most obvious change looks to be enhanced rear cameras, with the iPhone XS and XS Max successors moving to a triple-lens system while the iPhone XR successor bumps up to a double-lens camera. All three phones are expected to feature a much larger square camera bump on the rear.
Make sure to check out our video for our best look yet at what we should expect when it comes to the design of the next iPhones, and read through the entire article outlining our overall expectations for the devices.
Apple’s rainbow or “six-color” logo made its debut on the Apple II computer in 1977 and was widely used until 1998, when it began to be phased out in favor of a monochrome Apple logo similar to the one used today.
Apple’s 2019 256GB MacBook Air Includes Slower SSD Than 2018 Model
While the 2019 model’s SSD write speeds are on par if not slightly better than the 2018 model, read speeds appear to have dropped by around 35 percent, based on the Blackmagic Disk Speed benchmark.
Apple may have gone with a slower SSD in order to drop the MacBook Air’s price to a more affordable level, but regardless, it’s not a change that most users are likely to notice in day to day usage of the machine.
iPad Air vs. Microsoft’s Surface Go: Which Is a Better Laptop Replacement?
Additions will include animals like an otter, skunk, and flamingo; new food items like a waffle, onion, garlic, butter, and oyster; new gestures like a yawning face; interracial couples; accessibility-related emoji like a hearing aid, wheelchairs, a prosthetic arm and leg; and much more.
The new emoji will likely be available in iOS 13.1 around October if Apple sticks to the same timeframe from the past few years.
Apple Readies 3D Sensing Rear Camera Component Supplies for 2020 iPhones
While the TrueDepth system on iPhone X and iPhone XS models relies on a structured-light technique, time-of-flight calculates the time it takes for a laser to bounce off surrounding objects to create a 3D image of the environment. This allows for more accurate depth perception and better placement of virtual objects, and should also result in photos better able to capture depth.
Each week, we publish an email newsletter like this highlighting the top Apple stories, making it a great way to get a bite-sized recap of the week hitting all of the major topics we’ve covered and tying together related stories for a big-picture view.
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Zoom and Superhuman’s PR disasters. Before that, I noted the big uptick in VC spending in 2019.
Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to email@example.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.
Now let’s talk about mental health startups. VCs may be confident in the potential of teletherapy, but struggling companies in the space tell another story.
Nine months ago Basis launched a website and app for guided conversations via chat or video with pseudo-therapists or people trained in research-backed approaches but who lack the same certifications as a counseling or clinical psychologist. I wrote a story noting that the company, led by former Uber VP Andrew Chapin, had raised a $3.75 million round from Bedrock, Wave Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
But last month, things took a turn for the worse. Basis quietly shut down its website and app, its co-founder and chief science officer, Lindsay Trent, a former research psychologist at Stanford, exited and a good chunk of eight-person team went out the door.
Basis was one of many startups to benefit from VCs’ growing appetite for innovative businesses in the mental health sector. As the stigma associated with seeking mental health support has dwindled and technology developments have allowed for personalized mental health tools and practices, more entrepreneurs have entered the space. Basis, despite having many of the ingredients needed for startup success, couldn’t achieve success with its direct-to-consumer approach to therapy.
Basis co-founder and CEO Andrew Chapin (center) with the founding team last year
When asked why the Basis app and website were no longer active, Chapin said the company is in the process of “shifting business models.” He declined to provide further details. Lightspeed declined to comment. Wave Capital and Bedrock did not respond to requests for comment.
Basis, which did not claim to treat diagnosable conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, charged $35 per 45-minute phone call with its paraprofessionals. Its use of unlicensed therapists sparked concern in the mental health provider community. Harley Therapy founder Sheri Jacobson, an accredited counselor and psychotherapist, noted flaws with the service: “For me, replacing professional therapists and all of their lived experience and empathy with telepsychiatry administered by novice advisers could be potentially dangerous,” Jacobson said in a statement. “Would you let a learner driver navigate an oil tanker?”
What could go wrong?
“Because Basis works with paraprofessionals — people trained in research-backed approaches but who don’t have the same certifications as a counseling or clinical psychologist — it’s a much cheaper alternative to paying for a therapist.”
Consumer mental health startups continue to attract capital from private market investors. Workplace mental health service Unmind,Blackthorn Therapeutics (a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health) and Talkspace (a leader in the online counseling space) have all closed funding rounds in 2019.
Whether Basis will find its footing is TBD. What’s clear is VCs are still willing to dole out checks as they experiment with the mental health space, but if startups don’t start proving viable business models and learn to navigate the complex adoption curve, we’ll see additional startups cease operations and mental health tech’s moment in the sun will end all too soon.
Now for a quick look at the top VC and startup news of the week:
Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017
The eccentric co-founder and CEO of the international real estate co-working startup WeWork has reportedly cashed out of more than $700 million from his company ahead of its upcoming IPO. According to Axios, a majority of that capital came in the form of loans while the remaining $300 million came from stock sales. The size and timing of the payouts is unusual, considering that founders typically wait until after a company holds its public offering to liquidate their holdings. But even with the big sale, Neumann remains the single largest shareholder in WeWork.
The customer experience management platform priced shares of its stock at $21 apiece Thursday, closing up Friday a whopping 76%. Money left on the table? I think so, and I bet Bill Gurley does too. The nearly two-decades-old company sold a total of 15.5 million shares in its IPO, raising $326 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in the process. Medallia’s $268 million in VC funding came from Sequoia Capital — which owned a roughly 40% pre-IPO stake — Saints Capital, TriplePoint Venture Growth and Grotmol Solutions.
The stock was dramatically mispriced by an archaic hand allocated matching process that needs to go away. This is 2019 and everyone intelligent knows there is a better way to match supply and demand. These are failures.
Within the next three years, Uber aims to increase the percentage of women at levels L5 and higher (manager and above) to 35% and increase the percentage of underrepresented employees at levels L4 and higher to 14%. Currently, Uber is 9.3% black and 8.3% Latinx compared to just 8.1% black and 6.1% Latinx last year. Uber’s tech team, however, is just 3.6% black, 4.4% Latinx and 2.7% multi-racial. Unsurprisingly, there’s little representation of black and brown people in leadership roles. While Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi commented that he’s proud the promotion rates for women have improved over the last couple of years, he added, “I can’t yet say the same for promotions for people of color.”
Startups focused on improving productivity and email are unstoppable this year. The latest to close VC rounds are Substack and Notion. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that there’s still a big opportunity in newsletters, leading a $15.3 million Series A in Substack. The company, which consists of just three employees working out of a living room, says that newsletters on the platform have now amassed a total of 50,000 paying subscribers (up from 25,000 in October) and that the most popular Substack authors are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. As for Notion, The Information reported this week that it raised $10 million at an $800 million valuation. Notion is a note-taking and task management app that hasn’t sought much VC funding and, as a result, VCs have been desperately knocking at its door.
Silicon Valley has many dreams. One dream — the Hollywood version anyway — is for a down-and-out founder to begin tinkering and coding in their proverbial garage, eventually building a product that is loved by humans the world over and becoming a startup billionaire in the process. But when it comes to that Silicon Valley dream of a nice house from a decent return on exit, it’s getting narrower and less widely distributed. Blitzscaling is making a lot of people a lot of wealth, but early employees? Not so much.
TechCrunch senior transportation reporter Kirsten Korosec has something great in the works. All of us here at TechCrunch are very excited to announce The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips on the fast-growing industry. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.
While we’re on the subject of amazing TechCrunch #content, it’s probably time for a reminder for all of you to sign up for Extra Crunch. For a low price, you can learn more about the startups and venture capital ecosystem through exclusive deep dives, Q&As, newsletters, resources and recommendations and fundamental startup how-to guides. Here are some of my personal favorite EC posts from the past week:
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Tesla has withdrawn its request for a court-ordered restraining order against Randeep Hothi, documents submitted to the court where the complaint was filed revealed Friday. Hothi, an individual who is very vocal on social media about his short position in Tesla, had gone to extreme and potentially dangerous lengths in his avid attempts to collect materials to support his vocal criticism, according to the company.
The Alameda County Superior Court actually granted Tesla a temporary injunction in this matter back in April, after Tesla filed a complaint with supporting documents supporting its assertion that Hothi had injured a guard during a hit-and-run incident in February, and that he nearly caused an accident by driving dangerously in pursuit of a Tesla Model 3 undertaking a test driven on April 16.
After granting the temporary injunction based on Tesla’s description of events, supporting materials, and written affidavits submitted by employees, the court asked Tesla to produce both audio and video recordings related to these two incidents pursuant to a hearing. In withdrawing its complaint Friday, Tesla conveyed in documents filed with the court that it considered this requirement unnecessary in light of materials already provided, and an undue imposition on the privacy of their employees, since the recorded conversations regarding the incident contained “its employees’ private and personal conversations” as well as materials relating to the case.
Tesla maintains in its letter to the court that it still believes “a restraining order against Mr. Hothi is necessary and appropriate to protect its employees at their workplace,” it says that faced with the choice between said protection and exposing their employees’ private conversations to further public scrutiny, it will instead opt to pursue the protection of their safety “through other means.”
When contacted about the withdrawal, a Tesla spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company is now confident Hothi should be well aware at this stage that he’s not permitted to enter the company’s property, and that it will pursue legal action should he ever attempt to do so in future.