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Data Sheet—Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May 4, 2016, 12:33 PM UTC

Michal Lev-Ram is a senior writer at Fortune.

In case you haven’t noticed, virtual reality is all around us. Facebook’s doing it, the PGA Tour is doing it, and The New York Times is doing it. So is the San Francisco International Film Festival.

I stopped by the annual event for cinema-lovers last weekend to check out its first-ever “VR Day,” a showcase of made-for-virtual-reality shorts. My conclusion? In case I had any skepticism about VR becoming a mainstream form of entertainment, those doubts are no longer there.

The event was held at Gray Area—an “electronic arts and performance” venue—in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. When I first walked into the darkened space, I had to wait a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. A handful of circular tables were scattered throughout the room, each surrounded by leather office chairs. Swiveling around in those office chairs were the viewers (best described as futuristic hipsters), each sporting a clunky VR headset and headphones. As they turned in their chairs, they looked up and down and to their sides, their bodies contorting to take in every possible angle of a scene only they could see.

One of the tricky things about VR Day is that you must wait your turn—everyone needs a headset and headphones and a place to sit in order to get the experience, and that’s a lot harder to scale than a 3D movie in a normal theater. But most of the short films I watched were worth the wait.

The best were the ones that played with your senses—Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart made me feel like I was standing right on the icy dwarf planet. Another standout, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, explored the cognitive and emotional experience of losing one’s vision. Using “binaural” audio and beautiful animations, the immersive experience was probably the most striking and vivid of the short movies featured at VR Day. For those few moments that I had my Samsung Gear headset on, and was completely enveloped and engrossed in the filmmaker’s world, I was no longer in San Francisco’s hipster mecca. I was transported to another reality—an utterly virtual reality that felt totally real.

It’s not clear what business models will win out in the world of virtual reality. Which headsets and platforms will dominate? Will people pay money to come to mainstream VR events like they do to go to the theater? Will they opt to buy a VR entertainment system for their home?

A recent Fortune story on the future of VR suggests the market for the budding technology could be worth $150 billion in just four years. But it also points out that no one really knows which companies, technologies, and experiences will win out.

Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose dominating social network started shipping the Oculus Rift headset in March (a reminder: Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014), says it’s early days. As Zuck said during the company’s recent earnings call: “We don’t expect VR to take off as a mainstream success right away. I really want to emphasize that. Most Rift early adopters are gamers and developers, but eventually we believe that VR is going to be the next big computing platform, and we’re making the investments necessary to lead the way there.”

The next big computing platform? I have to say I’m sold.

Michal Lev-Ram

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Amazon, Facebook change financial reporting methods. Many high-profile Internet companies still don't break out expenses associated with stock-based compensation, despite using it liberally. That's why so many use metrics other than generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to express their results. The sector is feeling more pressure to disclose those expenses, reports Bloomberg, and both Amazon and Facebook are becoming far more transparent. (Bloomberg)

IBM wants researchers to play with its quantum computer. Pretty much anyone can test the technology through an IBM Research project, provided they're technical enough. Among other things, the tech giant wants outsiders to prove whether it works as expected. (Fortune, Wired)

Apple hires robotics expert who co-founded Google X. Yoky Matsuoka, who has been recognized for breakthrough work in neurorobotics, left her position as head of technology at Alphabet's Nest division last spring. She intended to take a job at Twitter until a "life-threatening illness" got in the way. At Apple, Matsuoka will focus on health projects. (Fortune)

Brazilian judge reverses WhatsApp ban. Facebook's popular messaging service was restored in the country on Tuesday, after a high-court justice struck down a ban imposed by a lower-court justice who is overseeing a drug-trafficking case. WhatsApp has refused to turn over personal data for individuals involved in the case. The controversy is far from over. Like many other countries, Brazil is reconsidering its stance on digital privacy. (New York Times, Reuters)

Pinterest gets more serious about ad sales. The social networking company, which offers on online pin-board service, has hired at least half of the team at mobile ad-tech company URX, including the founder. URX specialized in "deep-linking" technology that injects ads into mobile apps. What's more, Pinterest's sales team is again calling on prospects from financial services firms, automakers, and restaurant chains, reports The Wall Street Journal. There are now more than 10,000 advertisers on the platform. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

Twitter stock hits new low. The unprofitable company's shares have lost more than 50% of their value over the past six months, closing Tuesday at $14. So far, CEO Jack Dorsey's turnaround efforts aren't inspiring confidence in investors. (Fortune)

Sprint's latest results portend tough times ahead for tablet makers. The wireless carrier lost 36,000 tablet subscribers in its fourth quarter, which it reported Tuesday. The same trend has emerged in results for Verizon Communications, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Tablet sales by carriers peaked at 2.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. They were an estimated 90,000 in the most recent quarter. (Fortune)

Microsoft buys connected coffee maker specialist. The software giant is paying an undisclosed amount for five-year-old Italian company Solair, which makes technology for connecting devices in workplace settings. The startup uses Microsoft's cloud services to run its software. (Fortune)

New drone advocacy group launches. The Commercial Drone Alliance wants to promote the interests of businesses that want to use unmanned aerial vehicles for tasks such as flyover inspections or deliveries. Cisco is a founding member. (Fortune)


Female tech leaders create group to fix Silicon Valley's diversity problem. Silicon Valley executives have talked a lot of about the lack of diversity in their ranks. But as annual workplace demographic reports from their companies show, not much is changing.

So a group of prominent women has taken matters into their own hands, with a new initiative unveiled Tuesday called Project Include.

The women—Susan Wu, Laura I. Gómez, Erica Baker, Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Bethanye McKinney Blount, Freada Kapor Klein—all pushed for greater diversity within the tech industry long before the new initiative, which will receive attention outside of their day jobs. Venture capitalist Pao, for example, last year lost a lawsuit she filed against her former employer Kleiner Perkins over allegations that it had discriminated against her because of her gender.

Project Include will work with companies to track their employee demographics over about seven months, regularly work to increase their diversity levels, and eventually share anonymized data with other companies. The group will also work with venture capital firms that back and mentor startups. (Fortune)


White House wants to discuss pros and cons of artificial intelligence
by Barb Darrow

Larry Summers believes in blockchain, not sure about bitcoin
by Jeff John Roberts

What Adobe's acquisition of Livefyre says about the future of marketing by Heather Clancy

Tech CEO apologizes for 'insensitive' comments about street peddlers by Chris Morris

Verizon strikers dig in by Aaron Pressman

Let's put Marissa Mayer's $55 million exit package into context
by Geoff Colvin

10-year-old Finnish kid finds Instagram flaw by David Meyer

Shares of fintech lenders OnDeck and Lending Club are getting crushed by Stephen Gandel

Why GE, Chevron, and other energy giants are backing big data startup Maana by Heather Clancy


Who really wants self-driving cars anyway? Billions are being spent on technologies that will allow vehicles to operate autonomously. Even minivans are getting a makeover. But more than three-quarters of the respondents to several recent surveys want nothing to do with them. (Bloomberg, Fortune)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.