Data Sheet—Why It’s Time to Radically Redesign the Smartphone

February 19, 2019, 2:17 PM UTC

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We are only 50 days into 2019 but there is already a lot of re-thinking in the air.

Next week is the annual Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, where tens of thousands of participants in our modern, mobile economy will ponder the future of the smartphone and wireless networks. Do we need foldable devices that can serve more than one role in digital life? What will happen when 5G networks arrive with much higher speeds and the capability to connect exponentially more devices? And can we make our mobile devices perhaps more useful but less distracting, more filled with tech but less expensive, longer lasting and better for the environment?

Then there is the not unrelated re-think happening at Apple, so reports the Wall Street Journal. Connecting a half-dozen moves—from the seemingly sudden departure of retail head Angela Ahrendts to the rapid rise of new-hire John Giannandrea over all A.I. efforts including Siri—Apple is said to be preparing for “Life After iPhone.” Sounds almost like a Cezanne still life painting, doesn’t it?

Ever the bookworm, I was more taken with the multi-year re-think represented by the recent opening of the new Oodi Helsinki Central Library. The wavy glass and spruce-clad rectangular building is three floors. At the top it’s mainly shelves and reading rooms, dubbed “book heaven.” The entry level ground floor has a café, movie theater, and other standard public spaces for just hanging out and letting people mingle. In the middle, though, is space for making things—everything from recording studios for producing music (and perhaps podcasts?) to that distinctly 21st Century concept of a “makerspace,” filled with 3D printers and other gear for building actual physical objects.


Intriguingly, Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus, opened a similarly forward-looking new main library a few years ago, and Oslo is about to do the same next year.

Bringing it all together, there are some pretty cool libraries in Barcelona, but I’m not sure I’ll have much time to check them out as I wander through the “stacks” at MWC. The newest libraries seem filled with new ideas that could break down barriers, stir creative impulses, and generally enhance our civil society. We can only hope the architects of our future smartphones get the same vibe.


Tell me about it. Speaking of Apple's changing priorities, the company has reportedly acquired talking toy developer PullString for about $30 million. Co-founder and CEO Oren Jacob was a 20-year veteran of software design at Pixar before starting the startup, originally known as ToyTalk and best known for helping create the talking Barbie doll in 2015. If you're just gunning for some cool new hardware this year, well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is predicting new iPads, a huge new Apple-branded monitor, and a new MacBook Pro with a 16-inch screen.

Free as in beer. And speaking of libraries, VC Arianna Simpson wrote this worthwhile thread on Twitter last week with tips about how to read more books. Number eight: "Library: the library is such an awesome and under appreciated resource. It eliminates cost from the equation and allows you to experiment more (if you don’t like the book, no pressure to finish cause you paid for it!) Just move on."

Higher ed. Some students and faculty at MIT are not happy that the school accepted $350 million of private equity titan (and alumni) Stephen Schwarzman's money to help build a new school dedicated to the intersection of A.I., data science, and computer science. The new $1 billion "College of Computing" is named after the Blackstone CEO. “Underlying the whole of this is MIT’s growing quest for private sponsorship, military contracts, and the wrong kind of prestige,” the group wrote in an op-ed.

Not so fast. The founder and CEO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, struck a defiant tone in an interview with the BBC. "There's no way the U.S. can crush us," Ren said. "The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit." Germany is "leaning toward" using Huawei equipment in its 5G wireless networks, the Wall Street Journal reports on Tuesday.

Lebron's team. Could someone explain to me who is so fickle a sports fan that they would change their favorite basketball team allegiance with one of these in-development smart jerseys? Perhaps the way the NBA is going, the kids today will want to swap favorite teams as their favorite players move around to create new super teams.


The CEO of failed smart lock startup Otto is joining Apple. Sam Jadallah, a longtime Microsoft exec before going the startup route, will lead home initiatives at Apple, which could include smart speaker HomePod and software ecosystem HomeKit...Internet host GoDaddy hired Fara Howard, chief marketing officer of Amazon Fashion, as its new chief marketing officer. Former CMO Barb Rechterman moved into a strategic advisor role last year...The car-focused public-private partnership known as the American Center for Mobility hired Michael Noblett, the head of Intel's automotive sales effort and a former IBMer, as its new CEO.


At the heart of many crimes, prosecutors must prove a defendant's criminal intent to secure a conviction. In 2019, that means not just citing emails, shouted statements and threatening gestures but also...emojis? Dami Lee, a reporter for The Verge, takes a look at the growing trend of courts weighing the meaning of strings of the lil' cartoon characters in criminal and civil cases. She spoke with Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman about several cases, including a prostitution arrest:

Emoji are a critical part of communication, and in cases where transcripts of online communication are being read to the jury, they need to be characterized as well instead of being skipped over. “You could imagine if you got a winky face following the text sentence, you’re going to read that sentence very differently than without the winky face,” [Goldman] says.

In the matter of the prostitution case, an expert specializing in sex trafficking was called in to testify. He said the high heels and bags of money supported the interpretation that the defendant was accused of sex trafficking, essentially translating to “wear your high heels to come make some money.” Another message from the defendant included the crown emoji, which was said to signify that the “pimp is the king.” Ultimately, the ruling didn’t hinge on the interpretation of emoji, but they still provided evidentiary support.


Amazon Will Pay a Whopping $0 in Federal Taxes on $11.2 Billion Profits By Laura Stampler

Facebook's Chief A.I. Scientist Yann LeCun on the Future of Computer Chips, Lawnmowers, and Deep Learning By Jonathan Vanian

Young Children Average More Than 3 Hours of Screen Time Each Day By Don Reisinger

Citigroup CEO Predicts A.I. Will Replace Tens of Thousands of U.S. Call Center Jobs By Grace Dobush

Cloudera CEO Talks Hortonworks Merger, IBM Acquiring Red Hat, and A.I. Hype By Jonathan Vanian

A 'Fast Fashion' Tax? Britain Has a Radical New Plan to Spur Clothing Recycling and Reduce Waste By Lucas Laursen

Twitter Won't Delete Your Direct Messages—Even If You Delete Your Account By Alyssa Newcomb


While getting some medical treatment last week, I had plenty of time to read more books. One I particularly liked was Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions by three great bartender/mixologists, Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan. There are just six chapters, each investigating and explaining a fundamental basic cocktail, like the martini, and then going on to explore its many derivatives. I'm not sure I'll be buying a $3,000 centrifuge to follow some of their recipes that require clarified fruit juice syrups, but it certainly stirred my imagination.

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

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