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: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 20

With the recent Google I/O developers conference, there’s been no shortage of coverage of the mobile sector which is reflected in this blog posting. You will also find a critical look at the sharing economy, shopping malls, teens use of social media and the use of longform advertising among other matters.

Figures from PWC forecast that the UK economy will retain its strength over the next fifteen years  driven by a less rapidly ageing population and strong labour force participation when compared to its European counterparts.

April Siese takes a critical look at the sharing economy, pointing out that the benefits are likely to be unequally distributed:

Sharing-economy supporters see services as ways to disrupt the currently ineffective system, though their attempts are firmly targeted at a demographic with a disposable income—and with little regard for the underserved communities that they’re affecting.

James Greiff looks at the decline of the shopping mall in the US, pointing to the growth of ecommerce and social media’s role as social media as meeting place.Missing Mallrats

Monitise have pulled together a report looking at the growing use of mobile technologies and associated financial services globally, with a particular focus  on UK and USA. Mobile payments globally

Digital identity is growing in importance as consumers look to means of connecting a growing array of digital devices and services. In the UK the Government Digital Service is pushing forward with its Identity Assurance programme using third parties to authenticate consumers’ identity. Bob O’Donnell profiles current attempts in a sector that is still only in its early stages of development.

As more of our reading shifts to smartphones, Kevin Roose points to the book as becoming increasingly marginalised as we move away from the printed words and ereaders:

The silver lining of the app-ification of books is that it has increased the potential audience for e-books. Now, everyone with a smartphone has the ability to download and read any e-book from any publisher with a few taps. The bad news is that, if current trends hold, fewer and fewer people will have a device that is strictly for reading. Books are becoming just another app, and the publishing industry’s glorious e-reader future seems to be fading from view.

Bob Lefsetz looks to the future of the music industry as it continues its inexorable move from ownership to streaming.

Kantar have a web resource which allows users to assess changes in smartphone OS market share over time in key markets including UK, France, Germany, USA, China and Japan. BGR reports on collapsing market share on the part of Windows Phone which is looking less and less like a contender in the smartphone marketplace.

Smartphone OS Marketshare

Providing a contrasting approach is Benedict Evans who looks at the marketshare of different mobile operating systems across different market types as well as comparing mobile app revenues from iOS and Android.

Mobile Marketshare

Ben Bajarin contrasts the different approaches of Apple and Google in the smartphone marketplace.

To put it simply, Google’s strategy is dumb glass + smart cloud. Apple’s strategy is smart glass + deep cloud integration/synchronization. This is the clear departure in hardware philosophy the two companies will take. And it will dictate the types of customers each ecosystem has.

In a related piece, Benedict Evans takes a critical look at Amazon and Facebook’s attempts to take a more involved role in the mobile ecosystem.

Samsung is likely to feel the financial squeeze as it faces increasing competition from emerging Android handset manufacturers and an inability to deliver differentiation in other parts of the mobile value chain according to Jan Dawson.

The launch of the Amazon Fire Phone has left a few analysts intrigued or puzzled, particularly given the price point. Michael Mace portrays the move as a market experiment rather than a concerted effort to gain market share within the smartphone sector.

Facebook still dominates among US teenagers despite talk of an exodus as reported in eMarketer and Forrester.

teensocialscatter

Contently talking about short films/longform advertising as a better engage with consumers  who are spending more time with online video and provide opportunities for content that entertains rather than simply disrupts.

The featured image is a piece by Momo for the  Bien Urbain festival in Besançon and was photographed by Laure Saint Hillier & David Demougeot for Ekosystem.

The featured image is a piece by Momo for the  Bien Urbain festival in Besançon and was photographed by Laure Saint Hillier & David Demougeot for Ekosystem.