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August 30, 2017

Is it too late to graciously pull out of the running to be Uber CEO? Because I'd like to say I have lots of work still to do here at Axios and am happy with the job I have.

The looming AR battle between Apple and Google

The smartphone wars aren't over. The fight has just shifted from what's inside the phone to what new things the phone can do. One of the key showdowns is over augmented reality — mixing the virtual and real worlds. And once again, it's a battle between Apple and Google, both of which are trying to pitch their mobile operating systems as the best place for AR content.

Why it matters: This will be a billion-dollar battle between two of the largest companies on Earth and the results will define the next generation of smartphones. (Oh, and Facebook is involved, too...)

Google's moves: Google has been dabbling with AR for a few years now with its Project Tango, an effort that used phones and tablets with multiple cameras and sensors. The problem is that there are few apps and even fewer devices that support Tango, making it more a lens into the future than a viable commercial effort.

Apple's moves: Apple's ARKit, by contrast, took things from niche to mainstream overnight. Because it works on all phones running iOS 11, Apple instantly created a giant market of hundreds of millions of devices capable of running AR apps. And, of course, developers are eager to cash in.

Countermove: That put the pressure back on Google to offer up a more mainstream approach, and on Tuesday Google did just that. Much like Apple's ARKit, Google's ARCore relies on just the standard camera and sensors in a smartphone and is therefore capable of running on far more devices.

Google's challenge will be to test and certify ARCore with as many leading Android devices as possible.

Everyone wins? Apple's ARKit appears to have the head start, especially in terms of developer attention. But there is a case to be made that having an Android option will further accelerate the pace of apps and that could be good for consumers and app creators alike.

Read my full story here.

What the first ARKit apps will look like

I had a chance Monday night to check out a few of the ARKit-enabled apps that are slated to debut alongside iOS 11 next month.

The programs ranged from a virtual cupcake creator to a game that turn a tabletop into a puzzle to Ikea's app for placing furniture in your room. Giphy also showed off Giphy World, an app that lets you swirl around in a world of memes and cartoon sayings.

The two apps I was most impressed by:

  • A first-person shooter app based on AMC's The Walking Dead. The app blends real world locations and backgrounds with the virtual undead for what looks to be a fun experience, especially for Walking Dead die-hards.
  • The other program, from Touch Press, brings Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to life. The creators already had an entirely virtual caterpillar world, but it's even more fun to see the squirmy hero wriggle through a real-life setting.

The bottom line: Developers are excited about augmented reality and ARKit lets them make apps fairly easily. There are many more such apps in the works, some of which have already been teased on Twitter and in YouTube videos.

The downside: Because it is so easy to make AR apps, expect a lot of schlocky uses of augmented reality, especially from the advertising community.

Cortana and Alexa are getting to know each other

In a rare partnership, Microsoft and Amazon are working to allow their respective digital assistants, Cortana and Alexa, to talk with one another. According to the New York Times, customers will initially be able to summon Alexa from within Cortana and vice versa, but eventually the integration could run deeper.

The move reflects the deep competition both face from Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant and the fact that Alexa and Cortana have been strong in a sphere, but not used ubiquitously.

Interesting tidbit: The NYT article notes that both companies have been talking to carmakers about integrating their digital assistants.

The backstory: The partnership began from an email from Amazon's Jeff Bezos to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. In typical Amazon fashion, the proposal took the form of what a press release announcing the deal would look like (Amazon's typical way of beginning a project.)

Car rentals for the "gig economy"

Uber and Lyft got their start on the idea that drivers were looking to put their idle cars to use to make a few extra bucks.

Yes, but: As Kia reports, it turns out that a growing number of people want to be a driver but don't own a car — or at least not one that is new enough and roomy enough to use for these services. A cottage industry has sprung up over the past few years to make cars available for these car-less drivers.

Why it matters: The rise of these car services brings up questions about the future of car ownership. Between 2010 and 2015, car-less living began to slowly grow after decades of the opposite trend. Companies — especially automakers and car rental providers — are increasingly experimenting with car-sharing and other models. The constant need for new drivers, coupled with this car-ownership shift, means that ride-hailing services are looking for new ways to equip their drivers with vehicles to, well, drive.

What's next: Expect to see more services spring up as people decide to ditch their cars and rent one when they need it for work or personal reasons. And when self-driving cars hit the roads, many of those are expected to be rented on-demand and not personally owned.

Kia has more, including a look at the various players, here.

Tech firms respond to Harvey's devastation

Tech companies are bringing both their know-how and their checkbooks in response to Harvey and the historic flooding that has followed the storm.

On the tech side, the wireless carriers are offering additional free talk, text, and data to customers, as well as assisting first responders and those in shelters with technology.

Among the donations:

  • Verizon is donating $10 million, in addition to its other assistance.
  • Apple donated $2 million to the Harvey relief effort of the American Red Cross and is matching employee donations two-for-one. It also set up a means within iTunes and the App Store to allow its customers to easily donate.
  • Facebook is offering ways for people to donate and says it will match the first $1 million in donations.
  • AT&T is donating $350,000 and matching up to another $100,000 in employee donations.
  • Microsoft announced it is giving an "initial" $100,000 grant to the Red Cross.

Meanwhile, amateur radio operators have also played a key role in helping the citizen response to the storm. Plus, internet users from around the country banded together to help rescue this family in Katy, Texas.

Take note

On tap: Wednesday is the last day for public comment on the FCC's proposed changes to net neutrality, which has some advocates lamenting what could have been. "August 30th could very well mark the official beginning of the end for the Open Internet," former FCC staffer Gigi Sohn said Tuesday.

Trading places: Aetna has hired Wal-Mart health executive Ben Wanamaker to handle the firm's partnership efforts on the Apple Watch, according to CNBC.

ICYMI: Uber has both a new CEO and a new headache. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the ride-hailing firm is the subject of a preliminary Justice probe into whether it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials. Meanwhile, late Tuesday the company confirmed that Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has accepted its offer to replace Travis Kalanick as chief executive...Retired NBA star Michael Jordan joined a variety of more traditional startup investors in backing Gigster, a San Francisco-based provider of automation tools for smart software development...Apple's upcoming iPhone 8 may eliminate the home button, Bloomberg reports.