After a summer hiatus, Codebrief is back! I’ll be experimenting with the format over the coming weeks, so let me know what works and what doesn’t. The general charge will be to “organize the internet“; There’s so much good content out there, my goal is to put it in front of readers each week. Additionally, I wrote two articles this week, one about the Apple Watch Series 4 (below), and one highlighting the history of watchmaker Patek Phillipe, for the rappers out there.
In 2017, Tim Cook announced to the world that the Apple Watch was the “#1 watch in the world” – in revenue – not just in units sold. So how does the new Series 4 move the needle? Unlike most categories, Apple doesn’t make the “nicest watch” (leave that to others (my history of Patek Phillipe). But, wearing an Apple Watch does convey a different type of status, one equally coveted in today’s world: “Taking care of one’s self is the newest status symbol, and the Apple Watch might just be the best way to communicate to others that you live a life worthy of such status… Usually, an Apple product is a symbol that you own the nicest product in that given category (as John Gruber deftly put it in his review). The Apple Watch though, is something slightly different: it’s a symbol that you’re living the nicest life possible.” Read my full take here.
📷 Why Instagram’s founders left: TechCrunch has an in-depth, well-sourced analysis of why Instagram’s two founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, have put in their two weeks notice at parent company Facebook. Perhaps this paragraph explains it most succinctly: “Systrom and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg historically got along, but they had occasional diverging opinions. A source said that a few times a year they’d clash before resolving things. Those clashes included “Sharing back to Facebook. Kevin wanted to keep the sharing on Instagram but at some point Mark wanted content production on Instagram to flow to Facebook. But things got more heated lately. “Recently Mark decided to pull all of the links to Instagram from Facebook.”
In short, Instagram’s co-founders built a spectacular product and sold it to Zuckerberg before they had to worry about making money. The relationship was perfectly symbiotic: Instagram could build its ad business off the back of Facebook’s already well-developed network, and Facebook could continue to grow, even as its main product (Facebook.com, that is) stagnated. And now that it’s increasingly looking like Instagram has won the product battle against Snapchat by introducing Stories, it’s again up to Facebook to figure out how to monetize a well-built Instagram product. Oh, for another tale of founder-is-acquired-then-leaves-Facebook check out Forbes’ great profile of WhatsApp founder (and recent Facebook defector) Brian Acton. Key quote: “Facebook ‘isn’t the bad guy. I think of them as just very good businesspeople.’ Sound like the Instagram story?
“#1 watch in the world.” That’s how Tim Cook opened the Apple Watch portion of the September 2018 Apple Keynote. At 2017’s Keynote, Cook explicitly mentioned that Apple was actually the largest watch brand in terms of revenue – not just units sold – surely sending chills down the spines of Rolex and other Swiss watch execs in the old boys club.
What Even Is a Watch?
Since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and became the most ubiquitous product since the Furby, there’s been a common chorus: “why do I need a watch, my phone tells time just fine?” There’s some truth to this sentiment: if we were really wearing watches primarily for their functionality, we’d all be wearing minimalist, time-only, quartz-powered pieces that cost a couple bucks to manufacture in China (oh wait, there’s one company that built a nice business selling just that, and another that was just acquired for some $100 million). But the truth is we wear watches for a variety of reasons: what they say about us (e.g. wearing a Daniel Wellington says something like “I’m a minimally aware millenial that makes most of my purchasing decisions so that I look more like a well-crafted Instagram post”), an aesthetic we’re trying to communicate to others, or an appreciation for the movement and craftsmanship that goes into a well-made mechanical piece. A watch is so much more than its functionality; it’s an item we wear daily that subtly communicates status and taste. In the old days, people bought divers to be like Cousteau, Daytonas to look like Newman, Explorers to feel like Hillary.
But in a modern world increasingly defined by the “consumerist church” of SoulCycle and Lululemon, spending time and money on your own health and fitness is the most ostentatious display of wealth. Instead of wanting to be divers, drivers or climbers, we simply want to get a bike for the 8 a.m. SoulCycle, with a watch to match that lifestyle.
Apple Watch: Flawed Genius
Any watch collector will tell you: “90% (or some arbitrary, but high percentage) of a vintage watch’s value is in the dial.” Is it an original dial? How’s the patina? This is the crux of the problem for the Apple Watch: the attribute that most limits its functionality and elegance is the lack of an always-on dial. If you’re in a meeting, you have to deliberately turn your wrist towards you to wake the screen. But by then, your boss is looking at you with that “oh is this fucking boring to you?” face.
And we can’t yet have an always on dial because of battery-life limitations. Further, there is an old-world charm to having something on your wrist that doesn’t require a battery, that relies on mechanical power alone (like the good old days!). In a world where we feel little connection to our electronics products – manufactured in a Chinese factory thousands of miles away – you can almost feel the master watchmaker toiling away on the hundreds of tiny pieces inside your mechanical watch, made to last for hundreds of years, and not until the next upgrade cycle.
Perhaps more than anyone, Apple’s designers understand the appeal of a watch. Jony Ive is a watch guy. Steve Jobs was intrigued by Patek Phillipe. In fact, the Apple Watch does contain many subtle nods to haute horology: one of my favorite is the smooth-moving seconds hand, emblematic of a mechanical watch (as opposed to the jumping seconds hand of a quartz watch). Even referring to the buttons on your Apple Watch screen as “complications” is a fun nod to horology. Ives has claimed an affection for the Patek Phillipe’s luxury sportswatch, the Nautilus; perhaps coincidentally, many of the Apple Watch’s faces mimic the hands of a Nautilus (which itself imitates the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak). And honestly, this homage makes sense. To me, the Apple Watch plays the role of “sports watch” in my rotation. I wear it to the gym (wear it has complications no $30,000 watch can match), or out when I know I’ll be having a particularly active day.
On another note, the Apple Watch re-introduced me to the idea of wrist-as-retail space. I wasn’t wearing a watch everyday until I finally bought a Series 3. Not long after, I had re-immersed myself into the world of mechanical watches. I can’t imagine I’m the only person under the age of 40 for whom this is the case. All we’ve known is a world dominated by battery-powered commodity watches; for some reason, the Apple Watch made me realize that a watch could be something more.
Health: The New Grand Complication
Which brings us to the Apple Watch. While the first three series of the Watch seemed to wander through the abyss looking for an actual purpose, the Apple Watch Series 4 has finally found its true calling: health and fitness. In 2014, Apple introduced the Watch by highlighting its various functionalities, without focus on any particular one. Four years later, Apple’s focus is decidedly on the Watch’s fitness capabilities (just look at the main page for Apple Watch). Additionally, Apple has clearly been putting its R&D money where its marketing mouth is: two of the Watch’s biggest technological leaps – the ECG and fall detection – are health focused.
In a world where watches tell the world (and ourselves) what type of life we lead, wearing an Apple Watch says something like “I can afford to spend $35 on a SoulCycle class; yes, that’s why I look so damn good in these $110 yoga pants”. And if it’s good enough for Kobe to wear to the Oscars, shouldn’t it be good enough for you? As Kanye himself recently rapped “hospital band a hundred bands, fuck a watch”. This from a guy whose 2011 album Watch the Throne is dripping with references to Hublot, Audemars Piguet and Rolex (mostly from noted watch aficionado Jay-Z, granted).
Taking care of one’s self is the newest status symbol, and the Apple Watch might just be the best way to communicate to others that you live a life worthy of such status. Sure, Apple has always made beautifully designed, elegant products – and the Apple Watch is now designed about as good as it can be – but much of an Apple product’s value is also tied up in the intangible status one gains by owning an Apple product. Usually, it’s a symbol that you own the nicest product in that given category (as John Gruber deftly put it in his review). The Apple Watch though, is something slightly different: it’s a symbol that you’re living the nicest life possible. You’ve got time and money to spend on your own health and fitness, which, in the end, is the ultimate luxury. Yes, more than that New Patek, Mr. Uzi Vert.
So yes, an Apple Watch might technically not be a watch. Call it a small computer on your wrist or whatever. But you’re not wearing that $200,000 Patek just to tell time either (look at you, Uzi).
HBR: Platforms Should Become Information Fiduciaries
Harvard professor Johnathan Zittrain writes in HBR that large internet platforms should have a fiduciary duty to users: “Like doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers, social media platforms and their concierges are given sensitive information by their users, and those users expect a fair shake — whether they’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world or how to get somewhere or do something.” It’s an idea increasing in popularity among academics; we’ll see if it gains traction in policy rings, or if politicians remain content with Committee hearings and grandstanding.
Report: How the right uses YouTube to influence and “sell” a political ideology.
A new Data & Society report analyzes how political influencers adopt the techniques of brands to build audiences and sell them a political ideology. Of note: “YouTube is a principal online news source for young people. Which is why it is concerning that YouTube… has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers. Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”
⌚️ Watch out: Hodinkee’s got a review of the Apple Watch Series 4 after a week on the wrist. The cult classic Ikepod watch (perhaps most recognizable now because its strap design is used on the aforementioned Apple Watch) is also back, starting at less than $400. Quartz for now, but since the Kickstarter has already blown past its goal, those hoping for an automatic version may have something to look forward to in 2019.
🌮 A Financial Times columnist reflects on the enduring regionalism of cuisine, writing, “To eat out is to see through the world-as-village conceit. Except at the lowest price point (McDonald’s) and the highest (Nobu), a global dining scene — in which each cuisine is, like an iPhone, consistent across the world — remains not just elusive but unimaginable.”
🤑 Forbes’ interview with Bezos. One of the best quotes from the $160 billion man: “Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, ‘Good job, great quarter,’ and I’ll say, ‘Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.’ I’m working on a quarter that’ll happen in 2021 right now.”
🍾 A week of anniversaries: WIRED turns 25 and the Economist turns 175, with the requisite reflective essays to accompany the milestones.
📱 Apple v. Kanye. The Financial Times points out that two industries historically poles apart – fashion and tech – will go head-to-head on Friday. Adidas’ Yeezy line will have its biggest drop yet, while Apple will debut the first of its new phone line. Apple has always gladly straddled the line of luxury brand disguised as tech company (or is the other way around?), while Kanye has declared a goal of democratizing high-end fashion. His $220 sneakers are a good start.
🦁 Please Feed the Lions: Designer Es Devlin, who has in the past found herself in the good graces of Kanye West and Beyonce, is behind a new project titled Please Feed the Lions. Visitors to the sculpture in London’s Trafalgar Square “feed” the lion a word via tablet. The lion then uses AI to create a poem using the word.
Apple has redefined industry after industry with superior UX; healthcare is next.
Amidst all the hype about Amazon’s announcement that it will create an independent healthcare company with a couple pals, news of Apple’s recent lurch into the health industry was widely drowned out. With the release of the latest iPhone iOS beta (11.3), Apple announced improvements to Health Records which promise to make healthcare data more consumer-centric:
The updated Health Records section within the Health app brings together hospitals, clinics and the existing Health app to make it easy for consumers to see their available medical data from multiple providers whenever they choose….
In the past, patients’ medical records were held in multiple locations, requiring patients to log into each care provider’s website and piece together the information manually. Apple worked with the healthcare community (emphasis mine) to take a consumer-friendly approach, creating Health Records based on FHIR.
Amazon’s announcement came with scant details, while Apple’s announcement accompanied the actual beta release of the announced feature. Such is the current Amazon hype cycle though: Should Jeff Bezos so much as look in an industry’s direction, stocks tumble a few percent.