Microsoft knows a trick

Also in this edition: Microsoft gets hacked, Panasonic leaves Tesla, Enjoy 4K guilt-free

Good morning! It seems, according to a Bloomberg report, that the reason why Apple, Google, and the like are so bullish on autonomous cars is that it will allow drivers more time to look at screens. More screen time means more money. For Amazon, it means cheaper deliveries and fewer people complaining about work hours.

Anyway, on to the day’s stories.

  1. The third Covid-19 wave is closer than we imagined.

  2. India opens the space door.

  3. PharmEasy finds a way to make money. Real money.

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To The Moon…And Back To Earth

India will allow private companies to build and operate rocket launch sites “within and outside the country”, according to the Draft National Space Transportation Policy 2020 (pdf), released last week. Once implemented, the policy will come as a boost for India’s growing space sector, which also includes businesses that develop launch vehicles and those providing small satellite launching services.

The rocket fuel: The global space industry is estimated to be worth $360 billion, with India accounting for around 2%, at $7 billion, according to a PwC report. This is partly because India’s space sector is an ISRO-led state monopoly. Commercial participation, until recently, has largely been restricted to manufacturing and supplies.

Believe: Elsewhere, it’s official. UFOs are real. Aliens, however, may or may not be. The Pentagon released its official report on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) on Friday. It confirms over 140 such incidences over the past two decades which cannot currently be explained.

It is a landmark in the search for extraterrestrial life, as the US government is now encouraging pilots to report such encounters, ending stigma over the subject.


PharmEasy Grows Up

Over the weekend, PharmEasy made an ambitious play. It acquired 66% equity in BSE-listed Thyrocare for $613 million. The public company is a diagnostic lab chain, which primarily picks up samples from customers' homes. It’s a complex deal which will potentially see a promoter of Thyrocare pick up a 4.9% stake in PharmEasy at a valuation of $4 billion. This is the first time a venture-funded technology company in India has made a play for a listed firm.

BFD: Forget the cash and the historic nature of the deal for a second. How does PharmEasy make money? It charges a delivery fee and makes a small margin from the medicines it delivers. For that reason it is still a loss making company. But diagnostics is a very high margin business. With this deal, not only does PharmEasy get a high margin business, it also gets data. It knows what its customers are afflicted with and what they need. PharmEasy can nudge medications and tests tying its customers in a virtuous circle.


Are You Ready For the Next Wave?

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic may be tapering out but you can’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Ravindra K Gupta, a professor at the University of Cambridge, who had earlier predicted the third wave in the UK, says India should brace for the next wave “very soon” as lockdowns ease. He has forecast a timeline of August-September for the new attack.

The Delta variant is taking a spin around the world and it spreads 50% faster than other strains. Gupta says the only way to minimize transmission is to get more people vaccinated, even if it is just one jab. While at an individual level getting both doses would be more effective against the strain, he prioritized the need to speed up the vaccination drive in India to contain a country-wide transmission.

Timely: Over the weekend, the Rajasthan government issued a fresh set of guidelines on the pandemic restrictions. They include at least one shot of a Covid vaccine being mandatory for people to enter public places from today.

Mask up: Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is encouraging even fully vaccinated people to mask up, social distance, and strictly follow precautionary measures to control the Delta variant from spreading. It is these safety measures that will stop rampant contagion, especially in high-transmission countries, it said.  

Ancient virus: Research at the Australian National University has found that a coronavirus outbreak may have hit East Asia more than 20,000 years ago. Digging into that past could perhaps offer useful clues for dealing with future pandemics.

The Signal

Given the woefully inadequate vaccine coverage, the risk is too high. As of June 25, just about 18.5% of the population has gotten at least one jab and only 3.9% is fully vaccinated. A third wave could be catastrophic for several sectors such as tourism, aviation, and retail. More jobs and income will disappear, making recovery a Herculean task. If ever there was a case to be made for ‘prevention is better than cure' this is it.


The UK To The Rescue

The UK will probably emerge as the most robust economy once people are able to move more freely. A 17-country survey last week showed that the UK’s consumers were the biggest savers during the pandemic. Spare cash was estimated at $347 billion in the UK and $596 billion in the euro area.

Miles ahead: About 32% Britishers and 30% Danes increased their savings since March 2020, Bloombergreported. In comparison only about a fifth of US savers increased their pile. Only 13.4% Indians raised their hoard.

Let the shopping begin: Cash in banks or stuffed in mattresses is not of much help unless people actually spend. In that too, Britons take the lead with 17% saying they would spend most of their cash once curbs are off.

Hope for India: A consumer spending boom in the UK and the rest of Europe could help restart economic activity in India as well. The EU, for instance, is India’s third largest trading partner, accounting for goods worth 3 billion euros. Exports are one way for India to revive jobs in the manufacturing sector that has been reeling from the pandemic-forced shutdowns and labour disruptions. The only threat is a spike in Covid-19 infections of the Delta+ variant.


Opening The Windows To The Future

By bringing the Start button to the centre of the taskbar, Microsoft is hoping to make Windows the centre of our digital lives. Late last week, the Redmond-based company unveiled its latest iteration of Windows, giving it a number bump and packing it with features that are interesting, to say the least. 

First, the changes: From rounded corners to a new start menu and redesigned icons, Windows 11 looks and feels fresh. ‘Snap Layouts’ makes multitasking and app switching easy. The direct integration of Teams allows you to call anyone instantly. A Universal Mute button makes a debut too, much needed in these times of video calling. A new AI feed in the form of Widgets keeps you up-to-date with the latest and touch gestures now respond to the type of device.

Space for creators: One of the Widgets in Windows 11 also allows users to tip their favorite creators. A creator economy feature baked right into the OS — now that’s something we didn’t see coming.

Future compliant: Many of these innovations appear to anticipate provisions of the new set of antitrust laws in the works in the US. Windows 11 lets you install Android apps through the Amazon App Store and allows developers their own ‘commerce engines'  and payment systems. Microsoft won't take any cut, an open philosophy compared to Apple’s closed ecosystem. CEO Satya Nadella has also invited Apple to be a part of Windows 11.


What Else Made The Signal?

Windfall: Panasonic has sold its entire stake in Tesla for $3.6 billion. The Japanese conglomerate had bought 1.4 million shares in the company in 2010 for $30 million. Say what you will about Elon Musk, he has transformed the loss-making company into an investor’s dream.

No fakes, please: The UK’s “Competition and Markets Authority” has opened a formal investigation into Amazon and Google (again!). This investigation concerns how well these companies handle fake reviews, which the regulator believes could mislead consumers.

Compromised: Some of Microsoft’s customer service tools were allegedly compromised by a hacking group called Nobelium, the company revealed. The group allegedly accessed information from a machine belonging to Microsoft’s customer support agent, to launch “highly targeted” attacks.

Gaana taps Tencent: The music and podcast streaming app has raised $40 million in debt-funding from its existing Chinese investor, adding to the $50 million it borrowed last year.

Dangerous turn: Two explosions at Jammu airbase on the night of June26-27 that injured two Air Force personnel are said to have been caused by improvised explosive devices dropped from low-flying drones, the first-ever in India.

Enjoy your 4K videos: A new study claims that the environmental impact of internet and computer usage is lower than often stated. It cites, among other things, the energy consumption of international network operators which has remained the same or decreased despite ~40% increase in the data traffic over them.

Fun Signals

Birds aren’t real: What’s the craziest conspiracy theory you’ve heard? Here’s a good one – a movement in the US that believes that all birds in the country are actually federal government drones. The Birds Aren’t Real movement leader said that the group has enough evidence, with birds perching on electric poles for a recharge and pooping liquid tracking material on cars.

5Gin: T-Mobile is marking its coverage of 5G internet to its audience with a gin - Ultra Capacity 5Gin. The drink will be manufactured by Heritage Distilling, a craft distillery in Washington. There’s also a non-alcoholic version called Extended Range 5Ginger Beer. What better way to celebrate than popping open some bottles?

Slough House: When someone finds a slush of papers at a bus stop, they don’t expect it to be classified defense information. A person in Kent, UK, found 50 pages of Defence Ministry plans in the pile with details of sensitive military operations. On Twitter, the ministry confirmed that such papers had been lost and an investigation has been launched into the same.

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