25 February 2012

Hugs and love for everyone.

Why does it come so natural to us to divide?  We seem to focus on the distinctions rather than the commonality.

Tree huggers versus Climate Deniers
Republicans versus Democrats
Natives versus Immigrants
Christians versus Muslims
Americans versus Terrorists
Greece versus Persia
Black Lab versus Poodle
Less Filling versus Tastes Great

When our families lived in caves and another family wanted to join us, apparently we had to have a way to communicate the distinction.  They are immigrants trying to move into our territory.  They will take precious space, hunt our animals, eat our berries, drink our water ...  Ship them back to the woods!

And yet we ignore the positive.  They could help bring in more food, find more firewood, create clothing and blankets and add extra protection from whatever nasties might come by.  Depending on your perspective, you could focus on the positive or focus on the negative, but it seems society leans toward the latter.

If you read any economist worth their salt and they will tell you the reason Europe's market is stagnant and America continues to grow is immigration.  People coming through our border, legally or illegally, help increase wages and grow the economy for all of us.  READ THIS for the premise of the debate.  Yes, perhaps those "illegals" do not bring in the skills we need - they take jobs picking fruit and tearing apart chickens.  But the fact is that our native population does not want those jobs and Alabama dicovered this the hard way.

Even if you disagree that immigration helps raise the standard of living and economy for all of America - what makes them less deserving than us?  Because we happened to be born within a certain geographic region?  Because we speak English better than they do?  We are Americans and they are not and if they are going to come here they have to wait in line and follow our rules, right?  Roughly translated: Neiner-neiner!

When the good folks on Vega pick up our first television signals of Adolf Hitler introducing the 1936 Olympics and later stories of his destruction of thousands of Jews because they were part of his "us versus them" agenda, what do you suppose they will think?  "It is okay - he was German"?  Maybe "it is okay - he was a fascist"?  Or "it is okay - he was a Nazi"?  Not so much.  Like him or not - Hitler is part of all of us.  And Stalin.  And Osama Bin Laden.  But also the great people, too.  Gandhi, Mozart, Einstein, Muhammed, Christ, Cài Lún, Martin Luther King Jr. ..

In the end, we do not get to divide and excuse our species.  We are all in this together - born, live and die - and will all be judged by the same rule book and embrace what comes, whatever it may be.  Do you believe Jesus would have been concerned about our Mexican neighbors sneaking over the border?  He would have welcome them and done all he could to care for all human beings.  Whether you are a Christian or Atheist - we all can learn from Gandhi, Muhammed, King and all the others that came before us that said to love and care for everyone because we are all part of the human race.

I so want to end "us versus them", "you versus me".  Much like MLK - I have a dream, too.  I just want an Earth sized group hug.  Everyone at one moment throughout the world.  Exit our homes, walk up to our neighbors with our families, and love each other.  Just for one moment.  The world needs it.  You need it.  I need it - because I love you.  All of you.  And I want you to love everyone, too.

24 February 2012

3G Is Good Enough

You learn a lot after spending a few months with an iPod Touch as your cell phone.  Sure, it is a hassle to have to carry around a 3G data device and your sorta-phone.  Yes, occasionally transitions from Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi network can cause a call to get lost.  And, of course, the iPod Touch does not have the speed necessary to keep your VoIP app running while you are playing a game of Angry Birds.  However, the more important lessons are about cell carriers.

The first item relates to Verizon's network being unable to take calls and browse the web simultaneously.  This is only because Verizon is not taking advantage of their own strength.  Even over a lowly 3G connection you can be holding a conversation and using data apps at the same time, so the limitation there is because Verizon does not use their data stream for conversations.

The next note is that 4G is entirely unnecessary.  Sure - it is nice to have a faster data connection, but carriers might be smart to re-think how they are using that precious bandwidth.  In a few years time nearly every device will be eating up bandwidth, so the issue they will face is not speed but enough pipes to cover everyone.  I spend time every day on Wi-Fi networks faster than 4G and also on my 3G cellular connection, and while you can tell the difference, it turns out that it is not critically important.  A standard 3G pipe is enough to listen to Pandora, get email, make phone calls, browse the web and even update an app.  Aside from the latter (some apps are fairly big), I virtually never waited until I had a faster connection to do something on my phone.  No matter how fast the connection was it was always slower than being on a computer and faster bandwidth rarely made a difference.

For those of you wondering why an iPhone costs $650 and an iPod Touch $250, you will have to direct your question to Apple because it still does not make any sense to me.  The camera on the Touch is terrible, there is no Siri, the screen is not quite as nice and the speed is slower than the cellular equipped device - but some things are surprisingly better.  It is smaller, the battery life is better and often times my call quality was better through Talkatone than talking on an AT&T iPhone that I had for comparison.  Given a choice between the two I would rather have the iPhone - but not for $400 more.  It is the carriers, primarily, that are getting screwed in that relationship since they fit most of the cost difference (your contract technically only covers around $250 of the delta), but Apple clearly is making good money.

22 February 2012

Building an iPhone

A report from ASYMCO does a fantastic job outlining the COST OF BUILDING AN IPHONE.  We have a much better picture of how much human labor is involved and now can show a conservative estimate of 17 hours of labor to build a device.  Knowing Apple's cost structure in China, we can estimate they are spending around $30 to make an iPhone that has a total cost to create in the $300 neighborhood.  Great information.

As an aside - I would love to have an unassembled iPhone, much like a nice LEGO set, that we could purchase - perhaps for $30 less than the standard cost - and build our own device.  It would be a fantastic project to do with my son some weekend.

The bigger cost question this data point us to an answer on is how much it would cost to make an iPhone in the United States.  If we assume that we are paying someone $10 an hour then this would raise the price of the device by around $150.  So instead of $200 iPhone with contract you would be paying $350.

I admit that I do not have $150 to just throw away but, none the less - I would love to see Apple, at the very least, offer an American made iPhone.  Yes - I would pay $150 more for the Yankee version and I suspect a great number of other folks would, too.  Wrap that sucker in an American flag paint scheme and tap into that good old fashioned patriotism.  Besides - at least our country is not stealing the name of your tablets and suing you to take it off the market.  So, give it some thought Cupertino.  We would love to see your manufacturing process come home.

05 February 2012

Suicidal Cell Carriers

How long do you suppose an auto dealership would stay alive if they lost money selling cars and only made money on the service for those vehicles?  The health vitals of all three American cellular carriers is in question thanks to an Apple slice on the jugular for the mere privilege of selling an iPhone.  The only question is when Verizon, Sprint and AT&T will be smart enough to leave their cut of hardware sales and focus on their core competency instead.

This financial struggle is comic, actually.  Each carrier requires slightly different frequencies to work on their network which allowed them to sell phones that are tied to their network.  To further enhance their lock on customers they make you sign a multi-year contract when you buy a phone for a discount that is paid back through a higher monthly fee.  In Europe you can buy a higher priced phone from one store and pick any carrier you want and switch providers as often as you like.  In America you get a highly discounted phone but a much higher monthly service fee to pay for it with no ability to switch to a competitor without an expensive ETF (early termination fee).

The American mobile phone business essentially printed their own money.  Until Apple entered the game.

By forcing carriers to pay much higher prices for their hardware while forcing an extremely low selling price, Apple has forced carriers to ship the counterfeiting machine to Cupertino, California.  Apple is making hundreds of dollars profit on every iPhone sold while the carriers are losing nearly as much, even after the customer has fulfilled their two year contract.  The results are financial insanity:

Apple is breaking world records with a profit of over 13 billion dollars.
AT&T lost 4 billion to T-Mobile and 2.7 billion on the iPhone.
Verizon, arguably the best cell carrier on the market, suffers a 2 billion dollar loss.
While Sprint has yet to post their numbers, they are likely in the worst shape of the bunch.

Carriers are living in the happy land of yesteryear where they believe the profits will start pouring into their wallets any moment now.  AT&T is telling their investors that by stealing customers away from their rivals that profits will return any quarter now while hoping no one is smart enough to realize that this is lunacy.  Their thinking might make sense if their new minions were never to upgrade their pocket computers, but you would be hard pressed to point to a single  iPhone owner who does not want to upgrade the moment a new phone is released.

Apple robs not just carrier profits but any love they might receive, as well.  Customers never know that those high monthly service fees are there thanks to Apple's ruthless price scheme.  When an iPhone owner walks into an Apple store there is a smiling guy at the Genius Bar that will hand them a free iPhone if their screen a smudge on it - oh but those mean old carriers keep raising their monthly prices and capping data plans.  Carriers are evil!  Apple is a saint.  You can count the number of iPhone owners that hate Apple on one hand and the number of people that love cell carriers if you had to give up both hands to pay for your monthly cell phone bill.

What would happen if Apple suddenly released "iNetwork" that any iPhone could connect to thanks to a nation wide Wi-Fi network on top of cellular roaming?  The idea is not as far fetched as it sounds since Steve Jobs was researching exactly this before signing the original iPhone agreement with AT&T.  Even if their network was half as good, it is hard to imagine many iPhone owners who would not jump ship.  The moment Apple can find a way to destroy the entire cell phone universe that they will do so.

There is only one way out of this, carriers:  Stop selling hardware.

Adopt a model closer to what they do in Europe.  Sell full priced phones with no contract or give a low discount on a device with a two year commitment for the pleasure of having a customer locked in.  Then change your monthly service fee to match the fact that you are not subsidizing hardware anymore.  Yes, your customers will have to shell out more money up front but they will still walk through your door because you are (gasp!) lowering your monthly prices.  Not only will you keep signing up customers but you will be able to finally balance your books.  Oh, and suddenly cellular customers will know the true cost of the service versus the device so maybe someone will learn to love you.

Ha!  Just kidding about the "love" thing.  But at least you will not lie on the ground with a bloody iPhone in your hand.