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Show Notes: Spotify comes for Tidal

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March 1st, 2017

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

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 this week 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.

SWITCHED ON

  • It’s Nintendo Switch review day! At least the hardware and basic game experiences — no reviewers have the big day one patch, so expect much more coverage of the Switch software in the coming weeks.
  • Switch cartridges... taste bad? I dunno, Dieter licked one.
  • Here’s our review video, which starts right where it should: the tactile pleasantness of the buttons and clicks:

AJIT PROP

  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai halted the FCC’s ISP privacy rules from going into effect today. The rules basically prevented your ISP from sharing your browsing history and other data, and if something bad happens it’ll be up to the FTC to figure it out and stop it. This is probably great news for a company like Verizon, which is building an entire adtech business on the back of its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions.
  • Are you going to drop Verizon if they start sharing your data usage information with the AOL adtech network? Would you pay a higher price to another carrier that values your privacy more? Because if the answer is no, that means the market will never actually get the signal that privacy is valuable, and these companies won’t compete on that dimension. And I can’t say “competing to be more cautious about your personal data” is a major theme of competition in any tech-related industry right now.
  • And as promised, here’s Jake Kastrenakes’ dive into how ISPs have reacted to net neutrality over the past two years. Basically: all of their stocks are up, and most of them are spending more money on network investment than before.
  • Chairman Pai has claimed that investment has fallen to historic lows, but he’s using data from industry trade groups that (surprise!) are lobbying for less regulation. This excellent Consumerist piece looks at the financial statements of the various big ISPs to check that claim, and finds that all of them are investing heavily in networks, and promising investors big returns on that investment without any mention of regulatory concerns.
  • Pai also claims regulation will stand in the way of 5G deployment, but as Jake points out, AT&T and Verizon were aggressively readying 5G tests and tech last year — when everyone thought Clinton would win and net neutrality would remain the law. There’s no way Verizon decided to roll out 5G trials in 11 American cities on a whim because Trump surprised everyone and Ajit Pai became FCC chairman.
  • I will give Pai this, though: he’s said 5G and gigabit LTE can provide meaningful competition to wired internet access, and that is a very interesting idea. Telecom nerds call this general concept “facilities-based competition,” and it’s a significant difference in the US and European approaches to infrastructure. 5G blanketing rural America with a real broadband solution might be great!
  • But gigabit LTE isn’t going to compete with wired internet anytime soon and will probably have pricing in line with the current LTE networks. And 5G is years out at the very least. It’s an interesting position and one that I hope pans out (more competition is good!), but it’s a pretty idealistic position.
  • I asked former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler about all this stuff about a year ago — and a bunch of other hard questions about setting standards and acting in the consumer interest. He jokingly called me an “acolyte of industrial policy” and made it clear that he didn’t care to dive into the specific technology decisions of carriers. It’s worth a re-read in the current context.
  • And of course, I would love to ask Chairman Pai about all this on The Vergecast, but the man just doesn’t seem all that interested.

MWC SCRAPS

SNAPPED

  • Snap priced its IPO today, valuing itself at $24 billion, and Ben Popper has all the details.
  • Snap is reportedly making a drone and has contemplated a 360 camera. This makes a certain amount of sense — Snap is insistent that it’s actually a “camera company” and smartphone cameras can’t fly or take 360 video yet. But as Ashley Carman notes, these aren’t big new ideas anymore, and there are lots of great competitors in these fields. (Are you really going to buy a Snapchat drone over a DJI Mavic Pro?) If Snap really thinks that it’s a “camera company,” it’s going to have to do more crazy things like Spectacles that push the basic idea of a camera someplace new.
  • Speaking of Snapchat, the latest company to copy Snapchat Stories is... Medium. At this rate Seamless is going to launch stories next. Whatever this idea is, it’s over. Someone invent something else.

DIGITAL MEDIA LIGHTNING ROUND

  • Spotify has been showing users the option for higher-fidelity streaming — Micah Singleton got the scoop. I’ve been using Apple Music lately because I think the interface is better, especially if you travel a lot and need local music on your phone, but I can’t say it really sounds any different from Spotify to me.
  • One thing I’ve noticed recently is a wave of higher-end networked stereo components that are adding Tidal support. There’s also a lot of Sonos customer interest in Tidal as well, along with some positive reviews of the combination. It’s probably not a huge market, but high-quality streaming audio is definitely finding customers. I’d bet Spotify can serve them, charge a slightly higher price, and basically incur zero incremental costs in terms of recompression or bandwidth. It’s a higher margin product for Spotify that builds on top of the core business, but it competes directly with Tidal’s entire core business. Kind of ruthless, actually.
  • That would leave exclusives as Tidal’s only real differentiator. Which is not a bad differentiator. But Tidal has to compete for those with Apple, and Apple has silly money. And Spotify has the ability to put a track on tons of playlists and push an artist to the top of the charts. Hmm.
  • Facebook’s video app is out for Apple TV. I am very curious at how this goes — videos that work well in the Facebook feed (which we and other creators generally crop to vertical or square) don’t seem all that suited to watching on a large widescreen display. But you tell me.
  • Finally, the price of the Oculus Rift and Touch controller dropped $200 today. I feel like there’s an untold story about the sales of the Rift and consumer interest in standalone VR rigs; it feels like this first wave of technology got there but the killer apps and experiences that justify a purchase are still off in the distance.