How To Speak Bloomberg, Part Deux

Last week we told you how to decode Bloomberg-ese – specifically how to recognize the difference between “writing something on behalf of one of my analyst friends who wishes this were true” and “just making shit up”.

This week one of the Bloomberg typists wrote a breathless piece about new iPads being released in October, including this telltale phrase:

Apple Inc. will unveil the next generation of iPad tablets around mid-October, a person with knowledge of the plans said …

You do the math.

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Follow The Money – Apple Pay

Unless you have worked in retail or slogged in the trenches of a bank, you probably aren’t familiar with “swipe fees”. In a nutshell, every time you pay for something with a credit card the issuing bank takes a small cut of the total purchase price off the top … generally about two percent. Walk into a store, pay 10 dollars cash for an item, and the retailer puts ten bucks in the till. Pay for the same item with a credit card, and the retailer gets $9.80 … the other 20 cents is skimmed off the top and goes directly into the Giant Profit Buckets of the bank.

Actual Security Footage From An Average North American BankTwo percent might not seem like a lot … until you realize that there are $12 billion dollars in retail credit card transactions every day in the U.S. alone. If you aren’t up for the math, that’s $240 million bucks every single day. It’s not exactly chump change and one of the reasons you see so many commercials from the assorted credit card companies and issuers urging you to use your credit card for everything from groceries to junk food at the ball park.

Now then. Unless you just crawled out from under a rock somewhere, you are probably aware that financial institutions in general and banks in particular love money. Getting them to part with even a tiny bit of it is like trying to separate a six year-old from a chocolate bar. And yet, incredibly, Apple has somehow persuaded them to give up a cut of these fees as a part of the Apple Pay business model … without raising the fees at the retail end.

How? Who knows. It boggles the mind to far, far beyond the point of comprehension. Steve Jobs was rightly known as a legendary negotiator, but Tim Cook must be a whole new level of badass in the boardroom. If anyone ever writes a book about this particular business deal, I am the first in like to buy it.

Wow.

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Apple Pay – First Takeaway

The biggest deal here is the security. The combination of encrypted storage and the “Secure Enclave” means that your credit card number is never stored anywhere that is accessible by, well, anyone … including you. When you pay for something the cashier doesn’t get to see your name, credit card number, or security code. The store does not have (or have a chance to lose, cough cough Target cough) your information. And if you lose your phone you can just turn off the payments system remotely – you don’t need to go through the rigmarole of cancelling your credit cards, because they were never lost.

Forget the convenience factor – the security is the real selling point.

UPDATE: The publication of the Home Depot security breach could not have come on a better day for Apple. At literally the same time that Tim Cook was standing on stage explaining that a key pillar of Apple Pay was that retailers will not get to see, handle, store, or process your credit card number, a major brick-and-mortar chain was admitting to why those selfsame retailers can’t be trusted with that information.

Two points that really stand out here: One, reading between the lines it appears that major banks have now infiltrated the skeezy underworld of fraudulent credit cards … they obviously have staff who are in deep enough that they can buy up enough stolen numbers to do a decent level of analysis on the product. And two, mainstream media outlets are finally starting to give Brian Krebs the credit he deserves when reporting this stuff. In the past you would see traditional publications report on incidents that were broken by Krebs without ever crediting him as the reason they started working on the story in the first place. Better late than never, I guess.

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Apple Watch: First Thought

The money in aftermarket straps and accessories is going to be Fucking Huge. Capital F, capital H.

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The Big “iPhone 6 / iOS 8 / Some Sort Of Wearable” Event

Finally! After much speculation, lots of rambling, and a fair amount of random dreck, we are going to find out just what the heck is in that Big White Box. But it’s nowhere near as much fun without semi-crazy, mostly unfounded, and half-baked predictions … so with not much else to do in the next sixty minutes, let’s take a shot!

The Thing: iPhone 6
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: It’s not much of a secret at all that the newest member of the iPhone family will come in two fresh sizes … specifically, Too Big and Way Too Big. Sigh. Honestly, I think this is a terrible idea. The existing 4″ screen is pretty much the perfect size for a pocket computer. Period. Large enough to easily see and read, small enough to fit in your pocket, and packing the perfect dimensions for one-handed use. The iPhone 6 will be available in a 4.7 inch size – which doesn’t really add anything, and makes it a bitch to try and use one-handed – and a 5.5 inch size which is just idiotic. The existing (and perfectly sized) iPhone 5s and 5c will hang around as the low-priced and free-with-contract models respectively, but that is cold comfort.

Beyond the unusable size, the new phones will offer Apple’s first foray into NFC connectivity – something they have avoided until now because the old antenna technology attached to NFC made for annoyingly thick handsets, and because there was nothing useful to actually do with NFC until, well, today. They will also have startlingly large batteries packed into their stupidly large cases, meaning that they will have gratifyingly long battery life if you can actually bear to carry one of these things around.

The Thing: iOS 8
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: I’ve been using iOS 8 for a few months now, and it is everything that you could hope for in an incremental OS release. It strengthens the connections between the various parts of the Apple ecosystem, makes your workflow from one device to the next essentially seamless, and simplifies the way you setup and deal with basic mobile computing functions. Look for it to hit the update queue of your device within 48 hours.

The Thing: OSX Yosemite
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: The next version of OSX brings some serious workflow love to your desktop or laptop Mac. It’s a strong build on the direction that was taken with Mavericks, and the ability to slide into a “one experience, one workflow, any device” mindset is nicely realized. It’s also fast – surprisingly so, considering how much new shit is going on under the hood. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far. However, there are a couple of catches here. Caveat one, this will not be released today. We will see it, but unless you are a developer, you probably won’t be getting your mitts on it for another month. Caveat two, if you are still using a machine that is 4 or 5 years old, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy a lot of the OSX/iOS integration … your box just doesn’t have the hardware to make it go.

The Thing: A Giant iPad Of Doom
Gonna See It Today: Nope
The Lowdown: This is just stupid. Next.

The Thing: Something To Do With Beats
Gonna See It Today: Probably
The Lowdown: The Beats acquisition is still a bit odd. Beats is not a brand that fits into Apple’s product gestalt … while Apple traditionally offers super-premium products for a premium price, Beats has slightly-above-average products at a super-premium price. Every item in the Beats catalog has a competitor that is noticeably better for the same price, and a another competitor that offers a seriously better product for a little bit more. Contrast this to traditional Apple gear where every item is indisputably the best you can get for that price, and equivalent stuff from other companies always costs more. That is a disconnect, and a big one.

But … Beats also came with Jimmy Iovine, and I think that is where the real value and future is. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Apple is getting into either music publishing or artist-direct distribution, helping to push the music labels farther into oblivion and giving more control and more revenue from music sales directly to the artists.

The Thing: New Macintosh Models
Gonna See It Today: Nope
The Lowdown: See you in October.

The Thing: Some Sort Of Digital Payment System
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: No idea, really. This gets into the realm of the banks and the credit card providers and who knows what else and I’m over my head here. Suffice to say that Apple will browbeat the financial institutions into providing the service to end users at cost, that there will be some sort of security component tied to both TouchID and two-factor authentication (last week’s celebrity selfie fiasco proved that you can’t trust users to use basic common sense or pay attention to warning messages when it comes to data security), and that it will provide and actual reason to put NFC technology into the new generation of Apple’s mobile devices. Beyond that, I’m in the dark. I think everyone is.

The Thing: The “Wearable”
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: What to call this? The iWatch? A smartwatch? A wearable? Until we know more, I’m going to stick with wearable. As to what it will be, and what it will do, the shrouds of secrecy are heavy on this one. I wrote earlier today about the existing players in this game, and how they stack up to what Apple might do, and I don’t think that there is much more to go on right now.

However, there are three points worth thinking about. One, in addition to the usual cadre from the tech press, Apple send out invitations for today’s event to a gaggle of style and fashion writers. You would assume that wouldn’t be the case if the new wearable/whatever is dog-barf ugly like the Galaxy Gear and its ilk. Two, Tim Cook has talked in the past about the need for a wearable to be something you have on all the time. But something you wear when you are working out is usually something that you would give a pass to when dressing for the office, or a night on the town. Can one device bridge this divide? Or will there be a family of devices, some for Extreme Sportball Action, some for day-to-day dress, and all of them sharing info in one virtual device? And three, Marc Newsome has joined the Apple design team … you may remember the props given to him in These Very Pages for the awesome Heineken “Sub”. Newsome made his name with timepiece design, and his calling card is understated elegance combined with no-nonsense industrial edge. Are his hands all over whatever the hell this wearable thing is going to be?

The Thing: Induction Power For Mobile Devices From Your Skin
Gonna See It Today: Maybe?
The Lowdown: I have no idea how this could even work. I’d call the chances of seeing this Extremely Low. But the buzz is out there, so it’s worth at least mentioning.

The Thing: U2
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: Just because.

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iWhat?

So. Apple is going to add a wearable device to their iOS family today. But Tim Cook’s vow to “double down on secrecy” was more that just boastful talk, and no one seems to have even the faintest idea of what the thing is going to be, do, or look like. So the absence of any real data, let’s take a look at what the competition (and in 66% of these examples, the word “competition” is being used incredibly loosely) is doing and how that might relate to what we see in a couple of hours.

Samsung Galaxy GearExhibit 1: Galaxy Gear

Look. If you were to make a laundry list of all the things a wearable/smartwatch shouldn’t be, the Gear would probably rack up a perfect score. To wit:

  • It probably shouldn’t be useless without being connected to a second device at all times.
  • If it is connected to a second device, it should do more than just parrot that device’s functionality.
  • If it does parrot the functions of a second device, it shouldn’t make those functions more difficult to perform.
  • It shouldn’t be fucking ugly.

And, running down the scorecard we see … wow. Four for four.  Great in baseball … got so much in consumer devices.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Samsung has released 6 different models in the last 3 months and all of them have quickly gone from retailing for over 200 bucks being given away free with the purchase of another device or service.  Oops.

And did I mention that it’s fucking ugly?

Motorola 270, er, 360Exhibit 2: Moto 360

This is a much better effort. If nothing else, it’s a nicely understated design – something you wouldn’t actually feel like a glasshole for wearing in public. Sadly, it fails on a couple of key points. One, its fairly huge. It looks like a nice watch until you actually put it on your wrist … and then, unless you are the local neighbourhood barbarian, it looks like a Giant Tech Bangle. Er, fail.

Worse, the batteries need to be charged up at least twice a day, something that is an unpardonable sin for a wearable. Wearables have to be constant and unobtrusive. If you have to actively interact with the thing for either basic functionality or (worse) to manage it’s systems, you are looking at a device that ends up in the bottom of a drawer fairly quickly.

As an aside, someone should also tell Motorola what “360″ really means. For some odd reason the designers couldn’t deal with placement of the display drivers and optical sensors without cutting into the face of the device, leaving that odd chord of dead space at the bottom of the display. Worse, their marketing people then photoshopped a complete face into the device in the marketing materials, so pictures on the web site and in the packages they hand out to the media show something significantly different than what the device really is. I guess the more accurate name of “Motorola 270″ was already taken. Oops.

Withings ActivitéExhibit 3: Withings Activé

Now we are getting somewhere. Run back up to the “checklist of fail” – where the Galaxy Gear batted 1.000, the Withings dances through with aplomb. It adds new and useful functions to your existing device, it provides useful information in an unobtrusive and pervasive way, the batter lasts for a year, and its absolutely gorgeous.

This is a device that you would want to wear all day, every day, even if you didn’t know what it did. From top to bottom, this is a winner.

Exhibit 4: Apple Something-or-other

No idea. At all. But you take a look at the three notable entries above, the chances are a extremely high that it will be a lot closer to the Withings Activé that either of the unusable mutts that Samsung and Motorola have coughed up.

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Geekback 2: Process Of Elimination

A couple of emails came in to point out that some companies actually showcase the horrid visuals that are part and parcel of using OLED displays in their new commercials.

I assume that their target market is graffiti artists, the glaucoma crowd, and the kinds of people who put spinning hubcaps on their cars. Ugh.

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Amazon Fires A Turd

I have never used or even held an Amazon Fire smartphone, so I cannot pass any sort of first-hand judgement on the thing. I have, however, heard from numerous sources that it is a fairly weak entry into the game. Combine that with the fact that one month after being released the price has been cut from $199 to 99 cents, and I think it is safe to say that the thing is a bit of a turd.

That might not be news, but it does give me a free shot at an awesome headline and I am not going to pass it up.

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Shop Now! Shop Twitter!

Twitter users were treated to an update to both their Terms Of Service and the Twitter privacy policy yesterday. If you aren’t on Twitter, or you are one of those incomprehensible souls that skips through TOS agreements without reading and/or just deletes them wholesale, here is the key takeaway: Twitter is moving into the world of online shopping. In a nutshell, they want to start enhancing their “promoted tweets” with links to allow one-click purchases of the items or services being advertised.

Personally, I think this is a decent initiative. Obviously Twitter needs to have a solid revenue stream to survive … keeping a major-league social network up and running takes a lot of resources and a lot of talented staff, neither of which are free. Yes, some people will bitch about this they way they bitch about advertising in any format, but those same people would bitch even louder if Twitter went tits up.

A few of the positives here:

The promoted tweets are fairly unobtrusive. They sit quietly in your timeline, period. They aren’t outsized pop-ups, overlays, hideous floating boxes with a minuscule close button, or any of the other annoyances that you increasingly see on mainstream media sites. And they are orders of magnitude better than the stupid Dickbar.

Twitter has a decent privacy policy. Unlike Facebook (which just outright sells your data) or Google (which sells your preferences) Twitter sells space in groups of timelines that match a set of client parameters without actually giving advertisers any information about individual users. Twitter also has a good record when it comes to standing up to unwarranted government demands for user data.

Twitter has excellent security. The endgame of “one click” shopping right from your timeline means that Twitter will take on the roles of both credit card storage and processing. Despite the protests of celebrities who are embarrassed by their idiot tweets (“My account was hacked!“) no Twitter account or server has ever been technologically compromised. Anyone who has ever had their account hijacked has given their password out, either knowingly to friends / acquaintances / personal assistants / whatever, or inadvertently via their own stupidity. If you are going to trust someone with your credit card info, you could do a lot worse than Twitter.

Pure convenience: Look, people shop online all the time. If Twitter and their advertisers want people to get on board with this, they are going to have to offer some compelling deals … it’s really they only way they have to overcome the inertia and reputation of the biggest online retailers (cough cough Amazon cough) with a new service. So if there is a deal on something I am interested in, why not give me a chance to shop without interrupting my workflow, having to pop over to another app, sign in to another service, and then come back to where I was? Convenience is king … if you can get people into the swing of this with some irresistible deals early in the game, it’s a pretty safe bet that they stick around in the future when the prices are equal and the only tipping point is ease of use.

It’s also worth noting here that Twitter takes the time to both update users on TOS / Privacy changes and to make sure the documents are in fairly comprehensible language. There are a lot of companies that put the onus on the users to find out when changes are made (Microsoft comes to mind), locate the changes for themselves (hey, look, it’s Microsoft!) and couch the whole mess in layers of nearly-inpenetrable legalspeak (wow, Microsoft again). Twitter generally tries to play fair – hopefully they see some sort of payoff from that policy going forward.

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How To Speak Bloomberg

Your typical National EnquirerA couple of weeks ago there was a bogus story posted on the Bloomberg news service claiming that Apple will be releasing a 12″ iPad today … this according to “sources familiar with the matter”. This, of course, is one of the two go-to phrases that Bloomberg writers use when they want to publish random shit and see what sticks to the wall. Since Bloomberg has a mystifyingly deep reach into the assorted news wires and mainstream publications, it’s worth learning to recognize their main clichés and what they really mean.

Bloomberg Cliché: “Analysts expect …”

Actual meaning: Bloomberg writers all have back-scratching deals with assorted financial analysts. In this case, one of the writer’s analyst buddies really wishes whatever it is will happen, and thinks that by getting it in print there is some way that they can affect the situation and make it come true. As you might expect, this never works.

Bloomberg Cliché: “A source familiar with the matter …” or “Someone with knowledge …”

Actual meaning: The writer in question is taking heat from their bosses for not generating enough clicks with their stories. To boost the click-count and to the the management off their back, the writer has fabricated something with enough cachet, shock value, or buzz-worthiness to get quoted around the net as news … but not so much buzz as to have people remember it when it turns out to not be true. Ideally, it gets a storm of clicks in the first 48 hours and then is completely forgotten a week later … and hopefully they don’t run into some asshole who brings it up again on his hacky blog the day of the actual event.

Because that would, you know, suck.

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