The Echo Dot is Amazon's Best Seller

Andria Cheng, writing for eMarketer in the wake of holiday sales: 

"Rising sales of digital assistants reflect changing user behaviors as more people become comfortable with the idea of spoken word commands and queries. In September 2016, Google said that fully one in five search queries on its mobile app were voice initiated. And in November, a Google/Ipsos survey found that more than half of the smartphone users had used a voice-activated app to answer a question or perform a task.

Amazon said Tuesday that popular requests made to Echo over the holidays included queries about mixing cocktails and requests to play holiday music."

the $50 pricepoint of the Dot 2 was an incredible move to get the device into the hands of myriad consumers, which, through their voice platform, makes the entire system stronger. The Skills piece is also a huge part of the device's success.

Accolades these may be; the app interface leaves a lot to be desired in terms of UI and performance. Echo will need all of these elements to be top knot here if it wants to survive the oncoming onslaught from Google and (eventually) Apple, who is no doubt developing hardware with similar functionality that ties in deeply with its existing tech toy ecosystem.

Beijing Regulator Orders Apple to Stop Sales of Two iPhone Models

Eva Dou for the Wall Street Journal: 

"Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple Inc. to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone, in another setback for the company in a key overseas market."


I was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and on the subway I was surprised by the look of one Android phone that at first glance, looked like an iPhone 6/6S. It was white and it was everywhere.  

The Tesla Model X - A Lifestyle Take

Whereupon Bloomberg's Hannah Elliott takes a road trip in a $150,000.00 Model X through super-charger rich California and produces a video assessment of the vehicle with a duration of less than three and a half minutes.

Elliott's video review is posted below from YouTube. The conclusions are that the car feels virtuous but it's cost isn't the money, but the time-sucking lifestyle of an electric auto's charging requirements and the lack of "mechanical" nature of the drive.

I genuinely appreciate the lifestyle discussion from Elliott due to her funky personal fashion taste and the casual but caring but also matter-of-fact tone she uses, but when you put it all together it doesn't ring with sincerity. She scratches the surface of lifestyle, states that doors open unexpectedly without any real visual evidence, and forgets that a single-gear dual motor drive train is about as direct as once gets when it comes to the mechanics of a car-- especially when one compares that to the Triptronics and paddle shiftiness of modern, conventionally powered sport luxury vehicles. 

When it comes to complaints about range, the crossover segment, perhaps more than any other auto segment, is designed for the daily errands and the weekend warrior-- both well within the battery range of the top-end model Elliott evaluated-- and that's in Colorado, where mountain climbs are steeper (I-70) than CA and Superchargers are bit more rare.

Then there's the ample time that the (very short) evaluation spends on waiting for the Model X to charge up at the super charging station. The editing makes the charging seem disproportionately long compared to the balance of her five day trip along the CA coast. Time that could be spent discussing the intimate details of any connection she has with the vehicle are spend bouncing a ball in a corner or talking on the phone...which she does on the handset while sitting in the car rather than showing us how well the bluetooth hands-free works.

I'm disappointed. Elliott could have done a lot more in the time she had.

Mobile Payments Coming Soon to Pebble Time?

What I love about Pebble is its independence. With accessories like this, they should be able to keep it up.

"One of Pebble’s first unique features advertised with the Pebble Time was that it would support third-party bands that brought extra functionality to the watch. A new Kickstarter from Fit Pay Inc. has sprung up that plans on offering a mobile payment solution for Pebble watches with a device called Pagaré. It uses NFC to replicate what we’ve seen in Apple’s Apple Watch and what’s eventually going to come to Samsung’s Gear S2."

Stern takes on the Universal Remote

Joanna Stern recently published a piece in her personal technology column over at the Wall Street Journal that details her frustration with television remote controls in the age of increasingly complex set-top-box and audio set-ups. 

In typical awesome sauce Stern fashion, she surveys the best available products on the market and gives the user a recommendation- if one's warranted. 

Her conclusions however, throw me off. While the Ray Super Remote is impressive, it lacks something essential to a great experience-- tactile buttons for all of the major functions. The problem with the thing is that except for strange volume buttons the device is all screen, meaning that one has to look at IT rather than the content, when one wants to change an aspect of the viewing experience. God forbid that experience is taking part in a dark room, and suddenly you've got white LEDs shooting light at your face, violently throwing you out of your cinematic experience, along with anyone who may be sitting beside you. That's a problem. With any such device, one's fingers should be able to do the talking without their eyes having to get involved.

More problematic is the Ray Super Remote's $250 price. And old iPhone 5 or 5S does nearly everything the Ray Super Remote does and you've already paid it off and can easily power it since you've likely got chords lying around. If Ray made a Lightning-based IR dongle that would make more sense; which is why the Peel route seems the most proper for the touch-screen approach.

Still, you're forced to deal with a screen, which is less than ideal.

I'll extend that criticism to one of my fav devices, Google's Chromecast. As Stern rightly points out, the idea that I've got to unlock my device to get it to the remote function is a pain.

It may be that right now, Apple has the right of it with the Apple TV 4's remote. The touch -based navigation surface, tied to buttons is impressive. Voice is likewise impressive but frankly, talking is the last thing I want to do when I'm enjoying something in front of me. I also have to admit that I suffer from feeling a little silly talking to a computer in front of anyone but my cats.

Unlike most consumer technologies, there may not be a "winner take all" product in this category yet. Preference is everything here, so screens have their proponents. Some of those proponents aren't even watchers-- rather they're marketers hoping that the second screen, be it phone, tablet or remote, can be a place to grab eyeballs for advertisements in an age of increasingly ad-free digital streaming.

At the end of the day, this space is suffering from the frustration that many consumers are feeling in the connected home. These devices need a shared protocol not unlike ZigBee or zWave with which to communicate with one another. Are the speakers on or off? Set to the right input? Output? One thing is clear. The next generation of home theatre peripherals should incorporate that sort of communication functionality in order to make life much easier for the consumer. It would also represent a paradigm shift that would engender sales.

Just Tap Ten Times

Ever since iOS 9 showed up, my App Store app has been acting funny. Before upgrading my phone (due to certain reports, I waited until 9.1 arrived)  the App Store would often display "Cannot Connect to App Store" on every screen but the update page. After upgrading.... Same thing.

Today, the page is just blank and it's been that way for a bit. But Quartz reported on a trick worth trying: "Tap on the tab bar of any item 10 times." They report that tapping on any item in the App Store navigation bar should clear the app's cache and get it working again. Further, this is apparently a fix for other Apple App's with caches, like iTunes and  Watch's included app. 

Why not allow users to clear caches in the app's settings page, which is clearly the most obvious place to put the tweak?

"Don't Count Fitbit out Yet"

 "Fitbit, an eight-year-old company, went public in June amid a wave of skepticism about the impact that Apple's new smartwatch might have on its business.

Yet Fitbit has consistently beaten Wall Street's earnings estimates in the second half of the year. On a conference call with analysts in November, Fitbit's CEO said the Apple Watch had "no material impact" on its business. And now Fitbit is proving to be one of the most popular gifts over the holiday season, a key period for gadget shopping.

Translation: Don't count Fitbit out yet."

While some may be surprised, Fitbit's resilience actually makes a lot of sense. The fact is that Christmas has always been about kids and kids today care about the one huge experiential offering that (1) Fitbit has focused on and (2) that Apple's never been able to get their products to properly exploit: Social.  

Hop into the Fitbit app and one of the first things you'll notice is that the bottom navigation bar has four items. Two of them-- Challenges and Friends are not only in the Center, but they're easy to tap on because of that location. Challenges allows you to compete against specific friends for the day, weekend or week and friends is a more casual way to see what life is like on the leaderboard. As Apple's Watch is somewhat an "all things to all people" device, the lack of focus on that Fitness component is to be expected. But it's also something that Apple may be able to overcome. 

Let's get back to kids. Kids are relatively irresponsible compared to their adult counterparts since they're still being raised. Parents factor this into their gift decisions. A) They break things. Which means if you're a parent that wants to support your post-Millennial, Generation Obesity child, and you can choose between an indestructible watch+fitness band for 

B) They're forgetful so battery life matters because they always want to play with their device. The Apple Watch lasts about 20 hours with moderate use. The Fitbit HR counts battery life in DAYS. Sleeping over at a friends for the weekend and forgot your Fitbit charger? You'll be fine. Not so for Apple Watch. 

C) Price is also a thing parents are concerned about. At $147 for the Charge HR (Amazon as of this writing) , a couple with two tweens or teens can get each of them a robust fitness device without breaking the bank. 

D) Finally, the most important thing-- interaction. The Apple Watch is wonderfully compelling. For children, that's an issue. While a Fitbit HR quietly does its thing all week long; allowing youngsters to wear it in class with little to no distractions or associated drama, the Apple Watch, like all Apple products, wants you to play with it and to pay attention to it. This isn't because it's the One Ring or anything nefarious like that but because that's what happens when devices have touch screens-- users are compelled to touch them. To a teacher, that touching, no matter how meaningful, is fiddling with a distraction. 

this isn't to say that Apple didn't have a strong showing this Christmas with their wearable. It's safe to say that they've trounced the Pebbles and Galaxy Gears and even Android Wear devices sales numbers this holiday. That's probably the more important target...not Fitbit.

 "Instead, some industry watchers now believe there are enough wrists out there for both Fitbit and Apple to succeed — at least for this holiday season."

These devices -- especially the base models are inexpensive enough to own more than one. And in 2016, that's probably what's going to happen for a lot of interested consumers; especially when the second version of the Apple Watch debuts.

Who knows? Maybe they'll buy Pebble and become the "independent wearable company." 

Quartz - More Americans are relying exclusively on their phones for Internet access

The cost of home broadband is just too high.

And paradoxically, we can't afford for it to be too high since:

(1) our economy requires rich connectivity to support its entertainment, software, and services-based sectors and

(2) young people need regular, cheap and abundant access to the Internet in order to become the workers and innovators of tomorrow.

The solution is simple: The broadband market must be made more competitive. Congress, in league with the FCC and the FTC can and should make this a priority.

Walt Mossberg isn't impressed: His Year in Review

Walt Mossberg on the tech of 2015:


 "Perhaps the most disappointing new twist came from Apple's 3D Touch. In my iPhone 6S review, I said I thought it could become a big deal. But, so far, it hasn't seemed to take off. Maybe next year. Maybe never."

new 12" MacBook:

"The newest Mac is slow, overpriced, and has a keyboard some find tough to get used to."

Mossberg continues with a discussion about the resurrection of MS and the general "meh" surrounding the Apple Watch, along w/ similar wearables. 

 I'd agree with most of his assessment but for one thing-- the Amazon Echo. To be sure, it was m released to a pilot audience in (late) December 2014, but it changed my domestic life in 2015. The Echo has gotten better and better-- week after week and month after month without my ever needing to approve an update or download apps for it. Between its lightning fast voice recognition, growing library of content along with it's aforementioned seamless updates and robust IFTTT support (you can set custom voice command triggers), Amazon really felt like the Queen of the Cloud.  What made the device stand head and shoulders above Apple's Siri and Google Now was the way the Echo was implemented, with seven microphones and a bunch of other kit, meant that I didn't need a phone nearby to take advantage of its functionality. I spoke to my house and it listened. I even picked up a second device for the bedroom to replace an app-enabled iHome clock radio. 

Other smart/connected home devices like Piper NV and the growing suite of Belkins WEMO tools also came in handy, with the latter certainly integrating nicely with the Echo directly as well as with IFTTT. 

It's true that the idea that every year needs a breakout super hit is part and parcel with what Paolo Bacigiulupi often "the Expansion Economy," in his work. It's a flawed measurement of success. Indeed for me, the Echo became indispensable (I very much want some version of it for my car), but like so many things, Echo is a remix of many ideas, implemented well. A revolution every hearsay make for great news cycles, but I'd rather tech giants take what they have, and refine it than drop half-baked moonshots at us all year long. 



Understanding the iPad Pro


In a recent piece on his site, Daring Fireball, John Gruber (who inspired the format of this blog) layed out an effective response to anyone confounded over the price and purpose/scope of the iPad Pro:

"We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It's not a clear cut-and-dry win..."

At first, many complained that the iPad Pro was too expensive since it began at $700 ($200 more than a base model iPad Air 2) and that to add insult to this imagined injury, its storage capabilities are tiny at 32GB.

When you look at the device as a computer replacement however, the pricing begins to make a lot more sense to me-- especially since this iPad, with the Pro designation, is not marketed as a movie watching, comic reading, couch surfing device - it's meant for productivity. It's meant for work. It delivers on that front and that means as is the case with all well-used tools, it pays for itself.

Perhaps if Apple had called the device the "iMac Mini," or the "Mac Nano," there wouldn't be any confusion on these points. But they won't because it runs iOS rather than Mac OS, so it can't be a Mac. As Apple continues to develop two operating systems, iOS will have to struggle with growing out of the perception that iDevices are toys or field hardware to be synced up w/ a computer later; that they're the stuff of reading, and Instagramming and games. It's a marketing struggle, to be sure, but one which Apple will handle with aplomb, as it always does.

The iPad Pro is the first device to directly confront that struggle.

Computer Show brings Contemporary Guests Back in Time

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

ComputerShow is a beautiful and inspiring throwback. It's the SNL WeekendUpdate of Tech & Geekdom. And in this episode, Angela's facial expressions are laugh-out-loud* hilarious.

*I Don't think LOL would have been a thing for something like a decade after the time in Computer Show's fictional universe.


Officials Order Fantasy Sports Sites to Shut Down in Nevada

The accusations against Fan Duel and Draft Lings sound damning but closer scrutiny leads me to believe that there's a lot more smoke than there is fire. The involved parties never bet against the published data, as has happened on Wall Street, though it is not clear whether employees were allowed to participate themselves with access to information that was not publicly available. Investigations are ongoing but Fantasy Sports companies would do well to look deeply at their culture to see how, if at all, they can self-regulate. 

 Regardless, Nevada has suddenly decided to ask for gaming licenses from the two companies and any others like it. 

from the AP article: 

"DraftKings and FanDuel — sites that have insisted they aren't gambling and have promised to make millionaires out of sports fans — both pulled out of Nevada by Thursday evening.

That day's decision from the Nevada Gaming Control Board allows for daily fantasy sports in the state as long as the operator has or gets a gambling license. No one operating a daily fantasy site has one.

"If you're licensed in Nevada, you're good to go," said A.G. Burnett, chief of the state's Gaming Control Board. That includes traditional sports books where gamblers generally wager on the outcome of a given game.

The decision comes amid growing backlash by regulators and investigators, including New York's attorney general, after it was revealed employees often played on competing sites, raising questions about possible insider information being used to win."

One thing doesn't seem to have anything to do with the other. 

 A decade ago, Nevada's gaming lobby successfully shut down the online gambling businesses of the day by getting Congress to ban the practice. 

The current Fantasy Sports betting system is legal due to the fact that the preponderance of data about the sports, the players and other factors makes Fantasy a game of skill, rather than chance. Regardless, Nevada is having none of that. 

Rather than embrace the mobile revolution and offer compelling products (or use their tremendous resources to acquire some), it seems that the establishment believes that if you want to gamble, you'd better walk into a casino. And you'd better turn off your phone. 

Good luck with that.  

Put the Damned Phone Down

They sent children to a summer camp without mobile devices.

"After five days without phones or tablets, these campers were able to read facial emotions and correctly identify the emotions of actors in videotaped scenes significantly better than a control group. What fostered these new empathic responses? They talked to one another. In conversation, things go best if you pay close attention and learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is easier to do without your phone in hand. Conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do."

If only I could turn on a Faraday cage during the time I spend at home during the holidays.

The Power of the S Cycle

Couldn't agree more with the below.

If you put aside what the phones look like, the S model years have brought some of the biggest changes to the platform. The display changes came in non-S years, of course — the iPhone 4 going retina; the iPhone 5 expanding from 3.5 to 4 inches diagonally and changing the aspect ratio; and of course last year’s 6/6 Plus expanding to 4.7 and 5.5 inches and higher display resolutions. But it was the 3GS that first improved on CPU performance and gave us the first improvements to the camera. The 4S ushered in Siri integration and a much faster camera. The 5S was Apple’s first 64-bit ARM device, years ahead of the competition, and was the first device with Touch ID. For a typical iPhone user on a two-year upgrade cycle, I think the S years are the better phones, historically.
— John Gruber, Daring Fireball