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The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided

Happy Saturday, friends. Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we very quickly sum up the most read TechCrunch stories from the past week. Want it in your inbox every Saturday AM? Get it here.
This week saw two big events running in parallel: an Apple hardware announcement and Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Either one of those on their own would generally lead our traffic for the week — having them smash into each other on the same day was … interesting. And maybe a little exhausting.
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The Apple stuff: Apple’s event, as their events tend to do, mostly dominated the tech news cycle this week. Rather than turn this entire newsletter into one big list of Apple things, I’ll just say: new iPhones, new AirPods, and a beefy new Apple Watch. Want more words than that? Here’s our roundup of the news.
Y Combinator moonshots: Startups are hard. But every YC batch has at least a handful of companies that seem a little extra hard — the moonshots, if you will. From faux fish to teams that want to reinvent flying, the Demo Day team rounded up some of the wildest pitches.
Musk/Twitter drama continues: Elon Musk is still aiming to undo his multibillion-dollar offer for Twitter, and Twitter still wants to hold him to it. This week a Delaware judge made two decisions in the ordeal: The trial will not be delayed by a month as Musk’s legal team had requested, but Musk will be allowed to “amend his counterclaim with details” disclosed by Twitter security whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko earlier this month.
LG wants you to buy NFTs on your TV: NFT sales have reportedly tanked over the last few months. Will the ability to buy/sell/trade NFTs on LG smart TVs be the thing that turns that around? No, no, it will not.
Kim Kardashian’s new gig: “America’s favorite reality star is leveling up her repertoire,” writes Anita, with another job title: private equity investor. Kardashian is teaming up with Jay Sammons, formerly the head of Consumer/Media/Retail at the Carlyle Group, to launch a new private equity firm called SKKY Partners.
Jeep’s EVs: Another legendary auto brand is diving deep into electric vehicles — this time it’s Jeep, which this week revealed plans to roll out three different EVs (the Recon, Wagoneer S, and Avenger) by 2025. The company, notes Jaclyn, expects “EVs to compose half of its sales in North America — and all of its sales in Europe — by 2030.”
Patreon layoffs: Patreon, a company that helps creators build out paid membership offerings, laid off employees this week. The layoffs purportedly leave Patreon without much of a security team, which seems … not ideal?
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
audio roundup
What’s up in TC podcast land this week? “Selling Sunset” star Christine Quinn stopped by Found to tell ’em about her new startup, the Chain Reaction crypto crew talked about the latest drama at Binance, and Burnsy took a virtual trip to Minnesota to put the spotlight on the Minneapolis startup scene for TechCrunch Live.
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Want 15% off an annual TechCrunch+ subscription? Use promo code “WIR” when signing up. Just want to know what TC+ readers were reading most this week? Here’s the breakdown:
YC Demo Day favs: Nearly 230 pitches later, which Y Combinator S22 companies stood out to the Demo Day team? Here are their favorite pitches from Day 1 and Day 2.
The most important slides in your pitch deck: Reporter/former VC/resident pitch deck expert Haje shares his insights on which of the perhaps-too-many slides in your deck are most crucial.
The freemium bar is shifting: Across products from Slack to Google Meet to Heroku, many companies are shifting up their free tiers to offer less. Why now? Anita explores the trend.
The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided by Greg Kumparak originally published on TechCrunch
The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided

Pliops lands $100M for chips that accelerate analytics in data centers

Analyzing data generated within the enterprise — for example, sales and purchasing data — can lead to insights that improve operations. But some organizations are struggling to process, store and use their vast amounts of data efficiently. According to an IDC survey commissioned by Seagate, organizations collect only 56% of the data available throughout their lines of business, and out of that 56%, they only use 57%.

Part of the problem is that data-intensive workloads require substantial resources, and that adding the necessary compute and storage infrastructure is often expensive. For companies moving to the cloud specifically, IDG reports that they plan to devote $78 million toward infrastructure this year. Thirty-six percent cited controlling costs as their top challenge.
That’s why Uri Beitler launched Pliops, a startup developing what he calls “data processors” for enterprise and cloud data centers. Pliop’s processors are engineered to boost the performance of databases and other apps that run on flash memory, saving money in the long run, he claims.
“It became clear that today’s data needs are incompatible with yesterday’s data center architecture. Massive data growth has collided with legacy compute and storage shortcomings, creating slowdowns in computing, storage bottlenecks and diminishing networking efficiency,” Beitler told TechCrunch in an email interview. “While CPU performance is increasing, it’s not keeping up, especially where accelerated performance is critical. Adding more infrastructure often proves to be cost prohibitive and hard to manage. As a result, organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally intensive storage tasks.”
Pliops isn’t the first to market with a processor for data analytics. Nvidia sells the BlueField-3 data processing unit (DPU). Marvell has its Octeon technology. Oracle’s SPARC M7 chip has a data analytics accelerator coprocessor with a specialized set of instructions for data transformation. And in the realm of startups, Blueshift Memory and Speedata are creating hardware that they say can perform analytics tasks significantly faster than standard processors.
Image Credits: Pliops
But Pliops claims to be further along than most, with deployments and pilots with customers (albeit unnamed) including fintechs, “medium-sized” communication service providers, data center operators and government labs. The startup’s early traction won over investors, it would seem, which poured $100 million into its Series D round that closed today.
Koch Disruptive Technologies led the tranche, with participation from SK Hynix and Walden International’s Lip-Bu Tan, bringing Pliops’ total capital raised to date to more than $200 million. Beitler says that it’ll be put toward building out the company’s hardware and software roadmap, bolstering Pliops’ footprint with partners and expanding its international headcount.
“Many of our customers saw tremendous growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to their ability to react quickly to the new work environment and conditions of uncertainty. Pliops certainly did. While some customers were affected by supply chain issues, we were not,” Beitler said. “We do not see any slowdown in data growth — or the need to leverage it. Pliops was strong before this latest funding round and even stronger now.”
Accelerating data processing
Beitler, the former director of advanced memory solutions at Samsung’s Israel Research Center, co-founded Pliops in 2017 alongside Moshe Twitto and Aryeh Mergi. Twitto was a research scientist at Samsung developing signal processing technologies for flash memory, while Mergi co-launched a number of startups — including two that were acquired by EMC and SanDisk — prior to joining Pliops.
Pliop’s processor delivers drive fail protection for solid-state drives (SSD) as well as in-line compression, a technology that shrinks the size of data by finding identical data sequences and then saving only the first sequence. Beitler claims the company’s technology can reduce drive space while expanding capacity, mapping “variable-sized” compressed objects within storage to reduce wasted space.
A core component of Pliops’ processor is its hardware-accelerated key-value storage engine. In key-value databases — databases where data is stored in a “key-value” format and optimized for reading and writing — key-value engines manage all the persistent data directly. Beitler makes the case that CPUs are typically over-utilized when running these engines, resulting in apps not taking full advantage of SSD’s capabilities.
“Organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally-intensive storage tasks. Our hardware helps create a modern data center architecture by leveraging a new generation of hardware-accelerated data processing and storage management technology — one that delivers orders of magnitude improvement in performance, reliability and scalability,” Beitler said. “In short, Pliops enables getting more out of existing infrastructure investments.”
Pliops’ processor became commercially available last July. The development team’s current focus is accelerating the ingest of data for machine learning use cases, Beitler says — use cases that have grown among Pliops’ current and potential customers.
Image Credits: Pliops
The road ahead
Certainly, Pliops has its work cut out for it. Nvidia is a formidable competitor in the data processing accelerator space, having spent years developing its BlueField lineup. And AMD acquired DPU vendor Pensando for $1.9 billion, signaling its wider ambitions.
A move that could pay dividends for Pliops is joining the Open Programmable Infrastructure Project (OPI), a relatively new venture under the Linux Foundation that aims to create standards around data accelerator hardware. While Pliops isn’t a member yet — current members include Intel, Nvidia, Marvell, F5, Red Hat, Dell and Keysight Technologies — it stands to reason that becoming one could expose its technology to a larger customer base.
Beitler demurred when asked about OPI, but pointed out that the market for data acceleration is still nascent and growing.
“We continue to see both infrastructure and application teams being overwhelmed with underperforming storage and overwhelmed applications that aren’t meeting company’s data demands,” Beitler said. “The overall feedback is that our processor is a game-changing product and without it companies are required to make years of investments in software and hardware engineering to solve the same problem.”
Pliops lands $100M for chips that accelerate analytics in data centers

Samsung will unveil its latest foldables on August 10

The days of the Galaxy Note Unpacked events are sadly gone, but Samsung’s foldables are more than happy to fill a phablet-sized hole in the company’s annual release schedule. Over the last couple of years, the company has made good on its promise to fully commit to the form factor, and we expect to see the latest additions to the Fold and Flip lines arrive in a matter of weeks.
Samsung this morning dropped an official invite for its late-summer Unpacked event, confirming an August 10 date for the virtual event. This is a Samsung event, so that means the big announcements have been leaked in part — or in full — over the last several weeks. As anticipated, the big news centers around the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4, along with Galaxy Watch 5.
Image Credits: Samsung
Both foldables are said to include the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip, along with some new color options. The new Galaxy Watch, meanwhile, represents Samsung’s latest Wear OS partnership. That one’s certainly worth keeping an eye on, as Google begins a newfound push for the wearable operating system, ahead of the fall Pixel Watch launch.
Meanwhile, Samsung’s super early pre-show product reserve is going even earlier this year, featuring the following discounts if you want to buy the mystery products (jkjkjkjk), site unseen:

$200 credit toward Galaxy phone, watch and buds bundle

$150 credit toward Galaxy phone and watch bundle

$130 credit toward Galaxy phone and buds bundle

$80 credit toward Galaxy watch and buds bundle

$100 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve a Galaxy phone

$50 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve a Galaxy watch

$30 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve Galaxy buds

All said, it should make for an interesting event, and a nice jolt of news amidst the late-summer hardware doldrums. The event kicks off at 9AM ET/6AM PT August 10. We’ll be there (virtually).
Samsung will unveil its latest foldables on August 10

Smartphone shipments dropped 9% in Q2

Bad news about smartphone shipments has become the norm, rather than the exception, in recent years. The trend pre-dates the pandemic, but has only accelerated during the pandemic, thanks to various economic and supply chain impacts. Even so, a high single-digit drop warrants examination and some difficult questions around the industry’s health.
New figures out this morning from Canalys show a 9% year-over-year drop for global smartphone shipments in Q2. The culprits are, well, pretty much everything you’ve been hearing about for the last couple of years.
Says analyst Runar Bjørhovde:
Vendors were forced to review their tactics in Q2 as the outlook for the smartphone market became more cautious. Economic headwinds, sluggish demand and inventory pileup have resulted in vendors rapidly reassessing their portfolio strategies for the rest of 2022. The oversupplied mid-range is an exposed segment for vendors to focus on adjusting new launches, as budget-constrained consumers shift their device purchases toward the lower end.
Image Credits: Canalys
Consumers have broadly slowed down their upgrade cycles, as phones have gotten better and more robust. The phones themselves have grown more expensive in the process, adding an air of consumer caution amid economic uncertainty, including unemployment and inflation. Add to that chip shortages and supply chain bottlenecks, and you’ve got a recipe for an industry that has crashed back down to earth.
Given all of the above, it ought to come as little surprise that low-end and mid-tier devices have been driving what purchases remain. Most notable is Samsung’s A-series, which helped the company retain the top spot and grow its overall market share from 18 to 21%. Apple and Xiaomi effectively swapped market shares with 17 and 14% this quarter, as Apple took second place, propelled by demand for the iPhone 13.
Along with Xiaomi, fellow Chinese handset makers Oppo and Vivo also experienced market share drops for the quarter, at 1% apiece.
Smartphone shipments dropped 9% in Q2

Nothing Phone (1) review

Can a smartphone still be cool? They were, once upon a time, in those days when they were more luxury than ubiquity. But what happens when everyone has one — and, more to the point, we all pretty much have the same one? Phones aren’t fashion. They’re not clothes or shoes or even cars. Chances are probably roughly equal that you’ve got the same one as the world’s richest billionaire or the person who bags your groceries.
I won’t go so far as to say choice among smartphones is an illusion, but it’s also probably not as great as you think. The last several years have seen a consolidation of the market among a fleetingly small handful of companies, while once mighty brands like LG and HTC have fallen off. Add in geographical and carrier limitations, and it becomes clear how small a pool we’re ultimately swimming in here.
Nothing is a company founded on, among other things, the notion that smartphones can still be cool. That they can be exciting and interesting in an area where they’re more or less all similar touchscreen electronic slabs.
There’s never been a good or easy time to launch a new smartphone company. But in a number of ways, founder Carl Pei may have chosen the worst — or at very least, the most difficult. Along with the aforementioned consolidation comes an overall stagnation and decline in smartphone sales. After a decade of flying high, things came sputtering down to Earth. It’s a regression that pre-dates but was ultimately accelerated by the pandemic.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
Smartphone manufacturers painted themselves into a corner in a bid to beat the competition. In the process, devices improved to a point that people felt less compelled to upgrade as often. Differentiation grew more difficult and continued attempts to add features to outdo others drove flagship prices into the quadruple digits. It’s a paradox of sorts — smartphones may have gotten too popular for their own good.
Those factors presaged a massive supply chain crunch. Chips and other components have been increasingly difficult to procure at scale for companies not named Apple or Samsung, while external financial factors, including inflation, have driven up the price of consumer electronics. Anyone with a passing interest in the category will probably agree that the category could use some new life, but how one might go about supplying it is a different question altogether.
“Nothing has been a difficult company to launch,” Pei recently told me. “This industry, in general, has one of the highest barriers of entry. We have huge companies, and it’s consolidating. There are a handful of companies that are active, and huge companies tend to be pretty bureaucratic, slow moving and very analytical. No wonder why all the products are kind of similar these days. In a regular industry or product category, you also have fresh blood that keeps coming in from below. In our industry, there’s no fresh blood because the barrier to entry is so high.”
Other barriers exist, as well. That, after all, is precisely the reason Nothing isn’t bringing its first phone to the States. While American consumers have begun to recognize the appeal of purchasing unlocked devices, carriers still have a stranglehold on the market. “You have to work with a big carrier,” Pei added, “they have a lot of negotiation power over you.”
Nothing Ear (1) headphones were a fine way to test broader consumer interest. The earbud market, while still saturated, still has room for growth. And, besides, $99 for a pair of headphones from a brand-new manufacturer is a much easier ask than a smartphone — even a $400 one.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
In the meantime, the company has worked diligently to build out a brand. Pei’s biggest strength has been his ability to build community. It was a key piece of OnePlus’ early successes, and he’s doing his best to recapture that magic with Nothing. For the phone, that’s meant things like invite-only purchasing (something that happens to dovetail nicely with those supply chain issues), crowd equity investing and, yes, NFTs. Scarcity isn’t a concept one tends to think about when discussing a mass-produced product like a phone, but maybe there are lessons to be learned from crypto and hype beasts cultures.
Aesthetic consistency is another shortcut for building a brand. When we broke the news that the company was working on a phone back in March, we noted:
Details around the forthcoming device are thin, though the source notes that the product will share a similar design language and “elements of transparency” seen in Nothing’s first product.
It’s safe to say that the report bore out. The clear back, coupled with the “Glyph” LED lighting arrangement is, by far, the phone’s most striking visual element, sharing a language with Nothing’s transparent earbuds. Stripped of that aspect, it, well, looks an awful lot like an iPhone. “I’ve gotten that feedback,” Pei told me when I brought this up. “It’s the most efficient use of space.”
Is the current iPhone some platonic ideal of smartphone design? I guess it is until it isn’t, and someone else figures out something better. Perhaps this speaks to another kind of limitation: physical design and use of space. Sure, Nothing could have gone out of its way to produce something entirely different, but 1) good luck finding a manufacturer that will work with you and 2) you’re suddenly catapulting yourself in the world of function over form. There’s certainly some wiggle room to play with, but a phone needs to be functional first, and then you can start worrying about the other stuff.
Ultimately, when you choose utility, you’ve got to find other ways to stand out as a true alternative in the samey world of handsets. That’s the liminal space the Nothing Phone occupies. It’s a kind of thought experiment into how one can go about differentiating oneself in a product category that’s already so mature and well defined.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
One thing that’s undeniable, however, is that the form factor is solid. The combination of glass and metal, coupled with the heft of the device, affords the Phone (1) a premium feel. It’s not heavy — certainly not for a phone this size — so much as substantial. Build-wise, there was never point I felt like I was carrying around anything but a flagship.
The company determined that bleeding-edge specs weren’t the hill to die on, either. This much is understandable. Going head-to-head against Samsung and Apple in an all-out spec war is a game you’re going to lose. This is most glaringly obvious in the case of the chipset. The inclusion of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ chip puts the device firmly in the mid-range category. Like pretty much every other aspect of building your first phone in 2022, there are trade-offs.
I’d assumed the decision was largely budgetary. I suspect that still played a factor in the decision, but ultimately Nothing’s choice not to go all-in on the latest flagship chip was a bit wonkier than that. Pei said the decision to go with a TSMC fab — rather than Samsung — is what pushed it over the edge. “It was a difficult choice, because we knew there would be people saying, ‘hey what are you doing? It’s not the latest.’ But I think it’s the most responsible choice in the seven series.”
Performance-wise, the phone can hang. It performs well, particularly will those devices in its price range. Sure, there are trade-offs that come with not adopting this year’s latest flagship chip, but nothing that should have a profound impact on your daily use. The chips are coupled with a solid starting 8GB of RAM and 128GB of memory. There are three tiers, in all, ranging from £399 ($473) to £499 ($592) for 12GB/256GB — again, positioning the product in the mid-tier.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
It’s a good value — especially for a first-time phone. The resources required to launch a device like this are tremendous. Pei certainly alluded to the fact that a large portion of the company’s raise thus far is tied up in the Phone (1), making this phone’s success nearly make or break for the young company. For that reason, I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if Nothing passed some of the financial burden along to the consumer.
Much like the spec conversation, pricing your product similarly to Apple and Samsung’s is a fool’s errand. Firstly, $1,000+ phone prices are one element that has throttled phone sales. Finding a better price point makes the product more competitive, and opens up additional markets like India, which tend to be more interested in mid-tier pricing (a big market for Nothing, as it happens). It’s likely no coincidence that pricing was also a key part of OnePlus’s strategy, as well.
The back is, meanwhile, the most unique design element I’ve seen on a handset recently, aside from foldable screens. Is it a gimmick? Yes, 100%. It’s a decent one, however, with some real functionality. It’s also the reason the device ships with a warning for people with epilepsy and light sensitivity. That’s not something you see with most handsets — and partially an indication of just how bright this thing gets at full power. The “Glyph” is made from 900 LEDs, covered by a diffusing layer that makes it look like one connected light source. The design is certainly unique. “They told me it’s the kanji character for ‘love,’” Pei told me about his design team. “But I call bullshit on that. I can’t see it.” It can be programmed for a variety of different notifications, but it takes some time to remember which is which.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
In the center is a 5W wireless charging coil. Choose “Power Share” from the drop-down menu, pop a pair of earbuds in the center and the ring will light up to let you know it’s doing its thing. The battery life overall isn’t head-turning, but the 4,500mAh battery will get you through a day and a half of normal use with no problem.
The OLED screen measures in at 6.55 inches. It’s a great-looking display at 2400 x 1080, with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. The screen is on the larger side, which, in turn, makes for a larger phone. I’m on the taller side of the human spectrum and had no problem porting the handset around, but that could certainly be a limited factor for many users.
The 16-megapixel front-facing camera sits behind a hole punch in the display. It has a built-in night mode and is capable of shooting video in 1080. A pair of rear-facing 50-megapixel cameras sit atop each other on the rear, their respective housings creating a small camera bump. The overall quality of images is quite sharp, and the system has some built-in tricks, including the inclusion of a macro mode and clever use of the two cameras to double as a depth detector. Overall, it’s a solid implementation and an impressive showing for a first-time phone-maker.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The device itself isn’t rated for dust or waterproofing. Pei told me that the decision to skip the official process came down to time. Each side of the product is covered in Gorilla Glass 5, which should protect against drops, and rubber elements inside the phone will — at the very least — help it deal with rain and splashes. I wouldn’t, however, go swimming with the phone just yet.
Nothing’s Phone (1) is a refreshing change of pace in a smartphone market that has lost much of its sense of fun. It’s not a revolutionary device — but marketing material aside, that was never really the point. It has to be a solid and reliable Android handset at its foundation, and on that front it’s a success. It’s novel enough to turn heads and service as the starting point for an interesting company.
But is it cool? That’s ultimately in the eye of the beholder. It’s definitely fun, functional and nice to look at. Too bad it’s not available in the U.S.
Nothing Phone (1) review