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Data Sheet—When the New New Thing Is an Old Thing: Bicycles

December 19, 2017, 1:54 PM UTC
This picture taken on March 1, 2017 shows impounded bicycles from the bike-sharing schemes Mobike and Ofo in Shanghai. Shanghai has impounded thousands of brightly coloured bikes placed on city streets by cycle-sharing companies, in the latest sign of impatience with an explosion of the haphazardly-parked two-wheelers. Shanghai has impounded thousands of brightly coloured bikes placed on city streets by cycle-sharing companies, in the latest sign of impatience with an explosion of the haphazardly-parked two-wheelers. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Johannes Eisele — AFP/Getty Images

New twists on old ideas are all the rage.

Everyone is agog at the things that can be delivered directly to their home these days. That’s kind of funny, seeing as I remember when I was very small my mother regularly ordered numerous items from Marshall Field’s, the long-departed and wonderful department store in Chicago and its suburbs. Home delivery didn’t so much get invented recently as rediscovered—and improved.

Riding bikes around urban centers is an exceedingly old idea too. Smartphones and oodles of capital are reinventing that environmentally positive idea. Motivate, an offshoot of the real estate giant Related Cos., runs docking-station-based share bikes in a handful of U.S. cities, including San Francisco, where I’m a satisfied customer. (Motivate makes part of its money from advertising; Ford is the Bay Area sponsor; Citi slaps its name on bikes in New York.)

A new competitor is blanketing North America, Ofo, the Alibaba-backed Chinese bike sharing company. Ofo is locked in a battle with Tencent-backed Mobike in China, a proxy war with capital as the weapon and data as the prize. In the U.S., Ofo is expanding far more rapidly. According to Uber veteran Chris Taylor, head of Ofo’s U.S. business, the company already is in more than 12 U.S. cities and will be in more than 100 by next year. Its first city, Dallas, will have 10,000 bikes by New Year’s Eve.

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I met Taylor Monday in Ofo’s U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, where Ofo doesn’t operate yet, the result of an exclusive contract Motivate signed with the city. I use “headquarters” advisedly: Ofo currently is housed in a WeWork office, itself a reinvention of an old concept, shared office space. I’ve known about WeWork, but visiting one of its locations was an epiphany. Various-sized workspaces are carved elegantly out of a giant floor. (Time Inc., which will go away soon, had an entire floor in the very same building for many years.) Tenants pay for conference-room time with chits that come with their rent. It’s hard to imagine any company below a certain size going to the trouble of leasing commercial real estate again.

The best new ideas improve on tried and true old ideas. That’s a form of innovation with real commercial opportunity.

Adam Lashinsky


Un-erased. Microsoft said it would stop requiring employees who make sexual harassment claims to go to arbitration instead of suing in court. And the software giant backed proposed federal legislation to ban forced arbitration in such cases. “The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer, told the New York Times.

Erased. Twitter suspended the accounts of two ultra-right politicians in Britain: Paul Golding, leader of the Britain First party, and his deputy Jayda Fransen. President Trump sparked outrage last month when he retweeted several of Fransen’s posts that contained anti-Islam videos. Those retweets were deleted.

Erased, then un-erased. A constant refrain from Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai in his argument to rollback net neutrality rules wasn't true, and he likely knew it months ago, according to a report by Motherboard. The FCC's Inspector General investigated the claim that the Obama White House had influenced the adoption of the 2015 rules, or as Pai put it last week, the rules were adopted "on express orders from the previous White House."

But after reviewing 600,000 emails, the IG found no such conspiracy. "We found no evidence of secret deals, promises, or threats from anyone outside the Commission, nor any evidence of any other improper use of power to influence the FCC decision-making process," the report concluded. Motherboard got a copy of the August 2016 IG report, which hadn't previously been made public, via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Avoided. The makers of the popular gameshow app HQ are trying to raise venture capital, but at least three prominent investors are staying away due to concerns about company founder Colin Kroll, Recode reported. Kroll was fired from Twitter and has a reputation for "creepy" behavior towards women, Recode said.

Countermanded. Russian cybersecurity software maker Kaspersky Lab sued the Trump administration on Monday, saying it was denied due process when it was banned from selling to the U.S. government. The U.S. "has harmed Kaspersky Lab’s reputation and its commercial operations without any evidence of wrongdoing by the company,” company founder Eugene Kaspersky wrote.

Abandon. The sneakers are cool but the tech is not. Kicks maker Adidas is closing its wearables unit that makes fitness watches and sensor-enabled footwear. The company will instead focus its digital efforts on two apps, one for activity tracking and the other for shopping.

Attractive. Easiest way to grab market share in a competitive market? Price war. That appears to be Amazon's strategy in the battle to sell devices with voice-controlled digital assistants. The e-commerce giant has slashed the price of its line of Echo devices, including cutting the entry-level Dot to just $30. Google has cut prices on its devices by up to 40% as a result.


Meat is generally delicious to eat, but raising animals is inefficient and not good for the environment. So Silicon Valley is in search of a better way: meatless meat. Fortune's Beth Kowitt spent time looking into Memphis Meats, one of the new startups trying to concoct a tasty burger without the cow. The company uses animal cells to "grow" edible meat. There's only one problem so far:

The trouble is getting the economics to work for a hamburger, not a human heart. Memphis Meats created a cultured meatball that costs about $2,400 a pound to produce, and that was notable progress. The cost last year was $18,000 a pound—down from the more than $300,000 spent on the first cultured burger made in 2013 by Dutch scientist Mark Post.

The biggest hurdle to lowering the cost is the cellular medium, the stuff the cells feed on. Mike Selden, CEO of Finless Foods, told me that this substrate contributed 99% of the cost of growing the company’s first fish croquettes (price tag: $19,000 per pound). A critical part of the standard medium that works across animal cell types is fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is extracted from the heart of a calf fetus when its mother is pregnant at slaughter. One does not have to be an animal rights activist to see why this is not an acceptable option for the industry. As a result, much of the R&D focus right now is on finding an alternative.


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Remember that old conspiracy theory that Apple's iOS software purposely slows down older iPhones to prompt users to upgrade? It's been debated and denied, but new data shows it may actually be related to how iPhones deal with aging batteries.

John Poole, who develops the widely used Geekbench benchmarking software, ran the numbers and found some oddities. He found iOS lowering performance, but concluded it was the result of the phones coping with a weakened, old battery. A simple solution? Go in to an Apple store for a battery upgrade.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.