Ambient Computing: Invisible & Omnipresent

Steve Vassallo: “Slack and Airbnb—like Pinterest, Instagram and Kickstarter—are recent successes founded by designers, people who are devoted to the practice of building impeccably considerate technology. Design is the key to building the next great wave of companies.”

“I think we’re entering the age of ‘ambient computing,’ when personal technology will become invisible and omnipresent. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, the Internet of Things, and other nascent tech will fade into the background of our lives. Technology will no longer come in the form of gadgets.”

“In this new era, design will be ever more critical to how we build and use our technology. The 21st century will be the century of the designer founder, when core value for businesses is created by entrepreneurs who have a deeper, more intuitive sense for the human condition.”

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$1,400 iPhone & The Veblen Effect

Christopher Mims: “The launch of a pricey new iPhone has big implications for Apple’s financials, and it also bodes well for Apple’s continued dominance in mobile phones. Here are five reasons for Apple to go big, price-wise:” 1 Halo Effect: “An ultraexpensive edition of the iPhone makes sense as a shot in the arm for the whole brand … 2 Crazy New Tech: A big reason companies have halo products is that they give them a way to test new technologies.” 3 Supply & Demand: “If Apple’s high-end iPhone is aimed at a new segment—people willing to pay more than $1,000 for a phone—Apple can charge whatever it likes to balance supply and demand for the device, rather than worrying about whether increasing the price will hurt its overall market share.”

4 Average Selling Price: “With a phone priced upward of $1,400, Apple would have the opportunity to move the single most important metric on its balance sheet: the average selling price of a new iPhone.” 5 The Veblen Effect: “The final reason a pricey iPhone makes sense is that, paradoxically, the more expensive Apple makes the device, the more people will lust after it. Conspicuous consumption was first described in ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who singled out products that, contrary to logic, sold better when their prices went up.”

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Surprise #2: Microsoft is Leading PC Innovation

Farhad Manjoo: Microsoft “is making the most visionary computers in the industry, if not the best machines, period. In the last two years, while Apple has focused mainly on mobile devices, Microsoft has put out a series of computers that reimagine the future of PCs in thrilling ways … perhaps because it’s way behind Apple, Microsoft’s hardware division is creating products more daring than much of what has been coming out of its rival lately.”

“Under Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Surface chief, the company has given its designers and engineers license to rethink the future of PCs in grand ways — to sit in an empty room, dream big things, and turn those visions into reality … The mind-set has resulted in several shining ideas. For Surface Studio, Microsoft built a brilliant companion device called Surface Dial — a palm-size knob that sits on your drafting-table screen, creating a tactile interface with which to control your computer.”

You can use Dial for basic things like turning up the volume. But in the hands of a designer, it becomes a lovely tool; you can scrub through edits in a video or change your pen color in Photoshop with a turn of the wheel … Dial is one of those interface breakthroughs that we might have once looked to Apple for. Now, it’s Microsoft that’s pushing new modes of computing … it’s unlikely that Microsoft’s PC hardware business will beat Apple’s anytime soon. But anyone who cares about the future of the PC should be thrilled that Apple now faces a serious and creative competitor.”

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Open & Closed: The Key to Apple’s Success

The Wall Street Journal: “There are intriguing parallels with the development of the iPod music player in 2001 and the Macintosh personal computer in the early 1980s. None of Apple’s three signature products (Mac, iPod, iPhone) was exactly original, but each represented a quantum jump over existing products. And each flirted with failure at first, mainly thanks to (Steve) Jobs’s penchant for closed systems.”

“When Jobs introduced the Mac in 1984, it was incompatible with other computers and ran hardly any software; after his dismissal in 1985, Apple veered in the other direction, licensing it to clone-makers in a move that proved disastrous. The iPod struggled for years before Jobs’s executives persuaded him to make it compatible with Windows computers. The iPhone didn’t take off until he finally agreed to open its app store to outside developers—to people like Dong Nguyen, whose Flappy Bird game proved so addictive that he succumbed to guilt pangs and pulled it.”

“Each of Apple’s three inventions became successful only after the company struck a balance between open and closed—between accommodating a wide range of people and keeping them in a carefully controlled environment.”

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Report: Best Buy To Trial ‘Test Drive’

Retail Dive: “Best Buy is trying harness something that’s already common practice among consumers — the concept of buying something to figure out if you really want it, knowing full well there is a decent chance you will eventually return it. It’s perhaps a cumbersome way to find out if a purchase is really worth making, but it has become a culturally acceptable method.”

“With a try-before-you-buy program, Best Buy is looking to divert that sort of activity, and convince a customer who normally would buy and return later to pay an additional fee to rent an item for several days to decide if they really want it. The retailer recognizes that such a fee might not be attractive on all products, and for now seems to be reserving it for a handful of bigger-ticket tech products.”

“The program could also help Best Buy capture a prospective customer’s attention earlier in the buying process while they are still researching a purchase. Amazon has done very well in making itself essentially a shopping search engine to be used by consumers in the earliest phases of their product hunts, and Best Buy may feel it can get in on that action by enticing customers to try products without a full commitment.”

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How Best Buy Engages Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: “Best Buy, the electronics giant left for dead a few years ago, is bucking America’s retail slump by turning its cavernous stores from a potential drag on its business into a way to fend off Amazon.com Inc.”

“To fend off digital competition, Best Buy gave up efforts to charge consumers more in stores than online. It promised in 2013 to match online competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s—a move that has paid dividends now that shoppers can instantly check prices on their smartphones … The price guarantee made a loyal shopper out of Anton Robinson, a 34-year-old lawyer in New York City. He buys his music equipment from Best Buy because he prefers to test products in person and doesn’t have to compare prices.”

“Best Buy also found a way to get more out of its giant stores. The company eliminated much of the floorspace once dedicated to DVDs and other media and has given it to brands such as Samsung, Verizon and Microsoft , which both pay rent and provide staff with expertise … Best Buy plans a nationwide rollout of in-home advisory services, in which consultants will visit consumers to field technology questions. Says CEO Hubert Joly: “Having these conversations in the home unlocks all sorts of discussions with the customers. There’s some needs that people never talk about in the stores.”

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Dyson: The Apple of Appliances?

The New York Times: “Not many consumer electronics brands would spend almost two decades — and tens of millions of dollars — building a vacuum cleaner that retails for more than a top-of-the-line laptop. But combining an almost obsessive eye for design and engineering, the privately held Dyson has cornered the nonglamorous market of high-end vacuum cleaners, lights and hair dryers — and in the process bucked the technology truism that companies rarely make money in the difficult arena of hardware.”

“Dyson has shown an uncanny ability to mint money. Its latest robot cleaner, which is selling briskly, exemplifies that and puts Dyson in rarefied company alongside Apple as one of the few tech companies worldwide to consistently profit from consumer gadgets Dyson is moving beyond vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers. The company said it would spend more than $2 billion on battery technology, machine learning and other high-tech wizardry to create new products, many of which remain under wraps behind tight security at its headquarters.”

“At Dyson’s headquarters … prototypes were covered in tarps while large areas of the open-plan offices were off limits. Photographs of engineers’ computer screens were prohibited, and machinery in some of the research labs was obscured with black trash bags.” Mario Cosci of Dyson comments: “It’s a little like a brainwashing atmosphere. When you work every day with people who are driven, you can’t swim against it.”

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Polaroid Swing: The Hogwarts of Photographs

The Guardian: “The Silicon Valley startup Polaroid Swing will this week offer more than 200 photographers equipment, exhibition space and possible commissions in its new artist support programme … The company, which launched its Polaroid Swing app last summer, has taken the name and spirit of Polaroid and repackaged it into a new enterprise with a mission, it says, to create a ‘living photograph,’ a step toward something you might see in the Harry Potter movies.” Co founder Tommy Stadlen explains: “Photographs should be alive. Every photograph in the digital world and eventually in the physical world, why can’t you move it? Why can’t you have the composition of a still and be able to see it move?”

“The concept is based on humans seeing the world in ‘short moments, not photos or videos,’ he said. So with a Swing photo you will see the wave crash or the eye blink. The motion is triggered by dragging your mouse pointer across the image, or your finger across it in the case of a touchscreen … The idea is that applicants will use the Polaroid Swing app to take pictures which they then submit through social media. The best submissions will be whittled down to a shortlist judged by a diverse panel which will include the photographer Paolo Roversi, the Tate chairman, Lord Browne, and the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.”

“Around 100 people in the UK, 100 in the US and more around the world will then be invited on to the programme which will mean getting a free iPhone, being part of digital and physical exhibitions and having the possibility of brand commission work … Stadlen said they were new and different, and that the company’s ambitions were not restricted to the digital world. It eventually hopes to create hardware that allows moving photographs in the physical world.”

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The Smart Commuter Jacket

The Washington Post: “Google and Levi’s showed off this week a new joint project: a $350 smart jean jacket. While this jacket literally puts tech on your sleeve, it does it in a subtle way that doesn’t require putting another screen on your body. In doing so, it offers a glimpse of what smart fabrics can do and of the evolution of the wearables market — one in which consumers won’t have to wear a clunky accessory that screams high tech.

“The smart Commuter jacket, which was introduced over the weekend at SXSW in Austin, is aimed at those who bike to work. It has technology woven into its fibers, and allows users to take phone calls, get directions and check the time, by tapping and swiping their sleeves. That delivers information to them through their headphones so that they can keep their eyes on the road without having to fiddle with a screen. The jacket the should hit stores this fall. Its smart fibers are washable; they’re powered by a sort of smart cufflink that you’ll have to remove when you wash the jacket. The cufflink has a two-day battery life.”

“While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not appeal to everyone (especially on a hot summer day), the existence of such a jacket is telling about where the market may be going … what makes the Commuter jacket different from other wearables — and even other smart clothing — is that it’s not necessarily marketing the tech as its main feature, but rather using it to solve problems that everyday people have. Many smartwatches and even other smart clothing can feel like solutions in search of a problem to solve. The Commuter jacket … stands out as a type of wearable for a more everyday consumer who may not be that interested in the tech, but likes the practical features that come with a stylish jacket.”

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Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

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