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The New York Times Tech Roundup

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The New York Times

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The New York Times
Apple put out a new line of laptops, some of which included the Touch Bar.
Apple put out a new line of laptops, some of which included the Touch Bar. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Farhad and Mike’s Week in Tech: Microsoft, Apple and Halloween!

Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Farhad: Hello, Mike! I hope we can make this a quick chat, as I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my Halloween costume. I’m going as Sexy Donald Trump.
Mike: That is truly terrifying. Speaking of which, I’m going as celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Do you have a bowling shirt with flames on it that I can borrow for the weekend?
Farhad: Oh yeah, I have many. I make so many trips to Flavor Town! On to the news. Let’s start with personal computers. Remember those?
Mike: Like the old Gateway 2000 we had growing up? My favorite thing about those computers was that they came in a box that was painted white and splotchy black like a cow. Because I definitely think of livestock while I’m computing.
Farhad: Yeah, well, apparently not only do personal computers still exist, but if you’ve got a lot of money to spend, they can be pretty awesome.
Take the Surface Studio, which Microsoft unveiled at a press conference in New York this week. It’s, get this, a desktop computer, a device that was first invented in the Jurassic period, I think. But still, it looked pretty sweet. The machine is basically a flat sheet of glass mounted on a hinge, allow creative professionals to use it as a traditional desktop or a large drafting table. Microsoft also showed off a really intriguing accessory for the Studio, a physical dial that you turn to perform very precise functions (like zooming) on the machine.
Mike: I could see that being pretty cool if I had artistic talent. Usually those folks like those big Wacom tablets, but this seems to have a different type of interface — drawing directly on the screen, for example — that could win that crowd over.
Farhad: Microsoft was widely ridiculed when it began building its own computers a few years ago (that first Surface was a stinker). But I have to say, they’ve really done wonders since then. This new Surface — which, alas, starts at $3,000 — was the most interesting computer design I’ve seen in a long time. And that includes the other company that showed off some new computers this week.
Can you guess which company that was?
Mike: Um, Gateway?
Farhad: No, I meant Apple. The Mac company put out a new line of laptops, including a couple of high-end machines that include something called the Touch Bar. It’s a little touch-screen mounted at the top of the keyboard that offers a range of controls that adapt to whatever software you’re using at the moment.
I tried it out at Apple’s press event this week, and in my short demo it looked quite handy, but it’s expensive. Mac machines with the Touch Bar start at $1,800.
Mike: I guess that’s cool. Everyone is criticizing it because you have to look down at the keyboard to use it instead of, say, typing on the buttons we have there now without looking down.
Am I crazy, or am I the only guy who still needs to look at the keyboard in the unlikely event I am required to press F8?
Farhad: Yeah, you’re crazy. Never press F8. Never.
O.K., let’s touch on some earnings reports, because I know you love those. After previously warning investors that it would soon start spending heavily to invest in its core business, Amazon reported that it had kept to its word and spent a lot of dough. But apparently investors weren’t expecting that, despite the company’s warning. So Amazon’s profits came in below analysts’ expectations, which sent the stock price slipping.
But here’s what I found interesting. Amazon, which is the most opaque large company in tech, told investors that it was expecting a remarkably wide range in business performance in the holiday quarter. Operating income could come in as high as $1.25 billion at the high end — or $0 at the low end. Who knows, right?
Basically Amazon is like one of those baked kids in “Dazed and Confused” contemplating the emptiness of it all: Like, hey, man, we could make a whole lot or we could make nothing, man, what does any of it matter on this pale blue dot out here in the middle of nothingness, you know what I mean, man?
Mike: I do, in fact, know what you mean. The philosophy of Matthew McConaughey guides many of my life choices, especially the character he played in that movie.
Anyway, I think at this point Amazon can tell investors whatever they want — “Profit? Who knows? Who cares?” — and Wall Street will eventually get in line and keep singing the company’s praises. Tech companies are good at not caring what analysts think.
Farhad: A couple of companies went on cost-cutting missions this week, though for totally different reasons. Alphabet, the holding company that Google created to manage its many non-search-related businesses, said that it was halting further expansion of its Google Fiber project. Fiber is a plan to build superfast fiber-optic internet access in cities across the country, a mission that has always seemed a little crazy in its expense and ambition. Now, citing a need for greater financial discipline, Google is going to lay off Fiber.
Please please don’t make a joke about digestion.
Mike: Whatever do you mean? I’m just happy to see Google is staying regular. Uh, in its ambitions.
In all seriousness, this is a bummer, because my Comcast connection at home is the definition of terrible and unreliable. No competition within markets makes me very sad, even if I do get to make a fiber joke.
Farhad: And then, finally, there was Twitter, which woke reporters up at 4 a.m. on the West Coast to deliver its financial results. The struggling social network said it would lay off 350 people and would essentially shut down Vine, the once-popular looping video app.
Man, I feel like I think about Twitter’s mortality more frequently than my own. Is there any good news this time?
Mike: Actually, yes! They added more new users than everyone expected, and while their revenue growth is in decline, it still beat analysts’ estimates.
Also, layoffs can be seen a few ways. It’s always painful and you can’t cheer when a company does it. Real people and their lives are affected by them. That being said, Twitter employs 3,900 people, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what most of them actually do all day. I’m not sure they could, either. So, perhaps this was something that was a long time coming, as many people around the company will grudgingly admit.
Anyway, they’re doing O.K., considering. The stock price went up, which is good, I guess. Too bad Vine is going away. I’ve spent the past few days watching hilarious and weird vines on my computer. I highly recommend it.
Farhad: I loved the idea of Vine, but I never really watched many. Guess that was the problem. Anyway, see you next week!
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