From Tim Cook’s letter announcing the latest reorganization at Apple last week:

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his longtime role as the leader of Industrial Design. Jony has an incredible design aesthetic and has been the driving force behind the look and feel of our products for more than a decade. The face of many of our products is our software and the extension of Jony’s skills into this area will widen the gap between Apple and our competition.

Sir Jony

Sir Jony Ive needs no introduction

Ive’s industrial design work has been one of the key drivers of Apple’s rebirth. His relentless, iterative focus on simplification of form and function under an aesthetic budget is legend. From Bondi blue iMac to iconic iPods to flatscreen iMacs to iPhones to iPads, his signature is unmistakable.

What’s not publicly known is…

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Surface Impressions


* I can touch the screen! If I get stuck, I use the screen to tap and it feels totally natural.
* The trackpad on the touchcover has multi-touch gestures (that’s a mouthful!)


* Keys on the cover don’t move. So there’s no tactile feedback. Typing isn’t all that better than tapping a glass display.
* Can’t see myself using Surface in portrait mode. It’s too long to hold. The form-factor makes it look like a mini-keyboard than a display.
* The much-hyped sound that the kickstand makes when closed (see the Surface keynote) isn’t all that great. Its a feeble click.
* Back of Surface leaves fingerprints (Magnesium clearly isn’t the best choice there).

Mobile Payments

Mobile payments is all that the tech media can talk about lately. Japan is being hailed as an advanced and mature market for mobile payments. People have been using mobile payments before the first iPhone launched. So I dug a little deeper and what I found broke quite a few myths. But before going to Japan, let me first explain the ecosystem of mobile payments (important later).

Key players – What do they want?

There is a well-defined value chain with extremely diverging interests. Here are the big five and their motivations-

1 Banks/ Associations (VISA, Mastercard)
Maintain volume of transactions that happens with cards today. Example: Visa Wallet and serve by AmEx.

2 Retail/ Merchants
* Lower transaction fee and drive costs down
* Leverage mobile technology for promotions and sales

3 Mobile Operators
Grow additional revenue areas. Example: Isis, a US carriers’ collaboration

4 OEMs
Drive sales. Example: Google Wallet

5 Consumers
How is this significantly better than the card?

History of mobile payments in Japan

Japan (Pop. 127 million) has 100 million mobile users, 90%  of which are non-smartphone users. This stat has since come down to 80% during the last year. Mobile payments based on RFID have been around since 2004. Here’s a brief timeline of how mobile payments evolved in Japan-

Late 1980s- Sony developed FeliCa technology (short for Felicity Card) RFID smart card system. After 7+ years of failed field tests, it was finally adopted as a reloadable, pre-paid card in 2001 to be used in train stations. At this stage, phones were not linked to payments. In 2004, RFID-based POS systems started appearing in convenience stores like 7/11 at train stations. Merchants paid 1-4% to receive e-money payments. For majority of non-smartphone users, Japanese carriers sold RFID and NFC stickers which could be pasted on phones to enable mobile shopping. User adoption started slowly.

In 2006 DoCoMo, the Japanese carrier, became part-owner of FeliCa technology and announced Mobile Suica, the mobile wallet service. DoCoMo also entered the credit business by purchasing a bank, eliminating the conflict that might otherwise exist between a mobile carrier and a bank (for example, over who “owns” the customer or which company receives the revenue). User adoption still did not see a major jump. Other companies started adopting mobile payments too. In 2008, McDonalds announced mobile coupons at some outlets in Tokyo.

In 2010, loyalty, coupons, points were introduced into the Mobile Suica. This brought the big adoption change that everyone was waiting for. “If it weren’t for points or promotions, adoption would be drastically lower”, DoCoMo said. “We should have emphasized promotions and other reward programs a lot earlier than we did”. Total userbase for Mobile Suica at this point- 2.5M.

As seen in the graph, handset penetration is faster than user penetration is faster than store penetration.


1 Consumer adoption takes time, even among a tech-savvy population.
2 Key components is controlled by one company. DoCoMo was the mobile carrier, retailer and financial institution.
3 Retailers do not want to spend millions on an POS system upgrade when there is no user demand.
4 Mobile payments does not need smartphones. Until costs of smartphones come down, OEMs should think of innovative ways to enable most users to enable payments on any phone.

As Gartner’s hype cycle shows below, the expectations for mobile payments is at fever pitch right now. But its still years away from mass adoption. Till that time, companies like Square are doing a great job at showing how to use mobile devices and existing cards for payments.

Companies pushing for NFC should think about new ways of rewarding users for paying through their phone. Here’s another interesting article on Wired on when will phones replace your wallets.

(click on image for larger view)

Great UX- Groupon Unsubscribe

I was a little annoyed at Groupon for sending me daily emails with offers not relevant to me. So I clicked the ‘Unsubscribe’ link. What happened next was very unexpected and a lot of fun!

First, I was taken to this page where it showed me that I was unsubscribed (no confirmation page with “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe?”). Second, the page said “We’re sorry to see you go! How sorry? Well, we want to introduce you to Derrick- he’s the guy who thought you’d enjoy getting Groupon emails.” A video loop showed a guy sitting in an empty office. Under the video is a button called Punish Derrick. Now I was already subscribed, but I was curious to see what happens, so I clicked the button (don’t judge me).

The moment I clicked the button, the video showed a guy walk up to Derrick and ‘punished’ him (in Monty Python styled comic humor). However, it doesn’t end here.

This text shows up above the video- “That was pretty mean… I hope you’re happy. Want to make it up to Derrick?“. And a button called Resubscribe. I don’t think people will resubscribe because of feeling guilty, but +1 to Groupon for making a mundane thing like unsubscribing fun!

Thoughts on Poker (The Economist)

Here are a few thoughts on the game of poker I collected on a special feature on Economist.com

Perhaps the clearest argument in favour of poker being skill- rather than chance-dependent comes from Mr Sklansky, and it has to do with losing rather than winning. Imagine trying intentionally to lose at a game of pure chance, like roulette or baccarat. It would be impossible. At the beginning of a deal or a roll you have to bet on something. You can no more deliberately play badly than you can deliberately play well. The same is not true for poker, which offers multiple opportunities to make sure you lose. Still, America’s Congress seems unconvinced.

Jennifer Shahade, who twice won the American Women’s Chess Championship and is now a semi-professional poker player, thinks that chess and poker rely on similar skills—a sort of calculating game-savviness—and that chess players are likely to succeed at poker because “they focus on finding the right moves, rather than having fun or how their ego feels.”

It is this missing information that makes poker so complex. Unlike checkers or chess, at which machines have also had notable success, poker is a game of incomplete information. You do not know what cards your opponent holds; information is revealed as the game progresses. A good player’s tactics will involve deception such as bluffing and slow-playing, both of which create more complexities.

Clemens France, saw similarities between gambling and faith: both expressed a need for reassurance, order and salvation.

Hardware Irrelevant for Amazon?

When Jeff Bezos announced the new Kindles yesterday, he said the devices are irrelevant and will only be a vehicle for services in the near future.

Amazon’s strong point has never been its hardware. They’ve met with mild global success with Kindles. On the other hand, AWS is making them tons of money, so Bezos would want to focus on services.

Bezos also underestimates the power of the client. Internet has a long way to go before becoming a basic human need like electricity.

Amazon’s services are only popular in US. They have little experience/presence in global e-commerce. If they ever plan to venture out of the US, how will they make its $79/yr Prime membership work in other countries (two-day free shipping for 15M items)?

Bezos himself said that it takes five to seven years for a new business to either break even or become profitable. And its year five of the Kindle.Its difficult to know if being the loss-leader has actually worked for Amazon or not. In future, I guess they will focus more on digital services (no warehousing and inventory costs) than physical goods for the global market.

Here’s a great article on Amazon’s strong and weak points.