Monday’s WWDC Keynote was easily the largest set of changes made to Apple’s platforms since iOS 2 was announced in 2008. The effects of what was announced will be felt and discussed for years to come.
There is a lot to think through and write about, which I will be doing in the coming weeks. However, something struck me during the keynote that felt fairly small but, upon thinking about it afterward, I think could end up being important to Apple’s future success.

Apple announced further updates to their cloud service where you can save all of the photos and videos you take, all of your documents and all of your data. Apple announced that their Touch ID feature, which identifies you using your fingerprint, will now be accessible by third-party developers as well. And Apple announced that a new app and framework for centralizing all of your health and fitness data, which—given your permission—can automatically be sent to your doctor.

That’s in addition to storing your contacts, calendar and reminders, and tracking your location (and keeping that data on your device) over time so your iPhone can provide you with timely updates on how long it will take to get to home or work with current traffic. Combined, Apple is asking you to store nearly all of your intimate information on their devices and servers, and even to provide the most intimate—your health data—to your doctor.

And yet I’ve heard little or no consternation over Apple’s consolidating our most private data, in an era where our government maintains call logs, collects security and encryption exploits, breaks into private services to collect data, and lied to the public about the extent of what they are doing.
That should be surprising, especially considering how much push-back companies like Google and Facebook have received for collecting and using our personal data. On the whole, people seem to trust Apple to respect their personal data.

The reason, I think, starts with that Apple’s business is *not* their users’ data. Their business is selling devices and services to their users. As a result, Apple’s interest in their users’ data is not to generate revenue (which is inherently Google and Facebook’s interest), but rather to use it in such a way that they can create compelling and meaningful products for their customers. Their incentives are aligned with user incentives because of their business model.

Second, Apple takes this relationship very seriously. iOS makes it very clear when applications are requesting access to our personal data. Apple has worked quite hard to make sure that the *user* decides what and how much they want to share.

I don’t think Google or Facebook could announce that they are going to collect their users’ health data and optionally send it to their doctors without some reasonably large amount of criticism and fear of abuse. The reason is obvious: their primary business is utilizing user data to generate revenue, so why couldn’t they do the same with health data?

As time continues, the integration of our smartphones, health tracking devices and the increasingly sophisticated use of the data they generate together will become the primary space where meaningful development occurs in technology. There’s huge potential for what Apple has announced with HealthKit. If it takes off, it will be a single place to store all of our health data. This will not only benefit doctors because they will be able to see it for the first time, but by aggregating it together for each individual (and potentially for groups), we will be able to see trends and correlations related to our decisions and health that we just could not see before.

That has the potential for both better decision-making and for doctors to get ahold of us when something appears to be seriously wrong that we ourselves may not even be aware of. There is incredible potential here, and I think Apple is the only company that can pull it off. This puts Apple in a unique position as we continue into the future and provides a special advantage that no other company has.

June 3rd, 2014

No Answer

March 31st, 2014

You have all the answers to my questions
Even ones I didn’t have
Why should I know anything at all?

You know everything I need
Everything I may need
You hold it all for me
So I waste no time

But still I wonder, why don’t I wonder?
Like I did as a kid
But no answer

Tesla plans to build a massive new lithium ion factory that would double world production volume. Doing so could dramatically change the car industry:

When Tesla first began working on its Model S saloon barely five years ago, lithium-ion batteries were priced at about $1,000 a kilowatt-hour (kWh). Manufacturers are notoriously secretive about pricing details, but industry insiders hint that prices have now slipped to anywhere from $400 to $750 a kWh. Even so, that means the 85 kWh pack in a Model S costs Tesla between $34,000 and $63,750. A study by the Boston Consulting Group projected that prices would need to come down to $200 or less per kWh to make electric vehicles truly competitive with the more familiar car that relies on internal combustion. The gigafactory would slash these production costs.

Tesla intends to do so, presumably, to reduce cost enough to make an affordable Tesla.

People enjoy making Hyperloop jokes about Elon Musk, but there’s really no one else in the world doing such ambitious work. How can you not love that?

March 4th, 2014

Julian Sanchez:

I’m perfectly open to the notion that it may be wise and justifiable to extent the protections of anti-discrimination law to groups not currently covered—but I also wish supporters of such reforms would acknowledge that there’s a genuine impingement on associational freedom involved in such extensions, and that no simple sweeping principle can obviate the need for a close examination of the tradeoffs in each case.

March 1st, 2014

Sean Penn:

The Oscar-winning actor and political activist accused the US media of smearing Venezuela’s socialist president and called for journalists to be punished.

“Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”

Not only does Sean Penn defend authoritarianism, but he suggests that critics should be imprisoned for calling Hugo Chavez a dictator.

Lovely guy.

February 22nd, 2014

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February 22nd, 2014

Matt Bischoff on the New York Times’ 10-free-articles-a-month limit:

Since The Times’s mobile products are partially supported by advertising, it’s counterintuitive to drive down the number of ad impressions by cutting off enthusiastic users just as they’re getting excited about the content. Ten articles per month just aren’t enough to justify keeping the apps installed; it’s almost insulting. The proof is in the plummeting App Store ratings as well as in the company’s usage statistics, which I suspect show readers returning less frequently since the change.

I read the Times every morning and have for the past five or six years. So let’s be honest: Not only are their subscription plans inscrutable (separate plans for smartphone and tablet access? Why?), but the new 10 articles-per-month limit is clearly designed to coerce people into subscribing. But instead of convincing more people to subscribe, it’s likely to piss more people off and turn them away from the Times.

It appears that the Times doesn’t have a unified strategy to transition their company to digital. Sad.

February 12th, 2014

Amy Harmon wrote a terrific article for the New York Times about a Hawaiian town’s “debate” over whether to ban genetically-engineered crops, and the insanely stupid things said about them:

A report, in an obscure Russian journal, about hamsters that lost the ability to reproduce after three generations as a result of a diet of genetically modified soybeans had been contradicted by many other studies and deemed bogus by mainstream scientists.

Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of G.M.O.s, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lock-step rise in organic food sales and autism diagnoses.)

The left’s global warming.

January 28th, 2014

Fascinating article in Popular Science about the development of insect-like drones:

They teamed up with Wood, whose lab had since joined Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and together they applied for an Air Force grant. Wood’s group then used an image-capture system to record and analyze fly behavior before, during, and after collisions with glass. By closely observing the positions of the flies’ body parts, they could measure the exact flip and twist of wings and legs. 

When Guiler and Vaneck slowed down the film, they were amazed at what they saw. “I thought the fly would tumble a bit and lose a lot of altitude,” Vaneck says. “But the fly recovery was elegant. It happened so rapidly; it was breathtaking.”

One of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read in a while. What struck me while reading it is how much we are now learning about life by observing and understanding how the simplest creatures—worms and insects—deal with and thrive in a complex, changing and threatening world. We may be the dominant and most intelligent species, but we have much to learn about how life succeeds. And by casting away the arrogance that being the dominant species engenders, we will learn much, much more.

January 27th, 2014

Tony Fadell Explains Nest’s Sale to Google

January 21st, 2014

Last week, Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion.

There are only a few companies that have truly excited me in the last few years, and Nest is at the top. They worked on a very original, very real problem—thermostats were not only a user interface disaster and something nearly everyone hated to use, but also were an opportunity to do something meaningful: use energy more efficiently in people’s homes while also improving their relation with an important but ignored device. In addition, it clearly was the first product in a much larger plan. And it was a very good first step in a very good plan.

So, when I heard that Nest had sold to Google, I felt a pang of disappointment. Not because it was Google (which, if Nest were to be acquired, makes more sense than any other company I can think of), but rather because Nest is an incredibly ambitious company that, I think, had the opportunity to be as important to the next wave of development in personal computing and the Internet as Apple and Google were—and potentially as large. They were a key member in Silicon Valley’s next generation of meaningful companies, I thought.

Of course, nearly every bit of that can (and will) still be true, with the notable exception of remaining independent. They can still do all of that, but they will do so under Google’s banner, and for Google’s benefit. And that’s fine, all else being equal. Before I continue, though, we need to discuss why Nest decided to sell in the first place, and “for the money” doesn’t count, because I know Tony Fadell, Matt Rogers and everyone else there didn’t do it for the cash.

Here’s why they sold, according to Fadell:

I was spending nearly ninety percent of my time on building the infrastructure of the company and I wasn’t able to spend enough time and cycles on what I love doing: products and creating differentiated experiences for our customers. That is where my love is and Google offered to let us focus on that, but with scale that will help bring our horizon closer to us, faster. Google offers to bring that scale to us. For me, ultimately building great products is key.

Fadell cites European distribution as a specific example of what he means by “scale”—physical distribution and dealing with legal issues surrounding something as regulated and disparate as energy. Fadell wants to focus his time on developing products rather than handling all the issues surrounding it.

It’s hard to argue with that. Nest clearly wants to move quickly. The Nest thermostat is a shockingly good first product, and Nest Protect—which they released just two years later—is at least as good. Nest Protect also began revealing their larger strategy. Owning either one of them is great, but owning both of them makes each one better. Since they use your home’s wireless network, the Nest thermostat will automatically augment itself with the Protect’s motion sensors. And more importantly, if the Protect senses rising levels of carbon monoxide, the thermostat will shut off your home’s furnace. Their strategy, then, appears to be modular devices that are convincing on their own, but when used together not only all function better, but begin to form the basis for a connected home.

Being a part of Google will allow them to realize that strategy faster by increasing their resources so they can focus their bandwidth on developing product. Google also is doing industry-leading work in learning systems and web services, which obviously will benefit Nest. Like I said, of all the companies in the world that could have acquired Nest (which, admittedly, is a fairly short list), Google is the best fit.

But Google didn’t agree to acquire Nest entirely for Nest’s benefit. They did it, I assume, because Nest fills in particularly important holes in Google’s capabilities and in Google’s future development. While Google has been very good at building web applications, web services and a mobile operating system, they’ve done very little to prove that they can design and make hardware that real consumers will pay real money for. There’s a lot more involved there than design and supply chain. To a much greater extent, making hardware involves doing businessy things like identifying a target market for it, identifying what price they’ll pay at necessary levels of sales and margin, and then manufacturing a quality product in an efficient enough way to hit that margin. Nest has shown that not only can they do all of that, but they can produce an exceptional product that customers truly love. That’s invaluable, and it’s something Google hasn’t done.

Nest also provides an entry path for Google into the home. Starting into the connected home requires building hardware, and it requires a no-bullshit vision for how the connected home can improve people’s lives in substantive ways. Nest provides both of those things.

It sounds a symbiotic relationship, then. Google can provide Nest what it needs and Nest can provide Google something it needs, too. In Nest’s ideal vision of the relationship, Nest will remain largely independent—their own brand, leadership, teams and products. People and resources may flow across the Nest-Google boundary, but the two entities will nevertheless remain distinct. But in Google’s, Nest will begin to overlap and merge with Google itself. If Google wants the Nest acquisition to result in an improved capability for creating hardware products that consumers really want, then that necessarily requires Nest’s leadership to extend outside of Nest itself—which would require splitting their time, too. This is because while Nest may become functionally a discrete unit within Google (the “connected home” unit, let’s say), if it is to have any effect on the rest of Google, there has to be some sort of cross over. This may mean putting Nest’s leadership (whether that’s Matt Rogers, or another member of the team) in charge of Google’s hardware, or even having people in leadership roles move back and forth across the boundary. In any case, the boundary begins to smear, and Fadell’s reason for doing the deal—to focus his team’s time exclusively on product—begins to seem less likely.

Of course, that’s not necessarily negative. Perhaps a Nest-infused Google, and a Google-infused Nest, is better for everyone involved—Nest, Google, and us. I think there’s a good argument to be made there. But inherently, as that occurs, Nest begins to fade as a distinct entity, and it becomes more Google.

I think the most optimistic comparison for this acquisition is Disney’s 2006 acquisition of Pixar. Pixar remained an independent studio, kept their leadership, kept their campus, kept their culture, and created some of their most artistically and commercial films afterward. In return, Disney received Ed Catmull and John Lasseter’s services for turning around their declining animation department. And turn it around they did; Disney Animation Studios is enjoying something of a renaissance. Frozen, released in December 2013, was Disney’s biggest hit since The Lion King. The Pixar acquisition is one of the most successful acquisitions in history.

That could be how it works out here, too. I suspect, though, that while Pixar has thus far been able to retain its independence, Nest will not retain independence to the same extent. I have two main reasons for thinking so. First, the Disney-Pixar deal was incredibly specific in its intent: the deal was Catmull and Lasseter would oversee Disney Animation and Pixar would remain its own studio. The Google-Nest deal, as far as I can tell, doesn’t appear to be nearly as well-defined. As a result, blurring will happen with relative ease. Second, while in the movie business it’s actually beneficial for Pixar to remain independent in substance and in brand—it allows them to experiment in ways they couldn’t necessarily do if it was all a single studio, and it also allows them to release multiple movies per year in a way that doesn’t feel like Disney movies are competing for people’s attention—that structure doesn’t make nearly as much sense for Google and Nest. In reality, centralizing their hardware operation makes much more sense than continuing Nest as a parallel operation to Google’s other hardware operations. As a result, I think what we are more likely to see is Nest more or less become a part of Google while the brand continues on as Google’s “connected home” brand.

In the short-term, then, I think there’s very good reason to be excited about the deal. I bet we are going to see even more incredible things come out of Nest than we would have seen otherwise, and probably faster as well. But long-term, I’m disappointed. Nest is one of those rare companies that identified a brilliant product idea, in a large market, that would allow them to develop into something much greater in the future. And along the way, they built a first-rate company in all areas. I believe Nest would be one of the most important companies in the world for the next twenty years. And while they may still be integral to personal computing and the web’s future, it will likely be under Google’s banner. For better or for worse.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has announced an art and technology lab sponsored by Google and SpaceX that will allow artists to experiment with new technologies.

The lab will also feature talks, demonstrations and prototypes for the public.

I absolutely love this, and I’m particularly excited that it’s happening at LACMA—one of my favorite places to visit, and something that could help foster the technology community here in Los Angeles. In addition, I love that they’re facilitating experimentation with technology for the sake of experimentation itself. We need more blue sky projects in technology that aren’t necessarily directly actionable. Those sorts of projects can often be a fountain of inspiration and ideas.

December 30th, 2013

Deborah Schoeneman wrote a good profile of a men rating application called Lulu, which allows women to “review” men much like Yelp after having gone out with them:

Mr. Brockway has since gotten several more reviews (#DudeCanCook), none quite as glowing as the one written by his girlfriend, but he nonetheless has an exceptionally high 9.8 ranking. “There’s nothing I can do about it except be the best person I can be,” he said, adding: “It inspires guys to be good and treat girls the way they should be treated. Like angels.”

Not all men are so magnanimous about their presence on Lulu, of course. Last summer, Neel Shah, a comedy writer, was at a bar in Los Angeles on a date with a woman who pulled up his profile. “She started reading me these negative hashtags and I was like, ‘Uh, this is awkward,’ ” said Mr. Shah, 30, whose profile has been viewed 448 times and “favorite” eight times for an average score of 6.7. His hashtags include #TallDarkAndHandsome and #CleansUpGood, along with the less flattering #TemperTantrums and #WanderingEye.

Even in the best light, I find this idea—that an application like Lulu “inspires” men to be “the best person” they can be, through the threat of getting a poor review—to have the same problem that “inspiring” people to be good by threatening them with an eternity of torture has: are you really a good person if the central reason you’re doing it is to avoid something negative for yourself?

Lulu, and Lulu’s backers within the article, are lauding something that attempts to control people’s behavior by public shaming and the literal threat of not being able to get a date as a step forward in civility.

That’s gross enough, but I think it’s worse than that. Neel Shah goes on to describe how one reviewer (isn’t that word alone repulsive in this context? A reviewer of the desirability of a person?) said that laughing at his jokes may take some effort, which is a benign enough comment on its own. But it isn’t on its own; that comment is a public comment on someone’s sense of humor meant to be used for deciding whether to date them or not, and it contributes to an overall numerical ranking for them. Not only does Lulu attempt to publicly shame people (and laude them!), it also attempts to quantify things that are inherently unquantifiable. How do you reduce a person’s desirability down to a one through ten score?

December 18th, 2013

Glenn Reynolds thinks China’s Moon mission could touch off a new space race, and that would be a good thing:

So if the the Yutu rover finds something valuable, Chinese mining efforts, and possibly even territorial claims, might very well follow. And that would be a good thing.

What’s so good about it? Well, two things. First, there are American companies looking at doing business on the moon, too, and a Chinese venture would probably boost their prospects. More significantly, a Chinese claim might spur a new space race, which would speed development of the moon.

In the foreseeable future, the only realistic path toward humanity moving farther into space is through the private sector. If China making a territorial claim on the Moon is what it takes, then I’m all for it.

December 18th, 2013

Ezra Klein:

That doesn’t mean inequality isn’t hurting growth. It just means it’s difficult to find firm proof of it. But if inequality really was the central challenge to growth, would proof really be so hard to come by?

December 18th, 2013

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December 18th, 2013
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