Virgin-Alaska: Passion vs. Performance

The New York Times: The Alaska Airlines takeover of Virgin America may test whether passion or performance is paramount when it comes to creating customer loyalty. “Although Alaska has been a perennial leader in best-airline rankings, its allure comes more from its reliability than mood lighting or funny safety videos. Like Virgin America, it inspires loyalty among customers, if not the same passion.”

However, travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt thinks Virgin America “failed to capitalize on its San Francisco hub or to build on its early innovations … The airline compensated for its financial losses by cutting flights in recent years, even as it added routes to Hawaii and elsewhere. While passengers may love the ambience of a Virgin flight, they love the ability to get where they are going more.”

“The combination of hip and practical could give the new company a competitive advantage, Mr. Harteveldt said. The smartest thing Alaska could do … would be to combine the characteristics that have made each airline popular.”

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The Gray Market: Boomers are Booming

The Economist: “Today the developed world is in the early stages of a ‘gray-quake.’ Those over 60 constitute the fastest-growing group in the populations of rich countries, with their number set to increase by more than a third by 2030, from 164m to 222m. Older consumers are also the richest thanks to house-price inflation and generous pensions. The over-60s currently spend some $4 trillion a year and that number will only grow.”

“Some firms are trying to understand older people better. Kimberley-Clark, a maker of consumer products, has built a mock-up of what a senior-friendly shop might look like in the future. Ford has created a ‘third-age suit’ for car designers to wear to help them understand the needs of older people: the suit thickens the waist, stiffens the joints and makes movement more cumbersome … Understanding is giving birth to new products and business models … Retailers are surreptitiously lowering shelves and putting in carpets to make it harder to slip … Kimberley-Clark has overhauled its Depend brand of adult nappies to make them more like regular underwear.”

“The baby-boomers have changed everything they have touched since their teenage years, leaving behind them a trail of inventions, from pop culture to two-career families. Retirement is next on the list.”

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Fisher-Price Designs Chic Toys for Stylish Parents

“Mattel Inc. is bringing in designer Jonathan Adler as creative director for its Fisher-Price baby gear and infant toys, as it seeks to reverse a prolonged sales slump at the brand,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Mr. Adler, a ceramicist turned interior designer who has produced collections for Barneys New York and other retailers, has reached a three-year partnership with the company.”

“Mr. Adler has designed a premium priced collection of Fisher-Price baby furniture, gear and apparel that will start selling in September. His design influence also will be applied to everyday Fisher-Price products that will be widely available in early 2017, which will be priced in line with current Fisher-Price items. ‘Your kid’s stuff is going to be in your life and your living room all the time. It’s the landscape of your house … It needs to look chic,'” Mr. Adler said.

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Steve Case: The Internet’s Third Wave Is Here

The “third wave” of the Internet is upon us, writes AOL co-founder Steve Case in The Wall Street Journal. “The First Wave was about building the Internet,” he writes. “This phase peaked around 2000, setting the stage for the Second Wave, which has been about building apps and services on top of the Internet.”

“Now the Third Wave has begun. Over the next decade and beyond, the Internet will rapidly become ubiquitous, integrated into our everyday lives, often in invisible ways. This will challenge industries such as health care, education, financial services, energy and transportation.”

“Take education … entrepreneurs are revolutionizing how instructors teach and students learn … Or look at health care … the real action to improve America’s medical system is coming from entrepreneurs. They are inventing better ways to keep us healthy, and smarter ways to treat us when we get sick.”

“The world is changing for all of us, and a new playbook is required.”

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A.I. Design: ‘The Next Big Thing’

“The tech industry’s new architecture is based not just on the giant public computing clouds of Google, Microsoft and Amazon, but also on their A.I. capabilities,” The New York Times reports.

“There is going to be a boom for design companies, because there’s going to be so much information people have to work through quickly. Just teaching companies how to use A.I. will be a big business,” says Diane B. Greene, the head of Google Compute Engine.

She adds: “We may build an A.I. system to figure out all the ways businesses can use this. The relationship between big companies and deep machine intelligence is just starting.”

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Sharp’s Quirky Culture is Innovation Key

The Wall Street Journal: “With a nearly $6 billion takeover up in the air, Sharp Corp. this week highlighted its latest lineup of quirky consumer products … Among the offerings: the Plasmacluster, an ionic air purifier that also captures mosquitoes … Consumers in Japan are now awaiting the RoboHon—a mobile phone and pet robot … With the market for smartphones nearing saturation, Sharp hopes the robotcum-phone will represent the next step in mobile communication.”

“One secret to Sharp’s innovation is its laid-back culture … product planning and design were always freewheeling, reflecting a taste of its home base in Osaka, Japan’s comedy mecca … Sharp’s quirkiness isn’t limited to product design. Its official Twitter account features irreverent, self-deprecating humor, even about its products’ sometimes-limited appeal.” Sample Tweet: “We also have earphones, which won’t cap earholes and are very rare. You won’t see them around because many retail stores won’t carry them.”

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Narrative Games: Changing Stories By Breaking Rules

“Two innovative recent board games—Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories—make narrative a central feature of their designs,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Every play of a game unfolds differently; unlike in a book or movie, the ending isn’t set … From the players’ decisions evolves a narrative or story, with important choices, dramatic tension, surprises and turning points.”

“Pandemic Legacy is a new incarnation of the modern classic Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players take on the roles of public-health workers and collaborate to vanquish a set of diseases that have spread across the globe.” After each game, players “open a factory-sealed envelope that reveals instructions on how to modify the game before their next play. The board, pieces, cards and even the rules themselves may change.”

In T.I.M.E. Stories, “players are time-traveling agents who have to enter alternate realities (such as 1920s Paris) and solve mysteries to save the world. Once your team wins, you can’t play again—that’s the end of the story.”

“Traditionally, a game is defined by its rules. If you don’t let pawns turn into queens, you aren’t playing chess, and if you make captures optional, you aren’t playing checkers. The success of Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. Stories shows that this rule itself was made to be broken.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Nike’s Blue Ribbon Studio: The ‘Ultimate Creative Indulgence’

“On the western edge of the Nike campus there is a glass and steel building that is not like the others,” reports The New York Times. “It is not named after an athlete, like the John McEnroe building, where the executive offices are, or the Tiger Woods, where the conference center is. It is not all blond wood and long corridors, as are the rest of the structures.”

“Rather, it is an airy, loftlike space called Blue Ribbon Design Studio, which opened just a year ago. It is full of bolts of fabric and sewing machines, silk-screen printers and other creative tools, and looks like nothing so much as ‘art school but better,’ according to Ryan Noon, who directs it … The space even has its own scent, which Mr. Noon created and named ‘Freedom of the Creative Mind,’ a combination of canvas, gesso, sawed wood and ‘sexy Nike designer sweat,’ he said. Also its own uniform: graphic light blue and white smocks, ‘like what they wear in couture ateliers.'”

“Blue Ribbon was built, he said, because Nike realized that its designers needed an unstructured space where they could just play around and make things — almost anything they wanted. It is the ultimate creative indulgence.”

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