Climate change stories

There was an interesting juxtaposition of articles in the Observer this morning. The leader set the tone with a strong call for action in the face of the IPCC report. 

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its fifth assessment report on the physical science of global warming and made it clear that the continued burning of fossil fuels to run our cars, factories and electricity plants is now virtually certain to induce serious alterations to our climate. 

Then there was the piece by David King and Richard Layard calling for a world sunpower programme:

The goal would be by 2025 to deliver solar electricity at scale to the grid at a cost below the cost of fossil fuel. All countries would be invited to participate. Those who did would commit, in their own countries, to major new programmes of research, internationally co-ordinated, and to share their findings for the benefit of the world.

 In contrast, however, were two of the (very few) articles in the New York Times Observer supplement, presumably hand picked from the raft of stories which the NYT covers. The first focussed on the economic difficulties faced by Germany’s green energy policies.

German families are being hit by rapidly increasing electricity rates, to the point where growing numbers of them can no longer afford to pay the bill. Businesses are more and more worried that their energy costs will put them at a disadvantage to competitors in nations with lower energy costs, and some energy-intensive industries have begun to shun the country because they fear steeper costs ahead.

The second was a piece explaining the potential of unlocking frozen hydrates as a potential new (carbon) fuel source. 

If they can be tapped safely and economically, they could be an abundant source of fuel, especially for countries like Japan that have few energy reserves of their own.

There in the Observer (and supplements) this morning the complexity of the climate change issue was laid out. 

  1. We have a serious problem with CO2; 
  2. We know that we have to reduce hydrocarbons in favour of renewables; 
  3. But the infrastructure and economics of the oil and gas industries have the advantage and the momentum; 
  4. Renewables are costly and going it alone is fraught with perils (see Germany);
  5. A “moonshot” is therefore required.

What are the chances of this happening? The Observer leader I started with sums it up: 

What Britain urgently needs is an unambiguous statement from our government that it recognises very serious changes are now affecting our planet; that we have the will to tackle a growing global catastrophe; and that we are prepared to address difficult, unpopular truths. To date, we have heard nothing. 

Has Apple lost its innovation mojo?

Has Apple has lost its innovation mojo? Yes, according to many pundits who weighed in immediately following last Tuesday’s announcements of the iPhone 5S and 5C. 

Comments from The Guardian were typical: “Once a company renowned for breaking new ground, Apple is turning into a typical American corporation” says the sub-head. 

treading water is what Apple has done ever since, sadly, it lost Jobs. Under the turtlenecked-one, we got the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, one after another. Since Cook took over as boss in 2011, there has been reiteration rather than innovation. The iPad, except smaller. Now with a sharper screen. In pink. Ho hum. 

Tech site CNET took a very similar line. The “5 disappointing things about hte iPhone 5S” are listed out: the screen remains the same; a faster processor – it’s only just a phone!; no improvement in battery life; still no 128GB model; a little catch up, no innovation.

The iPhone 5S has exactly what was expected: a faster processor and a better camera (one that merely catches up to the cameras in some other phones). Those features aren’t “wow” — they’re “meh.”

And news network CNN concurred. “Underwhelmed. That, in a word, was the response in many quarters to Apple’s rollout of two new iPhones on Tuesday,” its piece began. However, what followed was a more balanced round up of views. On the one hand: 

“Much-hyped iPhone announcements from the tech giant did little to stop (Apple’s) year-long descent into stagnation,” wrote Marcus Wohlsen in Wired, a content partner. “Though the faster, sleeker, more powerful phone is unarguably cool, the steps forward are still incremental. And incremental isn’t what the world expects from Apple.”

One the other, however, 

“In most cases Apple does not walk on others’ paths,” she said. “They create their own and stick to it. This is not necessarily the easy way to do it in the short term, but assures that they remain in control.”,

quoting Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst with Gartner Research.

And there were still others with a more subtle interpretation of innovation, such as the Innovation Excellence blog which wrote: 

I truly believe that the kinds of things that will come out of the BLE technology built into the new iPhone 5S in combination with the new fingerprint authentication will represent a quantum leap in the value we extract from our smartphones in much the same way that the AppStore that came along a year after the launch of the original iPhone.

And another Wired article with a more positive take:

The bottom line is that there’s a lot more to the iPhone switching to a 64-bit processor than hype. While the applications for it might be limited right now, Apple is paving the way for improvements that we’ll see trickle into the iPhone over the next few years. 

Forbes summed it up best for me with “7 reasons the new iPhones are starting to look good” (5 plays 7!). The bottom line for Forbes:

Innovation is unquestionably becoming less glitzy but that’s because Cook is updating Apple at the platform level. In place of Jobs’ charismatic feature, design and miniaturization-led innovation, he is giving his team space to build the boat: a device platform that is powerful enough to integrate many more services, gives developers more scope; allows the iPhone to interact with more devices around the body and in nearby locations. 

In the end this more subtle interpretation of the Apple strategy sounds to me more convincing. 

The car as a new frontier for what’s left of Nokia?

Microsoft’s headline-grabbing acquisition of (most of) Nokia’s handset division dominated the airwaves this morning but among all the coverage was a piece from Techcrunch on the bit that Nokia is left with.

That is, somewhat clumsily, called HERE and it is a software business building on top of the maps division. This business is focused on providing in-car navigation solutions for cars, but also, and most importantly, on developing the integration between cars and mobile platforms in a branded and white label fashion.

This just could be a very rich space. Despite the obvious moves from IOS and Android to move into the car space, the reality in most vehicles (my Mercedes being a case in point) lags very far behind.

Potentially HERE could carve out a very lucrative future in providing the fiddly bits that make slowly-evolving cars work seamlessly with  the fast-moving consumer electronics that we all want to integrate with them.


Read more on the connected car and what it means for platform providers and the cellcos in this thought-piece from Rethink.

ABC of metrics

I loved this passage in a talk given by Stijn Debrouwere who works at The Guardian:

The metrics you’ll need will depend on your business, but as a starting point I like Dave McClure’s list of five startup metrics for pirates:

  1. acquisition: finding new users
  2. activation: getting users to give your product a try
  3. retention: making sure those users stick around
  4. referral: have your loyal users invite others
  5. revenue: hopefully you get to make some money from all this

Acquisition, activation, retention, referral, revenue, or, as an acronym: aarrr! Those are usually the big five things you have to worry about.

As he says, the most important thing to remember is to be really specific about what you are trying to achieve. We are all drowning in data, so it’s refreshing to get back to basics once in a while.