Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist at The New York Times, reviews the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.
Good morning! Let’s talk tech.
People on Wall Street thought they knew how fast Netflix was growing. Very fast, they thought. It turns out they were wrong: It’s even faster.
The company reported this week that it had added 8.3 million subscribers in the last quarter, about two million more than analysts were expecting. But it’s still spending tons of money on content — about $8 billion this year, and perhaps more in future years. Many in the industry continue to wonder whether the company’s business will ever work.
The problem: To start making money, Netflix might eventually have to raise prices a lot. What will happen then?
Well, we learned something interesting in Netflix’s earnings report. Netflix raised the prices of some its plans over the last quarter, and people still signed up.
I suspect that accounts for how the service is changing. Now that there’s just so much stuff on Netflix — so many comedies, so many dramas, so many dumb movies, so many smart movies — it has become not just another premium cable channel but something like a replacement for TV itself. In other words, it’s indispensable. You can expect to keep paying for it forever.
Remember HomePod? Probably not. Last summer, Apple unveiled a smart speaker inspired by Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, because it is apparently the rule in the tech industry that if one big company does something, every other company has to do it, too. Think Same.
A new Apple device is usually a Big Deal event, one of those campaigns that Apple rolls out with the precision of a military conquest. But nobody heard anything more about the HomePod until late November, when Apple announced that the timing had slipped and that HomePod wouldn’t come until after the holidays.
It was a crucial miss — the Echo seems to have had a gangbusters holiday, with Amazon expanding its head start in the category by probably tens of millions of devices. In a widely passed-around post, the venture capitalist M. G. Siegler wondered whether Amazon was so far ahead that HomePod was essentially dead on arrival.
Well, we’ll see. Apple announced this week that HomePod was back in action — available to order on Friday, and in stores starting Feb. 9.
It’s still an odd announcement; Apple provided only a short demo of the device in June, so people brave enough to order will be going in blind. But you count Apple out in the hardware business at your peril. It will be fun to see what happens here.
My colleagues Cecilia Kang and Daisuke Wakabayashi had an interesting article this week about the growing tensions between the tech industry and the Democratic Party. Democrats and techies have long been reliable allies — techies donate tons of money, and Democratic candidates get to show off their association with widely admired visionaries of the future.
That’s past. Now that the tech industry has become more a cause of national angst and confusion rather than of wondrous gadgets and money, Democrats are being called on to police the business more stringently. Lefty activists want antitrust investigations of big tech companies and regulations on political advertising — a generally more combative relationship between the government and the pursuits of business.
There’s another side to this story, too: While tech C.E.O.s have very publicly sparred with President Trump on a variety of issues, they’re all enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime windfall of profits from the Republican tax plan. As rich people running wealthy companies, the tech industry’s leaders have short-term corporate interests that are obviously very well served by the low-tax, low-regulation Republican Party.
It’s an election year. It will be interesting to see whether Democrats run against tech, whether tech sticks with Dems and, always, what Trump does with all this.
Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. You can follow him on Twitter here: @fmanjoo.