Nov 4, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Hi from L.A., where I am in town for both Adobe's Max conference (see below) and something else I can't quite talk about yet.

Situational awareness: Apple says it will spend $2.5 billion to help remedy California's housing shortage.

Today's Login is 1,480 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Microsoft's Bing and browser pivot to business

Microsoft's revamped Edge browser has a new rendering engine and a focus on business users. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is announcing today that its Bing search engine and Edge web browser will now focus primarily on business users.

Why it matters: For Bing, the move is a recognition that a years-long effort to take on Google in the broad-based search business has failed. In browsers, meanwhile, the shift is a sign of how far the mighty have fallen: Two decades ago, Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominated the browser market so thoroughly it was seen as a monopoly.

Details: Microsoft is adding new features to the products to enhance their business appeal, including unified web search with search on a company's internal network, as well as new privacy and security features.

"We're trying to stake a claim of saying we are the best browser and search engine for business users," longtime Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi said in an interview. "We think people who browse the web in general may actually want to use it for their personal lives."

That said, not many consumers have been choosing Microsoft for their browsing or search needs.

  • Microsoft's browsers have been losing share for some time, largely to Google's Chrome but also to Firefox and Apple's Safari. Globally, neither IE nor Edge are in the top 5 browsers, with even Opera and Samsung ahead of Microsoft's two offerings. In the U.S., Microsoft fares somewhat better, with Edge the No. 4 browser with nearly 4% of the market and IE holding 3.2%, per StatCounter.
  • In search, Bing has less than 3% of the global market, with Google having more than 90%. In the U.S., Bing holds 6.3%, with Google controlling more than 88%.

My thought bubble: I knew Microsoft had lost ground in both areas, but I was nonetheless shocked at just how low its numbers were.

Meanwhile: In addition to repositioning its Edge browser, Microsoft has been busy swapping out its core rendering engine to use Chromium, the engine that powers Chrome and a number of other browsers.

  • The newly revamped Edge is being made available now as a release candidate, with broad availability scheduled for mid-January.
  • Microsoft is making the announcements at its Ignite conference, which kicks off today in Orlando.
2. Adobe brings Photoshop to smartphone cameras

Some of the effects possible using Photoshop Camera. Image: Adobe

Adobe is debuting a new app, Photoshop Camera, designed to bring the power of the popular photo-editing tool straight into the camera. The move allows consumers to apply artsy filters, swap out backgrounds and more even before the picture is taken.

Why it matters: Adobe has a goal of getting its tools in the hands of vastly more people. That means reaching consumer shutterbugs where they are at, which increasingly is within the camera app of their smartphones.

I got a very early look at what became Photoshop Camera back in 2017, writing at the time:

"What initially looked like a standard camera app turned out to be a proof-of-concept from Adobe Labs that uses neural algorithms to apply different artistic styles to photos. It's similar to popular apps like Pixma, but with enough real-time abilities that you can see what the result will look like before even taking the picture."

It's come much farther in the last 18 months, adding more depth and utility, while retaining a decidedly simple interface designed to make sure people feel like they can just take a picture without also having to understand Photoshop.

Photoshop Camera is launching in limited preview; those interested can sign up here.

Meanwhile: Adobe is also making several other moves at its Max conference, which kicks off today in L.A.

Specifically, it is:

  • Releasing the initial version of Photoshop for the iPad, which was teased at last year's show and has been in testing.
  • Showing a preview of Illustrator for the iPad, with the final version targeted for next year.
  • Bringing its new Fresco painting app, released recently for iPad, to Microsoft Windows.
3. PayPal CEO: China won't compromise our values

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has stared down death threats for taking tough stances on social issues. But in entering China, the PayPal CEO could find the biggest challenge yet to his values.

Why it matters: Other companies have gone into China thinking that they could access the giant market without having to compromise their values. At some point, most of them were forced to choose one or the other.

Pressed on the issue, Schulman told "Axios on HBO" he isn't worried.

  • "Every country around the world has issues," Schulman said. "We need to navigate those in the way that we feel is most consistent with our values and most consistent with our mission. Not easy to always go do, but I wouldn't single out China versus any other country."

Between the lines: Schulman has certainly been willing to take stands here in the U.S., throwing white supremacists off PayPal's service and pulling a planned expansion into North Carolina after that state passed a law that severely limited transgender rights.

Meanwhile: Schulman also discussed the future of digital payments and the controversial privacy practices of Venmo, the company's fast-growing peer-to-peer payment unit.

  • So, is cash dead? "I think cash is gonna be with us for a long time. But I do think it's inevitable — that all forms of money are going to eventually digitize."
  • Why are Venmo transactions public by default? "I think the boundaries between private and public are much more blurred than it was when we were growing up. To that generation, and we shouldn't put our values or our judgment on it, sharing and understanding what their friends are doing and what's important to their friends is incredibly reinforcing."
4. Sen. Hawley: Tech execs "totally untrustworthy"

Sen. Josh Hawley. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri told Axios' Kim Hart on "Axios on HBO" that Silicon Valley executives "regularly shade the truth" and are "totally untrustworthy."

The big picture: Since joining Congress this year, Hawley has made a name for himself by going after social media companies for censoring conservative viewpoints, failing to protect user privacy and wielding too much power over the flow of information.

What he's saying: When asked if he trusts the word of tech executives, he responded:

"I've only been in the Senate for 10 months. But the testimony I've heard from Twitter, Facebook and Google in that time is easily the most dishonest testimony of any witness I've heard before any committees that I sit on. They regularly mislead Congress and mislead the public. They regularly withhold sensitive information and engage in deliberate obfuscation. So no, I don't trust them at all."
— Josh Hawley on "Axios on HBO"

Context: With bipartisan co-sponsors, Hawley has introduced bills to require data portability between companies, to require tech companies to tell users how much their data is worth, and to give users the option not to be tracked.

  • At a Tuesday hearing, he plans to call into question the Chinese business arrangements of tech companies — including Apple and TikTok — and whether those ties pose national security threats. The U.S. government is reportedly investigating TikTok's acquisition of social media app Musical.ly.
  • Hawley invited Apple and TikTok to testify at the hearing, but as of Sunday evening, the companies are declining to appear. In a statement to Axios, TikTok said it remains "committed to working productively with Congress as it looks at how to secure the data of American users."

What to watch: Hawley told "Axios on HBO" that the federal government has not done enough to hold tech execs accountable and that some "structural reforms" may be needed to enforce anti-competitive rules.

  • That includes possibly giving oversight agencies more power and tools to police the companies and considering antitrust action to break them up.
  • "We maybe should look at reforming the FTC," he said, noting the agency's recent enforcement against Facebook was a "slap on the wrist."

When asked what tech industry leaders could do to show they are acting in good faith, Hawley said they need to prove they are not trying to choke off competition.

  • "Until they start taking some tangible action, I think that they don't deserve anybody's trust," Hawley said.

When asked whether he supports Facebook's latest policy on political advertising, he said wants to see how the company actually handles the issue.

  • "This is the thing I've learned with Facebook as well as with all these companies ... is that they'll announce a policy one day, they'll change it on the next day, [and] they'll implement it a third way," he said.

Go deeper:

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • IBM has hired Joshua New as an executive on its global government and regulatory affairs team, focusing on issues and opportunities related to AI, open data and the environment. He was previously at ITIF’s Center for Data Innovation where he served as senior policy analyst.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

To start off your week, here's a cute little robot made out of the old and new AirPods, along with their cases.

Ina Fried