Apr 14, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Just a reminder that Axios is hosting a live virtual event on the future of fintech and consumer privacy on Wednesday. Join us Wednesday at 12:30pm ET live for a conversation with founder of Humanity Forward and former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and CEO of Credit Karma Kenneth Lin.

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Today's Login is 1,251 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Google designed a chip to power future Pixels

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Google has made significant progress toward developing its own processor to power its Pixel smartphone as soon as next year — and eventually Chromebooks as well, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The move could help Google better compete with Apple, which designs its own chips. It would be a blow to Qualcomm, which supplies processors for many current high-end phones, including the Pixel.

Details:

  • The chip, codenamed Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art five-nanometer process would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google's effort. Samsung also manufactures Apple's iPhone chips, as well as its own Exynos processors.
  • In recent weeks, Google received its first working versions of the chip. However, the Google-designed chips aren't expected to be ready to power Pixel phones until next year. Subsequent versions of Google's chip could power Chromebooks, but that's likely to be even farther off.
  • In addition to an eight-core ARM processor, Whitechapel will also include hardware optimized for Google's machine-learning technology. A portion of its silicon will also be dedicated to improving the performance and "always-on" capabilities of Google Assistant, the source said.

A Google representative declined to comment.

The big picture: The main processor, though just one component in a smartphone, plays an outsize role — helping determine the speed, battery life and capabilities of the device.

  • Apple was early to design its own processor, but many companies have moved in that direction, both for the cost savings and to better control their own destiny.
  • Google has been gradually building up its semiconductor capabilities. The Pixel already includes custom Google chips for machine learning and image processing tasks, and the company has hired a number of chip experts from rivals, including Apple and Intel.

Yes, but: Phone processors handle a lot of tasks beyond core processing, including graphics, communications and other functions. A shortcoming in any one area could force Google to stick with an existing chipmaker.

2. Apple, Google limit contact-tracing technology

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Only public health authorities will be able to create apps using Apple's and Google's new contact-tracing technology, and the companies say that it should be optional, meaning they don't want governments forcing people to use it, the two firms clarified Monday.

Why it matters: These clarifications and others offered by the companies aim to address some of the privacy questions raised by the technology, which they jointly announced Friday.

Details: Apple and Google had been working on their joint effort — a smartphone-based system for notifying people if they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 — for the last two and a half weeks, they said Monday.

  • While other agencies and countries are building their own technologies, Apple and Google said they wanted to create a tool that offers maximum public health benefit without compromising individual privacy.
  • Unlike some other approaches, Apple and Google won't collect location information or identifying information about who tests positive. They also require a person to consent to share the data that is collected.
  • The companies also said Monday that health authorities will be able to include a mechanism for verifying that someone tested positive, such as a QR code from a health care provider. That helps address concerns that people could cause havoc by falsely claiming they tested positive.

How it works:

  • Google and Apple, tapping Bluetooth, are logging any time users come in close proximity.
  • If someone tests positive for COVID-19 and enters that information into an app, their recent contacts can be notified.

Most of this information is stored on individual devices. However, a server is needed to broadcast the keys used by someone who tests positive.

  • Countries can either run their own servers or use ones from Apple and Google, the companies said on Monday.

Our thought bubble: Google and Apple are trying hard to build a system that people will feel comfortable using. But one piece is out of their control: the availability of testing. Without widespread testing, which is still lagging in the U.S., such a system will be of far less use.

3. Older Americans discover video chat

Seniors all over the world are downloading Zoom for the first time to be able to video chat with their families from quarantine. Many say they were motivated to finally use the app to talk to their loved ones during the Easter and Passover holidays.

Why it matters: Nearly a dozen seniors who spoke with Axios' Sara Fischer say that they've absolutely loved the experience, so far at least. So expect more family video chats from grandma and grandpa moving forward, even after stay-at-home orders die down.

Driving the news: Passover seders and Easter celebrations in the past week prompted several seniors to finally take the plunge and download Zoom.

  • "We used it on Wednesday night for three seders," says Mike Bovarnick, a 93-year-old retired Boeing executive living outside of Seattle with his wife Ruth, 89.
  • The Bovarnicks typically spend Passover with their close friends in the Seattle area, but this year, they were able to join virtual celebrations with relatives living in the Bay Area and Philadelphia.
  • "There's no way we would ever been able to have seders with people in different parts of the country before," Bovarnick said. He adds that he and his wife have been doing services with their synagogue online since the beginning of March.

Yes, but: Getting to this point hasn't been easy. Several millennials Axios spoke with cite painful and/or comical hour-long FaceTime calls with grandparents and parents to walk through the Zoom install process, which usually takes just a few minutes.

  • "On the second night of Passover, I experienced a new kind of plague — trying (and failing) to get my grandmother onto Zoom for a virtual seder," says Jenny Hurwitz, 30, a general manager of a recruiting company in New York City.
  • "After spending 57 minutes on FaceTime trying to explain the process (all while checking the brisket and stirring the matzoh balls) we realized it wasn't going to happen and gave up."

Others have complained that grandma and grandpa don't quite understand video conferencing etiquette.

  • "We stared at grandma's chin the whole time because she couldn't position the camera on her iPad correctly," says a 29-year-old social media manager living in Washington, D.C.

Yes, but: It's not just seniors that are having trouble adjusting to a video chat world, as a sketch from last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" gently teased.

4. Supreme Court leaves Oracle-Google dispute in limbo

A long-running legal showdown between Oracle and Google over whether common interfaces between software programs can be protected by copyright looks like it will drag on for months longer, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Driving the news: The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would take up a handful of cases from its spring term docket via teleconference, meaning those cases — including several relating to President Trump's business records — could be decided on their original schedule, despite the disruptions of the coronavirus shutdown.

The closely watched Oracle/Google case did not make the teleconferencing list, leaving it in limbo.

Why it matters: Industry observers view the case as having potentially wide impact on the intellectual property landscape of the tech industry and the future of software interoperability.

What's next: Assuming the court punts hearing the case until the fall term, it could be another six months before the dispute reaches a conclusion.

Go deeper:

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), whose district includes parts of Silicon Valley, is holding an open press conference with reporters at 12:30pm ET.
  • Sarah Frier's book on Instagram, "No Filter," goes on sale.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

If you have been sitting in your office Zoom meeting thinking, "Wow, this meeting could really use a goat," then I have good news for you. For less than $100 a Bay Area animal sanctuary called Sweet Farm will have one of its goats, llamas or other farm animals join your video conference call.

Ina Fried