Posts tagged tech
Perhaps the best way to think about Apple’s acquisition of Beats is to think about Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. Here’s what The New York Times had to say:
The brooding Marvel characters tend to be more popular with boys — an area where Disney could use help. While the likes of “Hannah Montana” and the blockbuster Princesses merchandising line have solidified Disney’s hold on little girls, franchises for boys have been harder to come by.
Disney bought an audience to which their current products did not speak. When you’re selling content, there are no tech specs. Appeal is based on emotion, culture, and fashion. Disney bought Marvel in order to buy the attention and devotion of comic book fans, an audience which is strong in demographic segments where Disney was weak.
I believe Apple bought Beats largely for this reason: Beats is popular with the same 14-25 year olds that care less about Apple products. It is no mistake this is the audience Samsung, Motorola, and HTC have been addressing. Each of these firms did their market research and realized Apple was weak with youth.
Consider this and feel ancient: the first iPod or iPhone this youth audience had access to was likely their parents. The ways in which Apple was cool do not apply to this segment (U2 iPods anyone? Alicia Keys announcements?) Cool is fickle, and only very rarely does one remain in vogue across two consecutive generations1.
Compounding Apple’s waning cool is the trend of technology products to be evaluated for qualitative reasons. This is a trend Apple itself kicked off, starting with the first Bondi Blue iMac. The features and specs of a technology product are becoming less and less important. Read Sam Biddle’s excellent back-room history of Beats to see this in action: the alleged technical brains behind the original Beats were literally ousted and the company didn’t miss a step.
As technology becomes wearable, this trend towards quantitative assessment is exacerbated. People hesitate to buy a gadget they keep in their pocket or bag if they don’t like the way it looks. People will never buy a gadget they keep on their wrist if they don’t like the way it looks. Period.
If Apple isn’t fashionable, any wearable they launch is dead in the water. Regardless of it’s technological abilities. Apple is cool for the older, “U2” audiences. If it is even questionably cool for young audiences, a wearable product will never become a mass success. Young people are crucial for new product categories. They have high disposable incomes and lots of disposable time (to take on learning curves).
Apple’s purchased Beats for it’s demographic appeal. Without this appeal, all wearable product lines were at risk.
Though generation-skipping cool is the norm. (We’re just borrowing our grandfathers Filson bag, scotch, and facial hair.) ↩
Rolling your own crypto currency has become the first tech trend of 2014, driven by Mastercoin who’s built a platform atop Bitcoin’s chain. And custom coins is proceeding like clockwork along the adoption path.
- Technicians interested in a proof-of-concept: The people who built Bitcoin and then traded with it out of curiosity. Nothing major was sold. What was appealing was that you could sell.
- Outsiders interested in a land without rules: The Silkroad denizens. The people who badly wanted to do something but had been blocked out of existing platforms due to cultural norms and laws. Major things were sold. So major, that the inconvenience of a new platform was an acceptable overhead.
- Entrepreneurs interested in a land without competitors: Those who bought mining machines and purchased reserves of coin.
- Bored teenagers interested in something illicit yet accessible: See above. These people put up with the inconvenience overhead (a) because they have time and (b) for the lolz.
Who’s next? If videotapes, digital music, radio, the internet, and smartphones are any indicator, next up are: legitimate businesses, your friends, your parents.
As for as technology and digital culture is concerned, 2013 was likely the year of the camera.
Cameras demonstrated that we have so much technological capability than we can’t efficiently use it all.
- Everyone consumes photography on 5-inch screens, despite having the ability to capture images more than 10 times that size.
- There is an embarrassment of riches in the camera market and yet it’s drowning.
- Not knowing what else to do, major manufacturers turn to nostalgia. (It doesn’t work.)
- Professionals are let go and replaced with volunteers or other workers
Don’t think I’m upset with any of the above – they’re not judgements and are presented as observations.
In fact, I think every one of the bullets above can be traced to one fact: our technologies for viewing photos are significantly worse than our technologies for taking photos. For example, there is not a single Mac or Apple monitor which can show you a complete current generation iPhone image at full size. Despite this viewing bottleneck an entire industry has marched nearly to it’s doom in a race to improve a product which the ( average, non-professional) consumer couldn’t care less about.
Hence the awkward, inefficient situation we’re in. For about $200 you could purchase an amazing camera who’s quality you’d likely never fully experience. I don’t think other industries are dissimilar.
But there’s a corollary to this innovative stagnation.
Cameras have shown that to succeed in stale markets pay attention to the goal not the metrics.
- The Instagram and secondary camera apps like VSCO Cam focus on helping users take what they consider a ‘good’ picture. Accuracy is secondary.
- The iPhone 5S held the line with the current megapixel count and worked on making a faster, more sensitive camera (better lens, larger sensor) that creates more information for a more powerful CPU and GPU. Rather than bigger pictures, it takes more and stitches them together for perfect exposure and composition.
- GoPro has become the most stable camera company in the world by selling a camera built for the most photographic moments and experiences you want to share (that you could never bring your smartphone to).
The most important innovative features in cameras today are their editing UI, their computing power, and their use case. Lenses and sensors are secondary. A camera company could be launched today with lenses and sensor tech from 2008, a focused use case (the camera for hanging out with friends outside, the camera for taking selfies, the camera for parties and bars…), and a well designed way to edit and share. What’s interesting is the lens and sensor is the easiest bit.
Which brings us to sharing.
Cameras have shown us that the stream is something we’ll fight to control.
- Snapchat’s surprising success proved Eric Schmidt and others from the second digital boom were wrong: youth who grow up as digital natives will seek out privacy. Because of SnapChat, the impermanence feature will trickle into other apps going forward.
- The NSA story stayed here for the entire year, culminating in the clearest example of the need for camera control: that the FBI apparently can activate webcams remotely without triggering the indicator light.
- The ability to share images and videos has become so ubiquitous it’s done accidentally. We accidentally shared sexts, Play Station streams, and forget to turn off iCloud after we steal iPhones.
This is the state of modern consumer technology: we have so many capabilities we can’t efficiently use them all and we certainly can’t control them. This awkwardness drives us to seek out those which empower us to tame technology, making them mold to the things we do and want to do anyway (SnapChat let’s us manage our stream, VSCO helps us appear talented, and GoPro simply straps on to ourselves1 or our ride of choice).
I saw at least 5 tourists walking around with GoPro’s strapped to their chest this holiday season. ↩
Introducing Reporter, an app which helps you track your life so that you might understand it better.
Nicholas Felton and I have been working on various iterations of this app since 2011, testing and tweaking it to capture the most data with the least amount of hassle and present it in the most insightful way.
Click through and sign up if you’d like to be notified when Reporter is available.
Stay tuned for more details.
7% of all adults use location check-in services, according to a newly released PEW study.
A few caveats and points:
- PEW asks people if they use check-in services. So ‘geosocial’ services are only mentioned if their geo-ness is apparent. (Which is probably why only 1% of geosocial users cite Twitter)
- Facebook is the top cited app, at 39% of geosocial users. FourSquare comes in second, at 18%.
- PEW data is based on a tracking survey administered to 2,252 people, which are demographically representative but still just a sample. So these numbers certainly skew a bit from reality.
But while geosocial is shrinking, location services are growing. PEW says they’re flat at 74% of smartphone users, but we’re seeing the number of apps capturing location steadily increase1.
The divergence between geosocial and location-services apps supports what I said just over a year ago: location technology isn’t just for location apps anymore. These functions are no longer the specialized domain of location social networks or map apps. Location intelligence can and will apply to a vast array of applications and use cases.
I chalk up this difference to PEW asking respondents if they use ‘location-based information services’, so apps which don’t clearly integrate location information but capture location (like chat apps) aren’t identified and cited. ↩