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每日跟讀#762: Big tech comes out ahead again in 2019. Can it be stopped?


· 每日跟讀單元 Daily English,國際時事跟讀Daily Shadowing

每日跟讀#762: Big tech comes out ahead again in 2019. Can it be stopped?

On its surface, 2019 was the difficult year that most of us had anticipated. The simmering trade tensions (perhaps diffused by the new phase-one trade agreement) raised the prospect of constrained opportunities for US tech companies in China. Fears of intrusive government regulation, antitrust scrutiny and a consumer privacy backlash hung like a San Francisco fog over the major tech firms.


Just like 2018, 2019 was a banner year for tech. Alphabet stock is up 29 percent this year, Microsoft 52 percent and Apple Inc. 74 percent. They’re all beating the S&P 500 index, which is up 26 percent, and the year saw a slate of tech IPOs — a record haul, despite the poor market performance of unicorns like Uber Technologies Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc. and the debacle at WeWork.


By my measure, the year was defined by several breakthroughs: AirPods took off. Critics can no longer claim that Apple under Tim Cook hasn’t minted a mainstream hit, after the success of the Apple Watch and now these awkward ear accessories. The company is expected to sell 60 million units, double last year’s tally, and retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock. One new research report said the AirPod’s popularity has surpassed the iPod’s at its peak. It’s a remarkable shift in fashion and culture — we’re now a species with no compunction about sporting white dongles from the sides of our heads. Inc., Google and others have introduced their own versions, with limited success so far.


AirPods的起飛。Apple Watch(蘋果手錶)現在這些笨拙的耳機配件取得成功後,評論家們不能再說提姆‧庫克領導下的蘋果沒有創造出引領潮流的熱門商品。這一年蘋果預計會賣出六千萬組AirPods,是去年的兩倍,零售商也常賣到缺貨。一份新的研究報告稱,AirPod受歡迎的程度已超過了iPod的鼎盛時期。AirPod是時尚和文化的重大轉變──我們現在已是一種無怨無悔地在頭部兩側突變出白色藍芽傳輸器的生物。亞馬遜、谷歌和其他公司也各自推出了無線耳機,但迄今成效有限。

Voice-activated speakers continue to boom. This year, 78 million people in the US used a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, up about 18 percent from last year, according to estimates from EMarketer. That’s almost a quarter of the American population and comes despite the troubling revelations that companies farm out a small percentage of customer queries to human workers. Do people care about Silicon Valley snooping on their most intimate conversations? Some do, but apparently most are either confident in the noble intentions of tech companies or comfortable with sacrificing a bit of privacy for the privilege of asking a computer to play the latest hit tunes and recite the weather.

聲控喇叭繼續蓬勃發展。根據市場研究機構EMarketer的估計,今年,美國有七千八百萬人使用像Amazon Echo或Google Home這樣的智慧喇叭,比去年增加了約百分之十八。這人數幾乎是美國人口的四分之一,雖然有消息披露令人不安的情況──有一小部分的客戶查詢,公司是交給人工來處理。人們是否介意矽谷監聽自己最親密的對話?有些人介意,但顯然大多數人不是對科技公司的崇高意圖深具信心,就是為了可以叫電腦播放最新流行歌曲和報天氣,而願意犧牲一些隱私。

It was the year of TikTok. The Bytedance Inc.-owned video service is suddenly everywhere and putting a scare into Facebook and Snap Inc. The service has 680 million users, crossed a million downloads in February and then 1.5 billion in November, according to Sensor Tower. Irony isn’t dead, after all: At the very height of Sino-US tensions, teenagers around the world, in unison, flocked to an Internet service operated and owned by a Chinese company.

這是屬於TikTok(抖音)的一年。這屬於北京字節跳動科技公司的影音服務忽然變得無所不在,嚇壞了Facebook和Snap公司。據App分析平台Sensor Tower統計,抖音有六點八億用戶,二月份的下載量為一百萬,十一月的下載量則有十五億。諷刺畢竟仍未死:在中美關係最緊張的時候,世界各地的青少年卻都不約而同紛紛湧向一家由中國公司營運和擁有的網路服務。

So what’s on tap for 2020? 5G will reinvigorate the growth of smartphone sales; Samsung Electronics Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd.’s Motorola will finally make foldable phones work; streaming services will push further into sports and live news, striking another blow to terrestrial cable and satellite TV; new products will invigorate a market for home robotics, and a distracted administration of US President Donald Trump in an election year will fail to mount any credible attack on the tech giants.


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