The importance of context

This post on Stratechery is focused on the emergence of wearables, particularly with the new Snapchat Spectacles, but its opening makes a brilliant point about why the iPhone defined the modern smartphone – it was all about timing it right:

Think about everything that happened between 1992 and 2007 that, at least at first glance, didn’t seem to have anything to do with smartphones:

  • The personal computer moved out of the office and into the home
  • The world wide web was invented and an entire ecosystem was built from scratch
  • Personal electronics proliferated: while by 1992 most people had or used calculators and Walkmans, the 90s saw the introduction of PDAs and digital cameras; the 00s brought handheld GPS devices and digital music players

The reason why we consider 2007 as the start of the smartphone era is that while there were plenty of smartphones released before then… it was the iPhone that, thanks to its breakthrough user interface and ahead-of-its-time hardware, was able to take advantage of all these developments.

Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone missed the camera – phone cameras were already a thing even in “feature phones”, albeit terrible – but that was on par with the “iPod, Phone, Internet”, and arguably still remains the key pillars for smartphones today. However, all of these wouldn’t even have been possible if not for the context of the industry – illustrated by a phone from 1992 that had a touch screen and apps… but sent faxes, because it didn’t have the ability to do much else.

Wearables like the Apple Watch or Fitbit (or even my favoured Pebble) have two tentpoles – health (pumped up pedometers), and notifications (“I’d like to use my phone less.”). Wearables like Google Glass or these new “Spectacles” offer different propositions, but no-one’s quite yet cracked the “must have” tentpole that makes them the New New Thing. Maybe we haven’t seen it yet, maybe wearables is too diffuse or personal a field to be barking up, but until it cracks the “makes my life easier” list, I’m not sure we’ll see quite the space we saw 8-10 years ago emerging in the smartphone space.

Predictions from the turn of the 20th century

This page of predictions from 1901 about what the world will look like in 2001 is remarkably prescient in some ways, and highly amusing in others.

Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there is a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in newspapers one hour later.

Store Purchases by tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages & bundles.

Makes you wonder which of the futurists today are getting things right and which they’re getting wildly wrong.

Douglas Adams lays out the roadmap for technology

I’m an avowed Douglas Adams fan, and this is just pure evidence that he died way, way too soon – written in 1989:

All I want to do is print from my portable. (Poor baby). That isn’t all I want in fact. I want to be able regularly to transfer my address book and diary stacks backwards and forwards between my portable and my IIx. And all my current half-finished chapters. And anything else I’m tinkering with which is the reason why my half-finished chapters are half-finished. In other words I want my portable to appear on the desktop of my IIx. I don’t want to have to do battle with cupboard monsters and then mess about with TOPS every time I want that to happen. I’ll tell you all I want to have to do in order to get my portable to appear on the Desktop of my IIx.

I just want to carry it into the same room.

Bang. There it is. It’s on the Desktop.

And when someone asks why Apple’s “Continuity” feature and seamless “it just works” stuff is exciting when you could do it yourself, this is why.

(The whole piece is brilliant, just the lovely Adams ramble that brings so many wonderful images to the fore and yet is really a rant about Adams not being able to find the right cable for his laptop (back before there were such things as “laptops”))

Taylor Swift: Master Manipulator

When did you first realise Taylor Swift was lying to you?

Bill Simmons: I knew Taylor Swift was lying to me once she established that she didn’t have a type. Everyone has a type. Everyone. Every single person who ever lived. Maybe you drift away from that type once or twice over eight years, but not consistently. Taylor Swift has dated older guys, MUCH older guys, younger guys, masculine guys, not so masculine guys, damaged guys, innocent guys, rich guys, struggling actors, famous actors, virginal guys, lotharios … there’s just no rhyme or reason to these picks (well, except they’re all white). She picks boyfriends like someone would fill positions on their fantasy team.

Well, colour me naive, but this has been a bit of an eye-opener. Goddammit Tay.

Did George Lucas predict the current political environment?

A bit more US-centric, but this gives me the shivers:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.

As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order — and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.

Think we’ve already got Senator Jar Jar Bernadi here in Australia…

 

Australia’s Political Malaise

With Election 2016 well underway (but still with about 6 weeks to go… yeesh), it’s looking increasingly like we’re going get more of the same. What happened to Australia’s politics that made it so insipid, so unable to hold forth a discussion in which some may be worse off, but the result would be better for the country?

The MacroBusiness blog has a theory on the 8 factors that have contributed to the dire political straits we find ourselves in:

2. Bad economic structure

This is the more important reason behind the centrality of the budget to business and thus the push for rents. Australian spruikers like to sell the economy as “diversified” but this is rubbish. At its base, Australia has only two economic drivers: houses and holes. Mining delivers national income and banking leverages it up to spread the wealth. Everything else follows these two. That means that these two industries have limitless power over policy. Disruption in one equals disruption to the entire nation.

Given the financial crisis in 2008 and now the commodities price crash (which was always going to follow the boom), it’s increasingly inevitable that we’re looking down the barrel of some bad economic outcomes, but no-one in power seems to be acknowledging it.

The talk is small while the problems are writ large. I’m skeptical that any party is going to be in a position to manage it, and that’s going to become rather scary rather fast for us. More on those thoughts later.

A Blind Mind’s Eye

Blake Ross can’t visualise things like others:

I have never visualized anything in my entire life. I can’t “see” my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago. I thought “counting sheep” was a metaphor. I’m 30 years old and I never knew a human could do any of this. And it is blowing my goddamned mind.

My first thought was “yeah I’m pretty bad a these things too,” but then I kept reading, and I realised how much I do visualise in my “mind’s eye” that just seems alien to those with this same condition.

Comparing economic records

May 2016 marks 43 years and 6 months since the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972, and conveniently provides a mid-point for the two political parties – 21 years and 9 months of government each. Stephen Koukoulas uses this pivot point to provide a detailed comparison of their respective economic performances, and he comes up with more-or-less a dead heat, with a slight edge to Labor:

The overall weighted average quarterly GDP growth rates since 1972 are 0.80 per cent for the Labor Party and 0.77 per cent for the Liberal Party. This shows that the economy grows faster, on average, under Labor than the Coalition by 0.03 per cent per quarter, which is a touch over 0.1 per cent per annum.

Figures are similarly in Labor’s favor for job growth – noting this also includes the recession we had to have.

Something to keep in mind this election season, and for the budget tomorrow.

Jury Duty

Thoughtfully written behind-the-scenes peice from a juror serving on a homicide trial:

At some point, one of the older women gets out her makeup kit and gives Ally a makeover. This is literally a scene from The Breakfast Club. Edith looks up from a game of solitaire and casually mentions that she actually thinks the murder was committed by the accomplice, who was never found and is not on trial. But since the defendant’s lawyer did such a poor job exonerating him, she concludes, she’s going to deliver a guilty verdict. My jaw drops. No one questions her obviously flawed reasoning, because she’s on their side.

Molly mentions that she watched 12 Angry Men over the weekend.

“It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just like this.”

Brilliant perspective on how people interact and how flawed jury trials can easily become. It takes just one informed person acting on principle to swing that, and it’s scary how easily it could go the other way.