Category Archives: Technology

Low Hanging Fruits: Apple in 2016 and Beyond

Between the Apple Watch, the iPhone 6S, the new Apple TV, and Apple Music, by all accounts 2015 was a banner year for Apple Inc.

Apple is a company of patterns and progression. As a former retail employee we often knew what was coming next, not due to any insider knowledge, but just due to patterns and understanding how Apple works.

Of course we’ll also get new iPads (spring), iPhones (fall), and Macs (throughout) at some point but I figured those are foregone conclusions.  Sometimes the company will throw a throw a curveball, but based on the way things are going currently here are some things I expect to see from Apple in 2016 and beyond.

Beats by Apple

The first product Beats launched after the Apple purchase was the Beats Solo 2 Wireless, but they were clearly well into development before the purchase took place. Shortly after that Apple began launching new colors of everything to match their iOS devices.

The Beats Pill+ however is different, it seems it’s the first true hardware child of this merger. It still has the look of the Beats brand, but taken to another level of polish that looks to be quite Apple-like. This should be unsurprising since Apple ended the company’s relationship with Ammunition, the design agency responsible for their headphones and the original Beats Pill. There should be little doubt that this product was industrially designed in house by Apple’s teams. Right down to the Lighting port. Little surprise that it’s only available in black and white (for now.)

Expect this trend to continue with new headphone designs in 2016.

Lightning Everywhere

Lighting ports are not just for iOS devices anymore. Almost as an afterthought Apple launched new peripherals before the end of the year. The Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2 and Magic Keyboard. Each of these devices is equipped with an internal rechargeable battery and charges via USB via Lightning cables.  However these were not the first new devices to pull this trick. The new Beats Pill+ speaker launched quietly a few weeks earlier with this feature already in place.

Expect this to continue throughout Apple’s product lines and pop up in some surprising places we haven’t though of yet, like new Beats headphones.  Most of their products today include Micro-USB charging, no doubt Apple will do everything it can to phase that out over the next year.

Refined Apple Watch

To some this may be a foregone conclusion, but there are those who have their doubts. While how much of a success the Apple Watch has been is up for debate, make no mistake, this is no iPod Hi-Fi.  Apple is committed to the Apple Watch and by association the fashion world.

Apple Watch users tend to tell people how much they love theirs (myself included) however many of us like it for different reasons. When people ask about why we love the Watch it’s hard to point to one thing. It’s a platform without a killer app, which makes it hard to sell. Expect Apple work on to changing that both through marketing and through iteration.

I anticipate that by the roll out spring fashion lines Apple will announce a revised Apple Watch. It won’t be radically different, but it will be noticeably more responsive for third party apps and will likely contain new sensors to track health and fitness.

Smarter Maps

Apple took a beating when it launched new Maps in iOS 6 without transit directions. Now Apple has a lot of trust to regain in this field. If the company wishes to succeed in this area it needs to iterate rapidly. The company’s health and fitness focus will likely help it here as well as its ‘proactive’ initiatives. Something we could see is more accurate time estimations on walks from place to place based on our own pacing.

Another area of focus could include bike directions in Apple Maps, which will be especially handy for Apple Watch users who will be able to accurately navigate to their destination via haptics alone without looking at their screen.

New Transit Innovations

Apple wants to be much more involved in how you get from place to place. Sure we’ve all heard rumors about a car, but if that is coming, it’s not going to be in the short term.

The expansion of ApplePay, and with it NFC chips, raises some interesting possibilities about how you get around town. Chicago, Tokyo, London and other cities already use some form of radio frequencies for mass transit payment systems and the movement is towards NFC. New York City is planning to switch to a similar system as well. This is good news for all involved.

Expect Apple to start making deals, especially if it designs its own radio chips, that allows the company to make future iPhones and Apple Watches that work as your monthly transit pass. Coming that much closer to fulfilling the digital wallet ideal.

I can’t say I expect all of these things to happen in 2016 but I do believe they’re all inevitable. I look forward to what the future has in store.

Questions and Answers about ‘Tile’

The other day I came across this new crowdfunded gadget: Tile. The idea behind it is one I’ve wished existed for many years. Long and short: It’s a tiny little Bluetooth powered location tracker that you place on your keys, luggage, bag, bike etc. The benefits of this are great and their video does an excellent job of selling it.

I’m intrigued that it will prevent me from ever misplacing my keys in my own home again. However, as with any advancement in technology: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This product raises some technical and privacy questions to me and the company’s FAQ seemed to mainly exist to placate angry Android customers, so I fired off an email to their ‘contact’ address and here are the results.

You have your introductory price but what will the second year cost me? / Will you offer a recycling discount for sending you our old tiles?

Tile replacements are likely to be discounted for customers, but since we are still in development phase the final cost is not yet determined. Replacement Tiles will come with a return envelope with postage paid. All Tiles are recycled or refurbished depending on condition.

Tile requires no battery charging or battery replacement hassles, ever. It’s all about ease of use and being cost effective as compared fo similar solutions. You could buy enough Tiles to last you three years before you would match the cost of buying other solutions that require constant charging and are quite bigger, and not waterproof.

If I buy a tile, when does the year start? At manufacturing, order, or do I “activate” it somehow? If I buy two tiles now, can I hold off “activating” the second one until my first one dies? Will it hold a charge until this hypothetical activation?

A Tile’s year of use starts when you take possession of it. Withholding use of a Tile does not prevent a drain on the battery. Use them for a year and then replace. Easy. Also, Tiles are registered via the Tile app.

What kind of access to my tile data do you have? Could the NSA, in theory, demand access to your servers and see my tile’s location history? Or, with your permission, use another tile to locate my tile like your video shows with the bike?

Tile is still in the development phase, so we have many areas to address in our product plan, including a privacy policy. That said, like many devices and product features available today, our objective is to offer an unique and helpful experience to improve the lives of our customers. We have no intention of acting improperly, or without transparency, with any information that results from the operation of our product.

There you have it. While I’m not thrilled by the amount of companies going live without privacy policies set in place, I respect that they answered the question at all. For now, I’ve decided to purchase a Tile. We’ll see how I feel about it when year 2 rolls around.

3 Reasons Klout’s Algorithm Is Bogus

Labeling itself “The Standard for Influence,” Klout has worked to become a relevant influence-measurement tool for businesses and individuals.

While every marketer would love a way to quantify social media influence, is there really any substance behind Klout’s numbers? Does a high (or low) Klout score really have an impact on whether you can influence others’ behavior — or is Klout simply an imprecise  measurement of one’s social media prowess? Here are three reasons Klout’s algorithm is probably more alchemy than science.

Measuring the Wrong Things


One of the main problems of Klout is that it relies on third-party APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to get data from the networks it scans — and those APIs have limits. A good example of where this falls short is that Klout has no way to monitor click-through rates. The service has no way of knowing what volume of traffic flows through the items a member posts, or if these posts actually lead to any action offline. How can a service claim to adequately monitor influence with such a huge blind spot?

Another issue is what Klout actually tracks and how it tracks it. With Twitter, scores are determined by monitoring things like follower counts, mentions, and retweets. However, it doesn’t give credit very well for those using Twitter’s native retweet system. When a member retweets something, Klout gives credit back to the original account, even if another user’s retweet exposed it to a larger audience.

Some Twitter members don’t like this and have devised ways to game Klout’s handling of this metric. These individuals choose to use the older manual “RT @name” style retweets instead of the native Twitter system. This way, when the post is retweeted by their audiences, they get the score boost and increased visibility instead of the original user. This is essentially a way of stealing influence and Klout’s algorithm (as it is today) encourages it.

An Ever-Shifting House of Cards

In February of last year, an infographic made the rounds on the web highlighting a Justin Bieber Twitter spam account with an astoundingly high Klout score. This illustrated some major flaws with Klout and served to embarrass the company briefly.

To combat the loss of confidence in its service, Klout has attempted to iterate and improve its scoring dramatically over the past year. However, it has often done this without notice or explanation. It was not uncommon for members to log in and find that their scores had plummeted by tens of points without explanation. These changes, while aimed at improving the service, essentially stomped all over Klout’s credibility and gave the company a boy-who-cried-wolf reputation with each new algorithm upgrade.

Perhaps most damning is the way Klout has de-emphasized and removed certain metrics in its latest redesign. For example, the latest revision has removed things like user classifications and score analysis. The company has even hidden the ability to track changes to certain metrics over time. If Klout felt more confident in its algorithm, it would expose more of this data, not less.

Topical Misunderstanding

Klout’s system of topics are, in many cases, baffling. For example, having one tweet including the words “Paparazzi” and “Matt Damon” retweeted by someone Klout deems of greater influence can get you labeled as influential on those topics. This can happen despite that tweet being the only time you ever mention those topics. It doesn’t matter if you have many other tweets pertaining to broader topics, such as politics or technology, that achieve a broader reach.

It appears that Klout matches its “topics” to keywords used in social media posts alone, instead of using actual, objective, topics. It also appears that Klout’s algorithm is not smart enough to understand and classify posts based on context — without the usage of such keywords directly. These are some of the flaws of automation. Algorithms cannot understand things like sarcasm and tone, and they have an especially hard time with nuances of language and meaning that only humans would pick up.

At the end of the day, Klout is trying to quantify something as inherently subjective as influence. But while some metrics can be helpful to understand audience reach, influence cannot be distilled into single number. While Klout’s promise is tantalizing for marketers, it will always need to rely on a certain amount of assumption and fabrication to seem legit, thus leading its value to be questionable at best, and bogus at worst.

[Image credit: Peter Roberts]

Steve Jobs on Speech Technology as Transcribed by an iPhone 4S

In 2003 Steve Jobs sat down with Walt Mossberg at the first ever D: All Things Digital conference. The end of the session included a rare open Q&A with Jobs by audience members in which the following question was asked:

“You talk about handwriting and keyboard, how about speech as a human interface?”

Here is Steve’s answer transcribed by an iPhone 4S using iOS 5’s Dictation feature:

“You know that the last part of that question is is exactly right I I I’ve been almost 30 years and it’s speech is always been five years away because I’m trying to completions
But it went most of the really smart people of speech I know have gotten out of Beelitz it’s like nuclear fusion a lot of bright people went into it and and and people now think it’s a ways away you can do what you can do adequate speech today to meet your correcting a lot of stuff if you just have to know even 1% area try cannot as it turns out you can speak a lot of words in a few terrible so it’s got to be very accurate and so far no one’s come up with the technology Apple’s got a very we got to speak working on stuff Microsoft has a group you want GreatWorks be done in academia but it doesn’t look like it’s been a be real anytime soon I wish it was different”

Here is what he actually said:

“Ya know, the last part of that question is exactly right. I’ve been in this industry almost 30 years and speech has always been five years away. It’s been constant time to completion, just moving along 5 years away. Most of the really smart people in speech I know have gotten out of the field. It’s like nuclear fusion a lot of bright people went into it and people now think it’s a ways away. You can do you can do adequate speech today but it means you’re correcting a lot of stuff. If you just have even 1% error it drives you nuts. Because it turns out you can speak a lot of words in a five minute interval. So, it’s gotta be very accurate and so far no ones come up with the technology. Apple’s got a speech group working on stuff. Microsoft has a group. A lot of great work is being done in academia but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be real any time soon. I wish it was different.”

Looks like Steve was right.

Little Troubles in Big Paris

On Sept 15th, 2011, I began the lifestyle that will define me for the next few months; that of a backpacker. My goal is to explore the world, learn about other cultures and meet new people all through the aid of digital tools and social media. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes I am making my way based on recommendations of friends and followers.


When I arrived in Paris via the Eurostar from London, it seemed like everything was going according to plan. I had a restful train ride in which I wrote, edited photos and caught up on that week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’. When I got to the station my friend Kirsten was there waiting for me at the gate with a big smile on.

Kirsten is over in Paris for grad school and had moved here just days before my arrival from Chicago. The original plan was for me to stay with her on my arrival and she had anticipated to have an apartment but due to a series of reasons was unable to secure a place beforehand and was staying with someone from her college alumni association. Luckily she had managed to contact me ahead of time and I scrambled in London to find a hostel for Paris.

She needed to pick up her monthly train pass so I took the opportunity to purchase a series of train tickets as well. The next thing on my agenda was to pick up a prepaid SIM card for my phone so I could proceed as planned with the crowd sourcing of the trip. In England there were vending machines at the station so I assumed the situation would be similar in Paris. Not so.

When checked into my hostel I asked the guy at the desk about getting a SIM. I was told that the country has recently cracked down on them, due to anti-terrorism legislation you now need to supply ID and fill out paperwork even to buy even a temporary pre-paid SIM. With little to go on Kirsten and I head off towards the Louvre shopping area to run errands and I figured the guys that the Apple Store would be able to supply more info.

Once there I was able to check in and get my bearings and the staff informed me that there was an Orange store nearby that might be able to solve my problem.

Sure enough, once we arrived at Orange there was a gentlemen who was extremely helpful in getting me setup. For 9,90€ I had what i thought was a working SIM card with 500mb of data in just minutes. We got next-door to the post office and suddenly nothing worked. I popped the SIM card out and plugged it back and suddenly things worked again. Then moments later, they didn’t.

I went back to Orange and eventually discovered that I needed to top up the phone with an additional 10€ to make it work on data, and on top of that, it wouldn’t work until tomorrow anyway.

After a little bit of cross cultural customer service battling I was able to get my money refunded and returned the card. I set out looking for other carriers but soon found myself frustrated and resorting back to a paper city map.

The plan was to catch back up with Kirsten and her friends at a gelato cafe across from Notre Dame around 7. By the time I found myself in the area however I couldn’t locate the cafe in question and spent my time walking up and down the street peering into restaurants for someone I knew before eventually giving up. Tired, hungry and surrounded by expensive food I resorted to the cheapest thing I could find that I knew I could get quickly: Subway.

I tried looking for wifi connections I could use to figure things out but it turns out that the same law that restricted SIM card purchases also restricted open WiFi

Refusing to let the night be a complete bust I trekked back to Notre Dame and spent my time sitting in the courtyard people watching. As I sat there soaking in the incredible architecture, detailed craftsmanship and the camaraderie around me I determined that even though nothing had gone as planned, it didn’t matter, it was still a beautiful night. Also I was eating gelato. Gelato rules.

After some time wandering around I head back towards my hostel and found open WiFi at a bar near the Stalingrad plaza. When I finally got to catch up on tweets, fellow Chicagoan, Elaine noticed I was in Paris and so was she, I then hopped a train and headed her way.

Small photo set posted, more coming soon.