Benner on Tech: Apple's Win, Snapchat's Deals and Sony's Choice

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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It took a jury only three hours to find in favor of Apple, the defendant in an antitrust lawsuit that claimed the company had used iTunes software updates to monopolize the digital music market. The jurors unanimously agreed that the software updates had actually improved the service for consumers, bringing to an end a lawsuit that focused on actions that allegedly happened a decade ago.

The quick decision seemed a fitting end to a lawsuit that, frankly, had very little sizzle. (I may be speaking too quickly, as the consumer attorneys vowed to appeal.) The plaintiffs' side had a hard time finding someone who’d actually been harmed by Apple’s alleged deeds and its case unraveled more as the trial wore on, particularly after the judge tossed out one of the claims.

The only thing that interests me about this lawsuit (other than the fact that, after nearly 10 years of work, the plaintiffs still had such a flimsy case) is how Apple has and hasn’t really evolved since it went head-to-head with RealNetworks. With the advent of the iPhone, Apple was still as rigid as ever about how users accessed content on the device and what kinds of experiences they were allowed to have. It controlled our experiences largely by controlling what kinds of apps it would carry in the app store, and by subtly giving some apps an edge, as The Information reported last year. (A great story from its first day as a live site. Happy belated one-year anniversary!)

But the iPhone was such a compelling device that users didn’t much care about Apple’s maneuverings behind the scenes. It became standard practice for app developers to make products for iOS first, and the Android operating system second.

The plaintiffs might see these sorts of actions as ways that Apple engages in anti-competitive practices; but I think they’re simply cases where superior product design managed to convincingly draw content and users into an ecosystem. Now that other hardware companies are making better products -- especially in places like China where stylish options made by Xiaomi are chipping away at overall smart phone marketshare -- we’re seeing Apple’s position begin to erode.

Ventureland

The secret world of Snapchat…

Emails released in the Sony hack, reveal the messaging company’s spendy side.

** Snapchat bought a startup called Scan.me for $14 million in cash, $3 million in restricted stock units, and $33 million in Class B common Snapchat stock, TechCrunch reports. It also bought video startup AddLive for $10 million in cash and $20 million in stock and bonuses. And Snapchat wants to features music on the app.

** Snapchat bought Google Glass-like project Vergence Labs for $11 million in cash and $4 million in stock, according to Business Insider.

** On Snapchat’s huge, $3 billion-plus acquisition offer from Facebook, Snapchat board member (and Sony Entertainment CEO) Michael Lynton wrote in an email, “if you knew the real number you would book us all a suite at Bellvue [sic].”

OnDeck Capital raised about $200 million in an initial public offering on Tuesday that valued the alternative lending company at $1.3 billion, the New York Times reports. Shares were priced at $20 apiece.

Funding Madness…

** Marijuana startup Privateer got a $75 million Series B investment led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. I guess Thiel meant it when he said, “You could smoke a lot of pot and still have a great company.”

** WeWork, the tech startup that feels pretty much like a commercial real estate company, closed a $355 million funding round and is now valued at $5 billion. The Wall Street Journal writes: Viewed as a traditional real estate venture, WeWork’s valuation wouldn’t be nearly as rich, Mr. Neumann acknowledges.

** Adyen, a payments startup, just raised $250 million in a Series B round of funding that values the company at $1.5 billion, says TechCrunch.

** Steven Davidoff Solomon writes in the New York Times:

In this market, the crazy valuations are just the price of survival for venture capital firms. That’s how an online grocer like Instacart or WeWork can have billion-dollar valuations. These companies may have ideas that work, and if they do, the payoff is perhaps another Facebook. But more likely, everyone is overestimating market share and pushing assumptions to even get the privilege of investing.

** Mattermark, a data analytics and intelligence company, raised a $6.5 million Series A, Pando Daily reports.

Upfront Ventures says that it raised $280 million for its fifth venture fund. (Fortune’s Dan Primack had the scoop almost a month ago.)

Redpoint Ventures’ Tom Tunguz explains why companies are hitting the $1 billion valuation mark much faster than before.

People and Personnel Moves

Cory Ondrejka, the Facebook executive who helped oversee the Oculus acquisition, is leaving the company and his last day is December 22.

Aaron Levie talks initial public offerings, corporate strategy shifts and Box’s competition with the Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide.

The Marissa Mayer story, by Nicholas Carlson.

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO and longtime Googler, pens a Wall Street Journal op-ed on why paid maternity leave is good for business. She writes:

After California instituted paid medical leave, a survey in 2011 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 91% of employers said the policy either boosted profits or had no effect. They also noted improved productivity, higher morale and reduced turnover...

Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently. It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.

Companies

Apple…

Ruble fluctuations force the company to halt sales in Russia.

Facebook…

** Dutch regulators are investigating whether the service uses user information in a way that violates local data protection rules, the New York Times reports.

** We all photograph pretty badly, so Facebook will automatically touch up our pictures.

** Semi-related: Instagram has new filters.

Google…

** Google’s many enemies have been lobbying state attorneys general to build cases against the search giant, according to Nick Wingfield and Eric Lipton’s special investigation for the New York Times.

** JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth is bearish on Google. Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson walks us through Anmuth’s rating decision.

** The company is thinking about warning us that our data isn’t safe when we visit websites that don’t use the "HTTPS" system, the BBC reports.

Twitter…

** Targeted ads (for mobile app downloads no less) get super specific, VentureBeat reports.

** The company might also let videos autoplay.

Cybersecurity Watch

More Sony…

** The employee class action lawsuit that we all saw coming. 

** Theaters may decide not to show The Interview, and the New York City premiere has been cancelled.

** The Verge’s Bryan Bishop says Sony should just release The Interview online

** Reddit is banning users that share the hacked Sony documents.

A Delta security flaw let passengers access other people’s boarding passes, according to Mashable.

Media Files

Time Inc. now accepts Bitcoin.

News and Notes 

A deep dive into the big data craze and the importance of Hadoop, by the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Dwoskin.

BlackBerry’s nostalgia play.

One in 5 Europeans have never used the Internet. But at the same time, Internet use is growing.

The Guardian says that bitcoin was the worst investment of 2014.

Stratechery founder Ben Thompson discusses the state of consumer tech and what’s next in mobile computing.

Billboard explains why China’s music industry is at the mercy of the nation’s monopolistic mobile service providers.

Wearable fitness trackers, once simply unattractive, are now icky.

Neal Stephenson, author of sci-fi novel Snow Crash, is now the "Chief Futurist" at the augmented reality company Magic Leap, says the Verge. Keep in mind that Google invested $542 million in the startup, which apparently can project images directly onto our eyes.

The Federal Communications Commission might fine Sprint $105 million for overcharging customers.

Watch This

Bill Nye uses emoji to explain evolution.

(Corrects second, third and fifth paragraph to indicate that the federal government isn't the plaintiff in the Apple litigation.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net