Amazon shuts down DPReview

After nearly 25 years of operation, DPReview will be closing in the near future. This difficult decision is part of the annual operating plan review that our parent company shared earlier this year. The site will remain active until April 10.

DPRreview, a camera review and photography enthusiast community website owned and operated by Amazon, is shutting down, no thanks in part to a large-scale corporate readjustment — the company is laying off another 9000 employees. What an ironic twist of fate — getting shuttered in their twenty-fifth year. 

Continue reading “Amazon shuts down DPReview”

Hi! In case you are new around here, I am Om. If you are new around here, here is something About Me and why you should read my newsletter. In this letter, I share what’s on my mind, my latest writings, articles worth reading from around the web, my recommendations & sometimes my photography. It’s mostly about technology and how it impacts our present future. 

In this issue, I address the following: 

  • Housekeeping update
  • Personal update + what’s on my mind 
  • ChatGPT: A Netscape moment. 
  • 2 Good Reads + Watch This
  • A Mirror Conspiracy! 

Housekeeping: The new format has met with the approval of the community. As an experiment (and by popular demand), I will increase the frequency of the newsletter to twice a month – the first and the fifteenth of every month, starting today. 

Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life.

Nam June Paik

What I have been up to

I went for a short trip to Alaska to take in the brutally cold winter weather, and take some photos. But mostly, I wanted to escape what passes for our life. 

Alaska’s vast emptiness, extreme nature, and, most importantly, landscapes speak to me deeply and emotionally. It allows my inner introvert to exist without interference from the outside world. It is where I have to learn to talk to myself and listen to a power higher than any contained in an office, bank account, or computer. Nature and its infinite magnificence and power are where it all starts and ends. 

In the tundra, unlike a New York Times reporter or some Washington Post scribe, I didn’t need to type into a plain white box to be amazed, amused, and outraged. I didn’t need to be triggered by anger but instead be awakened by a walk at the edge of a glacier’s crevice, not knowing that one step could be the last. I felt a special delight when surrounded by many shades of blues inside an ice cave. Or the dread I felt from the sound of ice cracking. 

I am replenished, my mind and soul in sync. As always, such grand places help me get proper context — when juxtaposed against the vastness and timeliness of the planet that we call home, the human construct is merely just that – an edifice, a reflection of our selfish need to scream: I am! 

And nothing prays louder to this narcissism is the current obsession with AI, a technology generating as much fear as it inspires fabulous. In our world where hype trumps deliberations, we forget that technology is there to augment us — and if we want to obliterate us. A wheel takes us afar, and it runs us over. Telephone connects, and it makes us vulnerable to the proverbial Jordan Belfort. Atomic bomb kills at an inhuman scale, yet the same technology can be harnessed to produce energy to power our world. 

Intelligence can be artificial. Or it can be a tool to help humans survive a more complex, more connected world that is moving ever so faster. I have said this and will say it again; we have to stop fearing AI. After decades of being a tech watcher, we need optimism to move forward. But we don’t have to be blind to its problems. A bit of skepticism is good because we humans have our fallacies, like technology. 

My two columns on AI for:

The New Yorker: The hype and hope – of Artificial Intelligence. (2016)

The Spectator: We should stop worrying and learn to love AI. (2022)

What I am thinking about: ChatGPT, of course!

In case you were wondering, I view ChatGPT as one of those profound aha moments in the history of technology: I wasn’t around to see the birth of the first Apple machine, but I have read about it. I saw the world change when I started using the Netscape browser, even though I had used the Internet before. I was among the first few to experience pre-launch Google and then later at the launch of the iPhone. I picked these historical moments because they fundamentally changed our relationship with information.  

Netscape browser opened us up to the wonder of infinite information. Google made it easy for us to search and pull up whatever we needed, whenever we needed. The iPhone (and later smartphones) made information available anywhere, anytime. These three events changed our behavior and how we viewed and interacted with information. ChatGPT is one of those moments — after this, we will interact with information in an entirely different way: as an almost human conversation. 

We have been on this path for a long time. We have been typing complete questions into Google’s Search Bar and asking Siri and Alexa to do things for us. Our kids are growing up having a conversation with machines. For today’s kids, devices with no keyboard or ones that work with gestures and voice commands are as typical as a day starting with sunrise. ChatGPT and its progeny will be part of our future, where we experience reality through a thin veneer of mixed reality glasses or holographic displays. It is not if but when. 

That said, I want to sprinkle a caution in our thinking around AI and ChatGPT, primarily because, in the recent past, I have seen Silicon Valley get high on its fumes. And we, indeed, are getting ahead of ourselves. How do I know — Salesforce and its chief, Marc Benioff, who hasn’t met a trend he didn’t incorporate into his corporate buzzword bingo, will announce EinsteinGPT. When Salesforce embraced the “cloud,” it crossed a marketing transom. Rinse, repeat. Anyway, let’s get back to the main thing — ChatGPT. 

A few years ago, the hype machine decided that “self driving” was the new wonder bread just around the corner. And then it was web3. And now it is GPT. Technology is more complex and not as straightforward as a hot take. The fact is that the science and technology of technology are very hard — and keep getting more challenging. We live in a growing complexity of how “tech” interacts with the real world. This complexity means that there are no overnight miracles. No overnight stars, no overnight collapses. 

Even though much has been written about AI, its impact, and its challenges, this video by comedian John Oliver gives us an overview of the state of AI today. And it is funny! I highly recommend you watch it. As Oliver points out, AI and ChatGPT are complex issues. Here are some articles that I found enjoyable and informative. 

  • From Samantha to Dolores: M.G. Siegler, an investor, and cinema buff writes about virtual chatbots and how they have been portrayed in popular culture, their hope, and their hype. (A long time ago, I interviewed KK Barrett, a production designer on the movie Her, which has become quite a rage amongst twitter-pundits. KK told me something that has always stayed with me: “It was the story of the attempt to be connected with another human.” For me, all technology is about humans. If we remember that, we be okay. If we don’t, we end up with the likes of Meta. 
  • What is ChatGPT, and why does it work?: Stephen Wolfram needs no introduction. In this in-depth article, he brings a scientist’s view on ChatGPT. Bookmark this for future reference. 
  • Building guide rails around ChatGPT: AI will be a topic of immense debate in Washington DC., and as a result, think tanks will help influence the legislation around AI and its widespread impact. Brookings Institution has shared its thinking on ChatGPT.  

My writings

  1. The Gigabit Generation: Build it, and they will come! And no, I don’t mean the fabulous baseball movie but high-speed broadband networks. And not only will they come, but they will also know how to use the speeds. This is just the start for a generation of consumers growing up on gigabit connections and relying on the “network” for everything.
  2. Writing shouldn’t be hard: I embrace and welcome our AI overlords and all the tools they bestow on us for writing better memos, easy-to-understand emails, and just boring stuff we need to do because all we do is text. 
  3. The podcasting bubble is coming to an end. You can thank Spotify for it. Ironic, considering that the company created a bubble by over-investing in podcasting, buying companies, overpaying for celebrity deals, and controversial shock jocks. 
  4. Information Streams as design patterns are still alive, say web gurus. And yet, the end customers think they are.  
  5. Why manual rangefinder cameras are great for landscape photography, I know it is not tech, but the long essay does have many pretty photos! 

Worth reading 

  • The Junkification of Amazon: According to John Herrman, Amazon might be the biggest store on the web, but it is also the shittiest place to shop on the web. I couldn’t agree more — my overall experience with Amazon has deprecated, and I am always worried about what crap I will get in the box. I have shifted about a third of my dollars to Walmart — Amex underwrites the Walmart equivalent of Prime — and another third to Target or independent stores. Shopify has made it easier to shop with independents. Amazon’s great advantage is “returns.” You will see Amazon as just another web place when someone cracks that. (Ironically, New York magazine has no problem linking to Amazon for affiliate revenues.)
  • Streaming is a steaming pile of mess. No matter what you do to fix this, there are losers on all sides – creators, platforms, and rights holders. And what is clear that’s any tweaks will come at the expense of people like you and me. This is one of the best pieces I have read about streaming music and its economic troubles.

Watch This 

I have been late to discover Mr.InBetween, a dark crime comedy from Australia. It started airing on FX in 2108, but I just started watching it on Hulu, and I am addicted. The protagonist Ray Shoesmith is a hitman for hire who lives in Sydney suburbs and tries to balance his job with his everyday life. Remind you of a certain Tony? 

A Mirror Conspiracy

America (and, by proxy, the west) is locked in a bitter economic and political battle with China. The salvos have been fired over “chips” and “chip technologies.” Chips are the key to the future, so the US is doing its best to ensure China doesn’t get that technology. This kind of “technology” gamesmanship isn’t anything new.

In 1507, Venetians developed a “technique of coating glass with an alloy of tin and mercury,” leading to somewhat modern mirrors. For about 150 years, Venice (Italy) enjoyed the lead and made large mirrors. In 1664, France stole technology from them and created “mirror halls.” Eventually, the technology became so commonplace that the mirrors went from royal halls to homes. Since I started talking about China, the Chinese had halls of mirrors as far back as 565–77.

FWIW, I am interested in reading more about mirrors and their history. If you have any book recommendations, drop me a note. (The title for this section is a tip of the hat to Thievery Corporation’s amazing album of the same name — an all-time favorite)

My photography: I would love for you to check out my latest

PS: Some of these photos are available for sale as prints. Drop me a line if you want to add them to your living space.

man sitting on bench reading newspaper
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

…oftentimes you can see change on the horizon, assuming you’re looking for it, and there comes a day when the landscape flips. But the old entities attached to the old ways refuse to adjust, they believe in holding back the future, staying rooted in the past, to their detriment, because the public is not controlled by them. 

Bob Lefsetz

This simple insight is Silicon Valley (a proverbial proxy for post-industrial technology). Why it exists, why it eats itself, and why it finds the future. A more business version of this insight is Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. 

Top Read:

The Junkification of Amazon: Amazon might be the biggest store on the web, but it is also the shittiest place to shop on the web, says John Herrman. I couldn’t agree more — my overall experience with Amazon has deprecated, and I am always worried about what crap I will get in the box. I have shifted about a third of my dollars to Walmart — Amex underwrites the Walmart equivalent of Prime — and another third to Target or independent stores. Shopify has made it easier to shop with independents. Amazon’s great advantage is “returns.” You will see Amazon as just another web place when someone cracks that. (Ironically, New York magazine has no problem linking to Amazon for affiliate revenues.)


So Many Podcasts, So Little Money: Spotify has thus far failed its big bet on podcasts. It has become the biggest podcast platform and has $200 million in podcasting-related ad revenues, but is that enough? Spotify and its CEO made the classic mistake all leaders make: they brought in big-ticket experts who know how to spend big bucks to attract talent. In reality, Spotify forgot it has the audience and the platform to turn anyone into a star. 

It could be verse: Mark Zuckerberg isn’t giving up on his Metaverse ambitions. Sure, they lost money in 2022 and will lose more in 2023. The real question is, will they ever make it work, or will Apple come and steal their thunder? For now, Zuck is all in on the hot new thing of today: Generative AI.

Is this the end of writing? 

What is the Internet? 

Why you should not buy iOT devices from Anker


Now, this is a clever photography game!

Feb 4, 2023. San Francisco.

pink arrow neon sign
Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “tech layoffs” have been on my mind, and I wrote a column for The Spectator to explain “the why of these layoffs.” An unprecedented boom in Silicon Valley that started with the once-in-a-generation convergence of three mega trends: mobile, social, and cloud computing, has peaked. It started in 2010, and it has been bananas around here for the past decade or so. The FAANG+Microsoft companies saw their revenues go from $196 billion to over $1.5 Trillion. Let that sink in. Booming stocks helped create an environment of excess like never before. 

The companies got into the business of what Paul Kedrosky calls “people hoarding.” The pandemic and the resulting growth revved up the hiring machine even more. The over-hiring of talent has led to wage inflation, which had a ripple effect across the entire technology ecosystem. Technology insiders are happy to tell non-tech companies to use data and automation as tools to plan their future. It is easier to preach than practice. 

Why does Google need close to 200,000 employees? Or does Microsoft need 225,000 people? Salesforce, till recently, had about 73,500 employees. Profitable as these companies have been, it is also clear that they have become sloppy and bloated. I don’t want to undermine the misfortunes of those losing jobs. A lot of the blame is on the leaders of these companies, who were asleep at the wheel. The reality is that when it comes to business, companies have to appease their investors. And right now, those investors want to see companies be more efficient, especially now that growth is becoming normal. 

If you are looking for one, the silver lining is that we will soon be in a new cycle, and a new set of hype trends will converge and create opportunities. And they might not emerge in 2023 or 2024, but they surely will. By then, the industry would have put these job cuts in the rearview mirror.

Read the full piece on The Spectator website!

February 2, 2023. San Francisco

I returned from a quick trip to London on the day of Thanksgiving, thus missing the bonhomie of the weekend. While I did miss the slices of pie, it was good to spend the time watching The Silence of Water on PBS Masterpiece (via Amazon Prime.) The Italian crime show is beautiful in location, cinematography, and acting. And despite having to follow the subtitles, it is worth binging. 

The show was an excellent way to stay away from the incessant come-hither siren call of Black Friday — a disease that has also spread to the United Kingdom. I used the opportunity to stock up on memory cards, but that’s all. For the rest of America — despite economic doldrums, it seems to be the season of shop till you drop. I call this the consumerism curse.

The long weekend was also a good time to reflect and read. 

What I am reading

Amazon was losing $10 billion a year on its Alexa business. Google, too needs to learn how to make its voice-interface business profitable. And Apple’s Siri is not going anywhere as, well. So what is the future of voice interfaces in this era of economic frugality

Talking about Apple is becoming an ad company. On its blog, Proton, the privacy company, breaks down how Apple’s tracking works. I, for one, am disgusted by this direction taken by Apple. (Related: The golden noose around Apple’s neck.)

If you are struggling with the whole FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s shenanigans, here is a very easy-to-understand explainer of how the whole con worked. Alex Tabarrok has done a good job, and worth a read. 

On the other end of the spectrum is a breakdown of the disaster that was FTX by an accomplished finance professor who digs into the intricacies of the con.(

Ken Kocienda, a former Apple user experience guru, breaks down the design and user experience challenges of Elon Musk’s proposed changes to Twitter’s verification systems. The whole piece is worth reading

Given all the obsession with Twitter, we must remember that the new generation of Internet natives doesn’t care much about the platform or its peer Facebook. For them, it is all about YouTube and TikTok

The A to Z of climate change by Elizabeth Kolbert is the most sobering piece I have read this weekend, and it is an important reminder of the existential threat we are facing as a collective. 

November 27, 2022. San Francisco

man riding bicycle near vehicles
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Delivery startups don’t deliver — that is the gist of the big feature story on GoPuff, a delivery service that started selling hookahs and other smoking paraphernalia in Philadelphia. The company is the latest in what seems to be a long line of money-losing attempts at instant (or near-instant) delivery. From Amazon to Deliveroo to Instacart — all have learned that hard lesson. GoPuff isn’t the first.

The story might give you the impression that the “on-demand” economy that gained enormous traction during the pandemic was dead. Or that the nearly $10 billion of venture capital that went into quick commerce companies in 2021 was dead money. But I don’t buy that — on-demand has now become an endemic (urban) social behavior, and it will only become more pervasive. 


But first, let’s talk about GoPuff. Like many others before, you can easily tell GoPuff’s misery is mostly self-afflicted. 

It seemed like such a great story when I first heard about them. It was the brainchild of Drexel University friends Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev. The scrappy startup was founded in 2013, away from the glare of Silicon Valley in Philadelphia. In 2016, it raised a modest $8.25 million. Three years later, it raised $750 million, with $250 million coming from Softbank. By March 2021, the company had raised nearly $3 billion, including Softbank’s Vision Fund.

Things started to go wrong for GoPuff (much like its competitors) when it got too much venture capital to expand, diluting its focus to justify the amount of capital it had raised. GoPuff had to grow (or give a perception of growth) to its new investors. GoPuff had 165 warehouses in 2020. By 2021 the number had ballooned to 550. It spent $700 million in 2021 alone.

It operated in 1000 cities. It employed 18,000 couriers — talk about putting the cart before the horse. It bought booze retailer BevMo for $350 million and expanded to the UK when it bought a service called Fancy. Add a few more acquisitions and things started to really come apart. What didn’t help was that GoPuff co-founders cashed out enough that they could live the cush life. They moved to Miami, far from the company headquarters — never a good sign when a company is trying to grow really, really fast.

It is a shame because before it got Softbank’s slug of cash, GoPuff had a lot of things going right. It knew its end customers well and served their needs profitably. The company’s core focus on the college market ensured it was doing well in college towns. It still does. Elsewhere, not so much. In the Bronx, for example, it lost $15 per order, proving that expanding into non-core markets was a bad idea. In short, their expansion was pretty haphazard.

We have seen this senseless growth at many companies, including Uber. But founders (and their backers) never learn — not all revenue is good revenue. This dilution of focus is a classic mistake many startups make when chasing growth which is for more investment dollars. It is a virtuous circle, a vortex of eventual capital destruction.

“As the saying goes, history is rhyming,” Joseph Park, founder of, the first delivery startup to flame out after raising $300 million in the first Internet boom. He should know — because he made the very same mistakes when trying to grow Kozmo. I remember because I was writing about them and every early stage dot com at that time. Park could be excused. At that time, there wasn’t a playbook that told you what mistakes to avoid. The problem with the Silicon Valley ecosystem is that we don’t learn. Most people think of history and its lessons as a four-letter word. 


Bloomberg’s report on the quick commerce sector isn’t a good read. 

The market values of DoorDash Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., both public companies, have fallen 67% and 33%, respectively, in 2022. Instacart Inc. pivoted toward developing software to help supermarkets run their websites and shelved plans to go public this year. Gopuff clones like the New York-based Fridge No More and Buyk went spiraling out of business; another, Jokr, withdrew from the US to focus on South America. Earlier this month, Berlin-based Gorillas, which has been desperately hunting for a cash infusion, entered into advanced talks to be acquired by Getir. Even mighty Amazon shed 40% of its mid-pandemic market cap, closed warehouses, and laid off employees.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Does it mean the end of on-demand commerce?

Some thoughts: The delivery boom was catalyzed by the pandemic. At this point, using on-demand apps for delivery, car rides, and other services has become part of modern life. Sure, people aren’t going to use them for everything, but the tap-to-order is a behavior that isn’t going away.

Just look at the revenues of DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft — they are still inching up. Sure, these companies are unprofitable, and that is squarely on the management teams and their incompetence.

Despite the tough economic conditions, the American consumer hasn’t abandoned the behavior. It is because we are addicted to convenience. I have previously said that the pandemic was a beta test for a harsher reality that awaits us. Delivery and on-demand are part of that future. We just have not found the right economic models for it.

October 26, 2022. San Francisco.

Captured at San Francisco on 27 Feb 2022 by Om Malik

I recently sat down to talk with my friend Howard Lindzon on his podcast Panic with Friends to discuss the future of technology. Howard has shared the show notes on his blog. I wanted to draw out three core themes I addressed in my conversation, and they are all correlated. 

I have a long-standing approach to holistically understanding technologies and their impact. I look at pure technologies such as semiconductors & networks and think about their impact on products, behavior, and change. At the same time, I look at our behaviors today and how they disrupt the present technology ecosystems. 

Much of my current and future enthusiasm stems from exciting work underway in the semiconductor world, with Apple’s M1 being the most visible example of the possibilities unlocked by cheap computing, cheap GPU, and machine learning capabilities. It is not just Apple — the entire semiconductor ecosystem is experiencing change. 


Value (of technology), not valuations, matters most.

When we try to predict the future, we usually get it wrong. It is just so because we only have the present and past to use us as references. For example, when we think about web3, we look for analogs. “What’s the new Twitter?” without ever wondering do we even need a new Twitter. Or will there be something else that will help us replace it as a source of information? No one thought TikTok would be a competitor to Google Search, yet they are starting to become a threat. 

My approach to thinking about the future is simple: always try and find the inherent value in technology. It helps take a longer view and embrace change. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. The traditional view is that companies like DoorDash and Zoom got a COVID bump, and their valuations went sky-high, then—poof. Then they came down to Earth when the world was ready to return to a world more like 2019.

There’s just one problem: technology only moves in one direction. There is no going back. It is not as if Zoom lost its value along with valuations. Who wouldn’t rather talk to a screen than fly five hours for a meeting? No matter how much we want to use the past as a reference point for the future, we have to override our biases and go where the value takes us. And where it takes us isn’t always where we might think.

I’ve previously written about my optimism about technology and its impact on society; that hasn’t changed. But rather than try to wind vane the tech sector by looking at stocks and startup valuations, there’s a fundamentally better approach to gauging the future. We have to consider what we know about the foundations of tech. And to me, that’s even more exciting than trying to guess what will be the next Twitter.


Processing Into a 3D World

Apple’s M1 chip is a game-changer, even if consumers haven’t yet figured out why. Most think: “Oh, great—a faster computer. That’s neat.” But look at the value underneath it. The M1 chip puts about 25% of the power of IBM’s original Watson supercomputer at your fingertips. Yes, that Watson. Or, as my friend Michael Driscoll astutely points out, “The line between localhost and cloud is blurring.”

Apple’s M1 is a proxy for a new generation of chip technologies that will reshape our computing experiences. Apple’s approach to silicon combines CPU, GPU, AI, and memory into a single entity for a powerful bitches brew with preternatural capabilities. It is an outcome of the smartphone revolution. 

We’re used to our computing experience being flat. Today, we look at a flat screen and interact with the data in two dimensions. Apps—for all their contribution to the mobile phone revolution—are still two-dimensional. But between the M1 and Moore’s Law, we’re moving into place to alter how we interact with data and information. We’re going 3D. 

By 3D, I don’t necessarily mean AR or VR. Those are ideas we can anticipate. But we’re thinking about the future here. Or rather, our interaction with data will be in three dimensions. What about the ideas we aren’t anticipating? 

I am excited because when I think about what M1 can do today, imagine what it can do to our computing experience in half a decade. Or in ten years? Computers would easily handle inputs beyond keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, and they could (more accurately) use lidars, cameras, and microphones to create maps of our surroundings. 

Cameras can interpret our gestures and facial expressions, and earphones with sensors can give more nuance to our gestures. Computers are merely augmenting our reality. It won’t be long before we have the processing power for holographic displays. Think Star Wars-type technology, not 2001: A Space Odessey.

This technology sets the foundation for a new interaction layer between humans and our machines. Whenever I think about the future of technology, I try to imagine it from the perspective of the next generation of users. Kids in the future are growing up interacting with machines. They swipe, they tap, and they use gestures. They talk to Alexa or Siri. They’re already training for a new way of computing. Most of us haven’t noticed that for them in the future, mouse and keyboard would not be as relevant as they’re to us old fogies. 


Authentication is the Value Store

If you have been a long-time reader, you know that I firmly believe that what technology giveth, technology taketh. Technology is not without its consequences. The rise of powerful chips, coupled with new forms of artificial intelligence approach to software and services, can do both good and ill. 

Think of what computers can already do: deep fakes, phishing scams, simulated voices, etc. Future machines and software would make these even more realistic and thus more harmful. In a world of cloud computers powered by ever-powerful chips creating uncanny deep fakes, authenticating who you are will become paramount. 

And this is where we would need the emergence of a new authentication layer, which is more robust than whatever we have. Regardless of what you might think of web3 mania, it will help create a new approach to identity and authentication. 

We need the authentication layer to distinguish between the artificial “us” and the real us. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t spending billions on the Metaverse for shits and giggles. The real value of Facebook will continue to be the “login,” which will eventually become the identity verification —that’s even more important than all the information they’ve gathered. 

What’s one thing you’ve barely noticed about living in the mobile phone world? How often do you “Login with Facebook” or “Login with Google” because it’s more convenient than setting up an account? There is a lot of value in whichever company makes authentication easy in this world. 

What if Apple offers a Metamask-like product as an authentication system and in-exchange charges a small subscription fee? I would happily pay for the convenience alone. Authentication and payments can be critical to a post-app store world. Facebook, too, is hoping to ride the payments and authentication gravy train to the future.) 

Talking about Facebook, let’s talk about Metaverse. Today, we mock it as a cartoony version of Zoom call. What if it is far bigger than that. Take Facebook out of the equation, and you start to see that we have rudimentary building blocks for the next version of the Internet. You can call it web3, but in reality, it will be the next version of the Internet. 


No Longer Living in the “America-First” World

My last point is about the changing nature of the network itself. When we are trying to predict the future, those of us who live in America often have an America-centric worldview. This isn’t without good reason. There was a time when the majority of relevant tech consumers lived here. 

For as long as I can remember, American technology habits did shape the world. Today, the biggest user base doesn’t live in the US. Billion-plus Indians do things differently. Ditto for China. Russia. Africa. These are giant markets, capable of dooming any technology that attempts a one-size-fits-all approach.

Whether it is their adaptation of drone deliveries, novel climate change ideas, or revolutionizing technologies (such as solar) by large-scale adoption, these big markets will define new behaviors, inspire new ideas, and spread technology-driven change. It might not be perfect or ideal, but we need change — especially in a world facing monumental challenges.


You can listen to my appearance on Panic with Friends with Howard Lindzon on Spotify, Apple, or here

Here are links to my two previous appearances on Panic with Friends.  

March 31, 2020: The Pandemic Editon

July 2nd, 2020: Are we there yet?

As the world around me has started to (pre-maturely regain normalcy), I have decided to deal with some of the to-do list items. The more I try to get things done, the more I realize that our “digital transition” is still in infancy, and any talk of a digital-first society is decidedly premature. 

Take, for example, medical care. Over the past few weeks, I have been grappling with some medical issues. I use UCSF for my core medical needs and have an excellent insurance plan. The medical provider uses an online portal to manage patient care and communications, but when it came to triaging my complications between three different specialists – the portal wasn’t much help. It took old-fashioned phone calls, voice mails, and phone calls – to finally resolve the matters and move forward. I will save you the details – because this isn’t a lament about the doctors. 

Instead, it is about the archaic nature of processes built into an institution built for a paper-first world. It has since added a digital veneer to it. The MyChart portal gives you an impression of being digital-first, but it doesn’t account for real-world situations. 

We have become so accustomed to new forms of communication and collaboration. Still, it is hard to do so in systems that have been architected on pylons from a different era. What happens when the world is video-call first, and the phone numbers go the way of the landline? How do medical institutions work with communication service providers to ensure that calls don’t end up in voice mails because we have stopped answering phones due to the crazy amount of spam calls? 

I compare that with my experience with something like One Medical, a for-profit company that offers primary care services and one’s ability to interact with the service almost entirely through its application. Given that it offers only a subset of medical services, it has been able to architect an experience that at least mimics how we experience the modern, consumer internet. 

And it is not just the medical system – even our civic services have been digitized by putting scaffolding over the aging processes. I had to get a passport renewed urgently. To get it done, I had to call multiple times before appearing in person. Without going into more details, the process was fraught with the friction of the past. 

We must look at how much of our past is defining our future. When I used to write about telecom and mobile, it was clear that most societies that didn’t have a “wireline” past embraced wireless and became mobile-first societies. China, India, and other emerging countries are good examples. Similarly, countries not hobbled by legacy wired networks embraced the fiber future. 

Something similar is happening across other aspects of our lives – banking, medicine, commerce, education, and everything else. Old processes conflict with the new behaviors of the post-internet society.

Let’s use online commerce as an example.


I am trying to shift as many of my dollars away from the big bad Amazon. I don’t mind paying a little extra if it means giving less to Bezos Inc. There is nothing I love more than supporting the little guys – the digital equivalent of mom-and-pop operations. And there are many more of them online these days. Shopify (and others) try to make buying from the little guys as easy as Amazon, but they are against a real behavioral barrier to entry.

I buy my tea from a New York family business called Harney & Sons. But when I buy something from them, it usually takes about five to six days to arrive in my mailbox. The same goes for my stationery retailer or from folks whose household items I prefer – they all have a “time overhead,” and speed costs much more than you realize.

This time won’t be a big deal in the ordinary course of business. Mail and packages used to take their sweet time to arrive before the Internet. However, after nearly a decade of Amazon Prime, I have become addicted to the convenience of a flat-price subscription delivering everything very quickly. Even with the recent price increase, $139 a year is cheaper than shipping one pays over the course of a year for non-Amazon retailers.

Amazon’s investment in its physical and last-mile infrastructure — its warehouses, Whole Foods, and its burgeoning fleet of trucks and planes — feeds us everything instantly and conveniently. If Shopify wants to beat Amazon, this is what it is really up against. This addiction to speed and convenience is new behavior, and as a result, every non-Amazon purchase’s time overhead has become a “time penalty.” 

It is why quitting Amazon (Prime) isn’t that easy. And it is not as if they will let you go quickly! 

As The Eagles song goes: 

‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

Hotel California

PS: By the way, since writing In convenience we trust, I have cut my Amazon spending by half and shifted it to non-Amazon, non-Walmart retailers. Still, as I have said repeatedly, this is not an easy addiction to break.


For the longest time, I assumed that Frenemy was a word created by web writers to explain the inconvenient relationship between large technology companies such as Apple, Google, Qualcomm, and Facebook. Today I learned that this is a concept from the late 1800s. 

“A potent mixture of friend and enemy, this oxymoronic portmanteau first appeared in the English language in the late 1800s, albeit with a different spelling (“frienemy”),” writes Jody Gehrman, a fiction writer. “In recent decades the word has been dusted off, streamlined, and given new life. Fueled by the duplicity of social media—the ability to behave one-way IRL and wear another face online—the Frenemy appears in more guises than ever both in novels and in films.” 

March 21, 2022, San Francisco

In the late 1990s, when mobile chip behemoth Qualcomm still qualified as an upstart, I started writing about the mobile Internet. I dreamed of a mobile broadband revolution. It was when Japan and the now-forgotten iMode service enthralled the world. Imagining the future, I wrote enthusiastically about everyone — Ricochet, Nokia, Blackberry (when it only made pagers), Treo, Palm, and Windows CE devices.)

Intuitively, I knew that much like how when the (landline) phone network was decoupled from fixed connections, the always-on Internet, too, when set free from the fixed network, could profoundly impact society and its people. However, it was at the introduction of the iPhone launch in January 2007, it slowly dawned on me the world had changed. The future had arrived quietly, amidst a lot of skepticism. The magnitude of change was enough for me to overlook the launch of the Apple TV or dismiss the transition to the Intel processors. iPhone was all that was on my mind and how it would change the mobile landscape. In my blog post that day, I wrote:

That also might be the epitaph of the PC era. And it is sweet irony that the company that sparked off the desktop computing revolution is the one announcing its passing. Dropping Computer from its name is a sure sign that Apple, from this point forward, is a consumer electronics company, a mobile handset maker – one that also makes computer hardware and software as well.

Apple is making the phone do all things a computer does – surf, email, browse, iChat, music, and watch videos. Nary a keyboard or mouse insight, and everything running on OS-X. While I am not suggesting that this replaces our notebooks or desktops for crucial productivity tasks, the iPhone (if it lives up to its hype) is at least going to decrease our dependence on it.

iPhone & the End of PC Era

It wasn’t until six months later, at the WWDC, I finally came to grips with what Apple had unleased. Here is what I blogged:

  • A true web applications platform for the mobile
  • Break the Wireless Walled Gardens
  • Shift of control to the customers
  • Slow demise of subsidized, boring phones filled with bloat ware
  • Keep it simple or else

Looking back, the iPhone delivered on all those fronts, and in the process, has changed the mobile landscape.


The applications — essentially web services sliced and diced in special wrappers — have become the dominant form of our interactions with the modern Internet. A generation of mobile natives who have never dealt with flip phones and other devices sold by large phone companies don’t quite realize how terrible the mobile experience used to be before the iPhone showed up in our hands.

These were wireless walled gardens crammed with absolutely rotten apps, games, and everything from mobile backgrounds to ringtones. They were an opportunity for carriers to nickel-and-dime their customers and extracted mafia-like fees from startups.

Today, we take the “app store” for granted, but getting whatever app you want, whenever you want, wasn’t the case. And despite Apple’s draconian and confusing policies around the App Store, we as end customers are free to download pretty much whatever apps we want.

“The iPhone is doing to the mobile world, what the browser did to the wireline world.”

Juniper Networks founder Pradeep Sindhu in an interview.  


“iPhone changed in the industry in two fundamental ways – decoupling applications from the network (operators) and the user interface (ease of use),” points out Chetan Sharma, a mobile industry veteran who runs an eponymously named consulting group. Today, Apple and its 30-percent cut of the Apple store comes under criticism and legal challenges, but let’s not forget what life used to be before the iPhone came along.

Think about it this way, before iPhone, almost 90 percent of the industry revenue used to go to the telecom operators because they pretty much controlled every aspect of the ecosystem layers. From spectrum to network to applications to devices. — everything was controlled by the carriers.

In the US, for example, Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T decided what networking protocol — GSM or CDMA would be the dominant protocol. They decided what OS and phones could be sold to their network customers and available applications. And oh, everything was billed through their billing systems. That decoupling has reduced the carrier cut to somewhere between “20-30% depending on the geography,” Sharma points out.


In an article for the FastCompany magazine, I pointed out that iPhone (and its smartphone brethren) were part of an enormous change and brought a new Victorian age.

Today, it’s the increasing mobility of “computing engines,” the marriage of microprocessors and Internet ubiquity, that is poised to reimagine our society. More than a billion people bought smartphones last year—or to put it differently, we added 1.2 billion nodes to what was already the largest network ever built. Networks—social, neural, physical, metaphorical—enable connectedness, and connectedness changes everything. Networks compress distance and time, that concentration speeds up life, and that, in turn, creates sociological and economic change. 

And this age was catalyzed by the iPhone and what it brought to our fingertips. As I wrote in an earlier article:

iPhone had this one magical quality — touch, the most human of all senses — that made it the most personal of all computers. Think about it — we shake hands to confirm our relationship. We touch and hug to show our love. We caress to tell someone we care. So when we touch that phone, we don’t just touch a device and its screen, we make it part of ourselves. The internet is not a strange, cold, uncomfortable, cluttered space. That touch is what turns an inanimate object from metal and plastic to an extension of ourselves.

Fifteen years later, we have forgotten to appreciate how much the user interface and its simplicity changed the game and allowed application creativity to thrive and bring many billions of dollars to application developers. In a world controlled by carriers and their walled gardens, every single application and service you use daily wouldn’t either exist or thrive.

Instagram, Uber, DoorDash, Dropbox, and Facebook are all beneficiaries of the device initially dismissed by everyone from Nokia to Blackberry to Palm executives. For me, it was love at first byte, and it still is the phone I am happy to use — warts and all.

Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.

Steve Jobs when introducing the iPhone in 2007.

For once, Steve was under hyping what was to come!

My favorite articles (I have written) about the iPhone.