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Watch: When did iPads get as expensive as MacBooks?

Apple’s iPad event had a lot to like. New iPads with new chips and new sizes, a new Apple Pencil, and even some software updates. If you are a big fan of Apple hardware, well, it was probably a good day. Now you can get an updated and thinner iPad Pro, if that’s your jam.

But while watching the event and parsing its news in the immediate aftermath I ran into a personal sticking point. While it’s welcome that iPads are getting more and more powerful, their price point is challenging and even surpassing those of many computers. Which seems a little bit backwards. Here’s how TechCrunch reported on the matter:

It’s also an expensive machine: The iPad Pro starts at $999 for the 11-inch model. The 13-inch version costs $1,299. And the iPad Pro doesn’t come with a keyboard or a pencil in the box, so you often end up paying more than the price of a MacBook Air.

Those prices go up by $200 if you want cellular connectivity. So if you wanted a new iPad Pro 13-inch with cellular connectivity and a keyboard you are well in excess of the base price for a Macbook Pro. You know, a full real computer with no caveats.

The thing here is that Apple’s chips are great, and its laptops are super lovely. I am writing to you on an M-based MacBook Pro right now, and it’s gosh darn lovely. I just cannot imagine paying a similar ticket price for something that is, well, not as good as a productivity device and has a more locked-down OS to boot. I could be completely bonkers here, but the pricing and positioning for Apple’s impressive new devices leaves me puzzled. Let’s talk about it.

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watch: Audible deploys AI-narrated audiobooks. Can it replace the human touch?

AI is coming for audiobooks, and that is not an entirely bad thing. But it is a cause of concern in the realm of audio titles and the folks who make them today. Audible is making it easy for authors to generate AI-narrated audiobooks, and as in many cases of AI showing up in an established industry, there’s worry that the creative folks are going to get squeezed out by the robots.

The concern is valid. After all, shouldn’t the robots help us do more art, instead of doing the art for us? Isn’t that backwards.

On the other hand, it’s clear that not every book that is written can afford to hire a narrator, an editor, and a team to handle audio publishing. I suspect that the more commercially-viable titles are still going to work with the best narrators. After all, they can afford it. But the middle-tier of narrators and authors might find that AI is just so cheap for audiobook creation that it’s not financially reasonable to pay a human to do it.

In a sense, consumers will decide. If they shun AI-read titles, the market will adapt. But will they? We’ll have to wait and see.

That’s the demand side of the equation. The supply side is already sorted. There are tens of thousands of AI-read titles today on Audible. Let’s see what happens, hit play!

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Watch: Newchip, Techstars, and what happens when startup accelerators fail

Building a startup is hard. Building a company that helps startup is similarly difficult. That’s the takeaway from TechCrunch reporting on Techstars and Newchip.

In the case of Newchip, the accelerator appeared to promise a bit more than it could deliver. Mix in a culture that appeared to be turbulent at best, and you have a situation in which an accelerator is in bankruptcy and startups are closing over the potential sale of share warrants. It’s a mess.

Techstars is different. It’s been retooling its operations over the past few years. That has led to turnover, and the shuttering of some of its programs. But unlike Newchip, Techstars is solvent, investing, and still helping startup do more, more quickly.

Whenever a market turns from ebullience to a more conservative stance, it disrupts its constituent businesses large and small. Accelerators have proven no exception during the venture slowdown. That said, with Newchip in liquidation and Techstars pushing ahead with its revamp, we are likely closer to the end of the accelerator shakeup than its beginning. Hit play, let’s talk about it!

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Watch: Spotify’s move to paywall lyrics is putting pressure on free users

Spotify’s slow movement to put lyrics behind its paid service wall in its music service are about as popular as you would expect. Precise details of the update are evolving but what we can say at this point is that it seems that Spotify has a new feature up its sleeve to try and get free users to convert to is paid service.

The why behind the move matters more than the what. Sure, it’s a little weird that Spotify is going to start putting information that is freely available online behind a paid wall, but the company is in a slightly difficult position today. Thanks to an early start and attractive pricing, Spotify is huge. It does billions in revenue, and helped shake up the music industry for good.

That said, it largely offers paid access to other peoples’ music. Other companies do the same. Apple is one of them. That means that Spotify’s pricing power is modest at best. Features like its yearly music review are neat, but don’t allow Spotify to charge more for its mostly-music-service than, say, Apple Music.

But as Spotify makes a lot more money off its paid accounts than it does off free users, it can at least try to get them to upgrade. And it only has so many dials to turn there. So, behind the paywall go the lyrics. For those of us who already pay, it’s a non-issue. But for the budget conscious, it may seem that that their prior service is getting worse for no reason that they can suss out. So long as some convert to paying users, Spotify will endure the gripes. It needs the gross profit.

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Watch: Binance founder CZ is the latest crypto character to go to jail

Four months behind bars and a massive fine, that’s what CZ is getting from the government for his crypto exchange’s misdeeds. Regardless of how you view the verdict — too much, too little, just right — his sentencing is a big deal for web3. Potentially in a positive way.

There’s effort by some in crypto to promote the technology element of blockchains over their well-reported ability to generate new gambling opportunities. Chris Dixon of a16z frames this in ‘computer v casino’ terms, which I think is reasonable.

If you are in favor of the computer over the casino you probably want the crypto market to be as in-line with financial norms as possible. Why? Because that means that crypto can itself sit very close to the larger world economy, and thus the computing elements of blockchain tech can shine, attract investment, and provide the most use. If you are more in favor of the casino side of the conversation — line go up, memecoins, bitcoin maximalism, etc — you might not be a fan. After all, to get close enough to kiss tradfi and normal business operations so that the web3 computer can reach its full potential, you might wind up with more tokens as securities than many crypto advocates wish.

Regardless, CZ’s case is now sorted. SBF’s as well. What is the next chapter for crypto going to be?

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Watch: Razer’s Zephyr mask lands them in regulatory hot water

Razer is in trouble with the FTC over masks it made and sold during the COVID pandemic. The matter is going to cost it around $1.1 million, and some bad press.

Yeah, masks. Not what comes to mind when you think of the word “Razer,” right? You probably associate the brand with gaming keyboards and mice. Heck, I have a Razer mouse plugged into my work computer right now. It’s great. But the company’s masks were not, and that’s a problem.

Not getting its putatively N95 masks properly tested and vetted has landed Razer in trouble with authorities, but the entire saga got us thinking. In an era when we’re seeing buggy electric cars, AI handsets and pins that don’t quite live up to expectations, and even masks that don’t quite mask as promised, are we living in an era of half-baked hardware?

Thinking about this, I wonder if an issue at play is that folks who are pushing the boundaries of what we can build, and how quickly, are applying software strategies — MVPs, quick iterations, etc — to hardware, and it’s not quite converting. The good news is that Razer gaming hardware is still pretty good, even if I suspect the company today regrets digging into the mask space. Hit play, let’s have some fun!

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Watch: OpenAI's media deal rush continues with FT deal

OpenAI has landed a new content deal with the FT. But instead of being a merely simple deal in which OpenAI gets words, and FT gets money, the two are teaming up a bit more deeply. Look to see links in ChaptGPT in the future.

But the FT-OpenAI tie-up tells us a bit more than that one media company will soon have a few more ducats in its pockets. No, it’s yet another OpenAI deal that will see the Microsoft-backed AI shop further cement its ability to ingest training material without legal risk, and start to pay some of the providers of said material for their work.

All good, right? In a sense, but there’s a concern that as some AI companies work to start paying for training data after they consumed oceans of it, they could wind up pulling the training ladders up behind them. If that happens, other AI companies that might want to follow in their footsteps could find steeper, and more expensive, the same path that the OpenAIs of the world already hiked.

It’s a weird and irksome situation in which you want to see fair payment for materials used, but also ensure that we don’t hand the future of AI to a bunch of already wealthy companies. That would just cement oligopoly. And, of course, media companies that are spending all their money and more to report and write need fair comp. Those are the stakes. Let’s talk about it!

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Watch: Elon Musk’s big plans for xAI include raising $6 billion

TechCrunch recently broke the news that Elon Musk’s xAI is raising $6 billion at a pre-money valuation of $18 billion.

The deal hasn’t closed yet, so the numbers could change. But it sounds like Musk is making an ambitious pitch to investors about his 10-month-old startup — a rival to OpenAI, which he also co-founded and is currently suing for allegedly abandoning its initial commitment to focus on the good of humanity over profit.

You may be wondering: Doesn’t Musk have enough companies already? There’s Tesla, SpaceX, X (formerly Twitter), Neuralink, The Boring Company … maybe he should spend his time on the existing businesses that have struggles of their own.

But in the xAI pitch, Musk’s connection to these other companies is a feature, not a bug. xAI could get access to crucial training data from across his empire — and its technology could, in turn, help Tesla achieve its dream of true self-driving cars and bring its humanoid Optimus robot into factories.

Of course, Musk’s hype doesn’t always match up to reality. But with this impressive new funding, xAI could become an even more formidable competitor in the AI world. Hit play, then leave your thoughts below!

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Watch: Between Rabbit’s R1 vs Humane’s Ai Pin, which had the best launch? | TechCrunch

After a successful unveiling at CES, Rabbit is letting journalists try out the R1 — a small orange gadget with an AI-powered voice interface. This comes just weeks after the launch of the Humane Ai Pin, which is similarly pitched as a new kind of mobile device with AI at its center.

While we’re still waiting on in-depth reviews (as opposed to an initial hands-on) of the R1, there are some pretty clear differences between the two devices.

Most noticeably, the Ai Pin is screen-less, relying instead on a voice interface and projector, while the R1 has a 2.88 inch screen (though it’s meant to be used for much more than typing in your WiFi password). And while the AI pin costs $699, plus a $24 monthly subscription, the R1 is just $199. Both, according to TechCrunch’s Brian Heater, show the value of good industrial design.

It sounds like neither the Ai Pin (which got some truly scathing reviews) nor the R1 makes a fully convincing case that it’s time to replace our smartphones — or that AI chatbots are the best way to get information from the internet. But if nothing else, it’s exciting that the hardware industry feels wide open again. Press play, then let us know if you’re playing to try either the R1 or the Ai Pin!

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Watch: FTC bans noncompetes, court challenge incoming | TechCrunch

The Federal Trade Commission voted 3-2 this week to ban noncompete agreements. While the FTC estimates that nearly one in five American workers is subject to a noncompete, these agreements haven’t been a huge issue in Silicon Valley, because they’re not enforceable in California.

This has arguably been one of the region’s competitive advantages, as it allows employees to start something new without worrying (in most cases) that they’ll have to spend the next few years battling their old employer in court.

With this ban, the FTC could give employees across the United States that same freedom. In fact, the commission claims this will lead to the creation of 8,500 new startups annually, as well as 17,000 to 29,000 additional patents in an average year.

Some caveats: This rule only applies to noncompetes, not non-disclosure agreements, so former employees can still get into legal hot water if their old company accuses them of spilling trade secrets. And while the FTC says most existing noncompetes will no longer be enforceable, existing noncompetes for senior executives will still hold.

Most significantly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it will sue the FTC over the rule, arguing that the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to issue this kind of regulation.

Hit play, then let me know what you think! (And if you’re pining for your Alex Wilhelm, fear not: He’ll be back hosting the TechCrunch Minute next week.)

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