Every now and then I amuse myself by reading an Amazon.com press release. Amazon's releases are a veritable art form in that they say as much as possible while divulging as few specific details as possible. Amazon discloses just enough to brag but far too little to learn anything meaningful.
Press releases are an important part of Amazon's culture. Part of its quirky shtick is for executives proposing a new product or service first to write a press release envisioning the future announcement of what they're pitching. It's a way to make the case that pursuing the investment in question is a good idea. I wonder, though, if Amazon's confidential, internal press releases are as void of true information as the company’s actual, public releases.
The work of art that caught my attention Wednesday was Amazon's announcement of "the Biggest Global Shopping Event in Amazon History" on its recently concluded 30-hour "Prime Day." This is a promotion during which customers who buy an annual Prime membership that comes with free delivery, music, videos and other goodies, get access to ultra-steep discounts across Amazon's platforms.
How big was this historic day? The company had "hundreds of thousands of deals"—a data point big enough to drive an Amazon delivery truck through. The "event grew by more than 60%" from last year. Is that revenues? Profits? Units? Amazon doesn't say. And what was the figure last year that 60% growth figure compares too? Nope, not saying. Amazon declared that "tens of millions of Prime members" made a purchase on Prime Day, a 50%-plus increase from the year before. These are both vague figures designed to awe without disclosing any real data.
Continuing a favorite practice, Amazon says its Echo Dot was its "best-selling device" of the shopping day. How many units does it take to be a best-seller? Amazon doesn't say. It throws some bones to non-Amazon products too. A programmable pressure cooker sold well in the U.S. (sales figures omitted), a Moto smartphone crushed it in Spain (but you'll have to take Amazon's word for it because there's no data attached to it), and its customers in India really liked a Seagate disc drive, though we don't know how many of them liked it.
By the way, Amazon's grand pooh-bah of retail, Jeff Wilke, appears at Brainstorm Tech next week in Aspen. I plan to push him for specifics. I won’t hold my breath.
Virtual spending habits. The great digital currency bull run of 2017 screeched to a halt in early June. Shortly after hitting all-time highs—bitcoin broke $3,000 and Ethereum nudged $400—the party ended, and cryptocurrencies of all stripes plunged. Alex Sunnarborg, a researcher at Coindesk, tweeted Wednesday that bitcoin has lost 7%, Ether is down 29% and Ripple fell 39%. None of which deterred a couple of wise guys sitting behind Federal Reserve president Janet Yellen from holding up a sign visible on TV at yesterday's Congressional hearing saying "Buy Bitcoin." But the wags at Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley had a very different message: sell!.
Virtual spending habits, take two. PayPal and Apple are making nice. The iPhone maker will let customers link their PayPal accounts to their Apple ID accounts to make payments for the App Store, Apple Music, iBookstore, and iTunes. Access will be available in a limited number of countries, including the U.S., Mexico, France, Germany, and Canada.
That doggy in the window. Fast-growing, pet-sitter listing service Rover.com raised another $65 million in venture capital. Fueled in part by its acquisition of competitor DogVacay in March, the company says its net revenue will increase 200% this year. The VC money will go for international expansion, new services for sitters and owners, and marketing efforts.
Famous name hacks. Trump International Hotels said a data breach at service provider Sabre's central reservation system compromised card payment details at 14 of its properties. Crooks got information including payment card numbers and card security codes off of some of the hotel chain's reservations. And Verizon says personal data from about six million customers was accidentally left unprotected online, but it has seen no reports of loss or theft.
Under pressure. Well, many people thought 2017 was going to be a banner year for startups going public (present company included). Bloomberg notes that it hasn't turned out that way-at all. Now the back up of venture-capital backed companies valued at over $1 billion, the unicorns, is bigger than ever and a reckoning may be coming.
Double, double toil, and trouble. Photos of Jupiter's great red spot are flowing back to Earth from the Juno space probe. NASA has some of the official, unprocessed photos of the massive swirling storm up on its web site. But the real action (and the real magnificent beauty) is on the Juno mission site, where pro and amateur photogs can download the raw images and post their own edits.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"The future is already here—it's just not evenly distributed" goes the maxim coined by sci-fi author William Gibson. That's certainly true about self-driving cars. This week, Audi introduced a new high-end flagship for its fleet, the 2018 A8 luxury sedan, with a starting price over $100,000. It's not the car for everyone, but it's featuring some of the most advanced automated driving tech ever to be put into the hands of regular people. And eventually, per Gibson, it will available to all.
Designated as "level 3 autonomy" by the industry, the new behemoth from Audi includes an "AI Traffic Jam Pilot" feature that can fully take control at speeds up to 37 miles per hour for starting, braking, accelerating, and steering. Unlike other car companies' auto pilots, drivers do not have to put their hands back on the steering every few seconds. Audi promises:
The driver no longer needs to monitor the car permanently. They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back control of the task of driving.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This Is Why The PC Market Isn’t Cratering Like It Once Was by Jonathan Vanian
What Is Net Neutrality and Why Should You Care? by Aric Jenkins
Pinterest Bolsters Ad Team With Execs from Google and Facebook by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
Microsoft Debuts AI Unit to Take on Tricky Questions by Barb Darrow
Apple Is Building a Data Center in This Country by Jonathan Vanian
Mark Zuckerberg Calls for Keeping Net Neutrality—the Real Version by Jeff John Roberts
Where AT&T Is Expanding Fastest Mobile Service Next by Aaron Pressman
BEFORE YOU GO
As if the problem of fake news wasn't serious enough, here comes the fake news backed by artificial intelligence. Researchers at the University of Washington are using machine learning programs to create fake video clips that are virtually impossible for humans to discern from real clips. Next up? Training computers to call out the fakes.