Samsung Note 9 vs Apple iPhone X vs You’re probably not going to upgrade anyway

Samsung introduced its new flagship phone, the Note 9, last week at an event in Brooklyn.

They rolled out the red carpet for all the social media influencers, and sent out a bunch of phones so that they could be reviewed (see: Marques BrownleeSam Sheffer, Casey Neistat, to name a few).

This phone is designed to compete with the iPhone X. It has some absurd features for a mobile phone – a beautiful 6.4 inch display, stereo speakers, 6GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage – with the option of adding a micro SD, so you can have a FULL TERABYTE IN YOUR POCKET. Oh, and it has a Bluetooth low energy stylus, dual rear cameras, and a 4,000mAh battery. Insane.

New video on the Galaxy Note 9 is live. This thing is a MONSTER.

A post shared by Marques Brownlee (@mkbhd) on

All that, starting at just $999. The phone launches on August 24th.

But here’s the thing. You’re almost certainly not going to upgrade (well, if you’ve somehow stumbled across my article on my little-trafficked, sandbox of a site, then you actually might…).

An analyst from Morgan Stanley recently took an informal poll of summer analysts to get an idea of Millennial and Gen Z tech sensibilities. These kids, who are doing summer internships at Morgan Stanley and are thus likely well-remunerated (I’ll hold off from any family wealth assumptions), are using their current devices for longer and longer. The most popular phones were the iPhone 7/7+, then the 6, then the 8, then the X. If the older phones continue to work fine (albeit with a few fixes like replacing a battery/screen/etc.), the newer devices are less of a step up, why upgrade? Especially when you might have to shell out a grand to do it?

And not only that, but almost 100% of them used Apple, not Android phones. And funny enough, they cited iMessage, not the broader Apple ecosystem, as the reason for not switching. One respondent even said the “don’t know anyone personally other than my dad” who uses an Android phone.

So what does this mean? You can build the most beautifully designed, best featured Android phone in the world, but you’re still facing an uphill battle when it comes to perception (and thus, the strategy behind getting the Note 9 into the hands of cool kids on YouTube )

And still, a thousand bucks is a lot of money for a phone that most people beat to hell. Seriously – if you were to walk on any given subway car and take an informal straw poll, there are more cracked screens than non-cracked screens.

Personally, I need a phone upgrade. I’m still working with an iPhone 6+ that has been giving me issues all over the place. I have no idea what I’m going to get next. I’ve been tempted to switch over to an Android phone, but, like the survey respondents, I still feel firmly locked into Apple. And I have the option of running with my 6+ until the wheels fall off. A thousand bucks is a lot for a phone, so why jump into kind of financial commitment until absolutely necessary?

Then again, I’ve had my phone for over three years, and the screen is pristine. I’m pretty good about my phones, so can I justify spending over $1000, if I mentally amortize that cost over three or four years?

THE WEEK’S BEST: Design, architecture, and technology

What I wrote last week:

The massive risk of selling a $157M Modigliani

The two pieces were guaranteed by Sotheby’s, who had to pay a fixed price to the sellers no matter what they went for at auction. This means that one or two underwhelming sales can throw an entire quarter’s results askew. 

This is sort of a warning about inequality for auction houses. The prices of the superstar pieces that come to the market have surged far ahead of bottom 99.9% of the market. This means the auction houses can reap massive rewards, if they price it right. But if they price it wrong? That hurts. A lot. Especially since the auction houses are becoming so reliant on these pieces with giant expected price tags.

What I shot last week:

Design, architecture, and technology digest:

Architecture and Design: Cities

How Tariffs Could Make That New Apartment More Expensive — New York Times

Higher prices might not hurt a mega-developer with deep pockets and the ability to get a discount through bulk purchases. But a smaller, less-capitalized player with thinner profit margins may have no choice but to pass the increases along to buyers.

What’s the Right Number of Taxis (or Uber or Lyft Cars) in a City? — New York Times

Mr. Henao’s analysis suggests the optimal target, at least in Austin, occurs when drivers average 3.4 trip requests per hour. That translates to having about 30 drivers for every 100 trip requests there. Beyond that point, adding more trips per driver doesn’t save drivers — or the city — much in empty miles traveled with no passenger in the back. And beyond that point, the system would most likely have too many passengers and not enough drivers, and passenger wait times would increase.

Architecture and Design: Style

Overworked? For $375 a Month, This Private Club Offers Stress Cure — Bloomberg

This sort of wellness-obsessed workaholic is a relatively recent phenomenon—along with Juice Press, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Mndfl meditation studios, it’s a product of the past decade. But the trend is reaching fever pitch. According to the 2018 annual report from the Global Wellness Summit, consumers now see holistic habits as a way to “open up a wealth of ‘super’ powers” that include “thinking ‘better, faster, and smarter.’ ” It’s estimated to be a $3.7 trillion industry (and not without its detractors).

How Brooklyn Changed the Neighborhood Restaurant — Bloomberg

“Brooklyn deserves enormous credit for the reinstitution of the neighborhood restaurant,” says Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group includes neighborhood-building places such as Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern. “If you lived nearby, you would feel like the value of your apartment was enhanced, or the value of your office was enhanced.”

Technology

The Flourishing Business of Fake YouTube Views — New York Times

“The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether,” said Mr. Vassilev, the fake-view seller. “But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

The massive risk of selling a $157M Modigliani

Sotheby’s reported quarterly earnings this week, and the results showed a somewhat alarming trend in the art world: big pieces are starting to make or break auction houses.

Not the sellers. The sellers are doing fine. But the auction houses – Christie’s and Sotheby’s – are walking a fine line between massive gains as prices spiral ever higher, and massive losses as sale prices are guaranteed. Those guarantees become a massive liability as pieces reach well into the nine-figures.

Sotheby’s plummeted this week after the company said that auction commission margins missed expectations – that is, they took a smaller cut from sales than expected.

But what made this interesting was that this was driven almost entirely by the sales of two pieces (the company didn’t say which pieces they were, but some suspect it these mystery paintings were the Modigliani that sold in New York for $157M and the Picasso that sold in London for $36M)

The two pieces were guaranteed by Sotheby’s, who had to pay a fixed price to the sellers no matter what they went for at auction. This means that one or two underwhelming sales can throw an entire quarter’s results askew. 

This is sort of a warning about inequality for auction houses. The prices of the superstar pieces that come to the market have surged far ahead of bottom 99.9% of the market. This means the auction houses can reap massive rewards, if they price it right. But if they price it wrong? That hurts. A lot. Especially since the auction houses are becoming so reliant on these pieces with giant expected price tags.

Auction houses are always going to encounter a certain level of volatility. Results are going to be skewed higher or lower by what is on sale, who is buying at that moment, what is happening in other asset classes at the moment, and a million other factors.

But unless auction houses can figure out less volatile revenue streams – like private sales and less volatile middle-market sales – it will only be harder and harder to escape the risks of that growing inequality in the art market.

Bid: $1.7M [eyes emoji]

Sotheby’s is actually trying to get out beyond just the big auction market. The company is letting buyers bid in live auctions through its mobile app, and also increasing the number of online auctions. And just as Amazon and Netflix use machine learning and AI to make recommendations for you, so are the auction houses.

If the auction houses want to reduce their reliance on the whims of the 100 richest people on the face of the planet, they’ll have to do a few things.

First, to reach a bigger audience. Sotheby’s has been going down-market and building out a digital presence (rumor is Millennials will only buy pricey art from their phone). That’s the easier part.

The second, harder part? They’ll have to kick the crutch of relying on fewer, bigger sales. That model completely relies on a buoyant economy and stock markets. And more than ever, it relies on growth in markets outside the US, like China, which is facing its own issues around economic growth and faces crackdowns on wealth exiting the country.

The only problem is that inequality in the art market mirrors inequality in the economy. The wealth of the 1% – or, more relevant here, the 0.0001% – has skyrocketed in recent years compared to the rest of us 99%ers. 

And that divergence is only going to continue. So are we sure we want to pin an entire model on an increasingly narrow set of buyers coupled with strong, global economic growth?

Maybe, especially if art just continues to be treated as a store of value. But that only points to a volatile and unpredictable future.

Cover photo: Wikimedia Commons

THE WEEK’S BEST: Design, architecture, and technology

What I wrote last week:

Noting. I’m worthless.

What I shot last week:

Design, architecture, and technology digest:

Architecture and Design: Cities

If Location Is an Asset, High Rent Is ‘Saving’ for the Future — CityLab

The paper, authored by Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Adrien Bilal, a Princeton University economics professor and Ph.D student respectively, explains that as with any form of investment, the place you choose to settle or stay has a cost associated with it—i.e., how much you’re paying in rent. And every location pays back on that investment in job opportunities, education for your children, cultural amenities, and so forth. Whether it’s Wichita, Palo Alto, Durham, or the heart of Manhattan, your location should be considered an asset with which you can make different investment decisions.

As Google Maps Renames Neighborhoods, Residents Fume — New York Times

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.

Starbucks Has Seen the Future. It Looks Like a Drive-Through Window. — Bloomberg Opinion

What might be surprising to residents of dense, wealthy cities like Seattle and New York is that Starbucks says these suburban drive-through locations in middle America are outperforming their traditional urban locations that don’t have drive-throughs. The company noted that these drive-through locations have 25 to 30 percent higher revenue than their typical metro locations with no drive-through.

Will Millennials Stay Downtown? — CityLab

When projections set marriage rates, educational attainment, and racial diversity at 2015 levels, then it’s easy to find evidence for a “peak Millennial” scenario of adults fleeing cities by 2035. Yet marriage rates are declining, adults are gaining higher levels of education, and the population is growing more diverse. Accounting for a more racially diverse society, for example, changes the forecast to stronger urban growth. “When I take into account the long-term trends in marriage rates and education level,” Lee writes, “the growth of downtown and inner city areas is even more accelerated, mainly at the expense of the most peripheral areas.”

Don’t Blame Uber for Your City’s Congestion — Bloomberg Opinion

Anti-congestion measures should affect all kinds of vehicles – private cars, cabs, Ubers, short-time and long-time rentals. They should only be allowed to use faster lanes when they carry no fewer than three people, and in cities with the nastiest traffic, they should probably be kept out of the most congested areas if they only have one or two occupants. At the same time, cities need to invest in public transportation to keep it competitive; if the subway is seedy and unsafe and buses don’t run on time, people will be forced to consider alternatives, even costly and slow ones.

Architecture and Design: Style

These Unconventional Playgrounds Could Make Your Kids More Creative — Artsy

One such adventure playground, as they are known, opened on New York City’s Governor’s Island in 2016. The 50,000-square-foot outdoor site, called The Yard, bears little resemblance to the colorful jungle gyms that the word “playground” typically conjures. Instead, it’s an expansive patch of dirt and grass piled with junkyard detritus such as tires, crates, traffic cones, and an old kayak. On sunny days, from spring through fall, it’s rife with children donning capes and splashing in puddles, and posting up at workbenches to use saws, hammers, and other small hand tools.

Why Rem Koolhaas Thinks We Should All ‘Pay Attention’ to the Countryside — Architectural Digest

Countryside: Future of the World will focus on the effects of technology, global warming, and politics on rural areas. The architect studied 12 to 15 rural areas across the world and will illuminate various developments through mixed media, including film, documents, and paintings.

“I think there’s an enormous apocalyptic quality, but it’s not all bad. Simply, [the show] says, ‘Pay attention to the countryside.’ It’s definitely not a negative show. It’s saying, ‘Be aware,’” Rem says.

How Graffiti Artists Are Fighting Back against Brands That Steal Their Work — Artsy

As graffiti has come to be seen as a visual shorthand for authenticity and creativity, major companies in every industry—from fashion labels and automakers to that paragon of multinational dullness, McDonald’s—are increasingly trying to tap into its “cool” factor, often without seeking the artist’s permission.

Technology

A must watch: Amanda Hess of the New York Times on…

The Hidden Language of Hands Videos

Welcome Our New Fembot Overlords

Dogs Took Over the Internet. Our Souls Are at Stake.

The Rise of the Ironic Racist

The Ugly Business of Beauty Apps

The Dark Art of Political Memes

How the Internet Fuels Paranoid Thinking

Apple’s $1 Trillion Milestone Reflects Rise of Powerful Megacompanies — New York Times

The consolidation is especially pronounced in the technology sector, where a group of large, efficient companies now lord over the fastest-growing and most dynamic parts of the United States economy.

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it quickly transformed the way society interacts with technology. More than 1.4 billion have been sold since.

Apple and Google combined now provide the software for 99 percent of all smartphones. Facebook and Google take 59 cents of every dollar spent on online advertising in the United States. Amazon exerts utter dominance over online shopping and is getting bigger, fast, in areas like streaming of music and videos.

Stumbles? What Stumbles? Big Tech Is as Strong as Ever — New York Times

The earnings reports show that all of the five are investing heavily in the tech that will dominate the future, from artificial intelligence to voice services to self-driving cars.

“The one thing that is likely to keep these companies at the top for much longer than traditional megacap companies is that they are not afraid to reinvent themselves,” Mr. Squali said. “They see themselves as laboratories for new ideas, and they’re not afraid to destroy something that’s working today to make the longer-term work even better for them.”