Monthly Archives: February 2015

Very nice weather in Seattle today…

jamesturrellskyspace

James Turrell, Skyspace, 2003

My family went to an excellent installation at the Henry today:

annhamiltonheader

I could never do justice here to the artist’s thinking, but there is much worth reading at the link above. Aside from the many skins, pictures, books and oddities, perhaps what I enjoyed most were the ~150 wonderful excerpts from an incredible variety of literature, poetry, scientific publications and other sources. Printed on 8″ x 11″ paper that you are encouraged to touch and take with you, they are well-curated and very thought provoking. A selection I picked up are quoted below.

It also has inspired me to create my own Commonplace Book as a section of Idle Bandwidth. The wikipedia background on this tradition is fascinating actually, and I think it will be rewarding over time. Maybe Lauren and I can sit down in twenty years and compare notes.

Let us take the time in this fast and ever-changing life which harasses us and tears us to pieces; to have the strength to remain slow and clam. To work outside the elements of disintegration that surrounds us. To comprehend life in its slow and clam sense.

— Fernand Leger. Das Figürliche Werk. Köln : Museen der Stadt, 1978. p. 52.

If the single starling is a wonder of melodic invention, a flock of them constitutes harmonic counterpoint. Melody against melody, their simultaneous lines of flight cross without crashing. Perhaps they follow Baroque laws of relative motion, as the relation of bird to bird appears contrary, oblique, or similar, but rarely parallel. They intermittently form dense cluster chords as they crowd together. Beyond music, the murmuration functions as a particle mind, each bird a thought. Watching the flock, I begin to connect the dots.

— Devin Johnston. “Murmurations.” In Creaturely and Other Essays.  New York, NY: Turtle Point Press, 2009. 37.

Even now, as I write this, I can still feel that tightness. And I want you to feel it—the wind coming off the river, the waves, the silence, the wooded frontier. You’re at the bow of a boat on the Rainy River. You’re twenty-one years old, you’re scared, and there’s a hard squeezing pressure in your chest. Still there was so much to say. How the rain never stopped. How the cold worked into your bones. Sometimes the bravest thing on earth was to sit through the night and feel the cold in your bones. Courage was not always a matter of yes or no. Sometimes it came in degrees, like the cold; sometimes you were very brave up to a point and then beyond that point you were not so brave. In certain situations you could do incredible things, you could advance toward enemy fire, but in other situations, which were not nearly so bad, you had trouble keeping your eyes open.

— Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried. New York: Mariner Books, 2009.

Helianthus evolved in the American Southwest, and later spread across the American plains, courtesy of the great herds of bison. Their matted coats snagged the little hairs at the ends of ripe sunflower seeds and carried them away. When the seeds dropped off, they fell on ground that their chauffeurs had tilled with their hooves as they passed through the high grasses. In a matter of weeks, stems and leaves would rise out of the trampled earth. It was as if the bison left a trail of sunflowers, like bubbles in the wake of a boat. Some ten thousand years ago, Native American tribes began migrating across those same lands, along the bison trails, and gathered the ripe seedheads. The seeds could be hulled and ground into flour or mixed with berries, meat, and fat into a sort Of energy bar called pemmican. The hulls, brewed in hot water,made a gorgeous purple dye.

— Ruth Kassinger. A Garden of Marvels. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

Top things to expect from the (assumed) Watch event March 9th

The puff of smoke went up from Cupertino, and we now have notice of an Apple event ten days out. It will probably a deeper look at Watch.

(An aside: remind me at my next startup to put “Summon all the top-tier press twice in six months to a location convenient for the company” in the marketing plan)

Obvious:

  1. Pricing
  2. Availability by geo and date
  3. Battery life, tech specs, water resistance
  4. Launch partners (Nike, Tesla, Facebook, Twitter, NewApp via Swift)

More interesting maybe:

  • They may not reveal the top end price — just that Edition starts at $10,000 — because they don’t want the coverage to obsess about this at the expense of all the other good stuff.
  • Related to the above, what is the upgradeability of the chip? I think this is a key hurdle for some people, and not just on Watch Edition. I think a bunch of people will avoid V1.0 entirely if they think it’s a brick in two years.
  • Distribution partnerships with Wempe and Tourneau and other high-end watch chains?
  • Stores within a store at high-end department stores.
  • A tightening of their language around the job that’s going to be done by Watch. The first reveal was pretty squishy about this, and they will have heard the feedback.
  • Some feature/use case that is native to the device that has been kept under wraps but is really different (perhaps some Siri grammars that make more sense for the wrist).
  • Something about watch security: an Watch locked to a particular user to deal with the theft issue from the get go.
  • A subtle shift in emphasis. Perhaps a little less heavily health related, and more about messaging and productivity. Since the launch there has been some press about the inaccuracy of some sensors…perhaps they don’t want to lash the primary use case to that.

Apple Watch Bits | 2.18.2015

The Apple Industrial Complex is firing up to deliver the Watch, and it’s going to be fun (unless you are a legacy mid- to high-end watch maker, or many of the fitness tracker companies).

Some interesting bits:

  • Looks like we’re dialing back expectations on health related sensors / features. Grand conspiracy nuts might find a connection between the recent reports of fitness trackers’ inaccuracy and WSJ ‘sources’ guiding that Watch V1.0 would be a baby step towards its eventual health vision, with only optical heart rate monitoring. Maybe somehow Apple’s sensor is better than others, but I suspect that hard-core fitness quantifiers are still going to get chest straps or other dedicated devices.
  • Apple talked about the complexity of the Digital Crown back in the launch timeframe, and it was easy to dismiss this as more ‘magical’ hype. I mean, it’s a hardware knob used for scrolling and panning right? What’s the big deal.  Well, apparently this contraption might be another sensor in its own right (capable of being part of an EKG setup). To me the many moving parts look like a big failure risk.
  • Some have wondered how Apple is going to merchandize a $5,000+ watch in the middle of a typically swarming Apple store. A clue comes from the epic New Yorker profile of Jony Ive, where they discuss a glass-topped table with bottom that can be lowered. It’s like a jeweler’s case than can be approached from 360 degrees. Maybe this was it after all:

via qz.com @ Collette in Paris

  • Watch pre-orders are rumored to be 5MM units, with mixed reporting on whether that’s for a quarter or what. What’s interesting is really that that is about 5x of the to date Android Wear sell in (shipped, not sold), more than what Rolex produces in a year, and it’s a tidy billion dollar business. Not bad for V1.0.  Of course, they might fail utterly.
  • Rumor mill of the mix between Watch, Watch Sport, Watch Edition indicates, with some basic math, that the high-end Edition could be so very high-end that it’s lower unit share will still generate the majority of Watch revenue. I suspect this revenue mix, coupled with geography mix, may make this the first Apple V1.0 product to have China as its #1 market — my assumption is that there might be more acceptance of Apple bling outside of the USA.

via AppleInsider

If the iPhone were a car, what kind would it be?

A4interior

My vote: an Audi A4. Why? High-endish design and performance but not out of reach for a large group of people in the markets they serve. Technology infused brand. Not exotic. Not a spaceship. Dieter Rams would probably approve.

The dam burst this week with rumors that Apple has jumped into the car making fray. Some of it was sparked by images of weird, sensor-encrusted minivans driving around parts of the Bay Area. There were also reports of Tesla and Apple aggressively poaching staff from each other. But the real confirmations came from the WSJ and Reuters, including reports of 100+ Apple people already working on it, with Tim Cook apparently having giving the green light after (presumably failed) M&A conversations with Elon Musk.

The other rumor is that this will be an automatically driven car (which both Google and Tesla are reportedly working on). Perhaps, but I think a robot car is a much more difficult concept for people (and regulators) to embrace than, say, an electric. Just imagine how drivers in Boston would treat one of these robot cars when it doesn’t respond well to one of their crazy ass moves. Naturally, these robot cars would do real well in this.

Of course, Apple has been in the car “business” to varying degrees for years. A small industry of connectors, chargers and mounts has grown up to make the use of phones in cars a bit more convenient (and, maybe, safe). Apple Maps is a major driving use case, as is much of Siri (which still seems odd to use in public when one has two hands available for typing). Perhaps most directly there are Apple’s various efforts at integration, from putting a physical button on the steering wheel to invoke Siri, to full blown CarPlay — essentially an Apple approved in car screen experience (example from Ferrari here).

But making an Apple Car, or an Car, is something else entirely.

It’s one thing to be the maker of a tool that’s distracting a driver. It’s another to make the 3000 lb. vehicle that’s going 80MPH. It’s one thing to make sure that iPhone batteries don’t catch fire. It’s another to crash test a car. If I go into an Apple Store with a defective iPhone, they’ll just give me a new one (because they’re selling 575 per minute per day). Impossible with a car. It’s one thing to adapt an already high design Apple Store to sell watches, and another to stock, sell and maintain cars (electric or otherwise).

For a company with infinite resources, one hundred people qualifies as a toe in the water. Reuters used the term “studying.” For fun, let’s assume that an Car in some form is full go.

One option I suppose is for Apple to do what L.L. Bean did with Subaru, a kind of trim package on an otherwise well established product. Partner with a manufacturer that can provide a chassis + body with sufficient quality/performance to match well with an Apple experience built on top. It would arguably need to be near best of breed but capable of selling very broadly. The supplier would also have to be willing to subordinate its brand to Apple’s. I don’t see a long list of candidate partners, let alone it being a compelling product.

Another option of course would be to go full on Tesla mode, offering a car that is 100% Apple. This appears to have been Tim Cook’s Plan A, and apparently Musk didn’t like the offer (note to self: buy TSLA).

While they have enough cash parked offshore to buy both BMW and Daimler, I just don’t think that Apple would bother with a company whose assets and expertise are mostly around internal combustion engines and everything needed to support that. I can’t see Car Version 1.0 being anything other than an electric vehicle.

And merging a legacy car company with Apple would make the Google:Motorola deal look trivial from a culture fit perspective. Yuck.

So what does that leave? I think Apple may have to build this one from scratch. If the iPhone theoretically maps to an Audi A4, will Car v1.0? I don’t think so. I think they’ll take a page (actually quite a few) from the Tesla playbook, and initially bury the costs of their learning curve in a very expensive category of car. Something like a BMW i8. Could they sell 5,000 Cars/year @ $150K apiece (a tidy $750MM business in year one?). Easily. The question would be whether they could build them.

 

“Sitting is the new cancer”

“A lot of doctors believe sitting is the new cancer” — Tim Cook, Apple, February 10, 2015

So much for Apple having a difficult time simplifying the basic need (not want) of the Apple Watch. Buy this or die.

Maybe Apple Watch it isn’t about providing a better experience for the .001% of iPhone users who (actually) use Strava or Endomondo.  Those are highly involved apps/services that enable the already super motivated to quantify their awesomeness. From Neil Cybart’s awesome piece about Apple spending the last several years building a wearable device with a wide moat:

The fitness industry had been one of the leading purveyors of the wearable industry. Nike exited the space in 2014, most likely in recognition of moving beyond a core competency and spending resources on not only the wrong bets, but at the wrong casino. The primary problem facing fitness companies and wearables is that fitness is niche. Appealing to fitness tracking limits the use case even further.

Fitness is a much smaller market than health. Maybe Apple Watch is about keeping the large percent of the 650MM+ people in the Apple ecosystem from becoming sedentary and fat as in the movie Wall-E. If 90% of Apple owners who don’t stand up frequently enough do so because the haptic tap tap reminder, that’s pretty cool. Also a good way of keeping customers….around.

Apple to have scales in stores to detect gold harvesting on watch returns

This is pretty crazy. Great article by 9to5Mac on Apple having to adopt jewelry store-like tactics in their retail chain to deal with a completely different product and buying experience.

Apple is also working on special weight scales for its retail stores to weigh the amount of gold in individual Apple Watch Edition variants. The scales will be used to weigh the amount of gold in Apple Watch Editions upon replacement or return. Apple wants to ensure that no gold is removed from the units prior to replacement/return as the gold material is worth a substantial amount of money on secondary markets. The fact that Apple is working on scales further indicates that there will be a notable amount of gold in the Watch and that the device will be pricey.

I don’t know anybody who would buy a gold Apple Watch (my circle doesn’t include Russian mafia, Oil barons, etc.), but rolling this out across 400+ stores will be very, very impressive (buildout, training, not disrupting the otherwise finely tuned operation, etc).