Facebook wants to make the world better with virtual reality.
At last year’s Facebook F8 event, Mark Zuckerberg articulated a simple vision for making virtual reality mainstream: social VR, or connecting people in the virtual world. But now Facebook has bigger plans. Delivering the keynote at the Oculus Connect conference October 11, Zuckerberg shared a future in which VR improves every aspect of our lives beyond social (naturally, with the help of equipment created by Oculus, owned by Facebook). He also raised eyebrows by announcing that Facebook wants to get one billion people to adopt VR.
Whether Facebook delivers on this vision depends on three factors: accessible equipment, content, and business adoption.
Mark Zuckerberg Updates a Vision
Oculus Connect is an annual gathering of developers and content creators, and because of Oculus’s influence on VR, the event is a bellwether watched closely by the technology industry – making it an ideal venue for Mark Zuckerberg. He used his keynote as an opportunity to redefine VR as a way to improve all aspects of our everyday lives, beyond connecting people socially.
“We believe that one day almost everyone is going to use virtual reality to improve how we work, how we play, and how we connect with each other,” he said. “[Virtual reality] is not about escaping reality. It’s about making it better. It’s about curing diseases, connecting families, spreading empathy, rethinking work, improving games, and, yes, bringing us all closer together.”
He also said, “We want to get a billion people on virtual reality. We have to make sure virtual reality is accessible to everyone.”
He didn’t give a timeline for achieving that goal, but to put things in perspective, in the United States, there are probably only 9.6 million people who use a virtual reality at least once a month according to eMarketer.
When was the last time that popular music made you think?
I mean really made you think about the state of the world and your place in it? The leaders you’ve elected? The choices you’ve made down to the products you buy?
The music of Roger Waters always makes me think. Like when I’m watching him in concert wear a mask of a pig snout and stalk the stage with a champagne glass while his band plays “Dogs.” Or when he examines the plight of the millions of refugees around the world in “The Last Refugee,” a song from his latest album Is This the Life We Really Want?
His songs evoke a time when popular music was a voice for dissent and dialogue about politics and social change – when the Rolling Stones’s “Street Fighting Man” was a rallying cry for Vietnam War protestors and Sly & the Family Stone eviscerated American values with There’s a Riot Goin’ On.
That time is now.
The current political and social unrest that grips the United States and the world has inspired mainstream artists to speak out through their music and actions. No matter what your taste in music is, it’s hard not to notice. For example:
In 2016 Beyoncé departed from her usual songs about dancing and grinding to release Lemonade, a celebration of black sisterhood that contributed to the conversation about #BlackLivesMatter.
In August, Pink released “What about Us,” with its accusations of betrayal from political leaders.
Kendrick Lamar continues to confront American racism on albums such as To Pimp a Butterfly and Damn.
(Update: on October 10, Eminem issued a clear and urgent protest against President Donald Trump with his fist-pumping rap freestyle, “The Storm,” which quickly went viral on social media.)
We’re living in an age of heightened activism. Although the groundswell around social justice issues such as #BlackLivesMatter has been happening over the past few years, the election of Donald Trump has unquestionably turned that activism into dissent for many artists (unless you happen to be Kid Rock or Ted Nugent).
According toThe Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber, the first 100 days of the Trump administration inspired a bumper crop of protest music. As Cat Buckley of Billboard recently reported, 2017 is a year of a “brewing musical resistance” with President Donald Trump the focus of that resistance.
Author screenshot of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
I don’t go to church as often as I used to, but I always attend Father John Misty’s services when he is in town.
For a Father John Misty concert is a religious experience, one I have witnessed time and again, most recently September 20 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Onstage, he morphs into every kind of spiritual persona I’ve ever known. He is as cerebral as a Presbyterian who rules the pulpit with scripture and reason. As emotional as a Nazarene tent preacher speaking in tongues. As provocative and socially conscious as a Jesuit priest. Father John Misty, the stage name adopted by musician Josh Tillman, is partly the product of a troubled but important spiritual past. His ability to draw on his past to create compelling music makes him an artist, not just an entertainer.
Image source: Lynn Lippert.
I first noticed Father John Misty late one evening a few years ago when I was watching a livestream of the Coachella music festival on my laptop. He prowled the stage like a lion, twirled his arms above his head, and gyrated so wildly that I thought he was going to burst out of my screen. Who was this guy? I was reminded of when I was a child and my mother took me to church tent meetings in dusty fields of central Illinois to watch preachers whip an audience into an emotional frenzy by waving Bibles in the air and shouting scripture to occasional bursts of music from horns and organs. Those worship services were exciting and a little scary. And so was Father John Misty.
Author screenshot of Capitol Theatre livestream.
The next day I bought a copy of Fear Fun and got to know him better. His lyrics — sophisticated, honest, and droll — made me think of Bob Dylan. His song phrasing was Continue reading →
Improved heart monitoring. The Apple Watch already performs basic heart-monitoring with Cardiogram (In fact, according to Williams, the Apple Watch is the most-used heart rate monitor in the world.) But with watchOS 4 (available September 19), Apple Watch will also report resting heart rate and recovery heart rate (the latter metric tells you how quickly your heart rate drops after a workout). As Williams said, a lower resting heart rate and a quicker recovery rate can be signs of improved fitness.
Alerts on elevated resting heart rates. Williams noted that many Apple customers wrote to Apple about how their Apple Watches helped them detect unusually high heart rates at unexpected times. So the Apple Watch now notifies owners when the device detects an elevated heart rate and the owner does not appear to be active — thus alerting the watch owner about potential heart problems.
Better support for your workout. For example through the GymKit technology platform, watch OS 4 will make it possible for people to sync fitness data between their Apple Watches and cardio machines they use at the gym, thus delivering more accurate fitness information such as calories burned or distance traveled during your workout. The sync feature will only work with newer pieces of gym equipment — so that functionality might be limited.
Apple also announced that the company is working with Stanford Medical Center to determine whether the Apple Watch can accurately detect abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias. As noted by Jessica Conditt of Engadget, Apple would like for the Apple Watch to be able to detect common – but often undiagnosed — heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation. According to a study done by Cardiogram and the University of California, San Francisco, the Apple Watch already detects the most common type of heart arrhythmia with a 97 percent accuracy rate. With the Apple Heart Study, Apple will manage its own research with Stanford Medical Center.
“In our Initial studies, Apple Watch has been effective at surfacing irregular rhythms,” Williams said. He noted that the Apple Heart Study “will use data from Apple Watch and Continue reading →
One recent Sunday afternoon, the unthinkable happened: I stumbled and fell onstage in front of a large audience. I felt humiliated. Embarrassed. Foolish. But I recovered by owning my mistake with a laugh instead of pretending nothing happened.
For context: on summer weekends, I am part of the cast of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, an outdoor theater near Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a recreation of Bristol, England, on a day in 1574 when Queen Elizabeth came to town. Faire guests pay $25.95 to immerse themselves in a world that recreates the sights, sounds, and smells of a Renaissance-era village. I portray a pompous barrister and guild master Nicolas Wright, who is one of the residents guests meet in the streets. In essence, the Bristol streets are my stage.
One of the day’s highlights is the Queen’s Parade, which occurs shortly before 1:00 p.m. Marching in the parade is an honor that requires the cast to sing, wave, and shout praises to Queen Elizabeth as we walk through the dusty streets in a choreographed procession. I never grow tired of marching in the parade through the front gates and into the crowded streets, where the crowds lining the parade route create an electric feeling with their own cheering and shouting.
On July 16, I was marching alongside my fellow cast mates on Guild Hall Row, a narrow stretch of road flanked by shops and trees. I was prancing and preening as Nicolas Wright always does when I came upon a makeshift hopscotch court formed by flowers in the middle of the parade route. The egotistical Nicolas Wright just had to jump through the hopscotch court, with an exaggerated twist and twirl of his large green-and-black surcoat. Somehow while leaping around on one foot, I caught my foot in my billowy trousers and lost my balance. One moment I was soaring in the air, and the next moment I found myself on the ground, a tangled mass of surcoat, dirt-covered pants and shirt, and stunned ego.
Why did Amazon buy Whole Foods? To beat Walmart in the war for the on-demand grocery shopper.
As announced June 16, Amazon and Whole Foods have agreed that Amazon will acquire Whole Foods Market for $42 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $13.7 billion. Whole Foods will operate under its own name. The acquisition will give Amazon ownership of 460 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom as well as Whole Food’s built-in ecosystems of customers and suppliers.
Amazon’s expansion into brick-and-mortar grocery industry is well known (as is the company’s general encroachment into offline retail.) To date, Amazon’s strategy has been to build and pilot its own stores. So why would Amazon buy a chain of grocery stores rather than develop its own? I believe Walmart is forcing Amazon to accelerate its expansion.
Amazon has been piloting its own models for using physical stores to provide on-demand grocery services, examples being the launch of Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh Pickup. Amazon Go is supposed to provide a completely frictionless buying experience via physical self-service grocery stores where anyone with an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the Amazon Go app can simply take what they want from the store and leave with no check-out required. With AmazonFresh Pickup, customers can order groceries online and have their orders ready for pick-up at designated AmazonFresh Pickup physical locations — in as little as 15 minutes.
Walmart has been making moves of its own, some of which are aimed directly at the grocery-buying experience. In 2015 the company launched Walmart Pay, which shoppers use on their mobile devices to purchase goods in-store. In 2016, Walmart’s began piloting Pickup and Fuel concept stores, where customers order online and then drive to Walmart to have their groceries loaded into their cars by employees. These developments have occurred in context of Walmart developing a stronger way to battle Amazon by developing its own ecommerce business and to gain more efficiency through its offline infrastructure. For instance, in 2016, Walmart purchased hot ecommerce company Jet.com. In 2017, Walmart announced it has been testing a service whereby Walmart employees deliver packages to customers on their way home, which raises the possibility that employees could also deliver groceries.
Both Amazon and Walmart are in a strong position to win the war for the future of Continue reading →
In unveiling the HomePod June 5 at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that the voice-activated speaker will be a music-first experience that combines both the quality of high-fidelity Sonos speaker and the intelligent interface of the Amazon Echo – with a focus on providing users access to the Apple Music catalog. As Apple noted in a press release,
Designed to work with an Apple Music subscription for access to over 40 million songs, HomePod provides deep knowledge of personal music preferences and tastes and helps users discover new music.
At WWDC, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the speaker has “amazing sound and incredible intelligence that will reinvent home music.”
Why the focus on a high-fidelity experience with an emphasis on music? One reason is that Apple wants to be the leading music streaming provider – badly. After disrupting the music industry through iTunes and the iPod, Apple found itself looking behind the times when consumer tastes shifted from downloading songs on iTunes to streaming them on apps such as Spotify. And looking outdated is strange ground for Apple. Apple’s desire to play catch up with streaming was a big reason why the company paid $3 billion for Beats in 2014. Months after buying Beats, Apple launched its own service, Apple Music, in 2015.
The good news for Apple is that within two years, Apple Music has become the Number Two streaming service as measured by paid subscribers. And these are heady times for streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. In 2016, for the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the U.S. music industry’s revenues. As the RIAA noted, the biggest contributor to growth was a doubling of revenues from paid streaming services. But for Apple, there is also some bad news:
Amazon has been rapidly encroaching upon music streaming. It offers a limited service to Amazon Prime customers (Amazon Prime Music) and recently launched a subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited.
Spotify and Amazon are significant competitors with their own strengths and weaknesses:
Spotify enjoys the strong brand affiliation with music, its customer base, and outstanding personalized playlists, but the company is losing money.
Amazon enjoys an advantage with its deep pockets and the popularity of Echo speaker, which provide a natural platform for streaming music. But Amazon Music Unlimited is an upstart (and Amazon Prime Music is a feature of Amazon Prime, not a pure streaming service, per se).
And in addition, Echo is also a platform for playing music through voice commands (“Play the new Lorde song”), something Spotify does not offer. In 2017, according to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, and 71 percent of them will use Echo. (Google Home has the second highest marketshare behind Echo, at 24 percent, but Google does not release user figures for its Google Play streaming service.)
No wonder Amazon offers Amazon Music Unlimited at its lowest price to owners of Amazon Echo speakers: Echo is a Trojan Horse for Amazon’s music streaming product.
But Swiss Army knives, while being useful, are not great at everything. The Echo is not engineered specifically to listen to music. HomePod is. At WWDC, Apple Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Phil Schiller said that HomePod will provide the high quality of a Sonos speakers and the smart interface of the Echo.
“These aren’t smart speakers, Schiller said of Sonos. “They don’t sound so great when you listen to music,” he said of the Echo. But HomePod will sound great and act as a home musicologist, he said.
He indicated that the HomePod will make it possible for consumers to call up music using complex voice searches and then listen to music through a product that provides state-of-the-art sound including spatial awareness, which adjusts the audio depending on where you are sitting in the room.
But the ace in the hole is the integration with Apple Music. As Apple announced,
By saying, “Hey Siri, I like this song,” HomePod and Apple Music become the perfect musicologist, learning preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices. Siri can also handle advanced searches within the music library, so users can ask questions like “Hey Siri, who’s the drummer in this?” or create a shared Up Next queue with everyone in the home. HomePod, Apple Music and Siri deliver the best music experience in the home that streams ad-free directly to HomePod.
HomePod will also provide the same functionality as Echo, providing functions ranging from turning on the lights in your home to providing sports and weather information.
Subscribing to Apple Music because it’s so easy to listen to music with voice commands on HomePod. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple offers an incentive for bundling Apple Music paid subscriptions and HomePod.)
It’s an interesting bet. Consumers have been indifferent to sound quality on mobile devices, not caring enough about sound quality to buy high-end mobile streaming products such as Pono. Meanwhile in the home environment, the growth and popularity of Sonos speakers for years showed that people would pay for premium sound – but then Amazon’s encroachment on Sonos suggest that consumers were willing to sacrifice the fidelity of Sonos for the convenience of Echo. And now Apple believes consumers will do the same with HomePod.
Apple won’t put a dent in Echo’s 71-percent market share anytime soon, but Apple doesn’t need to. Apple is not offering a utility that competes on price as Echo does. Apple is selling a high-end experience first and utility second. Apple Music is central to that experience. Will HomePod be a catalyst for Apple Music to eat into Spotify’s lead?
When an idea comes to you in the middle of the night, do you act on it, or do you yawn, roll over, and return to the arms of Morpheus, even though the original spark of inspiration may dissolve into the recesses of your unconscious mind? When you sit down to create – whether you write blog posts or poems – do you give yourself over to the power of the muse, or do you squeeze in creativity amid a flurry of tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube clips?
If you possess creative hustle, you don’t wait around for the right time to create. You choose to dig into the well of ideas even when doing so means staying up late — even when you’d prefer the comfort of your pillow. You record every idea no matter how silly or rough because any idea can become something great. You choose to push yourself. And you reap the rewards of taking an idea to full fruition because you cared too much to let it remain a rough draft in your head.
Gregg Allman, who passed away May 27, was a creative hustler. Throughout his life, ] with the Allman Brothers and as a solo performer, he wrote or co-wrote some of the landmark songs in the history of rock, such as “Whipping Post,” “Melissa,” and “Midnight Rider.” He wrote and sang of hard living, relationships gone sour, and lawless living in the tradition of the great blues musicians of the Mississippi Delta, but with his own personal style suffused with grit and grace. And his thirst to create was insatiable. In the autobiography My Cross to Bear, he tells the story about how he answered the call of creativity to write one of the Allman Brothers’ signature songs, “Whipping Post,” in the middle of the night while he was staying as a guest in someone’s house. It’s a lengthy passage but worth sharing in its entirety because it says everything about the essence of creative hustling:
So that first night, I laid me down to go to sleep on my attic couch, and I dozed off for a while. All of a sudden, I woke up, because a song had me by the ass. The intro had three sets of three, and two little steps that allowed you to jump back up on the next triad. I thought it was different, and I love different things. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wish the rest of them had come like this – it was all right there in my head, all I had to do was write it down so I wouldn’t forget it by the morning.
I started feeling around for a light switch, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. I was in my sock feet; I just had on my drawers and a T-shirt. I found my way into the kitchen and it was pitch-dark. I had my hands out and I touched an ironing board – thank goodness, instead of tripping over it, which would have made a terrible noise.
I was feeling all around the counters for a piece of paper. I couldn’t find any paper or a pencil anywhere, but I did find a box of kitchen matches. A car happened to go by, and its lights flashed long enough to allow me to see that red, white, and blue box. I knew I could use the matches to write with, because I had diddled around enough with art to know what charcoal would work.
I figured the ironing board cover would work as a pad, so I’d strike a match, blow it out, use the charcoal tip to write with, and then strike another one. I charted out the three triads and the two little steps, and then I went to work on the lyrics:
“I’ve been run down, and I’ve been lied to . . .”
I got it all down on that ironing board cover, in the closest thing to shorthand as I could muster up.
That passage has always convicted me as surely as a Biblical verse. I think of all the times I’ve frittered away ideas because it was just too inconvenient to stop what I was doing and run with them. Too often I manage the creative process like a to-do list, like something I just handle when I can, not when I need to. I marvel at how Gregg Allman describes a song taking hold of him, like a tick that gets into your skin and won’t let go. And he won’t allow the lack of available tools to stop him. He is willing to blow out match after match until he has enough charcoal to capture the moment.
But what if he’d rolled decided to get a good night’s sleep when the urge to create had taken hold? He might have gotten out of bed the next day barely remembering that moment of inspiration. He might have lost “Whipping Post” to the demands of the day. And the song might have become nothing more than a vague memory in Gregg Allman’s head.
Gregg Allman was a servant to creativity. He took the creative gifts bestowed upon him and hustled. Do you?
Consumers often associate a brand with its sensory elements – what we can see and touch. The sensory aspects create emotional connections that form the building blocks of a brand. But a successful brand requires many moving parts to operate in sync, and not all of them are obvious to the customer. My recent experience with Apple illustrates the point.
I live in a house of Apple fans. My wife, daughter, and I all own Apple products because they are user friendly and well designed. We’re also Apple stock holders. But even one of the world’s most valuable brands commits its share of misfires. In 2013, I bought a MacBook Pro that turned out to be a lemon. The unit suffered one malady after another, ranging from a broken track pad to frequent hard drive crashes. Each time I took the unit to the store for repair, the Apple service technicians were responsive and skillful, but the moment they fixed one problem, another would appear like an annoying mole in a Whack-A-Mole game.
Days ago, after the laptop experienced a meltdown, I visited the Apple store in Oakbrook, Illinois, and asked to speak to the manager. I explained that the MacBook was plagued with problems but that I wasn’t quite ready to buy a new one. Was there any kind of accommodation Apple could make even though the MacBook’s warranty had expired?
As it turned out, she could make an accommodation, and she did. After consulting the laptop’s extensive repair record, she replaced it with a new MacBook Pro at no cost. The moment the technician brought out the sealed box containing a silver laptop, my heart sang. When we unboxed the unit, I was so excited I snapped a photo for my Snapchat followers. The technician helped me get everything set up in the store. Problem solved! I went home a happy customer with my faith in Apple products restored.
The emotional appeal of opening up new laptop, feeling the smooth surface, and getting used to the touch of the new keyboard was a sensory experience and a victory for the Apple brand. And yet, many moving parts needed to work in sync for that moment to happen, some that were visible to me, and some that were not. Let’s break it down:
The manager possessed customer empathy. She listened to my problem and apologized for my bad experience. Her empathetic manner set the right tone. Behind the scenes, someone in Apple HR whom I may never meet made a smart hire.
As empathetic as she was, the manager also needed a way to verify my complaint. Sometimes customer unhappiness results from user error or negligence. Fortunately Apple’s technicians have a policy of meticulously recording every service issue behind the scenes. The store manager was able to see for herself the machine’s trouble-ridden service history.
The manager was empowered to replace my laptop at no charge. She did not have to spend the evening checking corporate policies and getting permission. As a result, I didn’t have to wait for hours or days to learn the final verdict. And she was not the first Apple employee I’ve met who has the authority to make judgment calls on the spot. Her ability to do so is a reflection of Apple’s culture.
The replacement product needed to be in stock for the magical moment to happen right then and there – which requires effective logistics management behind the scenes. If you’ve ever heard the “Sorry, the part is not in stock” line as you are on the cusp of making a purchase, you know what a letdown it is when you realize you’re in for a wait. For me, waiting for a resolution was unacceptable. I need my laptop to do my job as a writer and consultant. My laptop is my office.
As I noted, the packaging added to the experience – the equivalent of the attractive design of a new Shinola watch that creates an immediate emotional appeal.
The technician possessed empathy, too. He gave me a tour of the new MacBook, pointing out a few of its features that are different than my old one, and he helped me set up the new unit. In fact, all the Apple technicians I have worked with over the past few years have possessed tremendous empathy.
And many other important elements came into play that evening, which I almost take for granted, such as the ease of scheduling a repair appointment in Apple’s Genius Bar; the attractive, warm layout of the store; the comfortable furniture; and the spacious desks that make it possible for you to hang out while you’re waiting. Being able to comfortably sit and read or chat while you’re at the Genius Bar certainly softens the blow of having to get a repair done.
The layout of the Genius Bar also encourages collaboration between the technician and the customer. It feels like you’re sitting at your dining room table at home when you’re at the Genius Bar. There is no barrier between you and the Apple employee. No desks. No registers. The design creates an approachability that puts you at ease – a little detail that acts as a calming influence when you’re experiencing a service issue.
At the end of a long day, driving to the store to return a broken product is low on the list of things you want to do. But the inviting Apple store environment helps restore your spirits. At the same time, just to make the store welcoming, Apple needs to employ designers and retail specialists behind the scenes. Here again, unseen elements — the employees responsible for the store design and management of the Genius Bar — affect what I experience.
Finally, there is the variable over which Apple has no control: me, the customer. Ultimately the Apple brand comes down to my perceptions. And perception is reality. After getting my new laptop, I had a decision to make: how did I feel about what happened when I got a new laptop? Was I going to take the attitude of “Well, that’s the least they can do,” or was I going to be so happy that I’d blog about my experience? It has been said that your customer owns your brand, but businesses can pull many levers to influence a customer’s brand perception. Apple pulled all the right ones.
Now it’s up to Apple to reinforce trust through the reliable performance of my new laptop.