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Saturday, March 20, 2021 By Lucas Matney

Hello friends, and welcome to Week in Review.

Last week, I talked about the future value of Roblox. After another week on public markets, investors seem to think that around $40 billion is a pretty accurate value for the company. This week, I’m looking at Facebook’s efforts to own its destiny.

If you're reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

The big thing

This week, Mark Zuckerberg made an appearance on Clubhouse again. This time, he didn’t talk about augmented reality, he talked about Facebook’s rough reality dealing with platform limitation imposed by Apple. It was the latest in a long series of unconventional PR moves from the company aiming to garner sympathy for their plight on iOS.

The fact is that while painting Apple as anti-competitive — a label many, many other developers have also used — might be kind of helpful for Facebook, it knows that what it really has to do is build an entirely new version of mobile where it holds the same power that Apple does. As the Oculus Rift nears its fifth birthday, it’s clear that’s pretty much what they’ve spent the last five years working on.

Apple and Facebook are both building towards a future where AR devices dominate our digital lives and while Facebook has been building in public with Oculus, we’ve only heard rumors about Apple’s plans. Building in public has given us the benefit of seeing what exactly a future with Facebook as a platform or application store owner would look like. The reality is, it doesn’t feel all that different from what Apple has been doing with the iPhone’s App Store.

I spoke with a handful of VR developers this week who each had harsh words for Facebook’s Oculus Store and platform rules. Plenty of the complaints centered around how Facebook has restricted their ability to monetize in certain ways or has opted to take a bigger slice of the pie than they think is reasonable. For the most part, they say Facebook tends to tell them exactly what Apple has told Facebook over the years — something to the effect of,”Take it or leave it, we made the hardware, just be happy you have a platform to sell things on in the first place.”

Facebook would certainly argue that the pretty key difference here is that Apple has more than recouped its initial investment on building out the iPhone platform and that Oculus is far from a money-making vertical for Facebook. They’ve dumped billions of dollars into the ecosystem and I think it would be very fair to say that VR would not exist in any real capacity today without them. At the same time, Facebook isn’t exactly struggling financially and if they’re going to make the argument that Apple’s commissions are negatively impacting them, they should be sure all of their developers are feeling satisfied with their situation.

The road to the first mainstream augmented reality device will take several years and critically, most people believe there’s going to be a decent amount of overlap where people are using both phones and AR glasses to meet their digital needs. If that’s the case, I think it’s clear that Apple is going to have quite the advantage in convincing consumers to buy “matching” hardware. Facebook’s success is going to depend heavily on capitalizing on their head start in virtual reality and their relationship with the developers that have already been building spatial content for those devices.

The big thing image

Image Credits: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

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Other things

Google lowers Play Store commissions
App developers have been complaining for years about the hefty app store commissions that platform owners take off the top of their revenues. This week, Google followed in Apple’s footsteps to reduce the tax it takes on the first $1 million in revenue that an app developer earns. This number was previously 30%, now 15%. This won’t address the complaints of Google’s more deep-pocketed critics, but it may satiate smaller developers that were echoing their complaints.

Instagram adds teen safety tools
Days after TikTok aimed to curb online bullying with a suite of new tools, Instagram is doing the same — launching a number of teen-centric privacy tools that add in additional safe guards for younger users.

Stripe hits $95 billion valuation
Startup valuations are reaching aggressive new heights as of late and Stripe’s latest financing raises the ceiling even higher as a massive $600 million funding rounds takes their private value to $95 billion.

Facebook shows off AR watch concept
The future of augmented reality is lightweight glasses with integrated displays but how do you control those experiences? While many early options have leaned on handheld controllers or hand-tracking, those options are pretty bulky for constant usage. This week, Facebook debuted a wrist-worn prototype that tracks muscle movements.

India pushes courts to block WhatsApp update
Following months of backlash over planned updates to WhatsApp, this week, the Indian government sought to push its courts to block the update entirely, claiming it violated several local laws.

NASA and SpaceX collaborate to avoid Starlink collisions
SpaceX is putting hundreds of Starlink satellites into orbit and now it has hammered out an information-sharing agreement with NASA to ensure that enough data is shared between the two entities to avoid crashes.

Other things image

Image Credits: Getty Images

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

The NFT market is just getting started, but where is it headed?
“Every once in a meme-ified blue moon, the wildly irrational cryptocurrency ecosystem gives birth to something that might outlive the hype. The crypto art hype may be silly and expensive, but it might also empower artists from emerging economies and underrepresented groups to access the global art market in ways that they couldn't before.”

3 steps to ease the transition to a no-code company
“Anyone can now create and modify their own tools without complex coding skills using no-code's easy-to-use visual interfaces and drag-and-drop functionality. This creates organizational flexibility and agility, addresses growing IT backlogs and budgets, and helps fill the IT gap caused by a shortage of skilled developers.

Survey: Share feedback on Extra Crunch
“Over the last few months, we've added a number of new Extra Crunch features at the request of the community. This includes Group Membership, expanding support to new countries like Israel and Norway, adding "sign in with Google" to improve checkout speed, and increasing login timeout so users aren't regularly logged out of the product.”

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