Nov 29, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

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1 big thing: Creating tech to educate young children

Genius Plaza CEO Ana Roca Castrol. Photo: Brook Todd for Early Futures

Even as some in Silicon Valley circles try to keep their kids away from smartphones and other technology, many others believe kids' exposure to devices is inevitable and our job is to make sure that they learn and stay healthy along the way.

Driving the news: At a conference in San Jose this week, experts in early childhood education compared notes on what is and isn't working in the field. The Early Futures conference brought together everyone from startups to established pioneers including representatives from Head Start and Sesame Workshop.

The bottom line: The consensus was that while technology for technology's sake was the wrong approach, so too is trying to stick to the old way of doing things.

"While there has been a lot of innovation, it is also clear we need new solutions."
— Isabelle Hau, event organizer and investment partner at Omidyar Network

What we're seeing: There were plenty of proposed solutions at the conference, including...

1. Genius Plaza, a Miami-based company that offers digital tools aimed to serve today's multicultural classrooms.

  • "Less than 2 percent of the content we put in our classrooms looks like our kids," Genius Plaza CEO Ana Roca Castro says.
  • Genius Plaza aims to change that by incorporating underrepresented groups throughout its curriculum and highlighting those working in fields like science, math and engineering.
  • "You cannot love what you don’t know," Castro adds.

2. Khan Academy Kids: Though best known for its online tools for older students and adults, Khan Academy has a 2-year-old effort geared toward offering free educational tools for the younger set.

3. Cognitive ToyBox aims to change the way early childhood assessments are done, transforming what has been a tedious task involving hours of work for teachers into an automated process where kids play games for as little as 5 minutes each.

  • This was one of the many startups that were invited to pitch the crowd on their early-stage efforts.

Between the lines: Sesame Workshop COO Steve Youngwood says it's not really a debate over whether kids will learn from smartphones but what they will learn.

  • The same arguments were made about television, he says, but kids were already learning the jingles to beer commercials when Sesame Street came around to teach them the alphabet.
  • Sesame has taken a similar approach in the digital age, Youngwood adds, offering everything from YouTube videos to mobile apps and harnessing the technology to deliver more targeted content than was possible in the television-only era.

Another topic discussed is that technology is needed to deal with the fact that there just aren't enough qualified teachers, especially globally.

  • Omidyar Network partner Amy Klement points to Bridge International Academies, which offers scripted lesson plans delivered to teachers on low-end Android tablets allowing teachers without formal training to deliver effective lesson plans.
  • Because it's digital, governments and districts can also see just how much of a lesson plan was delivered, she adds.
  • "This is data governments even in the U.S. don’t have," Klement says.
2. Army buys $480M of Microsoft's HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens. Photo: Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Microsoft's deal to sell as many as 100,000 of its mixed reality headsets to the U.S. Army represents a huge win for the fledgling HoloLens project.

Yes, but: The fact that Microsoft is selling the devices to the Army for use in combat could cause headaches for the company, which has already faced opposition internally to its work with the U.S. government.

The big picture: Deals between tech companies and the U.S. military are common but have become increasingly controversial, as employees raise questions about the ethics of applying advanced technology to warfare.

  • Just last month, Google dropped out of the bidding process for the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud-computing contract. Microsoft is still competing for that deal.

The bottom line: Microsoft made clear last month that it planned to continue with its work with the U.S. government.

"We believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support," Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post. "To withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way."

Of note: While the Army deal would be Microsoft's biggest HoloLens contract, both the Ukranian and Israeli armies have also taken a look at the technology.

What they're saying:

  • A Microsoft spokesperson tells Axios, "Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area."
  • Bloomberg's Mark Bergen tweets: "Googlers are in open revolt and Microsoft is over here winning half-a-bil military contracts and Binging away in China with censored results, all easy breezy. Wonder if Sundar is asking Satya for advice!"
3. Apple: iPhone XR is top-selling model

The iPhone XR was released in October for $749. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images.

An Apple executive said Wednesday that Apple's mid-range iPhone XR has been outselling other models — including each of its high-end siblings, the iPhone XS and XS Max — since the XR went on sale in October, CNET reports.

Why it matters: Apple watchers have expressed concerns that the XR wasn't selling well. So this could be some relief on that front.

  • That said, Apple isn't saying how iPhone sales are doing overall, so it's tough to tell whether the XR is actually doing well, or if all of the models are slower than expectations.

The real proof will be when Apple has to report financial results for the holiday quarter. Although Apple has said it will no longer break out iPhone unit sales, it should be clear from overall revenue whether sales lived up to expectations.

4. Facebook stops archiving promoted news

Facebook said Thursday that it will no longer include promoted content from news publishers on Facebook in its political ads archive in the U.S. beginning next year.

Why it matters: Publishers loudly protested the policy when it was introduced last spring. News companies argued that the articles they promote on Facebook shouldn't be publicly archived because marketing news is not the same as influencing an agenda via political advertising.

Go deeper: Axios' Sara Fischer has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • HP Inc. and VMware report earnings.
  • Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff is holding a press conference this morning with San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
  • Color of Change, which has been advocating for greater diversity in tech, is meeting with Facebook executives, including COO Sheryl Sandberg.
  • Amazon's AWS re:Invent continues in Las Vegas.
  • TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin runs today and tomorrow, as does Fortune's Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou, China.

Trading Places

  • Korea's LG Electronics has replaced the head of its mobile business, Hwang Jeong-hwan, after a year. Brian Kwon, who has been running LG's home entertainment unit, will add the company's smartphone business to his responsibilities. (The Verge)

ICYMI

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Ina Fried