It's News To Me

UX News: Microsoft Mobile, Tesla Batteries, and Smart Watch Wars

May 7, 2015          

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the latest UX news including Microsoft’s mobile strategy to encourage developers to port their Android and iOS apps to Windows, Tesla’s batteries for solar power storage, and the start of the luxury smart watch wars.

Jon:
Welcome to episode 102 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett, and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.

Dirk:
Hey Jon, how’s it going?

Jon:
Good, very excited it’s sunny out in Boston, which has been a rare thing. So I’m enjoying the sunshine and being solar powered for once, instead of powered internally.

Dirk:
Yeah, it’s been beautiful weather after the long winter. It’s just getting hotter.

Jon:
Yeah, that’s true. It’s going to get up to 90 later in the week. Not really looking forward to that, but that’s on it’s way. This week on The Digital Life one of our favorite things to do is dig into some of the latest tech topics in user experience and software. Today I’ve got three news items for us to explore in the areas of mobile, emerging tech, and wearables. I’m just going to dive right in here.

This is a really interesting move. Microsoft last week with their Windows 10 system are now encouraging developers to port their Android and iOS apps to Windows. They’re going to make that easy to do via this new tool kit for Windows 10. To me, I like that Microsoft is getting really pragmatic on the fact they’re like, “Hey, we don’t have any apps for our windows mobile, we need to get some quick. Let’s make it say for people to port.” I don’t know. How does that strike you, Dirk?

Dirk:
It’s interesting. It’s such a tired old harangue, Apple, and Google, and Microsoft all locked on this dance on the mobile side. Microsoft is so clearly losing. I don’t know, I think it’s well intentioned. They now they need to try and get back in the game. Will it be successful? I don’t now, in the short term I can’t imagine it having that much impact. Who knows?

Jon:
Yeah. Another interesting thing that Microsoft is doing right now is it’s making their Windows 10 OS available for screens that are 9″ and smaller. To those original equipment managers, the OEMs, they’re making the system available for free now. Their new CEO is definitely taking some risks here because he knows, as you said, they’re losing the battle for mobile. They’ve got in their head they’ve got the desktop, they’ve got this huge legacy resource and they’re really losing on the mobile OS front. These are some interesting pragmatic and un-Microsoft type moves that I guess the new regime is putting out. Yeah, it remains to be seen if they’ll have any effect. Is this changing your perception of Microsoft? Is this a new Microsoft to you? What is this, what do you think?

Dirk:
From brand perceptive, Microsoft reminds me of McDonald’s. It’s a dinosaur, it’s something that used to be dominant and really controlled the market. The things that made it dominant have become, if not irrelevant, certainly less important; out of fashion to some large degree. People are just really slow to buy the changes. I saw the McDonald’s headline today, the new CEO “We will have better products.” Hallelujah, that sounds great, but people have identified McDonald’s with a certain thing or decades all around the world. Microsoft is in a similar position.

From the standpoint of personal software, personal computing Microsoft has had a very specific role, one, when they were at their best, that was of crushing business dominance, a totalitarian state of forcing people out of business, crushing Netscape, and really becoming almost monopolistic in terms of their control of aspect of the market. Those things led them to have Internet Explorer become so outdated and so out of step with where software technology was going, that now it’s discontinued 20 years down the road from when it was essentially the only operating system, or 15 years; 15, 20 years. It’s the same old company trying to modernize, trying to change. You can only get so or away from that brand identity that has really defined you. Especially if what you’re trying to do is play catch up.

The virtue of what Microsoft is doing now is just that it’s in tune with how most of the rest of software, personal computing technologies are behaving as companies; the openness, the trying to get things to be easy across platforms. It’s table stakes. If Microsoft wants to change their perception, if they want to do something that really has an impact, they’re going to do something that is different, that is really putting things in a new direction, is setting a new trend, then perhaps they can shed their own skin. Until then, they’re that same, out of step, clueless behemoth just trying to pivot to remain relevant. I don’t know, it’s unsightly.

Jon:
Yeah. Dirk, I know you give companies advice on this type of thing. If Microsoft came to you and said, “Hey, we need help here, we need to get bigger market penetration, we need to made a stand on mobile”, do you have any thoughts on what you might tell them?

Dirk:
No I don’t. I would need a lot more context into Microsoft, into the state of their business, into where they’re at from an R&D and production capabilities perspective in a lot of ways, because with branding the most important thing is the strong alignment between what’s happening in the company, what’s happening with the product, what the market is looking for. Bringing all of those things together. You really need a lot of internal information and knowledge, that at the moment I just don’t have.

Jon:
Yeah, I think you might have revealed a little bit of what potential advice could be with that alignment between what they are as a company and what they appear to be. There’s definitely a misalignment there between how they’re acting now and what people remember them being. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out anyway.

The second item, the news item that it wanted to talk about today was the Tesla company, which is known for their electric cars, has now come out with a home battery. Basically it could be used for the charging of these cars, of course, but also making solar power and the storage of solar power that much easier, hopefully. You can get your power for the sun at those peak times when the sun is available and store it in these Tesla home batteries for use at night or what have you. The price point, it’s high, but it’s certainly not prohibitive if you’re talking about building a house with solar for your main source of power. Additionally it’s this consumer facing company with a lot of cachet is putting their hat in the ring in terms of reshaping the way we’re using energy in the United States and other countries as well. What’s your take on Tesla’s move into this aspect of the energy market? It seems like a big move to me.

Dirk:
Yeah. There’s a couple ways to look at it. From a product perspective as a consumer, I’m really skeptical. I only know so much about it, so let me preface by saying that. My understanding is that just the battery aspect of this system is a $15,00 investment, more or less. I live in a climate where there are significant electricity needs in both the summer and the winter, just to keep the internal climate controlled. Even given that, what is our annual electric bill, I don’t know. It’s over 1,000, it’s definitely under 3,000, it might be under 2,000. Just to have the batter break even, it’s at least five years, maybe more. If you’re going with solar and other things it’s just cost, cost, cost.

Then what are batteries notorious for? They’re notorious for not working anymore, they’re notorious for needing to be replaced. For me, $15,000 for this whole house battery, that’s a one percenter solution. I have no interest in it. The technology would really need to be vetted. I’d don’t know what the right time frame is, but 20 year guarantee, 30 year guarantee, and knowing that the parts are going to be replaced if it gets mucked up because it’s so much up front investment. It’s hard for people to afford, it’s hard for me to afford. There’s really no promise of it working once some time passes. The ROI just isn’t there. That’s my take as a consumer. I find it conceptually it’s interesting, it’s like, God yeah having that technology work and be affordable would be phenomenal. It’s just not accessible.

Jon:
Yeah, I think this is the first wave when it comes to solar and energy storage. At least the first wave in so far as it being a more common consumer product. It definitely has the feel of something that early adopters would like and possibly pony up money for for other reasons than pure, “Hey I’m replacing electricity from the grid with my own array of solar panels and these batteries.” Maybe it fits in with their lifestyles and the way they think about themselves or they have the disposable income and they feel like this is a good thing. I see that being the front leading edge.

To me, I’m always astounded at the rate of progression when it comes to technologies like these, how this is becoming more and more of the conversation. To be fair, we’ve had the opportunity to use solar power for decades now, and the promise just has exceeded the actual delivered products. There is that level of skepticism. I don’t know. Inside me I got really excited about these batteries that you could power your house and be off the grid. I guess it’s romantic in a way if you lean in that direction and you want to be self contained and have all your power generated to yourself. Even maybe put power back into the grid. If those are things that you really want, then rational or not I got excited about it.

Dirk:
Yeah, those are super exciting things, but at this point I don’t think it’s rational.

Jon:
No, definitely not. The last new item that I thought was interesting from a UX and technology perspective was the looming luxury smart watch wars. Say that three times quickly. We’ve got TAG Heuer with their upcoming Android powered watch, and it’s going to cost roughly $1,400. It just occurred to me all of sudden that this is a realm, number one, where the utility of the mobile technology is getting intertwined very quickly with the lifestyle statements that people have made with watches for a very long time. I understand both of those things, the need for data gathering and quantified self, versus the “hey I have this wonderful piece of jewelry.” To me those things coming together, I don’t khow, at least to me it feels inaccessible in terms of me being an audience for it.

I can’t relate to a $1,400 luxury android watch in the same way that I can’t really relate very well to the high end gold plated Apple watch that they debuted. It feels very targeted no longer at the mass market, but at this higher end market. Maybe that’s where it is and maybe that’s where it’s supposed to be, but it feels like foreign territory to me. Does it feel like that to you, Dirk?

Dirk:
It does. Yeah, it’s another one percenter solution. It’s for the one percenters and for the super geeked out quantified self people who are the real paragons of that community maybe. It’s just not for the rest of us at all. What’s interesting is that the media covers it. Things that are created in our consumer culture for the one percenters are generally off in their own space that we don’t see as everyday consumers. They have their own magazines, they have their own media that isn’t on CNN, or whatever your mass media of choice is. What’s interesting is that this category is being covered by mass media as if it was a broad consumer product, but it ain’t. It’s a very niche thing.

I think some people are, of course, going to buy these things, invest in these things – I think it’s enough money you have to say that – initially. The future of it, at least in our current configuration, is really questionable. Given all the hype I’ve though about it, what am I missing, why is this not appealing to me as a relativity early adopter. I’m a fast follower, I’m not a bleeding edger. This should appeal to me, it doesn’t at all. The issue for me is too many devices, in a certain way. If a watch product would make it so that my phone was either totally replaced or reduced to a small auxiliary thing that just had a role in the ecosystem that I didn’t have to handle and interact with a lot, then it starts to be more interesting. Having all of these multiple things that are very expensive, doing overlapping things, it doesn’t make any sense.

For me, for a watch to become interesting, and frankly a $1,400 watch probably would never become interesting unless it had hot swap able upgrades so I’m not having to buy a new one every year or two, for that to become interesting it really would require being a phone replacement, as opposed to a phone enhancer. Otherwise you’re just spending way too much money on these devices for these marginal, interesting upgrades that are totally non essential to my life.

Jon:
Yeah, I think you put you finger on something really interesting there, Dirk. Which is when you go out and buy a Swiss watch you’re buying that reliability, you’re buying that because it’s almost heirloom quality. You’ve got this watch, you’ve got it forever; it’s beautiful, you’re going to give it to your son, your daughter, whatever. When you get an Android device do you think about it the same way. You think, “Oh shoot I’m going to have this for a few years and then I’m going to trash it or recycle it.”

What happens when those two things come together? Is this heirloom quality Android watch? I don’t get it. The reason I would buy a Swiss watch isn’t there anymore, because you introduced an operating system that’s going to change and need constant care and feeding if it’s going to last past the four year mark. I’m really curios about it, it’s such a strange combination. I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe I’m just not the audience for it. It puzzles me.

Dirk:
Me too.

Jon:
Listeners, remember that while you’re listing to the show you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s just one L in the digital life, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterward if you’re trying to remember some thing that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett. Of course the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Dirk?

Dirk:
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer, or e-mail dirk@goinvo.com.

Jon:
That’s it for episode 102 of the Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.

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