Two pieces on the challenges of 5G. The first is an analysis around Apple’s use of 5G in its popular line of iPhones. The company made no announcements this week, and that’s the challenge for Apple given the timing of its product launches, particularly around China. China will have commercial 5G service late this year to early next year or so, but the next edition of the iPhone likely won’t come out until September. That may seem like little time, but in the highly-competitive, mature smartphone industry, a few months may be just enough of a gap to allow another company to steal market share in one of Apple’s most important growth markets.
On the other side of the world, a city north of San Francisco has voted to effectively block the rollout of 5G small cell technology into residential neighborhoods over medical and health fears. While the science is reasonably absolute that cell phone antennas have no link to health outcomes, what’s crazy here is that 5G antennas will typically broadcast less radiation than the towers they are replacing. Whatever health effects were there before, there should be even less going forward. It’s another example of the strange dichotomy within the country’s leading innovation hub.
Summer is finally over, and I’ve had lots of travel the past few weeks to Seoul, Tokyo, and SF. TechCrunch just hosted the largest Disrupt ever, with thousands of attendees streaming across Moscone last week. I got to interview some amazing people, and the videos will hopefully come in the next edition of this review.
With work on internal projects and travel, writing slowed down to a crawl in August, which is why this review hasn’t been posted in some time. That said, some great news stories from August, plus some analyses as I walked and talked around San Francisco.
Benchmark is one of the most storied firms in Silicon Valley, and certainly the news from the public markets this past week has fit with that history. The venture fund is the lead owner of two of this season’s IPOs, with Elastic being a great example of what Benchmark has been discussing for some time: the need for companies to go public on an efficient timeframe. The startup has had huge growth, limited capital fundraised, and yet, is managing to go public in just about 6 years.
While traveling to SF on Labor Day, I penned this mini-screed about why certain founders do better than others. A bit controversial, although I don’t think it is wrong, the simple answer is that hard work really does make the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. Entrepreneurs in other countries like China and India viscerally understand that, and their work ethic is one reason why America is facing an innovation crisis.
Data sovereignty is one of those slow-boiling issues that are easy to miss, but incredibly important to stay on top of. I have been focusing a lot on China’s data sovereignty policies, including its relatively new cloud computing law, but this week I shine the light on India. The country is promulgating a revamped data localization law that would require Indian data to be stored in local data centers. It’s a laudable goal for locals, but extraordinarily complicated for cloud providers who have to handle the data governance rules.
DC hit back at Chinese industrial policy in two strikes this week. First, Congress passed a broad expansion of the rights of CFIUS to review foreign investment transactions, including those that are for the most part passive investments. That could make it much more difficult for Chinese VCs to engage with Silicon Valley startups. The second strike was the Trump administration’s threat to massively increase tariffs, even beyond what they have already said they would do. Together, the dual threads strongly suggest that startups need to cleanly focus on one market or the other.
Some news from Taiwan, with one of its leading companies falling victim to a virus. No word on the origin, although China has been broadly attacking the island in the run up to its local elections later this year.
This was a response to a recent Columbia Journalism Review essay about the need to completely rebuild the tech press from scratch. I feel as though this vastly overstates the problem, which is essentially that tech has grown to affect every facet of human existence, and it is really the non-tech press who need to raise their standards. In addition, I argued for the importance of dynamic range in the coverage of tech. A small startup is worthy of more praise than a massive behemoth tech company, and the level of criticism should expand as companies grow.
Alphabet made huge profits, despite a massive fine from the European Union. There really is not much left to be done here by antitrust authorities, given that Alphabet’s business model is so strong. Indeed, the true headwinds are probably nationalistic competitors from China like Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, who are expanding rapidly among the next billion internet users just as Google and Facebook are looking inward to handle GDPR and other scandals.
This was a seed funding announcement for a new blockchain protocol startup in the paywall space. Given that I have covered subscription media quite extensively in the past, it’s interesting to see these new models are rising up and attempting to make it easier to implement these systems.
Another week spent heads down on some new initiatives I am working on. Two interesting companies that I covered this week are Brat and Even, which both raised a bunch of money from investors. And if you are in SF in early September, definitely head to Disrupt SF and watch a great panel on the future of insurance tech.
This past week, I was in Zug, Switzerland for TechCrunch's one-day conference on blockchain. I had a blast meeting so many interesting people, and learning a lot about the blockchain ecosystem. I had two on-stage interviews, and the videos are in the list below. I covered one panel for TechCrunch, and had a de rigueur article on China venture capital because no one can have enough of that, can they?
Chinese venture capitalists are putting in more dollars than their American counterparts, and the distinction between top tech companies in China and the U.S. is even more startling. But is that the whole story? Part of the change is blockchain, and the fact that top U.S. entrepreneurs are increasingly choosing other avenues to finance their companies.
One of my personal pet topics is how to extend ownership of equity to more people (the equity of equity, essentially). Paired is trying to do this in loyalty, where they offer you fractional shares in the companies you shop at. It's a novel idea, and while it won't dramatcally change the dismal economcis of our society, it could definitely be a step in the right direction.
This week was my “potpourri” week on TechCrunch, with stories covering open source, Scottish digital transformation, autonomous warfare, low-cost health services, and more. A lot of these had been on the agenda for some time, so it was fun to see them all finally get published.
This was a deep dive analysis of the changing economics around open source, specifically focused on maintainers. Following up from Nadia Eghbal’s report Roads and Bridges almost exactly two years ago, I investigate two approaches for individuals — Patreon and License Zero — as well as two initiatives targeting organizations — Tidelift and Open Collective — and how all of them are creating new models to make open source sustainable.
This is a review of Paul Scharre’s new book, Army of None. I thought it was a great summary and overview of the challenges and opportunities of this tech, and really did a good job of getting at the nuances that make pronouncements in this space so fraught. A tad on the lengthy side, but a good read, even for those not particularly interested in defense policy.
I had the opportunity recently to visit the Verizon switch that handles all cellular traffic for New York City — this is a discussion of that visit. It’s interesting to see such layered redundancy in a complex system, as well as seeing what has changed (and not changed) with trends like edge computing, 5G, and software-defined networking.