The Always Connected PC will need more than Connectivity to be a Hit

This week, at the Snapdragon Summit, Qualcomm and Microsoft launched their Always Connected PC initiative. This is not the first time we hear about connected PCs. Cellular connectivity has been available on PCs for years, and thus far penetration among consumers has been relatively low. There are of course regional differences in markets like Europe where WiFi connectivity is both hard to come by and expensive. But overall, consumers seem to be happy to use their phone hotspot for those time they really need to be connected.

When it comes to tablets, connectivity has mattered more to consumers especially in those regions where you can either add a tablet to your data plan for as little as $10, or you can have a separate data plan with no contract obligations. iPads have had a reasonably high attach rate of cellular connection with our data showing numbers as high as 49% in the US. Yet, of those devices only 45% have an active data plan associated with them. The most significant driver (52%) for these consumers is the peace of mind of always having connectivity just in case they need it. And peace of mind as well as convenience are always big drivers!

With the holiday shopping in full swing, PCs vendors are looking for ways to entice consumers to spend their holiday budget on a new PC. Intel has been showing you how all the new technologies like 4K gaming and video, as well as VR will not be available to you unless you invest in a new PC. And soon Microsoft, Qualcomm, and their partners will be busy talking about the joys of the Always Connected PC.

The Always Connected tagline is not limited to cellular connectivity. It also speaks to a PC that has instant-on and a long battery life. It promises to deliver a computing experience that will come with you wherever you are and that will free you from looking for a power source, being dependent on free unsecured Wi-Fi or jumping through hoops to connect to your phone. While somewhat reliant on what kind of offers we will see from carriers who would not want to be free to work or play anytime anywhere? This will be particularly true if devices start shipping with a free connection trial so users will get hooked on that convenience and peace of mind

Apps & Services drive the Need for Connectivity

If you have seen the latest iPad commercial and can relate to it, you might have already bought into the promise of an always connected computing experience. It is ironic that Apple is helping sell the vision that Microsoft, Qualcomm and their partners want to deliver. Except, of course, Apple is also telling you that your always connected life does not require a PC.

And here is the heart of the matter. For consumers, the desire to be connected has little to do with being productive and a lot to do with getting “stuff” done whenever we want. That stuff can range from streaming music, to upload to social media, to playing online games, to shopping online…. basically being able to do the same things we do on our smartphones but with the advantage of having a larger screen and a keyboard. Forty-three percent of the consumers we interviewed who have a connected iPad said they do a little bit of everything. This does not mean we will carry our smartphones less or rely on them any less. It simply means we will have the option to choose the best tool for the job without having to compromise on connectivity and battery life.

While connectivity and battery life will no longer be in question, the Always Connected PC must deliver on the variety of apps and services we can access with it. This will require a stronger investment in the Windows App Store than what we have seen so far from Microsoft, especially as they try to position Windows 10 S – which is fully reliant on store apps – as the most modern computing experience.

The Windows App Store was the weakest link for Windows Mobile, and it cannot be the weakest link for the Always Connected PC, or for Windows 10 S, for that matter. It would be a terrible mistake to think that being able to be connected only for productivity reasons will be enough of a drive to see consumers flock to stores and buy these devices. I am sure both OEMs and carriers have learned a lot from the netbook experiment. Not just in terms of design and marketing but also in terms of the value proposition that consumers must see in a device.

An Opportunity for Phone Manufacturers to Broaden their Scope

Traditional PC manufacturers are continuing to look for new drivers to fuel sales and Always Connected PCs is just another way to get consumers’ attention. Yet, some might be a little shy in investing too much in this segment seen how the netbook and Windows RT experiments ended. At the Snapdragon Summit we saw devices from Asus and HP and Lenovo was mentioned as having a device in time for CES. The challenge for pure PC manufacturer rests on the balance of supporting all connected PCs, Intel as well as Qualcomm based ones, as well as to help consumers decide between their full product portfolios.

Given Always Connected PCs will speak more to highly mobile users, I see a great opportunity for phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei to invest in these devices to widen their reach. They have the relationship with the carriers and with Qualcomm as well as their own semiconductor capabilities. Plus they do not have to figure out where to place these products within a wider PC offering. Samsung, in particular, with its trusted Galaxy brand, might be seen by many consumers as a natural choice for an Always Connected PC.

Samsung has played in the PC space at a world-wide level with few devices but has not really put much marketing push behind its effort. This initiative might indeed offer a good opportunity to try a more aggressive approach without having to commit to becoming an all around PC vendor. Samsung could, of course, consider the enterprise market as well as its ambitions of delivering Knox as a full-fledged platform strengthen. Yet, this road will require a tighter collaboration with Microsoft than we have seen thus far.

Consumers will not care about who empowers their Connectivity

Connectivity must come with the right design, the right marketing and most of all at the right price point. What the right price point will be is heavily dependent on the value buyers will see in the experience that is delivered to them. What will not matter to consumers is how the connectivity is delivered and we already know that while the Always Connected PC effort is now driven by Microsoft and Qualcomm, Intel will be jumping on the bandwagon too while trying to position their solution as superior.

What will ultimately matter to consumers when choosing the solution remains to be seen. Will consumer trust Qualcomm, who is responsible for their everyday connectivity on their phones? Or will consumers be looking for an Intel Inside logo as they always do when they buy a new PC? Hard to say at this point, but two things are clear: Microsoft and Qualcomm must invest in building a differentiated value proposition and they must help consumer understand what it is they are buying into.

The value proposition of Always Connected PCs might  revolve around positioning these devices closer to a smartphone than a traditional PC. The freedom of a phone experience when it comes to things to do, battery, ease of connectivity, coupled with a bigger screen, a modern PC OS and a highly mobile form factor is what consumers are looking for. A solution that if implemented right, might even have Windows users question what a PC really is, as they embrace a modern computing experience.

News You might have missed: Week of Dec. 1st, 2017

Google might fold Nest Back into the Devices Team
Google is considering folding its home-automation unit Nest Labs into its hardware team, according to people familiar with the talks, reversing a major element of Google’s split two years ago into various businesses under holding company Alphabet.

DSLR Owners love Their Smartphone Camera as much as You do

Earlier this month, we at Creative Strategies, conducted a study across 1000 US consumers to understand how smartphone owners use the camera on their smartphones. We also wanted to know how much of a driver the quality of the camera is when it comes to buying a new smartphone as well as what else users might want to see added to their camera capabilities.

Long gone are the days when we talked about cameraphones as a sub-segment of the mobile phone market. Today, while the quality might differ, it is almost impossible to find a mobile phone without a camera. And so, as users, we have come to embrace this feature on our phones wholeheartedly. Forty-three percent of our panel said they take pictures with their phones daily and another 32% said they do so weekly.

Apple’s marketing line that the iPhone has become the most used camera in the world rings true in our data showing that 54% of iPhone owners take pictures daily with 77% saying that they take up to 30 pictures a week.

Our Reliance on Cameras is growing

Not only we take pictures often, but we also have a wide range of things we love to take pictures of. Outside of Gen Z, selfies are not a priority for most of us, with only 19% of our panel saying their lovely self is the most likely subject of their picture and another 23% saying they most take pictures of themselves with someone else. Fifty-six percent of the consumers we interviewed said they most often take pictures of sceneries, making it the most popular kind of photograph. Forty-three percent of the panel said they take pictures of their pets the most, with another 37% mentioning their kids as their most popular subjects. If you follow me on Twitter, you already know I do fall into these last categories. Surprisingly, especially if you are on Instagram and pay attention to all those #cameraeatsfirst posts, only 22% of the panel said that food is their most photographed subject.

Interestingly, the second most popular subject for our pictures has very little to do with making memories and a lot to do with just our memory! A whopping 50% of the consumers we interviewed said they most often take pictures of information they need to remember. As camera quality improved, we have been able to take pictures of slides at a presentation, or ingredients on a food packaging, or a receipt in case we lose it, or scan documents that can be saved as PDFs for us to sign or edit. All things that we would not have done with a regular camera, as photography was more of an art form than a practicality.

The Feel-Good Factor of a “Real Camera

Although the reliance on our smartphone’s camera is growing, not everybody is ready to give up the safety blanket of a real camera. Seventeen percent of the consumers we interviewed said they actively use a DSLR and another 9% actively use a compact point and shoot kind of camera. DSLRs are even more popular with early tech adopters among whom, active usage grows to 30%.

For active users of standalone cameras, the reason to have a dedicated camera stands equally on the ability to have more control over the pictures they take and the belief that a dedicated camera still takes better pictures that a camera on a phone. For DSLR owners, control over their shots is the main driver – 82% calling this reason out.

The Love of Photography does not depend on the Camera You Use

As I was dissecting the data, it became clear that current DSLR users do not feel much different about their smartphone camera as users who solely rely on their phones to take their pictures. This might come as a surprise, as DSLR users are often seen as photography purists and therefore expected not be more critical of technologies that try and replicate the results but not the experience of taking a picture.

First, DSLR users are actually more impressed (42%) than regular smartphone camera users (38%) by the quality of the pictures that we can now snap with our phones. Second, they are appreciative of the fact that smartphone cameras allow them to capture moments in their life in a way that a dedicated camera never did (42%).

Where DSLR users differ from “regular” smartphone users is on their wishlist for which features they would like to see in their next smartphone camera. Both groups want better low-light and better zoom capabilities, but after that, the love for being in charge of your own shot vs. capturing the perfect shot splits the groups. Among panelists who only rely on their phone to take pictures, 46% want to see smarter camera software to help them take the best possible picture, while for DSLR users better image stabilization is a priority at 45%.

DSLR users seem to also be much more engaged with their smartphone camera doing more and on a wider range of activities than consumers who solely rely on their phone.

The most fascinating data point, in my view, when it comes to DSLR users and their love for photography is represented by the fact that for 24% of them the camera is the most important factor driving their smartphone purchase decision. This compares to only 14% across consumers who only rely on their phone for their pictures.

The moral of the story: smartphone cameras might have killed the sales of dedicated cameras but not the love for photographs!

Should Our Love Affair With Digital Really be Over?

Over the weekend, I read this story arguing that our love affair with digital was over. Although I see some of the trends David Sax is outlining, I am not certain they can all be blamed on our growing distrust of technology. More importantly, I do not think technology per se is to blame here, we are!

The article brings up many negative effects of technology on our lives: stress, jobs loss, impact on human interactions. But when you think about it, it is not technology in itself to be at fault but rather how we use it.

Technology is not the Answer to Everything. We just like to think so!

Over the past few years, I think three major things occurred that impacted our use of technology. First, innovation happened at a pace that we had not really experienced before. Second, because of the lowering price of technology, a much broader number of people were exposed, either directly or indirectly, to such innovations. Finally, technology has also become more “human-friendly” making it easier for people to embrace it.

The problem with having so much technology at our disposal is that we started to think technology could solve any problem and could be the answer to everything. Education is a very good example. Many schools added gadgets of different kinds, but teachers did not change how they teach. They simply substituted paper with screens. Others added gadgets and apps but mostly to replicate what the teacher used to do, just maybe a tad more personal.  The answer to more engaged, smarter, ready-for-life kids is to first look at how we teach and then look at how technology can help us deliver. We should not turn to technology first.

While we might be concerned about AI taking over our jobs we should recognize the many opportunities technology has enabled over the past few years. Apps and services that reached millions of people overnight as well as start-up incubators and a maker fair movement that allowed talent to stay where it was born while still accessing an international stage.

Sometimes, we also rely on technology out of convenience, after all, technology is supposed to make our life easier. There might be different ways to perform a task involving different levels of technology, but convenience drives us. This is fine when convenience meets effectiveness and drives the highest results, but it is less so when convenience is driven by laziness. The choice is on us not on the technology that is available.

The Limitations of Analog

Some of the technological changes we are undergoing are certainly scary especially if you are easily impressionable by movies like “Her”!  When it comes to this analog revival, however, I don’t believe that some of the rediscovered love for books or vinyl is necessarily a rejection of technology. The revival of books has a lot to do with the increased popularity of local bookstores where customers feel they are supporting a local business, they build a relationship with the people who work there and get more personal recommendations. In a way, this is no different than the growing popularity of local, independent coffee shops.

Is the love for vinyl really about technology and sound or a broader statement about what music as an industry used to be? The other side of the coin though, is that technology empowered artists that might have never had the means to become a worldwide success – the UK band Glass Animals is a good example.

As far as human interaction, it certainly does not have to disappear because of technology. While there might be some of us that have become more comfortable chatting on messenger than in real life, many still enjoy grabbing a coffee or a beer with friends. Not having access to technology, however, would make social interactions impossible for many people. The classic video chat ad that shows grandparents and grandkids is a reality at our house, as my mom lives in Italy and we only see her once a year. Technology is how we remain part of each other’s lives, in a much vibrant way than old phone calls allowed us to do.

Technology is also what allows people with disabilities to have richer social interactions and more widely live a fuller life. Think how 3D printing is revolutionizing prosthetics or how support for voice over allows visually impaired people to read or see through the description given to them.

Turning Our Love Affair into a Happy Marriage

I do realize that talking about turning our love affair into a happy marriage only shows I have been in a relationship for a long time! But I do think this is the key. That passion and excitement resulting in sleepless nights, stomach butterflies, lack of appetite that spark the start of many relationships turn into a more “sustainable” set of feelings that does not make it less “love” but maybe allow us to get a bit more in control of our life and the relationship itself. I feel the same is true with technology.

After being swept off our feet by what smartphones enabled: always on, an app and service culture, social media, we need to regain some control. We need to pace ourselves, find some “me time”.  Such balance can be reached in different ways, either by embracing analog again or actually using more tech. At the core, however, such balance will only be possible if we understand that we are in control and not controlled by the technology that surrounds us. We have the power to unplug!

Apple’s Content Distribution Dilemma

Apple is serious about content. You just need to look back at the past year to see not just their ambition but also it’s investment in this space.

Back in June, Apple went on a hiring spree. First, with the former head of Amazon’s Fire TV business D. Twerdhal and then, with Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, two Sony Pictures executives hired to oversee all aspects of video programming and reporting to Eddy Cue.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was planning on spending roughly $1 billion to procure and produce original content over the next twelve months. So far, this year, Apple produced two original series “Planet of the Apps” and “Carpool Karaoke” which were only received mildly.

In October, news broke that Apple had struck a deal with Steven Spielberg for the updated version of the Amazing Stories series. According to the WSJ report, Spielberg will be producing ten episodes of the original series with a budget of $5 million a pop.

Finally, just last week, Apple was said to have ordered a yet to be titled morning show drama series which will be executive produced by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. The series is written and executive produced by Emmy-nominated Jay Carson (“House of Cards”) and CNN reporter Brian Stelter will consult on the project drawing from his book  “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.”

When I saw the news about this last show, I jokingly asked on Twitter where I could watch it. This to me is a serious question Apple must address as it plans to create more content.

Reaching a Broader Base than Apple TV can offer

If Apple is planning to spend $1 billion in content, surely the hope is to reach as broad a base as they can. Apple has been trying to find the right formula for its “TV Hobby” for some time now.

It first focused on Apps, but the magic that apps brought to the iPhone and iPad failed to materialize with Apple TV.  Apple then turned its attention to “fixing TV” by improving content access by enabling single sign-on. The issue with that is that TV providers like Comcast are also focusing on making it easier for users to find their content and they market features such as voice control quite heavily. Digital Assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are also getting in the game.

While Apple has not shared Apple TV sales numbers for a while, it is reasonable to expect that even with the latest update that brought 4K support, Apple is still not seeing the numbers that would guarantee a broad enough audience.

This would explain why the first attempts of produced content were distributed via Apple Music rather than Apple TV. iPhones and iPads offer Apple a much broader base for its content. Making the content part of the subscription is also, of course, a good way to reward subscribers. However, I don’t think this would be a viable long-term solution for Apple. Apple must decide whether it is serious about TV in the home – especially as the little box doubles as a connected home hub – or if it is serious about creating content and competing with Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. While the two are not mutually exclusive, Apple could also decide to create a new service that is not tied to Apple TV. iTunes is too tired as a brand to help Apple in its endeavor, and Apple Music should be about music. Also as costs increase, Apple could not just roll this new content into the current Apple Music subscription. Of course, as consumers have choices being able to offer an all-inclusive subscription for video and music at a competitive price could be a differentiator for Apple, at least over some of its competitors.

Access to the Right Content….

Aside from producing its own content, Apple has also been in talks with Hollywood studios to get earlier access to movies to be distributed at a premium price on iTunes. So far, studios received stiff resistance from theaters due to the significant loss they would be the money that we all spend on popcorn and other concessions more so than the number of paying customers for the movies themselves.

For the studios, the biggest problem would be to guarantee that the content could not be easily pirated. Although, earlier wider availability might lower in-theater piracy. While iTunes encrypts video, one could always record the movie from an external device such as a phone. Screening Room, a new service that Napster’s founder Sean Parker is trying to create that also allow for early viewing of movies still in theater used a watermark which, while not deterring piracy, makes it trackable and therefore punishable.

For consumers, a rental price of between $25 and $50 per movie would still represent a very competitive price compared to what a movie outing usually costs. The service would also speak to changing consumers’ behaviors. Larger, high-definition TVs are dropping in price making that home-theater experience a reality for more and more consumers. At the same time, the theater experience has not improved in a way that many consumers would consider proportional with the price hikes for 3D and Imax. It only takes going to a couple of popular movies to see that the longer line is usually for the regular screening rather than the 3D or Imax screening.

….and a New Ways to Consume Content

Content consumption is also changing. AR and VR open up opportunities to experience content in a different, more immersive way. Tim Cook has been very vocal with his believes that AR offers a much broader opportunity than VR and I tend to agree with him. Yet, I do believe that VR offers a great opportunity to deliver a premium content consumption experience as well as new content altogether.  Anything from a behind the scenes tour of a movie, to a meet a greet the stars. VR also plays well with music and sports by providing access to concerts and events. Apple’s attempt to engage users with artists through Apple Music was not very successful but who would say no to having their favorite artist perform for them in their living room?

With rumors around a possible set of Apple Glasses, I can see Apple offering this as a premium service for the home.

With the Apple Glasses a couple of years away, Apple needs to decide if the pool of consumers interested in such content today is big enough to start thinking about Mac support for VR. While the number of Mac users is a drop in the ocean compared to Windows, they represent a much more profitable target for content providers and developers, one that should not be overlooked.

News You might have missed: Week of November 10, 2017

The Mixed Week of Twitter: 280 characters and the Blue Checkmark

This was a pretty busy week for Twitter and not always for the right reasons. First, the social platform turned the trial run that gave few users 280 characters for the tweets into the new characters limit norm. The exceptions are Twitter users tweeting in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese who remain at the 140 characters limit for now.

Face ID: when not unlocking your iPhone X builds Your Confidence

The iPhone X has now been in the hands of reviewers for just over a week and in the hands of real-life customers for a bit less than that. A lot is different, but the focus of many early reviews was Face ID, the most significant change of all. In a way, Face ID is the “mother of all changes” for iPhone X. Because Face ID replaced Touch ID, the UI on iPhone X has been redesigned with new gestures that let you navigate the content on your phone effortlessly although those gestures are still somewhat foreign to users.

Some of the reviewers tried to spoof the iPhone X using hats, scarves, sunglasses even masks and twins with some of the commentary turning negative if Face ID failed to work under those circumstances.

I am as blind as a bat, and I usually wear contact lenses, but in the evening or when I travel I do wear glasses. Like many women, I also wear makeup and wear my hair in different ways. Looking different is a real life thing for me so figuring out if Face ID worked in all of those occasions was not just an interesting experiment, it was a necessity. Face ID worked better than I expected. My expectation was what it would fail in a similar way that Windows Hello had been doing on my PCs before I could train it every time I was wearing glasses by having the camera re-scan my face. But Face ID needed no training.

If you watched the excellent video that The Verge posted, you see the amount of technology that is involved in making an identification every time you engage with Face ID to unlock your iPhone X.

Failure to Authenticate is by Design

There was one time when Face ID did not work for me. It was the morning after getting the iPhone X when I woke up in a dark bedroom and like always do I reached out and grabbed the phone that was sitting on the bedside table. The room was dark, I had no makeup on, my hair was a mess, and I was squinting adjusting to the brightness of the screen. Face ID did not authenticate me and why should it?

Husband joke aside, why would we expect something different from Apple’s technology that we do from any other ID service? Look at what most governments require as a suitable picture for a passport:

  • Your head must face the camera directly with full face in view.
  • You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
  • Taken in clothing normally worn on a daily basis
  • You cannot wear glasses.
  • You cannot wear a hat or head covering.
  • You cannot wear headphones or wireless hands-free devices.

Face ID works by taking a mathematical model of your face and checking it against the original scan of your face that you registered for Face ID on your new iPhone X. Thanks to the TrueDepth camera this is not just a flat image but a depth mapping of the face and all the features that make it up. It also uses Attention Awareness, which means it uses your eyes too so that if you are not looking at the screen, your iPhone X stays locked.

When you understand how the technology works you know why Face ID should not unlock your phone if you have a scarf covering half of your face or glasses that prevent Face ID from seeing your eyes, or even if you try to use it when you first wake up in the morning, and your face is half buried in a pillow. If you think about it, this is not very different from how Touch ID works. If your finger was wet or too cold or you had a cut, Touch ID would not authenticate because your fingerprint would be different from the one you registered when you set it up.

We also know that for some changes, you can train Face ID. Say, for instance, that you start wearing glasses or you start growing a beard, or you change your haircut, for all those things you can train Face ID. As every time you enter your pin code after Face ID does not unlock your phone, you are telling the neural networks that it was indeed you who just tried to use Face ID to unlock your phone. This explains why twins who share their passwords might be able to open the other sibling’s phone. This way of training compared to Windows Hello, where I need to go into settings and rescan my face, also underlines the machine learning aspect of Face ID.

So, while Face ID’s refusal to let us into our own phone might be an inconvenience, it is absolutely how I would want it to work to feel confident that my phone remains secure.

Building Trust for the Future

Building trust around Face ID is paramount for Apple. First, because they took away Touch ID when nobody asked. We were all very happy about how Touch ID worked and more importantly we all knew and trusted it was secure. Second, gaining trust now is vital to building a foundation for the future.

It is reasonable to think that, as the technology matures and costs are coming down, Face ID could trickle down in the iPhone portfolio. Maybe not all the way, as for now, at least, some people are just not comfortable with it. It is also natural to expect Face ID to be added to the iPad Pro so it would gain more screen real-estate without making the overall device larger. I also see some interesting use cases with Attention Awareness when it comes to page scrolling or app switching that Apple might want to explore on iPad. The same can be said, of course, about the Mac where I personally would love to be able to use Face ID to log in and bring up a specific setup or user. I know that Apple will always prefer if we all had individual devices but some larger and more expensive devices are shared in the home and Face ID could become not just the way into the device but also a personalization tool.

I also do wonder about use cases in the home where Face ID and voice could work together to provide added layers of security to access certain things from the front door to content on your TV. A long way away? Maybe. But what really matters is that whenever the technology is ready for us, we are ready to embrace it because we trust it and this is precisely what Apple is working on right now with Face ID on the iPhone X.

News You might have missed: Week of November 2nd, 2017

Apple Earnings

On Thursday, Apple announced financial results for its fiscal 2017 fourth quarter ended September 30, 2017. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $52.6 billion, an increase of 12 percent from the year-ago quarter, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.07, up 24 percent. International sales accounted for 62 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

Microsoft Surface is the Only Apple Competitor in the PC Market

A bold statement to make, right? Especially when you look at the latest PC market share numbers, and Microsoft Surface is nowhere to be seen. Yet, the Microsoft Surface brand’s mindshare has been growing among Millennials and Early Tech Adopters.

In October 2017 we, at Creative Strategies, asked a panel of 1300 US consumers about their personal and work preferences in both PC brand and workflow habits. We were eager to understand how users feel about specific PCs they are given at work as well as what tools and apps they value.

First things first, the industry has been talking about the death of the PC for years. Yet, especially for productivity, we are still very much bound to our notebooks. So it is no surprise that when it comes to working on a report, presentation or other projects, 81% of Americans we interviewed said they use a notebook/desktop as their primary device. Millennials too prefer a notebook or a desktop (74%), but they are the group most open (14%) to using whatever device they have at the time and often using their smartphones (or tablet) and their notebook/desktop together. This reflects how Millennials (37%) have embraced the cloud, which is a core enabler of multi-device workflows. Along with Early Tech Adopters (44%) and Early Mainstream (39%), Millennials see the benefit of the cloud precisely in the ability to access content from any device they choose.

2in1s or hybrid computers are certainly growing in popularity. Twenty-one percent of American consumers have already replaced their laptop with a Surface Pro or an iPad Pro. Another 17% is interested in making the switch to a Surface Pro and 14% to an iPad Pro. While both these families of devices support pen/pencil input, this input tool does not play a role in the purchasing decision process for 31% of consumers.

Dear Employer, the Tools You Provide Reflect on Your Company

“Bring your own device” is a trend that impacted enterprises across many countries, but while the direct impact might have remained mostly contained to the mobile space, the indirect effect on employees’ expectations when it comes to technology has been more extensive.

Early Tech Adopters looking for a job would pass on an opportunity if the position did not offer flexible hours (60%) and if they could not choose the type of computer they would use (32%). For users of Apple products in the enterprise, the need to pick their own PC climbs to 40%.

When asked to pick their PC of choice Early Tech Adopters have a strong preference for Microsoft Surface (52%) over everybody else, including Apple (38%) while Millennials and mainstream consumers see these two brands being equal.

People firmly believe that the technology employers provide you with shows how much they care about the work their employees produce (29%) as well as how much they actually care about their employees themselves (28%). Millennials feel even more strongly about it with 13% going as far as saying that it shows “how cheap they are when it comes to anything to do with employees.”

Microsoft Surface winning over Early Tech Adopters

Despite the fact that most of Microsoft Surface’s sales are in the enterprise market, consumers are very familiar with the brand with only 10% of consumers not being familiar at all with the devices. Consumers who are very familiar with the name think that Microsoft Surface products are the best products with Windows software on them (21%) and this is precisely because hardware and software are optimized for each other (18%). Another 16% of consumers feel that although they are good products they are too expensive.

The main differentiation against other Windows 10 devices rests in the hardware quality (36%). For some consumers (18%), the fact that Microsoft makes Surface products is a key differentiator, and for current Apple owners (36%) Surface products run the best implementation of Windows 10.

When it comes to comparing Microsoft Surface to Apple products the key differentiator rests in the operating system Surface products run (43%). Current Surface users, in both personal and work, see the key differentiator being the touch and pen support (27%).

Microsoft has been talking a lot lately about creativity being the new productivity, and the good news for Surface is that early adopters see Microsoft Surface as the brand that empowers them to be both productive (49%) and creative (48%). Interestingly, Millennials continue to see Apple as the brand that empowers them to be creative (45%). I am sure that such belief comes partly from the strong integration with the iPhone and the range of apps that seamlessly work across iOS and MacOS. Apps availability is something that Microsoft needs to continue to address, especially for devices like the Surface Laptop that ships with Windows 10 S as the default OS.

Apple remains the Market Leader in Consumers’ Minds

When we asked consumers who they see as the leading notebook/laptop brand in the market, the answer came across loud and clear: Apple. Forty-six percent of American consumers chose Apple as the leading brand in notebooks, although interestingly Mainstream and Millennials were stronger segments than Early Tech Adopters and Early Mainstream, categories that I am sure Apple is hoping to excite again with the upcoming iMac Pro.

When we asked consumers why they picked Apple, it was mostly because “everybody seems to have one of their notebooks” (21%) and because “they have always been the most aspirational brand” (20%). Another 21% were split between an OS preference and that their products “just work.” Interestingly, to my earlier point of strong ties with the iPhone, 17% of people of picked Apple mention that as a driving reason.

There is also no doubt that in consumers’ minds the only brand able to compete with Apple is Microsoft Surface, especially among Early Tech Adopters (32%) and Millennials (28%). When we asked who chose the Microsoft Surface brand why they did, 22% said it was because it is the only brand able to compete with Apple and another 21% simply said they are leaders because they are their preferred brand. Nineteen percent also believes that Microsoft Surface products offer the best implementation of Office on Windows 10.

So, the moral of the study is that while overall sales might not ring any alarm bells for other PC manufacturers, Microsoft Surface quietly established itself as the most aspirational brand in the Windows ecosystem as well as the only brand able to compete with Apple. This might not translate straight away in an impact on sales, but it is likely to impact positioning and pricing on the higher end of the market where all PC vendors have been focusing more as of late.


NOTE: In this article, Millennials refer to the age group between 18 and 35 years old. The Label of Early Tech Adopters relates to panelists who self-selected the following description: “I’m pretty tech savvy. Friends and family usually come to me for tech related questions/issues” and “I tend to be the first person in my peer group to buy new tech/gadgets. I consider myself an early adopter.”



Don’t Rule Microsoft Out of the Digital Assistant Race

Last week, after a few months of wait, Invoke, the Harman Cardon’ Smart speaker with Cortana became available. Reviews trickled in, and they were not particularly kind. Most of the commentary focused on how the Invoke is not any better than some of its competitors especially for $199. This would have probably been ok, had Microsoft brought the product to market a year ago, but given the timing, people were expecting more.

I had the opportunity to use the Invoke for a few days, and I too was left wanting more from Cortana. I looked at what Microsoft knows about me, which is quite a lot given I live most of my day in Office 365, use Skype for all my international calls and have the Cortana app on my phone. I wanted more. I wanted Cortana to use all that info to deliver a differentiated experience.

I don’t have actual complaints about the hardware. While it is big, it fits quite well in our family room décor. The sound is better than the original Echo and Google Home. Cortana understood me well, and it was quite impressive how well she could follow me when playing music loudly. I tried making a few calls, and while I had no issues I had to remind myself, I could indeed use Invoke for calls as it was not a feature that addressed a particular pain of a current behavior.

While Cortana has been available on PCs and on Android phones and iPhones for years, she does not have many skills available. Similarly to when app stores became available, skills are developed for assistants that have users. So, the range of things I could do with the Invoke and Cortana was relatively limited especially with respect to controlling my smart home.

The Pressure of Being in the Game

Sometimes, the pressure of not being seen as ignoring a market forces you to get into it before you are ready. While the body of the Invoke was ready and competitive, its soul was not. For Harman, a manufacturer that supports all assistants on its speakers, the risk was minimal. There is, after all, a Microsoft fan base out there that might be interested in this first step into the smart speaker business. So why not make a Cortana-enabled-speaker to get those users. I would guess that when it came to assuring production costs and marketing costs were covered, they negotiated well with their partner.

For Microsoft, however, this was a much more significant risk. It was the first step in a very hot market. All eyes were on them, especially after a few appearances of the Invoke on stage at Build and Ignite. The general perception is that Microsoft is late compared to the other big vendors. Of course, that is not technically correct considering Apple has yet to ship HomePod. Yet, the product was announced and demoed, and that is enough to consider Apple in the game. There is no question that this holiday season will be all about smart speakers, so the stakes for having a Cortana product on the shelves were high for Microsoft. 

Being Late Does Not Mean Microsoft is Ignoring the Segment

When you are one of the biggest names in the market, it is often the case that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Some of the commentaries on the Invoke criticized Microsoft for wanting to do too much and lacking focus. Others criticized Microsoft for ignoring the digital assistant space in the same way they did mobile.

I believe Microsoft must be in the digital assistant space. From an ecosystem perspective, voice first interfaces are connected to an assistant whether you want it or not. Just look at Samsung and how their initial positioning of Bixby as an interface, not an assistant, fell flat. More importantly, though, ambient computing will be heavily reliant on an assistant and Microsoft must be in the ambient computing space. The big question for Microsoft is how do they want to be in the space and on an even more fundamental level, what do they see this space to be.

Cortana has been improving steadily. Many commands on your PC are now Cortana enabled and developers can add Cortana enabled controls to their apps. Cortana even sets up your new PC for you as she leads the ‘out of the box’ experience with Windows 10 Creators. Cortana has of course been able to help you with reminders, calendaring, searches for a while but if you, like many, don’t like using voice with your PC you would not know. And this is the core of the issue.

Microsoft owns all the critical ingredients to a good digital assistant: an OS, a cloud back-end, voice and language technology, a search engine. They also have the best understanding of users in the workplace giving them the opportunity to do with Cortana what they did with the PC: get us to bring it home with us. I believe the most significant opportunity for Microsoft in the digital assistant world rests on helping us blend our work and home time. Just because Microsoft did not do that out of the box with Invoke, it does not mean they can’t or they won’t.

When it comes to the next Cortana device, I hope Microsoft will take a page from the Surface team’s book and focus on what they can do internally rather than looking at what everybody else is doing on their products.

I said before that the digital assistant race is not a sprint but a marathon and being first out of the post does not necessarily assure you will be first over the finish line. Sometimes slow and steady wins. I am not arguing Microsoft will win, but I am making a point they have a role to play.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Twitter

Last week, actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended for 12 hours after she wrote a series of tweets accusing Hollywood’s producer Harvey Weinstein of raping her. When she said she was being silenced, Twitter responded that her account was suspended as one of her tweets included a private phone number, which violates the code of conduct. This explanation did not convince many, however. At a minimum, it raised questions about the timing of it all. CEO Jack Dorsey took to Twitter to admit that his platform “needs to do a better job at showing that we are not selectively applying the rules.”

It is not the first time that Twitter is under fire not so much for lack of clarity on what makes up a violation of the code of conduct but for lack of consistency on how those violations are dealt with when reported. Over the past year, as harassment increased, Twitter deployed a series of measures, like the ability to mute a conversation or a user, that seemed to be aimed at hiding the issue rather than addressing it. Just because I no longer see the abuse and harassment, it does not mean it has gone away. More importantly, those users who are harassing and abusing others feel that their behavior is condoned.

Fresh off the press there is a Twitter internal email obtained by Wired that outlines new rules Dorsey is readying to release but I will wait for an official communication before commenting.

Social Media Engagement

Social Media drivers differ from people to people and from network to network. I was a reluctant Twitter user. I started using the platform for work in 2009 but did not do so consistently until 2013 when I changed job. Twitter quickly became a useful tool to keep on top of the news. My initial passive networking experience turned into an engaged one as I came to appreciate being able to share my thoughts on the tech world and actively engage with fellow tech watchers. As my engagement grew, I set some rules for how I wanted to use the platform:

– Never say anything I could not stand behind in case it was published as a quote in the press

– Keep it clean-ish

– No Religion

– No Politics

Pretty simple stuff, right? Eight years on, I am proud to say that except for the last rule I have been quite diligent in following them. I am sure that, given the current state of affairs in all the countries I lived in over the years, being silent rather than breaking my own politics rule would have been the real crime!

In a recent report published by GWI, I discovered that I was not alone in my reliance on Twitter for news. Twitter users are first engaged in reading news stories (57%) followed by liking a tweet (40%) and watching a video (34%) Direct actions such as tweeting a photo or a comment about my daily life only make up 23% and 22% of activities, respectively.

Overall engagement on Twitter has been declining since 2013 (-5%), a problem that the company has been trying to address without much success. That said, engagement on Facebook over the same period has been declining even more rapidly (-16%) as consumers seem to lean more towards more videos and pictures focused platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, up 2% and 14% respectively.

It would be too easy to blame the lower engagement to harassment alone, but I am sure nobody would argue with the fact that harassment is making Twitter less appealing as a platform. Quite a few celebrities have found Twitter too ugly, and either left like Kanye West, Lindsay Lohan, Emma Stone, and Louis C.K. or took breaks and returned, like Leslie Jones, Justin Bieber, and Sam Smith. For now, the return of investment the platform is providing me is still positive. The question is, for how long?

Disasters, Emergencies, and Hashtags See the Best of Twitter

Over the past few months, we have had our share of disasters and emergencies to deal with both in the US and internationally. It is at those difficult times that I tend to see the best of Twitter. From breaking news that allows people to keep up to date with a fast-evolving situation to people coming together to help by sharing stories or ways to donate.

But even in those good moments, trolls accounts creep into the conversation to dismiss, offend or sabotage the effort.

On the back of the Rose McGowan’s incident, two hashtags emerged bringing attention to harassment on the platform and sexual harassment across the board. On Friday the 13, a #WomenBoycottTwitter started calling on women to walk away from the social media platform for a day. Many users, including celebrities, joined in. Not everybody though agreed that silence was the best tactic to make a point in this particular situation. I for one decided not to be silent and went on Twitter to condemn abuse and do what I do every day: talk tech. I thought that at a time when many women are being brave in speaking up against abuse, remaining silent was not something I was comfortable with. Also, when it comes to Twitter it only matters who is on it not who is not. In other words, you do not notice who does not Tweet. Some also were uncomfortable with the fact that the uproar against abuse was somehow limited to white women when minorities and the LGBT community have been victims of abuse on the platform for a long time.

The original intent was clear and deserves the utmost respect, but the execution was possibly not the best. So by Sunday night, Alyssa Milano encouraged people to reply “me, too” to her tweet about being a victim of sexual harassment or assault as a way to show how pervasive the problem is. A new meme was born: #MeToo. Voices were heard from women, men, straight and gay across countries like the US, UK, Italy and even more conservative France. The conversation was not limited to Twitter; it took over Facebook as well engaging more than 4.7 million people.

Burst Your Bubble…Read Some comments

Twitter succeeded in giving a voice to so many people making it clear that sexual harassment is not just a Hollywood or Tech industry issue and impacts individuals across the world. But even in that strong testimony, the ugliness of Twitter came through. Just take a look at some of the replies posted to comments of more famous women like Italian actress Asia Argento, and you quickly have a feel for how ugly people can be when they can hide behind a Twitter handle.

Very often we live in our cocoon of lists of people we follow because we respect them, share their views or are interested in what they do or say. Without knowing it, we are sheltering ourselves from all those individuals who more likely than not do not share our views, our believes, our values. And I am not talking here about which smartphone ecosystem you prefer but big stuff like politics, religion, sexual orientation.

Sometimes that bubble bursts as we get trolled or right out attacked for our views. Others, we are lucky, and we just never see the ugly side of Twitter. That does not mean it does not exist. Like we have seen since Sunday just because you do not have a story to share under the #MeToo meme it does not mean millions of people in the world don’t have one to share.

News You might have missed: Week of October 13, 2017

Google Home Mini loses Touch Feature

Not even a week after the debut of Google Home Mini, Google was made aware of an issue with the pre-production units. The touch functionality on the top of the Mini which allows users to turn the Mini into listening mode was behaving incorrectly. Basically, the Mini was detecting a touch when nobody was actually touching it causing it to be listening in without the user knowing. Google first released a software update to rectify the issue and later disabled the feature altogether.

News You might have missed: October 6th, 2017

This week Sonos announced the Sonos One (One) with integrated Alexa. The One does not look different from the Play One but has six far-field microphones to pick up your voice and lights to show when it is listening. Amazon Alexa will work out of the box and you will be able to control with your voice all your Sonos speakers in the home. The speaker will ship on October 24 and will cost $199. Sonos promised that other assistants will come in 2018, including Google Assistant. At launch, the One will support about 80 streaming services, and you can use Alexa voice commands to play tunes from Amazon Music, iHeart Radio, Pandora, and a few other music services right now. Support for Spotify will be added soon, with Apple Music coming at a later date.

Microsoft Wants to make Windows Mixed Reality a Reality for All

At an event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Kinect and HoloLens creator Alex Kipman shared Microsoft’s vision for Mixed Reality that will be unleashed starting Oct 17 with the Fall Creator Update and a set of Mixed Reality Headsets coming to market in time for the holidays.

Similar to his Ted Talk from 2016, Kipman talked about the power that Mixed Reality offers of expanding our capabilities and transcend time, space, and devices as we move away from a reality where we interact mainly with 2D computing experiences.

Wearing the new Samsung HMD Odyssey, Kipman teleported himself to the Cliff House – Microsoft Mixed Reality Home – to show what is possible today. The result felt a little like our current smart home experience: more a promise of what it will be than what it is today. You certainly need some vision as you think of what Mixed Reality can be for you. After all, balancing that futuristic view with something we can relate to today is the hardest challenge Mixed Reality, as well as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, face today. Games and entertainment are easy, but when it comes to convincing people that AR, VR, MR have a role to play in everyday computing it is hard to find what works because we are still working out what is possible. That said, I do not believe that Microsoft will be hindered by the current view of the world. Today’s Microsoft is not the same Microsoft that looked at the iPhone thinking that mobile computing will never be a thing. Maybe driven by self-preservation, the impetus behind Windows 10, 3D and Mixed Reality has been high and possibly since the PC era, the MR implementation in business might be a great advantage for Microsoft against Oculus.

The Modern Workplace

During the event, Kipman announced Microsoft’s acquisition of AltspaceVR. If you are not familiar with AltspaceVR, here is how they describe themselves: “one of the pioneers in immersive communications bringing people together in virtual reality from over 160 countries to attend meetups, comedy shows, yoga classes, dance parties, and large-scale events.” We have seen demos by Boeing and Ford using HoloLens before, but that mixed reality meeting on stage, which, as far as I know, was the first ever acquisition announcement in MR, was for me the best demonstration of the future workplace.

I have talked before about Millennials driving the digitalization of the workplace,  but this will be nothing compared to what Gen Z will do to the workplace! While we, Gen X people, might still be complaining about Webex meetings using cameras, VR meetings like the ones AltspaceVR hosts will feel entirely natural for Gen Z.

Interestingly, when Kipman was asked what the killer app for MR is, his answer was somewhat unexpected as he mentioned communication as the killer experience. What is key, in both the commercial and consumer world, is that Mixed Reality allows you to pick the tools you want and, while the level of sophistication of the experience might differ depending on the device you are using, the core experience will not. This means that, depending on the need, businesses will be able to adopt a “mix and match” approach when it comes to devices: your engineers might be given HoleLens while marketing will have a Mixed Reality headset.

Communication not only matters in business. We can rush to judge today’s experience of avatars representing us as a futuristic version of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where cartoons and real people come together. Yet, I think that the idea here is not to replace real human interactions with MR but to supplement them when location or time might prevent us from a face to face exchange. The way I think about it is similar to how I think about Facebook. It allows family and friends who live across the pond to somewhat be part of my life. What if that experience could be more than watching a video or seeing a picture? What if we could feel like we are all sitting around the table telling stories or playing a game while talking to each other. I am sure some of you think this is what video calls are for! And to some extent, they are. Yet, you rarely share an experience. Video calls are mostly adding a video to a voice call, they are enhancing your call experience, but they are not recreating it. If you think this is just semantics you never tried to read a bedtime story to your child over FaceTime while on the other side of the world. Now think about doing that while you can teleport yourself in the same room, on the same sofa cuddling with the same teddy bear. Do you still believe it is the same?

The Power of Samsung

The discussion of the role of Mixed Reality and the path that its development will take is fascinating, but devices still matter. So, it is no surprise that a lot of the attention at the event went to the new Samsung Odyssey. Having briefly tried the headset, I have to say that it is the closest thing to Oculus Rift I have tried minus the multiple cables and set up.

The Samsung Odyssey matters for multiple reasons.

It gives Microsoft a brand that consumers trust when it comes to VR. Yes, the Gear VR experience is nowhere near a true VR experience due to the limitations of the computing power of a phone, but consumers trust Samsung to be capable of delivering such an experience.

Samsung’s continued push into the enterprise market could also benefit Microsoft when it comes to Mixed Reality. While enterprises know and trust the PC manufacturers that already have announced Mixed Reality headsets, they also trust Samsung when it comes to mobile, so I am curious to see how the Microsoft Samsung collaboration will develop.

Content remains King

While we wait for the futuristic vision of Mixed Reality to be delivered, we continue to count on content like games and entertainment to attract buyers. It seems to me that Microsoft has learned from mobile and has been focusing on content from the get-go. It has done that through original content like Halo Recruit to opening the Windows Mixed Reality SteamVR preview to developers to help them test their games.

When all is said and done though, Mixed Reality is VR, and if you are unconvinced by VR, you will be unconvinced by Mixed Reality.

Why I take Issue with the iPhone X being labeled as Luxury

At least not in the derogatory sense that many are using to label a phone that costs $1000.

I started a conversation on Twitter last week trying to separate what is expensive and what is a luxury. And as the comments continued, I realized that explaining the nuances of what luxury means in tech would take longer than 140 characters so here I am. Please don’t think I am neglecting to understand the privileged position from which I am discussing what a luxury is and what it is not. The focus here is on establishing what the true value of the iPhone X is. What I am not discussing is the much broader and critical impact that the higher cost of technology has on society.

Expensive and luxury are very much intertwined, and they are labels that change slightly depending on what item you are referring to. If you look up the definition of luxury in the Webster dictionary you find that Luxury is:

  • something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary
  • an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease

When you look up expensive you find:

  • involving high cost or sacrifice
  • commanding a high price and especially one that is not based on intrinsic worth or is beyond a prospective buyer’s means
  • characterized by high prices

I look at these definitions, and I seem to be doing a good job at gathering evidence against my point. After all, when I think of the iPhone X I do believe it is adding to my pleasure, and it is not necessary – the iPhone 8/8Plus could do the trick. Well, my current iPhone 7Plus does a darn good job at being a smartphone. The iPhone X is also characterized by a high-price, and it is beyond many buyers’ means fitting both the luxury and expensive definition.

Luxury Phones are Mostly Bling

When I think of luxury phone there is one brand that comes to mind first: Vertu. Vertu had a somewhat troubled life that ended this past July when the current owner, Turkish businessman Murat Hakan shut it down after failing to pay creditors. Vertu opened in 1998 as part of the Finnish phone maker Nokia. At that point, the phones were running on Symbian and were handmade with luxury materials from gold to rubber from F1 tires. Starting price: $5,000. Vertu was sold in 2012 to private equity company EQT when the phones started to run Android and were still hand-made in the UK. In 2015, the company was sold to Chinese company Godin Holdings and finally to Mr. Hazan in 2016.

In its glory days, Vertu was the mother of all luxury phones not only it was hand-made like an haute-couture dress and used the most expensive metals and materials, but it also came with a concierge service that will help you do whatever you needed to do from booking a taxi to shopping online.

In a less extreme sense, luxury phones have been about designer brands and bling. A quick search brings up a top ten charts with names from the fashion and car industry or unknown brands that took mainstream phones and covered them in gems.

So what happens when the Price goes up cause the Tech is better?

None of the phones you see associated with a luxury tag brings cutting-edge technology to the plate. Their price is merely defined by the materials used and the power of the brand name on them. And this very point is why I do not think the iPhone X deserves to be lumped into the luxury phone bucket.

Now, I would not go to the extent of saying that the iPhone X has a “value price” like Apple CEO Tim Cook did on Good Morning America. But I do agree with his underlying point which is that the iPhone X has a lot of tech packed into it.

Let’s pretend there was no iPhone X and that the iPhone 8Plus was the flagship product. Although starting at $799, $50 more than the launch price of last year’s iPhone 7Plus, nobody, as far as I am aware, called it a luxury phone. For some reason, there is something about getting to the $1000 price point that gets people to think differently. But let’s compare the features and see what the iPhone X has over the iPhone 8 Plus:

  • 8-inch OLED Super Retina HD display
  • HDR Display
  • depth sensor that powers Face ID and supports Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting for selfies and Animojis
  • Dual optical image stabilization

If we are ok with $799 for the iPhone 8Plus and we add all this technology do we honestly think that the price should not increase? Some people argue that this is all Apple tax, but while of course, the Apple brand commands a premium it does so across devices. This means that the Apple premium equally impacts other iPhone models too.

Is a $1000 too much for a Phone?

A genuine question to ask is whether a $1000 for a phone is just too much even when that phone is an iPhone, and the answer is once again not a straightforward one. Not so much because most consumers don’t pay $1000 straight up but because the value they get from a phone as well as the tolerance they have for tech is different from user to user.

The return of investment that most people get from their smartphone is way bigger than what they ever got from a PC (outside of work), and this is more so with iPhones. There is also a much stronger emotional bond with a phone than any other gadget we own. Lastly, software updates delivered to these phones lengthen their life although the draw of the latest upgrade will try and make what you own feel inadequate.

So who is the iPhone X for? If you want the best product there is in the lineup – not just the most expensive, but the best tech – then the iPhone X is for you. If you want to indulge in tech that is adding pleasure but that is not necessary the iPhone X is also for you. But if you see smartphones as a utility device or are overwhelmed by how much technology these little rectangles have packed in then you better look elsewhere.

The iPhone X rests on the Shoulders of the iPhones that came Before It

With a rumor mill that feels like it started the day after the iPhone 7 launched, we finally know everything there is to know about the new iPhone line up. Three products: the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X – pronounced ten.

Before we got to the most anticipated product of the year, however, Tim Cook spent time talking about the biggest product we saw for the first time: Apple Park. The homage to Steve Jobs was short, intense and from the heart. It also felt as if Tim Cook was turning a page into a new chapter. Acknowledging that today’s and, more importantly, tomorrow’s Apple remains true to what Jobs believed Apple should be but it is now a company standing on its own feet.

The iPhone X

There have been months of looking back at the past ten years of iPhone in a somewhat nostalgic way. It is when looking at the last ten years of technology, however, that you see how the iPhone X rests on the shoulders of the iPhones that came before. Touch, use of glass and metal, camera technology, retina display, Touch ID all contributed to getting to the iPhone X that was just introduced. Most importantly, the iPhone X would likely not exist without the steps Apple took in its chipset designs reaching a vertical integration that truly sets its products apart. Going forward, this focus on chips will prove key to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence two technologies that were mentioned a lot during the keynote.

The two key features that will drive iPhone X interest are FaceID and the new Super Retina Display. While users will have to learn new gestures to navigate the new bezeless screen, the learning curve does not seem steep. The screen is beautiful and drives instant gratification while the real benefit of FaceID will come with use. As always with Apple, it is not about a feature performing one task, it is about leveraging that feature in different ways. So FaceID unlocks your iPhone X, but the technology behind it also opens your notifications or turns off your alarm if the iPhone “sees” you looking at the screen. And of course, face recognition is also empowering the new Animojis, which will push messaging to an all new level! All these experiences point to Apple creating an even tighter connection between me, the user, and my iPhone, one where thanks to ML and AI things will happen just like magic.

iPhone X will ship on November 3 and the market expressed concern about this delay compared to the iPhone 8 and 8Plus shipping date. However, there is one thing in my mind that people are neglecting to consider. In all the key markets where iPhone X will matter, Apple has a strong retail presence which will allow Apple to be ready for the holidays shopping. Unlike most of its competitors, Apple does not entirely depend on shelf space allocated earlier in the Fall at the key retailers. Online and Apple Town Squares are a big part of Apple’s sales, and when it comes to iPhone X those channels would have likely been responsible for most of those sales anyway.

I am also not concerned about potential iPhone X buyers opting for an iPhone 8 rather than waiting. Of course, either way works for Apple. Pricing was smart here. The way that the iPhone 8 Plus, in particular, is priced almost makes the decision to go for iPhone X easier: an iPhone 8 Plus with 256GB is $949. Some users might compromise on storage if they have an iCloud account and are used to store everything there.

Overall the price of the new iPhone X is a non-issue in all those markets that have installment plans available. Consumers will see an increase in the low double digits on what they currently pay monthly.

The Strongest Lineup Yet

If you are still concerned about the price point of the iPhone X, the good news is that it is not the only option Apple has given potential buyers. Apple’s iPhone line up has a little bit for everybody from the iPhone SE at a very competitive $349 all the way to the new iPhone X via the iPhone 6s and 6sPlus, and iPhone 7 and 7Plus which are now $100 cheaper and iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

The key here is that with the choice in price there is no choice to be made in experience. While it is true that some features are hardware dependent, the vast majority of what the Apple ecosystem has to offer covers all these devices in some way. Take AR for instance, while the iPhone X will be able to make use of the new depth sensing camera for AR, owners of all the iPhones mentioned above can experience AR through iOS11.

Some people are concerned that Apple created a new hero product that moves further away from the mainstream iPhone. Yet this is no different than what Apple has done with the iPad family and with the Mac family. Even more so with iPhone, Apple realizes that not all iPhone users want more technology and especially when it comes to some technology, not every user is ready for it. Yet, this should not stop Apple from continuing to innovate.

A few more things…

 Watch Series 3

  • I am a self-declared non-believer when it comes to cellular in a smartwatch. The main reason is that I would never leave my phone behind when I leave my home. The second reason is that adding LTE has meant a compromise in size of the device and battery life. Today, Apple took reason number two away!
  • Apple also helped my decision by pricing the LTE Watch very aggressively. For $70 difference, I might just try and see if my umbilical cord to my iPhone can not just be extended, as it happens today with Watch Series 2, but can be cut. While I still do not see myself intentionally leaving my iPhone behind, I am quite happy to pay for the peace of mind in case I do unintentionally forget it.
  • Probably the biggest driver for me for connectivity is the ability to interact with Siri through voice alone. Thanks to LTE, in fact, Siri can now reply to you rather than showing you an answer on the screen
  • I found the video Apple used in the keynote showing a very wide range of people of all ages, genders, and nationalities to really drive home the point that Apple Watch delivers a different value to different people and you need to find what motivates you. I said this from the very beginning: Apple Watch will give back more if you initially invest time in figuring out what it can do for you.

AppleTV 4K

  • Live Sports coming to Apple TV at the end of the year is a great addition to the segment that spends the most money on TV content
  • Interesting mention of Music on AppleTV which raised my curiosity on whether anything will be special about HomePod being able to pair with Apple TV.
  • An underestimated value of AppleTV is the role it plays as a hub for HomeKit. As consumers connect more and more devices in the home the value for this feature alone will deliver a good return on investment
  • The fact that AppleTV 4K will update your purchased non-4K content for free the moment it becomes available is a nice touch that might get some people to think first before they buy digital copies elsewhere

Where was Siri?

  • Siri was not mentioned a lot at the event other than when talking about Apple Watch 3. This does not mean that Apple feels different about it.
  • Siri will have her moment when HomePod hits the market later this year, and I am still convinced we will see an all new Siri

iPhone 8 Purchase Intent could only be hindered by Price

By this time next week, we will know all there is to know about the new iPhone model, including whether it will be called the iPhone 8. In a collaboration with SurveyMonkey, we, at Creative Strategies, set out to measure the level of interest in the new iPhone as well as the purchase intent. Through SurveyMonkey Audience we reached out to 1000 US consumers between the age of 18 and 65 and asked a few questions about their attitude to smartphone purchase as well as what they expect from Apple in the new iPhone release.

A Healthy Base

Before we asked about iPhone 8, we covered the basis to see what the opportunity in the market was for Apple. Sixty percent of the current Apple base has had their iPhone for at least one year or longer, 23% had their current iPhone between twelve and seven months and 17% for six months or less. This mix makes for a pretty substantial opportunity for Apple, but will it be the super-cycle some are expecting? Well, much of it depends on the upgrade habits of this base. The fact that 60% of current iPhone users have had their phone for over a year does not necessarily translate into a new purchase.

The good news for Apple is that 21% of current iPhone owners are planning to upgrade within the next six months and another 17% within the next year. When only looking at consumers who indicated they are extremely interested in the iPhone 8, intention to upgrade increases to 36% within six months and 24% within the next year. Fifteen percent of consumers who are extremely interested in the iPhone 8 said they plan to upgrade as soon as the new model is out.

iPhone owners take more control of their upgrade cycle with only 27% of users saying they only replace their phone if something breaks. This compared to the market average of 35% and 37% among current Samsung owners. The fact that only 24% of current iPhone owners are self-defined late adopters might impact the Apple numbers. Late adopters make up 38% of the overall US smartphone market and 34% of current Samsung owners.

Apple’s Biggest Opportunity

It will surprise no one that the iPhone 8’s most significant potential is with early tech adopters, 56% of which said they are either extremely or very interested in what Apple will be debuting on September 12.

Apple’s current base is the second largest source of interest with 34% of current iPhone users who said they are either extremely or very interested in the iPhone 8.

Also, good news for Apple to see that among smartphone owners planning to upgrade in the next six months a whopping 44% is either extremely or very interested in the iPhone 8

When we look at what phone models these consumers who are either extremely or very interested in the iPhone 8 currently own, it is interesting that 21% have an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, 19% have an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, and another 16% have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

Interest alone, however, is not enough to gauge intent, so we went ahead and clearly asked what the likelihood of purchasing the iPhone 8 was. Fifty-seven percent of consumers who said they were extremely interested also stated they are extremely or very likely to buy. Early tech adopters remain Apple’s biggest opportunity proportionally, with 64% saying they are extremely likely or very likely to purchase or upgrade to the iPhone 8.

Finally, 32% of Apple’s current iPhone owners expressed their likelihood of buying or upgrading to the iPhone 8 as extremely likely or very likely. Close to ten percent of current iPhone owners mentioned that their likelihood to purchase would depend on the price of the iPhone. This was less of an issue with early tech adopters (4%) and among users planning to upgrade within the next six months (7%).

Interestingly, Apple sees some opportunity coming from its strongest competitor: Samsung. Seven percent of current Samsung smartphone users said they are extremely likely to upgrade to an iPhone 8 and another 15% are very likely to do so. While this is somewhat bad news for Samsung Mobile it is very good news for Samsung Display that will be providing the new OLED displays for the iPhone 8.

How Much of the Concern is Price?

Early tech adopters and consumers in the market for a new phone tend to keep up with rumors and news regarding any big upcoming product. When we listed the top rumored features and asked our panel which one they were most interested in, most gravitated around wireless charging, quick charging and improved camera sensors for improved pictures and AR. It seemed that Apple, should not be too concerned about fitting all the rumored features into the new model as consumers will buy it no matter what. When asked which single feature would be a deal breaker if missing at launch, 21% of the consumers who said they are extremely likely to purchase or upgrade to an iPhone 8 said they will be likely to buy it no matter what. Twenty percent of current iPhone users and 18% of early tech adopters felt the same way.

So if no particular feature is a deal breaker what else could influence the iPhone 8 purchase intent? Given the strong focus in the press on the price the new iPhone 8 might reach, we have been concerned that this would be the ultimate hindering factor for adoption and we wanted to validate our concern.

We first looked at early adopters, as they are usually the least price sensitive buyer. Thirty-two percent said that were excited to upgrade even if it was expensive so the price did not affect their decision much. Another 14% showed little concern as they are on an Apple upgrade plan. Finally, while maybe not ideal for Apple, not everything is lost as 18% said price did matter and they would consider another iPhone model if iPhone 8 were too expensive.

Current iPhone owners were a little more price sensitive, with 33% saying they would probably not buy if too expensive and another 33% saying they would turn to a different model, reflecting that the current base is today very diverse. There is a correlation between price and features of the new model and what perceived return on investment your current smartphone is providing. It is not so much the lack of innovation of new model as much as it is your level of contentment with the model you are currently using.

Of course, with the current installment plans, the rumored price might be more intimidating to consumers in their initial evaluation than it will actually be when the new plans are announced. In other words, thinking about an iPhone that could pass the $1000 price mark will likely put off more potential buyers than a monthly payment increase of $10.

As always, pre-orders and first weekend sales will be highly scrutinized as market watchers determine if Apple was able to pull another rabbit from the hat. Overall success, however, will be determined by sales of the new models as well as of the existing lineup becoming more affordable as our data strongly indicates.

The Digital Divide might be turning into a Scary Social Divide

The digital divide is a term that has been used for years to refer to the gap between demographics or areas that have access to modern information and communications technologies and those that do not or only have limited access. Going back to before the late 20th century, digital divide referred to those who had a phone, and I mean a landline phone, and those who did not. As we moved closer to 2000, the term started to separate those with internet access and those without it.

Let’s look at some numbers.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. Roughly three-in-ten adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don’t own a smartphone. Nearly half don’t have home broadband or a computer. And the majority of lower-income Americans are not tablet owners. By comparison, many of these devices are nearly ubiquitous among adults from households earning $100,000 or more a year.

Higher-income Americans are also more likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online. Two-thirds of adults living in high-earning households have home broadband, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop anda tablet, compared with 17% of those living in low-income households.

For many lower-income Americans, smartphones are the primary access to the internet. In 2016, one-fifth of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year were “smartphone-only” internet. This represents an increase from 12% in 2013. So while not always the ideal tool, smartphones have helped close the connectivity gap bringing the internet to households without broadband.

Location, as well as income, influence connectivity, and technology availability. Rural adults are less likely to have multiple devices to connect to the internet. About 20% of adults who live in rural communities report that they own a desktop or a laptop, a smartphone, a home broadband connection and a tablet compared to 40% of urban adults and 42% of suburban adults. Rural residents also go online less frequently than their urban and suburban counterparts. Roughly 58% of Americans in rural communities say they use the internet on at least a daily basis, compared with more than 80% of those in urban and 76% in suburban areas.

While the numbers have improved there is still work to do in the US, before we look at connecting the unconnected in emerging markets.

The Pace of Tech Adoption will maintain the Divide

Smartphones have been a great contributor to narrowing the digital divide thanks to initial subsidies which helped lower the total cost of ownership of being connected.  The next phase of computing is, however, expanding to devices that deliver experiences and services unlikely to be seen as a “necessity” and therefore harder to justify financially. Virtual Reality headsets and smart speakers come to mind. Technologies that are not a necessity at an individual level but that can make a considerable difference in education. There is a digital divide today in American schools between public and private and between affluent and non-affluent school districts. Never before, have we heard so much talk about STEM in schools but how will these programs develop? Will kids in more well-off schools be experiencing new ways to learn history by being transported into ancient Rome through VR while children attending less affluent schools will read about it on their Chromebooks or iPads? Will the kids in less well off schools learn to code while those in affluent schools are taught skills that machines cannot replace: art, music, critical thinking…

Other life changing technologies like driverless cars are likely to be dependent on location as well as income. If rolling out broadband to rural areas has taken a long time and it is still ongoing, think of what it will take to roll out the infrastructure needed for fully electric cars. Or think about the intelligence and data needed to have autonomous cars safely operate outside connected cities. Will the lack of electric cars make some areas of the country more polluted than others? Will the lack of self-driving cars and their promise to make our roads safer mean that car fatalities will impact certain social demographics?

Services Rather than Devices will be the Real Measure of the Digital Divide

What I am truly concerned about when it comes to the future of the digital divide is the range of services that are enabled by this new class of devices that might leave many people behind. Everything slowly but steadily is going digital from information to payments, entertainment, shopping and the list goes on and on. What kind of services will consumers not be exposed to either because they cannot afford the devices that will enable such experiences or because they live in an area that is not considered a prime target?

Same day delivery services, ride share services, meals delivery services, a fleet of driverless cars for rental…all these services will have a reach limited by the adoption they could generate making affluent urban areas the first and primary focus. Already today it is easy to see a correlation between income, technology, and services, which I expect will get tighter in the future. The potential to foster stronger social inequality than what we see today is obvious.

Companies such as Google and Facebook have spearheaded initiatives in markets such as India to connect the unconnected. They see America as being saturated not from a connectivity perspective but from an opportunity one. Unconnected or under-connected Americans might not be as valuable to these organizations, but they cannot be left behind as we all get excited by new shiny things and tech giants get excited at new revenue opportunity. What is at risk is too big to ignore: equal opportunity for all.

Why Apple Should add Pencil Support for iPhone

A few months ago the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded patent 9,658,707 to Apple. The title of the patent is: “Devices and methods for manipulating user interfaces with a stylus” and aside from describing using a stylus with portable communications devices such as iPhone and iPad it hints at the ability to do so in a wide range of apps. The words iPhone and phone feature several times in the patent. Of course, we all know too well, that not everything covered by a patent actually makes it to market so maybe we should not get too excited…yet.

Back in September, during an interview with NDTV, in response to a question about launching the Apple Pencil Tim Cook said:

“Well we launched a pencil not a stylus, first of all, and there’s a big difference and the things that people are doing with this pencil, I think that Steve would have loved. He loved to help people create. And if you’ve ever seen what can be created with that pencil on an iPad or an iPhone, it’s really unbelievable.”

Cook could have simply misspoken and whether Apple is or isn’t planning to bring Pencil to the iPhone is for anyone to guess, but I want to make an argument that it really should be considered.

Styli are no Longer a UI Crutch

Steve Jobs once said “If you see a stylus, they blew it”. And he was right. When he made that statement, styli were a way to navigate a user interface (UI) that was not ready for a touch-first experience. Even the strongest Windows supporter will admit that Windows 8 was a poor attempt at adapting a PC Keyboard+Mouse UI to a touch-first UI. The styli that Surface and many other models added was a crutch to help users navigate through that UI, help them bridge from keyboard and mouse to touch.

Things have come a long way since then. Not all vendors are seeing the role of the pen in the same way but all seem to agree that there is a role to play in the modern workflow of content creation.

In the same interview quoted above, Cook was quick to point out how Apple added a Pencil not a Pen to the iPad. While I would argue that distinction is all about semantics, I can concede to Cook that Apple’s focus was more on what Pencil could do for artists than a regular user. At least at first, Pencil was really aimed at artists as a tool to drawn, sketch, paint. With iOS 11 more use cases have been added for less art-inclined users . For instance, you can now use Apple Pencil to mark up webpages, screenshots, email, and more. You can also, now, tap Apple Pencil on the lock screen to instantly access the Notes app.

Inking on Windows 10 has clearly shown how a pen can complement nicely a keyboard and not just be a welcomed addition for artists. As with the overall tablet philosophy, Microsoft and Apple reached a very similar result coming from two very different starting points. Many of the features that Apple Pencil will support with iOS 11 have been available on Windows 10 and the Surface Pen for a while. Only more recently with the addition of Surface Studio to the Surface portfolio, Microsoft has shown a more artistic use of Surface Pen.

Bottom line, no matter what path they took, both Microsoft and Apple believe there is a role for a pen/pencil.

Samsung’s Note: from Niche to Mainstream

Styli have not just been relegated to tablets. Over the years phones such as the Palm Treo, the Sony Ericsson P910 and of course the Samsung Note family all had a stylus.

When the first Samsung Note hit the market back in 2011, Samsung might have been more concerned with differentiating from the competition than thinking about how a pen could empower users to do more, especially with the larger screen real-estate their brand new device was offering. While that first experience left a lot to be desired, Samsung’s focus on S Pen and the software support that comes with it grew making the overall experience much more enjoyable. I expect the Note 8 to be announced later this morning to show even more improvement when it comes to app support for S Pen.

The wider availability of Windows 10-based devices with stylus support and Apple Pencil on iPad have certainly broadened the appeal for styli. I expect Samsung to benefit from this wider acceptance of a pen as a real tool to improve productivity. When productivity can mean anything from drawing, to sketching a message, to enhancing a photo or quickly jot down some notes without having to open the phone first.

Keyboard, Pen, Voice…it is all about the Best Tool for the Job

Voice is the hot feature for any device right now. Yet, voice cannot be the panacea for all the interactions we have with our devices. No one interaction method can be. In fact, voice came about because touch was not seen as the only way to interact with devices either. Technically, replicating a voice interaction between humans is not an easy task when you are mixing humans and devices. Right now it also feels like humans need to learn a new language to master such interactions. Yet, voice remains one of the most intuitive UIs.

When you think about it though, using a pen or a pencil is almost as intuitive as using voice for many people. Our spelling and neat handwriting skills might have deteriorated thanks to smartphones, predictive typing and emojis but we still know how to do it. So much so, I still see many people going to meetings with a good old paper notebook and a pen. Some people do it because they do not want a device like a PC or a tablet to get in the way, others do it because writing helps them make sense of the information and better retain it.

Whatever the reason, it is obvious that one could make an argument for being able to capture a thought or a piece of information with the device that is always in your pocket. This is why adding Pencil support for iPhone makes a lot of sense to me. But of course it cannot be the Pencil that we know today as carrying that with an iPhone does not make a lot of sense given its size. Something to scale that would fit in a case rather then the actual iPhone would be much more convenient and drive more regular use.

So, what would Steve Jobs say if Apple did actually do an iPhone Pencil? Probably that creating something to enhance your user experience is very different from creating something to help you cope with it!

Three Insights from The US Wireless Market in Q2 2017

One of the markets I track closely is the US wireless industry, and especially the five largest providers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, TracFone, and Verizon Wireless. All of these companies recently reported their financial results for Q2 2017, and as a result we now have a good picture of what happened in the quarter. Here are three key insights from those results.

Samsung’s Users are Ready for the Galaxy Note8 and so is Samsung!

Last week I was in Korea to experience a new direct-lit LED Cinema Screen recently launched at a Lotte Cinema in Seoul. While I was there I had the chance to sit down with the President of Samsung Electronics Mobile Communications,  D.J. Koh, and CMO Younghee Lee to talk broadly about Samsung’s future. The focus was on what they learned from the Galaxy Note7 (Note7) issues and how committed they are in regaining the trust of the millions of Samsung users out there.

What Happened Since the Galaxy Note7 Recall

Back in January, Samsung held a press conference in Korea detailing what caused the Note7 incidents as well as what steps Samsung was taking in making sure there would be no risks for the future.  During the press conference, Mr. Koh and executives from UL, Exponent and TUV Rheinland, who lead an independent investigation into various aspects of the Note7 incidents explained that in both cases the short circuit was caused by a damage to the separator that keeps the positive and negative electrodes from meeting with the jellyroll. In the case of battery A, the tip of the negative electrode was incorrectly located in the curve of the device. In the case of battery B, the high-welding burrs 0n the positive electrode resulted in the penetration of the insulation tape causing direct contact of the positive tab with the negative electrode.

Since then, Samsung implemented multi-layer Safety Measures that improved safety standards for the materials in battery design, added brackets around battery protection and improved algorithms that regulate battery charging.

Samsung also collaborated with the MIT Technology Review on a white paper that was published last week. The report shared more insights into the new 8-Point Battery Safety Check Samsung started implementing with the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

There is no doubt that Samsung went far and beyond the call of duty with this new process, with a goal of sharing its finding with the broader industry. While initial communication around the recall could be faulted, the rigor of the investigation and the follow-up steps taken cannot. Samsung has tried to be very transparent about how it can work to avoid another incident and also how to be better prepared in case something might happen again. Catching the issue at production is almost as important as avoiding the issue in the first place.

Samsung Smartphone Owners are Ready for the Note8

No matter what Samsung says and does though, at the end of the day, what really matters is neither the reports reassuring everything is under control nor the press articles still referring to the Note7 explosions. What will make a difference to Samsung Galaxy Note8 sales rests in the confidence consumers still have in the brand.

This week, SurveyMonkey Audience released the results of a study they conducted among 1000 US consumers to gather their interest in the upcoming smartphone as well as their view of the Samsung brand.

I will focus my analysis on Samsung current owners vs. overall smartphones owners because the Note family has not been a mainstream device. Its large screen size and pen input were not for everyone and certainly not a device than in the past generated a lot of churn from iPhone.

So, how do current Samsung owners feel about the brand?

Brand loyalty remains strong, as current owners are either extremely likely (47%) or very likely (34%) to consider Samsung when it is time to replace their current device.

Awareness of the upcoming Note8 release is good across all smartphone users interviewed with only 38% saying they have not heard about it. As you would expect, awareness among Samsung current owners is much higher with 25% saying they like to keep up with the latest news relating to Samsung devices and another 46% saying they heard about the Note8 but they don’t know much about it.

When it comes to the most interesting features rumored to be coming with the new model, 70% of Samsung current owners are most interested in the phone being waterproof, 35% in the dual camera and another 35% in the Fingerprint scanner.

For current Samsung owners, the top three most appealing reasons they would consider a Note8 are Features (52%), Reliability (50%), and Large Screen Size (38%). These data points underline that the Note as a device family has been seen by Samsung users as the flagship product. The Note7, in particular, with its strong feature set really helped to broaden the appeal to a wider audience outside of the large screen lovers. Reliability, as the second most wanted feature, does not seem to signal much concern that what happened with the Note7 might repeat with its successor.

If this were not enough of an indicator, when current Samsung smartphone owners were asked if they would consider buying a Note8 in the aftermath of last year’s recall, 45% said yes and 37% says maybe leaving only 18% saying no. Among the rejecters, the strongest reasons for lack of consideration is the high cost (31%) while the issues with the Note7 impact intention for another 28%.

Interestingly, most concerns seem to vanish when cost is not an issue. When current Samsung smartphone owners who said they would not consider buying the Note8 were asked if they would use a Note8 if it were free, 66% said they would and another 27% said maybe while only 7% said they would not.

Note Owners are Samsung’s Fiercest Fans

When you look at some of the data I just shared, but narrow it down to Note7 owners, the loyalty to the Samsung brand and the passion for the product comes across very strongly. Although the base size in the sample is more limited compared to the other cohorts, I think this data gives a good indication of how this segment behaves.

Note7 owners still think very highly of Samsung with 37% saying they find the brand extremely reliable and another 43% saying it is very reliable. When it comes to their next phone 43% are extremely likely to consider a Samsung device and another 30% are very likely.

It will come as no surprise to see that only 20% of the current Note7 owners have not heard about the Note8. What is very interesting is to see that 63% of Note7 owners would consider buying a Note8 and another 24 would maybe consider it.

The Note7 recall did, however, shake its owners’ loyalty somewhat, as you would expect with all the publicity the incidents drew. When it comes to the three most appealing reasons for considering a Note8, features comes first at 52% and a better camera comes second at 59% followed by a large screen size at 43%. Reliability, that came second among overall Samsung owners, drops to fourth place at 33% among Note7 owners. This to me shows a somewhat coy stand on the Note brand but one that does not reflect on the overall brand and certainly not on the overall benefits users see with this device.

Ultimately sales will tell if Samsung is really over the Note7 incident but the signs leading up to the launch and the performance of the Galaxy S8 thus far seem to indicate that it is the case.

Microsoft Stores are a Big Missed Opportunity

The latest Microsoft earnings results were a stark reminder that the consumer market makes only a marginal contribution to the overall revenue. Many believe consumers are not a priority for Microsoft and struggle therefore to understand the role of the Microsoft stores. Microsoft should admit they were an experiment. An experiment that failed and that it’s time to close them.

I believe it would be a mistake.

I also believe Microsoft does care about consumers; it just struggles to show it, especially when it comes to apps and services.

Microsoft is the exact opposite of Apple in the balance between enterprise and consumer. Apple goes out of its way not to come across as an enterprise company while Microsoft goes out of its way to always put enterprises first. In reality, both companies care about both markets and, more importantly, both companies need both markets!

When it comes to their retail presence, the two companies share similar goals. While it is not something Microsoft would admit to, creating an Apple store experience was the goal when they first opened their stores. Any tech company looking to have a retail presence should have Apple as a benchmark.

Aside from the short period when John Browett ran Apple’s retail business, Apple’s stores have always been about using great customer care to enhance brand loyalty. Apple stores are without a doubt one of Apple’s strong marketing assets aside from a solid revenue generator. People go into the stores to experience new devices, seek help with the ones they own and learn how to get the most out of them. Exchanges that I have often witnessed in stores, both in the US and in the UK where I lived, have been of customers met with knowledgeable and invested employees who made each customer feel they cared.

Microsoft has failed thus far to create an in store experience that is helping its brand. Calling it quit now, however, would be the wrong thing to do. Microsoft has never had this much to offer to consumers from an end to end experience. This need to experience – not try before you buy but truly experience – will grow with ambient computing, making a store presence even more valuable.

A Showcase for the Surface Portfolio and Microsoft Apps

Microsoft now has a full portfolio of Surface products that can be experienced in store. On display are not just the products but the vision that Microsoft has of modern computing. From Surface Pro to Surface Book, to Surface Laptop and the more aspirational Surface Studio and Surface Hub all help to tell that story. I was in a store with my daughter recently for a coding camp and seeing how the kids were drawn to the Hub made me wonder why there were not more people in the store doing just that. I am sure there are differences in locations as far as how busy the stores are, but more of a push around devices and experiences could certainly create more buzz.

Back in 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: “we want people to love Windows 10 not just use it.” The same should be said about all Microsoft products including the stores.

Activities in stores have been growing. I have seen more emphasis around STEM as part of the recent education push including Minecraft coding. Yet, more could be done around new apps like Story Remix, or People, or Paint 3D. Stores should have classes to learn how to use these apps, have people in stores using them as customers come in and have them try. This kind of activities will help create a different atmosphere in the store and educate potential customers. It would also help consumers to think more broadly about Microsoft.

Discoverability of new Windows 10 features remains an issue, especially for those consumers who upgraded to it on their old computers. Seeing what is possible might generate an upgrade opportunity and one that will benefit Surface. Surface Pro sales have been growing steadily in the enterprise market but not as much as they could in the consumer one. While many point to cost as an inhibitor, the real issue is the lack of visibility. Many other PC manufacturers have devices at similar price points, and of course Apple does too, so, clearly, there is a consumer market for Surface as well if mass market consumers knew more about it.

A Look to the Future to build Love for the Brand Today

Microsoft is no longer limited to Windows on PCs, and while Cloud and Office365 might be the biggest revenue generators, there are other products that will define the future of computing.

HoloLens stands out.

Enterprises are very interested in HoloLens as there are many applications that can save cost, increase productivity and enrich experiences. Yet, HoloLens has many consumers applications too which could generate reinvigorate the in-store experience. Think about Holographic Minecraft or a walk on Mars. I realize this is still a device that has limited availability and Microsoft might have concerns about dumbing down the experience making it feel like a VR park. Yet, there are opportunities to offer targeted events, limited in numbers that consumers could sign up to.

Microsoft effort to democratize 3D could be another area of focus with classes targeted on developing an object with Paint 3D and then printing it. Again, I realize the delicate balance between creating a buzz and creating a circus, but right now stores have very little buzz.

The big point about Apple stores is that they are first and foremost great experience centers. Microsoft stores feel more like a cross between an IT support center and a Best Buy where I go to buy as a last resort. I go in and get out as quickly as I can. My experience is that Microsoft stores staff is there to sell not to guide me and facilitate my discovery of what Microsoft has to offer.

Creativity is the new productivity is a great slogan for Windows and Microsoft should really look at becoming more creative when it comes to the stores.

Microsoft must deliver a consistent experience across stores focused on a shift from serving customers in a transactional exchange to facilitating customers’ experiences. This might require a change in how stores are evaluated and rewarded. Revenue should not be the short term focus but rather brand awareness and advocacy which in turn will bring increased revenues over time.

What Industries Have Been Least Disrupted by Tech?

There’s a long list of industries that have been disrupted by tech. The internet, broadband, and the PC/smartphone have all had a significant impact on how we communicate, shop, create and consume content, book travel, play games, and so on. But I’ve also been thinking about what industries or consumer experiences have NOT been as significantly affected by tech, at least so far. For example, even though Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi business, and cars are practically computers on wheels, it still takes as long or longer to get from A to B by car or plane as it did 20 years ago.

So, what are some other examples of industries that have been least disrupted by tech?

The Health Care System. Technology has contributed to enormous strides in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and illness. But the actual medical care system is not significantly more efficient than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Yes, there are now electronic medical records, and some consumers have access to their health history online. But the process of booking appointments, getting a referral, determining the price of a service, or determining the efficacy of a physician or the quality of a hospital or other treatment facility remains a rather arcane process. Sort of like why mobile payments are not more widespread, this is not a technology problem – it’s an industry problem.

Buying and Building A House. I just went through the process of buying a house for the first time in ten years, and it was interesting how the process of applying for and obtaining a mortgage is still very much an analog affair. Actually, there were more forms than ever to fill out…and the house closing – deed, title, and so on – is a fairly time consuming and paper-driven process. About the only improvement is that one can e-sign some of the documents, or scan and email them to the mortgage broker, which saved some stamps.

Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting column recently on how over the past 60 years, productivity in manufacturing has increased eightfold, yet we haven’t seen the same improvements in the $1 trillion construction industry. There are some compelling startups, such as Katerra, that are starting to address this opportunity.

Transportation. Elaborating a bit on the earlier point, segments of the transportation industry, such as taxis, have been disrupted. And cars have an amazing amount of tech in them and are much better built, thereby requiring fewer repairs and lasting longer. But the process of getting around? Tech hasn’t yet solved traffic. We are potentially at the dawn of a new era, with driverless cars (and trucks), smart cities, the Hyperloop, and so on. And big data has the potential to make public transportation systems more cost effective and efficient. This is a space likely to experience more change in the next 10 years than it has in the past 25.

Government Services. Yes, you can pay a traffic ticket, do your taxes, and renew your driver’s license online. But tech has not yet had a significant impact on the effectiveness of government services, or the consumer experience with the public sector. Sort of like the medical care system, many government processes remain arcane and laborious. Consumers don’t have a good view into the quality or effectiveness of public services or their elected officials. A simple example could be providing consumers a dashboard into how quickly streets are cleared after a snowfall. One promising area has been apps for reporting minor issues like potholes or broken street lamps, and the 311 system, which is starting to collect large amounts of data.

The Judicial System. What, there aren’t handcuffs that can be unlocked by an iPhone? From Perry Mason to L.A. Law to the Good Wife…most aspects of the legal process haven’t changed all that much over the years: how lawyers work, how cases are tried, what happens in a courtroom. It’s almost quaint. I served on a jury for several weeks in 2016, in a courtroom more than 100 years old, and it struck me that the experience of a juror, and the whole process or preparing and presenting a case is essentially unchanged. Sure, briefs are typed on PC, and evidence is catalogued electronically, but it does seem that the legal industry is a major contributor to keeping pen, paper, and three piece suits alive…

I’m sure there are some other good examples, but these are the industries that sprung to mind. So, tech hasn’t disrupted everything…

Job Posting: Digital Assistant Wanted

This week, Apple debuted a new ad centered around Siri and starring actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In “The Rock x Siri Dominate the Day,” Johnson uses Siri, to take on even more in his busy schedule – from reviewing his life goals to helping him navigate the globe to pursue his many interests, to taking selfies in outer space. The ad is fun and it might help some iOS users try new things with Siri, although I am pretty sure nobody will try a selfie from outer space! Overall though, the ad is an attempt to make Siri sexy as Apple prepares to bring HomePod to market later in the year.

In my short but very exciting Twitter exchange with “The Rock”, he suggested I should watch the ad before jumping into my column for this week.

Watching the ad made me reflect, once again, on how much more work there is to be done both from the technology side and on the users’ acceptance side. I started thinking about what I would be looking for if I were interviewing to hire the perfect digital assistant.

Job Description

I am a busy working mom looking for a full-time digital assistant who could help me breeze through my day as if I were in total control, having a world of fun with my family yet not missing a beat at work. Most of all, I need a digital assistant that gets a lot done for me while making me feel I am doing it all on my own!

This job is not for the fainthearted! It’s a 24/7 position where you should not expect any please and thank yous. Some cross-room shouting might occur and you will be entitled to zero days off!

I have:

  • A tech related job that has me use several devices running on different operating systems. In an ideal world, once I pick my assistant, it would be easier for her/him if all my devices and services were linked to a single ecosystem. Unfortunately, this is not a likely reality, as technology will be more and more pervasive reaching into devices that in the past have not been connected making it difficult if not impossible to just stick with one ecosystem. Job requirements aside, I believe in being able to pick the best in class experience across what is available, which at times means to mix and match devices and ecosystems. Let’s be honest, it is also quite unlikely that one single assistant will be able to address all my needs! So, I expect whoever I employ for the main job to play nice with any other assistant I might also interact with. Over time, I am open, however, to just rely on you for all my needs if the experience you deliver were to be notably superior.
  • A busy and unpredictable schedule. My day to day schedule is quite busy and unpredictable, yet tends to be well documented in my calendar. I travel a lot for work which means I will need your help at different times and in different locations. While on the road, I will still need to be able to be in touch with what is going on at home and I might need you to lend your services to my family members. Likely locations where you will be expected to work: home, office, car, coffee shops, planes, and hotels. How I interact with you will vary depending on location and time. As voice might not be the most efficient and most private way to communicate at all times, I expect you to dynamically adapt your communication method to best fit the occasion.
  • A need to be always on. As I come to rely on you, I am afraid you will not be able to have any time off. I would also expect you to respond to any member of my family knowing they are not me and therefore they do not have access to all my work information and they have a different set of needs and preferences. As far as you are concerned, they are as important as I am. I will help you figure out who has access to what but when in doubt please ask. Also, please be considerate of their digital assistants.

You have:

  • High confidence and accuracy. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t make excuses. If you are not sure about the instructions I have given you make some suggestions to the best of your ability. There is nothing I hate more than hearing: “Sorry I cannot help with that yet!” If you want me to trust you, accuracy is paramount. I will be an open book to you, so you will have plenty of information to get it right. If I ask you to do something a couple of times and you get it wrong, I will not ask you again. Repeat that a few times and I will have to let you go for good. Your profession is a trendy one and there are plenty of digital assistants out there waiting to be hired!
  • Good conversation skills. Let’s be clear, I am not your old boss. So whatever you might be used to, you will have to adapt to me. I do not want to learn a new set of commands for you, I also do not expect to repeat myself every time I talk to you. Nor do I want to give you information that you should already be aware of from previous interactions or data you have access to. Read between the lines!
  • Eagerness to learn and grow. Never stop learning and using what you know to do your job the best you can. I am more than happy to invest time in teaching you about me. I understand this is the only way to start on the right foot. But please don’t waste my time! You are supposed to be a smart assistant, so be smart! Don’t just store information, use it, connect the dots.
  • A flexible and proactive nature. Being proactive is the key to a reciprocally beneficial collaboration. Use what you know about me, my schedule, my preferences, my likes and dislikes to be always two steps ahead of me so you can save me time, make me efficient and productive for the things I must do so I have time for the things I want to do.
  • Consistency and reliability. If I teach you something please remember that and use it consistently across devices. I hired you to save me time not to create more work for me. I expect you to show up every time I need you. If you deliver on the promise of a digital assistant I will become so dependent on you that you will have a job for life.

You might also have:

  • A sense of humor and a personality. While we do not have to be best friends and we can keep our relationship solely professional, I strongly believe that a sense of humor would help us both get through the day. I also believe that life without sarcasm is not worth living, so I am happy to receive as much as I dish out!

If interested, please apply below and we can discuss compensation and benefits!

What New Features would Most benefit iPhone Users

With the huge amount of interest in the new iPhones, rumors are rampant about their features. We’ve heard from industry and stock analysts, tech bloggers and other followers of Apple, reporting on rumors from insiders at the manufacturing plants, accessory companies, and component suppliers.

The interest is well-founded. It’s been three years with no significant external changes to the iPhone. This is the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the first iPhone, and the competition – notably Samsung and Google – have made significant strides in offering competitive products. Most importantly, the iPhone represents almost two-thirds of Apple’s sales.

I thought I’d take a different approach in speculating what’s ahead. As a product design consultant, but, more importantly, as a product reviewer that examines many products throughout the year from the perspective of the customer, I’m going to offer what I think customers would value the most and cause them to upgrade. In other words, what new features do iPhone users really want.

The top item on my list for improvement is a longer battery life.  I’ve talked with dozens of iPhone owners, and the number one complaint I hear is the need to recharge their phones to get through the day.  I carry an iPhone 6 with a recently replaced battery in an Apple battery case and often run out before dinner time. Granted the newer models have a little more capacity, but still not enough to match the increased use of phones for the many new activities we do. Apple has erred on the side of thinness at the expense of battery life, and I hope they’ll fix this major weakness.

My second priority is the display. Apple has not improved its resolution and basic design for the past three years and has fallen behind the competition, particularly Samsung. I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy S8 from AT&T side by side with my iPhone, and invariably I’ll reach for the S8 when I want to do any extensive reading of email or Internet content. The display on the S8 is much higher in contrast and sharpness, and the characters appear to float on the surface of the display rather than sit below it.

Third is the form factor. Anything Apple can do to provide a greater display area in a physically smaller package is a benefit to the user. More text on the display means less scrolling. Samsung has accomplished this by eliminating the bezels along the sides and going to a more elongated display that results in a significantly larger display area in the same overall package size.

Fourth is durability. If Apple were only to offer a phone that could survive a 36-inch drop onto a sidewalk and a long dip in the pool, they’d be well ahead of the Samsung S8, that’s one of the most fragile of phones. It’s all glass construction is as fragile as a Riedel wine glass. We’re already seeing added durability on some Lenovo Motorola phones and Samsung’s Active models.

I know Apple will do a great job with the ID as they always have. While a great ID can wow us, as the S8’s ID wowed me, it’s something that becomes a little less important after the initial excitement wears off. I’d much prefer an ID that incorporates the important functions noted above, than one that compromises those features for design sake.

Lastly, one of the most important customer features Apple offers is its superb customer support that none of their competitors can match. If you’re near an Apple Store you can often get service while you wait and get a wide range of assistance at no cost from well-trained, attentive employees.

But increasingly often you need to wait several days to get an appointment with the Genius Bar. I’d like to see Apple offer an even higher level of service, particularly for those that are not near an Apple store: deliver a replacement or loaner phone to your home in 24 hours or less, much like Amazon can do with an order.

I’ve left off other features that others are actively anticipating and even wishing for, such as wireless charging, facial recognition, embedded fingerprint readers, and curved displays. That’s because I don’t think they matter as much to the customer as they do to those of us that cover technology. People learn to sign in one way or another and give little thought to it once they do it a few times as long as it’s secure.  Wireless charging is a minor convenience that becomes less important with a longer battery life.

I have no idea whether Apple will do any of these things, but for the sake of providing what most benefits their customers, I hope some of these features will be included.