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Review: iPad Air, smooth criminal

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The 2020 iPad Air comes at an interesting time in Apple’s release cycle. The iPad Pro is still strong from a specs perspective but is now technically a half generation or so behind in CPU. The new pro models won’t arrive for (theoretical) months. 

So what you end up with is a device that shares the design philosophy of the iPad Pro and inherits some of its best features while simultaneously leaping ahead of it in raw compute power. This makes the Air one of the better overall values in any computing device from Apple in some time. In fact, it’s become obvious that this is my top choice to recommend as a casual, portable computer from Apple’s entire lineup including the MacBooks. 

The clean new design has a thin, pleasantly colored simplicity to it. It matches the new iPhone 12 aesthetic quite well. The smoothly bullnosed corners and dusty blue peened finish make this one of the better looking iPads since the original. For years, Apple moved to try to “pull” the casing of the iPads around the back, making it disappear. This new design is a nice balance between the original’s frank simplicity and the new iPad Pro direction. A bit less sharp-edged and a bit more ‘friendly’ while still crisp.

One thing that I love a lot about the Air is that it lives up to its name and clocks in at the lightest weight of any of Apple’s portables at 1.0lb flat. This plus the Magic Keyboard is just such a killer portable writing machine it’s wild. 

Apple didn’t fix the camera position on this, something that still stinks about the iPad Pro because you have to use Face ID to unlock it and your hand is always in the way in landscape mode. Instead, they straight up ditched the entire True Depth camera and Face ID altogether and tucked Touch ID into the power button.

The initial scanning process to set up a finger seemed ever so slightly more reluctant to grab my fingerprint here than it used to on the home button. My guess is that it’s to do with the oblong shape of the sensor or its housing. But once it was scanned and input, I’m happy to report that it works exactly as well if not better than any iPhone home button version. I set a finger on my left hand here because I only use iPads in horizontal mode. But if you aren’t a keyboard person and are doing a lot of reading, the right hand would be appropriate. 

I actually found this to be a more natural feeling activation gesture than swiping up only to remember that my hand is in the way and having to move it and look at the camera. If the camera was placed along the horizontal edge of the iPad Pro or even in the corner I might feel differently. But as a compromise so that Apple doesn’t have to ship a True Depth camera in this unit, it works plenty fine. 

The surface of the Touch ID button is covered by an opaque sapphire crystal cover that blends well with the casing but allows the print to be read through it. 

Once you have the iPad Air unlocked, it falls right into the ‘X’ style navigation system. Swipes to open and navigate and move around. This is great because it brings near parity of navigation across Apple’s device lineup (minus the iPhone SE.)

The camera is fine. Do you shoot pictures on an iPad? Really you do? Wow, interesting, ok. Maybe buy the iPad Pro which has a full LiDAR array, a Wide and an Ultra Wide lens. Great for artists, scanning, reference work etc. On the iPad Air the camera is just fine but is really a formality. It can be used in all of those ways and the quality is on par, but it’s there because it has to be there. 

Those of you that travel with an iPad and an iPhone will be happy to know that you can charge an iPhone from the USB-C port on the iPad Air. And yep, it works fine with USB-C hubs and card readers too.

The iPad Air has 4GB of RAM where the iPad Pro 2020 has 6GB. It has a Liquid Retina display, but no ProMotion 120hz refresh. The lack of ProMotion is unfortunate but understandable. It requires another whole layer of display technology that is quite a bit more expensive. Having gotten used to it now I would say that on a larger screen like this it’s easily the best excuse for spending the extra $150-200 to bump up to the 11” Pro model. It’s just really damn nice. If you’ve never had one, you’ll be a lot less likely to miss this obviously.

But it also has an A14 Bionic chip where the iPad Pro 2020 models are still on the A12Z. Because that ‘Z’ is related to the fact that it has an extended number of graphics cores (8-core CPU/8-core GPU), the performance gap isn’t as big as you’d think.

Though the iPad Air edges out the iPad Pro in single-core performance, the multi-core numbers are essentially on parity. This speaks to the iPad Pro being tuned to handle multiple processes in simultaneous threads for processing images and video. If you’re running Photoshop or Premiere Rush or LumaFusion on an iPad, you want the Pro. For most other uses, you’re gonna be just fine with the Air.

I do really wish that the Air started at 128GB instead of 64GB for the base $599 price. Apple has finally gotten the iPhone to a great place for minimum storage across the lineup, and I wish that the iPad Air matched that. If a ton of space is important to you, it’s important to note that you cannot get anything over 256GB in this unit, unlike the iPad Pro that is offered up to 1TB. 

The two speaker system in the iPad Air is arranged in the much better horizontal array but it’s half the amount that are in the iPad Pro and it shows. It’s a bit less loud overall but honestly the top volume is still way more than you need for typical iPad viewing distance.

Much of what I wrote about using Apple’s iPad Pro over the course of 10,000 miles of travel applies directly here. I still find it to be a great experience that, once you’ve adjusted for workflows, is just as powerful as any laptop. The additional features that have shipped in iOS 14 since that review have only made the iPad a better platform for legitimate work. 

And now you get the Gen 2 pencil and the fantastic Magic Keyboard in an iPad outside of the Pro lineup and it honestly adds a ton of the utility. 

Here’s my advice: Buy this if you want a portable iPad Pro to use alongside a MacBook or desktop computer for those times you don’t want to carry or can’t carry it. If you want an iPad Pro as your only computer, get the big iPad Pro but probably wait until they update that one in a few months.

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Shop-Ware raises cash as cars make a comeback

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Shop-Ware has been waiting for a year like 2020 since 2015.

The startup, which sells software to neighborhood automotive shops to digitize their operations, had struggled to capture capital from venture firms. Until recently, its sole major investor was aftermarket automotive giant Bosch.

For companies like Shop-Ware, the disruptive wake of COVID-19 has cleared a path to capital as mainstream investors have sought out startups with services and products needed in the pandemic era. Investors finally get Shop-Ware founder Carolyn Coquillette’s vision and business. Their endorsement: $15 million in funding through a Series A round led by Insight Partners.

“It’s a different level of validation in terms of this industry going through a transition and catching the eye of traditional investors,” Coquillette said.

Coquillette says Shop-Ware will use he funds to fuel growth across its operations, sales and marketing teams.

The fresh capital comes as Shop-Ware has tripled its customer base while also lowering churn, Coquillette said, although she would not disclose total revenue numbers or whether the company is profitable.

The idea of Shop-Ware began when Coquillette started her own San Francisco-based auto shop, Luscious Garage, in 2007. The goal from the get-go was to offer customers a peek into what happens in an auto shop. It meant more communications from the repair-person to the car-owner, and a software platform was the best way to do it. Eventually, the push for modernized software became less of an in-house project and more of a standalone company. By 2015, she had a product and an incorporated company.

Shop-Ware helps auto-repair shops streamline operations both inside and out of the shop. Auto-repair shops are able to use Shop-Ware to track employee hours, inventory ordering and management and integrate with third-party tools such as Quickbooks. Shop-Ware also helps the neighborhood auto-repair worker communicate and charge customers through text or a web-based interface.

The intricacies of car ownership are something that Coquillette thinks that the average consumer doesn’t understand, so she built an entire business around adding more transparency to the clunky process.

“There is no way that a normal person is going to appreciate what it takes to fix their car,” Coquillette said. “The car is built to distract you and hide its complication for you by design so that you agree to buy it.” In other words, she says, you’re buying a “magic carpet.”

It’s an easy pitch for the most part, the founder says.

“Everybody who owns the car has gone to a repair shop and had an unsavory experience,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious to be like ‘oh yeah, you can make that experience less unsavory.’”

The real roadblock for the startup is convincing a business to adopt technology to change a process that isn’t technically broken. COVID-19 has been the impetus for auto shops — some of which have been steadfast in their pen-and-paper approach —to turn to a digital platform to communicate and operate.

The sector of digitizing auto-repair processes has grown considerably since Shop-Ware first launched five years ago.

Concierge startups such as CarDash and Wrench have popped up over the past several years to give customers an easier way to request maintenance checks. The services consolidate auto repair shops under one, approachable umbrella, which Coquillette thinks is the wrong approach.

“I’m a real big believer that you need to enable those independent providers,” she said. “You have to basically let those special snowflakes be their own snowflakes.”

A closer competitor to Shop-Ware is Shopmonkey, which raised a $25 million Bessemer-led Series B in August. It is welcome competition, Coquillette remarks, because it has put an investment spotlight on the category.

“There’s been a wakeup call around autonomy and how we related to our cars,” she said.

Now it’s up to Shop-Ware to take that wakeup call and turn it into cash.

 

 

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Looking Glass’s next product is a holographic digital photo frame

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Looking Glass’s technology is extremely cool, but has, thus far, been prohibitively expensive, ranging from $600 for its 8.9-inch product to $6,000 for the 15-inch model — and an undisclosed sum for its 32-inch 8K display. Portrait might not be the most technically ambitious or versatile product the Brooklyn-based startup has produced, but it’s easily the most accessible.

At $349, it’s still not cheap (though it’s $199 if you get in early via Kickstarter), but it has to be one of the most affordable holographic displays on the market. Along with the pricing, the company is taking a more populist approach to functionality, as well, offering up what is essentially a very advanced digital photo frame. The system offers up to 100 different perspectives on a 3D image, which, unlike products like Sony’s new 3D display, can be viewed by multiple people at once.

Image Credits: Looking Glass

The system can also be run without being tethered to a computer. Its standalone mode relies on a built-in computer to deliver a 60 FPS holographic image. Those photos, meanwhile, can be captured with an iPhone and edited into a 3D image using the included HoloPlay Studio software. Holographic videos can also be captured with Azure Kinect and Intel RealSense cameras.

“It’s the first step toward holographic video calls,” the company notes, perhaps tipping its hand a bit about future plans.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of the moment that I’d be able to have a holographic display of my own,” CEO Shawn Frayne says in the release. “I imagined what it would be like to send someone a holographic birthday message, or to say hello as a hologram to my great-great-great granddaughter. Looking Glass Portrait, the culmination of six years of work by our Brooklyn and Hong Kong based team, makes those dreams real for more people than ever before.”

The Portrait goes up on Kickstarter today, and will be available to early backers for $199.

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Jio Platforms backs SF-based AR gaming startup Krikey

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Jio Platforms, the biggest telecom operator in India and which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook, Google and other high-profile investors this year, is leading a financing round of a San Francisco-based startup that develops augmented-reality mobile games.

Jio has led the Series A fundraise of Krikey, founded by sisters Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram, the Indian firm said on Wednesday. They did not disclose the size of Krikey’s Series A round, but Jio said Krikey has raised $22 million to date.

Krikey has previously not disclosed any financing rounds, according to their listings on Crunchbase, CBInsights, and Tracxn.

As part of the announcement, Krikey has launched YAATRA, a new AR game that invites users to step in an action-adventure story to defeat a monster army. “Using weapons such as the bow and arrow, chakra, lightning and fire bolts, players can battle through different levels of combat and puzzle games,” Krikey said.

Jio subscribers in India will get exclusive access to a range of features in Krikey, available on Android and iOS, including a 3D avatar, and entry to some game levels and weapons.

“Our vision with Krikey is to bring together inspiration and reality in an immersive way. With augmented reality, we are able to bring fantasy worlds into your home, straight through the window of your mobile phone,” said Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram in a joint statement.

In a statement, Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said, “Krikey will inspire a generation of Indians to embrace Augmented Reality. Our vision is to bring the best experiences from across the world to India and the introduction of Yaatra is a step in that direction. Augmented Reality gaming takes the user into a world of its own, and we invite every Jio and non-Jio user to experience AR through Yaatra.”

We have reached out to Jio and Krikey for more details.

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