Thought Starters: ubiquitous smartphones, post-PC and universal basic income

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at the transition from a PC to a smartphone-dominated world, the story behind financial results from Apple and Facebook, the growth of Sci-Hub and a closer look at the universal basic income model among other things:

Benedict Evans profiles the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone and how the mobile market is changing as the technology becomes increasingly commodified:

Smartphones have unique scale for tech

Steven Sinofsky moves to an iPad Pro for his daily computing requirements and shares his experiences. As the PC loses its hegemony, raises new challenges and opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs:

The shift to this new form factor and new platform will bring with it cultural changes that take advantage of what are perceived as disadvantages. As makers, being early is essential, otherwise you are late.

For more on the topic of post-PC world, I’d suggest reading Paul Thurrott’s reluctant forecast of the demise of Microsoft’s Windows and Steven Sinofsky and Benedict Evans rounding out their thoughts on the a16z podcast:

The release of quarterly results has provided a valuable window into the ups and downs of some of the world’s tech giants. Neil Cybart’s analysis of Apple’s financial results suggests we’ve reached peak iPhone, with sales hit by longer upgrade cycles and fewer easy growth opportunities:

iPhone Unit Sales Growth (trailing 12 months)

Apple CEO Tim Cook has emphasised the company’s service offerings in recent announcements. It’s worth having a read of Ben Thompson’s analysis of this move as the company looks to avoid being typecast as simply a maker of beautiful devices:

With regards to the iPhone, it’s hard to see its record revenues and profits ever being surpassed by another product, by Apple or anyone else: it is in many respects the perfect device from a business perspective, and given that whatever replaces it will likely be significantly less dependent on a physical interface and even more dependent on the cloud (which will help commoditize the hardware), it will likely be sold for much less and with much smaller profit margins.

Facebook had more joy with its financial results growing monthly and daily active users and mobile’s share of traffic although growing presence in developing markets is dragging down its average revenue per user. Whilst recent research suggests that people might be increasingly wary of sharing their personal thoughts on Facebook, the social network maintains a strong role as onramp to many consumers’ digital world as Will Oremus comments:

The company has reinvented itself in two distinct ways. First, Facebook as a platform has been quietly evolving into something different than a social network—something less personal, but no less useful. Second, Facebook as a company has been furiously hedging its bets on the future of technology and social media, to the point that it is no longer properly described as merely a social network—no more than Alphabet (né Google) is properly described as a search website.

So what has the Facebook app and site become, if not a social network? The answer is rather obvious when you watch how people use it. It has become a personalized portal to the online world.

Whilst tech unicorns have typically avoided the scrutiny of the stock market by staying private, analysis of sales of ping-pong tables in Silicon Valley suggest that venture capital funding might not be as free flowing as it once was:

Sales of ping-pong tables to companies at a Silicon Valley store correlate with venture-capital deals made during the same quarter.

Whilst we’re on the subject of startups, it’s worth reading Chris Dixon’s call for entrepreneurs to look broadly to better understand future threats and opportunities, namechecking automation of logistics, apps, video and voice services:

Think of the internet economic loop as a model train track. Positions in front of you can redirect traffic around you. Positions after you can build new tracks that bypass you. New technologies come along (which often look toy-like and unthreatening at first) that create entirely new tracks that render the previous tracks obsolete.

The American IAB has released research tracking consumers’ use of smartphones and tablets when shopping, pointing to the ways different age categories use their devices. This providing both a threat and an opportunity for traditional bricks and mortar retailers:

Smartphone as Shopping Assistant

John Bohannon profiles the growth of Sci-Hub which offers users a means of accessing copyrighted academic research regardless of whether people have the necessary institutional resources. The service provides a valuable source for researchers in less well-funded institutions, but usage statistics suggest that users include plenty of people with the necessary credentials and are simply looking for more user-friendly alternatives:

Server log data for the website Sci-Hub from September 2015 through February 2015

With predictions of automation threatening employment across an increasingly broad spectrum of jobs, there’s been growing calls for the introduction of universal basic income. This would essentially provide a guaranteed income to all regardless of employment status and has gained an interesting collection of supporters from both ends of the political spectrum. It’s something I am expecting to hear a lot more about in the coming months and you get an introduction to the concept from Tim Harford (shorter version), Andrew Flowers (longer version) and the Freakonomics team (podcast version).

The featured image is a Nerone mural from Bordeaux, France published in ekosystem.

Thought Starters: Chinese digital media, iPhone’s dominance, Holacracy and Europe’s lagging digital innovation

The following is a look through articles, research and opinion pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

We are seeing Chinese businesses increasingly innovate and excel, providing business models that set themselves apart from businesses in the West. Digital media and communications have been a particularly fertile ground illustrated by the following table which illustrates how diversified the revenue streams of Tencent and YY are compared to their American counterparts:

Tencent Facebook YY and Youtube Monetisation

Apple is carving an increasingly dominant place in the world’s smartphone marketplace in terms of market share and profit. Some critics have questioned whether Apple can continue this growth trajectory, but Ben Thompson provides a strong defence for why we’re not likely to see this train derailing in the near future:

Smartphone Marketshare

Closely tied to the issue of smartphone ownership is the penetration of different mobile browsers. Here again Akamai’s figures point to Apple’s Mobile Safari browser dominating globally:

Global Mobile Browser Share

Roger D. Hodge looks at the ups and downs of Zappos’ introduction of the Holacracy system for self-organisation. It’s a long article but provides a valuable window into the challenges (and some of the opportunities) of introducing radical organisational change:

Zappos' Models of Organisation

As we embed the internet in an more aspects of  our lives, countries’ digital readiness provides an increasingly important measure of future economic health. Tufts University created the Digital Evolution Index to measure the building of digital capacity and many European countries don’t come out particularly well according to Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi:

Digital Evolution Index

One digital innovation with its roots in Europe is the blockchain platform Ethereum (although there’s definitely an argument for it being a global project). Vinay Gupta provides a valuable look at the development of blockchain and smart contracts within the wider context of the evolution of databases and the internet.

Christina Farr looks at the rise and fall of the home cleaning service Homejoy, providing important lessons for startups aiming for growth at all costs.

A lot of media attention has focused on the rapid rise in San Francisco property prices, so it’s interesting to see UBS’ comparison of how overvalued the city’s real estate is compared to other leading cities:

Global Real Estate Bubble Index

Eric Jaffe’s analysis of trends in working hours over the last 130 years points to a downward trend – lets hope that we see this trend continue without leaving us all unemployed:

Annual Hours of Work

The featured image is a mural in Covilhã, Portugal by Pantonio and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters

Content that has caught my eye recently or got me thinking. I particularly recommend Tim Urban’s article on artificial intelligence.

WeAreSocial provide their wrap up of key digital up of key digital, social and mobile statistics for 30 key global markets as well as regional overviews – a valuable reference source:

Flurry’s mobile statistics point to lifestyle & shopping as growing rapidly in consumers’ use of mobile, providing a stark contrast to the more well established mobile gaming:

Time Spent Mobile

Whilst global tablet penetration continues to grow, we’re seeing a drop in the phenomenal growth rates of earlier years according to eMarketer’s forecast:

Tablets

Joichi Ito compares and contrasts the development of the internet with bitcoin,  providing a valuable lens in which to understand the fundamentals of the cryptocurrency and how it may develop in the future.

Steven Levy looks at how Google adapted its business strategy to better accommodate an increasingly mobile driven world:

Knowledge Graph structures the world’s information in a vast database. Voice Search incorporates spoken language into Search. Google Now tells what people want to know before they ask. All three, not coincidentally, are tied to Google’s focus on mobile. Though certainly not an exhaustive list, those components — and the way they work together— have helped transform Google Search in the past three years, from a delivery system of “ten blue links” into something almost psychic: a system that doesn’t behave like a computer but an intelligent hive of knowledge that wisely interprets and satisfies your information needs. And it did it all when you weren’t looking.

Benedict Evans similarly looks at how Google adapted Android and Apple adapted iOS to changing market environment and capabilities. Whilst in some respects, their positions are closer now than they were in the past, the companies strategy are based on fundamentally different underpinnings.

Nick Bilton profiles Snapchat Stories and how it fits in to the increasingly diverse range of communication channels available to consumers and particularly teenagers and young adults. Snapchat is looking to sell the service to advertisers, big question is whether it’s asking too much for the service with commentators both for and against.

Microsoft publicly revealed their HoloLens offering, taking the concept of enhanced eyewear a stage beyond Google Glass. It’s a fascinating project although it will be interesting to see if Microsoft does a better job than Google in overcoming consumers misgivings about wearing a computer on their face. Read a first hand experience of using the eyewear over on Wired:

Tim Urban profiles the growth of artificial intelligence, profiling the transition from Artificial Narrow Intelligence to Artificial Superintelligence and the innovations that are likely to enable this:

Intelligence2

The Verge highlights the role of British based Gamma Group International in supporting Bahraini regime through spyware enabling the surveillance and hacking of activists digital communications. Given the more insidious uses that surveillance can be put to, I’m not a fan of David Cameron’s proposal for backdoor access to digital communications and also given the damage this could do to the UK’s digital sector as covered by Cory Doctorow.

Raffi Khatchadourian looks at Affectiva’s move to digitally read consumers’ emotions through the tracking of facial expressions. Obvious implications for measuring the impact of marketing communications but it’ll be interesting to see how it gets used for other purposes.

LSE Cities has pulled together a data visualisation illustrating how much population densities vary among the world’s major cities and published in Vox.

City Pop Density

Aaron Sankin looks at racial preferences among users of OkCupid and Tinder which points to biases among different ethnic groups, including among those who typically claim otherwise.

The featured image is mural by Nelio and Simek in Lyon.

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends and the impact of technology on the way we live.

The McKinsey Quarterly profiles technological disruption, emerging markets growth and ageing population as trends that will have a substantial effect on business in the coming 50 years:

Workers per Dependent

Going on public confidence, we’ve still got a long way to go before the world pulls out of the recession according to research from Pew Research, although reassuringly, UK is among the more confident:

Economic mood

Americans are seemingly chain to their desks, followed not too far behind by the UK according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Salon’s reporting of the research also highlights willingness of Americans and Britons to work weekends and evenings:

Working hours

The Economist profiles  the world  of real time bidding for online advertising which has gained a strong foothold in US and UK markets and looks likely to rapidly spread to the rest of the world:

Real time bidding

Research from Harvard Business School profiled in Forbes contrasts the ROI from search and display advertising. I won’t giveaway who came out on top.

Much has been made of the impact that Amazon is having on the retail sector with effects particularly felt in the book sector. Zachary Karabell’s reporting points to the independents rather than the larger book store chains as proving best able to respond to Amazon’s encroachment.

The Guardian has avoided adding paywalls to its website unlike competitors The Times and the New York Times. What the organisation has done is follow the lead of other move media organisations and establish a membership led events programme offering that will bring its staff more into face to face contact with its readers:

Guardian

The New Statesman profiles bellingcat which looks to use a citizen based journalism model to shed light on conflict zones, with successful reporting from Ukraine and Syria among other locations.

There’s been no shortage of coverage of Apple’s launch event for Apple Pay, iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Marco Arment looks at what we would like to see with the Apple Watch but then goes on to praise Apple for its ability to produce best in class product design:

The ideal smartwatch would have a high-resolution, color, self-illuminated but not too bright, highly visible yet completely subtle screen that’s always on, but isn’t tacky and doesn’t draw much attention to itself from others. The screen must be as large as possible so you can read and touch it nicely, but as small as possible so it isn’t ostentatious and doesn’t look out of proportion on a wrist. This screen, and all of the other components, must use as close to zero power as possible because the battery needs to last at least a week (ideally much longer), weigh as little as possible, and occupy almost no space.

So it needs to be bright, dim, bold, subtle, large, and small, with a battery that lasts a month with zero mass, and some compelling everyday applications beyond telling time and showing phone notifications. The true design challenge isn’t making it pretty — it’s making it good.

Horace Dediu in his analysis points to Apple’s presentation which highlighting the Watch’s role as timepiece, communicator and health and fitness device but he goes on to suggest that we will see lots more use cases emerge in the coming years.

Whilst much of the consumer attention was on the iPhone and Apple Watch launch, we may well find that it’s Apple Pay that will have the most substantial long term effect  on our society, giving the mobile payments sector an important boost.

For those of you wanting to find out more about the wearable technology sector outside of Apple’s launch, you might want to try PSFK’s recently released presentation:

Tinder has reshaped the way that many people approach dating and relationships. If you’re interested in finding out more about the site, I’d suggest you try Kiera Feldman’s oral history or for a more analytical approach try Anne Helen Petersen looking at how race and social class affects people’s choices on the platform.

Tinder

A lot of noise has been made about the disruptive forces of Silicon Valley. Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky argues that the tech sector should be more selective in their use of the phrase and suggests that Airbnb is more a return to older ways of doing business rather than something totally new:

 Dougald Hine highlights the need for reflection as consumers are faced with an ever expanding hosepipe of information:

The latter requires, among other things, space for reflection – allowing what we have already absorbed to settle, waiting to see what patterns emerge. Find the corners of our lives in which we can unplug, the days on which it is possible to refuse the urgency of the inbox, the activities that will not be rushed. Switch off the infinity machine, not forever, nor because there is anything bad about it, but out of recognition of our own finitude: there is only so much information any of us can bear, and we cannot go fishing in the stream if we are drowning in it. As any survivor of the 1960s counterculture could tell us, it is best to treat magic substances with respect – and to be careful about the dosage.

The featured image is by Ben Slow in Vitry, Paris and was found on vitostreet’s Flickr stream.

Thought Starters

New Geography has produced a ranking of the most influential cities. For the moment, the ranking is dominated by the old world with London, New York and Paris on top but Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Beijing all make the top 10.

Silicon Valley retains its position as the epicentre of the technology world but growing costs mean that the region see it taking on a role of growing startups rather than initiating them according to Armando Biondi:

Or getting teams from 10 to 1,000 people, that’s hard. And that’s what Silicon Valley does best and is most excited about. And, coincidentally, that’s also where most of the company value is generated. The consequence? Silicon Valley is no longer the best place to start a company (unless you’ve already been living there for a while now, of course) because everywhere else is. And “everywhere else” is the rest of the world — with cheaper talent, lower cost of living, and good access to initial capital as well — but also the rest of the U.S. outside of the tech hubs.

Technology has long history of disrupting employment and current developments in software look like more than continuing this trend going on the following video:

Researchers at Oxford Martin School at Oxford University have looked at the effect of computerisation in more detail with 47% of current jobs potentially at risk over the next 10-20 years. For those with a shorter attention span, you can find an abbreviated version at Gizmag:

Susceptible to ComputerisationNielsen’s reporting on American’s media consumption habits point to smartphone and online video usage growing rapidly with a decline in traditional television viewing:

Growth Mobile Phone Usage

Research from GlobalWebIndex provides a more international view, with  European consumers spending more time with traditional media than their Asian equivalents:

Online vs Traditional MediaProviding further fuel to the argument that not all global consumers are the same is the following graph from Benedict Evans pointing to the variation in market share for mobile operating systems:

Smartphone OS

Steven Sinofsky looks at the key characteristics of the mobile operating system which differentiate it from  to the PC model. A valuable lesson in some of the factors that are reshaping the technology landscape.

Farhad Manjoo looks at the limitations of the smartphones and their shortcomings in providing a more personalised and contextually based experience to consumers:

Like a bumbling concierge, your phone often tries to assist you without pausing to consider any of the basic information it collects about your life. For instance, your phone has access to your calendar, and it also knows your physical location. So why isn’t it smarter about sending you the right notification at the right time — for instance, not during a first date? Why can’t it prioritize alerts from your wife and your boss over notifications for tweets from your high school pals?

David Holmes contrasts coverage of the Ferguson riots on Twitter and Facebook, with the algorithmic based approach of the latter providing less opportunity for hard news to get through for those who are interested:

Twitter, on the other hand, with the exception of the occasional promoted tweet, presents a raw feed of the people you follow, nothing more, nothing less. Users can carefully select the people they follow, so if you’re the type of politically-minded news junkie who wants to know the latest in the Michael Brown killing or any other major news story, you can curate the accounts you follow accordingly. That’s why no matter how hard Facebook tries to be akin to your daily newspaper, it’s still got nothing on Twitter when it comes to news.

Holmes goes on to suggest that this situation may change over time as Twitter looks to adopt a  more filtered approach to the feed it presents to consumers.

There’s been a lot of talk about email becoming marginalised in the home and work environment with the growth of mobile messaging and collaboration platforms such as Slack. Alexis C Madrigal presents a convincing counterargument pointing to the unbundling of email as increasing its relevance to modern consumers:

The metaphor of electronic mail never fully fit how people use e-mail. But, now, perhaps it might. Email could become a home for the kinds of communications that come in the mail: letters from actual people, bills, personalized advertisements, and periodicals. 

An interesting lens in which to view American society through is mentions of bacon and kale in social media which apparently correlates with state’s political leanings. A high indexing for kale correlates with a liberal, whilst high indexing on bacon correlates with a conservative bias.

Kale-Vs-BaconIf you have more than a passing interest in Russian society, the Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia exhibition on at the Photographer’s Gallery in London is well worth a look. Interesting window into Russia at the turn of the century as well as Soviet ruling elite’s move to control how Russian society was portrayed.

Varvara Stepanova Red Army Men

The featured image is a Cinzah Merkens piece for the  Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans – Mexico Expedition in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and covered in ArrestedMotion.

Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 2

There has been some interesting analysis surfacing looking at the different mobile and tablet platforms and their respective audiences. Benedict Evans raises the important point that Android tablets encompass a broad array of devices making comparisons between Android and iOS tablets very difficult. Daniel Eran Dilger expands on this, pointing to IDC, Gartner and Strategy Analytics’ failure to properly unpick the tablet and smartphone market leading to a situation where apples (iPads and iPhones) are compared with oranges (low spec Android phones and tablets). The ecosystem of mobile apps and their respective community of developers has a vital role to play in the success of any mobile operating systems (no apps > no sales). In North America and Western Europe, iOS dominates the developer community, but Mark Wilcox points out that this isn’t the case for Asia and Latin America. Something to bear in mind as Asia becomes a growing source of innovation in the mobile sector.

Global Platform Preferences

Ben Thompson has taken a valuable look at the different channels consumers are using to interact with online. It’s well worth reading his commentary on the roles of the different channels.

Social Communication Map

Whilst Silicon Valley may no longer have a near monopoly on startups, it still provides one of the driving forces for the tech sector. In this presentation, Loic Le Meur looks at some of the organisations and innovations that have gained a profile in the region. Wearable computing has been getting some renewed attention with a preview of the Glass Development Kit for developers. Thomas Claburn explores some of the myths currently associated with the wearable computing sector. The Guardian continue their great work on data visualisations with a look at which corporations have made a major contribution towards global warming.

The Guardian Contributors to Global Warming

I moved from an iPhone to an Android device a couple of years ago. Whilst the Android app ecosystem is moving towards parity, every so often you come across an app that you wish there was an Android equivalent. The latest one is I PIXEL U which enables users to pixelate particular aspects of their photographs.IPIXELU_COVER2

Google has created a charming pair of binoculars to celebrate the Sydney Opera House’s fortieth anniversary, giving consumers a window to other inspirational places.

24 hour music video has been created to support Pharrell Williams’ song Happy. Beautifully executed promotion of music outside your standard Youtube container. Google profile Doctor Who with their latest doodle and when activated, leads users through to an online game. Find out more about the Whodle over at the Guardian.

Doctor Who Google