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Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.
Happy weekend, everyone. I hope that your week wasn’t too hectic and that you are getting a good recharge in. That said, we have a lot to talk about.
Something that has been cropping up more and more in my inbox, SMS folder and Twitter DMs are venture rounds from startups with an open-source backbone. Essentially, startups have roots in an open-source project, often with the progenitors of that open tech inside the company itself.
A good example of this at the very end stage of the startup world was Confluent. The company went public this week to pretty good effect, pricing above its IPO range and later appreciating further. Confluent is predicated on the open-source tech Kafka, which you’ve probably heard of.
The Exchange caught up with Mike Volpi of Index Ventures, an early backer of Confluent, on the company’s IPO day. During our chat, we got to nibble on the open-source (OSS) startup world, which Volpi said changed dramatically in recent years. From his telling, venture investors back in 2015 weren’t too hyped about open-source startups, arguing that there already was one (Red Hat), and that that was going to be roughly about it.
If we did our math correctly, Index wound up with a stake worth in excess of $1 billion in Confluent at its IPO price. So, the haters were wrong about OSS.
That said, Volpi added that while he’s as bullish on open-source-focused startups as before, the market has become increasingly picked over as more investors pile into backing the model. That inventors are putting more money to work in the space is not a surprise if you’ve been reading startup funding coverage. BuildBuddy is an example that I wrote about last December. Ron covered Tecton and Airbyte recently.
The trend of venture interest in OSS has been building for some time. Hell, VCs wrote about an explosion of open-source startups for TechCrunch back in 2017. But the Confluent IPO and the recent wave of funding rounds for startups in the space seem to indicate that market appetite for such companies has reached a new, higher plateau. (If you are building an OSS-focused startup and recently raised capital, say hi.)
More on Confluent’s IPO
The Exchange also spoke with Confluent CEO Jay Kreps on his company’s IPO day. A few notes from that chat are worth our time. Here are our key takeaways:
Investing is never going back to “normal”: That venture capitalists were able to start doing deals over Zoom was only so surprising. After all, you’d expect your average VC to be somewhat technology savvy. But Kreps said that his IPO roadshow worked well over digital channels, and that he was able to talk to more folks, more quickly than if he had been jet-hopping around the country for face-to-face meetings. If the even more conservative public-market investor set is fine with Zoom, digital pitching is a done deal.
Public markets are still burn friendly: Confluent is a quickly growing software company that is not yet profitable. Its IPO reception is a good indication that losing money remains perfectly acceptable in today’s market. Per Kreps, if you have a huge market — he reckons that Confluent has a $50 billion market to attack — and can show that capital is being invested — CEO code for not being utterly torched by an inefficient business model and cost structure — then losses are just fine. This matters for Q3 IPO hopefuls who have more growth than net income. Which is most of them.
Even public investors like open source: The Exchange also asked Kreps about being an open-source company approaching the public markets. Was it a positive or negative? A positive, per the CEO, adding that technology has a history of being built around open standards, which means that OSS fits neatly into historical trends. And he added that because open-source projects can have strong organic momentum, it can help public investors see future growth at the corporate level. Neat.
OK, how about even more open source news?
Hope you like open-source software news, because I have even more for you. Earlier this month, Prefect raised a $32 million Series B. I didn’t get to cover the round when it happened, but did catch up with the company this week for a quick chat.
The company is based around the PrefectCore, an open-source project. PrefectCore helps companies make sure that their data inflow is set up correctly, focusing on things like scheduling, monitoring, logging and so forth. The company calls this sort of work negative engineering; it falls into a dead space of sorts. No one really wants to work on it, per the startup.
Notably, Prefect, instead of offering a hosted version of its open-source project, instead sells a monitoring service. It thinks that hosting OSS projects is a somewhat old-hat way of monetizing such projects. So, instead of selling hosting or feature-gating, the company’s commercial product is an API that tracks what PrefectCore is managing. If it reports all green lights, good shit, you’re in swell shape. If not, you have an issue.
But what matters is that Confluent shows that OSS startups can reach a huge scale and become big IPOs. And Prefect indicates that there may be even more ways to skin the OSS cat when it comes to making money off open-source software.
Welcome to the 386th edition of Android Apps Weekly. Here are the big headlines from the last week:
Stadia continued its rollout this week. It’s now available on Chromecast on devices with Android TV and Google TV. This comes just a few weeks after it officially launched for those platforms as a whole. The rollout fills in a lot of gaps for Stadia support as the company continues to try and make this work. Hit the link to see the full list of compatible devices.
That said, Apple has a really good idea with its crowd-sourced Find My Phone network. In fact, it’s so good that Google might copy it. Some of the people over at XDA-Developers found a mention of such a network in the latest Google Play Services version. You can read more about it at the link. However, if Apple and Tile can do it, we think Google can too.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a unique blend of a rhythm game and a roguelike dungeon crawler. Players move around dungeons and beat up bad guys. However, they do it to the beat of the music. The game has music for players to use. Alternatively, you can include your own MP3 collection as well. That makes the game one of the more unique ones we’ve seen in recent months. It’s a premium game with a $4.99 price tag. There are no additional in-app purchases or ads.
Rocksmith+ Connect is a music app from Ubisoft. It has a couple of functions. The first is a chromatic tuner that lets you tune various stringed instruments. It includes 32 tuning presets. There are also some guides and lessons for beginner musicians. The lessons part links to the PC version of Rocksmith and its 5 million customers. The app is just okay for right now. A lot of the functions are pretty buggy and the developers have some polishing to do. Keep this one in mind for when the developers finish fixing it because it has a lot of potential.
Match Block is a simple matching game. Players get a giant cloud of various objects. The goal is to match up objects and remove them from the cloud. The levels are also timed so there is an element of rushing. There are various collectibles to unlock and the game progresses with higher difficulty as you go. You also get hints to help you if you get stuck. The game is quite enjoyable and it’s safe to play for all ages. There is a free to play element, but you don’t necessarily need it to progress through the game.
Spotify Greenroom is Spotify’s competitor to apps like Clubhouse. People can host talks and other people can join in and listen. The app lets you browse topics so you only find stuff you actually might like. People can also create their own rooms and host talks as well. It obviously aims to cash in on the popularity of Clubhouse, which might be hard since Clubhouse now has an Android app. Still, the more competitors, the better. This app is in open access beta so you can expect bugs until its stable release.
Baba Is You is one of the more unique puzzle games we’ve seen. The game’s rules are represented by blocks in every level. You can move and change things in order to change the rules of the game. Each block push and rearrangement can change different things about the player or the level. One example the developer gives is turning yourself into a rock. It’s one of those experiences that gets more entertaining the more you let yourself think outside the box. It’s a premium game with a single price tag. To be honest, we think it’s worth it. It’s a pretty good game.
The nation-state hackers who orchestrated the SolarWinds supply chain attack compromised a Microsoft worker’s computer and used the access to launch targeted attacks against company customers, Microsoft said in a terse statement published late on a Friday afternoon.
The hacking group also compromised three entities using password-spraying and brute-force techniques, which gain unauthorized access to accounts by bombarding login servers with large numbers of login guesses. With the exception of the three undisclosed entities, Microsoft said, the password-spraying campaign was “mostly unsuccessful.” Microsoft has since notified all targets, whether attacks were successful or not.
The discoveries came in Microsoft’s continued investigation into Nobelium, Microsoft’s name for the sophisticated hacking group that used SolarWinds software updates and other means to compromise networks belonging to nine US agencies and 100 private companies. The federal government has said Nobelium is part of the Russian government’s Federal Security Service.
It’s been a tough year for business. From ransomware attacks and power outages to cloud downtime and supply-chain disruptions, it’s never been more important to communicate to customers and stakeholders about what’s going wrong and why. Yet, with partial data and misinformation often spreading faster than official word, it’s also never been harder to deliver accurate and timely messages.
Given the complexities of this environment, I wanted to convene a group of specialists to talk about what the future of crisis comms holds for startups, technology companies, and business more broadly. We had a great set of three folks discuss how to build resilient orgs, handle the decentralization going on in tech today, and how to prioritize crisis management over the mundane tasks every day.
Joining us were:
Admiral Thad Allen, who as commandant of the Coast Guard and during his career, was commander of the Atlantic coast during 9/11, and led federal responses during Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Ana Visneski, who worked with Allen on building out the Coast Guard’s first digital presence as an officer and chief of media, is now senior director of communications and community at H20.ai and was formerly global principal of disaster communications for Amazon Web Services.
John Visneski is the chief information security officer (CISO) at Accolade, and was formerly director of information security at The Pokémon Company. He served 10 years in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as chief of executive communications, and yes, is Ana’s brother.
This discussion has been edited and condensed for clarity
Prepping an organization for catastrophe
Danny Crichton: You’ve all been in disaster communications, in some cases for decades. What are some of the top-level lessons you’ve learned about the field?
Admiral Thad Allen: Great communications and great communications people can’t save a dysfunctional organization. There’s only so much you can do with what you’ve got. I want to say that as a proviso because I’ve seen a lot of people try to communicate their way out of a problem.
The big difference between Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 was Katrina was before Twitter and Facebook and Deepwater was after it. In the old days, you went out and did your job. There might be an after-action report, but it was pretty much done within your organizational structure.
I’m going to really date myself. We sent forces into Somalia [around 1993]. It was the first time in history that CNN watched the people come to shore from the amphibious vehicles and I knew life had changed dramatically. There is no operation that takes place these days where the public is not part of the operation, part of the environment, part of the outcomes that are generated. If you fail to realize that, you’re going to fail right away. Anybody who’s got a cell phone enters your world of work.
So the question is, how do you think about that? That’s resulted in a significant Black Lives Matter movement with George Floyd and somebody happened to be there with a cell phone, and if that had not happened, that situation probably would not have turned out the way it did. So the question is what are we to make of that loop?
John Visneski: Generally speaking, your organizational hierarchies are not designed to be optimized for a crisis. They’re designed to build consensus. They’re designed to understand budgets. They’re designed for long-term planning. It’s the same in the military and it’s even worse in the private sector. And so there’s no concept of situational leadership. There’s no concept of who’s actually in charge during a particular crisis.
In recent attacks, the folks that were in my position, didn’t do a good enough job of explaining the technical aspects of what was going on in such a way that their organization could channel that into something that could then be translated to the public.
Ana Visneski: That’s actually called the theory of excellence in crisis communications, which is basically you have to have this transparency and this well-organized system before something goes wrong. And almost everyone doesn’t.
A good example is in 2017, when S3 broke for AWS, which is how I ended up doing crisis comms for them. I looked around and I said, “Well, why don’t we use our crisis comms plan?” And my boss said, “Our what?” And so I ended up building the critical event protocol and I built it based off the Incident Command System (ICS) that is used by federal agencies during a disaster. And essentially it was a big red button that says “Stop! Everyone get on a call, figure out who’s in charge of responding” that just unifies everyone.
Admiral Thad Allen: I’ll give you a classic antidote because I’ve written about it quite a bit. When I was going to the Sloan School at MIT, in December of ’88, we went down to New York and visited a bunch of CEO’s, and one of the days we went across the river to see the CEO at Exxon, a guy named [Lawrence G. Rawl]. During the discussion, I asked, “Bhopal was the biggest industrial accident in the history of the world today. As a CEO running a big corporation, have you thought about what happened if you had a similar Bhopal-type situation?” He spent 20 minutes going over their extremely well-thought-out communications plan and four months later, the Exxon Valdez ran underground and they actually failed at everything.
A Lockheed C-130 plane sprays dispersant over the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA. Image Credits: Natalie Fobes via Getty Images.
John Visneski: Your plan that you write down on paper is only as good as how much you practice it. Right? One of the things that the military typically is pretty good at is practicing before you play. Doing mock drills, doing tabletop exercises, having a red team that throws things at you that you might not expect.
Admiral Thad Allen: Yeah. I’ve dealt with a couple of large firms that have had very big problems. The default setting, if you haven’t thought about this ahead of time, is they go to a subject matter expert and hold them accountable for what the organization should do. That is not the way to do it. You need a designated person to create unity of effort. It’s got to involve the C-suite, and it’s got to involve not only your clients and your stakeholders, but your supply chain.
Ana Visneski: We keep talking about training, but just having a plan in the first place is critical. With some of these big companies, they’re so siloed that when something like this happens, everyone’s trying to do the right thing and running into each other. If you don’t have redundancies built in and backups for your backups, you’re going to go down hard.
You’ve got a plan for what happens if your main spokesperson was the incident? Or what happens if there was an earthquake and, all of a sudden, you don’t have your C-suite to talk? And John can talk a lot about this, but the last mile is another problem with crisis comms. If it’s a big disaster, you’ve got to plan around your tech, how are you going to get the information from the field back to where you can actually broadcast it out to people?
Admiral Thad Allen: When I got called to go to Katrina, I was on my way to the airport and the last thing I did was I sent my son along to a Best Buy to get me a mobile handheld and a SiriusXM receiver, so I could have awareness of what was being done. As far as the communications, a thing like that was the smartest thing I did.
Thad Allen (center) in the disaster aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, September 2005. Image Credits: Justin Sullivan
John Visneski: One of the biggest challenges is this all needs to be resourced, right? Your company needs to actually dedicate resources to that prior planning. To being able to build out the infrastructure, to being able to have hot-swap data centers and locations and things like that. And sometimes whether it’s your board or whether it’s your CFO or whoever’s holding the purse strings for your organization, it’s really hard to justify the return on investment that a lot of folks see as sort of a rainy day fund.
So it’s incumbent upon the leadership of the organization, particularly the leadership that is going to be involved in some sort of a disaster response to get ahead of those conversations and understand how disaster response can do things to protect revenue.
Ana Visneski: Because of the pandemic, we’ve had almost two years of shit hitting the fan. So we’re seeing a lot more C-suite leaders going, “We need to know how to be prepared for what happens next.”
Communicating in a decentralized and flat world
Danny Crichton: If you think about the last 20 years, particularly in the private sector, we went from a model of headquarters buildings, large leadership structures all in one place, oftentimes a fairly hierarchical model of how to operate a company, etc. Today, we’re seeing decentralization, and a sort of horizontalness in a lot of companies. How does this new culture affect disaster communications?
Ana Visneski: Well, now that there is this decentralization, it’s incredibly difficult to wrangle all of your people and get everyone on the same page. And you have to think about what happens if Slack goes down. It goes back to redundancies — you have to have multiple ways of contacting your people.
Along that line, I am not a fan of companies saying is, “You can’t post on social media or you shouldn’t do this or that.” Because all that does is sows distrust. Instead, I am a big fan of training your people to do it right. Of course, you have to have company policy that if someone during a crisis is posting secure information or lies, or is just being a racist jerk, obviously there are consequences, but training your people to use the tool right, helps with transparency.
Admiral Thad Allen: My motto when I was commandant was transparency of information breeds self-correcting behavior. If you put enough information out and everybody holds it, organizational intent becomes embedded into how people see the environment they’re in. They’re going to understand what’s going on and you won’t have to give them a direct order to do the right thing. They’ll understand that. And I think that’s really important.
In the military, we have something called a “common operating picture,” and it’s basically a display where everybody’s at, what they’re doing at any one time. It’s not an order. It’s not hierarchical. Instead, it provides context and provides a window into what you’re doing.
So I think there’s a difference between creating a common operating picture and what actually constitutes authority. If you can separate those, the more you put into the former, the less of the latter you’re going to have to do.
John Visneski: I’m based in Seattle. We have an office in Philadelphia, an office in Houston, an office in San Francisco, and an office in Prague. There’s people in all those offices who are critical for our business. The advantage we have is the advantage that a lot of tech organizations take for granted, which is we were already going through a digital transformation, or we were already on the backside of digital transformation. Cloud focus, Software as a Service, Slack, email, Signal on my phone, a million different ways for me to communicate with my team, communicate with leadership and things like that.
What we take for granted is, there are a lot of organizations in the United States and worldwide that have not gone through that digital transformation. No offense to the military, but when I was at the Pentagon, if email went down, you might as well play hockey in the hallways because no work was going to get done.
Admiral Thad Allen: You can add losing GPS as well.
John Visneski: Exactly. So a lot of organizations have had to come to terms with how do they communicate when they’re distributed like that? The answer isn’t one-size-fits-all. It might be different for an Accolade, different from a Facebook, different from a Twitter, different from a Bank of America or a Bank of New York Mellon. Just based on what their architecture looked like pre-pandemic, what their architecture looks now, and what sort of investments they’ve made to future-proof themselves, should something this ever happen again.
Ana Visneski: I was on a Twitter Space recently, and I was talking that in the United States, especially those of us who are in the tech industry, we tend to take for granted all of this stuff. There are all of these assumptions that are made. In reality, not only do you have to deal with the last mile if a disaster happens, but you also have to deal with the fact that not everyone has one of these super computers in their pockets all over the world.
Residents walk past a downed cell network tower in Polangui, Albay province on December 26, 2016. Image Credits: CHARISM SAYAT/AFP via Getty Images
Talking about technological arrogance, but people forget radio. People forget that there are these older technologies that in a disaster are still where you’re going to go. John makes fun of me all the time, because I’m trying the new thing every time it comes out, but you can’t forget the stuff that works like radio in the morning.
The crisis of crises and how to handle the infinite range of disasters today
Danny Crichton: The next subject I want to get to is the range and diversity of crises that are hitting organizations today. The Admiral had brought up Exxon and ’89. Okay, you’re an oil company, you have an oil spill — I wouldn’t call it predictable, but you can certainly create a plan. You can say, “Here’s how we need to communicate. Here’s how we handle this.”
But look at the range of stuff we’ve had to deal with in the last year. Everything from a pandemic to Texas power outages, wildfires in California, TSMC is dealing with a drought in Taiwan, you’ve got internal employee hostile workplace protests, external protests, ransomware attacks, bitcoin heists, and on and on.
Ultimately does the same toolbox work no matter what the crisis is? Or do different types of crises demand different kinds of responses? And how would you know the difference?
Admiral Thad Allen: I taught crisis leadership in large complex organizations for four years at George Washington University. In the last class, I told my students to write down the worst catastrophe they could ever think would happen that you have to go and wake up the president in the middle of the night. They all wrote it down on a piece of paper, folded it up and put it in a ball cap. I shook it up and pulled one of the pieces out.
I said to the class, “Just listen to what I’m about to say. Thanks for getting up and coming in early to the White House Press Corps office this morning. I want you to know the president was notified at 4:30 this morning about what happened. He and the First Lady were overwhelmed with grief for the loss of life and the impact on the community. We’ve set up a schedule where we’re going to brief the president every four hours and a meeting following the brief to the president. There’ll be a brief to the press 30 minutes after that. The cabinet’s been advised.” And I went on and on and on.
I finished and I said, “What do you think about that?” And James Carville, who was visiting, said, “It’s great” and he asked, “Well, what was the event?” And I said, “I never opened the paper.” So to your point there’s some things that are just a goddammed no-brainer.
Ana Visneski: I took the ICS [Incident Command System] structure and rebuilt it basically to work in the corporate setting. And the reason that’s so effective is it’s built to be flexible. You have someone who’s in charge overall, you have someone who’s in charge of communications. You have someone who’s in charge of logistics. You have someone who’s in charge of security, and it flexes up or down. And so no one can necessarily predict a “black swan” event. But you can build a core response system that is as close to all hazards as possible.
Admiral Thad Allen: Predict complexity.
Ana Visneski: Yes. And you predict that it will be complex and that nothing goes to plan. We’ve made a lot of jokes that nothing prepared me for a wedding during COVID like having been a first responder. Well, my brother got married last year too. And I did a little bit of help there with my background, but for my wedding, nothing was the same. And it’s the same thing during a disaster. Katrina is different from Gustaf. Gustaf was different from Sandy, but they’re all hurricanes at their core.
Admiral Thad Allen: I just spent an hour with a bunch of government employees earlier today on the same topic. What happens in a “complex” situation is that existing standard operating procedures, legal theories, frameworks, and governance break down and do not work, and they have to be replaced with some other way to deal with it.
ICS allows you to do, and with the right standard doctrine, you can get pretty close to a 50-60% solution that will get you headed in the right direction while you figure out the rest of it.
John Visneski: I’ll say at least from the tech side of things is those plans need to abstract technology almost entirely. Take it up to a level where it doesn’t matter what your communications method is from a technological standpoint. Don’t assume that you’re going to have the bits and bytes flowing the way that we do now. Don’t assume cell towers, don’t assume power, don’t assume any of those sorts of things, because the second that you predicate your plan on those assumptions is the second that the complexity is going to come in and tell you you’re wrong. The 40% that is not planned for is going to become what outweighs the 60%.
Ana Visneski: I think one of the things the tech industry kind of runs into is we are so reliant on the technology now that we can’t imagine what we’d do without it. At the end of the day, good crisis comms relies on good people, and good crisis and disaster response relies on the people doing it.
So you have to build your plan around the people and the structure there, and then use the technology at hand during the event to augment what plans you already have for people. Because by the time I’d write a crisis plan for something. If I included Twitter and blah, blah, blah, well, one like John just said, it’s going to break. Or by the time we have the crisis, the technology has changed and we’re using something else. So you got to write it from a perspective of people first and tech is the tool.
Prioritizing crisis management over the day-to-day metrics of a business
Image Credits: VectorInspiration via Getty Images
Danny Crichton: Okay, so obviously we should all spend more time figuring out how to communicate better during crises. But everyone is busy, and every person is trying to hit whatever metric they need for the quarter. How do you get a low-risk but hugh-impact issue like crisis management on the priority list?
John Visneski: For a B2B organization or a B2C organization or really anybody that’s selling a particular service, typically you need to lean on compliance requirements first. So customer contracts are going to say, from a security perspective, your data security addendum, your privacy addendums, and things that are generally going to have some language that centers around having a business continuity plan, a disaster response plan, an incident response plan, a cyber incident response plan, and then the really good contracts are the ones that actually specify you’ll do it no less than two times a year. So the first thing to lean on is those compliance requirements, because those will actually directly tie to revenue.
Then the secret sauce and what a lot of us in the cyber community are trying to get better at is how do you take that next step? We know that compliance does not necessarily mean security. We know that just because we have a written business continuity plan and that we say we exercise it, we present a report that says we exercise it, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going that next mile to make sure that we train our employees. The education piece of it is really what we need to advocate to get additional resources for.
Admiral Thad Allen: My pitch to these big companies is if you’ve got a regulatory requirement, you have a plan that’s required. Why would you fund that and not take the opportunity to add just a little bit of incremental effort and resources to take advantage of the natural cycle that you’re required to do anyway?
Ana Visneski: Hit them where the money is, because a good crisis plan can range in price. Let’s say you spend $200,000 getting your system set up. If you’re looking at these companies, a disaster or a crisis could tank your company. Or it could cost you millions and millions of dollars if you’re not prepared. So at the end of the day, the ROI is huge.
And like I said before, with COVID having just happened, I think more of leadership is aware that, “Hey, we’re not crisis proof just because we’re a gaming company or just because we’re whatever.” No, one’s crisis proof. So at the end of the day, you’re going to save money. If you just do it in the first place, because then you just have to update it every year, and you just have to do a little bit of training. The biggest cost is on the front end and then just maintaining it after that and updating it.
John Visneski: Everyone knows that if something bad happens, if you don’t have plans in place, you’re going to lose a shit load of money. But let’s think about it from a consumer standpoint. Generally speaking, your average consumer is becoming much more conversant when it comes to privacy.
Moving forward, it isn’t enough just to say, “If we don’t have this, things can go really bad.” It’s also to say, “We can leverage this if we do this really well. And if we can advertise to our customers, whether it’s another business or whether it’s the consumer that not only do we protect your data, but also we have all these plans in place in order to react to complex situations.” You can actually use that as something that separates you from your near-peer competitors in the business world.
Ana Visneski: At the end of the day, if the trust isn’t there in the tech and the trust isn’t there that you’re doing the right things, it doesn’t matter what you do when a crisis hits. You’re already in the trashcan.
Hey Equity fam, we have a small clip of extra for you today. After our live show — listen to the recording here, it was good fun — we got to take a few questions from the audience, audio that was not included in the main episode as we didn’t have the time. But we’ve cut it out, given it a short polish, and have it for you today.
If you wanted even more Equity, here you go!
As a small note from the team, we know that this week’s Wednesday episode didn’t have the best audio quality. And to do a Twitter Spaces experiment the same week as a live show might have felt like a lot of change. Don’t worry, it just worked out that way. Equity will keep tinkering and having fun, but we’re back to normal next week.
Enjoy the Q&A, and we’ll see you at our next live show!
There’s rarely a moment to rest on your laurels in the wireless earbud game, lest you be caught by Apple. Precious few sets of premium earbuds can go toe-to-toe with the AirPods and come out on the other side. This time, we just might have the one pair to rule them all: Sony’s WF-1000XM4. Let’s find out what makes them so special in our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of true wireless earphones than the Sony WF-1000XM4, and the user experience is as good as it gets. The sound quality, attenuation, and touch controls are all top-notch.
Sony opted for some recycled paper packaging on the WF-1000XM4, which is nice to see. Inside that packaging, you’ll find a charging case, three sizes of foam ear tips, a USB-C charging cable, and the earbuds themselves. While you could walk through all of the documentation, the setup process is very simple, but you may want to start by downloading the Headphones Connect app from the Play Store.
Like any good companion app, it comes with plenty of software goodies. You can manage your controls, select your preferred virtual assistant, adjust your EQ, and plenty more.
Once you get around to actually using your Sony WF-1000XM4, you’ll notice that they’re much smaller than the Sony WF-1000XM3. As a result, they fit much better in your ears. The capacitive touch controls make playback a breeze, and we can’t forget about the handy IPX4 rating for sweat resistance.
Sony’s new V1 processor is far more energy-efficient than in previous generations, so noise-cancelling and premium playback won’t drain your juice as quickly anymore. You can also tap into Qi wireless charging with the newly upgraded case — which also happens to be much smaller than the previous WF-1000XM3 case. If you’d prefer to stay wired, you can turn to your trusty USB-C cable to get the job done.
Take your time with the foam tips
We’re big fans of comfortable foam ear tips, but they take a little bit of warming up. You’ll get a great seal once you nail down your size, but you’ll have to squeeze the tips for a few seconds until you can comfortably place them in your ears. Once you have the earbuds in, hold them steady until the foam can expand to fit your ear canal just right.
Now you can check your fit with the test in Sony’s Headphones Connect app. If it comes back and tells you that your seal is good, then you’re off to the races. If not, it might be time to try larger or smaller tips.
How do you control the earbuds?
Once you get the Sony WF-1000XM4 in your ears, it’s time to get comfortable with the touch controls. To keep life easy, we’ve put together a quick table to get you started:
Play / Pause
Mute / ANC / Ambient sound
Skip forward / Answer call
Activate smart assistant
As you can see, the right earbud is the star of the show. If you prefer to use your left earbud, you can remap some of the controls in the Headphones Connect app. You can also remove one earbud from your ear if you want to quickly pause music playback. To enable passthrough audio and hear the outside world, a simple long-press will do.
You won’t find a pairing button at home on your charging case, so the process might seem intimidating at first. Luckily, you only have to go through the pairing steps the first time you add a device.
Remove your earbuds from the case and put them in your ears to get started. Then, hold your fingers on both buds for about six seconds to activate pairing mode. You should hear a robotic voice declare that your Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones are in pairing mode. Now, select your earbuds from the Bluetooth menu on your phone.
After you’ve paired the first time, the process is much easier. Simply pop your earbuds out of the case and they will automatically connect to a remembered device — usually your phone.
Unlike most earphones on the market today, Sony packed its WF-1000XM4 with Bluetooth 5.2 capabilities. It’s far more exciting than it sounds, because you should get better battery life overall provided that your phone supports Bluetooth 5.2 as well. We don’t know for sure yet, but it’s possible that the Sony WF-1000XM4 will support all of the mandatory 5.2 codecs (which may well include the anticipated LC3 codec). We’ll be sure to update this if we get confirmation from Sony. Right now, we do know that the earphones support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC codecs.
An IPX4 rating means moisture like sweat and rain shouldn’t damage your earphones.
Although the Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones are not waterproof, they do carry an IPX4 rating against moisture. Essentially, that means you can use them to workout and sweat as much as you please, but don’t take the earphones for a swim. Too much water will spell doom, and that’s not what you want if you’re spending quite this much.
Just make sure that you run through the fit test again if you plan to wear the WF-1000XM4 on a run. You don’t want to risk an imperfect fit and lose an earbud while you’re in the zone.
Our sister site SoundGuys was able to measure the new Sony WF-1000XM4 in the lab, and found the default sound has boosted bass and quieted treble.
Credit: Chris Thomas / Android Authority
The Sony WF-1000XM4 sound very good, as should be expected at this price point, but there are some quirks. In the chart above, the pink line indicates the SoundGuys house curve, which it posits as the ideal frequency response, while the cyan line represents the Sony WF-1000XM4 response. You can see how this deviates from our sister site’s curve quite a bit, particularly as it applies to treble notes.
Ultimately, this means that it might be harder to hear high-frequency sounds like the detailed clang of repeated cymbal hits, a consequence of the amplified bass notes. While this may not appeal to audio purists, it’s a relatively common consumer-oriented trait.
Sony’s default profile does actually sound pretty good for older recordings that tend to underemphasize bass. Mentioning older tunes, the Sony WF-1000XM4 also packs Sony’s latest digital sound enhancement engine, known as DSEE Extreme. It essentially upsamples your music, bringing older, lossy tracks closer in line with modern expectations. Even if you can’t enjoy the benefits of DSEE Extreme on higher bitrate tracks, you’ll be happy to know that Sony’s buds support proprietary 360 Reality Audio which helps to bring spatial audio to your favorite songs.
How to EQ the Sony WF-1000XM4 frequency response
Overall, we found that the sound profile is easy enough to fix with some simple adjustments to de-emphasize the mids and bass in the Headphones Connect app. You can simply open the equalizer section of the app and tinker to your heart’s content. Those of you dead-set against tinkering might find that you miss details here and there when it comes to high notes.
How well do the Sony WF-1000XM4 cancel noise?
You might have guessed this from how much we talk about the importance of a good seal, but the Sony WF-1000XM4 get top marks in the noise-cancelling department. Sony’s active noise-cancelling (ANC) is some of the best in the business, and the foam ear tips make it easier to fit just about any ear. That perfect fit contributes to the overall isolation, which can help to block out sounds like conversations at work or on your commute.
Before you even get around to cranking your ANC, the foam tips have already started to do their job against casual sounds. Provided you get a good seal, the foam should cut street noise down to one-quarter or half as loud as it would normally sound. Once you do activate your ANC, you should see most droning sounds around 50Hz or above drop to approximately one-sixteenth or one quarter as loud. It’s impressive overall, but keep your expectations tempered: it can’t outcompete with the Sony WH-1000XM4.
If you’re not sure about totally blocking the outside world, you can easily toggle your ANC with the left earbud. Keep tapping until you hear a robotic voice announce “ambient sound” in your ear. Now you should be able to hear the environment a bit better. You can also check out the “speak to chat” feature, which recognizes when you start a conversation and automatically enables audio passthrough.
Is the battery life any good?
There’s no need for any reservations in the battery department, as the Sony WF-1000XM4 can manage almost eight hours on a single charge. Once you add in about two extra charges from the included case, you’re looking at right around 24 hours of total playback. If you only listen while you commute, this should be more than good enough to last you an entire week. It’s not the best battery life we’ve ever tested, but Sony did cram a lot into a small package.
The USB-C/wireless charging case can fast charge the earbuds: just five minutes in the case yields 60 minutes of playback. This is a great feature for intercontinental flyers.
How does the Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone stack up?
Like the battery life, Sony’s microphone is good but not excellent. We noticed that it suffers a bit if you’re using the AAC codec. It works well for calls, though, and Sony added a handy feature that can differentiate between speech and background noise. It can then boost your audio while you’re in a call, even if you don’t notice the change yourself. In fact, that’s the whole point: Sony made its buds smarter without making you worry about the changes.
Check out our sample below to listen for yourself:
Sony WF-1000XM4 review: The verdict
If you can afford it, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are truly one of the best pairs of wireless earbuds you can buy. These ‘buds have the audio chops we’ve come to expect from Sony, and the hardware will last a good long time. You’ll want it to last as long as possible, too, as the $279 price point is sure to eat up a good chunk of your headphone budget. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but the best things in life often come at a price.
If you want the best true wireless earphones, the Sony WF-1000XM4 have to be in the discussion.
You might be expecting Sony’s WF-1000XM4 to replace the previous WF-1000XM3, but you would be wrong. Instead, the older earbuds are now more affordable at $229. The newer WF-1000XM4 is a better set of earphones all around, but the older earbuds are tried and true and your wallet will thank you.
Now for the real question: should you grab the Sony WF-1000XM4 over a pair of Apple’s AirPods? Well, they cost a solid $30 more than the AirPods Pro, so it’s certainly a tough choice for Apple users. The Sony earbuds cancel noise better, they fit better, and they offer a steadier connection than the AirPods Pro. However, you won’t have to tinker with your AirPods to get the right sound profile. Apple users may benefit from the smooth integrations as well thanks to the H1 chip, but the WF-1000XM4 still pack enough extra punch to justify the cost difference.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-cancelling earbuds with plenty of software features to set themselves apart.
Samsung‘s next flagship foldable launch is hurtling towards us. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 will be the third iteration of the firm’s bendy series, and judging by rumors, it’s shaping up to be the most intriguing entry yet.
Below, you’ll find a comprehensive roundup of the credible leaks, rumors, and news surrounding the Galaxy Z Fold 3 so far. Be sure to bookmark this article and check back frequently to ensure you don’t miss any updates.
We’ve had the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and more recently, the jump to the Galaxy Z Fold moniker. So is Samsung set to shake up its foldable line name yet again? We don’t think so, and there’s no evidence suggesting that it will.
Samsung seems entirely comfortable with its current foldable naming scheme, so we don’t expect it to deviate from the Galaxy Z Fold moniker. Furthermore, considering the device would be the third iteration of its large foldable, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 title also seems set in stone. Notably, a leaked press render from tipster Evan Blass seemingly confirms this title, too.
As for the foldable’s release date, it remains a big mystery surrounding the device. Conflicting rumors have cited dates from June all the way through to September for the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s debut. Korean publication The Elec previously stated a July launch is likely. However, another rumor suggests Samsung may host a smartphone launch event on August 3.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Design
Our first look at the foldable came in May, and it didn’t bring huge surprises. The alleged promotional renders, stemming from a Twitter tipster, suggested the foldable would still open like a book and adopt similar stylings to the Galaxy Z Fold 2. There are some key differences, though.
The images hint at S Pen compatibility, a slimmer triple rear camera design, and the inclusion of an under-display camera. This would make it Samsung’s first under-display camera phone, but the second non-Note smartphone line to support the S Pen.
Crisper images of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 broke cover on June 24 courtesy of tipster Evan Blass. The shot below appears to be a press render and corroborated some details of the above leak.
The render includes an S Pen, suggesting the foldable may not just support the stylus but ship with it. This also makes sense considering Samsung isn’t launching a Note device this year. While this effectively makes the Z Fold 3 this year’s Note replacement, it’s unclear if there will be a slot to store it in the foldable. Early rumors suggest this may not be possible.
We can’t verify this as the render doesn’t showcase the phone’s bottom edges. The cover is also hidden from view. We do expect Samsung to include the cover display on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, though.
Specs and features
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 recently passed through the FCC, revealing a few key feature additions. This listing confirmed the existence of S Pen support, UWB support, NFC, sub-6GHz and mmWave connectivity, and reverse charging at up to 9W. Interestingly, MST technology is also present, which is a boon for Samsung Pay users.
The FCC also confirmed the inclusion of a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC, likely the Snapdragon 888. We also know from previous listings that the charger certified for the phone will support 25W charging.
Rumors in April pointed to a possible IP rating for the Galaxy Z Fold 3. Although we don’t think it would sport an IP68 rating — the current benchmark for flagships — any IP rating would inspire confidence in the phone’s durability.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Price and availability
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
Samsung hasn’t dramatically upped the price of its flagships in 2021, so we don’t believe the Galaxy Z Fold 3 will see a huge price spike. Its predecessor debuted at $1,999, a similar price to the original Galaxy Fold.
Samsung doesn’t have much foldable competition, so it doesn’t have to consider the Galaxy Z Fold 3 rival’s pricing. However, considering the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is meant to entice Galaxy Note users to upgrade, a slight price decrease could definitely help.
It’s also possible Samsung will renew its trade-in program for those wanting to switch out a Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Z Fold 2 for the new model.
As for availability, expect the device to be available worldwide soon after its debut. It’s unclear how the global chipset shortage will impact the pace of the rollout, though.
Users in China may receive a custom Galaxy Z Fold 3 rebranded as the Galaxy W22 5G, but the device may only debut in November.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: What we want to see
Those are all the rumors we know about so far, but we still have our own wishlist of what we’d like to see Samsung include with the Galaxy Z Fold 3. Here’s what we think Samsung should add to its upcoming foldable phone.
A tougher main screen
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Samsung already introduced Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, enabling better durability even though you still technically had a plastic layer above it. We’d love to see the manufacturer take this a step further and introduce an even tougher main display.
We’re not quite sure how Samsung could accomplish this, but we already know that companies like Corning are working on Gorilla Glass for foldable phones. Either way, a foldable screen that can’t be damaged by a fingernail would be great. A tougher screen would also enable our next entry on this Galaxy Z Fold 3 wishlist…
S Pen support
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Yes, S Pen support seems like a no-brainer for a foldable phone like the Galaxy Fold range. But the aforementioned toughness issues mean that poking this display with an S Pen will damage the panel.
According to the leaked images earlier in this article, it looks like S Pen support is all but confirmed.
A lighter design
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
One of our main complaints about the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was that it was a bulky, heavy device. At almost 300g, this is significantly heavier than even the largest, chunkiest phones on the market like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, and Asus ROG Phone 5. It’s understandable given the engineering complexity and presence of two screens, but it’s still very heavy.
We’d like to see Samsung shave some weight off the Galaxy Z Fold 3. We wouldn’t be opposed to the company making the phone a little thinner either, although not at the expense of other specs or durability.
Water resistance of some kind
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
Foldable phones are complex machines compared to traditional phones, and this makes water/splash resistance an exceptionally stiff challenge. But, if it’s possible in any way, we’d like to see Samsung make this a reality with the Galaxy Z Fold 3.
We’re not expecting an IP67 or IP68 design here, but we’d even be happy with a splash-resistant design instead. In fact, we’ve previously seen the Motorola Razr 5G bring a water-repellent coating to the table, so some measure of protection is clearly possible.
A cheaper price (or a cheaper variant)
Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
One of the biggest downsides of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is its $2,000 price tag. This isn’t the priciest foldable phone around, but it could definitely be cheaper. So we’d like to see Samsung deliver a cheaper price tag.
Alternatively, a cheaper Galaxy Z Fold 3 variant would be a great option too. The company could theoretically make compromises to areas like RAM (from 12GB to 8GB), cameras (using cheaper sensors or cutting the telephoto lens), display (using older Gorilla Glass on the traditional screen), and design (using plastic backs instead of glass) in order to reach a much lower price tag.
High refresh rate on both screens
Credit: Eric Zeman / Android Authority
High refresh rate displays are increasingly common across the industry, with even budget phones offering 90Hz or 120Hz screens these days. This tech allows for smoother scrolling and smoother animations.
The Galaxy Z Fold 2 offered a 120Hz main screen but settled for a standard 60Hz external smartphone display. It was a rather weird move, but Samsung could rectify this by offering a 120Hz smartphone screen in the new Galaxy Fold.
That’s what we want to see from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. What about you? Let us know by voting in our poll below or leaving a comment.
One of the most glaring faults of Apple’s laptop line is the built-in webcams. Apple looks to finally be moving to 1080 with the newest iMac and its FaceTime HD camera, but that doesn’t help anyone with a current Mac. We’ve all spent way too much time over the past 14 months in Zoom meetings, so in hindsight, it would have been great to see Apple upgrade the built-in FaceTime cameras years ago, but they didn’t. In its absence, many people have taken to upgrading to an external option like the Logitech StreamCam and Papalook PA930. What if there was another option that you likely already own? Let’s look at Camo, an app to use your iPhone as your Mac webcam.
Apple is expected to release iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 later this fall. As developers explore the new operating system, we’re able to discover new things on it. For example, in iOS 15, hotspot connections will feature a stronger WPA3 security protocol.