Microsoft back on track with product refresh

Hardware season is my favorite time of year. Almost every week, tech giants present their latest product innovations.

👋 Welcome to FWIW by David Tvrdon, your weekly tech, media & audio digest.

In this edition

  • Microsoft’s new Surface products

  • iPhone reviews are in

  • New Kindle Paperwhites, new FB Portal devices, new Fitbit

New weird laptops (like Microsoft's Surface Laptop Studio) also mean things are getting back to normal

What is normal anymore? Working mostly from home? Hoping enough people in your country get vaccinated so that the economy can run properly? What about getting products that seem abnormal? That used to be normal.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a bunch of updates and new products during its Surface event (watch an 8-minute supercut):

  • Surface Pro 8 (thinner bezels, 13-inch touchscreen, two Thunderbolt 4 ports)

  • Surface Laptop Studio (with touchscreen you can put in 3 positions)

  • Surface Duo 2 (second generation of its Android-powered folding phone)

  • Surface Slim Pen 2 (new stylus with built-in haptics)

  • Surface Go 3 (updated with new Intel processors)

You can already find some hands on videos on YouTube by tech journalists who were shown these products for a few minutes (Duo 2, Pro 8, Laptop Studio).

Of course, the weirdest product of them all is the new Surface Laptop Studio (in the image above) which is supposed to be Microsoft’s new flagship laptop and is priced fairly reasonably for all the things it can do (starting from $1,599.99).

Compared to its predecessor you cannot detach the touchscreen display, you can move it into three modes: laptop, stage, and studio.

Looking at Microsoft’s latest product updates, it’s hard not to feel like the company is trying to build its own “Apple devices ecosystem” which has been long time in the works and 2021 might be the year all the devices in the lineup finally make sense.

We will see what Google’s fall hardware conference will bring, apart for the already announced Pixel 6 phones. The company has also had its own device ecosystem in mind but discovered that you need a lot of money and it takes years to build up. Both of which Google has, it’s just a question of how much they want to be a player in that space.

So, you could opt in to three different ecosystems - Apple, Microsoft, Google - that will have possibly the best integration and crossfunctioning across all devices. Of course there are and will be other options but I suspect that multiple brands will not work together as seemlessly as being produced by one company.

And then you have Facebook which is really trying to ship good products like the latest update to its Portal devices lineup with a new Portal+ and portable Portal Go.

I said it many times before and will say it again, if those devices with a built-in camera came from any other company, they would be more successful. But I am not buying a Facebook-powered device with cameras and microphones and putting it in my home.

📲 iPhone 13 reviews are in, verdict: it’s an even better iPhone. Reviewers focused on the better cameras, improved battery and high refresh displays with the Pro models. Oh, and much-promoted Cinematic Mode Apple apparently sucks. [The Verge: 13 and mini, Pro and Pro Max, Wired]

  • Also, iOS 15 was released with some major hidden changes. [Wired, The Verge]

  • There are already rumours regarding iPhone 14: new SE models with 5G, a punch-hole display and better cameras. [9to5Mac]

  • Apple won’t let Epic Games back into the App Store until all its appeals are exhausted. [The Verge]

🇨🇳 Chinese crackdown on tech continues. Tencent has lost its place among the world’s 10 largest companies by market value, leaving no Chinese company in the list as Beijing’s regulatory crackdown continues to wreak havoc on the stock market. [Bloomberg]

📚📲 Amazon just introduced three new Kindle Paperwhites. Paperwhite, Paperwhite Kids Edition and Paperwhite Signature Edition. All models get a new processor, a larger 6.8-inch screen, 10 weeks of battery life, warm light support and new USB-C charging. It’s the first big update to Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite since 2018. [CNBC]

⌚️ Fitbit Charge 5 reviews came in and the feelings are mixed. Wired says its their favorite fitness tracker. On the other hand The Verge thought no physical button is a big step back. [Wired, The Verge]

⚠️ Lithuania says throw away Chinese phones due to censorship concerns. Flagship phones sold in Europe by China's smartphone giant Xiaomi have a built-in ability to detect and censor terms such as "Free Tibet", "Long live Taiwan independence" or "democracy movement", Lithuania's state-run cybersecurity body said. The capability in Xiaomi's Mi 10T 5G phone software had been turned off for the "European Union region", but can be turned on remotely at any time, the Defence Ministry's National Cyber Security Centre said in the report. [Reuters]

📩 The New York Times’ morning newsletter has grown to more than 5 million daily readers. NYT is going to grow it from six to eight full-time staffers and launch Saturday and Sunday editions. [BI]

👀 This Times story sparked controversy. It’s about Facebook’s shift from Zuck taking the blame for scandals, distancing the CEO and building a positive image for him, plus using the News Feed for spreading positive PR towards the social media giant. On Twitter, I have seen many tech evangelists (like Jeff Jarvis) being quite angry with NY Times, saying there is no scandal and FB is just being FB. I agree with the other group. The story wasn’t only about FB using its News Feed. It gave an inside look at the changes prompted from outside and other information painting yet another ugly image of the company. Also, it tells you a lot that Zuck decided to post about it and mocked the fact NYT wrote he use an electric surf instead of a hydrofoil.

  • Why these Facebook research scandals are different? Casey Newton dissects why the recent revelation are different to Cambridge Analytica. [Platformer]

👉 China’s biggest movie star was erased from the internet amid a clampdown of the country’s entertainment industry. Zhao Wei was the Reese Witherspoon of China, then she was censored by the Communist Party. “Zhao Wei is like a poster child for what the Communist Party sees as what’s wrong with celebrity culture in China,” said Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in Chinese films and politics. “It’s a demonstration that no one, no matter how wealthy or popular, is too big to pursue.” [WSJ]

📬 What I learned from a year on Substack. Independent tech journalist Casey Newton shares his learnings: interviews didn’t bring new paid subs, the conversion from free to paid is well below 10%, much closer to 5%, having a community as a benefit for paid subs turned out to be very successful. [Platformer]

🤓 How to succeed with your newsletter? Substack has been running a 6-week course to help writers gain subscribers. Most of the resources are published in a comprehensive blogpost. [Substack]

📺 An interview with Jon Stewart before the launch of his new show on Apple TV+. [HR]

  • Speaking of Apple TV+, Joel Coen and A24’s Macbeth movie trailer dropped. It will be Apple TV+ first theatrical release. [Polygon]

👋 A recording from a panel I moderated on product thinking in news is online.

1️⃣ The myth of cannibalization in the media still persists. Text, video and audio can all work. Fear of cannibalization delayed the digital transformation of many media, who failed to grasp the benefits of the internet. [by David Tvrdon]

2️⃣🎧 Newsletters are on the rise. How can publishers make more of it? Media Insider's new podcast episode dives into the newsletter boom and asks where it is heading to.

3️⃣ These metrics predict which readers will pay for news. These metrics predict which readers will pay for news. [by James Breiner]

4️⃣ How COVID-19 changed the independent European media market? Key optimizations in normal times would take a minimum of six months. [by Sofiia Padalko]

[ 📬 Get The Fix newsletter delivered to your inbox every week with the latest insights, news, and analysis about the European media market. Sign up here > ]

🎧 Podcasts on Facebook have been seen in Slovakia. Facebook might be expanding its podcast tab to other countries. I found no mention about it online but, thanks to @ondrop, the FB page of SME.sk has a Podcasts tab activated, though you can access it only via the FB iOS app. And I cannot play the episodes, FB gives me a technical error note. Guess they are still setting it up.

🎙 A new study says Americans consume more audio than advertisers spend on it. [Podnews]

🛵 A deep dive into the global gig economy. [Rest of World]

Poll: Where do you usually read this newsletter?

(Click / Tap on your answer and your vote will be counted + you will see the results.)

  1. iPhone, Mail

  2. iPhone, Gmail

  3. iPhone, Outlook

  4. iPhone, other app

  5. Android, Gmail

  6. Android, Outlook

  7. Android, other app

  8. Desktop, Gmail

  9. Desktop, other web/app

🙌 Thanks for letting me know. If you have more feedback, hit reply and send me a message. I used HandyPolls to create this poll (instructions).


🙏 And big thanks to Celine Bijleveld who helped me edit this newsletter. You can follow her on Substack here.


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