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The Supreme Court saw the future, and it’s telephones

Original image by Joe Ravi
Supreme Court

Good morning! This Tuesday, the Supreme Court goes virtual, 3D printing has a moment amid the pandemic, and Apple finally fixes its keyboard.

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People Are Talking

Rather than bailing out existing businesses, Steve Case argued Congress should help start new ones:

  • "Of course, New York, Boston and San Francisco need our help, and deserve it. But if we are going to foster the growth of new businesses, rising start-up ecosystems in other parts of the country cannot be ignored. The 'Main Street Relief Fund (MSRF)' — the single largest program in the CARES Act — should be changed to help start-ups in these emerging markets grow."

Adam Neumann is suing SoftBank after the investor pulled out of a $3 billion deal:

  • "After taking control of The We Company, SoftBank Group Corp. and SoftBank Vision Fund deprived Plaintiffs and other shareholders of billions of dollars that SBG promised to pay."

On the Love Bug's 20th anniversary, Steven Sinofksy described the scramble inside Microsoft to fix it:

  • "Like so many crisis situations in management, at first managers (like me) think they will show up and save the day with some brilliant idea that no one thought of. Failing that (as is almost always the case), the next approach is to take several options and combine them into what seems brilliant but is ultimately unworkable."

Stuck-at-home candidates are all in on social media stardom, said Karina Sahlin, comms director for Congressional candidate Mel Gagarin:

  • "There's a way to hack the [Twitter] algorithm through posting time and through content. We're trying to feed a diet of useful stuff and a diet of what I call 'trash tweets' which is easily digestible Twitter candy that will feed the algorithm a little bit."

The Big Story

When big tech kills your app, build the next version anyway

When Microsoft acquired the to-do list app Wunderlist in 2015, Wunderlist founder Christian Reber said his new parent company promised to keep the app running. Instead, Microsoft built a new product called Microsoft To Do, and announced in 2017 it would be shutting down Wunderlist … eventually.

  • Eventually is here: Wunderlist is officially shutting down tomorrow, and Microsoft is encouraging everyone to move to To Do.
  • Ever since the shutdown was announced, Reber said he's been getting a deluge of messages from people either furious that he sold the app or desperate for him to do something about the shutdown.
  • "I would have bought Wunderlist just to keep it running," he told me. He even offered to do so last fall! "But we would never have been able to compete with Microsoft To Do," he said.

Since leaving Microsoft, Reber's been working on a company called Pitch that aims to reinvent digital presentations. (Suffice to say the goal is not to sell to Microsoft to replace PowerPoint.)

  • But he's never stopped thinking about productivity apps. "I just feel there is a big gap between personal to-do apps that don't scale for work, and ugly enterprise applications that feel really painful to use," he said.

So Reber's helping build a new app that he hopes is like Wunderlist for a new decade.

  • The working title for the app is Superlist, and Reber said he'll be a co-founder but won't be running the company. He and a small team are dreaming up features for a team-focused productivity app, but the overarching goal is simple: Reber called it "an investment into the next generation of Wunderlist."
  • Some of the team will even come from Wunderlist, after Reber found out they'd been let go from their Microsoft team. (Microsoft declined to comment.)

This time things will be different in at least one key way, Reber said: The company will take its time. "The first Wunderlist app was done in about six weeks," he said. "We launched it as a desktop app and were completely overwhelmed by the requests." He told me he learned a valuable lesson: Building an app gets a lot harder once you have users.

  • All those Wunderlisters waiting on a replacement have to wait. But only a bit longer.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Telejustice

The Supreme Court hits the phones

As oral arguments began on Monday in the Supreme Court's latest session, they were unlike any arguments in the Court's history. They were virtual, held on what amounted to a conference call. (This might be the only point during this crisis where "they had a phone call" counts as an enormous technical achievement.) They were also streamed live for the public to hear.

In the first of 10 virtual hearings to be held over the next two weeks, things went pretty well!

  • The 77-minute session didn't seem to have any dropouts, any "can someone mute?" moments or any prank callers. Which made Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix The Court, happy: "I just was worried it was not going to go well, someone was going to say something silly."

Roth told me he'd have preferred video to be adopted by the Court, even for internal use only — and said that it already has contracts with Cisco, Microsoft and others that would have made that easy.

  • Other courts have been experimenting with video hearings for the last few weeks. With the Supreme Court, he said, "It's always two steps forward and two steps back."
  • Still, he said, live-streaming the audio is a win for anyone rooting for government transparency.

The case itself was interesting, by the way: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com. The question at hand was whether a company can trademark a word like "Booking" by adding a ".com" to it.

  • "A generic term is never entitled to trademark protection," PTO lawyer Erica Ross said. "No matter how much money and effort the user has poured into promoting the sale of its merchandise, and what success it has achieved in securing public identification." Adding .com, she said, makes no difference to how people perceive the name.
  • But ultimately customers decide what's a brand and what's a word, argued Lisa Blatt on behalf of Booking.com: "This Court should hold that the answer is the primary significance test, that is, whether consumers primarily think the name is a genus or a potential brand."

Manufacturing

3D printing is having a moment — but it might not last forever

Formlabs, a 3D printing company, got an FDA emergency use authorization yesterday so it can make a simple pressure-adapter that turns a BiPAP machine into a ventilator. With 150 printers in its factory cranking out 3,000 of these a day, it'll be able to quickly increase how many ventilators hospitals can use.

You could hardly write a better ad for 3D printing than that. And as Protocol's Mike Murphy found, coronavirus has presented the 3D-printing industry with a moment to shine:

  • From the tiny MakerBots in tinkerers' garages to the factories full of industrial-grade machines, 3D printers have been able to make face shields, nasal swabs and more crucial equipment for fighting the virus.
  • It's a fascinating sort of distributed supply chain: Organizations are able to quickly prototype and improve a design, get official approval, then send the finished design to anyone with a printer and some spare material.
  • 3D printing is particularly useful for personalized gear, like masks made specifically for the wearer's face (as measured by their iPhone camera — a very cool system). If you're making 10,000 subtly different things instead of 10,000 identical ones, 3D printing can be a huge help.

But the spotlight on 3D printing reveals both potential, and limitations:

  • 3D printers are slow, and they're expensive, Mike found. One company told him that it used 3D printing to validate its designs for face shields, but went with more traditional equipment once it needed to make 300,000 of them.

Still, anyone with a printer at home should pitch in. Here are some popular designs you can try.

Making Moves

Tim Bray, an Amazon VP, left the company — and announced it with a blistering blog post railing against Amazon's treatment of its workers and handling of the pandemic. (Since then, he tweeted a list of recruiters that have reached out, but says he's not looking for a new gig.)

Careem, a Middle East subsidiary of Uber, laid off 536 people — 31% of its staff — this week. Uber also said it's shutting down Eats in a number of markets, including the Middle East.

Elon Musk and Grimes had their first child last night, which Musk announced in the most Musk way possible: a Twitter reply within a completely unrelated thread. Congrats!

In Other News

  • Apple and Google debuted sample code for their "exposure notification" apps, and some new guidelines for using them. A few notable rules: Apps using the API can't collect any location data, can't be monetized, and will be turned off once the pandemic is over. And nothing can happen without user consent.
  • Uber might be buying its way deeper into scooters. The Information reported that the company is considering a $170 million investment in Lime — it's already an investor, but this would allegedly also give Uber the right to buy the company in the next few years. It would also value Lime at less than a quarter of its previous valuation.
  • YouTube is betting on live-streamingand on PewDiePie. It signed YouTube's most popular creator to an exclusive deal, which means all of the controversial creator's live streaming — the stuff that is hardest to moderate — will be tied to the platform. What could go wrong?
  • Apple released a new MacBook Pro, with only one notable feature: a new keyboard. Our long butterfly-keyboard nightmare appears to be over. May your E and R keys never break again.
  • As we expected, Intel did purchase Moovit — though the price tag was a bit lower than anticipated, at $900 million.
  • Cybersecurity companies have been ramping up lobbying efforts as Congress works toward privacy and security legislation. The Wall Street Journal reported that 12 firms more than tripled their lobbying spend between 2015 and 2019.

One More Thing

The virtual roadshow is catching on

One of the great Zoom origin stories is that of its CEO Eric Yuan refusing to go on the road for his company's IPO roadshow. Instead, he did nearly everything over Zoom, using his product to prove his product. The approach might be catching on: Pexip, a Norwegian videoconferencing app, is preparing to go public and also plans to do the whole roadshow virtually. Pretty soon, we're gonna need a more appropriate name than "roadshow."

A MESSAGE FROM WORKDAY

Workday

The Workforce of Tomorrow Requires Better Tools Today

The role for government centers on deriving better data sets, enabling better credential interoperability, and creating better reskilling incentives.

Read more here

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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