Benedict's Newsletter: No. 334

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COVID is bigger than anything I write about here, but there are still interesting things happening. Stay at home and catch up on your reading.

 

🗞 News

Amazon and the COVID results season: we only really have one month of lockdown in these numbers, but Google and Facebook still beat earnings, Apple says its Chinese supply chain is getting back to normal, and Microsoft said we've had 2 years of digital adoption in 2 months. But, it's the Amazon reaction that's most striking: Jeff Bezos says he's now going to invest all the $4bn positive cashflow that Amazon would have generated in Q2 back into accelerating the growth of the business. More staff (Amazon has already added 175k people this year), distancing and hygiene in the warehouse, and Amazon will try to build its own virus testing capability. With everyone at home forced to try to do everything online, and physical retailers struggling (J Crew failed for bankruptcy today and won't be the last), there is now a major land grab underway. "If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small". Link (PDF)

Amazon discontent: on the other hand, there is a persistent note of internal protest that Amazon is pushing too hard for safety. The company says complaints from the warehouses are coming from a tiny number of people (and when you have hundreds of thousands of people there will always be complaints) but this may grow, and will clearly attract government attention. In France, this issue prompted the courts to force Amazon to close warehouses until it increases distancing and limits deliveries to 'essential' goods'. Link

Remember 'channel conflict'? With cinemas closed, Universal ran a test, releasing a 'Trolls' kids movie direct to 48-hour rental streaming and making $100m. In protest, some cinema chains have claimed they'll boycott Universal releases (somewhat academic today given they're not showing any releases). A lot of long-term behaviour shifts are being catalysed at the moment, with, again, years of pent-up change happening overnight. I don't think the cinemas will win this one. Links: Boycott$100M

Fortnite tie-ins: Fortnite continues to try to become more that just the latest hot game concept, with another in-game media event, this time a concert from 'Travis Scott'. There is a thesis that this (or something) is going to become a permanent virtual world with real longevity - I'm not convinced, but we'll see. Link

Intel autonomy: Intel bought Moovit, a transit route recommendation app, for $900m. Intel already owns Mobileye (which built the V1 of Tesla's Autopilot) and having missed mobile wants to build a position in autonomy (which will require vast amounts of computing power). Its Moovit thesis seems to be that the long game is an integrated platform across all kinds of mobility. I'm sure that makes sense in Powerpoint, but I don't quite understand why tech to let a car drive the next 200 yards down the road without hitting anything has much in common with an app telling it which route to take across the city, let alone with an app telling you whether to drive, get a bus or ride a bike. Link

Shopify is moving up the stack, with an app that lets you search and discover across all the shores on the platform. Shopify is the biggest e-commerce company most people have still never heard of, with $60bn of GMV on the platform last year. It makes sense that they want to add value and build a network effect (which also locks in the stores to the platform), but is 'this vendor uses Shopify' an aggregation layer that makes sense to an actual consumer? Link

Remember Google Duplex? Now it speaks Spanish. Google isn't giving up on voice. Link

 

🔮 Reading

New Yorker interview with Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner. Tech regulation isn't going away with the virus crisis, and some parts of it will come back stronger, especially around fake news and misinformation. On the other hand most of the problems that actual consumers worry about are not competition problems - this is't a solution to teenaged girls looking at images of self-harm on Instagram. Link

The UK justice system continues to roll out remote courts. Link

Fascinating survey of the ways that machine learning might enable new discoveries in primary science. What things are narrow enough that you can give a score and deep enough that you can see things people cannot? Link

The NY Times CTO on learnings in the past 4 years. Link

Interesting Fjord/Accenture piece on how human attitudes and behaviours will be changed by COVID. You don't have to agree with all of this to think that this event will be a cultural watershed of some kind. Link

Touching base on the geopolitical China question: a paper on how close China is to semiconductor independence. Link (PDF)

Profile (very, very long profile) of Clubhouse, this week's cool chat app. I have no view on this one in particular (I don't have an invite :() but something will come out of this - someone will capture some piece of Maslow and the zeitgeist and make a breakout new service. Social is pop culture and COVID is (amongst other things) a cultural event. Link

Wired on the people trying to get rich quick running drop-shipping businesses for co-working spaces in Bali. Very Gibsonian. Link

 

😮 Interesting things

An interactive version of Terry Riley's In C. Link

Modern Tashkent. Link

Elon is back on twitter. Link

 

📊 Stats

Windows 10 has 1bn active users and is now doing 4bn minutes a month. This works out at only about 2 hours per device (which actually means some people using it for work and a lot of people only doing 10 minutes a day). Link

Tesco (big UK supermarket) is now doing 1m delivery orders a week, double what it had in January. Link

Instacart has apparently hit profitability, with sales up 4-5x this year. Link ($)

Only 2% of Steam users own a VR headset. This does not appear to be the VR moment. Link

 

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