Dave Lee

Dec 9

The greatest tip ever to a clean email inbox

It’s been almost 10 years since I made a decision to keep a clean inbox.  Since that time, I’ve managed to clear my inbox down to zero on average a few times a month.  It’s always a great feeling to see your email inbox at zero, but it’s been an excruciating journey to get there.

Over the years I’ve managed to learn some tricks to manage email (like unsubscribing to lists, using templates, having a separate decision making space, etc).  But nevertheless it’s taken a lot of willpower and energy to try to manage email.

The Experiment

Recently, I’ve been conducting an experiment.  I read/delete announcement-type emails, reply quickly to emails that I’m able to, and then I print all the remaining emails in my inbox.  Yes, you read that correctly… I actually print my emails onto paper.

At first, printing onto paper took a lot of mental energy to accept.  I’ve been paperless for almost 10 years and I hate physical papers laying around.  I also don’t like wasting paper as well.  So, the idea of printing emails was difficult to accept.  But I wanted an easier way to clear my inbox and I was wiling to try almost anything.

So, I went to Walmart and got their cheapest paper ($3.88 for a ream) and I use a black/white laser printer on draft mode.  And for the past couple weeks, I’ve been doing the same routine:

1.  Read and then delete all announcement/info-type of emails

2.  Reply to all the emails that I’m able to on the spot that don’t require a lot of decision-making or deep thought.

3.  I print all the remaining emails in my inbox.

Usually, I’m only printing about 5-10 emails at a time because I do a pretty good job with #1 and #2.

After printing #3, I place the printed emails in a manila folder and place them in my bag.  Later in the day I’ll review all the printed emails one-at-a-time.  When I review each printed email I’ll usually do the following:

1.  I’ll review each printed email individually and write my notes directly onto the printed email.

2.  I’ll organize my notes and write down my next action step regarding the email and how to respond to it.

3.  After I’ve doing #1 and #2 for each printed email, I’ll then clear out my inbox by replying to each email according to how I decided to reply in #2.

The result is a clear inbox with minimal pain.

Why answering tough emails on the computer screen is painful

Part of why printing difficult emails works is because replying to difficult emails on the computer screen can be painful.  The problem with a computer screen is that sometimes it’s not easy to brainstorm and search for solutions.  I find that wild note taking with a pen can be more effective in coming up with a solution most of the time.

Writing on a computer screen is somewhat too confining.  It’s tough to juggle a dozen ideas.  And it’s difficult to lay out your thoughts in a way that’s creative.  Usually on a computer screen you’re typing something and there’s something about typing, while it keeps things looking neat and organized, that tends to restrict the creative side of the brain.  Sometimes being behind a computer screen is like putting your brain in a box.

For most tasks I can do a decent job behind a computer screen and the box it puts me in.  But sometimes certain emails require deeper thought and freedom for my brain to be creative.  I find that jotting down ideas on paper, drawing arrows, crossing out things, underlining things, and making a mess tends to free up my brain just enough where sometimes the creative solution becomes evident.  That’s what you miss behind a computer screen, and that’s what is sometimes necessary when answering difficult emails.

Worth a try

So if you’re falling behind in email or just want to make clearing your inbox easier, it might be worth it to try printing the emails that are the most difficult to reply to and giving yourself some space to tackle them on paper on not on the screen.

(Read more posts on Productivity Tips.  Check out my other series too.)

iPhone 5c/5s Thoughts

I wanted to share some thoughts on Apple’s recent iPhone 5c and 5s announcement.  (Apple’s full video presentation)

1.  Apple has launched a second line of the iPhone.

I think the most significant news about Apple’s announcement of the 5c/5s is that Apple has now launched (and is apparently committed) to two separate lines of the iPhone.  Previously since 2007 Apple has released only one line of the iPhone (iPhone, 3g, 3gs, 4, 4s, 5, etc).  With Tuesday’s (9/10/12) announcement, all of this has changed.  Similar to having two lines of MacBooks (ie., Macbook Pro, Macbook Air), Apple now has committed to a iPhone “c” line and a iPhone “s” line.

This is significant because it widens Apple’s target audience.  I’ll explain some more.

2.  The iPhone 5c is for the younger crowd and the iPhone 5s is for older folks.

Sure, there will be some older folks buying the iPhone 5c, but generally the iPhone 5c is marketed to a younger audience.  I would imagine a lot of teens and those in their early twenties to gravitate to the iPhone 5c.  The bright, playful colors (along with cases) make a loud statement and mark a significant departure from the typical black/white iPhones of the past.

The iPhone 5s can now be marketed directly to the older folks (not necessarily in age but more so in refined tastes).  If iPhone 5c is Gap, then the iPhone 5s is Banana Republic.  One look at the cases for the iPhone 5c/5s and this is apparent.  The iPhone 5s cases are leather and distinguished.  The iPhone 5c cases are fluorescent, bright colors and youthful/playful.

3.  The iPhone 5c brand will need to become established/marketed.

I would imagine most of Apple’s marketing in the next few months to be directed at promoting the iPhone 5c since this is a new angle of iPhone than previous generations.  The iPhone 5s doesn’t need as much marketing to define it because the refined feel of the iPhone 5s is similar to the iPhone 5 and previous generations.  But the iPhone 5c is more like the older colorful iPods and I can imagine Apple to play up the free-spirited, playful and creative aspects of the iPhone 5c to establish its brand.

4.  The iPhone 5c is cheaper than the iPhone 5s but is not a cheap phone.

Apple has refused to become a cheap phone manufacturer, and has decided to make the iPhone 5c of high-quality and mid-high pricing.  I can see this move be beneficial to Apple in several ways.  First, it maintains high margins and high profits.  Second, it allows them to discount the iPhone 5c next year into a free phone (with subsidies).  So, eventually Apple can have a “cheap” phone, but it won’t be this year but next year after the iPhone 5c has been available for a year.  Third, even though the iPhone 5c is $99 with subsidies, this is a significant price difference than the iPhone 5s.  Though the retail non-subsidized prices are similar ($549 for iPhone 5c and $649 for the iPhone 5s), the $100 difference from $199 to $99 is a huge difference in the eyes of budget-conscious consumers, especially younger ones.

Already, there is news that Walmart is discounting the iPhone 5c from $99 to $79 (though it might be a limited promotion).  But this is just an early sign of retailers potentially discounting the iPhone 5c during the Christmas holiday season (maybe $49 to $79).  This will bring in a whole crowd of buyers looking to upgrade their phones (and gift phones to friends/family).

Overall, I see the iPhone 5c pricing as a positive thing for the U.S./western markets.  It opens the market to a wider audience and yet preserves profit margins.

However, the iPhone 5c pricing does pose challenges for developing markets like China and India.  In those countries, most of the phones are sold unsubsidized, so users must pay the full retail price of the phone.  The iPhone 5c’s price tag of $549 is considered very expensive and out of reach for many consumers.  Many people were expecting the iPhone 5c to be directed to this emerging market and to be priced much less than the announced $549 price tag.  However, I still think there is possibility that Apple can address these emerging markets.  I think it will be largely in one year when they release the the iPhone “6c” phone.

The iPhone “6c” phone will have upgraded specs (and maybe even a larger screen).  If the iPhone 6c is priced at $549 retail unsubsidized, then Apple can continue to make the iPhone 5c and price it at least $100 lower, at $449.  At $449, the iPhone 5c might be more in reach to consumers in these emerging markets.  If Apple can cut another $50 off, and price it at $399 then it could start to make sense to even more consumers.

However, the reality is that Android already has a strong base in these emerging markets.  Companies like Xiaomi are killing it with their high-quality yet inexpensive Android phones.  I don’t see the iPhone 5c slowing down Android’s momentum in these emerging markets.

5.  It’s going to get interesting next year with the iPhone “6c” and “6s” phones.

IMO this year is the launch of the second “c” line of the iPhone.  Next year’s launch of the iPhone 6c/6s phones will be where it gets interesting.

Most of us know that the biggest complaint of the iPhone is it’s small 4” screen.  If you’ve only used the iPhone, then it might not be a big sore spot.  However, if you’ve used a larger screen (ie., 4.7” - 5”) then you’ll feel how small and puny the iPhone 5/5c/5s screen is.  It’s especially apparent when browsing the web and having to squint to read articles and tap links.

I think it’s just a matter of time before Apple increases it’s screen size for the iPhone.  I’m actually disappointed that Apple didn’t increase the screen size this year.  Already many iPhone users are leaving Apple to go to Android because Android offers larger screen sizes.  So, we have another year of more people going to Android for a larger screen (though this is balanced by people going to Apple for the cheaper iPhone 5c).

If Apple releases a larger screen sized iPhone next year (ie., Sept 2014), then there are several possibilities for the line-up they might offer.

First, they might keep the iPhone 5c and 5s but lower their prices.  So the line-up could be

iPhone 6s (4.7” screen) - $199 (subsidized)
iPhone 6c (4.7” screen) - $99 (subsidized)
iPhone 5s (4” screen) - $99 (subsidized)
iPhone 5c (4” screen) - $0 (subsidized)

In this scenario, Apple would offer two lines of phones - “c” line and “s” line.  And in each line, they would offer two types of phones - an older 4” phone and a newer 4.7” phone.

The advantage of this scenario is that they might appeal to a larger audience by having a cheaper iPhone 5c available but also having larger screens in the iPhone 6c and iPhone 6s.  The disadvantage is that it might be confusing to the consumer with all these choices.

Another scenario is that Apple discontinues the iPhone 5s next year but keeps the iPhone 5c.  So the line-up would look like this:

iPhone 6s (4.7” screen) - $199 (subsidized)
iPhone 6c (4.7” screen) - $99 (subsidized)
iPhone 5c (4” screen) - $0 (subsidized)

This scenario would make it more simple to the end user - $0 phone, $99 phone, or $199 phone.  There’s a high-end, mid-range, and low-end phone.  The low-end phone would appeal because of the price ($0 w/subsidies).

A third scenario, and I admit this is a bit more complicated, is that Apple releases new phones with both a 4” screen and a 4.7” screen.  The line-up would look like this:

iPhone 6s (4” and 4.7” screen) - $199/$249 (subsidized)
iPhone 6c (4” and 4.7” screen) - $99/$149 (subsidized)
iPhone 5c (4” screen) - $0 (subsidized)

So in this line-up, Apple releases new iPhones with both 4” and 4.7” screens, thus giving a choice to the consumer regarding which screen size they prefer.  The iPhone 6s with 4” screen could cost $199 w/subsidies, while the 4.7” screen could cost $249 w/subsidies.  The iPhone 6c 4” would be $99 w/subsidies, and the iPhone 6c 4.7” would be $149 w/subsidies.  Also, they could keep the iPhone 5c 4” at $0 w/subsidies for the more price-conscious shoppers.

This third scenario is interesting, though I doubt Apple would take this route because I see them more choosing one “ideal” screen size to keep things simple.  However, the problem with one “ideal” screen size is that everybody has different sized hands.  It doesn’t make sense to just have one screen size.  It makes much more sense IMO to have at least two screen sizes and offer the consumer a choice.

Regardless of whichever of these scenarios work out (or another one might happen), it does seem that the line-up next year (ie., Sept 2014) will be very strong with a iPhone 5c as the “free” phone (w/subsidies).

6.  Apple as a mobile device company.

IMO the iPhone 5c/5s announcement and the future implications (ie., future Sept 2014 line-up with the iPhone 5c becoming “free) is an impressive move by Apple as a mobile device company.

As a mobile device company their goal is to make the best experience in mobile devices (ie., iPhone, iPad, MacBooks, etc).  This entails offering the best hardware possible with the best software experience (system apps as well as 3rd party developer apps). My only complaint would be I think they should have released a larger screen (at least 4.5” screen) iPhone this year and not wait any longer.

However, this poses another question/challenge.  Many people have been wanting Apple to come out with a cheap iPhone so they can take market share in emerging markets like China and give Android a run for its money.  Thus, the relatively high price tag of the iPhone 5c ($549 retail) is disappointing.  But since Apple is a mobile device company (and they need to make money off of selling these devices), it only makes sense that Apple doesn’t offer a super cheap phone and kill their margins.  Google can do this because they make money from services/ads.  Apple though needs to make most of their money off of hardware sales.

Another option for Apple would be to change from being a mobile device company to being a transaction company.  What I mean by this is I see some potential where Apple could make small margins on their hardware if they were able to make a larger sum of profit through another channel, namely transactions.  Apple has tried to go into this area with the AppStore (Apple making 30% of every transaction) and iTunes purchases.  However, the amount of money Apple makes in these transactions does not compare to what they’re making in hardware sales.  This is one of the main reasons why Apple can’t cut into their hardware margins IMO because they don’t have a way to make comparable profit elsewhere.

However, Xiaomi has an interesting business model where they’re offering their hardware (phones, etc) at dirt cheap prices because they want to make money through transactions, namely ecommerce.  I’m not familiar with the details of how Xiaomi is approaching this, but it’s interesting to think about.

In Apple’s case, I did have a far-out thought the other day.  What if Apple purchased Mastercard (MA) and transformed their company (would take several years) from a mobile device company to a transaction company?  The goal would be for Apple to take a cut of everything (well almost everything) sold.  Acquiring Mastercard would help this immensely because they would be adopting Mastercard’s business model of getting a small % of every financial transaction.  On top of this, Apple could make their hardware devices into integrated payment devices (ie., seamless transactions at every physical store by just holding your phone and touching the Touch ID button for a second to pay).  They could also go into the actual payment systems that stores are using as well (similar area as Square).  Talking about Square, that would be another interesting acquisition for Apple.

However, I don’t see Apple moving in this direction mostly because I see their identity as a mobile device company still very strong and not in peril (and also I don’t know enough about the transaction space to be confident it’s the right move for Apple).  But I do wonder if instead of offering dividends and stock buybacks with their cash, what would it look like if rather they took their sizable cash holdings and used it to transform their business (by buying Mastercard and Square) into a transaction company that could endure the next 50-100 years (or longer)?

On a side note, as a iPhone 5 user I’m not tempted by either the iPhone 5c or 5s to upgrade.  I am tempted by a larger screen phone though.  Every several months I try out an Android phone for a few weeks or so.  Next week, I’m going to be trying out a Samsung S4 for a few weeks (and not using my iPhone 5).  The last time I did this (with a Samsung S3) I was actually impressed by Android cause they’ve come a long way.  Android is still a bit laggy and jerky (with scrolling and browsing) but the larger screen size is super helpful and seriously upgrades my phone experience with web browsing.

Give me a 4.7” iPhone 6 and I think won’t be tempted by these larger screen Android phones.  Personally, I think a 4.7” iPhone (or similar screen size) is what a lot of people are waiting for.

So my closing thought is I’m very impressed by the iPhone “c” and “s” strategy Apple has announced (I think it will serve them well), but I am disappointed that Apple hasn’t released a larger screen size phone (ie., over 4.5”) by now.

I do think sometimes why hasn’t Apple listened to its customers who want a larger screen phone?  I think this is Apple’s strength/weakness.  Apple is very strong in what they believe.  And most of the times it’s a great strength because they have very strong values/beliefs in user experience, design and elegance.  However, at times I think this can be a weakness.

When Apple released the iPhone 5 I noticed that they came across as narrow-minded in some of their ads for the iPhone.  The one in particular I remember vividly was an ad justifying the 4” screen by insinuating that bigger screens were not ideal because they were larger than what one-hand could comfortable navigate.  Apple was basically saying that they thought the 4” was ideal and they thought larger screens were faulty.  However, a year after the iPhone 5 I think it’s become apparent (to many people) that the 4” screen size is not ideal.  In fact, it’s just too small (for a lot of people).

I’m reminded of the story of how the iPad Mini came about.  Supposedly Steve Jobs and others were against a smaller iPad (they thought it would be too small and a bad user experience).  However, it took Eddie Cue to passionately advocate that a smaller iPad would be a great experience and a much-needed one.  He advocated this because he had used a 7” Android tablet and was impressed (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57486733-37/heres-apples-e-mail-thread-about-a-7-inch-ipad/).  I give it to Eddie Cue and his open mind to try out other products with objectivity.

So Apple - your “c” and “s” strategy is brilliant.  Now, just make a larger screen phone.

(Read more about my Thoughts on Apple.  Check out my other series too.)

Nov 5

Got Things Done

(This is a guest blog post by Ludvig Ericson.)

People seem so stressed out today, yet we live in the era of automation where you can actually buy a pair of shoes on your morning commute while taking care of business. Odd, isn’t it?

Think about three things you did prior to reading this, how did you end them? Chances are you didn’t properly, “alright that’s 90% of the job - I’ll deal with the rest tomorrow.” In the words of Ronan Keating, what if tomorrow never comes?

Those 10% are often harder than the 90% you think you already did. Why this is and the psychology behind it is an interesting question in itself but let’s not get caught up in details.

Get things done and be done with them. Learn to love the word *closure*, “the act or process of closing something” or “a sense of resolution or conclusion at the end of an artistic work.”

As they say, when one door closes another one opens. This is true of your employment, marital status and other big things in life but also the small ones.

When your agenda is without end you’ll be prone to cut corners in a meaningless struggle aganist an enemy you’ll never beat.

How will you ever have a productive day if what you have on your desk is always leftovers from yesterday? In the words of Reinhold Niehbur:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity  
the things that cannot be changed, courage  
to change the things which should be changed,  
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Close things. Be done with them. Say goodbye.

(Read more posts on Productivity Tips.  Check out my other series too.)

Nov 4

Four Devices Apple Doesn’t Make Yet

Here’s the computer setup I wish I had.  Too bad they’re all devices Apple doesn’t make (at least yet).

1.  Retina 27” iMac.

Apple recently announced their lineup of new iMacs, but they’re non-retina displays.  The 27” iMac display is 2560 x 1440.  Apple usually doubles the resolution to make it retina.  So, the retina iMac 27” should have 5120 x 2880 resolution and it would be a beauty to read from.  (Currently I use a 21.5” iMac and find it a bit too small.  I’ll probably upgrade to the new 27” iMac, reluctantly wishing it was a retina display.)

2.  Retina 13” Macbook Air.

I currently use a 15” Macbook Pro Retina and it’s a great machine.  The screen is amazing and I’m surprised that I’m able to read Kindle books (read.amazon.com) with comfort.  I put it in full-screen mode and can view two columns easily.

However, the 15” Macbook Pro Retina (though lighter than the other 15” Macbook Pros) is still too heavy for me.  It’s heavy to carry around and it’s heavy on my lap.  For me, the best form factor of a notebook I’ve ever used is the Macbook Air 13”.  But again, the Macbook Air 13” is non-retina.

Apple recently announced the 13” Macbook Pro Retina… but after trying it out at the Apple Store, it feels too heavy for my needs.  I think the ideal notebook for me would be a 13” Macbook Air Retina.  But I might be waiting for a while.

3.  5” iPhone.

I’ve been using an iPad mini for the past few days and while I think it’s a neat device, I find myself using my iPhone 5 still the most because it’s always on me.  I’m constantly checking email, websites, and apps.  However, I find my iPhone 5’s 4” screen a bit too small.  I wish Apple made a 5” iPhone screen.  Sure, the phone would look a bit big but if they could make it super light and thin (thinner than the iPhone 5), then it would be fine.

I think this is why the Samsung S3 and Galaxy Note 2 are selling so well.  People appreciate the larger screens.  And this is probably the largest weakness of the iPhone; namely, it comes only in one screen size (or two if you count the previous 3.5” screen) and doesn’t accommodate for those with different tastes or needs in screen sizes.

4.  As a final note, I think there’s an opportunity for Apple (and other manufacturers) to make a wearable device like a watch or necklace.  The device would communicate with your phone and show alerts, messages, emails, tweets, etc.  Also, you could take pics and videos from the device.  The device would also track heart pulse and steps.  You could dictate messages/emails/tweets, and also make calls from the watch.  You could also also voice search/siri from the watch and ask “Hey, how far is the next Starbucks?” or “When’s the Houston Rocket’s next game?” and Siri would speak back from the watch.  If you want to see more info, you just pull out your iPhone and the info is already showing there.

(Read more about my Thoughts on Apple.  Check out my other series too.)

Moving to where the puck is

Apple’s new iMacs (21.5” and 27”) are quite impressive - much thinner, less glare, much lighter.  (I’m thinking of getting the 27” version.)

The most interesting “addition” to the iMac is actually the missing DVD/CD optical drive slot.  It’s been a standard feature for years and Apple has decided to completely remove it.  You’ll need an external drive if you want to access a DVD/CD.

What’s interesting to me is that though while most people don’t use the DVD/CD drive that much, it still appears to be a feature most people appreciate.  I occasionally rip a DVD or use the optical drive to reinstall the OS.  I’m sure others use it sometimes to.

But you’ve got to give credit to Apple.  They’re thinking ahead and imagining in a few years if optical drives make any sense (they don’t unless for the few people who could opt for an external drive).  And though it will cause inconvenience for some right now, it’s where things are headed and that’s where Apple is skating to.  They’re going to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been in the past.

Figuring out what to do next is crucial.  In fact, it’s probably the most difficult skill in business and it’s likely to be worth the most.  Seth Godin writes:

The new high productivity calculation, though, is very different:  Decide what you’re going to do next, and then do it. Make good decisions about what’s next and you thrive.  Innovation drives the connection economy, not low cost.  The decision about what to do next is even more important than the labor spent executing it. A modern productive worker is someone who does a great job in figuring out what to do next.

Businesses live and die based on whether they make the right decisions on what to do next.

Zynga is an interesting case.  They were riding high on the desktop social gaming movement and didn’t expect the environment to change so quickly.  They ramped up with acquisitions, people, offices, etc.  But the desktop social gaming field has been drying up of late and not growing much.  Zynga didn’t expect it.  As a result, Zynga’s forecasts are getting crushed.  They keep on lowering estimates and revenue forecasts, and this has put major downward pressure on their stock.

RIMM and Nokia were on top of the world 5 years ago but Apple stole their lunch and now they’ve got to figure out what to do next - something they should have figured out years ago.

The bigger question is how do you get good at figuring out what to do next.  Just like a hockey player headed to where the puck is going to be… you’ve got to be ok with leaving your current position.  You’ve got to be okay with failing at times (ie., maybe the puck doesn’t go where you thought it would be).  You need to look at all the other players in the game because each person affects where the puck could end up.  In other words, you’ need to be good at reading the field.  You need to put an end to indecision which will cause you to stand still and miss the opportunity.

And maybe most important of all, you’ve got to want the puck really bad.

(Read more about my Thoughts on Apple.  Check out my other series too.)

Why the iPad Mini Matters

Today Apple announced the the 7.9” iPad Mini (starting a $329).  I want to take a few minutes to share why I think the announcement is a big deal.

First, it’s surprising that Apple didn’t price the iPad Mini closer to the Nexus 7 (which starts at $199).  I was expecting the iPad Mini to come in at $299 or lower.  But Apple pricing the iPad Mini at $329 shows that they’ve made a decision to not compete on price with the cheaper “plastic” Android tablets like the Nexus 7 and others.  Rather than making a cheaper iPad Mini by cutting corners, Apple went all-in and created a tablet with the same precision as their new iPad or even their new iPhone 5.  Apple is clearly making a statement with the iPad Mini - all other tablets are cheap in quality and lacking in user experience (ie., not as many tablet-designed apps).

Part of me wishes that Apple would have been more aggressive with the pricing and start the iPad Mini at $299 or even $279.  But I think Apple is smart here and has a strong positioning statement.  People trust the iPad.  They know it as the best tablet with the best apps.  Apple is leveraging this with the iPad Mini and is basically saying, “Sure the iPad Mini is pricier than other small tablets, but you’re getting quality and the best.”

If the Android tablet experience was close to the iPad’s experience, I don’t think Apple’s positioning would work well.  However, Apple knows that 1) they can build an exceptionally better tablet than any Android manufacturer and 2) the iPad’s user experience is much better than any Android tablet, especially with the plethora of iPad-designed apps in the AppStore.  So, I think Apple’s $329 price for the iPad Mini is smart and gives them enough margin to be significant to their profits.

Second, the iPad Mini gives schools an opportunity to buy iPads at a lower cost than the current $399 iPad 2.  Apple is already making huge inroads in selling iPads to schools, giving them discounts as well as financing options.  At $329 retail price Apple could offer a discount of at least $30 to schools (if not $50 or more) and also offer some very attractive finance and payment options.  I recently was on a plane talking with a very large school board member and I asked him if schools have enough money to buy iPads.  His response is that they all have budgets for textbooks and that money can be used to buy iPads.

The iPad Mini gives Apple an even greater advantage in the education space.  Add iBooks Author (free textbook authoring software) and Apple’s aggressive textbook partnerships with publishers, it’s not too difficult to see Apple extending their dominance in schools.

Third, today’s iPad Mini announcement matters because it’s Apple first new product category announcement in 2.5 years.  Sure, Apple has had a ton of announcements recently but almost all their products are improvements of current and existing product lines.  However, the iPad Mini is Apple introducing their first product in the “mini” tablet market.  Expect Apple to iterate like crazy on the iPad Mini.  I wouldn’t be surprised for new versions to be introduced at least once a year.  And it’s in the iterating of the iPad Mini where Apple will seek to try to dominate the mini tablet market.  Some have described it as how Apple rolls.

Make no mistake.  Apple’s introduction of the iPad Mini today was not a passive move by Apple to just grow iPad sales.  Apple has clearly thought this through and is seeking nothing short of dominance in the mini tablet market.  They have a strong positioning argument - the best mini tablet with the best user experience.  And they will iterate like there is no tomorrow to make the iPad Mini better and better each year.

On a closing note, I think Apple still has a lot of room to introduce new product lines with their iOS platform.  I would personally enjoy a 13” or 14” iPad to browse the internet at home, as well as a 20+” iPad to do presentations in front of small groups.  And I think they would make a killing introducing an iOS watch.

(Read more about my Thoughts on Apple.  Check out my other series too.)

Sep 7

I Respectively Disagree (with Jeff Bezos)

Jeff Bezos is a fantastic presenter and innovator.  Yet, yesterday at the Kindle 2012 lineup event he made two major arguments that I have a difficult time agreeing with.  (Watch full event on YouTube)

First, Jeff Bezos argued that Android tablets haven’t taken off because they’re “gadgets,” while the Kindle Fire sold well because it had better “services”.  Bezos spent a large majority of his presentation describing the current and new “services” for the Kindles and Kindle Fires (all which are quite impressive: tons of content, exclusive books, whisper sync, dual-sensory reading, x-ray for movies, FreeTime for kids, etc).

In essence, Bezos is saying that Amazon’s Kindle Fire has better services than Android tablets and that’s why Amazon is winning.

But if you take a look at the Google Play store, you’ll notice that Google has been doing an impressive job of amassing a lot of content themselves.  Also, Google has tons of services that Amazon can’t offer (search, gmail, calendar, docs, maps, google+, single sign on to all google services, etc).  

I just don’t buy that Amazon has better services than Google and that’s why Kindle is winning.  I think a better narrative is that there’s been a lack of a strong market leader in the 7-8” tablet space and as a result consumers have reluctantly purchased the Kindle Fire more than other android tablets, but it’s not a sign that the people are happy with the Kindle Fire or that it has better services.  Maybe it’s because of price and convenience (ie., amazon.com).  (note: I purchased a Kindle Fire 2011 when it first came out and was disappointed at it’s clunky and choppy software.  It basically was unusable to browse the web compared to an iPad.)

I think when Apple enters the 7-8” market, there will be a clear and strong market leader:  Apple.  Then, we’ll see if Kindle Fire’s great “services” can compete with Apple’s complete package: beautiful hardware, great UI, the best apps, etc.

Also, I think Google is just getting going in the tablet market.  The Nexus 7” is an impressive tablet and Android 4.1 with project butter is a vast improvement over all other android versions.  I also think Google’s purchase of Motorola will allow Google to produce some impressive devices in the future.  I was skeptical of the purchase initially, but was super impressed that Google hired Regina Dugan (formerly of Darpa) to head innovation at Motorola (check out Regina Dugan’s TED talk and be blown away).  

Case in point:  Kindle Fire might be the market leader in the 7” tablet space, but it’s not a strong market leader and Apple has yet to enter the market… and Google is just getting going.

The second Bezos argument that I’m having a difficult time digesting is his critique that Amazon is better aligned with customer’s interests than Apple because Amazon is making most it’s money on the ongoing use of the Kindle (ie., purchasing ebooks, etc) vs Apple is making most it’s money on the initial purchase of the device.

I appreciated Bezos laying out the Amazon Doctrine:  “Above all else, align with customers.  Win when they win.  Win only when they win.”

To paraphrase Bezos:  ”We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.  If someone buys one of our devices and never uses it, we don’t deserve to make any money.”

That’s a noble goal but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Amazon is better aligned than Apple, which Bezos asserts.  Apple also is motivated to have customers use their devices because if they don’t continue to user their devices they aren’t going to upgrade to the next, newer device.  So Apple has a vested interest in making sure that users enjoy their current experience and receive value.  Apple also has interest in ongoing usage with the AppStore and iTunes stores.  (side note: I do find the pay-for-what-you-use is a really interesting business model)

Overall, I think Amazon’s ambitions are noble but they’re going against two companies that alsoa very aligned with the customer.  So, it’s going to be tough.  I don’t think Amazon is going to overtake Apple in the tablet market any time soon.  And I’m not sure if then can fend off the upcoming Android tablets in the 7-8” or 9-10” tablet space either.  But I think Amazon will have it’s place.  I still buy most of my ebooks on Amazon, am a huge Amazon Prime fan, and have a lot of loyalty toward Amazon.  Amazon has proven it’s Amazon Doctrine through amazon.com, EC2, and it’s other services.  They give good value to the customer without trying to take advantage of the customer.  And customers appreciate that kind of treatment.

That said, it’s going to be an interesting next few years in the tablet space - Apple vs Google vs Amazon… and Microsoft trying to get into the game.

Who do you think has the best chances?

(Read more about my Thoughts on Amazon.  Check out my other series too.)

I propose an iOS AppStore Fast Track app approval process

Andrew Chen wrote an interesting blog post, Mobile app startups are failing like it’s 1999.  

I think the root problem is that the AppStore review process takes too long to encourage rapid, iterative development.  If you need to wait 10 days for your update to get approved, it breaks the feedback loop that you need to have to iterate quickly for new products.

I’d like to propose a Fast Track approval system for app updates to the iOS AppStore.  Here’s how it would work.  If you have an update to your app that you’ve submitted to the AppStore, as a developer you can pay $300 to get that update reviewed (and approved or rejected) within 2 days.  You can use this privilege as many times as you want, as long as you pay $300 each time.

The reason I think this would work is because many of the app updates are from developers that aren’t making enough money to really want to pay $300 for a speedy approval.  They’re okay with waiting 1-2 weeks.  However, for an ambitious startup trying to find product/market fit each day that you can save is worth a lot of money.  Ambitious startups would surely pay $300 to get their update out quickly.  This would encourage more updates and would encourage startups to have more of an iterative development process.

For Apple, the $300 would cover any additional app processing costs, and again I don’t think it would bog down their system as 95% of developers wouldn’t pay for Fast Track.  But for those who do, it will really matter.  And it would make a lot of startups excited to get out their update a lot quicker.

Aug 3

Ten million users is the new one million users

Insightful blog post by Chris Dixon.

I’ve been saying that the scale of mobile/social (ie., ios, android, facebook) has increased the distribution 10x for apps/services.  It’s truly incredible what’s happened in the past 5 years.

But saying that, there are major challenges of mobilizing a non-transactional app… namely, usually your user experience suffers as you add more advertising.  And on top of that, advertising is increasingly being ignored in mobile apps.  It definitely makes in-app purchase, subscription and freemium appealing options to think about as a startup.

Aug 2

Where is David Pogue’s iPhone?

Entertaining story of David Pogue (tech writer from NY Times) losing his phone in the NY Subway and Find My iPhone, Twitter and the police helping him to track it down.