Category Archives: Tech

Professor Maslow, your Apple Watch is ready

With reviewer embargoes lifted, pre-ordering started, and thousands of people trying on the Watch every minute, the debate about the need for these devices has become more pronounced. For me, I’m much more interested in whether it actually works.

Probably the best review out there is Nilay Patel’s from The Verge. It uses the day in the life method to show the watch at work across a variety of realistic scenarios. He’s very thoughtful, and they produced a video to go along with it…well worth it.

Of course there is the usual chatter out there about feeds and speeds — and battery life — versus various alternatives, but we all know improvement will not stop, and in five years, smartwatches will be thinner, more capable and possibly dominated by use cases we don’t even know about now. Refreshingly, gadget enthusiasts don’t worry about “need” because that’s totally besides the point. Annoyingly, they aren’t satisfied with simply saying they prefer something, instead insisting on telling you why your choices suck.

“Needs” — beyond, you know, Maslow’s physiological, safety and security categories — are  pretty damn subjective and relative, and I find it amusing that some people seem to be taking a strong stand with this watch.

Take the Incremental convenience provided by Watch: you no longer need to fish your phone out of your purse or pocket to get something done, or to triage a notification.

Yes, it’s only a couple of seconds saved from a task that you could do better on the phone. Yes, you are a pathetic dopamine addict who can’t possibly miss the latest cat video or selfie from someone who matters to you at the moment.

But so what? Did putting a piece of paper between each cheese slice hurt someone? What about the cordless phone? Or automatic buttons in cars? What about the $20,000 for an extra 100 horsepower in a car? Our culture is full of stuff that isn’t needed to survive..but is better.

Per above, my larger concern with the watch is user experience. I don’t mind buying toys, but I want them to actually work. If Apple can’t figure out how to solve the latency of loading data from the iPhone on which it’s dependent, then I’ll probably skip this version altogether. Is it non-optimized code, or does it have to do with the (presumably un-upgradeable) S1 chip?

Apple Watch Bits: fighting the Phone Zombies

Leave it to Apple to build a fat business solving a problem that it played the most prominent role in creating: the now common tic of relentlessly checking one’s phone.

It’s so rampant in my family (see picture), that at times I call the kids “Phone Zombies” — eliciting the desired protests, and briefly halting the behavior.

phonezombies2

Phone Zombies not being in the moment

I do think this is related to the purpose of Watch. Is Apple trying to drive its products into the few moments of waking life that it doesn’t already serve? Or is it intentionally cannibalizing its own customer connection on the iPhone screen in favor of easier, less disruptive Watch glances and touches? Is the Watch a new category, or is it a more convenient and less socially disruptive accessory of the iPhone? I think it’s more of the latter, even though it will be an incremental, multi-billion dollar business.

It’s always been rude to surreptiously check one’s watch in the middle of a conversation: most often you can’t hide it, and at minimum it signals that one’s not paying full attention. At worst it signals boredom. Watch will not solve this issue. But it might bring the zombies back into a more mindful state.

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The 2nd Watch launch event the other day held few surprises. Most analysts had already dissected the tech, the likely use cases, and especially the pricing. @Gruber in particular got pretty close, and I think convinced a lot of people ahead of time that a $10K+ version was not outlandish in the luxury watch / fashion business.

A few notable bits from the event, and the commentary that followed on the web:

Focusing on style

Most people probably thought it a throw away line, but Tim Cook offered something that I think is the primary driver of much of Apple’s effort around design and fashion:

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we’ve designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and different preferences.”

Geeks are a tiny minority, and most people don’t like wearing hideous things. That’s even more true of geeks that are women. The Android Wear collective will struggle to break into the mainstream.

Various things about the device

Memory: what’s notable is the total lack of focus on specs. There’s some memory aboard, but it’s limited. Nobody knows exactly how 8GB of memory translates into Watch apps or songs songs stored, and frankly few people care right now. Anybody comparing speeds and feeds of the Watch to Android Wear are entirely missing the point.

Metal: Probably fluffery, but Apple made three videos to explain the superiority of their metals. Jony Ive narrated manufacturing porn. Stainless steel that’s 80% harder than what? My fridge door? Or Rolex’s surgical steel?

Water resistance: it turns out that it’s IPX7 certified..which means you can submerge it in your bathtub for 30 minutes. All those people who were insisting a smartwatch must be shower proof should be ok now.

Battery: if you were expecting Apple to ship a watch that wouldn’t, with normal usage, get you through a day, then, well, no one can help you. It turns out you’ll be fine if you sleep 6 hours or more every night and plug it in during that time (as I do with my iPhone). I don’t sleep with a watch on, but some people do, and so maybe this is a show stopper for them. Also, Apple announced that the battery would be replaceable, pushing off obsolescence just a bit. (I still wonder whether the chip — and even the sensor pack — might be upgradeable).

Weight: depending on the type of metal and case size, the Watch weights cases span 25 to 69 grams, with the aluminum 38mm Sport being the lightest, and Edition the heaviest. I have a stainless steel mechanical watch, and the case weighs roughly 50 grams…just like the Watch in stainless. A Polar exercise watch, including the integrated strap, weighs 56grams.  I’m guessing a little, but I think the Watch Sport will be on the light side for a fitness watch given what it does (if you don’t count the iPhone you need to schlep along). I hope no one is planning on running with a gold watch for other reasons.

Pricing: tons of coverage out there of the various permutations, and no need to go over it in depth here. Suffice it to say that if you want to try the Version 1.0 Watch (which will relentlessly get thinner, lighter and more capable over the next couple of years) then you’re looking at $349. That is what I think I’ll do.

For per capita startups, Seattle no better than Wilmington DE

Ok, so that’s a bit alarmist, but according to a study by The Brookings Institution, that’s a fact.

Apparently, Seattle has only 3x the average US First Fundings per Capita. As a comparison, San Francisco down to Redwood City is nearly 25x. (OK, maybe that’s gerrymandering the results a bit to fit the thesis — should Everett really have been included in the Seattle-area metric?) And then of course there’s the problem of much smaller denominators:

Via Brookings Institution

 

I’ve been impressed with the many efforts to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in Puget Sound (Techstars, AoA, @Geekwire, Madrona Mentors, a host of Super Angels, etc.), and there’s no shortage of discussion of the perceived startup lag vs. Silicon Valley.

I’m not sure what’s more shocking, that SF is 8x+ Seattle, or that we’re so much closer to places like Charleston.

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 Watch Bits 1.15.2015

The design and developer community is beginning to really dig in as we get closer to Apple Watch market release, and cool concepts are being floated. A lot of people were skeptical about the watch around its launch, not really understanding its utility differentiation from the phone and tablet form factors.  But I think Apple was right to trust the development community to come up with far more creative ideas than Apple could itself.  I’ll try to highlight some cool things as I see them:

A calendar watch concept by Alex Deruette. In line with whole theme of information glance-ability, this design does one thing very well…it is optimized for the use case of needing to quickly figure out when you have a schedule gap.  Simple, useful.

AppleWatchCalendar

 

His idea is to provide meeting detail in the swipe screens.

Research on founders I’d like to see

There was an article in HBR today debunking the (apparently) commonly held belief that Founders are college dropouts from STEM majors in close proximity to a Stanford-like institution. I don’t think anyone in the startup community really believes that, but perhaps that’s the mainstream view.  Anyway, that successful entrepreneurs aren’t age-bound isn’t news:

Against all stereotypes, we found that the typical successful founder was 40 years old, with at least 6-10 years of industry experience. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are more than 50 as under 25.

There are a lot of potential reasons for this: judgement; well-developed talent networks; domain expertise; broad customer and partner networks; previously built up wealth; managerial skill for when the business grows to more than a handful of people; stability in life outside of work, etc.  Being more experienced is incredibly valuable to the Entrepreneur, provided s/he is open to new ideas and willing to work hard.

But some Founder research I would like to see:

  • What about repeat founders? Does going through the goat rodeo before help?
  • Do older founders have a different relationship with investors?
  • Does the founding CEO replacement rate differ depending on age?
  • Do younger founders, who are closer in age to early adopters, have a better product intuition, and are able to get to product:market fit faster?
  • I don’t know how you’d measure it, but I do wonder whether younger founders are more disruptive in their thinking because they’re less skeptical.
  • Is the whole notion of a singular Founder really appropriate anyway? Is it more about the composite skills/talent of the founding Team.