Data Sheet—Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nicolo De Masi had me at "lovemark." The president of Essential Products, the new smartphone and other device maker headed by Android founder Andy Rubin, De Masi said Wednesday that "in the Western world there is a need for there to be a new lovemark, a brand where there is an emotive connection for consumers," according to The Wall Street Journal.

Essential's audacity is one of three improbable stories that caught my eye of late. That this startup–which announced investments from Chinese heavyweight Tencent and American heavyweight Amazon–thinks it can out-emote Apple and Samsung stands to be one of the great stories of the next 15 minutes.

Speaking of Samsung, how improbable is it that the scandal-plagued company is riding high even though its de facto leader awaits a judgement on a bribery charge and its smartphone profits blew up with the batteries of its last generation of phones? Nevertheless, brands, technical knowhow, scale, and smart investments compensate for many sins. I can't think of a company that has thrived through such adversity.

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Finally, there are the Chinese bike-sharing companies, including Mobike and Ofo. Their concept is revolutionary: borrow a bike via an app and park it anywhere when you're done. But as The Wall Street Journal relates, chaos tends to follow the dockless bikes' introductions. Billions have gone into this sector, which feels about as much like a fad as home-delivery of groceries. (Will people really cycle through the wintry streets of Beijing?)

Improbable, perhaps, but quite real all the same.

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Yesterday's essay about Netflix and Disney drew considerable feedback from readers on the question of searching across multiple services. Many people pointed out that Roku has a powerful multi-service search function (the company claims to include more than 100 providers) while others highlighted useful third-party search options such as reelworld.com and canistream.it

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Future of TV. Facebook doubled down on its video efforts, announcing a new YouTube-like effort called "Watch," a tab on its apps and web site that will carry original programming made by a wide variety of producers from NASA scientist to famed video-blogger Nas. "People like the serendipity of discovering videos in News Feed, but they also want a dedicated place they can go to watch videos," product director Daniel Danker said.

Biology analogy. Researchers at the University of Washington have created synthetic DNA that hides a computer virus in its code. Once the DNA has been sequenced, the malware can take control of a computer that tries to analyze the strand.

Almost done. As Adam mentioned, Android creator Andy Rubin's new phone startup, Essential, bolstered its coffers this week, raising $300 million in fresh capital from investors including Tencent and Amazon. And coming in a few weeks late, the first Essential phones will be delivered to customers next week, Rubin tweeted Wednesday.

Lipstick in a box. Walmart failed at developing its own e-commerce unit in-house, but has been successful so far with acquisitions, especially last year's $3.3 billion Jet.com deal. Since then, its been gobbling up smaller players. Up next could be online cosmetics seller Birchbox, Recode reports.

No fun. A couple of bad news items for Apple. The company's Carpool Karaoke series is getting panned in early reviews. "On its own, Carpool Karaoke's weaknesses are magnified," Variety reviewer Sonia Saraiya wrote. Then in China, several dozen local developers filed a complaint with Chinese antitrust authorities accusing Apple of mismanaging its app store and charging excessive fees for listings.

No fun, part II. Bad news today for Microsoft, as well. Consumer Reports pulled its recommendations for all Microsoft laptops including the Surface and Surface Book, saying the company's hardware appeared to have reliability problems that were worse than other brands by a "statistically significant margin." Microsoft said its laptops had better reliability than previous generations.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Like earlier tech giants, Facebook maintains its dominance in part by buying, copying or otherwise disrupting smaller upstarts that start to horn in on its turf. Wall Street Journal reporters Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman take a look at how the social network keeps tabs on small startups with a report on the experiences of video meeting app Houseparty. Facebook may already be trying to copy the app's features, the paper reports:

At an all-hands meeting last summer, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees they shouldn’t let pride get in the way of serving users, another way of saying they shouldn’t be afraid to copy rivals, according to someone who was at the meeting. The message became an informal internal slogan: "Don’t be too proud to copy."

BEFORE YOU GO

"But you don't have to take my word for it." That's how actor LeVar Burton used to introduce books on his amazing kids show Reading Rainbow that ran on PBS from 1983 to 2006. But Burton is locked in a dispute with Buffalo public broadcasting station WNED over a possible revival of the show.

The station sued Burton last week and, among various complaints, asked the court to stop the former host from using the catchphrase on his podcast. I guess now we will have to take his word for it.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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