The Anti-iPod

When the iPod came out it was obvious to everyone: the iPod was more useful than anything else that was available at the time. Back in the day when you saw someone carry around an iPod you knew why she was carrying around that iPod: she loves her music and wants her entire music collection with her everywhere she goes. Anyone who loves music understood that.

Andrew HunzekerHesed:

My week and a half wearing an apple watch has taught me one big lesson about watches. A watch is only secondarily used to tell time. Upon realizing this Apple’s whole advertising strategy around the watch suddenly made sense. The Apple Watch is not about utility, it is about the materials that make it up and the people who care about those materials. Watches are actually social signifiers more than time pieces, fitness trackers, or notification screens, they communicate the wealth and status of the wearer.

HunzekerHesed is on to something. Why would Apple keep everything the same from the US$349 Sport to the $12,000 Edition, except for the materials used to make the case and the crystal?

Apple makes tons of money, by selling memory chips on its iPhones. Let me explain, the 16GB iPhone 6 is $199, the 64GB iPhone 6 is $100 extra at $299, and the 128GB iPhone 6 is $100 more on top of that for a grand total of $399. Everything else is the same; only the amount of memory storage changes. To get an extra 48GB Apple charges $100; to get an extra 112GB (48GB+64GB) Apple charges $200. To say Apple charges a premium is a terrific understatement.

Most will agree Samsung makes the most reliable and highest performance memory chips in the world. Apple seems to think so and uses a lot of Samsung memory chips, so I will use Samsung memory chip prices as examples. The 64GB PRO, a class 10 micro SDXC card with a 90MB/s data transfer rate is Samsung’s best 64GB micro SD card. And that costs about $50. Apple charges $100 for an extra 48GB. The 128GB version is about $100; Apple charges double that ($200) for less (112GB).

The profit margins! And this is how I think Apple makes most of its profits, by buying memory chips at a really good price and then selling them at an insanely great price. Samsung wants to make money too, and is following suit with its micro SD card-less Galaxy S6 design.

How will Apple make most of its money with its Apple Watch? This time it isn’t memory, but materials: aluminum, stainless steel, and gold. Or to be more precise, Apple’s concocted version of aluminum, stainless steel, and gold. Samsung should follow Apple and make aluminum, stainless steel, and gold versions of its smartwatch, if it wants to make gobs of money.

So, what do you think when someone is wearing an Apple Watch? Why is he wearing an Apple Watch, especially the more expensive stainless steel version or the ludicrously more expensive gold version?

Safe AI

The Economist:

These parallels should comfort the fearful; they also suggest concrete ways for societies to develop AI safely. Just as armies need civilian oversight, markets are regulated and bureaucracies must be transparent and accountable, so AI systems must be open to scrutiny. Because systems designers cannot foresee every set of circumstances, there must also be an off-switch. These constraints can be put in place without compromising progress. From the nuclear bomb to traffic rules, mankind has used technical ingenuity and legal strictures to constrain other powerful innovations.

Just as our governments do what they want because civilian oversight is lacking. Have a look at some of the technologies governments are using to bulk collect phone records: StingRay, Dirtbox, ARGUS-IS. Today, on May 7, 2015, a federal appeals court ruled the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of US citizen’s phone records is not authorized by the Patriot Act and therefore illegal. Will the NSA appeal? There is no doubt. Armies — and their private contractors — definitely need oversight (October 2014):

A federal jury in Washington convicted four Blackwater Worldwide guards Wednesday in the fatal shooting of 14 unarmed Iraqis, seven years after the American security contractors fired machine guns and grenades into a Baghdad traffic circle in one of the most ignominious chapters of the Iraq war.

Just as regulated markets help monopolies thrive. Just as our government scratching the backs of giant corporate enterprises deemed too large to fail. Just as bureaucracies are opaque — or to be more precise so complex that it is completely dark — and accountable to no one. Consider the recent news where Goldman Sachs is considering closing its dark pool called Sigma X. What’s the big deal? Marcus Baram, International Business Times:

The off-exchange platforms that let traders buy and sell stock anonymously, under the radar of the rest of the market, have quietly surged in practice by large institutional funds and pension funds. Such dark pools, which are now responsible for about 12 to 15 percent of all trades in the U.S., have aroused the concerns of regulators because some sophisticated players such as high-frequency traders are able to unfairly exploit the system.

To entertain the possibility that regulators — not all regulators, but least some who have the power to do something about it — have not known about dark pools and how large institutions have exploited them to rip off the investing public, is ludicrous. Not sure? Robert Lenzner, Forbes (April 2014):

In today’s offering Salmon blew me away with his exclusive discovery that the SEC secretly promised Goldman Sachs NOT to prosecute any other notorious ripoffs of the innocent investor in mortgage back securities other than Abacus, the heretofore biggest Goldman black eye coming out of the melt-up before the meltdown.

How safe will AI systems be? Consider who will eventually develop and control them: monopolistic corporate giants driven by the thirst of more and more and more money, and even beastlier governments hell bent on growing more tentacles to control their citizens, and coincidentally these beasts love to massage the backs of giants.

We are in the very early days of artificial intelligence research and similar to many other industries there are many companies competing. And just like other industries the AI industry will eventually mature and the larger more powerful companies will swallow the smaller ones. Eventually there will be one, two, maybe three very large monopolistic enterprises controlling the AI industry. But the biggest and most powerful will be the AIs our governments wield.

We dropped two atomic bombs. It was only then we realized we should not use atomic bombs, let alone more powerful nuclear bombs. These bombs are powerful innovations that were constrained only when we saw the immediate and pervasive destruction of millions of lives. Yet we continue to play with fire. Even after multiple nuclear disasters we continue to build nuclear reactors, bury spent radioactive rods, and think nothing bad will happen. Here is a partial list of nuclear incidents and disasters, according to Wikipedia:

  • 2011 Fukushima Daiichi
  • 2001 Instituto Oncologico Nacional
  • 1996 San Juan de Dios
  • 1990 Clinic of Zaragoza
  • 1987 Goiânia
  • 1986 Chernobyl
  • 1979 Three Mile Island
  • 1969 Lucens
  • 1962 Thor

There are many more. Given our historical performance record of constraining powerful innovations by using technical ingenuity and legal strictures, it is no wonder we are worried about artificial intelligence. Bill Gates is worried:

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. […] I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.

Elon Musk is concerned:

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful. I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure we don’t do something very foolish.

Stephen Hawking is concerned, too:

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking. They are not dummies.

Fast Forward To The Past

Joel Marsh, an Experience Architect, visualized the history of the mobile phone by focusing on its size and shape, titled Evolution. Marsh’s simple and elegant graphic prompted me to think about the mobile phone and its impact on our lives.

Everywhere I look people are super glued to their phones. Seldom do we break ourselves away from their invisible pull, but when we do they never stop demanding our attention. A pleasant ding. An innocent chirp. They tug endessly.

Eventually we crack, our eyes turn from our friends, and our necks deign to the phone’s irresistible promise. Of gaining knowledge, of being connected, of filling our emptiness.

I want to fast forward to the past. To when we didn’t have mobile phones. To when we crafted love letters by hand. To when we savored them. To when we tasted a truer happiness.

Microsoft Continuum

Tom Warren, The Verge:

The phone interface scales up to a large display or TV, and the Start Menu takes the same Tiles found on the phone to provide access to apps. While it looks like the Windows 10 desktop, there are some subtle differences, and traditional desktop apps won’t run here. In a way, it feels like the natural successor to Windows RT, but one that’s actually useful if developers create the universal apps required to really take advantage of it.

Microsoft Continuum lets you use a Windows smartphone on a big display running Windows. And unlike Android apps, where they look and behave the same on a 4-inch smartphone as it does on a 6-inch smartphone, Continuum is aware of the larger display and takes advantage of the additional pixels.

I mentioned in a previous post that most Android apps stink, but that I did buy one: Pocket Casts. If I could run an app like that — simple, intuitive, with a fantastic user experience — on my Windows machine, that would be great. Another app that is like nothing else is Reeder, a RSS reader, on iOS. There’s a Mac version of Reeder, but I prefer the iOS version for its simplicity. If I could run Reeder on my Windows machine, that would be great too. (At the moment I use Feedly as my RSS reader on my smartphone and laptops, but it is merely good enough; I want something that makes me smile.)

Now I see why I might want a touch-enabled display on my laptop or monitor: to control smartphone apps. I expect developers will be porting their apps to Windows since it’s now supposed to be really easy. Right?

Google’s Next Big Move Is Small Mobile Screens

Conor Daughterty and Sydney Ember, The New York Times:

Google became one of the world’s largest corporations by selling ads next to searches, allowing advertisers to find consumers when they were thinking about buying a camera or booking a vacation to Tahiti. But much of that activity has shifted to mobile phones, a move that has eroded the company’s market share because people spend most of their time in mobile applications instead of the web.

I guess I’m different. I do of most my product research on a laptop. I go to websites I trust, focus on 4+-star products and read 1-star reviews to see if what bothers them would bother me, and then I hunt for the best price. On the other hand if I make an on-the-spot decision to buy something — which I don’t do often, thank goodness — I tend to do that on my smartphone. An easy-to-use app like Amazon is a requirement for this to work. Tap the app, search the product, click on buy. Bam. No Amazon, no compulsive buy. Hmmm… maybe I should toss the Amazon app into the trash; I bet I’d save some money. Big screen or small screen? It depends on the type of shopping I’m doing.

Speaking of money, and getting back to Google, Google has a big problem. I don’t like ads. Actually, that’s putting it nicely: I hate ads. Not that ads are terrible, actually most of them are, but ads get in my way. I clicked on a link to read something or watch something and instead of getting to the article or the video an ad pops up. That’s annoying, and that’s why I hate ads. I don’t remember when, but it was a long time ago when I started using Adblock. The Internet without ads has been a pleasant place to surf.

Google has made very little money off of placing ads next to my search results. Unfortunately for Google, I do the same thing on my smartphone. An app with ads? Uninstall, immediately.

Thanks to Google we’ve come to expect apps and web services to be free. Of course, it isn’t really because in the background Google is tracking everything you’re doing, packaging that data, and selling it to advertisers. And so do a bunch of other app developers. According to a MIT Technology Review article Luigi Vigneri et al. downloaded over 2000 free apps from the Google Play store and found about 10% of those connect to more than 500 different URLs: “And nine out of 10 of the most frequently contact ad-related domains are run by Google.” That’s why I use another browser extension called Disconnect; it does what the name says it does: disconnects from all those trackers. How is Google going to make money when most people eliminate ads from their Internet experience, and disconnect from background trackers? Here’s an idea: how about developing insanely great apps and web services and charging for them?

Most Android apps stink, but I did buy one: Pocket Casts. It’s the best Android podcast app: simple, intuitive UI, and the user experience is fantastic.

The Elegance Of The Universe

Mitch Kirby:

Given all of these connected pieces of science, I can’t help but marvel at the elegance of the universe. Putting these pieces together opens up much deeper questions, ones that I can’t even hope to answer. Can life exist on a planet orbiting a star of a vastly different temperature? If it can, will life on this planet be incredibly different and optimized to the specific frequencies of light that are most prevalent? Could life exist at all if water had a different absorption spectrum that did not bottom out in the visible range? How much leeway on these physical properties does the universe give life, and do these properties all have to overlap? Will life find a way no matter what? Are these properties specifically designed to coexist perfectly, or do we just happen to exist on a planet, orbiting a star, in a galaxy, within a universe in which all of these things are possible? Are we only capable of asking these questions because all of these things are true to begin with?

The universe, the galaxy, the sun, our earth, us. A fantastic design I must say. That I can imagine, see, and proclaim, “Fantastic!” is itself fantastic.

Griffin Cove

Indiegogo: In my family we have five portable devices that need USB charging; there are USB cables everywhere. Cove by Griffin hides the cables as well as the devices inside a beautiful box. I think I need one, but it’s a bit expensive: US$150, with a December 2015 estimated delivery date.

Most Apple Watch Apps Stink

Steve Kovach, Business Insider:

Just about every major app, from Twitter to Instagram to Starbucks, has an app for the Apple Watch. So far, there are about 3,500 apps available, and most stink.

There must be something different with me. Yesterday, I had a hunch my friend had purchased an Apple Watch and asked her to pull up her sleeve. There it was: a 38 mm Watch Sport with a white sport band. She shared what she liked about it and what she didn’t like about it.

Unfortunately, I can’t recollect most of the details except for one: she mentioned it was the best smartwatch she has worn. But what I realized later on, and what I later shared with my wife, was that there was absolutely no craving in my heart to get one. It was a strange realization because normally there would at least be a small tug in there somewhere saying, “You need to get one.” Weird. Maybe Apple Watch 2 will be more desirable. Maybe not.