I was talking to a friend last week about demos. She mentioned the Steve Jobs iPhone demo from 2007 and I referred to Doug Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos from 1968. She hadn’t heard of it, or him, which wasn’t that surprising since she was born at least 15 years after Englebart’s canonical demo.
While it doesn’t ever surprise me that someone hasn’t heard of – or seen – Engelbart’s demo, it’s an important part of computer history.
While it’s long (over 90 minutes), it’s worth watching from beginning to end. Fire up Youtube on the big screen, grab some popcorn, and settle in.
For starters, let’s look at some Golden Retriever puppies instead.
I watched most of the Apple announcement last week (I was on vacation and hanging out waiting for Amy, so I just plopped down on the floor and watched Special Events on the Apple TV channel.) I fell asleep for a few minutes part way through it. I turned it off about halfway through the iPhone X announcement.
I’ve been an Apple user for many years now. Every few years, I switch to an Android phone for a month (whatever the newest model is) but always end up going back to my iPhone. Whenever each new iPhone model has come out (for at least the past five years) there’s been a mad rush among my partners to make sure all of us have a new phone the day they ship. I even sported a rose gold one during one upgrade cycle just because I could.
When Amy and I went to lunch after the iPhone 8 and X announcement, she asked me if I was going to get a new iPhone. I said no. I realized I was profoundly uninspired – both by the new phone and the way the Apple team presented it. I’d go so far as to say I was bored, which as a lifetime nerd, is unusual when Amy lets me hang out and do anything related to computers (including watching TV about computers.)
Amy then said, “I didn’t mean the 8, I meant the X.”
For some reason, I’m completely uninterested right now in the iPhone X. I don’t know why. It might be the presentation. It might be that’s it’s not available for another few months. It might be that I just spend too much money and time fixing my iPhone 7+ screen (twice) after dropping it. Why twice? Because the first time I stupidly sent it over to one of the non-Apple “we can fix your iPhone for you for less money” stores who replaced the glass but totally screwed up a bunch of other things (the home button, the touch dynamics, and the edge feel of things.) That resulted in me buying a new iPhone 7+. Dumb Brad – just to go the Apple store even if it’s five miles further away and you have to drive instead of walk.
On the other hand, iOS 11 just installed on my phone while I was writing this post. A cursory glance shows that it’s working fine but other than different fonts, new icon styling, shading on an iMessage reply, and a different control center, it looks the same so far. At least I can play with fun new apps like Occipital’s TapMeasure to see how ARKit works.
I’m perplexed by the current Apple release cycle dynamics. I know they’ll mint money with the new phones, but my feeling of disappointment lingers as a user. Suddenly, I’m more inspired by Amazon’s new hardware.
I’ve been thinking about what “truth” means lately. With almost no effort I can find contradictory articles, thoughts, perspectives, statements, and opinions on almost everything being discussed today. I’m sure our election cycle is amplifying this, but I see this in a bunch of stuff I’m reading about tech as well.
As someone who views independent critical thinking as extremely important, this dynamic is perplexing to me. A few months ago I wrote a post about TruthRank vs. PageRank. It started me down a path where I began separating types of truth. Specifically, I’ve begun referring to “your truth” vs. “the truth.”
When I say “your truth” I’m not referring to opinions. I’m referring to your deeply held beliefs. Your truth is the set of ideas that forms the basis of your view of the world. It requires a huge act of will and introspection for you to change your truth.
To understand this better, I’d like to use a classic example from tech – that of Steve Ballmer’s view of the iPhone, and subsequently his approach to the mobile business.
Let’s set the stage with a classic interview with Ballmer at the time the iPhone is announced in 2007.
Now, let’s look at Ballmer’s reflections about this in 2014.
As part of this arc, Ballmer’s big solve was to move Microsoft from a software only company to software+services and then software+devices. For many years, Microsoft was disdainful of Apple’s tightly coupled hardware+software business. In a final thrust of reactionary behavior, Microsoft bought Nokia in 2014 for $7.2 billion and then wrote off $7.6 billion a little over a year later.
Ballmer had “his truth.” It was stronger than an opinion. It shaped his entire view of the world. He held on to it for seven years (or probably longer).
And, at least in the case of mobile, it was completely wrong. It was not “the truth.”
I see this in all aspects of the world. It’s noisiest in politics right now, but it’s prevalent through all aspects of society. I’m running into it constantly in business and technology – both at a macro level (about the industry) and a micro level (within a company).
In the same way it’s different than an opinion (which can be wrong and/or invalidated over time), it’s different than strategy. I’ve always felt that a strategy was the framework for executing your truth. Strategies evolve and opinions change but your truth doesn’t.
And herein lies the problem. I’m seeing people hold onto their truth for much too long. They hold on too tightly. They turn an opinion into their truth. They extrapolate their truth from a small number of data points. The generalize one experience to create their truth. They react emotionally to something that they disagree with and anchor on their truth. They justify their behavior by holding onto their truth.
In many of these situations, individual critical thinking goes out the window. The internal biasing behavior of your truth dominates. You stop being able to listen to other perspectives, to process them, to think about them, and to evolve your opinion. Instead of deeply held beliefs, you end up with a shallow and self-justifying perspective that you hold on to endlessly rather than think hard about what is actually going on.
I embrace the idea of seeking the truth. I love the construct of deeply held beliefs as a framework for it. I challenge everyone to think harder about what the truth actually is, rather than just hold on to your truth to justify your perspective. Remember, the truth is out there.
Before I get into my rant of the morning, if you have a gluten intolerance, or just want less gluten in your life, we just invested in a company called Nima that can help you.
Today, as I was going through my daily reading, I read Fred Wilson’s Feature Friday: GBoard about Google’s new third-party keyboard app for iOS. I clicked on the link to download and try it and, as it was doing its thing, though to myself “why does Apple iOS Mail suck?” And then I thought “why does Apple iOS Calendar suck?”
When I’m using my iPhone, I spend a lot of time in Mail and Calendar. I’ve always been unhappy with Apple’s Mail and Calendar. I’ve gone through using lots of other ones, but in most cases, once the Mail or Calendar app is acquired by another, bigger company, it eventually stales out and vanishes. About a year about I started using Outlook on My iPhone and used it for a long time. I can’t remember what happened, but at some point I abandoned it and switched back to Apple Mail and Calendar.
As Gboard was downloading, I decided to try Gmail and Google Calendar on iOS for a while. I used them when they first came out and they were inferior to Apple’s Mail and Calendar. I tried them again about a year ago and they were good, but for some reason I didn’t stay with them.
I know that if I don’t use something for at least some extended period of time it won’t stick. Some I’m going to try having Google World on my iPhone until at least June 1st. At that point I’ll re-evaluate.
If you have any hints or suggestions, I’m all ears.
A year ago if you had suggested that I’d be using Microsoft Outlook on my iPhone instead of the Apple Mail app, I would have said, simply, “No Fucking Way.” And I would have been wrong.
It’s kind of like chocolate in my peanut butter.
When I try something new, I use it for two weeks to see if it sticks. A month ago, my partner Jason told me he was loving Outlook on the iPhone. I figured it wouldn’t last but I was wrong. So two weeks ago I moved my Apple Mail icon to the last page on the iPhone and moved the Outlook app down into the special reserved place for email.
Outlook on the iPhone is better than Apple Mail on the iPhone. It’s one of those perplexing things – I’ve tried many of the other iOS email clients and none of them were ever more than incrementally better. I go back and forth with the Google Gmail iOS client but it never sticks for some reason, probably the UX. I tried Google Inbox for a few days and my brain simply doesn’t process email the way it presents it. So I kept ending up back at the Apple Mail iOS app.
While the Apple Mail iOS app is fine, it doesn’t delight, especially when using Gmail. Mail is often slow to download. Push has gotten better in a recent release, but I still find myself waiting for emails to download. Search is lousy. Calendar integration is non-existent.
Outlook is better at all of these things. It’s not that it adds any dramatic new features, but it does the stuff I’ve expected Apple Mail to do for many years. And, when I actually think about what is going on, I’m using Microsoft Outlook on my Apple iPhone to read my Google Gmail.
What iOS email client do you use and why?
A month ago, I decided to switch from my iOS devices to Android devices for a month and see how it went. I turned off my iPhone and iPad and turned on a Nexus 5 and Nexus 7.
I enjoyed the Nexus / Android a lot.
But I couldn’t decide if I liked it better than the iOS experience. It was different in some ways and the same in others.
So yesterday after my digital sabbath was over I turned off my Nexus devices and turned on my iOS devices. I figured the only way I’d be able to really decided which I liked better was to switch back and decide how I felt after a few days.
The meta of the experience is that they are both great devices. Every app I used regularly on my iPhone existed for the Nexus. I found a few new things on the Nexus that I wasn’t using on my iPhone. And I started using my Nexus differently in a few ways, although I expect that behavior will carry back to my iPhone.
So – the experiment was completely and totally inconclusive for me.
I’m in the Little Rock airport on my way home. After having an abysmal travel day yesterday that started off at 5:30am with me being detained By U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Toronto airport, I finally got to Little Rock around 4pm, made it to the Startup Arkansas event around 5:30pm, and did two hours of open office hours, a Startup Communities talk, and general Q&A. When I got back to my hotel room around 10:30pm and crawled into bed after hanging around with the entrepreneurs at a great after party, the crappy US CBP experience had been washed off of me. I had a great evening, and, like entrepreneurs everywhere, the people I got to hang out with in Arkansas are optimistic, fun, excited about what they are doing, and building the future. And they like beer, which I needed after a very long day.
I had two separate bad dreams last night about being detained. The first was a strange, complex one that is now fuzzy in my head, but happened in a futuristic, very dark setting. The second is still fresh – I was with Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) somewhere in San Francisco and we were detained by military people who put us in a room, took away our iPhones because they were afraid Dick would start a revolution since he controlled Twitter, and made us sit silently back to back. I woke up before that dream resolved.
When I woke up from my second dream, I realized I was wondering why you are forbidden from using your iPhone in US Immigration areas. I notice this all the time when I enter the US – you go through a door into where the giant immigration room is and you are bombarded with the universal “no phone” sign. Then, when you break this rule and tweet a photo of the “no phone” sign, one of the CBP people inevitably comes over to you and tells you that you can’t use your phone there.
Yesterday, after I ended up in what I have been told is called the “secondary” room, I quickly sent Amy and Kelly an email telling them where I was. I then tweeted that I had been detained by CBP. This took about 30 seconds, at which point one of the CBP agents very aggressively told me that I couldn’t use my phone in this room.
I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why, nor do I think it would have been particularly helpful. I’m sure the formal reason is something like “you are on government property and we get to set the rules on what you do” and then there is – if pushed – some separate justification about security. But I’ve used my iPhone when I was in the White House, I’ve taken a photos of Obama with it, I check in on FourSquare at various government buildings, and I have spent many mindless minutes waiting on a line for some government service somewhere using my iPhone. And some very creative people have videoed their own experience with CPB and DHS agents doing ridiculous things, making absurd statements, and demonstrating what happens when they don’t understand civil liberties and our constitution as well as the people they are trying to question.
Why am I forbidden from using it in an Immigration facility? Are they afraid of people videoing what they are doing? Are they worried that I’ll rally a twitter mob to break me out of the secondary detention area. Or are they just enjoying exercising their ability to eliminate my ability to communicate with the outside world?
I’m clearly still riled up about yesterday, although I’m mostly just sad about it. It’s horrifying to me how, as a government, we treat non-US citizens who are legally in this country. It’s also disgusting to me how difficult we make it for people to come into this country and startup businesses, which ironically is the foundation on which much of this country has been built. And now that I had a very direct and minor taste of it, I’m sad that we’ve let things get to this point.
I’m mid 2011 I wrote a post titled Competition. Things in my universe had heated up and many of the companies I was an investor in were facing lots of competition. It’s 18 months later and there’s 10x the amount of competitive dynamics going on, some because of the maturity, scale, and market leadership of some of the companies I’m an investor in; some because of the increased number of companies in each market segment, and some based on the heat and intensity of our business right now.
I wrote a few more posts about competition but then drifted on to other things. But I came back to it this morning as I find myself thinking about competition every day. Yesterday, I was at the Silicon Flatirons Broadband Migration Conference hosted by my friend Phil Weiser. I go every year because it’s a good chance for me to see how several of the parallel universes I interact with, namely government, academics, broadband and mobile carriers, incumbent technology providers, and policy people think about innovation in the context of the Internet.
News flash – most of them think about it very differently than I do.
One thing that came up was the idea of creating the best product. This has been an on and off cliche in the tech business for a long time. For periods of time, people get obsessed about how “the best product will win.” Then, some strategy consultants, or larger incumbents, use their market power to try to create defenses around innovation, and suddenly the conversation shifts away from “build the best product.” And then the entrepreneurial cycle heats up again and the battle cry of the new entrepreneur is “build the best product.”
This isn’t just a startup vs. big company issue. I remember clearly, with amazement, the first time I got my hands on an iPhone. Up to that point I was using an HTC Dash running Windows Mobile 6.5. It was fine, but not awesome. I remember Steve Ballmer in a video mocking the iPhone.
We all know how this story has played out.
I remember a world when Microsoft and RIM were dominant. When Apple and Google didn’t have a product. And when people talked about “handsets”, WAP, and we squinted at our screens while pounding on keyboards that were too small for our fingers. Next time you are in a room full of people, just look around at the different phones, tables, and laptops that you see.
In my startup world, the same dynamics play out. Building the “best product” doesn’t only mean the best physical product (or digital product). It doesn’t just mean the best UI. Or the best UX. It includes the best distribution. The best supply chain. The best customer experience. The best support. The best partner channel. The best interface to a prospective customer. I’m sure I’ve left categories out – think about the idea of “the best complete product.”
This is getting more complicated by the day as technologies and products increase in interoperability with each other at both the data, network, application, and physical level. That’s part of the fun of it. And being great at it can help you dominate your competition.
Give me the best product to work with any day of the week. But make sure you are defining “product” correctly.
I love Scott Kveton, the CEO of Urban Airship. He and his team are building an amazing company in Portland. If you do anything mobile-related and use push notifications of any sort, or real-time location targeting, you need to be talking to them. But even more impressive is how Scott leads his company.
The other day, I got an email from my partner Jason with a photo of the Urban Airship Meeting Rules posted on the wall. They are so logical as to be rules that should apply to every meeting at every startup from now until forever.
0. Do we really need to meet?
1. Schedule a start, not an end to your meeting – its over when its over, even if that’s just 5 minutes.
2. Be on time!
3. No multi-tasking … no device usage unless necessary for meeting
4. If you’re not getting anything out of the meeting, leave
5. Meetings are not for information sharing – that should be done before the meeting via email and/or agenda
6. Who really needs to be at this meeting?
7. Agree to action items, if any, at the conclusion of the meeting
8. Don’t feel bad about calling people out on any of the above; it’s the right thing to do.
I particularly love 0, 1, and 4. I rarely walk out of a meeting when I’m not getting anything out of it. I’m going to start paying more attention to this one.
I’m finding myself using Google+ more and more. I recently decided that the long game Google is playing is absolutely brilliant. They are being understated about it but doing exactly what business strategists talk about when they describe the long game as the one to play.
Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week.
By now I hope you are saying something like “What the fuck is he talking about – Facebook is crushing Google+” or something like that. Yeah, whatever. That’s why it’s the long game that they are playing.
Here are some examples.
I live in Gmail. Suddenly, I found this magical thing called Circles to be useful. When I get behind on my email, I simply go through a few of the circles (Foundry, Foundry Ents) and clear the email from my partners, my assistant Kelly, and the CEOs I work with. I have persistent chat up – I find that 80% of my chats now go through Gchat (the other 20% are Skype, and they are almost always requested by someone else.) And now that there are Hangouts integrated, many of these are videos.
Google Voice is my Phone Number. I used to have desktop phones. I don’t anymore – I have a Google voice # and an iPhone. I give everyone my Google voice #. It works everywhere. I never think about what phone I’m using anymore. And I do many calls via the computer.
Google Hangouts is my new Calendar Invite. I hate the telephone. Hate hate hate. But I don’t mind chat. And I don’t mind a Google Hangout / video call. All of a sudden I can make invites from Google Calendar that are Hangout invites. Done – every phone call / conference call is now a Hangout.
I live in Chrome. I have several computers. I never notice the difference between them. I’m downstairs at my place in Keystone right now on my Macbook Air. When I go up into my office, I’ll be on my treadputer with a different Macbook Air (an older one) connected to a 27″ monitor. I switch regularly between the two throughout the day and don’t even notice.
Now you are thinking “Ok Brad, but other than the Hangouts, Circles within email, and Hangouts within Calendar, what are you using Google+ for?” Just those three things have completely changed my workflow massively for the better. And they just showed up for me one day – I didn’t have to do anything.
In 2012 I used all the normal Google+ stuff. I reposted content there. I followed people. I occasionally chatted, commented, or +1ed. Facebook-like features. But I didn’t care that much about that stuff – yet.
All of a sudden I’ve got Communities. I’ve got Events. I’ve got Pages. And Hangouts, and Circles integrats seamlessly with each of these things. And they are nicely integrated with Gmail and Calendar. And suddenly I can do On Air Hangouts. And, I can record them automatically and save them to my Youtube channel. Keep playing for another few years, user by user, company by company, integrated feature by integrated feature.
Yeah, it drives me batshit that Google still things I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. Some day they’ll integrate these. And as I approach 25,000 contacts, I’ll probably start bitching about how this limit is ridiculous, just like I did at 10,000. But I can deal with all of that.
Google – thanks for playing the long game here. I wish more companies, especially other tech companies, did this especially when they have massive resources. Sure – some think they are playing the long game, but they are really playing the short game with a bunch of things that take a long time for them to get out the door. Different game.