Nanoleaf essentially created a new smart lighting category with its connected light panels, and since then it has iterated with its pixel-like Canvas and, most recently, its new Shapes Hexagons. The Hexagons already seem to be proving popular with customers, as they’re currently waitlisted, but I got the chance to spend some time with them and have found them to be a unique, interesting and very pleasing addition to my home decor.
The Nanoleaf Hexagons don’t change the basic formula of Nanoleaf’s products: They’re individual light panels, which connect to one control unit that has a hardware controller and connects to the power supply. Each one has an electronic connector that snaps into a two-sided connection module that you can then use to connect another panel, in whatever configuration you desire. The panels attach to walls by way of 3M strips, which are pre-mounted on a plastic pad that makes it relatively easy to detach them from the panels for damage-free removal from walls, and replacement by using new 3M strips if you’re redecorating or changing things up. You can also optionally mount them with screws if you want a more permanent installation.
The panels come in a few different configurations, including a Starter Kit that includes seven panels ($ 199.99), add-on packs that contain three additional panels and larger packs, including 13 and 19-panel bundles. You can configure them basically any way you want — but if that sounds like too much freedom, Nanoleaf provides a number of preset configuration suggestions, and its app has an augmented reality feature that lets you mock up and preview different arrangements on your walls before installing. I ended up just free-styling with a rough idea of where I wanted the design to start and end in terms of height and width, and was very happy with the results.
In terms of specs, each panel is very thin at only around 0.24 inches, and they measure roughly 9 inches by 7.75 inches. They each put out around 100 lumens of light, which is not going to replace an overhead light fixture, but which proves perfectly usable for actually supplanting entirely things like bedside lamps and mood lighting in other rooms.
Nanoleaf has made the Hexagon controllable in a number of ways, including via the hardware controller included with the base kit, through their mobile or desktop app and through smart assistants, with compatibility for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit — all of which proved convenient and user-friendly ways to interact with the panels in my experience. You can also touch individual panels to provoke a lighted response.
The Hexagons also include audio responsiveness, meaning they can react to sound. You can use the default programs included with the app, download user-created ones or make your own, both for sound-reactive modes and for configurations that just play back a set pattern. The sound-reactive modes work amazingly well with music played back through your home audio devices, and really bring the Nanoleaf Hexagons alive — lending an almost biological feel to the devices.
The individual Hexagon panels are each very lightweight and thin, but still feel sturdy and durable. They feature a lighted area that takes up nearly all of their surface, minus rounded corners at each point of the hexagon shape, to create a more organic look once they’re powered on. Each side of the hexagon features a receptacle for the connector clip on the back, allowing you to connect another panel to them and provide power and control through each. One controller unit can control up to 500 hexagons, so you shouldn’t ever really need more than one, and one power supply can provide power for up to 21 hexagons. Each can be snapped to any panel in your configuration for flexible positioning.
Nanoleaf’s original light panels are triangular, and they also created the square Canvas later on. The Hexagons have a honeycomb effect and are the most organic looking to my eye, with an ability to work with a wider range of decor, including softer, less industrial interior aesthetics.
The light emitted by each panel is even and bright, and can be tuned across the RGB spectrum. Whites ranging from warm to very cool can also be achieved with the panels for more general day-to-day use. The hardware controller allows you to cycle through some standard white presets, too, including Warm White (2700K), Reading Light (4000K) and Daylight White (5000K) — plus you can control it to essentially any temperature you want, as well as different colors, through the app.
Nanoleaf has come up with a very simple mounting solution that’s easy to do on your own. I had mine installed and configured in probably around 15 minutes today, once I’d worked out a rough idea of how I wanted to lay them out on the wall. I used a level to get the first panel plumb, but it’s not necessarily required, as the shapes look great even if they’re off-level relative to the room and surrounding objects.
Because of their modular nature, you can easily add more to your existing layout by picking up additional expansion packs, should you decide to grow your collection in the future. There’s enough play with the mounting equipment that you can snap one of the connectors in place behind previously installed panels to attach new ones.
Nanoleaf has evolved their product since its introduction to include a wide range of built-in features, including ambient music modes that use audio to dynamically change the lighting on the panels. This is probably my favorite feature of the Hexagons, and the mode I use most often, especially because I’m often playing music via Sonos throughout the house on most days.
The hardware controller is also a great option in case you want to skip the app features altogether and treat your Hexagons more like a traditional light source — with added flexibility. It allows you to turn the brightness up and down, power them on and off, and cycle through different stored patterns and sequences.
App-based control offers a much wider range of options, however. It provides access to a range of pre-installed scenes, including both standard dynamic ones as well as Rhythm modes (those that react to sound) and you can set scheduled events, including scene changes, and have them occur just once or repeat on whatever schedule you prefer.
A built-in scene creator allows you to fully customize your light show, panel-by-panel, and then save that and share it with the community as well. It’s a great way to get just the look you want, and combined with the scheduler, means you can ensure your setup is custom-tailored to exactly which colors, brightness and effects you’re looking for throughout the day.
The Nanoleaf Hexagons are a terrific addition to the Nanoleaf lineup, and I think they’re the model that’s mostly likely to appeal to a much broader customer base when compared to the company’s existing options. I personally didn’t expect to be that big a fan of Nanoleaf in general — I’d never been more than mildly interested in their offerings before. But as soon as I powered on the Hexagon, I was amazed at how much I felt like they improved the aesthetics of the space.
Their Rhythm features feels like having a living, dancing electric decor element, and the general pattern and even ambient lighting modes are all very pleasant additions to any room that impress without feeling overly techy or overwhelming of other aspects of your home design and furnishings. They command a high price versus traditional lighting, but when you factor in their smart features, they’re a good value in terms of bringing something unique and highly personal into your home’s look and feel.
Currently, Nanoleaf is sold out of its initial pre-orders, but you can sign up to be waitlisted for when they become available again (the company expects new shipments to resume in August).
Now is a great time to be dipping back into creative projects you’ve had on hold, including editing archives of photos you promised you’d get back to ‘later.’ There are a number of different gadgets designed to help make that process easier, but one of the more accessible is the TourBox, a $ 169 hardware controller that includes a number of different hardware buttons, dials and switches which can be customized via software to work with a variety of creative applications.
TourBox is a device that occupies roughly the desk space of an Apple Magic Trackpad, with a USB-C connection to plug into your computer. It’s equipped with a D-pad, two dials, a scroll wheel, and seven buttons. The TourBox software provides customizable controls for each of these, allowing you to assign keys to each.
Built-in profiles support popular photo editing applications including Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One; video editing software like Final Cut Pro, Premiere and DaVinci Resolve; and drawing software including Clip Studio Paint. Each of the default configurations for these applications can also be customized depending on a user’s preferences and needs.
TourBox differs from other, more expensive devices in this category in a number of respects – it leans heavily on keyboard shortcuts, for instance, definitely simplifying software actions but not providing the same level of plug-in integration that competitors including the more premium Loupedeck+ and Loupedeck CT provide. Those are considerably more expensive, however, and what TourBox provides could suit the workflows of pros who are looking primarily to supplement, rather than replace their existing keyboard productivity workflows.
The TourBox is compact, but feels sturdy. It’s heavier than I expected, which makes it more likely to stay put on the desk where you put it rather than shifting around during use. The exterior is a matte, rubberized plastic that has a nice aesthetic and a pleasant tactile feel, though it will pick up dust.
TourBox’s buttons and controls feature unique shapes and elements like raised spokes and ridges on the wheels to help you navigate the control surface entirely by feel. It produces a controller that looks very interesting because of its asymmetrical layout and exterior surface, but all of that actually makes it much easier to learn how to operate it entirely by feel after a little practice, which is key to long-term use in terms of actually ensuring the TourBox saves you time, by being something you can eventually basically commit to muscle memory.
While the design of the buttons and other controls makes a lot of sense, the actual feel of them isn’t all that great. There are some highlights, including clicky turning to help with fine-grained controls, but overall the buttons feel a bit mushy and generally don’t match up to the feel of the controls on other surfaces like the Loupedeck hardware mentioned above. Given the price difference, the lower-quality feel of the physical controls can be forgiven, and it doesn’t affect actual performance, but it’s something to keep in mind.
As with any new hardware controller, the TourBox takes some getting used to, and the software that the company provides, while it includes a basic tutorial, requires non-obvious user tweaks like manual switching of profiles to work with different applications. There’s a major 2.1 update in the works that will deliver auto-profile switching, among a number of other improvements.
Once you learn how to use the TourBox software and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the profiles for the applications you use, TourBox is indeed user-friendly, and can save you a lot of time and extra keystrokes on most common functions, including things like zooming and panning, adjusting brush size, undoing and redoing and much more.
As mentioned, the unique physical layout and button shapes appear initially odd, but ultimately mean that you can develop a very memorable workflow using the TourBox that becomes second nature. By default, some of the modifier key combinations that were shipped in the software profiles required a bit of unusual hand gymnastics for me, but all of these are customizable so it was easy to make changes that resulted in more ergonomically friendly usage.
While there are a growing number of options when it comes to hardware control surfaces to help you create an at-home editing suite, the TourBox at $ 169 is one of the most affordable out there. It’s also an extremely portable option, requiring just one cable, which you can easily pack in just about any bag.
More demanding and pro users would do well to look at Loupedeck’s offerings, and the Monogram Creative Console provides a lot more modular customizability for a system that can grow with your needs, but for on-the-road editing and for enthusiasts who are just looking for something to make their editing easier and faster but with minimal fuss, the TourBox is a solid option.
Hundreds of tech-oriented startups worth a billion or more dollars had envisioned successful public offerings before the pandemic hit. But new tech listings slowed to nearly nothing this spring as companies have tried to adjust to the profound changes sweeping the world.
Today, more and more companies are back to their previous plans, with Lemonade and Accolade finding an enthusiastic public this week, following Agora’s pop last Friday, as Alex Wilhelm has been covering.
The first big tech IPO this week was in online insurance, the second in health, and despite both being in promising markets, the valuations are quite a bit higher than their business realities to date. Here’s more, from his analysis on Extra Crunch:
Lemonade is being valued at more than 15x the value of its annualized Q1 revenue despite not sporting the gross margins you might expect investors to demand for it to merit that SaaS valuation. And Accolade only expects to grow by about 20% in Q2 2020 compared to its year-ago results while probably losing more money.
But who cares? The IPO market is standing there with open arms today (there’s always another IPO cliché lurking).
The read of this is impossibly simple: However open we thought that the IPO market was before, it is even more welcoming. For companies on the sidelines, like Palantir, Airbnb, DoorDash and Asana, you have to wonder what they are waiting for. Sure, you can raise more private capital like Palantir and DoorDash have, but so what; if you want to defend your valuation, isn’t this the market that was hoped for?
He also takes a look at a few more companies getting ready to file, including banking software company nCino and GoHealth, an insurance portal that was bought by a private equity firm last year, as well as gaming company DoubleDown Interactive. The general trend seems to be that initial stock pricing has stayed more conservative than how public markets are feeling.
Startup survey shows remote is new normal already
“Early-stage startups are confident of re-opening their offices in the wake of the COVID-19 within the next six months,” writes Mike Butcher for TechCrunch this week. “But there will be changes.” Here’s more from our UK-based editor-at-large:
An exclusive survey compiled by Founders Forum, with TechCrunch, found 63% of those surveyed said they would only re-open in either 1-3 months or 3-6 months — even if the government advises [sic] that it is safe to do so before then. A minority have re-opened their offices, while 10% have closed their office permanently. The full survey results can be found here.
However, there will clearly be long-term impact on the model of office working, with a majority of those surveyed saying they would now move to either a flexible remote working model (some with permanent offices, some without), but only a small number plan a “normal” return to work. A very small number plan to go fully “remote.” Many cited the continuing benefits of face-to-face interaction when trying to build the team culture so crucial with early-stage companies.
Title insurance is getting the tech competition it deserves
A lot of people are thinking harder about homeownership as they wait out quarantines — but real estate is still an old-fashioned industry, layered with complexities and surprising costs that can keep a dream purchase out of reach. Title insurance is a great example. A one-time cost to protect buyers and sellers during the closing process, it can extend the purchase process by a month or two, in addition to potentially adding thousands of dollars in costs. But various new regulations and rulings have combined with the larger trends in SaaS to open up the market. Here’s more, in a detailed guest post for Extra Crunch from Ashley Paston of Bain Capital Ventures:
In a very short period of time, we’ve seen startups take advantage of this new, more competitive landscape by offering solutions to streamline the task of getting title insurance. Qualia, for example, offers an end-to-end platform that connects all parties involved in a real estate transaction, so title agents can manage and coordinate all aspects of the process in real time. San Francisco-based States Title, for example, uses a predictive underwriting engine that produces nearly instantaneous title assessment, dramatically reducing the cost and time required to issue a policy. Qualia and States Title are among several companies hoping to revolutionize title insurance and they reflect the two emerging meta-trends.
The first trend, enablement, consists of companies developing technology designed to integrate with incumbent real estate businesses… The second trend, disruption, consists of companies displacing incumbent real estate business altogether.
Tech diversity stays in focus
The tech industry has talked about making its opportunities available to all for many years, and struggled to deliver. But more than a month after George Floyd was killed, this time is still feeling different. One example is .fm, a viral sort of insidery prank from last weekend that a diverse small group of friends in tech created and turned into a successful grassroots fundraiser for racial justice organizations (it was not a VC fundraising stunt). “In one fell swoop,” veteran product leader Ravi Mehta wrote for TechCrunch, “the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked.”
Meanwhile, a group of Black startup founders and the Transparent Collective created a public spreadsheet to provide a comprehensive list of every VC who has backed a Black founder in the US, and the umbrella Black Innovation Alliance launched to help hundreds of related Black-focused tech and entrepreneurship organizations connect and support each other. Efforts like these, combined with a real generational willingness to address the structural problems, are what can make the difference finally.
Why AR has mostly failed (so far)
Augmented reality concepts may become a core part of how people live in the future, but the first wave of companies in the space have not fared well. Here’s why, from Lucas Matney on Extra Crunch:
The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.
Instead, he says success will come from nailing the use-cases first, and not messing around with complex developer platforms and expensive hardware.
Across the week
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the show that got cut, and more. It’s fun!
Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this:
- Journalism, venture capitalists, and not being a colossal jerk: Listen in for more, but there’s once again a brouhaha in the world of technology twitter and media twitter concerning whether journalists should write more positive things about tech companies (no), and if venture capitalists are a bit too thin-skinned for their net worth (yes).
- Lemonade’s IPO went kaboom out of the gate, more than doubling in value. But the CEO isn’t too worried. I spoke with him before we recorded and he was more interested in getting a bedrock of solid, long-term investors than extracting every possible dollar in their raise. And Lemonade had a bunch of money already, so it wasn’t a huge concern.
- We also spent a minute on the possible Uber-Postmates deal, that could get announced early next week. That or Postmates really is serious about going public. We’ll see.
- Next up we had to talk about Mirror, Lululemon, and what’s up with home fitness. Is the trend here to stay? Natasha thinks so, and the rest of the crew are pretty bullish as well. Especially as it is not like we are going to get back to life anytime soon.
- After that it was time to get to a few funding rounds, including the latest from Neo.Tax, and a check-in on the early-stage Lessonbee, which sounds really cool.
- We also crammed in a quick word on Contrary Capital and startup mafias, the Envision accelerator, Discord’s latest $ 100 million round, and we closed with the Final Luckin Letdown.
Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us.
For two months, the people of Hong Kong waited in suspense after China’s legislature approved a new national security law. The legislation’s details were finally made public yesterday and almost immediately went into effect. As many Hong Kong residents feared, the broadly written new law gives Beijing extensive authority over the Special Administrative Region and has the potential to sharply curtail civil liberties.
In response, the United States began the first measures to end the special status it gives to Hong Kong, with the Commerce and State Departments suspending export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and blocking the export of defense equipment.
Much remains uncertain. Hong Kong had also previously enjoyed many freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” principle put into place after the United Kingdom returned control to China. After announcing the new policies, the U.S. government said further restrictions are being considered. Under special status, Hong Kong had privileges including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation from mainland China, but now the future of those is unclear.
Equally opaque is how the erosion of special status and the new national security law will impact Hong Kong’s startups in the future. In conversations with TechCrunch, investors and founders said they believe the region’s ecosystem is resilient, partly because many companies offer online services — especially financial services — and have already established operations in other markets. But they are also keeping an eye on further developments and preparing for the possibility that key talent will want to relocate to other countries.
Connecting audio interfaces to the various mobile and computing devices we use these days can be a confusing headache. The iRig Pro Duo I/O ($ 199.99 USD), which IK Multimedia announced this year at CES and recently released, is a great way to simplify those connections while giving you all the flexibility you need to record high-quality audio anywhere, with any device.
The iRig Pro Duo is a new addition to IK’s lineup based on the original iRig Pro, which adds a second XLR input, as the name implies. It’s still quite small and portable, fitting roughly in your hand, with built-in power optionally supplied via two AA batteries, while you can also power it via USB connection, or with an optional dedicated plug-in power adapter accessory.
Compared to desktop devices like the Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 USB audio interface that’s a popular standard among home audio enthusiasts, the iRig Pro Duo is downright tiny. It’s still beefier than the iRig Pro, of course, but it’s a perfect addition to a mobile podcaster’s kit for ultimate portability while also maintaining all the features and capabilities you need.
The iRig Pro Duo also includes balanced L/R 1/4″ output, built-in 48v phantom power for passive Macs, a 3.5 mm stereo jack for direct monitoring, 2x MIDI inputs and dedicated gain control with simple LED indicators for 48V power status and to indicate audio input peaking.
Beveled edges and a slightly rounded rectangular box design might not win the iRig Pro Duo any accolades from the haute design community, but it’s a very practical form factor for this type of device. Inputs go in one side, and output comes out the other. IK Multimedia employs a unique connector for its output cables, but provides every one you could need in the box for connecting to Mac, iOS, Windows and Android devices.
The whole thing is wrapped in a matte, slightly rubberized outside surface that feels grippy and durable, while also looking good in an understated way that suits its purpose as a facilitation device. The knobs are large and easy to turn with fine-grained control, and there are pads on the underside of the Duo to help it stick a bit better to a surface like a table or countertop.
The lighting system is pretty effective when it comes to a shorthand for what’s on and working with your system, but this is one area where it might be nice to have a more comprehensive on-device audio levels display, for instance. Still, it does the job, and since you’ll likely be working with some kind of digital audio workflow software whenever you’re using it that will have a much more detailed visualizer, it’s not really that much of an issue.
As mentioned, iRig Pro Duo works with virtually all platforms out of the box, and has physical connector cables to ensure it can connect to just about every one as well. IK Multimedia also supplies free DAW software and effects, for all platforms — though you do have to make a choice about which one you’re most interested in since it’s limited to one piece of software per customer.
If you’re looking for a simple, painless and versatile way to either set up a way to lay down some music, or to record a solo or interview podcast, this is an option that ticks essentially all the boxes you could come up with.
Because the relevant Supreme Court precedents predate the smartphone era, the courts are divided on how to apply the Fifth Amendment.
Feed: All Latest
The fact that Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions purchased via the App Store isn’t news. But since the company threatened to boot email app Hey from the platform last week unless its developers paid the customary tribute, the tech world and lawmakers are giving Apple’s revenue share a harder look.
Although Apple’s Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller denied the company was making any changes, a new policy will let developers challenge the very rules by which they were rejected from the platform, which suggests that change is in the air.
According to its own numbers, the App Store facilitated more than $ 500 billion in e-commerce transactions in 2019. For reference, the federal government has given out about $ 529 billion in loans to U.S. businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.
Given its massive reach, is it time for Apple to change its terms? Will it allow its revenue share to go gently into that good night, or does it have enough resources to keep new legislation at bay and mollify an increasingly vocal community of software developers? To examine these questions, four TechCrunch staffers weighed in:
Devin Coldewey: The App Store fee structure “seems positively extortionate”
Apple is starting to see that its simplistic and paternalistic approach to cultivating the app economy may be doing more harm than good. That wasn’t always the case: In earlier days it was worth paying Apple simply for the privilege of taking part in its fast-expanding marketplace.
But the digital economy has moved on from the conditions that drove growth before: Novelty at first, then a burgeoning ad market supercharged by social media. The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional modes of payment: one-time and subscription payments for no-nonsense services. Imagine that!
Combined with the emergence of mobile platforms not just as tools for simple consumption and communication but for serious work and productivity, the stakes have risen. People have started asking, what value is Apple really providing in return for the rent it seeks from anyone who wants to use its platform?
Surely Apple is due something for its troubles, but just over a quarter of a company’s revenue? What seemed merely excessive for a 99-cent app that a pair of developers were just happy to sell a few thousand copies of now seems positively extortionate.
Apple is in a position of strength and could continue shaking down the industry, but it is wary of losing partners in the effort to make its platform truly conducive to productivity. The market is larger and more complicated, with cross-platform and cross-device complications of which the App Store and iOS may only be a small part — but demanding an incredibly outsized share.
It will loosen the grip, but there’s no hurry. It would be a costly indignity to be too permissive and have its new rules be gamed and hastily revised. Allowing developers to push back on rules they don’t like gives Apple a lot to work with but no commitment. Big players will get a big voice, no doubt, and the new normal for the App Store will reflect a detente between moneyed interests, not a generous change of heart by Apple.