el producto #106 👉 a weekly round-up of Tech and Product goodness

Netflix Q4 results, 2019 new iPhones, Airbnb-Hotel Tonight acquisition talks, Youtube’s recommendation tests, Managing PMs, Defining value, …


Welcome to another week full of fresh ideas and innovation at el producto.


🎰 The week in figures

$130B - US VC investment tops $130B in 2018; it marked an all-time high; the venture-backed exit market also exceeded $120B for the first time since 2012.

$1.5B - Xiaomi says it will invest at least $1.5B on AI and IoT tech over the next five years; CEO Lei Jun says the company is “all in on AIoT”; Lei also says the company plans to expand into more European countries as well as launching more premium devices.

$400M - Scooter-sharing firm Lime is raising $400M on a $2B valuation; the investment will come from existing backers.

$300M on a $2.7B valuation raised by Berlin-based fintech firm N26; offers digital banking services in 24 European markets and claims 2.3M customers; raised more than $510M to date.

$100M on a $1.8B valuation raised by delivery firm Postmates; the company offers on-demand logistics; Postmates is expected to go public in the first half of 2019; raised more than $680M to date.


📰 What’s going on

Apple likely to launch three new iPhones in 2019; the highest-end model will feature three rear cameras, while the other two models will have dual-array back lenses; the lowest tier model will feature an LCD display.

Apple launches $129 smart battery cases for iPhone XS, XS+, and SR; all charge wirelessly; the XR version promises up to 39 hours additional talk time; the cases integrate with iOS so remaining charge is displayed in Notification Center and on the lock screen.

A database containing more than 770M stolen email addresses appears online; known as Collection #1 the batch also includes over 21M passwords, some hashed; the data comes from multiple sources.

Airbnb held talks to acquire Hotel Tonight; the informal talks have reportedly stopped, but could be rekindled; the acquisition could help Airbnb getting more inventory in hotel segment. Airbnb says it’s achieved profitability for the second straight year, excluding EBITDA; the company has not disclosed figures.

Spotify to launch a hardware music player this year; the Flex-built ~$100 device reportedly will pair with vehicle entertainment systems via Bluetooth and offer voice control features; will also feature physical buttons for preset playlists.

Spotify begins testing a new Car View mode for its Android app; the feature automatically activates when Spotify detects a user’s device is paired to a vehicle via Bluetooth; offers a simplified layout and controls.

Amazon announces a public version of its private MARS conference; Re:MARS will focus on the same topics as MARS, which stands for Machine learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space; begins June 4 in Las Vegas.

AWS launches Backup, a tool for organizing automated backups; lets users manage data across various AWS services, set retention periods, and more.

Google to acquire in-development smartwatch tech from Fossil for $40M; will result in a new product line — part of the Wear family of devices.

Google introduces a minor Material Design update for Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Sites; includes changes to UI fonts, controls, and colors; initially rolling out to G Suite users.

Google Fi announces RCS Chat and improved speeds for international roaming; RCS launched this week for numerous Pixel and Moto devices; the SMS replacement offers typing indicators, read receipts; faster roaming is rolling out over the next few weeks.

YouTube selectively tests recommendation buttons beneath videos on desktop and mobile; the buttons are designed to let users filter recommendations and comprise of keywords, creators, and related topics.

YouTube introduces a horizontal swiping gesture to navigate through videos on its mobile apps; lets users move back and forth between videos, picking up at the last viewed point.

Facebook launches version one of its open source image processing library Spectrum; the client-side transcoding library reduces the size of images uploads for iOS and Android apps; available now via GitHub.

Facebook is testing a teen-focused meme feed called LOL; sources say the private beta includes ~100 high school kids who participate in focus groups; Facebook says it could become a standalone app; features videos and GIFs.

Facebook hires Google’s AR/VR head Ryan Cairns to serve as head of Portal AR/VR; after 12.5 years at Google, he led a team of more than 500.

Microsoft is set to decouple Cortana from search in Windows 10; Microsoft says the move will allow it to develop each tool independently; the company is working on Microsoft Search, a new service that will work across Office and Windows.

Satya Nadella says Microsoft will focus on making Cortana available on Google Assistant and other platforms; Cortana is already available as a skill on Amazon’s Alexa, and as an app on iOS and Android.

WeChat founder Allen Zhang says the platform will put more focus on video-streaming features and Mini Programs; the company added a new camera button last month that lets users share live videos, annotated with emojis, music, and more; WeChat says it will also introduce new recommendation tools to help users find Mini Programs.

Uber announces a Clean Air surcharge for rides in London; riders will pay an additional £0.15 per mile for journeys within the city; comes as Uber also launches a scheme to help drivers purchase EVs.

Grab partners with China-based insurance firm ZhongAn to establish an insurtech joint venture; the service will roll out later this year and let Grab users find and buy insurance products via the Grab app.

A surgeon in China performs remote surgery via 5G connection; the surgeon was located ~30 miles from the lab animal and was able to carry out a liver operation using a robot connected via a 5G network; the latency was ~100 milliseconds.

Netflix says it’s more worried about Fortnite than HBO. In a letter to shareholders, it cited the game as a bigger risk than obvious rivals like Hulu.

Walmart abandons plans for a new streaming service; will instead focus on adding more content to its existing service, Vudu; Vudu is the 3rd most popular pay-per-view digital video provider in US, behind Apple and Amazon.

Mozilla shuts down its Test Pilot program, which enabled early adopters to trial experimental features; focused mostly on Firefox features, but also produced one iOS app; existing features from the program will remain active.

Fintech firm Flutterwave partners with Visa to launch GetBarter, a digital wallet app for the African market; lets users send and receive domestic and cross-border payments; also lets non-banked users create a virtual Visa card.

China-based smartphone firm Oppo will launch in the UK on Jan 29; the company will offer 6.4-inch RX17 which includes a 16MP back camera and 8GB RAM; price and carrier details unknown.


💰 Q4 financial results

Netflix ($154B market cap) Q4 mixed: $4.2B revenue, up 28% YoY ($4.2B expected); aded 8.8M subscribers globally (7.6M expected); 1.5M new US subscribers, 7.3M international; added 29M subscribers in 2018, 22% up YoY.


📚 Something to think about

Defining value: the most ambiguous word in product development. Jeff Gothelf argues that meaningful changes in customer behaviour — i.e., outcomes — are the only way to know if we’ve delivered value.

A new approach to understanding how machines think. One of the challenges of Neural Networks is that they are famously incomprehensible — a computer can come up with a good answer, but not be able to explain what led to the conclusion. Been Kim, a research scientist at Google Brain, is developing a “translator for humans” so that we can understand when AI breaks down.

How the quest for small, fast, and autonomous teams is creating fragmented, confusing, and disjointed experiences. A provocative article on Agile anti-patterns. “Any organization that is too focused on operational, company-centric goals like speed, autonomy, or “following the rules of an Agile framework,” runs the risk of pulling farther away from its customers”.

Bias in ‘in-team’ product research. Sam Small pitches the case for researchers embedded into product teams. The researcher should be someone who is not invested in the success of the product and is only acting to serve the team through testing assumptions and uncovering more problems.

Managing and developing Product Managers. Brandon Chu, Director of Product at Shopify, shares his experience and advice in managing and helping PMs grow.


📻 Something to listen to

Apple in China. HBR discusses Apple’s position in the Chinese market; debate whether payday lending is good or bad for workers; and ask whether companies should be doing more to help employees manage cash shortfalls.


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