Mobile Digest: Uber faces its darkest hour

From car crashes to senior leadership departures, the mobility startup is desperate to turn the page. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

 

Uber, a poster child of the app revolution and one of the most valuable tech startups in the world, finds itself on the ropes as it weathers a series of missteps and setbacks. The latest embarrassments came last week, when president Jeff Jones resigned citing the company’s values as inconsistent with his own. A couple days later one of its self-driving cars flipped in Tempe, Arizona, causing Uber to ground its entire autonomous vehicle fleet. All of this comes just weeks after Waymo, Google’s self-driving business, alleged that Uber’s self-driving division is built on the backs of a remarkable feat of cyber espionage. Also in the past month Uber employees have come forth with disturbing reports of misogyny and sexism; the business sought to undermine the taxi strike at JFK during the Trump travel ban, which led to a global #deleteUber campaign; the company’s senior vice president jumped ship in late February; and Uber copped to the fact that it’s been using an illegal technology called Greyball for years to evade authorities where Uber is outlawed or restricted. It’s unlikely that any of this will sink Uber, far from it. On the other hand, Uber’s prospects for a lucrative 2017 IPO have dimmed, and the turmoil has opened a door to some of its competitors, namely Lyft, whose downloads recently surpassed Uber downloads for the first time.

 

In the money 

 

Intel paid $15.3 billion for automotive chipmaker Mobileye, which specializes in the types of autonomous technologies that are starting to crop up in most luxury vehicles today — including automatic braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warnings and complete autonomous drive features. The move is a bold one from Intel, which famously missed out on the smartphone revolution and seems to be adamant about not doing the same with self-driving cars. $15.3 billion makes the Mobileye acquisition the largest ever for an Israeli tech startup. Intel will move its automotive mobility division to Israel in the coming months.

 

GoPro slashed almost 20% of its workforce in an attempt to turn a profit in 2017. The 270 job cuts will cost the company $10 million in restructuring but should reduce operating expenses for the year by up to $200 million. GoPro stocks jumped 9 percent after the announcement.

 

In other news

 

Voice assistants are facing off everywhere across the Internet of Things from office lounges to car dashboards to refrigerators. The next battleground: hotel rooms. Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa are going head to head for a lucrative deal with Aloft, Marriott’s stylish boutique chain of hotels that attracts a steady stream of business clients. The two are reportedly both being tested at suites in the Aloft in Boston Seaport. Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas is also experimenting with Amazon Echo in its hotel rooms. 

 

Apple debuted a new iPad that it hopes will buck the downward trend for tablets in general and the iPad in particular. Its two biggest selling points are a large, 9.7-inch screen and a low price point at $329. The tablet replaces the iPad Air 2 and, in classic back to the future fashion, is now just called “the iPad.” 

 

Samsung is hoping for a similar reboot with its Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 smartphones after a pair of disastrous recalls in 2016. Both phones are set to debut in 2017, with the Galaxy S8 due out any day this Spring. Most of the latter’s specs have already been leaked. The biggest news is that Samsung’s digital assistant Bixby will debut on the S8. The hype around Bixby is that it can perform any task that you can with your thumbs on the touchscreen, and is smart enough to decipher different languages, dialects, accents and intonations. The S8 will be 5.8 inches rather than the 5.1-inch S7, which lands it squarely in the phablet zone. Also expect a curved OLED display and no physical home button, with sensors beneath the screen taking its place.

 

A startup out of California wants to ensure that something like the Samsung smartphone fires never happens again. The company is called Amionx, and its Safe Core technology acts like a circuit breaker to prevent lithium-ion batteries from being the source of a fire or an explosion. The technology is triggered by excessive temperature within the battery and prevents overcharges, internal shorts and external heating.

 

Microsoft partnered up with interior design firm Steelcase to help companies optimize their office spaces for the mobile revolution. Their new Creative Spaces partnership attempts to integrate technology into layouts that encourage creativity and free thinking. Picture Microsoft Surface Hub digital TV screens stretched across the walls for interactive whiteboarding, standing desks, large open common areas with Surface Book laptops on the desks, and smaller duo studios for more private collaboration.

 

Sticking with the mobile enterprise, Lifesize launched a live-streaming application that allows an organization to simultaneously live stream events from an unlimited number of virtual meeting rooms. This makes it easier on IT administrators, as they don’t have to limit live stream events over the course of a day, and users can join those events from any location, browser or device. 

 

Finally, Google released a developer preview of its new mobile operating system codenamed Oreo, or Android O for short. Oreo has been designed with the new Google Pixel phone in mind. One of the first confirmed features is a “Copy Less” feature that allows the OS to intuit if you want to paste text from one application to another and automatically fill in that information. The OS is also supposed to lengthen battery life across all Android devices up to 10 hours. New multi-display support allows the smartphone screen to be mirrored on a nearby tablet, PC or HDTV screen.

 

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

 

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.