Sep 17, 2018

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1 big thing: Cellphone alert test turns political

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.S. government plans to test out a modern version of the emergency broadcast system, sending what's known as a presidential alert on Thursday. In response, some people are vowing to turn their cellphones off in a sign of protest.

The bottom line: What would ordinarily be just a test of a modern age emergency warning has turned political, because this is the Trump administration and everything is political.

How it works: Americans have been getting various emergency messages sent to their phones since 2012, including weather warnings and Amber Alerts. The same system also allows the president to send alerts in the event of a nationwide emergency, though no such message has ever been issued.

  • While similar to text messages, the emergency alerts, including presidential alerts, are actually shorter (a maximum of 90 characters). They also come with a special alert tone designed to distinguish them from other messages.
  • The commercial mobile alert system, as the effort is known, is a public-private partnership involving the wireless industry, the FCC, FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What's happening now: Starting at around 2:18pm ET on Thursday, phones that are on should get a message with a header that says "Presidential alert" followed by text that says "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Why the test? The government wants to make sure that the system it has in place will actually work as intended. It has tested cellphone alerts before, but this is the first nationwide test for one part of the system.

Be prepared: The government has been running commercials preparing people for the test in a series of public service announcements. One interesting tidbit in the ad I saw was that the alert came in on a Windows Phone, rather than the far more widely used Android or iOS — perhaps the government didn't want to take sides on such a divisive issue.

No stopping it: Consumers can choose to opt out of the Amber alerts and weather warnings, but not presidential alerts. And that's where the protest comes in, with a number of people tweeting that they plan to turn off their devices Thursday and encouraging others to do the same. There's even a hashtag, #godark920.

Trump fears: It's entirely up to the president what to say and when, so there is some fear — stoked by the publicity around Thursday's test — that the president could use it to send partisan messages.

History lesson: There have been issues with past tests, most notably one in Hawaii back in January that briefly terrified residents in the state into thinking they were on the receiving end of a ballistic missile attack.

2. Qualcomm and Apple square off, again

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Locked in a bitter legal dispute, Apple and Qualcomm are due to meet in multiple courts around the world this week. First up is a hearing Monday before the U.S. International Trade Commission, which has the power to ban products from being imported into the U.S.

Why it matters: These two giant tech companies are both used to getting their way. Apple is trying its best to get by without Qualcomm's chips, but may not be able to avoid its patents. Meanwhile, Qualcomm has lost a good chunk of business, with Apple going to Intel for modem chips.

The details:

  • This is the second of two suits brought by Qualcomm against Apple before the ITC. A ruling in the first one is expected Sept. 28.
  • Testimony should last about a week in the case being heard Monday, which originally involved 5 patents and dozens of claims, but has been narrowed to focus on three patents and six claims.
  • What Apple will argue: Apple will make the case that Qualcomm's patents aren't that important or infringed by the iPhone and that, in any case, even if they were it wouldn't merit banning the iPhone. Apple's case is supported by the independent attorney assigned to represent the government's interest, which found no infringement and also that a ban is not in the public interest.
  • What Qualcomm will argue: These are important patents, key to how modern cellphones operate in a battery efficient manner. It will make the case that the government's attorney need not be the final word and encourage the administrative law judge hearing the case to find Apple did infringe and to halt import of certain iPhones. Qualcomm also hopes to introduce evidence suggesting confidential information it gave Apple was misused.

Also: Qualcomm and Apple will be in separate hearings in Germany this week on patent matters there, facing off in Mannheim on Tuesday and Munich on Thursday.

And in yet another case, this one in California federal court, Qualcomm is agreeing not to assert certain patents against Apple, looking to narrow that case to focus on the primary issue around the business dispute between the two companies.

The bottom line: This dispute shows no sign of slowing down, with various cases around the globe starting to come to a head.

3. It's iOS 12 release day

The "Screen Time" feature of iOS 12. Screenshot:

The new iPhone Xs and Xs Max don't hit the market until later this week, but the software that powers them will be available later today. What's more, iOS 12 is free and, most likely, will work on the iPhone you already have, as it supports the iPhone 6 and later.

The bottom line: Apple's latest software offers a number of key improvements, including support for app shortcuts, time limits for apps and improved parental controls, among other enhancements.

My take: I've been using iOS 12 in beta form and found it to be incredibly stable, especially for a beta release. On the iPhone X, you also get new "memoji" avatars and the ability to use them in videos.

What they're saying: The Washington Post offered several knocks on Screen Time, criticizing its rigidity and noting that a workaround lets kids watch Netflix beyond the time limits set in the app.

4. Great Recession led to tech's long boom

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

While the rest of the U.S. economy reeled from devastating losses in 2008–2009, the tech sector actually fared pretty well, notes Axios' Scott Rosenberg.

The bottom line: That's partly because the tech industry was well insulated from the financial meltdown's real-estate-focused epicenter. Plus, Silicon Valley had already experienced its own financial bust at the start of the decade, leaving the industry with more solid growth and less hot air.

Go deeper: Scott has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places


  • Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, along with his wife, is buying Time magazine for $190 million. (Axios)
  • Social network Path is shutting down.
  • Google plans to shut down Fabric, the mobile app development tool it acquired from Twitter. It will instead steer developers towards another of its efforts, Firebase. (VentureBeat)
  • Apple's new campus may be all the rage, but its history is all tied up in the old One Infinite Loop facilities. Steven Levy offers an oral history of that complex. (Wired)
  • Destination VR company The Void is looking to beef up its creative options, inking a deal to use characters from Disney and Marvel. The first title, "Ralph Breaks VR," is due in the fall. (The Verge)
  • Drone startup Airware is closing its doors after having raised nearly $120 million in venture capital. (TechCrunch)
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