May 04, 2018

It's May the Fourth, so expect lots of Star Wars references today, you should.

1 big thing: Oculus and Lenovo go head-to-head in standalone VR

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introducing the Oculus Go at F8 2018. Photo: Facebook

Until now, virtual reality has basically been divided into two camps: pricey devices that are powerful but tethered to a computer, or inexpensive but compromised options powered by a smartphone.

But there's now a whole new class of devices — the standalone mobile VR, typified by the Oculus Go and the Lenovo Mirage Solo.

  • In some ways, standalone mobile VR is an expensive play, since you are paying a second time for the brain already in your smartphone.
  • That said, the standalone mobile ones are more comfortable from a hardware standpoint and simpler from a software viewpoint than trying to make your phone do double duty.

What they are good at: These new devices are good for a range of tasks from watching 360-degree video, viewing live events in VR and playing a range of games. If you don't mind looking a bit ridiculous, they'd probably be a good way to stay entertained on a flight.

What they aren't: Dedicated high-end devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are still better for hard-core gaming, offering more interactivity and better graphics.

Why it matters: The VR industry needs another boost. After a lot of hype that VR was ready to move beyond just gamers, enthusiasm waned as mainstream usage failed to expand as quickly as hoped. Standalone mobile VR offers the industry another opportunity.

The bottom line: At $199, Oculus Go could be quite compelling for someone who is convinced they want to do more than just dabble in VR using cardboard or Gear VR. Lenovo's Mirage offers some powerful features, including so-called six degrees of freedom (which means you can step into and around the VR experience).

  • But at $399, it's twice as much as Oculus Go and more of a serious tech purchase than an impulse buy.

2. Google sets new rules for U.S. election ads

Vote Voting GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Google is announcing new rules today aimed at trying to thwart foreign meddling in the midterm elections, David McCabe reports.

What's new: As of July 10, people buying ads related to federal election candidates on Google will have to prove they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

But, but but: The new policy will not cover ads that relate to politically contentious issues rather than a candidate, which was the case for many of the online ads placed by Russian operatives trying to interfere in the 2016 election. The company says it is looking at following Facebook in tightening restrictions on those ads as well.

Go deeper: David has more here.

3. The AI farm experiment

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The global agriculture industry is increasingly counting on technology, especially machine learning, to help it deal with a variety of challenges, including a shortage of workers, an increasingly unstable climate and the need to feed a growing population.

Axios' Alison Snyder took a look at how Alphabet's X and John Deere, startups and universities are looking to AI-based agriculture to address these problems. (I wrote last year about how Deere paid more than $300 million for 60-person startup Blue River Technology and set up a tech lab in San Francisco.)

Why it matters: Ag tech is big business. Self-driving cars get a lot more attention than self-driving tractors, but the latter have been actually been around for years. Meanwhile, you hear a lot about computers that can play Go or tell dog pictures from cats, but the potential of AI to improve crop yields and reduce poverty is a huge deal.

Go deeper: For more on how AI is changing the face of farming, check out Alison's full story here.

4. Exclusive: Mapbox hires former Amazon exec

In hiring Peter Sirota as its new head of engineering, Mapbox CEO Eric Gunderson says he's getting someone who helped build AWS from the ground up.

"As an engineering-led company deep cloud experience is critical” Gunderson tells Axios, adding that Sirota "built a product that changed how business gets done."

Background: Mapbox is a mapping platform used by a range of companies, from enterprise software to self-driving cars to Snapchat, which uses Mapbox to power Snap Maps.

Why it matters: More than half of the company's 380 employees are engineers who will report to Sirota, who starts next week.

5. AT&T-Time Warner judge is TCM buff

Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals

Judge Richard J. Leon will decide whether AT&T gets to buy Time Warner’s HBO — home to fan favorites "Game of Thrones" and "Westworld." But reporters in the courtroom noticed that what he seemed most passionate about was the decidedly old-school Turner Classic Movies, notes David, who was among those covering the case.

  • “TCM?”asked Leon when AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was rattling off the assets that will be in the firm's post-merger media unit. It wasn’t the first time he asked about the network.

The courtroom has noticed: On Monday, as the Justice Department moved through its rebuttal of AT&T’s closing argument, the often-stern Leon took a lighthearted turn and referenced a line from Woody Allen’s "Annie Hall." DOJ’s lead lawyer, Craig Conrath, indicated he wasn’t familiar.

  • “Watch Annie Hall, it’s a great movie,” Leon said.
  • Conrath's response drew laughs: “Turner Classic Movies, I’m sure, has it available.”

But when the time came to end the last day of the grueling trial, Leon turned to music rather than movies, citing a quote attributed to Leonard Bernstein: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

Leon has 39 days before he’s promised to render a ruling that will shape the future of media for years to come, not to mention the fate of his beloved TCM.

6. Quote of the day

"It is an unbelievable company," Buffett says. "If you look at Apple, I think it earns almost twice as much as the second most profitable company in the United States."

Warren Buffett, speaking with CNBC, describes why Berkshire Hathaway bought 75 million shares of Apple in the first quarter of 2018, adding to the 165.3 million shares owned at the end of 2017.

7. Take Note

On Tap

  • The TiE Inflect entrepreneurship conference takes place in Santa Clara today and tomorrow.

Trading Places

  •, which focuses on managing data for autonomous cars, has tapped Isaac Kato as president, a new role. Kato was previously a co-founder and CFO at Verne Global.


  • Twitter warned all of its users to change their password after revealing that it had accidentally stored all credentials in plain text.
  • The Verge reports that YouTube has more than 1.8 billion monthly logged-in users, according to CEO Susan Wojcicki.
  • Speaking of YouTube, despite concerns over content problems, advertisers are showing they believe YouTube is an effective branding and advertising partner.
  • Double standard? The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook's own employees get an alert if a Facebook worker looks at their profile, but that users don't get a similar notification.

8. After you Login

And, in honor of May the Fourth, and for all my Star Wars enthusiast readers, here are some video highlights of my interview with Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker.