Monday, November 12, 2012

gas rationing

Gas rationing with odd-even license plate numbers is not really rationing.

I think it is labeled rationing but is really an interesting form of externally imposed impulse control.  Normally, with a ration, there is a prescribed amount available per person per period.  Here, none of those constraints actually imply.

Instead, by imposing "rationing" what we are really doing is limiting impulse and fear.  Impulse (at least half of consumers will now need to defer purchases by a day and all will need to plan somewhat) and fear (because there is now a plan, the desire to "get gas before they run out" eases as there is less concern about "running out").  I wonder who thought of it.

Education and an usual side-effect of opportunity

How much of the claimed declines in US academic performance/quality of education is a result of MORE opportunity for women and meritocracy?  When there were more and higher (not that there are none today) barriers to women entering the workforce, how many women became teachers who, today, would be high-powered lawyers, doctors, etc.  And thus were able to provide exceptional educations because they were actually over-qualified (or, given that teaching standards are usually quite low, more qualified than demanded by schools but actually the "right" level of qualification).  Of course, this doesn't explain all the gaps in education (some Scandinavian countries have very high quality of education but a very egalitarian society) - but it also seems to play a role.

Friday, October 26, 2012

iPad Mini Pricing

A fun data point to help think about the reasonableness of the iPad Mini's pricing.  The original iPod Mini (4GB, 1.67 inch grayscale 138x110 screen, 8 hour battery life, 3.6 oz) was sold through February 2005 for $249(!).  And people bought it like crazy.  It was expensive but people found a way to justify its purchase.  I suspect plenty of people will find a way to justify the purchase of the iPad Mini.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

iPad Mini

A few not-so-special thoughts on the iPad Mini that put in writing what I would say if someone were to ask whether to buy it:

1) It is really an iPad 2.  Same processor (noting, as anticipated, that the 32nm process allows Apple to stick to the 10 hour battery life specification that they have chosen to be a fundamental iPad feature), same memory, same resolution (but not PPI), etc.  And an iPad 2 is only $70 more.  So if one doesn't own an iPad and is price sensitive, he should just buy a 2 (noting that it may not get supported up to iOS 7 as iPad2 was not given Siri).
2) It's a bit pricey compared to Androids (both branded and unbranded) and iPad 2.
3) But, if one already has an iPad and is looking to add another, the Mini starts getting more attractive vs. a 2 (Siri, better camera).  Especially if "another" means an "auxiliary" iPad - one that is picked up because the other is being used or that is taken on the road, etc.  The distinguishing physical features (weight, size) tied to the same overall experience (iOS 6 with no compromises) might make this the device of choice for out-of-the-house use.
4) This is especially the case for those with a first-generation iPad and a second (iPad 2 or New iPad).  For those who can't quite justify buying a third full-size iPad when the iPad 2 works just fine, the slightly lower price with changed physical attributes could be enough to make this worth buying.
5) I imagine that the $329 price is strong evidence that Google and Amazon sell their tablets at cost based on Apple's 30-40% profit margin target.  This isn't really relevant to a purchase decision other than to suggest that the lower price of the Nexus and Fire shouldn't be seen as a sign of significantly worse quality.  This is #2 stated otherwise and might push a buyer towards one of those two.
6) I suspect that there will be some interesting education pricing (maybe $300) but that the iPod Touch made the $299 price almost impossible to use. So look for reduced prices for the Touch and Mini in 6-9 months.  Meaning that there's no rush to buy a Mini here - especially with an A5 that will be two generations behind an assumed A7 in 12 months or less.
7) I have thought that the product introduction cycle for iPad and iPhone was backwards - although both are suitable gifts, because of the carrier hassles, iPad makes a better gift.  And thus Apple would be better served with fall introductions than spring.  Perhaps the iPad 4th gen introduction is a sign that iPads will now get updated in the fall and phones will transition to the spring.  Now is exactly the right time to make this switch.  The next phone will likely retain the 5's design and so development time is slightly easier (one less major change to manage).  Fall 2013 iPad has a natural design direction (thinner and lighter as the current is heavier and thicker than the 2) and so has a good selling proposition.  Six month upgrade cycles are so fast as to upset purchasers (note those who have asked to return their third-gens because the fourth came out) and perpetually delay purchases.  I note this in the context of an iPad Mini purchase because one should not hold out for an iPad fifth gen in spring 2013 if the choice is between Mini now or fifth gen later.

My takeaway from my advice to myself:
- We have a first-gen that is getting laggy;
- We take the iPad with us all the time and it can be a little burdensome (it has a heavy case);
- We haven't been spoiled with the retina iPad's display (only have an iPad 2 and the first-gen);
- We won't buy a new full-size iPad until it gets thinner and lighter; and
- $329 is not great but still better than $399 for another 2.

So we will buy one for Christmas and strip down the old iPad so it runs a little faster as a pure web + iTunes machine.  Like our old iPhone 3Gs.

A last thought: the iPad 2 may have been retained to do something similar with the MacBooks: create a retina line and a non-retina line as Apple transitions to all-Retina over time.  The continued presence of the 2 without highlighting it as the "base" iPad is weird.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Microsoft Brands

Something is jarring about this clause from today's NYT:  "[Microsoft] is marshaling some of its most powerful brands as never before: Windows and the Xbox."

Windows is undoubtedly well-known.  But "powerful"?  I think of a powerful brand as one that has such strong and favorable connotations that, by simply lending its name to another product, it can also bestow some of its good will.  Windows does not strike me as such a brand. Moreover, extending a brand is risky - better to share the name with equally good products rather than hope consumers will never notice that the new thing is not quite like the old.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Amazon and Google

Amazon is getting into the loans business.  Google has self-driving cars.  What do these two things have in common?  My pet theory is that both of these companies were built to help fund the true enthusiasms of their founders and that their genius allowed them to build enormous businesses as tools to get there.  Their success in retail and search has obscured what I hope are their underlying motivations.

Amazon moved from books (among the easiest of goods to sell on-line because of almost zero concerns of customers of fraud, mishandling, etc.), to general retail, to cloud computing, and now to loans.  I've come to think that its real goal is to dominate what was quaintly called B2B.  By developing a deep understanding of retail, customer service, and branding, Amazon has built up the expertise to begin providing services to business.  Taking a few pennies here and there but across the entire value chain.  And it started with general retail because you need a big arena if your business exists to make money on the margins.  And, with the enormous scale of Amazon, it can enter into markets that seem impenetrable or daunting because of the capital demands.  And (another and), become the largest company on earth.

Google is doing something slightly different but similar in tone.  Here, the founders built a search engine, now advertising company, not because they love marketing or search but because the gold mine of google affords the freedom to try capital intensive projects.  Again, similar to the way Amazon grew based on the value created through retail.

All complete speculation but a way to explain why some very smart people seem to be so unfocused - I think the presumed focus is merely a means to reach the true goal.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

USB-Lightning Cables

The apparently imminent launch of the iPad Mini (or whatever it will be called) could help to explain why USB-Lightning cables continue to be in short supply.  Given the choice between selling them in retail and as a constraint on sales of a new iPad form factor, I guess it makes sense to make sure they are allocated first to the iPad Mini (although margins must approach 100% on the cable, cash margin of the iPad Mini sale is still higher at about $60-75).  There were plenty of cables available before the launch of iPhone 5 (I got mine in two days) and now it's on backorder.  That doesn't usually happen with Apple's supply chain.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amazon Phone and Instant Video

The longer Amazon goes without releasing an instant video app for iPhone, the more likely it seems that an Amazon phone is imminent.  If it were far away, it wouldn't make sense to hold off issuing.  And there is no technical reason not to release (as there is an app for the iPad).  So, my only explanation (I'm sure there are others) for no iPhone version is that Amazon wants to have as complete a differentiated feature list as possible.

I think (I could check but am too lazy) that Kindle books also followed the same pattern (Amazon proprietary device first, app version later).

UPDATE: I was clearly wrong.

Friday, August 24, 2012

HP problem

As a sharp illustration of the problems with HP, I discovered that Amazon does not carry any photosmart printers.  There are plenty for sale through third-parties on the site but none that are eligible for amazon prime.  That is disturbing and odd.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"We got a great deal on sandpaper"

Some have suggested that a 7.85" iPad is difficult to introduce because of Jobs's memorable quip regarding sandpaper and smaller tablets.  I don't think this would really stop Apple from releasing a 7.85" version if they think the market will embrace it.  But, as a nice break from the Jobs era and as a memorable line, they could simply start off the intro by saying "we got a great deal on some sandpaper...".  I think including a square in every box would be going a little too far but would be awesome.

More seriously, I had been wondering why Apple didn't promote the improved specs of the iPad 2 with the 32nm process.  It occurs to me that, by keeping the improved battery life as a silent feature, they would be able to use the new chip in an iPad mini (which will likely have a disproportionately smaller battery than iPad) and so maintain their 10 hour use standard for iPad easily.  If they had promoted the 12+ hours life, it would make the battery life of the mini seem like a letdown (and, of course, would have highlighted the lower life of the iPad 3rd gen).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

touch and hover

Hover was a great innovation on the computer - to provide contextual information with a short lag (to avoid mental overload or distraction) nicely matches normal human interaction of hesitation indicating uncertainty (and thus suggesting more information is needed).  Adding hover to touch would be a great innovation for touch screens and make screens more information rich without requiring more real estate.  I'm not sure if it would work best as a literal hover (where a fingertip that is close but not touching is registered as a hover) or  something more prosaic (a three finger touch or similar).  But hover really is missing from iOS and would be valuable. And easier to use than iPhoto's help button (which has the information overload problem).  I wonder how Office will handle this.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

crazy iPad stuff

As the iPad already seems to do nearly everything most users need of it, it's hard to think of obvious features to add.  But there are plenty of wacky ones that would be great:
1. e-ink smart cover.  There seemed to be a time when some cared about the use of the iPad as an ebook and its use in sunlight.  Given the exorbitant price for covers (leather smartcover - $70!), couldn't it make sense to have an e-ink cover?  If amazon can sell a kindle for $79, it seems credible that a cover can come in at a reasonable price as a lot of the work would be handled by the iPad itself.  And, as a way to present infrequently updated information, it could even handle some of the widget issues.
2. video-in.  iPad has a great screen that can pull in data from lots of sources.  But all of those sources need to be on-board or, at best, stream from something else using a wifi network.  I'd like to see iPad to iPad streaming so a single video can be played simultaneously on two screens using bluetooth or some sort of parallel ad hoc wifi.  Or, even better, add the ability to allow hardware connections to use the iPad as an auxiliary screen - parents would love this in the car.
3. waterproof.  As tough as the iPad is, we still take great care to keep it from getting wet.  Reading in the bath, using in the kitchen, taking to the beach - all of these work much better if the enclosure is water resistant (I'm assuming water resistance covers sand as well).

Monday, June 18, 2012

unlocking liquidity, Ebay and UPS

Ebay made great advances in helping regular people unlock liquidity by finding buyers for otherwise idle property - the "national garage sale" concept meant that, with modest effort, regular people could reach millions of potential customers and turn near-junk into cash.  But I feel that Ebay never reached the finish line of this and, instead, became more of an alternative marketplace for professional retailers.  And I believe this more populist vision stalled because of concerns regarding fraud and reliability.  One solution would be for Ebay to make the very large infrastructure investment to take over the small scale "sell it on Ebay" stores to professionalize and standardize these efforts.  Barring that, the next best choice would be a UPS - not merely adding "sell it on Ebay" to the existing UPS stores but, rather, using the massive UPS warehouses to reimagine the entire business.  The warehousing and shipping power of UPS could bring the necessary reliability to give everyone access to the liquidity that Ebay promised.  Counterparty risk, quality risk, shipping risk and payment risk could all be handled through UPS acting as a middleman.

Friday, March 9, 2012

kindle killer

How's this for a Kindle Fire Killer?  A fully iPad/iOS compatible tablet computer, 9.7" screen, 16GB, 10 hours battery-life (100+ hour standby).  $300.  Name brand manufacturer (Apple, actually).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


If I understand this right, AppleTV now streams/redownloads video as well as audio previously purchased from iTunes.  Which means that (setting bandwidth issues aside), when traveling, I can just bring my AppleTV and plug it into a hotel TV and have my entire (to the extent iTunes purchased) video library available.  I currently use the iPad as a video library but even with 64g, the library is limited.  Too bad hotel bandwidth makes this more hypothetical than useful for now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

important leaders

Interesting that RIMM shares dropped more when Lazaridis and Balsillie stepped down than when Steve Jobs retired or passed away.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Caller ID on iPhone

I'd like to see a function where the phone immediately does a google search for unfamiliar phone numbers (i.e., those not in my phonebook) where there is no associated caller ID name.  It would just be a guess but sometimes useful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

airport express

I understand that Airport Express is due for a refresh soon.

I wonder how expensive it would be to add iTunes Match to the Airport Express as part of the "demotion" of the pc.

I know I can use Airplay to stream from my iPhone to an Airport Express or, alternatively, use the Remote app to stream from my computer to an Airport Express. But the first is somewhat taxing on the phone and the second becomes less attractive if pcs really do stop acting as central repositories for music.

Buying a dedicated match device solely for music seems unlikely to succeed but it could work as a bonus feature of an Airport Express (controlled through Remote, naturally). Sort of the way iTunes Match is a small feature of Apple TV.  Given that the Airport Express is already internet connected and has an audio out, this is a natural feature to add (and continue to distinguish it from other routers).