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Virtual Apple events just aren’t the same

October 14, 2020, 2:52 PM UTC

Everyone misses something in this pandemic. Getting on planes. Hugging their faraway loved ones. Yelling and screaming in a crowded stadium.

Professionally speaking, I really, truly miss going to Apple events. There was a string, dating back to the late oughts, when I rarely missed one. In those days they were in or near the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Before the event started, I’d sit as far forward as possible so I could crane my neck to see which top Apple executives and what business/political/cultural luminaries were seated in the front row. Was that Al Gore? Of course. He’s on the board. (Still is.) Could that be J.J. Abrams, up from Hollywood? In fact it is.

If I was feeling bold I could wander up to schmooze with these personages until I was shooed away by a PR person. Otherwise, I could watch the bonhomie—lots of backslapping and broad grins, like the first day of summer camp—from a distance.

Music would thump from the speakers, and then, at precisely 10:00 a.m.—you could set your watch to it, in the days before the no-need-to-set-it Apple Watch—the lights would go down, and Steve Jobs, or later Tim Cook, would walk onstage to thunderous cheers. Thinking back, it reminds me of the bleating sheep in Animal Farm, which I just re-read. (“Four legs good, two legs bad!” “iOS good, Windows bad!”)

I’m taking you on this trip down memory lane, of course, because Apple held an iPhone event Tuesday. Attendance of an Apple product launch has been democratized. Anyone can watch Tuesday’s show here. If you’ve never been to an Apple gathering, this is a great development. It’s got the same pump-up-the-heart music, the same slick videos, the same strained, middle-aged corporate exuberance.

As for the substance, well, it was fine. The new iPhones look good, the prices have held steady, and someday, probably not as far away as the critics say, 5G will be exciting.

But it’s just not the same as being there in person. Nothing is.

***

Naturally, I’m going to miss Fortune too: This is my last day. I apologize if I didn’t respond to the wonderful notes so many of you wrote in response to my posts at Fortune, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Medium. I’ll try to be more active than usual on social media once I resume writing so you can follow my efforts. Until then, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett.

THREATS

Going apple picking. Spring-boarding off Adam's farewell above :'-(, Apple debuted four new 5G-enabled, wirelessly charging phones at its launch event yesterday. They are, in order from smallest to biggest and ranging from $699 to $1,099, the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Max. Other new products include a wireless MagSafe charging mat, a HomePod Mini smart-speaker, and magnetically-attachable phone accessories, like a clip-on leather wallet.

A worm in the apple. Despite Apple's plans to widely broadcast its product event in China, the demo-day was not carried by the country's biggest social media sites, such as Tencent Video, Bilibili, Iqiyi, and Weibo. The mysterious blackout is expected to dent the new iPhones' reception in a crucial market, as Fortune's Grady McGregor writes

Who-are-we? The embattled Shenzhen phone-maker Huawei is said to be exploring a sale of its budget-conscious phone business called Honor. The phones' main distributor, Digital China, could purchase the unit for $3.7 billion, Reuters reports. Other companies said to be in the deal talks include Chinese electronics-maker TCL and rival phone-maker Xiaomi

Straight cheesin'. The state of Wisconsin denied paying Foxconn, the Taiwan-based electronics contract-manufacturer, its first tranche of $3 billion in subsidies to build a factory in the village of Mount Pleasant. Officials allege that Foxconn failed to create enough jobs to qualify for the funding. The struggling deal was formerly hailed by President Donald Trump as an exemplar of his plans to bring overseas manufacturing back to the U.S.

Face-block. After banning QAnon and sexy onions last week, Facebook is pushing more content crackdowns. The media giant banned Holocaust denialism and anti-vaccination advertisements across its services. Election-related misinformation continues to proliferate, however.

No place like home. Google is apparently detecting a deterioration in productivity among engineers who work from home, especially among new hires. Dropbox, meanwhile, says it is going to make remote work a permanent fixture

Blaming the victim.

ACCESS GRANTED

Loon began in 2013 inside Google X, Alphabet's so-called moonshot factory (now just "X"). The since spun-out startup is known for extending Internet connectivity around the world, especially in areas stricken by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Rest of World takes a look inside the project and profiles a couple of Loon balloon wranglers, who have recovered nearly a dozen downed broadband-beaming flotation devices where the company operates in Uruguay.

"A few hundred kilometers south of the Brazilian border and four and a half hours by bus from the capital of Montevideo lie Lavalleja and Treinta y Tres, rural departments in Uruguay’s bucolic interior. There, amid the thigh-high thistle and ombú trees that punctuate the undulating pampas, flightless ñandú birds sprint across the horizon, and mini-armadillos bumble around their burrows, oblivious to observers. With its unobstructed views, this wide-open landscape is perfectly suited for gauchos, the South American cowboys renowned for their resourcefulness. The dearth of trees, motor vehicles, and air traffic also makes the region an ideal landing zone for another, nonnative species: floating cell towers held aloft by giant helium balloons.

Occasionally, one of these space-age hot spots will appear above the pampas on their descent back to earth after completing its latest mission over the Amazon, Puerto Rico, or Brazil."

FORTUNE RECON

Facebook defends decision to leave anti-vaccine posts untouched as it bans anti-vaxxer ads by Danielle Abril

Solar power is “the new king of electricity” by Geoff Colvin

Ousted Pinterest exec says more transparency needed to fight Silicon Valley pay discrimination by Phil Wahba

‘Something, algorithmically, is creating this obsession’: Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex warns against social media addiction by Michal Lev-Ram

Inside Waymo’s autonomous trucks and A.I. systems by Jonathan Vanian

Amazon’s German workers launch Prime Day strike over pandemic pay by David Meyer

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access.Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

ONE MORE THING

There's something odd about the data transfer at the center of this New York Post cover story. The article purports to expose Hunter Biden's email exchanges with executives at Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm where he held a directorship. As background: Conservatives allege that Burisma sought political favors from Biden via connections to his father, then-Vice President and now-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Biden has long and heatedly denied any impropriety.)

Anyway, in the story, someone is said to have mysteriously dropped off a water-damaged MacBook Pro, ostensibly Hunter's, at a computer repair shop in Delaware in the hopes of recovering the hard drive's contents. The shop's owner allegedly failed to get back in touch with the mystery customer, so he alerted the Feds to the supposedly kompromat-laced laptop's existence. The Feds seized it—but not before the owner sent a copy of the hard drive to the lawyer of Trump pal and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Got all that?

So, I have questions—as does esteemed disinformation scholar Thomas Rid. Something's real fishy. And just when we thought we weren't going to get another election-time email scandal...

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com