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Saturday, July 4, 2015

#124: The Whole Cycle Starts Again


Matt talks his first extended vacation with a baby, Jurassic World, The New York Mets, Apple Music, and another thing that the Apple Watch needs to do.


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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Could Andrew Wiggins Have Been The Cleveland Cavaliers Version of Andre Iguodala?

What Could Have Been?
On this the morning of NBA Draft Day 2015, I look back to a year ago.

Last year, Andrew Wiggins was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick.  It was the second year in a row and third-time-in-four years that the Cavs held that pretty astounding distinction.

There were few who had any issue with Wiggins going number one.  The raw athletic ability at the wing position, coupled with a tenacious defense-first mentality, had plenty of NBA executives salivating, regardless of of whether or not he lived up to a ridiculous level of expectations in his one year at Kansas.

While Wiggins was in fact picked by the Cavaliers, and even did a rookie photo shoot in the wine-and-gold (pictured above), there was much in the works at the time.

LeBron James was a free-agent who after four years in sunny South Beach was reportedly looking at coming back home to Cleveland, to live in his unbelievable Bath Township mansion and bring his local team back to championship contention, after spurning them four years earlier.

By putting the return in motion, he could have his cake and eat it too.  Going to Miami made him a villain, particularly to the folks back home.  There has never been a bonfire so big created by one player's jersey.  To Cleveland Cavaliers fans, he cheated on them with the prettier, more hip woman and lived well doing it.  Four finals appearances, two championship, and a chance to play the rest of his career without any real "he's not a winner" criticism.  He came back to Cleveland, brought all the lessons he learned in his "college" experience in Miami, and wiped the slate clean with the last group who truly hated him.   The Brondigal Son Returned.

As you would expect from someone who has become a global monolith, LeBron has the utmost belief in all of his talents. One place where he has been deficient, however, is as a general manager.  He's not a general manager, you say.  Well, yes and no.  When you carry as much weight as he does to a team on the court and an organization off of it, your word can basically be the final one.  He's too important to your fortunes to not let him tell you where to direct the spoils.

It was in the maelstrom of his return announcement that it became evidently clear GM LeBron wanted Minnesota Timberwolve Kevin Love.  James crafted his "Coming Home" letter with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins mentioning almost everyone on the team except Andrew Wiggins.  The reason no trade happened immediately had to do with NBA rules on how quickly you can trade a just-drafted player.  The three-team blockbuster ultimately happened, with the principals of Love coming to Cleveland for Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.  Bennett was the Cavalier's first-round pick from 2013.  (Brutal first round pick, but look at the 2013 NBA Draft class and convince me that it doesn't look like one of the biggest duds in history...)

I was totally on-board with the Cavaliers getting Love.  With the hyper-talented combo guard Kyrie Irving already in the fold and re-signed longterm, LeBron had put together his Big Three Part Deux. In his six season with the T-Wolves, Love - YES I KNOW HE DIDN'T MAKE IT TO THE PLAYOFFS ONCE, EVEN JUST ONE MEASLY-SNEAK-INTO-THE-8TH-SEED TIME - put up huge numbers, and displayed a preternatural talent for rebounding and outlet passing.  He could score in a plethora of ways, and had become a proficient three-point shooter, something that would match up well with LeBron's propensity to slash-and-kick to open shooters. And, he was still only 25 years old.

There was a group of people who said that Cleveland didn't need to make this trade.  Bill Simmons was prominently one of them.  Simmons noted that you could still trade for Love before the trade deadline.  The same deal would probably still be there.

If you waited and started your season with Wiggins, you could see the way he meshed with and learned under LeBron, and what glimpses of greatness that he could yet grow into,  LeBron would already carry you very far on his own, so why not see what kind of upside you had.

It is my contention that LeBron's best Robin is a player not unlike himself.  A Pippen to his Jordan.  From what we saw in the Finals, an Andre Iguodala type.  A player who can provide a worthy facsimile of your offensive output when you're on the bench, and can be your perfect complement when you're on the court together.  An athletic wing, willing to run and defend.  A super "3-D"!

Flash forward a year.  Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year and showed more than a glimpse of how great he can be.  Love, meanwhile, struggled to assimilate, said in an interview that a player on another team should be the MVP, missed the final three rounds of the Playoffs with a separated shoulder, opted out of next year's contract, and has apparently come across so badly in his year with the Cavs that LeBron does not even plan to recruit him back.

Of course, who knows if everything happens as it did if Wiggins breaks camp with the Cavs.  A large part of their success came after big trades that netted them three-fifths of their eventual starting five.  Also, did Love's injury rob him of the opportunity to have Playoff moments that would bring him closer to the team and make him feel good about his place on it.  We will never know.

It would have been great to see Wiggins with an engaged LeBron.  With how much LeBron seemed to ultimately relish the role as Papa Bron, can you imagine what he could have done with the raw talent of Wiggins.

Back to Iguodala.

It hit me that Iggy is perhaps the worst-case (and frankly, not a bad best-case) scenario of Wiggins' potential.  Wiggins is 6'8", 199 lbs; Iguodala is 6'6", 215 pounds.  They are both great defenders and capable of hitting a three.  They are uber-athletes who can slash and score, especially in transition.

In his rookie year, Wiggins:

- Played all 82 games, averaging 36.2 minutes per game

- Had per games of 16.9 Points, 4.6 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists, 1.0 Steals, 0.6 Blocks, 2.2 Turnovers, shot 44% from the field, 76% from the line, and 31% from three,

In his first six seasons as a main starting player for the 76ers, Iguodala:

- Played 81 games per season, averaging 38.2 minutes per game

- Had per games of 15.9 Points, 5.8 Rebounds, 4.6 Assists, 1.8 Steals, 0.5 Blocks, 2.5 Turnovers, shot 46% from the field, 75% from the line, and 32% from three,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Streaming Music Trial Puts Apple in a Pickle


On June 30th Apple is set to unveil its streaming music service, Apple Music.  The service will initially be available to Apple users. In terms of what the service is, think Spotify: 30 million songs available on-demand for $10/month. There are some ancillary features, like curated playlists and a 24/7 radio station, but the crux of the service is the availability of all of those songs, albums, and artists at the tip - or tap - of your fingers, fully embedded into iOS.

Unlike Spotify (or a handful of other dedicated competitors), Apple does not rely on the service for its livelihood.  Streaming music is just another alluring addition to its prominent ecosystem.  That said, it is jumping into a market that if all goes well it could actually dominate in short order.

Spotify recently announced that it now has 20 million paid users and 75 million users overall.

Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts, with credit cards on file.

With as hard as Spotify has pushed to become the putative leader in the field, its overall user-base is less than 10% of all of those iTunes accounts.  There is no doubt that many of those iTunes account are not necessarily actively managed accounts purchasing digital media on a regular basis.  But, they are there and on file.

To kick things off in a big way, Apple Music will launch with a three-month free trial.  Imagine if even 25% of iTunes users opt-in to the trial, which will undoubtedly be prominently displayed on iPhones and iPads.  That would be 200 million accounts.  In one fail swoop, it dwarfs the Spotify user-base.

The three-month trial is smart for two reasons:
  1. It marks a very lengthy period to become acclimated to the service, hopefully - for Apple - making it indispensable.  By the time the trial periods nears its end, fall will be here!
  2. For a trial that lasts a quarter of the year, how many people will forget about the auto-renewal?  Just those initial "nudged-in" users could fill up the coffers meaningfully.
Which brings me to the crisis du jour.

Apple will ultimately disburse royalties to the music industry to the tune of 71.5% of money made from the service.  This is better than the industry-standard 70%.  However, it came out - through the very loud Tumblr bullhorn of Taylor Swift - that royalties would not be paid-out during the trial period.  Consternation abounded.  This caused Apple to alter course and announce that they now will pay out royalties during the trial period.  

Taylor, we heard you loud and clear.

I'm not certain where to stand on the issue.  Of course artists need to be paid for their work.  But, Apple may end up being a savior again to the industry, bringing its considerable user-base to bear on a streaming market that has not exactly made money for anybody.  Is it not too much to ask artists to go along for three months?  It's not like Apple is making money yet either.  

Let's say they even pay out half of their ultimate royalty percentage during the trial.  That would be about 36%.  What if a wildly successful trial brings in 500M users.  These users would be paying $10/month when the trial period ends, with $7.15 of that going out to the artists and labels.  With the presumed trial percentage, the cost going out would be about $3.60.  

At 500M users, Apple would pay out $1.8B (as in BILLION) per month.  We know how much Apple makes per quarter, and how much money they have in their bank account, wherever that resides.  But $5.4B out - with nothing coming in - seems extortionate.  

Apple is reportedly looking at 100M paying subscribers.  With that potential on the horizon, Apple would still pay out over $1B over the three-month trial (again, if 36% is the trial royalty percentage). And that is if the ceiling is 100M during the trial.  Based on Spotify's paid/free user breakdown, Apple's trial could see 375M signups.
  
Music industry folks think that not being paid during the trial would especially hurt artists who are releasing albums during the window.  But, once the three months are done, you lose access to those albums unless you start paying.  It would be a time-shifted inconvenience.  If users really love the albums, they will pay to keep the subscription going.  Otherwise, they don't have access anymore.

It is one of those arguments where the winner and loser are not evidently clear.


Related 


#122: Caseen Gaines



Caseen Gaines is an author, director, educator, and popular culture historian. His third book, We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy, hits the streets Tuesday, June 23rd and was published in 2015 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the popular film franchise through Plume (Penguin Random House).

We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Check out this episode!



Sunday, June 21, 2015

#123: Dan Morris



Dan Morris, who works at MTV Networks, joins Matt to talk about all of the interesting things announced at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC).  The two also discuss their shared experiences as Apple Watch early adopters.

Check out this episode!

Photo Credit: The Verge

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Apple Watch - Day 1 Thoughts

My new Apple Watch was delivered yesterday, June 8th.  The exciting development was that it ended up shipping almost a month earlier than estimated.


Full disclosure: when the device was announced in September 2014, I was dubious as to its necessity. With all of the devices we own, from computers, to laptops, to tablets, to smartphones, how would - how could - a watch fit into the fold?  Add this to the fact that most people who came of age in the computer era have never worn watches.  When you want the time, it is rendered to you upon a quick smartphone swipe.

But this is supposed to be the dawn of the wearables era, the IoT (Internet of Things) epoch where every part of our lives are hooked to the internet and collaborate algorithmically to make our lives better, efficient, and more fulfilling.

With the initial failure of Google Glass and a wearable that sits directly in your visual field, the watch and the wrist have become the main battleground.

As a technology early adapter, I grew more and more compelled to jump in at Apple Watch 1.0.  I knew the downsides, and knew that if I waited for 2.0 I would probably be much happier with the resultant product.  Then I thought about the fact that my birthday is in July, and that it is always so difficult to answer the question "what do you want for your birthday?"  The Apple Watch made a lot of sense.

As with any 1.0 release of a product - especially one that is predicated on outside innovators developing atop its platform - the user-experience can feel barren.  There were a handful of outside applications at launch, but the majority of the experience on the Apple Watch is directed by Apple's own development of core applications.  Anybody with experience in Apple products can attest to the fact that once said products get rolling and iterating, Apple's own applications are usually relegated to a hidden folder.  This is not to say Apple is terrible at developing applications.  They are not.  But Apple has to make lots of diversified applications while also setting the rules of the platform and tending to their walled garden.

Outsider developers can focus on and improve one thing - say notes, word processing, music, photography, etc. - and have their bottom lines affixed to the success or failure of that single thing.  On top of that, there are thousands of other outside developers trying to gain market share at the same things.  This competition and continuous innovation breeds features that perfect these applications.  Apple simply cannot and should not compete at this level.  But, until all of the outside developers rush the platform, Apple apps are the only game in town.  And this forces you to test the experience without the full promise of what it will become.

I purchased the 42MM Apple Watch with black sports band.  The watch is heavier and thicker than I thought it would be.  When I look at the watch from the side it almost reminds me of an early generation iPod in an arm band.  This can be particularly noticeable when you are used to the thinness of the newer iPhones and iPads.

Again, I have not been a watch wearer of any kind for 20 years, so the size might be normal for a watch.  It should also be noted that the Digital Crown - a major feature of the device - basically matches the thickness (pictured above), so that is perhaps part of the reason for the thickness.  That said, for a modern Apple product, it certainly "sticks out."

I had looked forward to this as an activity tracker, particularly as it relates to vigorous exercise.  Before the Apple Watch, I used a Fitbit Charge.  The Fitbit is very subtle, small, and almost unnoticeable.  It tracked your daily steps, stairs, and sleep automatically, and had Caller ID (via BlueTooth).  Going from that to this - again, on Day 1 -   made the Apple Watch feel very noticeable.  It could purely be due to the fact that I was primed by the Charge.  As the days go on, I am sure I will acclimate to the Apple Watch's size.

With the Charge, though, I never took it off except to shower or to charge it (once every 7-10 days).  Nit-picky, but there are a few hours each morning where I play with my 7-month old son before work (and before showering).  This always includes walking him before his morning nap.  This walk can add up to hundreds of steps.  With the Apple Watch - which needs to charge off-wrist every night and, again, doesn't track sleep -  I am losing out on the tracking of those baby pre-nap steps.  Sure, I could put the Apple Watch on in that period of time, but it just feels kind of weird to do so when I'm in my pajamas and trying to avoid baby burp shrapnel, and will still need to shower.

As it relates to the vigorous exercise, like running, it feels big.  But as a comparison, I looked at other dedicated running watches (like the Garmin Forerunner) and those appear to be just as big.  This could be just another thing to acclimate to after a few days.  I'm sure Apple wouldn't create a watch with activity tracking being a major feature and have it be markedly bigger than the dedicated competitors.

Last thing on exercise.  I really like to play basketball, and for the past few years I have played every Monday night in a town recreational league.  Having a new baby this year kept me from playing even once, but I plan to hit the hardwood again next year.  With my various Fitbits, tracking has never been an issue.  With the Apple Watch, there is no way I can see using it when I play.  And that to me is a major flaw.  Some long (and winning) evenings on the court have yielded upwards of 6 miles-worth of steps!  That would be some major activity tracking left on the floor.  Why?  You can't wear a watch playing basketball: 1) if fouled across the arms, the watch could be hit and potentially damaged in a hard foul and that would suck for such a costly investment; 2) the watch could hurt competitors if you whip your arms around in the normal proceedings.  So you either have to carry around another tracker for basketball or other contact sports (and sleeping if that is important to you), risk damaging the watch or competitors by wearing it, or not track that major bit of expended activity.

I was so focused on getting the 42MM version because it seemed to be the "masculine" Apple Watch.  I am now wondering if the 38MM is the better option for these activity-tracking concerns.  Could you play basketball with that one? Does the 38MM feel markedly smaller than the 42MM, or is it just a perceived incremental difference?  Worth more exploration.

The watch will get better in future software and hardware iterations.  And, most importantly, if developers see consumers buying them in large numbers, those developers will dedicate the resources and mind-share to innovating on the platform.  News, email, notes, and messaging are all in the watch right now, but they just don't feel like the right mix of applications for the platform.  Someone will come up with the epiphany use-case and others will build on top of that and come up with their own "a-has."  Then it will be a virtuous cycle.

In many years, we may look back and laugh at the silliness that was a "smart-watch."  But, we also could look back and laugh at a "time" when people didn't wear watches.