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Oct 4, 2018

Axios Login

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1 big thing: eBay's battle with Amazon

eBay CEO Devin Wenig at the GeekWire Summit. Photo: Courtesy of GeekWire/Dan DeLong

Although eBay just accused Amazon of unfair trade practices, it isn't looking for regulators for help. In an onstage interview at the GeekWire Summit yesterday, CEO Devin Wenig told me :

"That's not the way we compete."

Driving the news: Wenig's comments came shortly after it was reported that eBay had sent Amazon a cease-and-desist letter accusing the company of violating California law and eBay's terms of service by trying to lure away eBay merchants.

  • Wenig declined to comment specifically on that action. "I think the story speaks for itself," he said.

Why it matters: Yelp complains to regulators all the time about Google, and many have wondered when Amazon might start to face antitrust scrutiny.

Wenig insisted there is room for more than just Amazon. He said:

'There isn't going to be one place in the world where everybody shops. The physical retail world didn't evolve that way. ... Nor will the digital world work out that way."

He praised Amazon for its move to hike the minimum wage for workers to $15 per hour, saying:

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Amazon is going to pay warehouse workers a living wage. Fantastic. I want tech to succeed and the way tech is going to succeed is not growth at all cost."

Yes, but: Wenig added that eBay needs to find ways to differentiate itself from Amazon.

"I want to get as far away from Amazon as I can. I want us to stand for something fundamentally different. I want it to be a place people think of first for the things they love, not just the things they need."

What's next, per Wenig:

  • More consolidation is coming to physical retail. The bull market may be masking that, but that's a "head fake."
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality haven't fully developed, "but we're getting there." He pointed to early applications such as using AR to help smaller sellers choose shipping box sizes. "We're not solving world peace, but it's a real use case." StubHub is also using VR to help people see the view they will get before they buy tickets.
  • eBay is adding other forms of payment including Apple Pay, as its exclusivity with PayPal ends. "I want buyers to pay however they want to pay," he said, while offering sellers as low fees as possible. "There's so much money at stake." However, he adds, there's no need for bitcoin in retail today, given the volatility of the currency.
2. Virtual reality you can feel

Testing out some VR equipment. Photo: Axios

While VR headsets let you look and move around in a fictional world, VR hasn't yet been able to give users tactile experiences.

Several startups are working on that, and I've had the chance to try out a few over the past several months. One of them is created by Seattle-based HaptX, which officially launched Wednesday.

How it works: Unlike some other approaches that rely on electronic vibrations, HaptX takes a microfluidics-based approach that uses compressed air to help give items heft and texture in addition to basic tactile sense.

  • You can get a sense of the product in this video, but as with most haptic products, you really have to feel it for yourself.
  • In the demo you can feel raindrops hit your glove, pick flowers and, if you are brave, let a spider crawl up your hand. The feeling is reminiscent of the real world, but it's not nearly as precise. Still, it at least adds another sense to the VR mix.

Yes, but: HaptX is aiming for the enterprise market, not consumers. Its technology is priced in the thousands of dollars, affordable to governments and companies but out of the reach for most consumers.

Meanwhile, another effort, HoloSuit, spreads 3 dozen or more sensors across the body, including a jacket, pants and gloves. It allows for both motion capture and haptic feedback.

  • The 20-person company plans to start selling 2 developer versions of its product later this year, with prices starting at around $2,000.
3. Presidential alert test generates buzz

Attendees of GeekWire Summit react as they receive the presidential alert message. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

A test of the presidential alert system yesterday succeeded, demonstrating that the government can reach cellphones nationwide in the event of an emergency.

At the same time, the test also proved that the country's sense of humor remains intact. And lots of people were tweeting about it.

What we're hearing: Here are a few of my favorite reactions...

  • The Verge's Casey Newton: "If I wanted my phone to scream messages from the president I would look at Twitter."
  • Dave Pell: "Don't believe this notification. Action is needed. Vote!"
  • Hillary Clinton: "Making sure this works" (with a bonus link to an Axios story)
  • And then there was Stephen Colbert, offering a workaround to block the otherwise-unblockable presidential alerts.

Read more: If you need further levity, BuzzFeed News had its own roundup here.

4. Amazon Go's automated convenience

An Amazon Go store in downtown Seattle. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

I was headed from one event to another in downtown Seattle on Wednesday, when I stumbled upon one of Amazon's cashierless convenience store.

Eager to try out Amazon Go — and in need of a couple gifts to bring home — I decided to see if I could get the huckleberry jam that my partner and mother-in-law had requested. Unfortunately, the store had neither cashiers nor jam. Instead, I walked out with an Amazon Go-branded chocolate bar from Seattle-area confectioner Theo.

The bottom line: Amazon Go worked as advertised, sending me a receipt a few minutes later for my $3.49 purchase and letting me know I spent 2 minutes and 47 seconds in the store.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Michael Gallagher, CEO of Entertainment Software Association, stepped down. ESA general counsel Stanley Pierre-Louis will serve as interim CEO of the video game industry's trade group.


  • Hackers linked with foreign governments are using stolen administrative credentials and injecting malware into critical systems around the world, the Department of Homeland Security warned yesterday. (Axios)
  • Cloudera announced a merger with Hortonworks, to create a $5.2 billion cloud-based enterprise data management giant. (Axios)
  • Verizon Communications has offered buyout packages to as many as 44,000 employees. (WSJ)
  • Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, is investigating whether the company adequately protected users' data in the wake of last week's breach. (Axios)
  • Amazon giveth workers a raise to a minimum of $15 per hour, but taketh away some other perks, including stock grants and bonuses. (Axios).
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