The Critical Path #89: Not Bad for a Hobby

Horace reflects on his analysis of iTunes purchase data, details the just-announced AirShow in Chicago, and touches on fascinating “heat maps” of mobile platform use. We close our week of three shows by talking about “deep focus” and Citizen Kane.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #89: Not Bad for a Hobby.

  • jb

    Haven’t had a chance to listen yet, so I don’t know if you mention this, but the MapBox data is very misleading, especially when you are zoomed out. Instead of correctly majority weighting for each point, the data is simply overlaid from left to right (with iPhone on top of Android and Blackberry on top of both of them). This over-represents the prevalence of iPhone and Blackberry tweets, the distortion only getting worse as you zoom out. This is why there is essentially zero Android here and why this sequence of images zooming out on Paris, absurdly misrepresents Blackberry usage there.

    • JaneDoe12

      The map that you found did not show Android tweets very well. But the maps on the MapBox web site show them clearly.

      Here’s their page with the “Mobile Device + Twitter” for the U.S. and Malaysia. It has buttons to show separately Android, Apple, Blackberry and other tweets.

      I couldn’t find the global map.

      • jb

        I didn’t find these, I took screenshots directly from their site, linked from the thing you linked. The “global map” is just me zooming out.

      • neutrino23

        This map has buttons to turn on and off the different brands so you can see the maps without interference.

    • Any thoughts after you got a chance to listen to the show?

      • jb

        Hadn’t listened to the previous two episodes yet but I skimmed for the part of this episode and you gave a good explanation of why it’s misleading. Thanks.

      • jb

        Did you ever hear back from MapBox? I would love to have this fixed and see it correctly majority weighted.

      • I did not hear back.

      • mieswall

        Manipulating the maps turning on and off the data, you can still see much more red than green dots in most places shown red; so I would say each dot is displayed as their prevalent occurrence of underlying data. Mapbox informs of several API’s for developers. The requirement of correct data display is so basic, that i doubt the maps could be simply overlaid displays of info, each one masking the other behind.

        As a case in point, choose a distant view of say, Barcelona or Buenos Aires, then a closer look at midtown and coastal areas. Where the first shows all green and purple, a closer look shows a lot of iphone usage masked in the previous view. So, green masking red in the distant views, not the other way around. Of course, in some situations it could be enough a mere 1% of higher use of one platform to asign the whole dot to that prevalent data, but for general trends, I think this is OK.

        The socioeconomics these maps are displaying is really stunning. Great tool, and great critical path chapter!

      • jb

        I think you are incorrect. This doesn’t explain, at all, the sequence of pictures of Paris I linked above. If it really is correctly majority weighted then each Blackberry dot at max zoom must represent thousands of users and every iPhone dot only one, e.g.

      • mieswall

        Basically what I say is that, at a given zoom level, if each dot represents, say, a 100*100m area, and there you have 501 blackberry, 500 androids and 499 iPhone, the pixel will be tinted purple, even without being the absolute majority. As you zoom in, say 10 times, you will see a more mixed color distribution. What Horace said in CP#89 is that if those three exist in a given portion of territory, the red overlays the green, then the purple overlays the red (even without being larger), which is a very different interpretation. The first IS consistent with the snapshots of your link.

        It is perfectly possible that BBRY has higher use than iPhone and Androids in Paris, where many companies have their headquarters, and BBRY is still strong in that segment. In the view of my city, Santiago de Chile, you can see the purple dots only in office/commercial areas of the city and some in the airport, basically disappearing everywhere else. A similar situation with BBRY is seen in other places where the brand is heavily promoted by carriers- see Central America or Bs Aires, for example-.

      • jb

        “The first IS consistent with the snapshots of your link.”

        It’s definitely not, and you can obviously see that it doesn’t make sense. There’s nowhere near enough purple dots when zoomed in. Unless, like I said, you believe that each purple dot is actually thousands of Blackberry users huddled in a circle tweeting furiously.

        Further, zooming out to global scale, essentially everywhere in the world is iPhone or Blackberry, at about a 50/50 mix. If this seems plausible to you then there’s no convincing you, I guess.

      • jb

        Barcelona is a great example of a counterpoint to your line of thinking. Looking at it at maximum zoom, the sea of green is very dominant, and there’s barely any Blackberry. Zooming out, however, you would presume it’s mostly iPhone, with a little Blackberry, then zooming out further it becomes mostly Blackberry. Absurd. Zooming out to a global scale it should be instantly obvious there is something wrong, because almost nowhere on earth appears to be majority Android.

      • mieswall

        What in fact this show is perfectly on line of my answer below: BCN has a lot of BBRY’s, but concentrated in enterprise use, and so, in very dense but not spread in the city. As you zoom out (not in), the weight of those concentrated areas of of BBRY overweight adjacent areas oh iphones, and both as both are fused at only one pixel, it choses the prevalent one, the BBRY, because of the sum of BBRY between those two areas is higher than iphones. On the other hand, as you zoom in, you start to see more red dots, because, even been more than iphones, the BBRY are more concentrated in less dots, and so at that given zoom appears to be less (but each of those purple dots has more BBRY phones than the adjacent red one has iPhones).

        Sorry, unable to see the inconsistency of this.

        Anyway, I guess the algorithm is considerably more complex than this (i.e.: at any given zoom, it may try to deal with areas of pixels to better spread colors); i’m just trying to give the general idea.

        What Horace was suggesting was that if ANY iphone was present, it would supersede an android (that’s why he found interesting areas of pure green, meaning in that interpretation that it was simply not covered by Apple, because, if so, it would be painted red), which is not the case, as i think it is clear now.

        The whole world view shows is mainly urban areas, where normally iPhone prevails (same explanation above). On rural areas android has the lead, but its low density cannot offset populated areas. It also could be interpreted as, although more androids are in use, they are used as mere phones, not as twitting devices.

      • jb

        Absolutely don’t agree. So you’re saying that at every location on the planet earth, Blackberry users are more concentrated than iPhone users, who are in turn more concentrated than Android users, in exactly the pattern required to give identical results to the simpler layering explanation. I think Occam’s razor is required here.

      • mieswall

        No. There are areas where BBRY is also of spread use, and so, shown as predominant BBRY. Like those depending on near monopoly carriers, like Telefonica in Central America, Spain, Argentina, promoting heavily BBRY, probably bypassing IOS subsides and also having less infrastructure demand to their networks.

        And regarding your comment below: yes, in urban areas, with high-rise buildings housing few companies, you MAY have hundreds more users using BBRY -because of company policies (that are changing in favor of IOS, but old policies have still a lagging effect)- than say, common people walking in the street twitting from their iphones in equivalent footprint area in front of that 50 stories building. That dot, in a zoom out view, would “eat” dozens, even hundreds of adjacent red or green dots, because the sum of BBRY’s would still be higher than individual ios and individual androids (and, as the ‘winner takes all the dot’, shown purple). Again, this is the explanation for central urban, developed areas, not for Indonesia, for instance, where BBRY is just plain more present, regardless of density. Btw, this is quite easy to observe in those maps.

        Again, this is a simplified view, the detailed explanation must surely be a little more complex.

      • jb

        I completely understand how you think it works, so I need no further explanation, just none of the evidence I’ve presented supports that it works that way, and I’ve found no counterpoint in any of the places you have mentioned. Therefore I choose the simplest explanation that precisely explains all anomalies, and, satisfyingly, the overlay order is precisely the left-to-right order the tags are listed in.

    • There are many places in the US where Android (Green) will overlay iOS (Red) on a micro scale but iOS will dominate when you zoom out (This matches US smartphone usage rates based on web data). Likewise, Spain will show many areas where BB will overlay Android that will overlay iOS. In Spain, specifically, there are many areas where a purple cluster will be overlaid with a green cluster so there is some level of intelligence in the stacking and not just a simple order as you imply.

      This is very consistent with what you see is web usage patterns in Spain as well.

      • jb

        If this is true, then take some pictures demonstrating it, and explain how the global map makes sense. I see no such places.

  • Jonorom

    It appears from your discussion that you are over-correlating TV and movie rentals with Apple TV.
    Example (not proof): My wife and I don’t own an Apple TV (or any TV) but frequently rent media to watch on our iPads, or (less frequently) one of our Macs if we plan to watch together and want a larger screen. Given the numbers of Apple TVs vs. other Apple gear, I would expect a majority of rentals (and even more of the purchases, because of storage) to be non-Apple TV.

  • Bill Esbenshade

    Horace — so much great stuff on that show! It really got me thinking about Apple and Google, and how people are overlooking the disruptive potential of Apple’s existing products. Some comments:

    Google is following more of a go-it-alone strategy because they need to control a broader range of apps/services to generate user “signal” (as recently noted by Ben Thompson on Stratechery) and because they need to target ads at those same users — the need for ad revenues forces them to follow a more proprietary approach.

    Apple doesn’t need to control a wide range of apps/services to drive revenues and profits, because they rely primarily on hardware profits. For this reason, Apple’s in a better position than Google (and Facebook) to provide an open apps/services platform for innovative, disruptive third party apps/services that are focused on specific jobs-to-be-done. In this way Apple indirectly benefits from disruptive services/apps. Every third party app/service, focused on a new job-to-be-done, is potentially disruptive, and Apple is well-positioned to provide a neutral platform for such apps/services (including a likely Apple TV app platform).

    Apple needs to make sure third party developers are well-incentivized to keep coming up with innovative, disruptive third party apps that Apple can piggy-back on. Ben Thompson’s recent comments on the need for Apple to better facilitate subscriptions for productivity apps are especially relevant.

    The Apple TV is a classic low end and new market disruption. It’s functionally inferior to on-demand cable boxes and DVR’s, the purchase price is cheap relative to the monthly expense of cable box rentals, and it follows a purchase/break-even business model rather than a rental business model. With an Apple TV, non-consumers who can’t afford cable television can suddenly watch on demand movies and shows at home.

    The Apple TV is flying in “under the radar,” and is generally not viewed as a threat by cable companies (even Apple calls it a “hobby”). It takes advantage of the cable companies’ asymmetric motivation to stick with a lucrative rental business model rather than shifting to a purchase model. And in continuing to develop the Apple TV — and slowly building a significant market foothold — Apple is gaining asymmetric skills in terms of “app channels” and a unique TV based app platform. The recent release of API’s for Apple TV controllers is a logical next step in the development of the Apple TV, and is another asymmetric skill separating Apple from the cable companies.

    Everyone thinks Apple isn’t innovating, but the Apple TV is actually very innovative when looked at as a new disruptive business model for television. If Apple enters the TV market with an expensive all-in-one television, then that will be a distinctly non-disruptive approach — i.e., trying to enter the TV market (and competing against consumption) with a more expensive, functionally superior product rather than a cheaper, functionally inferior product.

    iWork is also a low end disruption. It’s functionally inferior to Microsoft Office but it’s a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient/accessible since it easily populates across Apple devices. It’s slowly gaining a market foothold, and isn’t yet perceived as a serious threat to Microsoft Office. All the markers of low-end disruption are present: a product that’s functionally inferior, more affordable, and more convenient to access.

    • KirkBurgess

      Interesting post, although I disagree with the widely prevalent opinion that bundles together the TV hardware market with the TV content delivery market. I don’t see how apple releasing a premium HDTV (with the Apple TV interface builtin), is a negative for apples attempt at disrupting the content delivery market. Just think of a potential HDTV as a premium high margin high end variant of the Apple TV set top box.

      • Bill Esbenshade

        Kirk — I think you’re right! I keep thinking of Ben Thompson’s posts re avoiding the middle. You want to either be (1) differentiated, high end or (2) low cost, low end — you don’t want to be in the middle (per Michael Porter). I can see Apple continuing with the disruptive course of the existing low end Apple TV and also introducing a high-end, beautifully designed, all-in-one TV complete with game/controller sensors built-in. They can easily do both, figuring people might want one high end, all-in-one Apple TV and multiple low end Apple TV boxes.

      • macyourday

        If televisions are a high margin market, why are Panasonic, Sony, Sharp et al collapsing spectacularly?

      • KirkBurgess

        An Apple HDTV would be a high margin product in a typically low margin industry, just like an Apple PC, or Apple MP3 player, or Apple smartphone, or Apple tablet – all these apple products are high margin devices in industry’s that are filled with competitors makimg low margin devices.

    • jbwales

      Maybe Apple can be disruptive in the TV market by bringing a ‘dumb’ HD screen to the living room. No tuner, but simply interfacing with an Apple TV or any Apple mobile device within range. Cheaper and simpler than the present all singing, all dancing HDTV.
      Indeed, touch enabled Apple ‘dumb’ screens could find their way into all manner of places, both inside and outside of the home and workplace. Why carry a battery draining screen around with you when there is always one readily at hand for you to connect to?

    • macyourday

      Are we seeing an iPod like growth as opposed to an iPhone like growth by also hiding it in plain sight as an apparently insignificant “hobby” , similar to the iphone being presented as a phone by a non-phone builder?
      The convenience and almost imperceptible build up of services makes it an increasingly more attractive choice, especially with the increasingly user aggressive tactics of the tradional viewing sources. I still don’t see the point of building a screen when all the required functions are becoming available in a tiny, convenient, cheap, almost invisible, relatively trouble free device.
      Imagine the cost of having to service/warranty a huge number of non portable devices even larger than the iMacs to Apple. Why not leave that grief with the current TV builders? If people can’t already figure out how to change sources on their existing televisions, they probably aren’t ready for the (an) Apple TV anyway (this is not a criticism of technophobes, just an observation).

  • Jacob Willliams

    The word disruptive is no longer allowed to be used in the comments. Do we accept this challenge?

  • Hi Horace, would you have any pointers on the neuroscience of story-telling? I started to scratch the surface on this topic and it would be interesting to dive deeper.