How Is the New York Times Really Doing? 

Om Malik:

Wired magazine recently published, Keeping Up with the Times, a story about the New York Times and its slow & painful transition to a digital first publication. “It’s to transform the Times’ digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever,” Gabriel Snyder (one of my favorite writers, by the way) wrote in his in-depth feature, which is worth reading.

After reading the piece, I thought let’s see how the Times is really doing — by the numbers. With help of Nima Wedlake, I came up with data to chart the progress made by the company, to see how far it really is from its transformation into a billion-dollars-in-digital-business.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Says the Company Has Hired Former Attorney General Eric Holder to Probe Allegations of Sexism 

Travis Kalanick, in a company-wide memo leaked to Kara Swisher:

First, Eric Holder, former US Attorney General under President Obama, and Tammy Albarran — both partners at the leading law firm Covington & Burling — will conduct an independent review into the specific issues relating to the work place environment raised by Susan Fowler, as well as diversity and inclusion at Uber more broadly. Joining them will be Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber’s board, Liane Hornsey, our recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, and Angela Padilla, our Associate General Counsel. I expect them to conduct this review in short order.

This is about as vigorous a response to Susan Fowler’s allegations as Kalanick could possibly pursue. Eric Holder isn’t going to sweep anything under the rug.

But I suspect it’s too little, too late. I think Uber’s company culture is toxic, and Holder’s report will prove it. What then?

ZTE Is Shutting Down Its Failed Hawkeye Phone Kickstarter Campaign 

Ashley Carman, writing for The Verge:

After a month and a half of letting its Hawkeye phone flounder on Kickstarter, ZTE is finally ending the campaign. It received $36,245 out of its $500,000 funding goal. In a post on the Kickstarter today, ZTE writes that it’s decided to end the campaign after considering feedback provided on the campaign page and its user Z-Community forum.

Like I said last month, crowdsourcing is no way to design anything.

ANSI Standard K100.1-1974: Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis (PDF) 

Most interesting thing I learned over the weekend: there’s a delightful ANSI standard for dry martinis — 16 to 1 ratio of gin to vermouth. (Thanks to Jim Lipsey.)

Susan J. Fowler on Uber’s Institutional Support for Sexual Harassment 

Susan J. Fowler, now an engineer at Stripe, on her year at Uber:

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on — unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.


Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his “first offense”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

The whole story is compelling, and paints a scathing picture of Uber’s company culture. But the fact that the company’s HR department blatantly lied to a series of women harassed by the same man, telling each of them it was his “first offense”, is not just cruel, but shows just how confident they were that the women in the company would keep quiet about their harassment.

Now that Fowler’s story has broken, expect a flood of additional stories.

The World’s Worst Cocktail: The Alexa Martini

Speaking of martinis, out of curiosity I tried asking my Amazon Echo “How do you make a martini?” The answer was appalling:

“The martini is a cocktail made with 1 part gin and 6 parts vermouth.”

Those of you who enjoy a martini know that that recipe is backwards, and would make for a truly wretched drink — the International Bartenders Association standard recipe for a dry martini calls for 6 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. If anything, many martini aficionados prefer less vermouth than the IBA recipe.

Given the same query, Siri tells you (rather ungrammatically) “The main ingredient in martini (cocktail) is gin”, and points you to Wikipedia, which offers the IBA recipe. Google Assistant on a Pixel tells you “The Martini is a cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist.” You can then tap “Ingredients” to be shown a recipe with the IBA standard 6-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio.

Neither Siri nor Google Assistant are perfect here, but both put you one tap away from getting an acceptable recipe. Google gets points for doing it entirely within the Assistant interface (rather than punting you over to a web browser), but Siri gets points because Wikipedia’s page contains instructions on how to prepare the drink, not just what to put in it.

Alexa’s response is clearly the most ambitious, but it’s by far the worst because it’s so criminally wrong. “I don’t know, go check Wikipedia” is a much better response than a wrong answer.

Update: Two days after I tweeted about this, Alexa now correctly prescribes 6 parts of gin to 1 of vermouth. 

DF RSS Feed Sponsorships 

Long story short, this coming week’s DF RSS feed sponsorship was sold, but now it’s open. If you’ve got a cool product or service you want to promote to DF’s discerning audience, and can make a deal quick, get in touch.

David Wondrich: ‘Why I Hate Barstools and You Should, Too’ 

David Wondrich, writing for The Daily Beast:

I hate barstools.

OK, let me amend that. I like them well enough at 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon, when you can pull one up, lay a stack of bills on the bar and let the afternoon pad away on quiet cat feet of jukebox C&W and Crown Royal.

But when 6:30 p.m. rolls around and you’re trying to get a drink and the bar is palisaded with a Trumpian wall of backs; when putting in a simple drink order means you have to stick your head into someone’s side eye-patrolled personal space and yell past their ear; when reaching over the tight-packed shoulders to get your Martini is like playing one of those rigged claw games — then, barstools suck.

Never really thought about it before, but it really does suck trying to get a drink at a bar when all the stools are occupied.

Squarespace Domains 

My thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. When it comes to your craft, you’re the expert. With Squarespace’s designer templates and easy-to-use interface, you can create a website that brings out the best in what you’re passionate about. Not ready to design your website yet? Reserve a spot for your big idea with Squarespace Domains. Then roll out your website when it’s ready.

Try Squarespace for free today. When you decide to subscribe, use offer code “DARING17” to get 10 percent off.

Apple’s New iPad Campaign: ‘We Hear You’ 

Rene Ritchie, on a just-launched iPad commercial campaign:

“We Hear You”, Apple’s new iPad Pro campaign, reminded me immediately of “Get a Mac”, the classic series of ads that had John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac show how Windows pain points could be easily, often delightfully fixed simply by switching to a Mac.

A few thoughts:

  • At just 15 seconds each, these spots are tight, in a good way.
  • The target is clearly getting people to switch from Windows PCs to iPads.
  • Each spot shows the iPad in multitasking mode. Usually with something work-related on the left, and iMessage on the right.
  • They show Numbers in the first spot, but Microsoft Office apps (Word especially) are the primary examples of doing “work”.
  • I find it interesting that the framing for each spot is a tweet, printed out and held on screen as a poster.
Financial Times: ‘Apple’s Stalled Talks With Ron Howard Flag Content Confusion’ 

Matthew Garrahan, reporting for The Financial Times:

The iPhone maker has been stalking Hollywood for more than a year, talking to leading industry players while it tries to formulate a cogent video strategy. It has considered a range of acquisitions and targets including, most recently, Imagine Entertainment, the Hollywood production company owned by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, according to several people briefed on the discussions.

The talks were serious enough to involve Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, and Eddy Cue, its senior vice-president of internet software and services. The talks included a possible “first look” distribution deal of Imagine movies and television shows, as well as an investment by Apple — or even a full purchase. But, as with many other potential deals involving Apple, the discussions fizzled out.

Would have worked out just great if only Apple had hired some investment bankers, I’m sure.

Apple Moves WWDC Back to San Jose

Here’s an announcement from Apple that I wouldn’t have guessed in a hundred tries: they’re moving WWDC back to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose.

The dates for WWDC 2017 are June 5–9. But the ticketing process isn’t until March 27. Like in previous years, it’ll be a lottery-type application system.

I had the chance to speak with Phil Schiller about this yesterday. The call was scheduled a few days in advance, but as usual with Apple, I didn’t know the topic. I spent the intervening days trying to guess. Moving WWDC back to San Jose truly didn’t even enter my mind. But now that I’ve had a day to think about it, I can see the logic.

First, announcing early really helps people who have to travel long distances to attend, particularly those from outside the U.S. In recent years, Apple has announced WWDC dates in April — as early as April 3 in 2014, and as late as April 28. Announcing the dates now, in mid-February, should help people save on airfare. It’s another sign that Apple is slowly getting more open. (Let’s see if they announce the dates this early next year too. It’s possible they only announced this early this year to brace people for the venue change.)

For people who will travel only if they get a conference pass, the timing doesn’t change as much. But even a few extra weeks is an improvement. And in recent years — particularly since the demise of Macworld Expo — WWDC is more than just the developer conference. It’s become the communal heart of the Apple world’s calendar. I know more people who come to WWDC without passes for the conference than who attend.

The San Jose Convention Center is the original home of WWDC — that’s where it was held from 1988 through 2002. (WWDC 2002 was the year Steve Jobs held a funeral for Mac OS 9 during the keynote.) San Jose is way closer to Apple headquarters. San Francisco is about an hour drive from 1 Infinite Loop. The San Jose Convention Center is only minutes away from Apple’s new San Jose campus, and is much closer to their Cupertino headquarters than San Francisco. Schiller emphasized to me that this is a big deal: more Apple employees from more teams will be present, simply because they won’t have to devote an entire day to being there. (This could be a particular boon to WWDC’s developer labs, where attendees can get precious face time with Apple’s engineers.)

I asked whether the move to San Jose changed the number of people who’d be able to attend. Schiller said it did not — attendance will be about the same. (To my knowledge, Apple has never revealed exact attendance figures, and Schiller didn’t offer an exact number, but it’s somewhere around 5,000.)

My first WWDC was 2006, a few years after the move to San Francisco, so I’ve never been to one in San Jose. The rap from my friends who did attend WWDC back when it was in San Jose is that San Jose was a bit of a sleepy town. It’s a work-oriented city, where it gets quiet after 5 pm. But WWDC was, compared to now, sparsely attended back then. WWDC didn’t sell out until 2008 (the first year of the iPhone App Store).

Schiller seems confident that there’s going to be a lot going on outside the convention center. Apple is working with the city and San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo to stage events around the downtown area throughout the week.

WWDC is the biggest event of the year for the Apple world. But for the city of San Francisco, it’s just another conference at Moscone. In fact, by Moscone standards, WWDC is actually kind of small. Oracle’s OpenWorld conference has over 60,000 attendees — 12 times the size of WWDC. Update: Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference had 170,000 attendees last year.

WWDC will be the biggest thing going on in San Jose that week. I don’t have a feel for San Jose — the only time I’ve ever set foot there was for Apple’s 2012 October event. I could see it going one of two ways: either dreadfully dull, or, something akin to SXSW in Austin, where the conference and its attendees more or less take over the entire convention center area downtown. In San Francisco, WWDC attendees are a small school of like-minded fish in a big pond. In San Jose, they’ll own the pond. WWDC’s presence can expand outside the confines of McEnery in a way that it can’t expand outside Moscone.

One last factor, unstated by Apple, but very obvious to anyone who knows how to comparison shop for hotel rooms: downtown San Jose is way cheaper than downtown San Francisco, and the surrounding area has a ton of good hotel rooms at very affordable rates. In San Francisco nice hotels are very expensive, and the hotels that aren’t expensive are not nice. In recent years, a lot of people who come to WWDC have been booking hotels down closer to San Jose simply because they’re so much cheaper.

So here’s my take:

  • For Apple, this is a win. They’ll cumulatively spend thousands of fewer hours driving up and down Highway 280. They have the potential to involve their soon-to-open new campus in the event somehow. They have more influence and control over the area around the convention center, rather than just inside it.

  • For attendees, it’s hard to say. For those on a budget, it’s surely a win. San Jose is way more affordable than San Francisco. (But the hotels closest to the convention center in downtown San Jose are running around $350 a night — no savings at all compared to Moscone-area hotels in San Francisco.) For those more concerned with the social scene, it’s too early to judge. If it resembles the social scene from the previous era of San Jose WWDCs, it’ll be a bust. If you’d asked me in recent years whether it’s worth it to go to WWDC even if you’re not attending the conference proper, I’d have said yes without hesitation. I really don’t know if that’s going to be true now that it’s in San Jose.

The word that comes to mind is nostalgia. For most of the regular WWDC attendees in my circle, San Francisco and Moscone are all we know. There’s an established familiarity to the places (hotels, restaurants, bars) and the schedule. Even if WWDC works out great in San Jose, there is a lot that I will miss about WWDC’s years in San Francisco. But WWDC is only moving, not ending, so it’s a very different nostalgia than that for Macworld Expo.

WWDC in San Jose hearkens back to what was truly a different era for Apple. When the last WWDC was held in San Jose in 2002, the original iPod was only six months old, and I was three months away from starting Daring Fireball. An investment in Apple stock in 2002 would have increased around a hundredfold if held through today.

Apple doesn’t like to explain itself. I don’t know why Apple moved WWDC to San Francisco in 2003. But my guess is that they sought more media attention. Apple went to where the attention was. Today, the attention comes to Apple. They could hold WWDC in the middle of a desert and it would still sell out in an instant and there’d be the same convoy of media trucks outside the hall the morning of the keynote. If a large corporation can be described as a homebody, Apple is it. And San Francisco is not Apple’s home turf.

Schiller has been at Apple (and on stage at WWDC) throughout this entire run, and he seems ready to go back. “It feels like WWDC is going home,” he told me. 

Investment Bankers Urge Apple to Spend Money Hiring Investment Bankers, News at 11

I cannot believe that Bloomberg published this story by Alex Webb and Alex Sherman, “Apple Struggles to Make Big Deals, Hampering Strategy Shifts”. The entire story consists of quotes from investment bankers arguing that Apple should hire investment bankers to make more large acquisitions. Really, that’s it.

But Apple has struggled for years to pull off bigger deals because of a series of quirks: an aversion to risk, reluctance to work with external advisers like investment banks and inexperience in closing and integrating large takeovers, said people who have worked on acquisitions with the company. They asked not to be identified speaking about private merger and acquisition deliberations.

The only proof offered that Apple has struggled in any way to make any acquisitions is that they haven’t made more acquisitions. There’s no mention of any companies that Apple pursued but failed to acquire. Not one.

Apple’s biggest deal in its 41-year history was the $3 billion purchase Beats Electronics in 2014, followed by the $400 million acquisition of NeXT Computer in 1996. In Facebook Inc.’s 13 years, it has made three acquisitions of at least $1 billion, including its $22 billion WhatsApp purchase. Google, founded in 1998, has done four such deals, while Microsoft Corp. has completed at least 10, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The comparison in the above paragraph completely rests on the assumption that more and bigger acquisitions are a good thing in and of themselves. No mention is made as to whether these acquisitions were actually good for the companies. (Apple’s $400 million NeXT acquisition worked out OK.)

Instead of closing big deals, Cook has so far focused on growing Apple’s services businesses, including Apple Music, the App Store and iCloud. That’s beginning to work, with the company recently forecasting that annual revenue from those operations will top $50 billion by 2021.

But even here, some analysts and investors argue for a big acquisition, especially in online video streaming. Apple has started distributing videos through the Music service, and pooling other providers’ video in its mobile TV app, but it has no service akin to Netflix or Inc.’s Prime Video.

Apple can’t buy Prime, but they could buy Netflix. But Netflix has a market cap of just over $60 billion, and Apple has a service “akin” to Netflix called Apple Music. Netflix has over 90 million subscribers. Apple Music hit 20 million paying subscribers in December. At the Code conference this week, Eddy Cue claimed Apple Music hit 20 million paying subscribers faster than any other subscription service he’s aware of. And at this point they’re only just preparing to scratch the surface of including original video content.1

Apple would probably have to offer at least $75 billion to buy Netflix. At least. It would cost a fraction of that to turn Apple Music into a serious video service.

On Friday, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said Apple needs at least one big acquisition in online video.

No they don’t. All they need to do is negotiate with studios and TV networks to get movies and TV shows currently in the iTunes Store (as purchases) licensed for Netflix-style “pay $10 a month and watch what you want” streaming.

To reach its $50 billion target, the company must find an extra $13 billion in services revenue over the next four years — beyond what it can generate itself. Netflix Inc. ended 2016 with sales of less than $9 billion, so even buying that business may not be enough, the analyst said.

Even a $75 billion purchase of Netflix may not be enough. Who said that with a straight face? These fuckers wouldn’t be satisfied unless Apple drunkenly spent every goddamn penny of their cash.

“They’re going to have to pursue something bigger than a Beats-like acquisition,” said Erick Maronak, chief investment officer at Victory Capital Management, which holds Apple stock among its $55 billion under management.

They might, but they do not “have to”. What exactly is the result going to be if they don’t? (I am reminded of Trip “Claim” Chowdhry’s declaration in March 2014 that Apple would “disappear” if they didn’t “come up with an iWatch” within 60 days. Seriously, he said that.)

When AT&T Inc. agreed to purchase Time Warner Inc. for $85 billion in October, the telecom company was concerned Apple might make a competing bid, people familiar with AT&T’s thinking said at the time. Apple had held tentative talks about a year earlier, but when the AT&T deal emerged, a person familiar with the technology giant’s thinking said it wouldn’t be able to pull together a competing proposal quickly enough.

Translation: If only Apple had hired the investment bankers who fed this story to Bloomberg they could have bought Time Warner.

Apple’s deals team is composed of about a dozen people under former Goldman Sachs banker Adrian Perica, and most acquisitions take place at the behest of the company’s engineers. Product managers usually meet every month with Perica’s team members to identify targets with attractive technology or talented engineers, according to a person familiar with the process.

Microsoft’s deals team is not significantly bigger, and it still hired investment bank Morgan Stanley for its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year, beating rival bidders including Inc. and Facebook.

Translation: Microsoft has its own in-house team but they still hired a big investment bank, so why can’t Apple let these banks get their fair share of Apple’s cash?

Apple often refuses to work with investment bankers appointed by the seller, preferring to deal directly with company management, according to people who have been involved in such negotiations. Apple also dictates terms and tells targets to take it or leave it, betting that the promise of product development support later and the chance of appearing in future iPhones are alluring enough, the people said.

That was the case when Apple acquired Metaio GmbH in 2015. Bankers appointed by the augmented-reality firm to negotiate weren’t allowed in the room, and while Metaio executives felt the offer was low, Apple’s vision for the technology convinced them to sell, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

This anecdote really strengthens the case that Apple is doing itself a disservice by not hiring outside investment banks, and that the company suffers from “inexperience in closing”. Not.

Apple’s current M&A strategy works well for acquiring startups developing new technology that can be added to existing Apple products. It bought 15 to 20 companies per year over the last four years. But buying larger companies presents a different challenge, particularly if there are rival bids. Bankers often diffuse tension between bidders and targets, but Apple’s approach can make that process difficult. […]

For Apple’s acquisition of Beats, neither party used an investment bank. Apple struggled to integrate the team, and when the initial Apple Music offering emerged from the combination, it got lukewarm reviews. Later versions of the service improved. However, Apple’s lack of a successful track record integrating big acquisitions puts off sellers, according to a person who has negotiated with Apple’s deals team.

Yes, I’m sure a large team of investment bankers would have helped “integrate” Beats within Apple, and the bankers would have made Apple Music — which, again, has over 20 million paying subscribers and is growing fast — a better product at launch.

Apple’s Beats acquisition suggests the opposite of this article’s central thesis: Apple is better off not working with investment bankers even for a $3 billion deal. 

  1. Now that they’re getting into original video content, it does make me wonder whether “Apple Music” was a shortsighted name for the service. Then again, they built a nice business selling movies though a service called the iTunes Music Store. ↩︎

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