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The Blog Of David Marks

Apple WWDC Keynote Observations

Posted on | June 10, 2013 | No Comments

I managed to watch the Apple WWDC keynote today, and wrote up a few first impressions. This is by no means a list of the announcements — consider it my list of observations about what the announcements mean:

  1. Apple is converging the mobile and desktop experiences on an OS and application level.
    1. We’re moving from a world were applications and data are constrained to devices,  to one in which all your devices share the same core applications and your content is semi-seamlessly available. This integration also enhances the stickiness of the overall Apple platform for end users, for better or worse.
      1. Bookmarks shared from Safari OSX to Safari iOS
      2. Share a location from your desktop Apply map to your iPhone
      3. Safari can open the pages being viewed on your desktop
  2. New iOS UX gems refresh iOS “remarkableness.” These features are important to Apple because they fuel buzz and differentiate the iPhone in an increasingly commoditized smartphone landscape.
    1. Parallax is one of those unexpected features that people will want to show their friends as soon as they’ve upgraded to iOS7. It’s not revolutionary, but it is magical in it’s own way and the kind of feature that people will remark about.
    2. Glass-like UI overlays also create a perception of depth in what is otherwise a constrained and two-dimensional display. Apple is really pushing the use of space on the iPhone display to get the most out of it.
    3. Automatic organization of photos. (Color-esque) Mobile users especially don’t want to think about managing the content on their devices, and this feature is both useful and new. It also makes iCloud photo and video sharing more competitive.
  3. New emphasis on social sharing. I felt Apple was starting to nibble at Facebook and other social sites by adding iCloud-focused sharing features, but careful to avoid competitive statements. Apple is starting to position iCloud as a place to share your photo and video stream with friends and family, and has integrated sharing to iCloud through many of the core apps. But don’t fret: Apple still charges users for iCloud storage beyond 5GB, which will crimp adoption of iCloud photo streams for now.
  4. iTunes Radio (streaming). Yup. We knew this was coming. It’s interesting that iTunes Match subscribers get this for free. There is definitely potential for Apple to offer a sort of paid “Apple Prime” package that includes streaming, iCloud storage, Match, and other paid cloud services for a single annual fee.
  5. Flat visual design refresh for iOS. We expected this. This huge refresh brings current app design trends into the core iOS look and feel: video backgrounds, flat design, left/right sweep bars for navigation within an app, focus on vertical scrolling not paging through content, and lots of full-bleed background images. It is clean, usable, and fresh.
  6. iOS and OSX core performance improvements. A few really core OS improvements roll out with the new iOS and OSX releases, mainly focused on reducing battery and memory use:
    1. Memory compression. I’ve wondered about this for years — why not keep some data compressed in RAM instead of chewing it all up for every application that is running (or worse, swapping things to and from disk). I haven’t read the papers on this yet, but it sounds like a potentially big win.
    2. Smarter sleep and background task execution modes. We’re seeing a ground-up rework of operating systems focused on mobile use-cases. The OS now tries to schedule power-hungry tasks all at once, to increase time in low-power sleep modes. Multitasking is now available to all kinds of apps.
  7. Siri incremental improvements and car integration. I’m happy Siri is improving, but I was hoping for an iOS voice API and this still isn’t available. The car integration demonstrates a desire to integrate the iPhone into other devices, though it will be a while before we’re all chatting with our cars using Siri. I expect auto makers will also support Android, since that platform still has greater volume.
  8. Quite a few enterprise-centric features in iOS. Apple is clearly pushing hard in this direction, and has laid the groundwork to grab market share in enterprise IT departments.

Again, take a look at the other coverage for some of the other big announcements like the new hardware and iWork apps.

Insights on great products: How does Pixar turn out such great films?

Posted on | May 22, 2013 | No Comments

I recently attended a great talk on storytelling by three notable Pixar staff: Jim Capobianco, Derek Thompson & Kevin O’Brien at the Chabot Observatory in Oakland. It turned out to be not just entertaining, but a chance to learn a little bit about how Pixar creates such amazing films. It’s one thing to create a single hit, but given Pixar’s track record I wondered how their process worked and what I could learn from them.

 

How do they do it? While I’m sure insiders would have a lot more to add (feel free to comment below), there were a few things that caught my attention during the discussion as applicable to products beyond films.

 

1) Distribute creative problem solving. Directors assign well defined problems to individuals or small teams to be solved. An example “Tell the history of artwork in the credits, and make the film end on an optimistic note.” (Wall-E) “Get the family from the island to the city.” (The Incredibles)

 

I think it’s an effective way to break up the project into smaller pieces that smart people can sink their teeth into. It’s one thing to have an awesome team, and another to fully engage them in creative problem solving. There were a couple of stories about people sweating over how to solve a problem, or waking at night with an idea for a solution. And the results are great — each piece of their films from the intro to the credits shines.

 

2) A shared sense of quality: “That’s the first rule we live by!” I asked a question about how they manage to maintain their very human, story-first focus throughout the film production process. I received an immediate answer — “That’s the first rule we live by!” Telling the story comes first. Films typically require 5+ years to complete, with hundreds of people cycling in and out of the product over time. But everyone knows the keys to success and can make the right choices to keep the quality high for what is most important. If the team doesn’t have a shared concept of what quality means, it’s impossible to create an end product that delivers.

 

3) Elements of Improv-comedy process (Yes… and). I don’t mean that the writing uses improv-comedy, but that each layer of the production team adds their touch to the film, adding to what the previous group created. In the improv comedy world, this is sometimes referred to as “Yes… and” because each person in a skit builds on what the previous person did. The storyboard team adds their touch to the script, the 3D animators add to the storyboards, the effects team adds to the core 3D, etc. In multiple cases, the storyboard team was surprised and impressed with what other teams had added to scenes.  Again, this provides room for creative individuals to add their touch to the production. Another great way to get everyone engaged.

 

4) Patience

I was pretty surprised to hear that films can simmer for years before reaching production, then stay in production for 5+ years. That’s a long time and it would be easy to lose focus. Movies aren’t even announced until they are half way through production in most cases. I wondered a bit if this is to provide some flexibility on premiere date until the film is really coming together.

Like any studio, films get tested in the screening room regularly. But I got the sense that Pixar can make larger changes, later in the process than studios using live actors. It’s hard to call up tom Cruise to ask him to re-shoot a film later in the production process, but Pixar can just redo the scene. Big concepts can get reworked later in the process, and there were stories about whole characters getting edited out of films that were not working. Remember the aliens in Wall-E? No? They got cut!

 


Side note: A friend who spent some time in the film industry pointed out that most films using live actors can’t re-shoot because actors move on to other roles. So no easy way to revise scenes that are not working.

 

I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that happen during production that make the movies work. But getting a glimpse into the process was very interesting, and I picked up a few ideas that I hope to apply in my own projects. And if any of the speakers read this, thanks for sharing your insights!

Ramifications of the ZNGA and FB share declines

Posted on | September 4, 2012 | No Comments

While there has lot written about the share price declines of Facebook and Zynga, I am amazed about how many stories the press is missing in this area. It took the financial press months to write about the impact of FB share declines on the Instagram acquisition, for example. But the patterns of economic cycles in Silicon Valley aren’t that dissimilar.  And there are more angles to be explored and covered by the press.

I was here in the late 90′s working for a startup that sold to a public company (yay!) in 2000 (crash!) and a whole lot of other bad things happened besides the stock price going down.

One of the things I remember was the surprise bankrupting of thousands of otherwise hard working professionals who had exercised their stock options at high stock prices, only to witness their value suddenly decline as the market crashed. To be clear: They didn’t just lose money from their stock, they were ruined because they owed the IRS taxes based on the date they exercised their stock (when it was high), but once the stock price sunk they no longer had the income simply to pay taxes on their equity.

They owed the IRS taxes for millions in gains that they no longer had, and the IRS collected from them aggressively following the stock market decline of 2000 until congress provided a temporary respite in 2008/2009.

Hopefully, this cycle of the valley does not breed another wave of designers, developers, and other professionals who suddenly find themselves flipping from paper millionaires to paper debtors overnight. Hopefully, it hasn’t already happened.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-06-10

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