Amazon introduces native Mac instances for AWS, powered by Intel Mac mini

At AWS re:Invent, Amazon introduced new Mac instances for its Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), enabling developers to natively run macOS in Amazon Web Services for the first time.

Announced late Monday, the new capability harnesses Intel-powered Mac mini hardware to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud.

Developers building apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Safari can use the service to provision and access macOS environments, dynamically scale capacity with AWS, and take advantage of pay-as-you-go pricing, Amazon says. Basically, app makers can create and test in the AWS cloud. In addition, customers can consolidate development of cross-platform Apple, Windows, and Android apps using Amazon’s cloud.

“Apple’s thriving community of more than 28 million developers continues to create groundbreaking app experiences that delight customers around the world,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s VP of Worldwide Product Marketing. “With the launch of EC2 Mac instances, we’re thrilled to make development for Apple’s platforms accessible in new ways, and combine the performance and reliability of our world-class hardware with the scalability of AWS.”

The system integrates Mac mini devices running Intel’s 3.2GHz Core i7 CPU and 32GB of RAM. Mac’s built-in networking hardware is leveraged to connect to Amazon’s Nitro System to provide up to 10 Gbps of VPC network bandwidth and 8 Gbps of EBS storage bandwidth through Thunderbolt 3 connections.

Amazon is entering an arena dominated by small companies like MacStadium and Mac Mini Vault. If they opt for Amazon’s solution, developers will be granted access to more than 200 AWS services including Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS), Amazon Elastic Load Balancer (ELB), and Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), not to mention the sheer scalability offered by a large cloud provider.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” VP of EC2 David Brown told TechCrunch. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available.”

Amazon is working to integrate M1 Mac mini units into its data center, with current plans targeting a go live date sometime in the first half of 2021, according to TechCrunch. Big Sur support is also in the works, though EC2 will be limited to macOS Mojave and Catalina at launch.

Mac instances are available On-Demand or with Savings Plans at a rate of $1.083 per hour. Supported regions include the U.S. East (N. Virginia), U.S. East (Ohio), U.S. West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland), and Asia Pacific (Singapore) with more to come.

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.



“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

Holiday coupon: save $120 to $150 on these upgraded M1 MacBook Air laptops

The best MacBook Air deals are available exclusively at AppleInsider where readers can save $120 to $150 instantly on upgraded models with coupon.

Cyber Week deals

The exclusive MacBook Air discounts are courtesy of Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama when you shop through this special pricing link and enter promo code APINSIDER during checkout. With the coupon, holiday shoppers can save anywhere from $120 to $150 on the popular configurations highlighted below, including those with 16GB of memory and/or extra storage.

M1 MacBook Air promo code deals

  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB) Space Gray: $1,079 ($120 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB) Silver: $1,079 ($120 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 16GB, 512GB) Space Gray: $1,249 ($150 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 16GB, 512GB) Silver: $1,249 ($150 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 16GB, 512GB) Space Gray: $1,299 ($150 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 16GB, 512GB) Silver: $1,299 ($150 off)
  • *Price with coupon code APINSIDER using the pricing links above. Offers are link and promo code activated.

(*) How to apply the APINSIDER coupon at Adorama

  1. Make sure you’re using a browser with cookies enabled that isn’t in private mode.
  2. Click on the price link to the desired configuration from this article or the Adorama price links in our Price Guides. You MUST click through our links in the same shopping session that you use our coupon. If you try to save a link for late, the coupon WON’T WORK. Once you click through a price link, you’ll see a price that’s higher than advertised (we’ll fix that in a moment).
  3. Add the MacBook Air to your cart anyway, and when you’re done shopping, begin the checkout process.
  4. Look for a link that says “Do you have a gift card or promo code?” next to the gift icon. Click that to bring up a coupon code field.
    Where to find Adorama coupon code field
  5. Enter the coupon code APINSIDER in the field and click apply. The discount should appear under “Promo Savings” above the order total.
  6. That’s it. As always, if you have any issues, you can reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll try and help.

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Cyber Monday scams? Fakespot says its tech can spot fraudulent reviews and sellers online

The pandemic has made it all but impossible for a retail company without an online presence to survive. While companies heavily dependent on foot traffic, like J.Crew and Sur la Table have filed for bankruptcy this year, companies that are expert in e-commerce have thrived, including Target and Walmart. Amazon has gained perhaps the most steam in 2020, attracting roughly one quarter of all dollars spent online by U.S. shoppers throughout the year.

Unfortunately, as more shopping moves online, fraud is exploding, too, and while many startups work with enterprises on the problem — flagging transactions for banks, for example — one New York-based startup, Fakespot, is using AI to notify online shoppers directly when the products they’re looking to buy are fake listings or when reviews they’re reading on marketplaces like Amazon or eBay are a fiction.

We talked earlier today with founder and Kuwaiti immigrant Saoud Khalifah about the four-year-old business, which got started in his own dorm room after his own frustrating experience in trying to buy nutritional supplements from Amazon. After he’d nabbed his master’s degree in software engineering, he launched the company in earnest.

As it happens, Fakespot was originally focused on helping enterprise customers identify counterfeit outfits and fake reviews. But when the pandemic struck, the company began focusing more squarely on consumers on platforms that are struggling to keep up and whose solutions are largely focused on protecting sellers from buyers and not the other way around.

The pivot seems to be working. Fakespot just closed on $4 million in Series A funding led by Bullpen Capital, which was joined by SRI Capital, Faith Capital and 500 Startups among others in a round that brings the company’s total funding to $7 million.

The company is gaining more attention from shoppers, too. Khalifah says that a Chrome browser extension introduced earlier this year has now been downloaded 300,000 times — and this on the heels of “millions of users” who have separately visited Fakespot’s site, typed in a URL of a product review, and through its “Fakespot analyzer,” been provided with free data to help inform their buying decisions.

Indeed, according to Khalifah, since Fakespot’s official founding it has amassed a database of more than 8 billion reviews — around 10 times as many as the popular travel site Tripadvisor — from which its AI has learned. He says the tech is sophisticated enough at this point to identify AI-generated text; as for the “lowest-hanging fruit,” he says it can easily spot when reviews or positive sentiments about a company are posted in an inorganic way, presumably published by click farms. (It also tracks fake upvotes.)

As for where shoppers can use the chrome extension, Fakespot currently scours all the largest marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, Best Buy, Walmart, and Sephora. Soon, says Khalifah, users will also be able to use the technology to assess the quality of products being sold through Shopify, the software platform that is home to hundreds of thousands of online stores. (Last year, it surpassed eBay to become the No. 2 e-commerce destination in the U.S., according to Shopify.)

Right now, Fakespot is free to use, including because every review a consumer enters into its database helps train its AI further. Down the road, the company expects to make money by adding a suite of tools atop its free offering. It may also strike lead-generation deals with companies whose products and reviews it has already verified as real and truthful.

The question, of course, is how reliably the technology works in the meantime. While Khalifah understandably sings Fakespot’s praises, a visit to the Google Play store, for example, paints a mixed picture, with many enthusiastic reviews and some that are, well, less enthusiastic.

Khalifah readily concedes that Fakespot’s mobile apps need more attention. Indeed, these are where the company plans to spend time and resources following its new funding round. While Fakespot has been focused predominately on the desktop experience, Khalifah notes that more than half of online shopping is expected to be conducted over mobile phones by some time next year, a shift that isn’t lost on him, even while it hinges a bit on the pandemic being brought effectively to an end (and consumers finding themselves on the run again).

Still, he says that “ironically, a lot of [bad] reviews are from sellers who are angry that we’ve given them F grades. They’re often mad that we revealed that their product is filled with fake reviews.”

As for how Fakespot moves past these to improve its own rating, Khalifah suggests that the best strategy is actually pretty simple.

“We hope we’ll have many more satisfied users,” he says.

Swiss Apple reseller claims MagSafe Duo Charger to arrive Dec. 21

While Apple has yet to announce an official launch date for its MagSafe Duo Charger, an authorized reseller in Switzerland is taking orders for the device with a ship date of Dec. 21.

Digitec Galaxus is now accepting online orders for the MagSafe Duo, a dual-charging device capable of simultaneously powering an iPhone 12 and Apple Watch.

According to the reseller’s website, deliveries of the accessory are expected to ship between Dec. 21 and Dec. 29, though the dates could be temporary placeholders as the world awaits an official announcement from Apple.

Unveiled at this year’s iPhone event in October, the MagSafe Duo Charger has been listed as “coming soon” on the online Apple Store for weeks. With 2020 quickly coming to an end, however, the promised launch is in the offing.

Korea’s National Radio Research Agency gave Apple the green light to start sales of the charging accessory in early November, a decision that was followed by a similar proclamation from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. For electronics, regulatory approvals typically signal imminent release.

The MagSafe Duo Charger is designed to deliver 15W of power to iPhone 12 series devices. Apple’s support documents reveal that the certain models, specifically the iPhone 12 mini, is restricted to a maximum of 11W or 14W depending on the adapter.

New Patreon project seeks to bring Linux to M1 Macs

Developer Hector Martin, also known as “marcan,” on Monday launched a Patreon to fund solo work on a Linux port for Apple silicon Macs.

According to Martin, Apple’s M1-powered Macs are capable of running Linux, but creating a working port is a major undertaking; a near Herculean effort for one developer. He says he is up to the task, though the project would require dedication equivalent to a full-time job, thus the Patreon.

Martin has experience with open source code, from projects involving Nintendo’s Wii console to more recent Linux ports for Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. The Patreon’s goal, according to the developer, is to massage Linux on M1 Macs “to the point where it is not merely a tech demo, but is actually an OS you would want to use on a daily driver device.”

Whether the operating system can actually run, and do so with stability, on Apple silicon is up for debate. In a series of posts to Real World Technologies forum earlier this month, creator Linus Torvalds said he would “absolutely love” to own an M1-powered Mac if it ran Linux, but is uncertain such a premise is feasible.

“The main problem with the M1 for me is the GPU and other devices around it, because that’s likely what would hold me off using it because it wouldn’t have any Linux support unless Apple opens up,” Torvalds told ZDNet last week.

Martin agrees that the custom GPU will be a major hurdle, along with effective power management.

Running Linux on things is easy, but making it work well is hard,” Martin says in the Patreon description. “Drivers need to be written for all devices. The driver for the completely custom Apple GPU is the most complicated component, which is necessary to have a good desktop experience. Power management needs to work well too, for your battery life to be reasonable.”

Patreon tiers range from $3 to $48 per month, with perks including the ability to vote on the development of upcoming features, patron-only livestreams and more. Martin estimates he needs about $4,000 a month to take on the project, and that goal is 91% complete at the time of this writing.

If the developer takes on the venture, he plans to collaborate with other developers and “anyone else who wants to contribute.” A timeline for completion was not discussed.

12-hour flash deals: $799 MacBook Air, $300 off MacBook Pro, $150 off 2020 iPad Pro

Cyber Monday deals and steals continue on Apple products, with B&H matching the lowest price ever recorded on the 2020 Intel MacBook Air. Holiday shoppers can also save hundreds of dollars on MacBook Pros and grab the best price on a spacious 2020 iPad Pro.

Apple Cyber Monday deals continue

With inventory constraints plaguing the Apple space, now is the time to pick up holiday gifts at discounted prices before supply runs out.

Shoppers today can save $200 on Apple’s 2020 Intel MacBook Air in your choice of Space Gray, Silver or Gold. Now priced at $799 for the 256GB Core i3 processor — or $899 for the quad-core Core i5 model — these deals match the record low prices we saw during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Also available is a $300 cash markdown on Apple’s Mid 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro. This configuration features a multitude of uprades, including a quad-core 2.0Hz Intel Core i5 10th Gen proc, 16GB of memory and a spacious 1TB SSD.

Last, but certainly not least, is a $150 cash discount on Apple’s newest iPad Pro. The spacious 256GB Wi-Fi model in Silver is currently on sale for $949, with limited supply available at the reduced price.

Each of these Apple deals includes free expedited shipping within the contiguous U.S.

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New Apple TV+ thriller series 'Surface' to star Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Apple is partnering with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company to develop “Surface,” a psychological thriller series set to star Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Apple TV+Created and written by Veronica West, known for co-creating Hulu’s adaptation of “High Fidelity,” the series is slated to include eight episodes and will begin production next year, reports Variety.Details are currently unknown, though the show is being billed as a psychological thriller.

Read more…

EV bus and truck maker The Lion Electric to take SPAC route to public markets

Canadian electric truck and bus manufacturer The Lion Electric Company said Monday it plans to become a publicly traded company via a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp.

The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a valuation of $1.9 billion. The companies raised $200 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, and hold about $320 million in cash proceeds.

The deal is the latest example of an electric automaker opting to go public via a SPAc merger in an aim to access the level of capital needed to become a high-volume vehicle manufacturer. Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp., have all announced SPAC mergers in 2020.

In Lion’s case, the combined net cash will be used to fund the company’s growth, notably the planned construction of a U.S.-based factory and to further develop its advanced battery systems. Lion is evaluating more than 10 potential brownfield plant sites in nine states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The company told TechCrunch it plans to to pick a site and complete its industrialization plan by the end of the year. Production at this yet-to-be named factory is expected to start in the beginning of 2023.

Lion is already producing all-electric medium and heavy-duty urban trucks and buses at a 2,500-vehicle-per-year manufacturing facility. Some 300 vehicles are on the road today and the company has plans to to deliver 650 trucks and buses in 2021. It even landed a contract with Amazon to supply the e-commerce giant with 10 electric trucks for its ‘middle mile’ operations.

Completion of the proposed transaction is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2021. Lion is expected to be listed on the NYSE under the new ticker symbol “LEV.” Lion’s CEO and founder Marc Bedard will continue in his role. The combined company will have a board of directors consisting of nine directors, including Bedard, Pierre Larochelle from Power Sustainable as Chairman, and five other existing Lion board members, as well as Ian Robertson and Chris Jarratt, who are co-founders of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp.

Daily Crunch: Facebook acquires Kustomer for $1B

Facebook makes a billion-dollar acquisition, we learn more about Twitter’s Clubhouse-style feature and Moderna applies for emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine. This is your Daily Crunch for November 30, 2020.

The big story: Facebook acquires Kustomer for $1B

Kustomer says it can give customer service teams better data and a more unified view of the people they’re interacting with. So with this acquisition, Facebook can improve its offerings for businesses that have a presence (in some cases, their primary digital presence) on the social network.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TechCrunch has confirmed that the deal price was around $1 billion.

Facebook isn’t the only social media company making acquisitions to improve its customer service features. Earlier this month, Snap bought Voca.ai, a startup creating AI-based voice agents for call centers.

The tech giants

Alphabet’s DeepMind achieves historic new milestone in AI-based protein structure prediction — The advance in DeepMind’s AlphaFold capabilities could lead to a significant leap forward in areas like our understanding of disease, as well as future drug discovery and development.

Twitter’s Audio Spaces test includes transcriptions, speaker controls and reporting features — Earlier this month, Twitter announced it would soon begin testing its own Clubhouse rival, called Audio Spaces.

With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple — Elman said he will be focused on the company’s App Store and helping “customers discover the best apps for them.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

HungryPanda raises $70M for a food delivery app aimed at overseas Chinese consumers — HungryPanda makes a Mandarin-language app specifically targeting Chinese consumers outside of China.

Materialize scores $40M investment for SQL streaming database — CEO Arjun Narayan told us that every company needs to be a real-time company, and it will take a streaming database to make that happen.

Curio Wellness launches $30M fund to help women and minorities own a cannabis dispensary — The new fund, started by the Maryland-based medical cannabis company Curio Wellness, aims to help underserved entrepreneurs entering the cannabis market.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DoorDash aims to add $11B to its valuation during public offering — The delivery platform gave a range of $75 to $85 per share.

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win — Investors at Fika Ventures argue that “Cobra Kai” offers valuable lessons for VC.

The road to smart city infrastructure starts with research — The right technology can upgrade any city, but we need to understand its impacts.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30 — that’s today! — you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Moderna claims 94% efficacy for COVID-19 vaccine, will ask FDA for emergency use authorization today — If granted the authorization, Moderna will be able to provide it to high-risk individuals such as front-line healthcare workers.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will step down to make way for the Biden administration — Pai’s tenure has been a controversial one.

Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents — But if you avoid parental awkwardness, it’s a perfectly adequate holiday-themed romantic comedy.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.