All of today’s music sucks, but it won’t always be that way. Here’s why:

SoundCloud is one of many companies that has made it easier for users to spread their music
Image via FACT magazine

Money. It supposedly makes the world go round. At least it does to today’s “musicians”. In decades prior, the popularity of a musical genre directly correlated with large societal changes and shifts, but now, the popularity of genre depends on how much money it makes its producers. I’m not saying all modern music is shit, but almost everything that gets produced by the big record labels is. Producers aren’t willing to take the risks on genre-starting new artists they used to, instead opting to to play it safe with rappers and pop stars, which have proven to be popular, despite the lack of meaning in their music. New genres only emerge through this risk taking, and because these risks aren’t being taken, new genres aren’t emerging like they used to. Where as before, there was a vast offering of musical genres being produced, that vast number has shrunk to just two: rap and pop, with the line between the two becoming ever blurred. There’s no more variety in music, simply because the record labels don’t want to take the risk and sign artists that could create era-defining new genres and types of music. But this dangerous pattern is ripe for disruption. With the accessibility of music production software like GarageBand and the vast reach of online music sharing platforms like SoundCloud or YouTube, producing and sharing your own music has never been easier for aspiring artists, many of which would have been seen by record labels as too avant-garde or risky to sign on. This ability to circumvent the producers, who have been the greatest limiting factors on which musicians get the spotlight, will undoubtedly lead to the development of new genres that would never had been heard under record labels, and with advances in accessibility for this software, both in terms of ease of use and availability, more and more people will have the ability to make music, and when everybody plays, we all win.

Why conservatives can’t innovate.

There is a reason why all of the most recent technological advances have been executed by liberal thinkers. There is a reason why all of the biggest and most innovative tech companies are based in California, the most liberal place in the United States and possibly, the world. The reason: conservatives can’t innovate. This inability to technologically push the human race further stems from the idealogical basis of the conservative mindset: the want for things to stay the same. The most innovative and successful tech companies are based off of liberal ideas and ambitions, they are started by the people who want to change the world, and conservatives want the opposite. How can you change the world if you don’t want it to be changed?

Apple’s design has lost most of its character.

The new App Store Icon next to the old one
Image via The Verge

Apple is a company that appreciates design, sometimes to a fault. But in recent years, especially with the absence and eventual departure of Jony Ive, Apple’s once market leading design has lost a lot of what made it special. This is apparent in its software but more so in its hardware. Where Apple once distinguished consumer and professional products through the use of fun design choices and vibrant colors, all of their computers today share a plain metal design once reserved for their pro products. Sure, some of Apples phones come in somewhat vibrant colors, but they share too similar of physical designs to stand out against the rest of their products. On the software side, app icons have lost almost all meaning they once had. For example, the App Store used to have an icon that depicted a pencil, a ruler and a paintbrush in the shape of an “A”, symbolizing the great tools and entertainment you could find within the store. But now, the icon is simply three lines put together to form an “A”, leaving the icon devoid of almost all meaning. This really highlights Apple’s current problem with design. Sure, all of their designs look cool, but they have no meaning, and since products can’t talk, design is the only form of communication between users and products, and right now, Apple’s products just aren’t saying anything.

Will the 2020s see an end to the smartphone?

The first iPhone came out 12 years ago, and ever since, people have been asking what the next device to share its cultural effect will be.
Image via CNBC

A lot of companies have thrown around the phrase “the next smartphone” when talking about their products, a claim that has lost most of the weight it once carried with it due to the sheer amount of times it has been used to describe products that have failed to recapture even a sliver of the cultural impact of the smartphone upon its introduction. Nonetheless, companies are always looking for new ways to develop their vision for the future of mobile computing, which means they’re always looking for the next smart phone. Some companies think the next big thing will be less of a new type of product and more of a new innovation for the smartphone, such as the case with folding phones, which companies like Samsung and Motorola seemingly view as the future of mobile computing, for now at least. However, others believe that only a radical new technology like AR would be able to capture the same response and amass the same number of users as the smartphone. Many people believe that the future of mobile computing lies in wearables, especially augmented reality headsets. But in its current state, AR is not ready to become a mass market technology, and whether it will be by the end of the decade is something that we will have to wait and see about. Another possibility for the next smartphone could be found with innovations in smart watches. Smart watches have been a mainstream technology for some time now, and have seen widespread adoption. The limitation with a majority of them is inability to be used independently of a smartphone. This flaw is analogous to one in pre-iphone smartphones, where users couldn’t really conceivably to accomplish the tasks of a computer due to hindrances like less than adequate web browsers and email clients. The iPhone was the first smartphone to come without these flaws, being the first phone to include a web browser and email client that were built from the ground up for the device they was running on, rather than being a dumbed down desktop browser like on other devices. These innovations allowed for smartphones to finally made the use of smart phones without the need for a personal computer feasible, and similar innovations to smart watches could finally allow them to transcend being neat gadgets for your phone or fitness trackers. These are just a few examples of some of the endless idea of where mobile computing could go within the next decade, and it is crucial to note that the execution of the idea is equally if not more important to the idea itself, as all it takes is one company to make a great product for “the next smartphone” to be born.

When the quest for the best user experience goes too far.

The Sonos One, one of the company’s latest products
Image via B&H Photo and Video

So called “planned obsolescence” is something we hear a lot about lately. Just a few years ago, Apple made headlines for supposedly using software to make older iPhones seem slower, with the goal of pushing users to upgrade to a newer model. While Apple never admitted to the latter, they dd acknowledge that they had held back older phones in the past, which they said was to increase their longevity, through practices like reducing the amount of charge batteries on older iPhones could hold, so that, while they may not hold as big of a charge, they could last much longer without needing a replacement. This method of putting some restrictions on hardware with the goal of “giving users a better user experience” is not a new one. Most recently, Sonos has come under fire for using this practice. The company introduced a new trade in program this week that offers users 30% new speakers when they trade in their older models. The kicker is that users have to brick their perfectly working speakers to be eligible for the offer. The company makes users put their speakers into “recycle mode”, which effectively makes the speakers unusable, before they can send them in to the company for a discount. This means that people who want to upgrade to a new speaker an utilize the offer have to ruin their perfectly functioning model that could easily be sold to someone else. Not only does this practice have a financial impact, as it stops recycling firms from being able to sell perfectly fine used hardware to people who may want them, it could have a drastic environmental impact as well if other manufacturers follow in Sono’s poor example. I’m all for scrapping old, obsolete hardware to gain materials for newer devices with better user experiences, but in this case, the hardware that is being thrown away is perfectly functioning and there is a marginal gain in user experience between the newer and the older models. It is clear that the choice to introduce this trade in program was made purely as a financial one to get older speakers off the market, and not as one with the benefits of the user experiences of consumers in mind, whereas it should always be the other way around.

Political Partisanship Shouldn’t Exist

The symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties
Image via Smithsonian Magazine

Since the dawn of mankind itself, man has divided itself into factions. In the earliest days, man formed tribes, then nations, and in those nations man divided itself into political parties to surround himself with people who claimed to support his ideals. Now, thousands of years after man’s earliest civilizations rose and fell, our countries are still divided under this ancient system , but they shouldn’t be. Partisanship, political partisanship especially, is one of the greatest handicaps on mankind’s advancement. It discourages individual thinking and thus limits the proposals of new ideas, and instead promotes the idea of the hive mind, essentially an echo chamber that only spews out ideas as antiquated as partisanship itself. Partisanship does this by promoting the idea that, if politicians disobey any the ideals of their political party, they will lose all support and all of their power with it. This forces politicians to conform and constrict themselves to the parameters of the party they fall under, often restricting them from proposing potentially beneficial policies due to the fact that they may not agree with the ideals of said political party. Furthermore, it prevents candidates that don’t run under a political party from coming into the spotlight, candidates that could have life changing policies that they could be looking to put in place. It is this restriction on individual freedom that makes political partisanship such a danger to mankind’s advancement, and what lead to George Washington’s warning against it in his farewell address. But we can steer mankind ship off this dangerous course and move on from this antiquated system. The internet has been a powerful platform for proposing new ideas, and, if used correctly, the internet with its large outreach could be a key weapon towards defeating political partisanship through platforms like YouTube or Instagram, which could be used to promote lesser known candidates who don’t run under a political party, potentially getting rid of the cost of a campaign, which would remove one of the major restrictions of running as a non-partisan. Perhaps, the internet could bring unknown political candidates into the limelight to the same effect that it did with internet celebrities and icons, finally breaking down one of mankind’s greatest limits towards advancement in the process.

In a world where retail stores struggle to survive, how does Apple thrive?

The Recently Renovated “Glass Cube” Apple Store located on Fifth Avenue in New York
Image via Apple

Retail stores are a dying breed. Nowhere else is this statement more true than during the holidays. While stores were packed with eager, savings hungry customers, they now stand as relics, ghost towns occupied by the scarce souls who firmly grasp the ways of the past. They lie as empty tombs, their wares undisturbed, unseen to shoppers’ eyes that are instead scrolling through products on Amazon. But there is one store that has escaped the retail holocaust unscathed. Its beautiful metal walls tightly hold countless visitors whose eyes are lighten up by wonderfully fun and inventive products. The Apple store became the Mecca for shoppers that it is today as part of Steve Jobs grand reconstruction of Apple upon his return to the company. When he took position as interim CEO of the company in 1997, Apple’s retail situation was in shambles. They had no physical stores, instead opting to partner with larger vendors like Best Buy to create stores-within-stores. While this did make it easier and more cost effective to open new retail locations, the strategy had many downsides. For one, the stores often had no set design language, so each one looked different, and, well, pretty plain. On top of this, many of the employees at these locations were not actual Apple employees, but workers at whatever store the Apple store was within, often making them less knowledgeable in the products they were selling. Steve Jobs understood the importance of a string retail presence, especially for companies in the tech space. They allowed for users to get a hands on experience with the devices they might be buying and this allowed for them to establish physical connections with products that could not be established in a virtual environment. The problems with with Apple’s retail approach formed the basis for the retail reconstruction and are still the basis for what makes Apple’s retail approach so effective today. Jobs knew that stores needed a clean, consistent design language that served as a backdrop to amplify the meanings and feelings released by the products on display in the stores. To accomplish this, Jobs worked with all types of designers to design retail locations that looked high tech and futuristic, yet friendly and welcoming. Job’s also knew that the stores needed to reflect and share the unrivaled user experiences of the products that were being sold in the, so well trained and enthusiastic employees were a necessity. Not only did the employees need to know about the products they were selling, they also needed to know how to help customers with any problems that they may have with said products. This need of impeccable customer service is what led to the invention of the Genius Bar and ensures that all employees in Apple stores are enthusiastic and well versed in the products they are selling. What it comes down to is that, unlike stores like Target, Sears, or any other failing retail store, Apple understands its not just the products that your selling, its the experience. This idea is what makes Apple Stores such popular retail locations. They’re cool to go to, they have cool gadgets to play around with and they make you feel like you live on a space ship. If you go to Target or Sears, you walk through seemingly endless and boring aisles, that may contain good products, but don’t provide a good enough user experience to make them worth going to over shopping online from your own home.

Apple could kill wireless carriers, but will they?

Steve Jobs with the original iPhone at its announcement in 2007
Image via AppleInsider

When the first iPhone came out, it was seen as a bold move against carriers. The phone marked the first time that carriers such as AT&T and Verizon didn’t have complete control over the device their cellular network was powering. Many manufactures followed Apple in their move against carrier, opting to design the phone and determine its features first and then go to carriers, and the cellular service industry as a whole lost a major foothold in the mobile computing space. But now, 12 years after the original iPhone changed the world, Apple could finally abandon cellular carriers and possibly destroy them once and for all. Today, in a report published by Bloomberg, it was announced that Apple could reportedly ditch cellular carriers in exchange for their own first party cellular network. According to the report, the network would utilize satellites to provide cell service to users. This would mark the first time in the history of the smart phone that a company would break away from carriers and such a move could drastically disrupt the carrier industry, and possibly even destroy it. With a company as far reaching as Apple, the power that cellular providers hold could finally be stripped away from them. This would have obvious benefits for users, such as increased privacy, possible lower costs for cell service, possibly a better user experience by not needing to use SIM cards, and cleaner design through the removal of said SIM card. But with those clear upsides comes less clear downsides, the biggest of which being antitrust issues. A world in which Apple owns the phone, the operating system, and the cellular network is a pretty clear analog to the time when the Bell-Ma telephone company owned the phone and the phone lines, a fact that led to their splitting up due to an anti trust case. While Apple could allow other phone manufacturers to utilize their cellular technology, an idea made more plausible due to their recent track record of playing nice with other tech giants, something tells me Apple wouldn’t want to do this, as they could use the technology as a possible selling point for future iPhones, as a feature not available on other devices. At a time where Apple is already facing demands to be split up, this would just serve as another argument for an antitrust case against them. But all this relies on whether or not this rumor is true. If it is, this could be a major step in the future of mobile computing, but we will have to wait and see if they can truly replicate move to the same effect of the one they pulled with the first iPhone, 12 years ago.