So what is Jay Z thinking? He turned 45 in December. The onetime street hustler is now a husband and a father and hobnobs with world leaders such as President Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France. Some say he has grander ambitions in middle age. “He’d like to be a billionaire,” says Rob Stone, co-founder of the Fader, a magazine that extensively covers the rap world. “He’s talked openly about that. But I think in his mind, it’s no longer just about how much money he’s making. It’s about his legacy and what the name Shawn Carter will mean after he’s gone.” He wants to save the music industry from the brutal economics of streaming—and make himself a fortune in the process. So far he’s doing neither. ... For Jay Z the entrepreneur, the challenge was plain: Find a way to capitalize on the technology industry’s takeover of the music business beyond being a high-priced shill. ... The losses didn’t frighten Jay Z. He offered a 60 percent premium over Aspiro’s market value, according to a filing, and repositioned it as an artist-friendly alternative to Spotify that would pay higher royalties to record labels and artists. ... You can still listen to the catalogs of virtually every Tidal owner on Spotify. ... It’s too early to write off Tidal. But if the company does fail, it may be because Jay Z didn’t anticipate the skeptical response to his claim that he was working for some greater good of all musicians.
Xiaomi’s tale may sound like merely another iteration of that now familiar headline, tech unicorn gallops into wall. But Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-me,” with the first syllable sounding like the “show” in “shower”) isn’t just any privately held, multibillion-dollar startup. It’s a rising power in a nation eager to prove that its consumer-oriented companies can compete globally. ... The company didn’t attain that valuation on the strength of its phones, though those get raves in the tech press (and have even made Xiaomi modestly profitable) while selling for half the price of an iPhone. No, private investors judged Xiaomi to be more valuable than FedEx or Caterpillar or Delta Air Lines because of the promise that it could build a network of products, services, and recurring revenues—an ecosystem like Apple’s—not just in China but around the world. ... If anything, Xiaomi’s idea of an ecosystem is more ambitious than Apple’s. Apple focuses on services like iTunes and a tightly focused suite of tablets, computers, and smartphones. Xiaomi envisions a sprawling Internet of things. The company hopes you will someday control your Xiaomi water purifier, Xiaomi air filter, and Xiaomi mood lighting—an entire Xiaomi smart home, essentially—with a few taps on your phone. ... as Xiaomi’s progress slows, there’s growing skepticism that a startup without innovative technology of its own or much success outside of smartphone sales can produce an ecosystem anywhere nearly as big or “sticky” as Apple’s and Google’s. ... Xiaomi’s team works primarily with outside companies. The company partners with hardware startups (and often creates new ones), providing seed money for ecosystem products. Xiaomi avoids taking full control, encouraging the founders to act like risk-taking entrepreneurs. The company gets an exclusive deal to sell most of the startups’ products, and in turn the startups, now numbering 55, get access to Xiaomi’s supply chain, marketing, and even its industrial engineers.
In the first quarter of 2016, Huawei sold 10 times as many phones as Apple in Finland, according to research firm IDC. And in October it soared ahead of Samsung for the market-share lead. ... Today you can’t stride through Helsinki without encountering a Huawei billboard. You can’t watch Jokerit, one of the country’s top hockey teams, without seeing Huawei’s flower-in-bloom logo. And you can’t find an electronics store where Huawei’s phones don’t outnumber Samsung’s and Apple’s. ... Enter Huawei—probably the most viable contender yet to loosen the giants’ grip. It’s a 170,000-employee company with $61 billion in sales, selling telecom equipment in 170 countries. Since 2014 it has been No. 1 globally in sales of the networking equipment that underpins telecommunication systems, taking the crown from Sweden’s Ericsson. And now its goal is to dominate the market for the phones themselves. It has taken big strides toward doing just that in China and in growing swaths of Europe—helped in those Western countries by side deals with wireless carriers that have not previously been reported.
Wiens, 33, is co-founder and CEO of iFixit, a company whose mission, he says, is to "teach everybody how to fix everything." On iFixit's website is a vast library of step-by-step instruction sets covering, well, let's see: how to adjust your brakes, patch a leaky fuel tank on a motorcycle, situate the bumper sensor on a Roomba vacuum cleaner, unjam a paper shredder, reattach a sole on a shoe, start a fire without a match, fill a scratch in an eyeglass lens, install a new bread-lift shelf in a pop-up toaster, replace a heating coil in an electric kettle, and--iFixit's specialty--perform all manner of delicate repairs on busted Apple laptops and cell phones. More than 25,000 manuals in all, covering more than 7,000 objects and devices. Last year, according to Wiens, 94 million people all over the world learned how to restore something to tiptop working condition with iFixit's help, which frankly was a little disappointing. Wiens's goal was 100 million. ... IFixit makes about 90 percent of its revenue from selling parts and tools to people who wouldn't know what to do with them if iFixit weren't also giving away so much valuable information. The rest comes from licensing the software iFixit developed to write its online manuals, and from training independent repair technicians, some 15,000 so far, who rely on iFixit to run their own businesses. ... Apple doesn't report just how huge that repair revenue is, but trade journal Warranty Week estimates that one proxy for that--sales of Apple's extended-warranty repair program, AppleCare--delivered the company a staggering $5.9 billion worldwide in 2016. ... "I'm really concerned about the transition in society to a world where we don't understand what's in our things," he says. "Where we are afraid of engineering, afraid of fact, afraid of tinkering. When you take something like a phone or voice recorder and you take it apart and you understand it enough to be able to fix it, a switch flips in your brain. You go from being just a consumer to being someone who is actually a participant."
His company, he said, had “grown like a weed.” His workforce had increased significantly over a decade, coming to fill more than 100 buildings as workers created one blockbuster product after another. To consolidate his employees, he wanted to create a new campus, a verdant landscape where the border between nature and building would be blurred. Unlike other corporate campuses, which he found “pretty boring,” this would feature as its centerpiece a master structure, shaped like a circle, that would hold 12,000 employees. “It’s a pretty amazing building,” he told them. “It’s a little like a spaceship landed.” ... Inside the 755-foot tunnel, the white tiles along the wall gleam like a recently installed high-end bathroom; it’s what the Lincoln Tunnel must have looked like the day it opened, before the first smudge of soot sullied its walls. ... They describe the level of attention devoted to every detail, the willingness to search the earth for the right materials, and the obstacles overcome to achieve perfection, all of which would make sense for an actual Apple consumer product, where production expenses could be amortized over millions of units. But the Ring is a 2.8-million-square-foot one-off, eight years in the making and with a customer base of 12,000. How can anyone justify this spectacular effort?
The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way. ... Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem. ... Yang and his team started a company with the sole purpose of selling a better third-party accessory. But they stumbled onto a more lucrative reality: mobile phones, once niche luxury items, are now ubiquitous centerpieces of our digital lives. Each of these phones, and all the products that connect to them, need their own cable and plug. And each and every day these devices die before we want them to. ... In many ways, Anker’s success is born from the failures of premier manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. Where those companies introduce points of friction — like ever-thinner devices with short battery lives — Anker offers a remedy. ... Anker takes a more straightforward approach by solving the inevitable problems technology creates.
Not only would they be working overtime to hammer together the most influential piece of consumer technology of their generation, but they’d be doing little else. Their personal lives would disappear, and they wouldn’t be able to talk about what they were working on. ... Like many mass-adopted, highly profitable technologies, the iPhone has a number of competing origin stories. There were as many as five different phone or phone-related projects — from tiny research endeavors to full-blown corporate partnerships — bubbling up at Apple by the middle of the 2000s. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my efforts to pull the iPhone apart, literally and figuratively, it’s that there are rarely concrete beginnings to any particular products or technologies — they evolve from varying previous ideas and concepts and inventions and are prodded and iterated into newness by restless minds and profit motives. Even when the company’s executives were under oath in a federal trial, they couldn’t name just one starting place.