MacBook and iPad Production Reportedly Hit by Component Shortage

Illustration for article titled MacBook and iPad Production Reportedly Hit by Component Shortage

Photo: JOSH EDELSON/AFP (Getty Images)

MacBook and iPad production have reportedly been impacted by an electronics component shortage.

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Citing sources familiar with the matter, Nikkei Asia reported Thursday that the ongoing global chip shortage has now hit Apple, with some iPads and MacBooks impacted. Nikkei Asia reported that some iPad assembly has been impacted by a shortage of display components, while MacBook production has been delayed due to chip shortages—an issue that’s affected major manufacturers like Tesla, GM, and Samsung.

Apple did not immediately return a request for comment about the report.

Nikkei Asia reported that Apple has delayed some of its component orders for affected gadgets from the first half of 2021 to later in the year as a result of the ongoing issue. But Apple is most certainly not alone in being affected by chip shortages. And some estimates see the issue continuing into 2022, including from Apple supplier Foxconn.

Samsung, for example, is another major manufacturer being impacted by chip shortages, with co-Chief Executive Officer Koh Dong-jin saying during a recent shareholders meeting that there was “a serious imbalance in supply and demand of chips in the IT sector globally.”

General Motors, meanwhile, is stopping production at two of its plants as a result of the global components shortage, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday. General Motors spokesperson David Barnas told the paper that the company’s “intent is to make up as much production lost at these plants as possible.”

In other words, everybody is feeling the chip crunch right now. Even the most powerful manufacturer on the planet reportedly isn’t immune from component shortages.

Shell Is Back, Baby :(

Big Oil is back—kind of

Big Oil is back—kind of
Photo: BEN STANSALL (Getty Images)

After more than a year of covid-19 lockdowns, there’s—dare I say—a feeling of hope in the air. Yes, things are far from over, but millions of people are getting vaccinated and it’s starting to seem like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, sorry to ruin things slightly, but oil companies are also starting to recover from the pandemic after it sparked a historic drop in fuel demand and crushed their profit margins.

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On Wednesday, Shell analysts said the oil giant expects to turn a profit from oil and gas exploration and production for the first time since the spread of covid-19 began. Last year, Shell did make money from refineries and chemical processing, so it turned an overall profit. But it saw losses in its core business model—pumping fuel—due to covid-19 restrictions.

Shell’s not alone in seeing a turnaround; Exxon is also expected to announce profits, which estimates put in the range of $2.6 billion. Both lost money on extraction in 2020, but they’re back to one again making gains. Oil prices have risen, which means more drilling is likely on the way.

But that doesn’t mean things have been smooth sailing. The February cold snap that knocked nearly all of Texas’ electricity capacity offline and left nearly 200 people dead also affected oil companies. Its analysts said that a downtick in drilling, refining, and chemical processing capacity during the storm will knock about  $200 million off its previous profit projections. Poor babies.

It’s not just the cold snap that hurt Shell’s profit margins. The company, which is the top fuel retailer in the world, expects that from here, its fuel sales will fall or, at the very best, flatline throughout quarter one. Fuel demand, it seems, isn’t exactly bouncing back—its recovery remains pretty slow. For instance, the firm said its refinery utilization rates were down from its expectations. It’s also making less money from gas trading, and expects on this year will be “significantly below average.”

This shouldn’t come as huge surprise to the firm, which in a February statement said that its “oil production peaked in 2019,” and that it now expects its output to decline gradually by 1 or 2% per year. Seems they were prepared for peak oil.

It’s tempting to laugh in Shell’s face about their weak return to fuel production profits, but honestly, they’re still drilling right now, and that’s bad. Every barrel of oil or gas the company extracts from the Earth is a climate problem.

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Shell’s profits faring badly isn’t exactly a home run for workers. The company has made it clear that when times are rough for fuel production, its employees will bear the worst brunt. Last September, Shell executives said that as it produces less fuel, it plans to lay off 10% of its workforce. Other oil companies have made similar moves, showing that only a planned transition away from fossil fuels can ensure those laborers are taken care of.

So yes, it doesn’t seem like energy giants will be making a particularly spectacular recovery from their record slump in 2020, because the market simply seems not to favor fossil fuels they way it used to. But that doesn’t mean we should simply let oil companies do all they can to make money in the dying days of oil, it means we need to force them to wind down even faster.

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How to Ensure Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Is Accessible to Everyone

Illustration for article titled How to Ensure Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Is Accessible to Everyone

Photo: David Zalubowski (AP)

As the Biden administration puts the federal government’s muscle behind widespread electrification, one fact has becoming increasingly clear: The electric vehicle revolution is coming. But states have a lot of catching up to do if they want to make sure everyone is included, a new report shows.

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The report, released Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, takes a wholesale look at how utilities are preparing to make sure that low- and medium-income households and communities of color can come along for the ride as electrification takes hold. The report examines transportation electrifications plans from utilities across the country to see which areas are preparing to bring diverse communities along with the new wave of electric vehicles—and which regions may be underprepared.

“Most states are understanding that transportation electrification is the future, but with equity, they’re a little more behind,” said Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and the report’s author. “There’s hindrances for low-income communities and communities of color to access charging because of unique challenges they face. If everyone lived in a single family home with off-street parking in a garage, it’d be an easy nut to crack—you just maybe need to add some subsidies. But because of the complexity in terms of the transportation needs, the housing situation these [communities] are in—that makes it extra complicated.”

Like supermarkets with fresh food, bike lanes, and subway stops, urban and suburban infrastructure that is intended to improve everyone’s life often only gets distributed in wealthy areas—and there’s no reason to think that electric vehicles will be any different, absent intervention. Chicago provides a valuable example: In 2018, data shows that 70% of the city’s public charging stations were located in just three communities on the North Side, whose residents are predominantly white and wealthy. Meanwhile, more than half of the city’s neighborhoods had no charging stations at all. Another nationwide study found that the 20 zip codes with the most electric vehicle chargers in the U.S. had a median home price of nearly $800,000.

Electric vehicles are currently more expensive than gas-powered cars and have steep up front costs, which has traditionally locked lower-income communities out of ownership. But as these costs decline and electric vehicles become more affordable, there’s a chance that private companies could still think that only wealthy people will buy electric cars and neglect to invest in charging infrastructure in other neighborhoods. Other investments that could benefit low-income communities—like installing chargers in multiple-unit buildings, which are more expensive than installing a single charger in a house, or making moves to electrify buses—will need state, city, and utility cooperation.

“If you’re not tackling these kinds of issues head-on now, especially during the planning stages for a lot of these utilities, we’re going to have a point where in five to 10 years, electric vehicles are going to be relatively affordable and everywhere, but for other reasons, low-income communities and communities of color are not going to have the same number of chargers per person as wealthier communities,” Huether said.

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There are some (perhaps unsurprising) state leaders working to fix this problem. California—the state with far and away the most electric vehicles—and New York are leading the pack nationally. The former requires that 35% of utility investment in charging go to underserved communities, while New York’s Public Service Commission ordered utilities to invest in charging in underserved areas. The report singles out three further case studies of successful and diverse efforts from three utilities—National Grid, Puget Sound Energy, and Seattle City Light—to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure in varied communities and/or engage in conversation with communities about bringing them in.

Unfortunately, these are just the standouts. The report found that of the 36 states it evaluated, only 6 had made some sort of mandate for utilities to invest in electric vehicle charging in lower-income communities or communities of color. Meanwhile, only 31 of the 61 regulator-approved plans from utilities made mention of efforts of community engagement on getting electric vehicles into lower-income areas. The bar isn’t exactly high for what counts as a community engagement effort; the study counted “posting a website” as a satisfactory example of a utility doing community outreach.

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For utilities that have made no headway in factoring in equity, Huether recommends two big areas: earmarking money and talking to people.

“Saying x percentage of money should go to communities is a good baseline,” he said. “But we also encourage people to think more holistically and involve communities.”

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UK Launches New Watchdog to Police Big Tech’s Ad Market Monopoly

A visitor enters the the offices of Google in London.

A visitor enters the the offices of Google in London.
Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP (Getty Images)

The UK government launched a new watchdog agency on Wednesday that will be tasked with keeping an eye on Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, according to an announcement published online. The stated goal of the new watchdog is to police the “concentration of power among a small number of firms” in the world of tech—a concentration of power that’s harming consumers and small businesses alike.

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The new tech-specific sub-agency, dubbed the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), will be housed inside the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the existing agency that regulates anti-competitive behavior in the marketplace more broadly.

The first task of the Digital Markets Unit will be to examine Big Tech’s relationship to online advertising, including the roughly £14 billion ($19.2 billion) spent on digital advertisement in the UK in 2019, according to the British government. About 80% of that money went to just two companies, Facebook and Google.

“The Digital Markets Unit has launched and I’ve asked it to begin by looking at the relationships between platforms and content providers, and platforms and digital advertisers,” the UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.

While the term “content providers,” could conceivably include a category like Facebook users and their posts, Dowden presumably means more traditional media outlets like TV stations, news websites, and newspapers.

“This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data, and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values,” Dowden continued.

Companies like Google and Facebook have infamously gobbled up the online ad market, leaving traditional media companies without much ad revenue, even after they firmly establish their businesses online. Why advertise with the local newspaper, the thinking goes, if you can just give that money to a bigger company like Google, which is aggregating the same content along with the content of thousands more newspapers?

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The UK’s Business Secretary called the new organization “unashamedly pro-competition” and said it will “help to curb the dominance of tech giants” by letting smaller tech companies thrive. Both Apple and eBay are also mentioned explicitly in the announcement, though neither sell ads that compete with traditional news companies.

While the European Union is able to throw its weight around and levy large financial penalties against tech companies for anti-competitive behavior, the UK is playing a bit of catch-up since it left the EU and may have to create new oversight agencies.

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Some smaller companies have ventured to push back against Big Tech’s destruction of the local journalism market, like when Australia created a so-called “media code” that proposed profit-sharing between tech companies like Facebook and news companies like News Corp. But Facebook wasn’t too happy with that plan, banning news entirely for a few days. Google got so angry it threatened to cut off its search product down under.

Eventually, Big Tech and the Australian government came to a negotiated agreement about giving news outlets a small cut of the profits, but this is likely the beginning rather than the end of these stand-offs internationally. And the UK will likely try something similar to Australia’s plan in the very near future, if we read between the lines.

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The question, of course, is whether this new British watchdog will be able to create real change in an global industry that’s already too large to manage in any meaningful sense. British regulators seems optimistic that they can.

“Today is another step towards creating a level playing field in digital markets,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, said on Wednesday. “The DMU will be a world-leading hub of expertise in this area and when given the powers it needs, I am confident it will play a key role in helping innovation thrive and securing better outcomes for customers.”

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Jeff Bezos Supports Corporate Tax Hike But Conspicuously Fails to Endorse $2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (L) and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez pose for a picture during their visit at the Taj Mahal in Agra on January 21, 2020.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (L) and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez pose for a picture during their visit at the Taj Mahal in Agra on January 21, 2020.
Photo: Pawan Sharma/AFP (Getty Images)

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, released a statement late Tuesday saying that he generally supports President Joe Biden’s desire to invest in infrastructure, along with a rise in the corporate tax rate. But some of the things Bezos doesn’t support in the statement are conspicuous in their absence.

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“We support the Biden Administration’s focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure,” Bezos said in a statement posted online, presumably meaning “Amazon” when he says “we.”

“Both Democrats and Republicans have supported infrastructure in the past, and it’s the right time to work together to make this happen,” Bezos continued.

But Bezos, who’s reportedly worth $193 billion, stopped short of specifically endorsing the $2 trillion infrastructure plan that’s currently on the table, instead choosing to say that there must be concessions “from both sides” in order to get something done.

“We recognize this investment will require concessions from all sides—both on the specifics of what’s included as well as how it gets paid for (we’re supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate),” Bezos said. “We look forward to Congress and the Administration coming together to find the right, balanced solution that maintains or enhances U.S. competitiveness.”

The top corporate tax rate is currently 21% cut down from 35% by the Trump regime’s massive tax bill that acted as a handout to millionaires, billionaires, and corporations in 2017. And while Bezos says he supports a higher tax rate, he doesn’t specify how high.

Big Business isn’t excited about taxes generally, so it’s no surprise that many other American companies are fighting against Biden’s infrastructure plan, even as those some companies complain about U.S. infrastructure, according to a new report from Politico. Large companies are also grumbling behind the scenes about Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s desire to get the major wealthy nations on board with a corporate minimum tax that would level the playing field and stop international companies from shopping around for tax havens.

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From Politico:

Executives often say they could live with a corporate tax rate of around 25 percent — which groups like the Business Roundtable previously supported — but only with deductions restored and without much of the international reform.

“I didn’t think 21 percent was the right number when we did tax reform. And 25 percent is a spot where you could probably get a lot of consensus,” the CEO of one of the world’s largest financial firms said on condition that they not be named. “It’s not the rate, it’s all the other stuff that would make us less competitive around the world. And jobs will go if we do this stuff.”

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Everyone wants nice roads, fast internet across the entire country, and bridges that don’t fall down randomly, but large corporations would like that to happen without paying taxes. Unfortunately you can’t get those nice things without taxes. And anonymous CEOs can say “it’s not the rate” all they want, but it’s the rate. They don’t want to pay higher taxes and they’ll do everything they can to stop them.

Clubhouse Reportedly Thinks It’s Worth $4 Billion Now

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Reportedly Thinks It's Worth $4 Billion Now

Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP (Getty Images)

Clubhouse, which led a round of investment in January at a reported valuation of around $1 billion, now believes it is worth four times that, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

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A new round of funding the audio chat app is negotiating with investors may value the company at around $4 billion, sources told the news agency, although it’s “unclear how much Clubhouse is seeking to raise or which investors are participating.”

Bloomberg noted that Clubhouse quadrupling its own valuation in the span of just a few months would reflect the “astronomical expectations” of investors, which is a bit of an understatement given the company was only launched a year ago and has yet to prove livestreamed audio conversations can rake in that much revenue. As the Information noted back when Clubhouse hit a $1 billion valuation, there isn’t even an Android version of the app yet, and the company also isn’t making any money. Right now it’s still in the dollar-draining phase of its operation, trying to lure buzzy influencers with cash incentives in order to lay the groundwork towards monetization. There’s also the risk that Clubhouse’s live, public audio chat rooms are primarily so popular right now because the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is preventing its users from doing just about anything more interesting than attending virtual seminars.

Per Bloomberg, investment firm Andreessen Horowitz valued Clubhouse at around $100 million or so prior to January:

Andreessen Horowitz has been a major booster of the app. It initially valued the parent company at $100 million before the investment in January at 10 times that valuation. (Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has invested in Andreessen Horowitz.)

Nothing is certain yet, and of course, news about impending deals tends to pop up when one of the interested parties wants to push publicity in their favor. So we’ll see.

Clubhouse used to be primarily popular in Silicon Valley, where it attracted certain members of the venture capital set, tech workers, and journalists focused on the industry—not to mention a coterie of bigots and far-right agitators attracted by its loose moderation policies. (It’s also become a hub for rich VCs and various hangers-on to endlessly complain about “cancel culture.”) It’s since proved to have wider appeal, boasting a particularly vibrant Black community responsible for much of Clubhouse’s cultural cachet, and according to the New Yorker, had some 10 million users in February. Brands are now flocking to the app, and an ecosystem of sister apps and audio tools designed specifically to be used with Clubhouse has begun to flourish.

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Even if Clubhouse doesn’t prove to be a flash in the pan, it’s going to have to compete with a huge and in some cases baffling array of apps that have eagerly jumped at the chance to clone its features. Facebook, TikTok parent company ByteDance, and Twitter, as well as business-world apps LinkedIn and Slack, are all rushing to launch their own audio chat features.

Signal Is Adding a New Privacy-Focused Payments Feature

Illustration for article titled Signal Is Adding a New Privacy-Focused Payments Feature

Graphic: Signal

Most of us might be familiar with Signal as the privacy-preserving messaging app of choice, but the company is expanding into a new frontier: payments.

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Signal announced on Tuesday that as a part of its latest beta, it’s adding support for a new Signal Payments feature that allows Signal users to send “privacy focused payments as easily as sending or receiving a message.

These payments are only going to be available to Android and iOS Signal users in the UK during this beta, and will use one specific payment network: MobileCoin, an open-source cryptocurrency that is itself still a prototype, according to the MobileCoin GitHub repo. The same page notes that the MobileCoin Wallet that someone would need in order to send these payments back and forth isn’t yet available for download by anyone in the U.S. As Wired notes, however, this is a new feature that the company wants to expand globally once it’s out of its infancy.

Unlike other popular texting apps that also offer a payment component—like, say, Facebook Messenger—MobileCoin doesn’t rely on funneling money from a user’s bank account in order to function. Instead, it’s a currency that lives on the blockchain, allowing payments made over MobileCoin to bypass the banking systems that routinely work with major data brokers in order to pawn off people’s transaction data.

It’s worth noting here that Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike has pretty close ties to this new crypto, acting as a behind-the-scenes advisor on the project since 2017.

“With Signal, we didn’t invent cryptography. We’re just making it accessible to people who didn’t want to cut and paste a lot of gobbledegook every time they sent a message,” Marlinspike told Wired.

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“I see a lot of parallels with this,” he went on, referencing payments. “We’re not inventing private payments. Privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies have existed for years and will continue to exist. What we’re doing is just, again, a part of trying to make that accessible to ordinary people.”

Signal’s blog notes that folks in the UK can give MobileCoin a whirl by converting other cryptocurrencies to MobileCoin’s own MOB currency using the FTX crypto exchange. The company added that along with more countries, it plans to expand its beta to other exchanges “soon.”

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Japan’s Central Bank Launches One-Year Test of Digital Currency

File photo of a woman passing a quotation board displaying share price closing numbers of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.

File photo of a woman passing a quotation board displaying share price closing numbers of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP (Getty Images)

Japan’s central bank has started trials of a new digital currency in an effort to experiment with how it might be used, the Bank of Japan announced on Monday. The announcement comes after the Chinese government revealed it was doing something very similar with a digital yuan in early March.

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“The Bank of Japan has been undertaking preparations to begin experiments on Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in early fiscal year 2021, to test the technical feasibility of the core functions and features required for CBDC,” the Bank of Japan said in a statement published online. “As necessary preparations are now complete, Proof of Concept (PoC) Phase 1 begins today.”

The announcement confirms rumors that have been swirling since late 2020 about Japan’s potential creation of a digital yen. But there’s no guarantee that Japan will ever make the digital currency available to the public. Everything is very much experimental right now, according to the Bank of Japan.

“In PoC Phase 1, the Bank plans to develop a test environment for the CBDC system and conduct experiments on the basic functions that are core to CBDC as a payment instrument such as issuance, distribution, and redemption,” the Bank of Japan statement continued. “This phase will be carried out through March 2022, for a duration of one year.”

As the Register points out, virtually every large central bank in the world is experimenting or rumored to be experimenting with digital currencies to ensure they’re ready whenever the time may come to issue one. And as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether become more mainstream through services like PayPal, that time could be sooner rather than later.

In the U.S., Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she supports financing research into a digital dollar, though she’s signaled the kind of conservative thinking you’d expect from a top government official. At least the kind of thinking in a normal (read: post-Trump) government.

“There’s a lot to consider here, but it’s absolutely worth looking at,” Yellen said back in February.

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Clubhouse Is Partnering With Stripe To Offer Direct Payments, and Creators Will Get 100% of the Profits

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Is Partnering With Stripe To Offer Direct Payments, and Creators Will Get 100% of the Profits

Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / Contributor (Getty Images)

The invite-only audio chat app Clubhouse is sweetening the deal for creators by offering a direct payment option that would allow them to reap 100% of the rewards.

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In a Monday blog post, Clubhouse announced that it would partner with the payment processing startup Stripe to offer direct payments on the app for the first time in order to bring the platform in line with its foundational principle of putting creators first.

Our aim is to help creators build community, audience, and impact,” the blog post says.And as Clubhouse continues to scale, it’s important to us to align our business model with that of the creators—helping them make money and thrive on the platform.”

Although not all creators will be eligible to receive payments immediately — Clubhouse says it will begin rolling out payments in waves “starting with a small test group” — apparently 100% of those payments will actually go to the creators themselves, with Clubhouse declining to take a cut of the profits.

The monetization tool will be the first built directly into the app’s infrastructure, and will allow users to tap on the profile of the creator of their choice and elect to “Send Money,” which will trigger a prompt to enter credit or debit card information. Once activated — and after a credit card processing fee has been paid — users will be able to send direct cash transfers to the creator of their choosing, all of which will be processed through Stripe.

The announcement seems to be part of a larger initiative to incentivize would-be creators and influencers, which Clubhouse has been angling to net in droves. In March, the platform announced a new accelerator program called “Clubhouse Creator First,” which would “support and equip 20 creators w/ resources they need to bring their ideas and creativity to life,” per a tweet.

In short, Clubhouse — an invite-only social network that has clout-chasing and exclusivity baked into its premise — needs to be populated by chat influencers in order to thrive, and is creating an incentive package in order to keep those users on the app. And with dozens of copycat platforms already chomping at the bit to steal Clubhouse’s bit, it will need lots of good tricks up its sleeve to make sure it doesn’t lose valuable talent to any given number of competitors.

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LG to Stop Making Phones Worldwide by July 31

Gif: LG/YouTube

LG, the South Korea-based electronics manufacturer, will soon stop producing new mobile phones worldwide, according to a press release from the company early Monday.

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“LG’s strategic decision to exit the incredibly competitive mobile phone sector will enable the company to focus resources in growth areas such as electric vehicle components, connected devices, smart homes, robotics, artificial intelligence and business-to-business solutions, as well as platforms and services,” the company said in a statement.

The “wind-down” of mobile phone production, as the company refers to it, will happen until July 31, though it’s possible there may still be inventory on store shelves after that. But buy what will likely be newly-discounted LG phones at your own risk. The company will stop providing software updates at some point in the future. How soon? That part hasn’t been shared quite yet.

“LG will provide service support and software updates for customers of existing mobile products for a period of time which will vary by region,” the company said. “LG will work collaboratively with suppliers and business partners throughout the closure of the mobile phone business. Details related to employment will be determined at the local level.”

LG insists that it will continue to have a presence in the mobile data market, since plenty of other products now talk to the internet. And if you’re excited about getting 5G but with one number higher, LG will be there.

“Moving forward, LG will continue to leverage its mobile expertise and develop mobility-related technologies such as 6G to help further strengthen competitiveness in other business areas. Core technologies developed during the two decades of LG’s mobile business operations will also be retained and applied to existing and future products,” the company said.

LG will still offer plenty of other products, including refrigerators, gaming monitors, and vacuum cleaners, among plenty of other gadgets.

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