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What to watch for at Apple’s big show

David Pierce
David Pierce

What to watch for at Apple’s big show

Good morning! This Monday, Apple tries to mollify developers, Twitter and Snap feel the burn of bad product launches, and Reliance finally stops raising money.

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People Are Talking

Putting a camera in everyone's pocket changed the world for the better, Tim Cook said:

  • "If you look back in time, some of the most dramatic societal changes have occurred because someone captured video. This is true about things that happened in Birmingham; it was true about things that happened in Selma … it becomes much tougher as a society, I believe, to convince themselves that it didn't happen, or that it happened in a different manner or whatever it might be."

As in-person events return, Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz said hosts have a new responsibility:

  • "Classes, workshops, seminars, small meetups are starting to come back. I think that as creators start to think about how to bring their community back in person, there's a huge element of trust that exists in this new world."

To understand Apple's App Store policies, Steven Sinofsky said you have to stop thinking about how techies use software:

  • "It is about normal people who get duped … The problem is that any platform at scale is going to become something of a hacking surface — a game board to be exploited. That's really unfortunate but just is. The platform rules (APIs or contracts) form the board."

NBCUniversal's Jeff Shell got Quentin Tarantino to storm out of a meeting with just seven words about his next movie:

  • "What if we released it on iPhones?"

The Big Story

Apple takes the virtual stage

As one tech exec told me last week, if Apple can't put on a good virtual event, it might just be impossible. So this year's WWDC will be doubly interesting — not just for the news, but for competitors to see what the undisputed champion of the tech event pulls off.

Things kick off at 10 a.m. PDT today, and you can stream it here. What I'm watching for most of all is how Apple explains itself to developers this year. Partly because Apple's under increasing antitrust scrutiny for how it runs the App Store, partly because Per Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who is pretty much always right about these things, Apple's also expected to introduce updates to virtually all of its platforms, but nothing that'll knock your socks off. Unless you're really excited about unlocking your car with your phone.

  • The biggest update might be sleep-tracking on the Apple Watch, which could arrive during what's sure to be a long section of the keynote devoted to teary videos about how great Apple Health is.
  • One detail of the process I've been thinking a lot about: Apple holds briefings with reporters after the keynote every year, and this year's briefings are all being held over Webex. Webex! The company that makes FaceTime must be furious that it's doing so much work on someone else's video platform. I'd bet FaceTime's about to get a serious upgrade.

    One thing you shouldn't expect today? An AR or VR headset. But as this great Bloomberg story explains, that's very much still Apple's most important next project.

    A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

    CLEAR

    CLEAR's touchless identity verification is available in 34 airports nationwide. Members verify their ID with their eyes and scan their boarding pass on a mobile device. With iris first technology, heightened cleaning, and social distancing set in place, you can travel safer with CLEAR. Touchless. No Crowds. Keep moving.

    Learn more here.

    Apps

    How not to launch a new feature: a story in two parts

    When Twitter built a way for users to tweet with their voice, it did so without any kind of accessibility features in mind for the hard of hearing. What the company saw as an early test of a limited feature, announced last Wednesday, others saw as yet another part of the internet that ignores them.

    • Twitter owned up to it fast. On Friday, Maya Gold, the product designer on the feature, tweeted a voice tweet apology: "Uh point blank period, we fucked up, I fucked up. Uh we launched a test and we should have included accessibility features in that test."
    • The company promised to make fixes quickly, and to consider accessibility from the beginning going forward.

    Then, on Friday, Snapchat rolled out a Juneteenth lens that let people "smile to break the chains" of slavery. Lots of people found it offensive. It didn't help Snap's case that it has a bit of a history with these things — remember the Bob Marley filter?

    • In a lengthy note to staff, Snap's Oona King said: "We reviewed the Lens from the standpoint of Black creative content, made by and for Black people, so did not adequately consider how it would look when used by non-Black members of our community."
    • King also indicated that maybe not enough people tested the thing before it went out. "What we also did not fully realize was a) that a 'smile' trigger would necessarily include the actual word 'smile' on the content," she wrote, "and b) that people would perceive this as work created by White creatives, not Black creatives."

    Both stories are obvious examples of why diversity is so important — in project teams, testing and ... well, everywhere, really. They're also unusually clear examples of a thing that happens so often in tech: a product getting made fast, Move Fast and Break Things style, without the right people in the room paying attention through the whole process. Tech always wants to move fast; users are starting to ask it to move a little slower and think a little longer.

    Fundraising

    Reliance finishes its mighty fundraise

    This March 31, Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani promised shareholders that the biggest company in India would be debt-free within a year. Which was not a small undertaking: The company was about $21 billion in the hole. Not only did Ambani pull it off, he did so very, very quickly.

    • On Friday, Reliance announced its latest inward investment, this time $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia's investment fund (which is reportedly on a "pandemic bargain hunt" at the moment). That, Ambani said, marked the "end of Jio Platforms' current phase of induction of financial partners."
    • Starting with Facebook in late April, the company has now raised $15.2 billion in two and a half months, selling just shy of a quarter of the company to 10 investors. It also raised billions of dollars more by offering new shares to existing shareholders. Reliance is now "net debt free," Ambani said.

    First of all, kudos to Ambani and Reliance for the deal-making bender of a lifetime. It's like Greyhound's Sanchit Vir Gogia said earlier this month: "Deal-making is both an art and a science, and Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) seems to have mastered it better than anyone else." All that money with no problematic SoftBank investment? A masterpiece.

    What does all this get Reliance, though? Other than a fundraising record that would make WeWork and Magic Leap weak in the knees?

    • As ninth-richest person alive. Like we said: a masterpiece.

    Coming Up This Week

    President Trump is expected to issue an executive order this week suspending new H1-B and other visas at least through the end of the year. It could happen as soon as today.

    Keep an eye on who boycotts Facebook ads this week. So far The North Face, Upwork and Patagonia are among those turning their backs on the social network for the month of July.

    Especially because the NewFronts conference is happening this week, in which the streaming industry will try to convince the ad industry that video platforms are where ad money should be going. Facebook's going to come up. A lot.

    The Collision conference starts tomorrow, with a huge number of speakers scheduled to talk over three days.

    In Other News

    • TikTok teens and K-pop stans, signed up for tickets to President Trump's Tulsa rally with no intention of attending. Is that why the rally was emptier than expected? Not exactly. But it's a masterclass in online organization.
    • Don't miss this story from The Daily Beast about Sergey Brin's "secretive disaster charity," run by Brin's former bodyguards and a lot of people with military backgrounds. It's either a great philanthropic achievement or a messy experiment in Silicon Valley Exceptionalism, depending on who you ask.
    • Ever wondered what happened at that dinner last year between Mark Zuckerberg and President Trump? According to The New York Times, Trump did most of the talking, it went pretty well, and it led to Jared Kushner calling Zuckerberg so often that the Facebook CEO couldn't keep up.
    • Forward to Police feature, and Fortnite removed police cars from the game. Tech companies are seriously reckoning with how to work with, and even talk about, law enforcement.
    • Arm tried to fire Allen Wu, Arm China's CEO, for starting an investment fund which directly competed with Arm's own fund, according to Bloomberg. But Wu still refuses to leave — raising concerns about the security of Arm's IP.

    One More Thing

    How to hack the box office

    On the list of quarantine hobbies, good luck topping "made the number one movie in America." Two bored guys, a lot of Zoom footage, and a country full of empty movie theaters helped "Unsubscribe" become the top-grossing film in the U.S. last weekend. Does it matter that it only made $25,000, and that all that money came from the filmmakers themselves? Nope! They made the #1 movie in America! Over Zoom! For zero dollars! I haven't watched the movie yet — it's on Vimeo, if you're not in the theater-going mood — but it's already my favorite film of all time.

    A MESSAGE FROM CLEAR

    CLEAR

    CLEAR's touchless identity verification is available in 34 airports nationwide. Members verify their ID with their eyes and scan their boarding pass on a mobile device. With iris first technology, heightened cleaning, and social distancing set in place, you can travel safer with CLEAR. Touchless. No Crowds. Keep moving.

    Learn more here.

    Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@szjqgzf.com, or our tips line, tips@szjqgzf.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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