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I’ve been intrigued by the analysis around Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey standing down from the Disney board. With Disney a video streamer and Facebook and Twitter each an entertainment rights buyer, the tech execs had to part ways with the media conglomerate.
It got me thinking about the quaint Silicon Valley concept of “frenemies,” companies that compete and cooperate simultaneously.
The best example I recall of board-director awkwardness was then Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s service on the Apple board—right up until the moment Steve Jobs got it into his head that Google’s Android was copying Apple’s iOS mobile software. Reuters Breakingviews, whose quick, smart, funny takes on the day’s news I adore, neatly reviews that history. (BV neglects a weirder element of the story, that Bill Campbell, a pal to Steve Jobs and an Apple board member until after Jobs died, remained an advisor to Schmidt and other Google executives long after Schmidt left the Apple board. That probably says more about Campbell, who died in 2016, than Apple or Google. I still miss him dearly.)
In fact, the frenemication (yes, I made that up) of Silicon Valley is one of its greatest attributes. Apple bought chips from Samsung for years—and kept right on buying them once Samsung became a credible smartphone competitor. This relationship abides because the two need each other. Apple needs Samsung’s chips, and Samsung needs Apple’s business.
Of course, for every happy outcome there’s a bitter enmity for which new words aren’t necessary. Google was an Uber investor but now considers the ride-hailing outfit a mortal threat. Google partnered with Yahoo—until it didn’t. And so it goes. Disney, Twitter, and Facebook undoubtedly will find ways to work together even as they battle each other mightily.
If you’re interested in going deeper on the issue of Facebook abandoning the news industry, I highly recommend this essay by the French media observer Frederic Filloux. I wrote my column yesterday before reading Filloux’s thoughts, only to find he and I see matters similarly. My favorite line of his: “Dealing with media companies is especially complicated. Three constant features characterize publishers: a deep sense of entitlement (“We are the news, you owe this and that to us”), a lack of technical competence (they expect FB to come up with ready-to-use products), and, in Europe, a propensity to call on Daddy (the government) and Mommy (Brussels) when things go awry.” Filloux echoes a point I tried making. Yes, Facebook did more than its fair share to serious damage the media industry. But publishers need to ask themselves why they naively expected otherwise.
Web wars. Attorneys General from 22 states filed suit to block the repeal of the Federal Communications Commissions net neutrality rules. “The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers—allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online,” New York AG Eric Schneiderman said.
Small screen aspirations. Google is tightening its criteria for running ads next to YouTube videos. As of next month, video posters will have to have attracted 1,000 followers and views totaling 4,000 hours over the prior 12 months to qualify for carrying advertising. The service will also increase the amount of videos screened for inappropriate content by actual humans.
Problem projection. An app that promised “an effective method of natural contraception” has been accused of causing 37 unwanted pregnancies. The women who became pregnant were relying on Natural Cycles, which analyzes a woman’s individual menstrual cycle to inform her when she’s “fertile” and not.
Ghoulish sales streak. After Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan died on Monday, sales of the 1990s band surged on music services. Four Cranberries albums were among the top six best sellers on Apple’s iTunes. And Spotify said played streams of The Cranberries’ music increased 992%.
Facetime. Google’s Arts & Culture app went viral this week, hitting the top of the download charts, thanks to a feature that matches selfies of users to famous portraits. The app has also collected an awful lot of selfies for Google’s further research.
Possible violation. A Chinese supplier to Apple called Catcher Technology Co. may be mistreating workers, who have to handle noxious chemicals without proper equipment, Bloomberg reported. Apple said an audit team found no evidence of violations of its standards.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The CES show offered so many, many new products that many attendees got lost in the details. But former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky, who oversaw Windows and Office among other roles, is trying to pull the lens back and draw larger conclusions about tech industry trends.
Voice controlled devices were everywhere, mainly powered by Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, he finds, while Microsoft Cortana and Apple Siri were sparse. But the voice-controlled future may not be as significant a “platform” as some expect, Sinofsky writes:
It seems highly unlikely that this is a winner-take-all. The main companies are acting as though this is market to be dominated. One thing we know about the home is that there’s typically been a market need for standardization and thus commoditization. It seems to me that voice control could as easily become the next HDMI or Wi-Fi (in all ways, good and bad) rather than the next Windows or iOS. The space of things to be controlled is too fragmented and diverse to simply (or easily) converge on a single player, especially when early on there are already at least 4 possible technology solutions. The fact that both are free to embed and connect to today makes it more likely for this diversity to continue. Of course there’s all the problem of the length of the replacement cycle with home endpoints as well.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Was Luke Skywalker really the last Jedi? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out. To keep busy in the meantime, the Smithsonian Institute’s libraries blog has a long and interesting exploration of the the beautiful Skellig Islands in Ireland, where many scenes from Last Jedi were filmed.