Boxy Suite: A Better Gmail Experience For Mac [Sponsor]

We love Gmail and Calendar, but we believe multitasking kills productivity. That’s why we’ve built the most minimal, yet powerful Gmail and Calendar apps for Mac. We’re partnering up with Asymco to give you an exclusive 30% discount: click here to get it.

Instead of a list of features, here’s what our users say about Boxy Suite:

  • Framer co-founder Jorn van Dijk: “Boxy Suite is the best way to use Gmail and Google Calendar on your Mac. I use it every day and love it.”
  • Zee M Kane, former The Next Web CEO: “Boxy makes G Suite beautiful and gives it those extra priceless features that should have been there from the start.”
  • Ryan Kulp, founder of FOMO: “Just downloaded Boxy Suite and already in love. Killed ~13 permanently open tabs with their suite of native clients.”

Try it for free and we’re sure you’ll kill many Chrome tabs too.

The Triumph of the Walled Garden

During 2016 Apple services revenues were $25.6 billion. In January 2017, just after the end of that year, Tim Cook said “We feel great about this momentum, and our goal is to double the size of the services business in the next four years”.

If Apple were to hit that target, during calendar year 2020, Apple’s services revenues should exceed $50 billion. In 2017 they were $32 billion, in 2018 they were 41.5 billion and so far this year they are 23 billion. If, as has been the case during 2017 and 2018 (see graphs below,) Apple were to maintain 30% growth in Services during the rest of this year they will have revenues of $51 billion in 2019; reaching the doubling tarted a year sooner than predicted.

Apple will have doubled Services in 3 years to a level equivalent to a Fortune 63 company (right behind Goldman Sachs).

Keep in mind that the reported revenues are not billings or what consumers actually spend. That figure is at a run rate of over $71 billion. You can see the difference between billings and reported revenues in the graphs above.

So what made this possible and what is the source of growth in the future?

As my estimates above show, the growth came from apps and licensing and other revenues. Apps include many third-party subscriptions and licensing includes Google TAC and other income includes Apple’s own subscription services and a few additional items like Apple Pay, AppleCare and iCloud.

What Apple is launching this year will boost this even further with TV+, Card, Arcade and News+. These are a new set of specific services that, apart from Card, will require subscriptions and will deliver Apple-specific content. Unlike previous Music and TV offerings, what Apple has embarked on is a high degree of involvement in the content creation process. These will be Apple TV shows, Apple video games and Apple-directed News feeds.

This is quite the watershed moment. Apple, a company dedicated to providing tools to content makers and content consumers, choosing to be involved in the lottery-like game of choosing and backing winners in creative works.

Can a company with good taste about devices and software successfully extend that capability to content? That seems to be the question many are asking: How good is Apple at creating hits? The process of hit creation is difficult but it’s not completely random. There are many individuals who have skills or taste. And Apple’s approach seems to be to hire people with such skills. These “executives” then proceed to attach people with great track records in hits and who may have the star power to attract audiences. It’s not a matter of complete guesswork. It’s actually the approach most “streamers” have: They hire studio executives, attach talent to projects and spread bets.

This is why there has been a rush by streamers to secure programs and A-listers. There might be a variety of subscriptions users are likely to pay for but there is a fixed number of bankable names in the business.

But let’s pause here to think more deeply about what is happening. Without much notice, we are seeing a content world where distributors are locking up talent and creating a studio model where production, talent and distribution and display are under one roof. This is exactly where the movie industry was in the so-called golden age of Hollywood. The era of the studio system. An era that ended with divorcement—the complete separation of exhibition interests from producer-distributor operations or the forced divestiture of theaters by production/distribution.

Another observation to be made is that the bundling and binding of content into specific distributors creates a walled garden effect. This extends beyond video content to games (a larger business than film, at least at the box office, see below) and to apps. Arcade games are Apple-exclusive. Many apps which depend on Watch, AR and other unique technologies become exclusive, and of course unique titles.

As far as consumers are concerned this might be just fine. There are very implicit lock-in effects of ecosystems, from UX muscle memory, switching costs for data, network effects from friends/family/co-workers in the same system. The extension of this to cultural content, news curation, music curation and privacy curation could be the comfortable default for many.

In this world-view the proposition Apple offers is very attractive. Look at the preference vacationers have toward packaged experiences. Look at the popularity of cruises. Look at the way features are packaged in cars. Look at meal delivery and the packaging of ingredients into something you can cook at home. Look at fitness and the packaging of instruction with the exercise venue. The examples are plentiful.

A garden is lovely after all. The walls are there to keep danger and chaos away as much as to keep you in it. The constraints simplify as much as they restrict. Though it may be contrary to some modular and interoperable utopias which paralyze with choice, we might well be experiencing a triumph of the walled garden.

Instant Domains: The Essential Instant Domain Name Search Tool [Sponsor]

InstantDomains.com is the fastest domain search tool ever built, you can search domain availability for all 500+ domain extensions in milliseconds. Results load instantly and with an incredibly friendly user interface it’s easy to scan through which domains are and aren’t available.

A domain name generator additionally suggests alternative domains to the one you’ve searched for and you can filter results by 55 different industries to make results even more relevant.

Instant Domains works in 32 different languages and will display the most relevant and popular domain extensions based on your location.

If you’re in the market for a more premium or brandable domain you can search domains for sale with results in milliseconds.

Instant Domains will quickly become you’re favourite tool of choice for domain name searches and availability checks. Try it out now.

Apple Car(d)

The old cliche is that we were promised flying cars but ended up with x where x is something trivial or mundane. Perhaps the best “x” is “140 characters”. This statement is meant to de-value the technologies developed in the last few decades. Instead of building grand things, we build trivialities. The irony is that x is often wildly popular and ubiquitous. x also generates a lot of profits and is likely to change behavior. Indeed, the flying car alternatives are almost always better ideas.

Flying cars are an example of “extrapolated technology” where we take a trajectory of improvement and expect it to continue forever. x are examples of “market creating” technologies which create new behaviors and which allow more people to do more things that they could not do before.

The flying car dream comes from a century of improvements in cars, and airplanes. The idea that cars must continue to get better and flying must come to personal transportation. When they are faster than what roads and human reaction times can allow and when they have more space than we can fill and when they have more cupholders than we can drink from it’s time to look for a new domain–the sky–for them to enter.

The alternative is literally unthinkable to the extrapolator: that we might drive less or not at all.

The promise of super-fast computers on every desktop and every living room of the 1990s is countered by an acceptance of a computer in every pocket and a tablet in every living room in the 2010s.

So in many ways the grandest technological revolutions are a study in humility rather than ambition.

Humility as a business model or as an operating principle is one of, if not the most most powerful tools for a manager . The queen of the virtues is most elusive but most enabling.

And so here we are, the Apple Card has arrived. And the Apple car hasn’t. The contrast is deliciously ironic. The cynics are out and having their fun. The users are out ordering the product. The cycle repeats.

Except the Apple Card demands explanation. It’s not explained by Apple sufficiently. It sounds like a slightly easier credit card. Perhaps a bit easier to keeps tabs on, perhaps a bit easier to manage payments and easier getting bonuses. It sounds, well, easier.

But easier doesn’t rock anyone’s world, they say.

It’s just another card, they say.

How can this change anything?

Here’s the thing: follow the integration. First, Apple Card comes after Apple Pay, more than 4 years ago. Apple Card builds on the ability to transact using a phone, watch and has the support of over 5000 banks. Over 10 billion transactions have been made with Apple Cash. Over 40 countries are represented.

I am quite sure Apple considered their card entry at the same time they considered Pay entry. The extension to a credit instrument is only logical as an addition the the Wallet.

The emphasis is on convenience, ease of use, integration and assistance. It’s what a credit card should be if you invented it today.

The application process is easy. It’s designed for the iPhone. No delays, no paper, no signatures.

It promises “A healthier financial life” through help in understanding your spending and acting on it. The goal is not to keep users in debt but to keep them loyal. Think about the asymmetry here.

The partner, Goldman Sachs, is chosen for their willingness to also align on incentives.

But more than anything the release of the Apple Card brings into question what could be next. The Card may not have been on everyone’s mind four years ago when we first saw Pay.

Now the die is cast. Apple’s goals seem to include enhancing financial and physical health. These are mundane goals, perhaps.

Or perhaps not. What matters more?

The Essence of Apple’s Decision

“The essence of ultimate decision remains impenetrable to the observer – often, indeed, to the decider himself.”

John F. Kennedy

The fact that we ourselves don’t know how we make decisions has not stopped us from proclaiming, loudly, that we know how everyone else decides. Such proclamations about others’ decisions are especially confident and assured the more important, or highly visible, the decision.

This is at the heart of analysis for large companies, especially Apple. The premise that decisions on product, positioning, investment and a myriad other necessary functions are guided deliberately through the will of single individuals in positions of power; rational single Actors that are directed by some rational, typically economic, calculus is pervasive. Without pause, we assume that analysis consists of de-compiling the calculus of that single Actor.

The diversity of opinion on Apple stems from disagreements about whether the calculus is purely economic or some other—aesthetic, virtuous or greater good, “satisfaction maximization” or something else that motivates the Actor.

However this is not the only decision process. It is in contrast to two other decision making processes: the bureaucratic model where decisions are the result of analysis of constraints, resulting in a “best compromise” between multiple sub-problem solutions.

Or the “political model” where maneuvering between factions with fractional power results in a consensus decision based on a political (zero-sum?) calculus.

One could classify these decisions processes as Graham Allison did in “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis“: The Rational Actor, The Organizational Process or the Governmental Politics models. That landmark work opened our eyes to the variety of ways organizations—not just governments—decide. It clashed with, to the point of refuting, the economic rationality model typically attributed to Milton Friedman.

When reading commentary on Apple decisions I almost always hear the causality ascribed to the “Rational Actor” model where the Actor is a person of great importance. The importance imparted upon them implicitly by being a “visible” person. That visibility comes from having been put forward by the company itself. We know of the Apple Actors as those whose names are revealed and we assume that those not visible are not Actors.

But, of course, visibility is a design. The company, known for its design, takes that ethos to its communications, and communicating who is visible and thus who is “an Actor” is a design decision. So we are led to believe that decisions are made by the Actors and who the Actors are is determined by the very entity we are trying to analyze.

Do you see the problem?

Rather than take the comfortable road and analyzing Apple by the surface that is exposed, the better approach might be to toss the Rational Actor model and think about the Organizational or the Political Models.

How does the company process information? How does it generate consensus? How does it deal with motivating employees? How does it allocate resources? How does it evaluate productivity? How does it balance morale and turnover? These are what Clay Christensen classified as “Processes” rather than “Resources” questions. The Actor model assumes all decisions come from individuals who are, in a large organization, Resources. They come and go. They can be hired and fired.

The Political model asks further if the decision came from maneuvering between visible and invisible Actors. I would argue that the political dimension is prevalent in most large organizations and it is corrosive to the overall health of the organization. I would also argue that Steve Jobs designed Apple specifically to avoid the Political process. But we must still assume that it’s at work to some degree. It’s like entropy.

When hearing about big staff changes at Apple, take a moment to reflect what decision processes are at work. How did that one (visible) Actor really influence the decisions made? Are you ascribing too much to them because they are visible? Are you assuming that tens of thousands of other individuals are not influential? That they are minions hired to act and not to ask questions? Doesn’t Apple also say they hire people to tell Apple what to do?

Allison did not say which model applied to the Cuban Missile Crisis. He left it to the reader to decide.

I will do the same when it applies to any particular Apple decision.

The iPad Operating System

WWDC 2019 included a vast list of releases and it’s quite difficult to summarize. The focus is always on software updates but this year the list seems more exhaustive than usual.

The highlights for me are:

  1. WatchOS now includes direct App Store access. This continues the separation of the Watch from the iPhone, on a trajectory that remains predictable.
  2. Hearing Health/Noise App/period and trends management extends the iPhone’s health maintenance “jobs to be done”.
  3. AR & Swift extend the platform through Reality Kit and Reality Composer and Swift UI.
  4. MacOS improves through a new Apple Music app, Sidecar iPad integration, Accessibility and “Find My” Mac offline beacons.
  5. iPad and Mac are beginning to share Apps with Project Catalyst.
  6. New Mac Pro and new XDR Display are quantum leapfrog leaps in the high-end performance computing market where Apple has lagged for a few years.
  7. Sign-in with Apple is a huge and much needed update to identity management on-line. A big deal.
  8. iPadOS introduced as fifth Apple OS. Rather than merging iPad and Mac which would be suggested by Project Catalyst, Apple preserves and sanctifies the modularity of form factors based on their differences rather than commonalities.

If there is one thing I took away as most significant it would be the iPadOS spin-off. I don’t quite know how this will change the fortunes of the iPad but in declaring itself a platform distinct from iOS it signals that iPad can evolve rapidly in a new direction. The promise and problem with the iPad has always been that it was great hardware held back by software that was not able to take advantage of it.

The core apps, interfaces and connectivity were all constrained, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Constraints make a system and the constraints of the iPhone made it great. Not having a stylus, not having a menu system and not having windowing meant the UX had to be drastically simplified.

But apparently the iPad could not evolve without a re-evaluation of these constraints. The last iPad Pro release hinted at what was coming: it had a full-size keyboard and an immensely capable processor and screen.

So we saw new features such as split view for the same app, Files folder, doc sharing, USB and SD drives support, Zip/Unzip, Desktop class Safari optimized for touch. Download manager, custom fonts, new text editing gestures (copy/paste/floating keyboard). Pencil latency improvement. All these changes are geared toward “productivity” or Pro use.

And yet, the iPad is not Mac. It will remain separate and target Mac non-consumers. Indeed there are three times more iPad users than Mac users and it’s quite possible that the iPad base can expand further with enhancement into productivity.

The iPad has not proven to be either an iPhone or a PC killer. It’s just in between. It’s not a bowl and it’s not a swimming pool. It’s a bathtub. And yes, bathtubs are never going to be as common as bowls but they have their uses and are not obsoleted by better water containers.

The Operating System idea here is a bit of a conceit. In terms of the kernel and the core APIs there are vast common grounds between all Apple’s OSs. But what Apple calls an OS is not just the core code but also the positioning of the idea _to developers_. By branding iPadOS the company is signaling to developers that they should think about the iPad differently.

To a large extent they already do. Coding for iPad has always required a different design approach. But now perhaps Apple is drawing an explicit line enforcing the distinction.

Going back to the list of highlights above, none of them is a “home run”, re-enforcing the idea that the company has run out of big ideas. But hitting 8 base hits yields the same result as two home runs. There is a consistent delivery of improvements here that can’t be ignored. There’s something to be said for polishing rocks until they turn into gems.

Do Your Standup Meetings Suck? Try Standuply Instead

Standup meetings seems like an easy and effective practice. But, they can really suck in a remote team. If your standups suck, there’s a good chance you are not using the right tools.

Standuply, a Digital Scrum Master for Slack, helps remote teams automate standups, retros, backlog grooming, planning poker via Slack-based asynchronous surveys.

To make it work, you pick a schedule, people and setup questions to ask. Then Standuply surveys a team via Slack and aggregates their answers. Once Standuply is configured, processes are up and running so that you can focus on the bigger picture.

  • Standuply is the #1 Slack app for standup meetings trusted by 35,000 teams worldwide;
  • Standuply is integrated with JIRA, Trello, GitHub, and more;
  • Standuply enables voice and video messages in Slack;
  • Use the promo code asymco15 to get 15% off for 12 months;

The Pivot

The iPhone is the most successful product of all time.

Over 1.6 billion have been sold. Including the iOS products it spun off, the total is over 2.2 billion. Of those 2.2 billion sold, 1.5 billion are still in use.

There are about 1 billion iPhone users.

Economically speaking, iPhone sales have reached one trillion dollars.1

Since the iPhone launched, Apple’s sales have totaled $1.918 trillion. Of those trillions about one half a trillion was accumulated in the form of  income.

Of that half trillion in income, $360 billion was paid out to shareholders2. and $131 billion was paid in taxes.

This sounds like a good business, but no business is good if it is static. What makes a business great is dynamism. The idea is to constantly maneuver for a new or enhanced way of doing business as technologies enable entrepreneurs to fundamentally change how value is captured or allocated.

The iPhone story isn’t static, the “pivots” or change in direction are several:

  • The App Store, a platform for collaborative innovation where millions of developers are offered the chance to improve the product.
  • Accessories, a licensing model for third-party hardware that works with the iPhone
  • Distribution through multiple channels
  • Integration with other Apple Products
  • The marketing of older products alongside new ones at reduced prices
  • An expanded product portfolio with a broader range of prices
  • Trade-in and financing options

Each of these initiatives contributed to the iPhone growth story but the biggest change in business model was the addition of services. Apple Services grew out of the iTunes business that pre-dates the iPhone and was established to provide content for the iPod.

In 2006, the year before the iPhone launched, Apple customers spent $3.3 billion on iTunes, Software and Services. By 2018 the spending rate was $80.5 billion/yr. It’s very possible that this year’s spending rate will reach $100 billion/yr. This new division is simply called Services today and consists mainly of third-party apps and third-party content sales as well as licensing.

Recently Apple launched a set of new services that it will offer itself. This includes television, films, financial services and news. Apple already has a music service of its own and file storage (iCloud) both of which are offered as subscriptions.

Apps are also allowed to offer paid subscriptions, and that total has reached 390 million, growing at 30 million a quarter with an expected total of 500 million by 2020. That amounts to one subscription for every other iPhone in use.

Some would argue that even with a $43 billion revenue rate, ($80 billion billing  rate)3 Apple’s business is still a hardware business and that comes with low margins, potential for disruption, non-recurring revenues and cyclicality.

This is not the case. Apples’s business has high margins (64% gross margin for services, 34% for products), has been resilient over 12 years while attracting hundreds of imitators at lower price points, and has loyalty and satisfaction which results in more than 90% re-purchase rates. Cyclicality is driven by seasonality and product lifespans, not competition.


This common misconception of Apple is why it continues to be valued at a deep discount to not only peer companies who are services oriented (Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon) but also at a discount to the overall market (the S&P 500).

Apple, since its inception, has always been oriented around its customers, not its products. The questions asked by management are “what can the company do to deliver experiences and satisfaction” rather than “what products can the company build”.

Every company is bound by its capabilities but the best companies re-shape these bounds because they are defined by priorities.

A priorities-driven company habitually re-designs its processes and its resources. A resources- or process-driven company re-designs its priorities as its capabilities change.

Moving as it does between computers, devices, software, services, retail, logistics and manufacturing means that it’s not classifiable as an “x” company where “x” is an industry sector. Rather, the company should be classified by the set of problems it seeks to solve (e.g. communications, community, productivity, creativity, wellbeing).

This disconnect between what people think Apple sells and what Apple builds is as perplexing as the cognitive disconnect between what companies sell and what customers buy.

Companies sell objects or activities that they can make or engage in but customers buy solutions to problems. It’s easy to be fooled that these are interchangeable.4

Conversely Apple offers solutions to problems that are viewed, classified, weighed and measured as objects or activities by external observers. Again, it’s easy to be fooled that these are the same.

This analysis is, of course, applicable to any company. Here I’m using Apple as a lens. This is because it’s just so much easier to tell this story with the narratives and anti-narratives that are so widely disseminated.

  1. The milestone of $1 trillion iPhone revenues was reached in the fourth quarter 2018 during which time the stock price of Apple fell by 40%. []
  2. As a result, the number of outstanding shares has decreased by 29% []
  3. The difference is in the way Apple accounts for App Store revenues: declaring only the 30% portion of sales that it keeps as revenues, and not including the 70% that is paid out to developers. The “billing rate” is what consumers spend, the “revenue rate” is what Apple reports. []
  4. They are only correlated. Purchase decisions are not *caused* by a product’s existence. The real cause is a combination of need and supply and time and circumstance of purchase. []

AiriPods

The Apple Watch is now bigger than the iPod ever was. As the most popular watch of all time, it’s clear that the watch is a new market success story. However it isn’t a cultural success. It has the ability to signal its presence and to give the wearer a degree of individuality through material and band choice but it is too discreet. It conforms to norms of watch wearing and it is too easy to miss under a sleeve or in a pocket.

Not so for AirPods. These things look extremely different. Always white, always in view, pointed and sharp. You can’t miss someone wearing AirPods. They practically scream their presence.

For this reason wearers, whether they want to or not, advertise the product loudly. Initially, when new, they looked strange, even goofy. But the product’s value to the wearer overcame any embarrassment and for those courageous enough to wear them, they became a point of pride. As all things distinctive enough, the distinction rubs on the user and that distinction begets new users and new distinction, and so on. So now we have a bona fide cultural phenomenon.

I have both my son and parents angling to get these things. I have not seen this universal appeal recently, even for the watch. You have to explain the watch. The AirPods explain themselves. The only thing which AirPods do remind me of is the original iPod. The iPod-and-white-earbuds had a similar signal/function ratio. Looks distinctive, works well, nails the job to be done and is self-describing. The “iconification” of white was the phenomenon of its decade.

One wonders how much of this behavior is by design or, more precisely, engineered by designers. Did Jony Ive’s team plan on users “flexing” with their AirPods? Did they make them distinctive on purpose with the stalks pointing down vs,, for example, wrapping around the back of the ear for a more discreet look? Was it just good luck and the form followed function? It’s hard to imagine that taste could be engineered but here we are.

Whether planned or not, the newest AirPods offer a functional upgrade with no visual upgrade. This is noteworthy because whatever they got right with the original design they decided not to mess with it. You can’t tell if someone is wearing the newest AirPods or the originals.

As far as the added functionality it is typical Apple: faster connections due to a new chip, longer talk time, longer listen time, voice-activated Siri and wireless charging. Broadly speaking they are just better in ways that need to better and not better in ways they are good enough.

The product is part of the “wearables” category at Apple which includes watch and is growing almost 50%/yr. and not from a small base either. The following graph show the history of the segment since 2009 (before the iPod peaked).

As can be seen, Wearables and Home segment grew out of the iPod segment, through “Other” products and is now almost double what the iPod used to be alone.

It should be noted that the AirPods can be paired directly with the Apple Watch and used independent from the iPhone. If not from this point alone, culturally the iconic white AirPods and jewel-like Apple Watch embody the spirit of the iPod.