Mati reshapes online trust and reputation with a Plaid-like API

Meet Mati, a startup that recently raised a $13.5 million Series A round to build a digital reputation API that could change the way you interact with online services. Mati uses an API-first approach and lets users seamlessly share pieces of their legal identity.

Investors in today’s funding round include Tribe Capital with Arjun Sethi joining the board, Jerry Murdock from Insight Partners, Sima Gandhi who is the former head of business development and strategy at Plaid and Will Hockey, the CTO of Plaid.

Mati isn’t just an ID verification company with biometric checks. In many ways, Mati works a bit like Plaid, but not just for other types of data. When a company starts using Mati, they can verify various data points, such as residency, income and taxes.

Instead of taking a photography of important documents, Mati can help you connect to a government database or a utility provider to download and share data from those services directly.

“What we do is a digital reputation API that turns anonymous strangers into trustworthy users,” co-founder and CEO Filip Victor told me. And this kind of verifications are extremely important for fintech startups and companies operating in the so-called sharing economy industry.

Filip Victor himself has suffered in the past from poor reputation processes. As an immigrant in the U.S., he couldn’t verify himself on Airbnb. The issue is that most reputation services aren’t that flexible. You run into edge cases quite quickly when you’re an immigrant or you don’t have the right documents.

Mati has chosen to focus on high-growth regions, such as Latin America and South East Asia because they tend to be underserved when it comes to digital reputation. Clients include Te Creemos, Taptap Send and Tropipay.

“We went region by region, country by country and scraped into different databases. We gained access to things like social security access via the user,” Victor said.

Mati is thinking about other use cases beyond financial services and sharing economy startups. Many online services could benefit from some level of trust. By letting users choose what they want and don’t want to share, the company believes it has found the right balance between privacy and trust.

“Privacy is not about being anonymous or hidden. It’s about controlling your data,” Victor said.

For now, the company has managed to attract 200 customers. In the past year, Mati has tripled the number of customers. The startup now has 50 employees and plans to add another 20 employees with the Series A round.

Image Credits: Mati

Dropbox shifts business product focus to remote work with Spaces update

In a September interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston talked about how the pandemic had forced the company to rethink what work means, and how his company is shifting with the new requirements of a work-from-home world. Today, the company announced broad changes to Dropbox Spaces, the product introduced last year, to make it a collaboration and project management tool designed with these new requirements in mind.

Dropbox president Timothy Young says that the company has always been about making it easy to access files wherever you happen to be and whatever device you happen to be on, whether that was in a consumer or business context. As the company has built out its business products over the last several years, that involved sharing content internally or externally. Today’s announcement is about helping teams plan and execute around the content you create with a strong project focus.

“Now what we’re basically trying to do is really help distributed teams stay organized, collaborate together and keep moving along, but also do so in a really secure way and support IT, administrators and companies with some features around that as well, while staying true to Dropbox principles,” Young said.

This involves updating Spaces to be a full-fledged project management tool designed with a distributed workforce in mind. Spaces connects to other tools like your calendar, people directory, project management software — and of course files. You can create a project, add people and files, then set up a timeline and assign and track tasks, In addition, you can access meetings directly from Spaces and communicate with team members, who can be inside or outside the company.

Houston suggested a product like this could be coming in his September interview when he said:

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

Along these same lines, Young says the company itself plans to continue to be a remote first company even after the pandemic ends, and will continue to build tools to make it easier to collaborate and share information with that personal experience in mind.

Today’s announcement is a step in that direction. Dropbox Spaces has been in private beta, but will be available in public beta starting today. It should be available publicly at the beginning of next year.

GoodRx, Walgreens, CVS shares all down on Amazon’s Pharmacy news

Consumer healthcare stocks are plummeting this morning on news that Amazon has finally launched its integrated pharmacy service.

The news, which could dramatically reshape the healthcare landscape by offering deep discounts on prescription medication and two-day delivery services for Amazon Prime customers, has already taken a toll on the share price of companies like GoodRx, Walgreens, and CVS.

GoodRx was hit the hardest, with its shares slumping 19% in pre-market trading. Walgreens Boots Alliance was down nearly 10% before market open and CVS Health slid 7%.

Amazon has been steadily encroaching on pharmacy businesses in the same way the company has moved into grocery delivery and everyday consumer staples.

The convergence of food and pharmacy has been a decades-long evolution for mega-retailers on both sides of the divide — with grocers building out pharmacy services and pharmacies adding food to their shelves.

Since its acquisition of Pillpack in 2018, Amazon has been adding additional pharmaceutical and healthcare services. It launched its own over-the-counter drugs in 2019, and rolled out a healthcare network for its employees — Amazon Care for its workers in Seattle.

In August, Amazon launched its fitness tracker, Halo. The personal health and wellness monitoring and advice service includes a $64.99 wrist tracker and an application suite for monitoring health.

As TechCrunch noted, the service includes more than the standard health tracking gadget/app combo, by taking a comprehensive look at various measures of health, including body fat percentage, as measured at home with just your smartphone’s own camera and the Amazon Halo app.

Taken together, Amazon’s array of hardware, software, pharmacy services and healthcare network represents the most complete package of health services across industries.

It’s a powerful pitch to consumers, and one that could ultimately significantly drive down healthcare costs. And drive down the revenue of other pharmacies, which investors are not stoked to imagine.

Hover secures $60M for a 3D imaging platform used to assess and fix properties

The US property market has proven to be more resilient than you might have assumed it would be in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, and today a startup that’s built a computer vision tool to help owners assess and fix those properties more easily is announcing a significant round of funding as it sees a surge of growth in usage.

Hover — which has built a platform that uses eight basic smartphone photos to patch together a 3D image of your home that can then be used by contractors, insurance companies and others to assess a repair, price out the job, and then order the parts to do the work — has raised $60 million in new funding.

The Series D values the company at $490 million post-money, and significantly, it included a number of strategic investors. Three of the biggest insurance companies in the US — Travelers, State Farm Ventures, and Nationwide — led the round, with building materials giant Standard Industries, and other unnamed building tech firms, also participating. Past financial backers Menlo Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), and Alsop Louie Partners as well as new backer Guidewire Software were also in this round.

This funding takes the total raised by Hover to just over $142 million, and for some context on its valuation, it’s a significant jump compared to its last round, a Series C in 2019, when Hover was valued at $280 million (according to PitchBook data).

Today’s funding, that valuation jump, and the interest from insurance firms comes on the heels of huge growth for the company. A.J. Altman, Hover’s founder and CEO, tells me that in 2016 the startup was making some $1 million in revenues. This year, it’s expecting to hit “north of $70 million” in its annual run rate, with insurance companies and other big business partners accounting for the majority of its growth.

Hover was founded in 2011 and it first made its name with homeowners and the sole-trader and small business contractors working on their homes repairing roofs and fixing other parts of their structures. Its unique contribution to the market was a piece of software that bypassed a lot of the fragmented and hardest work involved in doing home repair by tying the whole process to the functions of a smartphone: its camera, and the use of apps.

In essence, it allowed anyone with an ordinary smartphone camera to snap several pictures of a space (up to 8), which could then be used to piece together a “structured” 3D image to better assess a job.

Those 3D images are not ordinary 3D pictures: they are dynamically encoded with information about materials, sizes and dimensions and other data critical to carrying out any work. A contractor using the Hover app could set up a system where these pictures, in turn, could be used to automatically create priced out quotes, with bills of material and timings for work, for their prospective clients. And these days, it also serves as an e-commerce portal for builders to order in the parts to carry out that work. (Hover now has around 35 patents on its tech, Altman said.)

The company has had a lot of traction in the market in part because of how it’s digitized an analogue process that had before it been firmly offline and lacking in transparency, in what is essentially a very fragmented market, with some 100,000 home repair firms in the US today.

“The home improvement segment one of the few that is not online,” Altman said. “For example, if I needed a new roof, it’s not that easy to just tell me what that would cost. The reason is because someone has to pull dozens of measurements off a house before costing that out, estimating the time it would take to fix and so on. Hover built a pipeline that turns photos into all of those answers.” It currently has about 10,000 contractors using its app, Altman said, so there is still a lot of growth in that segment.

Altman said that in its early days, the company had something of a hurdle convincing people of the usefulness of having an app that let even the homeowner take pictures of an issue on a property in order to start the process of finding someone to fix it. That’s because even in an age where DIY is pretty commonplace — and The Home Depot, incidentally, is also a previous backer — many builders see that role as theirs, not their clients.

That has changed a lot, especially in the last year in the age of a global health pandemic that has driven many to reduce social contacts to help contain the spread of the virus.

“Eliminating the need for on-site home visits is a huge deal, but we were spending a lot of time convincing some before Covid that this was a good idea,” he said. “The Covid experience — whether it involved an insurance carrier or contractor — didn’t like the idea of engaging a homeowner, asking them, to do that work.” That has shifted considerably, he said, with many now asking for this option.

Insurance is the fastest-growing segment of its business, Altman said, where insurers are integrating their apps with Hovers, sending out links to customers to snap pictures that then get automatically sent to the insurance app to make customers good on claims.

“It’s important to us that we provide our customers with the best possible experience, and HOVER’s technology helps us to do that by creating a simpler, faster and more transparent claims process,” said Nick Seminara, executive vice president and chief claims officer of Travelers, in a statement. “We see a tremendous opportunity for HOVER in the insurance industry, and we’re pleased to continue our partnership and invest in their future.”

Longer term, there are a number of areas where you could imagine Hover’s technology to apply. The company is already doing a lot of work in commercial buildings, and the next step is likely going to be expanding to more interior work, including home design and decor.

This is a huge market where you could see tech like this linking up with the likes of home sales firms, where companies are able to not just market a home, but potentially fixer-uppers with all the planning work set out for how to fix it up when you buy it; and also of course the extensive landscape of e-commerce businesses selling home furnishings, electronics and more.

Many of these, like Ikea and Houzz, have already put in a lot of investment into leveraging newer tech like Apple’s AR platform to improve their user experience, and so the appetite to take things to the next level is definitely there.

Astrobotic teams with Bosch and WiBotic to give its Moon rovers wireless charging and smarts to find power stations

Lunar exploration startup Astrobotic is working on developing ultra-fast wireless charging technology for its CubeRover shoebox-sized lunar robotic explorers. The project, which is funded by NASA’s Tipping Point program with a $5.8 million award, will tap Seattle-based wireless charging startup WiBotic for expertise in high-speed, short-range wireless power, and brings in Bosch to assist with developing the AI-based data analysis that will help the robots find their way to docking stations for a wireless power-up.

Existing lunar rovers are typically powered by sunlight, but they’re actually very large (roughly car-sized or larger) and they have a lot of surface area to soak up rays via solar panels. Astrobotic’s rovers, which will initially be under five pounds in weight, won’t have much area to collect the sun’s power, and will instead have to rely on secondary power sources to keep enough energy for their exploratory operations.

That’s where WiBotic comes in. Working together with the University of Washington, the startup will be developing a “lightweight, ultra-fast proximity charging solution, compromised of a base station and power receiver” specifically for use in space-based applications. But finding these stations will be its own special challenge – particularly in a lunar context, where things like GPS don’t come into play. Instead, Bosch will leverage data collected from sensors on board the robot to generate a sensor-fusion result that can provide it with autonomous navigation capabilities. That work could be instrumental in helping future rovers navigate not only to power stations, but also to various destinations on the lunar surface as robotic science and exploration missions ramp up.

The goal is to have a demonstration rover charging system ready to show off sometime in 2023, and the partners will be working together with NASA’s Glenn Research Center to test the technology in the facility’s thermal vacuum chamber test lab.

Yeah, Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro is powerful, but it’s the battery life that will blow you away

Survival and strategy games are often played in stages. You have the early game where you’re learning the ropes, understanding systems. Then you have mid-game where you’re executing and gathering resources. The most fun part, for me, has always been the late mid-game where you’re in full control of your powers and skills and you’ve got resources to burn — where you execute on your master plan before the endgame gets hairy.

This is where Apple is in the game of power being played by the chip industry. And it’s about to be endgame for Intel. 

Apple has introduced three machines that use its new M1 system on a chip, based on over a decade’s worth of work designing its own processing units based on the ARM instructions set. These machines are capable, assured and powerful, but their greatest advancements come in the performance per watt category.

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum. 

These results are astounding, but they’re the product of that long early game that Apple has played with the A-series processors. Beginning in earnest in 2008 with the acquisition of PA Semiconductor, Apple has been working its way towards unraveling the features and capabilities of its devices from the product roadmaps of processor manufacturers.  

The M1 MacBook Pro runs smoothly, launching apps so quickly that they’re often open before your cursor leaves your dock. 

Video editing and rendering is super performant, only falling behind older machines when it leverages the GPU heavily. And even then only with powerful dedicated cards like the 5500M or VEGA II. 

Compiling projects like WebKit produce better build times than nearly any machine (hell the M1 Mac Mini beats the Mac Pro by a few seconds). And it does it while using a fraction of the power. 

This thing works like an iPad. That’s the best way I can describe it succinctly. One illustration I have been using to describe what this will feel like to a user of current MacBooks is that of chronic pain. If you’ve ever dealt with ongoing pain from a condition or injury, and then had it be alleviated by medication, therapy or surgery, you know how the sudden relief feels. You’ve been carrying the load so long you didn’t know how heavy it was. That’s what moving to this M1 MacBook feels like after using other Macs. 

Every click is more responsive. Every interaction is immediate. It feels like an iOS device in all the best ways. 

At the chip level, it also is an iOS device. Which brings us to…

iOS on M1

The iOS experience on the M1 machines is…present. That’s the kindest thing I can say about it. Apps install from the App Store and run smoothly, without incident. Benchmarks run on iOS apps show that they perform natively with no overhead. I even ran an iOS-based graphics benchmark which showed just fine. 

That, however, is where the compliments end. The current iOS app experience on an M1 machine running Big Sur is almost comical; it’s so silly. There is no default tool-tip that explains how to replicate common iOS interactions like swipe-from-edge — instead a badly formatted cheat sheet is buried in a menu. The apps launch and run in windows only. Yes, that’s right, no full-screen iOS apps at all. It’s super cool for a second to have instant native support for iOS on the Mac, but at the end of the day this is a marketing win, not a consumer experience win. 

Apple gets to say that the Mac now supports millions of iOS apps, but the fact is that the experience of using those apps on the M1 is sub-par. It will get better, I have no doubt. But the app experience on the M1 is pretty firmly in this order right now: Native M1 app>Rosetta 2 app>Catalyst app> iOS app. Provided that the Catalyst ports can be bothered to build in Mac-centric behaviors and interactions, of course. But it’s clear that iOS, though present, is clearly not where it needs to be on M1.

Rosetta 2

There is both a lot to say and not a lot to say about Rosetta 2. I’m sure we’ll get more detailed breakdowns of how Apple achieved what it has with this new emulation layer that makes x86 applications run fine on the M1 architecture. But the real nut of it is that it has managed to make a chip so powerful that it can take the approximate 26% hit (see the following charts) in raw power to translate apps and still make them run just as fast if not faster than MacBooks with Intel processors. 

It’s pretty astounding. Apple would like us to forget the original Rosetta from the PowerPC transition as much as we would all like to forget it. And I’m happy to say that this is pretty easy to do because I was unable to track any real performance hit when comparing it to older, even ‘more powerful on paper’ Macs like the 16” MacBook Pro. 

It’s just simply not a factor in most instances. And companies like Adobe and Microsoft are already hard at work bringing native M1 apps to the Mac, so the most needed productivity or creativity apps will essentially get a free performance bump of around 30% when they go native. But even now they’re just as fast. It’s a win-win situation. 

Methodology

My methodology  for my testing was pretty straightforward. I ran a battery of tests designed to push these laptops in ways that reflected both real world performance and tasks as well as synthetic benchmarks. I ran the benchmarks with the machines plugged in and then again on battery power to estimate constant performance as well as performance per watt. All tests were run multiple times with cooldown periods in between in order to try to achieve a solid baseline. 

Here are the machines I used for testing:

  • 2020 13” M1 MacBook Pro 8-core 16GB
  • 2019 16” Macbook Pro 8-core 2.4GHz 32GB w/5500M
  • 2019 13” MacBook Pro 4-core 2.8GHz 16GB
  • 2019 Mac Pro 12-Core 3.3GHz 48GB w/AMD Radeon Pro Vega II 32GB

Many of these benchmarks also include numbers from the M1 Mac mini review from Matt Burns and the M1 MacBook Air, tested by Brian Heater which you can check out here.

Compiling WebKit

Right up top I’m going to start off with the real ‘oh shit’ chart of this piece. I checked WebKit out from GitHub and ran a build on all of the machines with no parameters. This is the one deviation from the specs I mentioned above as my 13” had issues that I couldn’t figure out so I had some Internet friends help me. Also thanks to Paul Haddad of Tapbots for guidance here. 

As you can see, the M1 performs admirably well across all models, with the MacBook and Mac Mini edging out the MacBook Air. This is a pretty straightforward way to visualize the difference in performance that can result in heavy tasks that last over 20 minutes, where the MacBook Air’s lack of active fan cooling throttles back the M1 a bit. Even with that throttling, the MacBook Air still beats everything here except for the very beefy MacBook Pro. 

But, the big deal here is really this second chart. After a single build of WebKit, the M1 MacBook Pro had a massive 91% of its battery left. I tried multiple tests here and I could have easily run a full build of WebKit 8-9 times on one charge of the M1 MacBook’s battery. In comparison, I could have gotten through about 3 on the 16” and the 13” 2020 model only had one go in it. 

This insane performance per watt of power is the M1’s secret weapon. The battery performance is simply off the chart. Even with processor-bound tasks. To give you an idea, throughout this build of WebKit the P-cluster (the power cores) hit peak pretty much every cycle while the E-cluster (the efficiency cores) maintained a steady 2GHz. These things are going at it, but they’re super power efficient.

Battery Life

In addition to charting battery performance in some real world tests, I also ran a couple of dedicated battery tests. In some cases they ran so long I thought I had left it plugged in by mistake, it’s that good. 

I ran a mixed web browsing and web video playback script that hit a series of pages, waited for 30 seconds and then moved on to simulate browsing. The results return a pretty common sight in our tests, with the M1 outperforming the other MacBooks by just over 25%.

In fullscreen 4k/60 video playback, the M1 fares even better, clocking an easy 20 hours with fixed 50% brightness. On an earlier test, I left the auto-adjust on and it crossed the 24 hour mark easily. Yeah, a full day. That’s an iOS-like milestone.

The M1 MacBook Air does very well also, but its smaller battery means a less playback time at 16 hours. Both of them absolutely decimated the earlier models.

Xcode Unzip

This was another developer-centric test that was requested. Once again, CPU bound, and the M1’s blew away any other system in my test group. Faster than the 8-core 16” MacBook Pro, wildly faster than the 13” MacBook Pro and yes, 2x as fast as the 2019 Mac Pro with its 3.3GHz Xeons. 

Image Credits: TechCrunch

For a look at the power curve (and to show that there is no throttling of the MacBook Pro over this period (I never found any throttling over longer periods by the way) here’s the usage curve.

Unified Memory and Disk Speed

Much ado has been made of Apple including only 16GB of memory on these first M1 machines. The fact of it, however, is that I have been unable to push them hard enough yet to feel any effect of this due to Apple’s move to unified memory architecture. Moving RAM to the SoC means no upgradeability — you’re stuck on 16GB forever. But it also means massively faster access 

If I was a betting man I’d say that this was an intermediate step to eliminating RAM altogether. It’s possible that a future (far future, this is the play for now) version of Apple’s M-series chips could end up supplying memory to each of the various chips from a vast pool that also serves as permanent storage. For now, though, what you’ve got is a finite, but blazing fast, pool of memory shared between the CPU cores, GPU and other SoC denizens like the Secure Enclave and Neural Engine. 

While running many applications simultaneously, the M1 performed extremely well. Because this new architecture is so close, with memory being a short hop away next door rather than out over a PCIE bus, swapping between applications was zero issue. Even while tasks were run in the background — beefy, data heavy tasks — the rest of the system stayed flowing.

Even when the memory pressure tab of Activity Monitor showed that OS X was using swap space, as it did from time to time, I noticed no slowdown in performance. 

Though I wasn’t able to trip it up I would guess that you would have to throw a single, extremely large file at this thing to get it to show any amount of struggle. 

The SSD in the M1 MacBook Pro is running on a PCIE 3.0 bus, and its write and read speeds indicate that. 

Thunderbolt

The M1 MacBook Pro has two Thunderbolt controllers, one for each port. This means that you’re going to get full PCIE 4.0 speeds out of each and that it seems very likely that Apple could include up to 4 ports in the future without much change in architecture. 

This configuration also means that you can easily power an Apple Pro Display XDR and another monitor besides. I was unable to test two Apple Pro Display XDR monitors side-by-side.

Cooling and throttling

No matter how long the tests I ran were, I was never able to ascertain any throttling of the CPU on the M1 MacBook Pro. From our testing it was evident that in longer operations (20-40 minutes on up) it was possible to see the MacBook Air pulling back a bit over time. Not so with the Macbook Pro. 

Apple says that it has designed a new ‘cooling system’ in the M1 MacBook Pro, which holds up. There is a single fan but it is noticeably quieter than either of the other fans. In fact, I was never able to get the M1 much hotter than ‘warm’ and the fan ran at speeds that were much more similar to that of a water cooled rig than the turbo engine situation in the other MacBooks. 

Even running a long, intense Cinebench 23 session could not make the M1 MacBook get loud. Over the course of the mark running all high-performance cores regularly hit 3GHz and the efficiency cores hitting 2GHz. Despite that, it continued to run very cool and very quiet in comparison to other MacBooks. It’s the stealth bomber at the Harrier party.

In that Cinebench test you can see that it doubles the multi-core performance of last year’s 13” MacBook and even beats out the single-core performance of the 16” MacBook Pro. 

I ran a couple of Final Cut Pro tests with my test suite. First was a 5 minute 4k60 timeline shot with iPhone 12 Pro using audio, transitions, titles and color grading. The M1 Macbook performed fantastic, slightly beating out the 16” MacBook Pro. 

With an 8K timeline of the same duration, the 16” MacBook Pro with its Radeon 5500M was able to really shine with FCP’s GPU acceleration. The M1 held its own though, showing 3x faster speeds than the 13” MacBook Pro with its integrated graphics. 

And, most impressively, the M1 MacBook Pro used extremely little power to do so. Just 17% of the battery to output an 81GB 8k render. The 13” MacBook Pro could not even finish this render on one battery charge. 

As you can see in these GFXBench charts, while the M1 MacBook Pro isn’t a powerhouse gaming laptop we still got some very surprising and impressive results in tests of the GPU when a rack of Metal tests were run on it. The 16″ MBP still has more raw power, but rendering games at retina is still very possible here.

The M1 is the future of CPU design

All too often over the years we’ve seen Mac releases hamstrung by the capabilities of the chips and chipsets that were being offered by Intel. Even as recently as the 16” MacBook Pro, Apple was stuck a generation or more behind. The writing was basically on the wall once the iPhone became such a massive hit that Apple began producing more chips than the entire rest of the computing industry combined. 

Apple has now shipped over 2 billion chips, a scale that makes Intel’s desktop business look like a luxury manufacturer. I think it was politic of Apple to not mention them by name during last week’s announcement, but it’s also clear that Intel’s days are numbered on the Mac and that their only saving grace for the rest of the industry is that Apple is incredibly unlikely to make chips for anyone else.

Years ago I wrote an article about the iPhone’s biggest flaw being that its performance per watt limited the new experiences that it was capable of delivering. People hated that piece but I was right. Apple has spent the last decade “fixing” its battery problem by continuing to carve out massive performance gains via its A-series chips all while maintaining essentially the same (or slightly better) battery life across the iPhone lineup. No miracle battery technology has appeared, so Apple went in the opposite direction, grinding away at the chip end of the stick.

What we’re seeing today is the result of Apple flipping the switch to bring all of that power efficiency to the Mac, a device with 5x the raw battery to work with. And those results are spectacular.

Trust & Will raises $15M as digital estate planning hits mainstream

Let’s get something morbid out of the way right up front: estate planning is a growth business in 2020. Whether you need to create or update a will, build a family trust, or sign over power of attorney for end-of-life decision-making, it’s been a heck of a year for many families, and even more people are starting to think about these instruments if anything worse happens this year (and there are still six weeks left!)

In the United States, the vast majority of this paperwork is conducted in-person and on paper, but COVID-19 has made that challenging. Digitally native startups are coming to the forefront in this market, just as the market is getting white hot.

One of the leaders of this pack is Trust & Will, which we first profiled back in early 2019. Two years ago, the startup had just signed the first electronic will in the United States and had raised a $2 million or so seed round led by Rise of the Rest.

Now, the startup is returning to the capital trough, picking up a $15 million Series B led by Jackson Square Ventures and a bunch of other firms listed below. That brings the company’s total funding to date according to founder and CEO Cody Barbo to more than $23 million.

The company disclosed that it has had 160,000 users sign up for the company’s services since its launch in mid-2018. Trust & Will today has three products: a trust-based estate plan, a will-based estate plan, and “Guardian,” which is a sort of simpler setup for parents with kids. Customers pay an upfront setup fee based on which product they choose, and then they pay a smaller recurring annual subscription fee.

The company, which originally only worked in Nevada due to the state laws around digital wills, now has attorneys who can assist clients in multiple states. The company has also since conducted the first electronic will in Florida’s history, which, let’s just say, is an important center in the estate-planning industry.

A couple of other new changes. First, the startup has built up a number of banking and financial planning relationships with institutions such as Fifth Third Bank (which also joined the Series B round as a strategic investor), AARP, and fintech savings startup Acorns.

Second, the company hired former General Assembly CFO John Zdanowski to take on the startups chief financial officer role. The team has grown to 24, and Barbo noted by email that all three co-founders have become dads since the company’s seed round — putting a bit of a poignant note on their mission to make estate planning accessible to everyone.

Trust & Will’s three co-founders with their very-well-estate-planned children. Photo via Trust & Will.

Clearly, the company has a great market tailwind going into 2021, and as more states put in place digital wills and estate planning laws, the market is only set to expand in the coming years. A handful of other startups such as Willful and the brilliantly-named FreeWill are also in this market.

Today, the company’s board consists of Victor Echevarria from Jackson Square Ventures, Rob Chaplinsky of Link Ventures (which led the company’s Series A), Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures, Barbo, and Daniel Goldstein, who is co-founder and COO.

And now, for the long list of all the other investors who participated. In addition to Jackson Square Ventures, new investors for the Series B included Fifth Third Bank, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, AARP, Rosecliff Ventures, Hack VC, Actium Partners, Noah Kerner and Jeff Cruttenden. Returning investors included Link Ventures, Rise of the Rest, WTI, Techstars Ventures, Luma Launch, and Halogen Ventures.

The new Mac mini: The revival of the no-compromise low-cost Mac

There’s nothing small about the latest Mac mini.

Never mind the Mac mini’s tiny size or low price. This diminutive desktop is a revolution for most users, thanks to Apple’s new chipset. Called the M1, this chip platform replaces the Intel CPU long found at the heart of Apple’s desktop and portable computers, and the results are impressive.

Using the M1 Mac mini feels like using a new iPad or iPhone. Everything satisfyingly snaps into place. I keep waiting for my test machine to start lagging, and nearly a week later, it’s just as fast as the day I started using it. The new Mac mini is surprising, and most users will find it a major upgrade over existing Mac computers. It’s hard to beat regardless of the price.

For casual users, those who live in a web browser or Apple’s apps, the Mac mini is a no-brainer option. This is the desktop I would buy for myself. Even for power users, those who run bespoke applications, the Mac mini should be seriously considered. Most mainstream applications excel on the new Mini — especially apps with a creative tilt toward photography or video.

The Mac mini has long been a forgotten friend among the Mac lineup. Hardly updated and never promoted, it sat on the bench for years, watching as Apple’s portables received updates and refreshes as the world became more mobile. But here we are in the midst of a never-ending pandemic. With coffee shops closed and business travel limited, the COVID-19 crisis could lead to the rediscovery of the desktop computer.

The M1-powered Mac mini is a winner.

Review

There are several things you should know. One, the new Mac mini runs the M1 SoC, which is fundamentally different from its Intel predecessor. Instead of a CPU, it’s an SoC — System on a Chip, which comes with advantages and concessions. The chipset is built around an ARM design with more integrated components than its CPU counterparts. In many ways, it’s more similar to the system powering phones and tablets than the chips used in traditional computers. Because of this design, components that used to be discrete are now integrated directly into the chip.

Second, Apple provided a 6K 32-inch Pro Display XDR with my test Mac mini (these will be returned to Apple). I’m also running a 24-inch display over HDMI. According to the Mac mini’s product page, the system is limited to two monitors. I was able to hook up a third monitor through 3rd party software but it was unstable and should not be considered a capability.

Lastly, you should know TechCrunch also reviewed the new 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. We benchmarked these systems with similar conditions to demonstrate the differences between the units.

In our tests, we found Apple’s M1 system on a chip (SoC) to outperform its rivals, regardless of price. With the M1 at its core, the Mac mini is faster in most regards than every Apple computer available except for the ultra-expensive Mac Pro — and sometimes the Mini is faster than the Mac Pro, too. What’s more, this performance increase is noticeable throughout the system and not just limited to raw computing tasks in purpose-built applications. The system is snappy, responsive and feels like the start of a new era of computing.

The new Mac experience

Snappy hardly describes the experience of the new Mac mini. This system flies. Users will instantly notice the increase in speed, too, from startup time to launching apps. In the past, even on powerful machines, macOS has always felt heavy compared to iOS, but not anymore. With the M1 chip, macOS (Big Sur) is light and free and a joy to use.

Even better, the ARM-based M1 chip allows Macs to run iOS applications, and they run as smoothly on the Mac as they do on an iPad.

There’s likely a hesitation around embracing a new Intel-less Mac. Will your legacy applications run on these machines? Will they run well? I can’t answer every variable. I installed and ran dozens of applications during my few days with the system and never experienced a roadblock. Even with older programs, everything ran as advertised, and in most cases, ran better on this M1-powered Mac mini than on my few-months-old 15-inch MacBook Pro. I didn’t find one application unable to run on the new platform.

The largest speed increases are most noticeable when using native apps for the M1 processor. With Apple’s Final Cut Pro, the application loads seemingly instantly — two seconds from button press to it being open and ready to go.

With the M1 chip, it’s less painful to edit 8K footage in the native Final Cut Pro app than it was to edit 4K footage on an Intel Mac. Exporting the files still takes time, though, and this is one of the few tasks where Intel’s platform outperforms the M1.

Even when using legacy software, the system preformed with ease. Edits in Photoshop seemed more fluid. Lightroom loaded photo albums quicker and without hesitation. Editing video in Premiere was easier and less painful as I scrubbed through 6K footage. Even unzipping files was much quicker.

Image Credits: Matt Burns

This is a silly demonstration, but watch the GIF above. Applications open instantly — all of them at the same time. If Apple put a beachball in this system, I haven’t found it yet.

The M1 chip is based on an ARM design, which required Apple to rework macOS to run on this new computing platform. While it looks mostly the same, the macOS is now purpose-built for Apple’s own silicon. To take full advantage of the redesigned chip, applications need to be re-coded into an Arm-friendly design. And yet, we found something surprising: Even the apps that are not re-coded yet are still impressively fast thanks to Apple’s Rosetta 2 that enables software encoded for Intel’s platform to run on the new Apple platform and take advantage of the M1’s power.

For most uses, this holistic approach of building the hardware and software results in major advantages. Common system-level tasks like launching apps, waking from sleep and unzipping files are lightning-fast. Other items like rendering video and editing photos are just as fast, too. Right now, at launch, all of Apple’s apps — from Music to Photos to Safari — are re-encoded for the M1. Like those from Adobe, other apps are not yet native, but the older versions run fine, and in most cases, run better on the M1 than an Intel platform.

The M1 platform lacks a dedicated graphics processing unit. It’s built-into the core of the chip. Thanks to a memory dedicated to machine learning, this lack of a discrete GPU is hardly noticeable for professional users. Still, those who do intensive graphics work (like professional gfx visual artists) should hesitate. Even then, this conclusion could change once the applications become native to the new ARM architecture.

The M1 also lacks the ability to use an eGPU — an external graphics card — but most users should not fret. It could be a problem for pros who found the Intel-based Mac minis paired with a powerful eGPUs as a viable, low-cost alternative to the Mac Pro. However, based on our testing, the GPU performance in these M1 systems are impressive and could be good enough for most, even in creative media editing applications.

In addition to common workflows, I ran through some industry benchmarks to see how the system responds and came away impressed. We took it one step further, too, and charted the performance between Apple’s top-of-the-line systems and the new 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Benchmarks often oversimplify results, but in this case, they seem necessary. This puts systems on common ground. By looking at multiple tests, the results draw a common conclusion. The M1 is really good.

The new Mac lineup

The Mac mini has two siblings. The M1 is also available in Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. The differences are minor. The same computing platform powers all three but feature different cooling schemes in the MacBook Pro and Mac mini. Because of the improved cooling, the MacBook Pro and Mac mini are better suited for sustained performance.

In our testing, all three machines performed similarly. The Air started to fall short in the longer tests, and that’s likely due to its passive cooling that does not feature a fan. In the MacBook Pro and Mini, the SoC is cooled by a fan, while a heatsink is used in the Air.

What does this mean for you? For most users, the Air’s performance is sufficient as it only slows down during long, intensive tasks. For browsing the web, editing photos and watching videos, the Air is perfect.

There’s one downside to the new Mac mini over its Intel sibling. The M1 Mac mini only sports two Thunderbolt 4 inputs — that’s because the M1 chipset has an integrated Thunderbolt controller and it supports up to two of these ports. For some users, this could be a deal-breaker, though it’s not for me. There are countless ways to expand the Thunderbolt capability of the Mac mini, and to me, the performance of the machine outweighs the port limitation.

The M1 Mac mini also lacks a 10GB Ethernet option, limiting its use as a server for some users. This is also likely an M1 limitation, and something I would expect would be addressed in future chipset revisions.

Multiple monitor support is a major downside to the M1 Mac mini. It only supports two monitors: one through Thunderbolt and one over HDMI. I was able to get a third monitor running at low resolution through third-party software, but it was unstable and performed poorly. To some, including me, multiple monitor support is a major issue and two monitors are often not enough.

Benchmarks

Apple, when promoting the M1-powered computers, laid out some wild claims about the chipset. We found most of the claims to be factual. We ran a handful of benchmarks on the M1 systems, comparing them against the most recent Macs, including the Mac Pro.

Benchmarks paint with a broad stroke and often miss nuances. That’s the case here. While the first few benchmarks demonstrate the speed of the M1, the final test fails to capture a critical aspect of Final Cut Pro. Sure, it’s slower to export than an Intel-based system, but using the M1-native version of Final Cut Pro is much smoother than what’s available on older systems. I was able to easily manipulate, scrub and edit 8K footage without even a hiccup. Rendering takes longer, but editing is seemingly easier.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Here we downloaded the Xcode 12.3 beta. It’s an 11.57GB file that extracts a 28.86GB folder. Lower times are better.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Here we compile WebKit. Lower times are better.



With Geekbench, we ran two tests: One, using Rosetta 2 to demonstrate the system’s power when running legacy applications. Then we ran Geekbench in an M1 native mode to test Apple’s silicon. Higher is better.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

For Final Cut Pro, we timed the rendering of an 8K video (80GB). Lower is better.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Breakthrough performance for the price
  • Easily able to run legacy (Intel) and iOS apps
  • Cool and quiet

Cons

  • Support for only two monitors
  • No eGPU support
  • Only two Thunderbolt 4 ports

Test Mac mini specs

  • Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU
  • 16-core Neural Engine
  • 16GB unified memory
  • 1TB SSD storage
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Price as tested: $1,299

The new Mac mini is a fantastic machine and feels like the start of a quiet revival. In another era, Apple was known for its solid, fairly-priced desktops, which is a great description for this Mac mini.

As a longtime fan of the Mac mini, I’m thrilled to see it once again as a great option for those of us who live at a desk .

With the M1 chipset, Apple is moving onto a new chapter in its long history of personal computers. This chip redefines the computing paradigm by offering stellar performance in a small, power-efficient package. In the Mac mini, the M1 shines as a stable workhorse that provides a new experience to Mac desktops. In the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the M1 is just as solid while offering substantially better battery life than previous offerings. Read those reviews here and here.

Should you get the new Mac mini? If you’re stuck at a desk, yes. The new Mac mini is fantastic.

MacBook Air M1 review: The right Apple Silicon Mac for most

Reviewing hardware is an act of minutia. Occasionally something new or potentially earth-shattering comes along, but on the whole, it’s about chipping away. Documenting small, gradual changes designed to keep product lines fresh and — if you play your cards right — differentiating yourself from the competition.

Apple’s as guilty of this as anyone, of course. That’s just the nature of a 12 to 24-month product cycle. Every refresh can’t be a revolution. Every so often, however, a game-changer comes along — something undeniable that sets the scene for a more profound shift for a product line. The trio of Macs launched at the company’s third major press conference in three months certainly apply.

It’s been 15 years since Apple made the jump to Intel processors from PowerPCs, a chip technology it had relied upon for more than a decade. That move came as the company was butting up against the limitations of its chosen technology. PowerPC took them far at the time, but it couldn’t deliver on the processing power it desired for the next generation of portables.

As with that transition, the move toward Apple silicon has been years in the making. The company has been making a concerted effort to wean itself off of third-party components. Among other things, it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate your product when you’re essentially using the same parts as everyone else on the market. Creating your own processors is, of course, a long and difficult process. Thankfully, however, the company had a head start.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The Arm-based chips that power the company’s mobile devices are a great starting point. The company can build on several generations of learning, while moving ever closer to that perpetual Holy Grail of Apple software: perfect cross-ecosystem compatibility. Elements of iOS have been trickling down into MacOS for years now (a trend that includes, and arguably accelerates with, Big Sur), while the company eased the transition for Intel Mac owners with the Catalyst.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

After countless rumors and months of wait, the first three Apple Silicon Macs are finally here. And the results are, in a word, impressive. You’ve no doubt seen some of the benchmarks that have popped up over the past several days that have left many in the community taken aback. While it’s true that Apple talked up performance in its own presser, it’s easy enough to discount those numbers without more specific benchmarks. We’ve split our testing of the three systems among three editors — and it’s pretty safe to say we were blown away by what the systems can do.

Okay, so, a brief break down of the M1:

  • Eight-core CPU with a stated 2x performance gain
  • Seven- or eight-core GPU (depending on the Air model you go in for) with up to a 2x graphical upgrade
  • 16-core neural engine
  • Increased power
  • Improved image signal processing

The Air, in particular, presents some truly robust gains of the most recent versions of the system, released back in March. That may feel like forever ago, given everything that has transpired, but that’s a mere eight months. The system excels at two benchmarks in particular: battery life — measures by a simple video playback — and Geekbench, which tests a system’s CPU and GPU performance by simulating real-world situations. Anecdotally, things are just faster all over the place.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Apps open almost instantly and resource-intensive tasks like editing 4K video are surprisingly zippy. Some of these are changes you’ll likely notice right away, even if you’re not pushing the system to the limit. Take the neat trick of waking up instantly from sleep. It’s something we’ve taken for granted on mobile devices but haven’t seen as much on desktops.

These advances, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrive in the same package. Like the new Mac mini and 13-inch Pro, the Air is identical to the one released early this year. Perhaps the company is seeking to maintain consistency on the outside as the products undergo rather dramatic changes under the hood. Maybe a redesign didn’t line up with the move to Arm. Or, hey, maybe Apple thinks the current design represents some sort of platonic ideal for thin and light laptop.

Whatever the case, you’d be hard-pressed to pick the new Air out of a lineup. I’ve been using the system in public, and no one’s been any the wiser that I got a slight head start on the next generation of Macs. If I’m being honest, I’d have liked it if Apple had ushered the moment in with some befittingly dramatic redesign — but at least no one can accuse Apple of introducing change for the sake of change. And let’s be honest, while the physical design of the Air hasn’t changed much in recent generations, it remains one of the most iconic and better-looking laptops on the market.

That includes the same thin and beveled design that differentiates the product from the rest of the MacBook line, and at 2.8 pounds, it’s 0.2 pounds lighter than the 13-inch MacBook. That’s not a huge spread, but it’s something that will make a difference to your lower back over time — I say that as someone who lugged the system around on a 15-mile walk over the weekend.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Once again, there are two USB-C ports, both positioned on the same side. I’m always going to argue for more ports, especially given the fact that one will semi-regularly be monopolized by a charging cable. I’m also a fan of spreading them out a bit more — preferably on either side of the machine for those instances when you just can’t get enough slack from the cable or have something a bit wider plugged into the port. Of course, there’s no surprise on that front, unlike the new 13-inch Pro, which lost two ports in the process of upgrading.

That will likely sting for some users attempting to figure out whether to upgrade here. The change appears to be connected to some limitations of the new M1 SOC. If I was a betting man, however, I would suggest that there’s a pretty reasonable possibility that whatever pro-focused version of the chip comes next will support more ports for upcoming devices like the first Apple Silicon 16-inch MacBook Pro.

In fact, the company is likely reserving a number of upgrades to differentiate this round from some new pro-focused devices likely to arrive at some point next year. It’s all part of a kind of configuration of Apple’s Mac strategy that we’re seeing play out in slow motion. The new Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini represent the entry-level tier for the Mac line. It’s a category that’s become an increased focus for the company in recent years — and one we’ve seen play out across the iPhone and Apple Watch lines.

There is, of course, still truth in the longstanding notion of the premium “Apple Tax,” but the company has expended its approach to improve things on the lower end. One of the more surprising aspects of this strategy on the Mac side is just how much the company has closed the gap between the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook. There are differences between the two devices, of course. For many or most, the biggest is the $300 price gulf between the $999 starting price for the Air and $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro.

So, how does Apple justify the price difference? And more to the point, will the upsell make a difference for a vast majority of users? Before we go any further, let’s break down the key differences between the new Air and Pro.

  • Stated Battery – Pro: Up to 20 hours, Air: Up to 18 hours
  • Display – Pro: 500 nits of brightness, Air: 400 nits
  • Microphone Array – Pro: Studio-quality three-mic array, Air: Three-mic array
  • Touch Bar – Pro: Yes, Air: No
  • Speakers – Pro: Stereo speakers with high dynamic range, Air: Stereo speakers
  • Fan – Pro: Yes, Air: No

The last bullet is the most important when it comes to performance. The arrival of the M1 made a fanless MacBook Air a possibility — something that was unheard of in early models. It bodes well for the thinness of future MacBooks, and more immediately, it means extremely silent performance. And, indeed, no matter how much stress testing I’ve managed to do over these past few days, the system has remained eerily silent — though I’d caution you that the passive cooling system can result in a rather toasty Air if you really push things. And, more importantly for a workload standpoint, the system will throttle during resource-intensive tasks — but you’ll have to push it.

Take, for example, the five-minute, 8K clip we exported in Final Cut Pro. At 33:13 minutes on the Pro and 32:59 minutes on the Air, the end result was, honestly fairly negligible (the Mac Pro, meanwhile, blew them both away at a blazing five and a half minutes). Ditto for running a WebKit compile. That took 25 minutes and five seconds on the Air and 20 minutes and 43 seconds. That’s not entirely negligible, but both systems beat out the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro’s 26 minutes and 56 seconds. And both systems took far less of a battery hit, losing around 9% during the process, versus the 16-inch’s 39%.

The new M1 chips are remarkably energy efficient, even when performing more resource-intensive tasks. In a video playback test, I got 16 hours of life. That’s less than the maximum 18 hours stated by Apple’s numbers, but it’s an impressive figure, nonetheless. I would certainly feel comfortable leaving the house without a charge.

Per Matthew’s numbers, the Pro fares even better. He was able to get right around the stated 20 hours. That higher figure likely comes due a higher capacity battery courtesy of the thicker laptop footprint. In both cases, however, the systems blew away last year’s 13 and 16-inch Pros, which got eight hours and eight minutes and six hours and 40 minutes, respectively. That’s a tremendous bump in an important metric.

So let’s break down those Geekbench 5 numbers. The new Air and Pro’s numbers are quite similar. That’s to be expected given their respective internals. Again, you’re going to have to really push the system — likely for a prolonged amount of time — before the Air take a noticeable hit due to its fanless design. The Pro scored a 1711 on single core and 7549 on the multi-core. The Air got an average of 1725 and 7563, respectively (for good measure, I’ll add that the the Mini hit a similar 1748 and 7644).

Here’s some more historical context from Geekbench. A few relevant examples: the Core i7 MacBook Air from earlier this year averaged 1136, while the 13-inch Pro hit 1240. Running the Intel version of the benchmark (using the Rosetta 2 emulator), the numbers predictably took a hit, but still best the Intel systems. And, indeed, Intel-designed apps performed quite smoothly.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Most of the benchmarks we ran found the two systems scoring remarkably close to one another. In other words, I think it’s a safe bet a majority of people searching for systems at this tier won’t be bumping up against those kinds of limits too often. Those who do find themselves frequently performing tasks that challenge those hardware limitations are going to have the difficult choice of buying the new 13-inch Pro now or waiting the see what models like the 16-inch have in store. For more information on that front, spend some time with Matthew’s review of the new 13-inch.

Image Credits: Apple

What I can say with more certainty, however, is that Apple’s got a much stronger case for its rediscovered focus on creative pros. While the category has long been its bread and butter, a case can be made that the company has surrendered some of that market to the likes of Microsoft’s Surface line and others. Apple made the case that the Touch Bar found it rekindling that relationship, but I think there’s a much stronger case to be made for a MacBook Air that can process much heavier workloads than its predecessors.

And, frankly, I haven’t missed the Touch Bar. My primary laptop is a 15-inch Pro with Touch Bar, but it’s a feature that hasn’t really impacted my workflow — and it’s not for a lack of trying. I suspect that for those attempting to distinguish between the Pro and Air the missing feature will barely register. And besides, my favorite part of the Touch Bar addition — TouchID — is here as it was on the last Intel version of the Air. On a whole, I’ve found the ability to log in with a fingerprint more useful than scrolling through photos or emojis on the thin touch strip.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Speaking of touch — there’s another elephant in the room here. Obviously the touchscreen Macs some predicted didn’t arrive at the event early this month. Even so, it seems reasonable to expect that they will at some point in the not so distant future, with the lines continuing to blur between macOS and iOS. Look no further than Big Sur, which continues the recent trend of adopting key features from the mobile operating system.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As I noted in my recent writeup of macOS 11.0, a number of features are practically begging for touchscreen interaction. Take the sliders in the newly added Control Center. Sure, the trackpad works fine, but it sure would be satisfying to swipe them over with a finger. This becomes even more pronounced when playing certain iOS optimized games, which now play natively on the M1. Take “Among Us.” I played the wildly popular social game on the new Air — and while the gameplay was predictably smooth, playing with the trackpad feels less natural than touch.

In this implementation, you either have to use the pointer to control an on-screen joypad or simply point the character in the right direction. There’s also the fact that the game occupies a fixed window that you can’t expand to take up the full display. The M1 chip goes a long ways toward opening up the available Mac ecosystem, making porting an iOS app as simple as ticking a box to make it available through the Mac App Store, but in many cases, additional optimization for these systems is warranted particularly for more professionally minded applications.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As for the other primary input device, the keyboard is pretty much the same as the latest Intel Air — which is to say head and shoulders above early versions. That’s no doubt a dark couple of generations of keyboards Apple would like to forget. They were solid as a rock, and insufferably loud. They also caused a lot of users undue stress by getting jammed. The latest version of the scissor mechanisms are far superior to the early butterflies. I won’t go so far as saying it’s the best laptop typing experience, but it’s like night and day compared to early models.

Another aspect that warrants mention is the webcam. It’s a feature that rarely warrants a sentence in most laptop reviews, but this is 2020. It’s a weird year with weird demands and here we are carrying out the vast majority of our interaction with other human beings over Zoom. It sucks, but it’s life. Many people have no doubt already invested in external webcams as part of the shift toward working from home. For the first time in — well, probably ever — webcams are an important factor in purchasing for many or even most people.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Apple has, indeed, upgraded the camera for the latest Air — but not entirely. That is to say the sensor is the same, and the camera is still stuck at 720p. But the new image signal processor (ISP) included as part of the M1’s SOC design does result in a better image. You can see the difference above. Frankly, neither is great to be honest, but one is decidedly less bad than the other. On the left you’ll see the Air’s image.

The resolution is still low, but the color — among others — is certainly improved. The white balance is more inline with reality and it handles shades better. I’m going to still defer to my external webcam for things like Extra Crunch panels, but for a quick meeting, sure, I’m fine letting the Air do the job. This would have been a perfect time for Apple to go all-in with a webcam refresh on these systems. Common wisdom says there are limitations on camera hardware give the thickness of the laptop lid, but if I had to venture a guess here, I’d say the company is looking at webcam video as another point of differentiation for Pro models.

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/macbook-air-audio.wav

The microphone, meanwhile, remains a point of distinction between the Air and Pro. I’ve included voice recordings from the Intel and Arm Airs above. See if you can tell the difference. Honestly, I can’t, really. As with the webcam, they’re fine for a casual chat, but I wouldn’t want to, say, record a podcast on the thing.

These three new systems represent the first step toward Mac’s future. And there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the potential of Apple Silicon. The M1 chip already displays some pretty dramatic performance gains for a lot of tasks, coupled with substantial increases in battery life, courtesy of decreased power consumption.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are some limitations worth noting on these models. Two USB-C ports appears to be the maximum in the current configuration and all three models currently top out at 16GB of RAM. If either of those are dealbreakers, the company will happily still sell you an Intel model for the foreseeable future.

When Apple Silicon was announced at WWDC back in June, Tim Cook noted that it would take two years to transition the full line. That means we’re very much at the beginning of this journey and there’s a lot left to reveal, including how dramatically different the true Pro tier of MacBooks look.

For most users with most needs, the Air is a fine choice. If I had to buy a new MacBook today I would pull the trigger on Air and upgrade the memory and storage for good measure. It’s a surprisingly powerful machine in a compact package.

Levels raises $12M from a16z and others to bring its biowearable to market

Levels today is announcing a large seed round to help bring its biowearable metabolic sensor to market. The innovative platform pairs continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) with an impressive software suite to provide the wearer with deep insights about their health. The company’s founders strongly feel that this approach helps users close the loop between food, exercise and well-being.

Levels provides actionable health information by constantly monitoring the wearer’s blood sugar using proven technology. This isn’t a wearable worn around the wrist; Levels uses medical hardware that’s attached to the wearer’s arm for two weeks. It sounds scarier than it is. I have one on right now, and it’s painless.

The $12 million seed round was led by Andreessen Horowitz with other notable investors participating, including Marc Randolph (co-founder and first CEO of Netflix), Dick Costolo (former CEO of Twitter), Michael Arrington (founder of TechCrunch), and Matt Dellavedova (NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers).

Levels says there are 45,000 people on its waitlist, and with this funding, the company expects to fulfill all pre-orders and millions more. The company expects customers will be able to purchase Levels starting in early 2021.

“Levels is ultimately a behavior change mechanism,” CEO and co-founder Josh Clemente said. “We will continue to establish product development milestones that are focused on achieving that end state before we fully launch. This funding will allow us to grow the team and perform the research necessary to understand specifically which mechanisms to focus on and translate those into the product. Once we reach that degree of efficacy, we’ll launch.”

The founders of Level are passionate about this cause. Over several phone calls with TechCrunch, Levels’ founders Josh Clemente and Dr. Casey Means explained the company’s targets.

“Optimizing metabolic function can improve energy, endurance, memory, mood, and cognitive performance. Seven of the ten leading causes of death in the US are strongly related to metabolic dysfunction,” said Dr. Casey Means, Co-founder of Levels. “Levels helps you improve metabolic fitness by alerting you to foods that negatively impact glucose levels. Armed with this information, you can take control of your metabolic health and make healthier lifestyle decisions.”

Image Credits: Levels