Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Is Tesla Innovative?

Posted in botch, business, technologies by commorancy on July 16, 2021

I’ve been confronted with this very question many times on Social Media, specifically Twitter. Many people who own Tesla vehicles vehemently insistent that Elon Musk and Tesla’s products are innovative. But, is Tesla really innovative? In short, no. Let’s explore why.

Innovation

via Oxford Dictionary

As a first step, we need to define the word, innovation. As you can see from its definition from Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as ‘a new method, idea, product, etc’.

The difficulty with this definition is that it doesn’t go deep enough to explain what the word new actually means in this definition’s context. This definition assumes the reader will understand the subtle, but important distinction of using the word ‘new’ in this definition.

Many people will, unfortunately, conclude that ‘new’ means ‘brand new’ as in a ‘just manufactured’ new model car. Simply because something is brand spankin’ new doesn’t make it innovative. However, a ‘brand new’ car model might contain some innovative elements, but the technology behind a car’s functional design may not be innovative or new at all… contrary to Oxford’s complicated use of the word ‘new’. As an example, both random cars in general and specifically electric vehicles are not new. In fact, mass produced cars have been the norm since 1901 and electric cars have been prototyped since the 1830s. While those electric prototypes weren’t truly cars in the mass produced sense, they were functional prototypes which showed that the electric vehicle technology is possible, functional and, most importantly, feasible.

You might then be thinking that Tesla was the first to create mass produced electric cars. Again, you’d be wrong. In fact, the first mass produced electric car was General Motor’s EV1, produced in 1996. The EV1 appeared 12 years before the first electric vehicle rolled off the assembly line at Tesla… and Tesla’s cars appeared 178 years after the first electric car prototype appeared. That’s a long time… definitely not ‘new’.

Electric vehicle technology was not at all new when Tesla decided to roll out its all electric vehicles. The only claim to fame that Tesla can profess is that they were able to sort-of Apple-ize their car in such a way that it warps the minds of buyers into believing it is ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. Ultimately, that defines an excellent sales strategy… what Elon Musk is actually known for.

To Tesla’s credit, they were the first viable luxury class vehicle to also claim the electric vehicle moniker. That claim doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle innovative. It makes Tesla’s sales and marketing team innovative in that they can make electric vehicle technology ‘sexy’ for the well-to-do crowd. Before Tesla, luxury car brands mostly avoided making electric vehicles. Even then, being able to successfully market and sell a product doesn’t make that product innovative. It simply means you’re good at selling things.

For example, Steve Jobs was the master at selling Apple products. To be fair, Steve Jobs didn’t really have to do much in the way of hard sells. When Jobs was at the helm, many of Apple’s early products were indeed innovative. If you need an example of innovation, Steve Jobs’s products mostly epitomize it.

Tesla, on the other hand, absconded with several key things to produce its Tesla electric vehicles: 1) Luxury car designs (which already existed), 2) electric vehicles (which already existed) and 3) standard off-the-shelf battery technology (which already existed). None of these three ideas were new in 2008. That Tesla successfully married these things together isn’t considered true innovation. It’s considered incremental innovation. Taking already existing pieces and putting them together to make a successful ‘new’ product is common in many industries. This is incremental in that these things already existed and it was only a matter of time before someone put them together in a cohesive way. Is that innovation? No. Why? If Tesla hadn’t done it, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Bentley or another luxury brand would have at some point. Though, Tesla’s early claim to fame wasn’t even luxury, it was sports cars. However, Tesla has dropped the sports car idea in lieu of being a luxury brand.

Product Innovation Types

I’ll circle back around to the above, but let’s take a break here to understand the two primary types of innovation.

The first type of innovation is breakthrough innovation. This rare type of innovation offers a concept the world has never seen and usually results in a paradigm shift. Example: The Wright Brother’s first flight which brought about the paradigm shift into commercial aviation… a whole new industry emerged as a result.

The second type of innovation is incremental innovation. This much more common type of innovation takes existing ideas and marries them into a single new product. Example: The iPhone.

Some might consider both the iPad and the iPhone as breakthrough innovation. Instead, the first Apple computer would be considered breakthrough innovation and ultimately what, in part, lead to the iPhone and iPad. However and to be fair, both the iPad and iPhone products are technically incremental innovation. Prior to the iPad, there had been several tablet style computers (e.g., GRiD and even the Apple Newton) that, for whatever reason, never really took off. Handheld PDAs were actually a form of tablet. Cell phones were very popular long before the iPhone arrived. The iPhone, like the Tesla, successfully married three concepts: a computer, the cell phone and PDA into what became the smartphone.

However, even though incremental, both the iPhone and the iPad were responsible for a technological computing paradigm shift. The primary innovation seen in these devices was not from the marriage of existing technology, but from the speed, size, weight, high res screen and functionality that the devices offered… particularly when combined with the app store and a reasonable price tag. It’s much more convenient and fast to grab a tablet to quickly search the web than sitting down at a desk and powering up a desktop computer. It is the internal functions and features and flexibility that set these devices well apart from their earlier computer brethren which offered slower computing experiences at higher prices.

Steve Jobs was a master at miniaturizing computers into much smaller versions with reasonable price tags and which included high end features. This strategy is what set Apple, then NeXT, then Apple again… apart from the rest of their competitors. That was with Steve Jobs at the helm. Since Job’s passing, Apple is still attempting to ride Steve Jobs’s coattails, but those coattails are getting raggedy at this point. If Apple doesn’t come up with something truly breakthrough innovative in the next few years, they’re likely to begin losing sales in larger and larger quantities. Even more than this, another upstart company in similar Tesla form will step in front of Apple and usurp the industry. A business cannot keep selling the same devices over and over and expect success to continue. Apple needs another paradigm shift device to keep its success streak going. I digress.

Tesla’s Innovation

Circling back around to Tesla, we should now be able to better understand why what Tesla includes in its vehicles, while luxurious and technologically interesting, is nothing actually very new. It’s new in the sense of being recently manufactured, yes, but the technology itself is old from an innovation sense. In other words, Tesla had no hand in that technology’s development. An example, Tesla’s choice to place a large touch screen panel in the middle of the dashboard, while interesting, is simply considered luxury as touch screen flat panels are not technologically new. What about the all electric car itself? It’s not new either. Remember the 1830s? Remember the EV1? Not new.

What about the battery that powers the car? That battery technology is not new either. Technologically, it’s simply a standard lithium-ion battery built large enough to support operating a motor vehicle. Tesla didn’t design that technology either. Tesla might have had a hand in requesting the battery’s size, weight and power requirements, but that’s not innovation… that’s manufacturing requirements. The lithium-ion battery technology was created and produced much, much earlier in the 1980s. In fact, Akira Yoshino holds the 1983 patent for what is effectively the lithium-ion battery technology still being produced today… yes, even what’s being used in the Tesla.

You may be asking, “So what is innovative about the Tesla?” That’s a good question. Not very much to be honest. The car body’s design is at least proprietary, but functionally utilitarian just as most car bodies produced today are. The pop out door handles might be considered somewhat innovative, but these are born out of luxury, not out of necessity. They look cool, but don’t really serve a truly functional purpose. In this sense, while the handles might be considered innovative, they’re incremental and don’t serve a true purpose other than for aesthetics. The same statement of aesthetics can be said of a lot of both the interior and exterior of the Tesla. Functionally, the Tesla vehicles are cars.

The Tesla cars are designed to give the owner a luxury driving experience both inside and out. The all electric drive train helps reinforce that luxury function due to its torque, performance and acceleration power. Even the charging stations were built out of sales necessity, not out of innovation. You can’t exactly sell many electric vehicles if you can’t charge them easily. The proliferation of the recharge stations was, as I just said, born of necessity. Yes, this infrastructure is important to all future electric vehicles. However, Tesla built them coast to coast to ensure that Tesla owners could at least make a trip cross country without running out of power.

All of what Tesla has built I actually consider ‘smoke and mirrors’ or the ‘Hollywood Effect’. These luxury inclusions are intended to make the buyer feel better about the high purchase price. That the car acts like a highly paid butler, helping do a lot for the driver while on the road is what buyers see and feel. It’s that very luxury experience and those visual seemingly high-tech aesthetics that lure would be buyers into the brand. Buying a car from Tesla is like buying a new iPhone. It gives buyer that same endorphin rush, being able to say you have one. It’s also affords bragging rights because it’s a car brand that is relatively infrequently encountered and, at least according to Tesla buyers, is highly enviable.

People tend to buy Tesla for the same reason they buy and consume Cristal or Dom Perignon. They purchase these expensive brands not because they’re exceptional quality products, but because they afford a certain level of bragging rights because the item can be afforded. As a side note, Cristal and Dom Perignon are decent sparkling wines, but they are not worth the price tag based solely on taste alone. There are much less expensive Champagne and sparkling wines that are equal or better in taste. I’ll let you make of that statement what you will when it comes to Tesla.

Driver Assist

This leads us into the assisted driving feature. This feature is not innovative either. Driving assistance has been available on cars as far back as 2003 with the IPAS feature available on the Toyota Prius and Lexus models. This feature automatically parallel and reverse parks the vehicle. While this is not true assisted driving while on the road, the IPAS would definitely drive the vehicle into the parking space hands-free. IPAS was an important first step in proving that computer assisted driving could work.

Other driving systems which have contributed towards fully assisted driving is lane change detection, collision avoidance, traction control, distance detection, automatic braking and the backup-camera.

Tesla has taken all of these prior computerized driving innovations and, yet again, combined them into a computerized assisted driving. This technology is markedly different from full autonomous self-driving. Assisted driving utilizes all of the above detection systems to allow the driver to remove hands from the wheel, but not remove the driver from the driver’s seat. The driver must still watch the road and make sure the car’s detection systems do not go awry when the driver must be willing to reassert manual control. Because these limited detection systems aren’t fail proof, a driver is still required to take control over the vehicle should the system fail to detect a specific condition that a driver can see and avoid.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Tesla doesn’t presently offer a fully computerized autonomous self-driving vehicle for its consumers. Only driver assist mode is available. Self-driving vehicles do not require a driver. Self-driving autonomous vehicles have an advanced computer system and radar system mounted on the roof. These vehicles are continually scanning for all manner of conditions constantly. The computer is constantly able to correct for any conditions which arise or at least which have been programmed. Self-driving vehicles are substantially less prone to errors than assisted driving, primarily because of Google’s self-driving vehicle efforts. Self-driving types of vehicles do not need a driver sitting the driver’s seat, unlike assisted driving vehicles which still require a driver.

One might think that Google invented this technology. However, one would be wrong. Self-driving vehicles were introduced in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair using a system that required road modification to keep the vehicle situated.

Google was able to, in 2009, adapt this prior concept by using the then computer, current radar technologies and detection systems to allow the car to function autonomously without the need to modify the road itself. However, even though Google was able to create cars that do function properly and autonomously, this technology has yet to be manufactured into consumer grade vehicles…. mostly out of fear that it will fail in unexplained ways. That and that driving laws (and insurance policies) have not yet caught up to the idea of autonomous driver-free vehicles. For example, if there’s no driver and an autonomous car injures or kills someone, who’s at fault? Laws are slowly catching up, but this question still remains.

Tesla and Driver Assist

Let’s circle back around. The reason Google’s autonomous driving technology, now called Waymo, is mentioned in this article is that it began one year after Tesla began operations in 2008, long before Tesla began including assisted driving in their vehicles. Tesla, once again, adopted an already existing technology into their vehicle designs, likely based in part on Google’s successful autonomous vehicles. They didn’t design this mode. They simply adapted an already existing technology design to be useful in a more limited fashion. Again, this isn’t breakthrough innovation, it’s incremental innovation. There is no paradigm shift involved. It’s a utilitarian luxury inclusion in an attempt to allow Tesla to prove how modern and luxurious their vehicles are compared to other luxury brands. Basically, it’s yet another ‘feather in their cap’.

Innovation is Innovation

Unfortunately, no. It’s far, far easier to adapt existing technologies into a design than it is to build a new idea from scratch. For this reason, nothing of what Tesla has built is truly groundbreaking or ‘breakthrough’ in design. More than this, Tesla is a car. A car is a car is a car.

The point in a car is to transport you from point A to point B and back. You can buy a car that’s $5,000 to perform this function or you can buy a car that’s over a $1 million. Both perform this same basic task. The difference in price is the luxury. Do you want to do this task in a thinly walled, loud, tiny bucket of a car or do you want to do it with every creature comfort using top speed? Comfort and performance are the primary differences in price.

With Tesla, there’s nothing truly innovative included in their cars. Luxurious? Check. Performant? Check. Bells and Whistles? Check. Miles per gallon? Whoops.

Distance Driving

One of the great things about gasoline powered vehicles is the ability to travel great distances without stopping too frequently. When you do need to stop, the existing gas station infrastructure is practically every place where you might travel. Granted, there are some dead stretches of roads were you might need to plan your car’s fillups accordingly, else you might be stranded. For the vast majority of roads in the United States, finding a gas station is quick and easy.

With the Tesla, finding recharge stations fare far worse. While the charging infrastructure is improving and growing around the country, it’s still much more limited than gas stations. That means that when distance driving in a Tesla, it’s even more important to plan your travel routes to ensure you can charge your vehicle all along the way.

You have a Model 3 and you say it charges to 100% in about an hour? Sure, but only if you happen to find a V3 Supercharger. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Superchargers available are V2 chargers or older. Even then, the amount of kilowatts of power available to charge your Tesla may be artificially constrainted. The V3 chargers offer up to 250 kW. The V2 chargers offer around 150 kW. Many random chargers you find (not Tesla branded) may only offer between 6 and 20 kW. Considering that 20 is only a fraction of 250, you’ll spend a whole lot of time sitting at that charger waiting on your Model 3 to charge up. It’s great that Tesla has built the faster V3 charger, but you can’t bank on finding these when you need one most. With gas stations, you can at least get some kind of gas and fill up the tank in minutes. With a Tesla, you could be sitting at a charging station for hours waiting to get to 50%.

Around 60 minute charge times sound great for the Model 3, but only when the infrastructure is there to support it. Currently, the V3 chargers are still not the norm.

What does all of the above mean for distance driving? It means that for long distance road trips while in a Tesla, you’ll need to not only plan each charger stop carefully, you’ll need spend time locating the fastest chargers you can find. This allows you to calculate the amount of time it requires to charge your car to 100% at that charger. If you don’t properly plan for where and how long, you could spend way more time at places than you think.

Run out of charge in the middle of nowhere? With services like triple-A, you won’t find them coming to top up your charge. Oh, no. They’ll come grab your prized Tesla, place it on a flatbed and then you’ll be riding in that tow truck to the nearest charge station… which could be hundreds of miles and one very large tow cost away. Once you get there, you’ll be sitting waiting for the charge to complete… and/or attempting to find a motel. Costly. Even with Tesla’s included roadside assistance, don’t expect miracles and you may even be required to pay for that tow.

If you had been driving a hybrid, triple-A could have given you a few gallons to get you to the nearest station to fill up… and then you’d have been on your way quickly.

What are the charge costs?

Honestly, if you have to ask this question, then a Tesla is probably not the right car to buy. However, for the curious, it’s still worth a deeper dive. Unlike gasoline prices which are clearly and conspicuously visible with large price signs towering high above the gas station, neither Superchargers nor standard electric chargers give you this visibility.

In fact, to find out what it will cost to charge your vehicle, you’ll have to visit the recharger and begin poking your way through the touch screen. There are some apps and web sites you can pick a charger location and review its then electric rate, but you might not want to bank on that if you’re planning a trip. Instead, because electric prices can vary dramatically during seasons and demand, you’ll need to check the pricing just before you reach the charger or, better, directly on the charger when you reach it.

Unlike gas stations which allow you to shop around for the best price, chargers don’t really offer that convenience. You pay what you pay.

For a Supercharger, the prices are based on how the energy is doled out to your car. The two methods are kilowatts or kilowatt-hours. Whichever rate system you choose, the energy will work out to the same cost in the end.

If you choose to charge per minute, it is $0.26 per minute above 60 kW. Under 60 kW, it is only $0.13. If you charge by kWh, it is $0.28 per kWh drawn from the charger.

https://www.motorbiscuit.com/how-much-does-it-cost-tesla-supercharger/

In case you’re wondering… No, it is not free to charge up your Tesla. However, Tesla does sometimes offer free limited time charging incentives at Superchargers when attempting to up quarter sales. You’ll need to discuss these kinds of incentives with Tesla before you sign on the dotted line.

Superchargers and Battery Wear

Battery technologies are finicky. It’s well known that the faster you charge a battery, the faster it wears out. Yes, this goes for Tesla car batteries. What that means is that while visiting a V3 Supercharger is convenient for topping up your battery quickly, it’s not so great on the battery itself. The more you visit these fast charge ports, the quicker your car battery may need to be replaced. This means you should temper your exuberance for fast chargers and utilize much slower overnight charging whenever possible.

How much is a replacement battery pack? Well, let’s hope you bought the extended warranty because here’s where things get really pricey. Obviously, under warranty, there will be no cost. If the warranty has expired or if you have bought a used Tesla without a warranty, you’re on your own. The cost to replace a battery pack can range from $3,000 to over $13,000 sans labor. If you’re considering buying a used Tesla, you should confirm if any existing warranty is transferable to the new owner and confirm how much is left. You shouldn’t confirm this with the seller as they can tell you anything. Instead, confirm this information with Tesla directly by calling and asking.

If no warranty is available, you should contact a third party warranty company (i.e., CarShield) and discuss whether the battery is a covered part under that warranty before you buy the car. Being required to spend $16,000 after buying a used Tesla (or any electric car) is not really a pleasant surprise. You’ll want to make sure you can acquire some kind of warranty that covers that battery part as soon as you buy that Tesla.

Commuter Vehicle

Let’s discuss a situation where Tesla does function decently enough. A Tesla is a reasonable, if not somewhat costly commuter vehicle. It’s great to get around town, drive to work, run errands, pick up the kids and take them to soccer practice. For long distance driving, owning a Tesla is unnecessarily more complicated, particularly if you choose to tour remote areas of the country without access to charge stations. All of this complication can be easily avoided by choosing a gas vehicle or a gas hybrid. As a commuter vehicle, a Tesla is an okay choice. However, I’d suggest there are plenty of other vehicles, gas, hybrid and even hybrid / electric, that suffice for commuting. Many of these choices are not nearly as costly as the purchase of a Tesla. But, of course, you won’t get all of the Tesla niceties with those other vehicles.

A Green Company?

With the recent trend toward companies seeking to being green and offering green technologies, it’s funny (odd) that Tesla chose not to be very green. There are a number of problems that prevent Tesla from being a green all around company. By green, let me define that.

I know, you might thinking, “How can an all-electric vehicle not be green?” Bear with me.

A Green company is a company that implements processes to reduce waste, to offer more compostable materials in packaging and implement processes to reduce its own waste and offer designs which help reduce carbon emissions and other environmental pollutants. Apple is a good example of this. Apple moved from using plastic packaging materials to paper materials which compost more fully. Though, even Apple isn’t all that green considering the eWaste afforded by Apple’s insistence at replacing iPhones every single year.

One might further think, “Well, isn’t Tesla green by using batteries instead of gasoline?” You would think that would be true, wouldn’t you? Let’s examine.

What about those Li-On batteries? The secret involving these batteries is that to manufacture that one battery, it produces 74% more emissions than a standard car does. Once the battery is manufactured, the consumption of greenhouse gasses drops to zero for that specific battery, but the manufacturing of each battery is very dirty. I guess Tesla car buyers don’t really care much about how much of a carbon footprint was required to build that luxury Tesla? It gets worse.

Power Grids derive most of their energy from fossil fuel sources. Up to a max 20% of all grid energy generated is from clean renewables such as Solar, Wind and Water. Nuclear energy further makes up another 20%. The remaining ~60% is still generated from fossil fuel sources including coal, natural gas and burning petroleum products. That means that every time you plug your Tesla into a grid charger, at least 60% of that energy consumed is contributing to greenhouse gasses.

Your Tesla doesn’t have a tailpipe, but it grows one while your Tesla is charging from the grid.

Tesla and the Power Grid

With both California and Texas now experiencing regular power problems due to various politically motivated reasons, it is also becoming obvious that the aging United States power grid infrastructure is in need of a major overhaul. For every plug-in electric car sold (not just Tesla), this puts another car onto the grid to suck even more energy. As more and more all electric cars are manufactured and sold, that only means even more added load to that aging power grid. Tesla is a heavy contributor to this problem due to its much faster (denser) powered requirements for fast charging.

At some tipping point, there will be too many cars charging for the grid to handle. The formerly off-peak hours in the wee morning hours will become the peak hours because that’s when all of the cars will be charging. Eventually, all of these charging electric cars will be drawing more current than homes draw in the middle of the day. This will be compounded by Tesla’s ever more ravenous need to speed charging up. Right now, the V3 chargers pull 250 kW. The V4 chargers will likely want to pull 500kW. V5 chargers maybe 1000kW?

When will this need-for-speed end? This is the same problem that Internet Services faced in the early 2000s. The infrastructure wasn’t designed for 10GB to every home. It still isn’t. That’s why broadband services still don’t offer 10GB home speeds. They barely offer 1GB.. and even if you do buy such a link, they don’t guarantee those speeds (read the fine print).

The point is that the more data that can be pulled in an ever shorter amount of time, the more problems it causes for the ISP over that very short time. The same for energy generation. The more energy consumed over an ever shorter amount of time, the more energy that must be generated to keep up with that load. There is a tipping point where energy generators won’t be able to keep up.

Is Tesla working with the energy generation companies? Highly unlikely. Tesla is most likely designing in a bubble of their own making. Tesla’s engineers assume that energy generation is a problem that the electric companies need to solve. Yet, energy generation has finite limits. Limits that, once reached, cannot be exceeded without expensive additional capacity… capacity that the energy companies must pay to build, not Tesla. Capacity that takes time to build and won’t come online quickly (read years). Capacity costs that will be handed down to consumers in the form of even more rate increases. Yes, all of those Tesla vehicles consuming energy will end up being the source of higher energy rate increases. Thanks, Elon!

It’s highly unlikely that Tesla knows exactly where those energy generation limits are and they probably don’t want to know. It’s also the reason many recharge stations limit power consumption draw current to around 6-10 kW max. Those limits are intentional and are likely not to be lifted any time soon. If Tesla can manage to get even a handful of V3 Superchargers set up around the United States, I’d be surprised. Even then, these rechargers may be artificially limited to significantly less than the 250 kW required for that 60 minute rapid charge in a Model 3. Power companies may simply not be able to provide that charge rate for perhaps hundreds or thousands of rechargers.

Hope meets Reality

The difficulty is that Tesla intends to build these ever faster rechargers, but then may not be able to actually get them functional in the wild due to the overly rapid amount of energy they can consume. This is where reality meets design… all for Tesla to attempt to get close to the 5-8 minutes it takes to fill up a tank of gas. Yes, let’s completely stress our aging power grid infrastructure to the breaking point all for the sake of trying to charge a bunch of Teslas in 5 minutes? Smart. /s

Instead of producing ever faster and faster rechargers, Tesla should be researching and innovating better battery technologies to reduce power consumption and improve driving distance through those improved batteries. How about hiring battery engineers to solve this difficult problem rather than taking the easy route by simply sucking down ever more energy faster from an already overloaded power grid?

With better batteries, instead of Tesla contributing to the problem of global warming by forcing ever more energy generation faster, they could be innovating to reduce this dilemma by making more efficient and faster charging batteries using lower power consumption rates. Building better and more efficient batteries? That’s innovation. Faster recharging by overburdening infrastructure? That’s callous and reckless… all in the name of capitalism. I guess as long as Tesla can make its sales numbers and Wall Street remains happy, it doesn’t matter how non-green Tesla really is.

Pollution

One thing I’ve not yet fully discussed is, you guessed it, pollution. This aspect is part of being a green company. Yet, instead of trying to make Teslas charge faster and drive farther by innovating improved battery technologies, Tesla builds the low-hanging fruit of faster 250 kW rechargers to improve the speed of battery charging by consuming ever more grid energy faster.

Let’s understand the ramification of this. The faster the batteries charge, the more power must be generated at that point in time to handle the load. The more power generated, the more concentration of pollutants that go into the air to support that generation. That doesn’t say ‘green company’. It says callous, reckless, careless, dirty company in it for the money, not for helping the planet.

Overtaxing the power grid is a recipe for disaster, if only from a climate change perspective. There are plenty of other ways to look at this, but this one is the biggest problem against what Tesla is doing. It’s also, again not innovative. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Renewables

Energy sources like Wind, Solar and Water are great generation alternatives. But, they’re not always feasible. Texas is a very good example of how these renewables can fail. The mass array of Wind Turbines in North Texas and the panhandle were found to be easily damaged by both freezing temperatures and excessive winds. Clearly, these expensive turbines need to be weather proofed and managed accordingly.

For example, to avoid the freezing conditions, the motors needed heaters to keep them from freezing up. It’s not like some of the energy generated from these turbines couldn’t be used and stored locally to keep heaters operating. Additionally, high wind detectors could move the blades into a neutral position so there’s less of a chance of high wind damage. Because Texas apparently didn’t implement either of these two mitigation strategies, that left a large amount of these wind turbines damaged and out of commission. This fact meant the Texas power grid was unable to serve the entire state enough energy… thus, blackouts.

Solar, on the other hand, requires a large amount of land to “farm.” What that means is that land needs to be allocated to set up large amounts of solar panel arrays. Last time I looked, land wasn’t cheap and neither are those solar panels. This means a high amount of expense to draw in solar energy.

Unlike wind, which can potentially blow 24 by 7, if you can get 5-6 hours of solid sunlight in a day, that’s the best you can hope for. This means that a solar panel can only capture a fraction of the amount of energy that a 24 / 7 wind turbine can continuously capture and provide.

Water energy can also be harnessed, but only using large dam systems. This means, once again, specific land and water requirements. For example, the Hoover dam provides about 458,333 kW continuous, which is enough continuous power to operate around 1,559 V3 Superchargers concurrently, taking into account a 15% power loss due to transmission lines and transformers. This also assumes that dam’s power is dedicated to that purpose alone. Hint: it isn’t. Only a fraction of that power would be allowed to be used for that purpose, which means far fewer Superchargers. That power is also combined with other power generation types, which makes up the full power grid supply.

The point here is that renewables, while great at capturing limited amounts of energy, are not yet ready to take over for fossil fuel energy generation. In fact, the lion’s share of energy generation is still produced by burning coal, natural gas and petroleum… all of which significantly impact and pollute the environment.

Dangerous

One thing I’ve not yet discussed is the dangers of owning an electric vehicle. One danger that might not seem apparent is its battery. These lithium-ion batteries can become severe fire hazards once breached. If that Tesla lands in an accident and the battery ruptures, it’s almost assured to turn into a Car-B-Cue. If you’re pinned in the vehicle during that Car-B-Cue, it could turn out horrific. Lithium-ion fires are incredibly dangerous. Though, while gasoline is also highly flammable, a gas tank is much less likely to rupture and catch fire in an accident.

Innovation Circle

To come full circle, it’s now much easier to understand why Tesla is less an innovative car company and more of a sales and marketing gimmick. After all, you could buy plenty of other luxury car brands offering sometimes better bells and whistles. Luxury car brands have been around for years. Tesla is relatively new car company, having started in 2008. It’s just that Tesla has built its brand based on it having “sexy” technology that other brands didn’t have, but have since acquired.

Both gas and hybrid vehicles offer better distance and more readily accessible infrastructure to get you back onto the road when low on fuel. It is this feature that is still a primary motivator for most car buyers. Trying to finagle where and how to charge an electric vehicle can be a real challenge, particularly if you live in a condo or apartment and not a home. It’s worse if you choose to live in the boonies.

Where does Tesla stand?

The question remains, what does a Tesla vehicle do well? As a short distance commuter car, it’s perfectly fine for that purpose. It’s a bit pricey for that use case, but it functions fine. The convenience of being able to plug it in when you get home is appealing, assuming you have a recharge port installed at home. If you are forced to leave it in a random parking lot to charge overnight, that’s not so convenient. How do you get home from there? Walk? Uber? It kinda defeats the purpose of owning an expensive Tesla.

When purchasing a Tesla, you have to consider these dilemmas. What’s the problem with living in a condo or apartment? Many complexes have no intention of setting up rechargers, thus this forces you to leave your car at a parking lot charger perhaps blocks away. If the complex offers garages with 110v circuits, you can use these to charge, but extremely slowly. This means that to own a Tesla, certain things need to line up perfectly to make owning a Tesla convenient. Otherwise, it’s an expensive hassle.

Innovation isn’t just about the product itself, it’s how the product gets used in a wide array of use cases. If the product’s design fails to account for even basic ownership cases, the design wasn’t innovative enough. That’s where the Tesla sits today. That’s why Tesla is still considered niche car and is not generally useful across-the-board.

Calling Tesla and, by extension, Elon, innovative gives that company and Elon way too much credit. Elon’s claim to fame is that he picked a business that happened to receive a lightning strike. This is mostly because he’s an excellent sales person. Some people can sell pretty much anything they are handed. Elon is one of those people. While he’s an excellent salesman, he’s not so much of an excellent innovator. Slapping together a bunch of existing off-the-shelf technologies shouldn’t be considered innovative, particularly when you forget to take into account too many ownership cases where the final product is inconvenient to own and operate.

Home Use

The kind of buyer who can afford to buy into a Tesla is typically affluent enough to afford a home. For these people, more convenience is afforded owning a Tesla. Not only can you spend the money to install a home charging port that charges at whatever rate you can afford, homeowners can choose to park and charge their vehicles at will. This is important to understand.

Homeowners with acreage, can also choose to set up such renewable energy sources as wind turbines and solar panels. These energy generation systems can offset some of the power consumed while charging up an electric vehicle.

About renewables, one residential based wind turbine may produce a maximum of 10 kW of energy during optimal conditions. That’s about the same amount of energy provided by most third-party non-Tesla recharge ports found on parking lots. While it may take 60 minutes to charge a Model 3 using a V3 250 kW recharge port, at 10 kw or 4% of that 250 kW charge rate, it would take many hours to charge. In fact, at that much slower recharge rate, it might take 8-16 hours to fully charge.

To offset that, you would need to buy and install multiple wind turbines to increase the energy generated. Wind turbines are not at all cheap to buy or erect. Having enough land to line them up may be even more of a problem. In other words, you’d probably spend way more than the cost of your Tesla just to build enough infrastructure to support charging that car in anything close to timely. Is it worth it? Depends on the person.

To even approach the 250 kW level of charge rate, you have to rely on the power grid or install a diesel or natural gas generator. However, installing a fossil fuel generator is no better or cheaper than using the power grid.

As I said above, a Tesla grows a tailpipe the moment it begins recharging from fossil fuel sources.

Is a Tesla vehicle worth it?

As a car for car’s sake, it’s fine. It does its job well. It’ll get you from place to place. It has all of the standard amenities needed, such as heating and air conditioning and it keeps you out of the rain. It has luxury bells and whistles also, such as the touch screen panel and assisted driving.

Everyone must decide for themselves what they consider whether a product is “worth it”. Owning specific cars is mostly a subjective experience. Does it feel right when sitting in the driver’s seat? Is it comfortable? Can you see easily out of the windows? Do the mirrors offer safe views all around the vehicle? As a driver, only you can sit in a car an decide if the car is the correct fit for you and your family.

I’ve personally sat in cars that while they appeared roomy from the outside, caused my knees to bang up against the dash or door frame or other areas upon entry, exit or while driving. It’s no fun exiting a vehicle to scraped knees or banged up shins.

Car buying is an experience that can only be described as trying to find a glove that fits. Once you find the right glove, the deal is done. I would never buy a car based on brand alone. I buy cars that fit all manner of criteria, including comfort, budget, safety, warranty, reviews and cost for maintenance. Nothing’s worse than taking your car to the dealer only to be slapped with a $1000 fee each and every time.

I’m not saying that owning a Tesla isn’t “worth it”. It may well be “worth it” for specific reasons. It’s just that the one reason to own a Tesla should not be innovation. The car truly offers few innovative features. Another reason is its alleged zero carbon footprint. Yes, it has a zero carbon footprint as long as you never charge it. Can’t do that and have a functional car. As soon as it begins charging from the power grid, the car is no greener than a gas powered car. Because a Tesla must charge for hours at slower recharge rates, that’s way longer than most 2-4 hour daily commutes to and from work in a gas powered vehicle.

Simply because you don’t see the pollution going into the air out of your car doesn’t mean it’s not happening while that car sits in your garage charging.

Product Innovation

As I said above, you shouldn’t buy a Tesla because you think it’s innovative. It’s not. However, it goes beyond this. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a car because it was “innovative.” I choose cars based on other more important criteria, such as gas mileage, comfort, warranty, performance, ease of maintenance and other functional criteria. This typically means I’m also not brand loyal. I find the car that fits what I need in the budget that I can afford. That could be a Ford, Chevy, Toyota or whatever car that works best. Every model year yields new cars that offer different features.

Tesla believes that they can craft a brand like Apple, with brand loyal fans also like Apple. Apple is a unique beast. Their brand loyalty goes very, very deep. These brand loyal folks will buy whatever Apple releases, regardless of whether it’s the best value. Likewise, Tesla hopes to build their company based on this same type of year-over-year brand loyalty. Except there’s one problem: who buys a new car every year?

However, Tesla has not proven itself to be an innovative car company. They can make cars, true enough. But, are those cars truly innovative? Not really. Even Apple’s product innovation has come to a standstill. The latest iPad, for example, removed the TouchID home button in favor of FaceID simply to remove the home button from the bezel. So then, along comes COVID-19 and thwarts FaceID by wearing a simple mask. TouchID is a better COVID alternative because you don’t need to cover your fingertips. FaceID seems like a great idea until it isn’t.

Tesla needs to consider more breakthrough innovation and less incremental innovation. Hire people with the chops to build superior battery technology. Hire people who can design and build more efficient drive motors. Hire people to figure out how to embed solar panels into the paint so you can have both an aesthetically pleasing paint job and charge your car while sitting or driving in the sun.

There are plenty of ways to recapture small amounts of energy, such as wind, solar and regenerative braking to extend the driving distance. These don’t need to fully charge the battery, but instead are used to extend the charge of the battery and add distance. Heck, why not install a simple generator that uses gasoline, propane or even natural gas? This generator doesn’t need to charge the battery to 100%. Again, it is simply used to extend the range to get more miles from the car. These are just a few simple, but profound improvement ideas. There are plenty more ideas that can be explored to make the Tesla cars, not just technologically luxurious, but truly innovative.

These more breakthrough innovative designs are missing from the Tesla. These are ideas that would make a Tesla car much more functional in all areas of driving, not simply commute driving. In fact, I’d like to see Tesla build a gasoline powered vehicle. Stop relying on electric and take the dive into building cars based on all fuel types. Does Cadillac keep its car line artificially limited to one type of motor? No. How about Bentley? How about Porsche or Lamborghini? No. These car companies innovate by not artificially constraining themselves to a single type of technology. This gives those car companies an edge that allows them to install whatever technology is best for a specific model vehicle. That Tesla is artificially constraining itself to electric only is a questionable, self-limiting business decision.

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What is the Fallout 76 1st subscription?

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 15, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032.jpgBethesda has released Fallout 76’s first paid product named 1st. This uninspired and unfortunate naming doesn’t mean much, but it does come with some welcomed and important improvements to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

 


Fallout 1st

Obviously the 1st branding is intended to be pronounced “first”. Let’s get that one out of the way right off. The naming itself doesn’t mean much and in the context of the game itself means very little. But, this add-on subscription does add some welcomed, important and substantial improvements. Whether those improvements are worth the price, I’ll have to leave that up to you. The costs for this service are USD $12.99 a month or USD $99 per year (USD $8.25 per month — a fairly substantial savings over paying monthly). The additional fee does offer some worthwhile improvements. Let’s investigate these next.

“Infinite” Storage Scrapbox

fallout-76_20191114152424.jpgFor those of us tapped out on Stash space, the new Scrapbox is an invaluable asset. You can take all of that weighty scrap out of your 800 weight limited Stash, release up to 300 weight or more from your Stashbox and put all of that weight all into the “infinite” space Scrapbox. This means substantially more Stash to use for storing weapons, armor and other collectibles. This is an important and welcomed change. Not to mention, being able to store “infinite” amounts of lead, steel, copper, cloth, crystal, leather, etc. This feature offers way more crafting, workshop and camp building options. Though, I highly doubt the Scrapbox offers actual infinite storage, the storage cap is probably so high as to be almost infinite.

On the other hand, you can’t store anything in there but scrap. It won’t store weapons, armor, aid or any other category of items. It also won’t store ALL types of scrap. For example, bulked items cannot be stored in the Scrapbox. If you wish to store already bulked items, you’ll need to unbulk them to store them in the Scrapbox. However, the Scrapbox does offer a scrapping feature. No longer do you need to have a workbench handy. If you have a bunch of junk that you simply want to break down into scrap, the box will automatically do this before depositing it into the box. This makes the Survival Tent much more functional without any workbenches.

Survival Tent

Fallout 76_20191112002656

This freely deployable tent offers a second free fast travel point that can be easily moved and costs no caps to move about. It is definitely welcomed to have a second free moveable fast travel point… and which offers access the new Scrapbox easily and quickly, offers a cooking pot, a Stashbox, a sleeping bag for the “Rested” perk, and a banjo for the “Well Tuned” perk. Unfortunately, the sleeping bag only offers the “Rested” perk (lasts 1 hour) instead of “Well Rested” perk (which lasts 2 hours). Having a second fast travel point will drastically save on spending caps to travel around the map. This means you can leave the tent in a convenient location and avoid paying caps to get to that location and pay much reduced caps to get to locations near it.

Private Servers

Fallout 76_20191114150545Private Servers that had been promised for a year are finally here! These are great for many reasons. For example, locating items that you can’t otherwise find because other players are actively farming them. Additionally, trying to locate legendary enemies to finish up the Enclave commendations can be tricky. With a private server, it’s easier to find such events which spawn legendary enemies (i.e. Wolf Pack) and finish the event (and receive commendations), without interference from other players. It also makes questing alone easier and it makes group questing more fun when you invite only your friends while no one else can join that world’s server.

Alone questing is much easier because the game server spawns enemies at the level of the most recent person who happens by. If a level 150 player hits up a location minutes before your level 30 character arrives, the enemies will likely be level 68. This can make situations impossible to win. It may also mean hopping servers until you find a world where your level 30 character is the one who has spawned lower level enemies. A private server avoids this problem entirely. Since the server is brand new the moment you launch it, only your character influences the world around you when playing alone. However, if you invite high level players into your private world, then the same problem of high level spawns will occur even in the private server. You’ll want to be cautious when you invite friends into your server.

One additional benefit of the private server is it durability. What I mean is that once you start a private server, this same server is available to you for up to 20 minutes while no one is online. What that means is you can swap characters and load into the same private world over and over. While 1st doesn’t offer any means to directly share stuff between characters, this world durability means you can drop a bag of items in the world in an easy location (like Vault 76) and then pick up the bag using a different character. This allows you to swap items between characters without using an intermediate third person to hold your stuff or watch your bag. Simply drop a bag from one character, log out, change characters, log back into the private world, go to the spot where you dropped it and pick up the items. Simple. It works well and it is predictable. Because it’s a private server, there’s no danger of another player grabbing your stuff while you’re working on this activity.

It would be preferable if Bethesda could give us an official way to share stuff between characters, but in the interim, the private server is a great option to share weapons, armor and items between characters. I’ve always intensely disliked using random third parties for this transfer process. Using a private server to share items is an excellent alternative. And yes, it does work. I’ve done this several times between characters.

Of course, there’s no easy way to share caps between characters using a private server. If you want to do this, you’ll still need to use a third party.

Another benefit of the private servers is, while playing alone, you can hold any workshop in the game without fear of PVP reprisal. You will have to occasionally manage defend events, but that’s as far as it goes. If you choose not to do the defend events, you can come back later and just fix everything that got broken. Also, if your game accidentally crashes, the private server remains tied to your ID for at least 30 minutes. This means that in private servers you continue to own your workshops even after disconnects or crashes, unlike the public servers. However, you do have to rejoin the server with the same character to remain the owner of the workshop. If you wait too long, the private server will be unassigned to you and you will lose your workshops, but that takes about 20-30 minutes. If you change your character, you will likely have to take ownership again with your other character.

Atom Shop Exclusives and Inclusions

Fallout 76_20191114153148This isn’t really so much a benefit as it is a nicety. After all, the Atomic shop is mostly just for cosmetics. However, it’s great to see Bethesda include Atom shop exclusives for 1st subscribers. Additionally, the 1st subscription offers 1650 atoms each month included with the ~$13 monthly fee (or the yearly fee if you go that way). That’s $16.50 worth of Atom in addition to all of the above add-ons. The included $16.50 worth of Atom makes all of the rest almost seem free. To previously buy that much Atom, you’d have to spend at least $13 and you wouldn’t even get all of the above access. Receiving the Atom alone almost makes the entire subscription worth it, assuming you regularly buy Atom instead of earning it in the game.

Pay to Win?

There’s something to be said for each of these 1st add-ons. A lot of people may dislike paying the money per month or somehow think this part is “pay to win”, but in reality none of it helps you “win”, but it does substantially improve the game by adding the above features. I guess many could argue that the Scrapbox and the Survival Tent should have been added to the base game for free… but then, that would reduce the reasons to subscribe to 1st. Eventually, it may come down to pay-to-win, but for now there’s no way to actually pay to win.

In fact, I’d argue that most of what 1st offers to gamers now is end-game content. After you’ve done the quests and completed the entire main story, what’s left over is farming items, looking for cosmetics and, in general, locating rare weapons, armor and potentially selling them. It’s less about winning and more about extending the play value of this game. That’s exactly what 1st is intended for… extending the play value of the game.

Improvements to Fallout 76 and 1st

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be improvements in the base game to better support 1st subscribers. Scrapboxes need to become widely available at all train stations and in Whitesprings. Without scrapboxes there, you are forced to travel to your tent or to your camp to drop scrap into the scrapbox. Inconvenient. Else, you have to temporarily drop it into your stashbox and move it around later (even more inconvenient).

Fallout 76_20191114152342.jpg1st is an important step for Fallout 76 as a game, but the subscription support needs to be improved throughout the game. As mentioned above, the Scrapbox doesn’t support bulked scrap. It only supports loose scrap. This is another design flaw in this storage system. This means you still need to continue to store all of your bulk scrap in your Stashbox or you must unbulk it to shove it into the Scrapbox.

1st isn’t in any way perfect, but the game is much better with these improvements than it is without them. 1st is one of the actual first tangible improvements to the base game which hasn’t really been offered by Bethesda in past updates. Most past updates have involved bug fixes or simplistic add-ons (backpack or distiller or limited time events). 1st is one of the first set of improvements that implies Bethesda might actually be trying to improve the game. Unfortunately, too many of us are at the endgame and 1st may be too late to really bring in enough new players. Perhaps the upcoming NPC additions may help the game revitalize, but we’ll have to wait on that.

The current 1st addition won’t revitalize Fallout 76 by itself, but it is a vast improvement in solving basic problems that still plague this mostly beta game (e.g., small sized stash boxes, small inventory sizes, small camp budgets). Seeing Bethesda release actual improvements to the game shows that Bethesda is finally willing to offer better features to those willing to pay. Now if only we can get Bethesda to buff our weapons for subscribing to 1st… that would be a much welcomed improvement. Bethesda should also consider giving us some 1st perk cards to improve our SPECIAL stats… such as additional and exclusive 1st damage multipliers. I know this may sound like pay-to-win additions, but these are the kinds of things that help improve the game, give incentives to subscribe and offer much welcomed improvements.

Sure, Bethesda could have released all of this for free to the current game players… but, the Private Servers alone would have been overwhelmed almost instantly and essentially become public servers. By putting it behind a paywall, it ensures fewer people utilize it and fewer people will abuse it.

I was initially skeptical when I paid for the 1st feature, but I quickly realized the benefit of the Scrapbox. Forget the Private Servers, the Scrapbox is the single thing that almost completely sells me on 1st. The Private Servers are great, don’t get me wrong, but the Scrapbox is the single thing that I have absolutely needed in this game. If only Bethesda would also increase our C.A.M.P. build limit by subscribing to 1st.

Downsides?

There are a few downsides to 1st. Let’s talk about these. I believe non-1st subscribers can be invited to a private server, but I’m uncertain about this entirely. This may also change over time and it may not work correctly. If the owner of the private server leaves the private server, you’ll have about 20 minutes before the server shuts down and kicks you off… regardless whether you are a 1st subscriber or not.

You can’t join a friend who is visiting or has started their own private server from the social menu. There’s no option for this. You must be explicitly invited by the friend into the server. Additionally, only 8 people can join a private server. The 24 people on a server won’t work on a private server. You have to use a public server for that. This could make some events more difficult to complete in a private server environment.

A downside for PS4 users is that the 1 month subscription expires in one month. It is left up to you to renew the subscription manually at the end of each month of service. It does not auto-renew. Bethesda may fix this issue by updating its digital store item to support renewing subscriptions, but for now the subscription does not auto-renew. Be sure not to forget to pay for your monthly membership or all of the scrap in your Scrapbox may disappear. Be cautious with this. Also, if you’re thinking of not renewing, then you should plan to move whatever valuable scrap you have in your Scrapbox back to your Stash to avoid losing your most important scrap in your Scrapbox.

I’d also recommend keeping flux and other valuable scrap items that you simply can’t afford to lose in your Stash. The Scrapbox is a new storage vehicle in the game and may have significant bugs. Be sure that whatever you put into the Scrapbox is something you are willing to lose and collect again.

It is also unknown what happens to the 1st exclusive items you own from the Atom shop if you cancel. They might hang around or they might disappear from your inventory unless you renew. Don’t get too invested in these exclusives if you don’t plan to retain the subscription.

One last downside is the private servers themselves. Sometimes you are lucky and you will get a private server that has been freshly spun up. What this means is that all of the spawn places are already spawned. However, it seems Bethesda’s spin-down processes don’t adequately wait long enough before reassigning a private server world to a 1st user. What this means, unluckily for you, is that if a previous 1st user has already farmed the world for its “treasure”, you could find that what you’re looking for is not in its respective spawn locations. In fact, you could find the spawn locations empty all over the place. Bethesda needs to get better at either resetting the worlds after a private server use or ensure that when a private server is spun up, all spawn points have properly reset. Getting a “previously used” private server world just sucks all around. Worse, you are stuck with that same world for at least 30 minutes even if you aren’t using it. It takes that long for the server to be released and unassigned from your 1st subscription.

If you have any questions about Fallout 1st, please leave a comment below.

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Apple Cancels AirPower charge mat

Posted in Apple, california, iphone by commorancy on April 26, 2019

airpower-charge-baseWhile I realize that this “news” is a little old at this point (announced March 29th), the intention of this article is not to report on this announcement, but to write an analysis of this announcement’s ramifications to Apple. Let’s explore.

Think Different

Apple used this slogan for a time when it was touting its innovative approach to the creation of its devices and systems. However, Apple has pretty much abandoned this slogan after Steve Jobs’s passing.

Since the loss of Jobs, Apple’s innovation has waned, which has left industry pundits with a conundrum. Do these Apple expert journalists continue to be fanboys for this brand and “love everything Apple” or do they finally drop that pretext and begin reporting the realities of the brand.

I’ve never been an Apple “fanboy” in the sense that I “automatically love everything Apple”. There are too many legitimate journalists and social media influencers who already follow that trend. However, I won’t name any names, iJustine. Whoops. If you’re another of these people, you know who you are.

Think The Same

In recent years, Apple has been trailing its competition with its phone and other tech ideas. Ideas that have already been done, sometimes better than Apple. For example, the iPhone X is an iPhone version of the Galaxy Note 8. The Note 8 released months earlier than the iPhone X. The wired EarPods were simply Apple’s version of a similar Bose earbud. And… the AirPower would simply have been an Apple version of a Qi Wireless charging mat.

As you can see, Apple’s most recent innovations aren’t innovations at all. Even the AirPods, while wireless, are not new. While they do sound pretty good, they leave some to be desired for long wear-ability and comfort. They also take way too long to connect, when they decide to connect at all (at least the gen 1 AirPods). These are iterations of products that have already existed on the market.

The iPhone 1 demonstrates actual innovation. No one had created a smart phone like the iPhone when it came to exist. Sure, some handsets had limited apps and a few had a touch screen, but Apple took the handheld phone to a whole new level. The first iPad was also quite innovative. No other tablet was on the market at the time and offered something never before seen. Just look at the tablet market today!

Unfortunately, the innovation that was once so prevalent at Apple has evaporated after Jobs’s untimely death.

Qi

Inductive wireless charging is nothing new. It’s been a staple technology in Braun’s wireless toothbrushes since the early 90s. It was simply the next logical step to bring inductive charging to mobile devices. Samsung did that with its own Qi wireless charging mats (and by backing the Qi standard). These mats and phones were introduced in 2008.

With the introduction of the iPhone X model in November of 2017 (and other Apple phone models released that same year), Apple finally added induction charging to its handsets. That’s 9 years after Qi became a thing. That’s 9 years after Samsung had it on their handsets. There’s nothing at all innovative about wireless charging on an Apple device. Yes, it may have been a “most requested” feature, but it certainly was not innovative or even new. If anything, Apple decided it was time to fill a technology gap on their mobile devices… while with earlier phones they had refused to fill that gap. We won’t get into the whys of it all (ahem… Samsung).

With its iPhone X announcement, Apple also announced a new product called AirPower. This product would be a rival inductive charging mat to already existing Qi charging mats. The primary iterative difference between AirPower and the existing Qi charger bases is that the AirPower would output more power to wireless charge the iPhone much faster… perhaps even faster than a Lightning cable. We’ll never know now. The AirPower announcement also showed 3 devices charging simultaneous, including an AirPods case.

Unfortunately, Apple wasn’t able to release this product at the same time as the iPhone X. Apple announced they would release this charging mat sometime in mid-late 2018. This release date came and went without an announcement or release. By the end of March 2019 (nearly a year and a half after Phil Schiller announced it to the public), Apple officially pulled the plug on the AirPower product.

Everyone reading this announcement should take it as a sign of problems within Apple. And… here we are at the crux and analysis portions of this article.

The Apple Bites

With the cancellation of the AirPower, this signifies a substantial problem brewing within Apple’s infinite circle. If the engineers of what seems to be a relatively simple device cannot even manage to design and build a functional wireless charging base, a technology that’s been in use since the 1990s and in use in the mobile phone market for over 10 years now, how can we trust Apple to provide innovative, functional products going into the future?

This cancellation is a big, big deal to Apple’s reputation. If Apple cannot build a reasonably simplistic device after nearly a year and a half, what does this say about Apple’s current engineers on the whole?

Assuming Apple’s internal engineers were actually incapable of producing this product in-house, Apple could have farmed the product design out to a third party company (i.e., Samsung or Belkin) and had that third party design and build the product to Apple’s specs. It doesn’t seem that this product should have died on the vine, let alone be abandoned.

Instead of outright abandoning the product, Apple should have brought it to market in a different way. As I said, outright cancelling the product signifies much deeper problems within Apple. This is actually one of the first times I’ve actually seen Apple publicly announce a vapor product and then cancel said vapor product (albeit, over a year later). It’s a completely surprising, disappointing, unusual and highly unprecedented move by Apple… especially considering Apple’s new devices that desperately rely on this unreleased device. I guess this is why Apple has always been so secretive about product announcements in the past. If you cancel an unannounced product, no one knows. When you cancel a publicly announced product, it tarnishes your reputation… particularly when a functional product already exists on the market from other manufacturers (and competitors) and when the product is rather simplistic in nature. That’s a huge blow to Apple’s “innovative” reputation.

AirPods 2

The AirPower cancellation is also particularly disappointing and disheartening on the heels of the announcement of the AirPods 2 wireless charging case. The lack of the AirPower mat is a significant blow to one of the biggest features of the newest generation of AirPods. Effectively, without AirPower, the AirPods 2 are basically the same as the AirPods gen 1 except that the AirPods 2 offer a better “Hey Siri” support (and a better placed LED charge light).

The one feature that many people really looked forward to on the AirPods is basically unavailable. Sure, you can charge the AirPods 2 on a standard Qi wireless charger, but at a much slower rate than via the Lightning port. You don’t want to be sitting around waiting on a slow Qi charger to get the AirPods case fully charged. No, you’re going to plug it in to make sure you can walk out the door with a fully charged AirPods case. The case already charges slowly enough on a Lightning cable. There’s no reason to make it charge even slower by using a Qi charger. That’s the sole reason for the AirPower to exist.. to charge at much faster rates. Without AirPower, the reason to charge wirelessly has more-or-less evaporated.

Of course, you can also buy a wireless case for the AirPods gen 1, but what’s the point in that? With the AirPower cancelled, you have to invest in a Qi charger and live with its very slow charge speed for Apple’s brutal $80 price tag. No thanks. Even then, you don’t get any other benefit out of placing your AirPods gen 1 earbuds into a gen 2 wireless charging case for that $80. You might as well invest that $80 into a new set of AirPods gen 2, even though the Airpods 2 cost $199 (with wireless charging case) versus $159 for the gen 1 AirPods (without charging case).

Of course, in Apple’s typical form, they also offers the AirPods 2 without a wireless charging case for $159, the same price as the AirPods gen 1. But this is all diversionary minutiae.

Analysis

Apple’s level of innovations have been both flagging and lagging for several years. With the AirPower cancellation, it should now be crystal clear to not only journalists and analysts alike, but also to Apple’s fanboys that Apple’s luster has officially worn off. Apple’s once strong “reality distortion field” is now a distant memory.

Even the iPhone X isn’t fairing well in terms of durability of design just slightly over a year after its introduction. I’ve seen several people report FaceID failing over time, as well as other hardware problems on this phone model. A premium model phone at a premium price tag should hold up longer than this. Arguably, the iPhone X is one of Apple’s ugliest phones ever made, with that stupid unsightly “notch” covering up a portion of that expensive OLED screen.

It seems the iPhone 8 design (based on the iPhone 7 case design) is fairing much better than the iPhone X. Even the iPhone 7, which Apple still sells, holds up better. That should also be an indication of Apple’s current practical level of design. Of course, the problems showing in the iPhone X could be because there are more iPhone Xs in circulation than iPhone 8s. Still, the iPhone X is appearing more often in repair shops than the iPhone 8. That says something about the build quality and durability (or lack thereof) of the iPhone X’s design for that premium price tag.

Apple now needs to pull a rabbit out of a hat very soon to prove they still have the chops to not only innovate AND provide high quality goods, but be the first to the table with a new product idea or forever hold their peace and become an underdog in the tech industry. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t continue to sell product. It doesn’t mean Apple won’t design product. However, it does mean that the “fanboy” mentality that so many had previously adopted towards Apple’s products should finally evaporate, just as has Apple’s innovation. Before the AirPower cancellation announcement, we only had a hunch that Apple’s design wasn’t up to par. With the cancellation of the AirPower, we finally have confirmation.

Eventually, everyone must take off their rose colored glasses and see things as they really are at Apple. And with this article, I hope we’re finally to that point.

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Rant Time: The problem with Twitter

Posted in botch, business, social media by commorancy on August 27, 2018

Twitter-smTwitter began as a lofty idea for small text social conversation. For many of its early years, it managed to keep some semblance of order and decency. As of 2018, the platform has devolved into something far less useful and more problematic. Let’s explore.

Primary Twitter Topics

Today, Twitter is primarily dominated by breaking news, gun control and political rhetoric, sometimes all three at the same time. While these topics do have a place, reading these dominant conversations every moment of every day is tiring. It also goes against the diversity of what the platform is intended to offer. While these topics have a place, they don’t really have a place as the dominant force on Twitter. They exist simply to clog up each Twitter user’s feed.

Twitter’s Failings and Slow Development

When Twitter began back in 2006, it offered a fairly limited social conversation platform with its 140 character limit. In fact, that limit wasn’t raised until early 2018, 12 years later… when the limit went up to 280 characters. Talk about slow development! This 140 character limit was a holdover from SMS days which still to this day hold this limit. I do not know why Twitter chose this arbitrarily small amount of text for a social conversation platform. It had no relation to SMS and couldn’t send SMS messages, so it never made sense.

Twitter has also firmly embraced the “no edit” mantra to the chagrin of many. To modify a tweet, you must delete it, then recreate it. This is a cumbersome hassle. It also means that any feedback you had on that tweet must be forfeit. There’s a real incentive to get the tweet right the first time. For a conversation platform in 2018, this limitation on a text discussion platform is completely ludicrous. Clarification of thought is extremely important in all text mediums. The only way to ensure clarify of thought is via editing. We all make mistakes when typing, such as their for there or they’re. These are extremely common typing mistakes. Sometimes it’s the accidental misuse of homonyms. There are plenty of other types of common mistakes. There is also rewording. Yet, here we are… 12 years after Twitter’s inception and we STILL can’t edit a tweet. What the hell is going on over there at Twitter, Jack Dorsey?

While Twitter has grown little since 2006, only offering better privacy, limited feed customization, an ad platform and some UI improvements, it really has done next to nothing to improve the user functionality since 2006. I’ve worked at companies where the product has almost completely performed a 180º turn in product features in only 1-2 years. Twitter has remained nearly stagnant, feature wise and has implemented clamored features at an absolute snail’s pace (read, it hasn’t implemented them) in its 12 years of existence.

Censorship

As we all should understand, the first amendment free speech protections do not apply to private corporations. This ultimately means that there can be no speech submitted on the Twitter platform that is protected. As much as people want to complain that some left or right winger has been suspended, banned or otherwise dismissed from Twitter, that is Twitter’s right. Twitter is not a government owned or operated corporation. Therefore, they can censor, delete, suspend or otherwise prevent a user or entity from putting any content onto their platform for any reason.

What this means is that Twitter can do whatever they wish and claim violations of ‘terms of service’. After all, Twitter writes the terms of service and can modify them at any time without notification to anyone. In fact, Twitter isn’t even required to have explicit terms listed and they can still delete or suspend anyone they wish, for any reason. As I said, free speech protections on Twitter do not apply.

Leadership Team

Jack Dorsey heads up the leadership team at Twitter as CEO. In the last 1-2 years, he’s spouted rhetoric about reduction of hate speech on Twitter. What that ultimately translates to, within Twitter’s current moderation tool limits, is deletion of selected speech or accounts, regardless whether it contains hate speech or not. If Twitter doesn’t like what you have to say, out you go.

Twitter SuspendedNo more evident is that in those users who have amassed 15k followers or more. One foible on one of these accounts and Twitter closes it. No no, can’t have a 15k or more followers seeing something that Twitter management doesn’t like. Even celebs aren’t immune to this. If you are reading the article and you have amassed more than 6000 followers, your account is a risk with each tweet you post, particularly if your speech primarily consists of political messages, controversial topics or divisive ideas (NRA vs Gun Control, Abortion vs Pro Life, Trump bashing, etc).

The current technical means at Twitter’s disposal to reduce this kind of speech consists of tweet deletion, account suspensions or bans. Twitter has no other means at its disposal. In reality, Twitter has dug the hole it is now in. Twitter has failed to foresee problems of user scale. Whenever the total user base grows, so are the problems amplified that go with that. Twitter should have initially implemented some level of moderation and anointed users to help moderate its platform in a similar fashion to both Wikipedia and Reddit. It didn’t.

Twitter is to Blame

Twitter has only itself to blame for not taking proactive action sooner and in failing to build more complete moderation tools sooner. Additionally, social platforms that have implemented self-moderation automated systems have done exceptionally well. When the community downvotes certain content at a certain level, then Twitter should not promote it into user’s feeds. In fact, Twitter’s continual promotion of tweets into people’s primary feeds has actually propagated hate and problematic speech. Instead, Twitter should have been building a self-policing platform from day one or at least within the first couple of years. They chose not to.

Even today, Twitter still hasn’t built a self-policing platform. I regularly find hate speech in my feed. Worse, while I can mark the stuff I like with a heart, I have no such action to force items out of my feed that I choose not to see. The best I can do is mute the user or mute the account. Why is that Twitter? Why can’t I mark individual types of tweets that I no longer want to see and have that content removed from my feed? Why do I have to trudge all the way into preferences and put in mute words or, even more sledgehammery, mute or block the user? Even then, that only affects my account. It doesn’t have any impact on the global Twitter.

Employing Social Moderation and Tweet Grading

Using social moderation is both effective and necessary when you’re working with millions of users sending millions of messages per day. Twitter is a social platform. Let’s use that social interaction of those millions of people to bubble worthy messages to the top and sink crap messages so they never get seen. This is the ONLY way to effectively moderate at scale on a social platform. The value of each tweet is in its worth to viewers. Many viewers all marking tweets downward means less people see it. Many viewers marking tweets up means more people will see it. I can’t imagine that any sane person would choose to vote up hate speech, death threats or similar unacceptable or violent content.

I’m not saying that any one user should have undue influence over a tweet’s popularity. In fact, users will need to build their trust and reputation levels on the platform. For example, newly created accounts might not even be able to influence up or downward momentum of tweets right out of the gate. It might take 2-4 months of interactions on the platform before the user’s interactions begin to count. This way, users can’t go out and create 100 or more accounts in an attempt to get their tweet to the top of popularity. In fact, any tweet that ends up getting upvotes from too many newly created accounts without other upvotes should be marked as suspect and have their own trust levels locked or reduced.

Additionally, it should take interactions from many trusted accounts simultaneously to raise a tweet’s popularity substantially, particularly if those accounts have no relationship to one another (not following each other). This says that independent users have found a tweet’s content to be worthy of interaction by others.

This isn’t to say this is the only algorithm that could be built to handle social moderation, but it would definitely be a good start and a way to take this platform to the next level. Conversely, I will state that building an algorithm to scan and rate a tweet based solely on its textual content is next to impossible. Using the power of social interaction to grade a tweet and raise or lower its value is the best way to force those who want to game the system out of the platform.

Also, there should be no exemptions from the system. Not for CNN, not for Proctor and Gamble, not for any account. Social moderation needs to apply to all accounts or it’s worthless.

I’m not saying that social moderation is in any way a perfect solution. It isn’t. But, at least it can be fair when implemented properly. Can this kind of system be gamed? Probably. But, the engineers would need to watch for this eventuality and be ready to make change to prevent further gaming of the system. Eventually, the holes will be patched.

Multiple feeds and Topics

Here’s another area where Twitter has failed. As with any social platform, users have likes and dislikes and topic preferences they want to see. For example, I really don’t want to see political bashing. That’s not my thing. I’d prefer a feed that is politic free. My only interest in politics and political candidates is when there’s an imminent election. Otherwise, I want it out of my feed. Same for NRA / Gun control arguments. Same for Trump tweet bashing. Same for Pro Life vs Abortion. I don’t want to waste time with these types of divisive controversial topics in my feed. I have better uses for my time. If I want to see that content, I will explicitly go searching for it. I don’t want it to automatically appear in my feed.

Yet, Twitter has not implemented any customized feeds based on likes, hobbies or preferences of information (i.e., new technology). Instead, Twitter has based this part on following Twitter accounts that offer such information. The problem is, chasing down these accounts to follow. Even then, because those accounts might only post new on-topic information 20% of the time, the other 80% of the time I would see stuff I don’t want to see in my feed. Herein lies the problem with Twitter. It shouldn’t be based on following a user, it should be based on following conversation topics.

I’d prefer to customize my feeds (and have several feeds hooked to different topics) and subscribe to those feeds. I don’t need to follow any given account that’s talks about stuff I’m not interested in. Instead, by following topics, my feed gets interesting tweets. I can then discover new accounts to follow and also discover topics I’m interested in. This is the single important piece that Jack and team have sorely failed to address within the Twitter platform. To reiterate, I want to see stuff in my feeds that I am interested in, even if I don’t follow that account. I don’t want to see stuff I’m not interested in at all even if following an account that tweets about it. Following by topic is more important than following by user.

This is the power of social media. This is the power of Twitter. This is what is missing to make Twitter a complete platform… this, in addition to social moderation.

Twitter’s Hand Moderation

Instead of implementing a social moderation system or an interests based feed system, Twitter has spent its time hand moderating by suspending and banning accounts all in its stated goal of “reducing hate speech”. While deleting accounts may reduce that account’s ability to post hate speech, it doesn’t stop the user from creating a brand new account and starting it all over again. This is Twitter’s flaw in the user follow model.

Only the above two designs: 1) topic based multiple feeds and 2) social moderation will lead to lasting change within the Twitter platform. Nothing else will. Twitter’s hand moderation technique is merely a small bandaid with limited scope. It will never make a dent in reducing hate speech on Twitter. Lasting change only comes from innovating the platform in new and better ways to improve the end user experience and, at the same time, reducing the signal to noise ratio.

It’s time for Twitter to step up and actually begin innovating its platform in substantial new and meaningful ways… or it will perish.

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Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

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