Your regular host, Adam Lashinsky, is on assignment. Michal Lev-Ram is a senior writer at Fortune.
Spring is in the air, pollen and all. That means the end of ski season is near—perfect timing for a little reflection on how technology has become front and center in the skiing experience.
It’s been a spectacular winter for the Lake Tahoe ski industry. After several years of drought, El Nino blessed California with the most snow it has had since 2012. But pristine powder isn’t the only new thing on the slopes this year. Increasingly, mobile apps and social features are table stakes for Tahoe resorts, letting skiers track their vertical feet and purchase those annoying photos someone’s always taking of you at the top of the mountain. As I discovered on a recent reporting expedition to Lake Tahoe (I swear, it was for work), even the way the mountains are groomed and artificial snow is made has changed. Just as you would expect, much of the process is now automated, controlled remotely by—you guessed it—mobile devices.
A lot of the noticeable innovations on the slopes are about consumer-facing mobile features (and, of course, drones—more on that in a bit). Vail Resorts, which owns Tahoe’s Northstar and Heavenly, has had a chief information officer for years, and now has a growing team of developers who work on mobile apps. The company launched its EpicMix ski app about six years ago, and has added features like social sharing in recent years. (One new addition that has yet to make it to Tahoe: a tool that shows wait times at different lifts.)
Back when I first learned to ski, a frighteningly long time ago, the coolest “tech” on the mountain was the gondola. But it wasn’t all that frighteningly long ago that cell phone reception was still spotty at the top of the mountain. Now, places like Vail-owned resorts are giving skiers more reasons to pull out their phones on the slopes—and not just to take selfies. The company says EpicMix now has about 700,000 users.
And then there is the small matter of drones. At nearby Squaw Valley (not owned by Vail), skiers can now pay $99 to have a drone film them making their way down the mountain. In order to make this dream-you-didn’t-know-you-had come true, the resort partnered with a company called Cape Productions. “We are competing with lots of other opportunities for how people spend money on their leisure time,” says Louis Gresham, one of the skiers-turned-techies who started Cape.
At this point, drones are a tiny business for ski resorts (Gresham says that in addition to sharing revenue with the resorts, Cape gives them access to the footage they shoot). But I’m willing to bet that, like it or not, they will have a growing presence on the slopes. That is, of course, if the damn weather doesn’t get in the way.
One drawback to all those winter storms we’ve been getting here in the California mountains: High winds and heavy precipitation make it very hard for drones to fly. Even in the age of software, Mother Nature still rules.
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BITS AND BYTES
Intel pledges more financial transparency. Starting with its next quarterly report due out on April 19, the chip maker will highlight results for several more of its individual businesses far more specifically. Slated to go under the microscope: the programmable chips division created through Intel’s acquisition of Altera, the flash storage group, and the security software operation. Results for other two emerging businesses—drones and wearables technologies—will be included in an “other” category. (Wall Street Journal)
Barclays bets on bitcoin. The British banking giant has formed a partnership with social payments app startup Circle, which is backed with $76 million in funding from investors including Goldman Sachs. Circle is the first digital currency company to receive an e-money license from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority. (Reuters, New York Times)
Twitter makes new moms, dads, and football fans happy. Effective May 1, the social network will increase the amount of paid leave it guarantees for new parents to 20 weeks—regardless of gender. Meanwhile, the social network has announced an intriguing new relationship with the NFL. Starting next season, it will “stream” Thursday night games—but it hasn’t yet explained exactly how it will do that. (Fortune, Fortune)
Messaging upstart WhatsApp dramatically alters privacy settings. The Facebook-owned service—used by 1 billion people—has adopted far stronger end-to-end encryption technology. The protection happens automatically, provided you use the latest app update. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum is an outspoken advocate of consumers’ right to keep their conversations private. (Fortune)
Intel bulks up self-driving car initiatives. The company disclosed two acquisitions related to its autonomous vehicle and robotics initiatives. It’s buying Yogitech, which specializes in safety features, and Arynga, which makes software allowing cars to receive over-the-air updates. (Fortune)
PayPal cancels North Carolina expansion plan. The digital payments company won’t build an operations center there after all, citing the state’s sweeping new law that forbids local ordinances protecting gay and bisexual people from discrimination. Tech giants Apple, Facebook, Google, and IBM have also criticized the legislation. PayPal is apparently the first company to alter its business strategy because of it. (Fortune)
Next stop for tech activism: Mississippi. IBM, Microsoft, and Salesforce are voicing their criticism of the state’s new “religious liberty law.” Policy experts at the software giants believe it’s a thinly valued attempt (yes, another one) to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples. (Fortune)
Can computer chips thwart apparel counterfeiters? Fashion label Moncler is embedding radio frequency identification (RFID) tags into its luxury jackets to prove they are authentic. Consumers scan the tags using a mobile app, which provides more information about the clothing’s origin. The technology will first appear in Moncler’s spring-summer collection. (Fortune)
How IBM’s Watson Health group is transforming the health care industry. Imagine you have a rare, undiagnosed disease that has stumped doctor after doctor. What if there were a single, secure database that could read your symptoms then run through thousands of clinical studies, similar patient records, and medical textbooks to present a risk-matched list of potential diseases?
Just one year after its launch, IBM Watson Health is starting to make this seemingly impossible task a reality, thanks to its powerful cognitive computing platform and a wide-reaching partnership strategy that includes organizations like the Mayo Clinic, CVS Health, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Fortune writer Laura Lorenzetti offers a progress report.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Why eBay plans to sell branded boxes by Leena Rao
How Adobe sparks innovation by paying people to fail by Anne Fisher
Kik launches a ‘bot shop’ because bot shops are the new app stores
by Erin Griffith
Under Armour wants to use data to make you healthier by John Kell
Photographer spent three months highlighting diversity in tech
by Kia Kokalitcheva
Your Apple Store bags are about to change by Don Reisinger
HTC Vive is a high-end VR system with notable flaws by Chris Morris
Medium wants to be a one-stop shop for publishers by Mathew Ingram
Etsy expands seller tools with a website maker by Kia Kokalitcheva
ONE MORE THING
HP claims world’s skinniest laptop. Its new Spectre notebook computer is 10.4 millimeters “thin” compared with the Apple MacBook Air’s 17 mm girth. It weighs in around 2.45 pounds, depending on how many high-end features someone loads in. (Fortune)
|This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.|