Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Farhad: Hello, Mike! How’s it going? I’m preparing for a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore to talk to some people about the growing divide between Asian and American tech companies. But now that I think about it, maybe I should just pull a Fox News and visit New York’s Chinatown instead. What do you think?
Mike: I’m going to go with, uh, no on that one. Unless you want the whole internet to come down on you like they did that reporter.
Also, man, I need to get some Southeast Asian writing gigs. Can you at least bring me back a souvenir?
Farhad: No, I can’t. Anyway, let’s talk tech. So remember how Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phones were exploding because of a battery flaw, and after a whole lot of foot-dragging, the company recalled and replaced them? Well, you’ll never guess what happened. The replacement phones may be exploding, too.
That’s according to The Verge, which reported that a Southwest Airlines flight had to be evacuated this week because a Note 7 started spewing a “thick grey-green angry smoke.” The phone’s owner told The Verge that the model had been declared safe by Samsung. The company says it is investigating the incident. Oh, also, Samsung’s washing machines might explode.
Let me put on my tech pundit hat and spin some commentary on this issue: This seems bad. Like, really bad. If your products start exploding, you’re in trouble.
Mike: If I were a public relations guy over there, I’d try to spin this as a marketing tactic. “Our new phones are so hot, hot, hot that they will literally blow you away!”
That, or Samsung should make a large investment in a fireproof pants start-up.
Farhad: There was also news about Twitter this week. Well, kind of. What we really saw was a lot of smoke — rumor after rumor that several companies were in hot pursuit of the troubled social network. Twitter’s stock price shot up on the possibility that Salesforce, Google and Disney would engage in a fierce bidding war to acquire and remake it.
Mike: A lot of short-sellers had to do some quick juggling. I will play the world’s tiniest violin for ruining their weekends.
Farhad: But then the whole thing fizzled. Recode reported that Google and Disney weren’t interested. At a developer conference in San Francisco, Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, seemed to throw cold water on the idea of buying Twitter. On Thursday, Twitter’s stock price plunged.
So what’s the deal? Is anyone interested in buying this service? And if not, what happens next?
Mike: We’re working on that. I will stand mute for now, but more to come.
Farhad: O.K., a few other things. A couple of weeks ago, we were talking about how Yahoo suffered an enormous security breach that compromised the accounts of 500 million people. This week we learned of another black eye for the company — apparently the Justice Department obtained a warrant that forced Yahoo to scan incoming email for a digital signature tied to a terrorist organization. It’s a terrible string of bad news for a company that was already on the ropes; now, according to The New York Post, Verizon is seeking to renegotiate the $4.8 billion sales price it recently agreed to for Yahoo.
I mean, that makes sense, right?
Mike: For my money, there is no bargaining chip better than “your security is Swiss cheese and you compromised the digital safety of more than half a billion people” to sweeten the terms of an acquisition.
What a flaming garbage fire of a situation. That said, at least Yahoo email accounts are not literally exploding on Southwest Airlines flights. Just figuratively, I guess.
Farhad: Finally, Google. The search company unveiled a grab bag of new stuff this week, signaling a new interest in building hardware — an on-again, off-again effort for Google.
The company’s new phone, the Pixel, is intended to show off all of Google’s artificial intelligence smarts, including the talking assistant creatively named … the Google Assistant. Also, the company put out some more details about Home, its coming competitor to Amazon’s Echo home assistant.
I haven’t gotten to use either of these things yet, but I have to say, I’m kind of excited about them. Are you?
Mike: I’ll tamp down my expectations for the moment, considering that first-generation products are usually terrible. Also, I happen to be one of the people who scoffed at the Amazon Echo when it came out. A few hundred bucks for what essentially amounted to a neat dinner party trick — “Alexa, play some Blink 182 for us.” — was not something I could afford.
I was probably looking at it wrong. If you believe in the kind of future envisioned by Google, Amazon and Apple, search and interaction will probably be governed by a persistent, semi-omniscient entity that sits inside our living rooms.
That’s the locus of our home lives right now, where we convene with the family after work or school. Where we watch TV or listen to music or, dare I say it, read a book on the couch. These companies are focused on that one place where speaking out loud to an assistant makes the most immediate sense.
I hardly see these assistants staying confined to the living room. Eventually, after getting used to the creature scheduling comforts that Alexa and Assistant afford us, these persistent bots will be put into more common use outside of the living room: the kitchen, the shower, the garage, even our cars. It’s already happening in fits and starts on our mobile devices. I imagine it will go far beyond even that.
Farhad: Huh. Dark, but hopeful.
Mike: That’s an apt description of my general worldview, Farhad.
Farhad: I’ve already told you many times before: I’m not your therapist. Till next week!