Sep 2, 2020

Axios Login

I talked to someone yesterday who was working in their office yesterday. Which is weird because I had emailed them earlier that day and didn't get an "in the office" message.

Today's Login is 1,305 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Foldable phones are getting their moment

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 (left) and Microsoft's Surface Duo. Photos: Samsung and Microsoft

New folding-smartphone releases from Samsung and Microsoft show the devices starting to carve out a niche as the equivalent of luxury cars. Still up in the air is whether these new phones and their successors can propel the category from novel curiosity into the mainstream.

Why it matters: With the smartphone market slowing, manufacturers have an incentive to bet on new concepts. For now, though, foldable technology comes at a high cost with some key drawbacks cutting into the benefits of packing more screen into a smaller phone.

Driving the news:

  • Samsung on Tuesday debuted the Galaxy Z Fold 2, a 5G-capable successor to last year's high-end model. It adds a larger front cover screen and better camera, among other improvements.
  • Microsoft's Android-based Surface Duo uses two screens rather than a single foldable display, and is set to be available on Sept. 10, starting at $1,399.
  • Motorola, LG and others have also dabbled in this market, with more devices expected soon. LG has offered hints of "Wing," a phone whose second display swings out from the main one.

Catch up quick: True foldables, like the Samsung Fold, open up to a single seamless screen. The two-screen approach used by the Surface Duo leaves a gap between the two sides.

Between the lines: Samsung is positioning the Fold 2 like a luxury good, complete with white-glove service and a series of perks. Microsoft is focusing its pitch on productivity, showing all the different ways Surface Duo can help get work done.

The big picture: Neither the Fold 2 nor the Surface Duo is destined to be a huge seller. The key question is whether such devices remain niche products, like 3D TV, or the start of something big. What makes that tough to answer is that both flops and eventual mainstream hits tend to start as high-end products aimed at enthusiasts.

  • With hits, the costs come down, driving demand, which further lowers cost. With flops, the interest doesn't scale, costs remain high and the technology tends to fade away.

What's hot:

  • Multitasking is a lot easier on larger or split screens.
  • Foldable devices look cool and stand out from traditional single-screen smartphones, which are often indistinguishable from one another at a glance.

What's not:

  • High prices. Samsung's new Galaxy Z Fold 2 costs nearly $2,000, while Microsoft's Surface Duo starts at almost $1,400, making them as expensive as two high-end phones.
  • Few apps are optimized specifically for the Microsoft or Samsung devices.
  • Devices can be fragile, expensive to repair and are typically not water- and dust-proof .

Flashback: Foldable displays have been a long time coming.

  • LG and Samsung have been exploring the underlying technology for a decade, and both companies experimented with flexible screen smartphones back in 2013. Although they allowed the phonemakers to add a bit of a curve to the devices, they offered little new functionality.

The bottom line: If money is no object, both the Surface Duo and Fold 2 will help your phone stand out from the pack. But since most of us aren't traveling in packs these days, the devices have to prove they can do more than just look cool.

2. Russian misinformation campaign nabbed

Facebook and Twitter both took down fake accounts and pages associated with Russian operatives who sought to trick freelance journalists into writing stories on their behalf following a tip from the FBI, Axios' Ashley Gold and I report.

Why it matters: Facebook, caught off guard by Russian misinformation campaigns ahead of the 2016 presidential election, is under pressure to show it can weed out foreign actors attempting manipulation on the platform before November's election.

Context: 13 Facebook accounts and two pages were found to be linked to people associated with Russia's Internet Research Agency, which interfered on the platform in 2016. Facebook worked off a tip from the FBI. Twitter also removed five accounts related to the purported news site, dubbed PeaceData.

Details: Facebook said the campaign was "largely unsuccessful" in getting journalists to write stories on its behalf.

  • Facebook is notifying those who were contacted by the IRA.
  • A report from cybersecurity firm Graphika said the IRA activity was small-scale, but similar to 2016 efforts to mostly criticize Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile: Twitter also said it was making changes to its Trending Topics section, amid criticism that the section often leads people to hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Twitter said the tweaks, which include adding a representative tweet for each trend, are designed to add context, though some critics say the moves don't go far enough.

3. Poll: Google is the best fit to buy TikTok

Americans believe Google is best suited to buy TikTok's U.S. operations, according to new Harris Poll data released today. Some 29% of resp0ndents named Google, edging out Microsoft with 24% and Snapchat with 22%.

Why it matters: TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, is under pressure to sell its U.S. operations or face a ban by the Trump administration. Microsoft and Walmart are working together on a bid, while Oracle is also said to be interested along with potentially others.

By the numbers: Here are who respondents thought would be the best new owner for TikTok. (They could choose more than one company, so the responses add up to more than 100%.)

  1. Google (29%)
  2. Microsoft (24%)
  3. Snapchat (22%)
  4. Apple (22%)
  5. Twitter (20%)
  6. Amazon (18%)
  7. Netflix (16%)
  8. Walmart (14%)
  9. Oracle (6%) 

My thought bubble: On one hand, it doesn't matter who consumers think would be a good fit. What matters is who — if anyone — can actually get a deal done. On the other hand, no eventual deal can succeed unless TikTok remains popular, especially with young people and influencers.

Meanwhile: Negotiations over a sale have been complicated by a new Chinese law that could exclude TikTok's algorithm — seen by many as its secret sauce — from being part of a sale.

4. Apple, Google to allow app-free COVID notifications

Photo: Apple/Google

Apple and Google said on Tuesday that they are expanding their digital coronavirus exposure notification system so that it can notify people without the regional health authority needing to create a separate app, potentially expanding the less-than-wide adoption of the technology.

Why it matters: The companies say 25 U.S. states and territories are exploring digital contact-tracing options. Just six have already launched apps.

Details: The "express" version of the technology, announced Tuesday, pushes a message to iOS and Android users in participating states letting them know that they can opt in to exposure notifications even if authorities in their area haven't built an app.

  • iOS users can get notifications without an app. On Android, users will be sent to the Google Play Store to download one that Android can generate on the fly if there isn't already an app available locally.

My thought bubble: To truly be useful the technology would have to be broadly available, widely adopted by consumers and work easily across state lines, none of which is the case today. Plus, technology like that is meant to augment real-world contract tracing, something we also aren't doing much of in the U.S.

Meanwhile: Axios' Dan Primack spoke with Washington Post tech reporter Reed Albergotti about the Apple-Google contact tracing system for the "Axios Re:Cap" podcast. Listen here.

Go deeper: Apple, Google limit how coronavirus contact-tracing tech can be used

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Software-as-a-service conference SaaStr Annual takes place online today and tomorrow.

Errata

  • In yesterday's Login, the name of AllRaise CEO Pam Kostka was spelled incorrectly in one reference.

Trading Places

  • Former Walmart and Tripadvisor marketing chief Barbara Messing has joined Roblox as CMO and chief employee experience officer, reporting to CEO Dave Baszucki.
  • Meditation app Headspace has named Jolawn Victor as the company's chief international officer, a newly created role reporting to COO CeCe Morken.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

We all know uppercase letters are the big ones we use when we want to shout and lowercase letters are the little ones we use when we want to go all e.e. cummings. But do you know where those terms come from? Well, now you do.