#on

Square Is Trying To Take Magic Mainstream

Just in case my love letter last November didn’t make it abundantly clear, I’ll reiterate: I love Square. We’re not investors, but I wish we were. I love both the business and the product. And if that level of admiration makes this post biased, then color me conflicted.

Apparently well aware of my tweets and posts, the company brought me in to show me the latest thing they’ve been working on. It’s the evolution of their Card Case product to morph it into a more central part of their overall strategy. It’s technically called “Pay with Square”, but when installed, the new app simply reads “Square”.

That’s telling. Square, the card reader (now appropriately called “Square Card Reader”), has been the way most people think of the product and company. But that’s limiting because it’s so focused on merchants. It’s a great business, and an important one — but if Square is truly going to revolutionize payments, they need to get the consumers fully on board.

Enter Pay with Square. Using Card Case has been nothing short of magical. It’s one of those experiences that when it happens, you wonder how the hell they did it — and also why the hell it hasn’t been done like that before?

But there’s a flipside. Because the experience is so magical — so natural — it almost seems as if something is wrong when it happens. It simply can’t be that easy. You can’t possibly pay for something simply by saying your name and doing nothing else, right? The most common reactions I’ve seen to Card Case in public are “now what?” and “that’s it?”

That’s Square’s biggest barrier to entry with Pay with Square: they need to convince people that they don’t need to put up with the nonsense they’ve been doing for decades. You don’t have to swipe a card. You don’t have to sign anything. You pay by having your smartphone on you. And your payment is verified by your name (and face). 

With Pay with Square, Square is ditching the wallet metaphor (of Card Case) and simplifying things to just be a list of venues of interest that are close by. At first, I was a bit surprised by this change because I liked the design and the card metaphor (which is still sort of in place). But this actually makes a lot more sense. Don’t cater to the baggage of the past, replace the past.

I’ve been using Pay with Square this past weekend and it’s great. The transition from Card Case is seamless because it’s essentially the same thing, just reworked in an attempt to take it more mainstream. 

To that end, Square also put in quite a bit of work to make Pay with Square work on Android as well. Because Android doesn’t have the same geofencing capabilities native to their SDK like iOS does, this was undoubtedly a huge pain in the ass. Square essentially had to build the technology from the ground up to make their Android app work in the same way that the iOS one does. 

Thanks to this work, Square has managed to do the seemingly impossible: make Google Wallet look even worse. While Google is wasting time (and apparently employees) trying to move from a credit card swipe to a tap-to-pay by way of NFC, Square has been busy building the future. A tap is a bit more simple than a swipe, I suppose. But screw that. You should be able to pay by doing nothing at all.

As you may be able to tell from my posts on our portfolio company Highlight, I love the idea of mobile apps that work without the user have to do anything. Highlight alerts you as you move around. Pay with Square allows you to pay for things by walking into the place you wish to buy something. 

Again, magic.

The next trick is signing up more vendors to accept Pay with Square. Luckily, products like Square Register are complimentary. They just need iPad adoption to keep growing at the pace it has been. And it will.

And Square needs to convince people that the ability to pay without doing a thing isn’t actually magic, it’s just one of those things that should have always been done this way that technology now allows for. It’s a more natural way of doing payments that just happens to seem like magic because of the baggage we all carry.

It’s technology at its best.

More about Pay with Square on Techmeme.

Winter And The Wall

In response to my PandoDaily post about Game of Thrones earlier, Trevor Gilbert tries his hand at parody. Not all bad, but a few quick problems:

1) You can buy an unlocked iPhone.

2) Even if you stole the iPhone, you wouldn’t actually be able to use it on a carrier’s network without paying them.

3) Pretty much everything else.

But Gilbert knows this, I have to assume. From the comments, it seems he takes issue with my “sense of entitlement”. Clearly lost on him (and plenty others!) is the point. 

The point is the very essence of piracy.

Piracy does not exist because there are evil people out there who are thieves and/or hate capitalism and/or feel entitled. Sure, there are some bad eggs, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Piracy exists because it’s often an easier way of obtaining content than the legal means. And sometimes, it’s the only way. 

HBO doesn’t care right now because they’re raking in the money. Good for them. But they’re fools if they think the status quo will be maintained indefinitely. We’re seeing the beginning stages of where this is going right now. The pirating of Game of Thrones is all about ease of access to content.

Right now, you could wait a year to pay to get the content legally, or you could get it today for free. Remove the money element. It matters, but it’s not the key. The key is that it’s today versus a year from today. That’s the problem here.

Much of the arguments in defense of HBO today have been that it’s their content and they can do what they want. True! But they’re doing so blindly as gatekeepers who have total faith in their wall. The problem is that the wall is already full of holes.

Currently, they’re pretending the wall is perfectly intact. In a year, they’ll admit it’s been breached, and they’ll try to rebuild it. But they won’t be able to. 5 years from now, hardly anyone will be using the gate. 

So why not just let everyone in now and charge them all a fee? Because admitting the wall is crumbling will mean accepting less money. Supply/demand. No one ever wants to take less money. But what they’ll have to come to terms with in the future is that less money is better than no money at all. 

And yes, perhaps that means the end of high-end content like Game of Thrones which features massive, movie-like budgets. That sucks. But it is what it is. 

My post was merely meant as a wake-up call for HBO and other content providers. Winter is indeed coming. A lot of people pirate today because it’s easier than getting the content legally. In a couple years, as younger people not accustomed to paying for cable grow up, so will the number of pirates for artificially restrained content like Game of Thrones. In five years, it’s not going to be pretty at all.

Unless HBO and the others get out ahead of this, that is. 

The cable empires are going to die. It’s just the way it is. Nothing lasts forever. The backup plan of the premium content players should be what Netflix is doing. Content everywhere at a fair price. And they should start right now. But they’re all scared shitless to even think of walking away from that cable money.

So it will have to start walking away from them.

And make no mistake, it will. It’s just a question of when.

One year? Two years? Five years? HBO and the rest just better hope that they don’t mistime the retreat because they’re drunk on the wine from a dying resource. If piracy becomes the norm rather than the fringe, they’re going to get royally screwed on the deals for someone else to bring their house back in order. See also: the music industry.

Power

My single biggest takeaway from SXSW was all the talk about battery life. Every single person. All the time. People changing plans because they needed to recharge their phones. People walking around with chargers. People who were chargers. Mophies galore. People uninstalling apps that would drain power. People putting phones into airplane mode in areas of weak signal. People borrowing other phones so they didn’t have to waste the power on their phone.

Power. Power. Power.

This talk is nothing new of course, but it’s ramping up. As we transition into an LTE world, it’s going to be more and more of an issue, as Farhad Manjoo points out today. One of the most impressive things about the new iPad is the fact that it maintains the 9 to 10 hour battery life even with the addition of LTE. The next question is if they can do that with the iPhone as well. We’ll see. It’s gonna need a bigger battery.

To me, the most impressive thing about my MacBook Air isn’t its size, it’s the battery life. I routinely get 6 to 7 hours on one charge. Just a few years ago, this was unthinkable for a laptop (especially one this size). Part of that is better technology, but a large part is also simply a larger battery.

Manjoo is right that unlike the rest of the technology we use everyday, battery technology hasn’t evolved all that much over the past few decades. It’s constantly being refined and perfected, but it’s still largely the same. Want more battery life? Get a bigger battery.

If someone can truly disrupt this space, it will act as a lubricant that accelerates our already amazing pace of technological transformation. 

I want a laptop that lasts for a week on one charge. I want a cellphone that lasts a month. I want to be able to go to SXSW without a Mophie in each pocket. I don’t want to have to be constantly worrying about battery life every single time I leave my house.

Today’s battery technology is holding back several other advances in technology in major ways. And we are about to see just how bad the situation is in the coming months. Maybe wireless power sources that constantly charge and re-charge devices is the ultimate answer. But it just seems like battery technology is really ripe for disruption.

Meeting People Is Easy, Remembering Them Is Hard, Knowing Them Is Harder

I understood the value of Highlight immediately. Within hours of downloading the app, I walked into a cafe and ran into someone I had met before, but only in passing. Who was he, I wondered while talking to him in vague generalities so as not to give away my poor recognition skills. It was a pretty pointless conversation that perhaps could have been a great one if I could have just remembered who the hell he was.

I sat down and pulled out my phone which had been buzzing since I entered the cafe. There, right in front of me in the form of a push notification was the name of the guy I was just talking to. I swiped it and got taken into Highlight where I could see his picture, where he worked, and our common friends. Brilliant.

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Winning! Duh!

"2012 is going to be the year that we double down and make sure we’re winning in that space."

That was Andy Rubin talking about Android’s tablet strategy at Mobile World Congress, as relayed by The Verge

Across all the various OEMs that make Android tablets, 12 million have been sold in total. Ever. For context, Apple sold 15 million iPads last quarter.

Obviously, Google needs to do better in the space. And they should be able to. Quite honestly, it would be hard to do much worse given the interest in the space (thanks mainly to the aforementioned iPad) on both a consumer and OEM level. But Rubin’s excuse as to why the Android tablets are selling so poorly is suspect at best. 

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On The Road

A couple weeks ago, a rant of mine on technology journalism kicked off a firestorm that has yet to fully subside. The talking points have evolved beyond my initial ones and yes, I too have re-fueled the flames a few times

I knew the reaction would be strong (for obvious reasons), but I didn’t expect the tech press to get as riled up as they have for this extended period of time. In my 5+ years covering a whole range of topics in technology professionally, I have never gotten as many requests for comments, interviews, etc, as I have about all of this. Which is pretty silly when you think about it.

The tech press, like most everyone else, clearly loves to talk about itself. The difference is that we have a bigger soapbox from which to do so. And the past few weeks have resulted in more mastubatory self-reflection than usual. 

The other day, I got an email from a gentleman named Seth. As a regular reader, he wanted to give me some honest feedback on my writing as of late. I wanted to share a portion of what he wrote:

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The Wall Street Journal Is Fucking Bullshit

Earlier today, I broke some news.

I don’t typically do this anymore given my new job. But from time to time this will happen. But if you read The Wall Street Journal, you’d never know. Why’s that? Because they’re fuckheads who don’t credit actual sources of information.

I know, I know. I’m ranting again. But indulge me for a few minutes.

I broke the news that Apple acquired the app search/discovery platform Chomp at 4:01 PM today. At 6:06 PM — over two hours later — WSJ reported the story as well. But oddly, with no mention of my original story. 

This was odd both because, again, I reported the same information two hours earlier. And because it was at the top of Techmeme, which everyone in the industry reads. And every single other publication linked to my story. 

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To Read, Or Not To Read

Yesterday, Christopher Mims of MIT’s Technology Review took on the challenge of taking a step back from the screaming to look into what’s really going on behind the latest Bitchmeme. Reading his take, it occurs to me that Mims, and probably many others, are completely missing something very fundamental going on here.

Mims argues that investments make us unreasonably biased and conflicted, yadda yadda. Same argument, different day. He even cites this tweet:

…which is funny because from 1997 until 2005, Disney owned a Major League Baseball team, the Anaheim Angels. Guess who else Disney owned during that time? Yep. ESPN. 

From 1993 until 2005, Disney also owned the National Hockey League team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Again, they owned ESPN at the time as well. 

If you want one other example (there are many), how about the fact that The New York Times owns a stake in the Boston Red Sox.

Weird, huh? This all must be very hilarious to Downtown Josh Brown. 

Anyway. The very obvious point that Mims and others fail to mention is that no one is forcing anyone to do anything. If you don’t want to read what Michael and I write, don’t.

If you think we’re unreasonably biased and conflicted, do not visit our sites, cite our work, etc. Why would you? 

The real problem our critics have is that an ever-increasing number of people do read what we write. The old guard doesn’t like that one bit because we’re not doing it their way. But they can’t do a damn thing about it besides bitch and moan. Too bad. The readers ultimately decide, not you.

Meanwhile, our conflicted coverage of the Path situation this week included information such as the fact that while there was no question that Path needed to (and did) fix the issue, many others were guilty as well. As was Apple. And we noted that Apple was on the verge of fixing this whole situation.

Sure enough, scanning the news today: Yep. Yep. And yep.

You could have gotten early insight into all of today’s news by reading our posts over the past week. Instead, the cycle turned into a shitstorm of nonsense that ultimately doesn’t matter in the slightest. 

The fact remains: if you want to read, great! If you don’t, great! It’s completely up to you.

Bat. Shit. Crazy.

Looks like someone woke up from his nap of the last three years and is hungry. Sadly, I don’t have much food for him. I’ll keep this as brief as possible — and I promise this will be the last thing I ever say about Dan Lyons, as he’s clearly done.

Feel free not to read. Or read Michael Arrington’s post on the matter. He takes a higher road than I’m about to. I’m just sick of Lyons’ bullshit.

The truth is that I pre-responded to Lyons earlier today before he even wrote his post. You could see it coming. What I wrote yesterday directly attacks the way he makes a living. When you do that, people get irrationally upset and write posts like the one Lyons just wrote. Just to reiterate, the line that applies here from the film Moneyball:

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Moneyblog

The reactions to my rant yesterday have been fascinating. The vast majority have been overwhelmingly positive — except from one sector where it’s more like 50/50. No surprise which sector that is: technology writers/bloggers/journalists. About half thought the post was great/honest/inspiring. The other half think I’m the devil. 

I’m reminded of one of the best parts of last year’s film Moneyball. Red Sox owner John Henry (Arliss Howard) says the following to Billy Beane (Brad Pitt):

It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go bat shit crazy.

If everything I said yesterday is true, technology writers, be it short-term or long-term, are fucked. Either they’ve already sold their souls for the pageviews and the subsequent paychecks or they’ll eventually have to make that choice. The best know this and I suspect many of them won’t be in the game in 5 years. But the ones who have been in the game too long to change… the ones holding the reins… well, they’re going bat shit crazy. 

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Content Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink

This morning, I woke up and read Nick Bilton’s weekly New York Times’ column. Nick is a friend and one of the best bloggers/writers/journalists out there. But with today’s column, he was way off base. 

Having already said what I wanted to say about the Path situation, I debated if I should weigh in again. Then I read Nick’s column again. There’s a way to say what he wants to say, but he goes about it the complete wrong way. I felt like I had to respond. 

But before I could, my CrunchFund partner Michael Arrington wrote almost exactly what I would have written — but in a more effective way. As a dog owner/lover, Michael thought up a great analogy: “So the belly is shown.”

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DEAR HENRY BLODGET: Don’t Mean To Be Rude, But It’s Possible That Twitter Knows More About What It’s Doing Than You Do

Gotta love Henry Blodget. About once a week he busts out the caps lock key to draw attention to his latest rant. The best ones include some variation of the wording “don’t mean to be rude” in the title. 

The only problem is that often these missives are misguided, or flat-out wrong.

Back in October, Blodget wrote the following story: ATTENTION APPLE FANS: Samsung Blowing Past Apple To Become The Biggest Smartphone Vendor Is Not Good News. Looking back, on the surface alone, the post looks ridiculous now because — wait for it — Apple actually passed Samsung in sales again last quarter. But the real key is that his entire argument was fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons, which I laid out at the time

Anyway.

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To Catch A Hypocrite

Yesterday, Jason Kincaid posted damning evidence of VEVO, the online music video entity jointly owned by a few major record labels, committing piracy at their boozy event at Sundance this year.

Watch the video, then read Jason’s full story. It’s worth it.

Today, VEVO’s CEO has responded. Here’s his stance:

A guest of our lounge asked for an NFL game to be aired. We said no. There was a laptop hooked up to VEVO.com that fed into the large TV screens around the bar. Unfortunately, the laptop was easily accessible to the public. That was our mistake for not making sure the laptop was more secure. While VEVO staff was in other areas of the venue, the game was put on – via a website transmitting ESPN’s broadcast of the NFL game – without our permission or knowledge.

Which reads a lot like:

Holy fucking shit. We’re so fucked. Is there anyway on Earth we can spin this so it doesn’t look so bad? … Anyone? … Okay, fuck you all, I’ve got it! We’ll say that we were so grossly negligent at our own event that some some shady, masked criminals — preferably foreigners — illegally took control of our laptops to access the game. It was actually an elaborate terrorist plot, if you must know. We’re investigating — and we’ve hired the same people that O.J. Simpson is using to find the real killers.

As Jason says, it’s probably impossible to prove this dipshit is lying, but come on: common sense and Occam’s razor here. Someone was clearly refreshing the feed over and over again. And it never was taken down the entire time Jason was watching.

Either VEVO employees take extremely long bathroom breaks as a group, or — wait for it — they were the pirates!

These assclowns should be fined out of existence or go to jail for a level of hypocrisy so bad that it makes Newt Gingrich seem like a good husband fully qualified to lecture others on ethics. By the music labels’ own definition, they are now criminals.

This situation perfectly highlights the SOPA/PIPA times we live in. As Jason writes:

Sure, there are some people who will duck the bill when they can — but many of them were never going to buy the content they downloaded in the first place. And a huge swath of ‘pirates’ are driven to their ways because it’s easier to stream or download something via an illegal site, not because they’re averse to paying for content. Stick a bunch of DRM and ads in front of the media they’ve already paid for, and they may opt to go with the path of least resistance next time.

Why would VEVO pirate content? Because it was easier than getting it legally. This is the actual root cause of piracy online. It’s not shady, masked individuals at swanky events commandeering computers to pirate for the hell of it. It’s VEVO employees. It’s everyone. 

Still Fucking Hate Email

Fred Wilson took some time this morning to go off against email. Clearly annoyed, he writes:

I write these posts occasionally to let people know. The result is hundreds of comments about how I can make email work better for me. Please don’t leave those comments. I don’t want to make email work better for me. I don’t want to hire an assistant to do email for me. I don’t want to try some new magical app that will make email better for me.

Amen.

I complain often about email as well and everyone comes out of the woodwork with some idea for how to fix my problem. The reality is that there is no fix. Trying something else is an even bigger waste of time.

Wilson says he devotes about three hours a day to email and he still can’t nearly get through it all. I’m in roughly the same boat; some days more, some days less. It’s also a boat I put myself in when I left my job as a writer (tons of email) to become a VC (shit tons of email). 

The only real “solution” is to change the way people think about email. It needs to be considered more of a stream than an inbox. That is, it needs to be more like Twitter and less like a to-do list.

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Apple Television: The iPhone Model Or The iPad Model?

Based on one story from The Globe And Mail, there are a lot of interesting new thoughts about the supposed Apple Television today. The big question: will Apple partner with any of the cable companies for the product?

Based on everything we’ve seen in the space the past several years, I think they have to. The question is: will it be more like the initial iPhone partnerships (exclusive to one carrier in the U.S.) or the early iPad partnerships (multiple carrier options or the option to do no carrier at all)?

As I wrote back in April of last year:

The only real problem for Apple in getting into the game would be the cable companies’ monopolies on the local level. Unlike the carriers, which are nationwide, the cable companies dominate their regions and there’s often little competition (which is, of course, bullshit and the government are cowards for allowing this to continue). 

Let’s say Apple teamed up with one of the cable companies, like Comcast. They would likely have to do an exclusive deal with them to get them to bend to some of their demands (like getting rid of their shitty cable boxes in favor of a built-in Apple control guide). This is why Apple was exclusively with AT&T all that time. But not everyone can get Comcast. So the market would be limited. 

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