Blood in the water

Almost as if on cue, Lyft and Waymo have announced a partnership to bring Waymo’s self-driving technology to Lyft customers. This puts Uber into an increasingly precarious situation. Consider the following:

Costs

Once automated driving is viable for ride-sharing services – the costs will be greatly reduced. This will mean a huge competitive advantage for the service that gets there first. Lyft was a small time player with some minor partnerships in this area and Uber was already testing its own technology on city streets. In essence, Lyft had no real plays in this area. Now they are partnered with arguably the leader in self-driving technology.

Complements

Details of the Lyft/Waymo partnership were not revealed, but it is worth considering that the Lyft/Waymo partnership may mean that Uber is no longer the leader in terms of both ride-sharing and self-driving technology in combination. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Lyft offered no self-driving technology and Waymo did not have a clear line to market access. They complement each other’s needs so well.

Gaining ground

Lyft has recently raised more money and will be looking to capitalise on Uber’s problems by attacking Uber in the US. This is likely to be in terms of a price war. This is a knock against Uber’s budgeting as they now need to burn money competing for rides while funding their own self-driving technology. Lyft has no such needs as they focus all efforts on gaining market share from Uber. All the while Waymo focuses on the self-driving technology. No doubt, with Eric Holder’s report still pending, and the Uber/Waymo lawsuit only just beginning. All bets are off as to who will ultimately capture a market that until very recently seemed destined to be Uber’s.

Route to market

Waymo now has route to market, and likely, is greatly incentivised to capitalise on Uber’s failings. Alphabet, Waymo’s parent company, is no doubt looking for “what’s next” in terms of market opportunities and now, have the possibility to get real skin in the ride-sharing game. Waze has already been piloting ride-sharing initiatives in California, so this partnership is likely to be a big boost to Alphabet’s ride-sharing ambitions.

Data, data, data

While the primary benefit of this partnership is that both Lyft and Waymo now have capabilities in areas they did not previously have, one has to wonder what benefits this will bring to the data being employed? Google’s knowledge of your calendar, your appointments, your travel plans, not to mention your mapping and traffic data means that Google knows where you want to go before Uber does. This could bring significant competitive advantage to Lyft. In some respects, Google may be able to “prime the pump” and predict who needs rides where and when before Uber does.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Who knows what will happen to Uber next? Uber management seem as likely to destroy the company as help it succeed. At a time when they should be focused on the market, the technology and the opportunities before them, they are fighting significant fires. While they are leagues ahead of competitors in market and mind-share, what happens while their attentions are facing inward rather than outward?

A battle of many fronts

Uber will need to fend off inspired, and continual attack on their current core business of ride-sharing.
At the same time, they will need to conduct an increasingly difficult battle to bring self-driving technology to market. If the lawsuit goes against them, they will be fighting that battle with one hand behind their back.

Considerable lead

Uber’s market leadership is probably considerable, and Lyft does not yet operate outside of the US. As such, Uber is only competing with local players in other markets is likely to not be losing too much ground in those areas as Lyft will still need to enter those markets and build up a customer base. This means that Uber is likely to have some breathing room. Added to that, the partnership between Lyft and Waymo is yet to be proven.

As such, the main questions for Uber are:

  • How can they resolve the Waymo case relatively unscathed and continue moving forward on self-driving?
  • How quickly can management put their problems behind them and get back to focusing on their business?

Needless to say, there is blood in the water and the sharks can smell it.

One more time around

As a kid, Soundgarden was the best! Their albums Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down on the Upside were amongst my favourite. My first exposure to them was on a taped copy of Superunkown. A tape! I have memories sitting in my parents lounge just listening to the tape over and over again. Play, rewind, play, rewind. Soon after, some of my first CDs were Soundgarden albums.

My favourite t-shirt at the time was a Soundgarden tee. It was a kind of bastardised, grey-tie-dyed affair with the Badmotorfinger cover on the front and Superunkown on the back. Or was it the other way around? I bought it at a flea market. I must have worn that shirt through pretty quick.

I had heard of Temple of the Dog when I was younger, I had no idea who was in the band. It was only later, when I really got into Pearl Jam that I discovered Temple of the Dog. It blows my mind to this day to listen to that band. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder in one band?

I have been lucky enough to see some of my grunge-era heroes live. Eddie Vedder, Matt Cameron and even Dave Grohl with Pearl Jam (Dave went on stage to rock the tambourine for a rendition of ‘Kick out the Jams’). I even got to see Chris’s bandmates from Audioslave when Rage Against the Machine played their reunion gig in Finsbury Park. Sadly, I never got the chance to see Chris live.

It has been some time since I’ve listened to Soundgarden. King Animal was the last time I remember. Spending so much time in Europe these days, the thought even occurred to me I might get the chance to see them soon. Listening to their albums now, I am struck, not just by how good the songs are, or how much I really love that band, but by how eerily the lyrics evoke the news of Chris Cornell’s death. Some of their greatest songs, “Blow Up the Outside World”, “Fell on Black Days”, “The Day I Tried to Live” delve into some dark parts. The lyrics on “Pretty Noose” left me cold.

RIP Chris.

Singing one more time around, might do it.

The Last Great TV Show

Game of Thrones will soon end. And with it, the last great TV show. What then for HBO?

What I mean by last great TV show is that, it will be the last great TV show born for TV and distributed with TV assumptions. Traditional TV is the past, streaming is the present and future. More specifically, direct streaming is the future. By direct streaming I mean that, the customer pays the streaming service provider directly. Basically, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. While HBO may have direct customer relationships in the US, going by HBO’s status in South Africa, they have no such relationships with the majority of international customers. Coming from South Africa, the only way to watch HBO shows is through local or satellite TV. (Local usually only airs old shows)

In my home country of South Africa, there are only 2 ways to watch Game of Thrones (to my knowledge):

  • DStv – the satellite TV provider (kind of like cable).
  • Showmax – a streaming service bankrolled by Naspers. (The same company behind DStv – and of Tencent fame).

You either need satellite (similar to cable) or, you have to wait until the very end of the season until the latest Game of Thrones season is available for streaming or the old series show on local television. Other than that, there are the copies that fell off the back of the truck.

The choice this situation presents to the market is that:

  • DStv gives you access to the latest and greatest as soon as it is available internationally.
  • Showmax gives you access to the back catalog as well as back catalogs of local content which will likely never be found on HBO, Netflix or Amazon.

The problem with this is that, while great for Naspers (the company behind both DStv and Showmax), for cord-cutters, there are no options to (legally) watch Game of Thrones as it happens.

For now, this is fine with HBO as they earn their money from the TV gatekeepers worldwide, who fork out a very large amount of money for the privilege. Naspers probably does not care that much about the cord-cutters, since they are aiming to get their existing customers to purchase both DStv and Showmax. The one’s who don’t, will likely go the Showmax route.

What options are there then for cord-cutters to go direct with their money to HBO?

Especially, since like Showmax are doing locally, and I am sure other networks worldwide will attempt to do is to lock-up all the quality content that Netflix/Amazon cannot get in order to differentiate themselves.

HBO Now is available in only 9 countries (at time of writing). South Africa is not one of them. The other option is HBO Go, which requires a cable subscription (similar to the DStv/Showmax proposition). Where do streamers outside of those 9 countries go?

In my own case:

  • I cannot go direct to HBO.
  • I cannot watch the latest season (when it airs) on Showmax.
  • I do not have a DStv subscription (since I am currently living between countries – however, due to a fortunate circumstance, the place we were staying in did have a DStv decoder so we were able to watch Game of Thrones on TV.)

Now that Amazon Prime Video is available in South Africa, the most promising option seems to be Amazon Channels. Amazon Channels offers various “channels” for a fee. As such, you pay for your monthly Amazon Prime Video fee as well as the relevant fee for the channel you want to watch. In essence, you pay a subscription + the subscription for the channel. Unfortunately, the channels service is only available in the US.

Game of Thrones is likely HBOs most famous, most watched show of all time. It is also one of the most pirated shows in history. Netflix have resoundingly shown that their offering is effectively killing piracy and torrents. So why does HBO, in 2017, not offer a viable direct option to stream shows for the majority of the world?

One to start to build up direct customer relationships and two, to combat the rampant piracy.

My two cents is that HBO’s existing flock of shows reel in money from traditional networks. This means that HBO are in no hurry to go direct. We are seeing peak HBO. It seems however, that they are clinging to a dying business model and they have no Netflix-competitive service in place currently. It seems to me that even though they may want to go direct to customers around the world, they cannot go direct because they are caught up in a broadcasting rights web in many other markets – as illustrated by the scenario above.

HBO Now is available in 9 countries. (For comparison, Amazon Prime Video is now in over 200 countries and Netflix is in 190). HBO will no doubt increase the number of countries over time, but the reality is that, Game of Thrones ends in (possibly) 2 seasons time. I would sign up to an HBO direct service in the blink of an eye for Game of Thrones alone. To put that in perspective, despite all the content Showmax has, I will not sign up for their service because, while they may have all the seasons of Game of Thrones past, they do not have it when it matters – as it is showing!

Part of the allure of Game of Thrones is that each episode brings an entire social thread with it. Not being able to take part in that, and worse, being continually exposed to the potential of spoilers is a terrible option for customers. The irony is that Game of Thrones is likely to be the last great show TV show. By TV I mean, I mean traditional TV. And by great, I mean one that comes along with the trappings of traditional TV schedules. A show, that has no direct route to its viewers. A show that is viewed around the world, primarily through intermediaries.

The fact is that the chances that the next “Game of Thrones” is coming from HBO are increasingly slim considering the investments and market access Amazon and Netflix have. Every year, their viewing numbers get bigger, the pockets get deeper and the freedom they provide to content creators increases. This is not say HBO don’t have a chance, they basically created the type of elevated, cinematic quality shows we now stream everyday. And they will continue to do so, the problem is, they are no longer the golden child. I am convinced HBO will continue to produce quality content, but it is unlikely that they will release a show that occupies the minds of such a significant market in the way Game of Thrones does.

The reality is that HBO are in their prime now. They are a company built on old assumptions and they are taking to0 long to shift their focus. It is likely they still have time, but time is running out. Game of Thrones is their best bet for launching a worldwide direct to customer streaming service without a customer thinking twice. HBO have already given away the back catalog. The upcoming Game of Thrones seasons are what will make signing up a no-brainer. Once that final show airs, HBO loses considerable leverage with potential customers and the choice is not so clear. Especially when Disney enter the fray.

 

The Frightful Five

Farhad Manjoo has an interesting piece at The New York Times considering which of the top 5 technology companies and their services one might drop?

I voted as follows:

  1. Amazon
  2.  Facebook
  3. Google
  4. Microsoft
  5. Apple

Amazon

I debated which one would go first between Amazon and Facebook, the fact is, Amazon barely has a presence in my home country. Strange as it might seem, I have not bought much through Amazon over the years (I still shop the traditional way). I am a huge Audible fan and listen to it most days. As a movie buff, I am also regularly browsing IMDB. The fact that I pay for Audible gave me pause here, as it means enough to me that I am willing to pay for it. I do not pay directly for any of Facebook’s offerings. Regardless, Amazon goes first.

Facebook

Facebook is next. I do not use Facebook or Messenger much having turned off all their notifications and banished the apps to a folder on the second-screen of my iPhone. Out of sight, out of mind. I use Instagram fairly regularly and enjoy it, however, I would not miss it that much if it were gone. (My girlfriend on the other hand practically lives in it. While I do not use it nearly as much, Instagram has a notable presence in my life.) The other notable app in Facebook’s collection is WhatsApp. I (and most people I know) use it daily. Considering most of the people I know are split fairly evenly between using iPhones and Android phones, Messages is not a true replacement. Where I am from, WhatsApp is the app everyone uses to communicate. My family uses it, my friends use it and colleagues from work use it. Coming back to the tussle with Audible – while I do not pay for WhatsApp, it certainly saves money on SMS fees!

Google

Originally I had Google pegged at 4th. However, one lens from which I need to view this question is to consider the role work plays in my choice. The applications we use at work are dominated by Microsoft. All communications are done through Outlook or Skype. Pretty much everything is some combination of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project and Visio. From a development perspective, I would not shed a single tear for Microsoft if it did not play a role in my day to day. I far prefer MacOS for development, but, I earn a living on Microsoft. Despite my preference for Google, Google leaves the building first.

On that note, it is worth elaborating on which Google apps I find most useful. Google Maps is the first. Without a doubt my go to app for travelling. Myself and my girlfriend use it endlessly while travelling and in recent time I have started using the Google Trips app when going to new, unknown cities. Google Maps offline features are a fantastic way to save on data fees. I have used Apple Maps on the odd occasion, but none the less it is the odd occasion. When I have used it, it has not proved to be much help. It may very well be improving in many ways, but in my experience it is still lacking. I am however, willing to try. (On the travel note – Google Flights has also proved to be useful entry point to searching for flights and comparing prices in recent time)

YouTube is great! I like YouTube and I think it occupies similar territory to what Facebook videos do for most people. I use it to fill small spaces in between other things. It almost goes without saying that I use GMail on a daily basis. The thing is, I am pretty ambivalent about email. It is no doubt essential, however, if I had to jettison the service, so be it. Lastly, Chrome. I use it every day and prefer it to Safari because of one thing. Chrome Developer Tools! As a web developer, I spend pretty much all day in Chrome DevTools. On Windows, Chrome is the best browser. I used to be a great supporter of Firefox, but in recent years, Firefox has proven to be average. While it certainly better than IE and Firefox is improving. Chrome is still my bread and butter. (That being said, I refer to the Mozilla Developer Network very often in my daily routine.)

Microsoft

As mentioned above, Microsoft’s place in my hierarchy is solely due to work. Google is the true owner of fourth place. Skype used to play a large role in my personal life in that I used it to keep in touch with many people. My usage has been reduced to nothing over the years except. I far prefer FaceTime these days. Though I use Skype daily, what I am using is Skype for Business, which used to be Lync. I think I used Bing once. By mistake. Don’t even get me started on Internet Explorer. At this point, while I hear good things about Windows 10 and Edge, we have not upgraded to them at work yet.

Apple

I am writing this on a Macbook. I use almost every single application above (with the notable exception of all Microsoft’s apps) on my iPhone. Almost everything I watch on a TV screen is through an Apple TV. I listen to Apple Music. Anything I can’t find on Netflix I rent through iTunes. Having used Apple software and hardware, I have little desire to ever go back to Windows for personal use.

The slightly less frightful, but soon to be Threatening Three

Netflix – plays a larger role in my life than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or iTunes.

Uber – As mentioned in a previous post, Uber’s service is fantastic. Though I have serious misgivings about the company itself. With a lack of competitive options in my home country. I don’t see it going anywhere. That is to say if Uber does not self-destruct.

Airbnb – Travel is a large part of my life, and Airbnb plays a vital role in it. I have stayed in Airbnb apartments around the world, and far prefer them to hotels or other, look-a-like services.

Uber alles

What will Attorney General Eric Holder’s report reveal about the culture at Uber?

And what effect might the report have not only on the company and its prospects, but on the company’s customers?  

Uber has been in the line of fire this year after numerous reports including, but not limited to, blog posts about sexual harassment, CEO Travis Kalanick shouting at an Uber driver on video, accusations from Alphabet about the alleged theft of intellectual property related to self-driving vehicles, “Greyballing“, circumventing Apple’s App Store policies, visits to brothels and ensuing attempts to cover them up. Even disputes over records for Wii Tennis. To top it all off,  Kalanick has called off his appearance at the Code conference later this month. 

Uber, the service, is fantastic! In my home country, unlike in the USA, there are no real alternatives. Lyft does not operate there, neither do any of Uber’s numerous international competitors. As such, while I have serious misgivings about the company itself, what other ride-app options are there? 

The fact is, if I need a ride, without any meaningful alternatives, I will use Uber because it is the best ride service where I live, regardless of the feelings I have toward the company and its management. Unfortunately, I am sure that many people will feel exactly the same. It seems unlikely that these stories will have a wide scale effect on Uber’s customers.

One can hope that the soon-to-be-released report will lead to re-evaluations and changes in the management team and culture being promoted at Uber. All of these events have happened under the current management’s watch and have resulted in substantial damage to the company image. If I were to consider my own job, if rumours and reports came out about me doing underhanded things and behaving in ways that legitimately threatened the existence of the company, my career would be in serious jeopardy. Is this really the case for Travis Kalanick, Emil Michael, Anthony Levandowski and others at the heart of these controversies? 

It will be interesting to hear what board member Arianna Huffington has to say about it as she replaces Kalanick as a guest at the Code conference, but, I am not sure board members are the problem at the company. 

Peter Kafka writes on Recode about the upcoming report:

Uber’s top executives and board will see it at the very end of May. But the company won’t distribute it to its employees, and explain what its next steps will be, until sometime after that, likely the week of June 5.

I understand that companies need to manage situations like these at the highest levels, but what does a company do when it is the highest levels that are implicated in the damaging events?

To outsiders, Uber looks relatively unchanged from a managerial or cultural perspective. Granted, this may all change once the report comes out. I suspect though, that the real loss for Uber will not be in their image or with their customers in the near term. Rather, these events will have created a sense of blood in the water for their competitors. If the competition was fierce before, the levels are likely to be increased. Where Uber once seemed to be unbeatable, it now seems like they are only ever one controversial step away from scuttling their own ship.

Show and tell

Amazon has announced the Echo Show, the recently rumoured Echo device with a screen.

A few thoughts after watching the video:

  • The acting is pretty bad.
  • The demonstrations are convincing and the value proposition is obvious.
  • The product itself is certainly from the “form follows function” school of design.
  • The white version is odd – why not offer a completely white version?

This product seems, from both the way it looks and the way it operates to be the Alexa-powered love-child of an old TV-monitor and a smartphone. It is however intriguing to consider the spaces, use cases and price points that Amazon is occupying with their collection of Echo devices.

  • Echo – Smart speaker ($149.99)
  • Echo Dot – Smart speaker minus the speaker (for spreading throughout the home) ($49.99)
  • Echo Tap – Portable smart speaker (for travel, picnics etc) ($129.99)
  • Echo Look – Smart speaker with a camera ($199.99)
  • Echo Show – Smart speak with a screen and a camera ($229.99)

Looking at Amazon’s Echo products and Alexa services, it certainly seems that Amazon is picking up relevant and significant mindshare in the marketplace.

[Updated: 11/05/2017]

For comparison, I have included several other home based products for comparison. While the wifi-routers are different devices, there might be the option to combine such products:

  • Google Home – Smart speaker ($114)
  • Google Wifi – Wifi router ($129)
  • Eero – Wifi router ($199)
  • Apple TV – Smart TV puck ($149 32GB)
  • Apple Airport Extreme – Wifi router ($199)
  • Apple Airport Express – Wifi router ($99)

[End update]

It will be interesting to see if/when Apple enters this market and what Google will do to expand on their offerings. What approach will Apple take in the the following respects:

Pricing

Amazon is certainly taking the the portfolio approach. Considering Apple has been very slow to develop the Apple TV product, it is difficult to see Apple being able to effectively pay attention to such a device. Should they release such a device, it is likely to be just one (at least for quite some time) and it will likely be more expensive than the Echo.

Functionality

There is an ongoing debate as to which voice assistants are the best between Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana. People’s feelings seem to be dictated by personal preference and with their preferred style of interaction. While Apple can certainly justify the higher prices for their computers and mobile devices because the software (MacOS and iOS) are superior.

What happens when the software (Siri) is just another assistant and is even considered to be inferior? The differentiating factor for Apple is then left with the design of the device.

Design

The home is an area that people spend a lot of money on and the “form” of many objects in the home is very important. Apple will certainly find meaningful customers in the home for an attractive and functional device. The tricky point here is, considering that, up until we can have a HAL-like omni-present assistant throughout the home, the multi-device approach is likely to be the better approach in the home when trying to span your entire home. Will these customers want to buy an “Apple speaker/screen/dingus” for every room if the functionality is not where it should be and more expensive?

Apple TV

When considering what products might be most similar to a smart speaker-like device. The Apple TV comes closest. The Apple TV has been a point of disappointment for several customers. While I am certainly happy with mine, I was coming from a background of regular TV. The bar was very low. The majority of potential customers in this market have much higher expectations. There have been very high hopes for the Apple TV, yet the device seems to be only acceptable on most vectors. Considering Siri falls into this “not quite the best of Apple” category – will customers be willing to invest into products Apple is likely not to going to make regular, meaningful updates to?

Google Home

Admittedly, I do not know much about Google Home. The device seems to be pretty good, if somewhat undifferentiated. One advantage they do have at present is Google Home’s voice identification feature. This feature which recognises different people’s voices stands out from the pack at present. However, this will likely be coming to other platforms soon. Features are easily copied.

Apple’s Advantage

The fact is though, that Apple and Siri are with their customer’s everywhere they go. Added to that, Apple customers are very likely to give an “Siri speaker” at least one chance. While advantages in one technological space generally means disadvantages in others. The fact that Alexa/Echo is not with you everywhere you go, means their is a significant gap in the Amazon/Alexa product offering that is not easily filled by the many smart home product players. The continuity that Siri on your iPhone and in your EarPods offers is compelling. While Apple seems to be losing valuable ground in the smart home, there is still opportunity there. How long that opportunity lasts is another question.

Samsung

Samsung seem to be conspicuously absent in this space which is strange considering they make a variety of the most expensive home appliances. That is without considering their purchase of Harman. Samsung are able to make and price products of almost every kind and in every price point. However, their efforts with Bixby on their latest Galaxy flagship seem to leave much to be desire and their purchase of Viv is yet to bear fruit.

Samsung look to be taking a leaf out of the failed Nokia/build-your-own-OS playbook here rather than Samsung’s own transformative Android playbook. Samsung are trying to differentiate in an area they are not skilled in. This is a mistake by Samsung in this market. Would it not be better for them to leverage Alexa along with their existing product strengths than to try and forge their own platform?

Granted, not being able to differentiate themselves on the level of software is a thorn in Samsung’s side when it comes to smartphones. None the less, they have succeeded admirably in the smartphone market. I see no reason not to take a similar approach in the home market.

Alexa in your ears

Lastly, I suspect that one area Amazon could be looking to leapfrog their “always with you” gap is by pushing the Echo into the in-ear/wearable speaker space. While wearables certainly take a level of finesse, nuance and expertise in software and hardware that only Apple has been able to display to date, surely such a product must be on Amazon’s mind. That gap in experience Echo/Alexa customers have when they aren’t home is a big one, and is prime territory for Apple or Samsung to enter through.

Iterations

It is still relatively early days in the voice assistant and product space, however, the speed with which Amazon is iterating will be difficult to match considering Apple’s slow and deliberate pace. Even if someone can match Amazon on that vector, Amazon’s ability to monetise outside of the product itself, will be even harder to compete with.

 

Apple, WeChat and Waves

In 2008, Steve Job’s said in an interview with Betsy Morris for Fortune:

Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. These 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.

One of our biggest insights [years ago] was that we didn’t want to get into any business where we didn’t own or control the primary technology because you’ll get your head handed to you.

Fast forward to 2013 and Ben Thompson wrote a piece explaining that much of Apple’s current attitude towards developers and the business models afforded to those developers was moulded by Apple’s difficult experiences with Office and Photoshop. Ben wrote:

The trouble for Apple – or any platform provider – is apps that cross that line from nice-to-have to completely irreplaceable.

Fast forward again to 2017 and Ben Thompson (you should subscribe to his daily updates) writes another great piece about Apple’s China Problem. The crux of the piece is summed up best when he says:

The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone’s operating system. Rather, it is WeChat.

Thanks to Ben, we can start to see that it is no longer Apple that is irreplaceable in China but WeChat. By extension, WeChat is then central to continued success in China. If WeChat represents the problem, what is the solution?

The answer might lie in reading those two paragraphs from Steve Jobs in reverse order. With specific focus on the analogy of the wave. Let’s look at it like this:

  • There is a growing wave of dissatisfaction with the stringent control Apple exerts on the App Store. Apple carves 30% out of every purchase. (This is acceptable to Apple, as long as the developer’s customers are not willing to leave the store along with the developers in large numbers.)
  • There is a growing wave of business models that are enabled not only by larger payments, but by many smaller payments. Taking 30% out of these, or charging each time one is made is not sustainable to the developers or their customers. (As shown by WeChat’s tipping feature)
  • These waves are still coming and have not broken…yet.

What Steve’s quote does not reveal is that, while waves can be seen coming for quite some time. Once a wave has gathered pace, if you are not in the right place to meet it, that waves passes you by no matter how long you have been watching it or how hard you paddle!

Better to catch a big wave with someone else, than to watch them ride it all the way to the beach.

That being said, there are always more waves. You might just have to wait a long time for a wave as big as China.

Echos

The Amazon Echo Look – an always on camera in the bedroom is an interesting product announced by Amazon. Despite being kind of creepy, there could be something to this device. Voice computing in the home (and car) certainly feels like it could be the next “thing” in technology. The primary limitation here is that these devices are anchored (to an Echo, Echo Look, Google Home etc). An “omnipresent” device, available throughout the entire house, carried over to the car or to your phone should be the goal for this type of platform.

A few thoughts:

  • “Style Check”, a feature that lets you compare outfits with a fashion specialist seems like it could be more valuable if you are able to “Style Check” with your friends or family via a messaging app. Considering the popularity of makeover TV shows, the potential angle for “makeovers for everyone” is significant.
  • This functionality in concert with some type of express fast-food-like delivery could be hugely successful. Last minute outfit dramas are definitely a struggle for many women (and men) when going out, to work or even just for a jog.
  • The possibility of switching backgrounds using augmented reality capabilities, for example, switching the background of your wardrobe to a beach, when trying on or shopping for a bikini are one possible extension for such a device.
  • This type of functionality could also be valuable in a smartphone app. With the advancements in augmented reality capabilities and the proliferation of selfie-sticks, it is not hard to imagine a mobile version of such an app.
  • There are some serious privacy concerns around a camera like this – what happens if someone hacks/watches your camera?

Echo with a screen

The rumoured “Echo with a screen” also seems like it could be a convincing (and ugly – if the screenshots are to be believed) device. Unplanned meals and deciding what to cook in conjunction with a lack of ingredients in your cupboard and fridge is “prime” territory for Amazon to step into with an express delivery service. Delivering shortly before educating and instructing you on how to prepare the dish via voice and video certainly sounds like a winning combination. (Such a device could also be useful in a home workshop or creative studio).

Hardware differentiated by services

It certainly feels that while Apple has succeeded through hardware differentiated by software – Amazon’s real advantage is going to be hardware differentiated by services.

Video

Surface Laptop

Microsoft continues to release what looks to be impressive hardware in an attempt to pick-up on the high-end customers that do not use a Mac. As a long-time Windows user, the effort however seems to be on the wrong vector.

The reason I switched was not based on hardware, but software. I got tired of Windows and its lack of speed. What initially struck me when using a Mac was how quickly and smoothly it worked. That being said, the “locked-down” Windows 10S announcement is more interesting.

Locking the laptop down to applications only available on the Windows Store seems to be akin to the iOS App Store. The more direct comparison would be to the Mac App Store. The Mac App Store has struggled to gain traction with notable developers and in many ways the Mac App Store has been a failure. Primarily because there are marquee applications not available in that store. This lack of marquee applications will certainly be the case with Windows Store. Why then would Microsoft pursue this avenue when their hardware efforts seem focused on high-end customers?

  • Are they going after the education market increasingly dominated by Chromebooks?
  • Do they want to exert the level of control (and extract the % of sales) that Apple does on iOS in the App Store?

Curiously, both of those points seem to contradict the high-end approach Microsoft seems to be taking.

Apple’s control and lack of sustainable business models on the App Store have in particular led to the handicapping of the iPad and have irked developers. The Mac App Store has achieved similar results with developers expressly not putting their application in the store. These developers themselves tend to be high-end customers. Locking down a laptop to a be Windows Store only is in opposition to the needs of the high-end market, who will definitely be using and require applications that are not in the Windows Store.

The limitations Microsoft is placing on the customer in terms of forcing them to use Edge and Bing in this instance also seem to be user hostile. Many Windows users use Windows because it is flexible and more “open” than Apple.

The education market is decidedly not high-end. So which customer is Microsoft trying to serve?

All things considered, it is good that Microsoft is making the effort. For many years Microsoft stagnated and they are beginning to regain relevance with customers.

On a product-related note, the fabric around the keyboard seems like it might be nice to the touch. Certainly an interesting choice – impractical as it seems.

And what of that video? Impressive as they are, how many more of these “construction in motion” videos with Holi-Festival-like colour explosions will we see?

Edge to edge

It is intriguing to consider some of the challenges that come along with bringing a true edge-to-edge (horizontal and vertical) iPhone to life.

  • Are Apple able to implement a TouchID sensor ring on glass? (Regarding placement – a sensor on the front is best. A sensor on the back is acceptable.)
  • Where do the light and proximity sensors move to?
  • Where do they move the front-facing receiver/microphone while maintaining sound quality?
  • What happens with the device to display relationship and its effect on battery life? (Maintain display size with a smaller phone. Maintain phone size and increase display size)
  • If the FaceTime camera is covered by pixels, are Apple able to implement a camera through the screen?