News You Can Use: Google takes China, 5G rising, Apple beats tech blues

Hello there, and welcome back to your favorite recurring series on the CallRail blog: News You Can Use. We review and explain the most important marketing and tech news, and break down how they may impact the wider economy.

Staying abreast of the latest headlines is crucial for businesses, no matter what industry you’re in. Being an informed consumer of current events means that you’ll have a leg up on the competition when it comes to making strategic decisions.

There’s a lot going on these days, and it was particularly difficult to pick out the top 5 most important stories. (Which is why we recommend you bookmark TechCrunch along with Reuters’ technology vertical in your browser — they’re some of the best places to get your tech news fix.)

With all that said, let’s get to the news.

1) Pared-back version of Google to debut in Chinese market (The Intercept)

Investigative journalists at the Intercept have revealed that Google is planning to launch a pared-back version of its service for the Chinese market.

Google and its subsidiary services have been banned in China since 2010 under the country’s so-called ‘Great Firewall’, so the move represents Alphabet Inc’s attempt to re-enter to the world’s biggest economy.

However, the plan has also sparked controversy and condemnation from digital rights activists, as Google will reportedly censor certain keywords and websites (such as the BBC and Wikipedia) from appearing in search results for the Chinese version of its service. This concession was made in order to comport with Beijing’s hardline stance on controlling the news and information available to its citizens.

While this news could pave the way for marketers and businesses to make a lucrative expansion into Chinese markets, we should also pay careful attention to how Google responds to this controversy. As the Intercept report makes clear, the restrictions placed on the Chinese version of Google could just as easily be implemented across the rest of the world.

2) SnapChat launches speech-recognition features (Techcrunch)

As we’ve noted before here on the CallRail blog, speech-recognition technology is one of the most exciting new fields in our increasingly mobile-first world. SnapChat is going all-in on this emerging field with the release of animated graphics that respond to verbal commands from the user.

With this new feature, saying “hi” will launch an animation that surrounds the user with a flock of chatty birds; saying “love” will play cheesy jazz music; saying “wow” places a bow on the user’s head and surrounds them with animated versions of the word.

With teens and younger audiences increasingly ditching Facebook for platforms like SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, these new voice-recognition features are one more way for Snap to lure young and tech-savvy users to their platform. (At least until they get bought out by Facebook, anyway.)

3) Facebook, Instagram offer mobile tools to track time spent on platform (FB Newsroom)

We all know what it’s like to watch the hours fly by as you scroll compulsively on your phone, and now you can do something about it. Facebook is now offering mobile users the ability to track how much time they’re spending on the platform, along with its other services like Instagram and Messenger.

“We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring,” Instagram Product Manager Ameet Ranadive wrote in a blog post for the Facebook Newsroom announcing the new initiative. “Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”

Earlier this summer, Google and Apple launched similar tools that give users more granular control of notifications and the amount of time they’re spending on their devices. But where Google and Apple’s ‘wellness initiatives’ were implicitly (and explicitly) aimed at cutting down wasted time spent on apps like Instagram, these new time-tracking tools indicate that Facebook aims to position itself as a partner to this goal, rather than an adversary.

The move comes as Facebook falls under increasing scrutiny and criticism for the addictive elements designed into the service in order to spur user engagement. Facebook says that these time-tracking tools will help its users be more mindful of the time they’re spending on the platform, spurring more meaningful connections and engagement.

4) $3.5bn T-Mobile/Nokia partnership signals start of 5G wireless upgrade cycle (Reuters)

T-Mobile has announced that it has selected Nokia to supply it with $3.5 billion in next-generation 5G wireless networking hardware. The partnership marks the biggest-ever deal around 5G tech, and is another sign that we’re on the cusp of a fresh wireless upgrade cycle from 4G to 5G.

5G networks are touted as a revolution over the current 4G wireless standard, promising faster speeds for mobile phone users and more reliable and responsive networks. 5G wireless networks are seen as critical for the implementation of emerging fields like industrial automation, driverless vehicles, and round-the-clock medical monitoring.

Telecom operators have been slow to take up the 5G standard, with many taking a wait-and-see approach. However, analysts predict that this deal between Nokia and T-Mobile will serve as the starting gun for a new upgrade cycle that will see major manufacturers and carriers begin implementing 5G networks around the world.

All of which is great news for businesses and marketers — our always-connected world provides a treasure trove of opportunities to attract an audience, capture new leads, and grow your revenue.

5) Apple tops $1tn as robust earnings end bad streak for tech stocks (CNBC)

First Facebook, then Twitter, then Netflix: The end of July and the start of August amounted to a terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad week for technology stocks. Amid reports of slowing user growth and declining engagement, Facebook and Twitter both lost nearly 25 percent of their stock value, marking the biggest-ever single-day loss for U.S. markets.

But a stronger-than-expected earnings report from Apple was enough to inject some optimism back into the technology sector, prompting a rebound that saw the company’s stock jump by almost 5 percent in a single day. That news was then followed by an even more remarkable breakthrough, as Apple became the first company in history to reach the $1 trillion mark in market capitalization.

While shipments of Mac computers, Macbook laptops, and iPhones had actually slowed down, Apple more than made up the difference thanks to greatly increased revenue on its Apple Music and App Store platforms, as well as the expanding clout of other services like Apple Pay and iCloud.

Apple’s robust earnings report was more than enough to bring some stability to the beleaguered tech sector, with so-called FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) back on the upswing. Analysts expect that FAANG and related companies will continue to be a safe harbor for businesses and investors alike, with tech stocks predicted to continue to grow at an eye-popping rate of 35 times the broader market.