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We didn’t take commission on 90% of App Store sales and billings • The Register

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Comment Apple and Epic Games have delivered their final arguments in their California bench trial, but Cupertino is still ratcheting up the charm offensive, revealing the App Store “facilitated” a 24 per cent hike in billings and sales in 2020 to a record $643bn.

The data comes via a study [PDF] from economic consulting outfit The Analysis Group commissioned by Apple. Some of its findings addressed the points of contention raised during the bruising trial with Epic Games.

For example, Apple was forced to defend its anti-steering provisions, which prohibit software developers from pointing to alternative payment methods beyond the walled garden of the App Store. In practice, this means app-makers cannot mention or reference their own payment gateways, where they can process transactions without providing 30 per cent of their revenue to Apple.

The report noted that 90 per cent of total billings and sales occurred beyond the App Store, where Apple would not have been able to take a cut.

Looking at the data, this seemingly included sales of physical goods and services, where Apple didn’t charge a commission, and companies (like Amazon, Uber, and Lyft) that have developed apps specifically for iOS users are “allowed” to use their preferred payment gateways.

During the trial, Apple Fellow Phil Schiller distinguished physical goods from virtual ones by noting the firm was unable to guarantee delivery of the former.

Physical goods and services accounted for the overwhelming majority ($511bn) all of the total “facilitated” app revenue, up 24 per cent from a year ealier. Some $86bn came from digital goods and services, up 41 per cent, with the remaining chicken feed coming from in-app ad sales, which accounted for $46bn and was 4 per cent higher year-on-year.

Apple has tried to link these figures to the earnings of small software developers, highlighting its decision to drop its commission rates from 30 per cent to 15 per cent on small-volume devs in November last year, and pointing to a chart detailing close to three-times growth in earnings for app-makers who make “under $10m a year” since 2015.

But again, that might be misleading as no base figures were given – in fact the “small developer chart” (fig 1) included no financial values at all – and, as the Apple itself noted, the number of small devs increased by 40 per cent in these years.

The Analyst Group further broke down the $643bn figure by category into general retail, travel, food delivery, and so on. Predictably, general retail sales (like those from Amazon) accounted for the vast majority of physical goods and services revenue, totalling $383bn.

This is no surprise. With most brick-and-mortar stores shuttered around the world, and some regions limiting what supermarkets could sell, the only real option was to head online.

The little guys? Not quite

And it was the big players who benefited here, as demonstrated by Amazon.com’s top line for 2020, where revenues jumped more than 34 per cent to $215.9bn. Other large online retailers, like JD and Walmart, also had bumper years.

It’s fair to say that it’s most likely the intrenched retail players with apps on the App Store who benefited last year.

Similarly, the third-largest category, food delivery, is dominated by a handful of large companies, like Uber and Deliveroo. This is a space where smaller vendors are unable to compete. You need a vast moat of venture capital behind your back, as well as the stomach to withstand consecutive years of losses.

This isn’t the only piece of App Store fluffery Apple has published in recent weeks. In May, at the heart of the bench trial with Epic Games, it published a report claiming it stopped $1.5bn worth of fraudulent or suspicious transactions during 2020.

Apple has been repeatedly pressed to justify the 30 per cent cut on its larger developers, and pointed to the safety and security measures in the App Store, as well as other technologies, like the Metal graphics API.

In 2020, Congress estimated Apple’s costs of running the App Store amounted to just $100m, with annual global revenues of $15bn. ®

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Taking his advice was like ‘chewing broken glass’: the short life of dating guru Kevin Samuels | Relationships

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As a source of dating advice, Kevin Samuels would seem a last resort for America’s Black women. On his YouTube show and podcasts, Samuels criticized Black women for being old and out of shape, and for having children out of wedlock. He sneered at “modern women” who flaunted their multiple college degrees and boasted of their independence. He dropped these bombs in the softest voice, in a tailored suit, and bathed in mood lighting with a funky kinetic energy sculpture on his desk.

Yet many women not only tuned in to Samuels in droves, they cued up to Zoom into his show – some in hopes of putting the self-made image consultant turned relationship expert in his place. When Samuels suddenly died last Thursday in Atlanta at 57, as his star was still rising (the Fulton county medical examiners office has not yet revealed a cause of death), his many detractors reacted like Munchkins at the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East. The overwhelming lack of sympathy for Samuels – whose mother reportedly found out about his death as speculation raged online – comes down to his profiting from dismissing single Black women over 35 as “leftovers” whose unrealistic desire for “high-value men” would doom them to a lonely death.

On a recent episode of the Fox Soul streaming show Cocktails with Queens, the actor Vivica A Fox called Samuels’ death karma payback. “This man was a hypocrite, in my honest opinion,” she said. “He insulted African American women on a consistent basis.” In a Mother’s Day sermon, the preacher-influencer Jamal Bryant indirectly singled out this “high-powered man” for allegedly needing “a GoFundMe for his funeral”. The many women in Bryant’s congregation ate this up.

Still, just as many Black celebrities have rushed to defend Samuels. “Love him or hate him,” said the actor Marlon Wayans, “he spoke his truth. If you hated [him] why tune in?” The rapper turned comedian TI scorned the gleeful reactions to his death as a “fucking travesty” while branding Samuels’ haters as “despicable” and “bullies”. “Whatever he did, he did it, and [he’s] gone,” said the Why You Wanna emcee. “He got away with it.”

Besides his mother and daughter, Samuels is survived by his legion followers in the online community known as the “manosphere”, a sort of digital bathhouse for naked pushback against feminist ideology and the reprisal of traditional gender norms.

Casually drawing on relationship and income statistics, Samuels delighted in playing the role of market adjuster and scolding “average” Black women for pursuing Black men in the Talented Tenth – good-looking men with minimum six-figure incomes, no kids, no priors, and no hangups in bed. According to Samuels, guys mainly wanted women who were “fit, feminine, friendly, cooperative and submissive”. He barely had patience for callers who defied that description, and regularly played those clashes with them for laughs. And this was against the backdrop of Black women having a tough enough time being taken seriously online, let alone settling down.

More than 30,000 people signed an online petition calling on YouTube and Instagram to de-platform Samuels, believing he had “galvanised a community of men of all races and nationalities in the outspoken hatred of women”. To many, Samuel’s polished and bespectacled presentation was little more than a pseudo-intellectual cover for misogynoir. “I think he has had an outsized impact on poisoning the social discourse between Black men and Black women around matters of love, dating and intimacy,” the Rutgers women’s studies professor Brittney Cooper wrote in a recent Facebook post, after Samuels used a clip of her talking about racism and fatphobia as an example of a low-value woman. “I hope that the Black women who liked Kevin’s work stop letting the latest brother with relationship advice exploit your pain.”

Samuels’ public persona wasn’t always such a troll. A chemical engineering major who segued into a career in marketing, Samuels established himself on social media as a self-improvement coach and tastemaker (“the godfather of style”, he called himself), hipping men to the coolest clothes, watches and fragrances.

But Samuels eventually saw the bigger audience for relationship content, and quickly distinguished himself by doubling down on the “negging” techniques that undergirded the pickup artist craze of the early aughts. It’s a blueprint that launched the mainstream success of Steve Harvey. Before he was widely known as the avuncular host of Family Feud and the Miss Universe pageant, Harvey was writing plainspoken relationship manuals for Black women and spinning them into the box-office topping Think Like a Man franchise.

After one video sizing up a woman as “average at best” drew millions of views, Samuels was essentially rebooted as a relationship expert. In another oft-shared video he writes off a proudly curvy Black female caller as “running back-sized.” Before his death, Samuels had amassed more than 1.4 million YouTube subscribers and more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. Mainstream renown wasn’t much farther off.

Already, Samuels was a fixture of the Black gossip blogs for his viral put-downs and for his interviews with Nicki Minaj, Future, and the social media influencer Brittany Renner. Those same blogs were quick to hypothesise about the chaotic circumstances of Samuels’ death and echo reports that the ultimate high-value man died broke.

But his village of YouTube peers have rallied to debunk those rumours and rebuff what they characterise as efforts to defame Samuels in death. Mostly, they claim he was a tireless worker and shrewd businessman who could be harsh, but all in the interest of uplifting the community overall. In a YouTube eulogy, Melanie King, a Samuels protege who credits him for helping her rebuild from an agonising divorce, likened taking advice from him to “chewing broken glass”.

“We needed that shock,” said King, who thought of Samuels more like a tough dad. “Because, let’s be honest, if he had not been so shocking to so many people, would you even know about him?”

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What’s driving the colocation feeding frenzy? • The Register

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Analysis Colocation facilities aren’t just a place to drop a couple of servers anymore. Many are quickly becoming full-fledged infrastructure-as-a-service providers as they embrace new consumption-based models and place a stronger emphasis on networking and edge connectivity.

But supporting the growing menagerie of value-added services takes a substantial footprint and an even larger customer base, a dynamic that’s driven a wave of consolidation throughout the industry, analysts from Forrester Research and Gartner told The Register.

“You can only provide those value-added services if you’re big enough,” Forrester research director Glenn O’Donnell said.

The past few months have seen this trend play out en masse, with the latest being private equity firm DigitalBridge Investment Management’s take over of datacenter provider Switch Inc in a deal valued at $11 billion.

Switch operates datacenters specializing in high-performance infrastructure. The company completed its fifth Prime datacenter campus in Texas last year, but this is only the latest colo acquisition in recent memory.

“There have been a pile of smaller colocation providers that have been coming together, either being acquired by the big boys, or they’ve been merging,” O’Donnell said.

There’s been a flurry of colocation mergers and acquisitions over the past few months. Here’s just a sampling: NorthC acquired Netrics, LightEdge bought NFinit, EdgeConnex made off with GTN, Unitas Global snapped up INAP, VPLS nabbed a Carrier-1 datacenter in Texas, and Digital 9 absorbed Finnish colo Ficolo and Volta’s London datacenters.

It’s the cloud! Except, it’s also not

So what’s driving this ramp in M&A activity? You might think it’s the cloud, and while there’s certainly some truth to that, O’Donnell says it’s not the full story.

“I always like to remind people that just because cloud is so big and growing does not mean the datacenter is dead,” he said, adding that to some extent cloud has actually driven people to colos more than it has hurt them.

“I won’t give cloud all of the credit, but cloud certainly proved that this is a viable way of doing things,” O’Donnell added.

What the cloud has managed to do is force colocation providers to innovate around new consumption models and platform services, while simultaneously expanding their reach closer to the edge.

The major cloud providers operate a relatively small number of extremely large datacenters located in key metros around the world. By contrast, colocation providers like Equinix and Digital Realty operate hundreds of datacenters around the globe.

This reach is not only one of the big attractions of colocation providers, Gartner analyst Matthew Brisse said, but it also turns out to be one of the biggest drivers of M&A activity.

Location, location, location

“Size matters in this business because customers, especially multinational customers, want datacenters in a lot of different places,” O’Donnell said.

According to Brisse, when enterprises start looking into colocation facilities, their main concern is getting workloads spun up in the right place. “The main reason that people go to colos, is location, location, location,” he said.

And this demand has only accelerated as colocation providers look to offer services closer to the edge.

“We see the colocation providers starting to build out their edge offering as opposed to a simple hoteling experience for your infrastructure,” Brisse said.

These aren’t necessarily large datacenter facilities in the traditional sense, either, he explained. These can be as small as a half-sized shipping container positioned at the base of a cell tower.

Smaller regional colocation providers also serve an important role because they tend to build in places the larger players overlook, Brisse explained.

“A lot of companies don’t have the luxury of sitting right next to an Equinix facility,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities out there for colocation market in totality.”

And as colocation providers inch closer to the edge, Brisse argues networking and automation are only becoming more important.

Where networking plays in

One of the most potent value adds offered by major colocation providers today is networking.

“As you look at the colocation services, the networking services have become a pretty big deal to differentiate them from just being a simple chunk of real estate to plop your servers,” O’Donnell said.

And here again the larger players have the advantage. “Networking connectivity requires a big provider with lots of locations connected by their own fiber,” he added.

These backbone networks allow workloads running in a datacenter on one side of the country to communicate with another without ever going out over the open internet.

But it’s not just networking between colocation datacenters that’s important. Many of these colocation facilities are located directly adjacent to the major cloud and software-as-a-service providers.

“So AWS, for example, or Microsoft Azure might be in the same building as you and connecting to it is just a matter of connecting to a different cage in that same building,” O’Donnell said. “Smaller players can’t do that, but the bigger guys can.”

However, as customers increasingly turn to colocation providers for edge compute and networking, complexity rears its ugly head, Brisse argues.

In the future, “we’re going to have lots of datacenters everywhere; we’re going to have lots of data distributed in the right location; we’re going to have edge facilities everywhere bringing data close to the edge,” he said. “It is not going to be possible for humans to monitor all of that activity.”

So, in addition to growing their footprint and network services, Brisse believes colos will also need to invest in AI operations capabilities to manage this complexity.

More consolidation to come

Both Brisse and O’Donnell expect the colocation market to continue to consolidate as macroeconomic forces put a pressure on smaller players.

“If the economic troubles we’re seeing are persistent, I think we will see an acceleration of this kind of [M&A] activity,” O’Donnell said.

It’s important to remember that while colos may look like tech companies on the inside, on the books, they’re really real estate investment trusts, he said, adding that in the current economic environment, colos are a comparatively safe bet in an otherwise dismal commercial real estate market.

“Colo is a hot market and getting hotter,” O’Donnell said. ®

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Elon Musk says $44bn Twitter deal is ‘temporarily on hold’

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Musk said he wants to see Twitter’s calculations about the estimated number of fake accounts on the platform.

Billionaire Elon Musk has said today (13 May) that his $44bn deal to acquire Twitter is “temporarily on hold”, due to a recent claim by Twitter that spam and fake accounts represent less than 5pc of users on the site.

Musk made the statement via Twitter and linked to a Reuters article from 2 May, when Twitter made the estimate on the number of spam accounts on its site during the first quarter of 2022.

Future Human

In its first quarter earnings report released last month, Twitter said it performed an internal review of a sample of accounts and estimated that the “average of false or spam accounts” during the first quarter represented fewer than 5pc of its 229m monetisable daily active users.

“In making this determination, we applied significant judgment, so our estimation of false or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts, and the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than we have estimated,” Twitter said on 28 April.

Musk said that the deal is on hold as he wants to see the company’s calculations that confirm this percentage.

Following the statement, Twitter shares fell by nearly 18pc in pre-market trading, their lowest since Musk first shared his plans to takeover the company in early April, Reuters reported.

The share hit is another blow for Twitter, as it was recently revealed that the company has paused most hiring and is reviewing all existing job offers to determine whether any “should be pulled back”.

In a company-wide memo seen by Reuters, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal attributed the decision to pause hiring to Twitter not being able to meet previous growth targets.

Agrawal’s memo also told staff of the departure of two of the company’s senior staff members.

Kayvon Beykpour, general manager of the consumer product division, and revenue product lead Bruce Falck, both tweeted that leaving Twitter was not their own decision.

Musk and Twitter

Since the start of April, a lot has ensued between Musk and Twitter. First, he became one of the company’s biggest stakeholders, and there were plans to have him installed on the company’s board.

Days after it was revealed that Musk would not become a Twitter board member after all, he offered to buy the company and take it off the stock market.

“Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it,” he wrote in a letter at the time addressed to board chair Bret Taylor. He added that he believes in Twitter as a platform for “free speech” and said it “needs to be transformed as a private company”.

Musk has been critical of Twitter in recent months. At the end of March, he asked his more than 80m followers in a tweet whether the platform “rigorously adheres” to the principle of free speech.

“Given that Twitter serves as the de-facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” he added in a follow-up tweet. “What should be done?”

He then asked followers whether a new social media platform was needed, and said he was giving “serious thought” to building one.

These tweets came after Musk had started building up a stake in Twitter – a move that has also come under the microscope. Last month, a Twitter shareholder sued Musk for failing to promptly disclose that he had bought a significant stake in the company.

Musk had been acquiring shares since January and acquired 5pc by 14 March, meaning he needed to notify the SEC by 24 March under the US agency’s rules. However, the lawsuit document stated that Musk continued to amass shares before notifying the SEC.

The deal includes a clause whereby if either party ends up terminating the agreement, they have to pay the other a $1bn fee. The filing also states that if the deal isn’t closed by 24 October, both sides could walk away without a takeover.

Elon Musk in 2018. Image: Daniel Oberhaus via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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