Mar 31, 2020

Axios Login

Ina Fried

There's a lot to get to and I know you have places (in your house) to go, so let's get to it.

Today's Login is 1,315 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus stirs Silicon Valley's inner problem-solver

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out Silicon Valley's penchant for problem solving, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

The big picture: Tech companies, entrepreneurs and investors have rushed to find ways to apply their skills, resources, and creativity to tackling the virus and its public health and economic impact.

A number of health care startups, including Everlywell, Carbon Health and Nurx, shifted quickly to working on developing COVID-19 testing kits.

  • A ban by the FDA on at-home collection of samples halted some of these efforts.
  • Telehealth startups like Ro and American Well are also providing assessment services that attempt to help patients figure out their likelihood of infection.

Other companies are tapping into their existing supply chains and expertise.

Many software companies decided to offer some products for free to those coping with the crisis.

  • They include messaging service Slack, meditation app Headspace and business information provider Yext.

Investors jumped into action as well.

Tech giants also moved swiftly to finish projects and build solutions.

  • Companies like Apple and Google set out to procure supplies and stood up websites providing information and guidance to the public.
  • Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and other companies sponsored a coronavirus-focused hackathon.
  • Facebook quickly rolled out information about the coronavirus to its users and banned ads for face masks and cures, while Twitter issued strict rules around spreading misinformation about the pandemic.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that Facebook will help pay for housing, child care, transportation and other costs incurred by retired health care professionals who agree to work during the pandemic.

Yes, but: Some tech leaders have also been criticized for their armchair epidemiology on Twitter.

The bottom line: Most Silicon Valley leaders and workers understand that the key fight right now belongs to medical science and healthcare professionals, but they're eager to pitch in — and have plenty of both ideas and resources.

2. Charted: What Americans are buying online
Data: Adobe; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's no shock that online shopping has surged, especially for groceries, but new data from Adobe offers some valuable breakdowns of exactly where consumer dollars are going.

Why it matters: Some buying patterns are likely temporary, but many people may permanently expand what they buy online, even once physical stores reopen.

Details: According to Adobe, online grocery sales in mid-March were double what they were at the start of the month, with overall e-commerce up 25%.

  • Computer orders online rose 40% between March 11–25, compared to March 1–10, as people looked to set up home offices.
  • Apparel sales are down in many online stores, although aggressive promotions are helping keep the category as a whole roughly flat, Adobe said. That could be challenging to maintain, though, as many people already have all the T-shirts and sweats they need to stay home.
  • Fitness equipment orders were up 55% from March 11–15, compared to the beginning of the month.
3. Comcast says the internet is holding up fine

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Comcast said Monday that while it has seen a significant increase in demand, so far its network can handle the increased traffic without a noticeable decline in speed or reliability.

Why it matters: There has been much concern over how well the internet would hold up as most of America is working and schooling from home. So far, broadband and wireless providers say they aren't seeing signs of trouble.

"The speeds are holding up well," Comcast's lead tech executive Tony Werner said on a conference call with journalists Monday. "There (are) not any trends that make me worry in the least."

Part of the reason is that Comcast tries to build capacity 12-18 months ahead of where it anticipates demand will be (and usage per customer tends to go up about 45% per year).

By the numbers:

  • Peak traffic is up 32% nationwide, but up as much as 60% in some areas, including Seattle and San Francisco. And while peak download times remain in the evening as people stream video, uploads are now busiest during the working day.
  • Video conferencing and voice-over-internet calling are up 212% since March 1.
  • Streaming and web video usage are up 38%.
  • Comcast's fledgling cellular business has seen a 10% decline in cellular data use and a 24% increase in mobile data carried over WiFi networks.
4. Fitbit adds GPS to its fitness band

Fitbit is the latest tech company tasked with launching a consumer product amid the coronavirus outbreak, on Tuesday unveiling a new version of its Charge fitness tracker.

The big picture: While it has been working to add paid subscription services, Fitbit remains dependent on new hardware sales, something that could be trickier in a time when most of America is sheltering in place.

Details: The new product, the Charge 4, adds GPS and Spotify controls, while keeping a sub-$150 price. The GPS function is only turned on for specific activities in order to allow the band to have multi-day battery life.

Yes, but: Fitbit could be in a tough spot in trying to get people to buy a new fitness tracker at a time when stores are closed and people are largely staying at home.

  • That said, overall interest in fitness is increasing as people try to stay active at a challenging time (see Adobe sales data above). And even those sheltering in place are generally allowed to go out for exercise.

What they're saying: "We're still assessing the overall impact on our business, but we are pleased that we are able to deliver Charge 4 to the market as planned. ... We are constantly monitoring the evolving situation globally across all of our supply chains and will adjust our plans and operations as needed," a Fitbit representative told Axios.

5. Niantic acquires AR startup 6D.ai

A mesh image of 6D.ai's 3D scanning technology. Photo: Niantic

Pokémon Go creator Niantic is making another acquisition in the augmented reality space, scooping up 6D.ai, a 16-person 3D mapping company spun out of Oxford University.

Why it matters: Niantic's goal is to build a 3D map of the world to serve as a platform for games and other software, both its own and those from third parties.

Meanwhile: The company has had to rapidly pivot its existing games, built on the premise of going out and exploring the world, to be relevant to and playable by people stuck at home.

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Qualcomm has hired Apple veteran Jeff Monday as VP of sales for its connected PC business. 
  • Uber co-founder Garrett Camp is leaving the company’s board but will continue to advise CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and other senior leaders.

For the record

  • An item in yesterday's Login talked about Microsoft seeing a 775% increase in cloud services demand in areas where shelter-in-place orders had been implemented. Microsoft had said that in a blog post on Friday, but on Monday updated the blog to say that statistic referred only to the usage of the calling and meeting functions in Microsoft Teams, and only in Italy, for a one-month period. You can read our updated story here.

ICYMI

7. After you Login

Here are some classic-looking travel posters designed to match the present times.

Ina Fried