Data Sheet—Wednesday, October 12, 2016
It’s normal for the financial opportunities in technology to appear endless. Tuesday alone saw news of venture capital stalwart Greylock raising a fresh $1 billion fund and hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which relies on computer scientists to power its trading strategies, attracting $7 billion in additional capital.
And yet, tech is a fickle master. There’s so much money to be made, but also so many opportunities to squander it, and all because things change so quickly. I wrote just last week that it seemed Samsung couldn’t catch a break. Then things got worse. Again. Recalling 2.5 million smartphones wasn’t good enough. Now Samsung has shut down production on the Galaxy Note 7 altogether, causing shares of the Korean technology stalwart to plummet and hammering its quarterly profit expectations. (Samsung’s woes suddenly make Apple’s antenna woes or headphone-jack gripes seem quaint by comparison.)
Incumbents are disrupted in all industries. But it happens more quickly—and more ferociously—in tech. Jawbone was Silicon Valley’s “it” company for several years, making a string of hot, category-defining products from cellphone headsets to wireless speakers to fitness trackers. Yet Jawbone never quite converted its leadership into lasting success. In time, as I described in a feature last year, it became a long-in-the-tooth startup, surviving well past its sell-by date in a fast-moving community of innovators.
Bloomberg reported last week that Jawbone investor Blackrock wants to take control of its assets. The private company’s CEO, Hosain Rahman, told employees over the weekend he has arranged financing to stop this from happening but that he has to beat back one of Jawbone’s “largest constituents” first. (Blackrock has lent Jawbone $300 million; it would be common for Jawbone to pledge its intellectual property as collateral.)
Jawbone’s CEO told his employees he is considering a “number of options” that “would include the reincarnation of the business through a variety of means.” Reincarnation is what Silicon Valley does best. But no amount of hope or capital can make up for a missed product cycle, a craftier competitor, or a product that was rushed to market before it was ready.
Tech’s rewards are huge. Its punishments are just as brutal.
BITS AND BYTES
Introducing Amazon Music Limited. The e-commerce and cloud service giant on Wednesday launched a streaming music service meant to compete with offerings from market leader Spotify and challenger Apple. Amazon’s service, which launches with a catalog featuring millions of songs, will cost as little as $3 per month for owners of its voice-activated Echo speaker. (Reuters, New York Times)
Intel is now an industrial dronemaker. It is launching a six-pound model, called Falcon 8+, meant for applications such as field inspections at construction sites. (Recode)
Microsoft counters Salesforce with some smart apps of its own. It has shipped an overhaul of its Dynamics 365 back-office applications endowed with artificial intelligence features similar to those made possible by Salesforce’s Einstein technology. Dynamics includes systems for inventory, manufacturing, and financial management. (Fortune)
Why a private equity firm is the most likely savior for Twitter. Salesforce.com is still a potential suitor for the social media company but John Hempton, who runs an Australian hedge fund called Bronte Capital, argues that a private-equity buyer is more probable. (Fortune)
Personal computer shipments slip (again) in third quarter. The good news is that the drop-off wasn’t as large as anticipated, according to data from market research firms IDC and Gartner. The bad news is that this is the eighth straight decline. (Wall Street Journal)
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell is back with a VR startup. His company Modal VR is developing virtual reality tools intended primarily for corporate applications, such as new sorts of corporate training content for teaching workers new skills or immersive marketing experiences. (VentureBeat)
This could be the design case of the century. The Volkswagen Beetle took center stage as the Supreme Court argued about iPhones on Tuesday in a closely watched intellectual property case between Apple and Samsung over the value of design.
The case turns on three design patents covering the appearance of early editions of the iPhone—including the device’s black rectangular shape and the layout of icons on the screen—which led a jury to order Samsung to pay $399 million in damages.
The issue at stake is not whether Samsung infringed on the patents, but instead how much the Korean company should pay based on a law that allows a patent owner to receive a competitor’s “total profit.” Read Jeff John Roberts’ courtroom dispatch.
WATCH FOR IT
How Sony hopes to popularize virtual reality. On Thursday, the consumer electronics company will introduce Playstation VR. What’s particularly intriguing is that the $399 goggles will work with Sony’s PlayStation 4 video game console, found in more than 43 million homes. Technology sold by its primary rivals, HTC and Facebook’s Oculus division, requires personal computers. (Wall Street Journal)
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Sheryl Sandberg isn’t heading for Washington. Facebook’s chief operating officer said she has no plans to become Treasury or Commerce Secretary in Hillary Clinton’s cabinet. Rumors emerged last month that she was being considered. (Fortune)
Long-time Salesforce exec heads for marketing startup. Gregg Johnson, who most recently was senior vice president of product management for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, is taking over as CEO of Invoca. His new employer specializes in software that marries data about phone conversations with digital marketing campaigns. (VentureBeat)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Future Cities Could Run on Shared Fleets of Electric Self-Driving Cars, by Kirsten Korosec
Why Every Manager Needs to Know the Term ‘Cisgender’, by Ellen McGirt
GM Invests in Chinese Startup Focused on Car Rental Technology,
by Kirsten Korosec
This Is Sprint’s Plan for Helping 1 Million Disadvantaged Kids Get Online, by Aaron Pressman
ONE MORE THING
IBM will let U.S. workers use the Watson supercomputer to seek cancer treatment. The new benefit becomes effective Jan. 1. The intent is to help employees find the best oncologists, drugs, and clinical trials for their specific cancers. (Fortune)