Jul 14, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Join Axios Media Trends author Sara Fischer and Cities author Kim Hart tomorrow at 12:30pm ET with Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler for the third virtual event in a six-part series on small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Situational awareness: The U.K. will bar Huawei gear from its telecom networks, marking a reversal from a previously announced policy and a win for the U.S. as it pressures other countries to edge out the Chinese telecom giant.

Today's Login is 1,386 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: U.S. pushes homegrown drone industry amid China battle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Alarmed at the prospect of relying on Chinese-made drones for public safety and monitoring critical industries, U.S. investors and the federal government are newly backing a domestic drone industry of hardware and software companies.

The big picture: The moves come as the industry continues to be led by DJI, a Chinese hardware maker — and as concerns grow both in China and the U.S. about reliance on the other country's technology.

Driving the news:

  • Skydio, a U.S. firm best known for its self-navigating selfie drones, announced $100 million in fresh funding, several executive hires and new products aimed at expanding its presence in the commercial market.
  • The U.S. government is giving $13 million to five U.S. companies that are part of the drone industry as part of the COVID-related CARES Act. Skydio received $4 million, with AirMap, ModalAI, Graffiti Enterprises and Obsidian Sensors also receiving funding.

The big picture: Today's global tech industry builds many of its biggest products through a complex interdependence between the U.S. and China, with the U.S. leading the market for core technologies like chips and operating systems and China leading in hardware manufacturing.

  • Amid increasing tensions, both countries have taken long- and short-term measures designed to reduce such dependencies.

Skydio's first two drones were aimed primarily at consumers and designed to follow people around as they ran or tackled the ski slopes.

  • The company's pivot to the enterprise market could mean major cost savings for businesses looking for an alternative to the primarily non-autonomous drones offered by DJI, Skydio CEO Adam Bry suggested. Up to 80% of the costs in commercial drone programs are spent on training human pilots.

Yes, but: Other U.S. firms, such as GoPro, have tried unsuccessfully to compete with DJI head-on.

  • "It's not enough to be made in the U.S.," Bry told Axios.
  • But Skydio's focus on creating the software that allows drones to fly autonomously is a bet on where the industry is headed. "Over time more and more of our devices become completely defined by software," Bry said.

In other words, the future of the drone industry will resemble the arc of the computer and phone businesses, in his view.

Between the lines: Drones are seen as essential to national security given their role in tasks like inspecting bridges, cell towers and power infrastructure as well as their use in emergencies.

  • Critics of DJI, citing fears that Beijing could use drones to spy on or even attack U.S. infrastructure, say that's why the U.S. shouldn't be relying on Chinese drones. (DJI has long maintained its drones pose no risk, noting that government agencies and cybersecurity experts have vetted its gear and found no evidence of security flaws or backdoors.)
  • Skydio wants to play a role in those areas, but also announced Monday a series of principles around use cases it wants to avoid, including banning sales to regimes it deems repressive and barring the use of weapons in conjunction with its drones.
2. Kano's new modular PC goes global

Photo: Kano

Educational electronics maker Kano is launching an updated version of the Kano PC, its modular $300 Windows laptop.

Why it matters: The educational electronics market has grown increasingly important in the coronavirus era with students stuck at home. Competition has also grown, as companies like Sphero shift energy there and away from the consumer market.

Kano has sold computer kits as well as coding accessories, including Disney- and Harry Potter-themed options for a while. With its latest computer, Kano sees an opportunity to also target the low end of the educational laptop market.

"The computer, at $300, performs much better due to optimization than many laptops that sell for $400, $500 or more."
— CEO Alex Klein told Axios

Flashback: Kano's computers were once sold only as a kit — the learning process of assembling the machine was a key selling point.

The new model will be available both as a kit and preassembled and features an upgraded processor, longer battery life and a range of add-on accessories — along with a yearlong educational curriculum that pairs with the laptop.

  • Kano is also partnering more closely with Microsoft, which has invested in Kano and is also helping the company with distribution.

The big picture: Kano is promoting a modular design allowing purchasers to add accessories or replace components instead of buying a whole new computer.

  • The company is offering a series of accessories to start, including headphones, a webcam and mouse. The PC will be available immediately, with the accessories due to ship in August.

Yes, but: Modularity has often proved elusive in tech. PCs were once considerably more expandable, but cost-cutting and a push toward smaller designs have limited those options.

  • Efforts to make smartphones more modular have also struggled. Google and Motorola gave up on Project Ara, which was to have been a truly modular device. Motorola continues to sell its Z line which offers modular add-ons such as cameras, projectors and speakers, but it remains a niche product.
3. Fears over Tiktok's China ties are boosting rivals
Data: SensorTower; Chart: Axios Visuals

Growing security and privacy concerns over Chinese-owned short-video app Tiktok have given a lift to alternatives like Byte and Dubsmash, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports. Both apps have seen spikes in downloads from smartphone users recently, according to data from SensorTower.

Why it matters: If TikTok's meteoric rise in popularity among U.S. youth gets slowed by rising tensions with China, or ended by a threatened ban by the Trump administration, American teens will still have to get their hits of meme-laden video somewhere.

By the numbers:

  • Byte: July 9 was Byte's biggest day ever in terms of new app downloads, with 572,000 globally (App Store and Google Play).
  • Most of the new Byte installs came from the U.S. (about 81%), followed by Great Britain (about 6%) and Australia (around 3%).
  • Dubsmash: July 9 was also Dubsmash's record in terms of new app downloads globally, reaching 142,000 for that day.
  • From July 1 to July 12, about 43% of new installs were in the U.S.
  • To date, Dubsmash downloads have reached an estimated 195.3 million globally. Dubsmash was first released in late 2014 as a lip-sync video app, but came back in a new form in 2018 after waning in popularity.

Where it stands: TikTok has found itself caught between the U.S. and China, with the Trump administration mulling a ban.

4. Charted: The shift in livestream platforms
Data: Magid; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

YouTube Live and Facebook Live's former duopoly on live streaming video looks to be softening relative to rivals including Twitter, Snapchat and Twitch, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Roughly one-third of people surveyed by TV analysis firm Magid said they go to Facebook and Google-owned YouTube to stream live video, down from percentage ranges in the mid-40s for both platforms in a Magid survey three years ago.

  • Survey respondents are checking fewer options overall for how many services they say they use to livestream video, suggesting they’re consolidating their viewing among fewer platforms.

Details: The survey doesn't measure hours watched on each platform, but rather which platform people say they use, and respondents could select multiple services.

  • Twitch's hyper-loyal users, mostly gamers, view by far the most livestreamed hours, but according to the survey, fewer people say they use it for live video.

Flashback: Facebook launched Facebook Live widely in 2016, but the platform is no longer considered the go-to destination for livestreaming, in part because streaming on sister app Instagram has improved dramatically.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Stanford's Cyber Policy Center is hosting a free online event at 1pm PT with representatives from two of the organizations involved in the current Facebook protest — Jessica González of Free Press and David Sifry of the Anti-Defamation League — hosted by the Cyber Policy Center's Marietje Schaake.
  • Google is taking to YouTube at 10am PT to show off games coming to its Stadia streaming game service later this year.

Trading Places

  • U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios has been named the Pentagon's acting technology chief, while maintaining his White House position.
  • Former Facebook comms executive Mike Buckley started Monday as VP of communications for Twilio.


6. After you Login

This is what happens when you mic up a baby squirrel. And keep scrolling for some excellent action shots of leaping adult squirrels.

Ina Fried