This Week in Tech 485 (Transcript)
Leo Laporte: It's time for TWIT: This Week in Tech. Great show for you today. We've got Kevin Marks here, Tim Stevens from CNET, and Sam Lessin from The Information. We'll talk about the LA auto show with Tim. Sam will talk about the start-up culture in Silicon Valley, and the Nortel patents and Rockstar. Kevin Marx explains why it's all over for the patent rule. It's next, on TWIT.
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Leo: This is TWiT, This Week in Tech. Episode 485, recorded November 23, 2014.
Uber Delenda Est.
This Week in Tech is brought to you by Harry's. For guys who want a great shave experience for a fraction of what you're paying now. Go to harrys.com. Get $5 off your first purchase by entering the code TWIT5 when you check out. And by Citrix GoTo Meeting. Powerfully simple way to meet with coworkers and clients from the convenience of your computer, Smartphone, or tablet. Share the same screen and see each other face to face with HD video conferencing. For a 30-day free trial, visit gotomeeting.com today. And by stamps.com. Start using your time more effectively with stamps.com. Use stamps.com to buy and print real US postage the instant you need, right from your desk. For our special offer, go to stamps.com, click the microphone, and enter TWIT. That's stamps.com. Enter TWIT. And by hover.com. Hover is the best way to buy and manage domain names. It's simple, it's honest, it's easy to use. For 10% off your first purchase, go to hover.com and enter the promo code TWIT11. It's time for TWIT: This Week in Tech, the show where we cover the week's tech news, and what a week this has been. Fortunately, we have a brilliant panel to help us out, startling all the way to my left, your right, Kevin Marks. We know Kevin well. He's a frequent contributor to all our shows, especially This Week in Google. Great to see you, Kevin.
Kevin Marks: Nice to see you too.
Leo: Kevin has worked in every major company in Silicon Valley, including Google, Apple, and British Telecom. So—
Kevin: And Sales Force.
Leo: And Sales Force. Let's not forget Sales Force.
Kevin: They were in the city around the valley.
Leo: Close. It's the same thing. Also with us, Tim Stevens, former editor in chief at Engadget. He's now doing car tech at C Net, and very timely to have you on because the LA car show is this week.
Tim Stevens: Thanks for having me.
Leo: I want to welcome somebody who hasn't been on our air since we decided—2008. But he's an old friend, and I think one of the great guys in the Valley. Sam Lessin. You may remember him from drop.io, which was just my favorite thing. It allowed you to share files online, just create these ad hawk file-sharing sites. Facebook came along and bought it, put it out of business, put Sam to work. You did the Timeline, right, while you were at Facebook?
Sam Lessin: Yep. I built Timeline with a great team.
Leo: And now you're—did you retire from Facebook? Did you cash in the stock and say, "that's it, I'm done?"
Sam: I'm a huge believer in Facebook. I'm very excited about the company, love the people that work there, but I decided at the end of August that it was time for me to move on, so I left. I am now the Intern at The Information, which I'm having a blast doing.
Leo: Before you say, "Oh Sam, you've come down in the world," you should point out that The Information is Jessica Lessin, his wife's really great publication. Kind of a new form of tech journalism that people in the know—it's a subscription only online site and newsletter, and we've had Jessica on several times. It was really great. We think the world of both of you.
Sam: Thank you. I think the world of her too!
Leo: Is this something you've always wanted to do is be a journalist? Because I know you're writing a weekly column.
Sam: Yeah, I'm writing a weekly column, and I wouldn't consider myself a hardcore journalist the way the rest of the team at The Information are hardcore journalists, I'm more writing an opinion column. But I'm having a lot of fun in figuring out the next steps, but I think what they're doing is awesome. Beyond being a supportive husband, I'm having a lot of fun working with the team and putting out some content and helping where I can.
Leo: I think that's great. I have to say, speaking as somebody who never worked in the business, I know that Kevin has of course, and you have. Both entrepreneurial software guys and so forth. The nice thing about covering it is you don't have to pick sides. You can cover the—you see everything. You see all the stuff that's happening, and it's so much fun.
Sam: Yeah, it's a blast. I'm loving the perspective. I think also, honestly, having spent four years at Facebook and being a VP product there, it's a different perspective. It really changes how you approach a lot of these things, because you have so much more context for what a lot of these big companies are going through and how they evaluate decisions. So, I don't know. Life is good.
Leo: I think it's great to get an honest entrepreneur on this site, because you know more than a lot on exactly what's going on inside. So, I'm glad you're here, because of course, our top story, unfortunately has to be Uber. But I think it's a—I don't want to cover the—we'll cover a little bit what happened he said she said thing, but more importantly, I think maybe a culture clash between the go go start up culture of Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. And you've been in the middle of it. What's your take, and I know you've written about this information, what's your take on what's going on here?
Sam: I mean I have all the respect in the world for Uber. I think it's one of the most exciting companies, probably ever, in terms of what it represents for the future. But I also think they see this very interesting spot and poster child for this new generation of Silicon Valley companies that actually have meaningful and immediate impact in the real world. I think the last generation of companies, actually, I'm writing a column about this tomorrow, but the last generation of companies existed in this world where they were working on productivity or communication or things where you could have great impact, but you're not changing the day to day in an immediate way in a way that a company like Uber is. And I think that if you look at Uber or Air B&B, a lot of the things that are going on now, there is such a dramatic impact in the real world immediately that it really raises the bar of attention that's put on them, and the professionalism that needs to happen on various—so, my take is that they're a company that is figuring it out. They're fundamentally good people from my perspective, the ones that I know that are there. But there's a lot to figure out, and you have to grow up quickly in this day and age, in terms of the amount of attention that's put on these things.
Leo: Jessica Lessin's lead story at The Information is that in Uber's saga there are no calls for adult supervision. I don't know, I'll call for adult supervision. It seems like something odd is going on. There is this he said she said back and forth, and I'm not sure exactly what actually happened. You can't know, because it was at a private dinner. Uber has been accused in the past of being high handed with privacy. There's the God mode on Uber that tells Uber employees exactly where every car is and who is riding in those cars, and that information could theoretically be gathered to pinpoint locations of people. A couple of journalists have accused Uber of misusing that one. Pointed out that he got a text, someone was at an Uber party and said, "You're on the big map right now. We know exactly where you are." Uber unwisely decided to put the God mode up on a big screen at a party. Another said that Uber, in an effort to put pressure on this journalist, an Uber executive was waiting for him when he arrived in the car and said, "Well, I know exactly where you are at all times because you're riding an Uber." That scares people. There have been several cases of—there's a case of assault by an Uber driver, an Uber driver in San Francisco is accused of having killed a six-year-old running over a family. But ironically, after all of that, the big story is this Uber executive. Neil Michael, who at a private dinner, speaking to the editor and chief of BuzzFeed, according to the editor in chief of BuzzFeed, said that Uber should do opposition research on journalists who are critical of Uber and attempt to dig up dirt on them, in particular Sarah Lacy from Pando Daily. Apparently, according to Ben Smith the editor at BuzzFeed, he said that Emil told him that there's some particular information that would be very damaging to her. Lacey immediately took umbrage and has made the rounds, some have accused her of capitalizing on this, another journalist who was sitting next to the two at the same event said nothing like that actually happened.
Kevin: She basically confirmed the narrative that said he didn't mean it.
Leo: Well, she didn't say he threatened—I don't know. Let's fine this article, because it's complicated, and at this point I'm not sure whom to believe. Ben Smith of BuzzFeed may be exaggerating this. He did one thing that is a little suspect. His initial story referred to a BuzzFeed journalist that was there, not saying it was himself, which was odd.
Sam: I think there's a big question in this day and age, especially the relationship team, a lot of these publications that—I mean, I have all the respect and love in the world for BuzzFeed, but they exist in the zone of publications that need to attract a lot of attention because they're paid for attention. So I think there is a lot of mistrust right now from all angles. I think the he said she said who knows the realities? You can't trust anyone on this stuff.
Leo: To be honest, I trusted Ben Smith until I read Nicole Campbell’s post on the Huffington Post. She worked at the Obama White House with Emil Michael, was at this dinner—
Kevin: Michael hasn't disputed that he said it, and she doesn't dispute that he said it, they're just saying, "I was joking. I was drunk." No one has actually—
Leo: Nicole says there was no anti-feminist sentiment, no attacking families, no attacking children, no anger, no threats against anyone, no action planned. Nothing. It was clear to me this was all a vague, civilized conversation. I'm a woman; I'm sensitive to any talk of this kind. Now she says, "I admit, I'm a friend of Emil's," but she says Ben's comments caused Sarah some understandable angst. Sarah take it from me, what Ben reported is not true. This is the article.
Sam: Look. I think what's clear out of this episode, is that when you have—
Kevin: If that's so, why didn't Ben admit it on the day and apologize to—
Leo: It's very confusing. Nobody at Uber has said Emil didn't say this.
Kevin: Right. Exactly. He's said he said it, he's apologized, sort of semi-apologized to Sarah, but he—
Leo: What's missing a little bit though, I mean, it's all just hearsay. What's missing is context. We don't know what the context was, what the spirit of it was.
Kevin: But the tone if it is the problem, and I think that this God mode sense is part of the problem. I recognize part of where that comes from, because it comes from when you start a start-up, there's a very small number of you and you're working against these enormous forces in the rest of the world, and it feels like you're taking everyone on. And then, as it grows, that pressure only grows on you, and then eventually you have a large company if you're really lucky and things go well, and you don't always realize that things have changed and you're now a big company. We've seen that happen with Microsoft, we've seen that happen with Google, we've seen it happen with Facebook. Where the founders have started out with this massive self-belief in us against the world model, and then eventually realize "wait a minute. We are actually big enough that this a fact of where we impact the world." And it's how they behave after that that makes the difference.
Sam: Well, I hear you. I agree. I think that's a really good point. These companies grow up so fast in this climate. Unwind Uber two years and lets' talk about the way you'd operate a company at that scale versus a company of a scale that they're at right now. They're moving so quickly. That's not to apologize for it. I mean, I think there are things that they obviously should be doing better at and need to get on top of, but the reality of these questions of tone, these questions of what was meant, it doesn't matter. The reality is they're a big company with a big footprint. People watch what they do and they have to level up very quickly—much more quickly than almost any other company in history, in terms of how they approach these situations because of the scale of their operations and the responsibility they have. They're going to figure it out. I think they're going to figure it out. This is an unfortunate situation, an unfortunate episode, and the reality is it doesn't matter what was said. What matters is what comes out on the other side.
Kevin: Well, it also matters how they behave, and that's why the God mode stuff is actually scarier. The reason I deleted Uber this week is I was like, "OK. I don't actually feel confident that you are good custodians with this data at the moment." Maybe after you've got some processes in place that make me feel more comfortable I will come back. We had this with Facebook and the ability for everyone to see everyone else's profile that Kate Losse described in her book. I don't want to put you on the spot about that, Sam, but I know how this stuff works as well. When you've built the thing for the first time, everyone can see the database because you've only got on database. Anyone who is in engineering can write queries against it and you end up writing little tools to understand what's going on. It's only later you realize actually, this can be used for negative things. Letting people have access to data like this is a policy problem and something we have to build structures around.
Sam: I don't think anyone would contest that, including Uber, frankly. Again, I don't speak for them, obviously, but I think that's absolutely true. You have to build these tools when you start going from having 20 employees to 1000 the internal controls you have to put in place are real and need to happen. So, that's pretty clear.
Tim: I sort of have to wonder: where is Uber's PR in all of this? Why are they allowing for vice presidents to sit at dinners with journalists and say things like this without someone stepping in and saying, "Hey by the way, just to remind everybody, this is off the record."
Leo: Well, it was an off the record—Apparently it was an off the record dinner. Ben Smith was invited by Michael Wolff, who knew it was off the record, but Michael said, "I just assumed Ben would know it was off the record." It wasn't. He didn't treat it that way.
Tim: That's the job of PR to be there at that time to say, "just to make sure that everybody knows." I've been at these sorts of dinners and it's always repeated over and over and over again. This is off the record. Especially when something as sensitive as this comes up. I'm wondering if that's again part of the learning, part of the maturation that's required here for Uber, is to know exactly when they need help, and I think they need help in this regard, and I'm sure they have people who are helping them, but they need more help. Maybe they need more sophistication and maybe they need to dial down things a little bit until they get everything in check, till they get a little bit more media training perhaps too. Until they get a little bit more comfortable knowing what they can and cannot say, even in what seems like a casual environment.
Leo: I hate to let them off the hook, but at the same time I'm not sure I trust Ben Smith. The whole thing is a mess! And by the way, John Hodgman tweeted that he's not going to use Uber any more, Gina Trapani and Jeff Jarvis on This Week in Google said they're not going to use Uber any more. I certainly wouldn't if I had, but my only experience using Uber was in Paris. I got ripped off by the driver, and I haven't used it since then.
Sam: I think you should check in with those people in a year.
Leo: Well, I think it's hard not to use Uber, because the truth about it is, all this aside, the experience is generally very good. You rate the driver, the driver rates you. I don't know what it's like to drive for Uber. I'm hearing ads on the radio every day saying we'll give you $5000 on your first month, become an Uber driver. I've also heard drivers say it's a terrible experience being a driver, I want out. I don't know what to think. There are so many conflicting stories. This is an interesting— I think the larger story to me, which I think is more interesting from my point of view, that this is going to be the way things are going forward is that because of the Internet, because of social media, because of the speed of the news cycle, because there is no longer a single source of truth—you know, there used to be a journal of record, the New York Times or CBS. There is no longer a single source of truth, so I think more and more stories are going to be like this. We're going to hear different things from a lot of different people. Everybody perhaps has suspect motivations. Ben Smith wants to get clicks. The whole starts to come difficult for the end user, end consumer of news to know what's true.
Kevin: This has always been true. That it used to be objective is a myth, and I know Jeff Jarvis would tell us that as well. The thing is, there were always agendas being pushed, it's just the question was how many people were able to speak about them.
Sam: I think something is fundamentally different now. Again, this is a little self-serving on behalf of my wife, but what's different now is the business model and how people get paid. When you get paid for clicks, when you get paid for getting attention through social media and to your site, that incentivizes a certain type of discussion and reporting and sensationalism that I think isn't true if you're running a subscription service, or if you're actually paid to be a trusted source of knowledge. So yeah. I think it's always a spectrum. Things aren't black and white in the world. But it's a little bit simplistic to say nothing has changed. I mean the business models that people are running and therefore what types of information moves around is dramatically different than what it was 20 years ago.
Leo: Well, I don't want to say that the only model is the informations model. Certainly there's a benefit to that because the information only has to respond to its subscribers, they don't have to generate clicks, they don't have advertisers. But I would hope, given that we're an ad supported free media, that there's a role for ad supported free media, which is kind of a more traditional way of doing things, and I would hope that they're—I mean, BuzzFeed, I'll put Vice in this category, are different ways of doing journalism, but they've done some good journalism. I just think it's very hard for the consumer to know who to trust.
Tim: It's very hard as a journalist to maintain that independence from an intent to try and get more traffic. Back in the day, if you were writing for a big newspaper or big outlet, you didn't really worry about how many people were reading your story, you wanted to get in the front page for sure, but it didn't matter to you if your story helped to sell more newspapers, because ultimately your job was secure regardless. Now a lot of these outlet's operations are much smaller and you really feel the pressure to be able to drive those clicks, to drive that traffic, to help the money coming in. There's always supposed to be a separation between church and state we say, where you don't where the advertising is, you don't know the advertising dollars, you don't worry about that sort of thing, but ultimately, if you're at a smaller outlet or some kind of start-up journalistic publication, you have a pretty good feel for what is doing well and what is not doing well, and if these stories aren't doing well, then you know that the writing is on the wall. Things aren't going to last too long. So does that pressure for sure.
Leo: You were in the hot seat. You were editor in chief at Engadget at AOL. I can't imagine more of a hot seat.
Tim: Yeah, and there was certainly a lot of pressure at AOL to do a lot of things I didn't want to do with Engadget, which may be why things are the way they are right now, but that's OK. There’s a lot of pressure for sure, whether you are a journalist or whether you are the editor in chief of a site like that, or whether you are indeed someone who is running the business side of things and is responsible for ad revenue and everything else. There's a lot of pressure to get the traffic up there and to make these things work and ultimately I think that that pressure is more closely felt my journalists than probably ever in the past.
Leo: It worries me, because I think, as a consumer, there is now an undue burden on me to determine the truth. There is innuendo flying right and left, and it's kind of the natural thing, I'm speaking for myself to say, "Well, where there's smoke there must be fire." So something happened here. But maybe it's not the right response to say, "Well, I'm giving up on Uber," because we don't really know. I don't know.
Sam: I think it's a question of who do you trust.
Leo: Well, Sam, why am I in a year going to use Uber again? Or they?
Sam: Because it's a great service and because honestly you don't know what went on, and hopefully they're going to mature. I'm sure they will. They'll get more controls in place. These things, they're moving fast. And again, it's not to apologize, I think clearly mistakes were made just in the fact that there was a huge cycle around this.
Leo: Well but maybe what they'll get under control is the news cycle, not their own internal policies. Maybe God mode won't go away, they'll just learn how to hide it better. That doesn't—
Kevin: They have been deleting the blog posts off their site, which is sketchy behavior. And then those posts did evoke an attitude, they were two years old, OK, but you don't just say, "let's just delete these from the site and pretend they didn't happen." Discuss what you change, rather than—
Leo: What would you tell young people growing up today, who are growing up in this world, about critical thinking? What do you teach them? How do you teach them what to believe and what not to believe? Is there a rule? Kevin? You've got young adult children, what do you tell them?
Kevin: Part of it is that they're immersed in it and they can work it out for themselves.
Leo: Can they?
Kevin: Yes. If you actually read young adult novels these days, half of them are about media narrative and understanding. If you read The Hunger Games, half of it is like fighting, and the other half is how is this presented in the media.
Leo: That's true.
Kevin: Read Harry Potter. There's the entire Rita Skeeter thread. If you read the Uglies trilogy, a big chunk of that is how they're perceived, discovering what's wrong with society and then how they're perceived once they do it. So there is this sense of necessary, and Cory Doctorow has written like three young adult novels that have massive components of media explorations and government cover up and what it means to be growing up in this world, so I think that the literature is already there for them, but also it's pervasive in their world. When I got my sons to sign up for Gnome, which is a blogging website that lets you connect to social networks, I was surprised how reluctant they were to connect it to Facebook, because from their point of view, they'd been burnt before by connecting things to Facebook and they didn't know what it would send out there, and Facebook for them is not their communication mechanism so much as the public space, the notice board where people can see things. They're very aware of managing what they post on Facebook as opposed to what they send in more covert channels.
Leo: What would you tell your kids, Tim Stevens?
Tim: Well my kids are both four legged, so I don't worry about them too much.
Leo: They don't read. You've seen the sausage being made, you've been right in there.
Tim: The question that I've had all week is just how much is this story resonating with those of us outside the journalism start up community, because obviously it's been a huge story amongst us and the close circles around us, but I still haven't gotten a good feel for how many people were aware of it. In fact, I was in LA this week and I did use an Uber. I feel guilty about it, but I had to use an Uber. I talked to the driver a bit and asked him how business was, and he indicated that things were a little bit slower than usual, but he didn't know anything about this controversy at all, and here's a guy whose livelihood is dependant on Uber, and he wasn't aware of this story at all which made me wonder just how many people outside of this journalistic and start up circle are actually aware of any of this at all, and realistically how much does it impact those people? That's probably the biggest question I've had. This is, it's almost in center baseball, this sort of thing. It's a big indicator of the culture of the company, for sure, but do people outside of the circle really care about that?
Leo: Let me give Sam a chance. Sam, I apologize. Here you are, you're an intern at The Information, brand new to this business.
Sam: Here's the way I would look at it. Again, I have a bias here. I have an opinion about how I think about media consumption and stuff like that. I think the thing that has really changed is whom do media organizations work for at the end of the day, and whose side are they on and can you trust? To me, I think I strongly believe, and it's obviously self serving, that the future of the world is going to look a lot more like the past, and that you'll be paying agents to do serious reporting for you and you'll just pay them. And you'll just trust them because their entire incentive will be aligned with providing great information.
Leo: You mean I'm going to have to hire a private investigator to figure out whether or not I should have an Uber account?
Sam: No. You're going to pool that. That doesn't mean there isn't places for all sorts of different types of media and discussion, but at the end of the day, you are how you make money. That's kind of what ends up happening.
Leo: You intimately connected with the Silicon Valley start-up scene. Is the bro attitude I think we're seeing at Uber, this is fairly widespread, especially in early stage startups, right?
Sam: What's the bro attitude?
Leo: This "we're going to take on the world, it's us against the world." I mean—
Sam: Starting companies is kind of a crazy exercise, right? I think you have to have that delusion and that drive to ever even rationally go off and try to start anything. So I think it's actually an important part of early start up culture. I think the question is how do things that do really work mature? How do the controls come into place? What's the timing on that? And when do you wake up and realize, Oh my god, we're winning, and we're having a real impact, and there's responsibility that comes with that that you have to grow into rapidly. Again, I think it's been said by others, but this is not a new pattern. It's just honestly one of the fastest growths in recent evaluation that I think has probably ever happened in the world, right?
Leo: They're three-years-old. How old is Uber? Three or four years?
Sam: I think it's more than three.
Leo: 2008 it was started, so they're more than that. Six years old. They currently have the most venture funding of any start up out of Silicon Valley, probably of any start up in the world. They're valued at a couple of billion, more than that. I can't remember.
Sam: Depends on who you ask. Between 15 and 20.
Leo: 15 and 20 billion. The growth has been insane in the last two years.
Sam: And it's a great service.
Leo: And people love it. Although, I think there's some legitimate concerns. This Uber X driver who almost killed a guy with a hammer last week, I mean, it seems to happen more in San Francisco. I guess because there's more rides in San Francisco.
Sam: Look, and I guess I'm playing my part as the guy sitting in Silicon Valley.
Leo: You're the start up guy. You represent the start up guy.
Sam: So I'm playing my role perfectly I feel like on this show. But look. The reality is there is a lot that they're going to have to figure out, and a lot of responsibility that comes with being as successful as they have been, and will be going forward. So I think there's a lot to learn there. I have less sympathy for people sensationalizing the driver incident. I mean, you drive enough miles, you're going to have an incident.
Leo: That's what Uber says.
Sam: Cab in every country and said is there ever an incident, and of course there is. There's no way not to have that happen.
Leo: Surge pricing bothers people. They don't know how much it's going to cost. It's raining and all of a sudden it's triple the cost.
Sam: Look. If that ends up being an issue then a company like Flywheel, which I take frequently and doesn't have surge pricing or Lyft will win.
Leo: There is competition.
Sam: There's competition. It's not like there's a one-stop shop here. but again, I think these things are going to shake out, and it's an unfortunate episode. I think it says more about the media culture than anything else, but it also is a wake-up call to a lot of executives at these companies. Like, look. You're not some baby in the corner any more. People are paying attention, they care, and you have got to be really careful about the message and image you're putting out because it matters.
Leo: It's also the case that as consumers of news that we have to look—every place you go—well, are they an investor? For instance, Peter Thiel, the well known Silicon Valley investor said, "Uber is the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley," and then you learn Peter Thiel is an investor in Lyft. So now everything he says has to be suspect, and it seems like everybody has got some allegiance to one side or the other.
Kevin: Even if that is a complement.
Leo: From Peter Thiel that might be a good thing, I don't know. But I have to point out that Sergei and Larry brought in Eric Schmidt. Mark Zuckerberg brought in Sheryl Sandberg. That it is not unusual for companies, I think you said it, Kevin, they have to have this go go attitude, us against the world when they're first starting up, but eventually they do bring in adult supervision.
Kevin: That's the problem is the adult supervision they've brought in is Emil Michael.
Leo: He's the adult?
Kevin: He's the political operative dude they've hired.
Leo: He was at the White House.
Kevin: He was at the White House. He was at Cloud, which is another company—
Leo: Cloud? OK, come on. That is not a good pedigree at all.
Kevin: Right. But that's the thing. He's one of these how I'd aim to be this sort of adult supervision. That's the thing that's nervous making about it.
Leo: Yeah. At this point now, it feels like it's a gossip story, not a tech story.
Kevin: Which is what Uber has worked very hard to make it. Uber has spent this week with some very expensive crisis PR people trying to shift the narrative.
Kevin: If you think about the stories that have come out, for me that's the sign that—
Leo: That's placement.
Kevin: Yeah, that's consumer placement.
Leo: You want to write a little story about your friend e-mail?
Kevin: Obviously they get to tell their side of it. That's fair enough. But they haven't done anything formally apart from 13 tweets.
Leo: Yeah, that's right. And they certainly haven't censured, as far as we know, or certainly not fired Emil Michael. I wonder—
Kevin: Well they've e-mailed everyone who says I want to leave Uber saying he doesn't speak for us, which is kind of weird.
Leo: He's our senior vice president for business, but he doesn't speak for us. He's out there. I just feel like it's hard for us as consumers to really know what to do, and I think the larger issue is Uber protecting our privacy. If you're a tech journalist, you might not want to ride in an Uber, just because, I mean, what are they up to?
Tim: I also think that's just an Uber thing, you know? I mean, when I reviewed the Tesla models a few years back, I picked up the car, I was driving back home, and I got a check engine light, or some kind of warning light on the dashboard. I called up the PR rep at Tesla, she said, "hang on I'll connect you over to an engineer," and about 30 seconds later said, "we're watching you don't worry. It's just a pressure thing. You're fine."
Leo: We're watching it. We saw the light in our control center.
Tim: I always have a pretty good idea that if I'm reviewing a Smartphone or if I'm reviewing a car, that company is watching every thing I do at all times, and that's the big thing that I don't know about this God mode thing. Ok, this guy was out waiting for the journalist to show up. Was that journalist using a coupon code from Uber for a free ride, or were they using their personal account? There's some details there that I don't know. But I assume as a journalist that I'm being watched everything I do, even Gmail and things like that.
Leo: I think we can all assume as citizens of the United States we're being watched, everything we do, and we'll talk about that in just a little bit.
Sam: I was just going to say. It is interesting, though. Showing up at someone's house. I hadn't heard this story before, but that's just honestly, and again with respect to whoever is involved, that's just poor form. Even if you could do that, that's clearly a terrible idea. I think that's part of becoming more mature as a company is being like, "that seemed like a fine idea when we were a tiny company, and now that we're not that's just a bad idea."
Leo: Yeah, but that's just cosmetics to say, "Oh don't do that." That's cosmetics. Oh, that looks bad. Don't do that. You can still have the same idea, but just don't tell anybody.
Sam: I think that there's a risk reward to it. At the end of the day if I'm an Uber and I'm like, "Look. We're winning." The cost of getting this wrong—the cost is actually quite large. I don't think this is just a tech press issue and gets blown over, I think this is a big deal. This is so expensive for them. They're not going to be that dumb going forward.
Leo: Airbnb had its big global meeting here in San Francisco. Liz Gaines was there and kind of compared Airbnb and how everybody who has an Airbnb service loves their CEO and contrasts the two, and at the same time, Airbnb has announced a device that as an Airbnb host that you can put in your house that listens any time you want to see if they're having a party in your house, or if they're smoking. And it's like, "Oh, I'm not going to use Airbnb anymore. They have a listening device in the house." So the landlords—all right. What a world. Let's take a break. I want to talk about shaving. About that. We have a great sponsor, and I don't think there's any conflict of interest here when I say that I shave every day with Harry. I have Harry in the shower; I have Harry in the bath. Sometimes I'll even use Harry here at the studio. You've caught me a few times shaving. This is Movember, a lot of you are growing facial hair to raise awareness around men's health issues, that's fine. I just want you to know that Harry's supports Movember absolutely, and they're even going to give money to the Movember fund to show their support, but when its over, come December, and Jessica is saying, "it's time to shave that ugly ass beard," think Harry's. Harry's is the best shaving experience you'll ever have. Harry's makes their own razors. They bought the—here's a start up that I like. When Jeff was a serial entrepreneur; he started looking into you know, I think we could do razors better. He's interested in reinventing these old school businesses. Well, it's a classic story. We give away the razors and we make it up on the plates. There's plates you go and you try to buy a Gillette blade it's four bucks a blade! They're so expensive they look them up at the drug store. That's ridiculous! So, when Harry's started, they said, "We want to give you quality razors. Better than the razors you get at the drug store at half the price." So what did they do? They bought the factory. There it is in Germany, they found out there were two factories in the world that made the best blades in Solingen, Germany. They bought one and they engineer their blades not just for sharpness, but for high performance. They ship them for free to your door. And because they make and ship their own blades they're more efficient. Basically, you're getting factory direct pricing. Get a Harry's kit and start yourself off. The kits are an amazing deal. You get the razor with a handle that looks and feels great, three razor blades, a foaming shave gel that smells so good. The Truman set is $15. I got a Winston, that's the metal handle engraved. Even just a little bit more. You get all that for 15 bucks, and then you get your blades delivered to you. I was getting them every other month, I get them monthly now because I shave more because it's easy, it doesn't cut me up. It's great. I want you to try Harry's. This would be a great gift. Ladies if you want to convince your Movember man to drop the beard and moustache come December, harrys.com. Do use the offer code TWIT5, and you'll get $5 off your first purchase with Harry's, and you'll be supporting Movember. They'll give a little donation in your name, and then get those blades delivered monthly, or every other month. It's awesome. harrys.com. This Movember. You're watching This Week in Tech. Kevin Marks is here. Old friend of the show. We have him on regularly on TWIG. Also, Sam Lessin from The Information, and from CNET the wonderful Tim Stevens. So you wanted to come on Kevin, you tweeted me, because last week I thought we had a very important show. We talked about net neutrality, about president Obama's request that the FCC use title II of the telecommunications act to regulate ISPs broadband providers as common carriers. I thought the best way to handle this was to have ISPs on, one on each side. We had Dane Jasper of Sonic Net who thinks that's a good idea, oddly enough, and then we had Brett Glass who is a wireless Internet provider in Laramie, Wyoming. He doesn't want that extra government regulation, and I thought we had a very good conversation. I thought both were well spoken. Frankly, it didn't help me, because I agreed with both of them. What are your thoughts?
Kevin: Well I think what you find is that the ISPs that have a local monopoly aren't in favor and the ones who are in competitive markets are in favor, and I think that played out with your show as well.
Leo: Yes, because Brett was in a very difficult market.
Kevin: Brett is doing something that is very difficult, which is trying to be an ISP over wireless in a very sparsely populated area. So a lot of the issues around competition that arise in urban areas don't really apply. But the challenge for me is there is a sense that this is a natural monopoly, and that is how it is historically regulated, and therefore the local authority gives permission to certain companies to vacate what's in that neighborhood in return for something. Maybe a network for them, maybe taxes or something like that. But then they don't license anyone else, or they only license very few companies do that. So I'm in San Jose, the self-named capital of Silicon Valley, and my choice is Comcast or AT&T.
Leo: Aren't you lucky.
Kevin: And AT&T has given me lovely twisted hair Internet that's not— we later find that's sort of three streets away and we'll run some twisted pairs over to you. So there is the physical infrastructure challenge, and the way that's been handled in other places is what we call structural separation where, and this goes back to my BT experience, this happened in the UK. BT was originally the post office, the UK post office, and then it was British Telecom, and it took over the telephone network and then it basically had all the cables that had been laid. It had the monopoly over the existing cables. So to create a level playing field there, what the government said was, "OK. You need to separate out the pieces that can't be the physical infrastructure and sell connectivity to that to your network company that's selling to customers, and on the same terms that you sell to everyone else." That's regulated by government. So there's an explicitly separation between the physical layer and the services layer. And that was the case in the US for a while, and that was the piece that was overturned by the change in regulations when they moved from Title II to Title I.
Leo: Wait a minute. We never had the situation where the government owned the infrastructure in the US.
Kevin: No. But you had the situation where they were required to—
Leo: Open their plants, yeah. Right now telecoms are required to open their doors to other ISPs, but cable is not, which is weird.
Kevin: Right. But also they've actually effectively evaded it.
Leo: Yeah. Dane, who was here, is a DSL provider, of course he rides on copper provided by all the incumbent carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, and he told me off the record some horrible tales of anti-competitive action by the big phone companies. They don't want third party Internet service providers.
Kevin: Right, so they try to do it in a regulatory way rather than in a structural way. So the thing that I wanted to bring up was the idea of structural separation, where there is—
Leo: It's never going to happen in the US. It's political dynamite. We can't even agree on—
Kevin: I certainly— That's not an option. The other thing that would be—
Leo: I agree. I think government should take over all the infrastructure using eminent domain, but that's not going to happen.
Kevin: The other thing is what people have called Dutch neutrality, which is letting people have ease to lay other cables over the top of the existing network. The cost of laying a cable from here to the central operating thing from my house will be approximately what it costs to lay the fence in my house. The physical cost of that is not that high, and I replace the fence every few years or so.
Leo: But you don't want five companies trenching out in your backyard.
Kevin: Sure. But the point is, I could pick one and decide what's at the other end.
Leo: Right. I think there are solutions, but I think there's also the political issue. And I think we live in a climate where it's going to be very difficult to solve this because well hell. For crying out loud, we couldn't even get a majority to vote against NSA collecting phone records this week.
Kevin: That's true.
Leo: That's pathetic!
Kevin: And the other thing is it's often a local political issue.
Leo: I've done my best. I've served on the technology committee here in Petaluma and strongly urged that—because Comcast was not living up to its agreement. Comcast has, as all cable companies do, a regional monopoly. A franchise awarded to it by local municipality, and Comcast had promised all sorts of things. Delivered none of it. But the city government was very reluctant, and I don't blame them, to pull the plug on Comcast, because the last thing they want is every voter in the town of Petaluma pissed off at them because their cable doesn't work. You don't want to mess with it. It's weird. We have this house of cards. It's kind of working. And this is the kind of thing that the folks who advocate no government interference always say. Where's the problem? There hasn't been a problem. You're regulating to protect against something that hasn't happened yet, and probably won't happen. I don't know if there's a good answer.
Kevin: The interesting thing is the stuff that Google Fiber is doing where they actually started saying, "OK. We want to find some helpful municipalities first and we'll iterate through that." And then put pressure on the others; basically get pressure from people like me in San Jose. Hey, San Jose can you sign up for Google to do this? It sounds like capital city got a really good deal compared to what we have. So I think that is a good strategy, but it's a ten to fifteen year strategy. And I suspect other tech firms may find that they want to do that too.
Leo: And what you see also is tech companies like AT&T saying, "Oh yeah. We offer Gigabit." The minute Google comes to town. And it's not really gigabit.
Sam: I think it's a question also of whether you really want to control the end-to-end stack as well.
Leo: That's a good point too.
Sam: I have a very hard time with this issue. I usually am pretty opinionated, and I can see either side of the net neutrality debate in pretty clear contrast. I don't know if you guys have read this book called "The Master Switch."
Leo: It's a great book, and I've been trying to get Tim Wu on, but he won't talk in public any more.
Sam: I love that book, and I think it's the best articulation if you look at the whole history of media of how these issues play out. How he finished it I don't think he actually helped me make a decision about where I stand on it, but it's definitely worth reading.
Leo: The more you know about this, the harder it is to come up with a good answer that's not either having government take it all over or competition would solve this. That's pretty obvious. But how are we going to foster competition? Somebody needs to invent a great wireless service that's easy and cheap. Maybe project Loon. Google announced that they can now do 20 balloon launches a day. They've got project Loon is the crazy idea of putting balloons, weather balloons up in the stratosphere twice as high as airplanes, higher even than weather, and the nice thing about the stratosphere is apparently there are winds in a variety of directions and layers so you can just control the balloon's movement by moving it up or down into the layer you want so it will go in the direction you want. They launched these in New Zealand, the idea being to provide Internet access via balloon. Something like that would really change things.
Sam: It wouldn't though. You'd still have to deliver the signal down.
Leo: Dimmit. Doesn't Facebook want to do drones, do the same thing?
Sam: I think these are all fascinating long-term technologies, but they don't get around the fact that you have sovereign governments that have rights over their airspace and their wire line and all sorts of things you have to interface with.
Leo: It's impossible, isn't it? What is Facebook—is it the Internet foundation? Is that it?
Kevin: Facebook's is the Facebook network, right? With carriers in Africa to make Facebook free.
Leo: Right. Internet.org. The idea that
Sam: There's a lot of efforts going on at Facebook right now to help connect the next billion people, which are all really exciting.
Leo: OK. But Sam, I'm going to give you a chance. Because of course me, I think, "Well of course Facebook wants everybody online using Facebook."
Sam: Yes. But I think the thing to go back to is—
Leo: And so does Google.
Sam: There's no question that's true, but I think if you step back for a second, I think people sometimes have a hard time believing this, but I always fervently do. Facebook is a company who is mission first at the end of the day. Mark, when the company went public, had a great one about how Facebook is organized as a company to fulfill its mission, not the other way around. The fundamental mission is to connect the entire world. So can you talk about what does it mean for the long-term business? To help bring another billion people online? Of course. That's obvious. But the bigger thing is that this is from a mission stand point first, not a company standpoint. Fundamental to what Facebook is meant to represent and do, so it's pretty cool. I think a lot of the efforts are going on there. But they're all again very early in terms of how they're playing out.
Leo: I like this. I thought this was interesting. Speaking of this notion of a pay wall in journalism that's paid for by its consumers. Google is experimenting with this Google contributor surface, which I think is a great idea, and I'm curious what you guys think about it. The idea is that you pay a certain fee and Google feeds that money out between 1 to 3 dollars a month to sites like Mashable, the Onion, and by doing so, eliminates the Google ads on those sites.
Tim: The best application of that would be YouTube. I'm surprised we haven't seen something like that already, because people hate pre-roll on YouTube with a passion. I think it's a great opportunity for them to roll something like this out. If you pay 10 bucks, 5 bucks a month, no more pre-roll ads on YouTube. I think a lot of people would pay for that. Especially if they knew that money was going back where it belongs, to the content creators.
Leo: Susan Wojcicki has raised that as a possibility I think.
Sam: I think it's a very unlikely possibility.
Leo: Why is that?
Sam: Well, the problem with these plans on something like YouTube, which is obviously a really important service for Google in terms of where they're going, is you get all the people who are the most valuable to opt out of your ads. Right? At the end of the day it's exactly the demographics that are willing to pay money to these things that —
Leo: That's who advertisers want.
Sam: What you're doing is you're creating this reverse incentive where you're basically removing the most valuable segment of the advertising population. I would go on record saying I would be shocked if they did this on something like YouTube, where I think in the content network on sites et cetera, it's a service people have talked about for a long time, and there's no reason not to offer it and see what happens. I personally am skeptical that it'll work, but we'll see.
Leo: It would be kind of capitulation, right? It would be saying "I guess this ad thing ain't going to work." Because it will undermine your ad model. Now interestingly, Google in a way has tried this. This music key, if you are a Google musical access subscriber, you probably already have this. You can apply for beta. When I click the music tab, the new music tab on my YouTube site, I get ad free music, mixes, play list. It's kind of like Spotify or Google All access, except they're videos too. I can even do these offline on my phone. So I can say I want to hear all the pop music tracks. It'll start playing; there will be no pre-roll. It's a playlist, and it'll just play forever on my phone or on my device. See? No pre-roll. Taylor Swift is getting nothing for this.
Sam: We'll see how it plays out. I think the reality is—
Leo: Ok. You can turn the music down now.
Sam: We'll see. At the end of the day if you do the mass calculation if you're at Google, what is Google's annual run right now? Is it 40 billion dollars? Is that about right? These are such rounding errors. So the reality is maybe you could do something on a side project, or music removing ads, but let's be clear. For the things that are core to their business, which is search and YouTube, they have to figure out how to make an ad model pay and focus on that, and everything else is really just noise.
Leo: Was this the music industry then that did this? All of these videos it looks like are from VEVO. Why are they giving this away?
Sam: If I had to guess, and it's purely a guess—
Leo: It's not free. It's ten bucks a month.
Kevin: I think they're trying to get more people to subscribe to the Google play music subscription thing. This is magnifying the audience for that. I went to a set music take last week, and the head of Google Play Music was interviewed there, and she said that their subscriptions are growing and doing well and they just have to grow further. I suspect that part of them figured that was behind this. The thing is, YouTube is a place people go to play music. It has been for a very long time. The labels know this, and previously, if you upload a video that has a song on it, they will content ID match it and put a buy this song link on it, Google will get some referrer for that. The labels will post videos up there with the assumption that people will play them there and potentially buy the songs. But they also want some of this on going subscription revenue, which they're already getting from Google Play Music and from the other services like that and this is a way of extending that into that mode. So that one makes a lot of sense to me. I think the contributor makes a bit less sense, but I can see why Google is doing it, because the crowd sourcing models are starting to get some more traction. This is a way to keep it inside their eco-system. The advantage they have is they already have the financial relationships with these publishers because they're running ads for them and they can actually achieve micro-payment. Whereas a lot of the value of the crowd funding things is that they succeed better without micro-payments. So I think Google fits in with their model, I'm not sure necessarily fits in with the consumer's mental model, that there has been a series of these things where you say, "I will donate $10 a month to the sites I read." People have built those over the last few years several times, and they don't tend to work that well because you have to get a lot of subscribers for that and the actual successes in crowd funding are the ones where you let people pay amounts of money, so people say, "I really like this artist. I'd like to give him a lot of money. I really like this site. I'd like to give it a lot of money," and work on that basis. So the fixed-price aspect of it is, I suspect is a downside to it.
Leo: It does look like there's a slider from one to three dollars. Huge difference. The more you contribute the more you support the websites you visit.
Kevin: If you go to say, band camp, you can say, "OH, I can buy this for six dollars or I can buy for 300 dollars. And people do that for artists they really like."
Leo: I think that's a great idea, and I think you should give them that range. Somebody in our chatroom suggests, Ken from Chicago, that this is really just a ploy to get credit card numbers. I think Google has plenty of credit card numbers.
Kevin: yeah. Google has lots of credit card numbers. Google play store has got—
Leo: They've got several of mine in Google wallet. I don't think they need a ploy. Let's take a break. We're talking about the week's tech news with some really great people. This is what I love about doing TWIT is I get people I'm interested in together to talk about stuff I'm interested in. Kevin Marks, Tim Stevens, and Sam Lessin. Tim, get ready. We're going to talk about the LA auto show.
Tim: All right. I'm ready.
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TECH NEWS TONIGHT
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Leo: What a day. What a week it's been. I got my Nexus 6 right here. Jeff Jarvis got his too. He did an informal Skype un-boxing that was a little wonky. But there it is. 6 inches. We'll do a review on before you buy on Tuesday. I don't know. I brought all my phones. See, there's the iPhone 6 Plus. Galaxy Note 4. Not that much bigger than those. I have to say though; it doesn't have all the features of the Moto X, which I really like. The leather back.
Kevin: How does it compare to the Nexus 7?
Leo: It’s very close. It’s almost just one little inch. Look, see. You know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t mind a big phone. I like big phones. It doesn’t look weird. No. We’re used to it now.
Kevin: I’ve never understood that objection. Because the distance between your ear and your mouth is actually that much.
Leo: Yea, it looks like an old fashioned phone.
Kevin: I’m not partial…
Sam: No one’s piecing their phones anymore.
Leo: No, and who does this anyway? Right? Nobody talks on a phone to their ear.
Kevin: So you basically take these two and average them and that’s what you get.
Leo: Right between the two.
Kevin: So I could get rid of both of these and just carry one?
Leo: I’m a little disappointed. It doesn’t have all the Moto X stuff. You can teach it a phrase and it knows when you’re driving. My Moto X, when I’m at home it says you’ve got a call from, do you want to answer it? It’s kind of nice. I like all those features. And it doesn’t have the leather back. I don’t know; I can’t decide. This is a tough year for phones. I wish I were just one of those simple-minded iPhone guys. It would be a lot easier. Oh, just get an iPhone.
Kevin: That was my massive amusement when the new ones came out. Saying big phones are really good, and I’m going…
Leo: Yea, we’ve been saying that for a couple of years. Actually I hate to admit it but I really like the Note 4. It’s got the best screen. Arguably the best camera. I really like it.
Tim: It’s a great device. I’ve been using one for a few weeks now and I did a really long-term comparison with that and the iPhone 6 Plus just because I really couldn’t make up my mind. But for me actually the productivity stuff they’ve add especially in the S Note application has really come in handy. For example, take a picture of a slide in a presentation if you’re sitting in the audience. It will capture the slide and reformat it to make it flat and then pull out the individual elements within that slide so you can drag them around in your notes and draw arrows.
Leo: That’s amazing.
Tim: It’s pretty amazing stuff. The recording is really good for interviews too which is handy for me. Because I do all my interviews on my Note. It’s definitely been a big step forward over the Note 3.
Leo: And it has been the only one out of all of this bunch that you can just pry off the back. I bought a second battery and you just pop in another battery. And keep going. Battery life is such an issue these days. Plus the SD card means I don’t have to run…
Tim: I hope Samsung doesn’t get rid of that feature. They’re going away from the metal casing and chassis. I hope this isn’t the last Note with a replaceable battery.
Leo: I hope Samsung doesn’t go out of business. Didn’t they say they’re going to cut back their number of phones to 30% and they’re…?
Tim: That’s still like 500 new phones a year.
Leo: There’s still plenty. Have you played with the Edge yet?
Tim: I haven’t used the Edge myself, no.
Leo: We’re starting to see reviews.
Tim: Yea it seems like a really interesting device but with all the accessories that we’re starting to see for the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5, I don’t think the Edge will get any of that treatment at all. It will be kind of a cool phone to have but ultimately if you’re looking for support I wouldn’t be surprised to see that get dropped real soon.
Leo: So you think Samsung might eliminate the pry-off back and the replaceable battery?
Tim: I don’t know. There’s such a strong push for thinner.
Leo: It does make it a little clunkier, doesn’t it?
Tim: It does but there’s been so much blowback against Apple with the bend gate stuff. Maybe Samsung will draw the line and say this is thin enough. We don’t need to make it thinner. And they’ll just maintain one of our biggest selling points in my opinion which is the removable battery. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as nice as the 6 Plus does for sure.
Leo: Or frankly the Nexus 6 which has the rounded back and is nice for the size. It’s a nice feel. I feel like battery life… this really pisses me off. Because here’s the Droid Turbo and the Nexus 6. Both of which have monster batteries in them. And instead of saying oh great, let’s make a long-life phone. We’ll keep the 1080p screen. Instead they say oh we have so much battery life, let’s put in a quad HD screen. And then the battery life is back to the same 12 hours everything else is. I want to go all day, darn it! And we know this is a case because the One Plus One which is a 1080p screen, a fine screen, does go 20 hours with a big battery. So it’s possible.
Sam: I’ve got one of those. I like it a lot.
Leo: Isn’t it a great phone?
Sam: Yea. It’s too big for me. I like little phones. But I do like it. I think it’s a really solid device.
Leo: I would say that if you can get it, that’s the only limitation is it’s hard to get. At $350 for the 64 gig version with a 20-hour battery life. In every other respect, I don’t know how long it’s going to be before Lollypop. Because Cyanogen… the Cyanogen mod is great. That is the phone. If that were widely available, I would say without hesitation that’s the Android phone to get this year.
Sam: I think it’s great. When I first got it, I didn’t have a SIM card in it and I left it on. It literally lasted on without a SIM card in it-so that’s a big deal-for almost a week. Which is awesome, right?
Leo: Did you say Tim, people are having trouble with the One Plus?
Tim: Yea, people are having issues with the display flickering and some weird refresh rates and some other issues. So I don’t think their quality control is up to snuff.
Leo: And there’s no support right? You call them and who are you going to get?
Tim: Yea exactly. If they’re having this much of a problem now and needing a supply now, how long will it take to get a replacement device? So I would be a little concerned there.
Leo: I don’t know. I can’t decide what my daily driver is going to be. I just don’t know.
Kevin: That’s the thing because I’m a big fan of the Nexus 7. But it’s obviously not a phone and it’s just that little big too big for most pockets.
Leo: You would like the 6. And Lollypop is awesome.
Kevin: That’s why the One Plus One sounds attractive. Because having that many pixels in a slightly smaller size with a battery that lasts longer sounds very attractive.
Leo: The latest Display Mate results are in today. Display Mate of course makes software to rank color accuracy and help calibrate your screens. And Raymond Soneira who is the president over there, loves doing these. And I think, I don’t know. I feel like look it’s got charts, we should be able to trust this. See there’s charts! It’s got to be true! But he says if you look at the six flagship smartphones and tablets out there, the clear winner is… what would you guess? Clear winner. It’s the Note 4, by far. Now I think it makes sense because Samsung makes their own displays. So it makes sense that they probably reserved the best displays for themselves.
Tim: And they also give you the power to tweak the display settings on the phone itself which is a big advantage, too. If you’re looking to get really accurate color.
Leo: Yea. The most accurate color, very beautiful, the Galaxy Note 4 when it’s set in the basic screen mode has the best full gamut color accuracy. Skin-tone accuracy far beyond that of any other phone. Same with organic color accuracy. Pretty impressive. If you look at the white point: 0.0007. That’s so much ahead of anybody else. It’s not even close. The iPhone, I’m sorry, where is the iPhone on here? The iPhone is 0.0087. So it’s like 10 times better. There’s the results. The results are in. The standard full-color gamut is best; does that help on the Note 4? Do you care? Does anybody really care? How important is color accuracy, really?
Kevin: It’s important if you’re actually using it as a reference for something else. That’s when you need to calibrate it.
Leo: And when it comes to tablets, Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Kind of close to the Galaxy Tab from Samsung.
Tim: I actually visited the testing facility of the Surface Pro 3 before they launched it. They spent a lot of time talking about how much effort they put in to color calibration and making sure that display’s perfect.
Leo: Who is that for? Is that for photographers? Who really cares about that?
Tim: Yea, photographers for sure. You have to remember that color accuracy doesn’t really relate to an appealing design or appealing display for a lot of people. If you walk into Best Buy and look at TVs, the color and things on those TVs are terrible but they’re designed to really catch your eye as you walk by. And make you feel warm and comfortable. And that’s what we’re seeing here. Accuracy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the best looking display to the naked eye necessarily.
Leo: So tell us about Tim Stevens. Tell us about the L.A. Auto Show. I know Detroit’s a big auto show. Is L.A. as big and important as the Detroit auto show?
Tim: Not quite. But it’s definitely getting bigger and more important over the years. Detroit is still the big U.S. show for sure. And one of the biggest shows internationally. But L.A. is definitely getting big especially with a lot of tech announcements. More and more auto manufacturers are choosing to make their tech-related announcements to CES these days. We did see quite a few there in L.A. One of the big ones being Android Auto. Google’s option for being able to connect your phone to your car and use it in a safe way. They opened up the APIs for developers. They announced them back at Google IO over the summer. Now they’re publicly available and now you can deploy your apps that will run within the car. They announced quite a few apps that are out there and compatible now. Spotify on the audio side is a nice one. WhatsApp on the text messaging side. And you’re probably thinking text messages while you’re driving is not a good idea.
Leo: Not a good idea, man.
Tim: But what Google’s done is basically define templates for each of these apps. So as you go to Spotify to Songza or Sound Cloud, they all look absolutely the same. So basically these app developers are plugging in their functionality into the template that Google has defined.
Leo: Now this is different than the Ford Sync which is a computer and software built into the car, right?
Tim: Basically all this does is turn your car into a dumb terminal for your phone.
Leo: It’s a second screen.
Tim: Right. And everything either happens between a very simple interface-which would be on Spotify for example, skip track, thumbs up, down, that sort of thing. Or in text messaging it would be read to you through text to speech. And if you wanted to do a simple reply, it would be voice back to text. So there would be no distracting displays on there. No emails popping up. No text messages on your car that you need to read. It would all be read to you. Or if it’s too distracting it simply wouldn’t happen at all. So the idea is you put your phone down and connect to your car. The phone is disabled so you have no temptation to pick it up whatsoever. And you have these simplified interfaces that allow you to play your Spotify playlists or listen to your text messages, that kind of thing.
Sam: The phone is disabled then?
Tim: The phone is disabled.
Sam: No one’s going to want that.
Leo: I want my phone!
Sam: That may be what you say but can you imagine personally if you told me that when I got into my car my phone would be turned off? I would be freaking out.
Leo: It wouldn’t be turned off though. You would just have a different interface, right?
Sam: A certainly less aggressive interface.
Leo: Well yea, because you’re driving, Sam!
Tim: Studies showing that if you use your phone while you’re driving it’s as bad as drunk driving.
Sam: I completely agree with that and it makes 100% sense to me. But I still feel as a consumer if you told me the good news is you have a screen, the bad news is your phone is disabled, people will not be very happy about that.
Leo: That’s interesting. Can you turn it off, Tim? Can you say don’t take over?
Tim: Yea. Exactly, if you don’t want to use the service, you certainly don’t have to. But ultimately this now is giving you some incentive to having your phone disabled. Before there were apps from other companies that will disable your phone while you’re driving but you don’t get anything out of it. At least now when you plug it in your phone is charging and an interface to your apps in a safe way. You can listen to Spotify. You can get your emails read to you. You can still get directions to your next meeting and things like that without having to pick up your phone and crash into a school bus and kill innocent children.
Sam: I get it. I’m just saying.
Leo: No I think Sam you’re exactly right. That’s the kind of thing that… now Sam you probably drive a Tesla. So you have a 17-inch screen in your console there.
Sam: No I drive an A3 manual. So I actually have to use both my hands.
Leo: That’s another way to do it. Have a stick shift then you don’t have to… although I guarantee you there are people who are texting and shifting at the same time. I guarantee you. I might be one of them.
Sam: I’m sure you’re right. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things at stop lights.
Leo: Hey you’re at a stop light. That’s the time you should do that. What about the helium, sorry hydrogen fuel cell cars? Toyota showed a car that I think they’re going to start selling in Japan that has the explosive power of the Hindenburg. That’s exciting.
Tim: It was a big show for fuel cells. And fuel cell cars are something that we’ve known are interesting but ultimately weren’t really sure if they were ever going to come to market because there’s the huge question of where do you get the hydrogen to put into your car. Right now there are all of I think 12 stations in all of California to fill up your car. There’s 18 in the entire country of Germany to fill up your car if you have a hydrogen powered car. So that is the big issue. The technology that was the big story of the show is that technology for fuel cell cars is there and ready. The Volkswagen, there was also an Audi there. Yet Toyota was showing off their Eye which will be available for sale next year. They didn’t say how much it’s going to cost. Probably very expensive in the order of $60,000. But you get a fully featured car with 300 miles of range on about a 5kg of hydrogen. And that equates to roughly 60 miles per kilogram which is actually roughly equivalent to 60 miles per gallon. Which doesn’t really sound… it sounds good but not really that great compared to a lot of hybrids out there. The thing is a kilogram of hydrogen costs about $2 right now. That’s roughly half the cost of a gallon of gas. That’s with such limited supply. You can imagine if there were hydrogen stations on every corner, they think that cost could drop significantly. So these cars are going to be very expensive and it will be very hard to fill them up. There’s zero emissions. The only thing that comes out of the tail pipe is water vapor. They have decent power. It’s as comfortable and easy to drive as any other car. And they’re significantly cheaper to run. So there’s a lot of potential there but we’re still waiting for that supply to be there for hydrogen. So who knows when that’s going to happen?
Leo: I have so many questions. So it’s not burning hydrogen? It’s a fuel cell.
Tim: Right, so the hydrogen goes into a fuel cell which gives you a constant supply of electricity. It’s not a lot of electricity but it’s enough to power the car.
Leo: So it’s essentially and electric car.
Tim: Yes. These cars are all EVs. Just think instead of having a big battery pack, you have a hydrogen tank connected to a fuel cell. They do have small batteries because if you put your foot down the demand is going to be greater than that fuel cell can supply. So they’re kind of like hydrogen-powered hybrids almost. In fact, the Audi they showed off is a plug-in hybrid. So you can actually plug that in at home and drive it for about 30 miles before it starts to sip from the hydrogen tank. But they all are EVs just like the battery car.
Leo: So they’re like the Volt then with an engine as well? Or plug-in hybrids? Nothing’s just hydrogen fuel cell only. Or is it?
Tim: The only source of electricity for most of these cars is from hydrogen fuel cell. The Audio can be plugged in too to give you a little extra range on top of that. They have a small battery to meet peak demands. If you’re racing someone to the stop light that kind of thing, the fuel cell isn’t going to give you enough juice for acceleration.
Leo: And is there another consumable? Doesn’t a fuel cell require some sort of electrolysis process?
Tim: No, the maintenance on these things is remarkably low. There are some fuel filters and things that would need to be replaced every couple of years.
Leo: So there’s no catalyst?
Tim: No you don’t have to drop copper into the fuel tank or anything like that. They’re pretty well sustained. And these are still early days for these cars. So even at $60,000, Toyota’s probably taking a little bit of a loss just to get them on the market and see how they hold up to day to day wear and tear. Weather and seasons, and that sort of thing. Ultimately they’re based on production technology. In fact the Volkswagen cars are basically the same thing as the Volkswagen E-Gulf. An all-electric Gulf they’re selling now but instead of having a battery pack they have hydrogen tank.
Leo: And I was being jocular referring to the Hindenburg. Of course a gas tank is also highly combustible.
Kevin: Hydrogen leak just goes up in the sky and vanishes. Petroleum goes across the ground because it’s heavier than air. Then you light it and you get a flame that spreads sideways. Petroleum gas spillage is one of the scariest things there is.
Leo: Anything that has enough stored energy to motivate a three-ton vehicle is going to have some explosive power. Even lithium-ion. You’re storing a lot of energy in a compact form to drive the car. It’s going to have some explosive potential.
Tim: We’ve seen plenty of battery packs up in smoke. And when they do they go very quickly and very violently. Not as violently as a hydrogen explosion obviously. But these tanks are very well designed. They’re carbon fiber for the most part. And they can survive a pretty significant impact for sure.
Leo: Then the refueling, I guess Toyota said they’re going to put in more stations. They say it fills in five minutes. Which is pretty fast. Faster than a Tesla but not as fast as a gas fill-up.
Tim: Not quite. You can figure you can fill up a typical car in two minutes. One of the nice things is there’s actually already a standard defined for hydrogen filling stations. So they don’t need to do that. If you look at EVs, there are about three or four different standards when you go from one country to the next. It’s a headache for everybody. Tesla has their own thing they’re doing. This is one standard defined across the entire industry so that’s nice. It’s one of the things that you don’t need to worry about. You plug the car in and it takes five minutes. You have to go up to 10,000 PSI which is pretty high. But at that point you’re good to go for another 300 miles.
Leo: And then finally I guess the question that really we should be asking is how do you produce hydrogen and is it produced in an environmentally friendly way? Or is it just deferring the environmental costs to another location?
Tim: That really depends on where you are and where your electricity comes from. You can get hydrogen pretty easily from alcohol from ethanol and that kind of thing. And that’s pretty straight forward conversion and efficient. You can also basically make it straight from thin air just by using electricity. But of course the question there is where is your electricity coming from? Right now that is basically passing the buck from one source of contaminants, one source of pollution to another one. The hope is that at some point in the non-distant future, we’ll have much more efficient sources of power to the grid. And at that point hydrogen production could in theory become free or close to free. And you know we’re basically solving a lot of problems which is all these cars on the road polluting. And then moving that problem up the stream a bit to power plants. And we can solve that problem and move along. But again it depends where you’re from. If you’re in the northwest for example, there’s a lot of renewable energy up there. If you’re coming from a coal-fired power plant kind of place, you’re probably just passing the buck.
Leo: Interesting. What else did you see? Somebody was asking how you feel about the new Shelby plank… what was it, differential? I don’t know if that’s in your purview or not.’
Tim: Yea, so the GT 350 which is Ford’s new, the first…
Leo: You can ask this guy anything!
Tim: It’s the first of what we’ll probably see dozens and dozens of special edition Mustangs. They just launched the 2015 Mustang. This is a Shelby GT 350. They didn’t give us a lot of details about it. But basically the shape of the crank in the V8 means there’s going to be a higher-revving motor than we’ve seen in the past. You usually think the 8’s as a big and throttly engines you wouldn’t want to rev to high. This one will be designed for high revving. It’s basically designed to be kind of a track toy. They’re going after the Camaro Z28 in a big way. It’s going to be over 500 horsepower; they didn’t say exactly how many. It’s going to be a very nice car. Sounds very nice when it revs. That flap plank crank gives it a different sound to the ignition as well. But a very different sort of Mustang than we’ve seen in the past. I’m curious to see how it does on the track, especially with the new independent rear suspension which is neat too.
Leo: You see? You ask about flap plank cranks and you get an answer. This man knows his stuff!
Tim: Thank you very much.
Leo: Tim Stevens. You’ll probably cover this on CNET, right?
Tim: Absolutely. We’ll be doing more Mustang coverages once we get more time. We did a big feature at the launch of that car last year. I went to Detroit to talk to the designers and kind of get a feel for things. Like I said this is the first big special edition of the Mustang that they’ve done. But they’ll be doing a lot more and we hope to be spending some time on the track with that thing in the not-too-distant future. The new Corvette also; look for more coverage of the news at 6 SEC time. That should be fun too.
Leo: Cnet.com/topics/car/tech. You can read all about it. I came this close to buying a Shelby. And then Tony Wang said it’s a waste. You shouldn’t get a Shelby. You’ll never drive it. So I just got a regular GT. But it’s a nice car. It’s a nice car. It’s got a stick. So I can’t text.
Leo: Yea. 506 horsepower on the flap crank. Holy cow!
Tim: Somewhere over 500, yea. They didn’t say how much it was going to cost though which was a question for a lot of people.
Leo: Let’s take a break. We’ll come back with lots more to talk about. Tim Stevens, Sam Lessin, Mr. Kevin Marks. Our show today brought to you by stamps.com. And kind of in a way the U.S. postal service. If you’re not doing mailing in your business like sending out brochures. Or if you sell on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon, you don’t want to go to the post office this time of year. You don’t have time to go to the post office. It’s going to be packed. Everybody is mailing holiday gifts and packages. I got a mailer from the post office on Friday saying how to be a postal pro. How to navigate the traffic in the parking. Stamps.com, I should have just said hey you don’t have to send me this anymore; I have stamps.com. I don’t have to go to the post office anymore. I can buy and print my own U.S. postage on demand from my computer and my printer, 24/7. I can print postage for any letter, any package, the instant I need it. The mail carrier comes to my house, picks me up, and I love this USB scale. That means you always have exactly the right postage. I’m the kind of guy, because I don’t want to send stuff postage due. So I’ll always put an extra stamp or two on. That’s a waste of money. Of course a lot worse, if you send stuff postage due. That’s frowned upon, I think. Bad etiquette. You’re trying to promote or talk about something cool or exciding and poor customer gets a postage due envelope. That doesn’t go well for your business. Stamps.com! You’ll even save money. You can get discounts you can’t get at the post office. Priority mail and priority mail express shipments. One click of the mouse and you’ve got package insurance from stamps.com. They’ll even fill out all the forms for international and certified mail. All the customs stuff. It’s just really great. You don’t have to copy and paste data. It’ll take it right from Quick Books or address book, or Amazon or eBay, or Etsy. I just love it. Stamps.com, here’s the deal. Go to stamps.com, click the microphone in the upper-right hand corner. And use our offer code TWIT and you will get a very good offer. $110 bonus offer includes that scale. You pay $5 shipping and handling on that but you also get $55 in postage coupons. And $5 supply kit. Plus of course a month free of stamps.com. You’ve got to try it! Stamps.com. Use the offer code TWIT for our special deal. Good news, Apple has ended the patent war. Whoever thought that would happen? Remember Apple was a primary investor in a company called Rock Star. They bought the Nortel patents. You would know about this, Kevin, being a telecom fellow. And they in fact up in Canada, Rock Star had a lab where people were reverse engineering all sorts of technology looking for patent infringement. Apple was a big investor. And I think Microsoft was involved in Rock Star. And was suing everybody, especially Samsung. The Rock Star lawsuits were kind of the latest in a non-stop lawsuit mania going on in Silicon Valley. Apple, and I have to think this is Tim Cook, has decided to end this war. Remember this was Steve Jobs who declared thermonuclear war on Google and Android. Good news? Kevin?
Kevin: Definitely good news. The less of this nonsense there is the better. It is basically became a way for lawyers to tax technology as far as I can tell. No company ends up doing well out of this.
Leo: I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Doesn’t a company have a right and obligation to protect their intellectual property?
Kevin: The notion of intellectual property itself is a problematic one
Leo: You’re just a commie!
Kevin: No, it’s a post-op construction. There were three separate things that tie in together that is intellectual property. And promote it as a form of property as opposed to government grants have been released to have a function. And once you treat them as property then people’s metaphor for them is broken. The point of patents was to protect the invention for a limited time and then make it public. That was also the point of copyright. Copyright, they kept it similar terms to the point of ridiculousness. So that making it public doesn’t happen anymore.
Leo: Thank you, Walt Disney.
Kevin: With patents, what happened is they effectively change the definition of invention from something that has to sort of practically exist to the ability to patent abstract ideas. And that’s where we had the explosion of idiocy there.
Leo: Is that software patents? Is that really the fundamental issue?
Kevin: Software patents, business model patents. There’s a whole…
Leo: Swipe to unlock. You can’t patent swipe to unlock. Come on.
Kevin: Things like that. Design patents as well. So the challenge with… part of this is a culture clash. So the reason the telecom companies are very big on patents is because the model that they had for standardization was that they very much wanted to whole industry to have the same standard. As you were talking about with the fuel cells. You want everyone to be on the same standard for something like that. And so the model they did come up with was that you would get all the engineers in every company together, agree the standards up front, create a patent pool, cross-license it, and that was their work-around for that. And that worked within their domain where you have to express these things in hardware. And there are very long lead times. So when you want to go from GSM to 4G, you want everyone to be doing the same steps and have them interoperable. So that’s the sort of world they came from. And that sort of leaked into technology at the point where we were working with audio-video codecs. And things like that. And that became the notion of standardization; sort of leaks across them there. So as these technologies shifted from being implemented purely in hardware to be implemented potentially infringing software. There’s a culture clash between the two modes. And that’s where a lot of this comes from. And so in the software world we’ve long ago realized that this was unworkable and came up with other models for getting people to converge. Which is open-source and open standards models. Open standards groups like ITF and W3C where we all agree… we still go and argue about it. But it’s not an up-front agreement where we say we will agree to have this work before we build it. It’s much more often a post-op agreement saying we all built these things that are fairly close. If we make a few small changes, then we’ll actually interoperate better. If you look at the difference between the ISO for example and the W3C or even the ITF. The ISO is this effectively behaves like a legislative body. The W3C and the ITF behave much more like documenting what has happened and agreeing so that each build can do the same thing. So they’ve taken the responsibility for documenting the invention from the patent which was designed to let someone else replicate it after it expired, into this publicly shared process where we can replicate it before it expires so we have a layer of stuff that we can agree on. So that difference is key to the heart of this. And a lot of these patent walls were leakage from hardware-centric worldview into the software worldview. And I think the promising thing we’re now seeing is the leakage is going the other way as we’re starting to get more open-sourced hardware. But also as software replaces a lot of the things that we used to do in hardware. The ability to use open-source stuff for that and open-spec stuff for that becomes much more viable.
Leo: IM, which is the blog arm of the IP media group. Richard Lloyd writing says that Rock Star reached a settlement with Cisco. They have now settled with Google. He calls them an NPE which is the modern term for patent troll: non-practicing entity. Somebody that bought patents but has no desire to use them. Merely to sue. They’ve also apparently dropped lawsuits against others apparently the investors in Rock Star which include Apple which put $2.6B into it in 2011 have kind of loss their appetite for suing or fighting. The real question is what will happen to Rock Star? Will it be sold to another non-practicing entity? That would be bad. But it seems to be that the parties involved, the investors, don’t want that to happen. If they do sell Rock Star’s assets, they’ll sell them to somebody else who’s not going to sue. Apple, Ericsson, Blackberry, Microsoft, Sony, and EMC bid for it. I think EMC was not involved. But Sony, Microsoft, Blackberry, Apple, and Ericsson are at the parties. And since Ericsson and Blackberry are resting, it’s probably really more up to Sony, Microsoft, and Apple right now.
Kevin: Right. And at some point Apple has sort of won the battle.
Leo: No need to fight. So It’s not merely Tim Cook saying you know this was a bad idea. It’s bad for everybody. Lots of things about how we do business were revealed in these lawsuits. It’s him saying we won.
Kevin: I think it’s a bit of both. I think it’s a change of tone. Apple has been historical fictitious and also the target of a lot of patent trolls as well. So they’ve got a very strong legal team and it’s a question of which way they’re deciding to point them.
Leo: Of course ironically you’d think Samsung would say oh thank goodness… no, instead they’re countersuing NVidia and Velocity Micro. NVidia’s suing them over a system on a chip used for the shield tablet, the Tegra K1. And the Tegra 2. Oh well.
Kevin: The other thing is, the other way to think about Apple. And this is the area that Tim Cook is extremely good at. They want to commoditize this stuff that they’re putting a layer on top of. So for any given Apple model they make, they will have supplies for the different components. And they’ll decide as they ramp up to production which ones they want to go with. That was definitely true when I went to Apple. They were building new machines. There were always multiple builds for different hardware components for the different pieces so they could try them out. We could get the software running in all of them and swap out supplies when needed. As they’ve scaled up, that may have been harder for them to do. But it’s something that, this is the piece that Tim Cook grew with the supply side of Apple. And he understands that. In some ways that’s what Apple is doing with other industries as well. If you think about the way Apple Pay works, in effect they’re doing the same thing. The payment model is not going to change. We’re just providing a layer on top of that.
Leo: That’s smart. We add the value to commodity…
Kevin: Yea we have to design a user experience and the large customer base that like what we do to your service layer.
Leo: European Parliament is poised to call for a breakup of Google. That’s a good idea. The idea I guess is to put political pressure on the European Commission to take a tougher stand on Google. Anti-trust and anti-privacy investigations. The financial times reported that it saw a draft motion from the European Parliament that says quote unbundling of search engines from other commercial services should be considered as a potential solution to Google’s dominance. Sam that must be frustrating for a company when you have all this success and all you get is no, no kids we’re going to break you up.
Sam: I don’t know the details of how the European Commission documents. My sense is look, I think it’s actual not that dissimilar to the Uber situation. When you get big enough, everybody says a lot of different things and there’s a lot of opinions. And the question is how do you manage the scale and move forward. Is it unfathomable that at least one or more people in Europe think this is a good idea? No. There’s a lot of people in Europe. The question is how does it actually end up netting out at the end of the day. I don’t know. It’s not clear to me how serious this is versus how much this is… there’s a lot of graphs and a lot of things in the world.
Leo: Google apparently was furious at the political nature of the motion. They don’t think it’s a serious motion. They just think it’s politics in the European Union.
Sam: The question is how do you manage these huge companies and these huge systems where everyone has a very personable relationship with these brands? And they’re powerful.
Kevin: The other thing is this sort of maps a bit the structural separation solution that I was talking about for net neutrality. That’s the model that Europe understands. For that size they’re trying to apply in this field. And the challenge is, is that an analogy that works or is there another one that makes more sense. The question needs to be which is better for the end users, for the people. And most of these suits in the EU have not been by people saying Google search is really bad. It’s been by people saying…
Leo: It’s too good!
Kevin: People saying Google search is too good, it’s locking us out. That’s the patent there. That’s the challenge for the EU Commission is to come up with a way that says okay what we could change that would make this better for customers. The other parallel may be the Microsoft decent decree where they said we didn’t like you bundling the browser with the operating system. And so we’re going to mandate that you give the users the choice of browsers.
Leo: Yea, that worked out well. The browser ballet.
Kevin: So, that coincided with Microsoft sort of like sending the ICE email on holiday for two years. It’s not clear how much, if any impact that had compared to the fact that other people were building better browsers and Microsoft was resting on their laurels. But the browser market has changed since then.
Leo: Lest you think venal and stupid politicians exist only in Europe. Good news! After the Supreme Court decision against Ario, they’ve conceded defeat and Ario is now filing for bankruptcy. For some time they tried to convince the court, no, no. Okay, we’ll be a cable company then. The court didn’t buy it. Ario, which is only three years old and was beloved by people who used the service, is basically been put out of the business by the television networks who didn’t like the idea. Five months ago, they lost in the Supreme Court and they haven’t really been able to find a way out. So they’re going to seek bankruptcy protection. It is chapter 11, so it doesn’t mean they’re going away. Just restructuring. But I got to wonder what exactly their new business model will be. If you can’t do…
Sam: They made a bet and it came up wrong.
Leo: They took a chance.
Sam: It was a cool bet.
Leo: It’s a cool bet. How do you feel about that Supreme Court decision? It seems misguided.
Sam: I don’t know. I mean it depends… look, the reality is I think this goes back to the whole… my best grounding in all this stuff as I really enjoy the Masters which is a book. I recommend everyone read it who’s interested in it.
Leo: Yep. These are all the forces at work, aren’t they?
Sam: It all just kind of rehashes very old issues over and over again. I think it’s a reasonable outcome for the Supreme Court to pull. It’s not irrational. But it just pushes the world in a little different direction for a while.
Leo: A while is the key, I think.
Kevin: Ario was always a hack anyway.
Leo: They knew what they were doing.
Kevin: We need to put tiny antennas on the top of each roof.
Leo: It was always a temporary play because as soon as internet broadcasting over the top happens, you don’t need Ario. It was a matter of an interim product until local stations put themselves on the internet. And that’s going to happen.
Kevin: That’s going to happen too. I’ve gone the other way. I’ve canceled my Comcast cable subscription and put an antenna on the side of the house. So if you want to watch anything over the air, we’ll watch it on the antenna. Otherwise, we’ll just use Netflix.
Leo: But you’re lucky. You can get free broadcast over the air. We can’t get OTA up here in Petaluma.
Sam: I’m curious. Do you guys watch sports? For me I don’t watch sports so literally we haven’t had any sort of connection to anything live in years. And it’s never been an issue.
Leo: Um, sports, academy awards.
Kevin: There’s the occasional thing.
Leo: It’s live programming, right?
Kevin: The Voice, stuff like that, yea.
Leo: The Voice, really? My wife watches the Voice. She drives me crazy because she DVRs it and that’s sensible because there’s like eight hours of commercials in an hour of television. I don’t know how they do it. It’s an amazing miracle. But she skips right to the performances. But I want to see what Garth says. That’s Taylor Swift. She goes right to the performances.
Kevin: That’s pretty sensible. That would make it like a 10 minute show.
Leo: It’s a very short show. Takes no time to watch.
Kevin: If she wants she could just get this on iTunes.
Leo: It makes her happy to fast forward the DVR. Explain to me streaming Photoshop. Actually we’re going to talk about that in a second; take a break. Then I want to talk about I think it’s pronounced Hoya. But I think it’s Jolla or Jolla, the open source iPad alternative. It raised a million dollars in two days. This is from a bunch of ex-Nokia employees. And the chairman of the FCC says we’re not going to rush. We’re going to take our time. Don’t rush me, man. Our show today brought to you by hover.com, the best way to get those domain names. You understand how the domain system works. There’s an ICAN which then gives registrars the ability to register domain names and take that registration and then send them to the big canonical DNS servers where it propagates down. But you have to get a domain. You can’t just go to ICAN and say give me a domain name. You have to buy it from a registrar. And you have many choices of registrars. I got to tell you after trying them all I love Hover. Hover is the easiest and best way to not only get the domain names but to manage them. You don’t get all that up-sell and all that extra clicks. Some of these places you buy a domain name and then you have to click 53 times just to get to the checkout. Hover is fast and easy so if you’ve got an idea for a domain name, you go to hover.com. You’re going to get that domain name right away. Right now is a great time to start a new project. Hover has recently lowered prices on more than 200 domain extensions including many of the top-level domains. They also reduced the price for new dot-com domains. It’s $12.99 but that includes who is privacy. They know you don’t want your name, address, and phone number published on the internet. So they give that to you for free with every domain that supports it. Hover is so great. It takes the friction out of registering a domain name. Their valet transfer service makes it easy. I should have used it. I did it myself and that was a nightmare. But I did transfer all my services over to Hover. If I had used the valet transfer service they would have taken care of the whole thing for you. Some domain registrars are loathed to let go of your business. They’ll lock your domain for months and say you can’t transfer out of here, boy. They’re supposed to let you but believe me they don’t make it easy. Hover will take care of it for you and they’ll tell you when your domains are in there. They’ll transfer the DNS settings. And it’s free no matter how many domain names you have. You pay $10, you get a year extension, no matter what the domain name is. I love it. Hover, honest, straight-forward. They have the best customer support around. They’re famous for their no-wait, no-hold, no-transfer service. And they offer volume discounts. So if you’re buying a bunch of domains, as few as 10, they’ll give you a discount on your renewals. Hover.com. I invite you to use it today on your first purchase you’ll get 10% off when you use the promo code TWIT11. It’s the eleventh month at hover.com. You’re going to love them. I watched the video and I’ve forgotten now how you pronounce it. Is it Jolla?
Tim: It’s Yola.
Leo: Yola. It’s Sale Fish OS, which is a skinned version I believe of Android. Here it is. They’re doing the Indie Gogo campaign. They want to make an iPad alternative. November 19th they started. They were hoping to get $383,000. To-date, $1.1M on the, say it again. Jolla? Yola?
Leo: Yola. It’s Finnish, right?
Leo: So what do you think of this?
Tim: I think it looks great. This is based on Linux. So it can run Android apps but of course you won’t get the first-party. You know, your Gmails, Google Maps, that sort of thing. You can run Android apps.
Leo: Will it be AOSP? Or it’s something completely different?
Tim: It’s closest to Meego, I think.
Leo: Oh, Meego, yea, yea.
Tim: So it’s kind of similar a little bit. Only it’s in field to that. It’s a very nice OS from what I’ve seen. I haven’t actually used it myself. This is version 2. I think version 1 was on the phone that I think came out last year if I remember right.
Leo: I had a Meego phone for a little bit. That was it. It was done.
Tim: That was kind of a last slash for Meego. Which everybody loved and now unfortunately it was never… I went to Windows Phone after that. The tablet looks nice. A nice price point. Obviously a lot of people are interested and excited. It’s interesting to see that it’s almost like a spiritual successor to Nokia devices.
Leo: It looks a little like a Lumia with that curved edge. So you can get if you do the Indie Gogo for $209… they plan to charge $250. So it’s very affordable. But I have to say after using the Fire OS and these others, I just feel like you really should just get Android or iOS. A forked OS, I mean I love to support these guys. I think it’s great.
Sam: The likelihood they would be able to succeed at scale is extremely thin. It’s just so expensive. Not the one-time build or any of these things. But continuously updating and keeping them competitive. Gaining distribution. This is extremely difficult to pull off.
Leo: I know!
Sam: Basically I would argue impossible for a startup.
Leo: I want to support them. I love the idea. These are all refugees from Nokia, trying to make their way in the world. You know what they need? They need some hook. They need to say like it’s the private tablet. You know? Like the black phone or something. They need some hook that makes you want it and it’s better somehow than Android or iOS. Otherwise, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t get a mainstream OS.
Sam: It’s also unclear starting with building a tablet. It’s an interesting decision. On one hand I guess it’s less mission critical. So people are willing to go buy an extra one and take a chance. Who cares, right? On the flip side, especially in this world you guys are playing with your huge phones. It’s really unclear to me that tablet is an immediate form factor in the future.
Leo: I wonder. Really? Now you’re taking a chance. You’re getting out on the ledge here.
Sam: I’ll throw it out there.
Leo: I feel the same way. But look at iPad sales, they’re kind of flattened. Turning down. When you have a six-inch phone, what do you need a tablet for?
Tim: Especially these small tablets. This has 7.85 inches which is very close to the bigger phones these days. The Nexus 6 or Note 4. If anything, I think we’ll see the iPad and it’s getting bigger movement going form the 12-inch to the 14-inch size. Just to maintain some kind of a niche. Ultimately that’s still going to be a smaller niche. I think the tablet sales are going to continue to decline. Ultimately if you have a six-inch phone in your pocket, why would you need an eight-inch tablet in your hand? You’d want something significantly different. That would be the only reason to have a tablet really.
Leo: I’ve got to say they’ve raised a million plus dollars. Somebody wants it.
Kevin: My point of view on this is that these things are actually converging. The phone-tablet dichotomy was basically a design decision that Apple made a few years ago based on the technology at the time. And that sort of got baked into the way people felt about these things as separate entities. Whereas now, there’s a continuum. Samsung has a thing in every measure between three inches and 12. And people can pick the ones that they want to use. And the software is moving. Now Apple has shifted some of the bigger phones from that dichotomy to this continuous, responsive design model. I think it’s a question of picking which size you want to use it.
Sam: That’s fair. I think the only argument I would make contrary to that is just that there is very different relationship you have with your phone versus a tablet which may be shared in a family or used in a home by multiple people. To me you guys and I myself have two phones. Massive exception to the rule. People are going to have like a device. That’s just a very different pattern of having a device that’s your persistent identity. You log in and experience the world. It’s with you all the time. It has to be carried with you everywhere versus a tablet which is a casual use at home around the couch. Shared by a family, whatever. I think there is a different pattern of interaction at least historically.
Leo: I have to say when you look around at people, they are in love with their phone. They don’t look at their loved ones. They don’t look at their food, the road. They’re in love, aren’t they? And I’m one of them! We gaze into the eyes of our phone with passion. This is what people want. There’s the most intimate technology in history.
Kevin: I think we’re starting to get the notion that you can move the stuff between the screens. It’s becoming much more obvious and smoother. We’ve had bits of that with Apple TV and Chrome. And it’s very obvious what you were saying about the cast software. Okay, the card just becomes a screen viewer for your phone. So there’s a sense that you are carrying this thing but it can take advantage of the screens of the other places that are there. And that’s an obvious thing that people quite like. But you have to be careful. You don’t actually want as you say your intimate messages appearing on the television screen in front of everyone else in the room. So you want to have some control over which one you’re using for what.
Leo: I would say the analog is music. Think how we’ve consumed how we changed music. We used to listen in groups at concerts or when we would have our stereo. It’s got more and more intimate. The phone is very much like the iPod where the music is a very personal connection, one-on-one. Despite the Microsoft squirt ads where people were sharing their ear buds. I think really people, their music they consume solo in a solitary way. I think computing is rapidly moving that direction.
Kevin: I think that’s back and forth. Before it was a solitary thing. But the ability to cast it to the room is useful too. They sell a lot of these large Bluetooth speakers as well as headphones.
Leo: I guess they do. That’s mostly because I can’t hold my phone, my precious. I have to put it down while I wash the dishes.
Sam: There’s no question we’ll be flicking different types of media and projecting things and using all those screens around us. Frankly I don’t think it’s a very interesting business to be a screen manufacturer. There’s the question of like where is the Nexus of software and connection and communication? I think there will be things like the size of tablets or bigger tablets that I’ll be pushing data to. I think it’s an interesting decision for a company to focus on those right now.
Leo: Sam, is that a replicator? What is that behind you?
Sam: That’s a Maker Bot.
Sam: Yea, second generation.
Leo: What have you been building lately?
Sam: It’s funny. I was one of the early investors in Maker Bot. And a huge believer in what they’re doing. The coolest things we used to print-I used to have it in a conference room at Facebook-and the teams would print out three-dimensional DAU and NAU reports on it. So we would have a meeting and…
Leo: No, you’d have little 3D graphs.
Sam: No it would be a globe of the world and basically do the heights of different populations. So you’d see a map of the world.
Leo: Oh man! Whatever happened to those? Are they on a shelf somewhere?
Sam: I think so. I think a bunch of them got chucked.
Leo: No! That’s awesome. Data visualization. That’s the best use for a 3D printer I’ve heard in a long time.
Sam: If you’re blind you can figure out how we’re doing globally.
Leo: Yea, wow. That is very cool. Hey congratulations to Jerry Ellsworth and her team at Cast AR. Remember Jerry left Valve and convinced Gabe Newell to give her this. Augmented reality glasses that project a game space in front of you. You’re still looking through the glasses and still see the world around you and your opponent. But you also see the game space. It was a $1M Kickstarter project a year ago. It has just shipped, Cast AR has shipped their first pair of augmented reality glasses. Congratulations to Jerry and Rick and the team at Cast AR. They showed us early prototypes.
Kevin: What games does it run?
Leo: I think that… I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Tim: Its big focus is interactive game play, multiplayer game play.
Leo: Yea you can play chess with each other and see the chess board.
Tim: Part of it is taking tabletop gaming to the next step. Each person has their own perspective and a 3D view of a virtual tabletop for example. You can also play a flight simulator for example. It will project on the wall if you hang up the right material. So you have a 3D flight simulator where you can look around. Or a driving game or that kind of thing as well. It’s definitely a different sort of technology than VR but it’s got a lot of potential. We’re having our next big panel at CES this year and Jerry’s going to be on our show. So I’m excited about it.
Leo: I’m mad for Jerry. She’s so wonderful, brilliant, and cool. She did this video that’s showing her actually shipping the first Cast AR. That tube is the plane surface. So it casts onto a plane surface. That’s the coordinate. So it’s really… yea for tabletop gaming it’s awesome. It’s like a retro reflective surface effectively. So whatever your Cast AR glasses are projecting, they’re reflecting back to you but not to anybody else. That’s how it gives you a personalized display. And everybody else has their own display. Ultimately you’re seeing the same world but from different perspectives.
Leo: Very exciting. I’m glad you knew all about it. Because I played with it but didn’t…
Tim: It’s cool stuff.
Leo: Really cool stuff. And congratulations to circuit girl. Hey I want to thank you all for being here. I just have one question for you, Sam. What do you have against Carthidge?
Sam: It needs to burn.
Leo: I don’t know why you have that on a poster. But anybody who’s studied the Romans or Latin, we did it in Latin.
Leo: Was it Kato?
Sam: I didn’t get that far.
Leo: I don’t remember. He said Carthidge must be destroyed.
Sam: Carthidge must burn.
Leo: It has been. It’s done. It’s over. We salted it. You don’t have to worry about Carthidge anymore. Move on with your life. Carthidge must be destroyed. Cartago Delinda Est.
Sam: That’s the poster.
Leo: Is there an explanation for it?
Sam: It’s a long story but…
Leo: You’re just a fan of the third Punic war. I understand. Who isn’t?
Sam: It was a limited edition Punic war for those who are surviving.
Kevin: Is Carthidge Myspace here? Is that what this is about?
Leo: I think there’s a conspiracy here going on.
Sam: You guys can come up with all the conspiracy theories you want.
Leo: Did Mark hand those out in a special conspiracy meeting? Come on.
Sam: All the conspiracy theories you want. Listen, I was a good Latin student. My name in Latin class was Ignifor.
Leo: What does that mean? Bearer of dumbness?
Sam: Uh, fire. Anyway.
Tim: That’s what they told you anyway.
Leo: Okay complete this phrase…
Sam: I can’t anymore.
Leo: That’s good! Very good! He remembers his conjugations. Sam, it’s great to talk to you once again. Please come back. We’d love to have you on a regular basis. It’s so much fun to have you. And you’re in the Bay area, right? Come up and visit us sometime.
Sam: I’d love to sometime. I couldn’t make it work today. But sometime I’ll make it work.
Leo: Any time. We’ll be in touch. I’d love to do it again. My regards to Jessica and everybody should subscribe to the information. We have our subscription. It’s $400 a year, right?
Sam: Yep. You can read my article tomorrow. I’ve got one coming out.
Leo: I see one here. I wonder if they published the Uber is the gate keeper to the physical world. You’ve got another one coming?
Sam: That was I think last week’s. I’ve got my weekly thing on Monday.
Leo: This was from the Uber-Spotify announcement which was immediately eclipsed by the Uber we’re going to get you announcement.
Sam: It was an interesting announcement, directionally where the world’s going.
Leo: I think it’s great. I mean I’m not a Spotify customer or an Uber customer. In theory if you are you get into the car and your tunes would be playing.
Sam: All I want in the future is to walk into a bar and have them change the music. Know who I am and make my favorite drink on demand. And I think Uber might get us there over time.
Leo: Hello, Sam. Would you like another Pascoe sour?
Leo: We have put Garth Brooks on the jukebox. Please, enjoy.
Sam: That’s what I want. I don’t get it.
Leo: I like it. You’re right. This is where Uber’s headed. Ignore all this stuff.
Sam: They know you’re two minutes away from the restaurant. Prepare the table, check me in. That’s going to be awesome.
Leo: Let’s give up this whole privacy notion. We want that.
Sam: You can control it but at the end of the day why would you not want that?
Leo: Why would you not want that?
Leo: I want as I walk by the pants store, I want them to throw pants at me and say you need some new pants. Here they are. We’ve already made them to your size.
Sam: By the way, you can rent them. Just return them later.
Leo: Just throw them in the autonomous vehicle when you’re done and we’ll drive it back to us. Tim Stevens, he does Car Tech at CNET, at cnet.com/topics/car-tech. You can follow him on the Twitter, @tim_stevens. Always great to have you on. How many feet of snow do you have today?
Tim: It was actually up and over melting. So we have no snow left at this point. It’s going to be 60 degrees. It was down to 17 degrees a couple days ago and it’s going to be 60. So we’re in a weird weather pattern.
Leo: You’re near Buffalo but you’re not near it enough to get the lake effect?
Tim: No, we’re a long way from Buffalo actually. We’re out to the east part of the state. So we missed all the lake effect fun that all the folks out west got to…
Leo: That was wild.
Tim: Insane amount of snow.
Leo: Have you ever had that kind of snow? Six feet of snow.
Tim: Pretty close to it. I grew up in Vermont and we had some big snow storms when I was a kid. I remember digging tunnels with my sister and we had a hill we’d go sliding on and we built a tunnel and go sliding down through the tunnel instead of on the top of the snow.
Leo: Right, that’s how you get out of your house. You saw the picture of the guy who opens the door. I wonder if that’s on here. The guy opens the door and instead of the outside world, there’s a big snow wall with his door imprinted in it.
Tim: And he put his beers in there.
Leo: That was a good one. It made a nice fridge. Oh man. So you don’t get snow like that where you are.
Tim: Not up in Albany these days. We don’t get quite that much. Out west toward the lake, you definitely get a lot of snow real quick.
Leo: Well I’ll be watching. Did you watch the Jets game? Was it snowing in Buffalo?
Tim: I did not. I’m not a football fan, I confess.
Leo: That’s why we have you on, on Sundays. No one on this show could be a football fan. Otherwise we would never get anybody on this show. Kevin Marks, you’re probably a football fan in that English way.
Kevin: Not really, no.
Leo: Of course not. It’s always great to talk to you. Kevin tweeted and said I want to talk about net neutrality. I said Kevin you can be on this show whenever you want.
Kevin: I may take you up on that again. When I’m ready to get some more lighting out here.
Leo: I like how it’s slowly getting darker, that’s good. We do TWiT every Sunday afternoon, 3pm Pacific, 6pm Pacific time, 2300 UTC. On twit.tv. We’d love it if you watch live. Because I watch the chat room and snicker. But if you can’t, don’t worry. On demand audio and video is always available after the fact, twit.tv. You can also get it on all your podcast clients and that stuff. It’s on YouTube as well. Youtube.com/thisweekintech. If you want to share it with your friends, you can do it there. If you want to be in our studio, our live studio audience. It was kind of fun today. We started with 20 people. There’s six left. What happened? Did we chase you all away? If you want to be here, you don’t have to stay the whole time. Nobody does, really. If you do, bring snacks. And maybe a catheter. Just email email@example.com. And you can be in the audience. And a special attention, New Year’s Eve is coming up. And we are going to have a New Year’s Eve benefit marathon for UNICEF for raising money for UNICEF. We are going to go from 3am New Year’s Eve to 3am New Year’s Day. And we will say happy New Year to every time zone around the world in that time via Skype calls. We’ll have a balloon drop, champagne, it will be a lot of fun. We’ve got bands. We’ve got fun. You can be here if you email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets will be limited because a lot of people will want to come to that. Most of our hosts will be here. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The week, before we do our best of, and I encourage you to submit any ideas you have for our best of. Twit.tv/bestof for any of the shows. We put best of’s together during Christmas week this year. If you know the episode number, that would be great. I hope you know the show name. But if you don’t, just write in the comments. There was this thing that happened with a thing and it would be really good to have that in the best of. It will help our producers, Jason Howell. Our hard-working producers and editors put something together. By the way, if you want to be on our New Year’s Eve show, there are some unfilled time zones. You got to figure we’ve got the east coast covered. We probably have Sydney covered. I know, Sam, you’re going to cover British standard time for us, right? But I imagine there will be people… if you’re in the Solomon Islands. If you’re in Uzbekistan. If you’re in Tuvalu, go to twit.tv/nye. Anywhere like that. If you’re in far-away land, let us know what time zone you’re in so we can Skype over to you and you can have a party for us. There’s all the time zones. There are 27, right? Something like that. Because some of these balloon drops will be at quarter after and half-past. It’s so weird. Anyway we’ll be doing that. Also, we still have a few shirts left. If you would like to get a holiday gift for the geek in your life, we’ve got TWiT dress shirts and polo shirts at teespring.com/twit. We tried to come up with something people would like for the holidays. So we have embroidered polo shirts for men and women and embroidered dress shifts for men and women. Maybe that was not the best thing to choose. We’ve only sold 200 of them. But, you only have seven days left. So get on over there. I know, everybody’s waiting. You don’t have to swipe this. The price doesn’t change. It’s going to be the same price in seven days. But after seven days, it’s gone. Teespring.com/twit. Thanks for being here, we’ll see you next week! Another TWiT is in the can. Bye-bye.