On wearable technology and the world as it might be

Ben Thompson has a great post today about wearable technology in light of Apple’s upcoming new device: How Apple Will Make the Wearable Market

Thompson lately has been putting out a consistent stream of thoughtful analysis of Apple especially and of the direction of technology in general. In his most recent post about the Apple Watch he points out that most critics base their pessimism on how new technology will fare in the world as it is rather than looking imaginatively at the world as it might be.

He offers this:

For all of the changes that have been wrought by technology, a huge amount of our daily existence really hasn’t changed in a very long time. Consider keys: in my bag I have several pieces of metal, hopefully unique, that unlock doors or start up machines that run on controlled explosions. It’s positively barbaric! Money has improved a bit – cash is certainly a very old concept, although credit cards are more modern – but the idea that we physically hand someone access to a huge amount of money (i.e. our credit cards) without even thinking about it is odd. We operate lights with switches, print disposable tickets for everything from airplanes to concerts, and pack identification from a whole host of authorities, including the government and workplace.

It’s increasingly plausible to envision a future where all of these examples and a whole host of others in our physical environment are fundamentally transformed by software: locks that only unlock for me, payment systems that keep my money under my control, and in general an adaptation to my presence whether that be at home, at the concert hall, or at work.

He then goes on to explore how wearable devices can take a central role in such a future. And Apple is differentiating their device by making it desirable, aesthetically and emotionally, as well as remarkably useful. It’s not just a smart watch, there is also a good bit of art to their watch.

Apple’s focus on fashion is part of the plan to make their watch a cultural hit and not just a geek fetish. And widespread adoption would be necessary for all the parts to come together to make wearable technology more than just a fad for technology enthusiasts.

Reading Thompson’s post reminded me how much my family enjoyed using Disney’s MagicBands when we visited Disney World more than a year ago. These colorful bracelets unlocked our hotel room door, served as our tickets to enter the parks, managed our Fast Passes for rides, and were used to pay for our meals and souvenirs at restaurants and stores throughout the Disney resorts.

As much as I love good technology, I’ve been reluctant to get excited about Apple Watch. I have been imagining its primary function was to enable notifications to work more seamlessly. It seems to be a notification delivery machine. Literally. And I am anti-notifications. The fewer interruptions, the better.

Yet, a watch that would connect with my life in an abundance of helpful ways, the way the Disney MagicBands did, would be one that would earn a central role in my life the way the iPhone has.

There’s a long way to go before the infrastructure is in place to create such a connected and wireless world. But selling lots of Apple Watches would push that vision forward faster.

It’s hard for me to vividly remember the pre-smartphone world. The iPhone was a niche product with no app store, weak processing power, super slow internet, and a high price tag when it was introduced in 2007. Those who, at the time, saw the world as it was, dismissed its chances. But look at the world as it is now.

Consider the world as it might be from this point on. How will wearable technology and the infrastructure interacting with it look five years from now?

Since reading Thompson’s post, I’ve been browsing the Apple Watch options online, the sizes and band choices, and imagining wearing a watch again for the first time since 2008. (My favorite at the moment: Apple Watch Sport, space gray, black band, 38mm.)

It may be a year or two before I pull the trigger. I’m not a knee-jerk early adopter. The sweet spot of form and function and a robust ecosystem for these devices is surely at least a couple of iterations away. But I think it’s coming.

Apple Watch Sport space gray

Imagining a better future

 

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I just started reading Zero to One, the new book by entrepreneur Peter Thiel. He opens the book with this contrarian question he asks in job interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

He’s usually disappointed by the answers. He says a good answer takes this form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.” He goes on to say that good answers to the question can point us to the future:

“But what makes the future distinctive and important isn’t that it hasn’t happened yet, but rather that it will be a time when the world looks different from today. In this sense, if nothing about our society changes for the next 100 years, then the future is over 100 years away. If things change radically in the next decade, then the future is nearly at hand. No one can predict the future exactly, but we know two things: it’s going to be different, and it must be rooted in today’s world. Most answers to the contrarian question are different ways of seeing the present; good answers are as close as we can come to looking into the future.”

I was 5-years-old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I assumed we would all have flying cars and be living in a completely peaceful and prosperous Jetsons-like world by the time I was 50.

But progress in our time has been mostly iterative, fine-tuning of previous breakthroughs, not revolutionary. Cars are a little safer and more comfortable and a bit more energy efficient than when I was a kid, for example. Communication technology has been the exception.

I’m inspired by the possibility of what could be if we put our intellectual horsepower to work on asking better questions about the future.

What do we take for granted that needs challenging? What basic assumptions are just wrong? What could the world look like 50 years from now if we stretched our collective imagination for the best possible options for humanity and all life on this planet?

What is an important truth that most of us are just wrong about?

Seven weeks left in 2014: Habit List app

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I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the seven week mark today.

I’ve been diligent with most of my finish-the-year-strong habits – getting in my mile walk every day, sticking with the hundred push-ups plan, and posting to this site daily. (Not so solid with my reading habit, though. Commit to a book, man!)

I remembered a habit tracking app I used last year, Habit List, and re-downloaded it. I was delighted to find a new and better design than when I last used it. I’ve tried the very popular Lift app, but I’m not interested in the social component, and the app is just not focused enough for what I want in a habit tracker.

Jerry Seinfeld apparently kept a big calendar on his office wall and crossed off each day on the calendar when he wrote, a daily habit that was a high priority for his work. And he was obsessive enough to not want to break the streak, so the calendar with the red “X”s compelled him to write every day if only to keep the streak alive.

Habit List is that calendar, but on your phone, in your pocket. You load in the habits you want to keep consistently and how often you want to do them. Then you can easily track how you’re doing. I get a small but satisfying boost whenever I tap that I’ve completed that habit for the day and keep the streak going.

And I feel a little tug of uneasiness as long as a habit remains unchecked for the day. I came in from a trip late Sunday night and was tired. But I didn’t want to break my “mile walk” streak, so I put on a jacket and grabbed the leash and took Mosley on a brisk walk through the neighborhood, going just far enough to check off the mile habit for the day.

Remember, systems are better than goals. Do what it takes to consistently put your priorities in front of you, to shame yourself if you have to, in order to act like and become the person you want to be.

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Habit List app

Data, data everywhere…

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*From a Jeremy Waite tweet

And there are a lot of stars in the sky.

We are traveling in uncharted territory. The information age we are creating has us swamped with more to read and see and hear than humans have ever encountered. We are constantly consuming words and images and ideas. I find it a challenge to just sit or do anything not requiring complete attention without reaching for a device to beam some more info my way.

I am grateful to be living in the future. I live to learn and grow. But I’ve got to build in some quiet, some space carved out from the noise of the nonstop flow of information. Maybe meditation is the way to go. Or a daily walk sans earbuds.

What’s the balance between consuming and creating and just being? What systems and habits do I need to build into my daily life to better navigate through the sea of data we’re all swimming in while still living an authentic, present, fully human existence?

Claim your place on the internet

Everyone should claim their place on the internet. Go grab the URL of your choice for just a few bucks a year and own your online identity.* Why not? We are living in the future! The internet offers the chance to express and connect in a way humans have never been able to before. Don’t sit this out.

Of course, I think everyone should write. Even if you create a site that no one other than your mom ever visits, it’s worthwhile for your own benefit to have a platform to build your ideas and share your creations. The attempt to create something, to express yourself, will help you see and understand in ways that just thinking passively never can. And posting something publicly, that anyone in the world might come across, will focus your attention more finely and compel you to hone and craft your ideas with more care. Kind of like how you clean your house so much better when you’re expecting company, writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Young people, especially, who are just getting started on their careers, should be expected to have a thoughtful online presence. To heck with your resume, show me what you’ve done. If you want to go into marketing or advertising, for example, wouldn’t it be more impressive to show a prospective employer your blog filled with posts analyzing marketing and advertising instead of just your grades in classes. If you’re passionate about public health, why not chronicle what you’re learning about health policy. If you’re an artist, make and share your art.

The college students I work with are getting it. From a design student to a mass media student to a fashion merchandising student, they know that they should go ahead and start acting like and creating like they are who they want to be. Sarah, the fashion merchandising student, was in a college class I spoke to a few weeks ago. After my talk she came up and told me she’d been wanting to create a web site about her interest in fashion. The next week, she sent me a link to her new site, and it’s terrific. And it’s going to help her figure out what she really cares about and what’s worth sharing and how to express her ideas more effectively. And when she’s pursuing career opportunities she will have a tangible body of work to share, not just a resume. Or maybe her web site will become a career. It happens.

Write the internet you want to read.

But don’t see your online presence just as a means to an end, as a sort of obligatory extended resume. The best stuff on the internet is created as an end in itself, for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons. Write the internet you want to read. Craft and share work that delights you intrinsically without any expectation of a payoff and see if you don’t make better work than if you were trying to get some extrinsic reward.

You don’t need permission to do work you find meaningful, nor do you have to wait till you’ve earned a degree to get busy getting better at what you want to do. Even if no one pays you for it, ever, go make something and share it with the world.

 

*I use WordPress.com and pay them each year for my custom domain name. It’s a hassle-free, low-maintenance option that I’ve been happy with.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

iPhone 6 first impressions

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I received the new iPhone 6 on Friday and have been impressed with this latest and greatest iteration of the iPhone. The hardware design and build quality are as solid as any device I’ve used. It’s a delight to hold this phone. I much prefer the rounded edges of the 6 to the sharp corners of the 4 and 5. And it’s incredibly thin without making it feel fragile.

I’m loving the new screen size. 4.7″ is not too big. And the display quality is phenomenal! I’ve been ignoring my iPad mini, preferring for now to read on this device instead.

My old eyes are appreciating the new zoomed view option which shows less content, but it’s larger. Here’s my home screen:

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My wife prefers the standard view which shows more content a little smaller:

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This device is fast. Every task seems snappier. I haven’t experimented much with the camera yet, but it’s getting rave reviews.

I’m really liking Apple’s leather case. It’s sleek and adds very little heft but provides a good sense of grip. And it just feels nice. We will see how it holds up. I was anti case for my 3G and 4, but I’ve come to appreciate having a case just for improved grip.

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So far this new iPhone is exceeding my already high expectations. I composed this post on the phone instead of the iPad. I’m curious if the slightly larger and strikingly sharper display will continue to have me ignoring my non-retina iPad mini more often.

iPhone week and the fleeting allure of great gadgets

I’ve loved gadgets since I was a kid. There was my blue plastic cassette recorder I played with in the car on the way to Disney World. I remember recording McCartney’s Live and Let Die from the car radio. I also as a kid had a nifty solar-powered calculator and a classic record player and some excellent film cameras including a Polaroid and a Kodak “pocket camera”. I received a Nikon FM SLR for Christmas in 9th-grade and spent the rest of high school roaming the halls and sidelines as the yearbook photographer. I’ve got that camera packed away in a closet somewhere. And it still works great, but film seems ancient now.

For high school graduation my parents gave me a gorgeous Seiko watch that I had first eyed in a full page magazine ad. That watch was with me throughout college. I lost it somehow a few years later when I was working in D.C. I last remember having it as I was taking my parents and grandmother on a White House tour. Later, after coming up empty with the lost-and-found desk at the White House, I couldn’t help but imagine President Reagan wearing it, proudly admiring my Seiko on his wrist, claiming finders keepers.

One of my favorite gadgets of the pre-iPhone era was the Palm V. It was a svelte little electronic organizer with lovely lines that just felt great to use. I went through a few different Palm devices until the iPhone appeared.

My first Apple device, though, was the distinctive iMac G4 with the white base and the screen on a movable arm. It’s such an appealing design we still keep it on a desk in our home even though it’s not been turned on in years. That Mac led us to the iPod (3rd generation) which eventually put us on the iPhone path.

I’ve been an iPhone user since 2008. I stood in line for hours during the opening week of the 3G release. Bless my sweet wife who waited patiently in the mall with our two young kids. She had no idea it would take so long or cost so much. I loved that phone. I was in awe of what it could do, especially compared to any other device I had ever owned. It did feel magical.

I’ve upgraded every couple of years since then. The iPhone 4 supplanted the 3G as my favorite device ever, and my iPhone 5 has been a solid improvement over the 4.

And now I’ve already preordered the iPhone 6. I went with the 4.7” screen with 64 GB of storage in “space gray”. The 6 Plus is way too big for my tastes. I’m even leery of the screen size of the smaller 6 and worried that it may be too unwieldy compared to the 5. My wife, especially, was fond of the size of the iPhone 5.

I think we’re both going to be fine with the new size, and we will probably wonder why we were even hesitant about it. I’m thrilled with the increase in storage, though. My wife’s 32 GB iPhone 5 stays full with photos and videos. My current phone only has 16 GB, not nearly enough. Fortunately, Dropbox and iCloud have enabled me to keep most of my stuff in the cloud and off my device until I need it.

I realize these devices are frivolous and inessential and have incredibly short reigns as our most cutting edge gadgets. And yet they’re amazing. My phone is one of the few things I have with me almost all the time. It’s in my pocket or on my desk or in my hand or on my nightstand while I sleep. It’s my window to the world and to the people I love. It’s my journal and calendar and to-do list and the first thing I reach for when a creative spark strikes. And it’s an amazing camera that’s helping me chronicle and remember my family’s big and small moments.

I’m not obsessed with my phone, and I don’t let it distract me from being present with the real live people I’m around every day. I keep it on mute and keep it out of sight when I’m in conversation.

I don’t have many material desires. But I do appreciate the grace of great things, and I do love having the most current computer technology. As brilliantly designed as these devices are, though, it’s stunning how fleeting their utility is. My old-school safety razor, for example, will be just as handsome and useful fifty years from now. My chef’s knife and cast iron skillet could be used someday by my future grandchildren. But the new iPhone that’s arriving at my door on Friday will be out of date a year from now when the next one is released.

I don’t mind, though. Such is the way of technology. The allure of having the best right now, especially for something that has such a prominent role in everyday routines, is worth it for me. This pocketable, best-in-its-class gadget regularly, consistently provides moments of delight and utility in a way that no other thing could. A mere thing, thoughtfully designed and well executed, can add genuine value and enhance the enjoyment of my days. I’m looking forward to seeing the UPS truck on Friday.

Just getting started

Kevin Kelly has a post on Medium today that is a terrific kick in the pants for anyone who’s thinking all the good ideas have already been taken.

I’ve pondered before that things are just now getting good, that we are just getting started on our greatness.

Kelly posits the same thought, especially related to the internet and the snowball of technology our generation is starting to get rolling:

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

We are living in a golden age of human history. It’s easy to be distracted by bad news and worries about the future. But we’ve got it so good compared to every generation prior to this one. The challenge before us is to imagine without limits the possibilities of what we can do and who we can become?

If not now, when? If not you, who?

Be audacious. Dream big. And take action. Let’s get something started that will make the wonders of this moment seem like a mere stepping stone to the glorious age to come.