∞ Alibaba digitally transformed one million retail shops

Owner tells revenue is up 30% in his spruced-up shop, equipped with artificial intelligence-backed apps and even a heat sensor to track foot traffic. (…) Among the central ideas is that in the future, shoppers will not view e-commerce and brick-and-mortar as distinct things, but as a single merged organism — as simply “commerce.” What Alibaba and rivals like Tencent and JD.com are doing is corralling businesses into branded, self-contained, AI-infused universes in which only their affiliates capture the profit.

In this phase of transformation Alibaba AI profits from getting a massive insight in shopping behavior. Shop owners profit from an expanding Alibaba digital ecosystem and are able to offer customers a convenient and superior shopping experience through recommendation and payment. These are the early benefits of becoming part of the Borg.

What if the next phase is about optimisation and consolidation? Will the shop owner still be part of the AI-ecosystem and what are the requirements?

Link: https://www.axios.com/china-alibaba-tencent-jd-com-artificial-intelligence-corner-store-df90517e-befb-40ca-82d5-f37caa738d54.html

The fate of Apples “music DNA” claim

Erin Sidney wrote a polite indictment of Apple about their self-acclaimed DNA full of music. It is a must read if you’re interested in the consequences of cultural de-contextualisation from the perspective of creators. His article from 2015 touches several pain points which are worth exploring in detail.

His final pledge to expand iTunes LP into Apples artist network Connect is comprehensible even today:

But I like to imagine a world with deep-linked album credits — not just who engineered, produced and played on the record, but going much further. Allowing the artist to thank people and bands for their help, to call out charities that they find meaningful, and for the user to experience all of it beautifully.

These “living liner notes” could be supplemented by a time capsule of the period spent working on the album you’re listening to as documented by the artist themselves on Connect!

I can imagine artists adding information as it becomes relevant later.

You could build a whole user experience around liner notes deeply integrated into Apple Music and spur a whole new level of self-motivated music discovery. Human discovery by humans about humans.

A whole new generation of kids like us, opening up records, scouring them for details, seeking out connections only they could make, building a world that inspires them and all of us.

Apple has confirmed that as of March 2018 new iTunes LP submissions will no longer be accepted. If that means Apple will revamp context information for a mobile world or they finally gave up to care is up for speculation to this date.

Lest you think they couldn’t do this, please remember, Apple is the company that decided working with Google wasn’t in line with their core philosophy and so built a team to map the entire planet. They MAPPED THE FUCKING PLANET when they woke up one morning and decided to.

So there’s no way they can’t tackle this. But they need to want to.

I have no idea what’s stopping them or whether they plan to address this in a future update of Apple Music.

Do they need to want though? That is my main concern: if Apple had visionary leadership they knew why and how to address this lack of commitment for responsible music discovery – for the benefit of creators and listeners equally.

I think the chances of a return to the meaning of “music in our DNA” as a fruitful connection between humans are slim to none as the importance of integration of algorithm experts inside Apple grows and grows.

The Wall Street Journal outlined the task of the successor of Jimmy Iovine:

Mr. Schusser takes over as Apple Music is poised to surpass music-streaming rival Spotify Technology SA in the U.S. in paid subscribers. The music unit has become a key piece of Apple’s strategy to boost its services revenue to more than $40 billion by 2020, a critical part of the company’s future as people hold on to iPhones longer and device sales slow, analysts say.

If you play catch up then you can’t skate to to where the puck is going to be.

I think Apple should just drop the claim “Music is in our DNA” as Google dropped their motto “Don’t be evil”.

 

Jimmy Iovine believed in cultural gatekeepers and lost to algorithms

Jimmy Iovine’s role at Apple Music became seemingly redundant because he held onto his vision to present and curate music from humans for humans in an age of rising capabilities of artificial intelligence and thus effective algorithms. In my opinion the final nail in the coffin was the aquisition of Shazam by Apple at the end of 2017. Apple may be felt left behind in the area of AI and Shazam can make articial intelligence products and services like HomePod in combination with Apple Music much smarter than before. It also means that human expert music curation is visible on Beats 1 Radio only.

Let’s look at Eddy Cue (Apple Senior Vice President who oversees Apple Music) in 2014 when he explained the Beats deal:

 

Eddy Cue cited three major reasons for the aquisition of Beats back then:

  1. people: incredible talent of Jimmy Iovine, Dr Dre & team
  2. product: incredible headphones
  3. service: beats music – first subscripition service done right due expert curation

The Wall Street Journal reports recaps 3,5 years later:

Mr. Iovine is one of the last of a team of prominent music executives Apple gained when it bought Beats Electronics LLC in 2014 for $3 billion. Former Chief Executive Ian Rogers, Beats co-founder Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, another top Beats executive, have all left or distanced themselves from the company since the Apple deal, people familiar with the business said. Beats President Luke Wood, who oversees the headphones business, remains.

The headline of the article is subtle as a sledgehammer: “Jimmy Iovine’s Planned Exit From Apple Music Raises Leadership Questions”.

When Eddy Cue talked with CNNMoney’s Dylan Byers at the South by Southwest conference on 12th of March 2018 he didn’t mention anything at all about the strategy change at Apple Music (from 44:19 in the clip):

Dylan Byers: Let’s talk what was formerly the core product of Apple which is music. Spotify is going public. Do you wish that you had sort of nip Spotify in the bud several years ago? I mean they do have a crazy subscriber base I think it’s double what you guys have at Apple music?

Eddy Cue: Look we have 38 million subscribers and we don’t talk about our trials and these are people that given us their payment method, estimated we have 8 million trials I don’t know how quite what the numbers were, that is really not that important.

Dylan Byers: What is important?

Eddy Cue: When you look of the numbers of subscribers that Spotify and us have together and you look at the number of people that are listening to music around the world or even something as simple as the number of people that come to visit our App store every week, we have half a billion people that are visiting the App store every week and now you are talking about just north of 100 million music subs – we’re like THIS big in the scheme of things. So the real opportunity for music and it’s not about Spotify or us or the labels it’s about artists, is how they get their music to everyone around the world and how they get compensated for that. That is what we’re trying to do. We both have to grow by significant amounts in order to get the numbers in which it should.

Eddy Cue didn’t even blink at “formerly the core product” of Apple, says numbers aren’t important but then again are, didn’t explain how Apple is supporting artists in any way better than Spotify let alone how to grow subscriber numbers.

The number one reason why Apple Music is adopted well in the United States is not because of a subscription service done right (formerly known as Beats) but rather it comes pre-installed (WSJ):

Apple’s music business has been gaining momentum and is poised to overtake rival Spotify Technology SA this year in U.S. paid subscribers. That is mostly because of Apple Music’s reach across many of Apple’s 1.3 billion devices world-wide—on which its app is included by default—rather than the exclusive content agreements delivered through Mr. Iovine’s close relationships with artists, according to music-industry executives.

So if it is not the superior user experience of Apple Music that will win people over, what is it? And who at Apple has the vision “to grow by significant numbers”? Jimmy Iovine’s job at Apple Music is vacant (WSJ):

Mr. Cue now will have to determine whether to continue dividing responsibilities between Messrs. Kondrk and Robbin, elevate one to a more public role, or look externally for someone with music-industry ties to assist with artist relationships.

It is really worth watching how many hopes Eddy Cue had in 2014 at the Recode Conference about the aquisition of Beats. He lost the team, he still has the headphones (which are overshadowed by Apple’s HomePod and AirPods), he has a music subscription service that turned from human curation to integrating Shazam’s AI capabilities. There is simply no place anymore for the Defiant Ones at Apple (produced by HBO and not Apple’s video division).

It is also worth reading what Trent Reznor said, one of the championed cultural gatekeepers that Jimmy Iovine tried to introduce to Apple in line with the Beats deal:

For a couple of years, it’s been full time at Apple immersing myself in this extremely interesting stuff, and doing that has helped me realize how much I appreciate being an artist and how valuable time is.