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Sony won CES’s publicity contest this year: The Japanese tech giant surprised everyone by debuting an electric car called the Vision-S prototype.
In person, the all-grey sedan was sharp-looking as all hell, much more appealing than Tesla’s more plain Series 3 or BMW’s sharp-angled i3. It also featured killer specs, such as personalized cabin climates, four kinds of safety and driving sensors, and a zero-to-60 time of under 5 seconds. I didn’t get to drive the prototype around, but I sure wanted to.
Tech publications were falling all over themselves to hype the car, award the car, and generally give the car attention. As far as judging CES as a publicity race, Sony easily sprinted past Samsung, Dell, LG, and the thousands of other contenders.
Buried in those glowing reviews, however, was one odd fact: Sony has no plans, none at all, to build the car, get into the car business, or generally do anything with the Vision-S prototype other than grab press attention. There’s never going to be a sticker price or a launch date or anything else. That’s why the car was the most genius bit of PR at CES: It got everyone talking about Sony’s sensors and Sony’s screens and Sony’s entertainment library and how these and other Sony offerings would fit so well into the automotive future.
There was another winner of the Vision-S spectacle, one that was much less remarked upon. And that was Magna Steyr, the Austrian unit of auto-parts conglomerate Magna International. Magna Steyr is the company that actually built the prototype car. The longtime behind-the-scenes player may not be known to many consumers, but has manufactured, and even helped design, some popular luxury cars such as Mercedes’s E-class sedan and BMW’s X-3 small SUV.
While the public and press focused on Sony, another, much smaller audience may have been focused on Magna Steyr’s role. And that’s companies like Apple and Google that are developing self-driving car tech but don’t have any expertise in car manufacturing. If the Vision-S was Magna Steyr’s way to lure companies that want to get into the car business, it may be fielding more than a few calls next week.
Who watches the watches. Healthcare tech company Masimo filed a lawsuit against Apple on Thursday charging the company with infringing on 10 of its patents in the Apple Watch. Apple dangled a partnership to get access to Masimo's intellectual property and poached some of its top employees, including Michael O’Reilly, now Apple's vice president of health technology, the lawsuit charges.
Off the curb. While we wait out the electric car future, the electric scooter present is getting a little rough. Lime laid off about 100 employees and ended its scooter rental service in a dozen markets.
Needle in a haystack. Under last year's antitrust settlement with the European Union, Google agreed to let other companies bid for a place as the default search engine on Android phones in each of 31 countries. Only two rivals won spots in all 31 markets: DuckDuckGo and Info.com, according to a list of winners released on Thursday.
Buzz tracking. The former CEO of real estate app Zillow, Spencer Rascoff, is creating a new media company to cover the tech scene in Los Angeles. Dubbed Dot.LA, the effort received $4 million of seed funding from investors including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Snap, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
You must focus. After a rough year or two for Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he's abandoning his practice of setting an annual personal challenge. Instead, he will “take a longer term focus” and work on work-related priorities like improving privacy and developing virtual reality, Zuck said in Facebook post.
I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road. Music streaming in the United States exceeded 1 trillion songs played for the first time last year, reflecting a 25% increase from 2018. Other listening formats had a tougher year. Digital album downloads dropped 27%, CD sales fell 26%, and tape sales (there are still tape sales?) decreased 12%. Vinyl gained 11%, so there's that.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When my eldest was about 13 years old, she had a long bus ride to school and used the time to compose a novel-length story (on her phone) chronicling her own version of the adventures of the band One Direction. It was a remarkable achievement, one that she posted online but kept secret from the family for a while. University of Washington professor Cecilia Aragon has been more public with her fascination with fan fiction. In a deep dive for the MIT Technology Review, Aragon chronicles her journey of writing and studying "fanfic," demonstrating how it defies stereotypes and dismissive labels. And how it's training future writers.
Millions of authors and readers communicate via multiple channels—including Skype, official beta reader groups, fan fiction user groups, and other messaging and social-media platforms, as well as story reviews. Individual pieces of feedback are often too small to constitute mentoring on their own, but in the aggregate, particularly when reviewers build on and reference each other’s comments, the result is a new form of network-enabled mentoring that we call “distributed mentoring.” It enables authors to piece together an overall view of their writing that is supportive as well as constructive. Many authors feel encouraged as well as educated by their reviewers.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few long reads that I came across this week:
The Case for Being a Multi-Hyphenate (Human Parts)
Throughout history, and today, the most successful people are good at more than just one thing.
Admit It: You Have a Box of Cords You’ll Never, Ever Use Again (Wall Street Journal)
What’s this one for? Who knows! Electronic gadgets fade away but their cables live on forever at home.
Inside the Billion-Dollar Battle Over .Org (New York Times)
A private equity firm wants to buy the Internet domain used by nonprofits. A group of online pioneers says it is not the place to maximize profits.
Anne Beatts Was Always More Interesting Than John Hughes (New York)
Every teen series and movie that followed Beatts's Square Pegs owes it, and her, a debt of total gratitude.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Tesla Has Delivered Its First China-Made Cars. Now It’s Time to Face the Competition By Naomi Xu Elegant
Facebook’s Political Ad Policy Puts the Burden on Users, Not Candidates By Alyssa Newcomb
Verizon Unbundles Cable for Cord Cutters By Aaron Pressman
Sex Tech Steals the Spotlight at CES By Chris Morris
Why This 20-Year-Old Apprentice at Bosch Chose to Work First and Get Her Degree Later By McKenna Moore
BEFORE YOU GO
Despite the trend towards small and light tech gadgets, some things need to be bigger. Or at least that seemed to be the message at some CES booths. Samsung's 24-foot 8K television was stunning, though I don't have the wall space. The flying taxi made by Uber and Hyundai impressed with its 49-foot wing-span. Not sure it could land in my backyard, though. Most impressive of all may have been John Deere's R4038 self-propelled sprayer. The semi-autonomous tractor featured a boom for spraying crops that measured 120 feet long. I'm not sure how they even got it into the convention center.
On Twitter: @ampressman