Sunday, September 14, 2014

Listen (Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 4)

For me, Listen is the most meaningful ep of the season so far. The idea that it's not about The Silence or some other new threat but that the Doctor's vulnerability is the actual antagonist is the sort of introspective and emotional conflict we need to understand the new visage of this character.

It's worth noting that not unlike Catherine Tate's depiction of the companion Donna-- one is never confused about the relationship between this Doctor and Clara. Amy, Martha, and Rose all entertained some aspect of a crush; which was often a source for comic relief (tragic and unrequited love in Martha's case really). These ladies; Donna and Clara; manage to offer extreme comedic circumstances that are free from sexual tension during parts of the story that focus on exploring not the untold secrets of the external universe, but those untold secrets of the internal continuum that is the Doctor's character.

The only question is-- what was the thing sitting on Danny's bed?!

Many of us are wondering about that. I've always though it important for storytellers to leave audiences with questions but Doctor Who is unusually good at providing answers that leave us far from feeling spoon-fed so there may yet be follow-up on that point. The thing that mattered the most about that bed-sheet covered carrier was how Moffat used an actor under a blanket-- a symbol of childhood emotional security-- to showcase extreme fear in a being that has in the past stood up to so much more obviously frightening things.

Recall that Moffat gave us the Weeping Angels and The Silence. This invisible monster could have been another one of those baddies - which we would have no doubt welcomed - but instead it was not an "enemy" but his constant companion-- Fear. This sort of revelation seems only deliverable by the Impossible Girl. Truly fantastic.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday afternoon

I sit and stare at you Maple Tree, 
as your shiny leaves rustle
in the late summer wind.

While they bob and weave
In the easterly breeze,
I sip on a bitter local ale
and gaze past your dance
As the Sun bathes these noble Flat Irons
In it's serene late afternoon display


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where Tech & Tastes Diverge

If there's one site I really enjoy, it's The Wirecutter.

Usually.

What makes them different from other technology sites is the way they use the "meta review" (A review of a product with significant findings based on other people's opinions of a product) to determine what the "best" item of a particular segment is.

The idea's great- if you're looking for something simple, The Wirecutter can save you a lot of time and energy researching one item or another. But every once in a while it's clear that the people that they're working with to write the reviews of products are out of touch with my opinions (happens all the time) along with the opinions of many of my colleagues.

Such is the case with the Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker. For The Wirecutter, Garmin's new fitness tracker unseated the Fitbit One device they once called "The Best Fitness Tracker" because :

"There’s also a “move bar” that flashes red anytime you’ve been inactive for too long—a feature we, along with other reviewers, found highly motivating. It is currently the only fitness tracker that combines these features with the added benefit of never having to be hooked up to charger. Unfortunately, since the Vivofit relies on disposable battery power, the display is not LED or backlit for low-light conditions and the current mobile app/desktop software is still pretty basic. But we have four words for you: one-year battery life."

This is a description of a device that I would never want. We'll go from the bottom up--

1. Battery Life. A year is great. But having to:
  • Go to a jeweler to get the device re-sealed after you've replaced the battery isn't worth it.
  • Find the exact-right battery to replace the current battery with isn't worth it. 
  • Pay a high premium for that via Garmin's site (or anyone else's site since they know it's the only batt to work with the device) isn't worth it. 
Where those hassles are concerned I'm OK with needing to charge my Fitbit One every now and then. Especially because I don't think the fact that I have to charge the device every two weeks makes it a hassle.

2. Software. I don't want basic software. Fitbit gives me an excellent desktop (Web) and mobile (app) experience. It's robust, functional and far from basic. In a world where Google Fit and Apple's Health Kit API suite and Health app are showing the mainstream just how sophisticated wellness software can be, taking a step back on the software side doesn't make great sense. Ecosystem is everything and Fitbit's built a pretty good one. On the other hand, Garmin's disappointed. Garmin should have been a leader in this space and on both the software and hardware side they've been consistently behind. Their track record doesn't give me a lot of confidence that they'll ever get the software right.

3. The display is not LED or backlit for low-light conditions. Huh? How can a technology enthusiast, who's bent on using the wrist-based wearable device want to lose ground in this category. The lack of low-light access means that yes, you might be able to wear it inside of a movie theatre without bothering someone else, but other than that, I'd like to see my data anytime I want.* 

4. The move-bar seems interesting. But honestly, if I'm locked in thought or otherwise focused elsewhere, a vibration would be best. Fitbit doesn't provide a random vibration but others do. A flashing bar? That's just not good advice!

Now the Wirecutter does include an honorable mention for the Fitbit One, but given the hyperbole about the Vivofit being "he Best" from The Wirecutter, a brand that's so quickly become esteemed, I'm left confused. It's either the dreaded Clickbait or just bad advice. Either way, I'm left feeling disappointed. Especially since this Garmin device, at $130 is nearly a third more expensive than the well thought out Fitbit One's $100 price.

When I joined The Drilldown it was because Andy offered me an opportunity to get to the truth of the matter about the day's tech. And since its launch, I'd always thought that The Wirecutter was on the same mission. Now I'm forced to re-think that. It's a little like losing a friend.



*One might remark "Well, the Jawbone UP doesn't include any display!." The difference here is that Jawbone made a distinct stylistic choice, paired to a fantastic piece of mobile software. If I'm going to wear something with the visual heft of providing me (and apparently anyone else next to me) with a readout, then it better provide that information on request - regardless of whatever light I'm in.

**A version of this article appeared on The Drill Down on June 25th, 2014.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bill Wyman and Michael Jackson, the Pale King

On the eve of his most awesome final tour, we were all shocked with the way the King of Pop slipped away from us in the night. A good friend gave me a hard copy of Bill Wyman's powerful summary of Jackson's rise and fall. That means something because these days it's rare thing to receive more than a link from someone sharing content.

Wyman links Jackson's music with our struggle as Americans to get along and to fit in-- and how the King of Pop both dealt with and represented that struggle. If Jackson's life impacted yours at all, it's available at The New Yorker's website and well worth the read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You on Woo Woo?!

Adobe's recent ad is hilarious.


It does a great job of satirizing the marketing panic that occurs when conventional and digital product owners chase the always shifting online populace, but it also does something else-- it supports Bevel creator Tristan Walker's recent statement that the African American "community is the most culturally influential demographic in the world."

When the corporate leader declares "we need an ethnically ambiguous Woo Woo mascot!" he does so as an acknowledgement that he wants to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

While it's just a silly commercial, in this regard, it unfortunately mirrors all too well some of the places I've worked at. It begs the question-- Why not appeal to the same wide audience when it comes to hiring practices? Build a team that represents your target demo rather than picking up a tip while eaves-dropping on an elevator conversation or acting on unverifyable outside data. Bringing together diverse opinions nad life experience also allows companies to act on a key piece of advice from the most powerful corporate entity in the world: "[to]build the products that [they] want to use [them]selves."

It's not easy, but it's often worth it. Diversity of social class, of sexual orientation, culture,race, etc. could expose valuable opportunities that your competitors, stuck in the mud of 'sameness' could pass by.

Think about it.


Monday, June 23, 2014

"The Community Deserves Better"

Tristan Walker on Bevel:

"When you consider that the community is the most culturally influential demographic in the world, the community just deserves better."

Bevel is the first brand out of Walker & Company. It's a shaving system designed to allow men of colour-- men with curlier, coarser hair, to be able to shave without suffering from razor bumps and other issues associated with products made primarily to serve other hair and skin types.

Walker formerly lead business development at Foursquare. From tech to grooming? Weird right? Not when you consider that his Bevel brand  is a technology hardware company that solves a problem for about 20 million people in the US with a combination of durable and consumable goods.  Now that's a solid user-base-- especially at around Father's Day or Christmas Time.

The company philosophy is focused on building brands that solve problems like razor burn, vitamin D deficiency, hyper-pigmentation, and the age-old problem of natural-hair transitioning.

We look forward to it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Elon Musk De-Escalates the Patent Wars

I don't think of Elon Musk as Iron Man.*

I do, however, believe he's a hero for geeks everywhere. In the spirit of All Your Base Are Belong To Us, he's announced that Tesla's patents will be made available in an effort to get other EV organizations... on a roll so to speak.

It's understanding the difference between a patent and quality engineering. And it's great.

All Our Patent Are Belong to You


*Iron Man's got daddy issues and designs weapons of mass destruction from his basement.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 Looks Quite Compelling.

Engadet ran a story for the recently announce Surface Pro 3 tablet from MS. The following quote shows the compelling nature of the new device:

In addition to being thin, the Surface Pro 3 is relatively lightweight, at 800g (1.76 pounds). And let's be clear: When we say "relatively," we mean compared to a 12-inch laptop, or even a 13-inch Ultrabook; those would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of three pounds. Even the 11-inch MacBook Air comes in at 2.4 pounds. Of course, the Surface Pro 3 is still heavy next to an iPad Air or Samsung Galaxy Tab. But the Surface Pro was never supposed to compete with those kinds of tablets anyway. No, this is, and always was, a laptop killer.
(emphasis added)

The idea that this device can run all of your Windows apps, gives the user access to the file system and is lighter than a Macbook Air 11 has a 12" screen is pretty impressive. What does 1.76lbs feel like? Probably like an iPad 3/3rd Generation (1.44lb) with a case around it.

Here's the video.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How the EU wants Google to Edit "Irrelevant" History

Google, the EU and history.


Today the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that if someone searches your name, and the results that show up list information that you don’t care to be remembered, you can request that the search engine company posting those results, remove those links or otherwise remove the data.


The Ruling that could change the face of the Web
The Court ruled this way using the principle of “right to be forgotten.” RTBF, as we’ll call it, means that when it comes to search engine results about individual people (in this case, EU citizens), those people now have the ability to request that certain bits of information about their lives be removed since they believe those results are no longer relevant.


How did we get here?
The BBC has an in-depth recount but here's the gist: Sixteen years ago a Spaniard fell into some debt. In order to get out from under the burden, an auction was put on for one of his properties. A local newspaper wrote a story about the affair and, in the course of the last decade-and-a-half, all of that publication’s information ended up on the Web. When you search for the Spaniard’s name, information about the sale of his property to pay his debts appears prominently on Google’s results page.


The Spaniard is not happy about this. He took Google to court in the EU stating that these facts from sixteen years ago were getting in the way of his reputation, which in turn, affected his ability to do business. The high court agreed by saying:


So far as concerns, next, the extent of the responsibility of the operator of the search engine, the Court holds that the operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.


Even if the web page that holds the information that the person doesn't want made available to the world has put that information up legally, the person in question can effectively stop any other person from finding the information by removing it from a search engine.


The Problem with removing Search Engine Results
The Internet, and the World Wide Web you’re using to read this post, is almost incomprehensible without the utility of a search engine. Articles, pages and documents strafe across the Internet like stars across the night sky and without a search engine as your sexton, there’s very little chance anyone can navigate it effectively.


The implications are vast. In the last few weeks search engines like Google have been accessed by millions of people to understand the controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers and Donald Sterling. The team’s never won a championship but, now based on the controversy, The LA Clippers are trending higher than any other basketball team currently searched for on Google. It moved up 17 spots in the last month.


Take a quick look at the info beside each team. Three of these four have been top ten searched terms for over 100 months. The Clippers, the number one searched team, has been in the top ten for a lot less time.

But Google’s not alone. Under the EU ruling, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube would all be considered search engines and would all have to remove links to content if someone like Mr. Sterling (or his considerable legal team) were to approach them and say that he believed the information was irrelevant or hurtful to his reputation so that Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube would all have to remove it.


  • If your friend told you to search for Sterling’s quotes on Google the information wouldn’t be there
  • If your friend sent you a link via Twitter or Facebook, those sites would have to remove the link.
  • If your friend had a video of someone like Sterling or Cliven Bundy on YouTube, the video service would have to remove any search links, they’d also have to remove the actual video.


Since Sterling has long owned the LA Clippers, the EU might find that he falls into what they referred to as a Public Figure, so perhaps this data would remain. But Cliven Bundy wasn’t a public figure until very recently, which means that he may have requested that YouTube take down this video and others like it on grounds that he found it irrelevant. And if they hadn't he could have sued because the following video could have hurt his reputation.




Any way you slice it, recent scandals, controversies and revelations may have all been hidden from public view if these characters had this new protection in place and argued that they were indeed private citizens.



Complying with these laws drives up costs for online businesses
Building the tools to comply with these new requirements isn't impossible, but it's certainly going to put a substantial drag on the resources of both up and coming and established tech companies. Facebook and YouTube allow users to delete posts, and they also have reasonably robust mechanisms for complaining about other people's posts whether they be offensive or infringe upon an existing copyright. 

Google's system of organizing and ranking information that it doesn't control also poses considerable challenges.

  • How do they verify that the request is coming from the actual person involved?
  • How do they determine if that person is a private citizen or in public life?
  • How do they determine whether or not the data their linking to is irrelevant?


The Burden of managing different masters
We also need to ask how all of these guys manage the needs of the EU with those of the US and other nations? If the Spaniard requests that info be taken down, does it disappear off of Google searches from the US as well?

Twitter's in a particularly interesting situation. Like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter's a content network. Twitter's secondary role is that of a real-time search engine. The user-generated content on Twitter moves so fast and is so robust that the United States Library of Congress, as part of their chartered mission to capture "America's Story," started downloading Twitter's tweets in April of 2010 and has no intention of letting that history be destroyed.

By telling search engines and other online services to remove search results upon request, the Eu is opening the door to allowing vast amounts of data-- of history no less, to fall into obscurity; swallowed up and forever lost like the tomes of another library -- the one at Alexandria.

Similar Laws are about to go live in the US
It may be that Google and others work to adopt one standard across the world. After all, last Fall (2013) California passed an RTBF law stating that its minor population had the right request that any website they posted to had to pull down any posted content at their request. The law is designed to help youngsters get past any troubling images or opinions they may have posted whilst still in the grasp of teen angst. The unintended consequences however, begin to mirror the intentions of the recent EU ruling.

With this recent EU ruling flying in the face of Google's stated mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," and this recent ruling flying in the face of that, there's no doubt that Google's global legal team is burning the midnight oil to up with an effective defense. After all, a little thing like this isn't going to keep Google from continuing to use the power of transparent data to change the world.



Note: A version of this article appeared on The Drill Down website on May 14th, 2014. The Podcast covered the topic in detail during episode 326


Monday, May 19, 2014

iKettle - Beautiful & Pricey. And Pricey.




Sorry-- despite the name, it's not made by Apple. Still, as a geeky gadget dude, I like when "normal" items get the connectivity/app treatment.

Some call it "the smartification of things" or the "the Internet of Things," and while it'll be the norm in a decade or so, it's pretty niche today, which often adds way too much to the price for most items.

There's no guarantee that the connectivity solutions applied to these gadgets are going to work well or even be practical, but hey-- some people like rom-coms-- devices like these are my guilty pleasure. 


With its wifi components hidden inside its stainless steel body and classically simple industrial design, the iKettle isn't just attractive, solves a particularly interesting problem for me. I very much like the idea of timing tea with breakfast from a few taps of my phone in bed, or just picking up my device and telling the kettle to get itself ready for some green or black tea (it's got settings for a couple of types.

It's back in stock. And it's tempting. The thing is, that like all of its smart, connected cousins, the iKettle should ship with two things:


  1. A stated promise of firmware and other soft updates. There are a lot of things with wifi, but ha;f the promise of a connective device is that in the event of a useful innovation or security problem, a patch is on its way.
  2. An API in addition to its app so tinkering developers can integrate it with other services. The more people tinker, the more they'll talk and integrate its functionality with other, companion products.

    Besides, with all these devices needing their own apps, smartphone home screens start looking like this, which is not fun.



APIs are part of the solution. Like the "macro" or activity focused line of Harmony remotes, Boulder's own Revolv does a good job of consolidating various systems into a simple interface. But that's a topic for a different entry. 

In the meantime, I'll wait for some more iKettle reviews before I plunk down $170.00 for the appliance. Even if it's not connected, one of these alongside my phone's timer app isn't exactly an awful solution.


Toyota, Recalls & Repercussions.

The BBC in Feb 2010 after the slew of recalls by Toyota:

"Toyota has become too big and distant from its customers," he said in his autumn speech, castigating the firm's executives for their "undisciplined pursuit of more" and for their arrogance, which he referred to as "hubris born of success".

" Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) set a target of selling an unprecedented 10 million vehicles in 2014 after leading General Motors Co. (GM) and Volkswagen AG (VOW) in global auto deliveries for a second straight year."


GM's got a chance. They need to get everything out in the open, market their sorrow, and then come back with a vehicle that reminds the public of why we bailed them out.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Solar Roadways Seems Crazy & Amazing

I hopped on indiegogo this morning to track down a fitness device and happened upon a tech startup called Solar Roadways.

These guys out of Idaho literally want to "pave" the road with hexagonal segments of glass that drink in the sun's energy.


Glass? On the road? What about snow/ice, wind/cold, or weight from huge trucks?

What about lane paint?

Apparently, they have that all figured out. Here are some highlights about the modular system of glass tiles:

  • Designed for "roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, playgrounds... literally any surface under the sun"
  • Built in heating elements keep it snow/ice free
  • Captures and sends water wherever you want via cable 'corridors.'
  • Hexagonal honeycomb of tiles withstands trucks up to 250,000 lbs
  • Built in LEDs replace the need for road paint






Aside from the solar energy the road takes in daily, the roadway can be configured to work in conjunction with specialized electronic vehicles ("EVs") to charge them via induction as they drive-- which would be a great supplement to Tesla's growing network of charging stations. The same principles make these tiles good for parking lots that charge up EV or plugin hybrids vehicles. Imagine a municipality with a small fleet of vehicles out on the road all day charging up at night with a continually diminishing cost to the taxpayer? Again-- crazy. So crazy it just might work. That just covers the basics. For more check out their FAQs.

What about the cost? I haven't doe any independent research but according to their numbers, a nationwide system of these tiles could produce enough energy to pay for the system over time.

They're on Indiegogo but Solar Roadways is not new to the tech scene. They've won prizes and garnered support from competitions and companies the likes of GE, Google and others. 

Didn't the President say something about Green Jobs a few years ago? Aren't all the experts complaining about "our crumbling infrastructure?" And can you imagine how great it'd be for maintaining Internet connectivity across the country? When I come across an invention like this I wish there were some channel that normal people could use to raise the awareness of these innovations to our elected leadership-- like a Quirky system for each state's legislative agenda. But that's another topic entirely.

Back to Solar Roadways. The perks you can get for supporting them go from tote bags to owning a tile. That disappointed me a little. I'd hoped for a driveway installation or maybe a name mention on some segment of road they're testing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Forrester: Mobile e-commerce is about to DOUBLE

We've known for some time that Mobile was the future. Today the WSJ brought us insights from Forrester's most recent report on mobile, and what it means for our wallets.

Highlights include:
  • Overall spending on mobile devices is numbered at $294 billion, or 9% of retail sales today 
  • Forrester expects it to hit $414 billion in 2018. 
  • Larger devices will make it easier to shop and help people buy more, which means that they're here to stay.
  • Retail locations are not going away.
That last bullet is the most important one. There's been some talk about how showrooming could cause the American retail experience will fall by the wayside. According to Forrester, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

The fact is that is that the smart phone isn't going away and no one's ever going to shame the user from pulling it out in a store. Retailers can take a page from traditional TV's page and focus on building a second screen experience for their patrons. Building that experience is tricky, but make no mistake-- adding the "smart factor" to your traditionally offline experience goes a long way. After all, when you get down to it, that's exactly what the sports wearables trend is.

But that's the stuff of a different post. To learn more about mobile's rising impact on retail and ecommerce, you can purchase the full report on Forrester's site.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Apple buys Beats for $3.2 billion dollars

Yesterday the Financial Times broke news that Apple, Inc, was in talks to acquire Beats Electronics, AKA Beats by Dre ("Beats"), a trendy music brand that's recently added streaming music software to its high-end listening hardware business. Forbes says that a person close to the matter, Dr. Dre confirmed it this morning.

From a technophile perspective, Beats has never really been that exciting. The over-the-ear headphones that they're widely known for are not cheap and the reviews say they only excel with certain types of music. As a marketer, however, I find the reach and penetration of Beats pretty fascinating. With their flagship headphones pulling users away from the convenience of earbuds and branding that's bold and powerful, Beats has managed to revive "Bling" from the 90s rap scene that its namesake (rapper Dr. Dre helped to create) and bring it into the 21st century-- leveraging  the same tween and teen demographic that used to save their lunch money for fancy sneakers and Guess jeans.

Beats are trendy and attractive to the same youngsters that fell in love with the iPod a decade ago


As stated earlier, Beats also recently launched a streaming music service called Beats Music. Like Spotify, Rdio and others, Beats lets you find tracks, make playlists and download music to your device for offline use (subway and airplane rides) for about $10.00 per month. So what makes the Beats Music service stand out? As WSJ tech columnist Joanna Stern points out, Beats Music has an innovative way of recommending new music to users. When you have the time check out her video on the subject, it's pretty fantastic.

What Beats lacks most notably however, is deep integration with the current top social media networks-- functionality that's key to rival services like Spotify and Google Music.

Apple's music experience was at the core of its early 21st century growth
So what does Apple want with beats for $3.2 billion dollars? The Beats Music streaming service. Music has a long been one of the keys to Apple's success. Remember that Apple's domination of mobile space began not in 2007 with the debut of the iPhone, but with the launch of iPod and the iTunes music store that quickly followed - before mobile was "Mobile." iPod sales, driven on the promise that users could hold 1,000 songs in their pocket, are a huge part of Apple's history. The iPod, along with the late 90s iMac and iBook helped Apple emerge from the realm of "geeks with expensive computers" to become a trendy, fun, high-end music brand much like Beats has become today.

The iPod was announced in September 2001 and launched in late October. Shares soared. Apple was in people's pockets thanks to their music device (courtesy Yahoo Finance)

But while the iPod was popular it was also, compared to rival devices, expensive. What Apple had going for it, however, was the music. With the iTunes software users had an easy way to get their CD collections into their pockets. And once the iTunes Music Store launched in 2003, users engaged in a never-before-available, completely unrivaled music discovery and purchasing experience. With iTunes you could find nearly any song you wanted, in good quality (compared to so many pirated music titles) free from virus or other scary risks. The music moved the iPod and the iPod moved Apple.

Apple introduced the iTunes Store in Spring of 2003. The ease at which users could download and listen to music sold more iPods. Mobile digital music became the standard (courtesy Yahoo Finance)
In fact, in 2006 a huge draw for the adoption of the iPhone was the idea that your iPod could make phone calls. Now you only needed one device in your pocket. The iPod culture moved the iPhone devices and once again music moved Apple forward. To repeat: music was integral to creating the Apple of today.

That was seven years ago.

In today's digital music landscape, iTunes is considered something of a dinosaur. Why?
  • The iTunes App: The desktop interface is clunky, and the features of the Music app on the phone are largely tied to purchases. 
  • iTunes Ping: Apple tried to add social media integration into the iTunes in fall 2010 via service they called iTunes Ping. It fell flat and Apple shut it down in fall 2012. 
  • iTunes Match: A service that allowed users to have access to streaming versions of the music in their iTunes library for $25 launched in late 2011 to mixed reviews. 
  • iTunes Radio: The service debuted with iOS 7 in 2013 behaves much like Pandora's music service. Streaming music with limted control and no playlist functionality. The Pandora functionality's been around on the iPhone since 2008.
Beats Music may be the solution to Apple's music problem.
Beats Music offers that missing premium digital music piece that Apple's iTunes has largely missed out on. Beats' "Sentence" music discovery system is a uniquely powerful way for users to set up playlists-- quickly. Unlike Spotify and Google Music, Beats Music is not heavily focused on social media integration, which means that Apple doesn't need to venture into that territory until they feel ready. 

Beats is also easy to tie directly to Apple's bottom line. Unlike so many other billion+ dollar acquisitions in the tech sector in the last 18 months, Beats Music is a service with a revenue model that works. In an age where users are moving to Netflix-like streaming music subscriptions rather than purchasing music outright, Apple can make revenue on both sides of that business.

The fact is that Apple's never claimed to make huge profits on the iTunes or App stores. But those services drive sales for their hardy, sleek hardware, which is where the vast majority of their revenue comes from. With the iPhone becoming an ever-larger piece of their revenue pie (seeking alpha link), integrating a top end service like Beats Music into the upcoming iOS 8 is sure to move more devices, which is what Apple wants.


The Bonus? Beats can also bring back the youngsters. Walk into any AT&T or Verizon store and you'll see all sorts of new smartphones with the latest bells and whistles available for free. While one can get an iPhone 4S for about $1 today with a new contract, the device debuted in 2011 and the newer Apple phones begin at $100.00. Tween, teen and family budgets drive young users toward free Galaxy S and HTC devices. With Beats Music built into iPhone, young users will be forced to think twice because the full Beats experience would only be available on iPhone.

The bottom line
So why buy Beats for $3.2 billion? Because premium music streaming is a challenge that Apple needs to have solved in a compelling manner if they want to move devices in 2014 and beyond.

A version of this article appeared on The Drill Down



Yesterday the Financial Times broke news that Apple, Inc, was in talks to acquire Beats Electronics, AKA Beats by Dre (“Beats”), a trendy music brand that’s recently added streaming music software to its high-end listening hardware business. Forbes says that a person close to the matter, Dr. Dre confirmed it this morning.
From a technophile perspective, Beats has never really been that exciting. The over-the-ear headphones that they’re widely known for are not cheap and the reviews say they only excel with certain types of music. As a marketer, however, I find the reach and penetration of Beats pretty fascinating. With their flagship headphones pulling users away from the convenience of earbuds and branding that’s bold and powerful, Beats has managed to revive “Bling” from the 90s rap scene that its namesake (rapper Dr. Dre helped to create) and bring it into the 21st century– leveraging the same tween and teen demographic that used to save their lunch money for fancy sneakers and Guess jeans.
Beats Studio
Beats are trendy and attractive to the same youngsters that fell in love with the iPod a decade ago
As stated earlier, Beats also recently launched a streaming music service called Beats Music. Like Spotify, Rdio and others, Beats lets you find tracks, make playlists and download music to your device for offline use (subway and airplane rides) for about $10.00 per month. So what makes the Beats Music service stand out? As WSJ tech columnist Joanna Stern points out, Beats Music has an innovative way of recommending new music to users. When you have the time check out her video on the subject, it’s pretty fantastic.
What Beats lacks most notably however, is deep integration with the current top social media networks– functionality that’s key to rival services like Spotify and Google Music.

Apple’s music experience was at the core of its early 21st century growth

So what does Apple want with beats for $3.2 billion dollars? The Beats Music streaming service. Music has a long been one of the keys to Apple’s success. Remember that Apple’s domination of mobile space began not in 2007 with the debut of the iPhone, but with the launch of iPod and the iTunes music store that quickly followed – before mobile was “Mobile.” iPod sales, driven on the promise that users could hold 1,000 songs in their pocket, are a huge part of Apple’s history. The iPod, along with the late 90s iMac and iBook helped Apple emerge from the realm of “geeks with expensive computers” to become atrendy, fun, high-end music brand much like Beats has become today.
AAPL stock during iPod launch
The iPod was announced in September 2001 and launched in late October. Shares soared. Apple was in people’s pockets thanks to their music device (courtesy Yahoo Finance)
But while the iPod was popular it was also, compared to rival devices, expensive. What Apple had going for it, however, was the music. With the iTunes software users had an easy way to get their CD collections into their pockets. And once the iTunes Music Store launched in 2003, users engaged in a never-before-available, completely unrivaled music discovery and purchasing experience. With iTunes you could find nearly any song you wanted, in good quality (compared to so many pirated music titles) free from virus or other scary risks. The music moved the iPod and the iPod moved Apple.
AAPL stock during iTunes Store launch
Apple introduced the iTunes Store in Spring of 2003. The ease at which users could download and listen to music sold more iPods. Mobile digital music became the standard (courtesy Yahoo Finance)
In fact, in 2006 a huge draw for the adoption of the iPhone was the idea that your iPod could make phone calls. Now you only needed one device in your pocket. The iPod culture moved the iPhone devices and once again music moved Apple forward. To repeat: music was integral to creating the Apple of today.
That was seven years ago.

In today’s digital music landscape, iTunes is considered something of a dinosaur. Why?

  • The iTunes App: The desktop interface is clunky, and the features of the Music app on the phone are largely tied to purchases.
  • iTunes Ping: Apple tried to add social media integration into the iTunes in fall 2010 via service they called iTunes Ping. It fell flat and Apple shut it down in fall 2012.
  • iTunes Match: A service that allowed users to have access to streaming versions of the music in their iTunes library for $25 launched in late 2011 to mixed reviews.
  • iTunes Radio: The service debuted with iOS 7 in 2013 behaves much like Pandora’s music service. Streaming music with limted control and no playlist functionality. The Pandora functionality’s been around on the iPhone since 2008.

Beats Music may be the solution to Apple’s music problem.

Beats Music offers that missing premium digital music piece that Apple’s iTunes has largely missed out on. Beats’ “Sentence” music discovery system is a uniquely powerful way for users to set up playlists– quickly. Unlike Spotify and Google Music, Beats Music is not heavily focused on social media integration, which means that Apple doesn’t need to venture into that territory until they feel ready.

Beats is also easy to tie directly to Apple’s bottom line.

Unlike so many other billion+ dollar acquisitions in the tech sector in the last 18 months, Beats Music is a service with a revenue model that works. In an age where users are moving to Netflix-like streaming music subscriptions rather than purchasing music outright, Apple can make revenue on both sides of that business. With 24 million users, Spotify is one of the most popular services to compete with Beats Music. The trouble is that as a case study, Spotify has shown that the streaming music model takes a long time to scale and others claim it may never be profitable on its own. Apple’s $150+ billion pile of cash could, along with embedding the software into its device’s default music player, solve that problem.
The fact is that Apple’s never claimed to make huge profits on the iTunes or App stores. But those services drive sales for their hardy, sleek, tested hardware, which is where the vast majority of Apple’s revenue comes from. With the iPhone becoming an ever-larger piece of their revenue pie, integrating a top end service like Beats Music into the upcoming iOS 8 is sure to move more devices, which is what Apple wants.
The Bonus? Beats can also bring back the youngsters. Walk into any AT&T or Verizon store and you’ll see all sorts of new smartphones with the latest bells and whistles available for free. While one can get an iPhone 4S for about $1 today with a new contract, the device debuted in 2011 and the newer Apple phones begin at $100.00. Tween, teen and family budgets drive young users toward free Galaxy S and HTC devices. With Beats Music built into iPhone, young users will be forced to think twice because the full Beats experience would only be available on iPhone.

The bottom line

So why buy Beats for $3.2 billion? Because premium music streaming is a challenge that Apple needs to have solved in a compelling manner if they want to move devices in 2014 and beyond.
This article orginally appeared on The Drilldown podcast.
Devindra Hardawar consulted on this article.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Garmin Announces Wrist-Based Activity Tracker

Garmin's got a new Forerunner! Frankly, it's about time.

The Forerunner 15 is wearable sport watch with a lot of functionality:

  •  GPS
  • Calorie tracking
  • Distance Tracking
  • Heart Rate monitor
With 5 weeks of watch-only battery life, and 8 hours of GPS tracking, it's a  device made for the marathon of every day life.

It also allows for a 'foot-pod' accessory that allows users to track their fitness when running indoors. Given the recent 2013/2014 winter, Garmin understands that a lot of workouts don't require GPS.

There are some things missing here. It's a $130.00 device with no wireless connectivity.
  • No wi-fi direct
  • No bluetooth low-energy
  • No Ant+
Maybe next time then?

Despite this considerable setback, in many ways, the Forerunner 15 is where wearables need to be. A device that can track daily (mundane) movement activity like a Fitbit, and kick into gear during actual fitness like dedicated exercise hardware does. Make no mistake-- this is great. in 2014/2015, there's no reason why users should have to wear a dedicated heart-rate monitor in addition to their otherwise smart wearable hardware.

Another thing Garmin's new toy is missing? An SDK that allows for third-party apps.

There's currently only one wearable device that allows developers to make use of its hardware in anyway they want: the Pebble.

While it lacks dedicated GPS and heart-rate monitor hardware, it's easy to see a future where subsequent versions of this, the quintessential smartwatch, contain these features.

This is the space where the consumer gets the most out of competition-- where independent companies like Pebble, Fitbit, and Garmin chase down products and features that work well with multiple different types of mobile phone platforms. It shouldn't need to be an Android Gear watch to work well with Android, and it shouldn't need to be the mystical iWatch in order to work with an iOS device. The same goes for Windows phone. Savvy users will want to be able to take their accessories with them when they decide to move from one mobile platform to another. This liminal space is where Garmin's always sat. Users could bring a Garmin to their car, to their bicycle with any one of their other Edge Products, and then to their desktop of choice, be it Windows or OS X via their Ant+ technology.

Garmin's always had the hardcore athletes. But with the Forerunner 15 they're looking at a new market. After years of missing out on the growing casual wearables fitness culture, they're almost there.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tasting Room - Wine buying that makes sense

We've all done it before. You're in Napa or Sonoma and caught up in the moment at the splendor and general awesome of the vinyard or winery you're visiting. And after the tasting from that very knowledgeable foreign-born, lovely-accented wine guide, you join the club.

Two months later boxes of wine bottles are being dropped off at your desk or in front of your home and...
  • you're not in the mood, or
  • the bottles are fancy and you want to save them, or
  • this stuff is good but the season's changed and you want something different.
  • You realise that you don't really know what you like, but its certainly not whatever their sending you

The list goes on and on. 


They ask you questions and send you stuff based on those preferences. They're not locked int one winery or set of vineyards. They give you discounts based on your willingness to participate and that leaves you feeling pretty good.

In an age where everything's becoming ore data driven while at the same time people are craving more and more products that feel less mass produced, Tasting Room is using the available tech, a friendly attitude and some nice choices to engage users in what's often an intimidating experience-- choosing wine. What I like most? 

I don't have to be a wine expert-- I just have to be an expert on what I like.