Ahead of this week’s Paris Motor Show, HERE announced how its Open Location Platform (OLP) aims to gather real-time data from sensors on board of connected vehicles to create a live assessment of road environment that will make driving more secure for drivers as well as driverless cars. In order to achieve this goal, HERE will start sourcing sensor data from Audi, BMW and Mercedez-Bens. More brands will be added over time.
The data provided anonymously by the car makers will be the basis of four distinct services:
HERE Real-Time Traffic
HERE Hazard Warnings
HERE Road Signs
HERE On Street Parking
These services will be made available to any auto maker, municipality, road authority, smartphone maker and developer to license. While connected cars today are still limited, HERE is expecting other auto makers to join the current lineup and contribute their car data.
Openness in data sharing, which is a first in the automotive market, clearly shows how much is at stake for car vendors.
HERE Focuses on the Bigger Picture
HERE has come a long way since launching as the separate brand mapping service of phone maker Nokia. From a pure mapping service for consumers, it built a strong enterprise business and white-labeled its maps for big names such as Amazon, Facebook, and Baidu. In 2015, HERE was bought by a consortium of German car manufacturers that included Volkswagen (Audi’s parent company), Daimler (Mercedes-Benz parent company), and BMW. Since then, HERE has been moving fast in closing more enterprise deals and expanding the consumer offering with HereWeGo which really takes the brand from offering a mapping service to offering a transportation concierge service.
HERE’s mapping apps on iOS and Android have very positive reviews but uptake remains limited, especially in markets like the US. This is not necessarily because of the superiority of Google or Apple maps but because consumers tend to use what comes as a default or is linked to a popular brand. These entrenched behaviors keep Google Maps as king of a castle. Trying to change that would require a lot of effort and marketing dollars, with a return on investment that would likely not be significant enough for HERE.
The recent announcement from HERE makes a lot of sense when it comes to how the OLP could become a more critical consumer enabler, albeit an invisible one. We spend so much time looking at Google and Apple, we sometimes forget consumer engagement is not just valuable when there is a direct return on your own brand. In other words, HERE cannot be successful outside the enterprise only by becoming a strong consumer brand.
What is at Stake?
The data that cars will be able to collect will be key more than the services both as a source of revenue and an engagement point with users. Artificial intelligence in the car will benefit tremendously from all this information and so will our personal assistants.
Google has been at this for years when it comes to collecting data for its map service, both from a world layout perspective and user preference and habits, including catching Pokémons. Smartphones have democratized navigation in the car, preventing the attach rate of built-in navigation from really taking off. While the integration of navigation has been trickling down from luxury models to more basic ones, the premium consumers still have to pay for navigation and cost of keeping the maps updated are still negatively impacting in-built navigation.
Semi-autonomous and autonomous cars might change the rule of engagement with consumers who are starting to rely more on what comes built into the car and, over time, using their phones as a secondary screen. If you see maps and the data as the intelligence that powers your smart assistant, you can see how the model that HERE is setting up offers big upsides.
Of course, Google and Apple will try and own that whole experience from maps to virtual assistants, but car vendors have the opportunity to offer an alternative by integrating HERE services out of the box — or, in this case, out of the garage — and let the virtual assistant the user prefers (Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google assistant) tap into the data and be my interface.
There will also be consumers who do not buy into the virtual assistant scenario but would love to have a chauffeur in the sense of a curated, safe driving experience. This is another role car vendors might want to play. The key to success, however, is not to make these features premium and static. Innovation in the mobile world happens faster and would always offer consumers more for less.
Of course, as HERE does not just make this data available to car vendors, the opportunities to be the data engine for players wanting a piece of the pie of the connected car will be endless.
There has been a lot written about Apple’s move away from the audio jack, before and after it actually happened. Many people are outraged a technology that has been around for so long and still supported by so many hardware vendors was “taken” away so abruptly, so prematurely.
We heard similar outcries when Apple adopted a USB Type-C only port for its MacBook. And people were not too happy when Google moved to USB Type-C for its Nexus line. Sadly, as painful as it is, if we want change, we need to make the first step. But, when that happens, we are never happy.
Change sucks! And Apple knows that so it does not take it lightly nor does it think all its iPhone installed base is ready for it. What I find particularly interesting about this saga is Apple has actually been quite considerate in including an adapter so users can use other headsets with their iPhone if they wish. This is about making sure consumers do not have to pay a high price for Apple’s desire to move ahead. But there is a price: $40 for a third party adapter that allows you charge your iPhone 7 and 7 Plus while continuing to use your headset. While the availability of such an adapter was one of my first questions to Apple, I came to realize, as I thought through the different scenarios, I can count on the fingers of one hand when I actually found myself needing to do that. So, while I might end up buying one, it is more as a security blanket than an actual need. Of course, if I do not want to have that problem at all, I could buy the new AirPods for $119 more than the EarPods adapter would cost. And the AirPods are really the story here.
A Cornerstone of the Device Ecosystem Experience
As with the EarPods, Apple designed and brought to market the AirPods under its own brand because they are going to be key to the user experience with the iPhone and other devices. If it were just a question of selling an accessory, Apple could have easily created a set of wireless headphones under the Beats brand and added them to the other new headsets introduced on stage. But the AirPods are not just an accessory. They are an important tool to show users who are embedded in the ecosystem the power of owning multiple devices. Think about the call functionality already going over the Watch and the Mac. And now, think of the fact Apple took time on stage to tell us that, when we connect our AirPods to the iPhone, they are automatically connected to our other devices through iCloud. Now I can take a call from my Watch without looking like an angry Dick Tracy or from my Mac without shouting at it. Think about listening to music from your Watch while you run or getting directions while you walk through the city. After all, many wanted GPS so they could leave their phone at home, no?
Cut the Cord and Let Siri Free
The choice of devices the AirPods empower is also an incredible opportunity for Siri to play a much more active and personal role day to day. This, in turn, will increase our dependence on her (yes I do personify Siri the same as I do Alexa). AirPods could improve our experience, particularly in the home, not just with Apple TV but with other HomeKit-enabled devices. It will also make it easier in environments where there are different devices and users so my Siri will respond only to me; she will be truly my personal assistant. I do not think what we have today is the end goal — there are still things that need to be worked on — but this first generation of AirPods clearly show what the future could look like. While a 5 hour battery life to listen to music might not seem like enough to many, you do not need both pods to interact with Siri — which means you can potentially cover a full day of Siri interactions using the charge in the holder. Music lovers might not like the fact Siri stops the music so she can better hear your comments but even this should be something that can be changed in future iterations.
Look at the Apple Watch to See the Progression
The bottom line is that, in a very similar way to Apple Watch Series 1, with AirPods you are buying into the future not quite knowing what the immediate benefits will be. Users will discover benefits as they go along and will help Apple refine the experience in the process, exactly as it happened with Apple Watch Series 2.
One of the complaints I heard was about Apple’s misjudged list of priorities: wireless headphones came before wireless charging. As much as I like the convenience of wireless charging, the reality is, whatever your device is using to charge — pad, pillow, stand — it still requires a wire into the wall. So, while it might look nicer, it does not actually change your behavior unless I am missing something. This is why, at the end of the day, for a company that never does tech for tech’s sake, prioritizing wireless charging did not make sense.
The approach Apple took with the removal of the audio jack and the addition of the Lightning EarPods alongside the AirPods shows Apple’s appreciation of its user base that is now no longer made up of just early adopters. While early adopters will likely jump on the AirPods, the rest of the base will have the time to adjust to the idea without feeling they are missing out on what the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have to offer.
There has been quite a bit written about Virtual Reality (VR) and children but the analysis has focused on the risk viewing VR content could have on eyesight. The majority of VR headset manufacturers are setting age limits for users. Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR headsets have a 13+ age requirement. HTC, while not setting an age limit, warns against letting young children use the Vive. This is certainly more of a “better safe than sorry” tactic than the result of any conclusive findings on the impact of using VR on “growing” eyes. Kids, of course, face the same issues as adults when it comes to motion sickness or the risks of hitting objects in real life while moving about in a virtual one. More recently, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario Bros, took a very cautious approach to VR when it comes to kids saying more research needs to be done to make sure the kids are safe and parents do not worry.
Physical Vs. Emotional and Psychological Impact of VR on Kids
While there seems to be enough concern about the physical impact of VR on kids, I am personally more concerned about the emotional impact VR is likely to have. Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab has been studying VR for more than a decade. In 2009, they published the results of a study that focused on children’s memory and VR. A group of children played with whales under water through VR. A week after the experience took place, they were asked about it. 50% of them said they remembered it as if it actually happened in the physical world.
This weekend I went to the movies with my daughter who will be nine in December. We saw “Pete’s Dragon” in 3D. During the trailers, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” played and, as many times before when a scary scene was shown, the glasses came off and the fingers went in her ears. Thus far, my daughter has only tried child friendly games or educational experiences in VR so she was either able to understand it was fiction or she had experienced something like visiting the Natural History Museum in New York City so she felt like she was visiting somewhere familiar. Our movie experience made me wonder how she would react to a story told in VR.
How is Storytelling Different in VR?
Earlier in the year at the Samsung Developer Conference, I attended a session on VR where Eric Darnell, the Chief Creating Director of Baobab Studios explained the difficulties of storytelling in VR. Baobab created a computer animated VR short interactive movie called Invasion where a bunch of aliens come to take over Earth.
Instead of being populated by humans, Earth has only two citizens: two white fluffy, super cute bunnies — the viewer is one of them. When the storytelling becomes interactive, you sometimes lose control over the pace and composition of the story but the team at Baobab was able to come up with a technique to inspire the viewer, through sound and visual clues, to follow the path they wanted. Interactivity brings an extra layer to the story; this can be good or bad. Darnell talked about a scene where there are aliens in front of the viewer while the other bunny is behind him/her. This was fun for some as they felt they were really in the story as they could “feel” the bunny’s presence behind them. However, others were stressed by the experience as they were not sure whether they should look in front or behind. Even more interesting was how viewers reacted to one tested story ending where the other bunny dies. Killing the bunny triggered much stronger feelings than it would have done in a regular movie. You are in the story; you are the bunny’s companion yet there is nothing you can do to save it. You can see how this must be much harder on children – and adults for that matter, I cried watching Pete’s Dragon! – than a traditional screening, even a 3D one.
VR Experiences might be Virtual but the Emotions It Triggers are Very Real
What makes the emotions even stronger is that the child will be completely “alone” in this world and taking the headset off for a few seconds might not be the first thought. If you think of those instances where you are wearing a VR headset as well as headphones, you can easily see how what we call immersive can turn into a terrifying experience for a child. The quick TV channel switch when something inappropriate comes on, or the burying of the face in the armpit, will not work as parents will be left clueless as to what is happening inside the headset.
Because of this, I believe VR content aimed at minors, young children in particular, calls for more stringent guidelines so that once the concerns for any physical risk will go away, and they will, we do not forget about the emotional and psychological impact VR could have.
Of course, children are not the only segment that could find VR experiences too immersive. Like for many other platforms before VR, sex and violence are big sellers for both games and content. While it might not be down to platform owners to determine what is bad and what is not, I believe there is a duty that lies with app store owners and content publishers not to censor but to warn. Not an easy discussion to have and one I am sure we will hear more about in the future.
This week, Fast Company published a series of interviews with Apple’s executives from Tim Cook to Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi and Bozama Saint John and if there was one point that was clear across the board is it’s that Apple is built on the core principle of “making great products” but the way to deliver that greatness might look different from what it used to. This leads many to believe we are dealing with a different company altogether rather than a company that is evolving.
Tim Cook said he does not read all the Apple coverage, which means he is possibly spared the many times the “Steve would not have done this” or “This would have never happened under Steve” sentences appear in a commentary. Aside from the obvious (we actually don’t know what Steve would have done), there is another point many seem to forget — today’s market is very different than it was when Steve Jobs was CEO.
The tremendous success of the iPhone and the consequent inability to duplicate that success has been seen as a leadership failure rather than the fact there will likely be no single product that will impact as many people as smartphones, the iPhone in particular, have done. Steve’s Apple gave us the iPhone so an Apple that deviates from Steve’s must be bad. This is basically what it boils down to for many.
But different is not necessarily bad. Tim Cook has a different personality than Steve Jobs and, as we learned from this week’s interviews, a different management style. We certainly see a more open, humble, inclusive, socially engaged leader that, in my view, has softened, not weakened Apple’s image as a company. As I mentioned, we cannot just look at management and think the Apple we see today has not been impacted by the markets it plays in. Let’s think about some of the things that are different today:
– Smartphones market has capped
– Apple is serving over 1 billion users across its devices
– Apple is present in over 150 markets
– Services grew 19% year over year
– Apple is in enterprise with more than just hardware – IBM, Cisco SAP, the boardroom area in
the revamped stores
– Apple is more vertical than it has ever been: semiconductor, hardware, software, services
– More product categories than ever
– Larger acquisitions/investments: Beats, DIDI
– Focus on new verticals other than education such as health
– Biggest R&D expenditure
Apple is evolving and, in my view, doing it faster than it would have done under Steve Jobs. This is crucial for the long-term play.
Just think how different it is to serve the Mac installed base of less than 100m units vs. 1 billion devices in the overall ecosystem. While you can try and think of everything when it comes to hardware, trying to be as inclusive as possible when you deliver a service or an app becomes more challenging when you are serving so many people in so many countries. To me, this was at the core of the Maps comment made by Cue in the interview:
“To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right? So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”
As many indicated, we now have a Beta program for Mac OS X and iOS because of Maps but we also have a Bug Bounty Program. These are instances when being more open makes sense.
Following the interview, people lingered on the “embarrassment” Maps has caused but there were other points made that say a lot about how Apple is thinking and give insights to some of the recent investments or speculations about new directions. Cue said:
“What it causes you to do first is ask, How important is this? We had long discussions at the ET [executive team] level about the importance of Maps, where we thought it was going in the future, and could we treat it as a third-party app? We don’t do every app. We’re not trying to create a Facebook app. They do a great job. We decided that Maps is integral to our whole platform.”
You can see how, in light of this comment, you could explain the Office 365 integration on iPad or how the rumored approach to TV might be with a guide not a TV set or even how the investment in Didi will provide key learning and market opportunity for what is to come.
Another reason why today’s Apple is a distinct variety of the same company rests clearly in the fact Apple remains different in the way it approaches the market and marches to its own beat. While Steve Jobs might have said the reason for that was he knew best, the reality is it all boils down to what the core business is. For Apple, it is to deliver great products, hardware or experiences, and monetizing the high level of engagement the experience generates.
While Wall Street is worried about whether or not iPhone sales will return to growth with the iPhone 7, Apple is also worrying about how to remain a highly valued company for the long run. As Cook said:
“It’s hard to imagine a market defined in units—not revenues—that’s that big.”
Many of these areas offering new revenue opportunitiy will clearly benefit from the installed base of valuable users Apple has built. Users who are highly engaged in the ecosystem and see Apple as a trusted provider.
I have shared stories before of when, at the start of the smartphone market, I would go into meetings with male colleagues and they would be shown the powerful new gadget while I was shown the pink phone with a mirror and very large keys. This did not just happen once and it was not just with Asian-based companies. I remember Research in Motion CEO Mike Lazaridis answering a question about how to sell to women with: “Just paint them pink!”
Last week, Google announced that the emoji subcommittee of the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization that develops and promotes software internationalization standards, had agreed to add 11 new characters that portray professional women in every skin tone. Furthermore, 33 existing emojis now have both a female and male version. This is the result of an effort by four Google employees who submitted the changes a few months ago as the debate on women’s equality was impacting, Hollywood, the US treasury and of course tech.
In this post, Google quotes some interesting statistics about emoji usage across the world:
“Young women are the heaviest users of emoji. According to a September, 2015 SocialTimes report by AdWeek, 92% of online consumers use emoji. Of that user base, 78% of women are frequent emoji users, versus 60% of men. Likewise, age breakdowns of the emoji-active user base reveal that 72% of those under 25 are frequent emoji users, and 77% of users aged 25 – 29 are frequent users. Emoji usage begins dropping at age 30 (with frequent usage dropping to 65% for ages 30-35, and 60% for people over 35.) The nexus of female users and young users reveals that women under 30 are most the frequent emoji users by far.”
Representation matters when it comes to gender and of course it does not stop there or with emojis. If the tech industry wants to have more female engineers, designers, product managers, etc., girls needs to feel they can be one if they want to. And the same can be said about minorities in tech. Aside from the new emojis Google also launched, ahead of World Emoji Day over the weekend and through Made with Code, a new project that teaches coding skills through the creation of emoji-inspired stickers.
As a parent of an 8-year-old girl, I am very aware of using a variety of adjectives to describe her. Adjectives that go beyond her physical appearance and describe her skills, personality, traits. In her education, I make an effort to find books where girls and boys have different ethnic backgrounds and like different things. She is growing up being told she can be who and what she wants to be as long as she works for it.
I thought I had the basics covered. Then, a few weeks ago, she started to text and use emojis. Suddenly, she was using a form of expression I did not feel was comprehensive enough. It blew me away when she picked a “thumb’s up” emoji that was closest to the color of her skin and not just any color. She wanted that emoji to represent HER! But that was where her search ended. She could not find her curly hair or a female vet. As a matter of fact, she could not even find a dog that looked anything like ours (but ours are not mainstream dogs). If emojis are a form of communication, they should be as comprehensive as possible. Think about colors and how ancient civilizations had only names for colors they could make, red being one of the oldest ones. If they could not make the color, that color did not exist, even if it was present in nature. While fortunately, emojis are supplementing our communication rather than substituting it, I would hate to live in a world where the absence of an emoji would be the equivalent of an extinction warning. So, while by no means exhaustive, I do welcome these new emojis so my daughter will know being a bride is not the only career option she has.
The “Back to School” season in the US always offers a good boost to Apple’s sales. Traditionally, Apple launches its Back to School promotions in June or early July and, while 2015 was a bit of an exception with a later date, this year we went back to tradition as the details were shared at the start of June. As always, Apple’s promotions will run in their stores and online.
Apple’s 2015 Back to School Promotion Felt Like an Odd One Out
In 2015, Apple’s Back to School promotion was slightly more restricted than in pervious years. It offered one pair of Beats Solo2 On-Ear Headphones (via an instant credit in the amount of $199.95 that would be applied to your order) or one pair of Beats Solo2 Wireless On-Ear Headphones (also with an instant credit of $199.95 that would be applied to your order). The Qualified Education Individual would be responsible for paying the remaining balance ($100), following the application of the instant credit to the purchase price. Eligible products were iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and the Mac Pro. The iPhone and the iPad were excluded from the promotion in 2015, also a departure from previous years.
While these omissions seemed odd at first, it is worth reminding ourselves of where Apple was in the summer of 2015. iPhone sales reached 61.2 million units in the second quarter of 2015, a healthy increase over the 43.7 million iPhones sold in 2014. iPad sales had started to decrease with volumes of 12.6 million, down from the 16 million of the second quarter of 2015. But the decline was not yet a real cause of concern.
Apple’s 2016 Back to School reflects the company’s needs
Apple enters Back to School 2016 in a very different market dynamic and the promotions reflect that. In the second quarter of 2016, Apple experienced a ten million unit drop year over year in iPhone sales, down to 51.2 million. iPad sales were down to 10.2 million units. So, iPhone and iPads are back on the list of qualifying devices for the Back to School promotion. Students purchasing an iPhone 6 and 6s or an iPad Pro will get a pair of Beats Powerbeats 2 wireless headphones worth $200. Students investing in iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro will get a set of Beats Solo 2 wireless headphones worth $300.
Apple also offers special financing with the Barclaycard Visa.
WWDC 2016 did not bring a new MacBook Pro so what now?
Despite the rumors leading up to WWDC, Apple did not launch a new MacBook Pro which means Apple has no new product for Back to School. Of course, that was enough to jumpstart yet another “Apple is doomed” line of commentary.
Considering that “Back to School” makes for a more pragmatic crowd of buyers, I personally doubt the new MacBook Pro would have been the star performer. The Pro line is always very aspirational and the price tag usually reflects that, making it more a purchase for the holiday season than Back to School.
If the Beats headsets are not enough of an incentive for buyers, there were enough promotions for July 4th to make the existing MacBook Pro and Air worth looking at, as prices drop by as much as $300 across authorized resellers.
iPad Pro Plus Microsoft Office can satisfy both students and parents
If you do what I do (namely, pretend to know about technology), you have pretty much everybody who knows what you do ask you what they should buy. When it comes to Back to School in the past few years, the question has often been: MacBook Air or iPad? The kids want the iPad and the parents want the MacBook, because college should be about work not play! Needless to say, it is not for me to debunk that theory.
On the tech front though, what parents really mean is that students need Microsoft Word and a keyboard. I feel I can safely say there is no longer a choice to be made between work and play if you use an iPad Pro with Office 365. The results of a recent study we conducted at Creative Strategies show college students clearly prefer to use Word for work that does not require collaboration where Google Docs reigns supreme. The full access a 365 Office subscription offers on all iPads allows for that solo work to be done with the preferred tool. And the iPad Pro plus a keyboard combination gives you the same ease of use a MacBook Air gives you with the added bonus of a touch screen.
Of course, if you are in the market for a PC and not a Mac, there are going to be cheaper options that already come with Office 365 as vendors try and clear their inventory during Back to School to prep for the Windows Anniversary Edition devices to hit later in the year. But, if you want to stay in the Apple camp, I think the two iPad Pro models have a role to play for this year’s Back to school buyer.
I prefer to base my models attempting to track sell through. I have access to live device data which helps me put parts of this puzzle together. From all the sources I have, and trying to get closer to sell through by the vendors, this is where I landed.
For Tech.pinions subscribers next week, I’ll do a deep dive on the December quarter smart phone data and detail the implications pointed out in my global model as well as look at some updated installed base estimates.
While an impressive feat, last quarter’s iPhone numbers are further evidence Apple defies conventional wisdom. Certainly, Samsung will be number one again next quarter. There are also certain questions circulating around Apple sustaining this growth as Bob O’Donnell goes into here for our subscribers. What we have to recognize is the trend lines. Trend lines, followed by sound study of global markets, is what gives us insight into not just current trajectories but future ones as well. Ultimately, that is what matters in this analysis. A good analysis is not just a snapshot in time but sheds insight into where things may go. This is where the focus will lie as we analyze the key story lines for 2015. Luckily, using sound data models, we can develop more educated insights about what lies ahead.
Everyone here at Tech.pinions wish all our readers a Happy Holiday season. Hopefully, you all get to take time to reflect and spend it with friends and family. Our hardworking writers are taking the week off to do the same but we will be back in full force next week.
Ben Bajarin and Benedict Evans discuss a latest blog post by Benedict on the need for new questions in mobile. During this podcast we discuss and go deeper on some of the implications of those questions and where we go from here in the mobile industry.
In developing the Snapdragon 810 application processor (AP), Qualcomm incorporated several new features and capabilities, a tricky move for such a complex device and one loaded with potential problems. Some thought they couldn’t do it.
Nevertheless, not only is the 810 on track as promised for mid-2015 device deliveries, it has several “firsts” associated with the new chip:
• It is Qualcomm’s first 20nm SoC (being fabed at TSMC)
• It’s the first hexa core, 64 bit ARMv8 CPUs (four A57 @ ~2GHz, and four A53 @ 1.55GHz) for Qualcomm
• It’s the first SoC with dual 14-bit Image Signal Processors (ISPs)
• The 810 introduces the new Adreno 430 GPU
• It has the first dual channel 1600 MHz LLPDDR4 memory implementation in the industry
• It’s the first hardware implementation of 4K (3840 x 2160) HEVC/H.265 video encode
• It’s the first implementation of UFS 2.0 storage support
• It’s Qualcomm’s first WCD9330 analog CODEC
• It’s the industry’s first multi-channel 4G LTE category 9 Carrier Aggregation Connectivity
Although it is Qualcomm’s (QTI) first 64-bit hexa-core CPU, it uses the ARMv8-Cortex A57/A53 core. In the past, QTI has designed its own ARM-ISA CPU, the Krait. The Cortex big.LITTLE CPU however, has been available for licensing for a while and used by several other SoC suppliers, therefore it does not represent much risk for Qualcomm.
However, a report in Business Korea last week said the chip “overheats when it reaches a specific voltage,” and “slows down owing to problems with the RAM controller connected to the AP” (the story was echoed by a European web site and, like so many rumors, took on a life of its own, much to the delight of short sellers). However, it’s just not true.
The 810, which I got to play with last night in various form factors (tablets and phones), has the industry’s first LPDDR4 memory and controller, and is running at 1600 MHz (yes, in a mobile device). At that clock speed, it’s impressive because it is delivering a total bandwidth of 25.6GB/s (it is 2×32-bit channels—64 bits). That kind of memory performance is what’s needed to deliver high performance video processing, fast Open CL performance, and high level graphics performance. Obviously something so critical to the success of the chip wouldn’t be left to chance.
QTI introduced the Adreno 430 GPU in the 810 and it offers support for OpenGL ES 3.1, hardware tessellation, geometry shaders and programmable blending. It has frame buffer compression and can drive an external 4K display at 30 fps or 1080p video at 120 fps via HDMI 1.4. The company claims the 430 deliver up 30% faster graphics performance and 100% faster GP-compute performance over the predecessor Adreno GPU (420), while reducing power consumption by up to 20%. Qualcomm has also incorporated a new level of GPU security for composition and management of premium video and other multimedia. These claims are not surprising. QTI has been the leading supplier of GPUs for several years, offering great performance while using little power, and selling more GPUs than any other company.
The Adreno 430 will be featured in top commercially available games like Activision’s popular “Skylanders Trap Team”, running on a 4K display. At the Qualcomm user experience media event in New York, Qualcomm showed the Epic Unreal 4 game engine running high end graphics content on Snapdragon 810’s 64bit ARMv8 CPUs.
QTI has always been good at video; however, the 810 has an upgraded camera suite with gyro-stabilization and 3D noise reduction. In the previous AP (the 805), you could capture 12-bit 4k video, but not directly drive a 4k screen. In the 810, there are dual 14-bit ISPs capable of supporting 1.2GP/s throughput and image sensors up to 55MP.
There is a lot of I/O: HDMI 1.4, USB 3.0, UFS Gear2, eMMC 5.0, and SD 3.0 (UHS-1). Naturally, there’s great radio with 802.11AC, and the company’s 4th Generation Cat6 LTE with support for Qualcomm’s RF360 front end solution, and 3x20MHz carrier aggregation, enabling speeds of up to 300 Mbps, as well as Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and the latest Qualcomm IZat location core for ubiquitous location services.
The Snapdragon 808 is a dual core Cortex A57, with an Adreno 418 GPU. The company says it offers up to 20% faster graphics performance than its predecessor, the Adreno 330 GPU. It’s been designed to support up to WQXGA (2560×1600) displays, and has a new level of GPU security. The 808 has dual 12-bit ISPs and uses LPDDR3 memory. It too can drive a 4k screen (via DMI 1.4).
In April, QTC said they would have 810 units in the hands of their partners by the end of the year, and devices would show up in mid-2015. QTC reports everything with Snapdragon 810 remains on track and we expect commercial devices to be available in 1H 2015.
As reported in their year end report 5 November, Qualcomm shipped 861 MSM chips in their Fiscal 2014 year (ending 28 September 2014).
The big change is the availability of mobile shopping. Based on IBM’s data until noon EST on Monday, total online sales have risen 9.2%. But mobile traffic was 39.9%, a 28.4% increase from 2013. Mobile sales were 23%, a 28.7% increase from last year. Note that shows 60% of the total traffic still comes from PCs, but the mobile share continues to rise.
There are three big lessons in the news about Thanksgiving data:
Android May Dominate Phone Sales, but iPhones Dominate Shopping
Android phones outnumber iPhones in the U.S. The advantage is nowhere near as impressive as in most of the rest of the world, but Android holds about 10% more of the total U.S. phone share. But according to IBM, iOS accounted for 27% of all online traffic vs. 12.4% for Android. The iOS sales advantage was even greater — 17.8% of online sales verse a paltry 5% of Android sales. The average iPhone sale is $127.85 per order, 22% more than the average Android sale.
There doesn’t seem to be any good statistics explaining this gap, but it’s not hard to come up with some speculative ideas on what is responsible. Probably the most important is a considerable percentage of Android acquirers are moving from traditional, and disappearing, feature phones. But these customers do not have online experience of mobile device purchases. Although the top of the line Androids phones may equal or even exceed the price of an iPhone, many Android competitors are filling the bottom of the market, where mobile purchases are smaller and less common.
Forget About Black Friday
The notion of Black Friday has always been an invention of retailers to help draw customers to stores the day after Thanksgiving. But the decline in a general strong economy this year is a good sign the Black Friday is no longer is what it used to be. One reason for the weaker sales is definitely the growing volume of online selling. Online shopping, whether it’s mobile or desktop, is available day or night, seven days a week. The affect is likely to be a spreading of holiday shopping from Thanksgiving to the day shippers cut off Christmas deliveries. The relatively slow start to post-Thanksgiving shopping should probably not be viewed as a slow market.
Forget About Cyber Monday, Too
There once was a real reason for Cyber Monday. Those who wanted to buy right after Thanksgiving needed a chance to get onto the internet and, for many, that was the first time back to the office. But of course, nearly all of those customers now have desktops or tablets at home and mobile devices nearly everywhere. If they want to whip out their phones and order presents during Thanksgiving dinner, they could. So the expectation for Cyber Monday to be a specific day for shopping no longer exists.
PCs Aren’t Dead for Shopping
The growth of business over mobile devices is taking attention away from laptop and desktop computers. But, as IBM puts it, “Even as mobile shopping continues to grow, many consumers chose a more traditional online experience. Desktop PC traffic represented 59.9% of all online traffic, and 77% of all online sales. Further, consumers spent more money on their desktops with an average order value of $141.14 compared to their mobile devices at $122.04, a difference of 15.7%.”
Of course, one alternative I know well myself is to shop on a mobile device and then make the actual purchase on a PC. The alternative here is to use a tablet. I’m not fond of shopping on the phone because I simply can’t see enough on the screen.
But my iPad is often a very good alternative to the PC, especially with well-designed shopping apps effectively using the display. For example, Amazon has a much broader shopping app for the iPad than it does for the iPhone. Of course, this is likely to become much more of an issue as the largest phones bump against the smallest tablets.
UPDATE: By the end of the day, IBM found that online sales were up 8.5% from last year, although orders were down 3.5%. Mobile traffic accounted for 41.2% of all online traffic, up from 30.1% in 1983. New York led the market, followed by Washington, Atlanta, and Chicago. iOS continued to outpace Android: Traffic of 28%, more than double Android. iOS sales 17.4% of all online sales, more than four times Android. And average sales of $114.79, 18.5% more than Android.
With Thanksgiving upon us, at least in the U.S., it’s a good time to look back upon the year of nearly 11 months and see some random participants in tech who have done well in 2014.
Apple: Every year seems to be a good year for Apple, but 2013 was an exceptionally good one. At a time when most competitors were struggling, Apple took off with the release of iPhone 6, updated products for Macs with strong sales in a market PC where most were dying, and popular operating system releases of iOS 8 and Yosemite. There’s lots of interest in the Apple Watch, even though it won’t be on the market until next year. And Apple Pay, which might have been considered a late response to Google Wallet, instead came out as the finance industries solution to credit card thefts–and could leave Apple with dominance of a new business line.
Microsoft: Historically, a good year for Apple has been a bad one for Microsoft and vice versa. This year, however, brought gain to both. The biggest change for Microsoft was the retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer and his replacement with Satya Nadella, who had been head of the cloud and enterprise group. Nadella moved aggressively (so aggressively that some of the change was under way while while Ballmer was still in charge) to shift Microsoft’s concentration on Windows, Window, Windows to clouds, Office for iPhone and Android, and realization that its successful future demands on lots of viable devices. And while Microsoft posted declines in operating systems and Office sales in the September quarter, commercial cloud services were up 128% and sales of devices, including phones, Xboxes, and the struggling Surface, also shows a decent gain.
Internet: This one takes a little struggle to understand. Internet regulation has been an ongoing fight between those who want to continue treating the network as similar to cable TV (cable and phone network operators) and those who want to go to a more telephone-like regulatory regime (an odd combination of of content deliverers such as Netflix and Google, academics, and liberal pro-regulators). The fight was going nowhere until just after the election, President Obama issued a statement calling for regulating the internet by reclassifying it as Title II, like phone companies. Republicans in Congress did what they did with all Obama proposals–opposed. But more interestingly, Federal Communications Chair Thomas Wheeler, came out against the Obama plan and said the commission will seek a middle ground, likely to leave the internet as Title I but with requirements that services such as Netflix (an example that gets cited a lot) are carried without interference. If Wheeler pulls this off, there’s a reasonable chance for helpful regulation that protects the internet.
Lenovo: While Apple and Microsoft get the attention, Lenovo has seen a lot of growth in a year that has seen most of its competitors suffer. It has passed Hewlett-Packard in PCs. Its purchase of Motorola from Google should make it the #3 global producer of phones. And the acquisition of Intel-based servers from IBM equips it to increase its competition with HP and Dell in dominating the corporate market. Not bad for a company that a decade ago was an obscure producer of PCs for the Chinese market.
Me: An odd claim for me. Those who have been following me know I had surgery for a brain tumor in March and spent the next several months with neither my body nor brain performing very well. But in the last couple of months, I was fortunate to make a remarkable recovery and am now getting back into work. It wasn’t a great year by any normal interpretation, but I’ve learned a lot about life–and death. My glioblastoma will eventually come back; I just hope it takes its time and lets me go on observing and writing about the tech industry and enjoying life with my family (including my third grandson born in October.)
The last several years have seen huge innovation in the TV and video space, with a plethora of startups and larger companies transforming the television watching experience in a number of ways. Many are forecasting a future of cord cutting and online, over-the-top delivery, and yet that reality doesn’t seem to be panning out just yet. I wanted to examine why and in part to follow up on Ben’s Insiders post from a couple of weeks ago about why the TV industry and the associated business models seem so resistant to change. This is also something of a follow up on my earlier posts about the TV industry and Apple TV specifically.
TV on a detour
I like to say TV has been on a detour for the last several years. What I mean is that many of the trends we’ve seen can appear on the surface to be leading us off in a whole new direction but, in reality, I suspect we’ll find many of the behaviors we’ve witnessed will come to seem like more of a detour, as we eventually find ourselves rejoining the main road. What is the nature of this detour? Well, it’s best summarized as the phenomenon of significant viewing happening off platforms owned by the major pay TV providers. Let me be clear: some of this viewing will absolutely continue. But much of it has been driven by temporary limitations of the traditional pay TV model in meeting our basic needs, in contrast to newer models which have met those needs much more effectively. Think about the reasons why many of us first tried using YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes or even BitTorrent to watch content. They can probably be summarized as follows:
Content availability – the content I want to watch isn’t on TV
Content windows – the content I want to watch isn’t showing on TV right now
Consumption – the content I want to watch isn’t available on the device I want to use
Discovery – it’s too hard to find the content I want to watch in the programming guide.
Many of these needs were met by the superior content libraries, on demand offerings, mobile apps, and search and discovery mechanisms available on newer platforms, away from the traditional set top box. If we wanted to find and watch that specific content at that specific moment on that specific device of our choice, we had to go away from the cable or satellite provider.
However, since these services first sprang up, the pay TV industry has slowly awoken to a sense of the crisis it was facing and has plugged many of these gaps. The pay TV providers themselves and the system vendors who support them (such as Cisco, Ericsson and Arris) have developed set top box hardware and software which offers better discoverability, video-on-demand, DVR functionality, and mobile apps (e.g. through the TV Everywhere initiative in the US) for watching on non-TV devices. Today, almost all of the needs which were once only served by alternative providers are now fairly well met by the pay TV providers, especially the largest ones.
Cord cutters not in evidence just yet
As such, many of the reasons for people to explore alternatives to traditional pay TV have been eliminated. Although much viewing will continue to take place away from the TV in the home, much of this viewing will now take place in apps tied back to a cable or satellite subscription. If you look at the numbers reported by the major pay TV providers in the US, it becomes clear subscriptions haven’t dropped at all, despite all the talk about cord cutters:
However, people aren’t overwhelmingly happy with their pay TV providers. Whereas the earlier objections to the model revolved around content libraries and flexible access by time and place, today’s objections mostly center on price, business models and customer service. Customer service remains a perennial bugbear for this industry and the cable companies in particular, but as long as people have to deal with these companies for broadband anyway, it’s unlikely to drive any cord cutting on the TV side. That leaves price and business models, which are obviously closely connected.
An analogy: fixed/mobile voice substitution
In order to examine possible scenarios for where TV could go from here, it’s worth looking at a somewhat analogous situation: the phenomenon of fixed/mobile substitution in the voice telephony market, which began about 10-15 years ago and continues today. I was a telecoms analyst when this phenomenon was first observed, so I watched and analyzed developments closely. Two key phenomena eventually emerged from that analysis:
First, there’s a difference between usage substitution and subscription substitution – that is, people start shifting usage from one model (fixed or wireline voice) to another (mobile voice), even as they continue to subscribe to both services. Thus, substitution doesn’t have to mean abandonment, at least at first
Eventually, usage substitution reaches the point where it no longer makes sense to maintain both subscriptions, and the subscriber cuts the cord entirely and moves all usage to the new subscription.
The end result of all this is, if you focus on subscriptions, it appears as if nothing is happening at all for a very long time and then you suddenly get a very rapid decline as many subscribers begin to hit the usage tipping point all at once.
Two possible scenarios for TV’s future
There are two ways the TV market could go from here:
Either the analogy of fixed/mobile substitution applies and we’ll see very little movement in TV subscriber numbers for some time, even as significant usage shifts from pay TV platforms to newer platforms. But eventually there will be a rapid shift away from pay TV platforms once the tipping point is reached
Or the model stops applying because it’s simply not possible to go all in on newer platforms and still get the content people want to watch.
I suspect the reality is our future resembles the second scenario much more than the first. As Ben outlined in his piece, content rights are one of the thorniest issues when it comes to disrupting the TV space and the new platforms are having a tough time getting key rights to create what might be termed cable replacement packages. However, content rights aren’t the only issue. Advertising plays a massive role too, and while that’s something the Hulus of the world are very comfortable with, it’s alien to Netflix, Apple and others who might potentially build disruptive video services. In addition, even if a provider could combine the content rights and advertising in the right ways, they’d end up recreating the cable bundle, with few of the advantages earlier online TV providers enjoyed, thanks to the strides made by the pay TV industry in recent years.
That’s in some ways a grim future to look forward to. I think we’d all love for someone to come in and reinvent TV to make it cheaper, more flexible, and more appealing. Apple in particular seems ripe for disrupting the TV industry as it has others. But the reality is the pay TV industry has likely evolved just enough to maintain significant share of this space and much of the growth in online video services will be complementary rather than substitutional, with little impact on the total number of cable subscriptions. It may not be as exciting a future as what some of us have dreamed of, but it’s likely more realistic.
The foundation of the tech business has nearly always been based on the idea of creating products and services that appeal to as wide an audience as possible. As we begin to enter a more mature, slower growth phase of the industry, however, the possibility of going horizontal is getting increasingly difficult. Particularly as we look to the business world, all the best opportunities are about finding specific niche opportunities that offer a smaller set of customers a more customized fit. In a word, it’s now all about going vertical.
One of the many benefits of tapping into vertical markets is the ability to run a profitable business because companies/individuals with specific needs are much more likely to pay a premium to get exactly what they’re looking for. The challenge, of course, is that to really grow a business that’s focused on serving verticals, you often need to find several of them.
At last week’s DellWorld event in Austin, TX, I was one of the co-hosts of the DellWorld Live streaming TV coverage and, as part of that job, had the pleasure of interviewing people from a wide variety of companies with an enormous range of perspectives. Though there were many different themes that were discussed throughout the event, one point that became clear is that companies like Dell and its partners are increasingly focused on finding solutions that are targeted at many specific vertical industries, such as healthcare, retail, finance, education, manufacturing, etc. These verticals often have very unique requirements, so it can be difficult meeting their demands, but they represent strong opportunities for growth for many different types of vendors.[pullquote]Despite all the hype around increased mobility in the workplace, the reality is that most companies are just now starting to get serious about building custom mobile applications for their businesses.”[/pullquote]
Apple’s recently announced deal with IBM for developing mobile apps for business was/is also targeted towards verticals. In fact, much of IBM’s focus in that partnership is geared towards leveraging their expertise across a wide variety of these specific industries into custom mobile applications. Despite all the hype around increased mobility in the workplace, the reality is that most companies are just now starting to get serious about building custom mobile applications for their businesses. As a result, there’s a strong interest in developing solutions that meet the specific demands of the business. Up until now, many of the business-oriented mobile apps have been more broadly, horizontally focused, so there’s a relative dearth of vertically-focused options.
In some cases the differences between apps across different vertical industries may not be all that great—it could be as simple as simple different field names in a database, for example—but in others, it boils down to understanding different business processes, different workflows, different requirements, and so on.
At the end of the day, businesses want to feel like their unique needs are being met. That means learning more about these businesses and how they operate, and devising solutions that will help them feel like they’re being more effective or more productive than they were before they started using the new tool(s). It’s hard work, to be sure, but the days of easy, horizontal solutions for business are going away. Companies that can learn how to specialize in these specialty industries—and go vertical—are the ones who will be best positioned for success in the years to come.
I read the first three Harry Potter novels to my son. It’s a fond memory strengthened by the fact the books were quite good. In each, the young Harry Potter straddles two very distinct worlds, the magical world of wizards and the familiar world of non-magical folk, Muggles. Us. Except, this is not true, not anymore.
There are no Muggles. We are all wizards.
I realized this while texting my son baseball playoff updates — as I was flying across the country, 30,000 feet above the ground.
Think of it. Nearly 2 billion of us carry wands. We call them smartphones. These semi-magical devices enable us to connect with nearly anyone at any time from any place. We can instantly access the world’s knowledge. Always in hand, always at the ready, we use these “wands” for work, for play, to protect us, to make our lives better. They know us, know where we’ve been, what we like, answer to our voice.
Point your smartphone at the sky and learn what planes are flying overhead, even what satellites are circling the globe.
Hear a sound and your smartphone will tell you the song — using the appropriately named Shazam app. Point your smartphone at a complex math equation and it supplies the answer. This is magical.
Want to use your smartphone-wand to put out the lights, turn on the television, fill your surroundings with music? Done. This is magical.
Magic is now commonplace, like air, or water.
In the later Harry Potter books, we learn of “horcruxes,” small objects, like a medallion, that literally contain bits of a person’s soul. Horcruxes are obviously real. Think of the Apple Watch, loaded with sensors, embedded with an entire — and entirely swappable — computer on a chip. This tiny object, placed upon your skin, knows where you are, where you’ve been, your heart rate, maybe your blood pressure, your voice, your history. This deeply personal information may last forever, reflecting you to whomever possesses the object.
I cannot be the only person who feels wizard-like powerful when I literally pause live sporting events on my television.
According to the scientist-wizards at University of Rochester, “this is the first cloaking device that provides three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking.” How? By using readily available technology that almost certainly will radically drop in price and availability:
“With four lenses arranged in exactly the right way, The Rochester cloak creates a space in which anything that exists in between these lenses are hidden from sight. Unlike most other invisibility cloaks currently being worked on, the object being hidden here is able to remain hidden even when looking at it from multiple angles.”
Catch that? Yes, there’s more than one invisibility cloak under development.
It’s time to acknowledge we are all wizards and possess the tools of wizards. It’s not through magic, but brainpower, ingenuity, relentless effort, access to knowledge and high risk capital that made this magical world possible.
Last week, Amazon announced the Echo. This small device sits in your home and answers to your voice. It will play music, tell you the weather, read the morning’s news to you. Oh, and it learns. What magic trick can do better?
As our magical tools learn still more about all of us, about the world around us, and as “virtual” reality continues to progress, we might, yes, literally, live in a world where ghosts are common. Friends, family members, colleagues — and the departed — all (virtually, visibly) available, wherever we are, whenever we need them. In fact, it seems to me this will be so by no later than 10-20 years from today. Ghosts before driverless cars.
Now what? What do we do with all this magic swirling about us, accessible with the touch of a finger or the sound of our voice?
First, embrace our powers, but remember to use them always for good.
Second, and while I am not suggesting we send our children off to wizarding schools, certainly our 20th century Muggle school infrastructure must be demolished. Let’s not make squibs of our own children.
Third, embrace the magic. It is ours, it is who we are. For our sons and daughters, it is the world they are born into.
What magical devices do you use? What new magic awaits us all?
This is part 2 of a 2-part article. Part 1 can be found here.
Market Research gives the customer what they ask for. It’s like giving a gift from a list. Great design is like great gift giving. Rather than giving the recipient what they ask for, great Design gives them an un-asked for gift that both surprises and delights.
The Up Side Of Design
Market research is great at iteration.
Design is great at creation.
Market Research gives us the products and services that we ask for.
Design gives us products and services that surprise and delight.
Market Research meets our expectations.
Design exceeds our expectations.
Market Research listens to us.
Design understands us.
Market Research gives us what we want.
Design gives us what we love.
The Hard Side Of Design
If Design is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Everyone doesn’t do Design for the same reason that everyone doesn’t give unasked for gifts:
1) It’s a lot harder; and
2) It’s a lot riskier.
Giving a gift from a list is easy.
Giving a gift that it truly meaningful requires intimate knowledge of the gift-receiver and often requires not only a great deal of thought, but a great deal of effort, as well. Further, it requires a degree of empathy that, frankly, many of us simply do not have. If we oft-times don’t understand what we want for ourselves, how ever are we going to get it right when we try to understand the unstated wants of others?
Think how hard it is for you to anticipate the needs of your family and loved ones. Now think how much harder it must be for Apple to anticipate the needs of their customers.
(O)bserving the way people really live, developing a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and gaining an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customers’ needs that is more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own. ~ Ben Thompson, Stretechery
And the reward for taking all that extra time, giving all that extra thought, and making all that extra effort is often abject failure. Great Design — like great gift giving — surprises us in all the right ways, but great Design, like all un-asked for gifts, also risks surprising us in all the wrong ways too.
Once we leave the safety of the gift giver’s list, we risk greatness…but we also court disaster. Gifts don’t go “good, better, best.” They go “good, dreadful, best.” The same is true of Design. We can’t risk giving or designing the best without the risk of the giving the truly dreadful. The moment you move from Market Research to Design is the moment you untether yourself from the wishes of your customers and move into the oh-so-nebulous realm of fulfilling the unforeseen desires of your customers.
Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas. (From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step.) ~ Napoleon
Think about it. How many times have you received unasked for gifts that were just AWFUL. They were in poor taste. Or they tasted poor (the infamous Christmas fruitcake comes to mind). They were a waste. Or they didn’t fit your waist. They made no sense. Or they cost only cents. The white elephant that was soon hidden away in a trunk.
When the unasked for Design is done right, it resonates and touches us emotionally. When the unasked for Design is done wrong, it also touches us emotionally — but with all the wrong emotions. Poor attempts at Design evoke emotions such as revulsion, disgust, scorn, condescension and contempt. Good Design is loved. Bad design is derided and mocked.
To create good Design, you need more than an ability to anticipate the unstated needs of your customers. You need the courage of your convictions too. (See video interview of Steve Jobs, below, from the 11:50 to the 13:10 mark.)
Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk — and to act. ~ Andre Malraux
The Risky Side Of Design
Bad decisions make good stories. ~ Unknown
The Microsoft Kin
Microsoft invested two years and about US$1 billion developing the Kin platform. The Kin ONE and TWO went on the market in May 2010. Within two months, Verizon stopped selling the phones because of poor sales. Microsoft scrapped its planned European release, stopped promoting the devices, ceased production, and reassigned the Kin development team to other projects. ~ Wikipedia
Bad design — like a bad gift — often just makes no sense whatsoever. You’re left shaking your head and wondering what the Designer could possibly have been thinking. Most of the time, they were thinking about themselves.
The HP TouchPad
The HP TouchPad is a tablet computer was developed and designed by Hewlett-Packard. The HP TouchPad was launched on July 1, 2011. On August 18, 2011, 49 days after the TouchPad was launched in the United States, Hewlett-Packard announced that it would discontinue all current hardware devices running webOS. Remaining TouchPad stock received substantial price reductions. ~ Wikipedia
I included the HP TouchPad in this list so I could trot out this quote from then HP CEO, Leo Apotheker:
First, doesn’t Leo’s quote remind you of the weird Uncle who tries, but fails, to be cool and gives you those bizarrely off-pitch gifts that you’ll never be able to use or wear?
Second, cool people never say that their goal is to be cool. They just are cool. Clue #1: If you’re trying to be cool…you’re not.
Third, and finally, cool people don’t try to be cool people. They try to be themselves. Good design shops don’t try to imitate or emulate other design shops. They’re opinionated and they try to be themselves. Clue #2: If you’re trying to be Apple, give it up. It’s a sure sign that you don’t have what it takes.
One should want to learn from Apple. But no company should be striving to learn how to be like Apple. That’s a recipe for disaster.
The Google Nexus Q
The Nexus Q was given away at no cost to attendees of Google I/O 2012, but the product’s launch was postponed after user feedback indicated that the device had too few features for its price. Google eventually shelved the product and gave the Nexus Q away at no cost to customers who had preordered it. ~ Wikipedia
I remember when the Nexus Q was introduced — with great fanfare — at Google I/O 2012. Critics weren’t so much critical of it as stunned by it. It had really cool technology, but what it did was so limited and the way it did what it did was so weird that it was hard to see a market for the device. It was a complete head-scratcher. I don’t remember anyone thinking it was a good idea, although the criticism seemed muted because no one could quite figure it out.
In gift giving terms, the Google Nexus Q reminded me of something someone would buy for another if they had way too much money, and way too much time, and way too little common sense and no feedback at all. I can only guess that the Nexus Q was some higher-up’s pet project, and that there was no one at Google who was powerful enough — or brave enough — to say “no” and pull the plug.
There is no doubt that the Google Nexus Q was innovative, but it wasn’t Design. Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. The Google Nexus Q was all about the cool technology.
Jeff Bezos is one of the smartest men on the planet, but this appears to be an example of unbridled hubris. Amazon thought they could substitute a gimmick in lieu of substantive features. If you want to see how truly gimmicky these devices are, take a gander at the following short Amazon pre-release promotional video.
I’ve included a longer promotional video showing more supposed features (which are really still more gimmicks), here.
In gift giving terms, this is an example of the gift giver thinking that some cool gimmick made the gift fabulous, when, if fact, all it did was make the gift gimmicky. It’s an especially sad gift because other than the gimmick, the gift had few other redeeming virtues to speak of.
Here’s a bonus design gaffe. What’s wrong with this picture?
Action with without vision is a nightmare. ~ Japanese proverb
A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” ~ Douglas Adams
The Focus Of Design
The common thread in all of the above Design disasters is that the Designer — the gift-giver — was thinking of something or someone other than the customer. Microsoft thought of their product. HP thought of themselves. Google thought of the technology. Amazon thought they could pull one over on their customers.
[pullquote]The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves.[/pullquote]
It is this lack of understanding and appreciation for the very hard work and deep thinking required to surprise and delight that leads to countless companies and Steve-Jobs-wannabes crashing-and-burning, even as they declare their fealty to design. … The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves. ~ Ben Thompson, Stratechery
When it comes to Design, technology alone is not enough. In fact, it’s not even the place where Design begins.
You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. ~ Steve Jobs
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that yields us the results that makes our heart sing. ~ Steve Jobs
The technology isn’t the hard part. The hard part is, what’s the product? Or, who’s the customer? ~ Steve Jobs
The be all and end all in Design is understanding the unmet — and unasked for — needs of the customer.
Our DNA is as a consumer company — for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. ~ Steve Jobs
There are a lot of people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation. ~ Steve Jobs
It’s really great when you show somebody something and you don’t have to convince them they have a problem this solves. They know they have a problem, you can show them something, they go, “oh, my God, I need this.” ~ Steve Jobs
Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mere mortals and this very difficult technology. ~ Steve Jobs
Listen to how Steve Jobs described the Macintosh, below, paying particular attention to the text that I’ve bolded:
…In 1979, when I saw an Alto [that had been developed] at Xerox PARC [Palo Alto Research Center]. It was as if, all of a sudden, the veil had been lifted from my eyes. It had the mouse and the multiple-font text on the screen, and you realized in an instant that this would appeal to exponentially more people than the Apple II. I’m talking about people who didn’t want to learn how to use a computer — they just wanted to use one. You could eliminate a whole layer of what someone had to know in order to take advantage of this tool. ~ Steve Jobs
The whole idea of the Macintosh was a computer for people who want to use a computer rather than learn how to use a computer. ~ Steve Jobs
Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh. ~ Steve Jobs
[pullquote] The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.[/pullquote]
The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.
The Distrust Of Design
All business success rests on something labeled a sale, which at least momentarily weds company and customer. ~ Tom Peters
Design seeks to wed the company to the customer by making a commitment to understanding the customer first. However, most companies treat a sale less like a wedding and more like a one-night stand. They don’t care about what they make, they care about what they sell.
Design, in their eyes, is just an extremely clever marketing trick and Apple, in their eyes, is just an extremely successful Lothario who uses Design to seduce their naive and gullible customers. These companies believe that the secret of Apple’s success is sincerity…
……and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. ((“In the early days of television, a young producer told news correspondent Daniel Schorr that the secret of making the transition from print to TV reporting was sincerity. “If you can fake that,” said the producer, “you’ve got it made.” This gag floats around show business (the word “honesty” sometimes substituting for “sincerity”), attributed to a wide range of prominent personalities: Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, George Burns, French dramatist Jean Giradoux, and rocker David Lee Roth.” Excerpt From: Ralph Keyes. “The Quote Verifier.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/nvDax.l))
With lies you may go ahead in the world, but you can never go back. ~ Russian proverb
Since they believe that design is a gimmick, they spend their time trying to learn more about Apple when they should be spending their time trying to learn more about their customers. Good Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. Bad Design looks like marketing. Which reminds me of a joke:
BOYFRIEND: Why do you never scream my name when you climax?
GIRLFRIEND: Because you are never there.
Many of Apple’s competitor’s share the same fate as the boyfriend, above. Their customers aren’t excited by the presence of their products because their products aren’t presents that surprise and delight.
The Rewards Of Design
Design — like the un-asked for gift — is hard and it’s risky. But the rewards are great.
Apple is a company that provides easy solutions wrapped in a desirable experience. People pay extra for that. ~ Lou Miranda (@TheNewLou)
Good Design is profitable. In the second quarter of 2014, Apple made 68% of all the profits in mobile devices. ((In Q2, Apple made 68% of mobile device OEMs’ profits (65% in q1, 53% in Q2 13). Samsung – 40% (41% q1, 49% q2 13) Source: Canaccord Genuity ~ Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) 8/5/14)) In the third quarter of 2014, Apple made 86% of all the profits in handsets.
Estimated share of Q3 handset industry profits: Microsoft: -4%, Motorola: -2%, HTC, BB: 0%, LG: 2%, Samsung: 18%, Apple: 86%. ~ Kontra (@counternotions) 11/4/14
The iPhone 6 and 6 plus went on sale in late September and the new iPads went on sale in mid-October. One can confidently predict that Apple’s take of the mobile profit pie is likely to grow even larger in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Apple now generates almost 15x more profit per iPhone sold compared to what Samsung makes selling per Galaxy. ~ Neil Shah (@neiltwitz) 10/29/14
Good Design differentiates. There just isn’t enough good Design in the world. Master it and you immunize yourself from commoditization.
It’s not about doing what you can, it’s about doing what others can’t. ((Excerpt From: C. Michel. “Life Quotes.” C. Michel, 2012. iBooks. https://itun.es/us/AyIDI.l))
Profitability and sustainability are only the beginning of the rewards garnered from Design. The true reward is the emotional response one receives from one’s customers. Good Design — like the unasked for gift — touches the heart. You don’t just have a business relationship with your clients, you have an emotional relationship, as well. You took the time and effort to understand what they wanted, and they, in turn, respond with gratitude and loyalty.
I get asked a lot why Apple’s customers are so loyal. It’s not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That’s ridiculous. It’s because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, “Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!” And then three months later you try to do something you hadn’t tried before, and it works, and you think, “Hey, they thought of that, too.” And then six months later it happens again. There’s almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. ~ Steve Jobs
The average Apple customer loves Apple’s Designs. But even more, they appreciate the love behind the designs, which is why they, in turn, love to get behind Apple and support them.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinkek ((via Abdel Ibrahim (@abdophoto))
Design is not for everyone. There are other ways — honorable ways, profitable ways — to compete. But for those who are gifted at Design, Design is the gift that keeps on giving.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This series of articles were inspired by an analogy used by Ben Thompson in his great Stratechery article entitled “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design.” His article can be found here.
In the latest mobile focused podcast with Benedict Evans and myself, we touched on a theme that needs more fleshing out. That of a future only possible because of mobile computers/smartphones. When I detail the mobile first world in articles, presentations, and reports, what I highlight is not only the impact but the necessity of mobile to move computing forward. The PC in the shape of a notebook or desktop took computers as far as those shapes would allow. There are very few new users for PCs of that design. The PC in the shape of a tablet can take computing even farther, particularly in business environments, and that form factor gets a PC into the hands of more people. The PC in the shape of the smartphone, however, brings computing to everyone. Perhaps more importantly, the smartphone can bring the internet to everyone. More revolution will come from the PC in the shape of a smartphone than from any previous computing product in history. It is because of this, we will see countless opportunities emerge and it is a future only possible because of mobile.
The smartphone opens the door to new possibilities because it is the first time the technology industry is accessible to everyone. In fact, over the next decade or so, we will watch smartphones become a commodity. Estimates are, by 2020, quality, powerful smartphones could cost $10. The mobile web is already bigger than the desktop web and, in a few years, the mobile web will dwarf the desktop web. It is a cold hard fact, the future of the Internet is mobile. This reality brings out some interesting implications.
Global Mobile Web Browsing
There was a debate last year around the disparity between iOS web browsing and Android web browsing. It seemed a conundrum — Android had 2x the user base but much less of the global browsing share. As you see from this chart from NetMarketShare, only recently has Android overtaken iOS in global web browsing share, and it is still very close.
When we include Android AOSP and Google’s Android, there are well more than double the active devices compared to iOS. But why did it take so long? There are many theories but there is one in particular I find insightful and adds a bit of needed clarity to the global mobile web discussion.
The bulk of Android’s growth and market share is in the lower tiers of smartphone price bands. My estimates put premium Android price tiers at roughly 15% of the global Android installed base. Meaning much of Android’s installed base globally consists of non-premium/lower price tier smartphone users. This explained quite a bit of the global web browsing paradox. Apple has a significant installed base of premium users, larger than Google’s premium users, and those customers spend more time browsing the web and consuming internet data. As I started researching the mobile web in emerging markets, it became clear one of the factors for this disparity was, because of Apple’s premium customer base, this audience could afford to liberally browse the web. Where much of Android’s installed base, having to deal with pricey and slow internet connection times, and no wi-fi at home, could not.
This insight becomes even more clear when we look at this chart from Jana.com showing the number of hours of minimum wage work required to pay for the average data plan.
So, what is an ideal app size, especially in markets like India with challenged infrastructure?
The ideal size is 10-15MB globally. Idea size for an app for tier 2/3 countries (like India) is below 5MB. 500MB+ is a non-starter. At 50MB+ the conversion rates fall off dramatically. On Android and iOS, conversion rates dip by 50% in tier 1 nations for non-game apps above 50MB. In tier 2 and tier 3 nations, conversion rates dip by 50% for games above 15MB.
It is becoming clear the high cost of data plans in many emerging markets are influencing how they use the mobile web and the apps they use and download.
The Light Web
Understanding this leads me to consider the role web apps may play in these markets. There is a web app called Zomato, which is sort of like Yelp for India. Zomato is a great example of a light application that is useful via a web app in those regions where light applications are necessary. It is true native apps are still dominant in these markets, however, we are still dealing with only the top 30-40% of the global mobile audience that has a smartphone and a data plan. As we extend that reach into the broader 60-70%, a healthy portion of those customers will be even more sensitive to the costs of data and size of applications they consume.
This is why the “light web” is a reality for the next billion users. Whether by lighter/more efficient native apps or, as I believe, web apps, the light web is better positioned for the next billion. Interestingly, even Uber has a robust web app. It is possible the powerful cloud and light, thin client computing paradigm is destined for emerging markets.
It is clear, thanks to PCs in the shape of a smartphone and the inevitable inclusion of robust sensors in these devices even at low prices, that we are heading to a fascinating future not only made possible because of mobile devices but empowered by them. This future will pose great challenges to many incumbents but even greater opportunities for the innovators.
In my discussion of PC maker’s problems in a piece on the industry’s struggle with Apple, commenter David Olson wondered what had gone wrong at Hewlett-Packard: “Lots of success, lots of brains, lots of potential. What happened?” Although some of HP’s mistakes were the result of some odd bad moves, history contains some important examples of how a big and successful company can go seriously wrong.
A pair of electrical engineering grads from Stanford, William Hewlett and David Packard founded the company famously in a garage in Palo Alto in 1939. From the beginning, HP’s business was manufacturing electronic test equipment. It stayed out of the new growing computer industry (more based on the east coast of the US in the early days), though it came to dominate the high end calculator market. After Fairchild Semiconductor launched the chip industry, HP did start making semiconductors, mostly for internal use.
It also started making computers as they became a key to the test materials. Unlike others, HP had no interest in challenging IBM in the computer business, focusing on smaller devices useful to engineers and laboratories. Although HP eventually entered the standard PC group, its first important move in the industry was the introduction of the laser printer although it was not a HP invention. The original work was done by Canon and Xerox and one of the first desk laser printer was the Apple Writer. But the Apple Writer was expensive and Mac only. HP brought the product to the mass market.
HP, as run by Hewlett and Packard (the order of the names was chosen by flipping a coin by in 1939) was, somewhat like IBM, governed with a deep sense of the company’s virtues. A set of rules on integrity, teamwork, and trust of individuals, for as long as “Bill and Dave” ran the company and for years afterward, shaped the company. Hewlett remained CEO until 1978, but he and Packard both were active in the corporation for a decade after and there was never any doubt their replacement, John Young, followed their leadership. The next CEO, Lew Platt, also continued the tradition.[pullquote]A set of rules on integrity, teamwork, and trust of individuals, for as long as “Bill and Dave” ran the company and for years afterward shaped the company.[/pullquote]
Things started change with the hiring of Carly Fiorina, an AT&T and Lucent executive, in 1999. One of her first acts was to oversee getting rid of HP’s original instrument business (now Agilent), but the bigger move was the 2000 acquisition of Compaq. HP became a lot bigger, but also a company whose main competition was the mass computer business. It also set off a fierce, long fight in the board room between Fiorina and Walter Hewlett, William’s son. Fiorina, of course, won, but never maintained the support of the Hewlett-Packard tradition. After another fight with the board, Fiorina resigned in 2005.
HP had been a successful company. It led in PC and printer sales and expanded corporate services with the purchase of 3Com and EDS. But the top management was an ugly mess. Mark Hurd, the CEO of NCR, was named to replace Fiorina. The tension between the CEO and the fractious board was never really healed and Hurd gradually lost popularity. In 2010, the board got rid of him after he was embarrassed by an affair with a woman who was an exhibition contractor. He was replaced by the unpopular Léo Apotheker of SAP, who spent a year trying to move HP into a more IBM-like position, proposing the sale of the PC and printer operations. He was done in by a $9 billion loss in the purchase of Autonomy, a British big data company, and that was that. Meg Whitman, an early CEO of eBay, took over in 2011, cleaning up HP. The company had failed to find a major role in the phone business (if you ignore Apotheker’s catastrophic management of Palm) and has had to deal with shrinking volume and profits. The current plan is to spin the PC and printer business off as HP Inc. — a business with a challenging future.
The management struggles since the arrival of Fiorina has hurt in an era when the competition has often had much more stable leadership. Apple has been led by Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. IBM, brought back from a near collapse by Louis Gerstner, has had steady management by Sam Palmisano and Ginnie Rommety. Except for an ill-fated three year period when he stepped down from leadership, Michael Dell ran Dell himself.
It’s hard to predict just how the choice of management leadership will support a top corporation. But you can be sure big fights and and endless plots among leaders will chase success away.
The Wall Street Journal had a big scoop this week: some numbers on Xiaomi’s business are apparently being shared with potential investors as it looks to raise money for acquisitions and/or expansion. Until now, I’ve held off on writing anything in-depth about Xiaomi precisely because its financial model and key facts such as its profitability were opaque, and I found it difficult to evaluate its likely impact going forward without that understanding. Now that we have at least a few tantalizing glimpses at Xiaomi’s finances, I feel like it’s finally time to share some of my thoughts.
One of the three most interesting companies in smartphones
Xiaomi is on my list of the three most interesting companies in the smartphone space right now, along with Lenovo and LG. Each of the three is very different and interesting for varying reasons. Lenovo is interesting because it’s transformed itself from a provincial player to a global force in PCs and now sits in the top five in smartphones, tablets and PCs, and rising. With the acquisition of Motorola, it promises to do what all the other Chinese OEMs have failed to do: break into the US in a big way. LG is interesting because it seems like the most viable alternative to Samsung for many carriers looking to diversify their Android vendor base, since it’s not as shaky as HTC or Sony and doesn’t come with the baggage of the Chinese vendors. With some really good phones in the last few months, its shipments have been steadily rising and its margins with them. But Xiaomi remains the most mysterious of the three and, in my opinion, actually the least likely to make headway in the US.
A unique model, different from Apple’s in important ways
Xiaomi’s model is unique, even though it’s often compared to Apple’s. Apple’s model relies on tightly integrated hardware and software it controls end to end and owns exclusively. Services are another crucial component of Apple’s value proposition, and exclusivity has often been a hallmark of those too, though Apple hasn’t been afraid to buy into data and services when it needs to, though allegiances have shifted over time (Google out, Microsoft and Yahoo in, for example). Xiaomi also differentiates itself through the software and services it brings to bear, but its model is different, in that the core of its software is Android, owned by Google and not Xiaomi. This gives the company less control over its own destiny, but obviously also significantly reduces the cost of going to market and maintaining its OS.
The services Xiaomi provides are a hodgepodge of pieces and parts cobbled together from a variety of sources. I loved this in-depth review of a Xiaomi device from July because it highlighted the patchwork nature of what Xiaomi provides (and what the user adds him or herself through the app store). Baidu’s maps and search are apparently defaults, but many of the other services are local equivalents to Google, whose services of course are famously not available in China. This means a major revenue source for Xiaomi is likely fees from the various partners it signs up to fill these slots. Xiaomi’s own software and services focus on the non-revenue-generating aspects such as the weather app and the voice recorder. Yes, Apple has relied on Google in the past for key features, but that was the past and that relationship quickly changed. Apple has always been strong enough to eventually develop its own global ecosystem to rival Google’s, but Xiaomi is far from having that sort of global clout.
A model that won’t work in the US
All this means a model that works well in China will work far less well in many other markets where the Google services are available and where they are the preferred options for users. To the extent Xiaomi thrives on the first- and third-party software and services it layers onto the operating system, that model breaks down quickly in markets where both users and Google will insist Google services are paramount. Xiaomi can get away with not providing the Google services package in China but, if it wants to be an official Android vendor outside of China, it will have to dial down those customizations.
The WSJ article is tantalizingly short on consistent details, providing a precise number here but only a vague allusion there, hinting at margins here but leaving out the comparable figure from a year earlier, and so on. But there’s enough to establish a few key facts: Xiaomi is profitable, the vast majority of its revenues come from handsets, and it spends very little on marketing. To top it all off, it’s doing all this, with higher margins than all but two other vendors, with an average selling price of somewhere around $200, which is unheard of. The services and software piece is likely critical to those margins, as the revenue from its licensing deals is likely mostly profit, but again that model will break down quickly outside of China and a handful of other markets where local services are prized above Google’s. It will certainly break down in the US.
The question of intellectual property
The other thing that’s been widely discussed with regard to Xiaomi is its liberal borrowing of both hardware and software design from other vendors, notably Apple. Some have suggested it won’t be able to expand into the US because of the intellectual property threat outside of China, but I think this may be overblown. Apple in particular has spent years fighting Samsung over patents and allegations of copying and I just can’t see it repeating this process with Xiaomi. It’s too expensive, too time-consuming and ultimately seems to do little good. By the time the court cases are resolved, the devices in question have long since had their day, and the legal wrangling has caused all sorts of private information to emerge. I suspect Xiaomi may be more careful outside of China with some of its design decisions, but I don’t think the threat of litigation is the biggest barrier to its entry into the US and other major Western markets.
Is there a future without a presence in the US?
The biggest question for me then, is not whether Xiaomi can succeed in the US, but whether it can succeed on a global basis without succeeding in the US. That’s generally been tough: the US remains by far one of the largest markets for premium smartphones, and that’s where the margins have been. Though Xiaomi’s model allows it to generate margin elsewhere, premium phones are critical to future success. But we’re seeing an increasing regionalization in smartphones, with major countries such as China and India fostering their own domestic brands and lending otherwise impossible scale to companies operating in a single market. Lenovo’s success in smartphones has come almost entirely from China itself and Chinese vendors are now able to build scale to match (or even exceed) that of global vendors even before they venture overseas. As a result, there’s no doubt in my mind Xiaomi can continue to grow in both size and influence as a smartphone vendor over the next few years. But I believe its success will come despite its failure to break into the US, not because of success here.
In this podcast, Benedict Evans and Ben Bajarin discuss some of the slides from Benedict’s updated Mobile is Eating the World slide deck. Some important observations are made and teased out about the opportunities that we are seeing globally that are only possible because of the smartphone.
Mobile is Eating the World Deck – link
It wasn’t the biggest news of the week. But anyone who paid attention to the recent announcement by Microsoft, a deal that will integrate Dropbox into Office, sees a new way the company is run by Satya Nadella.
For the decades it was run by Bill Gates and Steven Ballmer, Microsoft saw little reason to support non-Windows gear, a spirit generally shared by its rivals. As Microsoft and its competitors, Apple and Google, have tried to create clouds for consumers and small businesses, they have kept the opportunities narrow. Google wants its applications to use Google Drive. Apple favors Apple iCloud. And Microsoft supports OneFile.
For PCs and Macs, this is not much of a problem for Microsoft applications. Cloud systems, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, are easy for Office apps to treat in Windows 7 as though they were drives that then are listed as available for applications. You can do it in Windows 8.1 too, though you have to contend a bit with its integrated favor to OneDrive.
Apple and Google are actually less cooperative with other storage efforts. It’s possible to get Pages and other Apple software to work on files with cloud tools other than Apple iCloud though it is a bit tricky to learn. Google Docs, though, is downright hostile to anything other than Google Drive; you can make it work, but it’s a lot of fuss.
The problem of Windows and Macs, however, is very simple compared to phones and tablets. Because straightforward access to file storage is impossible with iOS and discouraged on Android, offering links between applications and cloud storage other than that presented directly by the operating system is difficult. This can create all sorts of problems when trying to share information among the users of disparate devices, say Android phones, iPads, Windows 8 PCs (including tablets), and Macs.
And the world is changing. Microsoft knows better than to expect Windows users to be committed solely to Windows phones and Windows tablets rather than Android and Apple products. That’s why the actions of Microsoft and Dropbox–the favorite independent provider of cloud storage–is important. “In our mobile-first and cloud-first world, people need easier ways to create, share and collaborate regardless of their device or platform,” said Nadella. “Together, Microsoft and Dropbox will provide our shared customers with flexible tools that put them at the center for the way they live and work today.”
Microsoft would prefer its customers use OneDrive as a cloud service to connect Windows PCs and iPads, but it is a service considerably more clumsy than Dropbox. And OneDrive is really only satisfactory for combining Microsoft apps, while Dropbox is happy to provide storage and delivery for any application. Personally, I find I rarely use either OneDrive or Google Drive (the latter for anything other than Google Docs apps that give you no choice) rather than Dropbox.
Microsoft says Office 365 versions for both iOS and Android will be available in the “next several weeks”. A version to support Office Online, the web-based version, expects to have Dropbox service in the first half of next year.
The wearables category has seen some important new announcements and additions over the last few weeks, so it’s not surprising to see more attention being paid to the market. Of course, there was the Apple Watch announcement back in September. Just last week Microsoft debuted the Microsoft Band to reasonably decent acclaim, while HP jumped into the act with their Michael Bastian-designed MB Chronowing smart watch. The week before that, we also saw several new announcements from early market leader FitBit with their Charge, Charge HR, and Surge additions to their line of activity trackers. The week before that Will.i.am jumped in with his standalone i.amPULS smart watch.
It’s as if everyone thinks this market is set to explode.
In many cases, however, all we really got were announcements, because a lot of these new products won’t start shipping until 2015. In fact, my December 2013 prediction that there would be more wearable announcements than wearable shipments in 2014 is proving to be significantly more prescient than even I could have imagined…
Despite all this news and excitement around the wearables category, I’m still not convinced it’s going to be as big a market as many have made it out to be. The primary, over-riding problem is that no one has really been able to provide a compelling reason why the vast majority of people would want a wearable, let alone feel that they “need” to have one. Sure, there are good cases to be made for fitness junkies, the whole “quantified self” movement and bleeding-edge early adopters, but for most people, smart wearables still feel like a solution in search of a problem.[pullquote]For most people, smart wearables still feel like a solution in search of a problem.”[/pullquote]
If that wasn’t enough, many of these early products suffer from limited battery life, offer only semi-accurate sensor readings, and lock you into working with only certain smartphones.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think people will buy these devices in reasonable numbers. Believe it or not, I actually do, because there is still something intriguingly compelling about moving computing and information access even closer to your body. Plus, the relatively moderate price points for the devices will enable a number of people to purchase and try them on an experimental basis. However, I characterize the expected market reaction to be tepid—not hot, but not really cold either.
To be more specific, in the newly updated smart wearables forecast that my firm TECHnalysis Research just published yesterday, we predict that the worldwide wearable market will double from just under 20 million unit shipments this year to around 40 million in 2015. Yes, that’s strong growth on a percentage basis, but remember that Apple by themselves sold nearly 40 million iPhones just last quarter. Put under that comparative light, the number isn’t that overwhelming.
Longer term, we believe the wearable market will grow to around 103 million units in 2018, with most of the shipments coming from the smart watches segment. On a revenue basis, the numbers are expected to move from around $2 billion in 2014 to $16 billion in 2018.
By the way, just to be clear, here’s the definition of smart wearables we used as a basis for this forecast:
A smart wearable device is a battery-powered, portable electronic device worn on a human body that offers some level of onboard processing and runs some type of integrated software. Most wearables have integrated sensors of various types as well as connectivity options (either wired or wireless) to other smart devices, such as smartphones. Electronic devices that are worn on the body but don’t have their own built-in compute capability, such as basic Bluetooth headsets or heads-up displays, are not considered smart wearables.
The wearable market has caught the attention and fancy of many leading tech vendors and much of the tech press, because it’s an intriguing new potential market. While I, too, share their enthusiasm for following it, I think it’s prudent to keep our near-term expectations in check or else we could end up with serious disappointment.
You can read more about the TECHnalysis Research updated Wearable Forecast here.
I come not to bury Facebook, but to question it. I seek clarity, assurances. What is Facebook? Is it social media? An app? A global phenomenon? Instant messaging? The place where we connect, share our family photos, check in from our favorite restaurant? Probably it’s all these things.
But is Facebook a viable business?
Last week, Facebook posted third quarter revenues of $3.2 billion, exceeding expectations. Facebook’s profit for the quarter was $1.4 billion.
While the blogosphere cheered, all I could think was: Is this really all there is?
As I write this, Facebook ($FB) has a market cap of about $200 billion. The company is growing. It’s adding new services, buying up new platforms, and led by the only person I am ready to claim as the next Steve Jobs. Why, then, are they making so little money? $3.2 billion for a quarter? Given Facebook’s global influence, shouldn’t we expect much more?
By contrast, Microsoft — doomed, as the blogosphere repeatedly claims — posted quarterly revenues of more than $23 billion and a quarterly profit of nearly $5 billion. Samsung, the other giant tech company that the blogosphere is (so wrongly) touting as doomed, had a profit of $3.9 billion. Still another example: over the same period, PepsiCo had $17 billion in quarterly revenues, netting $2 billion.
Yes, I understand — Facebook is new, it’s growing, it’s connecting the world, and run by Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. Soon, all our photos, our videos, our news, recommendations for what to eat, buy, and watch — will come through Facebook. No one, no thing, no government, will know us as well as Facebook. My concerns, however, are two-fold:
1) what if this doesn’t happen?
2) what if this all happens — only, it still doesn’t matter?
It’s this second question that has me pondering Facebook’s future. Indeed, it has set me to wondering about the future of all global platforms built on digital advertising.
To the charts!
Facebook reported 1.35 billion monthly active users. That is staggering.
Lest you think “monthly active users” is not an appropriate barometer of revenue generation, Facebook proudly reports that it has a nearly unfathomable 864 million daily active users.
Try to comprehend such power and influence upon the world. A service that has nearly a billion people using it every single day.
Should you believe aggregate “user” numbers do not matter much, what with “mobile is eating the world” and all, know that Facebook excels at mobile.
Imagine that: 703 million daily active mobile users. That’s more than everyone on every iOS device visiting every single day. Again, this is nearly unfathomable.
And those users are, obviously, scattered all over the world. Facebook handily breaks out the numbers by location.
Now we’re beginning to see the problem. Almost half of Facebook’s revenues comes from the United States. If it wants to grow, as all companies do, and as investors in a $200 billion conglomerate demand, then it must:
1) extract more money from its existing users and/or
2) gain new users
The former is always very hard for every company, no matter how smart, how timely, how disruptive. Just ask Google how much it’s making from television, music or health data, for example.
That leads us to new users. For Facebook, already with over a billion users, it must now work very hard to add more people to its platform. Offering text-based services, experimenting with drone-powered Internet, and cutting deals with makers of low cost handsets and carriers around the world should help. The company is busy with each of these. However, the money from these unconnected billions, we must assume, will not be much more than Facebook already generates from its “rest of the world” group.
Spoiler: that’s not very much. How much exactly? Er, 87 cents. Really.
Facebook earns an anemic 87 cents per “rest of world” user. That’s it. Not everyday — once a quarter! Think of all Facebook offers. Consider how many already use the service. As each new human being gets connected, purchases a smartphone, they will join Facebook. Good for them.
Yet Facebook’s incremental revenue from these new users may be nothing more than a measly 87 cents per. That seems not just low, but embarrassingly low.
For every user type and every geography, nearly every penny Facebook generates is via advertising. Facebook is an advertising company. Specifically, digital advertising.
Is digital advertising really so inconsequential?
Over a billion users, nearly a billion daily and mobile users. All that data. All those features. Yet, Facebook’s quarterly revenues are just over $3 billion. Worldwide, its quarterly revenues per user are only $2.58. I spent as much on this morning’s coffee. I might even go back for a second cup this afternoon.
How much must Facebook know about us, how many billions more people must join Facebook, how many more (free) services must the company offer us all to boost that number to a whopping $3 per user?
Not With A Bang But An Interstitial
Remind me, please, to never ever spend my money on a company who’s entire source of income is dependent upon the very ads I never ever click on, the very ads which I’ve trained my brain to ignore.
The web will continue to spread, evolve and empower our lives and our machines. I can scarcely imagine what it will be like in 2050, 2100 and beyond. But I am confident that web businesses dependent upon display ads are destined for the scrap heap. Probably by no later than 2020.
Advertisements have always promised more than they deliver. Let’s not weep now that advertising can no longer deliver on its promise.
Imagine you’re about to celebrate your birthday or a gift giving holiday, like Christmas. You greedily make up a list of the things you’d like to receive and distribute it to family and friends alike. The big day arrives and, of course, you are happy to receive some of the gifts that you had asked for.
Then, a very strange thing happens. Someone — someone who knows you very well — gives you a gift that you HAD NOT asked for. (For example, in Ben Thompson’s article, his wife gave him a hat that perfectly fit his history and personality.) You’re not just happy to receive this gift, you’re surprised. You’re delighted. You’re touched. This one gift — the one you hadn’t expected — the one you hadn’t asked for — may mean more to you than all the other gifts put together. Why?
Because it was personal. It was intimate. It was meaningful. Because it surprised you. Because it delighted you. Because you knew it required more thought from, and more time of, the gift-giver than merely picking an item from your list.
The things we truly love to receive are often the things we never thought to ask for. Perhaps we never thought to ask for them because we didn’t even know that we wanted them ourselves — until we received them. The gift giver understood us better than we understood ourselves and filled a need we didn’t know we had. What better gift is there than that?
Giving from a list — and giving from the heart — is a good metaphor for the difference between Market Research and Design. Good Market Research offers something of value that was on our wish list. Good Design gives us something of inestimable value we never knew we wanted but now can’t live without.
The Up Side Market Research
Market Research consists of surveys, customer interviews, focus groups, etc. It works on the very natural assumption that the best way to give the customer what they want is to — ‘duh’ — ask them what they want.
Who decides what’s in Windows? The customers who buy it. ~ Bill Gates
Market Research is safe. It is sound. When it is done well, it gives us what we want and — like receiving a gift from our wish list — we are both pleased and satisfied.
Market research is great for existing products. It is great for incremental changes and for upgrades. It is great for smoothing over a product’s rough edges and polishing it until it shines.
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates
Absolutely right. When it comes to an existing product, Market Research — asking your customer what they like and dislike — is exactly the way to go.
Apple And Market Research
We do no market research. ~ Steve Jobs
This quote has been much misunderstood. Of course Apple does market research. They’ve admitted as much of several occasions. They would be fools not to do so.
Market research can tell you what your customers think of something you show them. Or it can tell you what your customers want as an incremental improvement on what you have, but very rarely can your customers predict something that they don’t even quite know they want yet. ~ Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs’ quote about Market Research has to be kept in context. What he meant was Apple didn’t, and doesn’t, use Market Research to assist them in creating new products or new product categories.
Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. ~ Steve Jobs
The Down Side Of Market Research
There’s nothing wrong — and there’s a lot right — with Market Research. However, Market Research should be reserved for improving existing products. It should never, ever be used when one is trying to create new products. As good as Market Research is at improving the old, that is how bad it is at creating the new. Here’s why.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong. ~ Lemony Snicket
Our initial reaction to the new — before we’ve even seen or evaluated it — is to reject it. The new frightens and disturbs us.
It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. ~ Isaac Asimov
We not only view the new with suspicion, we view it with outright hostility. That which is not old and familiar is not just wrong — its unnatural.
People’s reaction to ideas: Bad ideas: “That’ll never work.” Good ideas: “That could work.” Great ideas: “That’ll never work.”
Customers are not visionaries. Nor should they be expected to be visionaries.
We cannot wish for that we know not. ~ Voltaire
Market research can only extend as far as the customer’s imagination will take it and that’s not very far, because we are notoriously short-sighted. Surveys, polls, etc., are useful for existing products but they are actually counter-productive and often dangerously misleading when it comes to predicting the new.
A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. ~ unidentified response to Debbi Fields’s plan to start Mrs. Fields Cookies
We Don’t Even Know What We Want
Have you ever wanted something, gotten exactly what you wanted…and then not liked it? We all have.
Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. ~ Proverbial wisdom
The paradoxical truth is, we oft-times do not know what we want.
Protect me from what I want. ~ Jenny Holzer
Market Research can be very misleading because customers often get it wrong — sometimes very wrong — even when they’re very sure they’re very right. They know what they want…right up to the moment when they get it.
It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them… That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. ~ Steve Jobs
Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. ~ Steve Jobs
The Less We Know, The More Certain We Become
As bad as we are at knowing what we want, we are much, much worse at comparing the known to the unknown. We simply cannot imagine and comprehend the unknown, so it almost always compares unfavorably to the known.
We’re very, very good at explaining why things won’t work. We’re not nearly as good at imagining creative new ways things might work.
Days before the iPhone debuted, the market research company Universal McCann came out with a blockbuster report proving that practically nobody in the United States would buy the iPhone.
“The simple truth,” said Tom Smith, the author of the iPhone-damning report, is that “convergence [an all-in-one device] is a compromise driven by financial limitations, not aspiration. In the markets where multiple devices are affordable, the vast majority would prefer that to one device fits all.”
Solid survey research suggested not only that the iPhone would fail, but also that it would fail particularly hard in the United States because our phones and cameras are good enough, already. ~
Now compare the above survey on the then-unreleased iPhone, to the following survey on the yet-to-be released Apple Watch:
Just 11 percent of respondees to a survey about new Apple products plan to buy an Apple Watch, according to 6,000 people quizzed by Canadian investment bank, RBC Capital Markets. A further 24 percent said they were uncertain. ~
I honestly have to ask: Why in the wide, wide world of tech, would we give a hoot about what people in a survey say about a product they have never seen, touched or experienced? How could they possibly have an informed opinion? It’s like asking Nuns to rank sexual positions.
But wait! It gets worse. Since we have no basis of comparison for the new, we create comparisons that simply do not exist.
The best-case scenario for the Apple Watch is that the product we saw announced today will eventually iterate into something really great. Because anybody who’s ever worn a watch will tell you: this thing has serious problems. ~ Felix Salmon
“…anybody who’s worn a watch will tell you…” Say what? Owning a watch no more qualifies one to evaluate an Apple smartwatch than owning a horse would have qualified one to evaluate Henry Ford’s Model T.
It’s generally a bad idea to have a strong opinion of a consumer product you have no experience of. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
You can’t judge what you don’t use. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
Oh, but we can. And oh, but we do.
Hardest thing about consumer data research is that everyone has an opinion they think is representative, even if they don’t have any data. ~ Carl Howe (@cdhowe)
Further, the less we know, the more certain we become.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. ~ Charles Darwin
When people are least sure, they are often most dogmatic. ~ John Kenneth Galbraith
The Designer’s Job
Designers don’t rely upon Market Research for their designs because they know it’s not the customer’s job to design the next breakthrough product — it’s the designer’s job.
What companies are really doing is rationalizing their refusal to take on the burden of simplifying the product. They’d rather have the customer do the work than themselves. ~ Aaron Levie (@levie)
Asking your clients to create the next big thing is unfair and unwise because customers don’t have the knowledge or the experience to know how to create the new in your field. They’re not in the industry. They don’t know the latest techniques or trends. They have neither the expertise nor the vision.
It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want. ~ Steve Jobs
We don’t do focus groups—that is the job of the designer. ~ Jony Ive
You don’t want a product designed by your customers; you want a product inspired by your customers. ~ Scott Sehlhorst
Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone? [reacting to a reporter’s question about market research for the Macintosh] ~ Steve Jobs
Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. ~ Steve Jobs
Customers can’t anticipate what the technology can do. They won’t ask for things that they think are impossible. But the technology may be ahead of them. If you happen to mention something, they’ll say, ‘Of course, I’ll take that. Do you mean I can have that, too?’ It sounds logical to ask customers what they want and then give it to them. But they rarely wind up getting what they really want that way. ~ Steve Jobs
Experts Are Expert At Making Bad Predictions
Perhaps you’re thinking the problem has less to do with Market Research and more to do with the source of said Market Research. “Of course,” you think, “the ordinary person doesn’t have the expertise or the vision to peer into the future. The people we really need to ask are the experts.”
Well, if that’s what you think, then think again.
Professional critics of new things sound smart, but the logical conclusion of their thinking is a poorer world. ~ Benedict Evans
Certitude is not the test of certainty. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
I am certain there is too much certainty in the world. ~ Michael Crichton
Some historical (and hysterical) examples:
What can be more palpably absurd than [the idea] of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches? ~ Quarterly Review, 1825
…that any general systems of conveying passengers would answer, to go at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable. ~ Thomas Tredgold, 1835
Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. ~ Dr. Dionysius Lardner, Irish scientific writer, 1845
Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes and signals of the Morse code, and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value. ~ Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865
It’s only a toy. ~ Gardiner Greene Hubbard, future father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell, on seeing Bell’s telephone, 1876
Although it is…an interesting novelty, the telephone has no commercial application. ~ J. P. Morgan, to Alexander Graham Bell
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. ~ Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. ~ Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre , France , 1911
Radio has no future. ~ Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, 1897
The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? ~ associates of RCA chairman David Sarnoff, in response to his suggestion that the corporation invest in radio technology, circa 1920
I have determined that there is no market for talking pictures. ~ Thomas A. Edison, 1926
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? ~ Harry Warner of Warner Brothers movie studio, when asked about sound in films, 1927
While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming. ~ Lee De Forest, inventor, 1926
TV won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night. ~ Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox movie studio head, 1946
I don’t know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business by itself. ~ the head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox
There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them. ~ George Orwell
Welcome to the weekly Tech.pinions podcast. This week Bob O’Donnell, Tim Bajarin, and Jan Dawson discuss the introduction of HP’s new Sprout PC, the purchase of Motorola by Lenovo and the debut of Microsoft’s new Band wearable device.