Simplicity Series: Augmented Reality

Last week we wrote about simplicity as a driving force behind the world’s biggest technology offerings. We’re extending our thoughts on simplicity into a series that explores the necessity of simplicity in frontier technology. First, we’ll dive into AR.

Simplicity for AR in 2018 must start with a question: “What does AR do?” Not in the literal sense. We all know it overlays digital information on the real world. What the question needs to answer is what undeniable and unduplicable benefit AR confers to its users. What can only AR do?

The smartphone put a powerful computer in your pocket that lets you work and play from everywhere. Apple makes the smartphone so simple anyone can pick it up and start working and playing instantly.

What can only AR do?

The Internet connected you with the world’s information. Google sorts it for you. Amazon lets you buy things you find.

What can only AR do?

The answer isn’t that it puts a computer with the world’s information in your eye. That’s only marginally better, maybe not even, than what we have now. Marginally better is fine as an emerging feature on smartphones today, but it won’t drive mass adoption of AR wearables that people wear all day long.

The problem is more obvious when asked what the killer use case of AR is. To be clearer, a use case the average consumer could engage in every day. It’s not envisioning a new couch in your living room or getting step-by-step instructions or doing facial/object recognition. AR doesn’t have the advantage of email, messaging, and web browsing as the smartphone inherited from the Internet. Because AR is a true paradigm shift in how we interface with computers, we need to rethink communication, information collection, and information consumption specifically for AR. That hasn’t happened in a meaningful way yet.

Our tone here is tough, but only because we think the AR space has been taking a pass at answering this hard existential question in favor of experimentation with hopes that customers figure it out for them. We remain bullish on the future of AR and think the answer to our core question here might have something to do with the relative “nearness” of information it creates. To elaborate, we’ve evolved from a limited keyboard-style interface to a touch interface to a mixed reality interface that might incorporate gestures, thoughts, voice, etc. Interacting with information is becoming much closer to how we interact with the real world. This answer isn’t perfect, but we think it’s in the right direction.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Investing in Enjoy

We’re investing in Enjoy as a counter-automation play on the future of retail. Read our thesis on retail’s future here. In short: retailers must either embrace full automation or compete on experience by focusing on uniquely human capabilities: creativity, community, and experience. We call it “empathic retail.” Enjoy delivers the future of retail by focusing squarely on empathic retail. Enjoy hand delivers products bought online from the world’s premier companies and delivers them with an experience. The service comes at no additional cost to consumers and it’s fast, with nearly 50% being delivered the same day.

Amazon is changing consumer expectations related to the price, availability, and delivery of products and services. But the in-person retail experience is outside of Amazon’s core competencies. Enjoy offers its premier companies (including AT&T, Sonos, DJI, and others) a high-touch, personalized delivery and setup service. Enjoy optimizes the customer experience, reduces returns, and increases customer satisfaction.

At the same time, automation technologies are already replacing retail jobs. Enjoy offers its team of Experts (delivery and setup employees) flexible work, salaried, with benefits – a transformative employment model for the new retail workforce. In our view, Enjoy is creating the optimal go-to-market channel for premium brands in the automation age.

Enjoy’s CEO, Ron Johnson, has spent his career innovating in retail. His experience as VP of Merchandising at Target, SVP and head of retail at Apple, and as CEO of JCPenney, along with his network of leaders at consumer electronics and luxury goods brands, uniquely positions Enjoy for success in these markets and beyond.

We’re excited to be a part of delivering retail’s future with the team at Enjoy.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

3 Reasons Amazon Will Buy Target This Year

Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer, about five times bigger in that space than Walmart and its Jet.com subsidiary. Yet despite Amazon’s deep online roots and dominance over Internet shopping, I believe it will buy Target in 2018.

After digging into the realities of both companies, it becomes clear that Amazon buying Target isn’t as bold of a prediction as one might think. Here are three reasons why a merger makes sense.

Offline sales will always be a big part of retail.

It’s no secret that online retail is slowly killing offline. My firm, Loup Ventures, estimates that in the fourth quarter of 2017, about 10% of total U.S. retail sales, or about $125 billion, were online. The longer-term question is: How much of total retail will eventually happen online? Based on our analysis of U.S. retail sales by category (excluding gas and restaurant expenditures), 55% of total retail sales should eventually happen online.

Even if half of commerce shifts to online, that still leaves a massive market offline at 45%. People in the future will still want to pick up groceries at a local store. As retail changes dramatically going forward, the biggest winners will promote both online and offline opportunities.

They both pursue affluent customers.

 Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods last year confirmed that the online giant’s focus is on the high-income consumer. Market research firm GfK MRI estimates the median household income for an Amazon shopper is $90,100, similar to Whole Foods at $95,200. Target reports its average shopper earns $87,000. These far exceed the U.S. median household income of $55,322.

By buying Target, Amazon would solidify its dominance of the high-income consumer. Conversely, if Amazon were to acquire a company targeting lower-income customers, such as Dollar Tree, Amazon would steer its focus away from its core consumers. In my years of observing tech companies, I’ve seen that owning a demographic usually yields the best results.

Brick and mortar will get more advanced.

Over the following 10 years, I’d expect Amazon to convert Target and Whole Foods stores to an automated model with few employees. Stores would be monitored by computer vision systems; shelves would be stocked by robots; customers would be helped by service robots that understand natural language; and checkout would resemble Amazon Go locations, where customers simply walk out with their purchases. In this future, the lines between online shopping and automated brick and mortar stores would blur, as cost-focused stores become more like smart warehouses. The few employees working in stores would focus on delivering personalized service based on mutual understanding and empathy, which would enable retailers to differentiate themselves.

Any number of factors could derail such a combination, including government intervention. But sometimes mergers make too much sense to ignore. Amazon buying Target is one such situation.

This note was originally published on Fortune.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

The Underappreciated Beauty of Simplicity in Tech

Simplicity is underappreciated. In many things. But most obviously right now in our world of consumer technology.

Simplicity is a requirement of mass adoption. Look at the iPhone, Google, Amazon, and Uber as examples: The iPhone never shipped with a manual. Turn it on. Press the screen with your finger. It just works. Google gives you a box with two buttons. Type what you’re looking for and hit enter. There’s your answer. Amazon lets you order anything you can imagine. Even with one click. Then it shows up on your doorstep a few days later. Even sooner with Prime. Uber: I’m here. Take me there. Ok, done.

None of these products has a learning curve. They’re dead simple to use and they just work. You can make similar arguments for Facebook, Twitter, and Airbnb. Probably not Snapchat, and perhaps that is their biggest weakness.

This isn’t to say that simple products don’t have extremely complex technical underpinnings. Almost no iPhone or Google user has any conception of the software that enables their seamless technology experiences. The part they touch makes the technology disappear.

In this new wave of innovation, technology seems to be embracing itself. Tech is cool. Tech is sexy. And it feels like we’re trying less to hide tech with ease of use. With a friendly, non-tech face. That’s a mistake. In the consumer world, AI, robotics, VR, AR, even cryptocurrency, none of these will see mass adoption without the same simplicity employed by the incumbent giants.

Simplicity is also underappreciated in investing. It’s easy to overthink things and build reasons why something can buck the reality of otherwise. We’re trying to employ the concept of simplicity in our investments. We’re not afraid to invest in complex tech, but when we do, we make sure the tech hides behind a friendly front that’s simple enough for mass adoption.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

002 – Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins Mr. Hawkins is an engineer, serial entrepreneur, scientist, inventor and author. His life-long interest in neuroscience and theories of the neocortex has driven his passion for building a technology based on neocortical theory. Previously, he founded two mobile computing companies, Palm and Handspring, and is the architect of many computing products such as the PalmPilot and Treo smartphone. In 2002, he founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, a scientific institute focused on understanding how the neocortex processes information. The institute is currently located at U.C. Berkeley. In 2004 Jeff wrote the book, On Intelligence, which outlines Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) and describes progress on understanding the neocortex.

Top 3 Takeaways.

  • Intelligent machines should be judged by their ability to incorporate a set of dynamic properties with respect to their environment, not complete or understand a specific task.
  • Intelligence and consciousness are co-dependent. Consciousness allows our brain to recall specific memories in order to make intelligent decisions.
  • By understanding the neo-cortex, you can show that it is both biologically testable and something you can implement for use in software and hardware.

Show Notes.

  • [1:26] Mr. Hawkins talks about what led to his inspiration to combine neuroscience and computer science.
  • [2:23] Mr. Hawkins talks about the goal and vision for Numenta.
  • [3:20] Numenta’s progress and timeline for understanding the brain and the history of becoming a brain theorist.
  • [4:50] How Numenta is different than other deep learning techniques.
  • [6:35] Mr. Hawkins talks about how he defines intelligence.
  • [8:40] Mr. Hawkins talks about how he defines consciousness versus intelligence.
  • [9:38] The current interpretation of human consciousness and why fear of AI is irrational.
  • [11:45] AI as an existential threat to humanity and the importance of understanding how brains work.
  • [14:01] Mr. Hawkins shares his main takeaways on what he has learned from writing On Intelligence over the past 10 years.
  • [16:00] How do you translate research into a salable product?
  • [19:50] Rapid fire question round with Mr. Hawkins.

Selected Links.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.