The iPhone SE

Apple released a number of iterative product updates yesterday, including the 9.7″ iPad Pro1, and an iteration of the iPhone 5S: the iPhone SE (Special Edition).

This new device features the same A9 processor, 2GB of RAM and the very well reviewed back optics and imaging sensor as the iPhone 6s.

For $399.

(though it’s a little bit scammy in that they’re still pushing a 16GB device — below what anyone should buy — but then skip the optimal 32GB version, forcing you $100 up to the 64GB version at $499)

That is an insane amount of device for the money. I normally don’t post about incremental Apple product updates, but this will have a much bigger splash than the media response seems to predict. It is an outrageous value. It is a top tier device for people who prefer a smaller body.

It is going to become the “smartphone for my kid(s)” of 2016. It’s going to hurt Apple’s ASP, but will put them more into the conversation for no-contract/no-plan devices.

The screen is too small for my tastes (my daily driver right now is a Nexus 6p. I thought it would be too large but now it just seems normal, making the Nexus 5 feel almost quaintly small in comparison. Best feature of the 6p, as an aside: front facing speakers), but on the flip side the GPU power to screen resolution is so overwhelming, the thing will be absolutely market leading. Aside from the controls issue that remains a problem with all smartphones, it is a gaming colossus.

And given that many comment boards are full of people who really bought into the “Apple doesn’t care about specs” nonsense, the A9 remains market leading. It destroys my Nexus 6p. It destroys the Galaxy S7. The GPU is absurd. The CPU is outrageous. It remains the best mobile processor available. It might be underclocked on the SE (though the early benchmarks show it matching the iPhone 6S in CPU tasks, and of course beating it in on-screen GPU tasks given that it has fewer pixels to sling), but even if it were pruned 30% it would remain a leading device.

And now it’s in a $399 device. What a world. All hail competition!


1 – I added a 3rd generation iPad to the household some four years ago. With four children, their friends and visitors, and occasional parental use, it has seen many thousands of hours of use, and a ridiculous number of recharges. It is still storming strong, still works and looks great, and the battery still lasts for hours on end. Ultimately I have to peg it as the best value purchase I’ve ever made. The 9.7″ “Pro” is a tempting update.

The Pyramid Scheme — User Gamification

I recently came across a tweet by Dean Obeidallah in which he measures a base by member follower counts.

Putting aside the demographics of Donald Trump supporters (or the dubious effort of measuring the followers of the members of a group), the notion that “less than 100 twitter followers” == “alienated and angry” gave me a laugh, and this seemed like a particularly cheap attack.

To someone on the outside looking in (and where my business is often implementing and designing platforms to abuse users in the way Twitter does, with accomplices like Dean spurring people on), it seems suspect.

I’m not a user of Twitter1, so perhaps I just don’t get it on that platform, however I’ve seen the same thing on a number of other platforms: Where the system rings the Pavlovian bell to get their users engaged, enforcement meted out by users critiquing and measuring the engagement of others. Not engaged because they necessarily like or value the service or the reward of using it, but because some public indicators are held as measures of their worth.

Retweets. Followers. Likes. Connections. Friends. Shares. Stars. Hearts. Views. Favorites.

Twitter is hardly alone. LinkedIn as an organization seems to spend most of their time on gamification and the engagement it demands, recently starting to highlight the movers and shakers among your contacts, at least if you measure movement by “number of LinkedIn views”. This is the latest effort to get you to want to boost engagement, even if that is nothing more than zero value views from “LION”s, or by participating in banal discussions by people preening in front of hopeful future bosses.

The entire platform is built around this. Desperately claw around to get people to look at your profile to try to keep the sliding window counts high enough. Quantity over quality. The whole “LION” thing is built around making a connection list that is close to worthless, but achieves the various metrics of LinkedIn. Rinse and repeat.

One of my few complaints about Flickr was that it embraced this early on, social status counts highlighted and mandatory. If you decided to post pictures for family or friends or the casual browser, or even just for your own edification, your various social metrics sat highlighted on every page.

There is nothing wrong with using these sort of metrics for ranking in search results and recommendations, but making it first class data about the pictures is purely to drive users to essentially become ambassadors of the site.

I fell for it for a while. Having pictures sitting in the single digit of views, which would have been perfectly fine by me if it wasn’t almost shamefully highlighted, led me to use various Flickr photos on blog posts and to try to feed traffic there, purely to increase the counts. Isn’t that ridiculous? It was of absolutely no real value to me — nor, quite honestly, are LinkedIn connections, or various other social counts — but because it sat there like a scarlet letter I was motivated to make it something less embarrassing.

Even this blog is more a cathartic output, and I don’t really place much value on its popularity or reach: When I first started doing this thing, I remember anxiously monitoring read counts, tailoring content to a crowd. Later I became more nihilist about the whole thing, and now I just create content on whatever inspires me, when I get around to it, and from emails know that people sometimes read this stuff. That’s good enough for me.

Looping back to Twitter, in practice it’s a tiny number of producers being read by a very long tail of consumers, but this demand for big follower counts to legitimize your status is predicated on the notion that everyone wants to hear everyone else. But….they don’t. The same phenomena occurs on Facebook where an endless stream of posts appear teaching the user how to hide “friend” content they don’t want to see: we all like the big friend count under the imagination that it gives us a captive audience for our works of brilliance, but in reality everyone is just unfollowing each other and hiding their content (a slightly more polite form of the “follow you on twitter to get you to follow back, and then unfollow you. So tricky!” tactic).

This reminds me of a post from a family member on Facebook a few weeks back. It was a Secret Santa strategy where everyone only had to send one gift, and they’d get 36+ in return. The math….the math it does not work out. This same pyramid scheme is the very foundation of many social strategies: We’ll all be famous!

Every other social site follows the same basic formula — get users promoting your site for you to gain meaningless metrics. You are now a level 21 social connector with the Vigorous Self Promoter badge.

It’s cheap. It’s annoying. It’s a lot of effort for remarkably little gain (for the vast majority of users). To a lot of people it’s just unnecessary manipulation that goes against basic utility.


1 – I don’t get Twitter. Twitter began in the SMS era, and at its very start I was already living in an always connected, many-messaging-options world (I was rolling with a Moto Q at the time of Twitter’s inception, though many of my peers were long on Blackberry), so the whole notion of moving to the past — of limiting what I already had — seemed unproductive. People would pitch me on its varied benefits such as “message multiple people at once!”, “keep up with your friends”, but these were already solved problems.

Since then the SMS imposed brevity of Twitter has been held as some sort of benefit, lemonade out of lemons style. Now a string of “cont’d” Tweets are just good design, and re-tweet nomenclature that makes absolutely no rational design sense is tolerated. I mean, from an outsider perspective the whole platform is a design disaster.

On Twitter, snarky one liners are gold, and real discourse is anathema.

There was a “protest” recently by a satirical group whose cause was to inform the world that “Renoir sucks at painting“. Quite a few took it as a sincere, literal protest, but really the ringleader was making a pretty effective statement that American society (and this certainly holds for Canada, and probably a number of other countries) is now in a place where everyone needs to have positions about everything, and they need to hold those positions strongly.

Where we define ourselves by our strongly held positions. To do otherwise is cowardice fence sitting.

I thought the protest was fantastic, and the fact that it so firmly demonstrated Poe’s Law was brilliant.

Anyways, Twitter perfectly serves that simplification of the world, and I think the two go hand in hand. When all you need are snarky one liners to mock or dismiss the opposition, 140 characters is more than enough. Whether that’s pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-life, pro-choice2, pro-Apple, anti-Apple, right wing left wing democrat republican, pro-Renoir, anti-Renoir…  …just pick a side and wave a flag and follow accordingly on Twitter to chant along.

The other major use of Twitter is as an incredibly low-efficiency version of RSS for subscribers to roundabout know that you posted something or as a news source, which seems logical if your readership are generally non-technically adept. Send them a letter in the mail while you’re at it.

I once created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of getting a business’s attention. We’re in a somewhat absurd state of the world right now where many companies completely disregard their customers unless you make as loud of a complaint about it as possible. It encourages and essentially sponsors people to be as dissatisfied and dramatic as possible.

2 I remember being in grade 10 History in high school and the teacher — who I believe had a dozen or so children — inexplicably started asking students their opinions about abortion. My answer was “I don’t really have an opinion”, and this earned lots of laughs and gentle jeers. It was held as fence-sitting diplomacy, when it was a sincere statement that I really hadn’t thought enough about the issue, or knew enough about the sides, to be willing to choose much less publicly state a position. This situation stuck with me, and I think it has had a huge influence in how I view polarizing situations.

Face Blindness aka Prosopagnosia

Perception is fascinating.

Your experience of sounds and colours and tastes and aromas and experiences may lie in contrast with others. Nature has equipped us with a varied computational device, and a mixed set of sensors, that assesses and computes the world in different ways.

That’s evolution and genetics, mixing up things and seeing how it goes. Which is why any one-size-fits-all education is foolhardy: There is no one-size, and we’re all a mixed grab bag of strengths and weaknesses.

I recently read an article about Steve Wozniak (talking about the new Jobs movie) where it mentioned that he suffered from prosopagnosia, which is a difficulty recognizing faces. I’ve had a similar problem for as long as I can remember.

I had never read about someone with a similar issue, and didn’t know it was a thing. As with most things we just adapt to the situation and reality presented.

If I see people outside of their normal environment (e.g. the teacher at the grocery store, the coworker at the mall, etc) or without some sort of uniform or style or unique attributes that identifies them (e.g. the tall, boisterous guy with the beard, etc.) — things that filter down the probable set to the point where traits can be more uniquely filtered with some degree of confidence — it yields an awkward situation where someone might interact with me and I’m not certain they are who I might think they are (if I make any association at all), trying to tease out heuristics to get a context and make the mapping. Alternately where I don’t solicit engagement, seeming perhaps aloof if not a bit jerkish as I walk by someone I should know and recognize.

This isn’t like all faces are a blur or anything like that — attractive faces are attractive, and notable features are of course observed and remembered — but rather that many faces with similar features fall close enough that identification becomes far less certain, to the point of not having confidence.

I mean, I know the person — and they have every bit as much mindspace and consideration and care — but at the moment the face to person mapping isn’t made as easily as it seems to be made for most people. I’ve gone to parties with coworkers where I wasn’t confident which were my coworker and which were other guests — hair done differently, dressed up, and outside of their normal environment…the normal classifiers fall apart — cautiously listening to figure out who was who.

This has happened with family members. Old friends. New friends. Coworkers. Neighbours. Teachers and associates.

While I often simply avoided situations where confusion or misidentification was possible, other times I would cope by arranging interactions where other people would be forced to identify me first. Meeting someone at the trade show, for instance, and I’d intentionally look at my smartphone at the agreed to meeting location, avoiding looking at the crowd, letting others identify me and start the interaction. I’ve used strategies like this since I was a small child, and honestly never really thought much about them. It was just what needed to be done, and worked out fairly well (aside from those people angry that I didn’t recognize them at the mall or in some other location. My own niece served me at a drive-thru window once and I didn’t realize who it was, needing my wife to make the connection: It isn’t personal). Hopefully along the way I didn’t force someone else with a face identification deficiency into my strategy.

Movies with non-unique characters become a mess of confused plots as it’s hard to separate the various players.

This is fascinating to me, not least because some 2.5% of the population is estimated to have this alternative, less accurate face identification strategy, conveyed via genetics. Maybe the same tweaking of DNA also gave me some programming/technology chops, so c’est la vie.

We are among you. We have strategies and techniques to compensate, but it isn’t personal (or arrogance or self-centeredness, which it may convey the air of) if we don’t immediately recognize you. That doesn’t mean you don’t matter.

Trusting A Million Random Strangers

A proposal for client-side hashing of passwords is making the rounds. Of course, I spoke about this about a decade ago. I then followed it up with a more detailed, browser-integrated suggestion that this should be implemented in the browser, a half a decade ago.

Of course nothing at all has happened on this. People continue to presume that every random site, staffed with people of often dubious talent and unknown morals (it turns out that Ashley Madison was created and managed by a bunch of professional liars! Who would have ever thought…), is trustworthy.

They aren’t. And we have the same outrage every time some fringe site is hacked.

Disruption

Like many in tech, I’ve had a lot of clever ideas over the years: apps or solutions that could set the world on fire.

Then I start contemplating the legal liabilities, consequences and regulatory complexities, and outright discard the whole idea. Rinse and repeat.

Won’t it get sued to oblivion? How about the many regulatory burdens, especially if operating across different jurisdictions, much less countries? What happens when an unfortunate incident happens and it’s blamed on the app and purveyor?

This isn’t some great claim of innovation. Countless good ideas have been surely considered, and discarded, for these reasons, by countless people. We live in a heavily regulated and legislated, heavily lawyer saturated world.

Uber, and the countless “rent a third party” service solutions, are a great example of the sort of app that is more a disruption of regulation, and a model that simply completely ignores the enormous complications of the sphere (as a fair disclosure: I pitched various taxi heads across the Toronto area years ago on the premise of a shared smart dispatch/mobile user/”bid” platform, within the existing regulatory and business framework. It saw zero takers, not least because Canada is a profoundly risk averse country). They continue to exist because they first established that tech industry credibility that largely made them unassailable elsewhere — the halo of “if you don’t like it you don’t get it” that prevents all but the most bought politician from seriously threatening the model — and it is such a minefield of burdens that they simply pretended didn’t exist.

Heroes are disrupting the retail market. They’re disrupting the vehicle re-use and rehabilitation market.

So many enormous liabilities on the employment and operational side. Just waved aside. Airbnb grew on almost an identical model, disrupting the enormous regulatory, manpower, and tax ramifications of the hotel industry. Again, just pretending that those things don’t exist, grow under the halo of progress, and hope to achieve inertia to escape the gravity well of accountability.

Obviously once they got big enough they hired legions of lawyers that try to add just enough legalese to try to find some sort of protective footing, but in those early days they were flying completely between a wing and a prayer. Operating at the benevolence of people who looked the other way just long enough.

And that’s pretty interesting, really. This most certainly isn’t a complaint (the taxi industry itself was profoundly corrupt and broken, and the regulatory model was a Faustian bargain. Who didn’t have a sea of miserable experiences with the cell phone yelling taxi driver who then barks complaints about how your tip wasn’t up to their expectations for the terrible ride in their terrible transport), but is just an observation of reality. Right now “Peeple” — the “Yelp for People” — has been making waves and again it’s just nightmare fodder of legal and potential criminal ramifications, with layers of culpability that runs so deep, but it (an app, again, that has been invented a million times in a million ways. Rating people is hardly novel) actually earned enough attention that it came to the cusp of viability.

I have to go through three different jurisdictional bodies, and a number of steps and processes, to build a shed on the property. But to follow the model of many apps now, I could make a worldwide hire-a-servant app, paying them in bitcoins or through some largely unregulated framework, taking my cut off the top, and voila: A global business model.

It’s interesting to contemplate. It isn’t a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. But it’s essentially civil and commercial disobedience, generating enough consumer goodwill that it gets essentially “grandchilded in” (as the alternative to the well know grandfathering in of arguably non-compliant practices).