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USB-C Has Finally Come Into Its Own

The Surface Pro 7. The Kindle Fire HD 10. The PlayStation 5. All major gadgets announced or detailed this week, each with a bevy of enhancements. But more important than any of those flagship products on its own is the fact that together they embraced something their predecessors did not: USB-C.You know USB-C. If you…

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USB-C Has Finally Come Into Its Own

The Surface Pro 7. The Kindle Fire HD 10. The PlayStation 5. All major gadgets announced or detailed this week, each with a bevy of enhancements. But more important than any of those flagship products on its own is the fact that together they embraced something their predecessors did not: USB-C.

You know USB-C. If you own a premium Android smartphone, chances are you’re already using it. But its ubiquity otherwise has been slow in coming. WIRED and others first anointed USB-C as “the port of the future” in 2015, when Apple’s entry-level, 12-inch MacBook introduced it to the masses. That’s well over four years ago, a long time in the tech world—so long, in fact, that said MacBook has since been discontinued.

Now, though, USB-C has claimed its rightful place. “USB-C has become the industry standard for about every personal computing and connectivity device,” says Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy. That “about” includes some notable exceptions—the iPhone, mostly—but otherwise, including USB-C has finally become the default.

The reason for USB-C’s ascent is simple: It’s just better. It can charge both ways, letting you use a laptop to power your smartphone, for instance. It can also charge fast, pumping 18 watts to your device to get you from empty to 80 percent full in only an hour. It can transfer data at blistering speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second—and eventually much faster, as Intel’s Thunderbolt protocol converges with USB4. It can power video to external displays. And it’s reversible, meaning it works whichever way you plug it in.

Even so, the road has been bumpy. Just because USB-C can do all these things doesn’t mean that it always does. Take charging. While the body that governs USB protocol, the USB Implementers Forum, sets a Power Delivery standard, manufacturers have come up with their own unique implementations as well. Qualcomm has Quick Charge, Samsung has Adaptive Fast Charging, and so on. The result, as nicely detailed by Android Authority earlier this year, is a landscape where you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, especially once you reach for a third-party cable. Your phone will still charge, just not as fast as advertised if all of the involved components aren’t built for the same spec. And in extreme cases, some dodgy cables have been capable of frying devices altogether by drawing too much power for a specific task.

The situation has improved over time, but it’s still something of a tangle. To know exactly what you’re getting, you’re best off sticking with the USB-C cable that comes in the box. If you need a replacement, either get it straight from the same manufacturer, or something with clear labeling from a reputable vendor like Amazon or Monoprice.

It’s an issue that the USB-IF readily acknowledges. “There were definite growing pains and differences on OEM implementations during the initial USB-C industry ramp,” the group said in a statement to WIRED, “but we expect that as the adoption of USB Type-C products and USB Power Delivery continues to increase the market will guide [manufacturers] toward a common implementation.” Which feels like another way of saying that eventually enough people will complain loudly enough that the problem will fix itself. USB-IF can’t force every manufacturer to get on the same page, but they could have made the text more legible from the start.

In its statement, USB-IF pointed to the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification as an example of its successful clean-up efforts, although that example also underscores just how bad the problem was. In the early days, USB-C headphones weren’t universal by default; some manufacturers actually sold USB-C earbuds that were only compatible with specific smartphone brands. The current availability of a standardized approach is great, but would have been even better if it were there from the outset.

Still! Despite the confusion, USB-C momentum has become unstoppable. “I’m not seeing any product which has USB-A not shipping with USB-C,” says Dinesh Kithany, the lead power supply analyst for IHS Markit. “The shift is happening.” Look no further than the Fire HD, Surface Pro 7, and PS5 for proof. USB-C’s complications may not be totally solved yet, but the benefits—smaller port size, versatility, high speeds, fast charging—outweigh the muddle.

“While [USB-C] had some early fits and starts, users can rely on the notion that if [a device] has a port, it will work,” says Patrick Moorhead. “There are still some nuances around the highest level of power and performance, but that doesn’t overshadow its pervasiveness and usefulness.”

Which brings us to the asterisks. While Apple pushed USB-C early in the MacBook, and has since implemented it in the iPad Pro as well, the iPhone remains a holdout. The other is the automotive industry, albeit for different reasons.

In Apple’s case, the hesitation at least makes some sense. As long as USB-C compatibility is more tangled than a late-stage game of Twister, it will remain anathema to Cupertino’s mantra of “it just works.” USB-C can still feel more like “it works, just not always how you were expecting.” Apple already achieved USB-C’s space-saving and reversibility benefits seven years ago with the introduction of its Lightning cable. And in those seven years, an expansive ecosystem of Lightning peripherals has emerged, all of which would head straight for the scrap heap with a jump to USB-C. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Apple before—the switch to Lightning sent countless 30-pin hotel-room speaker alarms to the dump—and there are persistent rumors the company will make the smartphone switch, but for now the iPhone remains USB-C-less. Apple declined to comment for this story.

The auto industry, meanwhile, has a more straightforward excuse. When each of your products costs tens of thousands of dollars, you tend to change things up a little more slowly. “Maybe because of Apple, but also other market factors, automotive has still not picked up USB-C. There are many reasons for that,” Kithany says. “They can only have one or two ports. At the same time, when you see the cycle of automotive, they’re around a five- or six-year change cycle. It takes a long time to accept a technology and put it into a market.”

Still, hope springs. Apple’s latest MacBook Pro features up to four USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The iPad Pro added USB-C last fall, as did the resurrected MacBook Air. Then again: These are productivity devices, which stand to benefit from USB-C’s video chops as well as data speeds. The positives outweigh the negatives. On the iPhone? Maybe not so much. At least not yet.

Maybe the good news, though, is this: USB-C didn’t need the iPhone to come into its own. It still has its wrinkles to iron out, as manufacturers coalesce around the same standards within the standard. Even so, it’s largely fulfilled the promise it showed in 2015. And now that it’s finally the default port of the present, it should only get easier to wrangle from here.


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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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