Casa Apple

While we wait for the Apple Car, here’s another idea for Tim and Jonny to noodle on (you’re welcome fellas); perhaps it might help with the Watch blues

Chez Pring seems to have turned into the Falmouth Apple Store; multiple IPhones, IPads, MacBooks, iMacs, Time Capsules, Beats, Airports, etc. No Watch (hence the frowns in Cupertino), but HealthKit and HomeKit stuff imminent.

The latter got me thinking.

The success of the iPod – which really put the Apple show on the road – was in large part due to the simplification and elegance introduced into an already well-established product category. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player and wasn’t the best, according to audiophiles. It still isn’t … much to the chagrin of Neil Young amongst others!  But it was easy and fun to use, and most importantly, cool.

Fast forward to 2015 and the new product category forming is the Internet of Things. “Smart” products, “connected” products, “The Internet of Everything”, call it what you will, the IoT is becoming hotter and hotter by the moment, according to my 1954 Omega Seamaster (see why I don’t want an Apple Watch guys?!). 

But just as with MP3 players in 2000 - the year before the iPod was released - current IoT products are complex, difficult, typically not very attractive (the Nest is the least ugly), not that easy or fun to use, leave quite a bit to be desired in functionality, and have – based on my anecdotal observations amongst folks who have deployed them – pretty high abandonment rates once the initial charm has worn off. And outside of nerd circles nothing about the “smart home” is yet cool.

In short, the home related IoT category is primed for an Apple-esque moment.

So, here’s the idea; joint venture with a high-end, volume house builder(s), and build Apple houses. The house would come pre-loaded with a HomeKit operating system, every available smart device pre-integrated – for doors, lighting, heating, cooling, security, A/V entertainment, garden maintenance, etc.  - the windows and walls would be Gorilla Glass to allow them to be giant screens (or see through); customers could choose how much pre-configured interior design they wanted – the full Apple look (wood textures, finishes, colors from an Apple Store or the new HQ etc.) or just touches of the Jonny Ive, Angela Ahrendts, Marc Newson, Norman Foster vibe.

The house could be designed so that Toll Brothers – or whoever the builder is – could create an “evergreen” approach, i.e. screens and devices could be swapped out easily when technology upgrades are released. A smart home would go from the being the preserve of the very geeky or very rich (but massively insecure) show-off to the mass-affluent keeping-ahead-of-the-Jones mass market. Ker-ching! 1st Trillion Dollar Revenue Club Member… boom!

Apple could open up the “Home Store” to other technology providers; solar panel producers could build for the HomeKit operating system to make deployment easy. Ambient HVAC providers could provide pre-configured solutions.

Apple could begin to analyze data coming from houses (where owners chose to opt-in) to make recommendations on financial optimization; “by lowering the temperature 2 degrees in these three rooms (which are only used 13% of the time) you could save $750 in the next year” Siri might tell you. Micro-localized recommendations could be made; “we’re not watering the lawn at Number 35 tonight because of the forecast storm – shall we do the same for you?”

Aggregated data from more and more homes will begin to generate new insights which could be monetized in a number of ways; the local refuse department could be very well interested in the fact that neighborhood X re-cycles 15% more than neighborhood Y – optimizing collection routes might be one simple outcome of data like this.    

As Apple Homes move beyond their initial luxury price point the “Code Halos” around larger and larger volumes of houses might begin to uncover all sorts of patterns that could be useful to multiple stake holders and thus monetized in many, many different ways. Maybe Apple will simply sell this data; maybe they’ll move into adjacent, associated markets … Apple House Insurance as one example.

In case you’re thinking this is a completely nutty idea, don’t forget that big (non-house building) corporations have been in the home building business before. Joseph Rowntree  (of UK chocolate fame), the American in London George Peabody, Edward Guinness, Henry Ford (Greenfield Village), and many others, have built houses, typically for their employees to live in. Here at Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work we’ve speculated on a new approach to big corporations building large scale housing for their 21st century employees before.

An Apple House would be an incremental step to build homes not simply for employees but for customers. Given the deep rooted love so many people have for Apple products and services and the whole Apple sensibility (hence Casa Apple, after Casa Armani ) I would hazard a guess that there’s a very deep and broad seem of new opportunity for Apple to mine here.

So, Jonny, Tim, if your social listening folks forward this onto you please do let me know if you’d like to chat about this more; and if you need a volunteer to slum it for a while in v1.0, keep me posted. 

Are Tablets Becoming The New Office PC?

With flexibility and mobility becoming key trends in the workplace of the future, a new report suggests that rather than laptops replacing traditional office PCs, we could actually see the new work tool of choice jumping straight to tablets.

As recently reported, the latest research conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC) found that tablets are beginning to surpass laptops and PCs in some workplaces. But, the article questions, are they capable of performing all the tasks required by a modern office?

According to the study, throughout some countries in Europe - including the UK, France and Germany - tablets have become the standalone business device for 40% of users; and while most still use another device for business purposes, the proportion relying solely on their tablets is rising.

Of course, the ability to use only a tablet for work depends on the person's work responsibilities and what tasks need to be carried out. Employees who work on the field or in customer-facing roles may only need a tablet, while editing work ideally needs to be conducted on a laptop or PC.

However, to resolve this changing work pattern a new solution could be emerging to fill the gap: hybrid devices. Hybrid tablets - those that can be used as a tablet or connected to a keyboard - mean that workers can stay constantly connected and equipped to perform tasks as well as with a laptop.

It's likely that as workers demand even more convenience, mobility and flexibility, tech companies and device manufacturers will come up with innovative new ways to help tablets meet the needs of both office workers and those who are on the go. We can also expect to see more companies ditching the PCs in favour of portable devices.

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Is On-Demand Economy The Future of Work?

The rise of on-demand companies such as Uber, Lyft , Instacart , AirBnB – to name a few, no doubt, is bridging the gap between demand and supply, creating customer’s delight  and disrupting the incumbents with new technology applications but at the same time making a huge dent on the world of work and employment.

Every time, there is a discussion or debate on jobs automation and Robots replacing our jobs, the one argument that optimists provide is – Not to worry - we will have plenty of jobs supported by the on-demand aka ‘Gig’ economy.  I really find this argument a bit unsettling. I don’t think this gig economy is for everybody. Everybody may not be comfortable lending their garage or home to a stranger through Airbnb or using their car to drive strangers from point A to point B and secondly, these are not well paying jobs. If you have young kids and you are in your mid 30s – now starting to worry about saving for retirement and kid’s education, you know the money earned from such ‘gigs ‘won’t take you much far.

But the success of Uber like platforms proves that it works for some or most people. So, I started thinking on some of the merits and ills of the on-demand economy – is it really worth the hype? Will this on-demand economy convert into something big to accommodate more workers and create shared wealth? I outlined some of my thoughts here but would love to hear from you on what you think.

         i. Worker flexibility: Work anytime, any day, part-time, full-time. Infact, many people like the flexibility so that they can do multiple jobs.  But this flexibility can become an inconvenience to the company at times. The contractor may not be available/may not want to work when the company needs them.

       ii. Operational agility:The platform companies, most of the times, bear no operational costs / over-heads which is advantageous for the firms as it creates healthy profits, but since the company bears no responsibility of operations, all the costs are borne by the contractors/ workers ( to abide by the guidelines). E.g. Uber drivers have to spend on their own to keep their cars clean, upgrade their vehicles, and get required inspections.

      iii. Business Model: It’s a lucrative business model for start-ups – creating new technology applications or licensing the IP and thus a low entry barrier if one wants to start a services company but not equally true for workers. One cannot make a great living out of being solely an on-demand economy worker. Infact, according to the recent study conducted by Stanford University graduate students and a Y Combinator alumnus on the on-demand economy workers, the average hourly wage is $18 an hour, with Ride-sharing drivers and Airbnb hosts making the most at $25 an hour.

     iv. Customer Experience: Of course, ride sharing and renting an apartment has economical advantages for the customers, but this could lead to safety, security and privacy issues. Though the companies make every effort to do thorough due diligence of its participants but in the absence of updated regulations, policies and active monitoring, the system could be subject to abuse. The absence of employer-employee relationship and brand loyalty could contribute to its vulnerability. However, companies have started realizing the importance of this key relationship, training, quality and active supervision and have started reclassifying some of their contractors as employees. The latest examples being Instacart and Shyp.

       v. Growth: Working as a freelance / contractor will not provide skills and talent based brand differentiation to the companies. A worker can work for Uber the first half and Lyft the second half of the day. In the short run this is not an issue, but in the long run, companies will lose out on worker’s creativity, on-the job learning, quality of work, translating customer’s voice and finally lack of skills up-gradation for the next growth phase for its own existence.

The fact is the on-demand economy and its jobs are not going away. In-fact these are going to become more prevalent and co-exist – may be - as a third category of jobs and workers. So, the fundamental questions we all need to address are - Would this on-demand economy provide adequate safety net for its workers? Would it motivate our kids to earn higher education and upgrade their skills? Would it inspire us to create something extraordinary? Would it provide a sense of purpose as a member of society? Would it create shared prosperity and wealth in the society or would it increase the already huge divide between Haves and Have-nots? Would it provide enough jobs in the Robotic world, since now we have started talking about Uber driverless cars as well.

We all need to think and make sure that the next era of economy and work, works for everyone for collective good of society and our nation.