Hello, and welcome to this Wednesday's edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech.
This week: Tim Cook summons the magic of iPhones past to unleash the long-awaited 'Super Cycle'
You might not feel much different, but something big happened in the world of tech on Tuesday: the long-awaited iPhone "Super Cycle" began.
At least, that's what was supposed to happen.
Here's what actually happened Tuesday: Apple launched its latest smartphones, the iPhone 12 — the first iPhones to support speedy 5G wireless technology.
It's been a while since a new iPhone triggered a mass buying binge, and many analysts are convinced that the stars are finally aligned for a super cycle. According to Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives, there are roughly 350 million iPhones out there waiting anxiously to be upgraded.
Perhaps in a bid to summon the magic of past upgrade cycles, Apple gave its latest gadget a retro-look with flat, metallic edges that harken back to the iPhone 4. (That model, released in 2010, was, incidentally, the last iPhone to be unveiled on stage by Steve Jobs.)
Wall Street wasn't feeling it. Apple shares tumbled as much as 4% in regular trading, losing $81 billion in market value. (True, Apple's stock is up 66% for the year and had risen 6% on Monday ahead of the event).
So here's the big question: What will make those 350 million owners of older iPhones decide they need to buy the new iPhone?
Presumably the answer is 5G, the latest and greatest new technology.
But... there's not yet a "killer app" out there right now that takes advantage of 5G in such a mind-blowing way that it completely changes how you use your phone. And the most popular online video games that would, like "Fortnite" or game-streaming services like Xbox Game Pass, are currently banned by Apple.
One Wall Street analyst told Bloomberg that the killer app for the new iPhone is the range of prices for different models — not exactly a ringing endorsement for Apple's latest innovations.
That said, there are some cool new features in the iPhone 12:
It's got LiDAR, the same laser sensors that help self-driving cars get around. Unlike the spinning metallic LiDAR sensors you may have seen atop autonomous car prototypes, the iPhone LiDAR is a discreet component that promises to improve the augmented reality experience. Exhibit A: new Snapchat lenses.
New magnetic charging technology — dubbed MagSafe by Apple — has the potential to open an exciting new world of accessories. The iPhone's magnetic backside means you can not only snap it on to a wireless charger, but you can snap lots of other cool things onto your phone, like cases, wallets and more. The iPhone is the new fridge!
And finally, the new iPhone has something Apple calls special "Ceramic Shield" glass, which the company claims will provide quadruple resistance when the phone is inevitably dropped. Considering that I cracked my current phone's screen the first week I had it, that's almost as good as a killer app in my book.
Apple's latest controversy has an easy solution
By now you may have heard the news that the iPhone 12 will not include earbuds or a wall charger. Apple framed the move as a way to help the environment by reducing waste and unnecessary packaging.
Apple also dropped the price of its wireless EarPods and iPhone power adapters by $10, presumably as a way to take the sting out of its decision to stop including key accessories with the phone.
Here's an even better idea: Apple should give buyers of the new iPhones a credit to claim a free pair of earbuds and a wall charger on request. This would allow Apple to provide the laudable environmental benefit of not shipping unnecessary items to everyone, but also dispel the not unreasonable suspicion that Apple is using the environmental benefit as a pretext to juice up its sales of after-market accessories. Plus, its AirPods and accessories business don't appear to show any signs of slowing.
Snapshot: Meals on robo-wheels
A California robotics startup is hoping the sight of rolling, non-human food servers will lure human diners back into restaurants. The Servi looks like a Roomba vacuum cleaner equipped with tiers of trays. Using LiDAR and 3D cameras — the same tech used in autonomous cars — the Servi navigates around tables and other obstacles, delivering drinks, entrees and other fresh fare from the kitchen while presumably sparing diners an airborne serving of coronavirus.
Bear Robotics, the makers of the Servi, recently raised $32 million in a funding round led by SoftBank. And the robo-waiter is currently being tested in Japan, according to Reuters.
Not necessarily in tech:
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