The daily download on the business of technology.
Professionals used to have their place in the world and rarely strayed from it. Analysts analyzed, investors invested, executives operated, and journalists reported.
Now you have people like Ben Thompson, the American proprietor of the newsletter Stratechery, who happens to live in Taiwan. Thompson is one of the keenest observers of the tech scene, having previously worked at Apple, Microsoft, and the online publishing software company Automattic, creator of WordPress. His academic background says a lot about his range and why techies of all stripes devour his writing: He studied political science as an undergraduate, picked up a masters in “design and innovation,” and then became an MBA. He’s a triple threat, in other words, as an observer and analyst. He’s a clean writer too—no mean feat.
I write all this to clue you in, if you aren’t already, to his “freemium” product, which includes one outstanding free piece per week plus more you’ve got to pay for. He regularly sets Silicon Valley abuzz with his widely circulated free articles, like the one he wrote last week about Apple’s “China problem.”
I encourage you to read the whole thing to see how Thompson’s fertile mind works. But I’ll give you one spoiler here: The “problem” of which he writes actually comes in the form of praising Apple with faint damnation. Apple’s iPhone sales are slipping in China, you see. Thompson believes that while Chinese phone buyers are as besotted by the iPhone as a status symbol as the rest of the world, what’s most important in China is the messaging and payment and game-playing service WeChat. (WeChat, incidentally, is part of the Chinese Internet behemoth Tencent that’s worth nearly $300 billion; Curiously, Thompson doesn’t once mention Tencent.) In Thompson’s estimation, WeChat matters more in China than Apple’s software platform iOS and also more than Apple’s gorgeous hardware.
What about the faint damnation part? Thompson isn’t sure Apple is finished in China, despite its decline. “To be sure,” he writes, like any good journalist, “an iPhone is still status-conferring: Apple is by no means doomed, and it’s possible those China numbers will turn positive this fall.” But, he concludes, the “lock-in” it enjoys elsewhere in the world appears to be more tenuous in China.
Here in the U.S. we call that a success problem.
Together, not the same. The two top cable companies, Comcast and Charter Communications, have struck a partnership over plans to offer wireless service. The information and technology sharing deal includes an agreement not to make a major wireless acquisition without the other’s consent for one year. Comcast has already released details of its upcoming wireless service, and Charter is expected to do so soon.
Open the pod by doors, Hal. Amazon’s early bet on home automation device Echo is paying off. The e-commerce giant has a 70% share of the emerging voice-controlled speaker market compared to 24% for rival Google, research firm eMarketer said on Monday.
iPhone gossip alert. Amid conflicting rumors, on Monday the latest report out of Apple’s leak-crazy Asian suppliers suggested that new versions of the iPhone will arrive as usual in September, as earlier manufacturing issues have been resolved.
Not an Apple rumor. With many on Wall Street saying Apple should acquire a major media company, two analysts at Goldman Sachs turned the tables and wrote that it is Google that needs to up its M&A efforts. Trailing far behind Amazon and Microsoft in cloud services, Google should bolster its cloud pitch by buying a software or services company with big sales to corporate customers, the analysts said.
Self-driving rocket. The Air Force’s robotic space plane, the X-37B, finally landed on Sunday after a record-setting flight of 718 days circling the planet. The craft, which resembles a smaller version of the manned space shuttle, is used to test classified gear for guidance, autonomous flight and other technologies.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Comedian John Oliver is back on the net neutrality beat. As he did three years ago, Oliver on Sunday called on viewers of his show, Last Week Tonight, to submit comments in favor of the online anti-discrimination rules to the Federal Communications Commission. Unlike 2014, when the FCC was considering adopting the rules, the agency is now seeking to roll the rules back at the behest of big telecom firms like Verizon and AT&T.
And Oliver again used humor in trying to parry the industry’s arguments. “So when Verizon claims, ‘We love the open Internet. Why don’t we just put it on a different legal footing,’ it’s basically O.J. Simpson asking why you won’t let him hold any of your samurai swords,” Oliver said.
People on both sides of the debate could learn from Oliver’s ability to discuss the sometimes-wonky issue in language anyone can understand.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Artificial Intelligence Fails on Kentucky Derby Predictions by David Z. Morris
How to Stop the Next Google Docs Freakout by Jeff John Roberts
How T-Mobile Turned a Tough Merger Into an Industry Success by Aaron Pressman
Apple’s U.S. iPhone User Base Hits 136 Million by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
Smartphones are great for watching Snapchat stories, hailing rides, and crushing rows of colorful candy icons with your finger. But they aren’t so great for personal relationships, according to much recent research. For some tips on turning down the buzz, check out this advice in the New York Times last week.