Nov 24, 2020

Axios Login

Today is our last newsletter before Thanksgiving. Login is off till Monday, and we hope you, dear reader, will be the same just as soon as you can. Ina will be back at the helm when we return. As always, it's been a delight to host you for this short week.

Today's Login is 1,490 words, about a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Apple's head-turning new chip promises deeper change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For now, Apple's new M1 chip — fast, power-smart, and literally cool — is just a major hardware upgrade that's winning rave reviews.

But down the road, the M1 will pave the way for new Apple devices that could bridge the divide between Mac and iPhone/iPad computing and transform the devices we use every day, Axios' Ina Fried writes.

Apple has jaded us with ho-hum product unveilings for so long that it was easy to dismiss the company's hype for the new processor. But once the M1-based computers landed in the world's laps — including ours — it became clear that the new chip, which replaces the Intel processors the Mac has used for 15 years, merited the buzz.

Between the lines: Swapping out processors is no simple matter, and when Apple announced this shift, our advice would have been to hold off buying a new Mac unless you really needed one.

  • In tech, you typically never want to buy the first version of a new thing, or the last of an old one (unless you're sentimental).

But the M1's performance has over-delivered on expectations.

  • To be sure, when the M1 runs apps designed for it, it operates far faster than the Intel chips it replaces.
  • But even when the M1 is running older apps, which require translation in order to work, the new chip runs faster than the Intel chips that run those programs natively.

Ina tried out a loaner M1-based MacBook Air for the past week or so and found that it easily outpaces Intel-based Macs for basic tasks such as web browsing and taking notes — and the battery life was unlike anything else she's seen.

  • The only caveat: Both new Apple laptops have only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, and that's left some people struggle with attaching some devices. (They also don't support external monitors the same way the older versions did.)

Apple's success should be a wakeup call not just to Intel but also to Microsoft and Qualcomm.

  • Those companies have been working for years to run Windows on Qualcomm’s chips, but the results have been far messier than what Apple has delivered.
  • With each generation, Qualcomm claims to have made dramatic improvements in performance and compatibility, but devices built on this approach remain a tiny niche with mixed reviews.

Apple is winning this game for several reasons.

  1. Apple has a much narrower landscape of devices and software to support than Microsoft and has been willing to sacrifice compatibility if it must to move its products forward.
  2. Apple's control of its ecosystem from chips to hardware to software gives it more of a chance to optimize each element's performance.
  3. Apple has a strong track record with this kind of transition, having twice previously changed the chips that power the Mac across three and a half decades — and also shifted from the original Mac OS to the Unix-based core that powers Mac OS X.

Be smart: With these computers, Apple just swapped new chips into existing designs. The MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini are virtually identical to their Intel counterparts, aside from the heart transplant.

  • But this is just version 1.0. Apple didn’t make this massive shift just to boost its speed specs and save power (though to plenty of buyers, that may be good enough).

What's next: Apple has also said it has its eye on all-new types of devices that Intel processors wouldn’t have allowed. We might not see those immediately, since the company’s first priority is to bring the M1 and successors to the rest of the Mac lineup.

  • Apple always keeps a tight lid on its plans. But we know the M1 is based on the processor used in the iPhone — and that opens a bunch of possibilities.
  • Think: built-in cellular technology. Devices with detachable touchscreens. Laptops that are potentially even smaller and lighter.

Go geekier: Apple's Craig Federighi, Johny Srouji and Greg Joswiak gave Ars Technica a walkthrough of how Apple got the M1 to be so fast.

2. Reps finding agreement on a tech antitrust agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

House Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground on principles for countering tech monopolies that they believe could propel updates to antitrust law in the next Congress, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

The big picture: Representatives from both parties are finding it easier to agree on antitrust policy ideas than on proposals about content moderation and liability, where the two parties couldn't be farther apart despite agreeing on the need for change.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, which issued a sweeping report this year proposing steps to rein in Big Tech firms, have zeroed in on at least four ideas, according to a Hill source:

  1. More funding for key antitrust enforcers, chiefly the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, so they can take on wealthy, heavily lawyered tech companies.
  2. Changing the burden of proof for proposed mergers so that companies whose market share passes a certain threshold are assumed to be monopolies and must prove their deal does not harm competition.
  3. Data portability requirements for platforms, so that consumers can move their information from one service to another.
  4. Prohibitions on platform bias and "self-preferencing," which is when information services display their own listings above those of competitors.

Background: The committee's 450-page October report outlined dozens of legislative fixes and enforcement ideas to shore up current antitrust law.

The majority report's recommendation of "structural separations" prohibiting platform owners from also participating in the markets they run is going to be a harder sell for Republicans.

  • There's little agreement on that issue, Rep. David Cicilline, the Democrat who heads up the antitrust subpanel, told Axios.
  • And any bill on "self-preferencing" would be a lengthy project, he said, requiring technical drafting and additional bipartisan support.

What's next: Key lawmakers and sources familiar with the committee's work say staffers aim to produce bills that can be introduced early next year.

3. Social networks start to look alike
Data: Axios research; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Snapchat's Monday launch of Spotlight, which we told you about yesterday, confirms a pattern of near uniformity among the features that major social media providers are offering, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Spotlight is Snapchat's version of TikTok — a way to distribute short videos based more on how popular they are than on who created them. In August Facebook launched its own TikTok competitor, called Reels.
  • Snapchat's news comes days after Twitter said it would be adding "Fleets," which are basically Snapchat stories for people who tweet. (Nearly every social media app has launched some version of Stories in the past few years.)

The big picture: Tech platforms used to focus on ways to create wildly different products to attract audiences. Today, they all have similar features, and instead differentiate themselves with their philosophies, values and use cases.

4. What we're reading: A WeWork IPO post mortem

The spectacular flameout of WeWork's IPO last year was not only the fault of Adam Neumann, the prophet of "We" who founded the office-space giant, but also the responsibility of venture capital investors who were Neumann's "enablers," Charles Duhigg writes in the New Yorker.

Duhigg argues that the VCs on WeWork's board should have restrained Neumann's excesses and erratic behavior. But as long as their investments' value kept inflating, they instead looked the other way and kept ladling out piles of cash.

Our thought bubble: Duhigg isn't wrong — but in singling out WeWork's example as the root of the trouble with venture capital, he might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

  • The logic of today’s VC investing is well understood in Silicon Valley: VCs don’t care if nine out of 10 of their deals don’t pan out as long as they land one win per batch. Early money in a startup that hits the jackpot pays off so well that, to the VCs, the other failures don’t matter.

Yes, but: They do matter plenty to their founders and employees. For every Adam Neumann, there’s a roomful of hardworking founders with good ideas who were on their way to building companies that employed real people doing worthwhile work — but who couldn’t deliver the 10x return that the VC system requires.

  • That, more than the cash pumped into the occasional high-profile train wreck like WeWork, is the biggest problem with the system.

The bottom line: Defenders view this carnage as "creative destruction" and celebrate the Darwinian forces that cull the startup herd. But it sure looks like waste.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Nothing but turkey and thanks. May your holidays all be safe!

Errata

  • Yesterday, in reporting Snapchat's plan to give out $1 million in daily rewards to the most popular videos on its new Spotlight tab, we made it sound like the money was all going to one winner. Snapchat will be dividing it.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

This is an oldie, but evergreen: Inter-generational text-message trolling and flame wars over the notion of microwaving your holiday bird.