Benner on Tech: CES Decoded, Cap Tables and Zuckerberg Reads

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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People are Talking About…

CES is here!

For the uninitiated, that’s the Consumer Electronics show. The world’s largest annual trade show that, according to my Bloomberg colleague Ian King, will host 160,000 visitors and take up the equivalent of 35 football fields of floor space. That’s a lot of TVs, smartphones, gadgets and kitchen appliances; and King says that the show is apparently stretching Las Vegas hotels to their limit.

Prepare yourselves. The tech press is all over CES and that means we’ll be bombarded with stories about new hardware and the growing importance of the Internet of Things. The stories run together, like a steady stream of gadget specs. There will be something about the Apple Watch. Something about controlling our toasters with our iPhones. Something about the future of television. And lots of photos of guys wearing virtual reality headsets.

If you’re interested in CES, but don’t want to drown in a million blog posts about all the new fitness trackers we’ll never wear or incremental tablet improvements or how Samsung Intends to Change Everything, Re/code’s Lauren Goode has a decent CES 101 here, as does CNBC. The New York Times has a nice overview of the Internet of Things, which will probably be the most important thing for the average consumer to understand. The Wall Street Journal has an overview of the companies that are fighting to build our IoT home command centers. And Buzzfeed takes a stab at figuring out how our lives will change (goodbye privacy) as we embrace a connected home and companies know all of the most mundane things about our lives.

** If you read nothing else today, check out Henry Ward, the chief executive of eShares, on why the cap table system is broken and why that matters for everyone from venture investors to startup employees.

Ventureland

Xiaomi revenue doubled in 2014 and hit $12 billion, according to Re/code.

SpaceX will try to land the a rocket on a floating platform, Space.com reports. Watch the launch live on Space.com beginning tomorrow at 5 a.m. ET.

Forbes’ 30 under 30 lists are out, highlighting the freshest, youngest, most important-est faces in venture capital, media and enterprise and consumer tech.

People and Personnel Moves

Megan Smith, President Obama’s recently appointed top technology adviser, is fighting to change everything from the government’s reliance on floppy disks to the way that leaders talk about science and math, according to a recent profile in the New York Times. “It’s our country, so if we show up or not, that shapes what our government’s going to be,” Ms. Smith told the Times.

Austen Heinz, the CEO of Cambrian Genomics, made news last year when he erroneously said that he was sharing his DNA-related tech with a startup that wanted to make vaginas smell like fruit. (His description of that startup, SweetPeach, was totally wrong.) Now the San Francisco Chronicle has a long Heinz profile that’s sure to make his supporters (Timothy Draper and other VCs) swell with pride and his detractors cringe:

Few founders are pushing the technical and ethical boundaries of science as far as Heinz, who told the Wall Street Journal, “I can’t believe that after 10 or 20 years people will not design their children digitally.” At a recent conference in Vienna, he said, “We want to make totally new organisms that have never existed.”…

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a bioethics watchdog group in Berkeley, sums up Heinz’s belief that “every problem can be solved by engineering” as a kind of “techno-libertarianism.”

Companies

Amazon…

Kindle Unlimited is pushing writers to drop their prices as their products become more popular. As the New York Times reports, Kathryn Le Veque "is getting more popular by becoming less expensive, which is making her more popular. She is the embodiment of Amazon’s argument that 'lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture.'”

Apple…

** The company may have the best hardware, but iPhone software developer Marco Arment says that Apple’s terribly clunky software could damage the brand. (I totally agree. Lots of companies are catching onto the importance of good design. Hello Xiaomi! I’m paying up because the stuff  - supposedly - just works.)

** A drone video shows how the new campus is coming along, VentureBeat reports.

Facebook…

CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s new year’s resolution was to read a book every other week this year, reports Time. He’s created a book club of sorts (the Facebook page “A Year of Books”) to encourage his friends to read more too.

Yahoo…

** Angel investor Jason Calacanis has a spirited defense of CEO Marissa Mayer.

** The company is preparing to make a huge push into mobile advertising, says Tom Dotan at the Information.

Tencent…

The Chinese Internet conglomerate, just launched Webank, China’s first private bank, the Wall Street Journal reports. Premier Li Keqiang attended the opening ceremony.

Media Files

Streaming music has changed everything about the industry, right down to how we calculate the number one record of the year, according to the New York Times. (The contenders for the top spot are Taylor Swift and the Frozen soundtrack. The industry is in pain. So are our ears.)

News and Notes

The case for universal personal surveillance, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Mims.

Taste the irony. The CEO of a startup that nearly bit the dust published a massive Tweetstorm to criticize the social media company for being in big trouble.  

Tech etiquette 101 for the new new Internet age, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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