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Apple’s lucky iPhone 13

September 15, 2021, 8:58 PM UTC

Days after a solid victory in the Epic Games v. Apple trial, the iPhone maker unveiled its latest smartphone, iPhone 13, on Tuesday. While some people regard the number “13” as inauspicious, Apple evinces no such superstition. And why should it? The world’s most valuable company—it has a $2.4 trillion market cap—is poised to have its best year ever.

The numbers—the ones that matter—are worth noting. Apple’s profit margin is buoying to all-time highs thanks to the company’s lucrative software and services business (read: App Store fee-taking), which appears to be safe and secure after the Epic decision. And revenues have quadrupled over the past decade to a record $274.5 billion in 2020, with no signs of slowing.

One trend aiding Apple: Many people are ready for a hardware refresh. Telecom carriers are advertising superfast 5G network capabilities and their deals are tempting people to upgrade their phones. As a Wedbush Securities analyst forecasted earlier this year, Apple could sell as many as 250 million iPhones in its 2021 fiscal year (which ends later this month) amid an “unprecedented supercycle”, breaking Apple’s sales record of 231 million iPhones in 2015.

Even as business booms, Apple’s iPhones are, admittedly, getting a bit less exciting. The cameras look spectacular, to be sure; there are ginormous optical sensors, a “cinematic mode” that improves video-focusing, and “photographic styles” that enhance image coloration without affecting skin tones. But the brains of the computers, Apple’s A15 chips, appear to offer few advantages over their A14 predecessor.

Apple’s chip boasts were a little weaselly at this event. Executives compared the new chips’ performance to vague “competitors,” rather than to its usual point of comparison for prior iPhone models. Apple-watchers detected weakness in the switch-up. Dylan Patel, a semiconductor analyst who writes a newsletter, SemiAnalysis, commented, that Apple’s new chip isn’t really new at all, but is a “modified version of last year’s” processor. Patel added that the true “next generation” chip was likely delayed until 2022 due to “brain drain” at the company, meaning Apple recently lost engineering talent to rivals such as Qualcomm’s Nuvia and the startup Rivos.

Some things the Apple event did not feature: No flat-sided Apple Watches, despite rumors. No satellite network connectivity for contacting emergency services when roaming outside the range of cellular networks, again despite rumors. And no AirPods 3. Anyone hoping for these improvements—and for the long-awaited return of a Touch ID sensor—may be feeling a shade of Sierra Blue after Tuesday’s announcements. 

But Apple is still shining bright as Starlight in 2021. Maybe 13 is Apple’s lucky number.

Robert Hackett
@rhhackett
robert.hackett@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

The Facebook files. Yesterday, fellow Data Sheeter Kevin Dugan asked what else is Facebook hiding? This week, we've seen a series of groundbreaking Wall Street Journal articles chronicling the behind-the-scenes workings of Facebook, including the XCheck program and the social media giant's handling of the mental health of its teen Instagram users. And, on Wednesday, The Journal published yet another piece of the puzzle: A story detailing how the social media giant reacted to a more divisive experience on its platform following a change it made to its News Feed algorithm in 2018.  

Front-running applies to NFTs, too. In the world of stock trading, front-running is the practice of using inside knowledge to grab up shares before the price spikes (see also: insider trading). Well, the non-fungible token market now seems to be dealing with the same practice. On Thursday, NFT marketplace OpenSea confirmed that one of its employees had been snatching up NFTs before they were widely released. OpenSea is now "conducting an immediate and thorough review" of the situation, according to a statement. 

Begone, passwords. On Wednesday, Microsoft began allowing users to sign into their accounts using a verification code from its Microsoft Authenticator app, dubbed Windows Hello, rather than a traditional password, according to The Verge.

Vaxx mandates summit. Top executives from MicrosoftDisney, and other corporate giants met with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for workforces, CNBC reported Wednesday. The White House is trying to get more companies to voluntarily issue vaccine requirements for their workers, while the administration drafts rules that could force as many as 80 million workers to do so anyway. 

Safety on Snap. Disappearing photo and video social media company Snap has named Microsoft chief online safety officer Jacqueline Beauschere as its first global head of platform safety, Axios reported Thursday. The hire comes as much of Silicon Valley is working to roll out new safety and wellbeing protocols on their platforms, with mounting attention being paid to the role that social media plays in the personal wellness of its users.  

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Peter Thiel's pull. Other tech moguls may be richer, in charge of bigger companies, and in the public eye more often. But perhaps no one from Silicon Valley has more power than PayPal and Palantir cofounder Peter Thiel, Bloomberg journalist Max Chafkin wrote in an excerpt of his upcoming book, The Contrarian

Thiel has spent his career quietly amassing a fortune, one he has staunchly protected from the IRS. In 2016, the tech investor positioned himself early on as a key broker to the Trump administration, a bet that in more ways than one did not go as planned. And now, Thiel is building a new cohort of political allies, one that could include his longtime aide Blake Masters (who's running for Senate in Arizona) and J.D. Vance, who is looking to earn one of Ohio's Senate seats.  

From the excerpt:

If they win their primaries, and if Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022, Masters and Vance—along with the other two populist nationalists who have received substantial support from Thiel, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas—would arguably offer Thiel a level of influence greater than what he enjoyed under Trump. A Republican-controlled Senate, especially one where Thiel’s politics are ascendant, would also be ideal for Thiel’s government contractors and for protecting the tax-advantaged status of his Roth IRA.

But Masters and Vance offer more than Trump because, unlike the former president, they’re highly disciplined ideologues who seem committed to popularizing their patron’s political agenda. They are, in other words, as out there as Thiel is. Even better, Masters and Vance both work for Thiel, and not just in the sense that his PAC is paying for TV advertising on their behalf. Masters remains chief operating officer of Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation; Thiel is a key investor in Narya, Vance’s investment firm. Vance and Thiel recently invested in Rumble, a YouTube competitor that caters to Trumpist talking heads, such as the talk show host Dan Bongino, New York Representative Elise Stefanik, and the former president himself.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Robinhood heads to college. Popular stock-and-crypto-trading app, Robinhood, is rolling out a cross-country marketing campaign to get college students signed up on its app. Students who do so with a school email address will be given $15 to trade, and have a chance to win $20,000. That's a lot of Doge

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