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Apple and Google pressed in antitrust hearing on whether app stores share data with product development teams

In today’s antitrust hearing in the U.S. Senate, Apple and Google representatives were questioned on whether they have a “strict firewall” or other internal policies in place that prevent them from leveraging the data from third-party businesses operating on their app stores to inform the development of their own competitive products. Apple, in particular, was called out for the practice of copying other apps by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said the practice had become so common that it earned a nickname with Apple’s developer community: “sherlocking.”

Sherlock, which has its own Wikipedia entry under software, comes from Apple’s search tool in the early 2000’s called Sherlock. A third-party developer, Karelia Software, created an alternative tool called Watson. Following the success of Karelia’s product, Apple added Watson’s same functionality into its own search tool, and Watson was effectively put out of business. The nickname “Sherlock” later became shorthand for any time Apple copies an idea from a third-party developer that threatens to or even destroys their business.

Over the years, developers claimed Apple has “sherlocked” a number of apps including Konfabulator (desktop widgets), iPodderX (podcast manager), Sandvox (app for building websites), Growl (a notification system for Mac OS X), and in more recent years, F.lux (blue light reduction tool for screens) Duet and Luna (apps that makes iPad a secondary display), as well as various screen time management tools. Now Tile claims Apple has also unfairly entered its market with AirTag.

During his questioning, Blumenthal asked Apple and Google’s representatives at the hearing — Mr. Kyle Andeer, Apple’s
Chief Compliance Officer and Mr. Wilson White, Google’s Senior Director Public Policy & Government Relations, respectively — if they employed any sort of “firewall” in between their app stores and their business strategy.

Andeer somewhat dodged the question, saying, “Senator, if I understand the question correctly, we have separate teams that manage the App Store and that are engaged in product development strategy here at Apple.”

Blumenthal then clarified what he meant by “firewall.” He explained that it doesn’t mean whether or not there are separate teams in place, but whether there’s an internal prohibition on sharing data between the App Store and the people who run Apple’s other businesses.

Andeer then answered, “Senator, we have controls in place.”

He went on to note that over the past twelve years, Apple has only introduced “a handful of applications and services,” and in every instance, there are “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store. And, sometimes, the alternatives are more popular than Apple’s own product, he noted.

“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.

His argument may hold true when there are strong rivalries, like Spotify versus Apple Music, or Netflix versus Apple TV+, or Kindle versus Apple Books. But it’s harder to stretch it to areas where Apple makes smaller enhancements — like when Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that allowed users to make their iPad a secondary display. Sidecar ended the need for a third-party app, after apps like Duet and Luna first proved the market.

Another example was when Apple built screen time controls into its iOS software, but didn’t provide the makers of third-party screen time apps with an API so consumers could use their preferred apps to configure Apple’s Screen Time settings via the third-party’s specialized interface or take advantage of other unique features.

Blumenthal said he interpreted Andeer’s response as to whether Apple has a “data firewall” as a “no.”

Posed the same question, Google’s representative, Mr. White said his understanding was that Google had “data access controls in place that govern how data from our third-party services are used.”

Blumenthal pressed him to clarify if this was a “firewall,” meaning, he clarified again, “do you have a prohibition against access?”

“We have a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services,” Mr. White said, adding that Google has “internal policies that govern that.”

The Senator said he would follow up on this matter with written questions, as his time expired.

IBM and Red Hat expand their telco, edge and AI enterprise offerings

At its Think Digital conference, IBM and Red Hat today announced a number of new services that all center around 5G edge and AI. The fact that the company is focusing on these two areas doesn’t come as a surprise, given that both edge and AI are two of the fastest-growing businesses in enterprise computing. Virtually every telecom company is now looking at how to best capitalize on the upcoming 5G rollouts, and most forward-looking enterprises are trying to figure out how to best plan around this for their own needs.

As IBM’s recently minted president Jim Whitehurst told me ahead of today’s announcement, he believes that IBM (in combination with Red Hat) is able to offer enterprises a very differentiated service because, unlike the large hyper clouds, IBM isn’t interested in locking these companies into a homogeneous cloud.

“Where IBM is competitively differentiated, is around how we think about helping clients on a journey to what we call hybrid cloud,” said Whitehurst, who hasn’t done a lot of media interviews since he took the new role, which still includes managing Red Hat. “Honestly, everybody has hybrid clouds. I wish we had a more differentiated term. One of the things that’s different is how we’re talking about how you think about an application portfolio that, by necessity, you’re going to have in multiple ways. If you’re a large enterprise, you probably have a mainframe running a set of transactional workloads that probably are going to stay there for a long time because there’s not a great alternative. And there’s going to be a set of applications you’re going to want to run in a distributed environment that need to access that data — all the way out to you running a factory floor and you want to make sure that the paint sprayer doesn’t have any defects while it’s painting a door.”

BARCELONA, CATALONIA, SPAIN – 2019/02/25: The IBM logo is seen during MWC 2019. (Photo by Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

He argues that IBM, at its core, is all about helping enterprises think about how to best run their workloads software, hardware and services perspective. “Public clouds are phenomenal, but they are exposing a set of services in a homogeneous way to enterprises,” he noted, while he argues that IBM is trying to weave all of these different pieces together.

Later in our discussion, he argued that the large public clouds essentially force enterprises to fit their workloads to those clouds’ service. “The public clouds do extraordinary things and they’re great partners of ours, but their primary business is creating these homogeneous services, at massive volumes, and saying ‘if your workloads fit into this, we can run it better, faster, cheaper etc.’ And they have obviously expanded out. They’ve added services. They are not saying we can put a box on-premise, but you’re still fitting into their model.”

On the news side, IBM is launching new services to automate business planning, budgeting and forecasting, for example, as well as new AI-driven tools for building and running automation apps that can handle routine tasks either autonomously or with the help of a human counterpart. The company is also launching new tools for call-center automation.

The most important AI announcement is surely Watson AIOps, though, which is meant to help enterprises detect, diagnose and respond to IT anomalies in order to reduce the effects of incidents and outages for a company.

On the telco side, IBM is launching new tools like the Edge Application Manager, for example, to make it easier to enable AI, analytics and IoT workloads on the edge, powered by IBM’s open-source Open Horizon edge computing project. The company is also launching a new Telco Network Cloud manager built on top of Red Hat OpenShift and the ability to also leverage the Red Hat OpenStack Platform (which remains to be an important platform for telcos and represents a growing business for IBM/Red Hat). In addition, IBM is launching a new dedicated IBM Services team for edge computing and telco cloud to help these customers build out their 5G and edge-enabled solutions.

Telcos are also betting big on a lot of different open-source technologies that often form the core of their 5G and edge deployments. Red Hat was already a major player in this space, but the acquisition has only accelerated this, Whitehurst argued. “Since the acquisition […] telcos have a lot more confidence in IBM’s capabilities to serve them long term and be able to serve them in mission-critical context. But importantly, IBM also has the capability to actually make it real now.”

A lot of the new telco edge and hybrid cloud deployments, he also noted, are built on Red Hat technologies but built by IBM, and neither IBM nor Red Hat could have really brought these to fruition in the same way. Red Hat never had the size, breadth and skills to pull off some of these projects, Whitehurst argued.

Whitehurst also argued that part of the Red Hat DNA that he’s bringing to the table now is helping IBM to think more in terms of ecosystems. “The DNA that I think matters a lot that Red Hat brings to the table with IBM — and I think IBM is adopting and we’re running with it — is the importance of ecosystems,” he said. “All of Red Hat’s software is open source. And so really, what you’re bringing to the table is ecosystems.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the telco initiatives are backed by partners like Cisco, Dell Technologies, Juniper, Intel, Nvidia, Samsung, Packet, Equinix, Hazelcast, Sysdig, Turbonomics, Portworx, Humio, Indra Minsait, EuroTech, Arrow, ADLINK, Acromove, Geniatech, SmartCone, CloudHedge, Altiostar, Metaswitch, F5 Networks and ADVA.

In many ways, Red Hat pioneered the open-source business model and Whitehurst argued that having Red Hat as part of the IBM family means it’s now easier for the company to make the decision to invest even more in open source. “As we accelerate into this hybrid cloud world, we’re going to do our best to leverage open-source technologies to make them real,” he added.

IBM and The Weather Channel launch detailed local COVID-19 maps and data tracking

There are already a number of resources available for mapping the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases both in the U.S. and globally, but IBM and its subsidiary The Weather Company have launched new tools that bring COVID-19 mapping and analysis to more people via their Weather Channel mobile app and weather.com.

Existing tools are useful, but come from fairly specialized sources including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Johns Hopkins University. This new initiative combines data fro these same sources, including global confirmed reported COVID-19 cases, as well as reported data from sources at both the state and county level. This is collected on a so-called “incident map” that displays color-coded reported case data for states and counties, as well as on state-wide trend graphs and through reporting of stats including relative percentage increase of cases week-over-week.

On top of these sections built into the core, consumer-facing Weather.com products, IBM has also launched a Watson and Cognos Analytics tools, are intended for use by both researchers and public officials – but they’re also meant for general public consumption. IBM is also providing resources including fact-checking resources and practical guidance for both COVID-19 patients and the general public, to help not only inform people about the spread of the virus, but also the steps they can take to protect themselves and others.

One of the key elements of COVID-19 mitigation is making sure that the average American has access to reliable and accurate information, including the most up-to-date guidelines about social distancing and isolation from trusted experts including the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That makes this a key resource in the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, since it resides in an app that is among the most popular pieces of software available for smartphones. There are around 45 million or so monthly active users of the Weather Channel app, which means that this information will now be readily accessible by a large percentage of the U.S. population.