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Forget the gadgets–Apple just blew up all these fields

April 21, 2021, 3:02 PM UTC

In the most jam-packed hour of Apple announcements ever, Apple CEO Tim Cook sounded like he’d had maybe an extra cup of coffee on Tuesday.

Cook launched Apple’s “Spring loaded” virtual event with the cool addition of family cards to Apple’s credit card, changes to the podcast app, updates to the Apple TV including a new remote control that will also be sold separately (thank god!), a purple iPhone, a new season of Ted Lasso, the introduction of AirTags, a new small iMac, and, finally, the updated iPad Pro. I tried to keep up with a stream of tweets and a summary, but no doubt missed some of the action.

For more detail, I also did a rundown of the brightly colored new iMac, my colleague Jonathan Vanian has you covered for Airtags, and CNET’s Katie Collins runs down the features of the updated iPad Pro.

But this morning, I wanted to highlight some of the deeper and perhaps overlooked trends underlying what’s going at Apple.

Podcasting goes premium

One of Cook’s first announcements was Apple’s revamp of its blah podcasting app with some new features such as channels. But then Cook dropped the bomb: Apple would allow podcasters to charge subscription fees for the first time. Premium podcasts would have to give Apple a cut of the revenue, but could still include their own advertising without sharing those dollars, and would not have to make their programs exclusive to Apple.

With Spotify also getting on board the premium podcasting train, the changes for the burgeoning industry could be staggering.

First, until now, podcasters have been able to distribute their shows by listing on a simple RSS feed. Apple and all other podcast platforms picked up links from the same open-to-all feed. But for premium shows, Apple and Spotify will require podcasters to list on their proprietary services, which aren’t open to anyone else. Breaking RSS could be the end of the open podcast environment, which could lead to consolidation around just a few big players.

Second, a whole bunch of small services that have catered to podcasters and other creators may lose out and wither away now that the two giants are offering premium options. Patreon, Memberful, Podia and many others will have a tougher time with Apple and Spotify in the game.

Fintech—family size!

Credit cards are a somewhat questionable but boring and convenient way to pay for things. Apple’s first foray into the field, partnering with Goldman Sachs, was all of these things.

On Tuesday, however, Cook announced two big new features for the Apple Card. First, a couple can now share one account, but both people will get credit on their all-important credit histories. That breaks the industry’s terrible common practice where only one spouse on a joint account develops a credit history.

Second, Apple will let adults grant their kids a limited version of the card with the option for spending limits and reporting transactions back to the parental account. As someone who has struggled to oversee three teens with a shared family credit card (which started out “only for emergencies” but has morphed into all manner of allowed exceptions now), let me say that if this works as advertised, it will be a valuable breakthrough.

But it may be an unwelcome break to the many fintech startups that have been innovating in the area of family budgets, tracking family spending, and helping kids with credit. Oops.

Is that a PC in your tablet?

After a decade of relying on souped-up A-series iPhone chips, on Tuesday Apple announced it was adding its M1 chip to the iPad Pro. That’s the super-souped-up chip Apple created last year for its Mac computers to replace Intel CPUs. The new iPads also got a lot more memory, up to 16 GB, just like many of Apple’s Mac computers. Hmm.

Remember that those M1-powered Apple computers, including the new iMac announced yesterday, have prompted most Mac software developers to rewrite their apps, such as Adobe Photoshop, to run natively on the chip. So now that the iPad Pro has that same chip—and enough RAM to run MacOS programs—is there another shoe to drop? Maybe at Apple’s WWDC in June, the iPad Pro will get to run pro applications too.

Antitrust, shmantitrust

Apple, along with its Big Tech brethren, has been under the gun for the past year or more for allegedly thwarting competition across the tech economy. Apple has been accused of monopolizing mobile apps, charging too much from developers, stealing ideas from smaller companies, and generally misbehaving as one of the two dominant smartphone platforms.

So has Apple been humbled or chastised? Have the Cupertino kids lost a little of their swagger?


Tuesday’s announcements included Airtags, which look an awful lot like the product Tile has been selling for years, only with much better integration into the iPhone’s software that only Apple can grant. Meanwhile, Tile and Apple were scheduled to face off today at a Senate hearing on antitrust.

Also, the new premium podcast program includes the same 70/30 first-year revenue split between creators and Apple that has drawn so much criticism (and so many lawsuits) in other areas like apps and games.

Maybe Apple’s next event should be called “Summer unbowed.”

Aaron Pressman


The brighter a lady shines, the faster she may burn. Earlier this year, a few analysts were worried that Netflix subscriber growth, which exploded during the pandemic, might slow considerably in 2021. Apparently no one was listening. Netflix announced it gained only 4 million subscribers in the first quarter, about 2 million less than Wall Street expected, while projecting a gain of only 1 million for the second quarter, which is 3 million below the current analyst forecast. Netflix says the problem is delayed new programming due to COVID, but not new competition (cough, Disney Plus, cough). Not surprisingly, Netflix shares, which have gained 26% over the past year, plunged 9% in premarket trading on Wednesday.

Love is the funeral pyre. Speaking of stock crashes, British hedge fund giant Marshall Wace, which manages $55 billion, once bet big on SPACs but now expects the boom will go bust. “The SPAC phenomenon will end badly and leave many casualties,” co-founder Paul Marshall told clients in a newsletter. Maybe a SPAC is the future for popular messaging app Discord. Merger talks with Microsoft have ended for now, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Stock market goulash. Or just forget SPACs, because traditional IPOs are still kicking. Software automation play UiPath and its colorful Romanian CEO Daniel Dines priced their IPO at $56 per share last night, higher than expected and giving the company a valuation of $31 billion. Trading starts later today under the ticker symbol PATH. In other funding news that I'm only including because it's for the best-named startup EVER, French carpooling service BlaBlaCar raised $115 million. In my mind, I'm envisioning a cartoon Renault Fregate sedan from the 1950s with a cigarette dangling from its lips/front grill. "You must share ze ride, Eron," he says. "Tout à fait."

All the kids are battin' up their hair now, Alexa. Are there any businesses Amazon won't try? The e-commerce giant is opening a hair salon in London's posh Spitalfields section. The tech take? An augmented reality app will let patrons "try on" different hair colors.

Some of my best friends are A.I. With worries growing about how biased A.I. applications could affect people and businesses, the Federal Trade Commission said it is on the beat and will consider the sale or use of a racially biased A.I. algorithm as an unfair or deceptive practice, for example. "Hold yourself accountable–or be ready for the FTC to do it for you," the agency warned on its blog. "Woah, woah, WOAH," University of Washington School of Law professor Ryan Calo wrote at the beginning of a Twitter thread analyzing the post (as noted by Protocol). "The concreteness of the examples coupled with repeated references to statutory authority is uncommon," he added. Meanwhile, the European Union is going even farther. It proposed a broad set of rules that would ban the use of A.I. for “manipulative, addictive, social control and indiscriminate surveillance practices,” among other restrictions.

Knock knock knockin' on 5G's door. Verizon said it expanded its fastest mobile network technology to parts of four more cities: Fresno and Riverside, California, San Antonio, and New Orleans. Now that you've got millimeter wave-speed downloads to accompany your beignets, that brings Verizon's fast 5G to parts of 71 cities. Riverside, San Antonio, and Memphis will get Verizon's home 5G Internet service, too. Meanwhile, Verizon's first quarter revenue rose 4% to $32.9 billion, better than analysts expected. The telecom's shares, unchanged over the past year, were down almost 1% in pre-market trading.

Undo. Robert accidentally misspelled his own last name as yesterday's Data Sheet email sender. We are sorry for the error and as penance, we are revoking all vowels from our names today. Sincerely, Rn Prssmn, Dnll Abrl, and Rbrt Hcktt.


Artificial intelligence programs have learned how to beat human players at chess, Go, and even Poker. But as Harvard history of science professor Naomi Oreskes points out in Scientific American, it's supposedly easy problems that have turned out to be harder for algorithms to conquer.

We view chess as hard because very few people can play it at a high level, and almost no one is a grand master. In contrast, there are nearly four million nurses in the U.S. alone, most of whom presumably know how to deliver inoculations. If we had to, nearly all of us could probably learn to drive a truck to deliver vaccines. But this perspective confuses difficulty with scarcity. As the AI example shows, many things that all of us can do are in some respects remarkably difficult. Or perhaps we are conflating what is difficult to conceive with what is a challenge to do. Quantum physics is conceptually hard; administering 600 million shots in a large, diverse country with a decentralized health system is a staggeringly difficult practicality.

We call the physical sciences “hard” because they deal with issues that are mostly independent of the vagaries of human nature; they offer laws that (at least in the right circumstances) yield exact answers. But physics and chemistry will never tell us how to design an effective vaccination program or solve the problem of the crossing pedestrian, in part because they do not help us comprehend human behavior. The social sciences rarely yield exact answers. But that does not make them easy.


Easing ‘Zoom gloom’: How to reduce the stress of virtual meetings By Aaron Pressman

Is the fintech field breeding copycat startups? By Sheryl Estrada

LinkedIn plans new ‘hub’ to help companies train their workers By Jonathan Vanian

Oatly banks on Gen Z and Millennials in its yet-to-be-profitable IPO By Lucinda Shen

Legal tech startup Rocket Lawyer raises $223 million for expansion By Aaron Pressman

How much Bitcoin comes from dirty coal? A flooded mine in China just spotlighted the issue By Shawn Tully

A new measure of success: Counting hours worked isn’t cutting it anymore By Robert Pozen

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


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