I spent this week answering various versions of two questions: Is Uber doomed, and is Travis Kalanick the right person to lead the company going forward?
One of the joys of writing a book is the clever people you meet while promoting it. In New York I was privileged to thrust and parry on these two existential questions with the likes of Bradley Tusk, Uber’s regulatory consultant and host of a penetrating podcast; Leonard Lopate, a silver-tongued and observant host for the local public radio station in New York City; my old friend David Brancaccio, leader of Marketplace Radio’s morning program; Neil Cavuto the Fox News business-coverage chief; and Anne Marie Green and Vlad Duthiers, the lively and intelligent anchors for the CBS News digital network.
Before I tell you how I answered, I’m reminded of a similar line of questioning I faced five years ago, when I published a book about Apple: Were Apple’s best days behind it, given that the company’s operations were optimized around a brilliant man who had recently died? Then I answered that although it would be unrealistic to expect Apple to continue to be “insanely great,” even if Steve Jobs had lived, the company a had good shot at being “merely great” for years to come. Given its consistency and profitability in the years since, I feel vindicated by that hedge of an answer.
Which brings me to Uber in mid-2017, a promising, disruptive, controversial, world-changing company at a crossroads. Having just completed a book focused on its contentious rise to prominence, I’ll first impartially present the bull and bear scenarios.
The case for Uber is that it has built a global business, is cherished by many customers whose use of its service has become a habit, has billions in capital left to spend, and is led by a ruthless strategist and tactician, Travis Kalanick, who’ll do what it takes to win.
The bear case: Uber is a money pit, Kalanick is unable to learn from his many mistakes, its culture is toxic, and its penchant for encountering daily scandals—in turn the result of everything from stupidity to chicanery—will prevent it from moving forward effectively.
Were I a betting man—and I’m not—I’d wager that the company makes something of itself but at a valuation far below its last level of nearly $70 billion.
There is rarely a dull moment at Uber. Don’t expect many in the future.
Not dead yet. A month ago IDC told us that the PC market just barely increased quarterly shipments, marking the first growth in five years. Now Hewlett-Packard says its sales of printers and PCs rose in the same quarter for the first time since 2010. CEO Dion Weisler called it a “breakthrough.” And top PC maker Lenovo reported its PC revenue jumped 4% on a 1% increase in shipments.
Faster, faster, faster. Much faster wireless networks, the 5th generation or 5G version, are just a year or two away, but they’ll operate in several new high-frequency bands like 28 GHz. Apple will be ready–it asked the FCC for permission to start testing devices in the new bands, Wireless Week reports.
Bricks, clicks and tricks. A couple of experienced execs are trying to steer their retail chains through these tumultuous times. Longtime Staples veteran Demos Parneros, the fourth CEO at Barnes & Noble in four years, said Wednesday that Amazon’s new stores are “a bit of a validation” for his approach. Meanwhile, in a long Wall Street Journal profile, J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler admits he missed the appeal of e-commerce: “I might have done some things earlier.”
Fits in my briefcase. DJI apparently felt its drone line up was lacking in soda-can-sized cuteness. Its new $500 Spark unit is a mini drone that shoots high-definition video.
Gnip, gnop. After Apple stopped paying its contract manufacturers for the royalties owed to Qualcomm, Qualcomm is asking a court to force the payments to resume via a preliminary injunction.
Can you spell millennial? Facebook has signed up a slate of youth-oriented news and entertainment companies, including Vox and BuzzFeed, to create videos of various lengths to run on the world’s largest social network.
Dust in my eye. Sotheby’s is selling Neil Armstrong’s lunar sample bag this summer. Won by the current owner at a small auction for $995, the bag is expected to fetch up to $4 million.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Artificial intelligence, defined broadly, is at the center of many current tech trends, from the rise of voice-controlled digital assistants to the use of big data in advertising and marketing. But as software and hardware advance and AI improves, will the “smarter” computers ever pose a threat to humanity?
The debate rages, and in their new book, Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes, authors Richard Clarke and R.P. Eddy spell out–you guessed it–the warnings we may be ignoring about super-intelligent computers. In an essay on Geekwire, they summarize the case against AI:
Superintelligence does not yet exist, but when it does, some believe it could solve many of humanity’s greatest challenges: aging, energy, and food shortages, even perhaps climate change. Self-perpetuating and untiring, this advanced AI would continue improving at a remarkably fast rate and eventually surpass the level of complexity humans can understand. While this promises great potential, it is not without its dangers.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Cyber Giant Tanium Raises $100 Million, CEO Defiant About Company Culture by Jeff John Roberts
Snapchat Tries to Reinvent TV For Mobile Millennials by Mathew Ingram
The iPhone Decade by Aaron Pressman and Nicolas Rapp
Amazon’s New York Bookstore Is Still Basically an Internet Shop by Lucinda Shen
Apple Report Reveals National Security Requests Are Soaring by Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
Fitness crazed exercisers may be depending on their smart wrist bands a bit too much. A new study by Stanford University shows fitness trackers did a fine job measuring heart rates but a not so fine job measuring calories burned. The study assessed seven devices: Apple Watch, Fitbit Surge, Basis Peak, Microsoft Band, PulseOn, MIP Alpha 2, and Samsung Gear S2. All were off by at least 20% on calorie burn estimates.