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Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Phone calls are out. Business DMs are in.

Phone calls are out. Business DMs are in.

Good morning! This Friday, WhatsApp Business is booming, Peacock battles Roku and Amazon, and TikTok tries to shed its China label.

By the way, today's the last day of Protocol's health care manual, and if you haven't, go read all the stories! Also, join Protocol's Mike Murphy and a panel of experts on Tuesday July 14 at noon PDT as they talk about the biggest changes in post-pandemic health tech. This is a conversation you don't want to miss. RSVP here.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

People Are Talking

A fully autonomous Tesla is right around the corner, Elon Musk said:

  • "I feel like we are very close. I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year."
  • (Keep in mind that Musk has a history of being, uh, very late delivering on these promises. "Very close" seems to refer more to a broad sweep of time.)

One person shouldn't be in charge of a public square – which makes Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook troubling, Color of Change's Rashad Robinson said:

  • "He'll always have deep blind spots. He'll naturally and unknowingly de-prioritize things that aren't connected to his own experiences."

Uber's redesigning its app, and Dara Khosrowshahi said this is the next phase in its Amazon-for-transportation journey:

  • "Just as Amazon went from books to overall retail and opened up their marketplaces to third parties, we think we can really extend the definition of movement from moving you from point A to B, to moving . . . anything you want to have delivered to you."

The Big Story

Phone calls are out, business-text is in

I missed a flight last week. First time in as long as I can remember. But what happened next was the interesting bit: I texted Alaska Airlines, and got rebooked in just five minutes and about a dozen messages.

All of a sudden, after years of thinking it was silly that tech companies believed users might want to text with businesses, I got it. And I was late to the party: WhatsApp announced yesterday that its WhatsApp Business app has more than 50 million users.

  • Those users do more than just chat with customers. Some small businesses evidently want to run their whole company inside of WhatsApp, which in so many countries is essentially the whole internet experience.
  • WhatsApp also rolled out a new way to share a catalog, and you can imagine the appointment-booking, customer-management and other tools that might make sense there in the future.

To be clear, I'm not talking about the appointment reminders you get from your dentist (fine) or the ones you get from campaigns asking you to vote (outrageous). I'm talking about full-blown conducting of business through a text message. WhatsApp's not the only one doing it, of course — Facebook Messenger, Avochato, Sonar, Twilio and others come to mind — but it's easily the most powerful.

WhatsApp increasingly feels like the future of commerce. In the U.S., we have Shopify, Amazon and others trying to become the platform on which businesses build their store. Or you could build a website, run a Facebook page, go all-in on Etsy, whatever you like. But in so much of the world, WhatsApp is the obvious answer: It's the app everyone uses, and the low-maintenance platform basically any employee can figure out.

  • And don't forget: WhatsApp's also in the process of rolling out payments within the app, through Facebook Pay. Pretty soon, buyers might be able to do all their shopping without ever leaving a chat window. And, by all accounts, they might choose to do so.

The American muscle memory for phone calls and emails is strong, and will take some getting over. But there's plenty of data that shows younger generations in particular would basically always rather text than call. Especially during pandemic times, when calling means waiting on hold for three hours just to cancel your rental car.

ENTERTAINMENT

The behind-the-scenes streaming war

Peacock's launch is right around the corner, and it sounds like it'll be the second streaming service in a row to launch without an app on the two largest smart TV platforms, Roku and Amazon's Fire TV.

  • One person familiar with the discussions told CNBC the likelihood of Peacock striking a deal with either of the companies is "less than 10%."
  • The fight is the same as the one the two platforms are having with HBO Max, and it's all about user data and store commissions. Amazon wants people to be able to sign up to the streaming services through Channels — so Amazon can take a fee — and for the shows to be watched through the Prime Video app. Roku, meanwhile, wants to be able to sell (and take a cut of) some of each service's ads.
  • But Peacock and HBO Max want users to sign up with their service, use their app, and have a much more direct relationship with their streamer.

This is a good ol' fashioned game of chicken. Roku's the biggest player in smart TV, with about 40% of the market, and Amazon's right behind, at about 30%. But the thing about Roku and Amazon is that they're not particularly useful without anything to watch. Meanwhile, Peacock and HBO Max are two huge streaming services from two content giants — but nobody's going to watch them if they're not on streaming boxes.

It's hard to tell who's more powerful. Streaming services can use AirPlay and Chromecast to at least be technically available to some Fire TV and Roku users (browse on your phone, watch on your TV!), but there's still no beating the distribution, promotion and ease of use that come from integrating tightly into the smart TV systems people are used to.

Eventually, someone always caves. (I'm betting on that being the streaming services, when they need a bit of good news ahead of an earnings call or something.) But the real takeaway here is that it's good to be Disney+, which just skated past all these debates and rolled out exactly the way it wanted.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

SOCIAL

TikTok tries to shed its China label

Let's say you're Kevin Mayer, the CEO of TikTok. You're new, and you're desperately trying to convince the world that you're not a made-in-China app, because that turns out to be a costly thing to be right now. So what do you do?

  • First you'd make big pronouncements, and maybe pull out of Hong Kong as a show of anti-China force. (Check and check.)
  • Then you might consider something more dramatic. The Wall Street Journal reported that a new management board is under consideration at TikTok, along with a new location for its headquarters and a number of other changes to how it does business. The overall goal: to put some clear water between it and its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

But TikTok's fight is becoming more than just a regulatory one. CNN pointed out that the data TikTok collects pales in comparison to the personal data leaked by Equifax and others, and it may already be in Chinese hands. And now users are beginning to worry about that: Yesterday, Ninja took a break from streaming to tweet to his 6.1 million followers that "I have deleted the TIK TOK app off all my devices." He said he hoped a more trustworthy company would recreate the concept.

Ninja might get his wish. As those TikTok fears mount, Byte is climbing the App Store rankings. If Mayer doesn't figure out how to move TikTok out of China, both in the world and in people's minds, he might be in trouble.

Making Moves

924

That's the percentage by which QuantumCTek, a Chinese security and comms company, saw its price go up in its first day of trading on Shanghai's Star market board. The company went public valued at $414 million and finished the day at $4.2 billion. That's a record! The record it broke was set … on Tuesday, when Tinavi Medical Technologies went up 614% in its first day on the same market. The tech IPO market is on fire right now.

In Other News

  • Here's the best $3 you'll spend this month: DoNotPay rolled out a new tool that automatically unsubscribes you from email lists, and tries to get you paid from class-action suits you might not even know about.
  • Sony bought 1.4% of Epic Games for $250 million, which gives Sony more access to the Unreal engine and plenty of new tech ahead of the PS5 launch. It also makes the Fortnite creator a $17.6 billion company.
  • SoFi's the latest fintech company to apply for a national banking charter, as it looks to broaden its banking horizons. It's racing against Square, Varo, and surely a host of others to get through the process.
  • Google recently ditched its plans for a China-based cloud service, Bloomberg reported. It was called "Isolated Region," and would have worked in countries that wanted to control the data inside their borders.
  • Amazon has a $100 million plan to retain Zoox staff by offering them stock, according to Reuters. And Amazon can reportedly walk away from the acquisition if too many Zoox workers turn down jobs.
  • Chelsea Clinton's starting a venture firm, Axios reported, called Metrodora Ventures. Though "starting" is kind of a strong word: More like, someone has made a slide deck about a venture capital firm Chelsea Clinton could hypothetically start.

One More Thing

Slack tips from the pros

I have a song stuck in my head. It's called "10 Slack Commandments," and I will never forgive the people who made it or Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke for tweeting the video. The video's full of good thoughts for anyone overwhelmed by Slack — which is everyone — including using emojis and away messages and avoiding hitting enter [Send] after [Send] every [Send] message. But I can't recommend you watch this video, because you too will then have the phrase "Do yourself a favor, put your channels to bed" stuck in your brain forever.

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIPS

Philips

Stronger Care ... from anywhere, to anywhere

At Philips, we're pioneering stronger care networks with technologies we've spent decades innovating. With connected care solutions from telehealth to at-home monitoring, today's healthcare workers can face today's greatest challenges with smarter virtual tools. See how our telehealth technologies help doctors and nurses deliver care from anywhere, to anywhere.

Learn more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. 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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