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Apple’s Presence at CES Is Mostly Overblown

January 6, 2020, 2:42 PM UTC

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Good morning and Happy New Year. I hope your holidays were restful and as free of technology as possible.

I’ve been culling the ‘what to expect’ lists in preparation for my annual trip to Las Vegas for CES, which begins tonight. The items are generally uninspiring: try-again ideas that didn’t pop last year (5G), big themes you don’t need to travel to America’s most obnoxious city to learn (A.I.), and more TV screens. (This thoughtful piece from Wired gamely reviews the landscape.)

Longtime CES sufferers—sorry, attendees—seem to be quite excited by Apple’s presence at CES, a show it typically shuns in any official capacity, which is how Apple treats any event not its own. Their presence is mostly overblown. Human beings from Apple always are all over CES, mostly attending meetings with partners and customers. Still, it’s notable that Jane Horvath, a top Apple privacy executive, will participate in a roundtable with executives from Facebook and P&G as well as an FTC commissioner. It’s also a bit amusing that Apple’s Airpods, the little runaway hit no one saw coming, has the competition in such a lather.

I’m helping host a dinner focused on transportation, including a fireside chat with John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit. I’ll report back tomorrow.

***

I did a lot of reading and reflecting during the break. For a week I was away from physical newspapers, and while relieved of the burden of keeping up, I still find that even the best news apps are weak replacements for the vastly superior discovery mechanism of the real thing. Some thoughts and highlights:

Bloomberg BusinessWeek had what I thought would be a hum-drum review of the SoftBank Vision Fund’s problems but was really quite good. Be sure to see the unflattering portrayal of Silicon Valley investor Jeffrey Housenbold, including a naughty comment a SoftBank representative denies he said.
• This New York magazine article about the DJ Diplo was wonderful—and a compete epiphany for this non-EDM fan.
• I read David Talbot’s 2012 book Season of the Witch, an indispensable and fun read about San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. If you’re trying to figure out this crazy city, I heartily recommend it.
• Erika Fry’s masterful and even-handed feature in Fortune about Sanofi’s debacle with a vaccine for dengue fever in the Philippines is a must read.

***

Lastly, I mourn the passing of David Stern, the former NBA commissioner, who touched me deeply in the few years I knew him. I avidly read about his career and reflected on the cuddly bear of a man I knew only after he retired. (Spoiler alert: He wasn’t always so cuddly.) Stern was one of those youthful septuagenarians, full of life and curiosity for new ideas.

He also was a marvelous raconteur. He once told me the story of how disappointed and fearful his mother was when he decided to leave a cushy New York law firm to join the NBA full-time. (That worked out pretty well.) Stern had a home in Aspen, and for the last few years was a Brainstorm Tech regular. I would often add him to the program at the last minute because he loved to do it, and he always added a ton to any panel he joined. I saw him in July at a pre-conference party and asked if he’d like to join the program again. He clearly wanted to, but was pretty sure and he and his wife had made plans to go bike-riding. He got back to me later that night to say that in fact he’d be pedaling with her rather than gabbing with us. Another good choice.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

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This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

A little bit of this town goes a very long way. As Adam noted, CES starts this week, which has drawn the Data Sheet team to Las Vegas. But Samsung decided not to debut a new phone at the show. Instead, they announced that they would announce their next flagship Galaxy phone at their own event on Feb. 11.

How God would do it if he had money. Tim Cook had a slightly less remunerative year in 2019 than in 2018. The Apple CEO got $3 million of salary, a bonus of $7.7 million, and just under $1 million in other compensation, according to a company filing on Friday. The bonus line was down from $12 million the year before, and other top Apple execs also got lower bonuses. Apple said the company didn't do as well beating sales and operating income targets as it did in 2018.

Everything and anything you want to do. Electric carmaker Tesla said it delivered 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter, a record number, which helped send its stock price to an all-time high of $443 by Friday's close. Then over the weekend, rival Fisker debuted its entry-level electric car, the $37,500 Ocean sedan. The Ocean will have a range of 300 miles but won't go on sale until next year.

What happens here, stays here. The London Stock Exchange has blamed a computer problem that halted trading in August on a technical misconfiguration, but apparently members of the British intelligence services aren't convinced. They're investigating whether a cyber attack was to blame, the Wall Street Journal reports.

(Sin City headline reference explainer.)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Tech company employees' increasing activism has ignited growing interest in unionization for workers in the sector. But it's no easy task to bring the labor organizing strategies of the past century to an industry that has largely thrived without them, as consultant Christopher Budd explores in a piece for Geekwire. To start, Google has recently fired a total of five employees who claim they were targeted due to their union organizing efforts.

Whether the claims are true or not, the actions have gained attention and headlines, pushing this issue more to people’s minds. Because of that, the perceived heavy-handed response by Google and the response to it seem more likely to foster more pro-union activity at Google in the near future than to quell it. As Google is a huge presence in Silicon Valley and other cities such as Seattle, these actions can have ripple effects throughout the industry. Certainly, it seems more rather than less likely that there will be continued actions like this at Google in 2020. Since Google is such a leader in the industry, that could spread to other companies in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and beyond.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

L’Oréal’s New At-Home Device Makes Personalized Beauty Products, Signaling the Democratization of Cosmetics By John Kell

Apple, Amazon, and Google Want to Create a Smart Home Standard. Here’s What to Expect By Don Reisinger

A Silicon Valley Wellness Retreat for Overworked Techies By JP Mangalindan

Amazon Is on a Collision Course With Employee Activists Outraged by the Climate Crisis By Alyssa Newcomb

Judge’s Approval of T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Is Likely, Analysts Say By Aaron Pressman

5 New Books You Should Read to Ring in 2020 By Rachel King

BEFORE YOU GO

Over the next few days, we'll surely bring all the highlights, and lowlights, of what we see at CES. But there's already a strong contender for weirdest possible consumer gadget unveiled in 2020. Don't click on that link if your mouth is full right now. It's a true LOL.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com