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Apple, the business-focused company, threw a party Wednesday to release new, bigger, speedier, pricier phones and juiced-up smart watches.
I say “business-focused” because it was the kind of product-launch event technologists greet with ennui even as investors and mass affluent consumers cheer. (Apple’s stock dipped, but that was after a healthy run.) Enthusiasts don’t get excited by bigger “form factors” and incrementally higher prices. They want new offerings: a car, say, or a video subscription service. Never mind that the technology behind bigger, faster phones and watches is immensely sophisticated and expensive. These traits have become table stakes for Apple.
But oh, the business. Analyst Gene Munster estimates the average selling price of an iPhone to be $765, up 20% from a year ago. That’s how Apple continues to grow revenues even as its iPhone shipments have flatlined. The Apple Watch, a wearables punchline shortly after it debuted, now dominates its field and is inching closer to fulfilling Apple’s dream of being a legitimate health-monitoring device.
We are slowly moving past the era when Apple fans bemoan the lack of innovation at Apple. Its evolutionary approach is common knowledge now. There are trillion-plus reasons the strategy is working.
When it rains, it pours. In addition to the big themes Adam noted about Apple’s annual iPhone unveiling, others noticed that the AirPower charging mat seems to have vamoosed, that customers of T-Mobile and AT&T got a win with the inclusion of new spectrum bands, and that there’s not really a great choice anymore for people who want a smaller iPhone.
Overcast. Speaking of things disappearing, Google is killing its email organizing app experiment known as Inbox. Many features debuted in the app have migrated to the main Gmail service. Google released the news in the middle of the Apple keynote, perhaps to avoid embarrassment. But more embarrassment was on the way anyway: the conservative site Breitbart leaked a video of folks at the search giant not exactly celebrating the election of President Donald Trump. “Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products,” the company said in response.
Whichever way the wind blows. Speaking of trying to bury bad news, Verizon also used the occasion of the iPhone event to confirm the widely rumored departure of Tim Armstrong. A former Googler who helped sell AOL to Verizon a few years ago, Armstrong was running the carrier’s digital advertising and content unit Oath. Now the unit will be run by former Alibaba-er (can I say that?) K. Guru Gowrappan. Meanwhile over at rival AT&T, CEO Randall Stephenson tried to make clear that the big advertising play he sees is not online and digital, but offline and (mostly) analog. Instead, he tells the Wall Street Journal, he wants to modernize the $70 billion TV ad market.
Nice kicks. Not a lot of startups can count supermodel Karlie Kloss, designer Don C, and DJ Steve Aoki among their investors, but then not many startups sell as many cool sneakers, watches, and handbags as StockX. The upstart retail resale platform said on Wednesday that it had raised $44 million of venture capital from a group including those cool kids plus GV, the former Google Ventures, and Battery Ventures.
Author of the orange jumpsuit. An Italian man who ran a business writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor for money was sentenced to nine months in prison. TripAdvisor said it had caught the man’s company, PromoSalento, posting more than 1,000 fake reviews for hundreds of hotels.
Out of our misery. When will Amazon end the suspense and finally announce the site for its HQ2? It could be today. CEO Jeff Bezos is in Washington, D.C.—one of the leading contenders—to make a speech. And members of Amazon’s board have reportedly traveled with him. But Amazon said Bezos will not make any HQ2-related announcements while on the trip, Geekwire reports. Pffft.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
For decades, growth in China was fueled by a shift from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. But that trend will eventually play itself out, so the country’s leaders have also been pushing hard to develop science and technology. As Lazard vice chairman, former OMB director, and all around smart guy Peter Orszag (who also used to whip me at war games as a kid) notes Chinese contributions to publishing breakthroughs in the physical sciences, engineering, and math now exceed those from the United States. The current U.S. government has lately been making it more difficult for foreign students to come here on study or work visas. In an essay for Bloomberg, Orszag isn’t impressed with the policy:
The scientific community has reacted with alarm, arguing that the scientific process requires open collaboration and that individual episodes of espionage or other inappropriate behavior should be dealt with through criminal prosecution or academic expulsion rather than blanket restrictions.
Although many Chinese students seem undeterred by the visa restrictions, over time the impact is likely to deter foreign study at U.S. universities. Students from China represent almost a third of the foreign students at U.S. institutions, and some American colleges are already feeling the financial impact of diminished overall foreign interest.
Whatever the other costs or benefits of the restrictions, and I believe there are more of the former than of the latter, they seem unlikely to alter in any significant way the global rise of China as an academic power. We may not want to admit it yet, but the rise of China to the top ranks of global scientific achievement is now a historical fact.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Spend much time in the local public library? It’s an invaluable space for many communities. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg had an op-ed in the New York Times recently praising the library, but it’s designer Khoi Vinh’s riff on Klinenberg’s piece that I liked even more:
Your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in.