Before every episode of The Vergecast I sit down, read through a bunch of news, and take a bunch of notes. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my week, and I started thinking it might be fun to do every day on the site. So, every day I’m sitting down and writing some notes on the news as though I’ll be talking about it later. Are you into this? Am I into this? I don’t know. But it’s fun to do! Give me some feedback and we’ll keep mutating this into something good.
There is a lot going on right now, so this is going to be a jam-packed edition of Show Notes. Let’s get into it.
- I promised that our new cars-as-gadgets review series would arrive soon, and here it is. We’re calling it Screendrive; it’s entirely focused on reviewing the tech inside of cars the same way we’d review any other gadgets. (After all, cars are basically turning into rolling tablets and Bluetooth speakers.) Ashley Carman kicked off the series with a review of the Hyundai Elantra Sport. I’ll let you click through to see what she thought.
EUROPEAN MOBILE EXPLOSION
- So so so much stuff from MWC broke over the weekend, and it’s all in this StoryStream. But here are my highlights thus far:
- The LG G6 looks... great? I’m not crazy about the screen corners having a different radius than the device itself. But the taller screen is interesting, especially with the way LG is using it for camera previews. And the software looks less loaded with crap than LG’s usual nonsense. Nice.
- The newest Moto Mod is a microphone back that turns the phone into a little Amazon Echo with Alexa. This is the single-best modular phone accessory I’ve ever seen.
- The new Nokia 3310 is very cute. Here is a video of Vlad playing Snake on it:
- As expected, Samsung launched the Tab S3. It looks like... an iPad Pro. And it doesn’t seem like it pushes very hard on the core idea of what an Android tablet should be. But Samsung’s tablet hardware has gotten very nice, if what you want is an Android tablet.
- The Galaxy S8 will arrive on March 29th. And because the Galaxy S8 leaks keep coming, this time it’s leaked on video. And it has a headphone jack. That is a good thing.
DAILY AJIT PAI UPDATE
- Ajit Pai just can’t stop locating the exact situations where he should ask questions on behalf of consumers and then declining to ask those questions so giant corporations can get their way instead. Today: he says the FCC will probably not review the AT&T / Time Warner merger.
- The argument here is that AT&T and Time Warner have been very careful to structure their deal to avoid FCC review. Time Warner has even sold off broadcast stations it owns to avoid transferring broadcast or wireless licenses to AT&T, which would trigger the agency’s approval process. “That is the regulatory hook for FCC review,” Pai said while speaking at MWC today.
- But that’s not necessarily the only hook — and the FCC, unlike the DOJ, would review a merger like this to evaluate the public interest, not just antitrust concerns.
- It’s not even that the FCC should block the deal, but that it can impose conditions on a deal to protect the public interest and the internet economy. The obvious parallel is to the Comcast / NBCU merger, which was only completed after the two companies agreed to a consent decree prohibiting Comcast from prioritizing NBCU video content over rivals, along with several other conditions that basically imposed net neutrality on Comcast’s pipes before net neutrality actually became law.
- In faaaaaact, one of Comcast’s major arguments against net neutrality was that it was doing just fine abiding by the NBCU consent decree, thankyouverymuch.
- Pai really believes that market competition will self-regulate the access industry, but letting these mega-mergers go through reduces the amount of competition, which lessens the amount of self-regulation. (You have to believe Sprint and T-Mobile are reading these Pai quotes and sending each other chocolate deal toys.)
- Or, you could let the mergers happen and impose conditions that preserve the public interest, as the FCC tried to do with Comcast / NBCU. You just can’t have it both ways.
- This is an excellent time to read Susan Crawford’s Captive Audience, which is the definitive account of Comcast / NBCU as told from the consumer policy perspective. (I did an interview with Crawford about the book several years ago, you can watch it here.)
- As ever, Chairman Pai is welcome to face some hard questions about his policy choices on The Vergecast. But he doesn’t seem interested in that.
- In other mobile policy news, the unlimited plan wars just keep getting hotter — and better for wireless customers. Verizon spent the Oscars advertising its new unlimited plan, and today T-Mobile moved in typically fast T-Mobile fashion to announce a new limited-time promotion that potentially gives you three unlimited data lines for $100 per month. (The deal itself is more complicated than that, but I suspect that’s the arrangement that most readers here will care about.)
- TC Sottek, who has been a fierce critic of T-Mobile’s zero-rating shenanigans over the years, calls this the “best thing it’s done in years.”
- And AT&T made its unlimited plan way better, after announcing a super expensive plan earlier.
- We’re in the middle of a massive wireless carrier price war that’s all happening under the existing net neutrality law. The conservative move would be to let this market keep humming right along, not throwing a bombshell of new regulatory direction and instability into it.
CALIFORNIA UBER FAILES
- Uber’s having a miserable month just keeps piling up: Andy Hawkins did some digging and discovered that the company ignored California DMV warnings about illegal self-driving tests for months. It’s all well and good to style your company as a brazen freedom fighter when it comes to protectionary taxi regulations, but it’s probably less of a good idea when you’ve got robot cars blowing through red lights.
- And Kara Swisher found out that Amit Singhal, Uber’s SVP of engineering, has left the company after failing to disclose that he left his previous job at Google over sexual harassment allegations. Uber only found out after Kara told them in the course of her reporting — the company’s own background checks didn’t turn this up.
- There is nothing harder to change than a company’s culture, and Uber’s freewheeling culture seems to be crashing down on itself. What happens to this company next?
BLOOPER REEL BEST PICTURE
- We have a ton of Oscars coverage on the site, but take a moment and read Kaitlyn Tiffany’s methodical dismantling of the Academy’s relentless focus on male creators. The overwhelming story of the modern film industry is the democratization of tools and distribution through technology like digital cameras and the internet, but in 89 years there’s still never been a female nominee for Best Cinematography.
- Also: read Tasha Robinson’s interview with the creators of Moonlight.
- Samsung sponsored the hell out of the Oscars, including Jimmy Kimmel live-tweeting at the president from a Galaxy phone. But the company also ran three ads. One was a terrific spot featuring Casey Neistat and Simone Giertz about (hey, guess what) the democratization of filmmaking thanks to digital cameras and distribution like YouTube. Loved that one.
- The other two Samsung ads were about how rigorously tested Samsung phones are, without any acknowledgement that the Note 7 exploded a bunch. They’re very pretty, well-made ads, but the subtext speaks much louder than the ads themselves, I think.
- SpaceX plans to send two people around the Moon next year. Just read Loren and Angela’s post, there’s a lot going on here.
- The US government is detaining immigrants and throwing them in private prisons without access to lawyers or immigration officials. When the detainees respond with hunger strikes, they get thrown in solitary. This doesn’t seem like a normal Verge story, but remember that we’re a part of the technology community, which is built on immigration. And if that doesn’t work for you, just consider how much that sounds like the beginning of a sci-fi nightmare dystopia.
- Mozilla bought Pocket because there’s no future for any software company that can’t get an icon on your mobile home screen, and Pocket is on way more mobile home screens than Firefox will ever be. Mozilla has a lot of lofty ideals about saving the open web, but as Casey Newton writes: “It’s unclear to me how an app that takes something from the web, strips out the advertising, and puts it inside a native app on a mobile phone is contributing to the health of the internet.”
- Amazon is reportedly working on getting Alexa to distinguish between voices, which would allow multiple user support. That’s a big deal that would push the company’s lead in voice assistants even farther.
- Finally, go watch the newest Boston Dynamics video, which is just insanely terrifying and wonderful.