Image: My Name Is Yanick / Protocol
March 3, 2021
Good morning! This Wednesday, Microsoft goes even bigger on AR, a cautionary tale about life in Apple's ecosystem, and what tech can learn from Glitch's union.
The Big Story
For everything, a HoloLens
This year's Microsoft Ignite conference has not been short on new stuff. End-to-end encryption for Teams! Authenticated news! Machine learning dev kits! New coding languages!
AR was the hottest topic, though. And the biggest announcement was Mesh, the company's new cross-platform developer toolkit that you might start to see popping up on headsets everywhere, Protocol's Janko Roettgers writes.
- Think of Mesh a bit like Xbox Live, the plumbing that lets developers add multiplayer functionality and more to their games and apps. For AR that includes things like player avatars, holograms and persistent virtual spaces.
- Microsoft's own Mesh tools are mostly productivity related, like an app for virtual design reviews. "During a demo given to a small group of journalists ahead of Ignite," Janko writes, "Sullivan used the app to place shared holograms on a virtual table that participants could then hand back and forth, mark up and discuss with spatial audio, all while being represented with AltSpace-like avatars."
- AR meetings are the future of Teams calls, Microsoft thinks, and part of the solution for hybrid work going forward. And if Mesh takes off, you won't even have to buy a HoloLens to make use of it.
A new headset might also be coming soon with consumers in mind — though nobody at Microsoft would quite come out and say it. "We think [AR] is the future of computing," Microsoft's Greg Sullivan said. "And implicit in that statement is, yeah, a consumer thing."
- Niantic's John Hanke was even more explicit: "[HoloLens] is not a device that you're going to wear on the streets," he told Wired. "We're using the HoloLens 2 as an experimental platform to start working with this stuff before future AR glasses that are consumer-friendly are ready."
Voice and text might be the bigger near-term deal for Microsoft, though, as Protocol | Enterprise's Tom Krazit writes. Azure Communication Services is being made available to everyone, which will make it easier to put all kinds of audio, video and text customer chat into apps. It's sort of built into Teams, and sort of not? Either way it gives Microsoft an answer to Twilio, which could be a big thing, and quickly.
- As ever with Microsoft, the bundle is the thing. Microsoft's Scott Van Vliet told Tom that the plan is "really to give developers … the choice to take the core communication services that we offer and integrate them into the products and workflows they may already have."
Beware the walled garden
This week's wildest story started with Dustin Curtis having a simple issue with his Apple Card, and ended with Apple basically shutting down his life.
The short version of this walled garden horror story: Curtis changed his bank account number, which caused his Apple Card autopay to fail. After only a few days past due on a payment, Apple effectively shut his accounts down everywhere.
- "I checked my phone and neither the App Store nor Apple Music would work there, either," Curtis wrote. "A few minutes later, Calendar popped up an error – it had stopped syncing. I immediately tried to call Apple Support from my Mac, but Apple's Handoff feature had been disabled as well."
- Here's what he said Apple told him: "We've been unable to collect full payment for your new iPhone. As a result, we will block the device on the order from further access to the Apple iTunes and Mac App stores, and disable all accounts associated with the device purchased on the order."
The story is catnip for Apple critics, or anyone looking for a handy example of what happens when one company owns too much of our digital lives.
- "It's terrifying how much leverage Apple has over consumers and developers by integrating everything, locking us all in, and exerting total control," Epic's Tim Sweeney said. "Normal companies respect the natural boundaries that exist between platforms and services. Apple does not!"
- "It's hard to imagine repo tactics more effective than holding your digital life ransom until you pay," Basecamp's David Heinemeier Hansson said. "Why bother with old-school tactics like threatening letters or phone calls when you can simply cut someone off from their digital possessions." What happens, he wondered, when Apple can simply brick your car the minute you miss a payment?
Apple's power is currently under scrutiny: The laws being debated in Arizona and elsewhere are ostensibly about App Store commissions but are ultimately about control. If you can't stop the iPhone from being popular, the more important question seems to be: How can you make sure Apple doesn't use that popularity to harm users?
- In this case, Apple's ability to erect its own wall around someone's digital life gave it the kind of power it likes to say helps protect users … and then Apple used it to pull the rug out from under a user. That's the kind of anecdote you'll hear in a lot of Congressional hearings going forward.
Tech's first union deal
Anna Kramer writes: Glitch software engineers have a union contract. A few years ago, if you'd asked anyone in the industry whether a tech union would be real and running in 2021, they would have laughed you out of the room.
This union fight was really more like a friendly conversation. It started about a year ago, when Glitch workers told the company they would be forming a union, and the company was happy to let it happen, according to Keith Hogarty, an organizer for CWA Local 1101, who was present at the bargaining table for the Glitch contract.
- "The tech company was very proud that their employees stood up for themselves," he told me. "The company had the same culture as the workers — surprisingly, we went into this situation where it could have been combative, and it wasn't."
- For people who wonder why on earth software engineers want a union: To these workers, it's not about salary. They asked for — and received — other contract protections, like the right to severance, rehire if laid off, worker arbitration processes, codified holidays and consistent benefits packages.
- It's also about protecting people in the future. "It's not just about you, but then the next person after you has that. It's about leaving something lasting," Hogarty said.
More CWA-affiliated tech unions are coming. Hogarty alone — and he just represents one CWA local — said he's working with workers at one tech company who are about to go public with their election process, and another tech union that's currently in the middle of collective bargaining negotiations.
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come — and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.
People Are Talking
In Protocol | Fintech: Klarna just raised another $1 billion, but U.S. head David Sykes said being a full-fledged bank isn't yet the plan:
- "It's not on the roadmap today. We want to sit at the intersection of shopping, payments and banking."
New York Attorney General Letitia James called cryptocurrencies "high-risk, unstable investments":
- "The recent dramatic run-up in price of virtual currencies (especially Bitcoin) promises the lure of unrealistic returns and has opened the door for con artists and cheats."
Beware unfounded hype in the autonomous vehicle world, said Luminar's Austin Russell:
- "It's easy to say things, because you don't actually always show it or have to show it … It's some of the reason why you've seen some of the recent activity from companies that maybe couldn't even raise private capital, now getting to a stage where [they're] trying to enter the public markets."
Infineon CEO Reinhard Ploss said the auto industry needs to rethink its inventory management practices:
- "The auto industry cannot say: 'OK fine, we don't need [any more chips], and then come back later and say: 'Now we need them' … They have to consider the long lead times [in the semiconductor sector]."
The Facebook Oversight Board wants to make more than just individual content decisions, Alan Rusbridger told U.K. lawmakers:
- "At some point we're going to ask to see the algorithm, I feel sure, whatever that means."
Kathryn Guarini is IBM's new CIO, taking over the role from Fletcher Previn. She's been at IBM for more than two decades.
Ali Kashani is the new CEO of Serve Robotics, which is the new name for Uber's newly spun-out Postmates robot team.
Tim Willis is Aeva's new supply chain and manufacturing VP. He previously had the same job at Waymo, and worked at Apple before that.
Instacart is now a $39 billion company, after raising another $265 million. That's the company's fourth big raise in a year, and the valuation has just about tripled in 12 months.
Epic bought Mediatonic, the developer of last year's hit game Fall Guys. It should mean bigger ambitions for the game, and yet another place for Epic to explore the metaverse.
Jack Ma is now just the second-richest person in China. Zhong Shanshan, the CEO of bottled water company Nongfu Spring, has officially grabbed the top title.
In Other News
- Intel must pay $2.18 billion for patent infringement. A jury found that it infringed two patents owned by VLSI.
- Samsung wants $1.48 billion in tax abatements for a new chip fab in Texas. It plans to spend $17 billion on the semiconductor plant, and is also considering sites in Arizona or New York.
- On Protocol | Fintech: Mastercard is scrambling to back the right fintechs. The company is trying to bet on as many companies as it can, because it doesn't know which ones consumers will ultimately pick.
- PayPal might buy Curv, a cryptocurrency storage company, CoinDesk reported. It could reportedly pay $500 million for the company.
- Twitch published its first transparency report. It said automatic and active moderators touched more than 95% of Twitch content in the second half of last year, and reports of DM harassment decreased by 70%. Law enforcement was involved in violent cases 38 times.
- Instagram is testing hiding likes on feed posts. It accidentally added more people to the test than was intended.
- Elon wants to rename Boca Chica, Texas, to "Starbase." A judge said SpaceX had enquired about the name change, but that Elon "sending a tweet doesn't make it so."
One More Thing
Work-life balance not included
Hands-down the most unintentionally depressing sentence I've read this week: "With the Fisher-Price My Home Office set, your preschooler is the boss of their own workstation at home, the local coffee shop, or the moon." It costs $24.99, comes with a laptop, a coffee cup, an iPhone-ish phone, a headset and a lifetime of guilt as you realize this is what your kids associate with being a grownup. The most helpful review on the site? Username: Readabookplayoutside. Stars: One. Review: "Our society is doomed."
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
In an interview with Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., Lantzach shares his take on edge computing: There are more innovations to come – and technology leaders should think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.
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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.