A Real iPhone 6 Leak?

With Apple’s annual “iPhone conference” only two days away, the internet was bound to explode with more speculation on what the iPhone 6 will be like. However, it seems that the internet has graced us with something even better. A Chinese website has leaked an actual, functioning iPhone 6. Or at least they claim so.

iphone 5s vs iphon 6

I follow iPhone news pretty closely and I have to say that this is the most legitimate leak I’ve seen so far. I do have to caveat that with a couple of red flags. One thing that Steve Hemmerstoffer, writer for NowhereElse, pointed out was the unusually long minute hand of the clock app when compared to the current clock app on the iPhone 5s. The video also shows the camera lens protruding out the back of the iPhone. This pretty much goes against Apple’s design dogma of flat, smooth surfaces and round edges. However, there were reports of the camera lens using extremely scratch-resistant sapphire glass possibly allowing it to protrude without being easily damage despite being exposed.

Aside from the items mentioned above, everything else, from the physical phone to the software, is in line with what’s been rumored to be part of the iPhone 6 experience. Most importantly, the Passbook app has an extra stripe above it portraying a credit card, which seems to support the idea that the iPhone 6 will support mobile payments (read NFC). This is a gigantic upgrade allowing users to pay at retail terminals with their iPhones, presumably using your iTunes credit card they have on file.

It’s going to be an exciting week. I personally can’t wait to see what the iPhone 6 has to offer, especially since I’m planning to upgrade from my very slow iPhone 4.  See the full video of the leak below:

 

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Seeing The World Through (Google) Glass

So last week I had the great opportunity to test-drive the truly futuristic device that is Google Glass. Similar space-age accessories have appeared in countless science fiction films and novels, but let me tell you, Google Glass is very real, very functional, and may be coming very soon.

The Basics

Let’s get this out of the way. Right now, Google Glass is in “open beta”, meaning it’s basically being marketed to developers at the moment. Technically, anyone can purchase one here, but at $1,500 I can’t say it’s worth it. Do not be alarmed, however, the price will most likely be around $400-$500 once it officially launches for consumers.

Glass is basically a small computer in the shape of eyeglass frames. It can be worn with or without a lens (frames can be customized – they slip right on and off). It doesn’t have the full capabilities of your smartphone however. It cannot call or text people without it being tethered to your mobile device via bluetooth.

So you probably still need to carry  your phone around. More importantly, Glass only comes with wifi at the moment, it can’t receive cellular signal (so no 3G or LTE). This means that Glass will use your smartphone’s data plan (via bluetooth) when it needs to ping the web. So Glass and your smartphone work together.

It Feels Magical

The first time you put Glass on, you will feel like a cyborg. One way to describe it is that it feels like a “natural” extension to your body. You don’t have to fidget around your purse or pocket to access it – as you would your phone – but instead, all you have to do is look slightly up and to the right. To navigate, you can use the touchpad no the right side of the frame. Currently, three gestures: down, forward, and tap allow you to either close, scroll and select what’s on the screen.

The screen is small enough that you actually don’t notice it at all if you’re looking straight ahead. It almost entirely disappears from your sight, unless you look slightly up. Although it definitely takes some getting used to, it does not feel intrusive at all.

On the main screen, you can use the voice command “Okay Glass” to bring up a list of commands onto your screen, which you can then dictate to the built-in microphone. Commands range from take a picture, record a video, give me directions, and perform a Google search. I had limited time with the device, but I could already see the potential in the near-instant speed at which I could do these any of these things.

I am highly interested in the photo and video taking capabilities. Currently, I have to physically whip my phone out of my pocket, start the camera app and tap a button to take a picture. Also, while recording a video, the phone’s screen is basically covering my view. Having Glass mounted onto your face not only frees your hands up, but also frees up your line of sight. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s actually phenomenal when you first experience it. Since the beginning of time, humans have captured moments by holding up a rather large camera to their face and snapping a photo. With Glass, it becomes second nature. You simply say the command.

The idea of getting instant directions is also helpful. I was just in Washington D.C. this past weekend and I had to look up walking directions to museums and monuments via smartphone. Instead of looking down at my phone, I could’ve been looking up at the sidewalk full of people and the street signs that could help direct me, all while getting directions spoken into my ear by Google Glass.

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Color options for Google Glass. Also available in gray (not in photograph).

Put My Money Where My Mouth Is

So it seems that all I have for Glass is praise. Why didn’t I walk out with a fresh pair when I visited Google’s Chelsea Market location last week? Mostly because of the price. I can’t stomach spending $1,500 on a piece of technology that I want. That’s the rub. No one actually needs this thing. It’s purely for convenience, akin to a bluetooth headset. There’s a huge potential for Glass to be used in a professional setting. Think of people that need instant information like surgeons, soldiers and firemen. They could really use such a tool, but as for the layperson, it’s just for convenience.

Will I get one at $400? You betcha’, but that’s just because I’m a technophile.

The Biggest Ethical Question About Self-Driving Cars

I’ve done a fair amount of reading regarding self-driving cars, and the potential they have to change our world and all the good that can come from them. But to this date, this article written by Patrick Lin, is one that I always think about. He writes about self-driving cars from an ethicist’s perspective, and it really got me thinking. Here’s a brief summary of the scenario he portrays:

A self-driving car is racing down a crowded highway (adhering to the speed limit, of course) when, all of the sudden, an accident unfolds in front of it. Immediately to the front of the car is a tiny smart car and a big pick-up truck. The car’s algorithm runs through thousands, even millions, of possible scenarios in the milliseconds it has to react. The car concludes that it only has two choices: hit the smart car or hit the pick-up truck.

To entertain this possibility, you must accept the fact that the car’s computation really led to only these two choices. In reality, there is probably very little chance that this would occur. But nonetheless, the ethical dilemma is evident.

One rationale for the car choosing to hit the pick-up truck is that the massive size of the truck makes it well equipped to take a hit as compared to the frail body of the smart car. This would ensure safety for all drivers involved. But even in this scenario, the self-driving vehicle seems to be targeting large vehicles. Now, is it fair to truck drivers that they are essentially targets of self-driving vehicles? And what of the computer scientists who programmed this self-driving vehicle? Can they be held liable for programming the vehicle to target large trucks?

There is, of course, no right or wrong answer. We are in the gray area of autonomous machine ethics. I am definitely not qualified to comment on the questions posed above, but I do think about it every now and then. Regardless of what people may think, I believe we won’t come to a conclusion until a similar situation unfolds in the near future, leading the courts to essentially et a precedent for this scenario.

Obviously there are probably hundreds of varying opinions out there. If you have any thoughts or ideas on how this might play out, feel free to leave a comment.

17 Billion!? Is Uber’s Latest Valuation Reasonable?

In case you haven’t heard, Uber, the 4 year-old technology and transportation startup, raised a whopping $1.2 billion in funding from mutual fund managers and venture capitalists last month. This financing round placed Uber’s valuation at approximately $17 billion.

If you’re not familiar with Uber and what they do, just imagine a black-car or taxi service you can request via iPhone or Android app. You open the app, the app tracks your current location, you tap “Request an Uber”, and minutes later a driver picks you up. At the end of the trip, you pay through the app, with the credit card you’ve signed up with.

But the question remains, is the valuation reasonable or are the investors crazy? The short answer: yes, it’s quite reasonable. The long answer: not only is it reasonable, it’s actually undervalued!

An article on Business Insider states that an anonymous investor (not an investor in Uber) heard that Uber’s gross revenue last year (2013) was $750 million with $150 million in cash flow. He continues on to say that Uber’s projected cash flow for 2014 is around $400 million.

Doing a quick and crude calculation will show that Uber is being valued at a multiple of 23x gross revenue ($17 billion / $750 million). According to this data set provided by NYU Stern, the Internet Software and Services industry’s typical EBIT multiple is 33.63x. Obviously, this comparison is not exact, but it puts things into perspective. Uber can certainly fall within other industries but their main selling point is their software, so I chose to compare it to the software sector. Based solely on this analysis, it seems that Uber’s multiple is actually acceptable.

However, in the world of startups and venture capitalists, traditional valuation multiple formulas rarely apply. Viewing the valuation from the lens of an investor, this deal might actually even be a huge bargain. For instance, Facebook back in 2007 raised money at a 100x multiple with only $153 million in revenue and a $138 million net loss according to Statista. With that in mind, Uber’s 23x multiple seems very reasonable.

To illustrate this fact, I’ve created a chart below that compares companies’ revenues and their multiples for one of their funding rounds. I used Uber’s estimated 2013 gross revenue of $750 million and its $17 billion valuation to determine its multiple of 23x gross revenue below. I also plotted the revenue and multiple numbers for other superstar startups on the chart. I tried to choose funding rounds that resulted in a multiple within the range of Uber’s 23x revenue. I’ve also included one extreme example, AirBnb, just to represent the other end of the spectrum.

image-4

Comparing Uber’s revenue and multiple to the other startups, it’s easy to see that its valuation isn’t as crazy as it seems. Other startups had multiples that were much higher relative to their revenue at the time of funding. Amongst its peers, Uber is definitely looking like a winner.

To further support Uber’s valuation, a report from IBISWorld estimates that the 2014 annual profit for the Taxi & Limousine industry will be $1.4 billion. Essentially, Uber is projected to make approximately 29% of what the entire Taxi industry is expected to make!

With Uber’s “alarming” growth rate and new infusion of cold hard cash, you can bet that the company is dead set on conquering this exciting industry where transportation meets technology. There’s no doubt in my mind that the $17 billion valuation is justified. As a matter of fact, it’s definitely too low.

Sources:
Statista, IBISWorld, NYU Stern, Business Insider, CNN

 

Let Ads Work For You. HitBliss is the Future!

Television as we know it today is outdated. While it was a luxury to be able to consume all this content in a single “box” 30-40 years ago, this is no longer true today. With the advances in computer and streaming technologies (i.e. Netflix), it makes no sense why we should have to go through expensive cable/satellite packages for entertainment that include channels and shows we will never watch.

Television doesn’t work because of two things. First, you can’t pick and choose what shows you want, meaning you watch maybe 20% (made up to prove a point) of the channels you are paying for. Second, you already paid for access to all these channels, yet you are still bombarded with advertising as if you don’t spend enough already.

Enter HitBliss, the solution to this problem and the company that will flip this ancient business model up-side down. HitBliss lets ads work for us, the consumers! It’s actually very simple, yet quite brilliant. I’ve been lucky enough to be a beta tester and let me tell you it works flawlessly. Here’s the breakdown of how it all works.

Instead of paying for shows you don’t want and watching ads you don’t care about, HitBliss lets you pay for shows you want by watching ads tailored to you. That’s right, you earn credits by watching ads, which you can then use to rent an episode or a movie. When you first launch the app (which you have to download and install) you will be greeted by a 5-step explanation of what HitBliss is all about. You will also have the opportunity to set your personalization settings and choose which information you want to share with HitBliss. The more information you share, the more personalized the ads, and essentially the faster you earn credits. Think about it, if HitBliss can guarantee marketers that their target audience is watching the ads, the more money they both make.

I opted to earn credits the “fastest” by providing information regarding my search habits, web surfing habits, gender, income, education level, number of children and more. After the introduction, you are greeted with a familiar screen that lists all content by genre and type. On the top left of the main page is a button titled “earn.” This is where you go to watch a bunch of ads and earn credits. I clicked it and watched multiple ads. During the ads you will be required to either click or hit “enter” to make sure you are actually there and watching it. The more you pass this “test” the higher your “trust level” is. As far as I can tell, higher trust level means less “press Enter to prove you’re there” tests.

I think I watched about 7 minutes worth of ads, hitting the earned credit cap of $5.00. Throughout the process I was presented with the “hit Enter” test multiple times, perhaps one every ad. You level up faster by successfully completing the “hit Enter” test consecutively and quickly (streak bonus and quick response bonus, I think is what they called it).

Searching through the content, I believe everything is $1.99 for a 24 hour rental. I used some of my earned credits (you can opt to pay using your credit card as well) to fire up Good Fellas just to see how the actual streaming was. It looked great and worked well.

HitBliss is a great experience with a business model that makes perfect sense. It’s rare when three parties (consumer, HitBliss, marketers) all win in any one product or service, but I really believe HitBliss proves this can be done. This is why I think it has a tremendous future ahead of it, and why it will be my number one TV/movie streaming application.