Tech meets fashion for Apple, Google and Yahoo

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A lot of fun examples of tech and fashion cross-pollinating lately.

We saw Google giving Vogue some Google Glass, which ended up being featured in a weird, but cool fashion feature, that looked like a 60’s futurism vision. Then Marissa Meyer posed for Vogue in classy, non-CEO-style photos recently (such as upside down on a lounge chair).

Today, we find out that Angela Ahrendts, who is credited of having turned around Burberry (with a lot of help from wunderkind Christopher Bailey) will take over the role of SVP of Retail, online and offline. It’s great to see that this role is finally filled, as Ron Johnson has been away for quite some time, and Apple stores have been less innovative over the last years. It’s also interesting to see that she gets ownership of both offline retail as well as the online stores, which is a similar combination of domains that Jony Ive has for hardware and software design. It shows that Cook is following the Jobs CEO style of concentrating power in the hands of just a few, key lieutenants. And it’s not all women, Apple made another fashion recruitment this summer, of Paul Deneve from Yves Saint Laurent.

All this cross-pollination makes perfect sense since smart phones and other tech products have become important fashion accessories over the last years, and this seems set only to continue with more and more wearables coming onto the scene. Fast Company has for a long time featured tech-savvy designers as innovators, such as Jenna Lyons. We’ve also seen some great tie-ins for tech brands, such as iPhone 5S’s being used in Burberry fashion shows, and Instagram fast becoming the key platform for fashion brands.

However, as much as the tech world can benefit from this infusion of fashion glamour, I’m not sure if it’s a win-win situation. In a few years, when people wear Google Glass over their eyes, an Apple iWatch on one arm and a Fitbit Force on the other, and why not a Melon headband on your head, you’ll probably need to wear something like the below to match it…

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2000

Photo credits: Wikipedia, CrunchBase, victorismaelsoto

Nobel prizes and predictions in the age of big data

In this week of predictions, with the Nobel prizes just announced (one more quasi-Nobel prize to go – Economics tomorrow), I thought it’d be interesting to look at the ways predictions are made and what the reigning methods are.

For the Nobel prize itself, we saw some of the predictions come true, while others turned out to be off the mark of course, as always. It’s a tricky business making predictions, especially about the future, as Niels Bohr is said to have quipped. This goes especially for an event such as the Nobel prizes, where there are no longer-term trends to help guide our thinking. This year, UK bookies thought Murakami would get the literature prize (I still don’t understand why he’s even considered – he’s imaginative in terms of stories, but really weak on characterization), and The New Republic just published a list of how often they are wrong.

For the science prizes, it might be slightly easier, since there tends to be more consensus on what is Nobel-worthy, even thought the exact year of the prize is hard to predict. This year, Higgs did get his Nobel, but many of the others were surprises. Thomson Reuters’ ScienceWatch makes a set of predictions for the Nobel Prize winners based on the number of citations scientists and their articles get. This year, their nominees did include Higgs of course, but not the other winners.

Looking at the wider world, an interesting question is if big data is changing the way forecasts and predictions are usually made. I’m currently reading Expert Political Judgement, by Philip Tetlock and The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. Tetlock’s main argument is that in order to be a good forecaster, you need to be a fox rather than a hedgehog, in terminology borrowed from Isiah Berlin. The nimble minds who accumulate information from several different sources and who are not afraid to update their forecasts that perform better than the hedgehogs with strong convictions and the tendency to interpret the world according to your worldview. The book was written a few years ago, and the world has arguably become even less hedgehog-friendly over this time. The kremlinologists that Tetlock studied would struggle to keep up with the pace of the changes in e.g. the Middle East. The fact that we have more and more data would, not change our ability to make better forecasts, like Silver says, it just makes us more able to create models that support our hedgehog views. However, I think Silver would argue that, these days, you need to be a fox who is even more knowledgeable about the subject at hand, along the lines of what Matt Yglesias said in his review of the book in Slate.

However, if you’re a hedgehog, don’t despair! There is always Long Bets, where you can place bets decades into the future, significantly decreasing the likelihood that you’d be off a few years on the timing.

 

The benefits of being a fast follower and the geopolitical smart phone wars

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

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Reading David Pogue’s recent review of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the point of which was basically that it was a failure (“nobody will buy this watch and nobody should”) was interesting since it was the first really negative review of a Samsung product in quite a while. Like Business Insider points out, Samsung has been a darling of the media and the markets lately, up until this launch. Their profits were still impressive last week, but the reviews of Gear shows that they should have perhaps stuck to being a fast follower instead of trying to lead a product category. It is clear that they rushed this one out to be ahead of Apple for once. It is a product looking for a demand, instead of a product satisfying a specific customer need. Pogue lists all the features they’ve crammed in there, most of which will clearly never be used.

But with the iWatch still likely not to see the light of day until Q2 next year or later, maybe they should have waited a bit longer and done some more consumer testing. Or just waited for Apple to define, with their deft touch, what the actual consumer need is, and then just copy the product like they normally do.

The war between Apple and Samsung is heating up to be the key technological rivalry of this time (even if Amazon phones are getting closer and closer to launch!), since the comparison with Google/Android is hard to make, with all driver-less cars and non-Google Android phones out there clouding the comparison.

The rivalry is even taking on geopolitical overtones. Witnessing product excitement from Asia, there is a definitely a case of regional heroes going on. While many of Apple’s recent 9 million sales clearly came from China, most Asians clearly feel that Samsung’s products are more targeted to them (not to mention Xiomi phones), and Americans feel the same way about iPhones.

Farhad Manjoo and Matt Yglesias had Apple and Google take each other on in a war games scenario recently, it would have been even more fun had they done it between Apple and Samsung (Samsung could rope in ships from their ship-building business).

In the Apple-Samsung war, we even saw Obama getting involved lately, when he overturned a veto on selling some older Apple products resulting from a Samsung lawsuit. Thankfully, in case of an actual war, the US would still have command of the South Korean forces, as discussed in Hagel’s latest visit.

Images from Crunchbase

The first shopping smart phone and the Internet of products

Amazon-icon

The rumors regarding Amazon’s smart phones are coming more and more frequently. Perhaps their launch is finally not that far away anymore?

The latest set of rumors are getting really interesting. The prevailing theory has been that Amazon would release a smart phone that follows the same strategy as the Kindle, i.e. the phone is cheap, or even free, and Amazon makes their money selling the content to it. It’d be pretty much a dumb pipe, even as a smart phone.

The latest rumors suggest something more interesting, that the phone is following another Amazon strategy, of helping the user do price comparisons and buy their products at Amazon instead of somewhere else. There is an Amazon app that lets users scan products and immediately get the Amazon price to compare with. And the rumored phone would take that to a new level by having “four front-facing cameras that can track a user’s head and then use it to position 3D effects within the interface“, according to Verge. This would let you identify any object and match it to the relevant product on Amazon. An Internet of Things purely for shopping. Stacey Higginbotham would love it.

It reminds me of the initial pitch of the shopping site The Fancy, which was initially about being a social network of things. It later realized that the money was in becoming a luxury brand and getting Kanye to pitch for them. Nothing wrong with that, their email newsletters are full of subversive products everyday. But the original pitch of giving every object out there an identifier and a node in the network was very interesting. Hopefully to be realized in the future, through Amazon or a new player.