Sometimes covering the technology industry feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Massively ambitious companies rise up to take up startling challenges—that other companies have tried and failed to do before.
A professional generation ago I covered the rise of a company called Iridium. Backed by Motorola, it wanted to launch a network of satellites that would put communications in reach for the entire world. Iridium had a competitor, Globalstar, backed by satellite launcher Loral and communications-chip designer Qualcomm. Iridium and Globastar, both still around, lost their investors a ton of money and never quite became what their blue-chip founders had hoped.
Now comes OneWeb, a newer satellite communications company that wants to provide the world with Internet service. One of its backers is Qualcomm, which wins points for persistence. OneWeb has landed a $1 billion investment from SoftBank, the Japanese telephone and Internet giant that wants to put $50 billion in investment capital to work.
Will it work? OneWeb is up against some fearsome competition in the bring-the-Internet-to-the-great-unwashed field. SpaceX, Google, and Facebook are three contenders, each run by a visionary founder. As it happens, OneWeb also has a character at the helm, an entrepreneur named Greg Wyler. I highly recommend the definitive treatment on Wyler that Ashlee Vance wrote early last year in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. It’s quite a yarn.
One thing feels certain: If the current crop of satellite dreamers fails, another generation will try again.
Sensible man that he is, Tim Cook explained to Apple employees Monday why he gritted his teeth and met with the President-elect. (The teeth-gritting trope is my interpretation, not his words.) A paraphrased short version: A leader of a massive public company wins no points for pigheadedness. It is far better to engage than merely to wish someone else had won.
BITS AND BYTES
Uber is still losing money hand over fist. The rate of its losses decelerated in the third quarter after the ride-sharing company left China, courtesy of a deal with rival Didi Chuxing, reports The Information. But it still lost a whopping $800 million. Uber has insisted that its U.S. business is profitable, but it’s not commenting on this latest story. (Fortune)
Apple may manufacture products in India. The move would be part of a larger arrangement that would give the tech giant permission to open stores in the country. Apple has only a tiny presence in India today, an estimated 5% of what could soon become the world’s second largest smartphone market after China. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Much ado over group video-chat apps. Facebook moved to support video conversations with Messenger earlier this year—at least 245 million people take advantage of this feature every month. Now, it can accommodate conversations among 50 people. Plus, keep your eyes on Fam, a free group video chat for the iPhone that’s been downloaded more than 1 million times since Dec. 5. (VentureBeat, Fortune)
No, Apple isn’t giving up on desktop computers. In a note to Apple employees, CEO Tim Cook described this category as “very strategic” even though the company didn’t update any of its products in 2016. (Ars Technica)
BlackBerry plans to invest $76 million in self-driving car software. The once-great smartphone maker is opening a new research center in Ottawa, where it plans to hire up to 600 engineers. (Wall Street Journal)
This alternative to Amazon’s cloud services is struggling. With Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Cisco Systems downsizing their respective OpenStack-based public cloud efforts recently, the already-struggling open-source cloud framework lost two of its key corporate backers.
OpenStack launched in 2011 to give business customers an alternative to Amazon Web Services in public cloud and VMware in private data centers. But now with two major public cloud adherents backing away, skeptics wonder if the technology has a future in the realm of shared data center infrastructure. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Here’s How the Nokia Brand Is Coming Back to Smartphones, by Aaron Pressman
Democrats Are 3 Times More Likely to Unfriend You on Social Media, by Jeff John Roberts
LinkedIn’s Lynda.com Resets 55,000 Passwords After Data Breach, by Robert Hackett
Bill Gates Was My Secret Santa, Says Reddit User, by Barb Darrow
Nike’s $720 Tech Sneakers Are Selling Well, by Don Reisinger
ONE MORE THING
This is the biggest thing Mark Zuckerberg learned this year about artificial intelligence. Human guidance is still critically important, he reports on his blog about the experience. The Facebook co-founder spent 2016 developing “Jarvis,” a virtual butler that automates various tasks around his home, such as controlling the lights. He was surprised by how much work it took. (Fortune)