SAN FRANCISCO — For the last few years, the spotlight in start-up investing has largely shone on those who poured money into a company when it was already well along on a growth path. It turns out that spotlight may have been misdirected.
While some investors are throwing giant sums into more mature start-ups like Uber and Airbnb at soaring valuations, it is the venture capitalists who identify a promising company at its infancy and bet on its growth who often come out on top.
Many of the world’s largest technology companies have spent the last five years searching in vain for the holy grail, a machine to succeed the smartphone as the next must-have gadget.
They have made digital watches and fitness trackers, all manner of computerized glasses and goggles, and more doodads to plug into your TV than there are shows to watch on it.
SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon Web Services, a globe-spanning cloud computing network that is part of the online retailing giant Amazon, has rapidly become one of the most powerful forces in technology. It has also become a target for poachers.
Last October, at a conference in Las Vegas with thousands of corporate executives and software developers in attendance, A.W.S.’s chief, Andy Jassy, strode before an intentionally poorly disguised image of Lawrence J. Ellison, founder and chairman of the Oracle Corporation. Foot-tall words like “bullies,” “extorted” and “strong arm” appeared next to Mr. Jassy and the image of Ellision. The logo of Oracle, one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, was barely crossed out.
“Our marketing team needs work on redaction,” Mr. Jassy joked.
Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and a parade of other technology companies filed a barrage of court briefs on Thursday, aiming to puncture the United States government’s legal arguments against Apple in a case that will test the limits of the authorities’ access to personal data.
The extraordinary show of support for Apple from the tech companies, including many rivals, underscores how high the stakes are for the industry with the case, in which the authorities are demanding Apple’s help to break into an iPhone used by a gunman in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last year.
Let’s say computers come for most of our jobs. This may not seem likely at the moment; computer scientists and economists offer wildly varying ideas for how deeply automation will affect future employment.
But for the sake of argument, imagine that within two or three decades we’ll have morphed into the Robotic States of America.
SAN FRANCISCO — The legal wrangling over a federal court order requiring Apple to help law enforcement break into an iPhone intensified Thursday, with the company filing its formal response and asking the court to drop its demand.
Other technology companies — Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo — also moved to throw their weight behind Apple in court. The companies said they planned to file one or more briefs backing Apple next week in federal court in California.
To understand what’s at stake in the battle between Apple and the F.B.I. over cracking open a terrorist’s smartphone, it helps to be able to predict the future of the tech industry.
For that, here’s one bet you’ll never lose money on: Digital technology always grows hungrier for more personal information, and we users nearly always accede to its demands. Today’s smartphones hold a lot of personal data — your correspondence, your photos, your location, your dignity. But tomorrow’s devices, many of which are already around in rudimentary forms, will hold a lot more.
What does it mean to be a good corporate citizen?
That’s one of the questions being tested as Apple and the federal government battle over whether Apple should help the Federal Bureau of Investigation unlock an iPhone to gain access to encrypted data that officials say is necessary for their investigation of the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings that killed 14 people.
Apple initially assisted the F.B.I., but is now fighting a government subpoena directing it to create a new piece of software to open the phone, contending that its position is meant to protect the privacy of its customers.
WASHINGTON — For years, President Obama has struggled to reconcile a civil libertarian’s belief in personal privacy with a commander-in-chief’s imperatives for the nation’s security.
This week, security won.
The decision by Mr. Obama’s Justice Department to force Apple to help it breach an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists has ended, at least for now, the president’s attempts to straddle the feud over encryption between Silicon Valley and law enforcement.
After a federal court ordered Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., the company’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, penned a passionate letter warning of far-reaching implications beyond the case.
The response from other technology companies? A mix of carefully calibrated support and crickets.
Tech companies have spent years developing better, cheaper devices to immerse people in digital worlds. Yet they are still figuring out how to make virtual reality the kind of technology that people cannot live without.
So for inspiration, they are turning to science fiction.
When computers speak, how human should they sound?
This was a question that a team of six IBM linguists, engineers and marketers faced in 2009, when they began designing a function that turned text into speech for Watson, the company’s “Jeopardy!”-playing artificial intelligence program.
Eighteen months later, a carefully crafted voice — sounding not quite human but also not quite like HAL 9000 from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” — expressed Watson’s synthetic character in a highly publicized match in which the program defeated two of the best human “Jeopardy!” players.
SAN FRANCISCO — On any given Sunday during football season, the N.F.L., a league that promotes itself as a standard-bearer of innovation, produces games that are analog at their core. The leather ball has been stitched the same way for decades, and the chain gangs hold the first-down markers like crossing guards at a busy street corner. The players smash into one another in a way a fan from a century ago would recognize.
Yet the league, a $12-billion-a-year business, seems to be perpetually searching for the best and latest technology to help it deliver that analog product to its nearly 200 million fans, who are increasingly tech-savvy.
The juxtaposition can be jarring.
When I asked Alexa earlier this week who was playing in the Super Bowl, she responded, somewhat monotonously, “Super Bowl 49’s winner is New England Patriots.”
“Come on, that’s last year’s Super Bowl,” I said. “Even I can do better than that.”
At the time, I was actually alone in my living room. I was talking to the virtual companion inside Amazon’s wireless speaker, Echo, which was released last June. Known as Alexa, she has gained raves from Silicon Valley’s tech-obsessed digerati and has become one of the newest members of the virtual assistants club.
A well-known former JPMorgan Chase executive, Blythe Masters, has raised $52 million from several big banks for a start-up built on the technology underlying the Bitcoin virtual currency.
The start-up Digital Asset Holdings, based in New York, said on Thursday afternoon that it had raised the money from 13 financial institutions, including Ms. Masters’s former employer, JPMorgan, as well as Citi, BNP Paribas and Santander.
Judging by the number of learning apps available to classrooms around the country, the education technology market aimed at elementary through high schools is booming.
There are more than 3,900 math and reading apps, classroom management systems and other software services for schools in the United States, according to LearnTrials, a start-up that helps school districts assess and manage these tools.
When Dennis Crowley helped found Foursquare in 2009, he was ahead of the pack in creating a social app that used location technology. Now Foursquare may be at the front of another coming wave: tech start-ups that are raising money at lower valuations than before.
LAST week, manufacturers from all over the world gathered in Las Vegas — as they do every January — for International CES, a giant electronics show where they displayed televisions, computers and weird and wonderful gadgets. Nowadays, apps are also showcased or previewed alongside the hardware.
It’s a cliché for journalists to whine about International CES, the annual consumer electronics show that brings gadget-hounds and billionaires like a nerdy plague upon Las Vegas this week. As many have complained — yours truly included — CES long ago devolved into a noisy parade of puffed-up announcements that usually amount to nothing.
But if news from CES feels especially desultory this year, it might not be the show that’s at fault. Instead, blame the tech cycle. We’re at a weird moment in the industry: The best new stuff is not all that cool, and the coolest stuff isn’t quite ready.
THERE was never any doubt that I would buy an Apple Watch on the day it was released. I’m a White House correspondent for The New York Times, but I’m also that early-adopter guy.
Buying the watch has led to the inevitable questions from friends and family: “What do you think? Should I get one of those?”