Samsung #Unpacked2019: Beyond the Note 10

For several years now, Samsung’s August Unpacked event has been bringing to the market the latest generation of their Galaxy Note and this week at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was no different.

The formula was a familiar one,  with a focus on productivity and delivering a powerful device for Samsung’s most engaged and loyal customers. Ten years on from the original Note launch, that created the “phablet” category, a lot has changed in the market, and Samsung’s latest iteration of its flagship reflects such changes:

  • Most phones got larger, and while the Note started with providing a larger screen, the differentiation over time became the full experience centered around the screen rather than the screen itself. While some consumers might be happy to push size to the limit with the Note 10+ Plus and its 6.8” display, Samsung thought well that some might prefer the smaller 6.3” screen of the Note 10. When we consider that most of the competition, especially coming out of China, is choosing the larger size for their flagship products, one can see an opportunity for Samsung to attract a wider audience with a premium experience in a more mainstream size.
  • The addition of the smaller Note 10 and the wider range of colors for this year’s line up, also makes me feel that Samsung recognises that Note power users can be female too.
  • The Note family also gets a 5G variant, but wisely 5G it is not the default throughout the lineup. While Note buyers appreciate cutting edge technology, they are also technology-savvy users who understand the current coverage limitations of 5G. Having a variant for Verizon allows Samsung to please early adopters who are most likely on an annual upgrade cycle, as well as early mainstream who might be happy to wait till next year to embrace 5G.
  • Productivity takes on a broader meaning thanks to an upgraded SPen and DeX. Productivity is not just about traditional workflows and apps, it now embraces the creation of content that bridges the physical and digital.

In a way, I feel that the Note has grown up to really marry work and play in the most seamless way and not because of hardware, but because of software and services integration that this year also included Outlook, OneDrive, Your Phone and Link to Windows for a better smartphone to PC workflow.

Partnerships for a Best of Breed Ecosystem 

Probably the most interesting part of Unpacked2019 was the newly announced open collaboration between Samsung and Microsoft. A collaboration that started many years ago and culminated this week with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella joining on stage Samsung Electronics’ CEO DJ Koh to talk about how together they can empower every person and every business to do their best work.

Marketing soundbite aside, the relationship between the two companies is full of potential. DJ Koh mentioned a few times the term “open collaboration,” and I have to admit I am not quite sure what it means. When it comes to Microsoft and Samsung working together, I think of their collaboration as highly complementary. Microsoft gets key software and services in the pockets of what eventually will be millions of users as the collaboration expands from the Note to other devices. Samsung gets from the pockets onto the desks of millions of people broadening the value delivered by their phones. Maybe open, in this instance, means transparent and purposeful. Samsung has no aspiration in the cloud business, and I am quite sure Microsoft has no aspiration to compete in the smartphone market.

The collaboration also included the reveal of the Galaxy Book S an ultra-slim always on, always connected PC built on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solution. While the market has been moving slowly, there is no question that the future of PCs is connected and Samsung understands how to design for a highly mobile computing experience as well as how to work with carriers to bring it to market.

While some might look at the announcement as just marketing fluff, I think it creates a lot of upside for both brands. The opportunity in the short term is to create stickiness by widening the value each individual brand brings to the table. The phone drives more value because of the deeper and seamless connection to the PC, which in turns gets more value because of the phone and the cloud. We are talking about a seamless workflow which most would argue is only possible in an Apple ecosystem.

Longer-term, I would like this collaboration to bring more integrated experiences that highlight Microsoft’s cloud and intelligence. Think of Microsoft apps like Translator or Pix and how much bigger their uptake would be if they were embedded in the phone experience. On the enterprise side, there is also an opportunity for Cortana’s brain to add to Bixby’s voice given the former was told will never become a digital assistant in a traditional sense and the latter has been struggling to take off.

What is clear is that Samsung with Microsoft can pursue the US enterprise market more aggressively both with hardware – phones, PCs and wearables – and solutions, potentially helping to compensate for a saturated consumer market.

What About Google? 

Some event commentators pointed out that Google and Android were two names that were not mentioned during Unpacked and wondered what could be read into it.  Microsoft and Google serve different purposes in my mind. In a way, it seems that Samsung is decoupling the OS they use from the ecosystem they want to build through partnerships that at times might compete with Google while still benefitting Android. Google’s relationship remains key to Samsung when it comes to operating system and consumers services. For Google, Samsung remains the leading Android brand and a technology partner that will bring smartphones into 5G and foldable designs. The two companies, however, have more overlap in business aspirations than they did at the start of the smartphone market.

As Google gets more serious about their hardware, it is to be expected it will tighten the services and hardware offering, but this might not be appealing to those users, especially in enterprise, who are rooted in the Microsoft ecosystem and want to use an Android phone.

Google has always been quite platform agnostic when it comes to its services, but considering how much business overlap there is between Google Cloud and Azure and G Suite and Office365, it is unlikely we would see the level of integration Samsung and Microsoft are driving. I would welcome Samsung’s renewed collaboration with Microsoft as a value add to Android users who might otherwise think they need to look elsewhere for a seamless multi-device computing experiences.


Made By Google Might Finally Mean Business with Pixel 4

The Made by Google team surprised everybody on Monday when Brandon Barbello, a Product Manager for Pixel posted a blog sharing an early view of two features coming to the Pixel 4 expected to launch in the fall. This week’s blog adds to the confirmation of the Pixel 4’s existence tweeted by the head of Made by Google Rick Osterloh.

So, we now know there is a Pixel 4 coming int the fall, October is the month most people have their money on, and we also know a couple of features: motion sense and face unlock.

Motion Sense and Face Unlock

The Motion Sense feature builds on the work that Google has been doing for years under Project Soli. Motion Sense is a series of radar-based sensors that can track nearby movement. One use case shown in the video released with the blog is to use your hand to gesture a flick from right to left to change music tracks. Other use cases mentioned are snoozing alarms and silencing calls. But, possibly the most interesting use case, Barbello mentioned in the blog, is the ability for Soli to turn on Face Unlock after detecting your movement and intention to unlock the phone. Prepping the phone to scan your face and then unlock would then seem like a single seamless step to users. If you have been using Face ID on an iPhone, you know that you need to lift the phone to unlock it, but while these are two distinct steps, it hardly feels that way to me. What does sound appealing from the blog, is the claim that face unlock “works in almost any orientation – even if you’re holding it upside down.”

The speed and ease of use of face unlock does not come at the expense of security, points out Barbello, highlighting that users will be able to use it for secure payments and app authentication. We’ll see once it ships, but I am certainly excited to add this feature to Pixel because even if I have no complaints on the fingerprint scan of the Pixel 3 and 3a, I have come to appreciate Face ID on my iPhone and my iPad Pro.

Talking about security, Google points out that facial scans will not leave the phone and will be stored in the Pixel’s security chip Titan M.

Interestingly, on the same day, the blog was published, we also received confirmation that
Google is asking consumers in the streets to scan their faces in exchange for a $5 gift card. Google explained that the purpose of this face canvasing was to assure as broad a dataset as possible so that as many people as possible would be able to use face unlock on Pixel 4.

Why this Openness?

While the features Google shared in the blog are exciting, I am actually more excited in the approach that Google has taken with Pixel 4.

Over the years, I have been criticizing Made by Google for not being aggressive enough with their hardware strategy. Pixel was a step up from Nexus, but the first generation suffered from a small channel and very little advertising. Pixel 2 saw still a limited channel but more marketing dollars. Finally, Pixel 3 saw strong advertising and a broader go to market approach. Sales remain concentrated in mature markets, and overall market share remains limited, but Sundar Pichai called out on Alphabet’s earnings call last week the strong performance delivered by Pixel 3a.

Judging Pixel’s performance as a proportion of the overall market, however, is not the best way to assess how Google is doing. After all, Pixel is not intended to appeal to the whole breadth of the smartphone market. Google is interested in those consumers who can be highly engaged not just with the device but with Google services as well. This limits the addressable market both by geography and income.

Because of the target audience, I see Google’s best opportunity to drive sales resting in Samsung and Apple’s installed base. If we go by the schedule all companies have kept over the past couple of years, we know both Samsung and Apple will have new models in the market before Pixel 4 is out. Samsung’s Unpacked is scheduled for August 7, and here we are expected to see the new Galaxy Note, then Apple is expected in early September.

While some people were quick to speculate about Google’s lack of concern for cannibalizing Pixel 3 sales, I appreciated the attempt to get people’s attention before competitors drop their products. All Google needs to do is instill enough interest to get people to wait for Pixel 4 to launch before committing to the new Galaxy Note or the new iPhone. At the end of the day, if you are in the market for a Pixel now, and your purchase is not an emergency, you are most likely going to wait and see the new model and any price adjustments on the current one. So, really, no harm no foul on Pixel 3.

Android and Google

The Android ecosystem has changed quite a bit over the past couple of years. The initial blossoming of brands jumping on the opportunity Android offered to get to market faster and with limited investment was not enough to sustain brands that had been in the mobile phone market for decades.

Chinese brands started to grow presence at home and soon internationally, first in Asia and then in Europe. While benefitting the overall Android ecosystem, this growth did not necessarily benefit Google as many of the brands were working on their own ecosystem or in collaboration with more regional ecosystem owners. Pixel came to market to address this changing dynamic as well as provide the best experience Google has to offer by bringing hardware, software, and services altogether with the added value of intelligence.

In a way, the balance that Google has been trying to keep between fostering the Android ecosystem with partners and pursuing its own hardware ambitions has become a self-determined balance. Depending on the market you are in, you see Android more or less intertwined with Google. In markets such as the US and Europe, Google services are such as an integral part of the Android experience that it is hard for consumers to separate the two. These are the markets where a more aggressive strategy for Pixel has the potential to pay off. In markets where Google services are not available or not preferred it is going to be harder for Pixel to grow share, as the competition would mostly be on hardware against local vendors who have a different go to market strategy, time to market and a focus that is more “local” than global.

The current political climate that is putting a lot of uncertainty on Huawei is another reason why, for Google, Pixel has become a more significant need than before. Huawei posted good results just this week despite the current situation, but retailers in Europe have been concerned about inventory levels and increased weakness in consumer demand mostly linked to the unclear long-term software support. Of course, there are alternatives to Huawei in the market, but outside of Samsung, none is particularly strong across geographies. Those alternative brands, like Oppo, Xiaomi, OnePlus are in a place of growth and opportunity but not at a point of being able to walk away from Google if faced with a stronger Pixel competition.

A simple way to think about the role of Pixel today is that Made by Google might have started because Google needed Pixel, but now Android needs Pixel too.

Could VR Be a Better Short-Term Option than AR for Apple?

I lost count of the products that Apple has been rumored to have canceled, products that, of course, we never knew for sure were coming to market in the first place. The latest one that was covered by the DigiTimes earlier this month is the rumored pair of Augmented Reality (AR) Glasses.

The article seems to refer to project T288 which CNET covered extensively in an article in the Spring of 2018. The headset was supposed to deliver a dual AR and Virtual Reality (VR) experience with an 8K display for each eye. One year earlier, Bloomberg had written along the same lines about project T288 but only referring to having AR capabilities.

Going through Apple’s patents, hires and acquisition, it would be hard to believe AR and VR aren’t at least a hobby in Cupertino.

AR: The Long Game

Over the past couple of years, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has been very vocal about the opportunity that augmented reality brings to consumers; an opportunity that he deems much bigger than VR mostly because of the pervasiveness of the use cases both among consumer and enterprises.

While the industry is still touting the success of Pokémon Go, the reality is that from a technology point of view, AR is still a long way away from delivering a truly immersive experience. Even early 2020 seems like an optimistic timeframe.

More importantly, I believe that for AR to truly take off, consumers’ acceptance needs to grow exponentially compared to where we are today. What is deemed acceptable in the outside world, or in any space that is shared with strangers is very different from what we feel comfortable doing in the safety of our own home. Just look at how consumers react to digital assistants in the home and outside the home, and the difference in uptake on something that compared to AR is quite simple.

Aiming for a set of glasses that can be comfortably worn for an extended period of times in different environment and light conditions clearly poses some challenges. From the correlation between power efficiency to weight, to the size of the field of view and an aesthetically pleasing design.

The other aspect that we have to worry about with a more widespread use of AR through glasses rather than phones is how laws and regulations will decide to deal with it. Will it be illegal to walk or drive using AR glasses? Will people be concerned about privacy? We have seen similar concerns with Google Glass and Spectacles, with public places banning their use to safeguard customers’ privacy.

It seems to me that even if Apple had a technologically viable solution there are still many question marks that might have driven management to pause. At the end of the day without law and regulation falling into place, Tim Cook’s vision of AR to “amplify human connections” would not come to fruition.

VR: The Content Opportunity

Tim Cook’s view on VR’s potential is not as grandiose as AR, to say the least. At an event hosted by the University of Oxford in 2017, in response to a student’s question about what technologies would prove transformative Mr. Cook said that while he sees AR play a role in education, in consumer, in entertainment and in sport as well as in every business, he thought that VR could do cool niche things, but it will not have a profound impact in the same way AR can.

We are now almost two years on from that interview and while I don’t think Mr. Cook’s views might have drastically changed, Apple, as a company, is in a very different place. We are a couple of months away from the launch of Apple’s TV+ channel and with that the debut of its own content productions.

If I look at the content that was presented during the launch of TV+ I cannot help but think that with such a focus on storytelling, VR might turn out to be very good at making the audience appreciate those stories more and turning the audience from a passive one to an active one. Maybe the connections that are amplified here are not among humans like in the case of AR but those between content and the viewer. Think, for instance, at the opportunity to become a character in the story or to view the story from a specific perspective.

Delivering content in VR could help with differentiation both from competitors, possibly between platform if Apple ever decided to bring Apple TV+ to Windows or Android. VR content could also add to the return on investment to the content subscription by providing extra content without necessarily requiring a brand new investment in a separate production.

Outside of entertainment, I see both VR and AR play a role depending on the use cases. Education and business might want to leverage both, and I expect Apple to want to make both iPhone and iPads the best companions to either experience. From a cost perspective the flexibility for a school to maybe have a handful of headsets that create an experience that brings in tens of iPad and iPhones might be much more appealing to school districts at least as they figure out how to justify the investment and quantify the return on investment.

Ultimately, I have no idea whether or not Apple canceled its rumored glasses or if there were glasses in the first place. What I am arguing here is that if Apple wanted to play in both AR and VR, it might be beneficial to leverage VR as the company ramps up its video content offering. While it might not be profound in augmenting interpersonal connections, it might be profound in augmenting the revenue opportunity.

Towards a More Inclusive Work Environment Thanks to Tech

Last week Dell Technologies, in collaboration with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) published a report exploring how emerging technologies could impact the work environment over the next decade.

The report highlights four technological areas: Collaborative AI, Multimodal Interfaces, Secure Distributed Ledgers, and Extended Reality. There is no question that these areas will have a big impact on our future, both from a B2B and B2C perspective. The extent of the effect on your overall business will depend on the vertical a company is in, but the impact that some of these technologies will have on hiring, training, and collaboration will affect every business no matter what market you are in.

When I think about the workplace, there are two areas that, in my view, are not just ready for change, but they are long overdue for it: talent discovery and retention and collaboration.

Talent Discovery and Retention

Let’s start with how intelligence can fuel better talent discovery and skillset matching.

Today we still live in a world where white-collar positions are matched with candidates by a head hunter or a human resource manager. As much as candidates spend time writing about hobbies and activities in their cover letter, very little attention is paid to it as, for the longest time, the initial screening has been mostly based on education and career. More recently, however, as our lives become more public, thanks to social media, candidates have seen their digital life being brought to the interview table mostly to be used as a measure of their character.

There is no question in my mind that the current system to find and match talent to the job to be done is long overdue for a change. Technology has the potential to help drive that change if companies are genuinely open to thinking differently. Take gender, is it indispensable to know what gender your candidate is? In most cases, I would argue it is not. What about ethnicity? Certainly not. But what about diversity and inclusion I hear you say? This is precisely the point. If you designed an algorithm to look at what skills are needed for a job rather than the qualifications so that the first step in the process is a blind one you will already start to widen the initial pool compared to what we have today. In the 2030 example given in the report that process would be followed by an interview with the candidate in an extended reality environment where the candidate chose to depict themselves in whichever way they saw fit, making gender and ethnicity much more fluid concepts.

The big concern with using AI is algorithm bias. For instance, if you tried to create a model that helped you identify the key requirements for a doctor and you used photos that depicted doctors over the year you will probably think that wearing a white coat and being a white male are key required characteristics. Addressing bias in AI start with addressing bias in ourselves and in particular in the people who are responsible for creating the ML models. The concern around bias in AI, however, should not distract us from the fact that the current process lead by humans is often biased.

We have yet to fully understand how the data that we all make publicly available can be used to create a more comprehensive portrait of potential employees. Using data from our digital life can play a role in highlighting the skills we have but also what drives us. I was looking at my own digital footprint through my social media presence, and there is a lot that comes through that would not make it into my work resume. You can probably find that I have developed many work relationships that I maintained over the years, I juggle family life and work and the two often cross, I try and build other women up, I am a bit of a workaholic, and I have an expressive driver work personality. Other activities we do from gaming to sports, to what movies we like, the books we read might also become a data pool that helps paint a fuller picture of who we are and what we bring to the job and how we fit the company culture. The same data could also be used to increase employees’ retention and engagement by using drivers that match what they most care about.


The other aspect that I am personally excited about when it comes to work and technology is collaboration. The challenges that growing real estate costs or lack of family support for families with children or elderly parents are posing, as well as an attempt from companies to diversify talent pools means that the workplace is becoming more spread out in a mix of office based and remote based employees.

Technology can help bring people closer together even when they are not in the same location. It is early days for augmented reality, and all the demos seem to be more work than they are worth it, and we are a long way away from the cool holograms in sci-fi movies. Other technologies, however, such as voice over and real-time translation are already improving the level of collaboration by making the workplace more inclusive whether you have a disability or you have a multi-language team working together.

Personal relationships are the foundation of good business and most people, no matter what countries they are based in, will tell you that nothing replaced an excellent face to face interaction. Yet, when traveling to get together is not an option, we will be able to count on technology to bring us closer together. The market for collaboration software has been on the rise for quite some time and some are forecasting it to reach $60 billion by 2023. Just because we cannot be physically in the same room it does not mean we cannot collaborate in a natural and productive way.


When we talk about technology and work, the focus tends to be on many of the adverse effects people fear technology will have on their jobs. We often read about AI and automation taking our jobs, or we learn about the lack of skills the workforce will have in this new tech-driven world. Such a change will not come overnight. As much as the scenarios painted in the Future of Work report are exciting, they will be the result of a series of small steps taken over the next ten years. For both the positive and the negative, when we consider truly disrupting technologies such as AI, automation or crypto we get excited or concerned about what our world will be in ten years time and we do not look enough at how technology will change our world tomorrow and every day after that till we get to 2030. Futurists do their job in showing us what the future will be, technology companies do their job in making it a reality and us humans, being at work or at home, are ultimately the ones who will embrace or reject such change.


Bumble gives Power to Women in Dating but not to Founder in Business

This week Forbes published an exclusive investigation on Andrey Andreev and the work culture at dating company Badoo. If you are based in the US, you might not be as familiar with Badoo as you are with Tinder, but Badoo is a very popular dating app in Europe and Latin-America.  The investigation uncovered a culture of racism and sexism that former Badoo employees claim was coming from the top down despite founder Andrey Andreev denying any knowledge of wild parties and general inappropriate behavior, to put it mildly. Of course, this is not the first time we hear about wild behavior at a tech company, so in a way, this is not really news.

Badoo employes’ inappropriate behavior did not stop at parties offering drugs and sex. Jessica Powell, Badoo’s CMO between 2011 and 2012, told Forbes that misogynistic and racist behavior was routine. She was asked, “to act pretty for investors and make job candidates ‘horny’ to work for Badoo.” She also added that “female employees were routinely discussed in terms of their appearance.” Sadly, this is also not the first time we heard of misogynistic mindsets that shape apps and services in the dating world, like in the case of dating agent ViDA and the code of conduct that its founder promoted at every level of the organization.

So, if we heard it all before, why am I covering this? The article initially sparked my interest promptly moved me to a sense of aversion when I read that Andrey Andreev is behind Bumble the dating up that focuses on putting women first in dating. I had always linked Bumble to Whitney Wolfe Herd, the former Tinder co-founder who left the company after a sexual harassment case that was settled privately but that still ended in her losing her co-founder title.

It turns out Andreev was actually the one who approached Wolfe Herd with the idea for Bumble. He also put up the capital for the company, and he is still the majority owner. According to the article, he is far from being a silent partner, maintaining control of most operations in London despite Bumble being headquartered in Austin and keeping Wolfe Herd just a phone call away.

Hypocrisy or Need

Wolfe Herd might not have known the true colors of Andreev when she was first approached. What is puzzling to me is that Wolfe Herd told Forbes that she has never witnessed toxic behavior in the Badoo headquarters, and she stands firmly behind Andreev going as far as adding: “He’s become my family and one of my best friends.” Of course, everybody is innocent till proven guilty, but given the nature of Bumble, I would think one might want, at a minimum, to assure some due diligence.

Of course, Wolfe Herd owes a lot to Andreev and cutting ties now would have a significant business impact, but doesn’t Wolfe Herd owe something to Bumble supporters too? How can you advocate being about women empowerment when it comes to dating but decide to turn a blind eye to business practices that are, at the very least, condoned by your majority investor? Serena Williams, who was featured int Bumble’s Super Bowl commercial, might rethink her backing of what she thought was a female founder business who put women first. And Bumble users might decide they do not want to contribute to the financial gain of hypocritical leaders. I, for one, feel cheated after having praised Bumble efforts in the past.

Women Businesses and Women Investors

If we give Wolfe Herd the benefit of the doubt, we might also think that a female owner might be less likely to come with the same baggage, so why not look for an alternative? Maybe because it is easier said than done. Looking at headline statistics, for example, women own only 5 percent of tech startups, women hold just 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies, only 7 percent of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are women. Furthermore, like women across the board suffer from a pay gap, female founders receive less funding than their male counterparts. According to the Financial Times, in 2016, $58.2 billion worth of VC money went to companies with all-male founders. But last year, women got just $1.46 billion in VC money.

Of course, a female founder or CEO does not guarantee that the company will suffer no misogyny, racism, or other deplorable behavior, look at Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. But I would hope that if you are building a business centered on women in whichever aspect of their lives having women as a crucial part of the organization would, at a minimum, offer a higher degree of first-hand understanding.

Empowering Women it not the same as Monetizing from Women

The reality is, however, that these are businesses, not charities. As much as I would like to think that Bumble was really started because someone thought it was time women made the first move in dating the reality is much more mercenary than that. Andreev saw an opportunity to target those women who feel pressured or intimidated by men making the first move. Or maybe the opportunity was for men not wanting to feel the pressure of the first move. Either way, Bumble was more about an untapped market opportunity than about women empowerment.

Empowering women to make the first move in a dating app is important, but what would truly be revolutionary would be creating a business environment where women are paid the same as their male colleagues, where they feel free to speak up because they will be heard, supported, and lifted. This is what Wolfe Herd should aspire to do after this week’s revelations remembering that as Madeleine Albright once said: there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women

What Bill Gates’ Mea Culpa Says About Microsoft

This week, in an interview at venture firm Village Global, Bill Gates admitted that his biggest mistake was not to empower Windows to become what Android is today. More specifically, he said:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”

This is the first time Gates takes responsibility for not doing what was needed to be where Android is today. Over the years, the misstep was always associated with CEO Steve Ballmer and his dismissal of the impact that Apple’s iPhone will have on mobile computing. Hence why the most common commentary on this topic has always been that Microsoft missed mobile. They misjudged the importance that mobile phones will have in taking time away from PCs.

What transpires from this week’s comments is both a sharing of responsibility by Bill Gates, but most importantly, in my view, an admission to missing the opportunity to monetize from consumers not missing mobile.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Back in 2008, Microsoft’s revenue was still highly dependent on software license sales, as a letter to shareholders clearly outlines.

“Fiscal 2008 was a successful year for Microsoft that saw the company deliver outstanding financial results, introduce significant innovations across the breadth of our product portfolio, and make key investments that position the company for strong future growth.
Thanks to the continued success of our core Windows and Office businesses, and double-digit growth in all of our business groups, revenue jumped to $60.4 billion in fiscal 2008, an increase of 18 percent compared with the previous fiscal year.
Throughout fiscal 2008 we saw strong adoption of Windows Vista, which has sold more than 180 million licenses, and the 2007 Microsoft Office system, which has sold more than 120 million licenses. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 passed the 100 million mark for licenses sold and recorded more than $1 billion in revenue.”

Microsoft’s performance was linked primarily to the enterprise market and only indirectly to the consumer market. What I mean by this is that PC buyers were buying hardware that was running Windows they were not buying Windows. As a result, Microsoft saw consumers only as a dotted line to a license fee rather than a clear target audience.

It wasn’t Natural

With the rise of the iPhone and Android, Microsoft did not look at mobile in a conceptually different way from PCs. Mobile was just another “channel” for its license and software business. It certainly did not represent a new opportunity to rethink engagement with consumers so that “Windows was not just something they used, but something they loved” as Nadella said many years later. So, being where Android is today was not as natural as Bill Gates makes it sound because the battle strategy was fundamentally flawed.

Google had the foresight to appreciate the real impact that mobile will have on its core business and had the advantage of having a core business that was already centered on consumers. Going from Android as a vehicle for search and advertising to Android as a platform for all services was a natural progression for Google. If you look back at the initial priorities Google had with Android, it was clear that the goal was different than what Apple was doing with Apps. An app store was needed to compete with iOS, but it was not seen as a serious source of future revenue. Google services on phones provided that source through the engagement they drove. Engagement that in turn, benefitted the core business of search and advertising.

Restarting the Race

These reflections on past pivotal moments are very timely. In Cloud and AI, Google and Microsoft were let loose again after the safety car moved out of the way in the race. Both companies are addressing the enterprise with Cloud and AI, and Google is clearly keeping its investment in the consumer market albeit trying to distance the two so that it is clear the business models in these two areas are different.

What we have not seen with enough clarity is how Microsoft will use Cloud and AI to focus on consumers. Of course, there is Office 365, Surface and Xbox that are all relevant to consumers as well as enterprise. But I believe there is a much broader role Microsoft could play as the boundaries between work and home become more blurred. For more and more users, the devices, software, and services they use at work are also those they turn to in their private life. This means that there is a significant opportunity to use cloud and AI to make my overall experience better, use my data across the board to drive more value to me without indirectly monetizing from me. I would actually argue that done right, this value of added intelligence and data protection and privacy could provide a source of direct revenue in itself. Apple certainly believes that and as their core business is hardware and services that is where they aim to monetize.

Pondering on the whats and ifs of winning mobile seem somewhat irrelevant at a time when there are so many more technology touchpoints in our life. It also misses the point that the real target was winning consumers. Leveraging existing mobile platforms today to create synergies with the parts of the ecosystem, Microsoft controls could be beneficial enough to the business in itself. But to harvest such an opportunity, Microsoft must do something that seems to be more natural to them now than it ever was in the past: taking a human-centric approach whether that human is at the office or home.

Project Libra: Bringing Our Money Closer Together

On Tuesday, Facebook revealed its plans for the much-rumored cryptocurrency that came together under Project Libra. In a white paper, Libra explains its mission as a “simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.”

All the Right Steps, on the Surface

Reading through the white paper, I could not help but notice how Facebook masterfully ticked all the boxes that at least on the surface would ease concerns.

Governance – Libra will be governed by the Libra Association which is said to have 100 members by the time of its launch in mid-2020. Facebook is one of the founding members, and it will maintain a leadership role in 2019. The Libra Association is a non-profit membership organization headquartered in Geneva – nothing says banking and independence better than Switzerland!

Independence – Facebook created Calibra, a regulated subsidiary that will ensure separation between social media data and financial data.

From permissioned to permissionless – Libra will start with granting permission to someone to be a blockchain validator node, but the goal is to move to allow anyone who meets the technical requirements to be a validator. The set timeframe is five years from the launch of the Libra blockchain and ecosystem. In its early years, the founding members will be the validator nodes.

Despite all of this, it is clear that Facebook is not in the charity business and the driver behind Libra and Calibra is monetizing from commerce by empowering more transactions to go through Facebook. While they say Calibra and Facebook will keep data separate, one has to wonder in how many different ways Facebook will be able to influence people’s purchase through advertising. Also keeping data separate does not mean that there will be no learnings shared between the two companies. If you think I am too harsh, I have two words to say to you: Cambridge Analytica! By now, it is also clear that Facebook does not seem to learn from its mistakes, so my level of trust that there will be no cross-pollination between the two is very low. I also have very little confidence that Calibra will be in a position to make decisions that put users first and Facebook second. In this case, the word I have for you is Instagram!

Unsurprising Government Opposition

I am not the only skeptic, though! As soon as the Libra white paper was made public, the initiative was met with strong opposition both in the US and in Europe. This really should not come as a surprise to anyone given the current stand that governments on both continents have taken on big tech and Facebook in particular. The concerns seem to be multiple, according to Bloomberg.  The French Finance Minister is adamant that Libra cannot become a sovereign currency. The European Central Bank calls for keeping Libra at the highest standard of regulation. In the United States, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters asked Facebook to put Libra on pause while Congress and regulators get answers to their questions.

These concerns might touch on different aspects of the cryptocurrency project, but ultimately, they are all about one thing: power. Government officials and regulators are terrified at the idea that Facebook could become even more powerful than it is today.

Of course, power, coupled with a lack of regulations in an area that is the backbone of every capitalist economy is a huge threat to the current status quo and a significant risk for consumers.

Vulnerability is My Main Concern

My real concern about the Libra Project is the vulnerability of the audience it is aimed at. If we believe the problem statement in the white paper, Libra want to be a solution for the underserved:

“All over the world, people with less money pay more for financial services. Hard-earned income is eroded by fees, from remittances and wire costs to overdraft and ATM charges.”

I am sure that India will be a key market for Libra, given the high popularity of Facebook. India is not new to being targeted with payments solutions. Back in 2010/2011, when Nokia was still the market leader in the mobile phone market, a lot of attention and resources were put in using mobile payments and microfinancing to reach those mobile phone users who did not have access to formal lending institutions. Back then, it seemed like a no brainer that phones were the way forward: 850 million phone subscribers vs. 240 million bank account holders! The method, however, was not risk-free. Establishing both agent and customers authenticity was hard, technology issues, lack of regulations around privacy and an arduous process to follow when things went wrong, and one had to find someone accountable.

Relatable? It should be, as I believe some of the risks and concerns that we had with mobile payments and microfinancing are the same as I have with Libra, but on steroids. I say on steroids because the power and the “profit first” attitude shown by Facebook time and again amplify these risks. When you have little to no alternative, you are usually more accepting of the solution that is presented to you even when there is a risk. I am not often one to call for regulations but given where we are with social media because nobody paid enough attention along the way, it is clear to me that we cannot afford to do the same with Libra. Thinking we have time because we look at Bitcoin and see it has not scaled would be a big mistake and would totally underestimate the Facebook machine. Today, if I do not trust Facebook I can delete the app, deactivate my account, or simply never bother to use it, once I come to rely on Libra as the backbone of my finances switching off would not be crippling.

Recode’s CodeCon News Show Tech Still in Denial

Recode’s Code Conference is taking place this week is an annual appointment of the who’s who of tech with Kara Swisher, Peter Kafka, and crew. This year’s lineup includes talks with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Facebook executives Adam Mosseri and Andrew Bosworth, Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy, Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams, Netflix vice president of original content Cindy Holland, Russian Doll star Natasha Lyonne, and Medium CEO Ev Williams, to name a few.

There is still one day to go, but so far, one trend seems to come through: much of tech is still in denial about the issues tech and society are facing.

The Relationship Between Tech Companies and Government Sure Is Complicated

The past few months have seen the relationship between government and tech giants become much more complicated. From the call to breaking up Amazon, Google and Facebook, to antitrust probes and calls for regulations on AI, facial recognition, and more.

At Recode’s Code Conference speakers touched on many of these topics but gave little reassurance that they grasp the urgency needed to address some of these issues.

Instagram’s Adam Mosseri said that while splitting up Facebook and Instagram might make his life easier it is a terrible idea because splitting up the companies would make it exponentially more difficult to keep people safe especially for Instagram. He went on to say that more people are working on integrity and safety issues at Facebook than anybody who works at Instagram. This is not the first time the argument that size matters has been made. It seems disingenuous, though, not to point out that size matters also as a negative point. It is, in fact, the size and the reach Facebook has that makes it such an important platform to target for bad actors from election manipulation to hate speech. One could argue that a smaller company, while more limited in resources, would also limit the appeal.

AWS CEO, Andy Jassy, said he’d like to see federal regulation on how facial recognition technology should and should not be used. His eagerness, however, was driven by a concern that otherwise we would see 50 different laws in 50 different states. He also stated: “I strongly believe that just because the technology could be misused, doesn’t mean we should ban it and condemn it.” Amazon, as well as Salesforce and Microsoft, all faced employees’ criticism on their involvement in providing technologies to ICE and the US Custom and Border Protection Agency. At Codecon, immigrant advocacy organization RAICES accused tech companies of supporting Trump’s administration no Tolerance stand on immigration by making their technologies available to the agencies. While tech providers have been working with government agencies for years, the higher level of intricacies between privacy and civil liberties on the one hand and government interest on the other are raising the scrutiny, especially under the current administration.

Facebook to Reveal New Portal Devices

Talking about being in denial. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of AR/VR, told The Verge’s Casey Newton that the company has “lot more that we’re going to unveil later in this fall,” related to Portal, including “new form factors that we’re going to be shipping.” While no sales numbers were provided during the interview, Bosworth said that Portal’s sales were “very good.”

It is still unclear to me how Portal can be a long-term success for Facebook. The smart camera and smart sound that follow the subjects were probably the most significant appeal for Portal. Alexa built in added to the draw for those users who might have liked the technology but were not that keen at letting Facebook in their home.

I do wonder how long it will take both Amazon and Google to add similar technology to their screen-based devices and the impact that this will have on Facebook’s hardware. Both Amazon and Google scored better than Facebook did in our privacy and trust study signaling that consumers will have a higher propensity to let those brands in their home before they let Facebook in.

I am also not convinced that Facebook’s focus on human connection transfers from messenger to Portal. The kind of personal exchange that Portal is focusing on does not involve the same type of people we tend to engage with on Facebook Messenger. According to in 2018, Facebook Messenger had the second largest audience following WhatsApp. While heavily skewed to North American Facebook Messenger counted 1.3 billion users worldwide. Messenger proved to be a very effective marketing channel, which means that many of those interactions are between consumers and a brand or consumers and a bot.

While I understand how Portal offers the opportunity to create a more meaningful connection with users, I feel that Facebook is underestimating how much more cautious and irrational people become when we talk about privacy in the home. Ultimately, I do not see Facebook being able to deliver a differentiated smart home, assistant, or video chat service that will drive consumers to invest in their ecosystem over that of Amazon or Google.

We Are Trying Our Best, We Are Very Sorry

At the end of day one, Kara Swisher was asked if there was a thread transpiring from the interviews and she answered everybody was saying: “We are trying our best, we are very sorry.”

It is hard to take the act of contrition on display as genuine when so much is at stake with tech at the moment. YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked by Ina Fried, the chief technology correspondent at Axios: “I’m curious, are you really sorry for anything to the LGBTQ+ community, or are you just sorry that they were offended?” the almost 3 minutes long string of words which started with “I am really personally very sorry” was a non-answer to a straightforward question. Wojcicki pointed to overall improvements to hate speech that will benefit the LGBTQ+ community but really did not explain any of the thought processes behind the decision.

Unfortunately, Wojcicki is not alone when it comes to the leadership of tech giants lacking accountability and transparency. Some commentators say these issues are not black and white, which is true, but that should not stop us from trying to resolve them.

It seems to me that most tech companies are not even willing to admit there is an issue, which will make it impossible to find a solution. Wojcicki, for instance, was not even ready to acknowledge that social media platforms contribute to radicalization. In a refreshing twist of events, Twitter seemed more in touch with reality as top legal counsel Vijaya Gadde said: “I think that there is content on Twitter and every [social media] platform that contributes to radicalization, no doubt.”

I am an optimist, and I like to see the good in tech. I certainly don’t want to fix something that is not broken, and I worry about government intervention because of the lack of understanding of the world we leave in and the need to put their political agenda before us. That said, with the changes that technologies such as AI, ML, and 5G are bringing, it is time for big tech to step up their accountability, transparency, and ethics game. Whether you believe Voltaire or Spider-Man said it, it is never more on point than today: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Apple WWDC: Two Non-Announcements that Made News

Since Apple’s WWDC keynote on Monday, it has been fascinating to see how people reacted to two things in particular: the death of iTunes and mouse support for iPad. In a way these were non-announcements as neither of them was announced on stage and I put them together because in my mind these two are deeply rooted in legacy workflows and it seems that people’s feelings about both are quite polarized. On iTunes there is a camp feeling nostalgic and sad to see it go and one that wished its death was called much earlier. On mouse support for iPad there is a camp rejoicing for it as it brings the iPad closer to deliver a PC experience and there is one that sees this addition as a step back in allowing for new touch-first workflows. So which camp am I in?

iTunes Can Now Rest In Peace

The iTunes brands sure meant a lot for my generation. iTunes, and of course iPod, were the door into digital music so I can understand why so much of the WWDC press coverage focused on this. It is the end of an era, and the steps Apple took to transition the iTunes functionality reflect precisely where we are with content consumption.

iTunes has felt tired for a long time, and it also felt like it was trying to be too many things at once. Apple itself made fun of this second point on stage, announcing that they were adding calendar and email support to it before unveiling what they were really doing: splitting its functionality. For content, we now have three distinct apps: Apple Music, Apple TV, and Podcasts. These are the same apps we use on iOS, so it just makes sense to have consistency with the Mac, especially given the efforts around Project Catalyst, aka Marzipan. The change also reflects that music is no longer the only digital content people consume regularly. Personal content users had is not suffering from this change either, and it will be automatically transitioned in the apps that match the content type, so your music library will be in Apple Music and your movies in Apple TV.

iTunes was also how consumers synced their content and performed, but even this has changed for many consumers. If you have embraced iCloud, you have had little need for iTunes already. But if you have not transitioned to the cloud, you can still perform these tasks via Finder, which, if you think about it, is a much more logical place for this task.

Digital content has moved on, and so have we. I am thankful for the service iTunes provided, but I am glad to let it go.

To Mouse or not to Mouse, this is the Question!

This non-announcement is a little more complicated. At no point on stage, Apple referred to mouse support as a feature for iPad. Instead, Apple talked about an enhanced touch experience that would improve editing on iPad something that many users had been asking for. As someone who uses an iPad Pro as my primary computing device when I travel I can attest to how painful editing text can be. Apple also announced Desktop-browsing support for Safari, which basically means that while in iOS sites were defaulting to a mobile version and users could force the desktop version now iPadOS will be set up in the opposite way. This is a step that will improve workflows quite significantly for users.

So how do we get to mouse support? A developer noticed an accessibility feature in iOS13 that delivers Assistive Touch and the mouse target that replicates a finger touch and can navigate using Bluetooth and USB mice. This feature was already available in previous generations but has been optimized. iPad also got the newly introduced USB support for external storage, so I do wonder if the USB mouse support is part of the same release.

Of course, you can be a skeptic and say that Apple buried the feature not to admit that their stand on iPad and mouse has changed. When I look at some of the videos people, have posted on how this new mouse feature works and, more interestingly, when I read comments from regular users I can’t help but think that at least this version of mouse support is really what it says on the label: an accessibility feature. I say that because it is clearly not designed to replicate the traditional use of a mouse. Users will try and use it in that capacity, but I would guess the experience will be subpar to what it could be if Apple really decided to give iPad a mouse. It is not the first time that Apple changes its mind and markets the U-turn in such a way that you think it was always planned that way. I just don’t believe this is the case in this occasion.

From the short demo I had of the new gestures, it seemed to me that a lot of my pain points were addressed but I was curious to hear what people who downloaded the developer beta thought of it in comparison to this accessibility feature. One comment was particularly interesting to me:

Owen talks about the gestures being useful if you are typing on glass while the accessibility feature makes a difference when using a keyboard with your iPad. I find this interesting because it seems to align with Apple’s position on touch on the Mac. Apple has always said they do not believe in vertical touch. If your hands are on the keyboard, it is unnatural to reach out and touch the screen. I used to share that conviction when my primary devices were Macs and larger PCs, but I have come to use touch and keyboard a lot with my iPad because that is what I learned to do on my Surface. The reason why this is more natural to me than with a larger PCs is simply that both Surface Pro and iPad tend to be much closer to me than a regular PC making lifting my hand to touch the screen much more comfortable. As a matter of fact, I do not use the touchpad on the Surface Keyboard as much as I use it on a traditional notebook.

We are all a little different, and our workflows are all unique, even when we use the same apps. For me, what it really should boil down to, and I said this before, is whether the device fits your workflow. I admitted to my editing and browser pain with iPad Pro, pain that I endure because the return I get from being able to do everything I want with one device is enough of a driver for me. Am I happy that Apple is addressing my pain points with improved touch? Absolutely! Do I want a mouse? No, I don’t because if it were such a crucial part of my workflow, and the same goes for the keyboard, I would carry a Mac.

If you still think you cannot do real work on an iPad because of the lack of mouse support, I don’t think the iPad fits your workflows, and that’s ok. If you want to try and use the iPad and feel that you are compromising on user experience in such a way that the pain is more than the reward, then the iPad is also not for you, and that’s ok too. With Project Catalyst, it could be that some users for whom keyboard and mouse are essential might find that iOS-like apps on a Mac bring them closer to an iPad experience without compromising on their core needs. This is the beauty of being able to choose a tool that best fits your workflow, not the other way around.








PCs Are Changing Their Spots but not Learning New Tricks

I know, I mushed up two sayings trying to convey what I think is the biggest issue with current PCs: we still do the same things we used to do ten years ago. We might do them faster, and everywhere we want rather than slow and chained to our desk, but the way we do them has not really changed.

This is Computex week, so we have seen a long list of announcements coming out of the show in Taipei over the weekend all focused on PCs. We heard about new silicon platforms from AMD, Intel, Nvidia, original designs that sport dual screens like the ZenBook Pro Duo by Asus and new materials like the new wood-paneled Envi from HP as well as integrated 5G connectivity with Qualcomm and Lenovo’s Project Limitless. All very exciting developments for a market that has seen some new life injected into it. No matter which numbers you look at, PC sales have stabilized, and ASPs are growing.

Looking Beyond Hardware: Software First…

Nobody though, is talking about software yet. Even two weeks ago, when Lenovo introduced the prototype of the foldable Thinkpad, there was no talk about software. Software is, at the end of the day, what will empower users to take advantage of all these new designs and capabilities. Giving me the options to have a foldable screen or even two screens but not changing the way the underlying software and apps work will do very little to make me feel my investment –  which I am sure for some of these devices will not be insignificant – is worthwhile.

The burden of the platform is on Microsoft, and if we want to broaden the conversation to computing in general, on Google and Apple. And it has been fascinating to me how different platforms have dealt with apps thus far. In different ways, but I feel that both Microsoft and Google never really addressed the app ecosystem problem head-on. Microsoft focused on delivering great first-party apps but did not seem to put the same effort into engaging with developers to deliver exceptional experiences beyond gaming. Google also concentrated on great first party apps and worked on a cross-platform solution to make it easier for Chromebooks to leverage apps designed for Android which more often than not leads to just ok experiences but does not take apps to their full potential. Apple is in the process to give developers the option to leverage the work they put into iOS for MacOS, given that ecosystem never grew as far and wide.

Look back at your usage of both phones and PCs over the past ten years and see how much what we do with our phones has changed compared to what we do with our PCs. We might be taking our PCs with us everywhere and even have them connected, we might have added a little touch and pen support, but what we do with them has not changed much at all.

I strongly believe that for new form factors such as foldable and dual screens both OS and apps need to be redesigned from the ground up with the intent to make our workflows richer or easier.

… Intelligence Second

From a platform perspective, I expect Microsoft, Google, and Apple to deliver more all around intelligence too. While some brands have been talking about smart PCs, the focus so far has been on smart hardware rather than an intelligent experience at a workflow level. So for instance, a PC might change its security setting based on the WiFi that you connect it to or the privacy display might turn on when the camera detects a person next to you.

Intelligence in smartphones is more and more focusing on delivering a very personal and tailored experience across all the apps that we use, and I would love to see the same applied to computing.

The ability to use AI to understand the way I use my PC through the use of Microsoft Graph or Google Assistant and have my computer present apps in such a way as to facilitate my workflow and optimize the use of computing form factor and power could be a total game changer. Think about the routines you have set up with Alexa for your connected home and then think about how powerful it would be to set up routines on your PC based on usage. From simple things like pairing the apps you use for a specific task and presenting you with a screen that has them all ready for you as you start your task. Or delivering you the information you need before you look for it, like your calendar info when trying to schedule a meeting or the translation of a passage when reading something that has a foreign text in it. Do you think this is impossible? If you consider what Microsoft Office can deliver today with the smart editor in Word and design suggestions in PowerPoint or smart replies in Gmail you see we are well on our way. I just want a systemwide approach so that intelligence can really break free.

Demanding More

As much as our smartphones have become our first go to for many of our computing needs, most of us are still pretty consistent in turning to PCs for work. We might complain they are not as sexy as our phones and lag in some functionalities that we so much love in our phones like instant-on and battery life, but overall I think we have become quite resigned to accept things the way they are.

Microsoft and Google, and to a lesser extent, Apple, have added intelligence to their apps and services but that intelligence is not yet permeating from those first-party apps like Office and G Suite to cross apps experiences. Partly this can be explained by the fact that some of those services drive revenue and therefore intelligence is used as a differentiator, but partly I think today’s limitations are driven by the fact that AI is considered as differentiation in enterprise but not in the consumer space. So an enterprise that has access to the Microsoft Graph can deliver an intelligent workflow, assuming they care about user experience, but as a consumer, I am just not given the same level of access. This makes very little sense to me given how much more engagement platforms would be driving by opening up their AI capabilities to developers in a similar way they do with APIs. I bet consumers would even pay for that as the return would be evident to them and I do wonder if Google’s learnings on Android will result in a much more intelligent solution on Chromebooks.

Unless Microsoft, Google, and Apple recognize that PCs need to catch up with smartphones in the overall experience, they deliver and not just the features they offer, consumers will continue to see smartphones as a superior computing platform even with the physical limitation of their current form factors. Failing to address these shortcomings in a timely fashion leaves the PC market open to more disruption coming from AR and VR.

Make Digital Transformation about Your Business, not about Millennials

Millennials might be where your digital transformation journey starts, and their imminent control of the workforce might even put some pressure on your timing. Ultimately though, digital transformation should come from a more profound desire to look at your business processes and make them better, more efficient, more user-friendly.

Every presentation I see about digital transformation talks about talent shortage, which drives a highly competitive employment market and a stronger need to retain talent when you find it.

But what about the current workforce? A recent Gallup study showed that 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. If you are interested in knowing how much that costs in lost productivity, Gallup estimates a whopping $7 trillion! Eighteen percent of the employees are actively disengaged in their work and workplace, while 67% are “not engaged.” This means that the majority of the current workforce is indifferent to the organization they work in.

While the Gallup report goes on to talk about how performance review and better management can help change this, I would argue that digital transformation could alleviate if not eradicate such apathy at work.

Engagement Makes for Successful Consumer Brands….

Millennials are not the only employees who care about their job. They’re not the only employees who want to collaborate, feel rewarded for the work they do, and expect to have the right tool for the job. Gen Xers want many of the same things. And I will guess baby boomers did too.

The big difference between millennials and Gen Zers and previous generations is that technology is not foreign to them. And this is not just about devices; it is about applications as well. Over the years, people have been talking about consumerization of IT in many different ways, but it is fascinating to me, that the core of what a consumer business focuses on has never been brought to the enterprise. And that core is the drive for engagement.

If you talk to any consumer brand, engagement is what they strive for. If they have an engaged audience, they have an audience that will very likely be loyal and will generate them revenue. This can be the same in an enterprise where the final user of technology is indeed a consumer. So, why has that rarely been a focus in the enterprise? Maybe it is because someone’s job has never been seen as an engagement opportunity on tap that can be turned on and off. But how can you have high productivity with disengagement? And if you don’t have productivity, how can you run a successful business and have loyal employees? Gallup clearly shows how much money disengagement will cost you, but the impact goes deeper than that.

Multiple factors drive disengagement. But lack of the right tools, lack of data, lack of an understanding of what the business imperatives are as well as work processes that get in the way rather than facilitate someone’s task are probably the worst offenders.

…So Why is Consumerization Bad in Enterprise?

Consumerization of IT has always had a somewhat derogatory connotation. For many IT managers, consumerization meant providing devices and applications that were not designed for enterprises and therefore not as capable or as sophisticated and certainly not as secure as the tools that an enterprise would choose.

The reality, though, is quite different.

When you’re looking at critical devices that have been successful with consumers, such as smartphones, there’s not a lot of difference between a smartphone that I use for work and one that I use for personal use. Long gone are the days when we carried two phones, one for work and one for personal use. Security has been baked in at an acceptable level in many smartphone models because what consumers do today requires the kind of security that enterprises also demand.

When it comes to apps, consumerization takes a different meaning. It’s not just about security; it is about putting the user first and designing something that is above all user-friendly, because that user-friendliness will drive engagement. Design, however, has never been a priority for IT departments which is why at Citrix Synergy event in Atlanta, this week, it was fascinating for me to listen to how the new intelligent digital Workspace is delivering two essential components to driving successful digital transformation.

First, Workspace builds on your existing infrastructure but adds the support for micro-apps to a streamlined landing page that will allow enterprises to look at the current workflows and all the applications that are used to complete a task and intelligently streamline those processes and look at predictable steps in an efficient workflow. You can see how, when you add data-driven-intelligence, to this concept, enterprises could be able to deliver to employees a set of workflows that are, in reality, best practices catered to their specific needs. Imagine the impact that this approach could have on a new employee onboarding program, for instance. This idea takes a page out of the consumer book where more and more services and apps are using AI to delivered a personalized experience something that employees will come to expect in their work environment too.

The second key component that Citrix is also able to deliver is Citrix Analytics and specifically, being able to measure the performance of an app and the infrastructure around it as well as score employees’ user experience. This is a critical move in shifting the way enterprises should think about return on investment of initiatives aimed at improving employees’ TOMO and business efficiencies. More often than not, the way enterprises want to measure the return on investment is by measuring productivity improvements based on old parameters that are a misfit to the new tools. Mobile is an excellent example of this struggle. When the smartphone era started, IT struggled to measure the return on investment that a smartphone deployment would have on employees. Soft targets such as employee satisfaction, coming from being able to complete a task while away on business or being able to start the day on the long commute to the office, were hard to measure. It took years before enterprises began to see the value of higher engagement that mobile offered. Higher customer satisfaction, higher employee satisfaction driven by flexible hours and remote working..and the list goes on. Shifting the burden of the return on investment on the tool rather than the employee will help assure that enterprises will not just do lip service to transformation but really focus on improving workflows.

Employees are consumers of the technology as well as  customers of the IT department. The sooner enterprises start seeing them in that light, the easier it will be to put them first driving their engagement at work and making them the best evangelist for their brand.

Are We Paranoid about Digital Assistants in the Home?

Over the past few weeks, there have been different stories around digital assistants and eavesdropping, and about Alexa in particular. The microphones and cameras that are proliferating in our homes have been a concern since the inception of the connected home. Our concern with cameras and microphones does not start there though. People have been paranoid about those for years and went through the practice of putting tape on their camera and silencing their microphones. So much so that in 2019, the camera’s physical shutter has become an applauded feature of many enterprise notebooks.

When it comes to the home, our level of concern grows. Trying to think logically as to why that is the case might not be the best way to find an answer.

It Is not about Technology

I think that Amazon has been quite mindful, from the very beginning, about the level of trust that putting a device like an Echo in the home requires. Alexa’s blue lights were undoubtedly designed to increase our comfort level by signaling two quite subtle things: Alexa was hearing us, and Alexa was listening to us. Although it seems the same, these two are two separate things. Alexa must hear your voice, and Alexa is listening to what you say to act on your command after she hears the wakeword.

What I think is less clear to most consumers, is how Alexa and the cloud communicate and the link between what you say, what Alexa hears and what Alexa then hands over to the cloud to be processed. To get an answer, people continue to believe that Alexa listens, all the time. And therefore, Amazon does too!

This renewed attention to what digital assistants can hear in our homes was first driven by news that a group of Amazon employees and contractors are tasked with listening to Alexa’s recordings to transcribe them, annotate them and then feed them into the model to make Alexa smarter. Amazon responded to the article by explaining that only a small number of recordings is annotated and that employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the user or their account. All information is treated with high confidentiality with the use of multi-factor authentication and encryption. Amazon also gives users the option not to have their recording used to improve Alexa.

Using humans is not a practice limited to Amazon, both Apple and Google use similar methods. Apple reviews recording without personally identifiable information and stores them for six months tied to a random identifier. Google accesses some audio from its assistant, but it’s not associated with any personally identifiable information, and the audio is distorted, and the data is randomized.

Last week Geoffrey Fowler wrote an article for the Washington Post  discussing the finding of his recordings investigation. Every user can access those recordings through the Alexa app under the privacy settings, so I went to take a look at mine. I found that there were three categories of recordings:

  • Clear commands: Alexa set a timer, Alexa stop, Alexa play….
  • Unknown: where I usually found TV recordings that were mostly intellegibile
  • Audio was not intended for Alexa. This was by far the category that was most interesting as it involved random conversations around the house.

This last category is the one that I am sure most readers who use Echo devices would be creeped out about. Yet, in the review of my entire history, I did not find any snippets to be longer than a few seconds, certainly not enough to be meaningful. The most exciting revelation of this exercise was how many timers a human being can actually set thanks to Alexa with the implicit question of how this task was performed before we had Alexa!

It Might Be Meaningless Info, but It Is Still Info

In my case, the information was all meaningless, but to be honest, I do not think it is the value of the information that in this case should determine who gets to listen to it or gets to use it. It is fascinating, however, that in a study we, at Creative Strategies, ran in 2017 only 5% of the 800 American respondents said that privacy mattered in connected home devices. This compared to 60% who said smartphones and 30% who said PCs. If you think about it logically, on average, there is much more sensitive information on a smartphone or PC which fully explains our results.

So why the concern now? Because it is our home and we think our home is private by default, we even say “in the privacy of my own home.” So feeling like this is no longer the case because of technology is a compromise too many for some consumers. I think the same can be said about the concerns around the human component. Remember when you had to make calls using an operator who could listen to all your conversations? I don’t cause I was not alive then, but plenty of old movies have scenes like that. And what about every time you take a Lyft or an Uber, and they know your name and address. Or again, every time you have an inquiry with a service provider or a government official, and you have to share your social security number — all these examples of exchanges of relevant information. The difference here is that all those exchanges are informed.

Transparency and Controls

At the end of the day, as it is the case with all the data we generate, being social media, smart home, smart office, smartphones, PCs, we want to be aware information is being collected. On top of that, we want to be able to decide if we are happy with it or not and we also want to be able to change our mind about it. And finally, we want to make sure our data is secure and not misused.

Most brands give a good level of control to users. You can decide not to store your recordings and not to help improve their assistant. I also believe that as smart speaker, and smart homes, penetration grows and moves beyond early adopters a more precise explanation of what happens when you initiate a request with Alexa, the most used assistant in the home, would be beneficial. I know some people might want to suggest Alexa could add more warnings, so people are more aware of her presence. But it is a delicate balance Alexa needs to strike between making herself known and becoming a nuisance. I do wonder if Alexa having an “incognito” mode like what Google announced last week for search and maps could help her case.

I am sure we will see more experimentation in this area. We need to remember that for Amazon, a higher level of trust means higher engagement with Alexa which in turns drives more revenue. So even if you are more skeptical than I am about Amazon’s intent, I think you would agree with me that it does not make business sense not to strive for a high-level of trust.

Lastly, I also cannot help but think that what happened with Facebook has impacted consumers’ trust across the board and has put other brands under the microscope. The reality is that Amazon, Google, Apple and every other brand that “sells” you a smart device or a smart solution will need data about you to create such a thing. Data is what powers AI, so you first must decide if your data is a currency you are willing to spend to live a smart life and then you must decide who is worthy of it.

Privacy is Complicated

It has been a busy couple of weeks for privacy, and I am sure it will continue to be so for a while. We started last week with Mark Zuckerberg at F8 saying: “The future is private.” Then on Monday, at Microsoft Build, Satya Nadella said: “Privacy is a human right” echoing the words that Tim Cook at Apple has been using for quite some time. On Tuesday, at Google i/o, Sundar Pichai said that “Privacy and security are for everyone, not just a few.” Different pledges to offering more privacy and security to their users but also varying degrees of delivery.

Business Models and Core Competencies

Why all this focus on privacy now? We have to thank Facebook for it. Privacy has always been important, but the escalation we saw on both the amount of time tech companies address this topic and the amount of scrutiny they are under by government and regulators, which of course are intertwined, started with the Cambridge Analytica debacle.

The different responses tech companies have on privacy is highly dependent on their business model. It is the business model that created a split between Microsoft and Apple, who monetize from their products, on one side and Google and Facebook, who monetize from advertising, on the other. But this split seems to have been made less clear this week as Google’s focus on privacy materializes in concrete steps to give more control to users over their data.

As I was watching Sundar Pichai’s keynote, I commented


Pichai said on stage: “We always want to do more for users but do it with less data over time.” If you are skeptical about this, you can look at Google’s track record and see that they have changed their ways over time. In 2014, Google stopped tracking email content for ad targeting in the student version of Gmail. In 2016, they stopped scanning emails in Gmail before they hit the inbox and in 2017 they stopped doing so altogether. Of course, it would be disingenuous not to point out that the first two changes were in response to lawsuits, but the last one was driven by a business model change which generated from Google moving into the enterprise with G Suite.

Another point of confidence on my part comes from the core competence that Google has in AI. Pachai spoke about how AI plays a role in enhancing users’ privacy and then moved on to talk about federated learning. While federate learning is important and something that Google first talked about in 2017 I ultimately think what makes more of a difference is that their AI models have benefitted of vast amounts of data and they have learned what matter and what does not. They have also learned how to use data more efficiently. Put it this way it sounds a little bit less altruistic than depicted on stage, but the benefit to the consumer remains.

The rat and the dent

One criticism that has been made to Google after Tuesday’s keynote is that the added focus on privacy is putting the burden on the users rather than the responsibility on the services and tech that Google offers. It is up to the user to go and change the settings across Google’s apps so that their data is not tracked or stored. Credit to Google, they did make it easier than it currently is to go and find your settings and change them. But, even so, most users will not bother.

Most users won’t bother changing settings for two reasons. First, consumers see the value that Google having their data brings to their experience. Pichai even said it on stage: “data makes your experience better.” The other reason relates to something that Microsoft CVP Julia Liuson earlier in the week called the rat and the dent syndrome. If you have a dent on your phone, you are unlikely to do anything about it although you might be complaining about it all the time. But if you find a rat in your home, you will do something right away. I think lack of privacy for many consumers is a dent, not a rat. They complain about it, but when given a chance to do something about it they will likely pass at the opportunity especially if impacts their convenience.

It goes without saying that this dent syndrome favors Google as they provide the tools which make them compliant with regulations, but they are unlikely to see an impact on the level of data consumers will share. Of course, the dent can quickly turn into a rat, the moment you are caught doing something wrong and doing so intentionally, as the backlash towards Facebook has clearly illustrated.

Competitive Advantage

From a pure marketing perspective, it is clear to me that talking about privacy as a competitive advantage is going to be more complicated. The conversation might have to shift from “we care about your privacy” to explain why the business model a company is based on allows them to put privacy first for their customers but also how the same business models make it so that it is not possible to deliver that level of privacy to everybody. This is at the core of what Pichai had in his New York Times article this week:

“Privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services. Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.”

A statement that was aimed at Apple, the same way his keynote comment was:

“So far, we’ve talked about building a more helpful Google; it’s equally important to us that we do this for everyone, for everyone is a core philosophy for us at Google. That’s why from the earliest days, search works the same whether you’re a professor at Stanford or a student in rural Indonesia. It’s why we build affordable laptops for classrooms everywhere. And it’s why we care about the experience on low-cost phones in countries where users are just starting to come online, with the same passion as we do with premium phones.”

But helpful Google also fits well with their business model. Putting advertising aside for a moment, it is evident that if you are in the services business, you want to reach as many users as possible with your solutions which is what Google is doing. It will be interesting to see what changes will come from Apple’s move into services not as far as privacy as Apple already made it clear they will not track what you read or watch through their services, but as far as devices reach.

Business models also get caught up in doing good, being helpful, advocating for the people marketing message. Microsoft was the first brand strongly advocating for ethical AI and technology to empower all people. Google this week used similar talking points:

“And it goes beyond our products and services. It’s why we offer free training and tools to grow with Google, helping people grow their skills, find jobs, and build their businesses. And it’s how we develop our technology, ensuring the responsible development of AI, privacy, and security that works for everyone, and products that are accessible at their core. Let’s start with building AI for everyone.”

Yet both companies have faced criticism for providing their technology to governments and helping with surveillance of the very people they want their technology to help.

It is indeed complicated. When it comes to privacy, security, and ethics, between the black and white of right and wrong, there seem to be so many shades of gray that companies can use to position their business. Marketing aside, however, consumers’ decisions on who they trust will be driven by both rational and irrational components. The intent companies demonstrate putting the users first or slipping on their promise, as well as the value that consumers get from the technology and services these companies provide will both play a role in who they trust.

Apple and Parental Control Apps

On Friday the New York Times published an article on Apple and how the company was cracking down on parental control apps because they want to limit competition to lead users to their Screen Time solution. The article also puts forward a theory that the much more permissive nature of Screen Time does not drive less engagement with devices which is ultimately, according to the New York Times, not something Apple wants. So let’s start here with two points:

  • Screen Time is not monetized by Apple which makes it hard to talk about limiting apps in the App Store as an anti-competitive move. Apple is actually monetizing from these apps as they do for all apps in the store.
  • The argument about Apple not wanting users to spend less time with their device is also flawed. Both for the user and Apple, it is not about the time one spends with the device, but the level of engagement you have with the device. Someone spending two hours watching a movie bought from the TV app drives more value to Apple than someone spending eight hours chatting over Facebook messenger.

After the article was published, Apple clarified with a statement  that the reason why some parental control apps were taken down in the App Store was related to the use of Mobile Device Management (MDM). For those not working in a large corporate environment, MDM is a solution widely used by IT departments to control and manage employees’ devices. The level of access these tools give an IT department is deep and broad, but it is about the assets, not the users. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history.

Because of this level of access, Apple started to look into MDM use in consumer apps and updated its guidelines in mid-2017. Here is what Apple said:

“MDM does have legitimate uses. Businesses will sometimes install MDM on enterprise devices to keep better control over proprietary data and hardware. But it is incredibly risky—and a clear violation of App Store policies—for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device. Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user’s device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes.
Parents shouldn’t have to trade their fears of their children’s device usage for risks to privacy and security, and the App Store should not be a platform to force this choice. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device.”

As a parent, this last sentence is key to the argument. No one, except the father of my child and me, should have such a level of access to my child through its device. And with MDM that access extends to the developer as well. This is very different from the IT manager in an organization who has been trained, vetted and is kept in check by the organization whose interest is to have access to the company assets and data, not personal data. As a matter of fact, there are many warnings about not letting MDM tools on personal devices as those cease to be yours and become basically a company device when it comes to what you can and cannot access.

Let me be clear; the point is not about me, as a parent, judging other parents using these apps. As a parent I know we are all as different as our kids and situations are. The point is about me being concerned about how these apps could be misused directly or indirectly without parents knowing about it. In the spirit of all situations being different and unique, I also cannot help but think that some cases don’t necessarily fit into a “happy family” scenario creating complexity on how the data could be used and manipulated by one of the parents. What if you are in an abusive environment and you use Whatsapp to communicate, and that is taken away from you because the app is disabled? You might think I am paranoid, but sadly there are realities like this and not considering this scenario would be irresponsible. So I welcome Apple’s decision to take a more cautious approach and work with these developers to find alternatives that while possibly giving less control to the parents are also keeping the safety and the security of the kids in mind. Mute, one of the apps covered in the TechCrunch story announcing its shutdown actually worked with Apple following the publication of the article, and as a result, the app is still available in the store.

Room for Improvement

The fact that Apple had been reassessing parental control apps first surfaced about five months ago in a TechCrunch article in which the author is also questioning Apple’s decision in relation to the launch of Screen Time. It seems to me that aside from a higher level of scrutiny on Apple and the current argument that the App Store is anti-competitive in nature, there is a lack of understanding on what the developers’ guidelines are and we only hear about them when something happens.

In this case, not all apps seemed to have infringed on one specific rule but a variety of rules from background location tracking to having an app regulate another app and the use of MDM. This makes it look like Apple is cracking down on parental control apps across the board using a selection of different rules.

I think it is fair to assume that the App Store would have seen an increase in parental control apps as the focus on screen addiction grew. It is also reasonable to think that this might have happened around the time Screen Time on iOS and Digital Wellbeing on Android were released. Apple updated its guidelines, but as it is often the case, this did not make news as it impacts developers and not consumers. I would argue, that given the sensitive nature of the apps, Apple could have provided some context maybe on its newly designed page for families  to help parents figure out what tools to use as well as highlight how the decisions are linked to security and privacy.

Being a parent in this day and age is not easy, but I said this before and will continue to do so: technology should help us do our job, but it should not do our job for us. This is maybe why when other parents ask me for a recommendation of what tools or approach to use to manage their kids’ tech usage I am always hesitant. What works for me might not work for someone else, and this is true about what tech my kid is allowed as well as what book she can read, a movie she can watch or music she can listen to. I wish something as simple as age could help, but even that is an arbitrary measure that assumes all, say, 11-year-olds have the same level of maturity to understand or experience something. So age is far from the only yardstick we should use before applying our judgment, and we can’t expect any one app to replace our role as engaged parents.

Samsung Galaxy Fold: A Pragmatic Take

The last ten days sure feel like a whirlwind for the Samsung Galaxy Fold. We went through the excitement and trepidation of the “first look” reviews the morning on the 15th, to a handful of screen issues with early reviewers, ending with Samsung releasing a statement on Monday the 22nd saying the product availability will be delayed so they can run further testing and make adjustments to guarantee the best user experience to customers.

As I watched all of this unfold, I was fascinated by the side conversations that took place on social media from the inevitable Samsung vs. Apple comparisons, to questioning how reviewers do their job, to assuming Samsung just rushed the product to market.

Let’s start with the actual product.

My Unit Was Fine, but Does it Even Matter?

Putting things into context matters. There were a handful of reviewers who reported issues, but the conversation quickly became about “many reviewers” or “most reviewers.” I have not seen an official number from Samsung as to how many units were handed out, but some press mentioned it was under 100 units. The number matters not because it determines the course of action Samsung should have taken, but because it is a good context to have before one can talk about an intentional oversight by Samsung who would have pushed through with the release had the reporters not flagged the issue as some of the comments have done.

Even a single issue should be investigated when you are releasing a new product that is enabling a new category. This on top of the cost of the Galaxy Fold makes it paramount for Samsung to bring to market the best possible solution current technology permits. And this is what Samsung is doing by delaying the release of the Galaxy Fold and retrieving – not recalling – all units that were out on a short-term loan. I would expect that new devices, with an updated design and packaging, will be handed it out before the new release date.

As I mentioned, my unit did not give me any issues, and I used it with the same level of care, or lack thereof, I have for other phones. Following Samsung’s official statement on the now three reported incidents that were not linked to the removal of the screen protective layer, it seems that the phones suffered from damage caused by substances making their way under the protective screen layer. If this is correct it appears that Samsung will mostly address two aspects of the current design:

–    Pushing the protective layer all the way to the bezel of the phone so it could not be removed

–    Seal the current opening at the top and bottom of the hinge so that no substances can get under the screen.

While the product will look slightly different from what I tried over the past week, I do not expect the core of the experience to be different as the Galaxy Fold was a finished and well-thought-out first-generation product.

 What Does the Delay Mean for Samsung?

I have been saying from the very first time the Galaxy Fold concept was introduced that the actual device would not be for everyone. The Galaxy Fold certainly is not for a consumer looking for a smartphone. Of course, you say, who would spend $2,000 for a phone? But looking at this product only in relation to price is not the right approach. If you are looking for a phone, the Galaxy Fold will over-serve you in a way that will make the device seem inadequate as a phone. It’s like buying a Ferrari to drive the kids to school in the morning when you live three blocks away. You will complain about the price, the insurance, the compromise you are making because ultimately it is not the right car for the job.

Some of the reviews and the comments I read looked at the Galaxy Fold like another smartphone when it is not. Yes, all the core functionalities of a phone are there, but the two screens have to be discovered and embraced to figure out how your day to day usage changes. In many ways, my experience reminded me of my first iPad when I was not quite sure how I would use it differently than my iPhone, but I knew I wanted one and I was willing to invest time in finding out what it could do for me.

I do believe this is a short delay and Samsung will likely do a relaunch of the Fold when it ships. From an availability, perspective timing might be impacted by the release of the Galaxy S10 5G in the US next month. Samsung might want to have one device at the time hitting the stores. As far as an impact on sales and financials, I was not expecting the Galaxy Fold to have a major impact on either given units sales will be limited. In that respect, the Galaxy S10 5G will have a much more significant role to play.

What Does the Delay Mean for the Category?

Starting a new category is always hard, and one can’t deny that the past week has not helped convince skeptics that foldable displays could take smartphones to a new level by changing the way we interact with them. Often with technology, first-generation products are not perfect; there are many we can point to over the years. When new tech brings about a new category of products things get more complicated as the appeal might be limited while consumers are figuring out whether or not the product is for them.

Reading those reviews that looked beyond the screen issues as the authors used the Galaxy Fold to discover what they could do differently with it, there was a feeling that the category is promising more than just a larger screen and users were curious to explore that further. Using the Galaxy Fold in public got me more attention than I wanted from people inside and outside tech in different age and gender brackets. This sense of curiosity will remain past this week, but I believe Samsung will have to tell a better story around both the device and the technology. Technology enables a category, but storytelling brings it to life. I truly believe this was missing from Samsung’s launch. More focus should have been put on how foldable screens are by nature less resilient than what we have grown accustomed to, but that is not a compromise; it is just a necessary step to move forward.

What Does the Conversation Say About Consumers and Tech?

As news hit the wires about the Galaxy Fold issues and the availability delay there were a few themes that transpired from the conversation on social media.

It is still very much a Samsung vs. iPhone world. Much of the conversation was dominated by iPhone users who assumed the Galaxy Fold was rushed to market and it is not a product anyone needs. Such rushed judgment ignores how many years Samsung has been developing display technology including flexible displays. I remember seeing my first prototype in Seoul over ten years ago. As far as consumers’ wants and needs I am sure many will remember one of Steve Jobs’ favorite quotes from Henry Ford: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me:  a faster horse” and Jobs added “ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” On this very point is where storytelling comes in and where Apple is still way better than Samsung.

There is no more patience, or people forgot how we got to the latest version of whatever smartphone model they might be using. Saying Samsung should have waited for a glass solution for its display is like saying we should forget about Tesla Autopilot till we get to fully autonomous cars in ten years or so.

People seem to see the worse in tech with some even questioning the reviewers themselves and their own desire for new devices. It was interesting how many jumped to the conclusion that Samsung was aware of the design issue. Considering the improved QA process Samsung set in place after the Note 7 incident, it is unrealistic to think the company would jeopardize its reputation and a market growth opportunity by rushing a product to market. A more plausible theory could be that the testing process, as rigorous as it might have been, did not consider real-life scenarios because of the very nature of a lab environment. Not that different from a new keyboard design that is impacted by substances entering the mechanism.

Finally, there is an almost morbid fascination with failure over success, and I am pretty sure this is just the very nature of social media.

I look forward to the Galaxy Fold starting to ship and for other brands like Huawei, Motorola, and TCL  to bring their take on this category reimagining our relationship with our most loved device.

Why is Everybody Getting into Wireless Earbuds?

In just over a week we have heard rumors that both Amazon and Microsoft Surface might be bringing wireless earbuds to the market. This should be no surprise to anyone, but not for the reason that most highlight which is: wanting into some of Apple’s action with AirPods.

There is no question about Apple’s success with AirPods. Apple managed to get AirPods across gender, age, and even income level despite their price point not putting them in the “most affordable” category. The experience is described by many as magical. In a study, we, at Creative Strategies, conducted with Experian when AirPods first came out, customer satisfaction was the highest for a new product from Apple. 98% of AirPods owners said they were very satisfied or satisfied. Remarkably, 82% said they were very satisfied. By comparison, when the iPhone came out in 2007, it held a 92% customer satisfaction level, iPad in 2010 had 92%, and Apple Watch in 2015 had 97%.

Assuming Microsoft and Amazon are just after the revenue that a good set of wireless earbuds could generate is a little shortsighted.

Voice and Ears

Ambient computing and voice-first are certainly big drivers for both Microsoft and Amazon. As computing power is spread out across devices and digital assistants are helping to bridge our experience across them, voice has grown in importance as an interface. Many consumers are, however, less comfortable shouting commands across a room or speaking to technology outside the “safety” of their own home. As voice moves into the office, the need and desire to be able to speak quietly to an assistant and hear it back is even more evident.

Wireless earbuds that can be worn comfortably throughout the day allow us to build a better relationship with our assistants and, even more so, build our reliance. Interestingly, I would argue, this is where AirPods have not been as successful as Apple might have hoped for but certainly, through no fault of their own but more due to some limitations Siri has.

For both Alexa and Cortana, who do not have a smartphone they can call their own home, wireless earbuds are a great way to be with a user in a more direct and personal way rather than being relegated into an app. As I often say, this is not about consumers having only one assistant but making the assistant they use more often more intelligent and therefore creating a vicious circle: the more I use it, the more it gets better, the more I want to use it.

Eyes and Ears

Aside from voice and ambient computing, another trend that will benefit wireless earbuds is augmented reality. Starting with phones, consumers can build on the habit of wearing wireless earbuds while consuming information through their phones. Creating a habit and making wearing wireless earbuds natural rather than bearing the stigma that Bluetooth headsets had when they first came to market.

In a non-distant future, as we see more use cases focusing on displaying information across apps and we will move from phones to glasses, wireless earbuds will play an even more critical role in our augmented reality experience.

No Longer an Accessory

Whether they are critical to our relationship with a digital assistant or they help us immerse in an augmented reality experience, what is clear is that headsets overall are no longer an accessory but a device in their own right that for many vendors will grow into a platform.

Sensors already allowed headsets, whether buds, over the ear or on the ear to become smart to improve user experience, like when detecting if you are wearing them or not to determine if you want to pick up an incoming call from the phone or the headset. Plantronics and Jabra have had these kinds of features for years. Improvements in miniaturization added functionalities that turned some earbuds into wearables, or hearables devices, if you prefer. Devices that can track full workouts like the Bragi Dash. Considering the great work Microsoft had done with Band (not so much on the hardware but capabilities) they could even think beyond Cortana and leverage some of that know-how to deliver a fully-fledged hearable solution increasing stickiness and return on investment.

I would not be surprised if Apple considered the role AirPods or Power Beats Pro could play as a wearable device as an alternative to Apple Watch for those users who do not want to wear a watch but are interested in fitness tracking. I would also expect Samsung to consider a “sport” or “active” version of their Galaxy Buds to cater to a similar market.


AirPods have certainly become the benchmark for wireless earbuds in the same way iPhone has been the benchmark in the smartphone market. The “AirPods killer” is the earbuds’ version of the “iPhone killer” in the smartphone segment. Yet, I find that when it comes to wireless earbuds, there is much more dynamism in what brands can deliver and how they differentiate building on what their core competencies are, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will make it harder to compare like for like.

Will My Data Be the Ultimate Ecosystem Lock-in?

Last week I wrote about how it has never been easier to switch from an iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy S10+  and, you can imagine, my positioned generated quite a bit of dialogue from both camps. I had readers pointing out that Samsung has been ahead of Apple in several big tech trends over the years. I also had readers highlight how giving up on the iPhone would mean giving up on the whole Apple ecosystem. Depending on where you sit there are points to be made defending either side of the argument.

As I was reading through those comments, it became apparent to me that we are now at a point in the market where you have users who still see smartphones as their only device and users who view their smartphone play an essential role in a portfolio of devices on which they rely on in different ways throughout their day. The latter kind of user is usually an early adopter who sees the smartphone as the glue that keeps that portfolio of products together without being the most crucial piece of the puzzle at every moment in time. These are users who are happy to go for a run with their wearable or ask their smart speaker about their upcoming appointments without feeling the need to always reach for their smartphone first. Depending which group you belong to you might find it easier or harder to switch your phone.

The Shift from Apps to Services

The market has changed a lot from when smartphones first got in our pockets. After bringing us apps, smartphones took time away from other devices we had been using to become our one-stop shop for all our computing needs, from connecting to the internet, taking pictures, listening to music, watching videos, making payments and the list goes on. Over the past couple of years, although on average, we still spend most of our time on a smartphone we have also come to share more of our computing needs across other devices.

More importantly, many of those apps that made the smartphone the device we came to love more than any other device in our lives became full-fledged services across devices and often across ecosystems. This is what makes moving from one ecosystem to another much easier than it used to be, as most services offer a parity of features and experiences no matter what they run on. At the end of the day users are what they want and they will take them wherever they are. Ecosystem owners are well aware of this, which is why we have seen an increase in the number of “services” that they provide directly through hardware they often brand and control. I put services in quotation marks because what they deliver is not always a service in the sense of something you can subscribe to but more in the sense of offering a helping hand in an area, we, as users, need. Digital Assistants are an excellent example of a service that we do not subscribe to, but that is in effect a service aimed at providing assistance throughout our day. AI infused Microsoft Office, or Google G Suite are another excellent example of a service, in this case, a service, AI, within a service.

The importance of these services has become such that we carefully consider what we give up when we move from one ecosystem to another as some of these, due to the provider’s business model, are not available on other platforms, or they deliver a sub-par experience.

Addressing Pain Points Creates Stickiness

The more we use these services, the more information we give away. This is valuable information for the service provider because, even when they do not directly monetize from it, it helps them improve their services in such a way that draws us in even more creating a vicious circle.

What has been fascinating for me to watch, has been seeing ecosystem owners move beyond services that are directly related to their core business and start offering services that are addressing pain points in areas where technology has yet to play a significant role.

Amazon is doing it with brick and mortar retail, Google with Photos and Apple has been particularly aggressive in doing so in health and banking. When you enter areas that are so personal and sensitive as health and banking, and you can offer a service that puts the user first, you could enter a new level of loyalty that transcends hardware.

It used to be that Apple’s software and services added value to the hardware. You bought the hardware and that software and services added value to it which helped justify the financial investment you were making on a product that others often had on the market for less.

As Apple moves into more life-critical services like banking and health that they can monetize directly or indirectly, the value must be found in the service itself which will raise the bar for what Apple delivers. If we add the fact that these services will use some of the most personal data a user can generate, data they trust Apple to keep both private and secure, it is hard to think that a user will move gingerly away from the hardware that hosts such services.

Are we moving to an offering where iOS users no longer pick Apple hardware because of the hardware, but they subscribe to services despite the hardware not being the best option in the market? One might argue that this would not be the first time, that iTunes and iPods are an example of the priority users put on the service back when we did not have smartphones. What is different now is that we are dealing with much more important data than our music collection. While our experience might be best on Apple hardware, the very nature of the data linked to these services will drive our need always to want access to it no matter the hardware and ecosystem. After all who can control what hardware their doctor or bank is using?  If you agree with me that this is a possibility, then it is easy to see how for some services it is not a case of Apple making them available on other platforms to be successful. Instead, Apple must make it possible for users to access the data behind such services anytime anywhere for the user who will become loyal to Apple, not Apple’s hardware.

The Grass is the Greenest it Has Ever Been

I make no secret that I have been using an iPhone as my primary phone since 2007. As an analyst, I have to try different products in all kind of categories including phones, which means I have been using Android phones as well as what has come before from Windows Phone to PalmOS and every flavor of feature-phone before then. No matter what phone I tried, however, my trials end up with me going back to the iPhone. There are two main reasons for doing that: one is that I prefer the UX and the second is that the value in using devices across the Apple ecosystem is much more evident to me.

In February, I got the Samsung Galaxy 10+ to test, and I was expecting to follow a similar pattern to previous Samsung’s phones trials, which is that I love the design and the way they fit in my small hands, I like the camera, but ultimately I am overwhelmed by the UX. What ended up happening instead, is that I am still using the phone and I have seriously thought about making the switch. So here is what has changed and what is holding me back.

A Cloud World

Maybe it is the maturity of the smartphone market, which has led to app parity for the most part. Or perhaps it is the fact that even in a home like ours that has more Apple devices than any other brand we have happily let other ecosystems come in and take a slice of our time and money pie. Or maybe it is the combination of the two that helps consumers move from device to device more easily. Of course, there are hardware differences and some proprietary apps or features all across the various ecosystems and differences in how brands approach privacy, but the point, I think, is that with services and apps that go across devices thanks to the cloud moving across ecosystem is more comfortable than it has ever been.

Ultimately this is why I think Apple is doubling down on services. Yes, they will get an extra revenue source, but more importantly, they will create more stickiness to their ecosystem which will lead consumers to think twice before moving on. While using the Galaxy S10+, for instance, I was quite happy to move from CarPlay to Android Auto and have Google Assistant promptly bring up whatever song I wanted from Apple Music while I was driving, but unable to play my Playlists even when they are available in iCloud.

Two Things Are Holding Me Back

There were two things that I particularly missed when using the Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy Watch Active, and both are not out of reach for Samsung.

The first thing I missed while using the Samsung Galaxy S10+ was iMessage. It is not about the green and blue bubble, nor it is about saving on text messages. What I missed was the ability to send a message from any device I was on as I usually do making iMessage a core part of how I communicate at work. Unfortunately, while Windows 10 has made some progress in supporting text messaging across Android the experience is just not as fluid. I hope that Samsung will spend some time creating a better-optimized app that goes across their phones, tablets and Windows PCs. I do wonder how many iPhone users will consider a move to Android if iMessage were available as a cross-platform app. While there are other apps that I use to talk to people iMessage is by far what I rely on every day.

The second thing I missed was the deep integration that comes from controlling all the pieces of the experience. The best example possibly being the vibration the Apple Watch gives out when you are using Apple Maps directions, and you should be taking a turn. I prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps, but as Google has given up on designing an Apple Watch app, I end up using Apple Maps when I drive. With the Galaxy Watch Active, which I see as the best alternative to Apple Watch in the market today, I missed that gentle tapping, a feature that might be hard to implement due to the combination of the watch running on Tizen and Samsung not controlling the experience on the Google Maps side.

As you can see, both my examples have little to do with Samsung’s hardware and a lot to do with the limitations Samsung is facing because they are not controlling all aspects of my experience.

More Confidence, not Technology Would Make Samsung’s Devices More Desirable

Aside from not being able to control the full experience, I also noticed that the options that are available on Samsung’s devices are just too many. Yes, there is such a thing as too many choices. Especially for consumers coming to Samsung from iOS, I think the available range of options can be overwhelming. In a way, consumers on iOS are used to Apple making decisions for them. When it comes to settings, users can, of course, change them but by and large, Apple is picking defaults that many users will never change mostly because of convenience or because they are not savvy enough to go and replace them. In most cases, Apple’s choice does not hinder user experience and simplifies things for the user.

It seems to me that Samsung has opted for the opposite and they believe there is value in giving users all the options there could be and let them figure it out. The new One UI helps by surfacing the most common use cases and settings, but you can easily find yourself three layers down in the options menu at any given turn. I am not sure if this broad set of options are the manifestation of a lack of confidence by Samsung, but I think that over the years their software implementation has improved and so is their understanding of what consumers want rather than what is technically possible so they could make those choices for their users. The camera UI is an excellent example of where Samsung has spent some time making decisions on default settings and leaving options to the more advanced users, but there is more room for simplifications in my view.

Making those decisions for consumers will also improve the cross-device experience that you will get from owning multiple Samsung devices. Samsung might be at a disadvantage because they are not controlling the underlying OS, but this disadvantage can turn to an advantage as consumers come to care more and more about an in-app experience and find best of breed products. In other words, if productivity is what I care about the most, I am likely to find a PC and phone combination that empowers me to be efficient, and this might mean that my two devices are not running on the same OS and are not part of the same ecosystem. The same can be said about gaming or media consumption. We have seen Samsung work with many partners to bring unique experiences to their products. I hope that such partnerships will extend to developers as well at the next SDC in the Fall. Pointing at the large installed base of devices that developers have access to is useful, but working with them to create better experiences is critical for developers and creates more stickiness for Samsung.

A Philosophical Take on Post Show-Time Apple

Apple’s Show-Time event on Monday sure was different from the Apple events I have been attending for over ten years. A lot has been written about each service and predictions have been made on whether they will be successful, and, as you can expect, I have my thoughts on that. In this column, however, I want to address three challenges or opportunities I believe these new services bring to Apple.

The Responsibility of Choosing

Most users of Apple products are used to the company deciding for them: whether we are talking about the right time of giving up the headphone jack or when they should get 5G. On Monday, however, Apple brought up the concept of “curated content” several times. This means that Apple is choosing what content to bring to you. With Apple Arcade, Apple is working with developers to bring you exclusive games as part as a subscription service. With Apple TV+, Apple is working with producers and writers to bring you exclusive content. And with Apple News+, Apple is bringing you news and stories they think are either great content or are the kind of articles you want to read.

For gaming and video what Apple decides for me will not have a material impact other than on my decision to subscribe to the service based on the quality and relevance of the content. With news, however, the effect that Apple’s curation might have is pretty significant. I trust Apple to keep my viewing data secure and I trust they will not be malicious about the content they will present to me. This does not mean I necessarily trust I will see everything I want or need to see. Curation does not mean that those articles that Apple highlights for me are the only articles I can read. Chances are, however, that most consumers will start and stop at the articles presented to them, more out of convenience than anything else.

Apple has, therefore, a great responsibility in both hiring editors and training its algorithms. Editors should be able to follow guidelines on what makes for best content based on anything that can be easily measured and assessed leaving no room for subjectivity. Similarly, the data used to train their models should truly reflect the reader’s preferences,  habits, interests and other data such as location.

All the good intentions in the world would not get Apple easily off the hook if consumers ever felt they did not get the full story with Apple News+.

The Risk of not Fully Controlling the Experience

Something else that was different at Monday’s event was that Apple did not control all the storytelling on stage. While I am sure everybody spoke from a pre-approved script, it was not Apple’s voice we heard. A long list of celebrities told Apple’s content story. Letting someone else tell their story, somewhat lowered Apple’s level of control.

Apple has different levels of control on the new services as well. Apple does not create every app in its app store, but they make the rules of the game, so in a way, they still control the experience, and this will certainly be the case with Apple Arcade.

With Apple Card, Apple is in control of what the card looks like both digitally and physically and how the AI-driven spending report is shown on your phone. But Apple is not in control of the approval process or any other banking aspect. It will be very interesting to see how smoothly the sign-up experience will be for users who might not have the perfect credit score. Also, is the fact that I can iMessage for support mean I should expect a level of service I get from the genius bar or a banking chatbot? Even if these are trained bank employees, I am sad to say customer service is not necessarily a strength that comes to mind when I think of my interactions with my bank. Even Amazon, which offers a Rewards Card with very favorable terms, must deal with very unsatisfied customers complaining about Chase, the card issuer and not Amazon.

When it comes to the production of their video content, there have been reports about Apple trying to control the process too much rather than letting the talent they hired to do their job. It was clear on Monday that Apple is selective about the topics they want to address with their creations. Ultimately, however, I am subscribing to Apple TV+ because I want to watch Oprah’s content, I want to be able to hear her voice loud and clear not one that is compromised by Cupertino’s interference. So while Apple may decide the type of content they want to air based on what fits with their brand and goal, it should not try to control the overall experience, or it would fail to deliver on the very promise they made of empowering storytelling.

The High-Bar of the Straight and Narrow

Over the past few months, Tim Cook has been very vocal about privacy being a human right and security being a core focus of Apple. On Monday, Apple took on even more of a role as a bastion of humanity by wanting for its users way more than privacy. Quality news, reporting, and writing, content that inspires us to think and learn as well as better financial health was how Apple talked about the new services. Apple is no charity, so of course, there is revenue potential in all these areas. To unlock such potential, Apple could have presented these services calling out ease of use, breadth, fun but they were very deliberate in what they highlighted. What Apple wants to deliver with these services reflects how I believe Tim Cook has earned respect and admiration across the company: morals and ethics, the legacy he wants to leave as a leader.

If you buy into what Apple is selling with these services, you are likely to keep Apple at a very high standard, and you will scrutinize their behavior more than you would that of a company for which you have low expectations, Facebook comes to mind.


The Apple I saw on stage at the Steve Job’s Theater was not a different company. I saw Apple’s core values and beliefs, its focus on elegance, ease of use, quality vs. quantity, and the power of a large installed base of users. I also saw a company that is entering new territory, at times with confidence and at times knowing they do not know it all and they cannot do it alone. And this is a good thing!

There is Still a Place in the Market for the iPad mini

It would seem counter-intuitive to think that there is still a place for the iPad mini when we have iPhones that have a screen as big as 6.5 inches. Yet, the iPad mini retains a loyal fan base thanks to its compact form factor. Since the arrival of the iPad mini back in 2012, some industry commentators tried to position it as the entry-level iPad, the first step into the product family that eventually grew to include the iPad Pro. Apple’s positioning and pricing made it clear, however, that the only thing that was “less” about the mini was its size. This latest update stays true to the successful formula adding Retina display and the A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine to the iPad mini basically giving it the same brain as the iPad Pro!

When the first iPad mini came out I tried it but then decided the larger size better fitted my workflow. The iPad for me has always been more than content consumption. This is especially true today with the 12.9” iPad Pro that I usually alternate with the Surface Pro as my primary computer when I travel, which is often. I had the opportunity to test the new iPad mini and it became obvious to me, very quickly, that the iPad mini is the perfect companion to my iPad Pro. Reading and taking notes in particular, really brought out the big advantage of the iPad mini form factor.

I can touch type on glass, which is my preferred way to take notes while in meetings because I do not like to have a barrier between myself and the other participants. The new Smart Keyboard design no longer allows for the wedge fold making typing on the glass more challenging. This meant that I started using Pencil more and given my appreciation for the Samsung Galaxy Note I went as far as writing about Why Apple should add Pencil Support for iPhone. The new iPad mini is probably as close as I am going to get to that dream for a while. The new Moleskine note-taking app called Flow that I had the opportunity to try, reminded me of writing on one of their notepads which were a crucial part of my travel equipment for so many years.

It is a shame that Apple did not add support for Pencil 2 for iPad mini. I do understand that the iPad mini cannot charge it and that Pencil pairs through the lightning port, but I am guessing that there would be a software workaround to the pairing and that you could have charged through your iPad Pro. This would have meant carrying only one Pencil rather than two.

Reading books is also great, going from reading on an iPad Pro 12.9” to an iPad Mini is like going from reading a large textbook to reading a paperback. You can do it for longer and more comfortably while maintaining the crisp screen quality.

I also had the opportunity to see the new Angry Birds AR in action, and I can see how the game will become as addictive as the original, if not more. The iPad mini gives you a larger field of view compared to an iPhone but retains high mobile making it very well suited for AR.

Of course, as a screen for video content, the iPad mini can also do the trick thanks to the updated Retina display. This makes it a timely upgrade for those consumers interested in the upcoming Apple video service. It will be interesting to see if Apple will run any special promotions bundling the new iPads both the iPad mini and the iPad Air with the video service. What is interesting to me, however, is that while Apple might be keen on providing more “screens” for consumers to enjoy the upcoming video streaming services, they are not sacrificing hardware value by lowering its price.

The iPad Portfolio

I read many comments that referred to the iPad line up as confusing, calling out the products for having a lot of overlap. The reality is that there are several ways to look at the new portfolio. You can look at all the iPads as one family. You can see the iPad Pro models as a continuation of the Mac line. You can also see the iPad (2018) as an education first device and the rest of the iPad portfolio as one. Finally, you could see the iPad mini as much of a standalone as the iPad Pro models. The bottom line is, whichever way you look at it, the products make perfect sense to address a potential market of users that go beyond the iPhone installed base. There are, in fact, many Android phone users have iPads making the addressable market for iPad particularly diverse.

The other important point to make, especially as people comment on the iPad mini pricing, is that there have always been cheaper tablets. Maybe there are less today than in the 2010-2012 period just because vendors could not sustain to be as aggressive while keeping up with the iPad’s feature sets. But, the price of an iPad, even more so than that of an iPhone, has a lot to do with the ecosystem of apps that are available. Apps that can turn the iPad hardware, that some in the Android camp could attempt to replicate, into a versatile computing platform that marries entertainment and productivity very well.

The Future

Apple kept the bezel-less design and Face ID exclusive to the iPad Pro family, but as those devices get new features, I do expect to see the bezel-less design trickle down into the portfolio. The lack of bezel on an iPad mini could potentially have it replace the 9.7” with the rest of the portfolio set on 10.5” and 12.9”. This would continue to please those users who love the smaller footprint while opening up the mini to a broader market.

The timing of these upgrades is no coincidence. Clearly, Apple is building a portfolio that has the broadest possible appeal in time for its video service launch. But to think that these devices have been created just for that is certainly a mistake. While the tablet market is dead the iPad market is alive and well and these new devices widen the opportunity while the rumored video and news services will certainly grow engagement even more.

Captain Marvel: Woman in the Workplace and Superhero

Last weekend, my daughter and I went to see Captain Marvel to soak in all the goodness of a badass female superhero. I had not read many reviews beforehand to avoid any spoilers but I was thoroughly briefed by the kid, who is a Marvel superfan, so I knew what to expect as far as how Captain Marvel fits into the Avengers’ story. I was also hopeful we would walk out of the theater feeling a similar sense of uplift we felt after watching Black Panther. What I was not expecting was to see so many parallels between Captain Marvel and women in business.

A stretch? Not really. Am I reading into things too much? Possibly, but I am betting many women will be able to relate and see the same things I saw. I’m not saying you have to be a  badass female superhero capable of superhuman feats to succeed in the biz/tech world, except that you do!

Listening to Your Emotions Has a Role to Play at Work

At the start of the movie, Vers (aka Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel) is seen training with Yon-Rogg, a Kree warrior who tells her that she needs to let her head lead her and not her heart. This message of not letting her emotions guide her is a recurrent theme in the movie and ultimately is brushed off by Captain Marvel embracing all her memories to find her power.

In my career, I have been told time and again that I am emotional, I show my feelings, I am too passionate, I have a short fuse. And I know I am not alone. Women are often labeled “emotional” because many men do not really know how to deal with their own emotional landscape let alone the thick thriving vibrant gardens that can be women. A woman arguing against the consensus or passionately selling an idea or position is labeled emotional or angry or excited or even crazy as the great Nike ad encourages us to be. Yet, a man showing his emotions through swearing, throwing things or raising his voice can be seen merely as disappointed or frustrated. I’d go as far as to say it’s been codified, in tech and out, as the cost of being a leader. The price of genius.  A guy who follows his gut is smart, daring, even ambitious. But a woman who follows her heart is often seen as irrational. Even if you do not follow tennis, you might have heard of heard of the Serena Williams incident at the US Open where a display of emotions that are usually ok for male tennis players was called into play.

But let’s forget for a second how biased the whole “emotionally charged” female portrayal is and look at the benefit of acknowledging your emotions rather than suppress them. There is, of course, a difference between recognizing and harnessing your feelings and just letting your emotions rule your judgment. Emotional Intelligence has grown in importance over the years so much as to be seen as a critical component for AI and Digital Assistants. But how can we get it right for the computing power to be when our workplace does not? Emotions are not a weakness and being able to recognize them in ourselves or others can help us be better at our job. This is particularly true in some line of business such as hospitality, care, teaching, creative professions like design but also extremely important in any leadership position. Every business should recognize emotional intelligence as a skill but tech as the responsibility to do so in order to avoid bringing today’s problems into tomorrow’s world.

Empowerment Does not Only Come from Others

Captain Marvel gets her power by accident, but despite her training with Yon-Rogg, she finds her full strength in herself by herself. It was not the training, and it was not the men or women in her life who give Captain Marvel her full powers. Her best friend does help her find her way, but ultimately, Carol finds her own strength by drawing from within.

When it comes to women at work, we often talk about mentors and supporters we talk about other people empowering us to be better, achieve more, go further. Less frequently we turn to ourselves for strength and skills and power. Hard not to think that it is likely because, just like Captain Marvel, we are often told not to be too confident because we become cocky, we are told not to raise our voice because we become hysterical and we are told we cannot have children and a career cause we cannot have it all. But what if instead of listening to the voices that tell us what we should not and cannot do we focused on what we know we can do? And what if we surround ourselves with positive influences that allow us to take the power we have within and turn it into something great?

We all Win When Women Support Women

Trusting more in yourself does not mean you should do it alone. Maria Rambeau is Carol Danvers’ best friend. She is a Black single mother who is a great fighter pilot and who is confident, self-aware and loyal. It is because Maria knows who she is that she can remind Carol of who she is. Ultimately it is Maria’s support that transforms Carol into Captain Marvel.

Women are still battling to be heard, be seen, be invited to the table even as the tables get bigger. Especially at the more senior level, being in tech or politics or, any other business, to be honest, there are so few opportunities that some feel the battle is not just with men but with other women. There is often criticism, lack of support, and lack of loyalty when it comes to women. I think this kind of attitude towards our fellow women is one of the reasons behind Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 Presidential Elections.

It is rare to witness a representation of the level of loyalty and support that Maria has for Carol and to see what that enables is certainly something we should try and replicate in our careers. Supporting, amplifying, encouraging, mentoring women is an excellent thing for all, for the one who give and those who receive. I have been lucky to have had male and female sponsors and mentors in my career and random women who shared pearls of wisdom over the years. There are plenty of women I look up to, and I always try and give back in any way I can. I am a little selfish of course because I am hoping to foster a wave of support that will mean by the time my daughter and her generation will get into the business world and they try and take a seat  at the proverbial table they won’t have to bring a folding chair ala Shirley Chisholm in 1972 but the will be invited, remunerated and advanced just like their male counterparts.


There were many magical moments in Captain Marvel, and as we often do, I did stop to think if maybe some aspects were a little over the top. Was she flying too high? Was she glowing too much? But my very wise little girl pointed out that Vision also flies, and Thor has glowing eyes, and yet I never said those were too much. Maybe I listened to my own voices over the years saying I should control my power, and I should be realistic about my career expectations and my life goals. But what if, instead, we embrace our inner Captain Marvel and go higher, further, faster, what then? When we build and create for those who come after us, the world we know is possible even if doesn’t exist yet.

Reflecting on #MWC19 Barcelona

I have been attending MWC since when it was called 3GSM, and over the years I have seen it evolve and transform to fit with the market and the reality that mobile had gone from being an after-thought to the trend that influences every aspect of our life.

Many announcements throughout the week already received a lot of coverage, so I wanted to share my thoughts on three aspects of MWC19 Barcelona that struck me.

The Past is Hindering the Future

After a couple of years when the attention shifted away from mobile phones, hardware was back on MWC main stage, thanks to both 5G and Foldables. The #5GisHere hashtag was everywhere at the show, and the launch of several 5G ready phones made it feel real.

Foldables were also everywhere either as finished products like the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold or as concepts like those shown by TCL.  CES sensation Royole was also in Barcelona to showcase its FlexPai. All in all, it felt good to see brands experimenting with different form factors after so many years of rectangular slabs.

As many debated whether or not these devices are a reality for 2019, I could not help but think that both 5G and Foldables, and the impact they could have, were hindered by how the past taught us to think of a phone. Let me explain.

With 5G, companies have been focusing on highlighting speed and lack of latency, using smartphones as the poster child of the technology. There is no question that 5G will improve our smartphone experience, but the reality is that 5G will enable a much broader set of use cases that will impact communication between devices not just between humans. This is the real promise of 5G for me, one that lands well beyond phones and that must be recognized to take full advantage of 5G. Of course, I am aware that those scenarios like connected cities, autonomous cars and so on are on a longer path and that the idea of a faster phone is so much easier to market. My concern is that unless we start to think about these possibilities and how adding connectivity to other devices impacts our phone usage or how the blurring of what is fixed and mobile connectivity impacts our expectations of when and how we want to be connected, carriers and service providers will run the risk to hinder uptake by pricing their service based on old parameters.

Foldables are not that different from 5G. With the two commercial products we have seen from Samsung and Huawei, the manufacturers took a similar approach that focuses on using a foldable display to give us more screen. While this is a safe bet on what consumers might want, I think there is more that vendors should consider. As computing power is shared across devices such as wearables, smart speakers, PCs, in-car infotainment systems… will we need our phones to get bigger or would we need our phones to get even smarter in how they present information to us? I think considering the possibility that phones need to evolve as a form factor that has little to do with a rectangle or a square might help brands be ready for XR glasses by either prepare consumers for them or offer a smart alternative.

I hope that the need to show early success in both categories will not prevent companies from thinking about long term opportunities for both groups.

Chinese Brands Owned the Show

Coming from the US, where the presence of Chinese smartphone brands is minimal; it was mesmerizing to see just how much these brands dominated the show and the conversation.

With a little help from Samsung, that this year did not hold its usual Unpacked event on Sunday night, you felt the show was all about the Chinese brands and Huawei in particular. We have been used over the years to see Huawei heavily advertised throughout Barcelona, but with the Mate X announcement and the hands-on with the device tactically spread-out throughout the show, Huawei was certainly top of mind all week. Huawei also happened to win two GSMA Glomo awards, one for best 2018 smartphone with the Mate 20 Pro and one for the best-connected device at the show with the Mate X.

Other brands such as Xiaomi and Oppo had launch events at the show and got a lot of attention for their 5G and camera phones. It is precisely when looking at the list of 5G phones announced at the show that you realize most of them will not be coming to the US market because a Chinese company sells them.

All the security issues that dominate the conversation in the US every time Huawei is mentioned were absent at the show. As we were celebrating 5G, the gloomy prospect of carriers having to swap out Huawei network gear incurring on huge expense and launch delays was a hot topic for the press. It was clear, however, that it was all about political powerplay rather than security concerns.

Apple: Out of Sight Out of Mind

We are accustomed not to see Apple at MWC or CES or any other big tradeshow. But we usually end up talking about Apple nevertheless. Either because their ecosystem drives the conversation, or because they break some news during the show, Apple always seems to find a way into the news cycle. Last year at MWC Apple won the GSMA Glomo Awards for the Best smartphone with the iPhone X and well as Disruptive Device Innovation with the TrueDepth Camera.

This year, however, it was different. Maybe because it seems a given that Apple will not have a 5G device in 2019 and I would guess not even a Foldable, they were left out of the conversation almost entirely. The iPhone X did appear in some device comparison for newly launched devices acknowledging that it remains the benchmark for many brands out there.

I also felt though that the reason for the lack of this looming Apple shadow on MWC also reflected the reality of the European smartphone market that sees way more variety in vendors that the US market does. The iOS ecosystem is also not as strong in Europe as it is in the US as many services such as News, Apple Pay, Maps Transit are not available across markets.

I do wonder if the fact that Apple will not have a 5G device in 2019 will lead US carriers to be more open about working with other vendors to guarantee a variety of options to their subscribers. HMD, Sony and OnePlus are all expected to bring their high-end devices to the US although no specific carrier announcement has been made thus far and we know at least two of those vendors have a 5G device on the way.

Often what happens outside the US does not get the same level of importance of what happens in the US, but keeping an eye on what takes place around the world is critical to understand the challenges that some vendors are or will face. Market share does not tell the whole story after all.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold Captured Attention, but The Galaxy S10 Lineup Will Capture Sales

Samsung celebrates ten years of Galaxy S and technology is not the only thing that has evolved over this time period. The user base has evolved too. The Galaxy S started as a single product aimed at the higher end of the market. At the time Samsung had a portfolio that counted tens of products aimed at different price points and regions. Thanks to carrier subsidies the Galaxy S spread from early tech adopters to a much broader addressable market of users who wanted the latest and the best and could now afford it. Fast forward to today, and Samsung is faced having an installed base of Galaxy S users who are not as homogeneous as you think. In a way, this is not that different from the problem Apple is facing. The three new Galaxy S10 models introduced at #Unpacked2019 in San Francisco are aiming to address exactly this diversity in the user base.

Samsung had different flavors of Galaxy S since introducing the Galaxy S Edge, but there was limited differentiation in features beyond screen size and price. The Galaxy S10 S10+ and S10e are all addressing different technology needs and budgets without compromising on the high-end experience that a Galaxy S user is looking for. While some might see multiple products as confusing for buyers or as a lack of focus, I think of it differently. Once in a store, price, color, and tech specs will take buyers to their optimal product. As far as focus, considering how replacement cycles are lengthening and consumers are considering pricing more carefully offering choice is a plus, not a minus.

Throwing 5G in the Mix

Aside from the three main Galaxy S10 models, Samsung also announced the new Galaxy S10 5G powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 combines with the Snapdragon X50 modem. Jumping on 5G early in the cycle brings some challenges. First and for most is the fact that carriers more than brands are the ones picking launch schedules and availability. Samsung showed clear support from carriers in different regions, which of course was not a surprise, given Samsung’s position in the market. In the US the Galaxy S10 5G will launch with Verizon in Q2.

I really appreciated the way Samsung talked about the Galaxy S10 5G. The focus was on the experience the phone delivers thanks to a thoughtful choice of specifications and 5G. Connectivity per se has never sold, and it is no different for 5G. With the Galaxy S10 5G, Samsung is selling you a 5G experience, not a 5G connectivity. As nuanced as this might seem, it will make the difference between an aspirational product for users who are not tech savvy and one that would otherwise only appeal to those who care about speeds and feeds. The potential of seamless online gaming, AR experiences, video streaming and more come together through design choices, features, and connectivity.

The Promise of Foldable

The Galaxy Fold stole the show with the promise of what smartphones can be in a non-distant future – the launch date is set for April. Samsung was brilliant in positioning the Galaxy Fold as a luxury device for now. It was smart not because it reflects the $1980 price point, but because the Galaxy Fold is certainly not a device for the masses. There is a lot of technology packed into the device, including many firsts, which justifies the price but differentiated use cases are still to be defined. Furthermore, purposefully designed apps taking advantage of the two screens through app continuity still need to be built. Early tech adopters have a higher degree of patience in finding the quirks and learning what a new category can do, so they are a prime target. Consumers who want a device that delivers status will also be interested in the Galaxy Fold.

We will see if the Galaxy Fold is a one-off or the start of a new category and much of this will depend on what Android and app developers will make possible. We know there will be more foldable showcased at MWC in just a few days and what I am interested in seeing is the design approach vendors will take. Overall, I think foldable phones have a more significant opportunity than 2in1 had in the PC market. Phones, unlike PCs, are always with us and while I argued many times that consumers have little left to give to Android tablets – both in terms of time and money – they will still benefit from a tablet-like experience from the device that is always with them.

Has Samsung Done Enough?

This is the question I always get at the end of a launch event: has company X done enough? This time, the question is actually multifaceted so let’s break it down:

Has Samsung done enough to see sales growth year over year?

Possibly. I think overall this year’s Galaxy S10 portfolio has a broader and stronger appeal than the last two years. The different price points and the new designs around key features such as the Infinity O Display, the three-camera system, and the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner will undoubtedly capture the interest of early tech adopters as well as consumers who want their new purchase to stand out from the past models. Bundling the new Galaxy Buds in preorders for the Galaxy S10 and S10+ is a good incentive too but also a smart move to create more stickiness for valuable customers.

Has Samsung done enough to change the trajectory of the smartphone market?

Um, no and nobody else will. This is the new normal. The smartphone market will not see the kind of year over year growth we had been accustomed to. 5G could potentially help in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G. This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones. The 3G rollout also coincided with the start of the smartphone market and app stores while 4G coincided with smartphones becoming more affordable. In both cases you had two strong trends joining forces in creating a buzz for consumers.

Has Samsung done enough to hold on to its market leadership?

Early to say as this battle will not be won with a strong Galaxy S10 line up only. The Galaxy S10 models will certainly help in mature markets, but in emerging markets and the prepaid segment of mature markets, it will be the Galaxy A Series that will help Samsung hold or gain share. While it is possible for Huawei to get to the number one spot in the world without playing a meaningful role in the US smartphone market, I am not convinced the Chinese brand would be able to sustain that position long term. Being an early mover with 5G might help Samsung in China, a market where Samsung used to be number one but where the brand has lost traction among consumers who saw local household name being more responsive in addressing their specific needs.

I was encouraged by how Samsung continues to pay more and more attention to overall experiences rather than delivering a string of features. The partnership with Instagram for a camera mode and with Adobe for on-device video editing show not just the ability to bring other brands to the ecosystem but a higher degree of attention to make things easier for users. This, combined with more obvious examples of different devices working together to deliver more value is what will ultimately start to matter more and more to users. Apple owns this model and was able to build a loyal user base that invests across devices and services. Samsung has more work to do, but it is certainly showing more promise than Huawei, which will make a difference particularly in more mature markets. Huawei could, of course, embrace stock Android, but I am not sure they are quite ready to do that especially considering the current political climate and the risk that such a move might bring if they were suddenly shut off.

Kids and Gaming: Is It Really all Bad?

If you, like me, are a parent, this is one of the questions you must be asking yourself lately. It is hard to go for more than a few weeks before we are reminded by a news article or a study that extended screen time is bad for kids in so many ways: from creating addictive behaviors to developing social ineptitude. Gaming and social media are the usual culprits for the mental and social deterioration of our children. I do not mean to be flippant about the effect that gaming and social media could have on young minds, but I wanted to try and find out if it was all bad. I am going to leave social media alone for now and focus on gaming. I am making a separation between the two because I believe the way teenagers use social media has more to do with life values and goals than screen time.

I am no scientist nor have I studied the human mind beyond what I covered in my Masters in Psychological Research Methods, so I went looking for help from someone who has done and continues to do a lot of work in the area of neuroscience and sensory perception: Poppy Crum, Ph.D. Mrs. Crum is an adjunct professor at Stanford where her work focuses on the impact and feedback potential of new technologies with gaming and immersive environments on neuroplasticity. Mrs. Crum is also the Chief Scientist at Dolby Laboratories where she directs the growth of internal science. She is responsible for integrating neuroscience and knowledge of sensory perception into algorithm design, technological development, and technology strategy. As it pertains to gaming, for instance, Dolby has done a lot of work on how sound improves your response, which if you ever played a game you know can quickly determine if you will be a winner or a loser.

I first met Mrs. Crum at CES where we quickly engaged in an exciting conversation about the positive impact of gaming on our cognitive system. I was fascinated by her class at Stanford where she teaches: Music 257: Neuroplasticity and Musical Gaming. Aside from focusing on current research in neuroplasticity and auditory physiology, her students spend time in the labs learning how to design and implement video games from a neurological perspective, with the final group project being a video game that teaches a new skill using neuroplasticity.

Here is the Official description of the class:

What changes in a musician’s brain after hours and years of daily practice? How do skills that make a great violinist transfer to other abilities? Can directed neuroplasticity be used to target skill learning? Music 257 covers fundamentals of psychoacoustics and auditory neuroscience with an emphasis on targeted neural adaptation. Students will develop video games in Unity that use perceptually motivated tasks to drive neural change. Emphasis will be on music, linguistic, and acoustic-based skills. Projects may include development for virtual reality and/or biofeedback. Students will present projects in annual Arcade event at conclusion of the course. Programming experience is highly recommended, but not required.

Aside from being extremely jealous that my university in the UK did not have anything remotely that interesting when I studied there, I was fascinated by the excellent learning for the future of gaming and the opportunity we have to use gaming to enhance cognitive abilities.

Gaming and empathy

I have talked before about how my daughter is a big Fortnite fan, and I shared how when her time is up she gets genuinely upset, not about ending her fun time, but about letting her friends down by leaving the game. I have to admit that I struggle to feel sorry for her as I tend to think of these people more as imaginary friends than real friends.

Last week, however, I started to feel differently about it after reading a story about the discovery two parents made about their disabled son and his gaming life in World of Warcraft.  Through his gaming life that crossed over a decade, Mats had developed strong friendships with people all over Europe, who when they found out about his passing showed their love and shared their memories by writing to his parents and some even by attending his funeral service. Connections were made, lives crossed in a way that it would have never been possible for Mats in real life, as he was confined to his parents’ basement due to his disability.

I think it is hard for many to believe that virtual relationships can be as genuine as real-life ones. Yet, Mrs. Crum shared with me a study run at McGill University that looked at pain reaction and empathy. The researcher, Jeffrey Mogil, measured pain reactions (caused by submerging an arm into an ice bucket) from people who were alone; with a friend; with a stranger; with a stranger when both had been given a stress-blocking drug; and with a stranger when both of them had just played Rock Band together. People who had a friend sitting across from them felt the highest level of pain, showing there was empathy between the two. Interesting, after 15 minutes of playing Rock Band together, the group of strangers exhibited empathy toward each. On the other hand, playing Rock Band alone didn’t increase empathy. According to Mr. Mogil the experiment proved that even 15 minutes of shared experience like playing Rock Band moves people from stranger to friend status, expanding the level of empathy.

Designing Gaming with Purpose

Mrs. Crum also pointed out to me how players of Call of Duty display higher visual acuity and strategic thinking ability. Their ability to think under pressure is even higher. These are all positive reactions to a game that was not designed to focus on enhancing cognitive skills. So think of the possibilities when game developers actually think strategically about the games they develop? This is precisely what Mrs. Crum’s students do during their project. Interestingly these students are often an unlikely group of people who would hang out together in real life. Gaming class at Stanford like in the larger world brings together people with different backgrounds and interests. Mrs. Crum’s class has athletes, math and science students as well as musicians all coming together to create an experience that while delivering a ton of fun also helps improve your mental and physical health.

So rather than labeling all gaming as bad and being concerned about how much time our kids spend with their devices, why not have the big gaming labels be more aware of both the positive and negative aspects of the shared, immersive experience that is gaming? As we move from 2D experience to AR and VR, our senses will be even more impacted by the experiences we live through gaming which means there is even greater potential to focus on improving our cognitive skills, lowering our stress in real life and improving our mental health all while still having fun running away from zombies.

My Favorite Part of The Super Bowl: The Commercials

It is no secret to the people who know me that I cannot even fake a mild understanding of football or any excitement about the sport. Yet, every year since we moved to California, I have been watching it mostly to see the Halftime Show and the ads. And this year it was just about the ads! I find fascinating to see what the different brands decide to focus on and whether the ad lands with the general public.

Last year I did the same with the Oscars, and it is quite interesting to compare and contrast the approach companies take for these events. Comparing the two audiences might help understand the tactics brands are using. Being aware of what audience you are addressing influences the message you want to drive. Interestingly the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony had the lowest audience in history in the midst of the “me too” campaign with viewers dropping to 26.5 million people. Similarly, this year’s Super Bowl drew the smallest crowd since 2008 but still bringing in over three times the audience at 98 million.

When it comes to ads, the Super Bowl ads are usually more expensive than those aired during the Oscars, but on average those Academy Awards ads can be 30 to 40 percent more expensive per user. The Oscars audience skews not just female but also well- educated and affluent with high disposable income. It also attracts a higher number of social media influencers making a better fit for certain brands targeting those higher-end consumers.

Apple who has had several ads during the Oscars including the first-ever commercial for an iPad in 2010 and then one entirely shot on an iPad in 2015 has been absent from the Super Bowl stage for thirty years, and many were wondering if this was the year for a return. But alas, Apple passed. It is interesting to me given the current stand Apple is taking on privacy that the company did not think there was an opportunity to send a message. Considering that despite all the negativity around Facebook its latest quarterly results show that daily active users grew in all geographies including the US, Apple could have read the audience well and thought it was not the right place for that message. Or it could be that this year, given the current battle between the NFL and Colin Kaepernick, was just not the right time to advertise during the game. It will be interesting to see if Apple will have an ad on Sunday the 24th and what the focus will be.

For the companies who did have an ad, it is always interesting to see what the focus is: business model, products, larger social message and this year there was certainly a mix of all the above coming from companies I consider squarely or loosely linked to tech.

The Core of the Business

Google and Amazon seemed to have chosen to highlight an aspect of their business that has become a cornerstone: AI and voice. Google had two ads one paying tribute to the military and showcasing the power of search in the context of jobs. While I appreciate the tribute to the men and women who serve, it did feel a little mercenary to boil down the message to “you can search for a job using our engine.” Maybe because of that I found the “100 billion words” commercial much more impactful. Focusing on Google’s translation service, it showcased the power of bringing people together, helping people, sharing experiences. The examples used in the commercial were highly emotional and built up to a feel-good ending that certainly put Google as an enabler of something good. This is a much less threatening positioning compared to the recent Google Duplex presented at Google’s Developer Conference that showcased where AI could take human to machine communication. While Google could have focused on other aspects of AI, like photography, I think picking communications as a way of building human connections was a great way to redeem itself from the somewhat dystopian picture painted with Duplex.

Amazon focused once again on Alexa and this time specifically on use cases that are not the best ideas: from an Echo collar that understands dog barking and converts it into dog food orders, to an Alexa enabled toothbrush that plays podcasts. Aside from being hugely entertaining, I like the subtle messages I took from the content; one, Amazon is experimenting much more with voice than what we see becoming commercially available but also that Amazon is not afraid to try and see what sticks by making it available. To counter that, though, there was in my view another message that not everything can and will be done with voice. One can sure read too much into everything so I won’t go as far as suggesting that Alexa turning the lights across the world on and off is ultimately what Amazon is envisioning for Alexa: global domination!

Current Social and Political Issues

Many believe that the Super Bowl is not the right show to push political messages and over the years we have seen most brands opt for more positive and uplifting messages, but this year three politically and socially charged ads stood out.

Hulu had a chilling ad presenting Season 3 of the Handmaid’s Tale which played on Ronald Reagan re-election advertisement “Morning in America.” You would have been sleeping at the wheel if you missed the parallel between the commercial ending with Elisabeth Moss’ voice-over saying, “Wake up, America. Morning’s over.” and the #MeToo movement and Oprah’s #TimesUp moment at the Golden Globes.

Women were also at the center of Bumble’s commercial as to be expected by the dating app that has women make the first move. While less spooky than the Hulu ad, Bumble spoke of female empowerment too with Serena Williams delivering a message of self-awareness, conviction, and purpose.

The Washington Post owned by Jeff Bezos ran an ad to pay tribute to the free press and some of the reporters that sacrificed their lives to do their job. Many reporters on social media criticized the ad as a waste of money that could have been spent instead to hire more reporters or pay existing ones better. Many, I included, however, applauded the commercial for speaking out straightforwardly against the danger of misinformation and ignorance. This commercial, more than the other two, shows how difficult it is to get it right especially when you consider the money involved to air those ads.

The Good of Tech

At last year’s Oscars, Microsoft decided to focus on AI but this Sunday for the Super Bowl, Microsoft had a great commercial showcasing how the new Xbox adaptive controller that, just like one of the kids in the ad says, allows everyone to play. True to Satya Nadella’s mantra that Microsoft’s goal is to empower everyone, the message was loud and clear: technology at its best is inclusive, not divisive. “When everybody plays, we all win” concluded the ad. Gaming certainly brings people together today more than ever as popular games like Fortnite are available on multiple platforms and allow gamers to play together no matter what device they are using. Gaming has also become an actual social experience which makes the Xbox adaptive controller even more of an enabler to communicate, part take, share, and game. While I am sure not intended by Microsoft, I could not help but think how ironic that message was in the context of the NFL and Kaepernick.

If I knew anything about football I would dare to say the commercials were much more entertaining than the game this year, but what do I know?