Weekend Roundup: Apple Has ‘Knives Out’; Layoffs Looming

From rising chatter about layoffs to the Apple iPhone’s stringent product placement to the new Xbox specs, this week had something for pretty much everyone. Let’s jump in!

Layoffs Looming?

Dozens of startups are laying off thousands of workers, according to a new analysis by The New York Times. At the same time, startups are struggling to raise money—a notable contrast to a few years ago, when banks and venture-capital firms seemed only too happy to pour millions of dollars into tiny and unproven firms.

According to the Times calculations, some 30 startups have cut 8,000 jobs over the past four months. Some of these layoffs have been high profile: In November, for example, a beleaguered WeWork began winding down a significant portion of its workforce in the wake of a failed IPO attempt. In January, e-scooter rental firm Lime slammed the brakes on a few years of explosive growth, laying off 14 percent of its workforce and pulling out of 12 markets—and it wasn’t the only scooter company to retreat.

The big question, of course, is whether this burst of layoffs is restricted to startups that grew too big too fast, or if there’s a broader rot within the tech industry. Certainly there have been layoffs at larger and mature firms—for example, Google Cloud recently laid off a “small” number of employees, and VMware will reportedly dismiss a selection. But bigger companies semi-routinely “adjust” their workforces, so reports of relatively small-scale employee departures aren’t necessarily an indicator that we’re on the verge of a massive implosion.

Throw something like the coronavirus into the mix—with its potentially catastrophic effects on the economy and available funding—and there’s a chance that other tech companies could decide to tighten the belt in coming months. We’ll have to wait and see.

X Marks the (Xbox) Spot

If you’re interested in video games (either playing them, developing them, or both), you’re no doubt aware that Microsoft has a new Xbox in the works. This next-generation device, the Xbox Series X (go ahead, say that five times fast), features some big firepower for rendering games, including a custom-designed processor that leverages AMD’s Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architectures.

“Delivering four times the processing power of an Xbox One and enabling developers to leverage 12 TFLOPS of GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) performance—twice that of an Xbox One X and more than eight times the original Xbox One” is how the Xbox corporate team’s recent blog post summed up that processing power.

There are also reported upgrades to everything from SSD storage to support for 120 fps. For game-players, there’s supposedly a good deal of backward compatibility with older Xbox platforms. For developers, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft approaches the tools and portals for building and distributing Xbox games; with Sony poised to unleash a new PlayStation, and Nintendo’s Switch still going strong, a healthy game and developer ecosystem will be a necessary precondition for any kind of market victory.

Apple Has Its Knives Out

Source: Vanity Fair/YouTube

Hollywood has a long, proud tradition of allowing product placement in films and television shows—sometimes it’s E.T. eating Reese’s Pieces, and every so often, you get something like 2013’s “The Internship,” which was essentially a two-hour advertisement for Google (and a very serious contender for the un-funniest “comedy” of the decade).  

What’s interesting is when companies don’t want their products featured in certain contexts. According to Rian Johnson, director of the mystery film “Knives Out” (as well as “The Last Jedi,” arguably the best “Star Wars” film), Apple really doesn’t want cinematic villains using an iPhone. Ever.

“Apple, they let you use iPhones in movies, but—and this is very pivotal if you’re ever watching a mystery movie—bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera,” Johnson told Vanity Fair (hat tip to Ars Technica for the link). He added: “Every single filmmaker that has a bad guy in their movie that’s supposed to be a secret wants to murder me right now.”

If Apple gives filmmakers free iPhones as product placement, the company can almost certainly dictate how those phones are used. But if the filmmakers buy the devices on their own, it’s hard to see how Apple could determine their use. In any case, who’s shocked that Apple might potentially be super, ah, prickly detail-oriented about product placement? Not us!

Have a great weekend, everyone!