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Apple’s next big things

Image: Rob Laughter / Protocol
Apple

Good morning! This Friday, what we think we know about Apple's next big products, why nobody can find enough computer chips, and the reason everyone wants the cool usernames.

Also, today is Protocol's first birthday! Thanks so much to all of you for being here with us through a crazy, unexpected, fun, thrilling year. And here's to many more together!

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The Big Story

The new iStuff

If every Apple rumor came true, you'd currently be controlling your enormous Apple TV set with your iRing, driving in your Apple Model S, tweeting from Apple Social and talking into your Sprint-exclusive iPhone. Also, Jay-Z would be an Apple employee.

But! Sometimes Apple rumors do come true. And if you spend long enough paying attention, you learn when to sense fire through all the smoke. Right now there is a lot of smoke about two different products:

  • Apple's pretty clearly working on an autonomous car of some kind. It's reportedly working with — and investing in — Kia to build the thing at a plant in Georgia, and will use Hyundai tech for the vehicle. (Kia is minority-owned by Hyundai.)
  • Meanwhile, its AR glasses project continues apace: The Information reported that Apple's working on a headset with swappable headbands, more than a dozen cameras, eye-tracking tech and an eye-popping $3,000 price tag. It also published a drawing based on internal renders, which looks like … ski goggles. Exactly like ski goggles.

Obviously, standard disclaimers apply. But if these rumors are true or even close, they signal something of a return to the Apple of old: a company willing to get into brand new markets and push technology to its limits rather than wait around to build a great version of something that's already mainstream.

  • Given how much Apple now depends on its own chips, sensors and manufacturing, a push to be early makes more sense. And "sell a really expensive thing to fund a more accessible thing" is a proven strategy in plenty of industries.
  • But it's also true that the technology required to make the kind of Ray Ban-looking AR glasses Apple wants to make is nowhere near ready, and neither are truly autonomous vehicles. If Apple – or any other company – waits until that tech has gone mainstream to start building it, it might be too late. It might also be 2050.
  • A whole generation of companies is being built on AR and the future of cars. Apple may be trying to stay in front in order to not be left behind.

Hardware

The chips are all gone

Ford can't build enough Ford F-150s, because it can't get enough chips to make the car. Which is a strange thing! It's also a big problem.

  • Honda, VW, GM, Toyota, Nissan and others have all had to scale back production because they can't get the chips they needed to power most of their cars' systems.
  • The shortage could last through "at least the first half of this year," Ford's Kumar Galhotra told CNBC this week.

So what exactly is going on here? There are a few issues all crashing together.

  • Automakers scaled way back on production in 2020, since there was a pandemic and nobody was buying new cars, and was totally unprepared for demand to come roaring back the last few months.
  • The chip makers, meanwhile, had shifted to trying to keep up with the off-the-charts demand for laptops, TVs, webcams and all the other stay-at-home gear people bought last year.
  • And for companies like Nvidia, exploding interest in crypto and gaming made it hard for them to keep much of anything in stock. "The shortage in the semiconductor industry is across the board," new Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon told investors this week.

The reality is that this will affect everything from automakers to cloud-computing giants to crucial government infrastructure, because the nature of the chip industry means it's basically impossible to spin up production of semiconductors overnight.

  • This situation is a signal of just how computerized our world has become, and how concentrated this crucial industry is: One study this week found that three companies — two in Taiwan, one in China — account for more than half the mature node semiconductor capacity in the world.
  • It's also testament to the fragility of supply chains, so much so that automakers are now considering totally revamping the way they buy chips, building up stockpiles instead of ordering just-in-time.

The U.S. is making moves to bring more chip production stateside in order to have a little more control over these kinds of issues — and in a meeting this morning tried to build closer ties with Taiwanese chipmakers — but it won't happen soon enough to have an effect here.

In related news: Samsung wants $806 million in tax breaks for its proposed $17 billion chip fab in Austin. It is yet to decide on a final location for the plant.

Social

Finding the @hackers

A short, memorable username might be the single most valuable online currency. Stealing and trading those usernames has become a big business, and Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are desperate to stop it.

  • Instagram has identified some of the people trading these usernames, mostly in a community called OGUsers, and is threatening to sue anyone who keeps doing so.
  • SIM-swapping and phishing were long the tools of this trade. But Instagram's team, Motherboard reported, "observed a rise in other methods, including the use of sextortion, swatting, extortion, and offline and online harassment that scammers are using to obtain usernames."
  • Twitter also permanently suspended a number of OGUsers-associated accounts, and TikTok said it "reclaimed a number of TikTok usernames that were being used for account squatting."

OGUsers was involved in the huge Twitter hack last summer, as hackers tried to get their hands on @6, @B, and other memorable accounts when they launched that big Bitcoin scam. And none other than Jack Dorsey himself got SIM-swapped in 2019.

It'll be interesting to see how these platforms control these names going forward. Twitter has long had special security available for certain accounts, and what used to be offered only to the @realDonaldTrumps of the world might soon be given to the @stonks and @cools of the world as well. Now that's fame.

A MESSAGE FROM SLACK

Slack

Why sales teams at Box and Segment rely on Slack to build stronger customer relationships and seal deals faster.

Read how sales organizations at Box and Segment are harnessing the power of channel-based messaging to keep communication strong, seal deals and streamline the sales cycle when everyone is remote.

Read more

People Are Talking

You should never just buy your way to success, Dara Khosrowshahi said:

  • "Any company that starts depending on acquisition for growth gets in trouble because it loses that organic growth muscle. And it starts paying for acquisitions, because it needs the next acquisition."

TikTok is coming for your TV, Rich Waterworth said, because even in the future everybody still loves the big screen:

  • "You have this new dynamic of discovery and growth and pushing things into the mainstream, and you bring that to the very established behaviour of sitting down together on a chair or sofa around a shared screen, which has been a cherished part of family life."

Amazon says its in-van cameras are for safety purposes, but Fight for the Future's Evan Greer said: Who knows?

  • "It just means that every Amazon vehicle will now also be an Amazon surveillance camera. And right now there are essentially no laws in place to govern what Amazon can do with all that footage once they collect it."

On Protocol: People worry about their bosses spying on them, but Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer said that's not what he sees happening:

  • "Generally speaking, people's interests are aligned. Successful, happy, non-burned out employees are what's going to keep things going."

Chris Krebs wants the government to be more aggressive against hackers:

  • "You actually deploy title ten employees, like Cyber Command, and you deploy intelligence capabilities. You direct message them, saying, 'We know who you are, stop or we're going to come after you, using information warfare.' You dox them. There are things you can do."

Chart of the Day

Robinhood trading volume

Robinhood's huge week

The stock-trading company continues to try and explain itself after last week's GameStop fiasco. "To say the overnight increases in volume Robinhood experienced last week were extraordinarily high would be a vast understatement," President Jim Swartwout wrote yesterday. And he shared this crazy chart of Robinhood trading volume over time to make his point.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: The Alphabet Workers Union sued a Google contractor. It alleged that Modis Engineering prevented workers from discussing their wages and concerns about workplace conditions.
  • The White House is interested in Amazon workers' unionization attempts, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said. It said a top Biden advisor has spoken to it about the Alabama union vote.
  • Amazon now requires all employees to complete 90 minutes of inclusion training. Inclusion will reportedly be a big focus for Andy Jassy, according to Business Insider.
  • Google wants to move its Texas antitrust lawsuit to California, where it is fighting other cases. Texas is likely to hold a hearing on the request.
  • Google's considering new Android privacy features, Bloomberg reported. The feature would supposedly be similar to Apple's upcoming App Tracking Transparency tool, but less stringent.
  • Katherine Maher is stepping down as Wikimedia Foundation CEO. The nonprofit is looking for a replacement.
  • On Protocol: Chamath Palihapitiya was accused of misleading investors. Hindenburg Research said Palihapitiya did not disclose that Clover Health, which he recently took public, is under active investigation by the DOJ.
  • On Protocol | China: Red is China's hottest, super-addictive shopping app. Xiaohongshu has over 138 million active users, with each spending an average of 40 minutes a day on the platform.
  • Kuaishou shares almost tripled on their debut, valuing the company at $159 billion. That's very close to the $180 billion ByteDance was recently valued at.
  • Investors still love Alibaba. Its $5 billion bond sale garnered $38 billion worth of orders, pushing yields down even as the specter of regulation looms.
  • Bethesda CEO Robert Altman has died. He was 73.

One More Thing

Snap keeps minting millionaires

When Snap launched Snapchat Spotlight last year, it promised to pay $1 million a day to the most viral creators on the platform. More than 100 million people now use Spotlight every month, the company said in its earnings, and 175,000 submissions come in every day. No wonder, too, when The New York Times reported that teenagers everywhere are raking in the cash.

A MESSAGE FROM SLACK

Slack

Why sales teams at Box and Segment rely on Slack to build stronger customer relationships and seal deals faster.

Read how sales organizations at Box and Segment are harnessing the power of channel-based messaging to keep communication strong, seal deals and streamline the sales cycle when everyone is remote.

Read more

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

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