News that Caught My Eye: Week of October 5th, 2018

Surface Headphones

This week in NYC, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 6, the Surface Laptop 2 (both of which with a black variant), the Surface Studio 2 and the Surface Headphones. It is the Headphones I want to concentrate on because it has been the most misunderstood product in my opinion.

Via Microsoft

  • I have seen many criticizing Microsoft for entering this space due to:
    • The dominance of well-established brands like Bose
    • The narrow margin nature of the business
    • The declining sales as consumers shift to wireless earbuds à la AirPods
  • While the above three points are facts and should deter any new player from entering the headphones business, I really do not think they affect Microsoft.
  • Surface Headphones are a Surface companion. This means they are first and foremost targeting Surface users who have bought into the brand.
  • Surface has established itself as the Windows alternative to Apple Mac/MacBooks. This means that it can command a premium on its products. That said, I would expect to see offers that bundle the Surface Headphones in with a Surface.
  • The Surface Headphones are also a vehicle to increase engagement with Cortana and Skype.
  • Some believe that Microsoft should abandon Cortana and fully embrace Alexa but such a view dismisses the role that the digital assistant plays in the broader analytics game. Microsoft must continue to find ways to increase engagement with Cortana and these new Headphones are just one way.
  • Microsoft started with a design that highly complements a PC usage, especially for the kind of audience Surface, as a brand, is targeting. Over time I could see Surface expanding its portfolio possibly looking at earbuds with added sensors that could be used for health/fitness. Although the Microsoft Band was killed, Microsoft learned a lot about fitness and health and the tech they had does not have to be limited to a fitness band to be useful.
  • Over time I would also expect to see more colors. For now, despite some criticism, Microsoft stayed true to the first Surface, something the addressable market will appreciate.

LG V40 and Its 5 Cameras

LG’s new $900-and-up V40 ThinQ is different, however. In addition to a better standard camera than its predecessors, the V30 and the G7 ThinQthe V40 has two additional rear cameras, which provide different perspectives and fields of view. In total, the V40 has five different cameras: three on the back, and two on the front, which give its camera system a level of versatility that other phones don’t offer.

Via The Verge

  • Huawei started the camera “mine has more than yours” race and now LG is getting ahead with 5 cameras on a single phone.
  • Smartphone vendors are struggling to differentiate and for those who do not control the OS experience, the camera, which is one of the top features driving purchase, is the most natural place to focus on to drive differentiation.
  • I like LG’s approach, although I have not tried the phone first hand, because they did not just add two cameras and replicate what Huawei did, which is using the cameras to improve the quality of the picture by adding more detail. LG is using the three cameras to deliver three separate experiences a bit like when you carried a digital camera and carried different lenses for it.
  • The LG V40 has a standard camera for normal shots, a super wide-angle camera for capturing a wider field of view, and, in a first for LG, a telephoto camera to get closer to your subject.
  • From reading early reviews, however, the results are not as encouraging as one would have hoped and it seems that the reasons are to be found in the software and hardware choices.
  • With such a system in place and the big focus on AI, you would expect LG to have implemented an intelligent mode detection which would suggest which camera to use for the shot. LG already had something similar in previous phones where for instance the camera would suggest a “food” mode for those #cameraeatsfirst shots. Why not apply this on the V40 rather than relegating the cameras to become more of a gimmick than a real tool?
  • This is the sword of Damocles for many companies who can do hardware but still struggle with software and more importantly who look at the top line differentiation and they fail to deliver because cost control stops them from implementing the right hardware.
  • Unless innovation really brings value to customers and not just cheap thrills, sales will see blips rather than a sustained growth driven by loyalty.

Twitter Is Losing its Battles against Fake News

Knight Foundation researchers examined millions of tweets and concluded that more than 80 percent of the accounts associated with the 2016 disinformation campaign are still posting — even after Twitter announced back in July that it had instituted a purge of fake accounts

 Via NPR 

  • Needless to say, this is bad news for Twitter and Jack Dorsey who had recently answered questions on Washington precisely on what the company is doing to minimize the potential impact of fake news on the mid-term elections.
  • The study found that more than 60% of Twitter accounts analyzed in the study showed evidence of automated activity. Basically, 60% of the accounts the study looked at were bots. Many of these accounts were also found to be following each other, which would suggest that they share a common source.
  • Twitter’s response to the study was that the data fails to take into account the actions Twitter takes to prevent automated and spam accounts from being viewed by people on the social network.
  • So basically Twitter is saying that the problem would be even bigger than the study shows if it were not for what the company has put in place to limit fake news.
  • While Twitter might think this is a good defense line I am not convinced it is. To me this points to a problem that might just be too big for Twitter, or other social media platforms for that matter, to solve.
  • I am afraid I do not have the answer on how we can win this battle, but I do think we sometimes forget that these platforms are being exploited and while it is their responsibility to protect themselves and their users we should also try and understand why this is happening and who is behind it.
  • Normally I would say that educating the public to spot fake news should be a focus of these brands as well while they try and eradicate the problem. Like you do with kids, you cannot take all the bad guys away but you can teach your kids to spot them and be prepared. Sadly I think that in this case, most of the public does not want to learn how to avoid fake news whether they are spread by bots, press, or politicians.

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Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

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