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What caught my eye in tech: September 2020

Every month in 2020, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 interesting things in tech that have caught my eye. Enjoy!

1. Oracle and Walmart win the race to operate TikTok in the US

The TikTok drama never fails to amaze. In last months round-up, I touched on Oracle and Walmart being in the race to operate the platform in the US, but I never thought it would come to fruition. Yes, unbelievably and in the latest twist, both companies will now be part of a new company Bytedance will set up to satisfy Trump’s demands. 

As part of this announcement, various details came to light about the setup which seems to raise more questions than answers. The new company set up will be run by a board made up of ‘US citizens’, Oracle and Walmart will have the option to buy a 20% stake in this company before a planned IPO, and 25,000 US jobs will be created.

Who are these US citizens? Who will own the rest of this new company? How exactly will 25,000 jobs be created? One thing’s certain, this deal and the saga overall is far from over.

More on Trump’s approval of Walmart and Oracle via Engadget

2. Apple’s subscriptions business expands to fitness 

The latest Apple event featured big hardware updates in the iPad and Watch range, but it is the release of Fitness+ that really captured my attention. In short, it’s a new service that offers streaming fitness workouts with on-screen instructors, that utilises Apple’s product ecosystem. Whilst Fitness+ works with many of Apple’s products, it is with the Watch that most value can be driven, due to the specific data the product can provide to enhance a workout. With COVID-19 showing no signs of easing up, it’s come at a perfect time for those looking to level up their home workouts.

With the likes of Peloton seeing huge success this year, this has huge potential to drive Apple’s continually increasing subscription revenue. Couple this with another event launch, Apple One, a bundled package of services including Apple Music, iCloud and Apple News amongst others, and it’s clear Apple’s growth shows no signs of slowing down.

More on the launch of Apple Fitness+ via Apple Insider

3. Amazon introduces a rather scary home security drone

Along with Apple, Amazon released a bunch of new products at an event this month. We saw updates and new additions to Alexa powered speakers, an entry into cloud gaming through ‘Luna’, Ring extending into car security… and a bizarre security drone that flies around your house. 

Yes, you read that right, a security drone that will fly around your home. It’ll record what it sees in the event of a break-in, whilst beaming a live stream to your phone, or can do a sweep of the house if you’re not home and let you see if you remembered to close all the windows. Whilst it’s easy to see how it could be useful, it’s even easier to hear the privacy alarm bells. Amazon is adamant it is built with ‘privacy in mind’ (we believe you) but I’m not sure this quells the many worries folks will have about letting this thing roam free around their home.

More on Amazon’s product launch event via Wired

4. Apple opens the door to game streaming

Last month I covered Apple’s announcement that they would not allow cloud-based game streaming services to be available via the App Store. A quick recap as to why. On the one hand, it prevents Apple from controlling the trusted customer experience they strive for, but on the other, it makes it difficult for them to apply their 30% ‘App Store tax’. This ban frustrated the likes of Nvidia, Google and Microsoft who are all present in the sector and naturally want access to Apple’s platform.

The good news is Apple has updated its App Store guidelines to open the door to cloud-based game streaming. The bad news is it’s still not quite an ideal setup, making it very difficult to allow a Netflix like gaming service to be viable through the App Store. Apple will allow any game to be available via a game streaming service, but they all need to be individually submitted to Apple for vetting. 

It’s a small step that shows Apple is listening to developer feedback but probably some way off receiving mutual support. 

More on the loosening of App Store guidelines via Bloomberg

5. Amazon moves into high-end fashion

One area Amazon has previously struggled to dominate is the high-end fashion sector, but that may be about to change. Through an invite-only area for Prime customers titled ‘Luxury Stores’, folks will be able to browse and buy luxury garments, signifying a bold move into the sector. 

This setup is of interest as it isn’t the typical off the shelf Amazon experience being deployed. It’s clear Amazon has made an attempt to create an element of exclusivity, opting to create a bespoke shopping experience, and likely a result of high-end brands wanting some element of control over their representation. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic seeing luxury fashion sales drop significantly, this turn of events has provided Amazon an opportunity to woo brands onto their platform. Brands will certainly appreciate the influx of potential revenue Amazon’s scale has to offer, but at what cost for the brands? Is an Amazon customer their customer? It will be interesting to see if brands decide to remain with Amazon once the pandemic over. After a 2 year trial, in 2019 Nike pulled all products from the platform citing a preference to build stronger personal relationships through their own channels.

Request access to ‘Luxury Stores’ via Amazon

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