Critics have derided WeWork as overvalued and vulnerable to the next downturn. But the company holds so many leases in so many cities, it might hold more power than its landlords.
Real estate titans have long scoffed at WeWork, which in eight short years has managed to attain a $20 billion valuation by selling short-term leases for shared office space with a mixture of stylish design and free-flowing alcohol.
The naysayers argue that WeWork’s business model looks brilliant only in a rising economy that has allowed it to lock in long-term leases and then re-rent that space to other businesses at a premium. The enormous valuation it has obtained is higher than that of Boston Properties and Vornado, two of the country’s biggest office-space landlords — companies that actually own the kind of space that WeWork usually rents.
Now, with interest rates creeping higher, residential real estate prices flattening and fears of an economic slowdown coming, real estate insiders are gleeful at the notion that a downturn could be an existential threat for the company.
But a funny thing happened as WeWork has scaled up all over the globe: It may have become too big to fail.
WeWork has gobbled up leases for so much space in so many cities, there’s a compelling case to be made that its landlords wouldn’t be able to afford for it to go under.
Because of WeWork’s size, “they have more power in a down market,” said Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the longtime real estate investor and founder of Colony Capital.
The company is scheduled to release third-quarter financial results on Tuesday. A WeWork spokesman, citing the coming report, declined to comment.
The conventional wisdom is that when the economy turns south, WeWork’s customers — many of which are start-ups and may be the most vulnerable — will simply walk away. The flexibility of WeWork’s short-term leases is part of its appeal, after all.
It’s 2018, and you’re not very familiar with technology. Where do you start?
While there are tons of gadgets and services out there vying for your attention and your dollars, there are a handful of “essential” technologies that are absolutely worth investing in, as they make your life easier in significant ways.
Here’s your guide to all the essential technologies worth your money in 2018.
A quality smartphone
A quality smartphone is one of the best investments you can make. Smartphones are the most personal computing devices we own. You can use them for just about everything: They’re phones, obviously, but they’re also cameras, calculators, and full-blown computers that can fit in your pocket or bag. They’re the Swiss Army knives of the future.
The biggest choice you’ll make is actually pretty simple: Which operating system do you prefer? Most smartphones either run iOS — which is operated by Apple — or Android, which is designed by Google and tweaked (slightly or a lot) depending on the phone you buy.
If you like iOS, that means you’re getting an iPhone. You can’t go wrong with any of the new iPhones, including the $750 iPhone XR coming this month or $1,000 iPhone XS, but the older models like the iPhone 7, which starts at $450, are still an incredible deal.
If you like Android, you have a ton of options, but popular picks are the affordable OnePlus 6, which starts at $530, and the Galaxy S9 and Note 9 phones from Samsung, which start at $720 and $1,000, respectively. We’re also expecting new Pixel 3 phones from Google this month.
Streaming devices are a worthy investment for any TV owner in 2018. Streaming devices, in short, open up the possibilities for your TV. Most streaming devices support popular streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu, but depending on the company that makes your device, you’ll also typically have access to an online store, like Apple’s iTunes Store or Google’s Play Store. So, if you purchased movies, TV shows, or games through any of those stores, you’ll be able to access them on your TV.
Get ready for the next generation of wifi technology: Wi-fi 6 (for so it is named) is going to be appearing on devices from next year. But will you have to throw out your old router and get a new one? And is this going to make your Netflix run faster? Here’s everything you need to know about the new standard.
A brief history of wifi
Those of you of a certain age will remember when home internet access was very much wired—only one computer could get online, a single MP3 took half an hour to download, and you couldn’t use the landline phone at the same time.
Thank goodness for wifi technology then, which gradually became cheap and compact enough to fit inside a router suitable for home use. The first wifi protocol appeared in 1997, offering 2Mbit/s link speeds, but it was only with the arrival of 802.11b and 11Mbit/s speeds in 1999 that people seriously started thinking about home wifi.
Wifi standards, as well as a whole host of other electronics standards, are managed by the IEEE: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Specifically, IEEE 802 refers to local area network standards, and 802.11 focuses on wireless LAN. In the 20 years since 802.11b arrived, we’ve seen numerous new standards pushed out, though not all of them apply to home networking kit.
The introduction of 802.11g in 2003 (54Mbit/s) and 802.11n in 2009 (a whopping 600Mbit/s) were both significant moments in the history of wifi. Another significant step forward was the introduction of dual-band routers with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, tied to the arrival of 802.11n, which could offer faster speeds at shorter ranges.
Today, with 802.11ac in place, that 5GHz band can push speeds of 1,300Mbit/s, so we’re talking speeds that are more than 600 times faster than they were in 1997. Wi-Fi 6 takes that another step forward, but it’s not just speed that’s improving.
Explaining wifi technology can get quite technical. A lot of recent improvements, including those arriving with Wi-Fi 6, involve some clever engineering to squeeze more bandwidth out of the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz your router already employs. The end result is more capacity on the same channels, with less interference between them, as well as faster data transfer speeds.
Turning wifi up to six
One of the most important changes Wi-Fi 6 brings with it is, of course, the new naming system: Using a simple succession of numbers is going to make it a lot easier for consumers to keep track of standards and make sure they’ve got compatible kit set up. The more technical term for Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax, if you prefer the old naming.
Older standards are getting retroactively renamed too—the 802.11ac standard becomes Wi-Fi 5, the 802.11n standard becomes Wifi 4, and so on. Expect to see the new Wi-Fi 6 name on hardware products and inside software menus from 2019, as well as funky little logos not unlike the one Google uses for its Chromecast devices.
As always, the improvements with this latest generation of wifi are in two key areas: Raw speed and throughput (if wifi was a highway, we’d be talking about a higher maximum speed limit for vehicles, as well as more lanes to handle more vehicles at once). Wi-Fi 6 will support 8K video streaming, provided your internet supplier is going to give you access to sufficient download speeds in the first place.
In practice that means support for transfer rates of 1.1Gbit/s over the 2.4GHz band (with four streams available) and 4.8Gbit/s over the 5GHz band (with eight streams available), though the technology is still being refined ahead of its full launch next year—those speeds may, in fact, go up (it’s been hitting 10Gbit/s in the lab). Roughly speaking, you can look forward to 4x to 10x speed increases in your wifi.
Another improvement Wi-Fi 6 will bring is improved efficiency, which means a lower power draw, which means less of a strain on battery life (or lower figures on your electricity bill). It’s hard to quantify the difference exactly, especially as Wi-Fi 6 has yet to be finalized, but it’s another step in the right direction for wifi standards—it shouldn’t suck the life out of your phone or always-on laptopquite as quickly.
Refinements in Wi-Fi 6 hardware and firmware should also mean better performance in crowded environments. You might finally be able to get a strong signal at your sports bar of choice, though don’t hold your breath. As always, a host of other factors (walls, microwaves, the number of people streaming Netflix in your house) are going to have an impact on the final speeds you see.
What will you have to do?
Not a lot. As is usually the case, Wi-Fi 6 is going to be backwards compatible with all the existing wifi gear out there, so if you bring something home from the gadget shop that supports the new standard, it will work fine with your current setup—you just won’t be able to get the fastest speeds until everything is Wi-Fi 6 enabled.
You probably already know that listening to music no longer requires trips to a music store, or purchasing individual songs or albums from iTunes to download to your computer. Today’s best music streaming services have millions of songs in their catalogs, offer personalized playlists, and feature exclusive internet radio shows and podcasts. But which should you pick and pay a subscription fee for?
A good streaming music service has a straightforward user interface that makes it easy to organize a library of thousands of songs or playlists across the web, Android, and iOS apps, and in some cases, a desktop Mac or Windows app. However, while most music streaming services have these features, most of them aren’t free, and nearly all services require paid plans that grant you access to a full on-demand library of music and other features.
While testing these music streaming services, I considered factors like audio quality options, social integration, and built-in lyrics. It’s also absolutely necessary that your streaming app plays nice with more than one personal device. These are all important points when considering which music service to pick and ultimately, make for a better listening experience.
Spotify is the best streaming music service for a variety of reasons, but there’s one in particular that stands out. It has the most consistent iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows experience. It’s far from perfect, of course, but features rolled out to the iOS version follow on Android not too soon after. Competing music services sometimes have issues with certain platforms, like the clunky Android version of Apple Music or the Windows app for Tidal that sometimes won’t load.
Other than having a unified app experience, Spotify has a large catalog of music (35+ million songs), the best playlist recommendations, useful, yet non-intrusive social features, and a variety of plans (including student discounts) that make it great for most music listeners with a smartphone and some headphones.
It’s also one of the streaming services (alongside Amazon Music and Apple Music) that supports offline listening for both mobile and desktop, which is useful when you’re doing work and don’t want to eat up bandwidth or using your device on a plane without internet. Spotify is also supported by most smart speakers and smart devices, so it’s almost universally available on all platforms.
However, Spotify isn’t without shortcomings. There’s no hi-fi option, the app can misbehave when you have a poor cell connection, and uploading purchased songs to your desktop Spotify library is a convoluted process. Still, Spotify’s mobile and desktop experiences are fast and easy to understand. Spotify’s pricing also set the precedent for other music streaming apps. It has a compelling free option on desktop, a $4.99 option for students (US only), the standard $9.99 premium option that lets you download and stream on all your personal devices, and finally, a $14.99 family plan (for six users total).
A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: APPLE MUSIC
Apple Music has a lot going for it that’s pegged on exclusivity. Beats 1 is home to many top-tier artists that use their respective radio shows to demo and tease new music and collaborations. If you’re a fan of certain popular artists, you might find that the first chance you’ll have to hear their new music is on Apple Music, not Spotify or Tidal. Sound quality is usually better than Spotify’s, thanks to Apple Music using a 256kbps AAC bitrate, compared to the max 320kbps Ogg Vorbis bitrate used by Spotify.
Banking on this sense of access and being “in the know,” Apple Music tops this off with artist’s music videos, adding a visual treat you can enjoy without having to go to another app. However for comparison, Tidal, YouTube Music, and Spotify are the other streaming services that offer music videos built into the app. Of those, only Spotify has short vertical videos for a few of its popular songs; Apple Music does not.
Apple Music also has a digital locker feature that subscribers can take advantage of, to the tune of 100,000 songs. Although, you should be hard-pressed not to find your purchased music in Apple Music’s library of over 50 million songs. You can also save these songs for offline listening on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and the Apple Watch.
The iOS, Android, and desktop apps are my least favorite user music streaming interfaces. The abundant use of hot pink accents and white backgrounds everywhere isn’t the most comfortable to view at night. On Android, the Apple Music app feels even more out of place and occasionally had problems staying open on my Pixel 2 XL. Using Apple Music on a desktop requires you to use iTunes, an app that’s slow, cumbersome, confusing, and long overdue for a redesign. Apple Music has definitely not been blessed with the most beautiful interfaces the designers at Cupertino have released.
Apple Music’s pricing is similar to Spotify and other services: $9.99 monthly or $14.99 for a family plan (up to six users), with student discounts varying by country.
If you’re an audiophile — someone who is enthusiastic about hi-fi reproduction — and want to use a streaming service, there are some good alternatives.
For those that have audio hardware capable of taking advantage of lossless hi-fi, then Tidal or Deezer’s $20 lossless plans might be good options. Tidal has a $9.99 on-demand plan as well, but it doesn’t get you the higher sound quality.
On the flip side, casual listeners who want a more radio-style streaming service can opt for the $5 radio-only, no ads version of Pandora; it also includes on-demand streaming, but it’s less mature than its competitors in terms of playlist recommendations and library management.
But what if you have thousands of songs you’ve already purchased the old-fashioned way? If you want the benefits of uploading your music to the cloud and a music streaming service to back that up — that is more consistent on Android and the web — then Google Play Music is the perfect option. However, next year Google is merging YouTube Music with Play Music into a new service with a music uploading feature, so it might be worth waiting.
Apple has long had a playbook for iPhones, its most important product: Keep rolling out bigger, faster and more expensive models.
On Wednesday, it repeated that strategy by introducing another round of iPhones that are — you guessed it — bigger, faster and more expensive. The model with a 6.5-inch screen, the iPhone XS Max, is Apple’s biggest iPhone ever and will start at $1,100. (And, yes, its name is a mouthful.) Last year when Apple debuted its iPhone X, the starting price was $1,000.
More notable, perhaps, was how much Apple is now evolving its smart watch into a clearly health-related device. The company showed off a new Apple Watch with an electronic heart sensor approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That could lead to new implications for health care — and prove to be a major selling point for a device that has played second fiddle to the iPhone.Apple on Wednesday unveiled the iPhone XS, a premium model with a 5.8-inch screen, and the iPhone XS Max, with a 6.5-inch screen, its biggest-ever smartphone. The company also showed the iPhone XR, an entry-level model with a 6.1-inch screen.
The XS models are generally sped-up versions of last year’s iPhone X. Apple emphasized the phones’ advanced processor, durable glass and so-called Super Retina OLED display with a wide color gamut.
The iPhone XR will come in white, black, red, blue and yellow, and is just as fast as the XS models. It has a single-lens camera, unlike the XS models, which have dual-lens camera systems. And it uses LCD, a less expensive screen technology than the OLED used for the XS, and the casing is made of aluminum, unlike the stainless steel that the premium phones are composed of.
It’s obvious why Apple and other phone makers like Samsung keep enlarging their phones: Phones with bigger screens are selling well. When presented with the choice between a small phone and a bigger one, most people will go with the latter. That’s similar to how just about everyone wants a big-screen TV.But for mobile phones, there are trade-offs. For one, the larger phones are more difficult to use with one hand. With last year’s 5.8-inch iPhone X, it was difficult to reach your thumb across the screen to type a keystroke or hit a button inside an app.
The larger screens raise an important question about design. Will Apple do much in the near future to improve one-handed use?
When Apple’s screen sizes started growing with the iPhone 6 in 2014, the company released a software shortcut, called Reachability, through which users can tap the home button twice to lower the top of the screen and make it easier to reach buttons up there. That feature still exists for the new iPhones, but the lack of a home button makes it more difficult to use — instead of double tapping the home button, now you swipe down from the bottom of the screen.
The growing concern over online data and user privacy has been focused on tech giants like Facebook and devices like smartphones. But people’s data is also increasingly being vacuumed right out of their living rooms via their televisions, sometimes without their knowledge.
In recent years, data companies have harnessed new technology to immediately identify what people are watching on internet-connected TVs, then using that information to send targeted advertisements to other devices in their homes. Marketers, forever hungry to get their products in front of the people most likely to buy them, have eagerly embraced such practices. But the companies watching what people watch have also faced scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates over how transparent they are being with users.
Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40 million in venture funding from investors including Time Warner , the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban.
Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.
The 2007 housing crisis was particularly tough on African-Americans, as well as Hispanics, extinguishing much of their already miniscule wealth. Industrial layoffs, particularly in the Midwest, made things worse. However the rising economic tide of the past few years has started to lift more boats. The African-American unemployment rate fell to 6.8% in December, the lowest level since the government started keeping tabs in 1972. Although that’s 3.1 percentage points worse than whites, the gap is the slimmest on record. A tightening labor market since 2015 has also driven up wages of black workers, many of whom are employed in manufacturing and other historically middle and lower-wage service industries.
There’s still much room for economic improvement for the nation’s black community — the income gap with whites remains considerably higher than it was in 2000, with the median black household earning 35.5% less — but as we pay homage to Martin Luther King this week, the record low unemployment rate is a cause for celebration. President Trump has predictably taken credit for the good news, but kudos more likely should go to those states and metropolitan areas that have created the conditions for black progress.
The gains have not been evenly spread. To determine where African-Americans are faring the best economically, we evaluated America’s 53 largest metropolitan statistical areas based on three critical factors that we believe are indicators of middle-class success: the home ownership rate as of 2016; entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate in 2017; and 2016 median household income. In addition, we added a fourth category, demographic trends, measuring the change in the African-American population from 2010 to 2016 in these metro areas, to judge how the community is “voting with its feet.” Each factor was given equal weight.
The South Also Rises
One of the great ironies of our time is that the best opportunities for African-Americans now lie in the South, from which so many fled throughout much of the 20th century. In the past few decades, many good jobs have moved South and blacks, like many whites and Hispanics, have followed.
Washington, with its ample supply of well-paid federal jobs, is the metro area where blacks have the highest median household income in the nation: $69,246. Amid rising home prices, the black home ownership rate has dipped to 48.3% from 49.2%, but that’s still fourth highest among the largest metro areas.
Atlanta, with its historically black universities and strong middle class, has long been described as the black capital of America, and its thriving entertainment scene has given rise to claims that it’s become a cultural capital as well. Entrepreneurship is strong, with some 20% of the metro area’s black working population self-employed, the highest proportion in the nation, and though median black household income is quite a bit lower than in the D.C. area at $48,161, costs are lower too. In-migration has slowed since the financial crisis, but the black population is still up 14.7% since 2010.
Atlanta and Washington are followed in our ranking by Austin, Texas, Baltimore and Raleigh, N.C., with the rest of the top 20 rounded out exclusively by Southern cities, except for Boston in 19th place.
Two key determinants seem to be driving these rankings: homeownership and self-employment, traditional benchmarks of entering the middle class. All of the top 10 boast homeownership rates that match or well exceed the black national average of 41 percent. (It should be noted that the national average is a full third lower than the national average for all ethnicities.)
These patterns hold up as well for income. Black incomes have been rising most rapidly since 2010 in largely fast-growing Sun Belt locales, as analyst and Forbes contributor Pete Saunders has found, such as Nashville, Raleigh and Austin. It appears as if the fastest income gains are generally being made in the places where other ethnic groups are advancing as well. After Washington, the metro areas where blacks have the highest annual household incomes are San Jose ($65,400), the capital of Silicon Valley, and No. 4 Baltimore ($53,200), which like Washington has a huge federal employment base.
Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of African-American trends lies in population growth. During the period of the Great Migration out of the south in the early 20th century, an estimated 6 million blacks headed north and west to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis. But now the tide is reversing, with the African-American population dropping in the latter three over the past six years, as well as in San Francisco and cities with fading industrial cores like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.
In contrast the metro areas whose African-American populations have expanded the most since 2010 are the South and Sun Belt: Las Vegas, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Phoenix.
In some cases it’s clear that blacks are leaving for better economic opportunities. In others, high housing prices may play a role: In Los Angeles and San Francisco the black homeownership rate is about 9 percentage points lower than the major metro average.
In San Francisco the black community seems headed toward irrelevance and extinction as tech workers have driven up home prices to unprecedented levels; the metropolitan area’s African-American population has dropped 6.3% from 2010.
The situation is particularly dire in California where strict land-use and housing regulations have been associated with increases in home prices relative to income of 3.5 times the rest of the nation since 1995. In coastal California, African-Americans face prices from more than two to nine times their annual incomes than non-Hispanic whites. African-American homeownership rates in California are down 17% in the Golden State compared to a decline of 11% for Hispanics and 6% for non-Hispanic whites. Asian homeownership rates have stayed the same.
Blacks, like many other Americans, are likely to continue to move, as Pete Saunders notes, to cities that are both high growth and relatively low cost. In these cities, housing and land use policies generally allow the market to function, resulting in lower home prices and greater housing choice. Business investment and job creation are also strongly backed. Blacks, like others, are moving to these places for opportunity.
In many cases this means a reversal of the Great Migration and a return trip to parts of the country now far more accommodating to black aspirations than those places which once provided the greatest opportunities.