Adobe is killing it; Thank you, creators

Adobe’s quarterly earnings yesterday showed a continuation of a longer-running trend: the Creative Cloud is an unstoppable force.

A few quick highlights from the report and some analyst reactions:

  • The transition to the Creative Suite was a huge question mark, but that story is over – now the company has been adding users like gangbusters. Stock analysts talked up Creative Cloud’s growth, which was up 28% over the past year. That’s a lot more people taking up photography, videography, and web design. Hell yeah.
  • The subscription model really works! That was a huge question over the past few years, but Adobe gets it. It’s also why Apple is pushing app developers to sell on a subscription basis – that works well for consumers who want to test products, and works great for the companies, who have to continuously update their software and make it better for the consumer.

This is all fantastic stuff. Hopefully it’s a good signal that there are just more people out there creating fantastic art.

Product review-less review of the Apple September 2018 launch

I watched the entire Apple product event yesterday (big hat tip to Sam Sheffer and his live stream on Twitch. Well done.), and while of course I’d like to upgrade right away to the XS Max and the new Apple Watch, I… might not. They’re just expensive, and I think I might be able to hold out with my 6+ for one more cycle.

And while I won’t get into a review of each of the products – there are already plenty of good ones out there – here are my thoughts on the event, from a bit of a different perspective. Where does the product and timing of the iPhone Xr, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max stand in the upgrade cycle? Will all those iPhone 6 and 7 holdouts finally make the leap with this new line of iPhones?

Demand: I think Apple is clearly trying to position itself across a massive swath of the market. Just look at this chart, tweeted by Horace Deidu this morning

Apple is making a serious move to cut across a lot of price points here – from entry-level users who just (probably) want to be on iMessage, all the way up to the price insensitive buyers who are using the XS Max with 512 GB of storage for basically anything under the sun you can imagine a phone doing.

However, I think that if we were to compare this with the past upgrade cycles, this would be huge step up. But I just don’t think that is going to happen this time. First, it’s just a S-level upgrade, so all those iPhone X buyers are probably fine waiting for the next upgrade cycle. Second, those of us with iPhone 7s or 6s are just waiting longer to upgrade.  As I wrote a few weeks ago in Samsung Note 9 vs Apple iPhone X vs You’re probably not going to upgrade anyway

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.

On a device payment plans? See fewer promotions? Just opting to replace your battery? Or just riding a phone until the wheel completely fall off? You’re not the only one, and that is weighing on upgrade rates.

And while the XS Max has the biggest display ever, I can’t see it generating the same kind of buzz we saw with the iPhone 6+. It’s bigger and better, but is if fundamentally different?

The “cheap” iPhone Xr: I think the Xr is going to be the biggest hit of the cycle. Apple’s in-house estimates (in-house, so take with a boulder of salt) show 50% of iPhone users, which is around 700M to 825M customers, could look to upgrade to the Xr in the next year and a half to two years. Even if just a fraction of those users do that, that’s big for Apple – at least in units moved. That lower price is a big selling point for consumers – at least relative to the high-end iPhone models. That $750 price tag is more than the highest end models just a few cycles ago. For all the talk about ASPs, Apple has done a great job making people think $749 is cheap for a phone.

Usage: The biggest step forward seemed to be with the new Watch, with the focus on health and fitness. Fall detection and ECG? How many people are going to be getting these for their aging parents? I can see these being a bigger hit than past models, and a lot of people who had been on the fence about the Watch might finally see some real-world uses that might finally push them over the edge. 

The new iPhones though? They are fantastic – just look at the chip upgrades, the camera and camera software. But I just don’t think there’s that much new with them. Some of the biggest improvements that people might use day-to-day – the portrait mode with adjustable bokeh comes first to mind – are software upgrades, not hardware upgrades. You can buy an iPhone 8 that is going to do 99% of what the Xr will do for $150 less (though I don’t doubt people would pay that kind of premium to have a salmon-colored iPhone).

If anything, this fact hammers home the fact that services – and not devices – are the future of Apple’s future revenue growth.

So that’s my quick product review-less review of the Apple launch.

9/11, the 10th anniversary of the Financial Crisis, and Downtown Manhattan: A lesson in resiliency

With this week including both September 11th and the 10th anniversary of the Financial Crisis, it has been a great week to reflect on Lower Manhattan.

I have been reading a lot about the history of New York lately, and that little bit of land at the very southern tip of the island of course has a long and interesting history. It was where New York was founded, was as much a part of the founding of the United States as anywhere, and grew to become the center of the financial – and later cultural – universe.

But that all didn’t happen seamlessly. I’ll list just a few things that has happened that centered on the (rough back-of-the-envelope calculation…) four square miles below Canal.

And every single time, it has shifted its form, becoming something else entirely.

We’ll start when the Dutch took Manhattan from the Lenape. The Dutch weren’t great neighbors. But they wanted money and power, they filled the shallows in (go look how the pavement slopes on Pearl Street), and startedto build up its commercial port.

Then the British took over, reclaimed more land from the sea, and started building up the wharves and seawall.

A statue of King George III went up in Bowling Green, but that was pulled to the ground by American revolutionaries, then, as the New York Times noted,

“His statue here has been pulled down to make musket ball of, so that his troops will probably have melted Majesty fired at them,” Ebenezer Hazard, the New York postmaster, wrote to Gen. Horatio Gates.

The population boomed in the 1800s, as the American’s created even more land. As Adam Davidson noted in his fantastic book Magnetic City,

Huge loads of ash, offal, manure, dead horses, and household garbage were carted to the water’s edge and loaded onto floating “dumping boards” and into the shallows and slips, where they gradually alchemized into real estate. The slow process haloed the city in stink, but in the long run it proved to be the most profitable form of recycling.

A 1835 fire burned down almost everything in Lower Manhattan, including the Merchants’ Exchange and the Tontine Coffee House, the birthplace of the American-style market economy.

From the ashes, though came the Woolworth Building, opened in 1913 as the tallest building in the world Its architect, Cass Gilbert, said it had “a measure of beauty, and that architectural beauty, judged even from an economic standpoint, has an income-bearing value.” It was a physical symbol of technology (the skyscraper), beauty (just look at its turrets and green copper top), and America’s capitalist might (Gilbert said it was just a machine that makes land pay).

Not everyone was so enthused, including a terrorist who bombed JP Morgan and Co. in 1920. You can go there (23 Wall Street) and still see the marks on the building from the blast.

New York’s shipping industry collapsed in the mid-20th century. But out of that, a group of artists moved into the Coenties Slip, into the industrial lofts abandoned by shippers. Some of those artists? Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana.

Then New York almost went bankrupt in the 1970s. Some fantastic books were written about how New York at that time (most notably Ken Auletta’s The Streets Were Paved With Gold).

But the city recovered in the 1980s and became the “Master of the Universe” global center of wealth and culture, and all the good and bad that came with it.

Then 9/11 happened. A total aside: I was a senior in high school at the time. That entire day still sticks out vividly in my mind. I was watching MTV, who was playing music videos from New York banks through the night after. I recall watching Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls:

But guess what? New York recovered. 

The disasters that followed in the 2000s and 2010s – the Finacial Crisis and Hurricane Sandy – were also devistating to Lower Manhattan – though certainly in different ways than 9/11.

Yes, Wall Street is there, but in an increasingly decentralized financial universe, there is less of a need for a footprint around the exchange. But the neighborhood itself is far different than it was in the mid-2000s. People actually want live there.

Now, some of those monuments to the past are being converted to totally new, different uses. Look at 70 Pine Street, which was the headquarters of AIG, the insurer that blew up and almost brought down the entire US economy in 2008. Now, it was converted to residential. Here’s your typical 1BR apratment, for just $4,550 a month.

Or the top of the Woolworth Building, which was gutted of its elevator and mechanical equipment and converted into a $110M home.


Photo via Curbed/Williams New York

Or the JP Morgan & Co. building on Wall Street. Davidson wrote,

“In its new incarnation, the roof of Morgan’s folly has become a poolside arbor in which to lounge with a cocktail and admire the muscular marble figures laboring in the pediment of the Stock Exchange across the street. The roof garden, Starck enthused, is “like an Italian villa on a lake. You’re in the middle of a sculpture, in a garden in the middle of the world. It’s an ecstasy trip.”

Affordable housing is without a doubt the biggest problem in New York. These transformations are all creations for the absolute wealthiest, and do nothing to address the most pressing need of the city. So some of the most recent changes in Lower Manhattan are indeed an evolution, but an evolution to what end?

But the point still stands that Lower Manhattan will adjust, shift, iterate, mold itself into something new. You can throw whatever you want at it, but it’s about the most dynamic place on the face of the earth.
Lower Manhattan has lived a hundred lives. It still has a couple thousand more to go.

THE WEEK’S BEST: Design, architecture, and technology – August 24, 2018

What I wrote last week:

Nothing, I’m worthless.

What I shot last week:

Design, architecture, and technology digest:

Architecture and Design: Cities

Watching a real urban planner play SimCity is incredibly satisfying — FastCompany

He’s able to put his background to use. Little did I know that by arranging roads on a 4 x 4 grid versus a 6 x 6 grid–in other words, allowing four buildings on each block rather than six–you can radically change the taxable density of a city. As he explains, this slight shift in the grid changes the land-to-road ratio from 36% to 27%.

“It’s not an enormous difference, but in SimCity as in real life, roads require maintenance,” Amos explains. “You want to minimize roads and maximize land value.” This logic is exactly why pedestrian-first communities make so much sense, beyond obvious quality-of-life benefits for citizens.

The Bipartisan Cry of ‘Not in My Backyard’ — New York Times/The Upshot

Mr. Carson framed the idea in traditionally conservative terms: the logic of rolling back regulation. But conservative communities and Republican voters are among those who’ve pushed to tightly regulate development. Democrats have done the same. Nimbyism knows no party limits.

Architecture and Design: Style x Technology

Posting Instagram Sponsored Content Is the New Summer Job — The Atlantic

Others say that their work with brands has taught them a range of new skills, including photo editing, sales, marketing, budgeting, navigating workflows, and juggling inbound and outbound requests. The Instagram hustle prompted Leigh, a 14-year-old in Virginia who just finished eighth grade, to download Gmail onto her phone for the first time and spend hours cold-approaching businesses for brand deals.

“Some teens don’t know they have this potential, and they don’t know they could be making a profit off this,” she says, adding that she finally understands why her parents, who are both entrepreneurs, are “always going over emails.”

NYC Library Takes Novel Approach, Posting Books to Instagram — Wall Street Journal

The technology works in such a way that when readers are on the Instagram app, they hold the page of a book by resting their thumb on the screen, library officials said. They turn the page by lifting their thumb.

The experience is “unmistakably like reading a paperback novel,” Corinna Falusi, Mother in New York’s partner and chief creative officer, said in a statement.

All the ways in Which Instagram has changed our lives — Quartz

It was changing how we perceive the world, and even started shaping it. Today, you can find reams of articles that describe how it has transformed just about everything—from the obvious (like photography), to the very specific (eating rhubarb).

Is the Art Market Ready to Embrace Work Made by Artificial Intelligence? Christie’s Will Test the Waters This Fall — Artnet

The resulting work, titled Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, depicts a man in a dark coat and white collar with indecipherable facial features that reside somewhere in the uncanny valley. The unique piece, a gold-framed canvas print that is currently on view in Christie’s London showroom, is estimated at $7,000-10,000. The collective says it will use the proceeds from the sale to further train its algorithm, finance the computational power needed to make such works, and experiment with 3D modeling.

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

What I wrote last week:

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

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?

What I shot last week:

Design, architecture, and technology digest:

Architecture and Design: Cities

6 Ideas Every City Should Steal From Barcelona — CityLab

The wide avenues and boulevards of Cerda’s Plan give ample room for multi-modal infrastructure. Walking has long been a priority – as illustrated by five centuries of “rambling” on La Rambla, one of the best people streets in the world. Cerda’s l’Eixample (Expansion) plan made walking enjoyable almost everywhere – 50 percent of all street space is dedicated to walking space, with the other 50 percent for all other forms of ‘traffic.’

Architecture and Design: Style

Today’s Supreme Drop Is a Cover Story — New York Times

Supreme approached The Post in late April asking for “original, never-before-seen, creative ideas.” The newspaper’s 5-year-old in-house creative strategy agency, Post Studios, proposed the wraparound.

“They said that when they’re looking to do collaborations, that they really want authentic brand partners,” said Shannon Toumey, the vice president of marketing and branded content strategy at The Post and a co-head of Post Studios. “They thought we were an authentic voice of New York.”

New York’s Flower District Is Dying — Bloomberg

In fact, the bouquet you bought at your local deli was likely grown on a mountainside in Colombia, where 78 percent of all U.S. flower imports originate. This relationship is a product of trade policies implemented in the 1990s to curb Colombian drug production by encouraging a legal, alternative crop. After import taxes were lowered, Colombian flowers flourished. American growers, however, paid the price—sales of U.S. roses have dropped 95 percent since 1991, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What If the Museum of Ice Cream Is the Future of Retail? — Bloomberg

Much of the debate around these selfie magnets focuses on what to call them. Are they institutions with cultural value? Or are they “braindead, Instagram-optimized fun houses,” as Jason Farago, editor of contemporary art magazine Even, put it in his newsletter? Neither, says Manish Vora, co-founder of the Museum of Ice Cream. For him it’s a new retail form, one that follows in the footsteps of such businesses as Warby Parker.

Why Frasier Is The TV Daddy To Every Millennial Manboy — Huffington Post

The Crane brothers, according to this theory, are like mirrors for the modern bros toting Moleskine notebooks in New Yorker totes, who see themselves as emotionally adroit intellectuals embodying an enlightened idea of gender. Frasier’s character foreshadowed a cultural shift ― in which male dominance in the 21st century isn’t determined by strength and aggression but by knowledge, taste and social status.

Wealthy Parents Help Child Athletes Go Pro in Their Own Backyards — WSJ

Real-estate agents often say that owners who put highly individualized or specialty features in their homes risk losing money when it comes time to sell. Abby and Mason Phelps thought about this while including a basketball gym in their roughly 12,000-square-foot home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

“We made sure the dimensions of the court are bigger than a racquetball or squash court so it can be reformatted,” said Mr. Phelps, 39, a derivatives trader who played volleyball in college.

Yes, Bolo Ties Are Actually a Thing Now — Bloomberg

Evan Ratner, an investment analyst, and Vinnie Buehler, an associate at a law firm, launched Caliny this summer. The brand uses interchangeable pieces so guys can match their bolo with their outfit. They call it the ‘Urbolo.’ And yes, there was booze involved.

“I am in my early 30s and don’t feel I can pull off the Southwest look on a daily basis, so we created a bolo with an urban edge,” says Buehler. He recounts how the idea came together last summer over drinks in Manhattan’s Union Square, when he was listening to his friend and now business partner vent his frustration on the lack of neckwear options for men.

Technology

‘Stories’ was Instagram’s smartest move yet — Recode

Stories also has the potential of becoming Instagram’s — and therefore Facebook’s — next big business. Full-screen, engaging video ads seem like an easy sell to advertisers once they figure out the format. Internet companies have long tried to win advertising budgets that were earmarked for television, and Facebook’s efforts around video advertising have been underwhelming so far. If Instagram Stories are the new TV, will TV ad dollars follow?