Alphabet’s mid-life crisis

MAGCA — Make Alphabet and Google Cool Again 

“Larry Page and Sergey Brin step down as things aren’t fun anymore. Now, Sundar Pichai has to pick up the weight,” says Jennifer Alias at CNBC. Google is struggling with a series of challenges, including; decrease in revenues from its core advertising business (driven by search); employee activism and backlash against some large but controversial projects; failure to derive material revenues from diversification efforts; a fall to third place in cloud services (behind Amazon and Microsoft); scrutiny and regulation from both the U.S. and E.U. governments.

dis-rup-shun:  As our parents told us, growing up is hard, and Google, like many fast growth companies that struggle to create new lines of businesses as successful as their core, is no exception. Alphabet is simultaneously struggling with mid-life pressures as well as “The Facebook Effect,” which I will describe as growing distrust and even disdain of the power held by Big Tech. Apple and Microsoft experienced similar mid-life crises before strong captains righted those ships. HP and IBM are still awaiting arrival of visionary new blood. Palm, Sun Micro, Yahoo! and so many others died while waiting. The next 18 months will be telling for Alphabet, which may decide to jettison the baggage of new ventures, and return to the core business of search in hopes that the magic will return.

The uglier side of electric and autonomous vehicles

Automakers are, collectively, laying off 80,000 workers as our cultures shift to electric, autonomous, and shared cars. Auto sales this year are off 6% from last. Bloomberg

dis-rup-shun:  Perhaps laid off auto workers can become shared ride drivers, taking advantage of the trend that is displacing them. As has been said many a time, the pace of change will never be as slow as it was today.

iPhone app of the year is photo app from Spectre

The app of the year for iPhone is one that enables your less than latest iPhone to take pictures like an iPhone 11 — creating special effects available previously only with a digital SLR camera. Spectre takes hundreds of pictures in a few seconds and overlays them to create long exposure effects — special effects employed by the pros. CNet

dis-rup-shun: Interesting that Apple would choose a camera app as “best” given that smartphone innovation seems to be limited to photography. It seems doubtful that smartphone makers will blow us away with amazing new capabilities in coming years, and will continue to try to entice upgrades with better screens and cameras. The arrival of 5G will provide smartphone makers with a non-camera innovation that should lead to upgrades. 

Remember when phones were for talking?

Robocalls are rampant. New legislation proposed by congress and the FCC will help, when enacted, but for now, a number of technologies, introduced by carriers, by phone makers and by third parties (apps) seek to block unwanted calls. iOS 13 helps users route unknown callers straight to voicemail, and T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have utilities for iOS and Android to help block likely spammers. 3rd party apps do the same. Some popular apps include Hiya, RoboKiller, Youmail, and Nomorobo. CNet

dis-rup-shun: We will tell our grandchildren stories of how people used to use their phones to talk to each other. Thanks to the rise of robocalls, people are simply about to stop answering calls from anyone other than their friends and family and trusted vendors. Voice calling on phones is now the intercom between a trusted circle of friends and family, driving direct sales to email, text messaging and social media. Sales managers seem slow to understand that that telephone is no longer an effective sales tool until a relationship is formed.

Amazon Fire tablet great at half price of iPad

Newest Amazon tablet “really great” at half the price of iPad

Amazon’s latest Fire HD 10 tablet “is a great alternative to the iPad at half the price.” The third generation Fire HD is faster, charges quickly and has long battery life. The tablet is optimized for Amazon services but also enables access to websites such as Netflix and Spotify on its 1080p screen, and allows for expanded storage. The Fire HD 10 starts at $150, compared to the iPad at $329. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: So, is Amazon trying to be more like Apple, by creating better and better devices, and selling them at break even or less to try to catch Apple, or is Apple trying to become more like Amazon by launching new video, music, gaming and news services? Apple makes fat profits on hardware but has determined that continuous growth will require being good at services. Amazon has built vast empires of services, including shopping, video, books (of course), and delivery, but has determined that owning the device that gets you to the services (Echo, Firestick, Kindle) will result in higher consumption of Amazon services. Two vastly successful companies are accomplishing similar goals by very different paths. At what point do they begin to look similar, and what course does that leave for Google? Google, already dominant in services, looks more like Amazon in its strategy, but got lost on the journey a few years ago when it bit off a bigger Nest than it was ready to chew, but appears to be regaining its vision.

Google and OpenTitan seek to build un-hackable chip through open source

A chip technology called secure enclave seeks to secure a computing device by putting the microprocessor in charge of encryption, and in charge of shutting down the device if any of its operating system has been tampered. Google and a consortium of companies called OpenTitan seek to create a shared secure enclave chip architecture, allowing many contributors to build the chipset, rather than it being property of the usual suspects (Qualcomm, Intel, Nvidia, etc.). Wired

dis-rup-shun: What is Google doing in the microprocessor business and why is it creating an open architecture that potentially disrupts the value of person-decades of knowledge carefully protected by patents? It’s just everyday Art of War strategy in which defeating your enemy is about defeating your enemy’s strategy and re-writing market rules that have traditionally rewarded holders of protected intellectual property. If the strategy sounds familiar, it is how a search engine became the largest player in the smartphone operating system market by making Android an open environment that enlisted armies of developers around the globe from many different companies. If you can’t win at the game, bust up the game board and see who has enough money, developers and marketers to build the new board first.

Congress begins creation of a Federal data privacy law

California federal congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren (Dems.) have drafted legislation to protect data privacy rights by forming a new 1,600 employee agency entitled the Digital Privacy Agency (DPA) responsible for policing companies’ use of private information and penalizing scofflaws. The law would also give individuals the ability to see what companies are using their data, for what purposes, and to manage when those rights could be retracted. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: This is real progress, as Europe enacted strong data privacy laws, called GDPR, several years ago while the U.S. has only talked. This will be a test to see if the U.S.’s fractured legislators can agree on a much needed new policy, and for those of us paying taxes, we will appreciate the headcount for the new agency coming from a reduction in some outdated agency, like the Stage Coach Regulation Agency. In debate are states’ rights issues. It will be very difficult for companies to answer to the laws of fifty states, so a single body of legislation, as in Europe, is the better solution. Apple, the company that has chosen to position itself as the privacy company, must now decide to support this initiative or pooh pooh it as inferior to the company’s own internal privacy standards.

IOTc, the Internet of Things Consortium launches summit

The Internet of Things Consortium launches IOTc Next, The Connected Futures Summit. The event takes place in New York City’s TimesCenter on November 12th.

dis-rup-shun: Readers of dis-rup-shun.com are entitled to event discounts. The one day event features a wide variety of IOT topics and speakers. The agenda topics include: financing IOT projects, user interfaces, media organizations in a connected world, marketing how-to’s, seeing the future, IOT and mobility, smart homes, connected health and wellness, securing devices and networks, connected retail, smart cities, and the ethics of IOT. 6 days to register.

It’s now time for you to purchase a robotic vacuum cleaner

iRobot Roomba S9+ is expensive. Its $1,399 but this model is truly smarter than any of its predecessors or competitors. The S9+ uses sensors to create a map of your home, enabling it to do the job more quickly. It includes sensors that enables it to avoid vacuum dangers, like strings, socks, and stairs. And most importantly, it empties itself into a dust bin that requires human attention only after multiple house cleanings. Wired

dis-rup-shun: If you have ever used a Roomba, you know that it is a great vacuum that really works, except for the fact that it randomly bumps its way through the house, doubling back in certain areas and likely never reaching some. Also, the small size of its dirt compartment means it must be changed every 20 minutes or so, especially if you are knee deep in pet hair. The new S9+ proves that rocket science, when applied to household products, really does make every day living better. This is the level of machine intelligence that will make smart home products must haves from here onward.

Why Alphabet’s hiring of former FDA commish is a good thing

Google parent hires former FDA commissioner to run health strategy

Google’s parent, Alphabet, has hired Robert Califf, former FDA commissioner, to head policy and strategy for the company’s Verily Life Sciences and Google Health divisions. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: No doubt hiring a government insider to help grease the skids of the difficult FDA approval process is smart. Before jumping to the conclusion that this is just another example of hiring a fox to direct the hen house, it is important to think about how beneficial to our greater society this move could be. The care economy is in big trouble as not enough workers are entering the field(s) to address the needs of a fast growing, aging and unhealthy population. At the same time, great technology innovations are flooding the market. Many of these innovations are highly effective at augmenting care tasks, but most will not survive a consumer unfriendly care distribution system, or become approved for health care reimbursement as determined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Califf is in a position to teach both Alphabet and our Federal Government how to work together and streamline the adoption of technology products to play critical care roles. There is big money to be made by tech in the care business, and even bigger money to be saved. We all stand to greatly benefit from the integration of tech into the care industries and need it to occur sooner than later.

Levis and Google team up on smart jean jacket

Google and Levi’s are resurrecting the Jacquard smart sensor and app — a small sensor that fits into the sleeve of the jacket and reacts to conductive thread in the sleeve to enable remote control of your smartphone functions. Using the app, one can program what taps, swipes or gestures control. These controls could include phone volume, camera apps, or headphone noise cancelling. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Smart clothing may not be mainstream for some time, but a $200 smart jean jacket, for the sake of cocktail conversation, may just be a hit. What are some more valuable applications for this technology? How about unlocking your car remotely when you are hands are full, or turning on garage lighting? The smart home and the smart clothing industries will definitely find some synergies.

Best live TV streaming services

Wired offers a look at four streaming services that have apps to get to live TV. It suggests, in order of recommendation, Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, Sony PS Vue, Sling TV and then, of course, buying a $44 digital TV antenna is a good complement to streaming TV services.

dis-rup-shun: The digital economy has eaten a hole in our wallets, one $9.99 bite at a time, and the traditional services like pay TV are starting to look like hogs at $179 and $219 per month. Consumers, for many years, asked for a la carte channel pricing and cable providers said no, forcing us to subscribe to packages which have now devolved into dozens of channels covering the Shark Vacuum and Cindy Crawford’s makeup secrets, 24 x 7. Even tech laggards are considering cord cutting, and a three or four streaming services with some option to access local programming will do the trick. Once a majority of subscribers cut the TV cord, the wireless phone bill will be the next pig to slaughter as consumers seek some angles to cover their rising health care bills.

Dogs need technology too

Wired provides a review of some of the best dog gear, both tech products and dog boots, for hikes in rough places with mollusk shells or volcanic rocks. The Whistle Go, for $100, is a collar with GPS for tracking your dog as well as its activity level, and keeping it geo-fenced.

dis-rup-shun: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are constantly offering things like iPads for a $10 if you agree to tether them to a cellular network for several years. Seems like the carriers should be pushing things of real value, like pet trackers as most any pet lover will spend stupid amounts of money for their furry friends. It is time for BestBuy and AT&T to have a pet section in their stores.

Android wins GM’s dashboards

Google’s Android is chosen for future GM dashboards

Google won an important battle to control in-car infotainment systems, when GM decided that Android will power its models starting in 2022. Android in car will mean seamless access to Google Maps and Google Assistant, beating Amazon’s Echo Auto out of that spot. GM will continue to offer Apple Car Play in models, accommodating both iOS and Android users behind the wheel. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Combining auto-makers’ in-car systems with smartphone interfaces makes for an awkward match up, especially if you frequently rent cars and try to learn every brand’s unique approach to important navigation, communications and music controls. Leveraging the ever improving smartphone interface is the preferred path, and making the car an extension of the smartphone (which needs to disappear while we drive) is the best, and safest, consumer experience. Expect the role of mobile operating systems to expand deeper into home controls, including music players, TVs, and kitchen appliances.

Must haves: a phone charger built into your walls

Debuting at the CEDIA Expo event is 4AMPS 4A-WCC2 charger with integrated cord . This is a DIY faceplate that anyone who has the courage to remove an electrical outlet face plate can slide into the exposed socket to retro-fit an existing socket. The result is an in-wall socket with added 3 foot retractable charging cord for charging both an Apple device (Lightning connector) and USB-C. The product sells for $35. CEPro

dis-rup-shun: Admit it — you have hid your charging cord from your roommates, your kids or your spouse, as it seems someone in the house always seems to be missing theirs and borrows yours. A built-in retractable cord that disappears when not in use is genius, and placed in a few strategic locations will improve the lives of more than a few people. Expect this kind of offering to be standard in homes and high-end hotels, alike.

Groupon’s offers on medical treatments a shock to doctors

ArsTechnica reports that doctors are aghast to learn that patients are using Groupon specials to shop for medical treatments such as mammograms, eye care and dental work.

dis-rup-shun: Memo to doctors: your services are becoming another consumer service that will be discounted, promoted and hawked, like carpet cleaning and brake inspections. The Internet has been slow to disrupt healthcare and bring the same conveniences and transparency that it has for travel, for book buying, and for restaurant reservations. But the open market, courtesy of the Internet and fueled by partnerships with consumer companies like CVS and Aetna and the entry of Amazon, has arrived. This will be great for consumers and insurers, but disruptive to doctors whose incomes will now be set by the market, not by the AMA.

Is $170M penalty a slap on Google’s wrist or historical?

Google agreed to pay fine of $170M to the FTC and the State of New York for violating COPPA rules designed to protect the identity of children. Google was targeting specific ads to children under 13, in violation of COPPA. The fine is the largest ever for violation of the privacy act, but has been criticized as “paltry” in relation to Google’s $137 billion in 2018 revenues. The company did agree, however, to use Artificial Intelligence to identify and protect children’s content going forward. CNN

dis-rup-shun: This penalty and controversy sounds very similar to Facebook’s $5 billion penalty in July for revealing personal information – also decried as being too lenient on a multi-billion dollar company. Here are the currents swirling around regulation of Big Tech firms: 1) Many government and business leaders are claiming that Big Tech is too powerful and anti-competitive and that their astronomical lobbying expenditures are buying leniency from the Feds. A series of investigations into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple are queued up for the remainder of this year, and the recent settlements set the tone for size of the penalties.  2) Apple has initiated a “good guy” campaign, building privacy protection features into its products at the public relations expense of Facebook and Google – increasing pressure on the industry to raise the privacy bar. 3) Google researchers have discovered a “zero day” hack of thousands of iPhones, creating a public relations embarrassment for the good guys at Apple. 4) Penalties levied against Facebook and Google are small relative to revenues, but some of the largest of their kind, leading one to believe that the Feds are firing a warning shot to test the pain points of both Big Tech and the public. Expect to see a series of relatively low penalties levied against Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and others in the next half dozen months.

Streaming game of thrones: Viacom and CBS form latest alliance

Viacom and CBS align for battle in the streaming wars

Viacom and CBS announced their merger, providing a combined network with a vast content library, similar to NBC’s merger with Universal in 2004 and acquisition by Comcast in 2011. This will strengthen CBS’ streaming service, as the combined company owns 140,000 TV episodes, 36,000 films and 750 series. ViacomCBS is now in a better position to challenge Disney, Netflix, AT&T and Comcast in the streaming wars. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: A bit like GOT itself, the seven kingdoms are aligning to have a seat at the throne of your smart TV. A streaming service, be it from a cable network (Comcast), an over the top service (Netflix) or from a studio (Hulu) is mere commodity without unique content. To compete, you must purchase or create a production studio and build a library of popular content. Netflix changed the world by offering a new format (anytime TV) at a new price point. Others followed but found it hard to differentiate. Content differentiates, and now when cord cutters drop their pay TV subscriptions with AT&T or Comcast, there is a good chance they will subscribe to a streaming service partially owned by AT&T, Comcast, CBS, Disney, etc. Realignment of subscribers beats total loss of subscribers any day.

Nest accounts become Google on August 31st

Customer backlash prevented Google from cancelling support for third party devices that controlled Nest devices (through Works with Nest programs). On August 31st, only security support for Nest accounts will be provided, meaning that Nest accounts will work, but won’t receive any feature enhancements. But if you control a Nest device, like a camera or thermostat from a 3rd party app, don’t migrate to a Google account, as you will lose the ability to control your Nest devices from apps provided by third parties. CNet

dis-rup-shun: Confused? Nest is increasing its control of data created through the use of its devices, and is providing incentives for its customers to control home devices through its Google Home smart speaker devices. It is doing so, in part, by discouraging use of third party devices. This is a risky strategy for a number of reasons: 1) the smart home is way too big and diverse for a single vendor to dominate, and if one were to dominate, it would likely be an Apple or Samsung, who provide many more devices than Google/Nest; 2) Nest thermostats and cameras are strong selling standalone products, but if they don’t work (well) with other devices and hubs, there are many good alternatives and this move will ultimately hurt sales of Google/Nest products.

A side by side look at home Internet and Wi-Fi services

The largest Wi-Fi providers, by market share, are  Comcast, Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon and Cox Communications. When selecting a provider, be aware of hidden fees such as modem rental fees, data overage fees, installation fees, and early termination fees.

ISPS: 100 – 150MBPS PLANS COMPARED

Comcast Xfinity Charter Spectrum AT&T Fiber Verizon Fios Cox Communications
Max download speed 150Mbps 3 – 300Mbps (same price for all plans in this range) 100Mbps 100Mbps 150Mbps
Max upload speed 10Mbps 1 – 20Mbps (same price for all plans in this range) 100Mbps 100Mbps 10Mpbs
Data allowance 1TB, then $10 / 50GB Unlimited 1TB, then $10 / 50GB Unlimited 1TB, then $10 / 50GB
Installation costs Up to $60 Up to $140 Up to $99 Up to $99 Up to $75
Promotional price $50 / month $45 / month $50 / month $40 / month $60 / month
Promotional period 12 months 12 months 12 months 12 months 12 months
Price after promotion $80 / month $66 / month $60 / month $55 / month $88 / month
Modem/router fee $13 / month $5 / month $0 $12 / month $11 / month
Early termination fee Up to $120 None Up to $180 None Up to $120

CNET

dis-rup-shun: Differences between services are subtle, unless you live in a household that watches many movies everyday, are running a compute intensive home-based business, or unless you are an online game player and every Mbps counts. Bundles with other services, like pay TV (unless you have already cut the cord), or streaming subscriptions thrown in for free, may be the biggest difference makers in your choice for next generation broadband service at home.

Connected products detect dementia

Apple and Eli Lilly partner to detect dementia

In a study involving 82 people in a control group and 31 people with some form of cognitive decline, Apple and Eli Lilly collected data from usage of an Apple watch, iPhones and Beddit bed sensors. The study collected usage data on both groups, to characterize differences in usage of those with dementia. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: With 6 million people living with dementia in the U.S., and rapid increases in the incidences of Alzheimer’s, technology is much needed to help us understand and act on cognitive decline. The key to using technology to predict disease is mountains of data, and the barrier to mountains of data is HIPPA (privacy) compliance. Tech companies and health companies should, with full disclose and consent from consumers, collect as much anonymous data as possible using connected devices in order to get ahead of massive stress on the care systems resulting from the graying of Western Europe, North America and Asia.

Google’s Live View Augmented Reality guides you as you walk

Now rolling out to Google Maps applications on both Android and iOS, Live View augmented reality simulates the view you see as you face a direction, and overlays arrows and street names. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: How many times have you ascended from a subway stop and not known which direction to walk? Google is fixing that. Expect to see many people staring at their phones as they stand on street corners, and expect to see many more “location aware” advertisements to take you to coffee shops, restaurants and shops right around you, wherever you are.

Sony’s version of AirPods include noise cancellation

It has become commonplace to see people everywhere wearing Apple AirPods. Sony’s answer includes noise cancellation, meaning that for travelers or those who study in a public place, they are ideal. Sony’s WF-1000xm3 headphones are more expensive at $230 (AirPods are $159) and the carrying case is bulkier. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Sony, in the 70’s through the 90’s was ‘the Apple’ — the cool tech company that made the best gear. The company, since then, has struggled to find its niche but creating premium earphones is a good place to focus. For anyone who travels, noise cancellation is critical and ear buds take up a lot less space in a carry on that over the ear phones. But please, Sony, take a marketing cue from gadget leaders Samsung and Apple and give your products a name that people can weave into conversation. “Hey man, where’d you get those cool WF-1000xm3’s?”

Samsung has the hottest new smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy Note10 debuted in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Here’s the quick summary:

  • No headphone jack
  • Enhanced stylus
  • Gesture control without touching the screen
  • Multiple color choices
  • Larger screen due to very thin bezel (frame)
  • Four camera lenses and ability to zoom audio to get focused sounds on videos
  • AR Doodle feature to add creativity to photos
  • 3D scanning of objects — capturing depth in addition to length and width
  • Quick charge battery and power sharing
  • Support for 5G networks

dis-rup-shun: Samsung maintains its lead on bells and whistles — staying a step ahead of the iPhone, but given that Android vs. iOS has long been a religious discussion, few iPhone users will be swayed by Samsung’s features. Kudos to Samsung for working hard to keep smartphones from becoming commodities — little discernible differentiation between brands — but that is getting tougher to do, especially given that new top of the line smartphones are similarly priced around $1000.

Self-driving vans deliver Walmart groceries

Robovan delivers groceries for Walmart

Walmart will test a driverless van made by California firm Gatik to deliver groceries from an Arkansas distribution center to homes nearby in Bentonville. The test will include backup drivers who will sit behind the wheel to monitor the robovans. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Walmart, one of the largest retailers of grocery products, is racing to keep Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods and extensive drone development, from eating its lunch. Gatik estimates that driverless delivery vans could halve the cost of grocery deliveries — making the elimination of driver jobs far more appealing to consumers. 

Google Facebook ad duopoly shrinking

Last week’s earnings reports reveal that Snap, Amazon and Twitter’s ad revenues are up significantly, putting a dent in the 51% dominance of Google and Facebook. eMarketer sizes the global online ad market at $333 billion in 2019. Snap’s revenue was up 48% and Facebook’s 28%. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: A decline in the duopoly of Google and Facebook comes at a convenient time for these providers, as Big Tech is under review by Congress for limiting competition. This data will not help Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for breaking up tech giants, though we see that one of the companies taking share from the duopoly is Amazon, perhaps supporting the calls for limiting Amazon’s rapid dominance of many markets.

All three 2020 iPhones to feature 5G

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is reportedly the most accurate Apple watcher, says all three new iPhone models to be released in 2020 will support the new wireless network standard called 5G. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: To repeat a common saying, the pace of technological change will never be slower than it is today. 5G provides data speeds up to 20 times faster than our current 4G networks, and will support far more devices with smaller antennas, using less power. 5G is a big deal because it will enable exponential growth in both number of devices and amount of data than can be downloaded or uploaded on a carrier’s network. If you live in or around a city, you will be awash in connected devices (see connected diaper). If you live in rural areas, well, you will still struggle with basic high speed Internet.  

SpaceX Starship Mars explorer takes a spin  

Musk’s SpaceX continues to aggressively develop and test space craft. Last Thursday the company’s Starship tested maneuverability by taking off and moving laterally about 60 feet, then landing. Musk claims that this is the craft that will go to Mars. Despite multiple fires and mishaps, Musk has sold a trip around the moon to a Japanese billionaire. Wired

dis-rup-shun: For Musk watchers, a pattern to the billionaire’s operational culture proves that risk is not limited by inactivity. With both car company Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, Musk learns by trying and is not afraid of regular failures. In the business of transporting humans, however, this experimentation is high risk, and a balance between safety regulations (consider the 737 Max) and pressing for innovation is required.

Big Tech stares down Congress


Congress summons Big Tech for a big chat

Top executives from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google were on the Hill this week, arguing that they are not monopolies and are not using customer data for competitive advantage. Data is used, said Amazon’s Sutton, to better serve customers, when asked if the company launches its own products based on what’s selling. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Everyone except for small business was a winner this week as congress persons posed as tough on tech, tech executives sounded smarter than legislators by delivering punchy but circuitous answers, and lobbyists validated their billings by offering evidence that tech is increasingly under fire by legislators. Legislators have to find the balance between an increasingly less-competitive landscape and nationalistic interests in defending against global competition, mainly from China, for next generation technology dominance.

Netflix faces first significant subscriber loss 

In Q2, Netflix faced loss of 130,000 U.S. subscribers and added only 2.7 million global subs instead of the predicted 5 million. The Verge

dis-rup-shun: Why is the unstoppable streaming service slowing down? A number of reasons, and they aren’t new competition, as Disney, Apple and AT&T’s ‘Netflix killer’ streaming services are not yet open. The reasons include saturation — with nearly 60% of U.S. households already subscribers, those that aren’t, don’t want to spend the money or don’t watch TV. Existing competition is increasing its original content, making some other services more desirable than Netflix (since House of Cards is finished), and rising inflation has been slowly taking a bite out of U.S. consumers’ disposable incomes. Netflix may be an indicator of a slowing economy.

AT&T and Microsoft form $2 billion alliance for cloud and 5G

AT&T announced that it will move much of its business computing needs to Microsoft’s public cloud, Azure. In addition, it’s 268,000 employee workforce will use Microsoft  365 applications for its computing needs. The $2 billion deal does not include AT&T outsourcing its network infrastructure, like cellular communications networks. The companies are also cooperating on development of 5G tools. Reuters

dis-rup-shun: This deal looks like a huge win for Microsoft and likely a cost-savings move for AT&T which continues to seek efficiencies as it prepares to engage in a long battle for streaming content viewership following integration of Time Warner. Microsoft Azure is cleaning up cloud services accounts from many companies that consider Amazon a competitor on various fronts including retailers (Walmart) and shippers (FedEx). Microsoft also secured additional defense against Google apps by ensuring that AT&T continues to use Microsoft’s office tools.

Maps with images only moments old

Online maps such as Google Street View feature photos of locations that are often months if not years old. Nexar’s Live Map application uses dash cam and smartphone images to refresh map images constantly, showing viewers a wreck moments after it happened. The company has been quick to address privacy concerns by stating that pictures of people, addresses and licenses are anonymized and blurred. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Privacy is a big concern when a) everyone’s every move is captured on a dash or doorbell camera, and b) companies collect and store those images and promise to self-police breaches in privacy. This puts companies in a position of high liability as they are liable to shareholders to monetize data they collect, and liable to society to not use that data in a way that would compromise privacy. Big profits come to those that expose secrets.

The streaming wars are over (already)

Streaming wars already over, says Diller

The big studios, AT&T’s Warner, Disney and NBCUniversal are launching Netflix-killer streaming services in the next few months. Netflix enjoys an advantage of 150 million subscribers and 22 years. The upstarts are trying to bring down the streaming giant by pulling their content, programs such as the Office and the Disney catalog, from Netflix. Media magnate Barry Diller says there is no way to catch Netflix.  CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Diller is a smart man, but if Netflix cannot keep producing original content hits and if the studios get on a hot streak of new content, which can be monetized by both streaming subscriptions and network TV (which Netflix cannot access), Netflix could lose its luster. In the Internet economy, the speed of change is faster than most expect, and Netflix has yet to make a profit, claiming that its deficit spending on original content will eventually pay off. It now has big competitors with multiple revenue sources and is locked into a spending battle with media conglomerates.

Why billionaires are launching rockets as fast as possible

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is yet another billionaire’s rocket launch company, using a 747 to ferry rockets into high altitudes. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Branson joins Bezos, Musk, (late) Paul Allen in the battle for space travel. While certainly egos are involved, access to the stars is similar to building the ports for the first steamships to ply oceans and rivers. Two behemoth markets for space craft are telecommunications and defense. Companies that can secure spots in space for communications satellites can cost effectively provide broadband to any corner of the Earth without stringing wires. Companies that can launch defense equipment will have some large paying customers in world governments. Space entrepreneurship puts the U.S. in the lead over China and Russia as those nations’ space deployments are mostly government programs.

Mashup: YouTube on Amazon and Prime Video on Google Chrome

Further blurring the lines between all sources of TV, both streaming and broadcast, Google and Amazon have buried the hatchet and will make their TV sources available on one-another’s hardware platforms. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Another data point confirming that new TV services will soon look like old TV services, one will soon be able to access most streaming services from a single provider as various services essentially become channels within an uber provider, such as AT&T or Comcast or Apple or Amazon. These super-streaming providers will also offer access to cable and broadcast channels and watching TV will be simpler again, and will become more expensive as a few storefronts consolidate the goods.

Europe sends a $350M warning to Facebook, Google and big tech

Europe took the lead on data privacy in 2018 with the implementation of privacy standards known as GDPR. The EU just fined British Airways $230 million and Marriott $123 million for fumbling the security of customer records. Facebook and Google are under investigation by the EU now. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The EU is showing that, as designed, the government has the teeth to make big corporations respect the laws in place to protect citizens. Hey U.S. Congress, are you watching?

When tech giants become property developers

Alphabet, Google’s parent, plans a smart city in Toronto

On Monday, Alphabet’s subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, released plans for its $1.3 billion smart city on the Toronto waterfront. The plans boast private investment of $38 billion by 2040, and the creation of 44,000 jobs and $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue. Locals are mixed on support of the venture, which is yet to win full support of urban planners and city leaders. The Verge

dis-rup-shun: Tech giants’ disruption of real estate markets in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Austin have previously been with the help of the usual brokers, financiers and builders. Alphabet is making its own rules in Toronto and showing that it is more powerful than the local establishment. On the one hand, established city leaders are suspicious of grand ambitions backed by big money and the arrogance associated with big tech. On the other hand, the smart cities vision will take decades to evolve organically unless accelerated by a visionary company that just builds it.

 

Facebook’s future inside a ringed fence

Facebook has been the PR whipping post for all that is wrong with the Internet, social networks, and disclosure of personal data. Despite all the bad press and example making by regulators, its subscriber count is up 9% and its revenues, 30%. Forrester researchers say that the company’s undoing will not be public opinion or legislation, but will be its own shift to focus on private messaging as this move will stall growth of social networks, and will prevent the company from selling more personal information to advertisers. Meanwhile, the watchful eye of regulators will make it very difficult for the company to acquire new companies. Forbes

dis-rup-shun: The notion that Facebook has painted itself into a corner is hard to fathom, as statements of direction can change in the blink of a CEO’s eye. The fact that Facebook continues to grow, and continues to be an important source of news and information for its 2.3 billion monthly users portends that, despite bad press, it will be the virtual water cooler for years to come. It’s $540 billion market cap means the company can spend a great deal on public relations and congressional lobbying. 

 

How to slice up big tech

Kara Swisher shares thoughts on competition and how big tech is too big to challenge. The Recode editor shares thoughts on how regulators might break Google, Apple or Amazon into some logical pieces and encourage new entrants into markets that have been ceded to the giants. The Verge

dis-rup-shun: January 1, 1984 was the day that AT&T’s monopoly ended and baby bells were created. While the decision was rough on AT&T, many of the bells thrived by merging, acquiring, and entering into new businesses. The action accelerated communications technology, including wireless telephony, and spurred the strongest tech economy in the world. History has shown competition to be economic lifeblood and dominance to lead to stagnation.

 

Industry leaders reply

In response to Should Facebook’s currency be blocked? Former Lowe’s Iris Smart Home VP and GM Kevin Meagher replies: In the UK in the 18th and 19th century single large employers (mill owners/mines/steel mills) in towns and regions created and issued their own currencies to pay staff.  This currency was only recognized in businesses owned by the companies and their partners so what was paid to employees eventually came back to the company.  It was a great way to squeeze competition out of the town and hold everyone hostage to what was in effect a feudal system.  I’m pretty sure this happened in some early settlement in the US.  How the wheel goes round!