Innovation Wrap: App Store Battle Royale, A Cinema Shakeup, Enhancing Language-Learning

By Thomas Rice | More Articles by Thomas Rice

Here’s your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

? App Economy

This will be an exciting battle! Epic Games goaded Apple into banning Fortnite on iOS devices by offering a cheaper payment option in Fortnite that bypasses Apple’s 30% commission on in-app purchases, which violates Apple’s rules.

In response, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store. Hours later, Epic Games filed an antitrust lawsuit challenging Apple’s monopoly on distributing apps on iOS devices, along with its monopoly on processing payments on iOS devices. They also released this parody of Apple’s iconic 1984 ad.

Epic’s lawsuit doesn’t ask for monetary damages; it’s about opening up the iOS ecosystem to allow competing app stores. iPhones and iPads are relatively unique in not allowing that competition — you can install competing app stores on Android devices, and you’re free to install whatever software you like on a Windows PC or an Apple Mac.

The lawsuit states that Epic would open their own app store on iOS devices but for Apple’s illegal restraints. There’s precedent here — in 2019 Epic launched the Epic Games Stores on PC and charged developers just 12%, undercutting Steam which charges 30%.

It’s also a fascinating legal battle to watch because it goes to the heart of Apple’s value as a company. Apple stock has risen 122% over the past year, and its market cap has swelled to $1.967 billion. This rise has been driven by the idea that Apple is no longer just a hardware company but instead has a valuable high-margin recurring revenue services business, of which App Store commissions are a significant contributor. Some analysts ascribe as much as half of the company’s value to the services business, making this a critical lawsuit for Apple to win.

▶️ Streaming

In a move that could shake up the movie industry, Disney is experimenting with releasing Mulan directly to Disney+ subscribers on September 4 rather than having an exclusive cinema release window. Early access will cost Disney+ subscribers an additional US$30 (one-off), which sounds expensive but can make sense for a family of four that would typically spend $9 per ticket at US cinemas.

For Disney, they’ll keep 100% of the revenue rather than the 50% share they typically keep from theatrical releases. They also hope it will drive further subscriber growth for Disney+, which recently surpassed their 60 million subscriber goal target four years ahead of schedule.

Grace Randolph has a good breakdown of the movie math.

Following in the footsteps of Hamilton showing on Disney+, the Diana musical will be streamed on Netflix while Broadway is closed.

Fox News, a staple of cable bundles, is launching an international streaming service called Fox News International that will include the Fox News Channel and Fox Business. It’s set to launch in Mexico later this month and will expand to 20 countries by the end of the year.

Twitch is broadening out its live streaming content by focusing on live streaming music in the Asia Pacific region.

Music is also a priority for Twitch, according to Kaur, who left music-streaming platform Spotify to join Twitch earlier in February. She pointed to K-pop, a music genre from South Korea that has grown in popularity over the years, as an example where Twitch plans to provide more content.

? Enhance!

Researchers at the University of California have created an earbud-like electrode that could enhance your ability to learn unfamiliar sounds in a new language.

The researchers found that they could enhance learning by synchronising the nerve stimulation with the presentation of Mandarin speech sounds. “I was quite shocked that just a small amount of stimulation over a very short time period gave us a relatively large bump in learning,” says Leonard.

The participants who received nerve stimulation were 13 per cent better, on average, at classifying tones in Mandarin and achieved peak performance twice as quickly as those who wore the device but didn’t receive stimulation.

? Robotics

Industrial robot arms are appearing in logistics facilities for the first time, driven by the boom in ecommerce deliveries. They still don’t match the flexibility of humans.

While companies such as FedEx Corp., Deutsche Post DHL Group, United Parcel Service Inc. and Amazon. com Inc. have long relied on billions of dollars worth of automation to get packages to customers quickly—from conveyors that divert packages down one path or another to guided vehicles that shuttle about entire shelves of goods—these robot arms are something different. They’re the first arms of their kind to ever appear in a FedEx facility, and among the earliest examples of the day-to-day use of this technology anywhere in the world.

It’s also increasing investment in other forms of automation.

More than half of warehouse operators responding to a recent survey by Honeywell Intelligrated, Honeywell International Inc.’s warehouse automation business, said they were more willing to invest in automation as a result of the pandemic. E-commerce companies showed the biggest shift, with 66% saying they were more willing to do so, followed by food and beverage companies and logistics providers, at 59% and 55%, respectively.

Hotel delivery robots are also seeing a boost, though I imagine that’s off a low base.

Requests for delivery robots from the hospitality sector have doubled since the pandemic began, said Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke, despite the giant drop in business that hotels are seeing. Many of these companies are looking to start leasing robots next year, Mr. Cousins said, as they begin planning ahead for when they expect business to start picking up again.

? EV Batteries

Oslo is introducing two dozen electric Jaguar taxis that will be able to wirelessly recharge on special pads embedded under the road while they wait for their next fare.

“We think that wireless charging is a potential game-changer,” said Sture Portvik, a manager for electromobility in the Oslo city government, “and we are happy to assist by helping taxi drivers keep moving and not adding cable clutter to the city. By improving infrastructure and providing better charging to the taxi industry, we are confident that by 2024 all taxis in Oslo will be zero emission.”

? Regulation

Trump’s Executive Order banning TikTok could cut it off from app stores and advertisers. TikTok claims the Trump administration hasn’t engaged in good faith regarding their concerns, and they plan to sue the Trump administration soon.

ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, is reportedly in talks with MicrosoftReliance Industries, and Twitter about a potential sale of TikTok’s US operations.

Twitter is being mocked for shutting down Vine (a similar short-video app) in 2016, but what that narrative misses is that TikTok at its core is an AI-driven service, which was never true for Vine. It’s what makes TikTok’s video selection so compelling, and it could be one reason Microsoft is interested.

Trump also signed an Executive Order banning WeChat, which will potentially sever communications for millions of people.

⚙️ Mobility

Russian tech giant Yandex has started testing self-driving cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Separately, Michigan has unveiled plans to design a self-driving vehicle roadway between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

?️  Space

Virgin Galactic has unveiled an initial design concept for a Mach 3 passenger jet that could fly from London to Sydney in five hours. This jet is still early on in its development, and if it’s ever completed, it faces potential competition from other supersonic jets being developed such as the Aerion AS2 (Mach 1.5), the Boom Overture (Mach 2.2), and the Spike S-512 (Mach 1.6).

The Mission Concept Review, which included representatives from NASA, is an important program milestone at which the Virgin Galactic high speed team confirmed that, based on the research and analysis work completed, its design concept can meet the high-level requirements and objectives of the mission. Previously, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic to collaborate on high speed technologies.

The delta wing design is similar to the iconic shape of Concorde. Pic: Virgin Galactic

SpaceX is now manufacturing 120 Starlink internet satellites per month.

⚡ Other Snippets

Vindex is investing $300 million in esports gaming arenas for amateur and casual players.

The US military expects to have its first battalion of Stryker vehicles, equipped with high-powered laser weapons, sometime in 2021.

A Californian judge has ruled that Uber and Lyft must classify drivers as employees, which may lead to the companies pulling out of California. Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has suggested a third classification for gig workers that’s different to employee and contractor designations.

It’s time to move beyond this false choice. As a start, all gig economy companies need to pay for benefits, should be more honest about the reality of the work and must strengthen the rights and voice of workers.

2020 is on track to be the best year for US IPOs since the dot-com bubble.

Amazon wants to turn failed malls into fulfilment centres.

CNBC looks at whether Walmart can catch Amazon in ecommerce. Walmart will soon launch a subscription service called Walmart Plus to compete with Amazon Prime.

About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

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