Week-in-Review: Apple has a Supreme headache and Bitcoin bites back

For all of the swirling conversations of tech regulation that have continues the past several years, few of those waxing poetic on the topic likely assumed that Apple would be the first tech giant to capture the government’s ire, but a Supreme Court ruling this week cleared the way for an anti-trust reckoning for Apple’s walled garden App Store.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Apple on Monday, determining that a group of iPhone users will be allowed to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant. The group is alleging that Apple’s 30 percent cut in the App Store passes on an unfair cost to users that have no other options to get the apps onto their phone.

The ruling is decidedly not great for Apple, which has long-enjoyed a monopoly on app sales on its devices, with, to be fair, some very clear benefits for users along the way. If Apple were forced to allow other stores on its platform or significantly shape how it monetized app sales, this could have pretty significant effects on how platforms like iOS operate.

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While this ruling won’t impact Apple in the near-term obviously, it could have some massive effects if and when other lawsuits in this vein pop up against Apple, especially given the company’s renewed reliance on software services as its iPhone sales slow.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Bitcoin bites back
    After a nice lengthy free fall, the bear cryptocurrency market began showing some strength as Bitcoin brought a number of popular coins back with substantial gains. Bitcoin passed above $8,000 this week and is still hovering in that range. What’s the reason? There are a lot of theories, we detailed some of them here.
  • ZombieLoad is coming for you
    If you recall the pandemonium of Spectre and Meltdown, you should probably keep an eye on a new Intel exploit that emerged onto the scene this week, ZombieLoad. The bug allows hackers to effectively exploit design flaws as opposed to injecting malicious code onto affected systems. Intel is already on it, but you should read up some more on it from my much more in-the-know colleague Zack Whittaker.
  • Trump takes on Twitter with his full presidential might
    Trump’s war on Silicon Valley’s most popular social media sites took an aggressive turn this week, when the president… shared a survey. The 16-part Typeform survey is aiming to gather some very scientific data about Americans who have had their social media accounts banned for perceived “political bias.”
  • TikTok won’t stop
    I’m very intrigued by the success of TikTok, turns out a lot of other people are intrigued by the social app given that it’s topped the App Store for the last five quarters now. The next few popular apps for the first quarter were YouTube and four Facebook apps, so it definitely looks like Chinese tech giant ByteDance is beating Silicon Valley’s best in the app game lately.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:

  1. Google’s brand new security key already gets hacked:
    [Google recalls its bluetooth titan security keys because of a security bug]
  2. Alexa outage leaves users hanging:
    [Having trouble with Amazon Alexa? You’re not the only one.]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. This week, we published a deep dive into world of startups aiming to build affordable housing solutions. It’s a terrific deep dive, that’s certainly academic in nature but gets to a lot of the root problems and solutions at play.

Market Map: the 200+ startups tackling affordable housing

“Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers, this week IPOs and public company sagas were front of min for a lot of the TechCrunch writers…

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Is a $600 smart oven ever worth it?

Part of closely following tech is the often mistaken belief that newer, better technologies can help right some of the wrongs older ones caused in the first place. Behold the Wii and the Fitbit — two perfect examples of technologies designed to right some of technologies’ previous wrongs.

It’s tricky because, in some cases, these things do work. We’ve all read the success stories, and for many of us, that’s enough to keep us trying out new things. Some much ultimately relies on our own individual hang ups. If we’re lucky, the right piece of technology at the right time can be legitimately transformative of those things we’d like to change about ourselves.

With something like the June, the hope is two-fold. There’s all of the built-in features and the promise of better baking, coupled with the simple motivating factor of spending $599 on a glorified toaster oven. I’ll admit that test driving it only addresses only the first of those two key things, but my hopes were still pretty high that it could help wean me off of my takeout food dependency.

Thing is, I travel a lot for work. Couple that with a long time living in one of the world’s best and most diverse food cities, and that’s a recipe for picking up food nearly every night. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that means for my wallet and waste line, not to mention the packing waste that tends to generate. Bad news all the way around.

Often life gets in the way, as it has with my own testing. This one’s been a little cursed. After a prolonged delay on review units (the second gen oven was announced 10 months ago), I was finally able to get started late last month. Well, after the company sent me a second unit when I discovered the hard way that the first had been damaged in shipping, sending up sparks during my first attempt to cook. I mention that only to say double-check the filaments when you take it out of the box. Perhaps some kind of automotive-like oven health check is in the cards for some future update.

One other thing worth mentioning here, at the risk of offering up TMI, is the fact that I rarely left my bed the week before last, over a particularly bad bout with the stomach flu. The nausea and everything else have been bad enough to put me off of the idea of handling raw meat for the intervening week — something that could hopefully be a boon for my longtime flirtations with vegetarianism.

As someone who’s never been especially enamored with cooking, the June did help fire up those synapsis in my brain a bit. There’s something in being able to cook something decent with minimal effort, and the June does a good job on that front. Locate a recipe with only a handful of ingredients and a stated five to 10 minute prep time, and that’s a solid baby step. Of course, you can only go outside of June’s suggested recipes, but coloring inside the lines is a probably the best place for a beginner to start.

Simplicity, coupled with data collection are where the June really shines. Between the constant heat monitoring, the camera and the inclusion of a meat thermometer, the oven is pulling a lot of data to assure you get the right cook. It’s not idiot-proof (sadly for this culinary dummy), and the first time I tried (the working oven), I’d stuck the thermometer too far in, touching the bottom pan and shortening the cooking time to a too brief five minutes (down from 22).

Make this so idiots like me can use it is probably my main feedback here. Also, though I fully understand why it’s as large as it is, it was still bigger than expected. Which may not mean much to you, if you don’t grapple with the size restrictions of a New York City apartment.

Another minor thing, which probably couldn’t be avoided is that plasticky smell that happens with the first several sessions. Based on the June FAQ, I expected it to go away a lot sooner, but was assured it was just a normal part of the baking process.

For what it’s worth, the simple dishes came out well, which only means a lot if you know how terrible I am at cooking. It’s a weird mental block, I realize. And I did enjoy the process enough to begin experimenting with things outside of the parameters of the June recipes.

Smartphone notifications are a nice feature, though I’m not sure any of the smart features are “necessary” per se. Like, take this time-lapse footage of me slightly overcooking chicken breasts:

[Above: bon appétit?]

Ditto for the image recognition. It does an impressive job mostly identifying the foodstuffs on the tray, but I can’t really foresee a scenario in which you, the chef, is not aware of what you’re cooking before you hit start.

It’s a tricky line to walk. You want to add enough features to justify the purchase of a smart oven, while not loading it up with so many that the price becomes unmanageable. June’s definitely taken a step in the right direction with the second gen oven, but for a majority of users, the balance still isn’t quite there.

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How the (plant-based) sausage is about to be made

It’s been a big year for Impossible . The bay area based food startup kicked the year off with a new take on its titual burger, and just last week announced the closing of a $300 million round hot on the heels of its Burger King distribution.

What comes next for the company likely won’t come as much of a shock to anyone steeped in the world of plant-based meat replacements. Engadget got a bit of behind-the-scenes time at the startup’s Redwood City location, discovering that sausage is next up on the Impossible menu.

From the sound of things, the breakfast food will mostly be made up of the same stuff as the company’s burger patties, right down to the imitation blood. Instead, the amounts of the ingredients will be mixed up in different proportions, with potato protein removed completely. In fact, the company’s got a lot of different recipes in the work that are largely reconfigurations of its “platform” product. Imagine it as a modular menu, if you will. Heck, rotating the same few core ingredients has worked pretty well for chains like Taco Bell over the years, so why not health foodstuffs?

Timing and all that other good stuff is still TBD.

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As Amex scoops up Resy, a look at its history of acquisitions

American Express (also commonly known as AmEx), a popular credit and banking company, recently announced that it purchased a company called Resy. Resy helps people get seats at restaurants, or as AmEx describes it, provides “a digital restaurant reservation booking and management platform.”

The deal might not be as big a surprise as it feels, given that the two have worked together since at least the start of 2018.

As a private company, five-year-old Resy raised a total of $45 million in its lifetime, according to its Crunchbase profile. Its investors include Lerer HippeauAirbnb and Slow Ventures. Resy was co-founded by Ben Leventhal, co-founder of Eater, which produces food news and dining guides. The startup is primarily focused on the United States, but it also has a presence in the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada and Australia.

In a press release, AmEx said the goal of the acquisition was to enhance its ability to help cardmembers have access to “new, notable and hard to get into restaurants across the globe, as well as help restaurants’ businesses grow and thrive.” It also noted that it’s the latest buy in a string of recent purchases “in the dining, travel and lifestyle space.”

However, this being Crunchbase News, let’s see what else we can find out about what AmEx is up to.

Swipe for all the startups

AmEx has been on a buying spree as of late. In March, we reported on its purchase of LoungeBuddy, a former partner that helped travelers with reviews of various airport lounge areas. Also this year, AmEx picked up Pocket Concierge, a firm that we wrote “helps book in-demand restaurants and is similar to OpenTable.”

The following chart details American Express’s known acquisitions over the past decade, as reported by Crunchbase:

The chart tell us two things:

  1. AmEx is not a company with a history of buying lots of companies. For a firm of its value ($98.3 billion), buying a few companies a year is more than manageable. And, often, American Express hasn’t even done that. Indeed, in five of the last 11 years, AmEx bought zero known companies.
  2. AmEx has picked up three companies according to Crunchbase data this year. That’s a record, and it’s only May.

So, there could be change in the wind over at the credit card giant. (And if so, I suspect there are a fair few companies that brush up against AmEx that would love to join forces.)

A different checkbook

AmEx also has a venture arm, creatively named American Express Ventures. That means it interfaces with young tech shops both while they are independent and when they are ready to be picked up.

American Express Ventures has made 54 known investments, according to Crunchbase, including 13 led rounds. Unsurprisingly, the firm’s most popular startup categories to invest in are fintech, financial services and e-commerce. AmEx puts money to work where it also plays.

And that’s all for now, but we have our eyes out. If American Express buys something else, we’ll let you know — especially if you are a fintech founder.

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Equity transcribed: Away’s $1.4B valuation and CrowdStrike’s S-1

Welcome back to another transcribed edition of Equity, the wildly popular TechCrunch podcast that digs deep into the week’s news about … equity.

There were no IPOs this week so there was only one episode, but it was jam-packed with news about direct-to-consumer scooters, luggage funding and fake meat. This is where tech has taken us this week.

Oh, and Slack set the date for its direct listing.

Kate: So [Away] raised a 100 million, series D. This round was led by Wellington Management, so not by a traditional venture capital firm. Though Away is backed by big name faces like Forerunner Ventures, which is responsible for investments in pretty much direct to consumer companies. So this valued Away at 1.4 billion, and that’s obviously quite large, but what’s particularly surprising about that valuation is that Away was valued at just 400 million the last time they raised money, which was a series C of 50 million, maybe about 1 or 2 years ago.

Alex: Oh gosh.

Kate: I’m not sure exactly when that was. But we’re seeing a major, major, major uptick in its valuation. And the reason why is because at its series C, Away was profitable already. Like I was telling Alex, they didn’t say anything about profitability this time, so I don’t know where that stands, but I do know they have $150 million in revenue.

Alex: Yearly revenue.

Kate: Yes. They are growing top line at 100%. They have an NPS score in the 80’s, and they have a bunch of new investors in this round that I think kind of shows that they’re going well. And also, they want to use this capital to create a generic travel brand. So they want to be more than just these Instagram-friendly cute luggage, suitcases, carry-ons, whatever they want to be. Kind of provide anything and everything you might need when you’re going on a trip of any kind.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 


Kate Clark: Hello, and welcome back to Equity. I am TechCrunch’s Kate Clark. This week, I am in the studio with Alex Wilhelm of Crunchbase News. Hello Alex, how are you doing today?

Alex Wilhelm: I am good, but as we were just saying before we hit record, this is in some ways a bittersweet moment for us in this room, because it is the last time that the three of us, you, myself, and our excellent producer Christopher Gates, will be together in the TC podcast studio at 410 Townsend.

Kate: It is indeed a bittersweet moment for all of us.

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