Jul 3, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Situational awareness: KKR confirms TechCrunch's scoop that it will buy Corel, a Canadian software company that makes WordPerfect amongst others, reportedly for more than $1 billion.

Just a reminder that we'll be off July 4 and 5 in celebration of Independence Day. Instead of fireworks, I offer you these 1,397 words (~ 5 minute read).

1 big thing: Apple needs a design visionary

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Apple has long prided itself that it knows what consumers want even before they do.

Yes, but: Steve Jobs is long gone and now design guru Jony Ive is out the door, too. That, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes, has left Apple watchers wondering who there is looking around the next corner and trying to bring innovations to market.

Driving the news: Apple pushed back hard this week against a Wall Street Journal story that portrayed Ive as checked out and disaffected and that declared his departure "cements the triumph of operations over design at Apple."

Why it matters: As the iPhone market stagnates, Apple is looking for new growth via revenue from services, new products such as the Apple Watch, and new applications in realms like health.

  • But what the world really wants from the company are surprises, breakthroughs and magic.
  • The "design vs. operations" storyline fails to capture the full scope of the challenge the company now faces. It's less a company with an executive vacancy than a world-class restaurant in need of a new master chef.

The big picture: Like the movie directors celebrated by critics as "auteurs" for the personal stamp they placed on factory-generated films, Jobs used technical knowledge, confidence in his own taste and sheer force of will to lead armies of artists and engineers to share his vision.

  • Ive was the other half of a creative partnership with Jobs that produced Apple's amazing winning streak of the 2000s.
  • After Jobs' death in 2012, Ive's continued presence at Apple provided the most visible living link between the company and its founder.
  • Cook was Jobs' hand-picked successor as CEO, but Ive was his creative heir.

Between the lines: The Jobs/Ive approach was all about wowing customers with "one more thing" they weren't expecting. But once companies reach Apple's size, they have a hard time surprising people.

  • Jobs' formula for routing around market research and design-by-committee involved both outward-facing showmanship and internal clout.
  • Ive carried on that tradition, but his successors — one design chief each for hardware and software, both reporting to the company's chief operating officer — lack that kind of reputation, for now, and no one else at Apple seems ready to pick up the mantle.
  • Maybe Apple is hatching all sorts of wonders inside its ginormous new headquarters, under the guidance of a battalion of design geniuses — but no one outside knows, thanks to the company's rigid secrecy and inward focus.

Our thought bubble: Each year that goes by without a new home-run innovation from Apple reinforces the Apple-doubters' case. But just one new hit will disprove it.

Go deeper: Apple needs a next act

2. Niantic's Harry Potter game has yet to cast a spell
Image courtesy of Niantic/WB Games

Take the location-based engine and augmented reality smarts that produced Pokémon Go, mix in the popularity of Harry Potter and you have a guaranteed hit, right?

That's the logic behind Niantic's recently released Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, but early results suggests the new game may have a tough time living up to expectations.

By the numbers: It's down to No. 73 on App Annie's chart of top-grossing iOS apps, far below Pokémon Go at No. 15 and also below a different Harry Potter title from Jam City.

  • Apple's own chart has it at No. 52, ahead of the other Harry Potter game, but well below Pokémon Go at No. 7.
  • The app has more than 5 million downloads on the Google Play store, but isn't featured at all in its chart of top-grossing games.

Why it matters: Niantic's goal is to have a platform powering a range of homegrown and third-party-developed titles using its engine. To reach its long-term goals it would ideally like to show it can generate and sustain multiple fan bases simultaneously. It did that to a degree by maintaining its first game, Ingress, even while Pokémon Go took off.

Yes, but: Almost anything will look lackluster compared to Pokémon Go, which was an overnight smash. Even if Wizards Unite isn't an immediate viral hit, it can still be a lucrative game, but it will have to show steady growth over time.

  • And, as long as Niantic can keep people using its platform (in any incarnation), it will build on its market-leading — and proprietary — real-world AR platform.

What they're saying: Venture capitalist Megan Quinn, whose firm Spark Capital is an investor in Niantic, says the Harry Potter game needn't match Pokemon's early success.

  • "Pokémon Go wasn’t our measuring stick for the game. ... We’re enthusiastic about the AR-real world platform that Niantic is building."

The big picture: Niantic says it has a multiyear storyline for Wizards Unite and a number of marketing efforts, including promotional tie-ins with AT&T and mall giant Simon plus a live event in Indianapolis over Labor Day.

3. Email app's tracking tool raises privacy alarm

Email management app Superhuman made headlines last week for raising new venture capital, but now the by-invitation-only service has come under fire for its privacy practices around the use of pixel tracking, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

How it works: Pixel tracking allows senders to track emails by forcing a recipient to download a tiny, invisible graphic file when they open the message. Once the image file is downloaded, the sender knows their email was opened — and can also harvest a slew of additional information about the reader. 

  • In the case of Superhuman, which aims to streamline inbox work for heavy email users, that includes location data about each time a recipient opened a message.
  • As Mike Davidson, former VP of design for Twitter, put it in a widely read critique, "Superhuman teaches its user to surveil by default."

The controversy centers on a persistent question that faces technology users: Are you okay with trading some (or all) of your privacy in exchange for services that are more convenient, better personalized, and less expensive? 

  • Per an IBM survey, 71% of people said it’s worth giving up privacy for the benefits of tech.

Yes, but: In the case of Superhuman and email pixel tracking, the privacy equation is different. 

  • Pixel tracking is common in some apps, but it's usually a feature that users have to turn on.
  • With Superhuman, users are collecting information by default on the people to whom they're sending email messages, without alerting or warning those people.

The bottom line: If Superhuman's aggressive push to spread pixel-tracking into new spheres doesn't spark significant public outcry, it could establish a new norm.

Go deeper: Read Kia's full story.

4. Facebook changes algorithm to fight sensational health claims

Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images

Facebook announced Tuesday that it's changing its algorithm to weed out news that is misleading about causes and cures around health conditions, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

The move followed a Wall Street Journal report detailing examples of posts that promote spammy or misleading health care cures.

Why it matters: Experts cite online misinformation on Facebook and other platforms for creating real-world health problems. Most recently, platforms like Facebook have been blamed for harboring anti-vaccination content, which many argue helped lead to an outbreak of measles cases in the U.S.

Driving the news: Facebook said last month it made two updates to the way it ranks content in its News Feed to reduce posts with sensational health claims or with product sales based on health-related claims.

  • Now it will consider down-ranking posts about health care that exaggerate or mislead, like sensational claims about miracle cures.

The big picture: Facebook has mostly figured out how to weed out scam posts that have been uploaded by bots, but it's had a much harder time filtering out content uploaded by humans that doesn't explicitly violate its rules.

Go deeper: Read Sara's full story.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's my partner's birthday. Happy birthday, AJ, and thanks for being a great partner and papa to Harvey.


  • Having already branched into software by purchasing CA Technologies, Broadcom is in talks to acquire Symantec. (Bloomberg)
  • Here's an inside look at Walmart's high-stakes race with Amazon. (Recode)
  • Apple has started detailing the number of requests from governments to remove apps in its store. From July to December of 2018, it said it received 80 requests from 11 countries to remove 634 apps. (TechCrunch)
  • British regulators are looking into whether the viral video app TikTok is adequately protecting the personal data of younger users. (The Guardian)
  • Waymo has gotten permission from regulators in California to transport passengers in its self-driving robotaxis. (TechCrunch)
  • A judge recently unsealed documents in Andy Rubin's divorce case that include allegations he took part in a sex ring and kept secret for years the $90 million payout he received when leaving Google. (BuzzFeed)
6. After you Login

Mo'ne Davis pitches during the 2014 Little League World Series. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Remember Mo'ne Davis, who stole the show at the Little League World Series a few years back? Well, she's headed off to college this fall and switched to softball. Davis had aspirations to play basketball at UConn, but shifted plans after an ankle injury, per Sports Illustrated.

Ina Fried