This is a two-part series explaining the “Big Tech” debate in detail. With the recent congressional hearing, we’ve taken a look at Apple and Amazon in Part 1.
The new synonym of social — Facebook
Facebook has been at the center of all discussions about online privacy and security. The social networking company has grown exponentially in the last decade, and it almost seems like nothing can stop it.
Starting as a simple social networking alternative to the likes of Friendster and MySpace, Facebook has improved radically as a product as well as a company. It proved that a free-to-use social network is possible with ads and went onto grow an empire out of it. While competition soon fizzled out, Facebook constantly innovated. Remember the time everyone was hooked to Farmville?
When the original product, Facebook, started reaching a saturation level, and younger users were looking for something new, it acquired Instagram. The fledgling app became a huge success, thanks to Facebook’s already available user base. Within a decade, Facebook acquired multiple strategic investments like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.
For a brief moment, Snapchat was considered to be a danger to Instagram. And, Facebook had no qualms in blatantly copying its features. Today, Stories are an integral part of the Instagram experience. Thanks to its investment in augmented reality as well as virtual reality, the filter library on Instagram is filled to the brim with creative options.
Even though Facebook had an in-built instant messaging service called Messenger, Facebook acquired WhatsApp. The acquisition gave it an unimaginable reach in developing markets. Today, the company has billions of active users across the globe.
But, did you notice one trend? Facebook pretty much controls all of social networking online. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp in one basket dominate the industry. Facebook has almost 2.5 billion active users.
A company mired with reckless management
Not only does its dominance stifle competition, but it also makes it responsible for a lot of user data. And, we all know Facebook’s reputation with privacy is quite muddy. It was revealed that data of more than 50 million users was used by foreign powers to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential election. Cambridge Analytica closely analyzed the preferences and opinions of these users and targeted them with political ads in a bid to change the voter’s decision and sway them towards a particular candidate.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed this psychological tactic was also used during Brexit. Political parties from around the world were clients, leveraging this as service. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has attended a congressional hearing in the past, and the internet is filled with memes about it. But, the primary concern continues to exist — is user data safe?
This question gets tougher to answer when we consider the scale at which the company operates. From the Upper Eastside to a warzone, Facebook has users everywhere. The company has always maintained that it follows industry-leading security standards, and users, as well as authorities, can trust it. However, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has introduced the common to the dangers of cyber warfare.
If ad targeting wasn’t enough, the story doesn’t end for Facebook. Experts widely criticize the platform for its lack of moderation and flow of misinformation. While rivals like Twitter have taken a wiser approach amid the looming presidential elections, Facebook chooses to stay away from intensive reduction.
Not just Facebook, even WhatsApp has long been in news for its misuse. The free flow of messages has led to mob justice instances that were actually instigated by misinformation. The app has introduced a wide range of measures to fight this, but it has brought negligible change on-ground.
Coming back to the “Big Tech” debate, should a company with a consistent history of shortcoming, be responsible for sensitive user data? We’ve already seen how data can be weaponized. What’s even more intriguing is, Facebook is technically an advertising company.
It quite literally acts as a middle-man between a vast pool of users and advertisers. While there’s nothing illegal about the business model, the company does need a wake-up call immediately and has to get its act together.
Google, the gateway to the internet
Google.com is often called the homepage of the internet. The search engine is everyone’s go-to website for two decades now. Anything you need is just a second away. The site lets you find something as general as a company’s website to an in-depth analysis from a white-paper PDF hosted on a university’s website.
Starting as a search engine, Google quickly expanded to new projects like Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. Its suite of applications is practically infinite and covers pretty much everything we need in the digital age. Google has more than 85 percent of the search engine market, and the nearest competitor is Microsoft’s Bing.
With the onset of the smartphone age, it acquired Android and changed history forever. Thanks to close partnerships with companies like HTC, Android got a much-needed boost to take on Apple’s iOS. Today, it also controls more than 85 percent of the market. Except for Apple, practically all other phone makers rely on it.
Over the years, Google has diversified massively. With a recent restructuring, Google has a parent called Alphabet. The parent company has interests in many more ventures like research and development-oriented X, self-driving car maker Waymo, DeepMind, and many more. It has a market cap of more than US$ 1 trillion.
Google rules the software world with its apps, operating systems, and enterprise packages. The most important point is, all of these services are free-to-use on a personal level. You have access to free email, maps, videos, music, and even news. It sells some add-ons like Drive storage or YouTube Premium, but these subscriptions aren’t its primary source of income.
Google, ruler of the free internet
Just like Facebook, Google also relies on advertising. In fact, Google is the world’s largest advertising company. It not only lets you deliver ads on its own products but also acts as a marketplace for advertisers and publishers. It single-handedly has a 37 percent share in America’s advertising industry (including offline). AdSense is widely used by other websites to monetize digital traffic.
Just like Apple, the problem with Google is its massive size and reach. It practically dominates multiple verticals like search engines, browsers, operating systems, and video streaming. Even a mammoth-like Microsoft has failed to challenge it with Bing. Regulators have fined the company multiple times for using its dominance to push its own products.
A majority of phones that ship with Android come bundled with Google apps. Without Google Play Services, one can’t leverage the Play Store. Indirectly, making it mandatory to partner with Google. Android is an open-source system, but it’s clear Google is the party that benefits the most.
When we combine all of these services and its associated analytical tracking, we realize Google knows everything about us. Google’s algorithms are constantly monitoring our preferences to deliver us more and more relevant content. A young venture like Google Pay in India came to a leading position within a short time, despite competition from fin-tech stalwarts like Paytm, PhonePe, and more.
When we consider the speed at which Alphabet is expanding, it’s clear it wants to play a fundamental role in our life.
Internet — man’s new best friend
“Big Tech” has another thing in common. They all play a critical role in our lives today and want to be as closer to us as possible. Apple wants to be your trustworthy hardware partner, Amazon wants you to buy everything from them, Facebook wants your entire social life, and Google makes it all possible, silently in the background.
On a regular day, I end up using their product at least a hundred times. Actually, my phone’s digital well-being feature says I unlocked my Android phone at least 100 times today, got 150 WhatsApp notifications, opened Instagram more than 15 times, spent 25 minutes window shopping on Amazon, and heard 3 hours of music on Apple Music. And, typed all of this on a MacBook Air.
This is the crux of the story. Big tech is all about wanting to be your best friend. Don’t get me wrong, these companies are also responsible for rapid innovation and unprecedented progress in computer science. The internet started as a top-secret government project. But gained lightning speed only when it was made public, and companies realized its business potential.
If you’re looking for a right and a wrong here, you’ve come to the wrong place. Standard Oil was a conventional entity that dealt in physical products like oil.
Data is equivalent to oil only in terms of valuation. With a fast-paced innovation cycle, these companies are constantly evolving. We can’t just break them into pieces based on geographical location. This is the reason why the big tech debate is extremely interesting. It’s an unprecedented situation and it’s clear that the big four have joined hands to fight the oncoming antitrust regulatory hurdles. The fact that all four companies agreed to appear for the hearing is a symbol of unity. Their survival is at stake and there’s no textbook answer to follow.
This is Part 2 of the series. We’ve covered Apple and Amazon’s involvement in Part 1.
Xiaomi overtakes Apple as third-best smartphone seller
Improves over last year’s performance
Since Huawei’s struggles throughout the past year, the rise of other Chinese companies became inevitable. Now, we finally have proof. Fresh from a successful run, Xiaomi has overtaken Apple as the third-best smartphone seller during the third quarter of 2020.
As estimated by Gartner, Xiaomi bagged 44.4 million smartphone sales in the previous quarter. For reference, the Chinese company sold only 32.9 million smartphones in the third quarter of 2019, marking a huge increase from last year’s performance.
As a result, Xiaomi moved from fourth place to third place in Garter’s rankings. The company edged out Apple, who sold only 40.6 million smartphones in the same period. While Apple holds on to 11.1 percent market share, Xiaomi will now enjoy 12.1 percent of the total market.
Besides Xiaomi, Huawei was another big mover — at least in terms of units sold. Compared to an impressive 65.8 million smartphones sold in the third quarter of 2019, the struggling company fell to only 51.8 million units sold. Albeit still impressive, Huawei is now farther away from the top spot occupied by Samsung’s 80.8 million smartphones sold.
Speaking of which, the South Korean company moved almost 2 million more units from the previous year. Now, Samsung holds on to 22.0 percent of the market share.
In other news, OPPO, another Chinese rival to Huawei, slightly performed less this year: selling 29.9 million smartphones (compared to 30.6 million units last year) for the fifth spot below Apple.
iPad and MacBook production to shift from China to Vietnam
Apple’s preparing for the worst
Foxconn’s moving some iPad and MacBook production lines to Vietnam at Apple’s request. Apple intends to take a step back to protect its manufacturing might due to the ongoing trade hostilities between the US and China
According to a Reuters report, the new assembly lines in Vietnam will be operational in the first half of next year at Foxconn’s Bac Giang province. It’s not clear how much production is being moved, but the fact that a shift is already on the table means even the mightiest American company isn’t immune to the trade war.
“Apple requested the move,” a person with knowledge of the plan told Reuters. “It wants to diversify production following the trade war.”
Foxconn has announced a US$ 270 million investment to create a new subsidiary in Vietnam called FuKang Technology. Furthermore, the manufacturing vendor aims to make televisions in the plant for clients like Sony.
This will be the first time Apple has moved its iPad assembly line out of China. However, it’s also not surprising because the Cupertino giant started chalking redundancy plans months ago. Apple has announced a multi-billion dollar investment in India to expand its existing iPhone assembly line.
Trade War just isn’t pretty for anybody
While the trade war and ongoing hostilities between the US and China are yet to affect Apple directly, it intends to take no chance. It’s also considered a pragmatic reaction because many giants like Huawei, ZTE, and ByteDance have been caught in the middle, decimating their future ambitions and scope of expansion.
While American companies are yet to face the wrath directly, the deteriorating situation has prepared them to create back-up plans. Similarly, many other technology giants like Nintendo are also shifting their facilities to Vietnam in search of political stability and a business-friendly environment.
Dyson to hire 400 engineers in the Philippines for its new software R&D lab
The company believes in the country’s young and great engineering talent pool.
Technology company Dyson — the one behind those revolutionary hair styling tools and vacuums — is opening a new software lab in the Philippines. The company plans to hire 400 Filipino engineers with aims to develop embedded software for a new generation of intelligent machines.
“The Philippines is home to bright, young engineers who share Dyson’s ambition to develop technologies for the future,” Dyson Chief Operating Officer Scott Maguire said.
“Dyson has been growing in the Philippines for this reason and it is a nation that clearly celebrates both engineers and technology,” Maguire added, noting the existence of good technical universities in the country.
“We hire a lot of people straight from university. I came from university into Dyson,” admitted Maguire. “Our culture is very much about young, bright engineers filled with energy,” he added. “We’re confident that the talent pool is there.”
In 2016, Dyson opened its Philippines Advanced Manufacturing (PAM) facility in Laguna. The facility, which is responsible for producing the company’s Hyperdymium motor, spans ten thousand square meters and employs 600 people. This particular motor is at the heart of the company’s vacuums, the Supersonic Hairdryer, and the AirWrap.
The new software lab will be located in Alabang and is part of Dyson’s GBP 2.75 billion investment in future technology. The company is hoping to double its product portfolio by 2025. It’s also expected to accelerate the development of new Dyson machines that are often tasked with solving everyday problems intelligently.
It will also form part of Dyson’s global Research, Design and Development team, which spans, USA, UK, Shanghai, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Dyson recognizes Filipino talent
The announcement of the new software lab comes at the heels of a Filipino being the first ever sustainability winner of the James Dyson Award (JDA).
Called the AuREUS system, it’s invented by Filipino electrical engineering student Carvey Ehren Maigue from Mapua University. AuREUS is a material derived from rotting fruits and vegertables and can be attached to a pre-existing structure or surface to harvest UV light. It then converts it to visible light to generate electricity in a way that traditional solar panels can’t. Carvey’s ingenuity impressed James Dyson himself and received a prize of PhP 1,900,000.
Beyond the Philippines
The major investment in R&D also brings interesting developments in two other countries.
In Singapore, Dyson is progressing plans to open its new global head office complex. Its R&D facilities will also be expanded to cover a growing number of fields including machine learning and robotics.
A new University research program is also set to be established to drive product development. Plans are also being made for a new advanced manufacturing hub in the country.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the company is delving deeper into robotics research and AI, investing in the Dyson UK Innovation Campuses both Malmesbury and Hullavington. Both campuses employ over 4,000 people and are expected to drive new research in fields of study including products for sustainable healthy indoor environments and well-being.
Roles in the Philippines software lab will include embedded software engineers, automation test engineers, program managers, release train engineers, and more.
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