Apple's push for 3D will require voxel map of the world, claims VR evangelist

Apple is preparing for another “paradigm shift” that embraces 3D, according to VR and AR evangelist Robert Scoble, with predictions that Apple’s strategy involves creating a realtime 3D map of the entire planet, as well as more work on 3D audio and a headset like the often-rumored “Apple Glass.”

Apple is thought to be working on “Apple Glass,” wearable augmented reality or smart glasses that can provide users with a mix of digitally-produced and real-world views. While the bulk of rumors and speculation have revolved around the hardware, Robert Scoble has forecast the kind of user experience to expect from Apple over the coming years.

Starting at WWDC 2021, Apple will start to make announcements throughout the year about technological advances that it will be incorporating into its products, writes Scoble on Saturday. The announcements will apparently lead into “many new products, services, and experiences that will come for decades.”

According to Scoble, this will be a fourth paradigm shift for Apple, following its introduction of the personal computer, the graphical user interface, and the iPhone. While many of the changes will center around headsets and glasses, Scoble believes it will be “way deeper” than the hardware, with Apple moving into a number of new areas.

The list of changes is vast, with arguably the most ambitious being a “realtime 3D map of the entire world.” The map will be a “basis for the new Apple,” and will be used to power its products and user experiences.

The sources, identified as “developers who are building for Apple,” also apparently offered that many shipping products have elements that could help Apple’s new strategy take form. Such items include the Neural Engine included in the M1 chip that is dedicated to AI workloads, but “hasn’t really been used much yet,” as well as Apple’s buy-in to Ultra Wide-band.

Scoble believes the Apple Mapping car is being used to map the world with voxels, dividing Earth into small cubes. Each cube allegedly has a unique identifier, a virtualized microphone and speaker, a virtualized display, a virtualized database, and a virtualized computer.

The scans would also be performed in buildings by its products, taking advantage of things like computer vision and LiDAR on an iPhone or iPad.

By building the map and introducing hardware that can view and take advantage of the data, Apple will be able to offer other major applications.

As part of this, Scoble says Apple will be working to overhaul Siri to react to what the user is looking at through a headset or another device. By taking advantage of computer vision or the map, Siri will be able to infer meaning from what the user is looking at, and to answer questions like “How much are 20 of these on Amazon?”

The overhauled Siri will also be more flexible and hooked into more data sources. For example, Siri may access a Foursquare API to answer a question about check-ins at a hotel.

The “HoloDeck” will be a “TV killer” application, Scoble suggests, when the headset becomes available in 2022. Claiming to have been given a “sneak look” at software being built for the headset, he believes it will introduce “a stunning set of capabilities that will blow away any physical TV you have ever seen”

The headset or visor will “cover your eyes and your ears,” showing a representation of the living room and playing a representation of environmental audio to the user. It is offered that this could be similar to the “transparency” mode of the AirPods Max.

The screens will apparently be made of two 8K “Sony chips,” which will allow Apple to virtualize TVs to be bigger than any in a store, and in high quantities. By taking advantage of Ultra Wideband, these screens may also be better locked into position in the environment, and for devices to automatically know where they are located in the world without requiring resources.

Scoble offers that this is the equivalent of Apple putting a TV “on every inch of the world,” which can enable new experiences. For example, a Super Bowl halftime show could pop out of the TV and show the 3D performer in front of the user, rather than on a screen.

A volumetric football service is also apparently being prepared, giving the experience of being sat at the stadium through a volumetric surface alongside 2D screens.

On sound, Scoble believes the experience will offer a system with extremely high numbers of channels. In the case of a VR band, a user would feasibly be able to stand in the middle and hear instruments in different positions.

The Holodeck-style experience will apparently be announced sometime before the end of 2021, and could be teased at WWDC itself, the VR evangelist believes.

For CarPlay, a 3D audio experience can allow individual buttons or parts of a road to “talk to you.” While such a system could be included in the “Apple Car,” Scoble insists it could land in current vehicles in 2021.

Scoble also suggests a new portable gaming device is on the way that would be able to work with headsets, as well as a next-level noise-cancellation system.

“Put it all together and you can see Apple is about to unleash a new paradigm-shifting strategy. One that will change all of our lives very deeply and bring us many exciting new things,” says Scoble. “This has deep implications on the future of a number of companies. Spotify looks threatened. So does Google.”

Epic lawsuit continues, troublesome hires, and Detroit – This Week in Apple

The trial between Epic Games and Apple offered more revelations about the companies and the App Store in court, while the rest of the week centered around a controversial hiring, iPhone 13′ rumors, and the Detroit Apple Developer Academy.

Keep up with all of the Apple news

Every week, AppleInsider posts a large number of articles about Apple, including stories and rumors about its products, and connected third-parties. In our video series, “This Week in Apple,” we condense the last seven days of stores into a single video.

The episodes include a curated summary of the week’s events, along with insight and analysis into what happened for each topic. Source links for stores mentioned are provided further down the page, as well as within the YouTube video notes, if you want to explore the subject more closely.

Epic vs Apple continues and a problematic hiring

Entering another week, the continuing trial of the Epic Games and Apple lawsuit over the App Store trotted out more arguments and claims about the two companies in court. While the week ended, the trial did not, with it continuing into next week.

Of this week’s revelations, it was discovered Apple declined to allow Microsoft to bypass the 30% App Store commission for Office on iPad. Meanwhile, Apple intended for the expert witness testimony from Microsoft to be struck over claims Xbox sales weren’t really that profitable to Microsoft at all.

Another big story that erupted was the hiring of Facebook ads manager Antonio Garcia Martinez by Apple, a role that was briefly held as he was fired by Apple after other employees demanded an investigation into the “misogynistic” author. Martinez has since responded to the firing, confirming Apple let him go and claiming it was “well aware” of his works.

Elsewhere in the world of Apple, there’s a rumor of “AirPods 3” arriving alongside the hi-fidelity “Apple Music HiFi” on May 18, some “iPhone 13” rumors, the FDA comments on the iPhone 12 MagSafe feature, and there’s a new Tim Cook scholarship in Alabama.

Apple vs Epic

Hired and Fired

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, “Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider,” and you’ll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for “AppleInsider Daily” instead and you’ll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you’re interested in Apple-centric home automation, say “Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider,” and you’ll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.

Dear Startups: Don’t repaint, reinvent

I feel hungover. No, not in the traditional sense, but in the dizzying way you feel when half of your world is celebrating double vaccinations and no masks, and the other half, across the world, is mourning death and not a shred of light at the end of the tunnel. The privilege of watching this unfold is like playing the worst game of musical chairs, except some seats are clouds and others are simply rows of knives.

For tech, the questions that we will be debating are bigger than if “that conference will be virtual or in-person.” Instead, we’re now trying to figure out what the future of work and education are for the second time in a year. The United States is reopening and that means a lot of the culture of how we work will be rewritten. Shifting from an individual mindset to a collective, more distributed world is going to be harder than taking a mask off and popping an aspirin.

Startup founders new and old are about to start making decisions on how to lead in this changed world. They will have to consider things far more consequential than if free lunches come back. More serious questions abound: How do you give flexibility along with accountability? How do you repair the universal toll on mental health? How do you offer opportunity equally between remote employees and in-person employees? What happens when half of your workforce can go to happy hours while the other half is in a city under lockdown?

Naj Austin, the founder and CEO of Somewhere Good and Ethel’s Club, spoke to me about intention this week. She explained how repainting something is easier than reinventing the entire process, but the latter has the opportunity to disrupt far more than the former. It made me think about the return to offices, and how the frictionless option might not be the best option long term.

I’ve learned that the best founders embody this ethos and pick the harder bucket. It stands out when you are intentional about recruitment, the return and potential relief that comes with optionality.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into stock market volatility, Expensify’s origin story, and what one founder learned after getting rejected by YC 13 times. As always, you can support me by subscribing to Extra Crunch and following me on Twitter. 

What goes up, must go down

Image Credits: Getty Images

The edtech public market is on that kind of fire this week, with many stocks slashing share prices nearly in half compared to 52-week highs.

Here’s what to know: Alex and I wrote about how the carnage in the public markets is expected in edtech, a sector filled with pandemic bumps. We predicted that bullish VCs will remain bullish, and the correction in the market is upon us.

In September 2020, Larry Illg, CEO of Prosus Ventures, told us that edtech was filled with “tourists” and “faddish money,” making it a hard time to assess companies and find accountable bets.

“It’s quite dangerous,” he said. “We’ve seen over the years in geographic context at different points in time that people are attracted to India or are attracted to Brazil and they start pumping money in and then two or three years later, they exit with their tail between their legs.”

Plus, two SPACs, two IPO updates and SoftBank:

The origin of expense management

A strategic advantage can make your business

Image Credits: Eoneren / Getty Images

Expensify has managed to become a leader in the expense management market, with 10 million users, only 130 employees, and of course, an upcoming IPO. For these reasons, and many more, it’s the latest company in our EC-1 series. The first installment, penned by Anna Heim, went live this week.

Here’s what to know: While managing finances feels like a pretty clearcut business, Expensify’s origin was far more chaotic. Think P2P hacker culture, consensus-driven decision-making, and, as always, an Uber angle. The origin story explores how a motley crew created a unique expense management system.

The deep dives continue:

Around TC

We are revving up to TC Sessions: Mobility, this year’s virtual dive into the world of transportation. Book your general admission pass for $125 today, and I promise you won’t regret it.

Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Maybe SPACs were a bad idea after all

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Hello friends, I was out yesterday with what I’m calling Moderna Syndrome. Basically I got whacked by my second vaccine dose, and instead of enjoying a day off eating candy and spoiling my dogs I spent the entire day on the couch unable to move. All that’s to say that I missed Coinbase and DoorDash earnings when they came out.

Catching us up, Coinbase met its forecasts that it had previously released (more here), and today its stock is flat. DoorDash, in contrast, beat market expectations and is currently up just over 25% as I write to you.

But despite huge quarters from each, both companies are far below their recently set all-time highs. Coinbase is worth around $265 per share today, off from an all-time high of $429.54, which it set recently. And DoorDash is worth $145 this afternoon, far below its $256.09 52-week high.

They are not alone amongst recent public offerings that have lost steam. Many SPAC-led combinations are tanking. But while Coinbase and DoorDash are still richly valued at current levels and worth far more than they were as private companies, some startups that took SPAC money to float are not doing well, let alone as well.

As Bloomberg notes, five electric vehicle companies that SPAC’d their way to the public markets were worth $60 billion at one point. Now the collection of mostly revenue-free public EV companies have shed “more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.” Youch.

And SPAC hype-man and general investing bon vivant Chamath Palihapitiya is taking some stick for his deal’s returns as well. It’s all a bit messy. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what we’ve expected all along.

Not that there aren’t some SPAC-combinations that make sense. There are. But mostly it’s been more speculative hype than business substance. Perhaps that’s why Coinbase and DoorDash didn’t need to lean on crutches to get public. Sure, the market is still figuring out what they are actually worth, but that doesn’t mean that they are in any real trouble. But consider, for a moment, the companies that have agreed to go public via a SPAC before the correction and are still waiting for their deal to complete.

TFW ur forecast is conservative

The Exchange has been on the horn recently with a few public company CEOs after their earnings report. After those conversations, we have to talk a bit about guidance. Why? Because it’s a game that I find slightly annoying.

Some public companies simply don’t provide forecasts. Cool. Root doesn’t, for example, provide quarterly guidance. Fine. Other companies provide guidance, but only in a super-conservative format. This is in effect no guidance at all, in my view. Not that we’re being rude to companies per se, but they often wind up in a weird dance between telling the market something and telling it something useful.

Picking on Appian’s CEO as he’s someone I like, when discussing his own company’s forecasts Matt Calkins said that its guidance is “unfailingly conservative” — so much so that he said it was nearly frustrating. But he went on to argue that Appian is not short-run focused (good), and that if a company puts up big estimates it is more judged on the expectation of those results versus the realization of said results. That line of thinking immediately makes ultra-prudent guidance seem reasonable.

This is a philosophical argument more than anything, as Wall Street comes up with its own expectations. The financial rubber hits the road when companies guide under Wall Street’s own expectations or deliver results that don’t match those of external bettors. So guidance matters some, just not as much as people think.

BigCommerce’s CEO Brent Bellm helped provide some more guidance as to why public companies can guide a bit more conservatively than we might expect during our recent call. It helps them not overspend. He noted that if BigCommerce — which had a super solid quarter, by the by — is conservative in its planning (the font from which guidance flows, to some degree) it can’t deploy too much near-term capital.

In the case of BigCommerce, Bellm continued, he wants the company to overperform on revenue, but not adjusted profits. So, if revenue comes in ahead of expectations, it can spend more, but won’t work to maximize their near-term profitability. And he said that he’s told analysts just that. So keeping guidance low means that it won’t overspend and blast its adjusted profitability, while any upside allows for more aggressive spend?

Harumph, is my general take on all of the above. It’s very fine to have public company CEOs play the public game well, but what I’d greatly prefer is if they did something more akin to what startups do. High-growth tech companies often have a board-approved plan and an internal plan that is more aggressive. For public companies this would be akin to a base case and a stretch case. Let’s have both, please? I am tired of parsing sandbagged numbers for the truth.

Sure, by reporting a guidance range, public companies are doing some of that. But not nearly enough. I hate coyness for coyness’s sake!

That’s enough of a rant for today, more on BigCommerce earnings next week if we can fit it in. You can read more from The Exchange on Appian and the larger low-code movement here, if that’s your jam.

Never going back

We’re running a bit long today, so let me demount with some predictions.

Nearly every startup I’ve spoken to in the last year that had 20 or fewer staff at the time of the chat is a remote-first team. That’s due to their often being born during the pandemic, but also because many very early-stage startups are simply finding it easier to recruit globally because often the talent they need, can afford or can attract, is not in their immediate vicinity.

Startups are simply finding it critical to have relaxed work location rules to snag and, we presume, retain the talent that they need. And they are not alone. Big Tech is in similar straits. As The Information reported recently:

An internal Google employee message board lit up last Wednesday morning as news of what many staff perceived as a more relaxed policy for working remotely circulated. One meme shared on the board showed a person crying, labeled “Facebook recruiters.” Another showed a sad person labeled “San Francisco landlords.”

If you aren’t laughing, maybe you have a life. But I do this for a living, and I am dying at that quote.

Look, it’s clear that lots of people can do lots of work outside of an office, and even though labor purchasers (employers) want to run 1984-style operations on their employees (labor sellers) to ensure that they are Doing Precisely Enough, the actual denizens writing code are like, naw. And that’s just too much for Big Tech to handle as they are literally just cash flows held up by people who type for a living.

What this means is that tech is not going back to 100% in-office work or anything close to. At least not at companies that want to actually ensure that they have top-tier talent.

It’s a bit like when you see a company comprising only white men; you know that it doesn’t have nearly the best team that it could. Firms that enforce full-office policies are going to overindex on a particular demographic. And it won’t be to their benefit.

Alex

'Twitter Blue' subscription may add 'undo' button to iOS app

Twitter will allow users to “undo” mistakenly-posted tweets in its app as part of its upcoming “Twitter Blue” subscription, a researcher has uncovered, with the $2.99-per-month service also potentially including other useful premium features.

Twitter is a free service to practically all of its users, with advertisers providing the bulk of revenue. However, the microblogging site may soon give users extra features in exchange for a relatively small monthly fee.

Uncovered by researcher Jane Manchun Wong, the subscription is believed to be called “Twitter Blue,” and is tentatively priced at $2.99 per month. The price could change ahead of launch, though it probably won’t grow that much higher in cost.

In exchange for that monthly fee, Wong offers there could be at least two features included in the service, covering the ability to “undo” tweets, and collections.

“Undo Send,” which Wong demonstrated in a March 5 tweet, adds an extra step to the tweeting process, one that allows users the ability to unpublish a tweet shortly after posting it. On pressing “Tweet,” the message is posted, but a notification appears with an “Undo” button on a timer, which gives a brief window to withdraw the tweet.

The concept falls short of requests from some users to allow the editing of tweets instead of deleting and then re-posting the corrected version, but it may help save some users from posting content they may regret in the first place.

The other feature os “Bookmark Collections,” where a tweet could be added and organized into a collection. The tweets could then be reviewed at a later time, or the collection could be shared.

While rumors have pointed to the development of a subscription service, it remains unclear as to when it will launch to the public. The leak, complete with graphics, strongly points to it arriving sooner rather than later.

The subscription’s implementation could be in response to App Tracking Transparency, which arrived as part of iOS 14.5. Twitter started adding a splash page to the app asking users to enable ad tracking in compliance with Apple’s rules on May 14.

It seems that only a small percentage of users are opting in to ad tracking, which could affect the ability for Twitter and other services to serve lucrative personalized advertising. However, while others have been vocal critics of ATT, Twitter has instead offered ATT will have a “modest impact” on its revenue.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, “Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider,” and you’ll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for “AppleInsider Daily” instead and you’ll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you’re interested in Apple-centric home automation, say “Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider,” and you’ll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.

Leveling the playing field

In 2011, a product developer named Fred Davison read an article about inventor Ken Yankelevitz and his QuadControl video game controller for quadriplegics. At the time, Yankelevitz was on the verge of retirement. Davison wasn’t a gamer, but he said his mother, who had the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, inspired him to pick up where Yankelevitz was about to leave off.

Launched in 2014, Davison’s QuadStick represents the latest iteration of the Yankelevitz controller — one that has garnered interest across a broad range of industries. 

“The QuadStick’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved in,” Davison told TechCrunch. “And I get a lot of feedback as to what it means for [disabled gamers] to be able to be involved in these games.”

Laying the groundwork

Erin Muston-Firsch, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital in Denver, says adaptive gaming tools like the QuadStick have revolutionized the hospital’s therapy team. 

Six years ago, she devised a rehabilitation solution for a college student who came in with a spinal cord injury. She says he liked playing video games, but as a result of his injury could no longer use his hands. So the rehab regimen incorporated Davison’s invention, which enabled the patient to play World of Warcraft and Destiny. 

QuadStick

Jackson “Pitbull” Reece is a successful Facebook streamer who uses his mouth to operate the QuadStick, as well as the XAC, (the Xbox Adaptive Controller), a controller designed by Microsoft for use by people with disabilities to make user input for video games more accessible. 

Reece lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in 2007 and later, due to an infection, lost the use of his upper body. He says he remembers able-bodied life as one filled with mostly sports video games. He says being a part of the gaming community is an important part of his mental health.

Fortunately there is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, around the creation of hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community. 

But while not every major tech company has been proactive about accessibility, after-market devices are available to create customized gaming experiences for disabled gamers.

Enter Microsoft

At its Hackathon in 2015, Microsoft’s Inclusive Lead Bryce Johnson met with disabled veterans’ advocacy group Warfighter Engaged

“We were at the same time developing our views on inclusive design,” Johnson said. Indeed, eight generations of gaming consoles created barriers for disabled gamers.

“Controllers have been optimized around a primary use case that made assumptions,” Johnson said. Indeed, the buttons and triggers of a traditional controller are for able-bodied people with the endurance to operate them. 

Besides Warfighter Engaged, Microsoft worked with AbleGamers (the most recognized charity for gamers with disabilities), Craig Hospital, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Special Effect, a U.K.-based charity for disabled young gamers. 

Xbox Adaptive Controller

The finished XAC, released in 2018, is intended for a gamer with limited mobility to seamlessly play with other gamers. One of the details gamers commented on was that the XAC looks like a consumer device, not a medical device.

“We knew that we couldn’t design this product for this community,” Johnson told TechCrunch. “We had to design this product with this community. We believe in ‘nothing about us without us.’ Our principles of inclusive design urge us to include communities from the very beginning.”

Taking on the giants

There were others getting involved. Like many inventions, the creation of the Freedom Wing was a bit of serendipity.

At his booth at an assistive technology (AT) conference, ATMakers‘ Bill Binko showcased a doll named “Ella” using the ATMakers Joystick, a power-chair device. Also in attendance was Steven Spohn, who is part of the brain trust behind AbleGamers.

Spohn saw the Joystick and told Binko he wanted a similar device to work with the XAC. The Freedom Wing was ready within six weeks. It was a matter of manipulating the sensors to control a game controller instead of a chair. This device didn’t require months of R&D and testing because it had already been road tested as a power-chair device. 

ATMakers Freedom Wing 2

Binko said mom-and-pop companies are leading the way in changing the face of accessible gaming technology. Companies like Microsoft and Logitech have only recently found their footing.

ATMakers, QuadStick and other smaller creators, meanwhile, have been busy disrupting the industry. 

“Everybody gets [gaming] and it opens up the ability for people to engage with their community,” Binko said. “Gaming is something that people can wrap their heads around and they can join in.” 

Barriers of entry

As the technology evolves, so do the obstacles to accessibility. These challenges include lack of support teams, security, licensing and VR. 

Binko said managing support teams for these devices with the increase in demand is a new hurdle. More people with the technological skills are needed to join the AT industry to assist with the creation, installation and maintenance of devices. 

Security and licensing is out of the hands of small creators like Davison because of financial and other resources needed to work with different hardware companies. For example, Sony’s licensing enforcement technology has become increasingly complex with each new console generation. 

With Davison’s background in tech, he understands the restrictions to protect proprietary information. “They spend huge amounts of money developing a product and they want to control every aspect of it,” Davison said. “Just makes it tough for the little guy to work with.”

And while PlayStation led the way in button mapping, according to Davison, the security process is stringent. He doesn’t understand how it benefits the console company to prevent people from using whichever controller they want. 

“The cryptography for the PS5 and DualSense controller is uncrackable so far, so adapter devices like the ConsoleTuner Titan Two have to find other weaknesses, like the informal ‘man in the middle’ attack,” Davison said. 

The technique allows devices to utilize older-gen PlayStation controllers as a go-between from the QuadStick to the latest-gen console, so disabled gamers can play the PS5. TechCrunch reached out to Sony’s accessibility division, whose representative said there are no immediate plans for an adaptable PlayStation or controller. However, they stated their department works with advocates and gaming devs to consider accessibility from day one.  

In contrast, Microsoft’s licensing system is more forgiving, especially with the XAC and the ability to use older-generation controllers with newer systems. 

“Compare the PC industry to the Mac,” Davison said. “You can put together a PC system from a dozen different manufacturers, but not for the Mac. One is an open standard and the other is closed.”

A more accessible future

In November, Japanese controller company HORI released an officially licensed accessibility controller for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not available for sale in the United States currently, but there are no region restrictions to purchase one online. This latest development points toward a more accessibility-friendly Nintendo, though the company has yet to fully embrace the technology. 

Nintendo’s accessibility department declined a full interview but sent a statement to TechCrunch. “Nintendo endeavors to provide products and services that can be enjoyed by everyone. Our products offer a range of accessibility features, such as button-mapping, motion controls, a zoom feature, grayscale and inverted colors, haptic and audio feedback, and other innovative gameplay options. In addition, Nintendo’s software and hardware developers continue to evaluate different technologies to expand this accessibility in current and future products.”

The push for more accessible hardware for disabled gamers hasn’t been smooth. Many of these devices were created by small business owners with little capital. In a few cases corporations with a determination for inclusivity at the earliest stages of development became involved. 

Slowly but surely, however, assistive technology is moving forward in ways that can make the experience much more accessible for gamers with disabilities.

This Week in Apps: Apple talks App Store fraud, responds to antitrust complaints; Facebook growth is slipping

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year

This week we’re diving into how Apple is defending its App Store fees amid the Epic lawsuit and how it responded to the other complaints raised by Spotify, Match and Tile in the Senate antitrust hearing. We’re also looking at new data that implies Facebook’s grip on social is starting to loosen, TikTok’s new features, tests and plans for e-commerce, security issues with Twitter’s Tip Jar and more.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Apple talks App Store fraud

Apple wants developers to know what they’re paying for with those App Store commissions. The company this week announced it stopped more than $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions in 2020, preventing theft of customers’ “money, information and time,” it said. And it kept nearly a million “risky and vulnerable” apps out of customers’ hands — meaning it rejected them from the App Store following their review. It also terminated 470,000 developer accounts in 2020 and rejected an additional 205,000 developer enrollments over fraud concerns. On the customer side, Apple deactivated 244 million customer accounts due to fraudulent and abusive activity, it said, and rejected 424 million attempted account creations because they “displayed patterns consistent with fraudulent and abusive activity.”

The company, of course, didn’t just randomly decide to post these figures. Its App Store fees and their legality, of sorts, are on trial as part of Epic Games’ lawsuit. The Fortnite maker alleges Apple is behaving as a monopolist by forcing app developers to use only Apple’s own payment mechanism — and by not even allowing developers to tell their customers where else they can make purchases, such as on the developer’s website, where App Store fees wouldn’t apply.

By publishing this data, Apple is attempting to position all the stories of fraudulent apps on the App Store as those that fell through the cracks of its much larger anti-fraud operation. That is, for all the mistakenly published fraudulent apps that Apple either internally fretted over, or those that have now come to light in the press (often now thanks to developer Kosta Eleftheriou‘s ongoing efforts), there were much, much larger numbers that Apple had stopped from making it through app review.

Where Apple’s case falls apart, however, is when Eleftheriou exposes how easy it is to find those scam apps after they mistakenly get approved. On his own, he’s building a tool that finds scams across the entire App Store. The question is, why can’t a multibillion-dollar company do the same — or even do more? A system that’s able to retroactively review apps that have both high revenues and a suspicious number of five-star reviews (amid a sizable amount of one-star reviews calling the app a scam), would give Apple’s app review team a good place to start a cleanup. The company has done widespread App Store sweeps in years past to get rid of junk, after all — maybe it needs another?

Facebook’s dominance is slipping

There are some signs that Facebook’s hold on the social app ecosystem is slipping. Already getting beat by TikTok and others as the most-downloaded apps of 2020, new data from Appfigures indicates Facebook’s app has been seeing an increasingly smaller number of monthly downloads over the past 12 months.

The Facebook app and Facebook Lite saw 15 million installs per week in May 2020, which dropped to 13 million in June 2020. As of April 2021, the number is now under 11 million — a loss of 23% of downloads in around 12 months. Meanwhile, a social app gaining downloads during this time has been TikTok, which saw 52 million downloads in April 2021.

Image Credits: Appfigures

In addition, eMarketer reported this week that Gen Z users now use TikTok more than Instagram in the U.S. This year, TikTok will have 37.3 million monthly active Gen Z users compared with 33.3 million Gen Z MAUs on Instagram. Snapchat is still leading, however, with 42.0 million MAUs this year. However, TikTok is on pace to surpass Snapchat as well, with 89.7 million total MAUs by 2023, compared with Snapchat’s 98.5 million.

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands its Apple Developer Academy to Detroit and Korea. The program provides training and tools to aspiring iOS developers and designers. Apple already runs programs in more than a dozen other sites in Brazil, Indonesia and Italy.

Apple releases third developer beta and public beta of iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6, and the third developer beta and public beta of watchOS 7.5 The betas include under-the-hood improvements and fixes, as well as small changes like the ability to use an email address to put AirTags and other items into Lost Mode. Apple is also now no longer signing iOS 14.5, blocking downgrades.

Apple is being hit with a class-action suit in the U.K over App Store commissions. The group alleges Apple is behaving like a monopolist over its excessive collection of fees, and is asking for damages of around £1.5 billion ($2.1 billion).

Platforms: Google

Google announced the winners of its #AndroidDevChallenge, which showcased apps built with Android’s new UI toolkit, Jetpack Compose. In later rounds, winners received a Google Pixel 5.



Augmented Reality

Pokémon GO’s developer, Niantic Labs, is rebranding its development platform as Niantic Lightship and opening to more developers as it enters private beta. The goal of Lightship will be to allow more developers to use the company’s tech that powers apps like Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to build their own immerse, multiplayer AR games.

New game studio Sequoia Games is planning to launch a tabletop AR game to capitalize on NBA Top Shot fever. The game has elements of trading cards, NFTs and AR.

Fintech

Coinbase hit No. 1 on the U.S. App Store for the first time since 2017 on May 10. The app had broken into the top 10 in mid-April, climbing as high as No. 2 on April 14, its IPO day.

Google Pay makes its first push into the remittances market. Users in the U.S. can now send money to users in India and Singapore.

PayPal ranked No. 2 for MAUs in finance apps in Q1 2021 in the U.S., behind PayPal-owned Venmo. It was No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 4 in France. The company is preparing to make PayPal a “super app” that will enable shopping, bill pay, check cashing, investing, crypto buying and selling, and more.

Image Credits: App Annie

Social

Snap suspends anonymous Q&A apps YOLO and LMMK following a lawsuit over a teen’s death. (TW: suicide). The mother of an Oregon teen is suing Snap, YOLO and LMK after her son took his own life in 2020. The teen had received bullying messages on YOLO and LMK for months leading up to his death. The suit alleges that anonymous messaging apps facilitate bullying to such an extent that they should be considered dangerous products.

TikTok is testing a system that will allow creators to pay to promote their own videos to the For You Page, according to reports. TikTok told us the new self-serve advertising tool is not widely available, but will allow users and brands to promote their TikTok videos and foster engagement with the community more easily. The user can center their promotions around campaign objectives like video views or visits to a landing page or website.

TikTok rolls out a Green Screen Duet feature and a new way to browse videos. The Green Screen Duet feature combines two of TikTok’s most popular editing tools to allow creators to use another video from TikTok as the background in their new video. The company also confirmed the test of a new way to discover videos. Called “Topics,” these are dedicated interest-based feeds featuring the top, trending videos in a given category.

Image Credits: TikTok

Facebook has begun testing its recently announced Clubhouse rival, Live Audio Rooms. The test was spotted being used by public figures in Taiwan, reported Bloomberg.

TikTok to take on LinkedIn? The video app is launching a job service that will offer a tool for brands to recruit employees. The platform isn’t integrated into the LinkedIn app, but is rather a separate web page for posting jobs and uploading video resumes.

TikTok also added a revamped Safety Center which includes a new section for parents and guardians that teaches them how to get started on the app and use its safety features, like Family Pairing. It also offers bully education and prevention resources, and details on safety and privacy tools, among other things.

Instagram is adding a dedicated spot for your pronouns in your Instagram bio. The company said it’s only available in a few countries right now, but is rolling out to others soon.

Facebook is testing new pop-up messages in its app that tell people to read a link before they share it, following the launch of a similar feature on Twitter. The goal is to encourage people to read through the article, rather than impulsively reshare potentially inflammatory content based on headlines.

Discord’s Clubhouse competitor, Stage Channels, will begin to surface events like open mic nights, book clubs, and more through a new portal called Stage Discovery starting in June. The company is also planning to add threaded conversations and ticketed events in the future.

discord-stage-discovery

Image Credits: Discord

Nearly half of TikTok users are buying from the brands they see on the platform. TikTok is preparing to double down on that trend, Bloomberg reports, noting it saw a brand testing special shopping features on its profile. TikTok also told us it’s running tests in select regions, including Southeast Asia, that will pave the way for its broader expansion into e-commerce. (But you already know about these, right? Because we told you back in February!)

Messaging

WhatsApp will gradually stop you from being able to call or message your contacts if you don’t agree to its new privacy policy. After a few weeks, users will lose access to their chat lists. In a few more weeks, they won’t receive notifications and calls.

Twitter DMs will be easier to search. Nearly two years after the search feature arrived on iOS, Twitter rolled out the DM search bar to Android. It also said that later this year users will be able to search DMs for message content, too.

Signal’s beta (v5.11.0) adds a feature that allows users to share 4K images by tapping a button and selecting “High” for the image quality.

Streaming & Entertainment

Clubhouse for Android launched in the U.S. on Sunday, a year after the iOS debut. It then rolled out to the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Podcast streaming app Castbox was found to be streaming dozens of subscription-only shows via leaked feeds. The podcasts offer their paying subscribers private feeds to listen. But these feeds can be easily shared, then accessed by any podcast app that supports RSS.

Dating

Bumble’s shares fell sharply after its first-quarter earnings, falling below the IPO price of $43 to $38.91. Investors were spooked by Bumble’s cautious H2 guidance. Bumble reported revenue of $170.7 million in Q1 2021, up from $79.1 million in Q1 2021. Paying users increased 30% to 2.8 million.

Gaming

Roblox reported its revenue grew 140% YoY in its first earnings report since the company went public. The company reported $387 million in revenue and a loss per share of $0.46. The net loss for the quarter was $134.2 million. DAUs rose 79% YoY to 42.1 million, with users spending 9.7 billion hours on the platform, up 98% YoY.

The top five IP-based gaming titles generated $1.4 billion in the U.S. in 2020, reports Sensor Tower. The games included Pokémon GO, PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty: Mobile, Marvel Strike Force and Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle. Pokémon GO led with $480 million.

Health & Fitness

Facebook shared updates on its vaccination efforts, saying more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. have used its vaccine finder since its March 11 launch. It has also given out $30 million in ad credits to governments, NGOs and other orgs to reach people with vaccine info. More than 5 million people globally have added the profile frame that shows support for vaccines, and more than 7 million people have used Instagram stickers for vaccines. Over 50% of people in the U.S. on Facebook have seen someone use the COVID-19 vaccine profile frames so far.

Uber and Lyft are giving free rides to COVID-19 vaccine sites in a deal with the White House. The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated.

The NHS contact-tracing app had a significant impact on lowering the spread of the coronavirus in the U.K., a peer-reviewed report states. The app was “used regularly” by 16.5 million people, or roughly 28% of the U.K. population.

Apple is again seeking to dismiss an $800 million COVID app lawsuit. Apple rejected the app last year on the grounds that it didn’t come from a recognized health authority or institution.

Government & Policy

Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer responded to complaints made by Spotify, Match and Tile during the hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. In a letter, Andeer reiterates Apple’s arguments, including that its commission structure is fair (e.g. it drops to 15% in year two for subscription apps; a 70/30 split is an industry standard); that the commission pays for far more than processing payments; that it doesn’t prohibit developers from communicating with customers — it only asks them to not do so inside their iOS app; and that it will provide access to UWB for Tile and others in its space, among other things.

Apple dealt some notable blows in the letter, too: it said Match had tried to implement shady pricing in Tinder that would have made an upfront six-month payment look like a subscription at one point, which is why it rejected its app update. And it refuted the idea that it used data from Tile’s retail sales inside stores to inform AirTag pricing, noting Tile “did not sell well” at Apple Stores.

Apple’s Senate Subcommittee Letter May 2021 by TechCrunch on Scribd

Facebook is ordered not to apply its controversial WhatsApp T&Cs in Germany. The Hamburg data protection agency is blocking Facebook from processing the additional WhatsApp user data it was granting itself through the T&C change.

State Attorneys General representing 44 U.S. states and territories are pressuring Facebook to walk away from its plans to launch a version of Instagram aimed at children under the age of 13, citing the potential harm to children’s privacy and development health, as well as Facebook’s track record of prioritizing growth over the well-being of users.

TikTok removed over 500,000 accounts in Italy after the country’s data protection watchdog asked the company to recheck the ages of all Italian users and block access to those under the age of 13.

Google was fined just over €100 million (~$123 million) by Italy’s antitrust watchdog for its abuse of a dominant market position related to Android Auto. Google had restricted access to the platform to electric car charging app JuicePass, made by energy company Enel X Italia.

Security & Privacy

Twitter’s new Tip Jar feature, which lets users tip others via PayPal, Venmo, Cash App and others, was quickly found to have a privacy issue. Sending PayPal payments would reveal the recipient’s home address. And even without a transaction, it would reveal a user’s email. Twitter, meanwhile, permits users to be anonymous — but PayPal would expose them.

The FTC finalized its settlement with photo app Everalbum, which misled users of its Ever app saying that it would not apply facial recognition unless users opted in. But the company did activate the feature for all users except those in three U.S. states and the E.U. It also didn’t delete users’ photos and videos when accounts were deactivated. The company must now delete the users’ content and must obtain consent before using facial recognition.

A survey from SellCell found that 73% of respondents agree with Apple’s privacy changes around App Tracking Transparency, compared with 18% who opposed it and 9% who weren’t sure. Additionally, 36% said ATT was their favorite iOS 14.5 feature.

💰 Apptopia raised $20 million to expand its competitive intelligence platform beyond mobile to include data coming from smartwatches, desktop and connected TVs.

💰 Sanlo raised $3.5 million co-led by Index Ventures and Initial Capital to help apps and games gain access to financial insights and capital. The company will ingest select data from the developer’s account related to customer acquisition costs, retention, marketing data and a subset of financial data. It will then offer insights as to when to smartly deploy capital and even offer the financing.

💰 Blind, a social networking app for verified, but pseudonymous employees, raised $37 million in Series C funding led by South Korean venture firm Mainstreet Investment. The app now has 5 million users and is building out its hiring platform, “Talent by Blind.”

💰 Snack, a “Tinder meets TikTok”-style dating app, opens up to Gen Z investors in latest round. The startup will allow Gen Z community members, influencers, creators and others to invest in the company’s upcoming $2 million SAFE, alongside other funds and angels.

💰 SightCall raised $42 million for its AR-based visual assistance platform for field service teams and their customers to carry out technical and mechanical maintenance or repairs. The core of its service is AR technology, which comes embedded in their apps or the service apps used by customers.

💰 Lili, a neobank aimed at freelancers, raised $55 million in Series B funding after seeing usage grow 1,500% in a year. The service has topped 200K users.

💰 Fair, a multilingual neobank, is launching to the public after raising $20 million earlier this year. The app targets people new to the U.S., have no credit or need access to interest-free loans.

🤝 Enterprise Apple device management company Jamf acquired zero trust security startup Wandera for $400 million.

💰 U.K. fashion app Lyst raised $85 million in a pre-IPO round at a $700 million valuation. The company now has 150 million users, and a catalog of 8 million products from 17,000 brands and retailers.

💰 Vietnamese flexible pay startup Nano raised $3 million in seed funding led by returning investors Golden Gate Ventures and Venturra Discovery. Its app, VUI, now serves more than 20,000 employees from companies like GS25, LanChi Mart and Annam Gourmet.

🤝 Korea’s Kakao buys serialized fiction app Radish as well as Tapas Media’ storytelling apps, which have more than 3 million readers, for a combined total of $950 million. The former was valued at $440 million and the latter at $510 million.

🤝 The $600 million acquisition of reading community app Wattpad by South Korean internet giant Naver has now formally closed. Wattpad will continue to operate from Toronto, Canada, with co-founder Allen Lau remaining CEO and reporting to the CEO of Naver’s Webtoon, Jun Koo Kim.

💰 Astrology app Sanctuary raised $3 million in seed funding led by BITKRAFT Ventures to grow its live, on-demand astrology, tarot and psychic readings business.

GasBuddy

Image Credits: GasBuddy app screenshot

The GasBuddy app, which has been around for over a decade, hit the No. 1 spot on the U.S. App Store for the first time ever due the Colonial pipeline attack. The app became a must-have app for finding gas stations nearby that aren’t out of fuel or diesel, following a surge of panic-buying across over a dozen U.S. states reporting outages. The company told TechCrunch it counted 313,001 total downloads on Wednesday, to give you an idea of how many users it’s been gaining as a result of the crisis.

Waitlist this: Pok Pok Playroom

Image Credits: Snowman

Snowman, the small studio behind award-winning iOS games Alto’s Adventure, Alto’s Odyssey, Skate City and others, is spinning out a new company, Pok Pok, that will focus on educational children’s entertainment. Later this month, Pok Pok will debut its first title, Pok Pok Playroom, aimed at inspiring creative thinking through play for the preschool crowd. The app will feature a range of creative “digital toys” grounded in the real world — no unicorns or fairies or talking animals here. Rather it will feature a diverse range of characters that represent the real world as it is. The subscription-based app will have no ads or in-app purchases, so kids are encouraged to play, not pressured to buy things. The company has pre-announced its May 20th launch, but users can sign up on the website now to get an email when the app arrives.

Rocket Lab’s 20th Electron launch ends in failure with the loss of its payload

Rocket Lab flew its 20th Electron mission on Saturday morning, but the launch ran into a significant issue just after its second stage engine ignited. The engine appeared to shut down just after the ignition, which is not what it’s supposed to do, and which is likely the result of an automated emergency shutdown process that would trigger in case of a system failure. Rocket Lab confirmed that the issue happened shortly after the ignition of the second stage and resulted in the loss of the vehicle and its payload.

The company last encountered a mission failure in July 2020, when the vehicle and its payloads on Rocket Lab’s 13th Electron flight were lost after an engine failure that occurred during the second stage burn. That issue similarly resulted from a triggered safety shutdown, meaning that while the rocket and its cargo didn’t explode, the spacecraft simply stopped operating, but didn’t reach its target orbit or release its payload.

This flight, called “Running Out of Toes,” was Rocket Lab’s third this year, and a paid, dedicated launch for customer BlackSky, meant to deliver an Earth observation satellite for that company to help power its global monitoring and intelligence platform. This mission profile also included a key test of Rocket Lab’s rocket reusability program, with a planned recovery of the first-stage booster used in the Electron vehicle that carried the satellite to space.

This was to be the second time that Rocket Lab performed a rocket recovery, after picking one up post-launch back in November. The company had created a lot of improvements for this second try, including upgrades to Electron itself, with a better thermal protection system and upgraded heat shield to protect the Rutherford engines that power the booster, which are designed to help the final reusable design keep those in good shape for future reuse post-recovery.

It doesn’t look like the first-stage recovery is happening based on Rocket Lab’s statements thus far, but the company says that it will be providing more information on the failed launch once that becomes available.

Amazon launches ad-free video streaming service miniTV in India

Amazon, which already charges some of the world’s lowest fee for Prime Video in India, is ready to go a step further to win more users in the world’s second largest internet market.
The e-commerce giant on Saturday launched miniTV, an ad-supported video streaming service that is available within the Amazon shopping app and is completely free.

miniTV is currently available only in India, Amazon said.

miniTV features web-series, comedy shows, and content around tech news, food, beauty, fashion, Amazon said. Some of the titles currently available have been produced by leading studios such as TVF, Pocket Aces — two of the largest web studios in India — and comedians such as Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Round2Hell, Harsh Beniwal, Shruti Arjun Anand, Elvish Yadav, Prajakta Koli, Swagger Sharma, Aakash Gupta and Nishant Tanwar.

“Viewers will be informed on latest products and trends by tech expert Trakin Tech, fashion and beauty experts such as Sejal Kumar, Malvika Sitlani, Jovita George, Prerna Chhabra and ShivShakti. Food lovers can enjoy content from Kabita’s Kitchen, Cook with Nisha, and Gobble. In the coming months, miniTV will add many more new and exclusive videos,” the company said.

miniTV is currently available on Amazon’s Android app, and will arrive on the iOS counterpart and mobile web over the coming months, Amazon said.

Amazon’s move follows a similar step by Walmart’s Flipkart, the company’s chief rival, which rolled out video streaming service within its app in 2019. In recent years, scores of firms including Zomato have added video streaming offering in their own apps.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

European AI needs strategic leadership, not overregulation

The EU Commission recently proposed a new set of stringent rules to regulate AI, citing an urgent need. With the global race to regulate AI officially on, the EU published a detailed proposal on how AI should be regulated, explicitly banning some uses and defining those it considers “high-risk,” planning to ban the use of AI that threatens people’s rights and safety.

We can all agree with the sentiment of Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president, when she said that when it comes to “artificial intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have,” but is regulation the most effective and efficient way to secure this reality?

The takeaways from the commission are incredibly in-depth, but the ones that make the most sense to me are those that stress regulated AI should aim to increase human well-being. However, regulation should not overly constrain experimentation and development of AI systems.

High-risk AI systems should always have unalterable built-in human oversight and control mechanisms. AI systems intended to interact with people or to generate content, whether high-risk or not, should be subject to specific transparency obligations. In addition, AI-based remote biometric systems in publicly accessible places shall be only authorized by EU or member state law and serve the objective of preventing, detecting or investigating serious crime and terrorism.

Partnership between AI and humanity

The set of laws and legal framework enacted in Europe will have a profound impact on AI regulation around the world, similar to the effects the GDPR regulations created over the past decade. But will these laws assist us in moving away from the EU-wide haphazard regulatory approach toward a singularity of common classification?

In my opinion, this will cripple AI development in the EU while China and the United States leap forward. It would limit the use cases and innovation of artificial intelligence and put the EU in a technologically inferior position globally. In the U.S, AI is being optimized to maximize corporate profitability and efficiency. In China, AI is being optimized to maximize the government’s grip on the population with the preservation of power. The overly regulated environment in the EU will lead to complete chaos when regulations in various EU bodies start contradicting.

Negative effects on EU entrepreneurship

A lack of investment in AI in the EU is a major factor why the EU is losing the AI race to the U.S. and China. There are currently about 446 million people living in the EU and 331 million people living in the U.S. But in the EU, $2 billion was invested in AI in 2020, while in the U.S., $23.6 billion was invested.

If the EU continues pushing with aggressive regulations and lack of funding, it will enjoy global leadership in AI regulations, but I won’t be surprised if many European entrepreneurs decide to launch their startups in more AI-friendly countries.

To create an EU that is friendly to innovation and entrepreneurs, we must create a collaborative network of AI pioneers to lead the way.

In turn, other nations will take advantage of the EU’s push toward strict regulations by fostering innovation and generating a stronger hold on the future of global technology. A recent World Bank report showed the EU launched 38% of investigations into data compliance in 2019, compared to only 12% in North America. With policies this stringent and burdensome to companies, it should be no surprise if innovators and entrepreneurs begin to move to more business-friendly parts of the globe.

Regulation leads to relegation

The regulation proposal suggests fines of up to €20 million, or up to 4% of total annual turnover of the AI provider for noncompliance. If we consider prior EU legislation and subsequent lack of digital innovation, these proposed regulations will cause chronic stagnation of digital innovation and adoption in the EU bloc.

In short, if these regulations become law, the EU will not become a pioneer but a laggard. The “real” use cases of AI are yet to emerge, uncovering the true potential of AI. The massive bureaucracy for high-risk use cases will undercut any entrepreneurship or bottom-up innovation efforts. With historical markers trending to the EU heading to a recession, now is not the time to stifle innovation.

Put a human face on global AI … and show its value

If AI is to be broadly accepted, we need a human face showing AI helping people solve their problems and challenges. We must highlight engaging stories that are true and showcase the real people behind them. For the population at large to accept the potential of AI, they must see people like themselves benefiting from the goodness of AI.

AI funding means, above all, startup funding. Startups form the bridge between the discovery and development of disruptive technologies to their everyday use by the general public. Europe is already doing a significant amount of planning, but must accelerate.

European venture capital is lagging behind the U.S. model. Fast-growing startups are mostly dependent on American and Asian investors. This requires a rethinking of the investment culture and sensible promotion of a dynamic investment environment; for example, through the targeted relaxation of investment restrictions on the part of institutional investors.

We’re living during the age of “moonshots,” a time when entrepreneurs and scientists are able to go further than ever before. Competing in the next economy requires playing a new innovation game, one whose goal is to boost innovation tenfold.

In order to reach this level, incremental optimizations do not help. The focus needs to pivot to big innovations — moonshots. Taking risk is acceptable and implementation of a large and risky idea should become normal.

To create an EU that is friendly to innovation and entrepreneurs, we must create a collaborative network of AI pioneers to lead the way. Entrepreneurs and data science leaders must use their energies to focus on AI for good to improve the world in the longer term and advocate for deregulation. To accomplish this, we need to set up a global AI pioneers council on AI for good, consisting of participants from leading research institutions, businesses, the public sector and civil society to develop a shared understanding of best practices.

AI is no longer just a tool for optimizing corporate systems and societal infrastructures; its potential reaches much further into solving the various crises facing mankind, from climate change to uncontrolled pandemics. Responsible AI and AI for good application across all the world’s superpowers can address these crises.

The EU cannot afford to be the region of the globe disincentivizing innovation and discouraging entrepreneurship. The EU must move not toward super regulation, but toward strategic leadership of AI based on AI for good. The path of overregulation leads to the depths of stagnation. It is up to the EU to decide what it wants its future to look like.