Newley’s Notes 123: iPhones vs. China Rivals; 15th Century Linguistic Riddle; Exploding Supernova

2018 02 27 trees

Edition 123 of my email newsletter went out on Sunday.

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Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes: The best of what I write. The best of what I read.

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NN was on hiatus last week in part due to travel: We took a fantastic trip to the Southern Indian state of Kerala. It was my first visit to this part of India, and I really loved it: It’s much less crowded than many Northern Indian cities, and with its tropical climate it feels almost like Southeast Asia.

🛥️ We met some friends and did a houseboat tour through the Kerala backwaters, then took in the sights in the city of Kochi (aka Cochin), among them the Commonwealth’s oldest synagogue, built in the 16th century.

I’ll probably write more about this journey soon. Highly recommended.

On to this week’s NN:

✍️ What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal

— “Why the iPhone Is Losing Out to Chinese Devices in Asia.” The story begins:

NEW DELHI—The iPhone X has set a new benchmark for smartphone prices and bolstered Apple Inc.’s bottom line, but its steep price may be hobbling its future in Asia’s biggest markets and allowing Chinese challengers to grab market share.

Buyers from India to Indonesia are opting for models from Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi Corp. — sometimes called “the Apple of China” — along with BBK Electronics Corp.’s Oppo and Vivo.

Click through to hear from consumers in India and Indonesia on why they’re giving up their iPhones in favor of inexpensive models that nevertheless have some cool features.

Note: I am not entirely certain, but I think this passage…

Oppo’s “selfie expert” F3 offers options such as a front-facing camera for selfies with wide angle that lends itself to “wefies,” or group shots with several people crammed into the frame.

…may represent the first time the word “wefie” or “wefies” has ever appeared in The Wall Street Journal in print (vs. online)… 🤳

📲 5 Cool Tech-ish Reads This Week

1. Dropbox filed for an IPO. The popular cloud storage company’s public offering could be the biggest tech IPO since Snap’s in March 2017, according to our WSJ story. Here’s the wider context:

Dropbox’s offering will give public investors rare access to the class of richly valued tech startups. Most of the startups with the highest valuations have put off IPOs as they still have access to ample amounts of capital from giant investors including Japanese firm SoftBank Group Corp.

Uber Technologies Inc. and home-rental company Airbnb Inc. aren’t expected to debut until at least 2019, and with the exception of Spotify AB, which will go public without raising new capital in an atypical debut, few of the best-known private companies are expected to go public this year.

CNBC has a rundown of who stands to make the most cash from the deal:

Co-founder and CEO Drew Houston is Dropbox’s biggest shareholder, owning 25 percent of the shares before the offering. Arash Ferdowsi, the other co-founder and former chief technology officer, owns 10 percent.

Among institutional investors, Sequoia Capital, which led Dropbox’s seed round in 2007 and first venture round the following year, owns 23 percent, followed by Accel at 5 percent and T. Rowe Price at 3.5 percent.

2. Jason Kottke on how blogging has changed. I’ve read Kottke’s blog,, pretty much since it launched twenty years ago, in 1998. It’s one of the world’s longest running and best known independent blogs. I launched my blog — back when they were called “weblogs” — four years later, inspired in part by Kottke’s mission to essentially just share cool stuff online.

In this Q&A with Laura Hazard Ownen at Harvard’s NiemanLab, Kottke talks about content consumption trends: Fewer people are reading blogs following the rise of social media and the fall of RSS, but as advertising has diminished he’s launched a successful new membership model to help pay the bills.

3. A 15th century linguistic riddle, solved? University of Alberta scientists used algorithms to show the fabled Voynich manuscript may be written in a coded version of Hebrew. Not everyone’s buying the conclusions, as described by some media outlets, however.

For more, here’s a 2016 New Yorker piece with additional details on the mysterious manuscript.

4. “The Case Against Google.” File under: the burgeoning backlash against Big Tech. In this New York Times Magazine long-read doing the rounds this week, Charles Duhigg details antitrust complaints about the search giant. There are plenty of anecdotes here from execs who say Google has unfairly crushed their rival companies. The other side of the coin: Are customers actually being harmed by Google?

5. Hot new Q&A site: Molly. “Silicon Valley insiders have recently been answering questions about themselves via a new service called Molly,” writes Kia Kokalitcheva at Axios. “Ask personal questions,” the Molly tagline reads, “Molly gets answers.”

🌟 Quote of the week

“It’s like winning the cosmic lottery.”

That’s Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at UC Berkely, on fellow (amateur) astronomer Victor Buso’s impossibly lucky photograph — the first of its kind — showing a burst of light from a exploding supernova.

✈️ 1 Silly Thing

This is what happens when you activate an airplane’s emergency slide. A highly watchable gif.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,


Published by Newley

Hi. I'm Newley Purnell, a journalist covering technology and business for The Wall Street Journal, based in New Delhi. I use this site to share my stories and often blog about the books I read, tech, sports, travel and more. Join the growing group of readers who get my email newsletter.

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