Archives

SideCar

Apple and Google pressed in antitrust hearing on whether app stores share data with product development teams

In today’s antitrust hearing in the U.S. Senate, Apple and Google representatives were questioned on whether they have a “strict firewall” or other internal policies in place that prevent them from leveraging the data from third-party businesses operating on their app stores to inform the development of their own competitive products. Apple, in particular, was called out for the practice of copying other apps by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said the practice had become so common that it earned a nickname with Apple’s developer community: “sherlocking.”

Sherlock, which has its own Wikipedia entry under software, comes from Apple’s search tool in the early 2000’s called Sherlock. A third-party developer, Karelia Software, created an alternative tool called Watson. Following the success of Karelia’s product, Apple added Watson’s same functionality into its own search tool, and Watson was effectively put out of business. The nickname “Sherlock” later became shorthand for any time Apple copies an idea from a third-party developer that threatens to or even destroys their business.

Over the years, developers claimed Apple has “sherlocked” a number of apps including Konfabulator (desktop widgets), iPodderX (podcast manager), Sandvox (app for building websites), Growl (a notification system for Mac OS X), and in more recent years, F.lux (blue light reduction tool for screens) Duet and Luna (apps that makes iPad a secondary display), as well as various screen time management tools. Now Tile claims Apple has also unfairly entered its market with AirTag.

During his questioning, Blumenthal asked Apple and Google’s representatives at the hearing — Mr. Kyle Andeer, Apple’s
Chief Compliance Officer and Mr. Wilson White, Google’s Senior Director Public Policy & Government Relations, respectively — if they employed any sort of “firewall” in between their app stores and their business strategy.

Andeer somewhat dodged the question, saying, “Senator, if I understand the question correctly, we have separate teams that manage the App Store and that are engaged in product development strategy here at Apple.”

Blumenthal then clarified what he meant by “firewall.” He explained that it doesn’t mean whether or not there are separate teams in place, but whether there’s an internal prohibition on sharing data between the App Store and the people who run Apple’s other businesses.

Andeer then answered, “Senator, we have controls in place.”

He went on to note that over the past twelve years, Apple has only introduced “a handful of applications and services,” and in every instance, there are “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store. And, sometimes, the alternatives are more popular than Apple’s own product, he noted.

“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.

His argument may hold true when there are strong rivalries, like Spotify versus Apple Music, or Netflix versus Apple TV+, or Kindle versus Apple Books. But it’s harder to stretch it to areas where Apple makes smaller enhancements — like when Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that allowed users to make their iPad a secondary display. Sidecar ended the need for a third-party app, after apps like Duet and Luna first proved the market.

Another example was when Apple built screen time controls into its iOS software, but didn’t provide the makers of third-party screen time apps with an API so consumers could use their preferred apps to configure Apple’s Screen Time settings via the third-party’s specialized interface or take advantage of other unique features.

Blumenthal said he interpreted Andeer’s response as to whether Apple has a “data firewall” as a “no.”

Posed the same question, Google’s representative, Mr. White said his understanding was that Google had “data access controls in place that govern how data from our third-party services are used.”

Blumenthal pressed him to clarify if this was a “firewall,” meaning, he clarified again, “do you have a prohibition against access?”

“We have a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services,” Mr. White said, adding that Google has “internal policies that govern that.”

The Senator said he would follow up on this matter with written questions, as his time expired.

LA-based Sidecar Health’s low-cost, cash-pay health insurance service is now valued at $1 billion

Meet Sidecar Health, the newest member of the tech industry’s billion dollar healthcare startup club.

The valuation comes thanks to $125 million in new funding that the company will use to expand its new model for health insurance. Sidecar Health’s insurance plans give consumers the ability to pay directly for care — often at steep discounts to the prices that patients would be charged through traditional insurance plans.

A typical Sidecar Health plan costs $240 per-member, per-month and its flexibility has made it a popular choice for the nation’s 20 million to 30 million uninsured individuals, according to chief executive officer Patrick Quigley.

The core of Sidecar’s plan is an ability to offer its policy holders the ability to pay directly for their medical care — and shop around to find the best provider using pricing information that the company provides through its mobile app.

Sidecar’s app provides real-time, geo-located information on the costs of any number of medical procedures, consultations, or drugs — and allows its users to shop at the places that offer them the best deal — in some cases the company will even pay money back if a price-savvy healthcare shopper finds a better deal.

If this all sounds kind of dystopian and nightmarish — well, welcome to the world of American healthcare!

In an ideal world, low-cost medical care would be a right, not a privilege and a baseline level of healthcare access would be available to everyone — including an ability to pay a set price for drugs, consultations and treatment. But if you live in America, bargain hunting for care may be the best bet to curb skyrocketing healthcare costs — at least for now.

While Sidecar pitches its service for everyone, the average age of the company’s current patient population is 33 years-old, Quigley said.  “It’s typically people that earn more than $45,000 a year and less than $75,000,” said Quigley of the company’s demographics.

The way it works is that Sidecar issues its insured members what’s basically a debit card that they use to pay for care, prescriptions, and consultations directly. The money comes from Sidecar’s claims accounts and is paid directly to doctors. By avoiding the middleman (traditional insurance companies), Sidecar can reduce overhead for care providers who like to get paid directly and will offer discounts in exchange for receiving cash in hand.

“It is 40% cheaper than the traditional commercial insurance companies would pay,” said Quigley.

Sidecar covers around 170,000 medical conditions and procedures, according to Quigley — including things from horse therapy (it’s a thing) for anxiety relief to heart transplants and chemotherapy, Quigley said.

Sidecar is currently available in 16 states and hopes to expand to most of the country on the back of its latest round of funding.

And while the company is working with uninsured patient populations now, it’s hoping to also expand its footprint with government-backed healthcare plans and into employer-sponsored health insurance as well.

It’s still early days for the service, which has only been around through two open enrollment periods for would-be plan members to sign up. And while the company doesn’t disclose its membership figures, Quigley said it would end the year above 30,000 members.

“It’s still super early,” Quigley said. 

Despite the stage of the business, investors are convinced that the business model has an opportunity to transform health insurance in the US. 

“The extraordinary level of transparency Sidecar Health brings to the marketplace has the  potential to fundamentally change how millions of Americans shop for healthcare,” said Molly  Bonakdarpour, a partner at the Drive Capital, which provided early backing for the company. “We think Sidecar Health’s team of consumer,  technology and healthcare veterans is well positioned to capitalize on the large healthcare  insurtech opportunity.” 

For the latest round, Drive Capital was joined by new investors including BOND, Tiger Global and Menlo Ventures, according to a statement.

Sidecar Health will use the investment to expand its geographic footprint, grow its team and  invest in new insurance products that build on its success in the uninsured market. The first of  these will be an ACA or “Obamacare” offering for 2022, followed by a product for the self funded employer market. 

“We believe we can take $1 trillion in waste out of the U.S. healthcare system,” Quigley said. 

Following Apple’s Sidecar launch, Astropad announces Luna Display for Windows

In June, Luna Display creator Astropad wrote a blog post titled, “Why Getting Sherlocked by Apple Was a Blessing in Disguise.” It arrived on the one-year anniversary of Apple’s launch of Sidecar for macOS, which let Mac owners use an iPad as a second display — thus making Luna’s functionality redundant.

The rose-colored post detailed how the company planned to pivot by diversifying its portfolio — in the case of Luna, that specifically meant launching a Windows version. “Later this summer, we’ll open up Astropad Studio for a free public beta on Windows,” the company wrote. “Not long after, we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign for an HDMI version of Luna Display.”

Today the company launched a Kickstarter for its Windows version, two years after launching the original Mac dongle on the crowdfunding platform. Delivery is set for May 2021. Early-bird supporters can get on-board with the device for as low as $49 (down from a retail price of $80).

Image Credits: Astropad

The dongle turns an iPad into a second display for a Windows PC, either wirelessly or tethered. The model comes in either USB-C of HDMI models, depending on the ports available on your machine. The second tablet can be used as a touchscreen for the extended monitor, which should work well with Windows 10, given how much Microsoft has tailored it to a touch experience.

I was a fan of the original Luna for Mac — though, like many, had less interest in the product as soon as Apple announced native support for Sidecar. Following the launch of Windows support, owners of the original Mac version will be able to use their existing device with PCs, as well. The device will work for Mac to iPad, Windows to iPad, Mac to Mac (with one laptop serving as a second screen) and a “headless mode,” with uses the iPad as a display for the Mac Mini and Mac Pro.