Data Sheet—Tuesday, March 21, 2017
I’ve never taken much interest in chess, playing or watching it. Tech industry dealmaking chess, on the other hand, is fascinating.
Take word (in the form of a deeply reported scoop Monday night by The Wall Street Journal’s Rolfe Winkler) that Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank has pulled out of an investment that would have valued Andy Rubin’s new company, Essential Products, at more than $1 billion.
A scorecard might be necessary here, so let me try to unpack this for you. Son is the brilliant investor who partnered with Yahoo in Japan (and invested in it in the U.S.), bought a lucrative stake in Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba, and owns Sprint, the trailing-behind U.S. cellular carrier. He tried and failed once to merge Sprint with T-Mobile, and he lately has been romancing Donald Trump in what looks like an obvious attempt to rekindle that deal. Son also is behind a new $100 billion investment fund whose major partner is the Saudi government. Oh, and a tiny sliver of that fund, $1 billion, has been pledged by Apple.
Now, back to Rubin, who founded Android, which became Google’s mobile operating system and a thorn in Apple’s side. Winkler reports that Son was all set to invest in Rubin’s high-end smartphone startup and changed his mind at the last minute. The presumed reason: He didn’t want to offend his partner, Apple.
Some thoughts. First, if Rubin is onto something good, you’d think a smartphone competitor to Apple with deep pockets might want to step in. Candidates would include Samsung, Huawei or even, so long as pride doesn’t get in the way, Google. Next, this is the second time recently Apple has used its balance sheet to be relevant rather than to invest in its business. Last summer, it put $1 billion into Uber competitor Didi Chuxing, providing it with critical cash and likely pleasing various interests in China. Third, Son is easily the most interesting combination tech investor-operator around these days. It almost makes you want to start watching chess.
BITS AND BYTES
Walmart sets up shop in Silicon Valley. The retailer is creating an innovation center, called Store No. 8, to develop new retail technologies—including proprietary robotics, virtual and augmented reality applications, and services that use machine learning and artificial intelligence approaches. Target scrapped a similar project last month. By the way, Walmart’s e-commerce leader, former Jet.com founder Marc Lore, is looking for more online acquisitions. (Fortune, Recode)
Alphabet’s self-driving car company poaches eBay executive. Waymo has hired a new vice president of public policy and government affairs, Tekedra Mawakana. She left a similar position at eBay to take the job, and has also handled similar tasks for Yahoo and AOL. (Reuters)
Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar are collaborating to create a massive earth-image database. The billionaire founders of Microsoft and eBay are funding the “Radiant Earth” project, which will include aerial, satellite, and drone data. The group plans to give environmental and humanitarian groups free access to this resource. (Reuters)
Yes, the Supreme Court is really hearing a case over printer cartridge refills. Printer giant Lexmark sued a far smaller company, Impression Products, for disabling technology in its toner cartridges, refilling them, and selling them at a lower price than “authorized” products. The case has far broader implications when it comes to how patent owners can limit what people can do with their products after they are sold. (Fortune)
SoftBank sinks $300 million into office-space startup WeWork. The investment is part of a larger round of funding that could eventually reach $3 billion, reports Reuters. The rest of the money could come from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is flush with backing from sovereign investors like Saudi Arabia and corporate contributors such as Apple and Qualcomm. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
IBM’s cloud chief lays out Big Blue’s case. Former Weather Channel technology guru David Kenny, who is IBM’s senior vice president of cloud and Watson, believes IBM has a better story to tell than rivals like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google when it comes to keeping local data local, as required by some countries’ privacy and data sovereignty laws. What’s more, IBM is better able to help Fortune 500 companies manage some data and applications running in their own data centers alongside some in a public cloud owned and operated by IBM, Kenny said. Expect to hear these themes sounded loudly at the company’s InterConnect conference this week.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
How Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Will Boost Its Bixby Digital Assistant, by Aaron Pressman
Here Are All the Execs Who Have Left Uber in the Last Month, by Polina Marinova
Snap Finally Gets Its First ‘Buy’ Rating, by Lucinda Shen
Google’s New Toolkit Is Called ‘Protect Your Election’, by Jeff John Roberts
Wait, Chinese Bike-Sharing Doesn’t Make Any Sense, by Scott Cendrowski
Apple iPhone Owners Get More Time for AppleCare Insurance, by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
Watch Jeff Bezos have fun piloting a giant robot. The Amazon founder and CEO is investing substantially in robotics technology for home automation, space exploration, and all sorts of retail supply chain applications. (The Verge, Fortune)