The miracle of technology, Apple’s secrecy, and a CES preview
Over the holidays, I was reading a back issue of the New Yorker—including a turgid if fascinating feature on the artificial-intelligence philosophy of Nick Bostrom—when I came across a delightful cartoon. A man in a bar, holding a bottle of beer, tells a woman, holding a cocktail: “I’m starting a startup that helps other startups start up.”
What will amuse 99% of the New Yorker’s audience won’t even provoke a smile in Silicon Valley, where such “meta” talk is routine. I love to tease the tech community for its lack of self-awareness. That said, and maybe it was the Christmas spirit or a sense of gratitude and anticipation of a new year, the cartoon got me thinking how easy it is to ignore the miracles of technology.
Sure, there are excesses. And certainly too many of us spend too much time hunched over a smartphone and too little time talking to our loved ones. But that powerful computer in our hands—and all the other ingenious inventions nearby—has transformed our lives. We don’t ask for maps anymore when we rent a car. Everything from transportation and accommodations to services and sundries are available to us on demand. The automotive industry, stagnant for decades, is entering a new phase, thanks to technology. Even space travel, a stalled dream, suddenly is closer than ever to reality.
My professional resolution for 2016 is to reserve at least a little time for reverence. The miracles happening all around me demand nothing less.
Other than stunning visuals (the view from the top of the new headquarters, the inside of Jony Ive’s studio, a glimpse of a retail store prototype site), there was little new in the 60 Minutes segment broadcast on Dec. 20 with the amusing title “Inside Apple.” (I was amused, anyway.) The images 60 Minutes was able to capture were significant and telling—about Apple’s secrecy. Yes, Apple allowed a camera crew into the room where its executive management team meets each Monday morning. No, Apple didn’t allow the crew to stay for the meeting. Apple simultaneously gave the appearance of being transparent while revealing next to nothing. Bravo.
It’s true that Apple has become slightly less good at secret-keeping under CEO Tim Cook. We know, for example, from Apple’s hiring patterns that it is pursuing some kind of automotive initiative. Industry blogs now accurately forecast most product specs weeks and months before launches. And yet, where it matters, Apple is as buttoned up as ever. It still does business on its terms and no one else’s.
Two policy nuggets interested me. I found Cook’s comment about the paucity of tool-and-die makers in the U.S. to be revealing, though instinct tells me it’s more nuanced than he’d have us believe. (This Marketwatch analysis hints at what Cook is omitting.) I also found Cook’s encryption jeremiad simultaneously convincing and baffling. I’ve asked Fortune’s cybersecurity maven Robert Hackett to write an explainer, and I’ll flag it in Data Sheet when he does.
Much of the tech world is busy preparing this week for the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins Jan. 5 in Las Vegas. Fortune’s tech team will host a dinner at CES featuring Ford CEO Mark Fields (whose company announced just before Christmas a tie-up with Google on self-driving cars) as well as a panel of top marketers from Target, Hyatt, and the NBA. Data Sheet will take off the rest of this week. Heather and I will do our best to bring you up to speed on CES, which is about far more than consumer technology, beginning Jan. 4.
Happy New Year to all. I hope yours is healthy, prosperous, and miraculous.
BITS AND BYTES
China passes anti-terror law. As promised, the country has adopted updated regulation guiding government surveillance activities. China’s new law doesn’t require tech companies to hand over their encryption “keys” or to store data locally, which were both requirements in draft versions of the regulation. However, the mandate requires “technical means of support.” The broad wording could prove problematic for Internet services and telecommunications companies seeking to do business domestically. (Wall Street Journal)
Apple wants more money from Samsung. The world’s leading smartphone manufacturer has already forfeited $548 million in its longstanding design patent skirmish with Apple. Now, the iPhone maker wants another $180 million to cover interest and “supplemental damages” related to the lawsuit. (Reuters)
Plus, more specs on the next Galaxy smartphone. It looks like Samsung is producing more than 5 million units of the next-generation Galaxy S7, which will come in two sizes, reports a Korean tech trade publication. The new model, which will compete with the iPhone 6 series, should be available sometime in February. (Korea Electronic Times)
Palantir replenishes its coffers. The secretive data analytics company has raised another $880 million, boosting its valuation to almost $20 billion, reports the New York Times. Palantir has been fundraising since last summer, but more than one-third of the new money has been committed in the past few weeks. (New York Times)
Trio of suitors circles Dell’s services division. Dell’s sale of the former Perot Systems business is taking longer than anticipated because the interested bidders don’t agree with its $5 billion valuation, reports Reuters. Still in the running are Cognizant, Japan’s NTT Data, and France’s Atos. Dell needs the proceeds to help finance its EMC acquisition. (Reuters)
This upstart gives Intuit a run for the money in cloud accounting. Intuit is racing to persuade its existing small-business customers to start using cloud editions of its accounting applications. Xero, a fast-growing cloud accounting software purveyor from New Zealand, is determined to slow it down. The net result is both companies are reporting rapid customer growth for their online services. Xero holds a commanding lead in markets such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, while Intuit dominates the U.S. market. Their rivalry should become even more pronounced in 2016. (Fortune)
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ONE MORE THING
North Dakota, the drone hot spot. The state has spent at least $34 million wooing companies working on unmanned aerial vehicle technology. One of its biggest allures: wide open spaces. (New York Times)
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
CES: The big show for consumer technology. (Jan. 5 – 9; Las Vegas)
Google Ubiquitous Computing Summit: Platforms and protocols for wearables, home automation, and the Internet of things. (Jan. 11 – 12; San Francisco area)
Connect 2016: Mobile Internet trends. (Jan. 14; San Francisco)
Connect: IBM’s social business and digital experience event. (Jan. 31 – Feb. 3; Orlando, Florida)
IBM InterConnect: Cloud and mobile issues. (Feb. 21 – 25; Las Vegas)
Enterprise Connect: Communications and collaboration trends. (March 7 – 10; Orlando, Florida)
Pure//Accelerate: The future of the modern data center. (March 14 – 15; San Francisco)
Next 2016: Google’s cloud platform strategy. (March 23 – 24; San Francisco)
Microsoft Build: Microsoft’s premier developer conference. (March 30 – April 1; San Francisco)
Microsoft Convergence: Where business meets possibility. (April 4 – 7; New Orleans)
EMC World: What’s next for digital business. (May 2 – 5; Las Vegas)
Salesforce Connections. Cloud marketing trends. (May 10 – 12; Atlanta)
Knowledge 16: ServiceNow’s annual service management conference. (May 15 – 20; Las Vegas)
Fortune Brainstorm E: The intersection of technology, energy, and sustainable business. (May 16 – 17; Carlsbad, California)
SAPPHIRE Now: SAP’s annual conference. (May 17 – 19; Orlando, Florida)
Fortune Brainstorm Tech: The world’s top tech and media thinkers, operators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and influencers. (July 11 – 13; Aspen, Colorado)
Microsoft Ignite: Product roadmaps and innovation. (Sept. 26 – 30; Atlanta)
OracleWorld. The future of the cloud is now. (Sept. 18 – 22, San Francisco)
Dreamforce: The Salesforce ecosystem gathers. (Oct. 4 – 7; San Francisco)