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Data Sheet—Apple, Google, and Amazon Battle for Hardware Supremacy


Happy Friday, Aaron in for Adam today. Are we in hardware heaven yet? It’s been quite a run of new gadgets the past few weeks. After all the new Apple gear, we got Amazon’s lineup refresh and then, this week, Google.

What did you find most tempting? An awful lot of people seem to be skipping the iPhone 8 and heading right for the $999 X model. It makes sense, as the iPhone 8 offers considerably less of an upgrade over the past two years’ iPhones. Only the iPhone X has the brilliant new OLED screen, facial recognition, and dual image-stabilized cameras. Plus the controversial notch.

Google’s new phones look a little hefty in the bezel department. But the small round smart speaker, dubbed the Google Home Mini, is not only cute and useful, but it also comes in three colors: chalk, charcoal, and coral. And after disappearing for a year, the flagship Chromebook was back this year. The Pixelbook combines some of the best features of tablets and laptops with a high-resolution touch display and a paltry 2.4-pound carrying weight. (On the other hand, a full blown MacBook is even lighter and costs just $300 more.)

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Amazon’s Echo Spot also got a lot of oohs and ahhs. It’s pint-sized and power-packed, and it looks like an upgrade to your old-fashioned alarm clock. Amazon also had a new 4K HDR-compatible Fire TV thingamabob that was just fine and that, more importantly, came with a remote control you can operate without looking. Apple’s biggest stunner was its failure to overhaul the awful, egregious, horrific remote that comes with every Apple TV.

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Besides that big miss from Apple, it’s interesting what else we didn’t see. Apple’s smart speaker, the HomePod, got no love from Tim Cook and crew at the September event. Maybe the device is running behind schedule—or maybe it’s so filled with cool, as-yet-unannounced features that Apple will have a separate event in coming weeks. Amazon not only went phone-less, still feeling burned by the Fire phone debacle no doubt, but also left its Kindle line up untouched from last year. (The Oasis came out in April 2016.) And Google was alone in ignoring the growing crop of cord cutters by leaving its TV-connected Chromecast un-updated. Also, with little to show from its partners or itself on the smartwatch front, Google has removed the Android Wear section of its online shop.

Now it’s your turn. Click the email link below and let us know which of the new devices you most liked or hated—or maybe wished to see but didn’t. Include a short (short!) explanation, and we’ll run the highlights one day next week.

NEWSWORTHY

Pay more. Popular Internet video service Netflix is raising prices. The company’s standard plan, which allows two simultaneous logins, goes up $1 to $11. The premium plan that gives four logins and 4K content rises by $2 to $14. The $8 basic plan priced was unchanged. Investors were psyched. Netflix shares jumped 5% to an all-time high of over $194.

Penetrated. Russian hackers stole information from the National Security Agency after a contractor left the data on a home computer, the Wall Street Journal reported. The paper said the hackers were able to identify the info in 2015 because the computer had antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab. Kaspersky called the story “another example of a false accusation.” Cybersecurity reporter Dan Goodin at Ars Technica had a breakdown of the implications and what’s still not known. Meanwhile, Politico reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised by hackers back in December.

Flipped on. Data center operator Switch went public in the year’s second-largest tech IPO. Switch raised $531 million pricing its shares at $17, above the expected range of $14 to $16 and valuing the company at about $4 billion. It starts trading on Friday under the symbol “SWCH.”

Flipped off. Toy maker Mattel canceled its controversial baby monitor/smart speaker called Aristotle. The planned device had raised a hue and cry over privacy concerns. Writer Nicholas Carr points out that Google added a bunch of “kid friendly” features to its line of smart speakers. “When a toy company tries to put a listening device into a kid’s bedroom, it’s creepy. When a tech giant does the same thing, it’s cool,” Carr says.

Air scare. Drone regulations could be tightened in the wake of a collision between a DJI Phantom 4 and a U.S. Army UH-60 helicopter east of Staten Island, N.Y. last month. The helicopter landed safely but was extensively damaged. All they found of the drone was the motor and one arm.

Doing more. Amazon is expanding its delivery efforts as it seeks to offer more service to third-party merchants, Bloomberg reported. The move puts the company into even more direct competition with FedEx and UPS.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Apple Gave Uber Access to a Secret Feature That Could Allow It to Record Your Screen By Natasha Bach

This Is Google’s Latest Attempt to Make Its Cloud More Appealing to Businesses By Barb Darrow

Facebook’s Latest Attempt at Fighting Fake News Is to Provide Publisher Info By Tom Huddleston, Jr.

Google Fiber Drops Cable TV Package for New Cities By Aaron Pressman

Apple Just Fixed This Bug With Its New Apple Watch By Jonathan Vanian

Many Americans Want Government to Moderate Use of Job-Killing Robots By Barb Darrow

Star Wars and Sphero Just Revealed a Black R2-D2 That Will Be 2017’s Hardest Holiday Toy to Buy By John Patrick Pullen

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

With all the thievery of our personal information, capped off by the Equifax hack of all hacks, identity thieves must be having the time of their lives (and they’ve already stolen $107 billion over the past six years).

That has got some people thinking about how to overhaul the entire way we identify ourselves for critical financial, retail, and government transactions. Maybe it’s time for the social security number to go. As mentioned in Wednesday’s Data Sheet, White House cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce suggested replacing the ubiquitous nine-digit identifier with some kind of cryptographic marker. But Columbia computer science professor Steven Bellovin digs into just how very, very difficult it would be to junk the social security number. In an article for Motherboard, he raises both practical and privacy concerns. As Bellovin explains:

These are very hard problems. Social security numbers are bad, but it’s really hard to do better if you want to do things like match records for credit reports, accommodate failure recovery, and permit blind account setup. There are certainly cryptographic schemes that can handle some of these tasks—but if you need linkage and you need memorability to recover from lost credentials, any replacement for the social security number is going to have most or all of the same problems.

FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.

What I Learned From Reading Every Amazon Shareholders Letter
I read all 20 of his letters since Amazon went public and in the end, it all feels as if it was a single letter Jeff wrote in one setting, which is the way it should be. The consistency in which Amazon has executed, even if meant Jeff had to drive his Chevy Blazer to the post office, has allowed it to endure beyond almost all of the Dotcom era companies and will surely propel Amazon into the future.

The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions
Mistaken predictions lead to fears of things that are not going to happen, whether it’s the wide-scale destruction of jobs, the Singularity, or the advent of AI that has values different from ours and might try to destroy us. We need to push back on these mistakes. But why are people making them? I see seven common reasons.

Best CPUs for Workstations: 2017
Anyone looking to build a new workstation is probably in a good position to start doing so today. The only real limitation is going to be if parts are at retail or can only be found by OEMs, how many motherboards will be available, and how quickly AMD plans to ramp up production of EPYC for the workstation market.

‘Our Minds Can Be Hijacked’: The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia
There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

BEFORE YOU GO

After only a 35 year wait, Blade Runner fans (present company included) today get not yet another director’s cut, but an actual, honest to god sequel. And with a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems Blade Runner 2049 may have been worth the wait.

Outbrain
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