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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.

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Apple’s Unit Economics

For the last two years I’ve been studying the transportation economy and introducing the idea of Micromobility. Simply, Micromobility promises to have the same effect on mobility as microcomputing had on computing. Bringing transportation to many more and allowing them to travel further and faster.  I use the term micromobility precisely because of the connotation with computing and the expansion of consumption but also because it focuses on the vehicle rather than the service. The vehicle is small, the service is vast.1

One of the elements of analysis for Micromobility is the notion of Unit Economics. The idea is that each vehicle can be seen as an independent business. It requires an investment, has a revenue attached, requires operating costs and fixed costs and finally, hopefully, generates earnings. A fleet’s economics is therefore a multiplication of the unit economics by the fleet size. A similar partial construct exists for mobile network operators where the network revenue is defined by ARPU (average revenue per user). In consumer hardware we also have the idea of ASP (average sales price) and BOM (bill of materials) which describe the revenue and variable cost of each device.

In the case of Micromobility the unit economics is more broadly applied in being an entire P/L statement for each vehicle. One example for the e-scooter sharing company Bird is here. If the unit economics of Bird is consistent across geography and time then the entire business can be valued based on one “average unit”. Measuring the health of the business can thus be summarized in BOM, Utilization, Lifespan, Attrition and Cost structure or one unit.

For some time now I’ve advocated a similar approach for Apple.

  1. If you want to learn about the real future of transportation sooner rather than later, do consider coming to the Micromobility California conference. []

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Sponsor: ​WebSonar Libraries

Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project; founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Nelson predicted many of the features of today’s hypertext systems. Three of the key requirements were that every Xanadu server can be operated independently or in a network, every document can consist of any data type and every user can search, retrieve, create and store documents.

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Micromobility Summit 2018 September 5, Copenhagen

Last year’s Micromobility Summit was a great success. We had a great turnout and the presenters and audience met to discuss the future of this new modal shift that seemed so imminent.

Perhaps partly because of our meeting, the shift has since accelerated. The amount of capital allocated, firms participating and usage have all exploded. In one year micromobility went from a curious hobby to the biggest startup story in the world now attracting mainstream attention.

Bird, Lime, Skip have pioneered scooter sharing. Smide in Switzerland is offering e-bike sharing and Uber, Lyft and Didi made acquisitions. More OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are betting on this sector and we have hundreds of new e-bike models entering the European market and literally billions of vehicle miles traveled using micromobility. 400 million users are registered in China alone with 70 million daily active.

Micromobility Summit 2017 was the catalyst of several startups that operate in the space today. It was great opportunity for like-minded entrepreneurs to discuss this market.

It’s time then to follow-up with the second Micromobility Summit. Coming almost exactly a year after the first, we will conduct a similar approach: speakers and panels covering the following topics:

  • Micromobility definition and categorization
  • Micromobility competitiveness relative to incumbents
  • Micromobility business models and asymmetry to macromobility
  • Regulation and evolution of normative behaviors

I will present research currently under peer review on the competitiveness of new modalities relative to existing and their conversion potential. Titled “When Micromobility Attacks”, it’s an adaptation of a paper just submitted to a peer-reviewed journal (written with ETH Zurich)

If you would be interested in attending or speaking let me know through the sign-up sheet at the event web page.

Apple Summit NYC

We are proud to announce the second investor summit dedicated to the long-term investors in Apple. It’s happening in New York City at The Merceron August 16th from 10am to 10pm.

We will host people interested in discussing the fundamentals of Apple as a business and how it operates as a recurring revenue model.

Titled “The Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs” it was inspired by a blog post from 2013 foreshadowing how human nature instinctively discounts Apple and yet how that nature is mismatched to how Apple actually works.

If you are curious about why Wall Street says “Sell” and Warren Buffet says “Buy” on Apple you might want to spend some time with us.

Agenda:

  • How to read the company’s performance given its published results. We will review how to build a model of the company’s financials and how it can be used to forecast the next quarter. We can go line-by-line through the income statement.
  • How to think about the markets Apple considers important. This is the best way to forecast the company’s performance beyond its current portfolio. This requires calibrating your sense of timing of innovations. What is too early, what is too small, what is something where Apple can’t exercise control? Innovation theory is essential to this understanding. If you know where Apple could go next and where it won’t it helps you build patience into your planning.
  • How to understand Apple’s culture and its resources and processes. This gets into the critical management question that leadership at Apple is concerned with. I’ve had a few conversations with and have some great insight from former managers. Curiously, this is Apple’s greatest competitive advantage and its sustainability is the key “moat” question. Most people don’t even realize that this is the most important question for investors.
  • How to understand the market’s reaction to Apple. If you understand the three points above it becomes necessary to juxtapose how others see the company. There is a compelling case of asymmetry of information even though “everyone” is watching the same data. I use the fable of “The Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs” to best describe how most people react when they observe Apple. Apple is something which cannot possibly exist and therefore it is fragile and must be treated as a transient system. It leads to deep discounting in the market. This cognitive illusion has an opposite: monopolies are over-valued because they are seen as invulnerable and permanent even though they are brittle. I use antifragility as another metaphor. Many anecdotes from Steve Jobs also indicate that he understood this asymmetry and instilled it in the company. Investors need to understand this dynamic in order to profit from it.

Sign up here.

Apple Summit, Los Angeles

Technorati and I are proud to announce the first investor summit dedicated to the long-term investors in Apple.

We will host folks interested in discussing the fundamentals of Apple as a business and how it operates as a recurring revenue model.

Titled “The Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs” it was inspired by a blog post from 2013 foreshadowing how human nature instinctively discounts Apple and yet how that nature is mismatched to how Apple actually works.

If you are curious about why Wall Street says “Sell” and Warren Buffet says “Buy” on Apple you might want to spend some time with us.

Agenda:

  • How to read the company’s performance given its published results. We will review how to build a model of the company’s financials and how it can be used to forecast the next quarter. We can go line-by-line through the income statement.
  • How to think about the markets Apple considers important. This is the best way to forecast the company’s performance beyond its current portfolio. This requires calibrating your sense of timing of innovations. What is too early, what is too small, what is something where Apple can’t exercise control? Innovation theory is essential to this understanding. If you know where Apple could go next and where it won’t it helps you build patience into your planning.
  • How to understand Apple’s culture and its resources and processes. This gets into the critical management question that leadership at Apple is concerned with. I’ve had a few conversations with and have some great insight from former managers. Curiously, this is Apple’s greatest competitive advantage and its sustainability is the key “moat” question. Most people don’t even realize that this is the most important question for investors.
  • How to understand the market’s reaction to Apple. If you understand the three points above it becomes necessary to juxtapose how others see the company. There is a compelling case of asymmetry of information even though “everyone” is watching the same data. I use the fable of “The Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs” to best describe how most people react when they observe Apple. Apple is something which cannot possibly exist and therefore it is fragile and must be treated as a transient system. It leads to deep discounting in the market. This cognitive illusion has an opposite: monopolies are over-valued because they are seen as invulnerable and permanent even though they are brittle. I use antifragility as another metaphor. Many anecdotes from Steve Jobs also indicate that he understood this asymmetry and instilled it in the company. Investors need to understand this dynamic in order to profit from it.

Sign up here.

Apple Summit