Tech Narratives was a subscription website, which offered expert commentary on the day's top tech news from Jan Dawson, along with various other features, for $10/month. As of Monday October 16, 2017, it will no longer be updated. An archive of past content will remain available for the time being. I've written more about this change in the post immediately below, and also here.
This data – from a survey by BloomReach – shows just how powerful Amazon has become as a shopping destination: over half of online shoppers start with this single destination, versus just 28% at a search engine like Google, which would give them multiple destination options. Other retailers combined accounted for just 16% of the total, so Amazon is totally in a class of its own here.
Facebook Overestimated Key Video Metric for Two Years – WSJ (Sep 22, 2016)
This was the first of a number of stories in late 2016 relating to Facebook’s metrics for advertisers and publishers. At the time, it looked like an isolated incident, but it was bad enough to attract attention even so – Facebook vastly overestimated average viewing time for videos for two full years, and only disclosed this fact through an article on its Advertiser Help Center. Once the story broke, Facebook publicly apologized.
Bloomberg Reports Samsung Rushed Note7 Development (Sep 19, 2016)
Bloomberg reported that a rush to beat the iPhone 7 to market had caused Samsung to shortcut its development process for the Note7, possibly leading to the faults that triggered the fires.
The Third Transportation Revolution – Lyft CEO (Sep 18, 2016)
Lyft CEO John Zimmer makes two strong claims in this piece: autonomous vehicles will account for the majority of Lyft rides within 5 years (i.e. by 2021), and private car ownership will all but end in major US cities by 2025. Both of these claims are directionally correct – autonomous cars are absolutely coming, and thanks to ride sharing, many city dwellers will eventually abandon car ownership. But the timelines for both are likely dramatically over-optimistic. Most major car manufacturers aren’t talking about having production autonomous cars on the road until the early 2020s, and car ownership trends will shift much more slowly too. We therefore have to ask to what extent Lyft’s business plans are based on these over-optimistic goals.
Samsung Issues Partial Formal US Note7 Recall (Sep 15, 2016)
Samsung issued a partial formal recall through the US CPSC which lacked the force of a full recall, and focused only on the first-generation devices with the supposedly faulty battery.
Samsung Note7 Sales Suspended + Informal Recall (Sep 2, 2016)
Samsung suspended sales of first-generation Note devices and issued an informal recall, while promising that replacement devices with different batteries would be available very soon.
An investigation which began in 2014 concluded in August 2016 with the EU finding that Apple’s tax arrangement with the Irish government contravened EU tax policy, and requiring that Ireland recoup $14.5 billion in back taxes. The EU had also made similar moves with regard to Starbucks and Fiat as a result of similar investigations, but the numbers involved in the Apple case are far larger. Apple argues that it creates essentially all the value in its products in the US – iPhones and other products are famously “Designed by Apple in California” – and that therefore it repatriates all its profits to the US to be taxed there. The Irish arrangement recognized this argument and the Irish government has been happy to have Apple build a big base in Ireland on this basis, but the EU feels that Ireland’s treatment of Apple is an example of unequal treatment. Part of the reason for all this is that Apple has been keeping huge amounts of cash overseas for years in anticipation of an eventual tax holiday in the US, and so this isn’t just about Apple and the EU but also about a larger battle between US and European tax authorities.
via New York Times
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in general have long strenuously resisted the media company label, not least because media companies are valued much lower than tech companies. And yet Facebook has become arguably the most influential media company in the world over the past few years, a fact that’s only become clearer as 2016 has gone on. This identity crisis also makes it harder for Facebook to make smart decisions about how to manage problems like fake news on the site – the sooner it reaches some conclusions, the better.
First Reports of Samsung Galaxy Note7 Fires (Aug 24, 2016)
Reports began to trickle in about fires caused by the Galaxy Note7, and eventually the trickle turned into a steady stream, with dozens of cases reported in the US alone over the space of a couple of weeks.
Samsung Galaxy Note7 Goes on Sale (Aug 19, 2016)
The Note7 went on sale on August 19th in the US with all the major carriers, off the back of mostly very good reviews from major tech publications.
Samsung Unveils the Galaxy Note7 (Aug 2, 2016)
On August 2, 2016, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note7 at an event in New York City. It skipped from 5 to 7 in the numbering system to align naming with its Galaxy S line, a decision that would later prove unfortunate.
Facebook’s first successful attempt to clone a Snapchat feature ironically came not in Facebook but in Instagram, an app it was able to acquire (unlike Snapchat itself). There’s plenty of evidence at this point that Instagram Stories have done very well for Facebook (and some that it’s hit Snapchat hard).
Master Plan, Part Deux | Tesla (Jul 20, 2016)
This is Tesla’s four-part new master plan for the next few years: “Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage; Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments; Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning; Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.” Autonomy and sharing – the last two bullets – are the key ones from a broader tech perspective, and this is the first hint we’ve had that Tesla will participate in sharing, though its vision is more aligned to the future vision of the Ubers and Lifts of the world than their current business model – autonomy + sharing. Given how effective Musk and Tesla have been at achieving the broad strokes of the first “master plan”, they seem likely to succeed again, and there are few concrete timelines here to miss.
The article has several statements from Facebook itself at the end, which deny the main points of the article. However, this article helped feed a narrative which was already emerging, that Facebook was deliberately or otherwise suppressing trending topics with a conservative bent. It also played into the larger narrative that Facebook has too much power over what its users read and see of the world, a narrative that gained a lot of steam in 2016.
Trump Hits Apple Over FBI San Bernardino iPhone – CNET (Feb 17, 2016)
This was the second occasion when then-candidate Trump took aim at Apple during the campaign, with the first being his insistence that Apple should make more of its products in the US rather than overseas. This attack was over Apple’s refusal to create a backdoor to the iPhone in order to assist the FBI with its case against the alleged San Bernardino shooters. This call escalated into a call for a boycott of the iPhone (all while members of Trump’s team continued to tweet from iPhones).
Free Basics is an initiative that Facebook cares about, but it’s not necessarily massively important for its overall performance financially or otherwise. As such, this is an emotional setback, but not necessarily an important one. However, the reasons for the decision are indicative of broader concerns which Facebook should be more concerned about: increasing worries about Facebook’s power and the ways in which it shapes users’ experience of the Internet.
This was one of the first occasions on which then-candidate Donald Trump took aim at a big US tech company, with Apple the target. He argued that as president, he would insist that Apple make more of its products in the US rather than overseas. This is a theme he’s returned to since and which both Apple and Foxconn have apparently responded to in some of their investigations of manufacturing in the US in late 2016 and early 2017.
Donald Trump Attacks Amazon and Jeff Bezos on Twitter (Dec 7, 2015)
This was the first of several attacks by candidate Donald Trump aimed at Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos, which appear to have been inspired at least in part by Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post, which in turn had been critical of Trump’s candidacy (along with the rest of the liberal media and much of the rest too) in editorials. The threats issued as possible retaliation were never specified in any detail, but as with his threats against Apple during the campaign, he kept them up throughout.
This article is from when it first became apparent that Uber might end up being one of the first companies to put autonomous vehicles on real roads with real passengers, back in September 2015. Even then, Arizona governor Doug Ducey was attempting to entice technology companies to do their testing in his state, a strategy that paid off in December 2016 when Uber moved its second self-driving trial from San Francisco to Arizona.
This sort of thing is exactly why Apple makes such a big deal about the secure enclave on iPhones (and the new MacBook Pro) – fingerprint security is only as secure as the encryption and protection for the sensor data on the device. The biggest issue for Android vendors here is that this isn’t really the kind of vulnerability that can easily be patched after the fact.