Apple: Tim Cook’s five-year anniversary
“My, how things haven’t changed,” said Shara Tibken in CNET.com. When Apple’s chief operating officer Tim Cook took over as CEO from a gravely ill Steve Jobs in August 2011, questions swirled about his ability to live up to the legacy of the company’s legendary co-founder. As Cook marked his fiveyear anniversary in the role last week, those questions were still being asked. Cook has had some wins. Under his calm, consensusdriven style of leadership—a world removed from Jobs’ almost dictatorial approach— Apple’s stock price and its annual sales have more than doubled. In the holiday quarter this past year, the world’s most valuable company sold 74 million iPhones, more than it sold in all of 2011. But that success has masked the weakness in the tech giant’s other product lines. While Jobs’ Apple released a flurry of breakthrough products—the iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad—under Cook the firm has debuted just one new device, the Apple Watch, sales of which have already dipped.
There are other signs that the company is faltering, said Jefferson Graham and Jon Swartz in USA Today. Its revenue has fallen, year over year, for the past two quarters as iPhone sales have stalled and newer products like the Watch and iPad Pro have failed to take off. How Apple will generate growth in the next five years isn’t clear. Google, Facebook, and Amazon have been busy carving out a future focused on driverless cars, virtual reality, and smart-home devices. But under the cautious Cook, Apple has been content to tweak existing products: a thinner iPad here, a larger iPhone there.
Cook’s Apple isn’t as innovative as Jobs’, said Jennifer Booton in MarketWatch.com. But look closely and you’ll see that he has actually surpassed his predecessor in some areas. He aggressively expanded Apple’s services empire, including Apple Music and Apple Pay, which now brings in $6 billion a year in revenue—“Apple’s No. 2 source of revenue, behind only the iPhone.” He’s also made the firm more socially conscious, by investing in environmental initiatives such as robots that recover gold and other materials from discarded Apple products, and by championing gay rights and ramping up the firm’s hiring of women and minorities.
So let’s give Cook a break, said Mathew Ingram in Fortune.com. “How could any mortal produce as much value and as many groundbreaking products as Jobs did?” And remember that the Apple that Cook inherited is a very different company from the ailing PC maker that Jobs returned to and reinvented in 1997. Back then, Apple had nowhere “to go but up (or out of business altogether).” Now that Apple is a $600 billion giant with 110,000 employees, it has nowhere to go but down. How much bigger could it possibly get? But Tim, if you do have a multibillion-dollar idea lying around, “now would be a great time to mention it.”
Innovation of the week
revolutionary robot isn’t the metallic, costly machine you’d expect,” said Seth Borenstein in NBCBayArea.com. Designed by Harvard researchers and made for pennies on a 3-D printer, the eight-legged Octobot is the world’s first entirely soft, autonomous robot. The squishy, palm-size machine contains no rigid components like batteries or electrical controls. Its brain is a tiny flexible circuit that directs liquid hydrogen peroxide toward platinum catalysts, which turn the fuel into oxygen gas and water vapor. The gas is channeled to the bot’s silicone limbs, which wiggle up and down. So far, that’s all this proof-of-concept machine can do. But researchers hope the Octobot will pave the way for more complex soft robots that could be used, for example, by rescue workers after earthquakes to squeeze through gaps in rubble that are impassable to humans and inflexible robots.
Bytes: What’s new in tech
Your own personal Peter Thiel?
A new startup wants to bankroll your lawsuit— if it thinks you can win, said Biz Carson in BusinessInsider.com. Legalist appears to be “ripped straight from the headlines,” launching on the heels of Hulk Hogan’s companybankrupting lawsuit against Gawker, a case funded by tech mogul Peter Thiel. The startup decides which cases to take on through an algorithm that analyzes factors like the presiding judge’s track record, the lawyers involved, and the court type. If the algorithm says the case can be won, Legalist will fund the suit in return for up to 50 percent of the final settlement. Although Legalist received a $100,000 investment from Thiel’s foundation, the company says “it’s not looking to become Thiel in startup form.” Legalist will initially focus on small businesses tied up in litigation and will invest only in cases that are already underway.
Google punishes mobile pop-up ads
“Websites with mobile pop-up ads, watch out,” said Emma Hinchliffe in Mashable.com. Google announced last week that it is cracking down on annoying pop-ups or whole-page ads that appear when you visit a webpage on a smartphone, effectively blocking the content you actually want to see. Starting in January, Google will downgrade mobile sites that use excessive pop-ups in its search rankings, cutting off a major source of their traffic. Pop-ups that are part of a legal obligation— to verify a user’s age, for example—won’t be penalized. Google has been working hard to encourage websites to make life easier for smartphone users. The company introduced a “mobile friendly” label for sites two years ago, and 85 percent of webpages now follow the company’s best mobile design practices.
WhatsApp’s privacy reversal
“WhatsApp’s privacy cred just took a big hit,” said Brian Barrett in Wired.com. The messaging app announced last week that it will start sharing users’ phone numbers and other data with Facebook, which acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. “Previously, no information passed between the two.” The move will unsettle users who flocked to WhatsApp because of its reputation as a “privacy oasis,” with founder Jan Koum famously promising never to sell users’ personal information. “That remains true in letter, if not in spirit.” While users’ phone numbers won’t be sold directly to advertisers, linking them to Facebook will allow the social media giant to deliver more individually tailored ads on WhatsApp.
The new planet next door
Astronomers have discovered a potentially habitable Earth-like planet orbiting the star nearest to us, only 4.2 light-years away. Dubbed Proxima b, the planet circles Proxima Centauri, making it our next-door neighbor in cosmic terms and the closest planet ever detected outside the solar system. No one has actually seen Proxima b— astronomers have inferred its existence from decades of data and a “wiggle” in the star’s light indicating the gravitational pull of an orbiting body. Slightly larger than Earth, Proxima b is thought to have a rocky surface and be tidally locked, meaning it takes as long to rotate around its axis as it does to revolve around its star, leaving one face in constant darkness and the other in constant daylight. The planet lies in the “Goldilocks zone,” where conditions may be suitable for life, but it’s unknown if Proxima b has surface water or an atmosphere. “Life, if it exists, probably had a rougher start than life on Earth,” astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger tells NationalGeographic.com. “But that is exactly why it is so exciting to study these other worlds. They are just a bit different and can unveil an amazing diversity of life we can’t even imagine yet.”
Men appreciate working wives
Today’s husbands don’t feel emasculated when they’re not the primary breadwinners. In fact, a new study shows, men are happier and healthier when wives share the burden of making money. Analyzing 15 years of government data on married couples between 18 and 32, sociologists at the University of Connecticut found that men’s psychological and physical well-being actually suffered as their share of the economic burden increased. But when wives took on some of that responsibility, it had a positive effect on their husbands, reports TheAtlantic.com. The results suggest that traditional gender roles—in which women are supposed to take care of the kids and housework while men go out and make the money—may be ill-suited to a world in which two incomes can be necessary. “A lot of the gendered expectations in marriage are left over from a different era,” says study author Christin Munsch. Today, she notes, many men see paying the bills as a source of great pressure and stress, while an increasing number of women view working outside the home for a salary as an opportunity for personal growth and independence.
Family boosts longevity
It’s become conventional wisdom that having lots of friends is essential to happiness and longevity. But a new study at the University of Toronto suggests that family bonds are far more important to adult wellbeing than friendships. Researchers surveyed some 3,000 people between 57 and 85, asking about their closest relationships, health, and well-being, and found that those who felt “extremely close” to several family members had a 6 percent risk of dying within five years. By contrast, people who lacked close family ties had a 14 percent mortality risk over the same period. Even those who weren’t close to their relatives had lower odds of death than people with little or no family. “Because you can choose your friends, you might expect that relationships with friends would be more important for mortality, since you might be better able to customize your friend network,” study author James Iveniuk tells WashingtonPost.com. “But it is the people who in some sense you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity.”
Health scare of the week
Calcium pills linked to dementia
Calcium supplements are widely used to ward off age-related bone loss, but a new study suggests that for some women they also bring a significantly higher risk for dementia. Researchers in Sweden tested the memory and thinking skills of 700 older women and tracked their use of calcium supplements. Women with a history of stroke who took calcium were seven times more likely to develop dementia within five years than were women who had suffered strokes but didn’t use the supplements. Among the women with signs of cerebrovascular disease, a disorder that affects blood flow to the brain, those who took calcium were twice as likely to develop dementia as the women who didn’t. These findings don’t prove that calcium supplements increase the risk for dementia, but researchers say they warrant further investigation. “People have a tendency to assume that dietary supplements are automatically innocuous,” neurologist Marc Gordon, who was not involved in the study, tells LiveScience.com. But “high levels of supplementation as opposed to just dietary intake [of calcium] could conceivably have some deleterious effects.”