First Rule Of Homebrew Drone Club Is There Are No Rules For Homebrew Drone Club

Drones are the next revolution, the next insanely great thing, the pirate, the multi-billion dollar business, the integration of the physical and the digital, the device that will fight our wars, provide web access to the poor, deliver our pizzas in way under 30 minutes, ensure the air is safe, expose dictators, and turn us all into Hollywood-style directors, even if just for some grand selfie.

I don’t make, I write. If I made, I would make drones.

If I was that guy in The Graduate, my one word would be: “Drones”.

If I were the next Steve Jobs, I would dream of drones. If I were the next Bill Gates, I would envision software empowering drones built on every kitchen table.

You know what’s going to power the DeLorean back to the future? Drones.

Not since the launch of the iPhone and possibly not since I first used Mosaic have I felt about a technology as I do about drones. The market for drones is expected to reach $91 billion by 2020. I think this radically understates their impact, even considering the current muddled legal environment.

Drones are the next ‘stack’ of the global internet, and will radically re-make our perception of location, privacy and commerce. They are as if the PC and the Internet launched together. In 1988.

Not surprisingly, everyone wants in on the action.

  • Mark Zuckerberg is funding efforts so drones can “beam internet to people from the sky.”  
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to re-tool aircraft to serve as a “flying fortress” filled with drones able to carry out all manner of missions in any region of the planet.
  • Amazon is “doubling down” on drones for delivery.
  • Skycatch is already building a sort of Uber for drones, linking drone “pilots” and makers with those who need drone-based services.

Despite all this, it is hobbyists who are advancing drone development even more than government or business.

There is a thriving community of drone builders and enthusiasts at,which has created an open source platform for drones. The nonprofit OpenPilot hopes to make drone technology more affordable, more accessible — and optimized for improving humanity’s lot.

DIY Drones claims to be the world’s largest community for drone hobbyists. DIY Drones was also instrumental in the development of the Dronecode Project, which aims to “bring together existing open source drone projects and assets under a nonprofit structure governed by The Linux Foundation”. Drones just had their Tim Berners-Lee moment.

Yes, the rules for drone use in the US are in flux and clearly lagging the technology.

“After years of waiting, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said the agency was close to releasing a ruling that would give commercial entities greater access to fly small unmanned aerial system in the domestic airspace.”

It’s not just the FAA. The Office of Management and Budget is also involved. Then there’s the FCC and the Government Accountability Office. All are working to enact Congress’ 2012 “FAA Modernization and Reform Act,” which is meant to bring a clearer legal framework for the commercial operation of drones (unmanned vehicles weighing less than 55 pounds). In addition, several states and cities have enacted their own rules. Businesses don’t know what to do, other than do nothing or operate in secret.

For hobbyists, the rules are essentially that drones must remain within line of sight and away from airports and below 400 feet.

Don’t fear, I know a secret: This will all get taken care of — because, just as with PCs and the Internet, the spread of drones cannot be stopped.

It’s a drone world after all….and the best is yet to come.

The FAA expects more than 30,000 drones in commercial use by 2020. These will be used by law enforcement, military, logistics companies, businesses, and tech giants. The potential, however, is limitless. Witness: The nonprofit Drone Adventures sends drones to impoverished areas of the world, assessing air quality, agricultural impact, promoting conservation and archaeological efforts.


Conservation Drones uses drones to map sections of the planet and assess local environmental challenges. Matternet is using drones to deliver lifesaving medicines where they are needed most.


How is all this possible? Smartphones.

Smartphone-optimized technologies, including GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, mobile cameras, a litany of sensors, mobile battery power, lenses and more, have all become widely available, shockingly affordable — and are transferable to the drone industry.

Then there’s the rapid drop in price. The new Lumia 535 is available for $137 — inclusive. Only a few years ago, such a price for so much technology was unthinkable. A similar phenomenon is happening in the drone industry. Consider this is what you can get now for the price of an iPhone 6, off-contract: the Phantom can fly 22mph and reach an altitude of 1,000 feet. GoPro optional.


You were not part of the original Homebrew Computer Club. You’ve just been given a second chance. Nowhere to go but up.

Technological Patriotism

Technology is breaking down barriers throughout the world. Conversely, a form of technological nationalism has taken hold, limiting tech’s rise. Expect such nationalist fervor to become more widespread, more virulent, probably more unfair. 

Technology is the new oil. It’s vital to our lives, our economy, our personal wealth, our national interests. As such, governments believe it is right to be intimately intertwined in the development, use, purchase, promotion and spread of technology.

Government inquiries, embargoes, regulatory barriers and tax disputes with technology companies will become commonplace. Fighting (and/or championing) such affairs will become a standard course of business for tech firms, much like complying with accounting standards are today. VCs, start-ups and well established high tech companies will need to fundamentally reconstruct their focus. I say this all without judgment.

That most of the world’s largest, richest tech companies are American — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Cisco — makes this new world order that much more combustible.

Should Five Percent Appear Too Small

Big technology companies are sitting atop sizable piles of money. Many governments believe they are owed their rightful share of these piles. The European Union (EU) alleges Apple is concealing taxes duly owed on sales and profits generated throughout Europe. Their allegations rest almost entirely upon the obvious: 

“Multinational corporations have a financial incentive when allocating profit to the different companies of the corporate group to allocate as much profit as possible to low tax jurisdictions and as little profit as possible to high tax jurisdictions.”

apple international

Examine Apple’s European org chart. What does it appear optimized for? If successful, the EU’s action could cost Apple billions. That is why, when Tim Cook told the US Senate “we pay all the taxes we owe — every single dollar,” he is no doubt being 100% accurate and equally irrelevant.

Tax battles are costly for tech firms, but just one fight of many. Regulatory barriers can similarly limit the full and beneficent spread of the world’s most liberating technologies. As famed tech investor Peter Thiel recently remarked:

“It probably would be better for Europe to find ways to be more innovative, rather than ways to regulate.”

This sentiment was echoed by uber-VC Marc Andreessen, an aggressive proponent of Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that could, in theory, disrupt a core government function and major policy lever:

‘‘The problem with building a new product or service in the existing financial industry is that tens of thousands of pages of legislation and thousands of lobbyists are going to come down on you very quickly. We needed a new technology to have the wedge to be able to enter the market, to be able to justify all the work to rebuild the system.

With bitcoin, we now think we have that wedge.”

Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital chief, has made it abundantly clear government is not so willing to rebuild its systems:

“I do wonder how many more Valley companies have to get slapped before the rest of them realize it’s time to start investing in better relations with the EU.”

Expect such “investments” to become commonplace. Likewise, add Amazon to that list of companies who apparently need to be “slapped”:

The European Commission is poised to launch a formal in-depth probe into its serious concerns over improper state aid, dragging Amazon into a multi-pronged clampdown on sweetheart tax deals that has already ensnared Apple in Ireland and Starbucks in the Netherlands. 

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Amazon has declared it pays “all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within.” As with Apple, the accuracy of this statement is borderline meaningless.

Prediction: numerous governments will alter their tax rules simply to prevent other governments from getting a larger share of any Big Tech monies available. To wit: Why let Europe get a (theoretical) cut of Apple’s bounty when that money could be put to better use in America? Or Brazil? Or China?

Here, There And Everywhere

Tax disputes are certainly not the only concern for tech companies. Just this year:

The Chinese government (blocked) virtually all access to Google websites, instead of just imposing 90-second delays when banned search terms were used. Experts initially interpreted the move as a security precaution ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4. But the block has largely remained in place ever since.

This latest move and previous actions by China have significantly impacted Google’s long term potential inside the world’s largest Internet market. Not surprisingly, China’s own Baidu has a 90% share of search — and not because users prefer its results to Google’s.

Despite Baidu’s ubiquity, many users are finding it to be a poor replacement—especially students, academics, researchers, and technicians who need to rapidly find reliable information online. 

It’s not only Google that faces such barriers. Twitter and Facebook are both “filtered” in China. Nor is the problem confined only to American technology companies.

Two popular messaging services owned by South Korean companies, Line and Kakao Talk, were abruptly blocked this summer (by China), as were other applications like Didi, Talk Box and Vower.  

Nor is hardware spared. Despite its stellar reputation for security, China’s CCTV ran a report earlier this year suggesting Apple’s iPhone location tracking could put state secrets at risk. If true, China obviously has no choice but to take swift, decisive action.

Government entanglements can take many forms. For example, Apple was caught off guard last month when regulators did not provide the requisite approvals for the company to begin legally selling its new iPhones in China. This despite Tim Cook’s many visits to the country, Apple’s sizeable third party workforce there, and the fact Apple and its partners had readied a major advertising push, believing they had done everything necessary to satisfy the various interested parties. Not so, apparently.

Surprise! Regulators have now proffered their assent, in large part due to Apple’s latest assurances that the American government cannot “backdoor” access iPhone data and obtain any of those China state secrets as noted above. 

Rules are rules. The costs required to successfully navigate such rules may not always fall the way prices of technology always seems to fall. Nor may such rules prove as leveling. As Bloomberg recently reported, myriad new government rules in China are likely to benefit local companies, such as Xiaomi.


Moreover, now that users in China can legally purchase iPhone 6, it may cost them more than anticipated. China’s government recently decreed that China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier, must reduce phone subsidies. The effect of such actions are obvious.

“High-end flagship phones will suffer the most from the regulation due to their prohibitive prices in the China market without subsidies.”  

“Samsung and Apple, as the two major high-end flagship phone makers, have the most to lose.”

A Day In The Life

Brazil has demanded Apple delete the Secret app from iPhone. Russia recently seized Bitcoin mining equipment at its border with China. Several US states have taken legal action against Uber and Lyft. The EU wants Google, Facebook and Twitter to help it combat what they view as online extremism — and what others view as free speech. The lesson, once again: Tech company interactions with governments will become the norm. Simply put, because tech touches everything.

No matter what you think of Europol‘s veracity, when Europe’s cybercrime unit writes the following, it necessitates a reasoned, continued and very likely financial response from well-heeled technology companies eager to profit from the Internet of Things:

With more objects being connected to the Internet and the creation of new types of critical infrastructure, we can expect to see (more) targeted attacks on existing and emerging infrastructures, including new forms of blackmailing and extortion schemes (e.g. ransomware for smart cars or smart homes), data theft, physical injury and possible death, and new types of botnets.

Death and botnets are always scary. Fighting them is no doubt expensive.

Technology’s promise carries with it parallel strands of fear, always. Consider how smartphones and social media have deepened our understanding of events around the world, such as the recent protests in Hong Kong. Now consider not everyone is pleased by this.

Tim Cook has spoken publicly about civil liberties. Is it fair to ask him — and Apple Inc — to choose a side in this latest skirmish? Is it fair to ask the same of Twitter? Many will.

You Say You Want A Revolution

I suspect you want me to say these many government interventions are dubious, the product of terminally greedy tax collectors, frightened regulators, and entrenched forces hoping to kill off outland competition.

I won’t. Mostly because such sentiments are not relevant.

The many reasons for these many government actions will grow in number, kind and intensity as technology continues to destabilize and disrupt industry after industry. You must understand: There is no bigger industry than government.

Tech is money. Money is power. All three are quickly spreading around the world and most of us want, at minimum, our perceived fair share. Do understand, however, that what’s right and what’s wrong are just two sides to this proverbial Rubik’s Cube.

Freedom is not a zero sum game. Not all believe the same is true for money and power. This is true everywhere. The really big disruption won’t just be of the established order, but of human nature. 

I Want It Later! Building The Inconvenience Economy.

As I stood in line with a giddy gaggle of high pants hipsters, each eagerly anticipating the drip, drip of their very own drip coffee from the sainted Blue Bottle, conversations were many and temporary friendships took brief flight.

I looked up from my phone and realized: we are doing it all wrong.

In nearly every aspect of our lives, from work to parenting to play to eating, we are demanding quicker, faster, now. Worse, our technologies — the very products and services we build for our own good — are forcing this upon us. Even worse: We seem to have no idea, no plan, no counter to this offensive.

Understand, I am no Luddite. I am not suggesting we limit the advance of technology (or progress). Rather, I am suggesting we figure out a way to build technologies and services that nurture our very human need to take our time, to hone our craft, to focus on our work, to block out the noise. Almost nothing we have created allows this. Almost no one in Silicon Valley even considers this. I am considered a gadfly whenever I merely suggest it.

Why have we allowed our technology to be so limiting?

Convenience and productivity are just two of the many human desires we hold dear. So where are the devices, the apps, the advances that satisfy our longing for peace, calm, reflection?

No. Turning something off is not a solution. Partly, because that’s so hard — like eating only a “single serving” of cookies. Secondly, because this requires everyone else do the same. Unplug, walk outside, stare at the stars and then count the seconds before a jet flies by, a leaf blower punctures your ears or a bright light pierces your vision.

We are demanding convenience above all else, when in fact we crave the messiness of taking our time. Yet, none of our richest corporations and none of our very best minds appear to have any solution. I doubt they are even considering this. Twitter co-founder, Ev Williams, made this clear last year when he described the Internet as “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” 

“The internet makes human desires more easily attainable. In other words, it offers convenience. Convenience on the internet is basically achieved by two things: speed, and cognitive ease.”

I got 99 problems but convenience ain’t one.

Fat And Fast

Our very best minds — and we have encouraged this — view the next big thing as whatever it is that satisfies our present, reflexive, fleeting demand for: Now. Want. Now. Want. Now. Again, from Williams:

“Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company. Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

Then what? Race ya till you die! There are many human desires where taking out a step does not make life better.

To be fair, Williams does make the obvious connection between our burgeoning abundance of convenience with last century’s abundance of fast, cheap calories:

“Look at the technology of agriculture taken to an extreme — where we have industrialised farms that are not good for the environment or animals or nourishment. Look at a country full of people who have had such convenient access to calories that they’re addicted, obese, and sick.”  

Despite this awareness, however, Williams doesn’t really offer a route around this. Nor does Silicon Valley. Most infuriating of all, neither do I. I keep wracking my brain to come up with a way out, to imagine technology truly supportive of all our human longings. I got nothing.

The newly heralded convenience economy is enabled by smartphones, apps, the location-based web, the cloud, and pretty much every device in our possession. It’s lighting every moment of our lives, altering our work, deconstructing our expectations, yet I am not sure it’s as liberating as we believe.

Immediate access to messaging, e-mail, media, and other online functionality through smartphones has generated a sense of entitlement to fast, simple, and efficient experiences.

Aren’t we also entitled to contemplation, craftsmanship and effort? Is pining for a thing no longer a viable thing in this new millennium? What else might we lose? Taking our time, honing our craft, embracing the goal, the journey, these are vitally important pillars of life — I presume — yet our own creations constantly work against them. Imagine pitching to a VC your idea for a service that makes people wait, that never interrupts, that takes forever to master. Are such technologies or services even imaginable by our collective, connected 21st century brains? With access to everything, at low prices, instantly, how do we deny ourselves? Should we?

The Marshmallow Test

In the 1960s, the marshmallow test validated the idea children who could push aside a minor reward — a marshmallow now — for a greater reward — many marshmallows in the near future — enjoyed greater success in life. Why then, are the products of our best companies designed to reward us all instantly?

According to the Harvard Business Review, “as adults we face a version of the marshmallow test nearly every waking minute of every day. We’re not tempted by sugary treats, but by our browser tabs, phones, tablets, and (soon) our watches—all the devices that connect us to the global delivery system for those blips of information that do to us what marshmallows do to preschoolers.”

Will we grow fat on convenience? How might that look? Explosions of uncontrollable anger when the young man at the drive thru counter takes seconds longer than the lighted sign has promised us?

When the great minds of the early 1900s constructed methods to ensure we would all never go hungry again, it’s unlikely they envisioned a world where hundreds of millions become morbidly obese. Again, from the Harvard Business Review:

“As we’ve reshaped the world around us, radically diminishing the cost and effort involved in obtaining calories, we still have the same brains we evolved thousands of years ago, and this mismatch is at the heart of why so many of us struggle to resist tempting foods that we know we shouldn’t eat.  

A similar process is at work in our response to information.

Just as with food, the problem will almost certainly not be solved by self control, which was always a lie, an easy way to blame others and ignore reality. 

Is there some Paleo diet for the mind, an Ornish diet for the spirit?

Goethe wrote, “talent is nurtured in solitude.” Can solitude exist in our world? If not, will talent vanish, killed off by the creations of our smartest humans and our mutual lust for immediacy?

I wish I could offer you some guidance but I just thought of the cleverest tweet.

America Needs Entrepreneurs. Instead Of Programming Teach Children Fantasy Football.

America needs entrepreneurs. Men, women, boys, girls, native-born, immigrants, smart, skillful, driven, capable entrepreneurs to propel the economy, create jobs, spur innovation and build something from nothing.

I believe to do this, to create a sizable generation of entrepreneurs, we should teach fantasy football to all children. Yes, really.

Again and again we are told all children should be taught computer programming. Perhaps. I suspect however that teaching computer programming is a false idol, a way of telling ourselves we are prepping our children for the future, even though the future will likely need radically few programmers and our screens will be disposable.

Fantasy football, however, teaches lasting lessons, lessons that encourage children to lead, to think, compete, manage, crunch the numbers, negotiate with others and take charge of their destiny. Yes, this also works should your child choose fantasy baseball or fantasy soccer, for example.

Fantasy Is Reality

With fantasy sports, such as fantasy football, a child is allotted a set amount of virtual cash, say $100. From that $100, the child must build a team comprised of actual players. In this instance, the team must include a quarterback, running back, kicker, special teams and defensive unit, for example. Yes, you can spend half your budget on Tom Brady, but that means you now only have $50 remaining to field your entire remaining squad. Talent matters — but talent costs. That’s your first lesson.

Each week, your team wins or loses based on whether your players, in real life, tallied the most points, gained the most yards, limited the opponent to the fewest scores. Your fantasy “Tom Brady” is only as good as the real Tom Brady. Your fantasy defense is only as good as the real defense. That’s your second lesson: It may not take much money to build a team but you must nonetheless be shrewd with your limited resources.

Weekly wins are vital, but you also learn the season is a long, arduous grind. There is no first mover advantage. There are no weeks off. How each player and each unit performs, week in, week out, determines your ultimate success. That’s another important lesson. Once you’ve built your team, your work doesn’t end. Just the opposite. If Tom Brady has a bad week, you have a bad week. If your kicker gets injured, you must take your few remaining dollars to bring in a replacement, or trade an existing team member, or do without. Make a bad bet on a high draft pick and you may find it exceedingly difficult to succeed.

Each action has very real consequences. Drafting the best talent is of disproportionate importance, true. But, even with the very best draft, no team can be set on autopilot. That’s a path to failure.

Learning Is Fun. Just Like Building Your Own Business.

Teaching programming is useful, but I believe we need fewer programmers and far more entrepreneurs, more young girls and boys confident in their ability to start a business, stay on top of all the shifts in the market — the playing field — and continuously improve. Fantasy sports teaches each of these.

It’s also extremely accessible, unlike programming, say. Fantsy sports leagues are freely available on Yahoo, ESPN, and numerous other sites.

Now consider what a child learns by “playing”:

  • How to allocate resources
  • How to build a team
  • Negotiation skills, via trades
  • Statistical analysis and number crunching
  • Managing a payroll

These are all skills that are likely to never have a limited shelf life, unlike computer programming.

Another great lesson: children learn numbers count but only the numbers that count, count. No matter what stats can be generated, no matter the buzz on any player, only a few select stats, like touchdowns, actually count. Know what matters! The weekly standings provide a beautiful, stark, and sometimes brutally harsh reminder of how you are doing. Don’t be misled by numbers, data or buzz that detracts from your goal, winning.

Still more: Children can play in a Yahoo league against other children, teens, adults, retirees. They are not segregated by age or grade. This can be liberating.

Play To Win

Another benefit from teaching fantasy sports: Everyone can play. Everyone. Girls, boys, rich, poor. There are no barriers to starting a team. There are no biases, no restrictions on who can play. Age, gender, race are all irrelevant. The rules are the same for everyone and anyone can field a team, lead a team, and win.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has been a strong voice for increasing diversity in the tech industry and for overhauling our education system:

At the broadest level, we are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology or any industry until we fix our education system and until we fix the stereotypes about women and minorities in math and science.

No one can stop a girl or anyone else from going online and starting their own team. No one can stop them from drafting, trading — and winning. They can play as part of a league at school, or anonymously. Through the poorly named “fantasy sports,” a child can prove to themselves their abilities to compete with anyone on the planet long before unleashing their full talents into the world. Along the way, they improve their math scores, improve their understanding of business, and build better habits. These are lessons that never vanish.

Not everyone can be the next Mo’ne Davis, but everyone can play and compete on an even playing field.

America Needs Entrepreneurs

America needs entrepreneurs. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site reveals, entrepreneurship is a “critical source of jobs” and a “major driver of productivity growth.”

Despite what you think, however, we are failing at entrepreneurship. 


Yes, it’s the same bad news even in Silicon Valley.


Vivek Wadhwa similarly notes that “start-ups have become a smaller proportion of the economy, going from 15 percent to 8 percent. This is worrisome because young companies account for a disproportionate share of job growth and tend to be more innovative than older ones.”

As important as programming and “tech skills” are for old and young, girls and boys, we all know tech constantly changes. Learning programming today will become outdated a few years later. Play fantasy sports and the lessons last a lifetime.

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen states his firm is “biased towards people who never give up, who never quit; and that’s something you can’t find on a resume.” Playing fantasy football, or fantasy baseball, for example, teaches these exact same qualities. Even if you’ve put together your own great team, you can’t place it on autopilot. Week after week, your attention is required, and changes are always necessary. Never quit.

Our new world requires new forms of education. There are multiple paths toward creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, but fantasy sports may just be the most accessible, fun, affordable and democratic. It’s worth trying.

Apple Announces Nothing (New)

“Apple announces NOTHING at developer conference”.

No, seriously, I read it on the internets, so it must be true. You can read it for yourself, here:


Apple Announces Nothing at Developer Conference ~ By Paul “Comic Book Guy” Ausick

Admittedly, that is just one man’s opinion, and an extremely harsh assessment at that. The consensus seems to be a little more moderate. What most Apple critics seem to have concluded is not that Apple announced NOTHING at their developer conference but that Apple announced NOTHING NEW.

No, seriously. That’s what they’re saying. You can read it here.

Great artists steal: The iOS 8 features inspired by Android ~ by Ron Amadeo

“(M)any of Apple’s announced upgrades were things the Android OS has boasted for years.”

WLETyping suggestions
Third party keyboards
Inter-app communication
Hotwords, music recognition, and streaming voice recognition
Notification Actions
Videos in the App Store
Beta testing
Photo backup and storage

Fetish For First

NTSHWhat is it with our fetish for first? Where did we ever get the notion being first was all that mattered and — perversely — that nothing that comes after “first” matters at all?

Tech is not a race. It’s not some Olympic event, where you run 100 meters, cross the finish line, everybody jogs to a stop, and then you get awarded a medal. No. In real life, the tech race goes on and on forever.

If anything, tech is more like catching a train than running a race. You have to stand on the platform and wait for tech to arrive before you can get on board. Try to get on board too soon and you’ll fall flat on your face. Try to get on board too late and you’ll be left at the station. At least, that’s what it’s like for the consumers of technology.

If you’re a company that’s CREATING the technology — like Apple or Google or Microsoft or Amazon — you still have to wait for the technology train to pull into the station. But if you want to control that technology, you might have to actually anticipate where technology is headed and BUILD the platform first. And you’d darn well better hope you guessed right and built your platform at the right place and at the right time. Otherwise you’re going to be as lonely as a developer at a Microsoft Kin convention.

Maybe an even better metaphor is a wave. Tech is like many waves coming together to form one massive wave. To ride that wave, you have to time it perfectly. Too soon and it crashes on top of you. Too late and you are left behind. But catch the tech wave — catch it just right — and you can ride it all the way to wealth and fame.

Take, for example, the iPod:

People think of the iPod as just the iPod. But what people call the iPod was really three things: iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Store. ~ Tony Fadell ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))

The iPod was introduced in 2001, but it didn’t take off until the hardware (iPod), the software (iTunes Store) and services (iTunes internet services) all came together to create a groundswell that flooded the market and washed the competition away.

First To Fail

QR Codes. NFC. JOYN. MMS. Infrared. Haptics. Projectors. So many dead ends in mobile. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

The tech graveyard is full of failed “firsts,” right?

— Apple’s Newton;
— Microsoft’s Windows Tablets;
— Samsung’s Smartwatches.

Here are some more examples:

The First Wheel:


The First Convertible Automobile:


The First Electric Automobile:


The First Highway Hi-Fi (1956):


The First Pedal Skates:


The First Motorized Roller Skates:


The First Vending Machine With Pre-Lit Cigarettes:


The First Automated Hot Dog Machine:


The First Picturephone:


The First Notebook Computer:


Let’s face it, being first ain’t always a good thing. Sometimes, when you get too far ahead on the road you’re traveling, you find you’re no longer on solid footing.


How Are We Not Getting This?

How are we not getting this? I mean, it’s not like this is new or anything. It has always been true, since the dawn of man.

The Greeks invented the Phalanx, but the Macedonians perfected it. They didn’t call him Alexander The “Late”, they called him Alexander The Great — and with good reason. ~ John R. Kirk ((That’s right. I cited myself. So sue me.))

images-95And it’s not only geeks like Comic Book Guy who are getting this wrong. A lot of people — people who should know better — are getting this wrong too. Take, for example, a look at this March, 2014 interview with a Steve Ballmer:

Ballmer also took shots at Microsoft’s rivals, waving off Apple as a company that was “quote, cool, unquote” that has “had a good run lately,” and in tablets, (Apple) only commercialized the idea that others, including Microsoft, had originated. ((Emphasis added.))


I don’t stinking believe Steve Ballmer even thought those thoughts, more less said those words out loud, more less said them out loud to a reporter.

Apple ONLY commercialized the ideas? ONLY?

EXCUSE ME. Isn’t being a commercial success the frizzing POINT? Isn’t that Apple’s job? And Microsoft’s job too, for that matter? Tech pedants are so obsessed with “first” they’ve completely taken their eyes off the prize. They’ve forgotten the goal is not to be the first, but to be the FIRST TO GET IT RIGHT.

  1. You don’t want to be the first one to sail the high seas.
    You want to be the first one to sail the high seas and RETURN TO PORT SAFELY.
  2. You don’t want to be the first one to fly an airplane.
    You want to be the first one to fly an airplane and LAND IT SAFELY.
  3. To use a D-Day analogy, you don’t want to be the first one ON the beach.
    You want to be the first one OFF the beach…ALIVE.

There’s “First” And Then There’s “First”

There are many kind of firsts, my friend, and first in time is not always first in value to either the producer or the consumer of technology.

You say Android is the first to offer third party keyboards? iOS is the first to do it without allowing all of your keystrokes to be read by those self-same third-party developers.

You say Android is the first to offer inter-app communications? iOS is the first to do it without exposing your mobile device to a “toxic hellstew” of computer viruses.

You say Android is the first to allow Widgets? iOS is the first to make them a seamless experience.

You say Android is the first to allow photo backup and storage? iOS is the first to let you do it effortlessly.

You say Android is the first with a slew of other features? iOS is the first to do those same features without bringing your operating system to its knees.

It means much more to us to get it right then to get it first. ~ Tim Cook

SERVICES - word cloud - colored signpost - NEW TOP TREND

Customer, services, support, care, help, trust, advice, guidance — these are assigned ZERO value by Apple’s critics. Apple announces NOTHING, they say, and Apple announces NOTHING NEW, they say, despite the flood of new services and developer tools announced at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). Why the discrepancy?

You can’t teach a color blind man to appreciate a Monet and you can’t teach a person who discounts the importance of privacy, security etc, to appreciate what Apple does either.

Giverny Bridge on the Water Lily Pond

First To Market Or First Priority?

Apple employs a whole different definition of “first” than Apple’s critics do. It’s not about shipping first; it’s not about getting to market first; it’s about getting it right BEFORE it ships and BEFORE it gets into the hands of Apple’s valued customers.

It is key to understand that Apple puts the experience first. Everything else flows from that priority. ~ ßen ßajarin (@BenBajarin)

Security First


Privacy First

    — “Google can periodically turn on mic, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, & similar features on all your current & future devices” ~ Android Police

    — TouchID is being used by 85% of iPhone 5S owners

iOS 8 now requiring apps reconfirm authenticity of background location periodically. Steve Cheney (@stevecheney)

Reliability First

    — Steve had been absolutely against opening the App Store early on, because he didn’t want the phone to crash. You have to be able to call 911 on the phone anytime, so we couldn’t trust our operating system to a bunch of crazy stupid developers without putting them in a huge sandbox first. ~ Andy Grignon ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))

User Experience First


Ease Of Use And “Invisibility” First

In iOS 8, you’ll be able to AirPlay to Apple TV with zero configuration. Don’t even have to be on the same network! ~ Chris Marriott (@chrismarriott)

    — If your customer has to think about it, you’re not done designing the user interface.

Mail attachments up to 5GB in size are not a problem anymore. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

    — There was a debate [on the Lisa] team about the mouse. Was it going to have a mouse, and how many buttons should it have? Steve and I wanted one button, because if there’s one button, you never have to think about it. One of the former Xerox guys argued for six buttons. He said, “Look, bartenders have six buttons on those drink dispensers, and they can handle it.” But that was a failure to understand what Steve was trying to do with user experience. ~ Trip Hawkins ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))
    — There is a huge difference between a learning curve, a low learning curve and NO learning curve. When you get to NO learning curve, everybody uses the feature, no matter how complex it is technically or how geeky it used to seem.
    — According to Teller (head of Google X), the truly innovative projects should become perfectly transparent in our lives. He started off his keynote by talking about car brakes and ABS systems. When you put your foot on the brake of the car, you’re not actually activating the brakes. It’s just an interface. You are actually making a request to a robot.

    “That is a wonderful technology moment. We don’t have to mess with it. We just say here’s what we want,” he said. “When technology reaches that level of invisibility in our lives, that’s our ultimate goal. It vanishes into our lives. It says: ‘you don’t have to do the work, It’ll do the work.’”

Design First

    — “Jobs unveiled the so-called Bondi Blue iMac—named for a beach in Sydney, Australia—at a special event in May 1998. “It looks like it’s from another planet,” Jobs said. “A planet with better designers.” ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))

Integration First

    — Google loves to characterize Android as open, and iOS and iPhone as closed. We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. […] In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, “what’s best for the customer?” Fragmented versus integrated. ~ Steve Jobs

(T)oday’s additions are pieces in a larger puzzle, not the whole puzzle by themselves. ~ @BenBajarin

Benefits (not features) First

    — The competitors, like Commodore and Kaypro, were all doing speeds and feeds, whereas Steve always wanted things like “What is the significance in the world? How might this change things?” ~ Steve Hayden ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.”))
    — I find speed is typically the least interesting feature of a new phone. I’ll run a benchmark on a new phone out of dumb obligation (and noting how many times the maker used the word “speed” during my briefing). Fine. Yes. I find the numbers that are supposed to be higher and the numbers that are supposed to be lower are higher and lower, respectively.

    But how, precisely, does the faster CPU make a phone better? Bravo for being the first to get the latest Snapdragon processor in a handset, but after people like me file our reviews and move on, who notices or even cares?

    Here’s why I love Apple: speed actually matters. To Apple, there’s no point in putting in a faster CPU unless it makes the phone better. And “it’ll do things faster” isn’t necessarily a good enough reason. ~ Andy Ihnatko

Performance First

Battery Life First

Apple is opening up iOS to extension in the same way it added multi-tasking: controlled and sandboxed, retaining security & battery life. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)



So, am I saying iOS is superior to Android? No, I am not. “Superior” is a subjective term. Each consumer gets to decide for themselves what product best suits their needs. That’s the beauty of the free market.

What I AM saying is it’s time to stop contending Android is copying iOS and iOS is copying Android because it’s a damn lie. The WAY both operating systems create their features and the WAY those features are implemented makes their respective experiences totally unalike.

An original artist is unable to copy. So he has only to copy in order to be original. ~ Jean Cocteau

images-98images-96I can order chicken nuggets from McDonalds or chicken cordon bleu from a five-star restaurant. Both meals are made of chicken but that’s where the similarities end. HOW something is prepared is often as important — and often more important — than WHAT that something is.

It’s the same in mobile technology today. Even if the ingredients were the same — and they’re not — the way Apple and Google “bake” their products is as different in style and substance as would be the same meal prepared by Chef Ramsey and Chef Boyardee.


Tomorrow, in my Insider’s article (subscription required), I’ll focus on how Apple is making use of different “ingredients” to make their phones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops and how those different “ingredients” both differentiate their products, and make them competitor-proof.

Join me then.

Back To The Past With Oculus Rift

The pundits tell us Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR is proof virtual reality has arrived, at long last. The future is now.

Except all I can think about is the past.

That’s what I mostly want from Oculus, or from Sony’s Morpheus or any similar device: the past. Not virtual reality or virtual presence, but a virtual time portal, a way to explore — to feel fully a part of — the events that shaped this world, this country, my life.

I was there with Jobs and Woz when they first started Apple!

Full disclosure: I was not there with Jobs and Woz when they first started Apple.  

Imagine putting on your Oculus headset and instead of playing the most amazing, immersive game of Halo, you are tasked with parachuting onto a Normandy beach. It’s D-Day. You are there as it happens. Understand, this is not at all to diminish anyone’s effort or sacrifice, or confuse reality with imagination, but to enable each of us to viscerally, visually behold great moments in history in all their nasty, sweaty, dull, grinding, vicious glory.

Let’s explore not just the building of the Great Pyramid but the discussions on its construction. Watch the burning(s) of the library of Alexandria. Witness our own birth.

With the amount of documentary video evidence now at our disposal, and all our computing power, social media data, location-based tweets, check-ins and other information, soon we will be able to reconstruct the momentous events of our present in such a way our children really can use VR to transport themselves back to today’s equivalent of the founding of Apple, or, yes, go inside the deadly flights of 9/11.

Imagine how much better we might understand people and cultures, events, greatness, failure and chance if we focused the development of Oculus not on virtual realities but on very human ones.

Oculus Rift

We have arrived at a point that is, for real this time, only a short distance from making virtual reality a reality. Let’s not blow this chance.

I’m not that old. Despite what my son thinks, I’m not. My parents are still alive. My grandmother died a few years ago — after being struck by a car. I can remember what it was like pre-iPhone; hell, before everyone had a PC in their home. It’s taken a long time to get here, to a future we expected would happen by the 1990s, which makes me uneasy that nearly all the focus and all the cash behind VR is centered on gaming.

This is exactly what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stated when he bought Oculus:

When you put (Oculus) on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. 


The (Oculus) Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform.

Ugh, gaming.

It’s not just Zuckerberg, of course. The computer industry seems intent on constructing virtual reality mostly for gaming. So much, in fact, the tech press accepts this vision without comment. The Verge:

Nothing delivers a feeling of immersion better than VR. VR has been a dream of many gamers since the computer was invented. 

In discussing their VR headset, Sony Studios president Shuhei Yoshida noted it was the “culmination of our work over the last three years to realize our vision of VR for games, and to push the boundaries of play.”

Explaining the amazing potential of virtual reality, Wired similarly focused almost exclusively on gaming.

In a traditional videogame, too much latency is annoying—you push a button and by the time your action registers onscreen you’re already dead. But with virtual reality, it’s nauseating. If you turn your head and the image on the screen that’s inches from your eyes doesn’t adjust instantaneously, your visual system conflicts with your vestibular system, and you get sick.

Videogame pioneer John Carmack is CTO of Oculus.

Oculus received major venture backing from Andreessen Horowitz, after the product was demoed at a gaming conference.

Really, I could not care less about games or gaming.

Imagine, instead, being ‘there’ the very first time the Beatles performed at the Cavern Club. Or witness a father watch the last of his six children die as the plague sweeps across western Europe.

Is it wrong to embrace the future yet be so utterly fascinated by the past?

How can any game compete with actual human history?

The pace of VR technology is accelerating. Delivering sight, sound, motion have nearly all been solved. But let’s not have the potential of this technology become so limited.

I have hope. Many developers are working on building immersive non-gaming experiences for Oculus and similar devices. Though not currently practical, this large-scale D-Day simulation points, ironically, to a rather stunning future.


Can such efforts succeed? That’s up to us, I suppose, and what we desire from our very best technologies.

Zuckerberg has also said “one day, we (at Facebook) believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” I believe him. But instead of billions of us being entertained, which I understand is enticing, what if we could (almost literally) experience the reality of someone thousands of miles away, a person we will never otherwise meet, one who is so much unlike us?

Or, perhaps, following a nasty spat at work, HR makes us (virtually) experience the demands, deadlines and plainly different personal outlook of the boss we think we can’t stand because she refuses to understand our situation.

Virtual reality could soon become the very best way for businesses, clubs, universities, and start-ups to tell if you are the right ‘fit’ for their organization: “your resume is amazing, Mr. Hall, but let’s see how you interact with our staff and customers first before we make our decision. Here, wear this headset for the next 60 minutes.”

Call someone a forbidden word at school and the principal may require you don the VR headset to better understand how those slings and arrows do wound. Messy? Yes. But also transformative.

The Oculus Rift headset

I am not sure we can even begin to fathom how ontologically disruptive this technology will be, even though it is on the cusp of becoming our new actual reality.

With virtual reality, we will connect with people in profound new ways. We can also connect with times and places. Ecotourism is a massive industry but I am far more excited about historical tourism — visiting a specific place not because it’s restful or beautiful but because of who was once there and what the place once meant.

I completely understand why Oculus and the others, including Microsoft’s Project Fortaleza, are starting first with gaming. Yes, I know there will be porn. But there can be so much more, and that’s what I most look forward to. Keep your high score. Take me to where and when our today was made possible.

The Subscription Economy Is Sending Me To The Poorhouse

[UPDATE: See below]

Technology is supposed to make our lives better. Shouldn’t we demand the same from business models? Sadly, it seems as if today’s bleeding edge innovations in business and retail are in — pricing. Yes, pricing. The chief goal, apparently, is to turn everything we buy or might ever buy into a subscription.

No, thanks.

While social media titans offer brands the allure of connecting with each of us — on a human level, of course — I confess I am not at all interested in a Facebook or Twitter relationship with whomever provides my toilet paper, vitamins, cloud storage, dog food, or even the books I read.

Yet, that’s how subscriptions are marketed — as a relationship. One designed to benefit us, the consumer, as much as the seller.

I have my doubts. After pulling together a few stolen moments to review my monthly spending, I discovered I had signed up — subscribed — for all manner of products.

  • Oyster (books)
  • Netflix (television)
  • Pandora (music)
  • New York Times (website)
  • OneDrive (cloud storage)
  • Anchovy oil (via Amazon, for the dogs)
  • NHL Center Ice
  • MLB At Bat
  • Evernote
  • Razor blades
  • Zyflamend (via Amazon, a multi-vitamin I decided to try and which apparently I subscribed to so as to save a penny per softgel)
  • Craft coffee

This does not include the makeup my wife subscribes to and somehow thinks I don’t know about. Nor does it include — as we are still “discussing” this — our basic monthly cable service, nor our monthly iPhone and Internet bills.

But, baby steps. Wherever I can, I am canceling all subscriptions, permanently.

Instead of making my life easier, making it so I never ever have to worry about running out of milk or daily vitamins, the subscription economy has become just another needless pressing burden. While analysts and market makers may cheer the subscription economy, I shall take my leave, despite the Sisyphean effort most retailers require to break these relationships.

Burning Their Money In Wastebaskets

Do you believe the sudden, expansive ramp-up in subscription everything is designed for your benefit? Really? Me, neither.

Are retailers so desperate to take more of what money we have they now must actively promote never ending subscriptions even for the most garden variety products?

I do most of my online shopping through Amazon. It seems like every item I search for anymore, the retail giant offers an enticement if I subscribe instead of just buying the product outright.

I am dubious of any savings or convenience.

Amazon states, non-ironically, “the more you subscribe the more you save.” They claim buyers can save 15% more when they “receive 5 or more subscriptions” per month. 

15% savings? On top of Amazon’s already low prices? For a retailer notorious for reducing margins to zero, that’s a rather significant amount to be giving up.

sns-img-copy-right._V375703533_I suspect they can offer this because you will soon discover you have agreed to purchase far more than you really need.  Win for them, less so for you. Plus, if you are subscribing to Amazon — for anything — you can’t spend that dollar anywhere else. Share of wallet and all that.

To be fair, Amazon is one of the few retailers that actually makes it reasonably easy to quit. Try that with every other subscription service. Go on, I dare you. Just try. Start with the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. They will insist upon a phone call — in the year 2014! You know exactly why.

Canceling that subscription, which was supposed to benefit you, is made just hard enough, just time consuming enough to make it not worth your effort. You remain locked in. A dollar here, a dollar there, pretty soon it all adds up.

This is not what technology should do — ever. Technology should be liberating, empowering, not a time-suck and not a money pit.

The Best Minds of My Generation

Why must our greatest minds be employed by our greatest companies then tasked with nothing more than making it so we mere mortals can not ever glean the actual price for an actual product?

I suspect you are all familiar with the following scenarios:

I’d like to cancel my subscription.

But, sir, we can reduce the price by 25% if you extend your trial rate for 17 more weeks!

I want ESPN. How much does that cost?

If you subscribe to our Gold bundle, Mr. Hall, you get Bravo, A&E, ESPN and…

You promise me the best prices on the web. So why are you forcing me to join some Prime membership or demanding I buy this same item from you month after month, forever?

(Trick question. There is no human for you to ask this.)

You track me on the web. You track my movements on through my smartphone apps. How much is my data worth?

We can’t tell you that, sir.

But it’s my data!

No, sir. Not really.

I imagine the great minds of Silicon Valley will not stop at having my refrigerator text me that I am low on eggs. Rather, Big Tech will team up with Big Grocer and place me on a weekly egg subscription — one that is impossible to cancel but which no doubt promises 10 cents off, per egg, should I buy two boxes of Cheerios every month for the next year.

Time to disrupt these data disruptors. If we fail to take action soon, we could find ourselves trapped in a web of subscriptions from which there is no escape.

Trembling Before the Machinery

I cover the technology industry because it empowers people and makes the world more accessible. I analyze business trends because most of the innovation of the world, in my view, happens within the walls of for-profit enterprises.

But if you, the retailer, are incentivized to offer me something — anything — other than what I want right now and for which I am willing to pay, right now, then I immediately lose trust in you.

Life is much too short for double-talk, bundles and One-A-Day subscriptions.

Regrettably, my howls are likely to fall upon deaf ears. Nearly 15 million companies in the US and Europe are implementing the subscription model. FastCompany recently profiled Zuora, which has received a “whopping” $128 million in venture capital. Zuora’s mission? To “help us shift from owners to subscribers.”


Zuora needs all that money not just to scale, but to execute.

“(Subscription’s) a task more complex than you might think. How exactly should you price your product? How do you build a payment infrastructure to allow for price changes? How do you process payments internationally? How do you manage the legal issues that surround storing credit cards?” 

Honestly, I am not even remotely impressed by the computational complexity and Big Data algorithms crafted by those leading the subscription charge.

Reminder: 45 years ago, before the majority of the people on this planet were alive, America sent three men to the moon. Two of them walked about. All three were returned safely to Earth.

That’s impressive.

I do not wish to be unfair to Zuora. That they have massive backing from multiple VCs in Silicon Valley suggests their skill set is to be lauded. That said, I simply do not believe their “nine keys to subscription success” are for my benefit or yours.


The Incomprehensible Prison

I am fully aware that far greater minds than mine will spend far more time than I ever can crafting clever appeals with the sole intent of enticing me to subscribe. To anything. I may succumb, despite my declaration.

I need your help.

Recently, after a Paypal executive went on a rather bizarre Twitter rant, I created the notion of a “Twitter buddy.” A Twitter buddy is the person who rips the phone from your hands the moment you begin tweeting inappropriately.

We also should have a subscription buddy.

If I ever decide to subscribe to a new service, subscribe to some product, grab my credit card and throw it in the shredder. That’s what a true friend would do. That’s a relationship worth keeping.

[UPDATE 27 May 2014: Zuora posted a response to this column on their website. It’s a strong rebuttal and I recommend you read it. — Brian] 

Please Silicon Valley. Do Not Turn The Car Into Another Boring Box.

We stand at the intersection of the Internet of Things and the Connected Car. Soon, Cortana shall summon to us a driverless, fully autonomous vehicle, shared by the community, owned by no one, that will safely transport us to our chosen locale, as we tweet, stream, and tap away from the comfort of the back seat. Mostly, this is good. For most even, it will likely be very good. But I fear one of humanity’s greatest inventions, the car, will be reduced to yet another boring box, stuffed with computer chips, powered by lines of codes, and possessing no soul.

Please Silicon Valley, do not kill my love for the car.


One Piece At A Time

A revolution is taking place within the automotive industry. It began not in Detroit, Germany or Tokyo, but as with all revolutions, from the outside. In this case, Silicon Valley. The spread of computing, connectivity and the cloud has at last reached our cars. Driving — and automobiles — will never be the same.

Per the glorious visions of venture capitalists, the new market dreams of old world automakers and the ceaseless, prosaic functions of the Internet of Things, this is our car’s very-near future: Sensors under the hood, inside the dash, within the tires, sensors embedded in the roads and placed above traffic lights, all pumping out streams of data in real time, sent via telemetry to nearby vehicles, transmitted to the web for processing and analysis, shared with the crowd, then acted upon by the many computer chips within our own increasingly self-aware vehicle, all part of a highly monetizable big data ecosystem.

I am not at all opposed to this. Such efforts will almost certainly lead to faster commutes, a greener planet, fewer accidents and many saved lives. The Silicon Valley vision for the car of tomorrow should be lauded.


I ask only that the very best aspects of the car be carried forward into the future and not de-constructed into little more than a cubicle on wheels.

As a native Detroiter, I know cars are more than just data generators. Cars are freedom, independence, liberty, aspiration, mobility. In so many ways, cars disconnect us from the world as they reconnect us with our primal emotions. Cars are beautiful, personal, powerful. I want this not to go away.

I am not at all convinced we can trust Silicon Valley to transform these glorious mechanical objects into anything other than another node in a data-fueled, globe spanning web.

Let Me Ride

While driverless cars, as Google has promoted, are likely a decade away from practical use, semi-autonomous vehicles should be available in the developed world well before the end of this decade. The Internet of Things will enable these semi-autonomous, ‘situationally aware’ vehicles to keep us properly centered in the lane, to apply the brakes if we, the ‘driver,’ fail to spot the pedestrian in the crosswalk. They can ease off the throttle should they sense another vehicle is too close.

The car of 2020, and probably much sooner, will inform us when we are driving too fast given the current road conditions — and take corrective action should we fail to heed its informed advice.

connected car

These semi-autonomous vehicles will communicate with other cars, busses, navigation services and transit authorities as much as they communicate with us. This is good. As a proponent of mobile technologies, the cloud, wearables, sensors, Bluetooth, et al, I fully appreciate the value that comes from the open sharing of our data. If I am stuck in traffic, by all means let my car inform others of a better route. If a driver’s car wishes to inform those of us a few minutes behind that there’s a hidden police stop, good for us.

Above all however, the connected car will make for safer roads. Over 95% of all car accidents are caused by driver error. The Internet of Things will put a stop to this.

According to Intel, which is keen to put still more computing chips into our cars, with a mere one second warning, over 90% of all car accidents could be prevented. A half-second warning will prevent over 50% of all car accidents. Sensors and computer chips can act faster than us. They can also behave far more rationally. If we are being dumb, careless, foolish or simply unaware behind the wheel, our connected car can save us from ourselves — and save many others as well.

Over one million people die each year from car accidents. The benefits of integrating connectivity and computing inside our cars and within our road systems is significant.

And yet…

I still want the car to remain mostly mechanical, always beautiful, powerful, visceral — all those things that are never considered relevant in Silicon Valley.

Where I come from, it was absolutely no coincidence the boy whose father let him borrow the Camaro Z28 happened to be dating the prom queen.

No parallel to this exists for the young man with the biggest PC tower or the newest smartphone.

When it comes to our cars, whether for 2015 or 2025, let us not place clock speed above top speed, throughput over horsepower, or user interface above road handling. Nodes have primal desires, too.


No Particular Place To Go

While few things in life are as joyous as a fast car, top down, the open road beckoning, music blaring, such moments are rare. No matter how beautiful or powerful the car, the daily commute can be a grind. The connected car helps mitigate this, delivering all the comforts of our modern, fully connected world, accessible via a tap on the screen, or a command from our voice.

Stuck in traffic? No worries. The smartphone-like cars of post-2015 will offer:

  • streaming music, your favorite podcasts, even videos (for the kiddies)
  • news, weather, market data — read aloud, even personalized, as your new car, like a giant rolling Siri, knows your interests
  • geofenced notifications
  • Twitter and Facebook updates, voice driven, naturally
  • the fastest routes to everywhere you want to go
  • the nearest gas stations and restaurants
  • driving analysis, perhaps even a driver ‘Klout’ score based on your speed, how hard you brake, how close you were driving to other vehicles
  • engine diagnostics

These are all good. Silicon Valley is actively seeking to disrupt our commute. I stand with them. As our cars become increasingly more connected, tapping more computing power, more crowd wisdom, more algorithmic analysis, our driving should improve, our commutes should become more enjoyable,  and ultimately, personal productivity should increase. Quite possibly, stress levels will all go down.  

Again, my selfish concern is that these measurable goods will increasingly lead to an emphasis on “cars” that maximize efficiency, comfort, UIs, and that offer the best search, the most up-to-date data, the sharpest display.

A box.

Help Me, Apple. You’re My Only Hope

Is it possible to have the best of tomorrow with the best of yesterday?


I believe in the beneficent power of technology and innovation. I fully appreciate that Big Tech, Big VC, and Big Government want a lead role in the multi-trillion-dollar Internet of Things revolution. All are eager to remake our existing infrastructure, to place “intelligence” inside our cars, to link driver, car, road, and metro transit system into a cohesive, smartly flowing whole. I accept their work will alter not only driving but possibly even remake our towns and cities.

Why, then, does this make me a bit uneasy?

I do not fear my next car will experience a blue screen of death. Well, not much. Nor am I terribly worried hackers will access my car’s data, which will no doubt be linked to a payment system that lets me speed through electronic tollbooths.

I fear Silicon Valley will fail to divine the value in what makes cars glorious, and reduce the ultimate driving machine to just one more computing device.

Should I be disheartened or joyful that Apple SVP Eddy Cue joined the Ferrari board in 2012? Or that Apple SVP Phil Schiller sees fit to have a Racer X avatar on his Twitter profile?

phil schiller3

Will these Apple executives help keep our cars from becoming just the latest personal computer box?  I can’t afford a Ferrari, although I can pretend I’m Racer X — or possibly his brother, Speed. The question is, how long can I maintain the dream?

VCs On The Wrong Side In The Smartphone Wars

Think of how much better your life is now you have an iPhone or one of its many virtuous progeny…iPad, Android, apps, mobile-optimized games, content and services. Do you want to go back to before smartphones, before tablets? Unlikely. Yet many VCs do. Hence their self-interested handwringing over the alleged slow death of the mobile web.

Do not be fooled. The web is thriving.

The real issue? VCs fear the easy money days of amassing their fortunes atop publicly financed, freely available platforms is long gone. Now they are faced with the daunting prospect of either building their investments inside the thriving iOS or Android ecosystems, both of which demand their fair share of any booty, or figuring out ways to route around these two clever giants.  

This is very unlikely to happen. 

iPhone, Android, native apps and today’s infinitely scalable private platforms continue to deliver benefit after benefit to users around the world.

A Tax On Venture Capitalists

Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) bemoaned the declining state of the “web” last week, squarely blaming iPhone, App Store and all it has wrought.

What wins mobile, wins the Internet. Right now, apps are winning and the web is losing. Moreover, there are signs that it will only get worse.

Worse for whom? Not me. Likely, not you. Worse, perhaps for a venture capitalist. Just like the original incarnation of the web was worse for music companies and newspapers.

Dixon continues:

Resources are going to app development over web development. As the mobile web UX further deteriorates, the momentum toward apps will only increase.

Resources following users is not a problem. Moreover, Dixon appears to hold a rather limited view of the web. As John Gruber noted last week:

We shouldn’t think of “the web” as only what renders in web browsers. We should think of the web as anything transmitted using HTTP and HTTPS. Apps and websites are peers, not competitors. They’re all just clients to the same services.

The fact is, the “mobile web UX” has not deteriorated. Instead, the web has evolved, as it always has, and new platforms have constructed a thriving business that, for now, better support the needs of the billions of mobile web users. This should be lauded! Indeed, omit the nebulous term ‘app’ and the fact is web services, software and computing functions have never been more robust, more capable, more discrete, more accessible, more affordable. These are all good. I’m surprised any venture capitalist would bemoan this state of affairs.

Let’s not reduce the web to only those parts that VCs can exploit for maximum gain.

More money is presently flowing to Apple’s iOS ecosystem and Google’s Android ecosystem because that’s where the users are. That these two great private companies have their own platforms, their own gateways — and demand payment for access — has actually helped extend the power of the web.

My suspicion, of course, is VCs do not fear a deteriorating web UX, but are instead upset today’s brave new web limits their potential gains. Don’t believe me? More from Dixon’s post:

Google and Apple control what apps are allowed to exist, how apps are built, what apps get promoted, and charge a 30% tax on revenues.

Ponder that. A venture capitalist is decrying a sustainable business as little more than a “tax” on revenues. Again, whose revenues? Apple and Google have each created a marketplace that only a few years ago did not exist. These now serve billions of people. This is a net good, even if it’s not ideal for today’s web VCs.

Shortly after Dixon’s column, venture capitalist Fred Wilson similarly lamented the “mobile downturn”:

It has gotten harder, not easier, to innovate on the Internet with the smartphone emerging as the platform of choice vs the desktop browser.

Wrong! Innovation has never been easier, never been faster, cheaper, more accessible. Time for VCs to accept this new world.

Before the iPhone, before the App Store, the ‘open web’ offered a massive resource VCs happily plundered: the public switched telephone network. The costs of this public infrastructure was borne by carriers, the government and each of us. VCs piggybacked their investments upon this infrastructure, which carried them to unfathomable wealth.

Those days are gone. They will not return, no matter how hard VCs press for a change.

A Boon For Users

If the VCs really want to alter today’s mobile reality, they are welcome to risk their sizable funds toward technologies and services that improve the non-app web or completely disrupt the current state of affairs. After all, despite their assertions, the web has not been shut down or corralled. It’s still there, availing itself to all.

Build something better. That’s my challenge to them.

Do they have it in them? Consider this final lament from Fred Wilson’s post:

So (VC) Brian (Watson) pulled out his iPhone and I pulled out my Android and we took at trip through the top 200 apps on our respective app stores. And there were mighty few venture backed businesses that were started in the past three years on those lists.

This matters not one whit for users.

It just may be, thanks to the iPhone, Android and the new mobile web, the future big money in tech will have to be earned the old fashioned way: brick by brick; through building an actual sustainable profit-generating business, from scratch. Now that would be disruptive. 

The Computer Chronicles

Why are you here? Why are you even reading this?

Me? I know why and am grateful for the odd, stirring, mostly unplanned path that brought me here.

My father spent over 30 years working inside an auto factory, the first 20 “on the line”. When he heard “computers were the future”, he saved up, found one at a garage sale and proudly brought it home. It was a Commodore 64I loved it from the start.

Confession: I have never cared much for coding, programming or building my own computer. I was however — and still am — acutely interested in what I could do with a computer. In the case of my 64, I was a kid, so mostly gaming. Lucky for me, dad’s garage sale booty included a “floppy drive”, several games and various “educational” programs.  

In short time, I became reasonably expert at H.E.R.O., Fort Apocalypse, and Summer Games. There was a time when I engaged in far more virtual Raid(s) over Moscow than any of today’s most capable generals.


The Commodore 64 cost far more than my parents could reasonably afford. So from the start they made it plain it was very important, not at all a toy (despite how I used it), and repeated this to me like grace before dinner. Computers, they insisted, are the future. Be a part of that.

That’s why I’m here.

Intel Inside. And Maybe Hopes & Dreams.

Of course my native Detroit was far away from Silicon Valley, the fast beating heart of the computing revolution. It didn’t matter. The 64 carried me here. For all the machines that followed, the used Mac, the shiny new Mac LC, the Toshiba laptops and many more, it was that first 64 which shed a light on my future, a future where people and data and machines and ideas and random musings are all connected.

The Commodore 64 lured me down the rabbit hole that was online bulletin boards, which led me to Prodigy, Dialog, Compuserve and others. From there, I discovered Mosaic, then Netscape. By then I had a career in computer tech, almost without planning it; my parents’ intentions realized.

I can’t stop now. I don’t want to stop. It’s not just there’s more to come. More is coming faster, and it’s even more amazing.

Consider the scary-exciting merger of healthcare and computing. Acknowledge the rapid rise of Facebook and global messaging, from nothing to vital in a few short years. Reflect upon the astounding functionality of the iPhone, the utter pervasiveness of Google, how giant Microsoft is morphing before our eyes. We have new media, mobile payments, crypto currencies and experimental forms of retail. Global connectivity has dethroned the sovereigns of time and distance. Yet, both real time and precise location are now more critical to more of what we do and say (and even think, see and feel) than ever before. I did not see that coming.

I am here as well because the visions, proclamations and inspired work of the early computing pioneers really did come true. Their words, their mad tinkerings quickly spread far beyond Silicon Valley, where the shrouded potential of their creations seeped into our computer-less consciousness, found their way into the local news and duly informed my parents who went straight out and acquired for me everything they were told I would need to become a part of the future.

I am pleased to still be part of this long running serial.

Yes, our industry failed at much. The endemic spread of pornography, the utter devaluation of personal privacy, our rather casual silence at how the latest waves of computing technology are displacing good, smart, hardworking people by the millions, leaving them with little to do but hope self-employment, freelancing and the sharing of labor and tools can somehow enable them to get by. There is much to fix.

Random Access

The arrival of that Commodore 64 led to another serendipitous find. We could afford only one television in those days, no cable, and when home, my father religiously watched the local news and all sports. Big-ticket purchases like the 64, however, demanded he work on Saturdays — time and a half made those 8 extra hours of work equal 12 hours of pay, which mattered dearly. Which led to him being gone one particular Saturday. Which led me to gleefully run through all 9 channels. Which is when I stumbled upon The Computer Chronicles.

“the amazing palmtop computer”

The Computer Chronicles documented, almost from the very beginning, the rise, the spread, the incredible innovation of personal computing. It proved to me — because it was on television — a career in computers was viable, no matter where I lived.

I am more excited, more convinced of the transformative power of computing tech and its ability to achieve net good than ever before. This is one reason why I never play favorites. It’s why I can’t suggest you buy Bitcoin, no matter how hyped it has become, or why I cannot recommend the iPhone 5c, no matter how greatly I admire Apple. It’s why my posts cause numerous CEOs and VCs (and several editors) to immediately block me from their Twitter feeds, and limit my access.

All worth it. This stuff matters to me and I fully appreciate how it impacts you.


We are the screen. The screen is the world.

Whatever the reasons you are here, I am glad you are. Now hang on tight.

As Google and Facebook appear to buy up everything that was only yesterday considered cutting edge, as venture capital becomes, somehow, even more of an insider’s game, with not even scraps available to the rest of us, I nonetheless stay positive. I know money, computing power, networking, software, the creeping of technology into all aspects of our life and into every personal and business endeavor, and the random, very human mutations that takes hold inside this swirling glorious mix will continue to create still more and larger revolutions, more big and bigger bangs, more insanely great.

We are rapidly transitioning from the era of personal computing to an era where each person is a computer — with eyewear, wristbands and clothing all capturing who we are, what we do, and how, when and where. Then sending this data floating off, joining up with 7 billion similar nodes.

We are the screen. The screen is the world.

I say this all not because I have a product to sell you or because the larger, more pumped the market, the greater the return on my quickie investments. I say this because it’s true: The computer chronicles have only just started.

Why I Fear Apple CarPlay

I am excited by Apple CarPlay. But mostly terrified. 

Excited, because I love constant, unbroken access to my phone, music, apps, maps, search, contacts, tweets, email — everything on my smartphone, in fact.

Terrified, because I have significant doubts that CarPlay will make driving safer, as Apple suggests. In fact, I fear it will do exactly the opposite.

Not for me, of course, I’m an excellent driver. Rather, for you and the millions of others out there traveling on the same roads as me. I have doubts that your use of Siri and iTunes and Maps and texting and calling and, ultimately, Yelp and Twitter and Facebook and everything else you will want to do will make you a safer driver.

Confession: I probably have more faith in Apple than in any other company on the planet to provide the simplest, most intuitive, least distracting interface between smartphone — and everything that it contains — and car. But there are significant caveats.

How safe can these solutions be? Ever? Tech companies and car companies certainly want us to believe they are safe. Google said nearly the same thing as Apple last year when it announced the Open Automotive Alliance: “making technology in the car safer, more seamless and more intuitive for everyone.”

I am not convinced.

I believe the following:

The more apps, information, content, and data at our fingertips, the more tools at our disposal — that are in NO WAY related to the act of driving – the more our focus on driving is diminished. This reduces safety.

I fear a fundamental Apple strength could come back to harm us. To wit: The hallmark of Apple products is not that they are intuitive, rather that they are enticing. Watch an iPhone user. They can’t seem to stop themselves, ever, from checking, tweeting, texting, calling, looking, reading, listening, scanning, scrolling.

Now put that into a car.

Yes, I know CarPlay is by Apple and Apple has four decades of experience creating amazing hardware and intuitive operating systems. There are two obvious roadblocks:

  1. Apple has extraordinarily little say in any car’s actual hardware
  2. The entirety of Apple’s existence has been on focusing our (full) attention onto its screens

I don’t want your focus to be on the screen! You are driving a car!

What’s that? You promise to only use the paddles on the steering wheel and to expedite all interactions via voice? Question: How often has Siri worked for you without error?

25% of the time? 50%? 90%? And that was when you had your hand on the iPhone screen and your mind fully focused on the (non-driving) Siri-related task at hand. The fact is, despite millions of dollars in advertising and years of effort, Siri continues to have painfully clear limitations.

I cannot believe that I am the only one that has such misgivings about CarPlay. And, yet, following Apple’s announcement…

The New York Times happily noted that “Apple’s CarPlay Captivates The Auto Industry.”

Forbes cheered Apple’s “powerful play to seize the dash.”

AutoNews proclaimed “CarPlay is smart but simple.”

I can only hope. I am disappointed, however, that they appear to have glossed over the very real safety concerns we all should have about CarPlay (and all similar efforts). In their statement officially announcing CarPlay, Apple endeavors to put us at ease. CarPlay is:

designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car

Is this true?

After all, every single car maker will continue to have complete control over their dash, their buttons, their type of screen, their steering wheel and how they integrate CarPlay. Oh, and they must simultaneously make sure to configure their settings in such a way that the vast majority of drivers — those without iPhone — can also operate everything effectively.

Not to worry, Apple says:

Users can easily control CarPlay from the car’s native interface or just push-and-hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri without distraction.

I’m still not convinced. To me, this screams complexity — and thus distraction: native interface, steering wheel controls, Siri. Now add your mother behind the wheel.

It gets worse:

iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction.

Yes, we do want all the wonderful content from our iPhones at our fingertips. My smartphone is rarely more than an arm’s length away. This does not mean we should allow it to be accessible while we are driving! In fact, the more I read from Apple’s own PR statement, the more worried I become. Parse this:

Apple has led consumer technology integration in the car for more than a decade.

What? Where? I’ve hooked up the cable television in my home but I don’t claim to have a decade’s experience in the entertainment industry. Implementing iOS in the car is a completely new endeavor, and for drivers, a completely new experience.

Putting more apps, more content into our cars, telling ourselves that it’s fine because Siri can manage it all — I simply do not believe this, not yet, and will not take part in what I consider be nothing more than a consensual hallucination.

Go to Apple’s very own CarPlay “coming soon” website. Remember, every single auto maker will implement this differently, with different knobs, different buttons, different screen types, different paddles, different layouts, different response modes. Yet, even using Apple’s own imagery, CarPlay appears to aggressively demand your focus.

Here’s just a sampling:




Do Apple’s very own pictures look either distraction-free or Siri-optimized? Now imagine 10,000 drivers with this. Or 1 million. Or 30 million.

Despite my fears, my concerns, I must be fair in my judgment of CarPlay. I have not used it, only seen it demonstrated. When it comes to developing intuitive touch and voice interfaces, Apple has led the way. Moreover, I doubt any car maker will do a better job of crafting a more intuitive, less distracting ‘infotainment’ system. Furthermore, Apple has so far restricted what they will allow offered via CarPlay. iTunes, Siri, Maps and a few other third-party apps, such as Beats, Spotify, iHeartRadio. No Yelp, no Twitter or Facebook. No WhatsApp. 

Unfortunately, I simply do not believe this will remain the case. As the National Safety Council has stated, “the auto industry and the consumer electronics industry are really in an arms race to see how we can enable drivers to do stuff other than driving.” We mere mortals will no doubt demand more apps, more services, more entertainment, and if Apple doesn’t deliver we will turn to Android or some other provider for our fix.  

Perhaps our focus should instead be on preventing access to all of the things, not enabling it.

Aegis Mobility is one of several companies that offer solutions for organizations with car and truck fleets, solutions specifically designed to prevent drivers from accessing their phones while driving. This is good for the driver, obviously, good for the company — good for all of us, in fact. Their tools detect movements, limit what phones can do during a driver’s work hours, or whenever the vehicle is in motion, can prohibit certain functions, such as texting. Try and skirt these barriers and you just may find yourself out of work. Perhaps we should demand this of ourselves and of every other driver, rather than promoting access to evermore data and entertainment.

There are over 1 billion cars on the road. Drivers are more distracted than ever before.  We are hurtling down the wrong path. There’s still time to turn back. 

Inverse Innovation Inanity

At Forbes, Chunka Mui ((Coauthor of “The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups”, “Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance”; and “Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years”)) writes:

[pullquote]If you desire a wise answer, you must ask a reasonable question. ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe[/pullquote]

Will Tim Cook Be the Next Steve Ballmer?

His initial premise seems reasonable:

Like Ballmer, (Tim) Cook’s legacy will be defined by whether he successfully launches new post-Jobs killer apps. … (T)o be truly successful, Cook will have to innovate beyond iPhones and iPads.

What Is Innovation?

Wikipedia defines Innovation as:

“the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.”

[pullquote]Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better. ~ Tim Cook[/pullquote]

I would add this caveat. Too often “innovation” is judged from the perspective of the engineer, rather than from the point of view of the consumer. We are seduced by the wonderfulness of the technology, but it is the market, not the maker, that is the ultimate arbitrator of what is and what is not innovative. It is the value of the product — as judged by the consumer — that matters.

If something is truly innovative the consumer’s first thought isn’t, “I was asking for this.” Their first thought is, “Of course,” because — although it’s something they didn’t even know they wanted — now that they see it, it’s seemingly self-evident.

Myth #1: First To Market Matters Most

(The) field is crowded. The biggest technology companies and numerous start-ups are already in the race. Google has invested heavily in Google [x] projects like Glass and its Self-Driving Car, and it just bought Nest for $3.2B. Samsung has already launched two generations of its Galaxy Gear smart watch. Both GE and IBM are pursuing massive Internet of Things initiatives. ~ Chunka Mui

[pullquote]In a forest, there are many plants. but only a few are destined to be trees. And of all the forest trees, only one is destined to be a California Redwood.[/pullquote]

Really? The field is crowded? Crowded with what? A lot of throw-it-at-the-wall-and-let’s-see-what-sticks experiments?

Take a look at five of Apple’s greatest innovations:

  1. Apple II
  2. Macintosh
  3. iPod
  4. iPhone
  5. iPad

Now ask yourself: Were any of the above products first to market?

No. No they were not.

[pullquote]I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. ~ Steve Jobs[/pullquote]

In every case, those products came out many YEARS after others had tried to establish their respective markets.

Malcolm Gladwell put it this way:

“You don’t want to be first, right? You want to be second or third. Facebook is not the first in social media. They’re the third, right? Similarly, you know, if you look at Steve Jobs’ history, he’s never been first.”

LESSON UNLEARNED: It’s not first to market that matters, it’s FIRST TO GET IT RIGHT.

Myth #2: The Path Of Innovation Has Been Identified

History tells us that the new technological landscape that will likely define both Apple’s next horizon and Cook’s legacy is somewhere at the intersection of wearable computing and the Internet of Things. ~ Chunka Mui

Say what? History tells us nothing of the sort.

Pundits keep predicting that Apple will go into wearables or television. Why?

— Did anyone predict that Apple would veer into MP3 players?

— Most everyone predicted that Apple would make a phone, but by phone they really meant a flip phone that would also work as an MP3 player. Did anyone predict the pocket computer — complete with its own operating systems and, eventually, an app ecosystem — that Apple produced?

— Most everyone predicted that Apple would make a tablet, but no one predicted the tablet that Apple introduced and few understood it at the time or even understood it long after it was placed on sale. Heck, a lot of people STILL refuse to understand it, despite all its subsequent success.


It is an open secret that Apple is working on an iWatch wearable device. ~ Chunka Mui

So what? did any of Apple’s previous major innovations look or act or feel anything like the products that preceded them?

— Did the Apple II look anything like its non-monitor competitors?
— Did the Macintosh look anything like the line interface operating systems that preceded it?
— Did the iPod click wheel work anything like its MP3 competitors?
— Did the iPhone have any resemblance to its keyboard heavy smartphone predecessors?
— Did the iPad touch interface have any relationship to the stylus-driven, Windows tablets previously offered by Microsoft?

[pullquote]Predicting a wrist device from Apple as “a Fuelband, but better” is equivalent to predicting an iPhone with an iPod click wheel. ~ Zac Cichy (@zcichy)[/pullquote]

No. No they did not. In every case, these products were a significant variant from what then existed in the market.

Entrepreneurship is essentially identifying the path that everyone takes; and choosing a different, better way. ~ Sheldon Adelson

LESSON UNLEARNED: The innovative product that solves a significant problem WILL NOT LOOK OR ACT OR FEEL like anything on currently on the market.

Myth #3: History Says Apple Will Be Disrupted

(The) incremental, extend-the-ecosystem approach makes all the sense in the world—to Apple. (It) fits very nicely with how customers interact with the Apple world today—and how Apple hopes that they will interact with it in the future.

It could be entirely rational for Tim Cook to take this view. Every one of his key lieutenants, who are responsible for the day-to-day defense and extension of Apple’s iOS ecosystem, must be even more whetted to this point of view. If there is any fight for resources, mindshare, talent, etc., you can bet that they’ll want to invest as much as possible to iOS. History also tells us that industry analysts will focus on today’s sales, margins and growth forecast at those important quarterly conference calls.

Momentum will drive Tim Cook and Apple down this path—as similar forces drove Steve Ballmer and Microsoft down the path of defending and extending the Windows/Office ecosystem at the expense of smartphone/tablet/cloud dominance.

Who doesn’t think that would the natural strategy for it to follow? ~ Chunka Mui

Oh, oh! Me, me, me, me! And anyone who’s been paying even the slightest attention to Apple and Apple’s history.

[pullquote]Never underestimate a pundit’s ability to underestimate Apple’s ability.[/pullquote]

Apple’s EVERY ACTION since Steve Jobs returned in 1996 argues against their being disrupted by falling into the trap described, above, by Mui.

“Design (not profits) is where Apple products start,” writes Lashinsky. “Competitors marvel at the point of prominence Apple’s industrial designers have. ‘Most companies make all their plans, all their marketing, all their positioning, and then they kind of hand it down to a designer,’ said Yves Behar, CEO of the design consultancy Fuseproject. The process is reversed at Apple, where everyone else in the organization needs to conform to the designer’s vision. ‘If the designers say the material has to have integrity, the whole organization says okay,’ said Behar. In other words, a designer typically would be told what to do and say by the folks in manufacturing. At Apple it works the other way around.”

[pullquote]If anybody’s going to make our products obsolete, I want it to be us. ~ Steve Jobs[/pullquote]

Ben Thompson puts it this way:

“Apple’s focus on user experience as a differentiator has significant strategic implications as well, particularly in the context of the Innovator’s Dilemma: namely, it is impossible for a user experience to be too good. Competitors can only hope to match or surpass the original product when it comes to the user experience; the original product will never overshoot (has anyone turned to an “inferior” product because the better one was too enjoyable?). There is no better example than the original Macintosh, which maintained relevance only because of a superior user experience. It was only when Windows 95 was “good enough” that the Macintosh’s plummet began in earnest. This in some respects completely exempts Apple from the product trajectory trap, at least when it comes to their prime differentiation.

Indeed, it seems that Apple simply isn’t very interested in moats. They do what they think is right by the user, strategy nerds like me be damned. This kills them on Wall Street, but perhaps is the only possible route to avoiding stasis, and ultimately, disruption.

This is why Apple is so fascinating.”


Caesar defied historical prohibitions and marched his army across the Rubicon River. In doing so, he toppled the prior regime and enabled the flowering of a new Roman Empire. Will Tim Cook dare to cross the Rubicon? ~ Chunka Mui

[pullquote]In a company that was born to innovate, the risk is in not innovating. The real risk is to think it is safe to play it safe. – Jony Ive[/pullquote]

Are you kidding me? Will Tim Cook dare to cross the Rubicon? He and Apple have already constructed a four-lane highway over and across that Rubicon and left it far behind. Apple may have many a problem to deal with in the future, but playing it safe — not cannibalizing themselves — will not be one of them.

Steve Jobs himself may have said it best when he was recruiting a job applicant:

We are inventing the future. Think about surfing on the front edge of a wave. It’s really exhilarating. Now think about dog-paddling at the tail end of that wave. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun. Come down here and make a dent in the universe.

With Help From Silicon Valley, America To Dominate The 21st Century

America will dominate the 21st century – economically and culturally – thanks to our dominance in technology.

Mobile technologies, supplemented by social connectivity, integrated with real-time data, enhanced by location-aware services and all supported by infinitely scalable yet highly personalized digital platforms will determine our future. These meta-offerings, delivering growth-spurring anytime, anywhere connectivity to all people and things, are each led by uniquely American businesses.

Apple makes the very best mobile computing devices in the world. Facebook and Twitter connect us all. Google delivers timely, personalized, location-specific data to anyone, for free. The best business software, for companies of all sizes, is developed by Microsoft. There are many other examples, of course, and in virtually every case, an American company and American innovation has the lead. Second-place isn’t even close.

Nearly as important, funding for critical and continuous innovation, everything from Big Banks and crowdfunding, to venture capital, philanthropy and small business loans, are American strengths. America’s universities – public and private – are the best in the world. These centers are the catalysts of innovation.

No nation offers immigrants more opportunity for success. No nation is more secure. Our well runs deep.

Nearly Unlimited Potential

We do not rule all areas of technology, of course. America is just one of several leaders in biotech. That said, American-led businesses and research labs are aggressively targeting rather extraordinary opportunities to extend life, explore the mind, and re-construct severely damaged bodies. Expect America to be the premier leader in biotech very soon.

In the area of green technology, America is lacking. This despite the billions thrown at this potentially vital industry. On the plus side, however, given our massive reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, America’s own energy future is secure. There are extremely few developed economies that can say the same.

America’s strengths are so many and so vast, in fact, that it will be hard to not dominate the 21st century.

Unfortunately, there are two obvious, pressing issues that limit our nation’s future and impede individual joy and prosperity. They are our schools and our safety net, both of which are constructed for an America that no longer exists.

Failing Grades

Our public schools, those K12, government-run institutions nearly all of us attended, are in embarrassingly bad shape. In larger cities, especially, they are a near-invisible tragedy. I offer no magic bullet, merely an admonition: the current model of government-funded, union-led, community-based schools is clearly failing our children.

Given this, we should welcome as much change, innovation and disruption in K12 education as we do in Silicon Valley. Yes, this will likely significantly minimize the power of government-employed unions. If this matters to you, my only suggestion is that you think of the nation and the nation’s children first.

Opportunity Not Inequality

The other national failing is the very real potential of continuous technological change to leave many of our citizens in a semi-permanent economic prison. Understand: I am not speaking of inequality, but misery. Fighting to stop inequality is too often an angry, jealous battle to bring down those at the top. Forget that Larry Ellison owns an island or that Google’s founders have their own private jets to travel in – or that your neighbors are better off than you. Inequality is not the issue. Not providing adequate education, medical care and opportunities to positively contribute to society and achieve prosperity are the real failings we must address.

In retail, for example, America’s and WalMart are global leaders. Their innovations create numerous savings which puts money in our pockets everyday. They also place many out of work and force many more into jobs at barely livable wages. It is a national responsibility to correct this.

Again, I cannot divine any singular path toward resolving this. Therefore, I urge those who fear the power of the government to instead open themselves up to possible innovative solutions which are led partly or even exclusively by government. Yes, funded by taxpayers. This may be the only way to ensure health, education and opportunity for all.

Admittedly, government solutions too often transform into vampires, never dying, feeding off others, caring only about themselves. This is a risk I nonetheless think we should take.

The Silicon Valley – Washington, DC Nexus of Power

America will lead the 21st century, just as we did the 20th. We have the best and the most of the stuff required to retain our current lofty status, and build upon it. Our people and smarts and money and technology – led by Silicon Valley – will usher the world into a new age of abundance, connectivity, innovation and sharing.

Our attention must now focus on ensuring the benefits of each of these flow justly to all our citizens.

It is not surprising that a new nexus of power, linking Silicon Valley and Washington, DC is quickly forming. One has the money, the other has the power.

This new nexus will become as important, as integrated, as accepted and as fruitful as the ties that bound New York and Washington, DC in the prior century. Let us welcome this transformative shift in power and money and values.

Let us also keep vigilant. It’s okay to have more. It’s not okay to leave our fellow Americans behind.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Apple Can’t Innovate Anymore, My A$$

I am sick to death of pundits proclaiming that Apple can no longer innovate. Apparently, the less one knows about a subject, the more strident one’s opinion on that subject becomes. Nevertheless, this nonsensical posturing has simply got to stop, for it is easier to believe a lie that you have heard a thousand times, than the truth that you have heard only once.

Can’t innovate anymore, my ass. ~ Phil Schiller

The critic’s arguments seem to break into two categories, which are really two sides of the same coin:
— Apple desperately needs to enter a new product category;
— (But it’s already too late because) Apple can’t innovate anymore.

Apple Desperately Needs To Enter A New Product Category

Apple again seen losing steam, new products needed desperately
Apple managed to earn $9.5 billion in profit on $43.6 billion in sales last quarter without launching any exciting new devices, but the long wait for new launches is expected to begin taking its toll this quarter.

Apple’s business model forces it to constantly come up with groundbreaking new products
“At most companies, a year without a major new product release isn’t cause for panic. But Apple isn’t most companies. The problem with that business model is that it forces Apple to constantly come up with a groundbreaking new product.”

Apple needs new hardware
“There’s two reasons Apple needs new hardware: To prove it can still create killer new product categories post-Steve Jobs and because that’s how it makes its money.”

Find a new category to go innovate
“I keep trying to tell Apple…” Misek says, “Find a new category to go innovate.”

Any man who thinks he knows all the answers most likely misunderstood the questions.

Apple, a once-great innovator
“With Apple wrapping up its developer conference this week, the contrast between the once-great innovator that brought the world into the smartphone and tablet era and current Silicon Valley revolutionary Google couldn’t have been more stark … innovation is ideas like Google Glass, which represent new paradigms of human interaction with technology.”

Apple’s trailblazing days are over
“Google’s gaming console: The latest sign that Apple’s trailblazing days are over?”

Apple hasn’t been able to enter any major new product categories in years
“Apple’s stock hasn’t slid because it’s been putting out uninspired hardware — it’s slid because the company hasn’t been able to enter any major new product categories in years….”

If it can’t reinvent a category again soon, Apple could be in big trouble “(Apple) transformed itself from a niche company in the computer world to one that created entirely new categories of gadgets. If it can’t do that again soon, Apple could be in big trouble.”

The list of areas where Apple can repeat its act is dwindling
“In the past, Apple snuck up on people. It entered markets filled with clunky, overly-geeky products, released groundbreaking consumer-friendly versions, and established its dominance before rivals had the chance to respond … But today, we have huge companies investing millions of dollars in products that Apple “may release in the future.” … If there’s any area in which Apple can innovate, chances are, someone has already imagined it, written a blog post about it, Photoshopped it, and created a ready-made blueprint for any company that wants to gamble on it. … The list of areas where Apple can repeat its swoop-in-and-turn-the-industry-upside-down act is dwindling. ((The list of areas where Apple’s opportunities are supposedly dwindling: “TV? Microsoft beat Apple to the punch with futuristic voice and gesture control, and Hollywood doesn’t appear willing to let anyone innovate on the content distribution front. Wearables? Everyone and their mother is making a smartwatch, and Google has Glass locked, loaded, and almost ready to fire. Mobile/desktop PC convergence? Microsoft has already put its chips in that basket. … and then there’s gaming. The established players Sony and Microsoft are continuing to innovate, and now that Google is reportedly making this Android-based gaming console, that’s one less way that Apple can sneak in the backdoor and set the house on fire”.))

By the time Apple does it, it will have already been done
“(L)ike just about every other possible area of innovation, it’s becoming less and less likely that we’ll see more Apple “trailblazing.” … By the time Apple does it (no matter what it is), it will have already been done … and probably much more elegantly than the pre-iPod MP3 players, pre-iPhone smartphones, or pre-iPad tablet PCs.”

iWatch will be another hobby
“Just Like Apple TV, The Apple iWatch Will Be Another Hobby For Tim Cook”

Apple outfoxed: Foxconn first
“Apple outfoxed: Foxconn first to debut iPhone-compatible smartwatch”

Samsung is already working on a watch
“…Samsung …is already working on a watch of its own.”
Samsung unveiled games console first
“Sorry Google And Apple: Samsung Unveiled Games Console First”

Google to beat Apple to products Apple is reportedly developing
“WSJ: Google working on an Android-powered game system, smart watch and new Nexus Q … its reason for jumping into all these categories is to beat products Apple is reportedly developing in the same categories….”

(But It’s Already Too Late Because) Apple Can’t Innovate Anymore

It’s harder to innovate once you’re the incumbent
“Apple’s problem is that it becomes harder to innovate once you’re the incumbent rather than the challenger”.

Apple is not innovative
“Quite frankly, Apple is not innovative…”

Apple aren’t innovating any more
“(Apple) have a right to be proud of their accomplishments, but it’s not surprising that pundits claim they aren’t innovating any more.”

Apple is no longer a leader
“Apple is no longer a leader. Apple has become a challenger that now needs to look up to other leaders across the multiple categories it competes in and figure out what to do next.”

Apple is just another product company
“(T)herein lies the rub and the real tragedy: Apple is quickly becoming just another product company….”

Another company out-innovating Apple
“Cramer: Another Company Out-Innovating Apple?”

Apple has become a design follower
“Apple has become a design follower instead of a leader — and it may be just fine with that”

Apple is a lagging brand
“Apple’s Fall From Leading To Lagging Brand”

Stunning nine month gap between product events
“Apple will hold its first major product event in nine months on Monday, a stunning gap for a company that relies on regularly impressing customers with new innovations.”

A bear walks into a bar and says, “Bartender, I’d like a gin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and tonic.” And the bartender says, “Sure, but what’s with the big pause?”

Jony Ive is meddling in software
“Sir Jony has been trapped in a monochromatic hardware world of his own making for so long that now that he’s allowed to meddle in software, he’s pulled out that box of Crayolas he’s kept locked in the bottom drawer and let loose his inner Wonderland.”

The end for Apple exceptionalism
“iOS 7 redesign: the beginning of the end for Apple”

Apple plays catch up
“Apple’s primary motivation (with iOS 7) was to play catch up with… no, not Android but with Microsoft.”

All been done before “…Apple has not only failed to truly innovate in its own right, the changes and additions it has introduced (in iOS 7) have all been done before.”

Nothing new
“Is iOS 7 Apple’s admission that it has nothing new to bring to the table?”

I miss John Dvorak and Rob Enderle…but my aim is improving. ~ John Kirk

The Wide Lens

“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” ~ Winston Churchill

I mean, honestly, could Apple’s critics be any more wrong? Could they have it any more backwards? Do they know nothing at all about Apple or the Tech industry? The very people who seem most certain of Apple’s future (or lack thereof) are also the very people who seem most ignorant of Apple’s past. The following lengthy excerpts are quoted from Ron Adner’s: “The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See That Others Miss.”

[pullquote]Jobs tended to be late for everything because he wanted everything to be ready for him[/pullquote]

“(Steve) Jobs tended to be late for everything because he wanted everything to be ready for him. Jobs understood that the natural trajectory of challenges is toward the (smart mover, not the) first mover. (When the co-innovation of an ecosystem is required), the pioneer has no advantage. In fact, the pioneer is at a slight market share disadvantage relative to laggards. The “system” works to resolve co-innovation challenges, while industry rivals figure out execution.” “Reflecting on catching technology waves in 2008, (Steve Jobs) said:

“Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. Those waves of technology, you can see them way before they happen, and you just have to choose wisely which ones you’re going to surf. If you choose unwisely, then you can waste a lot of energy, but if you choose wisely, it actually unfolds fairly slowly. It takes years.”

“His insight was to ‘surf’ the co-innovation wave, knowing that its challenges would be resolved over time. His brilliance was to wait to expend his energy on the execution challenge.”

Waiting To Catch The MP3 Wave “Steve Job’s iPod journey is an exemplary illustration. Jobs knew that, on its own, an MP3 player was useless. He understood that, in order for the device to have value, other co-innovators in the MP3 player ecosystem first needed to be aligned.” “Jobs constructed the iPod ecosystem. (Then) Apple waited, and then waited some more…. As the iPod’s co-innovation risks faded away — when (the) pieces were solidly in place — both MP3s and broadband were finally widely available — (Apple) finally made its move, putting the last two pieces in place to create a winning innovation: an attractive, simple device supported by smart software.” “With its proprietary hardware-software combination, (Jobs) didn’t just put down the last piece, he put down the last two pieces. And he made sure they interlocked. Apple didn’t launch the iPod as a product. In combination with its iTunes music management software, the iPod was a solution.” “By shifting to offering solutions, Apple increased the execution challenge for itself as well as for everyone else, effectively lowering the value of competitor’s previous efforts and increasing the barrier for rivals to achieve future success.”

Waiting To Catch The Smart Phone Wave

[pullquote]Once again, Jobs was late – five years late[/pullquote]

“Once again (with the iPhone), Jobs was late – five years late.” “And rivals didn’t seem to care.” “Reacting to Apple’s January 2007 announcement of the iPhone (six months before its launch), Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry shrugged, “It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers.” “Asked to react to the announcement of the iPhone, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer literally laughed out loud.” “Steve Jobs could smile because he knew what (his) ecosystem carryover meant. Of the 22 million iPods sold during the 2007 holiday season, 60 percent went to buyers who already owned at least one iPod. The iPhone was not going to be a new entrant fighting to capture attention in a crowded mobile phone market. It was the next generation iPod. By carrying over the key elements of the iPod ecosystem, he would carry over his buyers too.”

The Critics Have Gotten It All Wrong

Apple’s critics seem to be diagonally parked in a parallel universe

After reading the excerpts from Ron Adner’s book, you can see just how wrong the critics have been.

A bartender walks into a church, a temple and a mosque. He has no idea how jokes work.

Some technology pundits appear to have no idea how tech works, either.

“Some people get lost in thought because it’s such unfamiliar territory.” ~ G. Behn

Not only have the critics gotten it wrong, but they have gotten it exactly backwards. Their advice constitutes the worst possible course of action for Apple, not the best.

Listening to free advice of a certain kind costs you nothing…unless you act upon it.

The critics don’t remember Apple’s history or tech history or the history of innovation.

Why don’t Apple’s innovation critics make ice-cubes? They can’t remember the recipe.

[pullquote]Stop telling us that you can predict the future when you can’t even recall the past[/pullquote]

Apple’s critics need to stop telling us that they can predict Apple’s future when they’ve already proven that they are not even capable of accomplishing the far simpler task of recalling Apple’s past.

The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. Then things got tense.

The facts can always be ignored, but one does so at one’s peril.

A drunk walks into a bar. “Ouch!” he says.

Nor does ignoring the facts change the facts or make them go away.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” ~ Aldous Huxley

When you’ve got your facts wrong, the second thing you need to do is more research.

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswomen, “Where’s the self-help section?” she said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

When you’ve got your facts wrong, the first thing you need to do is just shut up.

First law on holes – when you’re in one, stop digging. ~ Denis Healey


What is this nonsense about there not being any more tech categories to conquer? The best way to evaluate whether Apple could enter a market is to ask whether people are satisfied with their current user experience. Where there is dissatisfaction, there is opportunity.


What is this obsession with being first to market?

[pullquote]It is better to be a smart mover than a first mover[/pullquote]

— Did being first help MP3 Man in MP3 Players, Palm, Nokia or Rim in smart phones, Microsoft in tablets, Microsoft or Google in TVs?
— Did not being first hurt Apple in iPods, iPhones or iPads?

No, in an ecosystem that demands co-innovation, it is better to be a smart mover than a first mover. Arguing that Apple has missed the streaming music or the console or the TV or the wearables market is like arguing that Apple has missed the train when the tracks have yet to be laid.

Apple Is Surfing The Innovation Wave (Like Mavericks)

Apple is doing what it has always done – and what it has always done successfully. They are surfing the innovation wave, just waiting for the complementary ecosystem parts to catch up. Apple isn’t late, the co-innovation wave is late. And when that co-innovation wave finally arrives, history tells us that Apple will be ready.

Rainbows & Innovations


Rainbows don’t appear when it isn’t raining or in the darkness of the night or after every rain shower, but that doesn’t mean that there will never be a rainbow ever again. Rainbows only occur when all the conditions are right.

Significant tech innovation doesn’t appear every day, or every month, or every year, and new tech categories are rarer than hen’s teeth, but that doesn’t mean that there will never be innovation ever again.

Innovations only occur when the conditions are right.

Study the industry. Wait for the conditions to be right. And while you’re waiting for the next tech innovation, the next tech category, or even the next rainbow…

…don’t be an a$$.

Apple’s Next Technology Move to Drive Industry Direction

I have been told that I am the analyst with the longest history of professionally covering Apple. I think this is a polite way of saying that I am old. I started covering Apple in 1979 and began covering them professionally as Creative Strategies’ first PC analyst in 1981. Interestingly, when the PC industry kicked in with the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981, there were no PC analysts. The four of us, which included someone from IDC, Dataquest and Forester were actually drafted or forced to cover PC’s along with our current job of researching the role and impact of mini-computers for our respective companies.

From this position I have been able to watch the PC industry grow from the inside and got to deal with all of the major PC executives in person from the beginning. All this to say that over these 32 years I have developed a pretty broad understanding about what makes the tech market tick and the leaders and technologies that have driven the tech industry to what it is today.

Although Microsoft, Lotus, Software Publishing, IBM, Compaq and Dell along with many other software and hardware companies lead much of the PC’s direction over these 32 years, there is one company that actually had perhaps the greatest influence on the direction of the PC industry and tech market that exists today.

A Look Back

Apple was the first to introduce a commercial PC with the Apple I and II but it ultimately influenced IBM to get into the market. In 1984, Apple introduced the Mac with its graphical user interface, which of course drove Microsoft to follow suit with their eventual Windows OS. But with the Mac they also introduced another key technology that the industry adopted rather quickly. When PC’s came out, they had a 5 and 1/4 inch floppy disc for storage. Apple bucked this trend and put a 3 and ½ disk reader in the Mac and within two years, all PC’s adopted 3 and ½-inch floppy drives.

While still at Apple, Steve Jobs became very interested in laser printers and private labeled the first desktop laser printer from Canon. After he departed in 1985, Apple execs, lead by John Scully, married a piece of software from Aldus called Pagemaker to the Mac and along with Apple’s laser printer birthed desktop publishing. Within three years, the IBM PC compatibles had a similar solution and became a big part of the desktop publishing revolution.

Around 1989, Scully got really interested in the impact of desktop publishing on storage and took the bold move of introducing CD ROM drives in the Mac. While its initial impact was to give desktop publishing content, which included text, images, and even some video, a larger storage medium for DTP distribution, this move also birthed what was known as the multimedia PC. Apple owned the desktop multimedia PC for about 2 years but by 1991 most PC’s were also being shipped with CD Rom drives in them.

In 1998, after Jobs returned to helm Apple he turned his eye on industrial design and created the first popular all-in-one desktops PC’s with his candy colored iMacs.
By 2001, All-In Ones that were IBM PC compatible started coming out and are still a key part of desktop PC sales today.

While he did not invent the MP3 player, he reinvented it with the iPod. He did not invent the smartphone, but reinvented it with the iPhone. And he did invent the tablet; he reinvented it with the iPad. In all three of these cases Apple has taken a leadership position and drove their competitors and the industry forward in leaps and bounds.

Where to Go From Here

So, what is the next big technology that Apple will make popular that the entire industry will need to follow to be competitive? About 4 years ago I was asked to go and meet with the senior execs of an east bay company that very few people had heard of. I was only aware of them because when IBM still owned the PC division, they had looked closely at this company and in my work with IBM and eventually Lenovo who bought the PC division from IBM, I had to work with this technology as part of my role in testing products for them.

The company was AuthenTec Inc. They were a hardware security firm whose crown jewels was a fingerprint reader that many PC companies had embedded into laptops to provide an additional layer of security by means of fingerprint identification. Late last year, Apple bought AuthenTec for $356 million dollars and has brought them in house to work on various ID authentication projects in the works.

While I suppose Apple could include their fingerprint reader in new Mac laptops, I believe their real goal is to bring second and possibly even third levels of ID authentication to the iPhone and iPad. While laptops can be left behind, iPhones and iPads are even easier to lose and misplace and securing these more mobile devices is becoming paramount in the eyes of Apple’s iPhone and iPad customers.

However, trying to put a fingerprint reader on small mobile devices is difficult to do in a way that it is easy to use and foolproof. Apple has only owned the company for 10 months or so but I am convinced they are working overtime to try and get this technology into the next version of the iPhone. The most logical way to do this is to put the fingerprint reader in the “on” button on the bottom that when touched with the proper finger allows you to securely open the scroll bar. But since people also hold the iPhone in one hand and at least one or two fingers touch the back of the screen to hold it, it is plausible that the fingerprint reader can be on the back.

I have no doubt that when Apple eventually introduces their much rumored TV or even an iWatch, these moves could drive the industry in new directions. But as in the past when Apple introduced key technologies in their products and the industry followed, my bet is that the integration of a fingerprint reader in the iPhone and iPad, will actually have the greatest impact on the future designs of all smartphones and tablets in the future.

Google Glass and Segway: Early Adopter Lore

In 2001, the Segway hit the market. VCs like Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr fawned all over it pre- launch. Even Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were enthralled when they saw it. To its inventor, Dean Kamen, it represented the next breakthrough in personal transportation. His boldest claim came when he predicted in Time magazine that the Segway “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.”

Kamen is a true renaissance man and when he speaks, it is best to listen. He has had the ear of at least two presidents and is highly respected in the medical field for his invention of the all-terrain electric wheel chair. Perhaps he is best known for inventing the insulin pump.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Kamen at an event at the San Jose Tech Museum just before the Segway came out. I was already aware of his accomplishments and I was (and still am) in awe of him. Regis McKenna, the legendary PR vet who handled PR for Apple and Steve Jobs until the mid-1990s, was also sitting with us. I clearly remember how McKenna, who is a type 1 diabetic and had used an insulin pump since it came on the market, took this opportunity to thank Kamen for creating this medical wonder and to explain how it affected his life. It was a very touching moment and, in turn, Kamen graciously thanked McKenna for his kind remarks. At that moment it really hit home that technology was not just something that I work with but rather something that has the potential of improving lives.

The Segway, however, had a lot of problems from the start. To begin, it cost more than $3,000 and had a short battery life. There was also serious pushback as local communities banned it on sidewalks, malls, some streets. Many people were not pleased to share the roads and aisles with Segway riders. In 2009, Time magazine named it one of the 10 biggest tech failures of the last decade.

Although the Segway was a bust at the consumer level, it has been embraced by vertical markets such as police departments, private security in malls and entertainment parks, and tour companies. This isn’t surprising given that most new technologies are often flushed out in vertical markets before ever getting cheap enough to find broader consumer demand (if they ever do).

Now that Google Glass has come onto the scene, I see some similarities between it and the Segway. The rhetoric, for one, is parallel. Google CEO Larry Page talks like it will be the next big thing to revolutionize the world. After spending two weeks with the glasses, noted technology blogger Robert Scoble wrote, “I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It’s that significant.” My company will be getting a pair of the glasses to test in the next month and perhaps we will have the same reaction.
There’s certainly a lot of hype, but Google Glass isn’t even commercially available yet and pushback has already started. People worry about invasion of privacy and distracted drivers. It’s being barred in movie theaters, casinos, strip clubs, and bars and a recently introduced bill could ban the use of the device while driving.

I have no doubt that early adopters will shell out the $1,500 at first but some of my tech friends express concerns. How will they look in public while wearing them? Will others think they aren’t engaged in conversation, but rather searching for things? I compare it to wearing a Bluetooth headset; when speaking to a person, I take it off lest they think that I am not listening to them but instead to something coming through the headset.

Tech You Can Wear

It will be very interesting to see how the first generation of users will evaluate its worth given that only 8,000 testers will receive them. These early testers, however, should give us a good sense of whether these glasses have staying power. I suspect they might conclude that Google Glass is not really ready for consumer primetime.
Like the Segway, it will likely get the most attention from vertical markets where its real value can be exploited even at its high price, which is not aimed at consumers anyway. It must drop to around $300 before it gains any traction in the mass market. Even then, there will probably be a steep learning curve in functionality and social norms before it is accepted for everyday use.

I may be wrong about the Segway comparison since they are clearly two very different technologies. Still, I can’t help but see the likenesses between them. I fear that once the novelty wears off, unless there is a killer app, Google Glass could lose steam and potentially go the way of the Segway.
On a personal note, I strongly believe in the potential of wearable devices, regardless of the reception of Google Glass. It will go down in history as one of the products that helped define wearable computing. Wearable devices give us a digital sixth sense and we are just scratching the surface of how they can provide enhanced information that will impact all aspects of our personal and professional lives in the future.

The Dividing Line Between Human and Replicant Already Happened

In the film, Iron Man 3, the good guys encase themselves in tech. The bad guys put the tech inside their bodies. This is telling. Hollywood – and most of America – remains oddly uncomfortable with the notion of technology which “alters” our self – even as it alters everything we see, hear and touch.

No surprise, then, that Tony Stark, the man inside the Iron Man suit, fires off witty bombs in the vain hope it will ease his mental suffering rather than taking a pill – blue, red or otherwise – to help resolve his constant panic attacks.

This idea that the tech we place inside us is to be feared, unlike all the tech swirling outside of us, is a dated and dying relic of our fading, twentieth-century upbringing.

We are all already replicants.

Wikipedia defines “replicant” as “a bioengineered or biorobotic being created in the film Blade Runner. (Replicants) are virtually identical to an adult human, but have superior strength, agility, and variable intelligence depending on the model. Because of their physical similarity to humans, a replicant must be detected by its lack of emotional responses and empathy to questions posed in a Voight-Kampff test.”

What test could we use today to detect a replicant? Should we? Probably, it’s too late to discern. Rather than optimizing artificial intelligence tests, we may ultimately need to design tests to determine what is really real – assuming our future technology affords us one “true” sanctioned reality.

I suspect that many of us fear technology which goes inside us because we deeply fear that this changes, possibly forever, who we are, how we think, what we can do, what we believe, how we feel, even if only a little. As the world changes ever-faster, we cling to the idea that somehow we – our being, our self, our consciousness – can forever remain the same.

This is a false belief.

The truth is more frightening and far more awesome. Very soon, we will refuse to deny ourselves – all of us – the clear and present self-altering benefits and protections of advancing technology even while, as in our fiction, we cling to a idealized notion of the purity of who we are.

I believe I can prove this.

We are already live-tweeting (and vining) brain surgery. Anyone can witness a man’s brain being altered – or “repaired.” Highly technical work on human brains is about to become as commonplace as the work done on our hearts. Only this time, we will watch – making it radically more accessible.

Kaiba Gionfriddo, nearly 2 years old, is alive because doctors at the University of Michigan used a 3D printer to create a airway splint so that he can breathe. As the physical went digital, now, the digital – restricted only by our imagination – becomes physical.

Young Grady Hoffman was confined to an isolation room for two months. The child used a telepresence robot to interact with the outside world – which included his parents and siblings. How much of that child’s being was contained within the robot? 5%? 50%? How much a mere 5 years from now?

Should this young boy from South Africa be denied having a hand crafted for him by a 3D printer? Of course not. Should he not be allowed to pitch on his Little League baseball team even if the hand offers him some advantage? What if he goes pro?

These headphones monitor brainwaves then play songs to match the person’s mood. What better knowledge graph or recommendation engine could there be? On what day will Google Glass offer this capability – and make it worth our while to serve up exactly the right content in exchange for the stunningly personal data they can mine?

Children are alive, and we are entertained, by altering our bodies and having our brainwaves probed. Given that we cannot prevent our brainwaves from escaping our “being,” today’s brain monitoring headphones will probably lead to tomorrow’s grocery store Muzak – mundanely and algorithmically sending specific songs into our head – and ours alone – to entice us to spend more money in the toiletries aisle. How is this any different than commanding to a “replicant” to mop the floors?

Publicly funded scientists in the United States are actively working on fully restoring memories – such as those lost to the ravages of Alzheimer’s.

In people whose brains have suffered damage from Alzheimer’s, stroke, or injury, disrupted neuronal networks often prevent long-term memories from forming. For more than two decades, Dr. Berger has designed silicon chips to mimic the signal processing that those neurons do when they’re functioning properly—the work that allows us to recall experiences and knowledge for more than a minute. Ultimately, Berger wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories by implanting chips like these in the brain.

The path to success in this, which almost no one objects to, obviously opens up the potential for creating or altering memories. A memory, after all, is nothing but a series of electrical impulses. Tweak one or tweak them all – they have been changed. The fact is, the technology to alter and to create memories is a given. All that’s left now is to figure out how cheaply and massively scalable such technology is.

Everything about us – who we are, who we believe we are – is already altered by technology. Today’s baby-steps are next decade’s global disruption to our very notions of life, living and humanity.

Deliberate, publicly-sanctioned alterations to the human mind is the final frontier – and the future has arrived. UC Berkeley scientists are working to protect computing systems by having your brain activity serve as a identifier – your personalized access code, as it were. The few people who actually read William Gibson’s Neuromancer thirty years ago likely never really believed they would be alive to experience such a blurred physical-cyber existence.

In fact, we may have already surpassed this fiction. Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto are using bulk computing power to monitor an individual’s MRI scans to determine what that person is dreaming. Know what a person hears, perceives, dreams – and feels – is to know that someone or some external force can alter each of these. Won’t each of us embed technology within ourselves just to prevent this?

Soon, we will consume technology if for no other reason to retain our sense of self, not lose it.

We are a society that fears the potential ill effects – and possible amorality – of consuming drugs like ecstasy while at the same time idly accepting shockingly advancing changes to who we are as human beings. We need to face the truth: we are on the cusp of technologically altering our self to maintain our self.

You’ll want to read this: Alice through the Looking Glass (Corning Glass, that is)

In the near distant future, all of the surfaces in your house are made of high-tech glass. Instead of following a recipe on your tablet, your glass countertops now become the display. Does this make your spine tingle? Does it feel uber-tech, light years away? Like something only Steve Jobs or Captain Kirk would have access to? Nope, it’s coming to your doorstep.

Let’s paint a picture of an average Joe (or Joanne)’s day… It’s dinnertime. While trying to make the meal, the recipe on your tablet is too small to see and the stand you have propped it up on keeps falling over. Your hands are caked in food and the phone rings. Your son sits across the counter from you, nagging you about needing help with homework. Everyone and everything around you demands your attention. Imagine an innovation that could help you manage all of those tasks.

When the phone rings, your counter lights up and with one touch of your food-caked knuckle you’re talking to your great aunt Gladys (or the CEO of a major tech firm). Meanwhile, your kid is interacting through the countertop display with his tutor.

This near distant future could be possible with Corning’s technology. Corning’s is now researching ways to improve the glass, and apply it to all types of environments. Each glass display is powered by tablets encased in lightweight, durable glass, which –in this future time- are almost as commonplace as smartphones are today. Each tablet is tailored to its owner, organizing, managing and displaying everything in his or her life.

If we take this vision even further, now imagine the same technology that helped make dinnertime prep simpler, and apply it in hospitals, classrooms, cars and offices. The possibilities are limitless. If we step into a future hospital we will see wall-to-wall, touch-sensitive displays, capturing critical information for the current procedure taking place. The hospital rooms are covered with non-porous, easy to clean glass, making it an ideal product for sterile environments. Patient charts can be easily accessed from sleek, well-organized tablets.

Cars will also be equipped with glass displays. Now, music and essential driving information can be transported from a person’s individual tablet or smart phone, to the dashboard display. In addition to the dashboard, windows and a car’s sunroof will be made of automotive electrochromic glass, offering many possibilities.

Not only will classrooms have wall-to-wall displays, they will also be equipped with desk displays, and activity tables, making learning tangible and interactive. Imagine an office equipped with this same glass. Office meetings can now be interactive and plans can be changed right in front of you on large-scale displays.

Our future with glass is going to change the way we think, create, and organize our lives, and Corning’s is stepping up to the plate to make it happen. What do you think is possible with this futuristic technology? To see the glass in action, watch these three videos made by Corning. In A Day Made Of Glass 2: Unpacked, the narrator describes the technology used and explains what is possible today.

A Day Made of Glass

A Day Made of Glass 2

A Day made of Glass 2: Unpacked

Until next time,

Kelli Richards, CEO of The All Access Group, LLC

Holding Apple to a Higher Standard – Solving Texting While Driving

I love my iPhone. I use it all the time. I take it with me everywhere. Yes, everywhere. I have tried and tested numerous smartphones over the years. I can confidently state that you can do no better than the iPhone. However, iPhone – Apple – can do better by us. Too many of us are texting while driving, and dying. More than nine people everyday, in fact. This has to stop.

Yes, it’s easy to claim that people’s foolish behavior is in no way Apple’s fault. Probably, you are right. I don’t care. I hold Apple to a higher standard. I don’t pay a “premium” to purchase Apple products. There is no “Apple tax.” I pay Apple’s higher prices because their products are the best: the best value, the easiest to use, the most intuitive, the most functional.

Apple even promotes this idea. Witness their latest marketing campaign for iPhone. No pretty women in leather jumpsuits, no ninjas, no lasers – no need. Instead, the powerful truth: iPhone is an amazing device, simple to use, and offers a nearly un-ending amount of fun and function for everyone – from anywhere, as their iPhone “Discovery” ad makes plain.

iPhone ad anywhere

iPhone doesn’t merely dominate the U.S. smartphone market, they dominate pretty much every relevant metric for smartphone use and engagement. Tragically, we remain engaged with our iPhones even while driving.

According to a recent AT&T study, nearly half of adult drivers in the U.S. admit to texting while driving. Over 40% of teens admit to texting while driving. Worse, the numbers are rising.

It’s not ignorance causing this. The texters-and-drivers are fully aware of the potentially deadly and devastating consequences of their actions. Doesn’t matter.They text anyway. No doubt they also tweet, check Facebook, choose a playlist and more, all while behind the wheel.

What’s Apple going to do about this?

Yes, I want Apple to do something. Because possibly only Apple can do something to fix this. Apple gave us the smartphone revolution. The iPhone changed everything. We now use the iPhone – and all the copycat smartphones – everywhere we go, no matter the setting, no matter who we are with. This recent IDC study, for example, noted that well over half of all Americans have a smartphone and a vast majority of us reach for our smartphones the moment we wake up and then never put it away. We use them in the movie theater, at the gym, while we are talking to other people in real life. Don’t believe that getting behind the wheel of a car suddenly changes everything, whether it should or not.

No, I do not care if it’s unfair to place any blame for our behavior on Apple. The fact is, we text while driving. We aren’t going to stop. Apple needs to accept some responsibility for what they have wrought. As much as I want a beautiful Apple Television, as much as you may want an iWatch, and as cool as this patented wraparound display iPhone is, none of that should be a priority for Apple until the company makes using the iPhone while driving a car much, much safer proposition. Or impossible. Either way, the problem needs to be fixed, soon.

Possible solutions? Honestly, I don’t know. Perhaps the iPhone will recognize when we are driving and simply stop working. Maybe Apple can require apps to mess up when we are in a moving vehicle – not autocorrect our texts, for example. Maybe Apple engineers can get Siri to work great, all the time, whether for texting, tweeting, checking our calendar, selecting a playlist. I don’t have the answers. That I leave to Apple. And we need the best they can give us.

Slogans, such as from AT&T’s  “It Can Wait” campaign are unlikely to work, I suspect.

it can wait texting

It Can Wait videos admittedly offer some truly heartbreaking stories of people whose lives have been irreparably and profoundly damaged because someone was texting while driving.

Tragic, sad – but how will this help? As AT&T’s own study says, 98% of those who text while driving already know it’s bad.

It was sobering to realize that texting while driving by adults is not only high, it’s really gone up in the last three years.

That quote is from Charlene Lake, AT&T’s senior vice president for public affairs. You think more marketing is the answer? No. Showing tragic stories may shock a few into proper behavior, I don’t doubt. Realistically, however, this is that rare case where we need a technical solution for a cultural problem.

According to TechCrunch:

The Center for Disease Control says that there are an average of nine people killed in texting-related accidents each day, with 1,060 injured in texting-related crashes.

Since texting occupies your eyes, hands, and mind, it’s considered one of the most dangerous distractions on the road, and elevates the risk of a crash to 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.

Nine people killed every single day. Read that again. Nine people die every single day from texting-related accidents. Going to stop what you’re doing now that you know?

I don’t believe you.

Apple gave us the iPhone. It was like nothing ever before. But Apple’s job is not complete. The iPhone is magical and revolutionary. We mortals have not yet learned to fully control its power. We need Apple’s help.

Images taken from Apple’s iPhone “Discover” commercial and AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign against texting and driving.

Live the Future Now

By nature of what I do for a living, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. As a part of that exercise I like to employ a tactic I call live the future now. I’ll explain. Part of how I attempt to create a vision for the future and analyze opportunities and weaknesses of solutions is to try to use existing technology to do things I believe we will do in the future. This is why I am currently using tablets in and around my house in ways that seem unorthodox, or “crazy” as some have told me. I’m trying to get a sense of how these devices may evolve. For example I believe someday a tablet computer will exist in every room. They may also be communal and thus may be mounted on walls, refrigerators, in bathrooms, etc. This is why I literally have 15 tablets in some use around my house (or perhaps that is simply how I justify it).

In the early 2000’s, quite a bit of my research focus was the digital home. I spent a lot of time piecing together solutions in an attempt to stream HD videos wirelessly to all my displays in my house (which was 4 at the time) because I knew wireless whole home video would someday be a reality. I used any and all technologies I could get my hands on as I attempted to build the most connected and automated digital home possible. I basically used my own house as a lab. Interestingly, 10 years later and we still aren’t close to mass market commercialization of the digital home I envisioned and tried to create. It was a painful experience trying to create this digital home back then and many man hours were spent connecting DMAs (digital media adapters as they were called), home theatre PCs, 5ghz proprietary line of sight video points, beam antennas, and many more technologies.

This exercise was valuable and it was all based in an attempt to live the future now so I could learn and observe the potential of certain experiences. The point, however, was an attempt at technological ethnography of the mass market of tomorrow.

Understanding the Mass Market of Tomorrow

One of the most critical things any company can do is seek to understand the needs, wants, and desires of their customers of tomorrow. This is generally why RND labs exist. A key component of any RND lab are individuals with a vision of how the mass market may use their innovations based on tomorrow’s customers needs, wants, and desires. This is often done very poorly by many technology companies.

Understanding what the current mass market needs is important for the short term. Understanding the mass market of tomorrow is important for the long term. This practice is at the core of what we do at Creative Strategies, and it is why I engage in the practice of attempting to live our technological future in the present as much as possible.

Different Approaches

There are two approaches a company can take to understand the mass market of tomorrow. One is to do it solely inside the companies walls. Apple does this for example but so does Microsoft and many other technology companies. This model is traditional but as I pointed out above, requires incredible insight and understanding about the future market in order to know what to commercialize and what to scrap. Apple is perhaps one of the only companies who has continually done this well. Some companies may actually test their products with large groups of employees in order to broaden their sample size as well. Palm used to do this, and I am sure many others do this as well.

The other approach, and the one I think is extremely interesting, is Google’s approach. Google does their RND out in public. ChromeBooks and Google Glass are two prime examples of this. These products may have mass market potential, or they may not, but a great way to find out is to test it with people and observe their behaviors and translate that into learnings. Call it market research with the help of the broad public. Things the market likes, keep. Things the market doesn’t like, don’t keep. Testing future products on actual future consumers and learning from their observations is an extremely interesting way to do future use case research. I appreciate that Google does their RND in public. I also applaud their ability to get people to pay for the privilege of doing their homework for them.

Most consumers don’t know what they want until the see it or experience it. It’s extremely hard in internal RND labs to truly understand mass market sentiment. This is why I think Google’s approach is so interesting. Competitors can learn from this and adapt, which is a risk. But I like the direction they are taking. Regardless of your opinion of the products themselves or Google, I like the idea that Google is getting back to its roots.

CES 2013: Plenty of Innovation – You Just Needed to Know Where to Look

CES-SignI didn’t expect much in the way of OS, phone, or tablet announcements at CES this year, if only because all the key platform drivers stayed home. Apple never attends trade shows, preferring to host its own events. Amazon follows Apple’s lead. Google takes over Mobile World Congress each year, but does not attend CES. Microsoft used to have a keynote and a large booth at CES, but chose to quit the show after last year – which was a mistake. Many device vendors also skipped the show, and some who were there – I’m looking at you, Samsung and LG – held big press conferences without actually announcing much. RIM is staging its big comeback try in New York on January 30. Nintendo is making a big bet on digital entertainment with the Wii U, but it focuses on E3, not CES.

App-Driven Devices

Nonetheless, CES 2013 was a huge show, and not just in terms of sheer size. The biggest trend I identified at the show was easiest to see at the evening press mega-events, Digital Experience (Pepcom), and Showstoppers. Pepcom usually gets the bigger name vendors, but this time, smaller vendors were showing the most unique products, and Showstoppers was actually the better venue because of it. I counted dozens of innovative devices which depend on app and device infrastructure built by Apple and, in some cases, Google. Several gadgets that seemed silly in pre-CES press releases (ex: a connected fork) were revealed to be worthy concepts when I got to see them live. Some examples:

  • The HAPIfork measures how quickly you eat and vibrates if the intervals are too frequent. The companion app collects the data as part of a medical weight loss program. (No, this isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t ridiculous, either.)
  • The Lark Life is a wearable vibrating alarm clock whose app acts as a sleep coach. There were at least a half dozen variants on this concept on display from various vendors.
  • Parrot’s Flower Power gardening sensor works with an app that not only tells you when to water your plant, but what you ought to be planting in that soil instead.
  • Evado Filip’s ViVoPlay is a combination watch, three-way GPS tracker, and limited phone designed to prevent children from getting lost in public places. The companion app enables you to find your child and call them to reassure them – and tell them to stay put or how to find their way back.
  • The DoorBot is a zero-setup WiFi-enabled smart doorbell which sends video of your front door to your phone or tablet when someone rings the bell.

There were literally dozens more (especially in the personal fitness category). Some have been crowdfunded through Kickstarter or Christie Street – which counts as a microtrend of its own. All of them were designed for iOS, with some offering Android apps or promising them down the road. Apple has long had a lead in apps, but as these app-driven devices become more popular it could push more people to iOS over Android. It will almost certainly make it more difficult for Microsoft and RIM to establish Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 as strong alternatives.

Other observations:

  • TV vendors are still looking for a way to get consumers to shop on something other than price. 4KTV is the new 3DTV – incredibly cool technology with no content (or clear consumer demand).
  • The connected car is a full-fledged category now.
  • Samsung is the industry’s rock star. People started lining up for Samsung’s 2 PM press conference at 7 AM, and even people with VIP passes ended up being turned away at the door for lack of space.
  • The Americans may have stayed home, but Chinese vendors were everywhere at CES. Huawei, ZTE, and TCL (Alcatel) all showed off new high end phones, Lenovo launched a clever tablet/notebook and an innovative – if silly – $1,700 27” Windows 8 coffee table/tablet. On the other end of the pricing and utility spectrum, we saw literally hundreds of cheap unbranded Android tablets from Chinese vendors on the show floor.
  • The OS vendors all skipped CES, but the silicon platform vendors were out in force. Qualcomm delivered an awkward and entertaining keynote, Intel and NVIDIA held press conferences, and Marvell had a huge booth. NVIDIA’s press conference ground to a halt a few times, but NVIDIA did a good job positioning the Tegra 4 as providing better pictures (not just faster performance), and its Project Shield is an ambitious new gaming hardware platform.
  • Dish gets no respect. Its press conference had real news and the most swag of any vendor at the show, but the room wasn’t full. The new Hopper integrates Sling technology for placeshifting, can transfer content to an iPad for offline viewing, and still records all of prime time TV for 8 days with automatic commercial skipping. As if that weren’t enough, during the show Dish also made moves towards launching a wireless network (or, failing that, at least make Sprint’s executives miserable).


If there was a winner and a loser at CES, Apple won without showing up thanks to companies large and small building apps, accessories, and app-driven devices for iOS. Microsoft lost because it didn’t show up. Microsoft needed to be at CES this year to show off Surface, pitch developers on Windows 8/RT/Phone, and do damage control on Windows 8/RT’s UI quirks and slow PC sales.

This article is adapted from a full CES Wrap-up report for Current Analysis clients which also contains analysis of specific device launches and recommendations.

Apple as Innovator: Four* Contributions That Changed Computing

Reading the comment threads on Tech.pinions’ many posts on Apple v. Samsung and iOS vs. Android, I have been struck by the recurring charge that Apple is nothing but a clever marketer that does nothing but copy (impolite version: steal) and repackage the work of others. To anyone knowledgeable about the history of the industry, this is pure nonsense I’m not sure that evidence will do much to persuade the doubters. Nonetheless, here are three critical Apple innovations that reshaped the tech industry:

LaserWriterDesktop Publishing. The laser printer was invented by Xerox in the late 1960s and developed in the 1970s by Canon, Ricoh, and Hewlett-Packard. But  in the mid-80s, nearly all “letter quality” printers relied on typewriter technology. Apple had the vision to combine the capabilities of the laser printer, the new Macintosh, and Adobe’s PostScript page-description language to put something resembling professional page composition on the desktop. Apple’s LaserWriter printers were not terribly successful and the company decided to leave printing to HP and others after a few years. But Apple’s early commitment to the technology set the stage for the desktop publishing revolution that not only made gave every computer user the tools of the graphic artist but revolutionized commercial publishing.



iMacThe legacy-free computer. In 1998, every computer was expected to have a floppy drive. Windows PCs came with PS/2 ports to connect a keyboard and mouse, a parallel port for a printer, and a serial port for other chores, such as syncing a Palm Pilot. Macs replaced those connectors with the proprietary AppleDesktop Bus and LocalTalk ports. That spring, Steve Jobs, who had just resumed the helm of Apple, introduced the original iMac. In addition to looking completely different from any computer anyone had ever seen, the iMac dispensed with both the floppy and all legacy ports, replacing them with Universal Serial Bus connectors. USB had been around for a while and was standard equipment on all Intel motherboards, but since Windows didn’t reliably support USB until Windows 98 Second Edition in mid-1999, they were barely used. Apple, which was still in very shaky financial condition, got scathing criticism for its leap into the future. But while floppies and legacy ports persisted on Windows machines for years, the iMac was a runaway success and suddenly all those indispensable legacies became dispensable indeed. (The iMac’s USB “hockey puck” mouse was a less brilliant idea and was soon replaced by a more conventional design.)



AirPort iconWi-Fi. No, Apple didn’t invent Wi-Fi, or, as it was originally called, wireless Ethernet. That honor goes to AT&T (later Lucent) Bell Labs. But Apple began putting AirPort cards (actually rebranded Lucent Orinoco PCMCIA cards) into Macs, including some desktops, in 1999, before the IEEE even completed the agonizingly slow process of ratifying the 802.11b standard that it was based on. (Here’s a 1999 article I wrote on Apple’s offerings.) Slower versions of the 802.11 standard had been around for a while for commercial and industrial use, but Apple took the blindingly fast version (a theoretical 11 megabits per second, up from 2 mb/s) and turned it into a consumer product. Although others, particularly Intel, were later to play an important role in making Wi-Fi ubiquitous, it was Apple that had the vision that freed our computers from their network tethers.




WebKit logoWebKit. It’s easy to foget how awful mobile browsing was before the iPhone. Not only did most devices have minuscule displays, but the browsers on Palm, Symbian, BlackBerry. and Windows Mobile devices were just terrible. The WebKit browser engine that was the basis of the iPhone version of Safari  totally changed the game by bringing desktop-class browsing to a handheld. Even though the original iPhone, which lacked 3G support, suffered from slow connections, it provided a vastly better browsing experience than anything we had seen before. Even better, it’s open source (not entirely by choice; WebKit was based on the KDE project’s open source KHTML) so it is widely used by other company’s browsers, including Google Chrome.

Purists can complain that Apple didn’t invent any of these. But that’s the difference between invention and innovation. And while the cleverness and insights of the inventor are essential, we need the daring and vision of the innovator to move forward. The iMac in particular was an extremely gutsy move by Apple; Steve Jobs bet the company on a novel design and its failure would almost certainly have meant the end of Apple.

Even during Apple’s darkest days of the mid-1990s, Apple remained a remarkably inventive company.  For example, the Newton MessagePad was a failure, but no one can say that it did not break significant new ground. There are many things you can fairly criticize Apple for, but the charge that the company fails to innovate is just plain silly.

*-There are three kinds of mathematicians–those who can count and those who can’t. The original headline said “three.” While writing the piece, I added the section on the LaserWriter, but forgot to change the headline.

The Apple Verdict and the Challenge of Innovation

I spent some time on the weekend digesting the results and implications of the verdict between the Apple and Samsung patent trial. I watched my Twitter stream flow continuously with many remarking on the negatives of the verdict and many remarking on the positives. I am yet to see a convincing analysis one way or another as to whether the win for Apple is good or bad, which leaves me thinking that only time will reveal the answer.

So rather than dive too deep on whether the verdict is good or bad for the industry, I would rather make a different observation.

It is Easier to Follow Than Lead

The one thing that I think is interesting about Apple as a company is that under the vision of Steve Jobs in particular, their culture and their products have ALWAYS had a unique identity. Even if a particular concept or idea was “borrowed” it was done so in a way uniquely and freshly with a specific vision in mind.

Historically, in fact, Apple sacrificed success to stick with a unique approach to personal computing. Steve Jobs and Apple as a company had a vision for the best way to make computing products and that determination to not compromise that vision cost them success in key markets in the past. One example of many would be the decision to not license out the operating system at a key junction in the adoption cycle. The fear of losing the quality of hardware in which their software ran is a key reason why I believe this decision was made. None the less it was not popular and probably cost Apple market share in the early days of computing.

Although, that is not the case today where Apple is the market leader in several key categories; the above observation uncovers a key truth and it relates to the challenge of innovation.

Creating something new or unique is not terribly difficult. I’ve got great ideas for all kinds of unique products that no one wants but me. Creating something new, unique, different, and innovative that garners mass market success is EXTREMELY difficult and more interestingly EXTREMELY rare. The fundamental challenge and to a degree fear around innovation is that you create something the market does not want. This at its core is the reason why it is easier to follow the leader than blaze a new trail.

As a wise sage once said:

“Trying is the first step toward failure” – Homer Simpson

A little longer than five years after the iPhone and we already entirely take for granted things that were not common place in the market before the first iPhone. All touch screens and virtual keyboards, screens that know when we are looking at them or by our ear, a full home screen of glossy icons, app stores, etc. We can argue the degree of these in terms of innovation but the bottom line is Apple made many features the industry standard.

Of course many of the things which became the standard in terms of look and design were not patentable and were simply the result of a new standard emerging. But this case was more about setting a presidence more than it was about money. The message has been sent loud and clear that following the leader too closely is not a good idea. Some degree of trailblazing will be necessary in the future. Although, this is difficult and risky, I strongly believe that in the long run those who do invest and take risk and blaze their own trails will be rewarded.

There are some very cool FEATURES Samsung, HTC, Nokia and others have added to their smart devices that are distinct. That is without question; but the bottom line is a template for success has been established by Apple.

In this regard I must give Microsoft a tremendous amount of credit. Microsoft, rightly or wrongly, blazed a new trail and we are on the cusp of seeing whether or not the market accepts what they developed or not. Microsoft is blazing a new trail with their new UI and emphasis on touch for all hardware. We will see if this trail leads to success or failure. Regardless, Microsoft deserves credit for taking the risk, and giving their best effort to do something fresh.

Blazing new trails on the frontier of personal computing may take its toll on many companies. I stand by a conviction I have shared many times publicly. I fully expect the landscape for personal computing to look very different in the future. The personal computing companies of today, particularly those in hardware, may not be the personal computing companies of the future.

When I think about the things that led to Apple’s success in many key categories, as well as what may be the underlying theme for success for many in the future, I think about a quote that I am rather fond of–which is:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

The key to the future will be to seek out new opportunities with fresh thinking and innovative ideas. To those that think innovation is dead I pose this question:

Have all the problems of the present and the future been solved? Until the answer is yes, there will always be room for innovation.

Phil McKinney to CableLabs: Time for Some Cable Innovation?

Photo of Phil McKinneyIn a fascinating move, CableLabs, the non-profit research and development arm of the cable industry, announced today that Phil McKinney, former CTO of Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group, was coming aboard is CEO. What makes this interesting is that McKinney is an innovation guru and author of the recently published Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions the Spark Game Changing Innovation. But CableLabs is not exactly Xerox PARC.

CableLabs has been responsible for some important innovations, most notably the DOCSIS protocols for moving high-speed TCP/IP data across cable networks. But in recent years it seems to have devoted most of its energies to helping cable companies comply as grudgingly as possible with legislative and regulatory mandates that they open up their proprietary cable boxes. This has given us a series of user-hostile and sparsely deployed technologies, including OCAP, Tru2way, and CableCARD that have done as little as possible to enable advanced third-party cable boxes.

I’ve known Phil for some years and find it hard to believe he would have taken this job unless the cable companies that own CableLabs saw some real innovation as being in their interest. The industry’s value-added content delivery  is threatened in the medium and long term over-the-top internet distribution and could badly use a dose of innovation.

McKinney says he will be heads down in  his new job for the next three months or so, but will be ready to talk about new directions for CableLabs in the fall. As they say in the TV business, stay tuned.

Looking Forward to the Next Round of Innovation

I was surprised by a number of conversations I had while at this years CES. More than once the conversation turned to the staleness of innovation shown at the show. It is true there wasn’t too much to get excited about this year, but the remarks I heard seemed to indicate that there is a belief that we may be headed for a period where innovation is stagnant. I have to say that I disagree.

On Monday I wrote in my column about why I believe the PC landscape is about to change. I pointed out that the barrier to entry to create consumer electronics has dropped to an all time low. Making it feasible for any company with enough cash and a market strategy to start creating electronics of all shapes and sizes. My overall point was that consumer electronics is ripe for new entrants. More specifically new entrants with fresh ideas.

That being said we have to look at innovation as pillars. There is hardware innovation, software innovation, and services innovation. One could also throw in experience innovation as a pillar as well but it is intertwined with hardware, software, and services. Each of these pillars feed off each other and spur parallel innovations.

There are countless examples of how this chain of events works. We could look at examples from the first land line phones, to the PC, to the smart phone and more. However I am going to use the iPad as an example.

The iPad was a hardware innovation (not a conceptual innovation) that integrated all the right pieces of hardware into a touch computing package. The iPad then set in motion the opportunity for software innovation and eventually we will see more innovation in services as well. This leads us to what we can expect in this next round of innovation. Namely that it will come more from the software and services pillars.

This is not to say there will be zero hardware innovation. I simply believe we will see more innovation come from software and services which will take advantage of the hardware platforms that gain mass market attraction. Namely around devices like the PC, tablet, smart phone, and TV. All of those devices represent the platforms of the future. So although we will see some hardware advancements in those devices I don’t believe they will be monumental but more incremental. Screens will get better, semiconductors will get faster, devices will be go through design evolution, etc.

All those hardware platform innovations will continue to lead to new software, services, and experience innovation. Take yesterday’s news from Apple about iBooks 2.0 and the new interactive e-book experience. Tim stated that Apple just re-invented the book and he is right. The point that needs to be made, however, is that without the iPad and the platform innovation of tablets, it would never have been possible to even think about re-inventing the book. The hardware innovation created this possibility. Tim also rightly pointed out that if publishers are not careful they could be disrupted quite easily. The hardware platform innovation leads to not just the re-birth of something like a book but the re-birth of the publishing industry. This can also be said of the music industry, motion pictures, network TV, magazine, and perhaps even government or politics? All of these industries have the opportunity to re-invent themselves in light of new and innovative hardware.

The opportunities will be endless, and again, I am not saying that hardware innovation is dead, perhaps only that it is cyclical. The next cycle of innovation will be more focused on software and services rather than ground breaking new hardware. We could discuss new computing hardware like the smart watch, automobile and more, but perhaps those are more extensions of existing platforms rather than platforms themselves. I will leave that topic for another column.