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Tech investors worship at the altar of disruptors, the upstarts that re-order industries and grow like the dickens.
Yet the old codgers of tech—or any industry—that are able to rejigger themselves and get moving again are the more impressive heroes, turning the clichéd aircraft carrier. Microsoft comes to mind in big tech. The New York Times in publishing is a sterling example.
One of the best, if less told, tech reinvention stories is Adobe, the maker of Acrobat and Photoshop that dates to the Pleistocene era of tech—1982. Adobe for years profitably supplied packaged software to creative types. When the cloud became a thing, it dithered. Then it changed course dramatically, painfully converting its product offering to a subscription model and aggressively attacking new areas like analytics, marketing software, and e-commerce tools.
The reinvention worked. Adobe’s stock is up nearly six-fold in half a decade, and the company is worth a cool $127 billion. It has become boldly acquisitive and is challenging the buzzier subscription-software newcomer Salesforce.com at multiple points of its product line.
Adobe reported stellar earnings Thursday, up 77% from a year ago on sales that rose 24%. Subscription sales account for 86% of Adobe’s total. Adobe’s product portfolio is broad and tough to explain quickly. Its aspirations are easier to characterize and are best told by its longtime CEO Shantanu Narayen, easily the most successful non-founder CEO of a mature software company today. (He once wanted to be a journalist, per his official bio. Then he wised up.)
“Adobe enables individuals, companies, governments and educational institutions to design and deliver transformative digital experiences – immersive, intelligent experiences that inspire, entertain, and drive loyalty and growth,” he told investors Thursday.
Adobe has been pretty good at transforming itself too.
Stuck running in place. The latest report on the diversity of workers at Google found little change from last year. Women comprised 30.9% of the company’s global workforce, up from 30.8% last year. Google is now 2.5% black and 3.6% latino in its U.S. offices, both also a one-tenth percentage point increase from a year earlier. Asians increased more than a percentage point to 36.3%.
Splitting the baby. A top regulator at the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday confirmed the agency’s view that digital currencies like bitcoin and ethereum are not “securities,” though many of the tokens issued in so-called initial coin offerings may be. “The digital asset itself is simply code,” William Hinman, director of the SEC’s corporate finance unit, explained. “But the way it is sold—as part of an investment; to non-users; by promoters to develop the enterprise—can be, and, in that context, most often is, a security—because it evidences an investment contract.”
If at first you don’t succeed. Video game distributor Valve is still trying to tweak its app to let iPhone and iPad users access its Steam gaming platform. Recall that Apple first accepted but then rejected Valve’s iOS app. Now Valve has removed the ability for users to buy new games via the iOS app, which could address one of Apple’s key objections.
Think twice before you speak. Some changes among top communications execs in techland. Twitter’s head of corporate communications, Kristin Binns, is quitting to join Activision Blizzard. And Facebook’s longtime head of policy and communications, Elliot Schrage, is departing for parts unknown. He could be replaced by former Google and Uber talking head Rachel Whetstone, Axios reports.
Cramped quarters. Business is booming at temporary office space provider WeWork. The startup’s revenue more than doubled to $342 million in the first quarter and occupancy of its rental spaces rose to 82% from 73% last year, Bloomberg reported citing an internal email.
Go ahead, make my day. Antitrust regulators in China have finally okayed Qualcomm’s $44 billion purchase of NXP Semiconductors, clearing the last hurdle preventing the deal from closing.
Not okay. Six current and former employees at Fitbit who had previously worked at Jawbone were charged on Thursday with receiving stolen trade secrets. U.S. prosecutors filed the charges three years after the controversy first came to light, but too late to help Jawbone, which ceased operations last year.
Undo. The virtual reality developer who is now railing against social networks is Jaron Lanier. We apologize for misspelling his first name in yesterday’s issue.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:
How to Fight Amazon (Before You Turn 29) (The Atlantic)
Shortly after I met Lina Khan, her cellphone rang. The call was from a representative of a national organization, regarding a speech it had asked her to give. Khan was courteous on the phone, but she winced momentarily after hanging up. “That was the American Bar Association,” she confessed. “I don’t know if I’ve passed the bar yet.”
How TV’s Demons, Aliens, and Dragons Are Getting More Cinematic (Vanity Fair)
Like copy editors and train conductors, visual-effects designers know they’ve done their jobs if audiences take their work for granted. It’s hard to create, say, a killer robot that looks so real a viewer feels like she could touch it—and “any kind of organic creature or character is exponentially more difficult, because it’s really tough to trick the human eye,” said Alex Kurtzman, executive producer of CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery.
How Batteries Will Change the Power Business (Barron’s)
High-power batteries have already infiltrated the chain-saw aisle at Home Depot and are poised to disrupt the car industry in the decades ahead. Now, they are quickly multiplying across the U.S. power grid. In Sterling, those two megawatts are enough to provide savings and resiliency—to smooth out power demand and avoid peak charges, and in the event of an outage, run the nearby police department and fire dispatch for more than a week.
Lost: Struggling to Cope With Millions of Unclaimed Items in Tokyo (Japan Times)
Okubo says that roughly 3,000 umbrellas are found in Tokyo on a typical rainy day. In 2016, the metropolitan police handled a total of 381,135 umbrellas across the entire year. Each umbrella is fitted with a tag that lists detailed information on when and where it was found. It is then stored according to the date it was handed in and the rail operators that logged it. “It’s really hard for us to store items in a systematic way so that they can be found easily when a person comes in to claim something,” Okubo says.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
After winning a major court battle this week, AT&T finally completed its $108 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Now the hard work begins. Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Bruell explains one key piece of the combined companies’ strategy: increase Time Warner’s ad revenue by tracking more personal data about viewers from AT&T’s satellite, cable, and wireless networks. A lot of money is at stake, Bruell notes:
AT&T’s experience thus far with targeted ads has underscored their value. Advertisers are paying “three, four, and five times per impression what companies like Turner, CBS and those companies are getting,” John Stankey, the AT&T executive charged with running Time Warner, said during the antitrust trial.
The cost per thousand impressions — a common currency for pricing TV ad units — for a targeted ad buy aimed at specific households can top $60, compared to an average $10 CPM for a national ad, said Tracey Scheppach, chief executive of ad consultancy Matter More Media and a former media executive at ad giant Publicis . National ads generate more ad revenue for the networks in aggregate but tend to include a lot of homes the advertiser is not trying to reach.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Senators Demand Answers From Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos About Alexa Mishap By Glenn Fleishman
Whole Foods CEO Says He’s Not Afraid to ‘Speak Truth’ to Jeff Bezos By Kevin Kelleher
Sony Mired in Controversy in Fortnite Nintendo Switch Debacle By Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
The universe can be a pretty dangerous place. Scientists using radio and infrared telescopes have just tracked for the first time a star falling into the gullet of a black hole and being torn to shreds. Online journal Cosmos had the best headline on the story: “A Star Is Torn.”