5 tell-tale signs from iOS10 announcements @WWDC2016

Here is a summary of iOS10 features apple announced today at WWDC2016. At Apple announcements, I often oscillate between * yawn, incremental updates * and * Hey cool!*. I was in the second camp today. This is a well known fact and Apple has proven it again; it is not always first to release a feature, however it is extremely smart at integrating new stuff within it’s ecosystem. Kudos, Apple!

Let us look at 5 tell-tale signs, and my interpretation of what technology trends it bets on

  1. #SiriIsNowOpenForBusiness

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Alexa, Google Home, and the annoying Siri that doesn’t even recognise you when you say “Hey Siri”. Assistants are a plenty these days. Okay, I know it maybe my accent, but there are lots of complaints about Siri! Today marks the day when Apple has finally opened up Siri to developers and yes to Mac devices. Every single app developer will now be able to add Siri integrations, how powerful is that? this move alone can potentially deal a huge blow to Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Plus, we are more closer to a phone these days than to a device that may or may not be sitting a corner of our house. Also, who wants to shell out another $200? Impeccable timing! I hope they fix “Hey Siri” too though.

Tech trend : assistants are here to say, and apple has announced its entry in-style. Combined power of apple developer ecosystem will really make it useful – well done, Apple!

2. #LockScreenHasBeenUnlocked

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Courtsey / thenextweb.com

The Home Screen finally looks alive. Apple has completely re-designed the way you interact with Home Screen. You can pick up the screen to wake the phone, and you can interact with notifications in a really rich way. Swipe left and you can get to widgets and swipe right will get you to the camera. Simple but powerful features. I didn’t use widgets as much, now I might. Plus 3D touch an app and it gives you a widget like experience. This is really cool and feels like is designed to get adoption on both 3D touch and widgets which seem to have been missing a trick so far. Imagine, you can order an Uber using Siri, and then track the status using the widget on your lock screen. Never need to open the app.

Tech trend : Our interactions will slowly become less cluttered, notification fatigue will reduce, and lock-screen will become our favourite hangout. Major departure from “app as an interaction point”

3. #MapsThatDoMore

Apple has opened Apple Maps to developers. What else could it do? People were hardly ever using it (judging from a limited sample of observed behaviours). Google Maps is popular not just because of quality of maps, but also because of its rich information integrations. By opening it up to developer ecosystem, Apple has gone a step further. Google already does this to an extent, but with Apple’s OS integration, I place my bet on Maps that are actually useful beyond directions.

Tech trend : Map as a platform will have amazing business model implications; I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple Maps starts gaining traction. Not in a traditional way but as a “starting point of map-commerce apps” or M-apps 🙂

 4. #HomeKitHasANewHome

Home App now becomes the new home of Home Kit. It cleverly uses Apple TV to detect a register on a shared network as proximity. Imagine your TV switches to your favourite channel when it detects you or better turns on that soccer game just for  you! Smart home is still quite elusive for most people, but apple seems to be setting itself up nicely as the home control devices become cheap, and more integrated, the IOT will really explode. I still think that this platform has a lot of room for disruptions by smaller players.

Tech trend : Apple and possibly Google will extend their App ecosystems to the internet of things, in order to play, all you will need to do is have an app on the app store and there, you have it. A refrigerator that orders milk when you run out. Machine payable web. Go figure. 

5. #MeTooUpdatesAreStillASnooze

Photos – major progress in promoting privacy – but do users really care that you perform many billion computations to recognise that there is a lake and a mountain? Google has a way stronger lead – apple really needs to do more here, but this is a welcome step.

OS X is now MacOS and Sierra Beta is here (Ok, some other time), WatchOS 3 is here, ok. Code playground is free and a lot of people will learn how to code now thanks to some emotionally charged appeals – super, Apple! Apple music is now more simple. Snooze.

Tech trend : Are you still there? check your iMessage with a bubble effect and an animated Mickey mouse. Just what I wanted after trying to to use SnapChat and failing spectacularly.

Thanks Apple… you have restored my faith in humanity again!

 

The story of joyous blackouts & mindfulness

I assume, few people in the developed world are familiar with the concept of a blackout – afterall, in 5 years that I have spent in London, I have not experienced a single one.

Human brain is quite the genius! Some sights and smells can magically trigger decades old memories in vivid detail; sort of like biological virtual reality!

So! Last Sunday, the smell of a burning candle magically took me deep down the memory lanecandles-209157_1920. I was a teenager in a typical suburban family. As some of you may know, this time of the year reckons start of the Monsoon season in western parts of India. Weather changes in a day, from scorching red hot sun to torrential thunderstorms. Many years ago, blackouts in parts of cities were common; especially as the distribution company sought to insure themselves from the storm. Such evenings would start with  a majestic roaring of the heavy dark clouds, and we knew that a thunderstorm followed by a blackout was on its way. The lights would go out like clockwork in a few minutes while me and my sister would race to see who lights the candles in the house. We also had a Kerosene lamp that would burn with a distinctive smell that I love till date! All of a sudden, the TV would stop, and all the background sounds of electric appliances would fall silent, all you could hear was nature – cracking bolts of thunder and the rain. I vividly remember that we stopped doing what we were doing and gathered around the kerosene lamp – just the 4 of us. Me, my sister and our parents.

We never truly appreciated it, but the time showed an unusual quality of slowing down on such joyous blackouts!

We would intently listen to stories, talk with each other like nothing else mattered. Thankfully, there were no cell phones at the time, even though I always thought ringing of our landline phone during a blackout was nothing short of a miracle. Not once do I remember complaining about the power cuts, unless of course it was during a cricket match! The blackouts lasted a few minutes and sometimes more, but when they were over, everyone went back to their business with a surreal sense of satisfaction!

Why all the nostalgia? Because this story really makes me think about our present day surroundings and the concept of mindfulness. Let me explain. Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahnemann explains beautifully in his book “Thinking fast and slow” that the human brain has two distinctive personas. System 1 and system 2. System 1 performs instinctive or well learnt behaviours without spending much mental energy; for instance, driving – you really don’t have to calculate the angle of incidence of an approaching vehicle to figure out that there will be a collision – you just know! On the contrary system 2 is about applying a conscious deeper mental effort, for instance if I ask you to calculate the time it will take for an object to fall from the Eiffel Tower – you will think. This often involves storing some information in your temporary memory and then manipulating it in order to come to a result. A lot of studies have been carried out on system 1 and system 2. Any details though would be way out of scope of this already long post. The crux of it is that your brain has a really finite “slow-thinking” capacity, and the more you exhaust it the more likely you are to make cognitive judgement errors (remember that impulsive buy that you knew was wrong). Okay! There is that, now Google mindfulness. By definition, it asks us to step back and reflect – to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. I have a theory (based on the story above) that it has become increasingly challenging for us to practice mindfulness because of the information overload. Think about it, you have everything literally screaming for your attention. You wake up and you need to decide whether you want a skinny cappuccino or a latte, you need to open that dreadful device (I am telling you it is the worst offender in this context) your cell phone! You have a thousand notifications waiting from ten thousand apps that you have to think about, respond to. Imagine how much precious and finite mental energy those WhatsApp chats and meaningless Facebook scroll down gestures take. Then you come to work and are overloaded with a further army of attention seekers. E-mails, messengers, meetings (yes!). You come home and are faced with the same dilemma, with 30 news channels and you need to spend precious slow-thinking time wondering what to watch. Don’t even get me started on Netflix. Do you get the point?

buddha-199462_1280Naturally, I feel like we had more mental capacity to practice mindfulness before the advent of satellite television, and modern technology including cell phones. Yes, it does come down to judicious use of your technology – so that you use the technology and the technology doesn’t use you. Nevertheless  a lot of things can actually help. Meditation, Yoga,  learning to switch off before you hit the bed, and more generally switching off push notifications on your mobile as soon as you think they are becoming a useless distraction. Breaks from the hustle bustle of your city and routine are welcome too of course.

After all we need to be mindful that, the best things about life are our memories and experiences and they are almost always not digital!

A blackout, anyone?

@abhinandanshah

Of “Ethan Hunt” and product development

Every “Mission-Impossible” movie is incomplete without a formidable villain in it. In a similar manner, product development in many large organisations is incomplete without the utter disillusionment of stakeholders. Weird comparison, I know. Firstly, there is an entire industry now dedicated to making development agile. Its full of buzzwords that many people pretend to understand. Scrum, Sprint, Gollum, Yoda (you get the point). Watch a great talk on this subject below by Dave Thomas.

Secondly, I have been talking to a few friends working in product development across industries. Most agree that the single most important metric to measure effectiveness of product development in a company is how fast you ship code. Having great ideas matters but if you don’t ship code fast enough, you might as well not do it. Some people pride themselves on releasing on a daily basis some weekly and in case of many companies its their lucky day if they manage to make it to the designated release in a given month.

So what is going on? People use JIRA, Dev Ops, test automation, and all kinds of ninja kit, but when it comes to how fast they ship code, the speed still underwhelms. I tried to analyse why that is the case. Without going into problems too much, I list 3 key areas where improvements can be made.

  1. De-layer ruthlessly until you get to a performing product management function

There are simply too many functions and teams involved. Its not unusual to find that the product owner works in a different team while the developers sit in a different team. The project manager is borrowed from another function while the BA double hats across 3 projects. The scrum masters are roped in like para-troopers and the product owner never even gets to see the developers. Those are recipes of disaster. While it is not always possible for teams to be co-located, we cannot allow too many layers between the product, engineering and experience. Bringing them together within a single coherent structure will be a great start. Moreover, you do away with additional effort of having to “mobilise” a delivery every time and go through a budgeting exercise at the start and end of the development effort.

2. Make sure that the product manager is technical and has a good sense of experience  design

While it is not necessary for him or her to code, he or she absolutely needs to be able to converse and work with development team without feeling like they are talking to aliens. As most industries begin competing with tech industry they need to get this right. In tech organisations you wouldn’t, even by exception, find product managers that do not understand technology. Today’s products are technology products, and not being technical at all is not the luxury the companies can afford for long.

3. Everyone needs “digital” skills. Period.

Digital for many is a discipline and people proudly say that they are a “digital product manager” or a “digital BA” or a “digital user experience designer”. Given most products in question here are digital, the nuances of digital expertise are not materially different skill sets. Have you seen a digital department at Google? The product skills are necessary sure, but digital skills are a must when all of our products are digital. Yes, if you have lots of money you can hire a “Digital PM” but rest assured, it will slow you down. Just to be absolutely clear, the digital functions are immensely valuable and probably engines of growth for many organisations, however, “pure play digital” or “pure play product” skills will be a thing of the past soon.

It is a hard to make generalisations and I appreciate that these many not apply to many organisations. These also may not be exhaustive list of remedies, it is for now just a starter for 10. At the end of the day, these are quite radical changes, and they will not happen overnight. But for every tall order and a “Mission Impossible” you always need charm, wit and courage of an “Ethan Hunt” 🙂

@abhinandanshah

 

3 reasons we are unknowingly addicted to social media 

The biggest source of courage for the fearful is someone else’s fear. (Source : Narcos, Netflix)

Now that I have your attention, let me give 3 actual reasons.

# 1 By the way if it wasn’t clear, first reason is human beings are not as rational as you think they are, they easily fall to cognitive bias 

Ok let’s draw a parallel. Did you know what is common between Gambling and Facebook? In gambling, you play a hand, and almost immediately you have a random set of results, this result “always” has a possibility of you winning. Best thing is, sometimes you might even win big. However those who play long enough realise that most people lose more than they win. People are still willing to put more bets, making gambling dangerously addictive. Facebook and some other social networks on the other hand, rely on a different kind of reward – Social validity and likeability. Studies after studies have proven that what matter to us the most is our relationships, the closeness, and quality of our relationships. The busy lives we lead often mean we cannot give enough time to many of those relationships that matter. We came up with a solution, we digitised it. Whatsapp, Facebook have become more like religions. You upload a picture or a status update on Facebook. The network effect ensures that a set of random outcomes start showing immediately. People “like” you and people comment. The odds of that happening are easily higher than you winning on a slot machine. It’s harder to be liked in real life than on Facebook, and many have found a convenient shortcut. I’m just saying! 

#2 social networks are skilfully designed as habit forming products

A business insider article cites this book and explains further. The book “how to build habit forming products” explains how Facebook or the likes thereof create associations with human behaviour. Facebook has created association with boredom. Whoever gets bored can alleviate the itch by scrolling through their newsfeed. There you are, Hooked. Every now and then, when you feel bored you come back, you like, you scroll and you comment. When you invest that effort, you “load a trigger”, the trigger fires when someone else likes, comments and you receive an external trigger and “pop”! that push notification takes you straight in! Isn’t that really smart and habit forming? you bet!

#3 studies have proven that social networks can be somewhat as addictive as substance abuse  – it’s worth clarifying that they are also different in many ways

Researcher Turel explains further. The Facebook “addicts” showed greater activation of their amygdala and striatum, brain regions that are involved in impulsive behavior. But unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts, for instance, the Facebook users showed no quieting of the brain systems responsible for inhibition in the prefrontal cortex.

That could be because Facebook “addiction” is fundamentally unlike substance addiction, or it could be that the study only looked at people whose daily lives weren’t much impaired by their desire to be on Facebook. 

Trick as usual folks is moderation. 

2015, a year so incredible!

2015 felt like a year, that was in a hurry to deliver. Why? firstly, boy it flew. I heard this amazing phrase at work the other day that seems so true as I reflect on the year past. Very nicely said.

“The days are long, but the years are shorter”

However as I recollect my thoughts, I do believe there were many developments that stood out for me. I would like to share them with you, as I re-start my blog after a good 7 year break.

#1 Fin-tech is as much hype as it is actual disruption

I have read much about it, I have heard a lot about it from “experts” and I have been experiencing it first hand as well. To put it in a nutshell, while you cannot deny the fervour of activity going on in this space, there is much more hype to fin-tech than meets the eye. I love bitcoin, blockchain and many other financial technology platforms that hold great promise for the future of financial services. However, lately there has been a steady rise in the fin-tech coverage by all kinds of media. This is amplified by social media where fin-tech influencers are constantly shaping opinion, sharing articles and providing opinions. Many times I have been disappointed by collection of logos, and predictions and articles that can only be described as clickbait. I sense a hype machine, perhaps no conspiracy but more so because that seems to be the hot topic right now.

Tech is not new to financial services, however the likes of Google, Facebook have brought massive scale computing to the use of masses and have done so in a way that puts customers at the centre. It is true that banks haven’t been quick to catch up. Traditionally however, what makes the banks so successful and long lived is the very customer trust and relationships that must be extended into the digital world. Fin-tech are clearly trying to capitalise the digital experience differential.

There are some technologies such as blockchain that are capable of fundamentally disrupting money and the business of money. Blockchain de-centralises the transactions and verification of transactions thereby vastly improving integrity of permanence and authenticity. However the technology has failed to garner widespread “trust” so far from the general public. People do not care whether its blockchain or a donkey that carries their FX transaction across the border. What they care about is the trust, speed, convenience. This is not a problem that technology can solve. Building a brand that people can trust can take time, and the new players operating within our industry must be patient, while the established ones should be capitalising their existing “right to play”.

Another key observation I have is that while the fin-tech startups claim to “unbundle” the banks and create a great seamless experience, commercial longevity of such a model could be questioned. The lacklustre revenue growth in many fin-tech startups is a testament to this fact. There is lots of room for innovation however the capital and risk heavy nature of the business isn’t going to change overnight. Its generally been very hard for FinTech to chase profitability.

One thing is granted though, any kind of disruption, perceived or real will force incumbents and new players to think ultimately about the customer. Therefore, in any case the customer will win! that is the best thing about all this.

# 2 Drones, artificial intelligence, and information security have shown  paradigm changing potential.

Sheer number of drone related products this year has been extraordinary. The regulatory and safety chaos and response that ensued is quite natural as well. While I have struggled to see a real world, highly scaled out and commercial application beyond aerial videos and some gimmickry around drone deliveries, I believe the technology holds promise in the medium term and we might begin to see some differentiated applications in 2016.

Artificial intelligence has come of age. Granted, there is no “fundamental” progress in terms of solving for the true AI, however deep learning and massive scale distributed computing has opened applications not possible before. Right from Tesla’s auto pilot mode, to google’s translation app (I used it a lot while I was in Brazil) are a proof. The amount of investment and attention that AI will get in 2016 will only go up. I do believe in some doomsday scenarios presented by some luminaries, I think we really need to be careful while dealing with true machine intelligence; human beings could certainly become a casualty here.

Thirdly, can you even recall how many businesses got hacked in 2015? My god, the notion that your information is never truly secure on the internet should be a forgone conclusion! This year I saw a couple startups claiming to offer IT security solutions that even “quantum computers” won’t be able to break. While it may be easy to ridicule the premise of quantum computers breaking the encryption codes; it is not completely outlandish and we all know instinctively that the day is not far away when someone figures out how to break the stuff that has not been broken yet. The industry needs renewed focus on IT security needs to invest in this or be ready to be vulnerable in future.

#3 There are still doubts lingering around the sharing economy model

AirBnB and the issues it has faced with revenue growth & occupancy of the properties on its platform, or Uber and its legal problems galore highlight that the advantage “digital platforms” provide is not necessarily a panacea. You cannot deny the amount of cash the platforms are drawing in, both as investments and revenue. I do worry though as to whats next for these businesses, competition is emerging already like mushrooms, and all over the place. Can competing on price help? how do you differentiate or maintain competitive advantage in the digital age? Everybody seems to be believing in “winner takes all” philosophy; I wonder if that’s the right attitude. 

#4 Digital music streaming has gone mainstream, finally!

I can’t seem to meet anybody who still sync’s their songs from iTunes. Tale of the times. Hey, despite impressive performance and arrival to the party of Apple Music (Apple’s latest streaming music service), I still prefer the intuitive design of Spotify. Sorry Apple!!

#5 We are all heading “Back to the future”!

It almost seems like we are fast forwarding to the future at an unprecedented rate and scale. Genetics (did you know there are a few high profile startups working on age reversing), food engineering (have you tried synthetic beef yet?), all pervasive fitness trackers (there is one in your iPhone you know), discovery of higgs boson (although scientists are still confused between supersymmetry and parallel universes), rockets that go to space and land back on earth, I mean come on! All this within a year? I think I will never finish this blog post, but you will agree with me that 2015 has been an amazing year for technology and advancement of science. Remember,  Maslow’s pyramid talks about self-actualisation. I believe the world is segmented into people who have achieved, all the lower layers of the pyramid and are now trying to push the envelope and there are others who are still dealing with perils of our civilization.

We still have massive problems such as terrorism (is anyone thinking about a tech solution to terrorism?) ; there is global climate change, inequality and disease all over the world. While we have taken some decisive steps in the direction of lasting peace and stemming our climate from boiling over, much more needs to be done. and I want to leave you with a beautiful picture from one of my travels this year. Look at the serenity and beauty of our world, we need to do more for our mother nature give back more than we take from her.

Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous 2016!