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Apple ditching chargers saves costs but not the planet



Apple’s decision to no longer include wall chargers and earbuds in its new iPhone 12 boxes is good for business, but just how good it will be for the planet is harder to see. The move saves the company money, but some of the environmental benefits could be offset by people buying earbuds and chargers separately.

Apple made the announcement during its October 13th event. Unlike previous models, the iPhone 12 will come with only a USB-C to Lightning cable. The company said that excluding the wall charger and earbuds would lead to less mining, packaging, and planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions associated with making the products. The company also got kudos from some environmental groups for cutting back on e-waste, a growing problem that Apple contributes to with its constant stream of new gadgets. This week’s announcement is the latest move Apple has made to become a more environmentally friendly company, and it follows a big pledge it made in July to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“They sold this as kind of an environmental friendly rule,” says Angelo Zino, a senior industry analyst with investment research firm CFRA Research. But Apple’s waste-cutting move is also a good financial move. “Clearly the bottom line has a lot to do with it.”

The transition to 5G is a big reason why Apple might be looking for cost savings by including fewer accessories with its phones, tech analysts tell The Verge. For the first time, Apple’s entire line of new phones will support 5G. That makes it more expensive to make the iPhone 12 compared to the iPhone 11 because the components that enable 5G speeds are more complex and costly.

Zino estimates that the radio frequency components alone in the new iPhone 12 are going to cost 30 to 35 percent more than they did in earlier iPhones. “Apple is going to look to cut costs in other aspects of the phone,” he says.

Deciding not to include a power block and AirPods with a new phone is one way to do that. That might only increase the company’s gross profit per phone by a little over 1 percent, says Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. But it’s something. “I would just generally think about this as a maneuver to maintain the current profitability of the phone,” Munster says.

A company making a production choice that’s good for business and good for the planet seems like a win-win. But Apple is assuming that the people buying the new iPhone already have old headphones and chargers ready to use instead.

If people decide to buy AirPods anyway because they don’t already have earbuds, that’s a big win for Apple but not for the planet. If Apple sells roughly the same number of phones this year as it did in 2018 — about 217 million — and just 5 percent of those people decide to add AirPods to their cart, the company stands to make an additional $700 million in gross profit, according to Munster.

The problem is that buying chargers or headphones separately could mean more packaging waste and emissions from separate deliveries. Some of that might add to Apple’s carbon footprint, and some of it might get tacked on to different companies’ carbon footprints if consumers decide to buy the accessories from other vendors. That doesn’t necessarily reduce emissions overall; it just spreads the greenhouse gasses around between different companies.

“This is going to be a huge boon, at least in the short term, to accessory makers who are going to be selling USB-C chargers,” says Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at consultancy Techsponential.

That’s because the cable that is included with the iPhone 12 isn’t compatible with the power blocks included with many previous iPhones. Consumers who don’t have a compatible charger lying around will need to purchase a USB-C wall charger or wireless charger in order to use their new phones.

There’s another reason why scrapping accessories might not result in as big of a cut in greenhouse gases as Apple predicts. The new iPhone 12 will be shipped in smaller packaging since the box will be packed with less stuff. That allows for 70 percent more boxes to be shipped on a pallet, according to the company. More boxes on each pallet should translate to fewer delivery trips and less pollution from tailpipes, according to the company. But it plays out differently in real life, says Sara Behdad, associate professor of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida.

Just because there’s more space on a pallet, doesn’t mean it will be filled. “Shipping to stores is based on demand,” Behdad says. How densely a pallet is filled might depend on how many phones a retailer thinks it will sell and how much storage space is available. So smaller packaging doesn’t necessarily lead to a huge drop in shipping emissions.

There are so many factors that could throw a wrench in companies’ sustainability initiatives. “It’s actually very difficult to make a specific claim about how sustainable a specific product could be,” Behdad says. “New features [that claim to make products more sustainable] bring us a lot of questions”

That uncertainty leaves room for skepticism — especially when it comes to incremental changes aimed at addressing giant problems like climate change or e-waste. “Selling the new iPhone 12 with or without headphones/airpods or a charging block included distracts us from the larger question: why Apple and other electronics companies have not taken greater responsibility for reusing and recycling their products the vast majority of which [are] still disposed in the U.S. and globally,” Scott Cassel, CEO of the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute, said in an email to The Verge.

The company would have a bigger impact if it made its products easier to refurbish so that they don’t become “obsolete and junk after a few years,” Cassel wrote. Apple’s AirPods, for example, tend to have a shorter shelf life than traditional headphones because it’s so hard to replace the lithium-ion battery inside.

This particular announcement was one of the smaller steps that Apple has taken to up its environmental game. In July, it pledged to zero-out its carbon emissions by 2030 and debuted a new robot named “Dave” to disassemble old iPhones and recover materials that can be used again.

“Historically, I feel like they’ve really been at the forefront in terms of talking about climate change,” Zino tells The Verge. The company’s influence on industry and consumer behavior does leave it with a lot of responsibility. “There’s so much that they can still do.”


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Quibi apps arrive on Apple TV, Android TV, and Fire TV



Quibi, the troubled streaming service focused on “quick bites” of mobile-first content, has just launched apps for Apple TV, Android TV and Fire TV. The company quietly announced the change in an updated support article.

These apps follow Quibi’s ongoing attempts to get more eyes on its content after launching as a mobile-only app. The company first made content more shareable in May, and followed that soon after with AirPlay and Chromecast support.

Unfortunately for Quibi, these changes to the initial mobile-first strategy may have come too late. A new report in The Information claims that co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has attempted to sell Quibi’s programming to Facebook and NBCUniversal while telling others he may have to shut down the company entirely.

Quibi has struggled to scale since its launch, dealing with a lackluster reaction to its first collection of content and a drop in subscribers after its 90-day trial offered at launch ended. The pandemic has likely played a role in dissuading customers from resubscribing, but really Quibi has never made a great case for itself in the first place.

It’s great for Quibi fans that there’s multiple more ways to watch the service, but if the company doesn’t right itself, soon enough there won’t be any way to watch at all.

Disclosure: Vox Media, which owns The Verge, has a deal with Quibi to produce a show, and there were early talks about a Verge show as well.


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AOC’s debut Twitch stream is one of the biggest ever



Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made her Twitch debut tonight to play Among Us and encourage viewers to vote. She also, very quickly, became one of the platform’s biggest broadcasters: her stream peaked at 435,000 viewers around the time of her first match, according to Twitch. (The stream is still going as of this writing, but it had dipped to around 350,000 viewers after about two hours of playing.)

That peak viewership puts her broadcast among the 20 biggest streams ever, according to the third-party metrics site TwitchTracker, and much higher if you’re only looking at broadcasts from individual streamers. Ninja holds the record for an individual streamer, with more than 600,000 viewers during a Fortnite match with Drake in 2018. TwitchTracker’s metrics suggest that AOC’s stream could in the top 10 for an individual in terms of peak viewers.

Politicians have increasingly been using tech and games to get out their message. The Biden campaign debuted an Animal Crossing island last week. Last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined Twitch to reach a “potentially supportive audience that we may not be hitting other ways.”

The stream reached more than 300,000 viewers before the first game even started.

Ocasio-Cortez’s stream came together quickly. She tweeted Monday asking, “Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote?” Major streamers quickly signed up — she ended up being joined by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Pokimane, HasanAbi, Disguised Toast, DrLupo, and more. Her stream even had graphics prepared, which Ocasio-Cortez said came from supporters who started making art after she tweeted.

Despite only having minimal Among Us experience — Ocasio-Cortez said Monday that she’d never played before, but seemed to have brushed up before the stream — she did well in her first broadcast. She was chosen as an imposter in the first round and, with a partner, knocked out about half the field before getting caught. Omar later made it to the final three as an imposter before getting voted out by Ocasio-Cortez and Hasan.


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Political strategist turned tech investor Bradley Tusk on SPACs as a tool for VCs



Bradley Tusk has become known in recent years for being involved in what’s about to get hot, from his early days advising Uber, to writing one of the first checks to the insurance startup Lemonade, to pushing forward the idea that we should be using the smart devices in our pockets to vote.

Indeed, because he’s often at the vanguard, it wasn’t hugely surprising when Tusk, like a growing number of other investors, formed a $300 million SPAC or special acquisition company, one that he and a partner plan to use to target businesses in the leisure, gaming, and hospitality industries.

Because Tusk — a former political operative who ran the successful third mayoral campaign for Michael Bloomberg —  seems adept at seeing around corners, we called him up late last week to ask whether SPACs are here to stay, how a Biden administration might impact the startup investing landscape, and how worried (or not) big tech should be about this election. You can hear the full conversation here. Owing to length, we are featuring solely the part of our conversation that centered on SPACs.

TC: Lemonade went public this summer and its shares, priced at $29, now trade at $70. 

BT: They are down today last I checked. When you only check once in a blue moon, you’re like, ‘Hey, look at how great this is,’ whereas if, like me, you check me every day, you’re like, ‘It lost 4%. Where’s my money?’

We got really lucky; Lemonade was our second deal that we did out of our first fund, and the fact that it IPO’d within four years of the company’s founding is pretty amazing.

TC: Is it amazing? I wonder what it says about the common complaint that the traditional IPO process is bad — is it just an excuse that founders and investors use to keep a company private longer?

BT: [CEO] Daniel Schrieber was very clear that he and [cofounder] Shai Wininger had a strategy from day one to go public as quickly as they possibly could, because in his view, an IPO is supposed to represent kind of the the beginning. It’s the ‘Okay, we’ve proven that there’s product market fit, we’ve proven that there’s customer demand; now let’s see what we can really do with this thing.’ And it’s supposed to be about hope and promise and future and excitement. And if you’ve been a private company for 10 years, and you’re worth tens of billions of dollars and your growth is already starting to flatten out a little bit, it’s just much less exciting for public investors.

The question now for everyone in our business is what happens with Airbnb in a few weeks or whenever they are [staging an IPO]. Will that pixie dust be there, or will they have been around so long that the market is kind of indifferent?

TC: Is that why we’re seeing so many SPACs? Some of that pixie dust is gone. No one knows when the IPO window might shut. Let’s get some of these companies out into the public market while we still can?

BT: No, I don’t I don’t think so. I think SPACs have become a way to raise a lot of money very quickly. It took me two years to raise $37 million for my first venture fund, and three months was the entire process for me to raise $300 million for my SPAC. So it’s a mechanism that is highly efficient and right now is so popular with public market investors that there is just a lot of opportunity, and people are grabbing it. In fact, now you’re hearing about people who are planning SPACs having to pull [them] back because there’s a ton of competition right now.

At the end of the day, the fundamentals still rule. If you take a really bad company public through a SPAC, maybe the excitement of the SPAC gets you an early pop. But if the company has neither good unit economics nor high growth, there’s no real reason to believe it will be successful. And especially for the people in the SPAC, where they have to hold on to it for a little while, by the time the lockup ends, the world has probably figured out that this is not the greatest IPO of all time. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

TC: You say you raised the SPAC very quickly. How is the investor profile different than that of a typical venture fund investor?

BT:  The investors for this SPAC — at least when I did the roadshow, and I think I did 28 meetings over a couple of days — is mainly hedge funds and people who don’t really invest in venture at all, so there was no overlap between my [venture fund] LP base and the people who invested in our SPAC that I’m aware of. These are public market investors who are used to moving very quickly. There’s a lot more liquidity in a SPAC. We have two years to acquire something, but ultimately, it’s a public property, so investors can come in and out as they see fit.

TC: So it’s mostly hedge funds that are getting paid management fees to deploy their capital in this comparatively safe way and that are getting interest on the money invested, too, while it’s sitting around in a trust while [the SPAC managers] look for a target company.

BT: Why it kind of does make sense for [them to back] VCs is they are basically making the bet to say: does this person running the SPAC have enough deal flow, enough of a public profile, enough going on that they are going to come across the right target? And venture investors in many ways fit that profile because we just look at so many companies before deploying capital.

TC: Do you have to demonstrate some kind of public markets expertise in order to convince some of these investors that you know what it takes to take a company public and grow it in the public markets?

BT: I guess. We raised the money, so I guess I passed the test. But I did spend a little under two years on Wall Street; I created the lottery privatization group of Lehman Brothers. And my partner [in the SPAC], Christian Goode, has a lot of experience with big gaming companies. But overall, I think that if you are a venture investor with a ton of deal flow and a good track record but very little or no public market experience, I don’t know that that would disqualify you from being able to rate a SPAC.


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