Fast Five from the Valley: Edition 37
Tech Conference week – Google gets everyone excited with Google Duplex
This week was tech conference week – Microsoft Build in Seattle and Google I/O in Mountain View. After facebook’s f8 conference last week, which was all about data privacy, fake news and facebook’s new dating feature, we are sure Google and Microsoft were grateful they didn’t have to worry about recent scandals and could focus the conference on their new product and service developments. In general, a lot of Microsoft‘s announcements centered around usability and how users can interact with Windows – the new fluent design was unveiled, along with the integration of Cortana and Alexa, which now can be activated by each other. Additionally, your Android will be able to sync completely (you even text and view mobile notifications) while iOS users will only get access to Microsoft’s new timeline (a feature which keeps track of all your mobile phone activity) for now. An interesting side note- Microsoft announced that it will reduce the app revenue share it takes on the Microsoft Store from 30% to 5%. We’ll see if it does the trick to attract more developers in the future.
Google’s conference also centered around usability and mobile devices. The all new Android P was announced, it’s the first major update to Google’s operating system in years and brings a variety of features to the table, some of which are brand new: e.g. the user can set a time limit for the amount of time they spend on certain apps, and can access certain app functionality without opening the app. However, the most notable developments were the ones which included AI: Google plans to enhance Gmail by using AI to automatically compose emails, add AR navigation to its Google Maps and more efficiently aggregate content in its newsfeed. However the feature that stole the spotlight was Google Duplex, an addition to the Assistant which is able to perform voice calls autonomously. Unfortunately, this technology is not expected to make its way to market any time soon, but it’s still impressive to see how far Google’s come already.
Collaboration is key to getting self-driving back on the road
This week began with the news that a Google Waymo Minivan had been involved in a crash. However, luckily for Google, it now appears that the minivan was not in autonomous mode at the time of the crash. However, for Uber, the news was not good, with it being revealed that the software did detect the person and the bike, but chose not to respond, resulting in a woman being run over in Arizona. Uber is now doing a “top to bottom” safety review and is planning to commence testing again “at the right time”. To counter with some positive news, Uber released its Uber Air taxi concept which plans to pick up and deliver people to rooftops. However, it is worth remembering that Uber is not the only player in autonomous, with the Director of Lyft Strategy, Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, talking about the how collaboration between different players, rather than competition, is the new trend in autonomous. Our own Steven Schepurek also presented some of Detecon’s latest autonomous mobility thoughts – highlighting some of the use cases (one particularly attractive use case is in logistics, however, this may take longer given the lack of attention given to it in Tesla’s latest earnings call by Elon). In the spirit of collaboration, Volvo also announced that its cars will have Google Maps, apps, and Assistant in them, even if you aren’t an android phone fan. We expect to see more vertical partnerships and consolidation as the sector continues to mature.
Billionaire Gossip: Buffett with Gates, not so much with Musk
Apple is certainly having a good week, with its share price soaring to an all-time high of $183.83. This followed the announcement by legendary investor Warren Buffett that he had purchased 75m Apple shares in Q1, so that Apple now accounts for 25% of his portfolio. Buffett also added his voice to the chorus of bitcoin critics over the weekend, calling the cryptocurrency “probably rat poison squared.” Fellow billionaire and Buffett pal, Bill Gates, had similar thoughts, informing the public he would short bitcoin if he could. However, it’s not all friendly in the billionaire club, with Buffet jumping into the ring with Elon Musk, putting the spotlight on their different views on what makes a good investment. Whilst Buffett eyes stable, long-term, near-monopolies for his investment choices, Musk’s investments are aimed at rapid-fire innovations which disrupt established industries. Although this might make you want to grab some popcorn and enjoy this billionaire blockbuster battle, their different views bring attention to whether investing in risky short-term innovations is better than the oligopolistic long-term competitive advantage approach to investing.
What makes a successful startup? – hint: Wall St is becoming less of the answer
There are three easy rules to follow in order to grow a unicorn: Go to Silicon Valley, bypass Wall Street when raising money, and pick an easy to understand business model. To be honest, it is probably not as easy as this, but crunchbase recently crunched the numbers to determine the factors that most unicorns have in common. The strategy of funding and financing the development of startups is very different to the way traditional businesses approach this activity and how Wall St is designed to support it: Startups tend to accept continuous annual losses in their early years, some even up to ten years in a row. Backed by heavyweight investors, this strategy enables them to squeeze their rivals out of the market over time. Having the right investors (i.e. the big and famous ones from Silicon Valley) behind you helps you weather the initial losses to enable you to grow your business in the long run. With the rise of ICOs over IPOs, we see a significant reduction in the power and prominence of Wall St in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
Startup launches coffee making robot in San Francisco
Café X is a startup that is taking on the barista industry head-on. The company, backed by the famous VC Peter Thiel, has developed a $25,000 robot that can produce 120 cups of coffee per minute. It consists of a coffee machine, a six-axis robot arm and a kiosk system where customers can order. Always at the forefront of new technologies, Detecon’ s Will and Gian tried it out. The process is actually quite easy: you chose a coffee from a myriad of options on the digital touch screen display, swipe your credit card, enter your phone number, and that’s it. The robot will notify you via text when your cup is ready and then serve it to you. It can even be ordered in advance to skip the line (but with its speed, it’s likely that there will never be a line). We have to hand it to Café X, the product is really delicious – we’re definitely worse when it comes to making coffee. Check out it in action here