China’s Didi and U.S. ride-hailing startup Lyft were among the members of what others, never themselves, call the Anti-Uber Alliance. If Uber’s quest was world domination, the alliance’s mission was to make life more difficult for Uber in every market where it mattered. The effort worked for the company with the most to gain, Didi, which last year succeeded in chasing Uber out of China.
It’s intriguing then to see the tie-up between Walmart and Google, announced last month as an enhanced e-commerce cooperation pact and, which I at least have dubbed the Anti-Amazon Alliance. Neither Marc Lore, the Jet.com founder who heads e-commerce at Walmart, nor Sridhar Ramaswamy, who cut his teeth at Google on AdWords and now runs all ad-related products, took my bait on the name when I interviewed them Wednesday morning in New York at an Advertising Week event. But neither denies that despite their heft in their respective fields, Amazon is the company to beat in e-commerce and ancillary technologies.
Their path forward won’t be as straightforward as Uber’s foes was.
Both get Es for effort. Under Lore, Walmart has become the whirling dervish of offline/online shopping. It has set up a Silicon Valley incubator, Store No. 8. It is partnering with startups Deliv and August to allow deliverypeople to unlock your door, enter your home and stock your fridge. If experimenting were the entire battle, Walmart would have won already.
Google walks a finer line. It already dominates search terms for e-commerce, making it the king of the long tail. The problem is that Amazon is the head of a very large tail of its own, dwarfing Google, Walmart, and anyone else when it comes to moving merchandise digitally.
I cheekily asked Lore and Ramaswamy if Amazon was too powerful, knowing Lore is a well-documented Amazon antagonist and that all-consuming power isn’t exactly a subject Google likes to address. Lore mouthed something about Walmart’s advantages, especially with its strength in fresh food sales. (If Walmart stresses “fresh,” I pointed out, Amazon didn’t do badly for itself by buying a company called Whole Foods.) As for Ramaswamy, he somewhat quietly said, “I’m not an expert on antitrust,” which was a polite dodge though an exercise in wishful thinking.
Battles of titans are always interesting.
Lower price. Speaking of Amazon, the e-commerce giant unveiled a bevy of new and improved gadgets, including an updated “smart” Echo speaker at a new lower price of $100, an updated Fire TV set-top box with 4K HDR resolution for $70 and a new round-screened version of Echo that looks like a digital clock dubbed Echo Spot. All work with Amazon’s voice-controlled digital assistant Alexa, an effort that now employs a staggering 5,000 people, the company said.
Higher price. Roku set its initial public offering price at $14 on Wednesday, at the high end of its expected range and valuing the maker of the most popular Internet video set top box at $1.3 billion. Trading begins on Thursday under the symbol “ROKU” on the Nasdaq.
Price we paid. Facebook and Twitter are providing information to Congress about Russian efforts on their networks to influence the presidential election. Popular online discussion and news forum Reddit may be next. Congressional investigators suspect the site that helped spread “Pizzagate” and other conspiracy theories may have been used by the Russians, as well. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg rejected President Trump’s assertion that the social network was out to get him. Facebook is “a platform for all ideas,” according to Zuck’s post.
Can you disrupt me now? Toyota is not standing still as the world moves to electric and autonomous vehicles. On Wednesday, Toyota revealed its next-generation test car dubbed the Platform 2.1 vehicle. The company is going with LiDAR, or light detection and ranging radar, from Silicon Valley startup Luminar. Toyota also announced a partnership with Mazda to work on the electric engine and batteries needed.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Russian election hacking, Equifax’s stolen data, malware taking down major corporate networks. All these headlines have a common thread, argues writer and reporter Quinn Norton. Instead of focusing on the hackers and other bad guys exploiting the flaws in our digital systems, it’s time to focus on why those flaws exist in the first place, she argues in an epic rant titled “Software is a long con.” She’d like people to stand up and demand better.
We the people, Americans, Russians, whomever, are just helpless victims for the coming hacker wars. We have Cyber Commands and Cyber attack and Cyber defense units, all mysterious, all made romantic and arcane by their fictional counterparts in popular media. But there’s another way to look at it. Computer systems are poorly built, badly maintained, and often locked in a maze of vendor contracts and outdated spaghetti code that amounts to a death spiral. This is true of nothing else we buy.
Our food cannot routinely poison us. Our electronics cannot blow up, and burn down our houses. If they did, we could sue the pants off whomever sold us the flawed product. But not in the case of our software.
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