I had a chuckle Monday morning when Steven Milunovich, a technology analyst with investment bank UBS, told attendees at a San Francisco conference he was hosting that Apple declined his invitation to send a company executive to speak at the event.
For his Plan B, he asked three Apple experts to form a new panel: analyst Horace Dediu, blogger (and University of Michigan senior) Mark Gurman, and myself. I was amused because I pulled a similar maneuver at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen three years ago. If Apple won’t talk about itself, then I invite others to talk about the company instead.
Apple, justifiably, remains an object of fascination for everyone ranging from product fanatics to Wall Street investors. Milunovich noted that Apple trades for a surprisingly low “multiple” to its earnings, presumably because investors think of it as a hit machine. Dediu, as shrewd an observer of Apple as they come, believes that while the company is indeed hit-driven, investors are missing the larger point. Apple, in Dediu’s view, has built up a quasi-subscription business in that customers buy something from Apple with great regularity and he doesn’t see that changing soon.
Gurman, who is studying design and entrepreneurship, among other subjects, puts great stock in all the evidence that Apple intends to build its own car. Dediu thinks the big question isn’t whether or not Apple will build a car but rather how many it will end up manufacturing. My contribution to this discussion is that while I agree Apple is planning to build a car—they have hired too many people to believe otherwise—I wouldn’t put it past the company to cancel or shelve the project if it isn’t moving along satisfactorily. It would hurt Apple to sink billions of dollars into an initiative that doesn’t see the light of day, but the sting of a multibillion-dollar flop would be worse.
When asked about the biggest risk Apple faces today, I suggested its overreliance on the iPhone. Meanwhile, Dediu believes it is the tricky task of maintaining Apple’s unique company culture, especially without Steve Jobs.
There isn’t another company on the planet that is discussed this way. Still.
BITS AND BYTES
Intelligence community scrutinizes encrypted messaging software. The weekend terrorist attacks in Paris—and the revelation Tuesday that a bomb took down the Russian jet two weeks ago in the Sinai Peninsula—are renewing concerns about encrypted apps such as Signal, Wickr, and Telegram that can be used by terrorists to send secret messages. American tech companies decry mandates that would require them to provide keys for these technologies. Government officials suggest human safety should trump privacy concerns. (New York Times)
Data-driven lending startup raises $275 million. Earnest, a two-year-old tech company that uses analytics software to evaluate credit risk, is arranging $2 million to $5 million in loans daily. It big new round includes $75 million in equity and $200 in debt financing from New York Life, and brings total backing to $325 million. (New York Times)
Warren Buffett stocks up on IBM shares. The legendary investor’s Berkshire Hathaway increased its position to 81 million shares during the third quarter, a stake worth about $11.75 billion as of Sept. 30. It’s now IBM’s biggest shareholder. Don’t take this as an endorsement of cloud computing. In the past, Buffett has expressed admiration for IBM’s financial management. (Wall Street Journal)
Why are C-suite executives abandoning Rent the Runway? Seven top executives have resigned from the fashion tech company in the past 10 months—four in the past two months alone. CEO Jennifer Hyman blames typical startup growing pains, but former employees beg to differ. Clearly, the pressure is on for the company, which raised $126 million in venture capital, to start delivering against its revenue projections. So far, it’s not. (Fortune)
Icahn goes all in with PayPal. Activist investor Carl Icahn, a big voice in convincing eBay and PayPay to split up last year, has swapped 46.3 million shares in the e-commerce company for ones in the digital payments business. As of Sept. 30, he owns 3.8% of PayPal. (Reuters)
Expect more cloud computing consolidation. IBM alone bought at least three smaller cloud software companies in 2015. Cisco and Hewlett-Packard are looking for fill gaps in their own cloud services strategies. Aliyun, the public cloud backed by Chinese retail giant Alibaba, needs to build its presence quickly. It all adds up to even more cloud-inspired mergers and acquisitions in 2016. (Fortune)
Watson can now answer your questions faster. IBM is teaming up with chipmaker Nvidia to upgrade the hardware behind its business analytics services. This will make the system 10x faster, a big deal for medical professionals and others the need insight quickly. It will also enable additional machine learning features. (Fortune)
Will this company save Wi-Fi or destroy it?
John Dooley has a machine that he takes everywhere he goes. He’s carried it with him down country lanes in Vermont, into the middle of the Mojave Desert, and up a mountain trail in Northern California. He has set up his machine in New York’s Times Square, and in downtown Boston, Washington, D.C., Denver, and nearly every other major city in the U.S.
For years Dooley, a consultant and self-appointed expert who left college after a year, has been measuring and recording wireless data traffic—the billions of transmissions that travel back and forth from smartphones and laptops to cell towers, routers, and other Internet connections. He likes to think of himself as a “21st-century version of a land surveyor.” What Dooley’s machine is telling him now is this: Wi-Fi is headed for a collapse.
But Dooley, 38, claims he has a solution to the looming crisis. Fortune’s Stephen Gandel reports on why his plan to “save” Wi-Fi has become one of the most talked-about and contentious issues in the industry—with opponents ranging from Microsoft and Google to hearing-aid manufacturers to a few very vocal hedge fund managers. (Fortune)
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
CEO Michael Dell says encryption backdoors are ‘a horrible idea’ by Robert Hackett
Zenefits CEO confirms that sales are growing slower than expected
by Jonathan Vanian
We need to keep the ‘reality’ in virtual reality by Mathew Ingram
New Netflix tool could ease cloud deployment for big companies
by Barb Darrow
Anonymous declares cyberwar on ISIS. Why it matters. by Don Reisinger
STEM toys made just for girls are the new hot trend by Pamela Kruger
ONE MORE THING
Why fashion site Polyvore sold itself to Yahoo. Founder Jess Lee thinks the combined companies can dramatically improve mobile commerce conversion rates and help retailers turn mobile browsers into buyers. “The company has learned that content and community can be a powerful thing,” she said. (Fortune)
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy: