Start Up No.1463: Intel ditches its CEO, Qualcomm buys ex-Apple chip startup, Congress Covid infections show vaccine delay, and more


Apple held talks with electric vehicle maker Canoo last year – but why precisely? CC-licensed photo by Magnus Johansson on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Double trouble. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Apple held talks with EV startup Canoo in 2020 • The Verge

Sean O’Kane:

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Apple held meetings with California EV startup Canoo in the first half of 2020 as part of the Silicon Valley giant’s secretive effort to advance its own electric vehicle project, three people familiar with the talks have told The Verge. The two companies discussed options ranging from investment to an acquisition, according to two of the people.

Canoo’s scalable electric vehicle platform, or “skateboard,” is largely what drew Apple’s interest, the people said. The platform is different from ones developed by other startups and larger automakers because it integrates more of the car’s electronics, allowing for greater flexibility in cabin design. It also features steer-by-wire technology, which also increases design flexibility and is not yet widely adopted in the industry.

Canoo was more interested in taking on an investment from Apple, two of the people said. Ultimately, the talks fell apart. Canoo has since become a publicly traded company after merging with a blank check fund that was listed on the NASDAQ in late 2020. Apple has made at least one other acquisition in the mobility space in recent years, buying Drive.ai in 2019.

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Canoo’s vehicles are the ugliest things, judging by the picture on the story. The bigger question is, how do you make an electric vehicle stand out? What elements can you have that others can’t completely copy?
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The bitcoin cryptocurrency dream is dead • Marker

James Surowiecki:

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It’s easy to forget now, but Bitcoin’s promise in those early days was that it would be a new currency, one that could challenge the hegemony of so-called fiat currencies like the dollar (which are issued by governments) by being untraceable money that would allow people to conduct business cheaply and anonymously. And because Bitcoin was designed to have a fixed number of coins — it will have 21 million coins by 2140, and then no more — people could use it without worrying about inflation debasing its value. It was a kind of cyberpunk fantasy that enchanted many. As recently as 2018, Twitter CEO and Square founder Jack Dorsey said, “The world will ultimately have a single currency. I personally believe that it will be Bitcoin.” Even today, you can still find pundits who trumpet Bitcoin’s revolutionary possibilities and point to things like PayPal’s plan to offer its merchants the ability to transact in cryptocurrencies in 2021 as evidence that radical change is afoot.

And yet the reality is that Bitcoin has never really functioned as a currency. Almost from the beginning, only a small percentage of Bitcoin transactions have been for actual goods and services — and of those, many have been for illicit goods and services, like drugs and online gambling. Most Bitcoin transactions have been trades: people simply buying and selling it. The blockchain analysis company Chainalysis, for instance, found that in the first four months of 2019, just 1.3% of total transactions involved merchants. And that trend has only accelerated as the value of Bitcoin has soared.

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As he says, it’s easy to forget that it was once touted as a currency. Where did it go wrong? Too slow and too expensive to process transactions. At some point, the fact you’d get rewarded with a bitcoin for doing the “mining” that was required for the processing distorted incentives: chasing bitcoin became the thing.

There’s more, of course. Surowiecki used to write the business column for the New Yorker (sadly missed; gone due to budget cuts, I think) and sets them out clearly.
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Intel ousts CEO Bob Swan • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

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Intel ousted its chief executive in a surprise move that pivots the semiconductor giant closer to its engineering roots after a period of technology missteps, market-share losses and pressure from a hedge fund.

Intel on Wednesday said CEO Bob Swan would be succeeded by VMware chief Pat Gelsinger effective Feb. 15. Mr. Gelsinger, who was once Intel’s technology chief, has served as CEO of the business-software provider since 2012.

The leadership transition unfolds after Intel last year ceded the title as America’s most valuable semiconductor company to rival Nvidia and fell further behind rivals in churning out the most advanced chips. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is also considering a broader embrace of third-party chip makers rather than relying on its own factories.

“This is incredibly important strategically to what Intel is looking to accomplish and be defined more as a technology innovator and operator,” said David Bahnsen, chief investment officer at the Bahnsen Group, a wealth-management firm that owns a stake in Intel through one of its funds.

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Pressure from the hedge fund Third Point (which owns around $1bn in Intel stock – worth a bit more now) seems to have hit home. But can a new CEO actually improve their technology processes?
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Qualcomm to acquire NUVIA: a CPU magnitude shift • Anandtech

Andrei Frumusanu:

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Qualcomm has announced they will be acquiring NUVIA for $1.4bn – acquiring the start-up company consisting of industry veterans which originally were behind the creation of Apple’s high-performance CPU cores. The transaction has important ramifications for Qualcomm’s future in high-performance computing both in mobile, as well as laptop segment, with a possible re-entry into the server market.

NUVIA was originally founded in February 2019 and coming out of stealth-mode in November of that year. The start-up was founded by industry veterans Gerard Williams III, John Bruno and Manu Gulati, having extensive industry experience at Google, Apple, Arm, Broadcom and AMD.

Gerard Williams III in particular was the chief architect for over a decade at Apple, having been the lead architect on all of Apple’s CPU designs up to the Lightning core in the A13 – with the newer Apple A14 and Apple M1 Firestorm cores possibly also having been in the pipeline under his direction.

NUVIA had been able to recruit a lot of top industry talent from various CPU design teams across the industry, and had planned to enter the high-performance computing and enterprise market with a new server SoC with a new CPU core dubbed “Phoenix”.

NUVIA particularly had made aggressive claims about how their design would be able to significantly outperform the competition both in raw performance and power efficiency once it came to market. Usually such claims are to be taken with scepticism. However due to the members of the design team and talent having proven themselves in the form of Apple’s very successful CPU microarchitectures, there’s a lot more weight and credibility to them compared to other start-ups.

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That’s quite a turn-up for the books, and might give Qualcomm a chance to catch up with Apple. So what’s happening at Apple’s chip design team?
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Samsung Galaxy S21 facing challenges ahead of intensifying competition and uncertain 2021 • Counterpoint Research

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Counterpoint Research’s Model Level Quarterly Smartphone Forecast shows the Galaxy S21 performing slightly better than last year’s Galaxy S20, but falling significantly short of the Galaxy S10. The research firm estimates the Galaxy S21 will ship almost 30% fewer units over four quarters than 2019’s Galaxy S10.

Several factors have led to this year’s more muted forecasts including extended replacement cycles, uncertainty around pricing, a more crowded competitive environment and proximity to the iPhone 12 launch.


Source: Counterpoint Research. *Includes forecasted quarters.

Research Analyst Sujeong Lim commented, “Galaxy launch dates over the past two years have crept closer to the iPhone, but prices have not. Last year’s delay from Apple coupled with an accelerated launch from Samsung puts the Galaxy S21 within 12 weeks of the iPhone 12 launch – this is not ideal from a price comparison standpoint.”

Better specifications does put the Galaxy S21 at a higher price point, but Ms. Lim believes Samsung is likely feeling pressure to keep prices as low as possible. “The iPhone 12 is hitting a massive sweet spot with its $749 entry price. Furthermore, we are now in mid-winter, with the impact of COVID-19 only intensifying across key markets. Pricing will need to improve from S20 levels for Samsung to avoid disappointment.”

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Remember when smartphone launches were A Thing?
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Parler users’ video GPS data shows involvement in Capitol attack • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron and Dhruv Mehorotra:

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At least several users of the far-right social network Parler appear to be among the horde of rioters that managed to penetrate deep inside the US Capitol building and into areas normally restricted to the public, according to GPS metadata linked to videos posted to the platform the day of the insurrection in Washington.

The data, obtained by a computer hacker through legal means ahead of Parler’s shutdown on Monday, offers a bird’s eye view of its users swarming the Capitol grounds after receiving encouragement from President Trump — and during a violent breach that sent lawmakers and Capitol Hill visitors scrambling amid gunshots and calls for their death. GPS coordinates taken from 618 Parler videos analyzed by Gizmodo has already been sought after by FBI as part of a sweeping nationwide search for potential suspects, at least 20 of whom are already in custody.

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“At least several” is horribly clumsy – wouldn’t “several” do? What’s emerging is how narrowly some sort of real disaster was avoided. There’s the black officer who appeared to be running scared of the mob, but was instead cleverly leading them away from the just-closed Senate chamber. There’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying she didn’t want to shelter with some of the Republicans because they’re QAnon nuts who might have given away her location. And there’s the congresswoman who found the panic buttons in her room all mysteriously gone.
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Congress coronavirus cases show one vaccine dose might not prevent infection • The Washington Post

Ben Guarino:

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Three members of Congress contracted the coronavirus after sheltering in a crowded room as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, testing positive despite having been vaccinated against the virus.

Those positive tests do not mean the vaccines were faulty, experts said, noting that immune protection takes more than a week to kick in. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are available to Americans require two doses for full protection; a single dose is not as effective as both.

“Early protection against covid-19 may occur from about 12 days after dose one,” said Naor Bar-Zeev, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. People “should not really consider themselves protected really until after a week or two following dose two.”

…Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective after two doses, according to the companies. Pfizer’s vaccine consists of two doses, given three weeks apart and Moderna’s contains two doses given 28 days apart.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tested positive this week. All three of the lawmakers have said they received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine in the days before the riot.

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Quite a dramatic way to demonstrate that immunity takes some time to develop. If the mob doesn’t kill you, the idiots not using masks and social distancing will.
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Extremists move to secret online channels to plan for Inauguration Day in D.C. • NBC News

Anna Schechter:

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Right-wing extremists are using channels on the encrypted communication app Telegram to call for violence against government officials on Jan. 20, the day President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, with some extremists sharing knowledge of how to make, conceal and use homemade guns and bombs.

The messages are being posted in Telegram chatrooms where white supremacist content has been freely shared for months, but chatter on the channels has increased since extremists have been forced off other platforms in the wake of the siege of the US Capitol last week by pro-Trump rioters.

Telegram is a Dubai-based messaging service that does little moderation of its content and has a sizable international user base, particularly in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

In the days since the Capitol attack, for example, an Army field manual and exhortations to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle” have been posted in a Telegram channel that uses “fascist” in its name.

Chris Sampson, chief of research at the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies, a defense research institute, said his group is focused on and concerned about users of the channel and has alerted the FBI about it. (The institute is run by Malcolm Nance, an NBC News terrorism analyst.)

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Maybe it was better when they were all visible on Parler.
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Telegram hits 500 million users after WhatsApp backlash • Business Insider

Natasha Dailey:

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Messaging app Telegram added more than 25 million new users in the last three days, following backlash to a new privacy policy at competitor WhatsApp.

With the surge in new additions, Telegram announced it hit a milestone, surpassing 500 million active users.

The user boost comes after competitor WhatsApp faced widespread backlash following a new privacy policy, in which users will have to let Facebook and its subsidiaries collect WhatsApp data, like phone numbers and locations, before February 8 or lose access to the app. The company has since clarified the change doesn’t affect the privacy of messages with friends and family.

“It’s important for us to be clear this update describes business communication and does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook,” WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart said on Twitter. “It does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world.”

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Your update is clear as mud, Mister Cathcart. Hence people heading to Telegram.
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A 25-year-old bet comes due: has tech destroyed society? • WIRED

Steven Levy:

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The visit [in 1995] was all business, [author of Luddite-admiring ‘Rebels Against the Future’, Kirkpatrick] Sale recalls. “No eats, no coffee, no particular camaraderie,” he says. Sale had prepped for the interview by reading a few issues of WIRED—he’d never heard of it before [Wired editor Kevin] Kelly contacted him—and he expected a tough interview. He later described it as downright “hostile, no pretense of objective journalism.” (Kelly later called it adversarial, “because he was an adversary, and he probably viewed me the same way.”) They argued about the Amish, whether printing presses denuded forests, and the impact of technology on work. Sale believed it stole decent labor from people. Kelly replied that technology helped us make new things we couldn’t make any other way. “I regard that as trivial,” Sale said.

Sale believed society was on the verge of collapse. That wasn’t entirely bad, he argued. He hoped the few surviving humans would band together in small, tribal-style clusters. They wouldn’t be just off the grid. There would be no grid. Which was dandy, as far as Sale was concerned.

“History is full of civilizations that have collapsed, followed by people who have had other ways of living,” Sale said. “My optimism is based on the certainty that civilization will collapse.”

That was the opening Kelly had been waiting for. In the final pages of his Luddite book, Sale had predicted society would collapse “within not more than a few decades.” Kelly, who saw technology as an enriching force, believed the opposite—that society would flourish. Baiting his trap, Kelly asked just when Sale thought this might happen.

Sale was a bit taken aback—he’d never put a date on it. Finally, he blurted out 2020. It seemed like a good round number.

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Kelly then pinned him down on precisely how you’d know society had collapsed. After all, opinions might differ. It’s an entertaining piece. And does raise the question: how can you be sure that society hasn’t actually collapsed, and we’re just going through the motions?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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