Apple faces the music

February 20th, 2024

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AI apocalypse? In a compelling but dark interview with The Guardian, AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky forecasts that “our current remaining timeline looks more like five years than 50 years. Could be two years, could be 10” — meaning machines may destroy humankind in that amount of time. While we prefer to look on the bright side of AI, his insights do make us think. Honestly, we’re just trying to survive this week’s atmospheric river in LA…

In other news… the EU fines Apple half a billion dollars, Big Tech’s biggest players are returning to SF, and superhero movies ain’t cutting it at the box office.

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The EU takes a bite out of Apple // Illustration by Kate Walker

The EU makes Apple face the music

The Future. The EU handed down a €500 million (~$539 million) fine to Apple after investigating Spotify’s complaint that Apple prohibits iPhone apps from informing users about cheap alternatives to Apple’s music service. If the fine stands, Apple will likely have to give third-party apps more freedom than ever before.

History time
The story of the recent half-billion-dollar fine starts five years ago.

  • In 2019, Spotify accused Apple of anticompetitive practices, specifically targeting the App Store tax.

  • 2020 saw the EU begin their investigation into Apple.

  • By 2021, the EU narrowed their complaint down to Apple’s prohibition of apps’ linking to their services within their own apps.

  • In April 2022, Apple got rid of that prohibition.

  • Then, in 2023, the EU sent Apple a new list of objections, threatening fines of up to $40 billion.

  • The current fine concerns Spotify’s 2019 complaint regardless of Apple’s recent policy changes.

Sour grapes
Apple will likely appeal this fine since fighting back has worked for them before. But all this pressure will discourage them from cracking down on third-party apps which will start getting bolder with their services and demands.

Apple probably can’t stop them  and definitely shouldn’t try.

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The SF fog finally lifts

SF’s techies return from their pandemic exodus

The Future. After a hard few years for San Francisco, the famously expensive city is finally starting to recover from its steady outflow of residents and tenants. AI hype and return-to-office mandates are causing the city to liven up but aren’t protecting it against the volatility of bubbles.

Just like old times
Big Tech’s biggest players are trickling back into the city  and bringing their workers with them.

  • Tech founders like Elon Musk, Henrique Dubugras, Pedro Franceschi, and Howie Liu are all returning with hopes or mandates that their employees come, too.

  • This marks a 180 for some bosses and investors who encouraged employees to move to cities with lower tax burdens and smaller populations during the pandemic.

  • SF’s commercial real estate scene has reflected this trend, with AI startups (including OpenAI) reserving plenty of the city’s vacant office space.

Look, a bubble
This is good news in the short term for anyone with a commercial interest in San Francisco. But like every gold rush in history, the AI gold rush is vulnerable to the short-sightedness of bubbles.

Why invest in office space for companies designed to replace the workers who use it?

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Box office battles // Illustration by Kate Walker

The Future. This Presidents’ Day weekend has seen lower movie theater attendance than usual. It’s also witnessed a change in popular taste, with a musical biopic defeating a superhero flick at the box office. This upset could signal that comic book characters are on the way out, as new genres like music-based films are on the way in.

What’s going on at the box office?
Apparently, not every superhero movie has blockbuster potential.

  • Bob Marley: One Love, a biopic of the Jamaican reggae singer, was the best-performing film this past weekend, earning $52 million domestically — pretty cool given that Marley died in 1981 and may be unknown to younger audiences.

  • Madame Web, a superhero thriller led by Dakota Johnson in the Spider-Man universe, flopped with $26.2 million in domestic ticket sales — pretty grim since it cost $80 million to produce and will struggle to turn a profit in its theatrical run.

How did we reach this moment?
“One look at the hits and misses of 2023, and there is clearly a new blueprint as to what can constitute a hit,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at the box-office tracker Comscore, told Variety.

Not only was Barbie (a fantasy musical-comedy) the biggest hit of 2023, earning $636.2 million domestically, but Wonka (the musical based on the Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is the biggest holdover from last Christmas driving traffic to cinemas this year — it’s grossed $210.7 million in the US and Canada so far.

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Today’s email was written by Luke Perrotta and Kait Cunniff.
Edited by Boye Akolade and Kait Cunniff.
Published by Darline Salazar.

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