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?

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.

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