Technology: Google unveils new hardware
“Google is going after a familiar foe: Apple,” said Mark Gurman in Bloomberg.com. The tech giant released two smartphones this week designed to compete directly with the iPhone: the Pixel and larger Pixel XL, which in functionality and pricing are comparable to Apple’s flagship device. The Pixels have the distinction of being the first smartphones entirely “designed, engineered, and tested in-house by Google.” They’re also the first phones to run Google’s new Siri-like digital Assistant, which is also the centerpiece of the new Google Home, a voice-controlled smart speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo that can be used to get updates on weather, play music, or dim a room’s lights.
At first glance, Google’s new gadgets look like knockoffs of existing products, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. “Yet Google’s purpose in building these devices is fundamentally different from Apple’s or Amazon’s.” Apple makes its money selling iPhones, while Amazon’s Echo is designed to “lure customers into its vast shopping and media ecosystem.”Google has never been focused on selling things, but it does make billions of dollars from search and targeted advertising, which depends on collecting lots of users’ personal data. Google Assistant, which serves as the guts of both the Pixel phone and Google Home, is designed to do just that. In short, “you are the product.”
Banks: Looming fine casts cloud over Deutsche Bank
Deutsche Bank is racing against the clock to strike a deal with U.S. authorities on a multibillion-dollar penalty for its role in the housing crisis, said Georgina Prodhan in Reuters.com. The Department of Justice has demanded a fine of up to $14 billion from the German bank for selling toxic mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis, and Deutsche Bank hopes to reach a settlement before the U.S. presidential election, because a new administration could bring “unknown risks and likely delays.” The specter of such a massive fine has raised questions about the struggling bank’s viability.
Retail: Bass Pro Shops bags Cabela’s for $4.5B
Two of the biggest sellers of outdoor-sports gear are joining forces, said Sara Germano and Kevin Helliker in The Wall Street Journal. Bass Pro Shops announced this week that it is acquiring rival Cabela’s for about $4.5 billion in cash. Both stores “have spent decades building over-thetop megastores” that “double as both shopping centers and entertainment destinations.” Bass Pro Shops’ flagship store in Springfield, Mo., draws more than 4 million tourists a year. The combined chain will have more than 180 locations and control of more than 20 percent of the $50 billion U.S. hunting, camping, and fishing market.
Web: U.S. surrenders the internet’s address book
“The U.S. has given up its remaining control over the internet,” said Richard Waters in the Financial Times. The U.S. government formally handed over control of the internet’s naming and addressing system last week to ICANN, an independent international body that was already handling the system under a contract from Washington. The handover occurred despite a last-ditch attempt by congressional Republicans to block the move, saying it would make censorship easier for authoritarian governments.
Media: Redstone family pushes for CBS-Viacom merger
Sumner and Shari Redstone have “made their intentions for the future of their $40 billion media empire crystal clear,” said Emily Steel in The New York Times. In a letter sent last week to the boards of CBS and Viacom, the father-daughter duo instructed the directors to consider combining the two media companies, which were split into independent entities in 2006. The Redstones, who control about 80 percent of the voting stock in both CBS and Viacom through their company National Amusements, also ruled out selling either CBS or Viacom, making it clear “that the family would determine the fate of the two companies.”
The economics of instant noodles
The dramatic arc of China’s economic growth is perfectly illustrated by sales of instant noodles, said Adam Minter in Bloomberg.com. As the convenience food of choice for millions of workers during China’s boom years, crumpled instantnoodle bowls “were as ubiquitous around Chinese construction sites as the high-rise cranes above them.” Annual noodle sales grew from $4.2 billion to $7.1 billion between 2003 and 2008. But just as China’s building boom has slowed, “so too has its appetite for instant noodles.” In September, Tingyi, China’s biggest noodle maker, reported that profits were down 60 percent for the year. Increasingly, Chinese consumers, assisted by several years of rising wages, have been willing and able to pay more for even faster, healthier options, with food-delivery services thriving in cities. These days, “a 25-cent bowl of instant noodles doesn’t make the grade.”