News, and Apple News

From all the announcements Apple made in WWDC, I thought one of the most interesting ones was the Apple News app, because it’s trying to solve a problem I have encountered myself for a long time. Finding the best content online has always been a painful experience because there is a lot of great content being produced everyday and it is impossible to keep up with everything, it feels overwhelming.

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Google’s Quest For Complete Control Of Your Digital Life

"Let us know everything about you. We promise it’ll be worth your while." This information and privacy tradeoff is nothing new, but today’s keynote showed perhaps the fullest realization of the power of buying into an ecosystem whole hog. And in contrast to Apple’s beautifully designed — and, in many cases, prohibitively expensive — hardware, Google touted and demonstrated Android’s ability to provide an immersive digital ecosystem at staggering scale.

Really interesting stuff being announced at Google I/O this week. But far more interesting than the announcements themselves are the trends Google is defining and the divergence at a meta level with Apple strategy.

Google is fully relying on their core values "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" and selling it as a benefit rather than a thread to privacy (as some competitors like to point out). That has two major implications.

“How do you say Kermit the Frog in Spanish?”

In this query, what looked like a simple query, we understood voice, we did natural language processing, we are doing image recognition, and finally translation, and making it all work in an instant. The reason we are able to do all of this is because of the investments we have made in machine learning. Machine learning is what helps us answer the question “What does a tree frog look like?” from millions of images around the world.

1/ Google and Apple strategies are diverging and getting better at different things. Google is making great advancements with cloud services, taking advantage of machine learning to (for example) scan and organize your photos. While Apple has taken a whole different approach, they are not interested in scanning your photos, because these are your photos. Instead Apple excel at hardware / software integration, a segment that Google doesn't entirely control.

The best realization of this strategy is the "Tap to Now" feature. The idea is fascinating and one of the best applications for AI that I've seen so far, but in order to properly work, again, you need to be fully invested in Google's services.

At Google, we’ve always worked hard at building products for everyone in the world. We try to look at technology and see if by using technology can we make a difference to a fundamental problem in people’s lives. That’s how we did Google search. Google search worked the same for everyone in the world, whether you were a rural kid in Indonesia or a professor at a world class research center, you had the same search results at your fingertips as long as you had access to a computer and connectivity.

2/ Google is separating the OS from the cloud. Apple rolls out a new OS and a set of dev tools every year that more or less everybody gets it right away. For Android in the other hand, annual releases don't make sense, because the cool stuff is in the cloud, so they are continually improving it. That goes in line with little adoption of the latest releases of Android OS. It makes no sense for them to tie their major features to the OS. That's because why the 95% of Android devices sport the latest version of Play Services, the gateway to the cloud that provides Google Now and Maps... all the stuff that Google benefits from in order to get data and feed their machine learning algorithms.

Mobile first

Instead of thinking about the constraints of mobile - of the things you can't do because the screen is smaller and there's no keyboard - we should rather think of the PC as having the basic, cut-down, limited version of the internet, because it only has the web. It's the mobile that has the whole internet. 

The classic complain mobile vs. laptop is that "power users" can't do all their work in mobile devices. Despite hacking my way around some tasks to be able to do them in mobile, at the end of the day, I must agree. It's obvious that touch screen devices offer a superior experience by getting rid of a layer of abstraction (the mouse), but doing that, they also lose a layer of depth and complexity that allow for more polyhedric tasks.

That being said, I found Ben Evans' article extremely interesting, because he approaches the topic from a really distinct angle. Internet is evolving at an extremely fast pace, but this evolution is being build around a new generation of devices that allow for new possibilities, like camera, sensors... To get the full internet experience (not the full browser experience) you must have a mobile device, not the other way around.

PCs get a richer browsing experience, yes, but their are missing out in the new ecosystem that is being created outside of the browser. So a desktop / laptop might still be better at some specific vertical tasks, like editing text, creating video or programming, but they are far out the new wave that is already here.

Farewell, eBay

I’ve been using eBay since 2007, the day I figured out I could get some money out of my PlayStation 2 in order to buy a PlayStation 3. I was 19 years old and it felt like magic. I’ve been a long time advocate of the company because I truly believe in their mission. But this week I’ve tried something that makes of peer to peer selling a whole new experience and a potential threat to (some) eBay's customer base.

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The perfect business model for hardware startups

It’s no secret that investors don’t like hardware businesses. Despite the eternal frustration of startup founders, investor distaste in physical product businesses is actually entirely logical. It’s nearly impossible to build a venture-scale business by selling dumb plastic parts at a 30% gross margin.

But the connected, vertically integrated hardware products of today are very different than their dumb counterparts of yesterday. The difference is simple yet profound: it enables hardware businesses to operate with financials that mimic their SaaS brethren.

Despite being a year old, I liked this article so much because I felt closely related to it with the work we are doing at iomando. We obviously can't scale our business only selling the hardware at a 30% margin. But on top of every sale, we also generate recurrent revenue (SaaS) that accounts for our accessibility service.

That give us the best of both worlds. In one hand, the hardware lowers our CAC because people feel that they are getting something tangible. Moreover we can mitigate the problems with low monthly fees that pay over the customer life time, because we already made a profit on that customer.

And finally, note that is really easier to drive additional revenue from an existing customer than acquiring a new one. So we are equally incentivized in acquiring new customers than we are in maintaining and caring about the existing ones.

Test drive of a petrol car

  • Automakers do not sell the cars themselves, only through independent car repair shops as middlemen.
  • One could hear the engine’s sound and the car’s whole body vibrated as if something was broken, but the seller assured us that everything was as it should.
  • The petrol engine consists of literally hundreds of moving parts that must have tolerance of hundredths of a millimeter to function.
  • The acceleration did not occur at all, because we could not get the car to go faster than 40 km/h! [...] The seller then explained that with petrol engines you need to ”change gears” on a regular basis.
  • We were surprised to hear the brakes are completely mechanical! The only thing they generate is heat.
  • The engine continued to burn gasoline without moving the car forward. Can it really be true?
  • The seller then explained that we must pay to fuel!
  • The entire front portion of the car was completely cluttered with hoses, fittings, fluid reservoirs, and amid all a huge shaking cast iron block which apparently constituted the motor’s frame. There was no space for luggage in the front of the car!
  • From the engine, under the car runs an exhaust system – a kind of chimney for engine exhausts. 

For this note I changed a little bit the format to add a bullet list of the points the article makes. The article is brilliant. Sure, not (100%) objective and a little biased, but it tries to emulate a life-long naive electric car driver, that knows nothing about petrol cars.

On one hand, it tries to gently bring the conversation to their side, but on the other, all the things that states are completely true. Maybe we are so used to them that when we are told about it, we react somehow surprised, but the truth is that it's harder to understand how these inefficient cars have resisted over time with no dramatic change in the underlying technology.

It reminded me of the Marco Arment review of the Tesla Model S in ATP.

Apple and Samsung industrial design

Is it worth the effort? For me, as a customer, knowing that Apple had the consideration and took the time and effort to align their hardware speaks to the overall quality of their work. It reassures me that the same consideration and effort were likely spent making sure not a millimeter nor milliamp of battery space was wasted, not a nanometer of die, not a gap left around the screen, or a dead zone in the capacitive sensor.

From now on, every time someone asks me "why it might be worth to pay 699€ for an iPhone" I'll redirect him to this article. It points out exactly the reasons why people that truly care about great products are willing to bet on a certain product and, sometimes, be enthusiasts about it.

And this is not (only) about aligned holes and misplaced stickers, it's about culture, passion and enthusiasm for what they've done. It's about staying true to a vision and believing that they are the ones who care the most about each piece that put out there. That, to me, is the most important value a company could hold onto and also one of the main reasons Apple is the most successful.

Because once you know the back of the fence wasn't painted, not only can you never un-know it, you can never stop wondering what else wasn't given that same care and consideration.

Elon Musk’s Grand Plan

Elon Musk wants to sell you a battery. And he doesn’t care whether you drive an electric car. Musk unveiled his grand “Tesla Energy” scheme to electrify the world on Thursday night, and it actually makes a lot of sense. Tesla, which is in the middle of building a vast “Gigafactory” battery production plant in the Nevada desert, plans to offer new versions of the batteries it puts in its Model S car to residential, commercial, and utility customers.

It's not news that I'm a huge fan of Elon Musk's initiatives, Tesla, SpaceX (and SolarCity) and how they create amazing synergies among their technologies and businesses models. There's really few people that are pushing forward in a deterministic way, but when someone does, it really shows.

This last move introducing the Powerwall I think is, at least, as ambitious as Tesla or SpaceX. Maybe it's not as shinny or cool, but the scale and the stablished industries it tries to surpass are huge. The value proposition is clear and I'll try to outline some of the benefits I see in the surface.

  • Avoid peak rates, both in consumption and charging
  • Keep things running (for a while) during an outage
  • It helps the generation via renewables
  • Keeping electricity instead of selling at a low rates. In Spain this could be even better because the law doesn't allow the re-sell

Electricity has always been an "just in time market" meaning that the generation was directly linked to the consumption. Powerwall at scale could easily represent the end of this model. It's long term, yes. It's ambitious, yes. But the benefits in the long run could be incredible.