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Benedict's
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This is a weekly newsletter of what I've seen in tech and thought was interesting. I work at Andreessen Horowitz.

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🗞 News

Facebook held its annual developer conference, F8. It discussed iterations to the bots platform that it announced last year, and showed more work on social VR (talking to your friends in VR using 90s-style avatars), but the main (and new) focus was Augmented Reality (AR). After spending the last few months systematically reimplementing Snapchat's lenses (as well as Stories) across all of its apps, Facebook now unveiled a major strategic push towards Augmented Reality (AR). Today, AR means that if you point the smartphone camera at something you'll see something overlaid on top of it on the screen (as in Snapchat Lenses or, less sophisticated, Pokemon Go). But in the quite near future it means actual glasses that you wear, that place things into the real world (sometimes called Mixed Reality to distinguish it from just pointing your smartphone at things). I strongly suspect that MR will be the new multitouch - the new universal platform to follow smartphones. So, all Facebook apps will have a development layer for making AR content that maps your surroundings into 3D (simultaneous localisation and mapping, or 'SLAM') and lets developers layer content onto the surfaces. Over time FB plans not just to map surfaces but to recognise what you're looking at, and so to show relevant content as well. In the short term this is an attempt to use the weight of its distribution to draw in developers and build a whole 'cool stuff with your camera' ecosystem to out-innovate Snapchat. Not far off, though, this also means that when glasses start arriving Facebook will already have seeded the market and have the best content platform.

At least, that's the plan.  Both parts have catches, though. I would be very surprised if both Apple and Google are not also planning to put SLAM directly into the smartphone camera API that any developer can use. Though Facebook is very strong in AI, so too is Google, while Apple controls the full hardware stack including the GPU (and put a depth sensing system in the iPhone 7 Plus). It's not yet clear whether developers would use Facebook's tool rather than those built into the OS, and Facebook has a history of trying to make smartphone developer tools that might more properly live in the OS layer, and it tends not to work well. And as we move onto glasses, which involves a lot of very cutting edge and proprietary technology, we know that Magic Leap (a Google (and a16z) investment) has a strong position, we can infer from hires, acquisitions and patens that Apple is pushing hard, and even Microsoft has Hololens - it will be a challenge for Facebook to match the existing hardware/OS companies (though it's probably looking into it). If not, that would mean Facebook would be in the same position on AR glasses as it is today on smartphones -reliant on someone else's OS - but, of course, today that reliance comes with dominance of its own. 

Keynote video link

Google is looking at building ad-blocking into Chrome. This would strip out 'abusive' ad formats (as defined by Google, naturally), both to improve the experience objectively and also perhaps to reduce the incentive to install more completist blockers (perhaps a quarter of desktop web users have one now). Of course, this also places places into a position of (greater) power, acting as arbiter of the formats any publisher or advertiser on the web can use, which raises all sorts of anti-trust questions. Chrome has about 40% of web traffic across desktop and mobile (IE has just 10%). Subtext, though: the great majority of internet use and advertising on mobile happens inside apps, not any web browser. Ad blocking on the web is a little backward looking.  Link

New York Times: Apple almost booted Uber from the app store for fingerprinting iPhones (to block rampant fraud in China) and for trying to hide that it was doing this from the app store team. Link

Apparently, Apple hired execs from Google's satellite imaging team. Maybe maps (which is what Google was mostly using this for), maybe something else. Link

Companies using Google Cloud now have full access to Google's latest ML-based speech recognition technology... Link

... And companies using Amazon cloud now have access to Amazon's latest ML-based speech recognition technology. The race to create new AI tech is paralleled by a race to commodify it. Link

The New York Times launched on Snapchat. Link

Petsmart bought Chewy.com for $3.35bn - largest ecommerce acquisition ever. Link

App-based benchmark of the latest high-end smartphones. Apple's custom silicon and tight integration means it's still a year ahead of the competition, maybe more. Link

Amazon is big in literary translation. Link

🔮 Blog posts

Demis Hassabis on the future of AI research (FT). Link

Buzzfeed profile of Yann LeCun, head of AI at Facebook. Link

Build something no-one else can measure. Link

Rare interview with Jan Koum, WhatsApp co-founder. Link

How La Nación got into data journalism. Link

Brands and advertisers are getting fed up with proprietary metrics and measurement from Facebook and Google. A real problem, but on the other hand, arguing for standard, unchanging ad formats (and hence metrics) is also arguing against innovation or change in a market that's clearly not ready to be mature yet. Link 

Chicago is getting less orange (LEDs replace sodium lighting). Link

😮 Cool thing of the week

They promised us flying cars and we might get them. (Also, this is part of the smartphone dividend - lithium batteries). Link

📊 Statistics

The GSMA's new Mobile Economy report - the state of global mobile networks. Link

 
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