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The stunning performance of Apple’s new M1 processor, unveiled last month, is proving a threat to Intel not only by replacing its chips in Macs, but also in making Intel-based Windows and Chrome laptops and PCs less competitive on speed and battery life.

Whether Apple would go on to challenge Intel in its stronghold of data centre servers seems unlikely, with the iPhone maker maintaining its focus on consumers rather than business cloud users.

And yet, in a small way, Apple’s chips are already heading for the data centre. Amazon Web Service’s annual re: Invent conference heard today that AWS will install M1 Mac minis in its data centres early next year to allow Apple’s developer community to use them in the cloud.

Perhaps more of a threat to Intel in the data centre is Amazon’s similar move to Apple in developing its own Arm-based chips for the cloud. AWS CEO Andy Jassy described in his keynote how it was able to innovate more quickly with its services due to having its own hardware in the shape of Graviton chips designed by Annapurna Labs, which it acquired in 2015. AWS said it could now offer 40 per cent better price-performance compared to services running on Intel-based equipment.

Amazon is also leveraging all of its experience in logistics to boost cloud offerings to the next generation of factories. Dave Lee reports on its move into the industrial sector with machine learning-based services that include hardware to monitor the health of heavy machinery, and computer vision capable of detecting whether workers are complying with social distancing.

Amazon said it had created a two-inch, low-cost sensor — Monitron — that can be attached to equipment to monitor abnormal vibrations or temperatures and predict future faults. It uses 1,000 already to monitor its conveyor belts handling packages.

AWS Panorama, meanwhile, is a service that uses computer vision to analyse footage gathered by cameras within facilities, automatically detecting safety and compliance issues such as workers not wearing PPE or vehicles being driven in unauthorised areas.

A successful move into factories would help Amazon cement its position as the dominant player in cloud computing, says analysts, in the face of growing competition from Microsoft’s Azure and Google Cloud. AWS generated more revenue than the next three largest cloud service providers combined in the third quarter, according to Canalys data:

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Qualcomm’s new 5G processor
The wireless chipmaker has unveiled the processor that will power most high-end 5G phones next year. The Snapdragon 888 also integrates its 5G modem on the same chip, along with AI and other processor features, in a boost for battery life.

2. Airbnb may top $30bn valuation
Airbnb says it could raise as much as $2.5bn in its initial public offering, as it moves ahead with plans to list before Christmas. The home-rentals business set the price range of its float at between $44 and $50 per share. At the top of the price range, the company would have a market value of $29.8bn.

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3. Europe’s e-scooter boom, Moritz to chair Klarna
Swedish e-scooter start-up Voi Technology has raised $160m in new funding, less than a month after its German rival Tier raised $250m. Veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist Michael Moritz will be the next chairman of Klarna as the Swedish fintech continues its push into the US. UK ministers are planning to make it harder for employers to block staff from leaving to set up rival companies, in an effort to nurture more tech start-ups.

4. Zoom boom may fade
Zoom continued to ride the boom in working and learning from home, lifting its revenue more than fourfold in the latest quarter. The San Francisco-based company said demand for video conferencing drove its revenue to $777m in the three months to the end of October, up from $167m a year ago and far above the $693m Wall Street had expected. But its shares are down 15 per cent today — Lex points out it predicted falling growth as workers returned to offices.

5. Instagram’s story wins FT book prize
Sarah Frier has won the £30,000 Financial Times and McKinsey 2020 Business Book of the Year Award for No Filter, the deeply sourced inside story of Instagram and its relationship with owner Facebook. The FT review of No Filter described it as “a compelling tale of jealousy”, which also tracks the malign impact of an app that sets unattainable standards of beauty and lifestyle, fuelled by “alarming behavioural incentives”.

Tech tools — White heat of tech in Black Dot

Columbia Sportswear’s Black Dot technology has created one of the warmest casual jackets ever produced, writes Jonathan Margolis. The £315 Dawn Watch model has thousands of tiny blobs, each made of aluminium covered with a black, heat-absorbing coating designed to soak up warmth from sunlight, even if it is weak or scattered. The visual effect resembles a shiny black snakeskin.

Inside, the coat looks more like Bacofoil, an enhanced version of an existing Columbia technology that the company calls “3D Thermal Reflective Omni-Heat” and which features tiny pods of vertically oriented fuzzy fibres on top of a reflective material. The three insulating layers add up to heat retention that is quite remarkable, especially given the almost flimsy feel of the coat. A technology to warm to for the winter days ahead. 

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