05 3 / 2013
Mailbox: How to efficiently allocate a scarce resource
There have been quite a few blog posts (and a million more tweets) complaining about Mailbox’s reservation system. For those of you that don’t know, Mailbox is an iOS email app that is slowing letting users in on a first come first serve basis. Over 500,000 people have signed up which is creating quite the queue. Some people have accused Mailbox of using the line to build hype or to make users feel exclusive, but that misses the point. Mailbox wanted to ensure that they had a solid rollout with no hiccups. Having hundreds of thousands of users hit your servers for the first time can be brutal. Even worse, a crash on launch day could have been fatal for the company.
I understand why the company established a reservation system - to slowly add users to the app instead of all at once, but I can’t help but think that there is a more efficient way to do it. As an economist, I would have loved to see a decreasing price strategy. For example, on launch day, offer the app for $20. Few people would pay for it, but those who really wanted it would. Then over time, decrease the price as you gain confidence that your servers can handle the load. In a couple of days you could lower it to $15. In a week $10. In a few weeks $5. Eventually price it down to $1 or free. Pricing in this manor would allow those who want to try the app the most (those that derive the most utility from it) to jump ahead of those who just want to poke around the app for 5 minutes and then delete it. Additionally, this would result in the same exponential user base growth that Mailbox is shooting for.
Sure this pricing strategy would get its fair share of complaints; after all, very few iOS apps are priced over $5. It would be fascinating to compare user engagement over time with price paid. As far as I know this has never been done. It’s also worth mentioning that this pricing would actually give Mailbox a source of revenue because as of now, they have zero.
As a side note, I love Mailbox. It has completely changed the way I think about email. I can’t wait for the iPad and Mac clients. You really should check it out.
07 2 / 2013
Politics in the Animal Kingdom
C.G.P. Grey has a series of four videos on YouTube that help explain different issues with voting in a democracy. All of these videos were published in 2011, but I find them extremely relevant giving our current fiscal problems here in the United States.
The first video explains the problems with first-past-the-post voting. In this system of voting the person with the most votes wins the election.
The second video explains a the alternative vote. It is commonly known as instant-runoff voting. The alternative vote could help the United States move away from the 2 party system and allow room for a third party. This video resonates with me given that I am unhappy with both parties.
The third video explains gerrymandering and a gives a few solutions on how to fix it.
The fourth video explains mixed-member proportional representation. It is an interesting voting system that the video explains better than I can.
07 2 / 2013
Death of the Dock Connector
In October 2012, Apple introduced the lightning connector to replace the ten-year-old dock connector. It can now be found on the iPhone 5, iPad Mini, and the new iPad (4th generation).
I am more interested in how much longer the dock connector will live on. If you want to know why Apple switched connectors read Jason Perlow’s piece in ZDNet. Right now, Apple still sells the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and iPod Classic. All of these products have the older dock connector.
In 2013, Apple will introduce a new iPhone (for this article lets call it the 5S) and a new iPad (5th generation). These products will obviously have lightning connectors. Apple will also stop selling the iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4S will drop down to $1 on contract. Apple may or may not be able to sell the iPad 4th generation at $399, but for this thought experiment, it doesn’t really matter. In 2013, Apple will sell products with the dock connector.
In 2014, Apple will introduce a new iPhone (for this article lets call it the 6) and a new iPad (6th generation). Apple will stop selling the iPhone 4S. I cannot imagine Apple selling the iPad 2 in 2014, so the iPad won’t have a dock connector either. The only product left with a dock connector is the iPod Classic. It hasn’t been updated since 2009 and will be the last product available with a dock connector. This would be a good time to kill off the product.
The introduction of the iPod marked a huge shift for Apple. It’s sad to see it go, but Apple is a company that cannibalizes its own sales for the sake of future growth. In 2014 we will say, RIP iPod Classic. RIP Dock Connector.
(As a side note, there is no guarantee Apple will follow the usual schedule or naming convention of new products. This post is more concerned with when the lightning connector will fully replace the old dock connector.)
10 12 / 2012
iOS 7 Wish List
Even though iOS 6 has only been out for 3 months, I have started building my wish list for iOS 7. After working on this list, I noticed that my recommendations were all small nitpicks. Apple has already added the key missing features: copy & paste, multitasking, notification center, etc.
The headline feature for iOS 6 was Maps. The end users do not care about all the time and effort Apple put in to develop the back end. They don’t care about the huge increase in data efficiency by using vectors instead of images. The users only care about the experience. All the users see is an updated app that has turn-by-turn directions. There is no doubt that turn-by-turn directions are handy, but an updated app hardly seems like a keynote feature for an operating system.
The problem for Apple is that the easy and obvious things have already been fixed. This makes it that much harder to introduce sweeping system wide changes. While I’m still trying to think what the headline feature will be for iOS 7, I’ve compiled a list of small changes that I would like to see.
First off, this grey/blue texture needs to go. I personally find it ugly. As a matter of fact, it’s nowhere to be found on the iPad. All of the new Apple default applications introduced in iOS 6 (Maps, iTunes, and App Store) use silver or black instead of the ugly grey/blue.
When you double click on the home button, you are presented with a row of icons on the bottom. The problem is that over 80% of the screen is wasted with this. A form of full screen multitasking would definitely be useful. Below are two possible solutions that are currently available for jailbroken iPhones:
The built in mail client for iOS has always been lackluster at best. I actually don’t use it. I use a hodgepodge solution combining the official Gmail app for notifications and Sparrow for sorting & replying. It’s messy, but it works. The main problem with the built in mail client is that it is not very adept at handling Gmail. First of all, emails you have sent do not appear in the threaded view - only emails you have received do.
Secondly, you cannot label an email and leave it in your inbox. You have to move it to that folder. Also when using the search bar in the default mail app, only the inbox is searched. With the Gmail app, all of your email is searched. At least Apple finally added pull to refresh.
Have you ever tried to click the tiny X in notification center to clear the message away? It’s impossibly hard. Small buttons work well when using a mouse, but when using a touch screen gestures should be implemented instead. A simple solution could be swipe from right to left to clear the notification. Swipe from left to right to open it. (When I was about to publish this post, I saw this manifestation of the swiping notifications by Alex Saretzky.)
My second request is the ability to sync notifications between devices. If I clear a Facebook notification on my iPhone, it should also clear on my iPad. The Messages app does this already. Why can’t the other apps?
Speaking of small X’s, the X’s to close a tab in Safari are similarly annoying. Instead of clicking the X to get rid of a tab, it would easy if you could just swipe the tab to the top of the screen to get rid of it.
People have complained about how Safari for iOS has separate boxes for URLs and search. Most modern browsers for laptops and desktops use a universal box. Chrome for iOS uses a universal box. My guess is that Apple has kept the boxes separate for a reason. When using the URL box you are given a specific keyboard that allows the use of a period, a backlash, and .com button in place of the space bar. No change needs to happen here.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people do not keep their smartphone apps up to date. I know this is a weird complaint, but for some reason it bothers me. Apple needs to implement a feature that will auto-update apps on iOS devices. There could be some sort of safety feature that will only download apps that are out of date by more than 10 days. Finally, there should be a setting to disable auto-app updates. Giving the users the ability to turn the feature on and off on a per app basis is too cumbersome.
Tech writers have been clamoring for a Siri API ever since it was introduced. In layman’s term, this means any developer would allow their app to integrate with Siri. For example, I could say “show me my most liked Instagram photo”. The problem is that doing a Siri API is very very hard. It may come eventually, but there are a lot of problems to overcome. If you are interested in some of the obstacles I suggest that you read Samuel Iglesias’ blog post.
What will the future for iOS hold? Will Apple introduce any dramatic changes to it’s cash cow or will it keep it play it safe by iterating on previous designs? These are questions that only the folks in Cupertino know the answers to. The rest of us will have to wait until WWDC 2013 in June to find out.
07 11 / 2012
I am overall very happy with last nights election results. I’m not here to gloat, but to rather provide my take on what happened last night. This is in no way a deep analysis of the 4 issues listed, but I do plan to expand 2 of them in later posts.
Rejection of the Far Right
The far far right crazies took a big hit last night. Todd Akin (claimed women can’t get pregnant from rape) and Richard Murdock (said babies resulting after a rape were a gift from god) were both thankfully defeated. Florida tea partier Allen West also lost. The thing is, Mitt Romney, faired far better than the Tea Party element of the Republican party. I really liked some of Mitt Romney’s ideas including a simpler tax code. The problem was the party behind him. Americans definitely want a conservative party, but we do not want a group of far right nut jobs running this country.
Hopefully the Republican party can regroup after this election and find itself. It needs to move away from the religious right and start accepting science. Climate change is happening. Evolution is a real thing. And yes, women can get pregnant after getting raped. The fact that was even in question is baffling to me. Republicans, find a leader. Don’t let Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin be the spokespeople for your party. Someone needs to step up.
Women in the Senate
Here is some news that everyone can be happy about. We will now have 20 women Senators. This is a new all time high up from 17 in the outgoing Senate. These 20 women only make up 20% of the Senate, but progress is progress.
End the War on Drugs
Colorado and Washington both passed measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Hopefully we are one step closer to ending the expensive un-winnable war on drugs. It’s time to treat drug addiction as a public health problem instead of a criminal justice problem. If you want to know more about why it will be a slow path towards full legalization, I suggest you watch The Union. It’s a great documentary on Netflix that shows all the parties that have a vested interest in keeping drugs illegal.
End the Electoral College
We need to get rid of the Electoral College. It is an an anachronism that resulted from a compromise at the constitutional convention. The fact that almost all of the campaign efforts were spent in a few battleground states is very telling. It’s very unfair when no matter if 51% or 100% of a state votes for a certain candidate, that he/she gets all of the states electoral votes.
One More Thing
15 10 / 2012
13” MacBook Pro with Retina display
After rumors surfaced yesterday of a 13” MacBook Pro with retina display, I couldn’t help but wonder what the resolution would be. Instead of breaking it down by resolution, I decided to separate each theory by pixel density.
The current 13” MacBook Pro has a resolution of 1280 x 800. When Apple introduced the 15” retina they doubled the resolution of the 15” MacBook Pro (1440 x 900). Doubling the current resolution of the 13” MB Pro would yield a resolution of 2560 x 1600. This creates a density of 227 ppi. The problem is that Apple makes no displays with this pixel density. It sits right between the 220 ppi of the 15” retina and the 264 ppi of the iPad. Apple would have to create or use an entire new manufacturing line for this display. This is expensive, but when you have over $100 billion in the bank, anything is possible. To me, this seems like the most likely option.
Another possibility for Apple is to cut a 13” panel from the same 220 dpi display sheets as the 15” MB Pro retina. If this were to happen, the display would have a resolution of 2457.5784 x 1554.7365. You cannot have fractional pixels, so this obviously isn’t the exact resolution. However, Apple could make the screen a tiny bit bigger or smaller than 13.3” to allow the use of this panel. For example, if the display size was increased to 13.689” a 2560 x 1600 screen would have the same the same 220.53 dpi as the 15” retina. These numbers probably aren’t exactly right, but you get the idea. I’m an economist, not a display engineer.
Using the same 2880 x 1800 resolution found on the 15” retina laptop seems unlikely to me, but it is definitely a possibility. Given that the 13” MacBook Air comes with a 1440 x 900 screen, we know that a doubled display (2880 x 1800) should work fine. Display elements wouldn’t be too small. The density would be 255 ppi. Again, the problem is that Apple does not make any displays with this pixel density. This is the least likely option.
12 10 / 2012
So the iPad Mini is going to be unveiled on October 23. Hundreds of people have asked me how I know for sure it’s going to be revealed on the 23rd. Thousands have asked me how I am so accurate with my Apple rumors. Well for one, nobody has ever asked me either question, but in case you’re wondering, the best way to keep up with rumors is to read a lot. Kevin Rose once joked that MacRumors is his TMZ. I feel the same way. If you want to truly understand a company, you have to submerge yourself.
However, if you just want to know the dates of Apple’s big events, it is actually fairly easy to stay up to date. Once Jim Dalrymple gives his signature “Yep”, the event is going to happen. It’s that simple. He has predicted all of the recent Apple events with 100% accuracy. The other solid place for Apple related rumors is All Things D. They are the Wall Street Journals tech branch and somehow have some insanely good sources inside of Apple. Their executive editor, Walt Mossberg, was friends with Steve Jobs. I guess that explains the how. The Verge has proven to be very reliable as well.
I don’t plan on buying an iPad Mini, but if you want to see the specs, look here. Anyways, Apple is coming out with a smaller iPad, and they’re going to sell millions of them.
11 10 / 2012
Stratfor on the Mexican Drug Cartels
While the trafficking groups in Mexico are commonly called “cartels” (even Stratfor uses the term), they are not really cartels. A cartel is a combination of groups cooperating to control the supply of a commodity. The primary purpose of a cartel is to set the price of a commodity so that buyers cannot negotiate lower prices. The current conflict in Mexico over cocaine and marijuana smuggling routes shows that there are deep rifts between rival groups like the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. There is no sign that they are cooperating with each other to set the price of cocaine or marijuana. Also, since most of the Mexican criminal groups are involved in a diverse array of criminal activities, their interests go beyond drug trafficking. They are perhaps most accurately described as “transnational criminal organizations” (TCOs), the label currently favored by the DEA.
08 10 / 2012
The Denver Debate and Syria
I have a crazy theory. A lot of people have commented that Obama was aloof at the debate on Wednesday night. He seemed out of it. People have been quick to blame it on his lack of preparedness or the fact that it was his anniversary. Bill Maher even joked that Obama was high. None of the proposed reasons make any sense. I think he was distracted by Syria.
On Wednesday, Syria killed several people inside Turkey with a mortar attack. Turkey has responded by shelling Syria with artillery. Turkey has not declared war yet, but they are close. If Turkey decides to actually declare war, the US will have to support them due to the fact that we are both NATO charter holders. An attack on one is an attack on all.
I think Obama was distracted last night because of all the stress related to Syria. He is either planning the U.S. invasion or doing everything in his power to avert a crisis. If it is an invasion, I suspect it would be a Special Operations forces mission instead of a full scale military invasion. The U.S. population does not currently have the appetite for another full scale war. While the CIA and certain tier 1 assets are currently in place in Syria, this would allow the U.S. to conduct more open raids with additional military hardware - i.e. drones.
Being president is not easy. Many of the debate preparations started late or were cut short due to him having to deal with serious issues. This is part of the reason why I believe a president should serve only one term, but make it 6 years. Our president should not spend his time in office worrying about getting re-elected. One term, 6 years.
And while I’m talking about the debate, here is Polifact’s fact check of the debate. Read it.