The Tech Industry Might Get a Renewal in 2020
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This is my 151st, and last, Data Sheet essay of 2019. Thank you for choosing to start your day with Aaron and me. (Aaron is one of the most knowledgeable tech-industry writers in the land; Fortune’s readers are fortunate to enjoy the fruits of his wisdom and hard work.) Thank you also for indulging my ruminations on everything from books I’ve read and shows I’ve watched to tech trends large and small, the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve gone.
I hope your year was stimulating and that you found room for professional growth. In my second column of the year, a dispatch from CES in Las Vegas, I interviewed Ynon Kreiz, the new CEO of Mattel. That led to the only full-length feature story I wrote in the magazine. I edited several others, a new and welcome task for me.
My colleagues and I traveled around the world for our various conferences. San Diego; New York, Montauk, N.Y.; Aspen, Colo.; Guangzhou; and Paris were on my itinerary for the year. I have fond memories of satisfying interviews with industry leaders at each event. Next year, we’re adding an A.I. focused event in Boston.
Speaking of conferences, we say goodbye at the end of the year to a name you likely aren’t familiar with. John Needham has made a larger contribution, by far, than any single individual, onstage or off, to Fortune’s events over the decades. We will miss him, by which I mean I will miss him. Contrariwise, we welcomed back a key Fortune leader this year when Deputy Editor Brian O’Keefe, my professional brother and frequent editor, returned from a brief sojourn elsewhere. Work is certainly about work, but our friendships at work are what make it so darn fun.
As for the tech industry, my biggest source of optimism is that a time of renewal might be upon us. The smartphone/mobile/cloud/app era seems to limping to a less-than-satisfying conclusion. (Even Airbnb, the cuddly unicorn, is showing its age, as Aric Jenkins explains in his new feature.) I don’t know that A.I./IoT/5G constitutes the next epoch. But the tech industry is, if nothing else, resilient.
What’s next for Fortune?
Fortune has a lot in store for 2020. We will launch a new web site, app, magazine, and pricing model in January. (Learn more here.) We’ll also debut two newsletters, the finance-oriented Bull Sheet, led by senior finance editor Bernhard Warner, and China business-focused Eastworld, helmed by our Hong Kong team. Use those links to subscribe in advance.
As for Data Sheet, we’ll return Jan. 6th, when Aaron and I will be at our annual CES dinner. Wishing you and yours a restful, meaningful, fun-filled holiday as well as a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Born with the wrong sign. A massive federal study of facial recognition systems found Asian and African American people were misidentified 100 times more often than white men. The systems were most accurate in identifying middle-aged white men, the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded.
Hot button. Thursday's Democratic debate dove into the China trade and technology issue. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and rival candidate Andrew Yang warned about China's use of tech to suppress human rights. Billionaire and democratic activist Tom Steyer called China a "frenemy," adding, “We actually can’t isolate ourselves from China."
Outer space. NASA could soon get back into the game of launching people into space. Boeing successfully tested its Starliner capsule on Friday morning in an unmanned launch from Cape Canaveral. That positions the craft, and the similar Dragon capsule from SpaceX, to carry humans into space in the first half of next year.
Inner space. Long-struggling DVR maker Tivo is merging with entertainment tech firm Xperi in a deal valued at $3 billion. The deal means Tivo will not split itself in two, as previously planned. The combined company will be called Xperi, and Xperi CEO Jon Kirchner will run it, but Tivo shareholders will own almost 54% of the company. In other M&A action, cloud app services company F5 Networks is acquiring fraud prevention firm Shape Security for $1 billion, and Google acquired Canadian video game maker Typhoon Studios for an undisclosed amount to boost its Stadia gaming service.
Breaking up is hard to do. Forget about mergers, Barry Diller's Internet conglomerate IAC announced plans to split from its Match Group unit, which includes dating sites like Match, Tinder, and Hinge. Under the plan, IAC shareholders will receive the 80% stake in Match held by IAC currently. IAC's stock price jumped 8% on the news, giving it a 30% gain for the year.
Fattening the wallet. Digital currency startup Ripple raised $200 million of private backing in a deal that valued the company at $10 billion, double its prior valuation.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Electric cars get all the headlines, but is the future more about electric bikes? Andrew Hawkins argues in a piece for The Verge that we've been focused on the wrong e-vehicle. The big data point comes from Deloitte's annual tech and media survey, which predicted that global sales of e-bikes will total 130 million over the next three years.
It seems preposterous on the surface, given American attitudes toward cars (love ‘em! bigger the better!) and the media hype surrounding new EVs, especially from companies like Tesla. Also, Americans tend to view bikes more as recreational vehicles than as legitimate transportation, something you use in fair weather, not in the rain and snow like the Dutch. In the US and Canada, only about 1 percent of the workforce commutes by bike today. But if you believe that e-bike sales will top 40 million annually by 2023, and then you look at EV adoption rates, it becomes an easier prediction to swallow.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few long reads that I came across this week:
The Decade of Netflix (Vanity Fair)
How a little DVD rental service changed the industry forever.
The War Vet, the Dating Site, and the Phone Call From Hell (Wired)
Jared Johns found out too late that swapping messages with the pretty girl from a dating site would mean serious trouble. If only he had known who she really was.
The 25 Best Books Of The Decade (Buzzfeed)
There were a lot of books published this decade. These are the ones we’ll never forget.
What’s in a name? When it comes to fruit, economic and genetic forces have a major say (Los Angeles Times)
It’s probably happened to you: You’re strolling through the produce section at the supermarket, perhaps underwhelmed with the flavor of the Fuji apples you’ve been getting lately, or finding that the kids aren’t as into the Flame Seedless grapes as they used to be.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
UPS’s $20 Billion Bet on E-Commerce Is Paying Off By Aaron Pressman
This SoftBank-Backed Startup Sought to Disrupt the Car Market. Instead, It Became a Poster Child for Disruption Gone Awry By Lucinda Shen and Alyssa Newcomb
Why the Second-Hand Ebook Market May Never Take Off By David Meyer
5 CEO Exits That Sum Up the Memorable Business Year That was 2019 By Kevin Kelleher
BEFORE YOU GO
As Adam mentioned, Data Sheet will be off for the next two weeks. We hope you'll be enjoying the holidays and recharging your batteries. See you next month/next year/next decade, when we will all be debating whether the Star Wars saga came to a satisfying conclusion. Until then, may the force be with you—and no spoilers.
On Twitter: @ampressman