Weekend Roundup: Apple’s AirTag, Foxconn Shrinkage

You made it to the weekend! Before you sign off, let’s touch on some of the big tech stories from the week, including some new Apple products and Foxconn’s decision to shrink a huge, much-publicized project in Wisconsin. 

AirTag Highlights Apple’s Looming Anti-Competitive Debate

Apple used its April 20 event to roll out a number of new products, including colorful iMacs powered by the company’s new M1 chip. What drew most of the audience’s attention, though, was AirTag, a $29 Bluetooth tracker that you can attach to pretty much any item you tend to lose frequently, such as your wallet or keys.   

As soon as Apple unveiled AirTag, people immediately began comparing it to Tile, a similar device that’s been on the market for quite some time. One of those people was Tile’s General Counsel Kirsten Daru, who claimed during an April 21 U.S. Senate hearing that AirTag was yet another example of Apple’s antitrust practices. 

Daru described how the once-cordial relationship between Apple and Tile sourced once it became clear that the former was interested in developing its own Bluetooth tracker. “If Apple turned on us, it can turn on anyone,” she said, according to The Verge. “And Apple has demonstrated that it won’t change unless someone makes them, making legislation so critical.”

Daru was just one of a handful of executives testifying about how Apple’s overwhelming size had hobbled their respective companies’ ability to compete in the open marketplace. Nor is this the first time that the issue has come up: For months, companies large and small have grumbled publicly about how Google and Apple allegedly use their app stores to choke off competition and siphon away oversized shares of other companies’ revenues. Epic Games, maker of the ultra-popular “Fortnite” game, is still locked in a vicious legal battle with Apple over App Store revenues, arguing that Apple is trying to exert a monopoly over how mobile software is distributed. 

But will the U.S. government actually produce legislation that curbs how Apple and Google structure their app stores? That’s a tougher question to answer, especially given the size and power of the two companies’ lobbying efforts. Apple would probably argue that, in the case of companies like Tile, it’s all just fair competition. 

Foxconn Scales Back Its Wisconsin Ambitions 

In 2017, Foxconn announced an ambitious plan to build a display-panel manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. The $10 billion project would have employed more than 13,000 workers, with a targeted completion date of late 2020. Then-President Donald Trump, Governor Scott Walker, and other Wisconsin politicians trumpeted the development as a game-changer for the state’s technology industry, although critics called out the $3 billion in tax incentives as wasteful.

Unfortunately, it’s now clear that the project will never reach that promised size. According to TechCrunch, the revised investment now stands at $672 million, with a targeted headcount of 1,454 employees. That’s after years of issues with the project, from local water rights to a lack of suppliers within reasonable distance

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state—the last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me,” current Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers wrote in a statement. “Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”

It’s another reminder of how even the biggest plans can change rapidly in the tech industry—and how one deal can make or break a state’s tech fortunes.

Helicopter on Mars

We’re flying a little drone helicopter on Mars. On April 19, Ingenuity had a 40-second flight in the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere, followed by another attempt on April 22. It’s a stunning reminder of what technologists can pull off if given enough time and resources. 

That’s it, everyone! Have a great weekend!