“I think it’s coming along,” said Tim, “though we expect—” “I think it sucks!” said Jobs.
His vehemence made Tim pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.
“It just does.”
“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”
“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.
“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”
–An excerpt from the 2003 book Code Name Ginger, the story behind Dean Kamen’s Segway scooter. Steve Kemper recounts the time Kamen introduced his invention (code-named Ginger) to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. They immediately foresaw problems with the product. (via The Browser.)
Failure stories come in two distinct flavors: “We almost had it all!” and schadenfreude. At VentureBeat, Harrison Weber’s tale of Google’s suspended project to build a modular smartphone is distinctly of the first type. It channels the excitement of the people who tried to make it happen — and the wistfulness of those who find it hard to let go. More than anything else, though, it shows how hard it to translate a cool, lightbulb-moment idea into a viable product.
“I had an old camera that I broke and I couldn’t really fix it. So I took it apart and I noticed all the components were still pretty good, except for one thing.”
“I thought: Isn’t that weird that we throw everything away just because one part is broken?” said Hakkens.
“At first, I wanted to make a phone that lasts 100 years. But then I realized, I kind of like technology — that it evolves, that it gets better. The only downside is that after it gets better, we throw everything away. I started looking into it, and it generates a lot of e-waste… I mean now we have some devices, but in the future it’s thermostats, fridges, microwaves — everything will be connected. So what if a chip breaks in your fridge? Do you just throw the entire thing away?”
The Phonebloks story spread like wildfire. Gadget blogs covered it en masse, hordes of supporters signed up to support, tweet, and share the idea with a viral marketing tool called Thunderclap, and developers fired back, saying it couldn’t be done — that it was impossible to build. Perhaps they had a point.
Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that many tech workers in San Francisco turn to psychics for a glimpse of the future. Or that psychics, in turn, are rebranding themselves as spiritual therapists, executive coaches, and corporate counselors. The trend is common enough to be spoofed on HBO’s Silicon Valley, where the show’s fictional tech CEO confers with a spiritual guru. Meanwhile, real-life tech execs are increasingly candid about their spiritual hygiene: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff endorses yoga; LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner advocates mindful meditation; and the late Steve Jobs, a student of Buddhism, was mentored by a Zen priest.
The San Francisco Yellow Pages list 128 psychics and mediums in the city; there are 141 listings for astrologers (with some overlap between the categories). In the Bay Area at large, psychics are keen to cash in on tech’s spiritual awakening.
The following is an excerpt from Ian Bogost’s book The Geek’s Chihuahua, which addresses “the modern love affair of ‘living with Apple’ during the height of the company’s market influence and technology dominance,” and how smartphones created a phenomenon of “hyperemployment.”
Think back to 2007, when you got the first iPhone. (You did get one, didn’t you? Of course you did.) You don’t need me to remind you that it was a shiny object of impressive design, slick in hand and light in pocket. Its screen was bright and its many animations produced endless, silent “oohs” even as they became quickly familiar. Accelerometer-triggered rotations, cell tower triangulations (the first model didn’t have GPS yet), and seamless cellular/WiFi data transitions invoked strong levels of welcome magic. These were all novelties once, and not that long ago.
What you probably don’t remember: that first iPhone was also terrible. Practically unusable, really, for the ordinary barrage of phone calls, text messages, mobile email, and web browsing that earlier smartphones had made portable. And not for the reasons we feared before getting our hands on one—typing without tactile feedback wasn’t as hard to get used to as BlackBerry and Treo road warriors had feared, even if it still required a deliberate transition from t9 or mini-keyboard devices—but rather because the device software was pushing the limits of what affordable hardware could handle at the time.
Applications loaded incredibly slowly. Pulling up a number or composing an email by contact name was best begun before ordering a latte or watering a urinal to account for the ensuing delay. Cellular telephone reception was far inferior to other devices available at the time, and regaining a lost signal frequently required an antenna or power cycle. Wireless data reception was poor and slow, and the device’s ability to handle passing in and out of what coverage it might find was limited. Tasks interrupted by coverage losses, such as email sends in progress, frequently failed completely.
The software was barebones. There was no App Store in those early days, making the iPhone’s operating system a self-contained affair, a ladleful of Apple-apportioned software gruel, the same for everyone. That it worked at all was a miracle, but our expectations had been set high by decades of complex, adept desktop software. By comparison, the iPhone’s apps were barebones. The Mail application, for example, borrowed none of its desktop cousin’s elegant color-coded, threaded summary view but instead demanded inexplicable click-touches back and forward from folder to folder, mailbox to mailbox. Read more…
One challenge for Andreessen is whether venture itself has a skills problem. If software is truly eating the world, wouldn’t venture capital be on the menu? The AngelList platform now allows investors to fund startups online. Its co-founder Naval Ravikant said that “future companies will require more two-hundred-thousand-dollar checks and way fewer guys on Sand Hill Road.” Jeff Fagnan, of Atlas Venture, which is the largest investor in AngelList, said, “Software is already squeezing out other intermediaries—travel agents, financial advisers—and, at the end of the day, V.C.s are intermediaries. We’re all just selling cash.”
Andreessen sometimes wonders if Ravikant is onto something. He’s asked Horowitz, “What if we’re the most evolved dinosaur, and Naval is a bird?” Already, more than half the tech companies that reached a billion-dollar valuation in the past decade were based outside Silicon Valley. And as Andreessen himself wrote in 2007, before he became a V.C., “Odds are, nothing your V.C. does, no matter how helpful or well-intentioned, is going to tip the balance between success and failure.”
With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.
Shutting people out is an important part of being a shut-in: When signing up, customers can choose the option of not seeing their Alfred, who will come in when they’re at work. Alfred’s messaging is aimed at sweeping aside any middle-class shame.
“We’re trying to remove the taboo and the guilt that you should have to do it,” says Alfred’s CEO Marcela Sapone over the phone. “We’re empowering you to let others do it for you. You’re the manager of your life. It’s against the stigma of ‘People use this because they’re lazy.’ Absolutely not. They’re using this because they’re extremely busy.”
—Lauren Smiley, in an essay for Matter about the “sharing economy,” where anything and everything is now deliverable with a single click. Smiley sees the on-demand economy as less about sharing and more about serving, creating a world where one is either “pampered, isolated royalty,” or a “21st century servant.”