Thursday, 19 October 2017

Slowing pace of technology

My gadgets are lasting longer. But their value for money is actually increasing over time.

Last month, my iPhone 6 plus became 3 generations old, but I don’t yet feel the need to upgrade it. It’s only when it becomes 4 generations old with the release of the iPhone X that I’ll be tempted to upgrade. Rather than this being an example of catastrophically bad product management (who in their right minds makes their latest 8th gen product irrelevant in a matter of months?), I think this actually demonstrates impressive technological longevity.

It’s not just Apple being generous with my wallet; other companies are following the same model. I play games on my Xbox One, even though as of last month it was 3 generations old.

Whilst the rate of technology progress has not slowed, the rate of obsolescence has slowed, at least for these two devices. My phone runs iOS 11, and therefore continues to run all the apps (just don’t get me started on catastrophic battery performance). My Xbox One will run all the games that are released for Xbox One X, thanks to Microsoft’s Play Anywhere programme.

Hardware continues to follow Moore’s Law and improve, but I no longer need to buy new hardware to benefit from improvements. All my apps continue to be updated, and new functionality added, almost always for free. Longevity is assured by software. The rate of compelling improvements has not slowed, yet the cost has become cheaper.

This has always been a characteristic of other industries, such as TV. Every so often, there are jumps in technology with backwards incompatibility, such as the conversion from analogue to digital. But for the main part, traditional broadcasters are very much preoccupied with ensuring that no viewer is left behind.

This accounts for the slow pace of change in the industry. If you look at any EPG listing on any service, the number of SD channels far outnumber the HD channels. You can see repeats of 4:3 programming with ugly black bars on either side. Change is evolutionary because there is such a large consumer base to keep happy. Change is evolutionary because there are technology and content assets that need to be “sweated”. Value for money must be maintained for longer.

This is a lesson being learned and improved upon by Apple and Microsoft. Just as I’m not being forced to upgrade to a 4k TV otherwise my viewing will be cut off, I’m not being forced to upgrade to an iPhone X nor an Xbox One X. But if I do upgrade both X-devices, I can be confident that the devices will last longer, and due to better software, do more, as time progresses. Value for money will increase over time.  My wallet thanks you.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Simplicity lessons from Apple

I’ve just finished the immensely readable and idea-rich  Insanely Simple by Ken Segall. Ken, as the cover proclaims, coined the phrase iMac as part of his work for Apple in the agency Chiat/Day, and used his insights from working with Steve Jobs to distil its essence to one principle: simplicity.

Not being a tech titan with $120B in the bank myself, I was wondering on how to apply the principle to my own rather more limited sphere of interactions. This is what I’ve come up with, written in the form of advice to myself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Simplicity is universal.
Whereas complexity requires specialised technical knowledge and even language to convey, simplicity is understood by all. People prefer simplicity. Even professionals who tolerate complexity as a price of doing business, even encourage learning curves as a barrier to their profession, prefer simplicity.

Simplicity is effective.
Direct and unadorned communications is unambiguous and therefore efficient. But being blunt without empathy is brutal and nasty. Steve Jobs had a reputation for being a tyrant because of his communications style. However, being unambiguous and unyielding on what success looked like was a key to his success.

Even if tyranny isn’t your thing, you should still think about simple communications. Your ideas will only be heard if they land and are internalised by your recipients. Get your ideas out quickly, simply, without adornment. There’s a difference between leading people to a conclusion, and doing the thinking for them, and people usually resent the latter.

So focus your communications. Deliver ideas with honesty, sympathy and simplicity. Encourage a conversation in order to get to a decision. Connect.

Simplicity is hard.
Complexity is easy. Complexity naturally arises when lots of people try to work together. Before you know it, there are processes to help navigate the complexity. These navigation skills become essential in order to get things done, and having good ideas becomes secondary. Simplicity requires placing trust in a small team of smart people, and empowering them to make decisions.

Because complexity is easy, complex answers are often the first answers. Simple answers will require more thought, more effort, and more focus. Focus is not just concentrating on one thing, but also not doing all the other important things that need to get done.

Simplicity is more than good enough. Stick to your vision, and you’ll go from good to great.

Simplicity is ongoing.
A simple idea is not a goal. Making every idea simple doesn’t necessarily make turn them into good ideas. There are plenty of simple bad ideas out there (sharks with lasers?). It’s better to start from a good idea, apply the principles of simplicity, and end up with a great idea.

It will take ongoing investment of time and resource to continue to live with the problem, peel back layers of complexity, to get to an elegant simple solution. It will also bravery to trust that you’ll be given, or give yourself, the space to go from minimum viable to the best answer.

Getting to simple requires having enough good will in the bank to survive living with the problem for a while. If you’re not Apple with a devout fanbase willing to forgive every iPhone 8 as long as there’s an upcoming iPhone X, then you’re going to need to work hard investing in your network and relationships.

You’re going to also need to work hard investing in yourself. Simplicity needs to be authentic to your own personal values, so spend time understanding them. Having everything come from the same place will give the outcomes coherence.

So simplicity is more than a single attribute. You’ll have to hit everything with the simple stick, and keep doing it, to achieve simplicity. The end is worthwhile, because simplicity is powerful.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Justification for the EPG grid.

No-one watches linear TV any more, so why have an EPG? This post looks at why they still exist in an on-demand world.

I hate Electronic Programme Guides. The spreadsheet representation is more suited to accountants than to people wanting to be entertained. Understanding one requires too much learning to be useful. You have to know which channel your programme is on, and when, before you can find it. And if you don’t know what you want to watch, you have to scroll around aimlessly until happy coincidence highlights a programme of interest. So I’m starting a campaign to get rid of them. Except I might be wrong.

The EPG only exists because the broadcast schedule exists. So to do away with the former, we need to look more closely at the latter. A recent presentation at the DTG Summit gave me a perspective of why the broadcast schedule is still important.

The assertion made by Adam MacDonald, Director of Sky 1, was that broadcast schedule (and by extension the EPG) gives context and therefore meaning to on-demand content. His analogy was: you only know you’re going off road, if there’s a road in the first place. To illustrate his point, let’s look more closely at how the schedule is influences and is influenced by viewing behaviours for on-demand.

The majority of pre-peak viewing is live. It may well be true that the post-peak viewers are the most valuable, but there’s still a sizeable audience for whom the EPG is the most relevant content discovery point.

Even for the most heavily non-linearly-viewed content on Sky 1, significant numbers still view non-linearly in relation to the schedule. In other words, they will watch the programme on demand, after its transmission date. Is this because the transmission is the expiry of the spoiler embargo? This seems to be the case for reviewers and social media.

There is an emerging content consumption behaviour of the mini binge, especially relevant for content not available in box sets. Viewers wait 3 transmission weeks, store up 3-4 episodes, then watch them all in one go. This too is only made possible by the broadcast schedule.

In acknowledgement of these insights, Sky 1 now markets to the mini binge, and schedules a “gap” on Saturday evenings – because this is peak on-demand viewing time. The schedule shapes behaviour which shapes the schedule.

I’m not convinced by all this. It strikes me that the broadcast schedule is an organisation paradigm that sits very comfortably with the current generation of bill-paying viewers. I’ve lived with schedules and EPGs for so long that I can work around their limitations. I also accept that behaviours like mini binges and spoiler-free water cooler moments only exist because of the context of the schedule. However, I think these behaviours are short-lived, and won’t be the behaviours of the future bill-paying viewer. The schedule isn’t relevant my children.

The EPG is simply the most efficient way of presenting left-to-right schedule information. Nonetheless, a spreadsheet is not the most efficient way of discovering content, nor even making judgement about content. The poster image is still the best signal for a content watching judgement.

So let’s do away with the broadcast schedule, and the EPG – but perhaps after I’ve set my series recordings.