Data Sheet–Friday, September 29, 2017
First, we had the Anti-Uber Alliance. Then the Anti-Amazon Alliance. As of Wednesday, a new coalition exists that nearly might be the Anti-Samsung Alliance.
I say “nearly” because the group of U.S., South Korean and other investors that came together to take control of the memory-chip unit of Japan’s Toshiba have other motives than to thwart Samsung. Led by investor Bain Capital, the group includes Apple, a venture capital unit of Dell and disk drive maker Seagate. It is pumping $14 billion into beleaguered Toshiba, a distant second to Samsung in the market for the kind of memory required by smartphones and similar devices. Without a financially viable Toshiba, Samsung would be an even more powerful supplier.
This isn’t the sexiest deal of the day, but it might be the most important. It also illustrates the tangled web technology companies weave. Apple battles fiercely with Samsung over smartphones. It also buys Samsung’s chips and other technology by the containerload. (They might be airlifted, actually, but you get the idea.) Samsung once held a major stake in Seagate, but it sold it off last year, and Seagate is more interested in stymieing competitor Western Digital. That U.S. company claims it can veto a sale of Toshiba because of an operating agreement between the two companies.
The deal illustrates some other business truisms. Apple, for example, has become creative in spreading around its prodigious cash. In the past 18 months alone, it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing startup Didi, $1 billion in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and now what looks like another billion or so in Toshiba. (According to a Toshiba statement, U.S companies Apple, Kingston Technology, Seagate, and Dell are investing a combined $3.7 billion.)
The deal also shows the power of diversification. Weakened Toshiba survives because of its position in memory chips. The same is true for Samsung, which not so long ago suffered the indignity of having a public announcement before every flight in the U.S. that its phones were not allowed onboard. Without its chip business it might have suffered more than humiliation.
Insufficient. Twitter executives came to Washington D.C. to brief Congress on Russian meddling efforts in the recent election, but lawmakers were not assuaged. Senator Mark Warner, for one, called Twitter’s briefing “deeply disappointing” and said it “begs many more questions.”
Costly beer tab. Hackers hit taprooms, restaurants and other venues hosted inside some Whole Foods stores, grabbing customer credit card info. The grocery stores themselves use a separate checkout system and weren’t impacted, Whole Foods said. Separately, new Whole Foods owner Amazon may have sold online less than $2 million worth of grocery products from its acquisition so far, according to an estimate cited by the Wall Street Journal.
Have you ever noticed. In a neat bit of cosmic symmetry, assemble-it-yourself furniture purveyor Ikea has bought TaskRabbit, the digital marketplace for hiring people to assemble Ikea furniture (and other jobs), Recode reported. Quick, someone tell Jerry Seinfeld.
Banning bitcoin. South Korea’s financial regulators banned the technique of raising money for startups via issuing digital currency coins, the increasingly popular technique known as an initial coin offering, or ICO. Swiss authorities, too, are investigating ICOs. And in the United States, two firms withdrew applications to list funds that own bitcoin, after the Securities and Exchange Commission signaled it was unlikely to approve the requests at this time. That could change when futures contracts pegged to the price of bitcoin start trading at the Chicago Board Options Exchange later this year.
Box bop. Despite the struggles of other hardware makers like GoPro and Fitbit, investors snapped up shares in the initial public offering of Roku, maker of the most popular Internet video set top box. After pricing 18 million shares at $14, the stock closed at $23.50 on Thursday, an impressive 68% first day pop that leaves the company valued at over $2 billion. And the shares were up another 11% in premarket trading on Friday morning.
Knocking off the pigs. In other IPO news, Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment went public on the Helsinki exchange. Mobile game publishers like Zynga and King Digital had possibly an even worse IPO track record that hardware makers, but Rovio priced its shares at 11.5 euros, the high end of the expected range, valuing the company at just over $1 billion.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Apple Explains Why It Can’t Do What the FCC Wants In Hurricane Hit Areas by Aaron Pressman
Here’s How Google’s Parental Controls for Android Work by David Meyer
GoPro Launches Fusion 360-Degree Camera by Michal Lev-Ram
Equifax’s Latest Offer: Is It Enough? by Jeff John Roberts
This Internet TV Service Has The Best Channel Lineup by Aaron Pressman
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Nat Levy visited the future and it wasn’t so great. The reporter for the tech news site GeekWire spent Thursday night watching the first National Football League game broadcast online by Amazon so you didn’t have to. And Levy wasn’t terribly impressed, at least not at first.
In typical Amazon fashion, the company disclosed not how many people watched the game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, but that people watched from 149 different countries. The game was only available to Amazon Prime subscribers but via a variety of hardware platforms, Levy noted:
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.
The Massive Hedge Fund Betting on AI
The program stayed in quarantine until 2014, when a senior portfolio manager with a Ph.D. in mathematical logic named Nick Granger decided it was time to take it out of testing. He gave the AI system a small amount of money from a portfolio he was managing—then more, then more again. At each step, the program was profitable. “It withstood everything we threw at it,” says Granger, who has a bookish demeanor, with short blond hair, squinty eyes, and rectangular dark-rimmed glasses. “We couldn’t break it.”
Why Futurist Ray Kurzweil Isn’t Worried About Technology Stealing Your Job
Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but burned down our houses. It’s very clear that overall human life has gotten better, although technology amplifies both our creative and destructive impulses. A lot of people think things are getting worse, partly because that’s actually an evolutionary adaptation: It’s very important for your survival to be sensitive to bad news. A little rustling in the leaves may be a predator, and you better pay attention to that. All of these technologies are a risk.
Dumb Things The Camera Companies Are Still Doing
As much as we talk about the lack of true innovation in the camera market, particularly when it comes to integration with the Internet and social media, every day I keep encountering cameras that have the same “hey this is the way it used to be” design philosophies underlying them. I call it “lazy engineering.” Someone up top in management keeps screaming “cut costs,” and one of the ways you can cut costs is to not redesign something you’ve already designed. Just go with the solutions you’ve been using. Just use the parts you’ve been using. Buy cheaper, not-leading-edge parts.
The New Fight For Labor Rights
Some of the greatest gains in labor history have come from workers organizing to fight illegal or unprotected conditions—whether it was farmworkers going on strike to protest low wages, or public school teachers mobilizing for collective bargaining rights at the state level. It’s not just Republicans holding back workers—it’s also the timidity of unions themselves. “There has to be a willingness to break the law as a way to highlight injustices,” (labor strategist Stephen) Lerner says, “to show we can go on offense.”
BEFORE YOU GO
Finally, on this fall Friday, if you’re traveling somewhere this weekend on a long flight, know that Elon Musk feels your pain. While pitching his plans to send rockets to Mars, the billionaire also showed a video of how the space craft could be used to shorten journeys on earth. New York to London in 29 minutes, anyone?