Apple started paying $15 billion European tax fine


It took a couple of years, but Apple has started to pay back illegal tax benefits to the Irish government. The company has paid $1.77 billion (€1.5 billion) into an escrow account designed to hold the fine. Apple has to pay $15 billion in total (€13 billion).

In August 2016, the European Commission said that Apple benefited from illegal tax benefits in Ireland from 2003 to 2014. According to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Apple managed to lower its effective corporate tax rate thanks to a Double Irish structure.

By creating two different Irish subsidiaries and allocating profit to the right subsidiary, you can end up paying corporate tax on a fraction of your actual profit. Of course, Apple wasn’t the only tech company that optimized its tax structure. And the company also claimed that everything was legal.

The Irish government tried to appeal the decision but the decision remained intact. Ireland had to recover €13 billion starting on January 2017.

But nothing happened.

At some point Vestager got mad again and referred the case to the European Court of Justice. This time, Vestager wasn’t attacking Apple, but Ireland.

It looks like the case is closed now and Apple will slowly pay back the fine over time. Unfortunately, the fine is now more expensive than before because the U.S. dollar has been going down for a couple of years. Apple has hundreds of billions in cash, and a significant portion is overseas.

European governments lobbied to put an end to the Double Irish back in 2014. Apple moved some of its international cash to the tiny island of Jersey around the same time.

European governments are currently discussing a tax reform to tax big tech companies based on actual revenue in each European country. This way, tech companies wouldn’t be able to report profit in just one country with a lower corporate tax rate. But it’s taking longer than expected as some member countries are still dragging their feet.





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Shared housing startups are taking off


When young adults leave the parental nest, they often follow a predictable pattern. First, move in with roommates. Then graduate to a single or couple’s pad. After that comes the big purchase of a single-family home. A lawnmower might be next.

Looking at the new home construction industry, one would have good reason to presume those norms were holding steady. About two-thirds of new homes being built in the U.S. this year are single-family dwellings, complete with tidy yards and plentiful parking.

In startup-land, however, the presumptions about where housing demand is going looks a bit different. Home sharing is on the rise, along with more temporary lease options, high-touch service and smaller spaces in sought-after urban locations.

Seeking roommates and venture capital

A Crunchbase News analysis of residential-focused real estate startups uncovered a raft of companies with a shared and temporary housing focus that have raised funding in the past year or so.

This isn’t a U.S.-specific phenomenon. Funded shared and short-term housing startups are cropping up across the globe, from China to Europe to Southeast Asia. For this article, however, we’ll focus on U.S. startups. In the chart below, we feature several that have raised recent rounds.

Notice any commonalities? Yes, the startups listed are all based in either New York or the San Francisco Bay Area, two metropolises associated with scarce, pricey housing. But while these two metro areas offer the bulk of startups’ living spaces, they’re also operating in other cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

From white picket fences to high-rise partitions

The early developers of the U.S. suburban planned communities of the 1950s and 60s weren’t just selling houses. They were selling a vision of the American Dream, complete with quarter-acre lawns, dishwashers and spacious garages.

By the same token, today’s shared housing startups are selling another vision. It’s not just about renting a room; it’s also about being part of a community, making friends and exploring a new city.

One of the slogans for HubHaus is “rent one of our rooms and find your tribe.” Founded less than three years ago, the company now manages about 80 houses in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, matching up roommates and planning group events.

Starcity pitches itself as an antidote to loneliness. “Social isolation is a growing epidemic—we solve this problem by bringing people together to create meaningful connections,” the company homepage states.

The San Francisco company also positions its model as a partial solution to housing shortages as it promotes high-density living. It claims to increase living capacity by three times the normal apartment building.

Costs and benefits

Shared housing startups are generally operating in the most expensive U.S. housing markets, so it’s difficult to categorize their offerings as cheap. That said, the cost is typically lower than a private apartment.

Mostly, the aim seems to be providing something affordable for working professionals willing to accept a smaller private living space in exchange for a choice location, easy move-in and a ready-made social network.

At Starcity, residents pay $2,000 to $2,300 a month, all expenses included, depending on length of stay. At HomeShare, which converts two-bedroom luxury flats to three-bedrooms with partitions, monthly rents start at about $1,000 and go up for larger spaces.

Shared and temporary housing startups also purport to offer some savings through flexible-term leases, typically with minimum stays of one to three months. Plus, they’re typically furnished, with no need to set up Wi-Fi or pay power bills.

Looking ahead

While it’s too soon to pick winners in the latest crop of shared and temporary housing startups, it’s not far-fetched to envision the broad market as one that could eventually attract much larger investment and valuations. After all, Airbnb has ascended to a $30 billion private market value for its marketplace of vacation and short-term rentals. And housing shortages in major cities indicate there’s plenty of demand for non-Airbnb options.

While we’re focusing here on residential-focused startups, it’s also worth noting that the trend toward temporary, flexible, high-service models has already gained a lot of traction for commercial spaces. Highly funded startups in this niche include Industrious, a provider of flexible-term, high-end office spaces, Knotel, a provider of customized workplaces, and Breather, which provides meeting and work rooms on demand. Collectively, those three companies have raised about $300 million to date.

At first glance, it may seem shared housing startups are scaling up at an off time. The millennial generation (born roughly 1980 to 1994) can no longer be stereotyped as a massive band of young folks new to “adulting.” The average member of the generation is 28, and older millennials are mid-to-late thirties. Many even own lawnmowers.

No worries. Gen Z, the group born after 1995, is another huge generation. So even if millennials age out of shared housing, demographic forecasts indicate there will plenty of twenty-somethings to rent those partitioned-off rooms.





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Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction


A new app called Siempo wants to un-addict you from your smartphone and its numerous attention-stealing apps. To do so, Siempo replaces an Android device’s homescreen, while also taking advantage of a number of design principles to push distractions further away, and give you more control over your notifications.

The startup, which launched a few weeks ago on Google Play, actually began as a hardware company. 

A hardware startup shifts to software

In 2015, the original co-founders Andreas Gala and Jorge Selva began developing a minimalist feature phone device called Minium, in response to their concerns with today’s always-on culture. But designing hardware from scratch is hard, so they pivoted to making a mindful smartphone called Siempo using an existing handset from China.

The following year, Siempo brought on Mayank Saxena (CTO), who previously ran data storage engineering teams at NetApp, and Andrew Dunn (now CEO), who was previously the number six employee at Flexport. 

“I struggled with smartphone and social media addiction as a teenager and had been working on a wearable to help people balance their relationship with tech,” explains Dunn. And Mayank, he says, “had become increasingly concerned about raising balanced children in the digital age,” prior to joining Siempo.

Unfortunately, when the company tried raising funds on Kickstarter in 2017, it didn’t meet its goal.

What the team had underestimated was how difficult it is to convince people to switch smartphones. And in this case, it wasn’t just asking them to buy new hardware – it was a request to try a whole new type of mobile experience, too.

Although the Kickstarter failed, it had provided the team with valuable feedback.

 

“When we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we heard from dozens of potential backers that they loved our concept but would much prefer to try and pay for a software version on their existing devices,” says Dunn. “We knew we could still build ninety-five percent of what we wanted to, so it was a clear path to explore.”

At this point, the original co-founders moved on to other projects, leaving Dunn to take the helm.

The new project, he says, appealed to him because of the negative nature of today’s technology.

“The attention economy is making people more distracted, stressed, lonely and depressed,” Dunn says. “Big Tech is unlikely to take meaningful leadership in humane design, and individuals are at a loss for what to do because developing healthier digital habits is a long-term, manual, iterative process,” he adds.

Siempo, currently in beta, aims to address this problem with a set of features that should appeal to anyone questioning if they’ve become too addicted to their phone.

After downloading the launcher from the Play Store, you can set Siempo as your default home app – meaning, you’ll now interact with its humanely designed interface instead of the stock version from your smartphone’s maker.

To lessen your attachment to your device, Siempo reverses some of the persuasive, psychologically addicting techniques that have been built into our phone software and mobile apps by developers who specifically engineered their apps to increase user engagement, without fully understanding the ethics of that decision.

Entire OS platforms and massive social media companies like Facebook have, over the years, created systems to reward users who continually check in with their phones. These dopamine-driven feedback loops create a cycle of smartphone addiction, with users having no tools to fight back beyond their own willpower.

The world is just now starting to wake up to these mistakes, including some people who built the systems in the first place.

For instance, former Facebook president Sean Parker has said Facebook’s design exploited weakness in the human psyche to addict users, while former head of user growth turned VC Chamath Palihapitiya admitted to having “tremendous guilt” over what Facebook had become. Meanwhile, former Google exec Tristan Harris created a coalition called the Center for Humane Technology, in an effort to “realign technology with humanity’s best interests.”

And digital wellness is now a movement raking in millions.

Siempo fits in within this broader category of self-care apps focused on a more balanced use of technology.

How Siempo works

Once installed, Siempo makes your homescreen a calmer interface, without things like badged icons or colorful corporate logos. Here, you can personalize a message that appears when you unlock your phone – like a daily mantra – and in an update rolling out Wednesday, you’ll be able to set a custom background or turn on a dark mode.

One of the launcher’s key features is how it lets you batch your notifications.

Instead of allowing apps to alert you at any time they choose, you can configure your phone to send your alerts on a schedule you prefer – like every half hour, the top of the hour, or – if you want to go all in – just once per day. (You can choose which apps, if any, are allowed to break through.)

Siempo also leverages a number of design techniques to distance you from your distractions, including by unbranding app icons and turning them to greyscale.

Plus, the launcher organizes apps into a tiered menu system where distracting apps are further away on a third page, and the location of those apps is randomized upon each visit to prevent unconscious opens and usage.

“Users have reported that merely the act of identifying which apps they want to use less creates a huge shift in their relationship with that app,” notes Dunn.

The app has now been endorsed by the Center for Humane Technology as an example of humane design.

Siempo has raised funds from Backstage Capital for its project. To date, Siempo raised $555,000 for its hardware project and $400,000 for its software.

The app is free during its beta, but plans to implement a pay-as-you-want subscription starting at $1 per month – this will make the app accessible to everyone, no matter how much they can spend. The company says it’s also talking to several startup smartphone brands to become their default interface.

Longer-term, Dunn believes the Siempo experience can span platforms.

“Siempo will be a unified layer across all your tools – smartphone, desktop, tablet, wearables, etc. – protecting your attention, preventing unconscious usage and improving mental health,” he says. “We are excited to build out an A.I. interface that can learn the user’s behavior and adjust their digital world to support their goals and intentions,” Dunn adds, speaking of what he envisions Siempo can become.

“We aim to be a good, trusted, impactful tech company that is on the user’s side, respecting their wellbeing and privacy,” he says.

The app is available on Google Play, as that platform allows for this level of change and customization. A modified version may arrive on iOS in the future.

 





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‘My Data Request’ lists guides to get data about you


GDPR is right around the corner, so it’s time to prepare your personal data requests. If you live in the European Union, tech companies have to comply with personal data requests after May 25th. And there’s a handy website that helps you do just that.

My Data Request lists dozens of tech companies and tells you how you can contact them. The website also links to the privacy policy of each service and tells you what to do even if you don’t live in the EU.

Some companies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Tinder and Snapchat have made that easy as they have created a page on their website to download a zip archive with all your personal data.

But it’s worth nothing that your archive doesn’t necessarily include all data about you. For instance, Facebook tracks your web and location history as much as possible. But you won’t find any of that in the archive. The download tool is mostly about getting a copy of your posts, Messenger conversations, photos and more.

For most companies (including Amazon), you’ll have to email them yourself. My Data Request has created handy email templates. You just have to copy the message, put your name and contact information and send the email. The email addresses are listed on My Data Request’s site too.

Some companies make it even harder than that. I haven’t checked all guides, but you have to send a letter to Uber to get your data for instance. For HSBC clients, you have to call the company.

It’s unfortunate that there’s no about page on My Data Request — it’s unclear who’s behind this website. Nevertheless, the website’s privacy policy says that it doesn’t collect any personal data when you interact with the site (but it uses Google Analytics).

You don’t have to connect with third-party APIs or give access to your personal account to request your data. It’s just links and text, and an interactive way to learn about data requests.





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La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris


French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round.

Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc.

But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes.

La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on your groceries and optimize all the steps. It starts with a big inventory. La Belle Vie sells you basic groceries, organic stuff, meat, fish and vegetables. Last year, the company acqui-hired 62degrés to sell fresh prepared meals too.

La Belle Vie has developed all its tools from scratch, including its ERP, a warehouse management service and a delivery management service. In 2017, the startup generated $3.5 million in sales (€3 million) in sales.

With this funding round, the company plans to launch a second warehouse in Paris and new cities, starting with Lyon. But the best part is that you can order croissants without going to the boulangerie — finally a croissants-as-a-service startup.





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WARD is an app for placing fantasy predictions on esports games


Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely esports. And it’s a big market.

Fantasy esports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017, more than 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the Super Bowl viewership. By 2020, the esports industry is estimated to be worth more than $1.5 billion, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum.

Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around esports as it happens?

That’s the aim of WARD, a startup out of Berlin that has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes.

Billed as a fantasy esports game that provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 seed round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product, but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the U.S.

So how does it work? Well, fans who watch a championship or a specific esports game can predict their version of in-game events in real-time. So, for example, in the League of Legends game, a user can make a prediction about who will spill “first blood” or which team will destroy the first tower in the game, and so on.

For every prediction users make correctly, they are awarded points. Users who acquire the most points can top the leaderboard and go on to win prizes. These can include headphones, tickets for championships and signed merchandise such as team jerseys. Of course, this depends on the partner paying WARD to be featured. But, the more the user wins, the better prizes they get and the bigger the brand uplift for the team or sponsor.

Kirill Belov, managing partner at Impulse VC, says he was “stunned by the WARD technology, team and global vision. It is our first funding in the esports industry, and WARD is one of the best platforms to expand the scope of further investments.” High praise indeed.

WARD has so far run beta tests in Berlin based around the European League of Legends Championship Series, but the official launch is set for June 2018 with an aim to attract 3 million downloads by the end of the year.

The plans also include global expansion to Asia and adding new esports disciplines, such as Overwatch, CounterStrike (CSGO) to the app.

You can download the app here.





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Meet the judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech


VivaTech is right around the corner, and I’m excited to introduce you to the third batch of judges that will come to Paris for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe.

If you haven’t been to TechCrunch Disrupt, the Startup Battlefield is arguably the most interesting part of the show. Before everybody started doing a startup competition, there was the Startup Battlefield. Companies like Dropbox, Fitbit, N26 and Yammer all launched on the TechCrunch stage.

And we’re bringing talented investors and founders to judge the startups. Here’s the third round of judges (see part 1 and part 2).

Rob Moffat, Partner, Balderton Capital

Rob joined Balderton Capital in 2009 and was promoted to partner in 2015. He is currently a board director or observer with five portfolio companies: Carwow, Wooga, Nutmeg, Prodigy Finance, and Patients Know Best.
Other investments he has worked with at Balderton include Qubit, Citymapper, Housetrip, Scoot and Archify. Rob’s focus sector is fintech, in particular insurance and retail financial services. Marketing is a particular area of interest, and Rob is responsible for best practice sharing in marketing across the portfolio. Prior to joining Balderton, Rob worked for Google in London, as a Manager in the European Strategy and Operations team.
He started his career with five years in strategy consulting with Bain, and holds an MBA from INSEAD and a Masters in Statistics from Cambridge.

Marie Ekland, Co-Founder, daphni

Marie Ekeland is co-founder of daphni, a venture capital firm which invests in European tech startups and is supported by an online platform and an international community of experts. She began her career in 1997 at J.P. Morgan in New York as a computer scientist. Since 2000, Marie has been acting as a VC, first at CPR Private Equity, then, from 2005 to 2014 at Elaia Partners, leading investments in Criteo, Edoki Academy, Pandacraft, Teads, Wyplay, and Ykone. In 2012 she co-founded France Digitale, bringing together French VCs & entrepreneurs to make the French digital ecosystem thrive. She serves as a board member for Parrot, Showroomprive. Marie holds an engineering degree in mathematics and computer science from Paris Dauphine University as well as a master’s degree in Economics from the Paris School of Economics.

Antoine Nussbaum, Partner, Felix Capital

Antoine is a Partner and member of the founding team of Felix Capital. He currently sits on the boards of Heetch, Frichti, Papier, TravelPerk and Urban Massage. He previously was a Partner at Atlas Global, a private equity fund originally part of GLG Partners. Prior to Felix Capital he has worked closely with various early-stage digital startups including Mirakl, Reedsy, 31Dover and actively helped them launch their businesses. He has also been involved since inception with Huckletree, a fast growing coworking operator dedicated to the European digital community which was started by his wife. Antoine moved to London in 2006 when he joined ABN AMRO as an M&A investment banker. Prior to this he was based in Paris and was part of the founding team of NT Valley, a software business dedícated to retail and hospitality industries. A graduate of ESCP European Business School and University Paris Dauphine, Antoine is fluent in English, French and Spanish.

Eileen Burbidge, Partner, Passion Capital

Eileen Burbidge is a Partner at Passion Capital, the pre-eminent early-stage VC fund based in London. She brings extensive operational experience to her investment activities gleaned from business and product roles at Yahoo!, Skype, Apple and elsewhere.
In addition to Passion Capital, Eileen is also the Chair of TechCity UK, which is the British government-backed organisation supporting digital business across the UK. She is also HM Treasury’s Special Envoy for FinTech appointed by then Chancellor George Osborne; Tech Ambassador for the Mayor of London’s office and served on former Prime Minister David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group.
Eileen was made an MBE for services to Business in June 2015 and holds a BSc Engineering degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Liron Azrielant, General Partner, Meron Capital

Liron is a General Partner at Meron Capital and has over 10 years of experience in the investment and tech industries. Liron also manages the Young Venture Capital Forum in Israel – a professional organization connecting over 150 young partners, principals and associates from all VC firms in Israel.

Prior to joining Meron Capital, Liron was a Principal at Blumberg Capital and led Cyber, SaaS, Marketing-tech and Infrastructure IT deals. Prior to that, she was a Strategy and M&A consultant at Bain Capital and PwC’s PE group in New York, where she lead commercial and operational due-diligence projects for the largest private equity firms in the US. Before moving to the US, Liron was a technical Applications Engineer at Agilent Technologies, where she worked with blue-chip clients in Europe, Asia and the US.

Liron has an MBA from MIT-Sloan, an M.Sc. in Computer Science from MIT and a B.Sc. in Math and Physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At 25, she was the youngest student ever to graduate MIT’s dual MBA / M.Sc. degree program. She started her bachelor’s degree at Talpiot, the elite Israeli Defense Forces program, and completed it while serving full-time as a technology analyst and researcher at the Israeli intelligence unit 8200.





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Uber’s chief product officer is out


Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, has left the company, Recode first reported. His last day was yesterday, TechCrunch confirmed.

On a day-to-day level, Holden was not that heavily involved. Manik Gupta, for example, is in charge of product, maps and marketplace at the VP level. There was also Uber Head of Product Daniel Graf, who left the company in March but was quickly replaced by former Amazon Alexa shopping lead Assaf Ronen.

Holden, instead, was more of a big-picture kind of executive, which entailed him taking ownership over Uber Elevate. Under his leadership, Uber brought on the CEO of flying taxi startup Zee Aero, Eric Allison.

Eric Allison at Uber Elevate in May 2018. (Photo by MRD)

“As demonstrated by last week’s Uber Elevate Summit, we’re incredibly bullish on the future of aerial ridesharing,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Under the leadership of Eric Allison, the Elevate team is set up for success and will continue to chart the course for this growing industry.”

But it’s worth pointing out that Holden had a lengthy conversation with Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Dan Elwell about regulation for uberAIR, the company’s upcoming aerial taxi service. That was just last week at Uber Elevate, the company’s two-day summit on aerial transportation. It seems odd that Holden was tasked with leading a conversation with the head of the FAA regarding what will arguably be the biggest hurdle uberAIR will face: regulation.

Prior to joining Uber, Holden served as Groupon’s senior vice president. It’s not clear what Holden’s next move is, but a source says Holden is pursuing another opportunity somewhere.

Uber’s aerial taxi play





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Fortnite is finally coming to Android this summer


Fortnite is finally coming to Android…in a matter of months. After dominating the iOS gaming charts since March, the wildly popular sandbox survival game will be hitting the world’s top mobile operating system at some point this summer.

Creator Epic Games buried the news in the middle of a larger blog post titled, “The State of Mobile,” noting, vaguely, “We know many of you are excited for this release, and we promise that when we have more information to share, you’ll hear it from us first.”

That news comes amid a flurry of other Fortnite-related announcements this week. Earlier this morning, Epic unveiled a Battle Royale competition with a large in-game cash prize. This morning, the company also laid out plans to bring voice chat and improved gameplay and controls to the mobile side of things. Stats are coming to mobile, as well, along with a reduced install size.

Not that any of those issues have hampered the game’s success, of course. Earlier this year, the game was reportedly bringing in $126 million in monthly revenue — even before it arrived on iOS. With its imminent release on Android, that number’s likely to get a whole lot larger. 





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Bell & Ross releases a new watch for travelers


In my endless quest to get geeks interested in watches I present to you the Bell & Ross BR V2-93 GMT 24H, a new GMT watch from one of my favorite manufacturers that is a great departure from the company’s traditional designs.

The watch is a 41mm round GMT, which means it has three hands to show the time in the 12-hour scale and another separate hand that shows the time in a 24-hour scale. You can use it to see time zones in two or even three places and it comes in a nice satin-brushed metal case with a rubber or metal strap.

B&R is unique because it’s one of the first companies to embrace online sales after selling primarily in watch stores for about a decade. This means the watches are slightly cheaper — this one is $3,500 — and jewelers can’t really jack up the prices in stores. Further, B&R has a great legacy of making legible, usable watches, and this one is no exception. It is also a fascinating addition to the line. B&R has an Instrument series, which consists of large, square watches with huge numerals, and a Vintage series that hearkens back to WWII-inspired, smaller watches. This one sits firmly in the middle, taking on the clear lines of the Instrument inside a more vintage case.

Ultimately watches like this one are nice tool watches — designed for legibility and usability above fashion. It’s a nice addition to the line and looks like something a proper geek could wear in lieu of Apple Watches and other nerd jewelry. Here’s hoping.





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