Sep 24, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

For those in D.C., join Mike Allen for breakfast tomorrow at our News Shapers. He'll go deeper on the rapid rise of vaping and why it matters with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley, and CATCH Global Foundation CEO Duncan Van Dusen. RSVP.

Situational awareness: SiriusXM Holdings will acquire Pandora in an all-stock deal valued at $3.5 billion, in a move that Axios' Sara Fischer says may improve Sirius' direct-to-consumer relationship and get it into streaming.

1 big thing: How AI is changing Microsoft

Photo: Microsoft

Nifty new capabilities in Office to be announced later today are the most tangible fruits of a larger move at Microsoft to infuse artificial intelligence into everything it does.

What's new: At its Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft will unveil new Office features including those that:

  • Allow users to import handwritten data tables into Excel.
  • Spruce up their dull PowerPoint slides automatically.
  • Blur out their messy rooms during video chats in Teams.

Why it matters: As Windows and Office markets have both matured, Microsoft is looking for its next big thing, and betting big on AI.

Beyond using AI in its own products, Microsoft is pitching itself as the easiest way for average businesses to get started with the technology.

  • "Most still don’t know how do they get in," Microsoft's Letty Cherry told Axios.
  • For businesses that are large enough to have technical staff but not big enough to have their own AI experts, Microsoft has an option called "cognitive services" allowing such businesses to make use of speech and gesture recognition.

Acquisitions: Microsoft has made a number of recent deals to boost its AI capabilities. Since May, it has acquired:

  • Conversational AI startup Semantic Machines, which helps bots sound more human (May).
  • Bonsai, which aims to reduce barriers to machine learning (July).
  • Lobe, which makes tools to help companies embrace AI without having to write code (September).

The company is also using AI to power several new philanthropic efforts under the umbrella label AI for Good. The programs are a mix of technology commitments, grants and other assistance:

  • AI for Earth, a $50 million, 5-year program announced in July 2018.
  • AI for Accessibility, a $25 million, 5-year effort announced in May.
  • AI for Humanitarian Action — a new $40-million, five-year program to use AI in areas including disaster recovery, protecting children, refugees, and displaced people and other human rights efforts.

What they're saying: Injecting AI into Office could give the productivity suite a new edge against rivals like Google Apps, says Lopez Research principal analyst Maribel Lopez.

"The real battle in the enterprise AI space will be between Google and Microsoft," Lopez told Axios. "Google's obviously trying hard to break in with Chrome, Android and Suite but its been a slow slog to date. If Google can get companies placing more AI workloads in the cloud, they may be able to minimize the gap."
2. Salesforce and Apple form partnership

Photo: Apple

Salesforce is working with Apple in a technical collaboration aimed at bringing more of its services natively to the iPhone and iPad.

Why it matters: Though not known for its business sales, Apple has steadily grown its enterprise effort, especially around the iPhone and iPad, enlisting establishment players such as IBM, SAP and Cisco as partners.

"Apple is very committed to our products for people, including people in business," said Susan Prescott, the executive who leads Apple's enterprise work.

The details: While its work with IBM and others include joint sales efforts, the work with Salesforce is mostly a technical collaboration. Specifically:

  • Salesforce plans to bring a fully native version of its mobile app to iOS early next year. (The current version is a mix of HTML and some native code.)
  • Salesforce will also bring its technical education platform, Trailhead, to Apple's mobile devices later next year.
  • Apple and Salesforce are working together on a Salesforce Mobile SDK that is optimized for Swift, the Apple-developed coding language.
3. Apple and Google's differing Senate strategies

In advance of Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on privacy, Google and Apple are planning distinctly different strategies, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Google:

  • Chief privacy officer Keith Enright told Axios he plans to stand by the company’s ad-supported business model and underscore the benefits it has provided to users.
  • But he will also point to what the company thinks would make for good privacy rules. “We actually support comprehensive baseline data protection regulations,” he said.

Apple:

  • Apple will pledge its support for federal privacy regulations and emphasize that its business does not depend on gathering information about users.
  • Expect Apple’s Bud Tribble to underscore the difference between the hardware maker, which doesn’t need to make money from user data, with companies like Google, which have built their business model on it.
  • "We want your device to know everything about you," Tribble will likely say. "We don’t feel that we should."

Of note: Apple and Google will be testifying alongside representatives from Twitter and Amazon as well as internet service providers AT&T and Charter Communications.

Go deeper: Read the full stories on Apple's plans and Google's plans.

4. Metro PCS gets a T-Mobile-infused rebrand

T-Mobile CEO John Legere with the new Metro logo. Photo: T-Mobile

T-Mobile is announcing today a new brand for its prepaid service. What had been Metro PCS will henceforth be known as Metro by T-Mobile, emphasizing the parent company and its network.

  • In addition, Metro PCS is revamping its rate tiers to offer more high-speed data, along with services from Amazon and Google.

Background: T-Mobile acquired Metro PCS in 2013, and quickly shifted customers to its network and expanded Metro PCS to new cities, but has largely kept the brands separate.

The bottom line: T-Mobile hopes to change the perception that its prepaid brand offers a lesser-quality network experience.

"We want to tie ourselves to the T-mobile brand in way we have never done," Metro unit president Tom Keys told Axios.

Yes, but: Several of the major prepaid brands are owned by big carriers (AT&T owns Cricket and Sprint owns Boost and Virgin Mobile). And even more prepaid brands use the major networks. Right or wrong, the perception persists that prepaid offers a second-class experience.

5. iPhone XS survives beer but not falls

The iPhone XS survived a half an hour soaked in Pabst Blue Ribbon unscathed. Screenshot: SquareTrade via YouTube.

The iPhone XS lives up to Apple's claim that it can withstand a soaking in beer, but still breaks easily when dropped, according to one third-party test.

Why it matters: Repairs to the iPhone XS are especially expensive, with a replacement of the glass case costing more than most Android smartphones ($399 for the front glass and $599 for the back glass).

The details: The phone did fine after a half-hour soak in Pabst Blue Ribbon, but broke on the first drop, according to testing by gadget insurer SquareTrade.

SquareTrade says the XS, while prone to breakage, is at least more durable than the iPhone X, which was the most breakable iPhone ever, according to its testing.

Want to see the testing in action? You're in luck. Here's the video.

Yes, but: Apple says the iPhone XS has its strongest glass ever and CNET said the iPhone XS did better than other smartphones in its drop testing.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Salesforce's Dreamforce conference starts Tuesday, clogging up most of downtown San Francisco all week. On Wednesday, I will be moderating a discussion on AI with Kai-Fu Lee and Salesforce chief scientist Richard Socher.
  • Microsoft's Ignite conference takes place in Orlando (see above).

Trading Places

  • General Motors is revamping its org chart amid an electric vehicle push. Pam Fletcher, currently the VP of global EV programs, will become VP for innovation reporting to CEO Mary Barra. Doug Parks, who is the VP for autonomous and EV programs, "will also assume primary responsibility for the growing global electric vehicle team," GM tells Axios.

ICYMI

  • Andreessen Horowitz board partner Steven Sinofsky makes the case that as disruptive as Amazon is, many of its moves are actually straight out of the traditional retail playbook.
  • Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is giving $20 million to The Markup, a news site that will look at the impact of tech on society. Leading the effort is former WSJ and ProPublica journalist Julia Angwin. (NYT)
  • Walmart is using 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets in its stores to help train workers. (The Verge)
  • How Palo Alto taxpayers are funding California. (Axios)
  • Comcast beat out Fox in the bidding war for Britain's Sky. (Axios)
  • Apple wants to make its own streaming shows without violence, politics or sex. (WSJ)
7. After you Login

Today I'm providing two options.

If you like stories that restore your faith in humanity:

  • Nintendo made an upcoming Nintendo Switch game available early for a fan with terminal cancer.

If you prefer pain and schadenfreude:

Ina Fried