What We’ve Learned From The WSJ Tech Conference

The great and the good of the technology world gathered in the luxurious surroundings of Laguna Beach, California this week for the WSJDLive conference. The conference, hosted by the Wall Street Journal, included various chief executives and company bigwigs talking up future company plans. Here, Newsweek summarizes the key things we learned.

Apple Music has got 15 million users

Apple rolled out its music-streaming service in June on an initial 90-day free trial period. The Cupertino company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, revealed at WSJDLive that the service currently boasts 15 million users, including 6.5 million paying customers who have decided to extend their deal (or, alternatively, forgotten to cancel after their free trial concluded).

These figures still leave Apple trailing behind Spotify, the market leader in music-streaming services, which claims to have more than 20 million paying subscribers and a total of 75 million-plus active users. However, it does represent an impressive conversion rate. In August, Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue said that 11 million people had signed up to the Apple Music trial, meaning that almost 60 percent decided to continue using the service after the free period ended.

Tim Cook still won’t confirm if Apple is working on an electric car

Signs are increasingly pointing to the likelihood that an iCar will be the next big revolution in Apple products. Reuters reported in October that Apple has been recruiting top automotive talent from car manufacturers such as Ford and Mercedes-Benz, and that its aggressive recruitment of experts from San Francisco-based electric motorcycle startup, Mission Motors forced the latter company to cease operations in May. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Cook and co. have set a target shipping date of 2019 for the first batch of electric vehicles and that the company is tripling the size of the currently 600-strong team working on the project, codenamed Titan. Even Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick appears to know what Apple are up to.

Cook remained tight-lipped on the issue at WSJD, however, only saying that he sees a “massive change” coming in the automotive industry. The Apple CEO explained that the company is keen to improve its CarPlay software—which enables iPhone users to connect up to the in-car entertainment system—but once again refused to confirm whether Apple is building a car.

Uber at WSJDLive
Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber Technologies Inc. speaks at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live conference at the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach, California October 20.Mike Blake/Reuters

Uber is thriving in China, despite censorship and competition

China is proving one of Uber’s most important markets but also one of its toughest to crack. Speaking at WSJDLive, Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick estimated that around 30 percent of the company’s global rides come from China, with the southwestern city of Chengdu being Uber’s number one city in terms of daily average completed rides.

This is welcome news for Uber, considering the various obstacle its experienced while expanding in China. Kalanick’s company faces a worthy foe in Didi Kuaidi, a government-backed minicab service that raised $3 billion in its latest round of funding in September. Kalanick also suggested that Uber faces unfair competition practices, alleging that WeChat, a Chinese messaging service with 600 million monthly users, censors positive news and promotes negative items about Uber on its service. WeChat is owned by Tencent, a prominent backer of Didi Kuaidi. Nevertheless, Uber plans to enter 100 more Chinese cities over the next year and Kalanick is clearly continuing to look East.

Tyra Banks thinks women in tech need to be more fierce

The America’s Next Top Model host, who launched the self-funded cosmetics company Tyra Beauty in October, thinks women in the tech industry need to be more assertive to get the recognition they deserve. Banks, who told the WSJDLive conference that her company would be looking for investors in 2016, said that every woman needed to have “eff you money” that would allow her to “be in control of her future, [be in] control of her present so she can make decisions.” The former supermodel—whose lipstick line includes a brand called “Ask for a Raise”—also advised women to emphasize their value to the company when proposing a salary increase, rather than bringing up personal reasons for why they need the extra money.

Facebook’s new products want to make the world a better place

The world’s biggest social network has taken several steps recently to proves its social conscience, from warning users that their accounts are being snooped on by government hackers to launching satellites to bring internet to remote parts of Africa. At WSJDLive, Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox said that the company was focusing on improving technology for users in developing countries when thinking up its new products. Facebook’s new Instant Articles feature—which loads mobile articles 10 times faster than previously and is currently available to U.S. iPhone users—could be of particular use to people in developing countries, Cox said.

He cited the example of a Facebook user in Myanmar, who “can wait 40 seconds to a minute” to find out what’s happening in the country’s largest city Rangoon. “If we can lower that barrier, if we can lower that friction, it’s a huge service,” said Cox. The company’s strategic focus on emerging economies also has a less altruistic motivation: India has the second-highest number of Facebook users by country in 2014, behind only the U.S., while Brazil and Indonesia had the third and fourth-highest numbers.

Extremists are the biggest threat to cybersecurity

Independent hackers—such as those behind the Dridex virus that may already have stolen £20 million ($30.9 million) from British bank accounts—are usually thought to be in it for the money. State-sponsored hacking, such as the Sony Pictures hack that the U.S. believe to be coordinated by North Korea, are often a flexing of a nation’s cyber muscle or an attempt at gaining useful intelligence. According to Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at cybersecurity experts F-Secure, one group of hackers poses a far greater threat than either of these preceding two: cyberextremists, in particular those belonging to the militant group ISIS. “The Islamic State is the first extremist group that has a credible offensive cyber capability,” Hypponen told the WSJDLive conference.

ISIS is well-known to have an extensive internet presence. A March 2015 report by the Brookings Institution said that at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters between September and December 2014. British ISIS member Junaid Hussain, the purported leader of ISIS’s cyber wing, was reported to be third on the Pentagon’s kill list of ISIS targets before he was killed in a U.S. airstrike in August. Hypponen said that what made cyberextremists so dangerous was their unpredictability, as they aren’t motivated by financial reward. For example, he said that such actors could perpertrate an infrastructural attack on the Siemens’s technology systems that control 50 percent of the world’s factory equipment, with the simple aim of pure destruction. “Extremists might be willing to do an attack like that,” said Hypponen.

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