Posts from mobile

Pixel Slate

My Chromebook journey has led me to the Pixel Slate.

As I wrote here a few months ago, I have wanted to move to a Chromebook for a while and I finally decided to do it.

I started with the Pixelbook, and I have been using it for about three months as my only machine at work. I wrote a bit about what I like about it and what I don’t like about it.

The lack of a biometric login (face or finger recognition) is a real limitation for me with the PixelBook because you have to use your Google login to unlock the device and I’ve got a very strong password on my Google account.

So when the Pixel Slate came out and offered fingerprint login, I bought one. I got it this week and have set it up and started to use it at work.

It’s a really interesting device. I bought it as a Pixelbook replacement as it has a keyboard that turns it into a laptop (sort of). It works a lot like the Microsoft Surface in that regard, although I have never used a Surface so I can’t really compare them.

But the thing that really kind of turned me upside down on the Slate is when I started installing Android apps on it. Once I had the native Gmail, Calendar, and other Android apps on it, the Slate started to feel like a massive phone to me.

So now I am really trying to understand this device and how best to use it.

I am intrigued by the hybrid nature of it, part laptop, part tablet, part phone.

I may very well start taking it with me when I travel, instead of my MacBook Air. 

In any case, I am now in full discovery mode with this device. And very excited to see all that it can do for me.

The one thing that took me some time to figure out is the biometric login. If you login to the device with your work Google login, the fingerprint login may not be available to you (that’s what happened to me).

With the help of my colleague Nick, I figured out that I could install the device with my personal Google login, then add my work Google account to it, and then I was able to use the fingerprint login.

I don’t really understand why Google deprecates the fingerprint login for work accounts as they allow that on the Pixel phone. 

But in any case, I got all of this working and I am now going to see how far this Pixel Slate can go with me. I am pretty optimistic that I am really going to like it.

My Amicus Brief

The Supreme Court is going to start hearing arguments today in a case where consumers are challenging Apple’s distribution monopoly on iPhone apps. These consumers are represented by the attorney generals of 30 states including California, Texas, Florida and New York.

I just heard about this case today and it is too late to file an amicus brief, so I am simply going to share my thoughts on this case here.

1/ Apple argues that consumers cannot bring suit against them as it is the app developers who are the harmed party if there is one at all. I don’t agree with that for two reasons. First, developers pass the increased costs on to the consumer. Second, the developers are not going to attack Apple because they are their only way to get to market.

2/ Apple argues that a decision against them will harm the broader e-commerce market. I don’t agree with that either. If anything, opening up the distribution system for mobile applications would massively increase the e-commerce market which is artificially constrained by Apple and Google’s mobile app store monopolies. I wrote a bit about that earlier this year.

3/ The US Chamber of Commerce did write a brief in support of Apple in which they argued that “The increased risk and cost of litigation will chill innovation, discourage commerce, and hurt developers, retailers and consumers alike.” I cannot disagree with that statement more. Innovation flourishes when there is an open market where no one party can control what can be sold. Apple routinely prevents innovative new apps from being sold in their app stores. A good example of that right now are crypto-based games and other applications that threaten Apple’s 30% take rate on digital goods business model.

Apple and Google have constrained the distribution system for mobile apps in many parts of the world and the result is higher costs for consumers, less choice, and ultimately less innovation. None of this is good for the economy. It is high time for the courts to weigh in here and open up the opportunity for third party app stores to exist on Apple and Google phones. I encourage the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the consumers in this case in hopes that it will lead to that.

Feature Friday: Wireless Charging

One feature of the Pixel 3 that I really like is the return of wireless charging, something earlier Google phones had but went away.

I bought a Pixel Stand and set it up where I charge my phone when I come home.

I just place my phone on the stand and it charges. No cords involved.

You can set up all sorts of cool things like a screensaver of your recent photos and photo albums, Google Assistant so you can ask your phone questions when it is charging, and a display of your upcoming appointments.

I am still playing around with the right choices for me but I think there is a lot of interesting things one can do with this charging stand

I quite like it and just got one for my office too.

Feature Friday: Android Smart Notifications

With the new version of Android comes intelligence around mobile notifications.

If you tend to swipe away notifications from a particular app, Android eventually asks you this:

I told Android to keep showing these project updates to me even though I tend to swipe them. I like to see these but don’t often click on them.

I would say that most of the time, I select “Keep Showing” but some of the time I do choose “Stop Notifications.”

I love the idea of a smart operating system that learns how you want to use it and adapts to that versus forcing you to do the configuration manually and that is where Google is clearly going with Android.

You can really see it in the latest version of the OS.

Video Of The Week: GoTenna Mesh

It’s a long weekend with many of us off the grid.

So what do you do when you are off the grid?

Get a GoTenna to stay connected.

This promotional video explains the power of GoTenna when you and your friends are off the grid.

Disclosure: GoTenna is a USV portfolio company.

The 30% Tax

Apple and Google’s duopoly on mobile operating systems give those two companies incredible power in the market and one of the most obvious places to see that power is the 30% tax they take on transactions that happen in their app stores. For subscriptions the tax is 30% in year one and 15% on the renewal.

Typically transaction fees on payments are 5% or lower with the credit card networks being the obvious comparison at roughly 3%.

But Apple and Google are able to charge 5-10x what a typical payment system charges because of their dominant market position and because the economics of acquiring a customer and renewing that customer in their ecosystem is so strong.

While it is hard to stomach the 30% number, it is the case that many companies have done the work to look at their acquisition and retention numbers in and out of these environments and often it is the case that paying the 30% tax is rational behavior.

So I was interested to see that Netflix is currently testing a bypass strategy. Certainly the biggest brands like Netflix and Spotify have the market power to at least consider this approach.

If the biggest brands can condition users to bypass the app stores maybe we are seeing the beginning of a crack in the armor. It may also be possible for these big brands to bundle subscription offerings and take a piece of the action themselves.

Imagine if Netflix let you subscribe to a bunch of other services via your Netflix account which you pay for directly on the web outside of the app stores. Or imagine if Amazon offered something similar.

The economics of that relationship for a smaller company could be more attractive than the economics of the current Apple and Google channels. And most companies would likely participate in multiple channels, including the app stores, as well as sell direct.

It seems inevitable that subscription bundling is going to happen. It already does via the Apple and Google app stores but that’s a crude version of what I’m thinking is on the horizon.

Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for the apps and the content they value most. The subscription business model is a terrific one that aligns the interests of a company and it’s customers. But managing dozens of subscriptions via multiple payment systems is annoying. And there should be attractive economics for both bundlers and bundled apps.

So while I’m not predicting the end of the 30% tax anytime soon, I do think we will see Apple and Google’s largest competitors build significant bypass user bases and potentially start competing with Apple and Google in the subscription bundling business. There is a lot of money up for grabs and I think at least some of it is available for companies other than Apple and Google.

Feature Friday: Now Playing

I’ve written about this Android feature before. I am a bit obsessed about it.

When you are in a place where music is playing, the Android operating system notifies you what is “now playing.”

I have two things I would love to know how to do with this information.

1/ Access it via an API so I can favorite it in my preferred streaming service (which is SoundCloud but Spotify and Apple Music would be great too).

2/ See the history someplace on the web so I can search it by time, place, artist, song, etc.

This is an example of where taking an app like Shazam or Soundhound and turning it into a feature in the operating system can open up a lot of potential additional functionality.

Hyper Social Not Anti Social

This seems right to me:
“In post-industrial environments where foods are abundant and readily available, our cravings for fat and sugar sculpted by distant evolutionary pressures can easily go into insatiable overdrive and lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (…) the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] can similarly be hijacked to produce a manic theatre of hyper-social monitoring,”

AirPod Android Music Volume Issue

I use Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones when I’m on my desktop and laptop but I prefer the Apple AirPods when I am on my phone. They are small, light, and fit well in my ear.

But I’ve had this nagging issue with the volume on my AirPods when I stream music on my phone (SoundCloud, AppleMusic, YouTube, etc).

The volume from all of those apps is super low when you use AirPods on Android.

I wasn’t walking much in LA, mostly driving with my phone bluetooth’d to my car, and this issue didn’t affect me much.

But since I’ve been back in NYC and walking a lot again, it came back with a vengeance.

So I finally figured out how to fix it, by simply googling and finding this Reddit post.

Here is how you fix it:

1/ Go to the settings app on your Android phone, scroll down to System, scroll down to the bottom and click on “Build Number” seven times. That makes you a developer on Android, always a good thing in my book.

2/ Now when you click on the Settings app, and select System, you will see “Developer Options”

3/ Scroll down to the Networking settings in the Developer Options and turn on “Disable Absolute Volume”

Now you can listen to music and video on your Android with your AirPods at whatever volume you want.

Problem fixed.

I love the Internet and geek stuff like this.

Pixel Buds vs AirPods

When I got my new Pixel 2XL recently, the Google Play Store offered me to add the Pixel Buds to my cart and get them for half price. Normally they are $159 (same price as AirPods).

So I took up Google on the offer and after I set up my Pixel 2XL, I paired my Pixel Buds to my phone and used them as my headphones.

That experiment lasted less than a week and last Wednesday when I was in SF for the day, I stopped by the Apple Store in Union Square and bought a pair of AirPods.

The Pixel Buds are not great and the AirPods are excellent.

Here are five reasons I feel that way:

1/ The AirPods fit in my ear (and from what I heard most ears) without any issue. The Pixel Buds fit weirdly and require the user to use this rope thing to make them fit properly in the ear. I could never get the rope thing to work right. The fact that the AirPods fit in the ear right out of the box without any work is fantastic.

2/ When my phone was paired with the Pixel Buds, it would not also pair with my car or my Bose headphones (which I prefer on planes and such). I don’t have that issue with the AirPods.

3/ I could not figure out how turn the Pixel Buds on and off when they were in my ear. I know that you are supposed to push on the right bud to turn them on and off but I could not make that work, particularly in a rush when I had a phone call coming in. The AirPods are simple. You just put them in your ear and take them out.

4/ The charging case for the Pixel Buds is kind of lame. I could not figure out when the buds were charging and when they were not. The charging case for the AirPods is a thing of beauty and simplicity.

5/ I hate the cord around my neck that the Pixel Buds requires. I love the nothingness feeling of the AirPods.

So, if it is contest, the AirPods win 5-0. It really is no contest. The AirPods are awesome. The Pixel Buds suck.

So I’m using AirPods with my Pixel 2XL and loving it. And I got this tip (from my Google Now Alerts) to use this Android App to mimic the AirPod battery management on the phone. It works great.