Thought Starters: Google I/O, property puzzle in England and rates of innovation

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 Google and Apple at a crossroads, England’s property market and questions over the rate of innovation among other things:

Whilst many technological and social indicators point to the lead that Western Europe and North America has over the developing world, there are cases where incumbent infrastructure slows down the introduction of new technologies. An example of this from  the World Economic Forum is the lead Sub-Saharan Africa has in mobile money accounts, aided by the lack of traditional financial services infrastructure:

Sub-Saharan Africa has worlds largest share of mobile money accounts

Interesting benchmark figures from Pew Research on the use of online services by the American population. There’s obviously plenty of opportunity for growth still across many different categories:

72% of Americans have used some type of shared or on-demand online services

Google I/O developer conference happened on Wednesday which saw the launch of new virtual reality, mobile messaging, smart home and virtual assistant platforms and updates for Android, Android Wear and Android Auto. It’s worth checking out The Verge’s coverage of the leading announcements if you’re wanting more details on what to expect in the coming months.

Ben Thompson has an interesting follow on to the conference pointing to Google’s technical process but also suggesting that other factors at play are likely to hamper the organisation’s success:

The problem is that as much as Google may be ahead, the company is also on the clock: every interaction with Siri, every signal sent to Facebook, every command answered by Alexa, is one that is not only not captured by Google but also one that is captured by its competitors. Yes, it is likely Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are all behind Google when it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence — hugely so, in many cases — but it is not a fair fight. Google’s competitors, by virtue of owning the customer, need only be good enough, and they will get better. Google has a far higher bar to clear — it is asking users and in come cases their networks to not only change their behavior but willingly introduce more friction into their lives — and its technology will have to be special indeed to replicate the company’s original success as a business.

Another company that’s had a strong run but for which the future is harder to anticipate is Apple. Marco Arment has been a valuable commentator and proponent of Apple and its broader ecosystem and his concerns about Apple’s long term health should definitely be taken seriously:

But if Google’s right, it won’t be enough to buy Siri’s creators again or partner with Yelp for another few years. If Apple needs strong AI and big-data services in the next decade to remain competitive, they need to have already been developing that talent and those assets, in-house, extensively, for years. They need to be a big-data-services company. Their big-data AI services need to be far better, smarter, and more reliable than they are. And I just don’t see that happening.

As a venture capitalist, David Pakman has a vested interest in a more entrepreneurial music ecosystem. That being said, I do believe he has a strong point talking about how major record labels are squeezing some of the innovation out of the music sector:

In my mind, it would have been in the long-term best interests of the recorded music business to enable the widespread success of thousands of companies, each paying fair but not bone-crushing royalties back to labels, artists and publishers. But the high royalty rates imposed upon startups, even after clear signs over the past 19 years that the strategy killed companies, prevented a healthy ecosystem from emerging. It’s a bed the music industry made for itself, and now it is left to lie in it.

Whilst there’s a been a lot of talk about the polarisation of incomes in the West, research from Walter Frick points to a similar polarisation in corporate performance with leading firms galloping ahead of everyone else:

The gap between the most productive firms and the rest is growing

Donald Trump’s nomination for the Republican party is pretty much a given now, and I’m glad to see more and more commentators coming out to express their opposition to his candidacy. Robert Kagan’s is definitely among the more eloquent, let’s just hope the US population listens to reason:

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

The UK referendum on whether the country chooses to leave the European Union is fast approaching leading to some scaremongering  from the pro Brexit camp.  Providing a rather different perspective is research from Philippe Legrain who points out the economic benefits potentially provided by the influx of refugees to Europe:

Refugees who arrived in Europe last year could repay spending on them almost twice over within just five years, according to one of the first in-depth investigations into the impact incomers have on host communities.

Refugees will create more jobs, increase demand for services and products, and fill gaps in European workforces – while their wages will help fund dwindling pensions pots and public finances, says Philippe Legrain, a former economic adviser to the president of the European commission.

Over the following decade, England’s population rose by 4.1m while its housing stock rose by only 1.7m, something which any economist will tell you is going to cause some problems. This shortage is exacerbated by disparities between local authorities as The Economist recently mapped (click through for the interactive version):

Housing stock v demand

A further indication of the overheated nature of certain parts of the UK housing sector can be seen in the fact that the average first time buyer in London now earns £85k and has a deposit of £123k according to the ONS figures:

London First Time Buyers

Frans de Waal has taken a critical look at economics, pointing to its vision of the self interested human being rather different from how societies developed or currently operate:

Economists should reread the work of their father figure, Adam Smith, who saw society as a huge machine. Its wheels are polished by virtue, whereas vice causes them to grate. The machine just won’t run smoothly without a strong community sense in every citizen. Smith saw honesty, morality, sympathy and justice as essential companions to the invisible hand of the market. His views were based on our being a social species, born in a community with responsibilities towards the community.

There’s been a lot of debate over the rate of innovation, with the naysayers  attitudes illustrated by Peter Thiel’s infamous statement “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters.” Neil Irwin has looked at the big inventions over the last 150 years, and suggests the nature of what is being invented might have changed but the pace of innovation hasn’t:
In short, the sheer number of ways a person can be in touch with others, and consume information or entertainment, has exploded, and the price has collapsed.

This is the area in which human life has changed the most in the last 46 years. We live and travel much as we did in 1970. We eat more variety of foods. Products of all types keep getting a little safer, a little more efficient, a little better designed.

But the real revolution of recent decades is in the supercomputer most people keep in their pocket. And how that stacks up against the advances of yesteryear is the great question of whether an era of innovation remains underway, or has slowed way down.

One innovation I am expecting to see much more of in the coming years is augmented reality with its fusing of the virtual and real life. Keiichi Matsuda provides a rather dystopian view of the world we might face in years to come:

The featured image is from eko.

Thought Starters: innovation, incomes, employment and happiness

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology:

The Global Innovation Report as the name suggests ranks the innovation levels of various countries. The Economist recently published the following which points to Britain doing strongly:

Global Innovation Ranking

Figures from the US Census Bureau indicate growth in jobs but no commensurate increase in median incomes as represented in the following graph from the Economic Policy Institute:

Real Median Household Income

Whilst there’s been a lot of noise about the growing wealth of the top 1%, analysis by the Brookings Institute points to the relative success of the upper middle class in the US in recent years:

“While the rise in income and wealth at the very top is eye-catching, it also distracts attention from the action a little lower down the income distribution. The idea that the real divide is between ordinary members of the bottom 99 percent and the rich 1 percent is a dangerous one, since it makes it easier for those in the upper middle class to convince themselves they are in the same economic boat as the rest of America; they’re not.”

Maintaining overall income is not going to get any easier in the future due to an ageing population, with Morgan Stanley figures point to a decline in the total working population since 2005:

Working Age Population

There’s been lots of speculation recently on the effect that technology is having on the labour market. James Bessen suggests that we’re looking at a process of displacement rather than replacement of labour with a need for a labour force that is more adept at using technology:

“While technology takes over some tasks, it also increases demand for goods and services and hence increases demand for workers performing the remaining tasks. Instead of just eliminating jobs, new jobs are also created, sometimes in different occupations.”

Eurostat figures point to where Europeans spend comparatively more (or less) of their income on proportionately. Rather surprised to find UK’s spend on alcohol and tobacco to be lower than the European average:

European Household Spending

Marco Arment’s launch and then pulling of the Peace adblocker for iOS has led to renewed focus on the plight of the online media industry. Ben Thompson takes a look at some of the key pressures facing the industry and comes up with some recommendations if they want to be profitable.

Among the recent announcements at Apple’s Special Event on the 0th of September was the launch of the iPhone Upgrade Programme. Benedict Evans‘ takes a closer look at the initiative and how it shifts the balance of power from the mobile networks to Apple.

It’s also worth reading Benedict Evans’ piece critiquing talk of the  mobile internet given that internet access via mobile devices is increasingly the norm rather than the exception

Facebook has updated its Pages offering as it looks to provide a more relevant platform  for small businesses’ which includes an ecommerce offering and better design for mobile users:

Facebook Pages Update

Adam Piore writing for Nautilus looks at the role of human contact in making us happy and the impact that social networks are having on these relationships.

The featured image is a piece called Huemul produced by Pastel in Buenos Aires and published in StreetArtNews.

 

Thought Starters: WeChat, Android fragmentation, media consumption and Ethereum

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

Connie Chan’s profile of WeChat for Andreessen Horowitz is a strong reminder that there’s plenty of tech innovation outside Silicon Valley which can change the world.

The significance of WeChat can be seen in Benedict Evans’ analysis of the growing dominance of mobile and more specifically smartphone. As handsets increasingly come to dominate the digital landscape there’s been a flow on effect on a range of new tech innovations that are leveraging associated hardware and software innovations:

Growing scale of smartphones

Cities around the world are competing to be seen as the most friendly for internet startups. Startup Compass have looked to rank cities by their performance, funding, market reach, talent and startup experience in the 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley comes out on top:

Startup Ecosystem Ranking

OpenSignal have updated their findings on fragmentation within the Android ecosystem which provides an illustration of the broad array of devices and challenges in adapting to the operating system:

Android Fragmentation

Ofcom’s Communications Market report provides a valuable window into the changing media and technology usage of UK consumers. A great starting point if you’re doing research into use of TV, video, radio, telecoms and web based content.

Liam Boluk looks at consumers’ changing consumption of music in the US and how the industry is attempting to adapt to new business models:

Consumer Spend on Recorded Music

Ethereum has launched its blockchain based cryptocurrency out into the public realm incorporating a virtual machine and smart contracts. This along with other blockchain based platforms will push the internet into new realms inside and outside the financial sector. Check out the video below, Vinay Gupta’s introduction and Ethereum Frontier Guide if you want to get more actively involved.

Big news this week was Google’s announcement of a restructure that has seen the creation of Alphabet as a holding company with various subsidiaries for its various business arms. Ben Thompson takes a closer look at the motivations and likely implications of the move.

Marco Arment takes a critical look at the increasingly intrusive online media sector.  He goes on to argue (despite being a publisher himself) that this approach provides growing justification for consumers’ use of ad blocking software despite the negative effects this is likely to have on media creators:

“All of that tracking and data collection is done without your knowledge, and — critically — without your consent. Because of how the web and web browsers work, the involuntary data collection starts if you simply follow a link. There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.”

The featured image is Cesarea, a piece by Bosoletti in Casarano, Italy and published in StreetArtNews.

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.