Category Archives: Apple and Tech

Tesla Motors Facts vs Concerns: Fight!

I was so outraged at the lack of fact-checking in Car & Driver’s December 2013 article on Tesla Motors that it spurred me to write this post. Having an opinion is absolutely fine; presenting facts that are quite literally opposite of what is known to be true, however, is not fine – especially in print. The majority of this post isn’t about that article, it’s about various concerns I’ve heard and seen elsewhere; only the first section addresses Car & Driver’s article.

I’ll write an opinion piece on Tesla later – how I see their strategy, where they are going, etc. I do own some Tesla shares and feel it would lack integrity for me to mix facts with my (supposedly biased) opinion.

The company lives off of government subsidies

Car & Driver’s Aaron Robinson stated that “…the company is going to have to earn more dollars making cars that currently don’t generate profits on their own [without government credits]” and “Tesla will soon have to swim on its own” (again implying it’s only afloat with government’s help).

Facts: Mr. Robinson is referring to ZEV (aka, “clean air”) credits, which Tesla receives for each EV sold and then re-sells to gasoline car companies, and the $7,500 federal + various state discounts per EV. In their latest quarterly earnings report, Tesla indicated a profit margin of 21% per car excluding ZEV credits, and 22% with the credits (so only 1% of the margin is now attributable to any government credits). In a few months, by the end of 2013, Tesla expects to achieve 25% profit margin per vehicle even with no profit from ZEV credits. As far as the federal $7,500 credit, and the related state credits, Tesla Motors does not receive any money from those – the money goes directly to the consumer. And, of course, Tesla paid off all debt it owed the government back in May, nine years ahead of schedule. In comparison, GM’s gross profit margin is 13.3%, and Ford’s – 16.5%.

Commentary: I’m no expert at finding things – for instance, I couldn’t find any sense of journalistic integrity in that Car & Driver article no matter how hard I looked – but I was able to find the facts above with just three quick Google queries.

Tesla Motors’ low profits are worrisome

Facts: Tesla Motors has about $745 million cash on hand and, according to its senior leadership, isn’t worried about running out of money. So the profits are being heavily re-invested, which is to be expected for a young company. (10 years is very young in the car industry.) Much of the money is going toward ramping up production from 21,500 cars this year to 500,000 cars in 3-4 years, maybe more. A great deal of money is also going toward their Supercharger network, additional stores in the US and Europe as well as expansion into Asia, and service centers – unlike conventional car companies, Tesla operates the entire vertical chain.

The batteries will stop holding charge in a few years

Facts: Model S comes with an 8-year battery warranty, even if you recharge it at a Supercharger every single time you charge it. While the amount of capacity per unit of battery weight has seen slow improvements in the past decade, the ability to hold that charge after numerous re-charges improved dramatically. Six or seven years ago, for example, it would be reasonable to expect a laptop battery to only hold 80% of its charge after 300 recharge cycles. I just checked my 2012 Macbook Pro’s battery – after 289 recharge cycles, it can still hold 99.7% of its original capacity. Tesla’s battery tech is similarly top-notch, as evidenced by the fact that both Daimler and Toyota are buying Tesla’s tech for their own EVs.

You can’t go from NY to LA in a Model S

Facts: True, currently that requires some planning and a few extra days. Until the end of 2013: at that time, you’ll be able to make the trip with no planning and using Superchargers only, according to Elon Musk. Bonus: you’ll pay $0 in fuel costs on that trip. Notably, you can already travel along the Western seaboard (San Diego to Vancouver) and by the end of 2013 or early 2014 you will be able to go from Miami to NY as well, says Tesla.

Model S’ range drops significantly in cold climate

Facts: False. The Netherlands is Tesla’s highest per capita sales country and it’s quite cold over there.  You should expect a range drop of maybe 10% for cold weather. And by cold I’m referring to around -20 Fahrenheit and below, not Florida-standards cold (which I hear is around 65 degrees?).

Teslas are too expensive!

Facts: They may end up so, but the sticker prices aren’t the prices you’re looking for… EVs cost more upfront, yet require substantially less maintenance and save money on fuel. With Model S specifically, Supercharger use is free for life so if there’s one next to you, you’ll almost never have to pay to recharge the car. Once you add up all the savings, and compare the final figure to the cost of a gasoline car plus gas/maintenance expenses, a Tesla may still be too expensive for you right now, but you’ll be surprised at how much closer the final numbers are.

Aren’t we just shifting the pollution to coal-burning plants?

Facts: Yes, but only a third of it. A power plant is about 3 times as efficient as a small internal combustion engine in a car – it wastes ~25% of energy vs car’s ~75%. There’s just not enough space in a car to capture the energy lost through engine heat and use it to heat up steam to turn a turbine that would generate more energy. There’s plenty of space for that in a plant, though. Gasoline cars also don’t recover energy from braking and slowing down like hybrids and EVs do. That 1/3 of emissions will be reduced even further once Tesla builds out solar arrays for the Superchargers – the company promised to offset all energy needed for the Superchargers with renewable sources.

The grid won’t be able to handle that much demand for electricity

Fact: This is a valid concern and another reason for Tesla to power Superchargers from renewable energy sources. Grid capacity is a macro issue not specific to Tesla, however, and many big players from utility companies to governments to a host of best universities are working on this problem. We’re not using the existing capacity as efficiently as we could have, either, so there’s some room to grow. For right now, we can accommodate the Teslas being produced.

I heard about the fires – Model S doesn’t seem safe

Facts: Model S is, without any hyperbole, the safest car the US Government had ever tested – that’s according to the government itself. If one checks the statistics, there were 1.27 fatalities and 80 injuries (at least half of which had consequences) per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2008. Tesla’s Q3 2013 earnings revealed that Tesla owners have traveled over 100 million miles now, and a few days ago Elon Musk reported that there have been 0 fatalities and 0 permanent injuries so far. So apples to apples, that’s 0 and 0 for Tesla cars vs 1.27 and 40 for an average car. As far as car fires go, over 150,000 of them occur in the US annually, resulting in about 800 people injured and 200 dead. As of today, Nov 13 2013, Tesla has a much better record than an average car on both the amount of fires per vehicle miles driven and the number of injuries from said fires (none). Notably, all 3 owners whose cars caught on fire already bought or want to buy another Tesla car. If I thought a car was at fault, I wouldn’t buy the same one again – would you?

EVs take forever to charge, which makes them too inconvenient

Facts: True. However, a Model S has the best range of all EVs: 208 real miles on the smaller battery and 265 miles on the bigger one, according to the government. If your commute is under 100 miles one way, you don’t need to worry about recharging during the day, and the car gets a complete charge off a wall outlet overnight. Tesla’s Supercharger network is free to use for life, too. A Supercharger can recharge a Model S to half the capacity in 22-25 minutes, and to full capacity – in about 45. This is down from 30 and 60 minutes respectively earlier this year, and the time may be reduced further in the near future (Tesla will reportedly be testing faster charging times in Germany soon). Finally, if you’re in a hurry, Musk says you’ll be able to swap the battery pack in half the time it takes to put gas in your car for about the same price as you’d pay for a full tank of gas – just pick up your original battery on your way home (fully recharged). If you did a double take on that – yes, that technology is real and, currently, Model S is the only EV in the world with a swappable battery pack.

GM/Ford/XYZ will crush Tesla Motors

Well, that’s an opinion. Time will tell. What we do know is that Musk’s PayPal started an online payment revolution from a tiny office and defeated eBay, forcing them to buy PayPal; Tesla’s cars have the longest range and the best safety and performance characteristics of all EV competition; and SpaceX manages to fly missions using 1/10th the money NASA needed. Being big isn’t always an advantage; sometimes, it’s what holds you down.

Did I miss any? Let me know on Twitter! @AlexDaUkrainian

The Conundrum of Power… J.D. Power

J.D. Power hasn’t released the underlying data for their latest tablet owner satisfaction survey, so the headline “Samsung Ranks Highest in Owner Satisfaction with Tablet Devices” left many confused about how Apple’s iPad could scored more circles and still lost in the end. Here’s how:

A)  J.D. Power does not rate or compare tablets, and it never has. What they do is rate owner satisfaction with a particular device, in isolation from other devices and satisfaction ratings, and then they compare the results. Even if one tablet was capable of teleportation and shooting phasers, as long as owners of another tablet report that they are more satisfied with their tablets (maybe they are not aware of tablets that can teleport people, or maybe they just like taking a bus), the other tablet will rank higher in owner satisfaction. The words “in owner satisfaction” are crucial.

B) The scale is only absolute within the domain of each manufacturer. We can assume that most owners surveyed only owned one of the tablets. Hence, their satisfaction is relative. Just like one person can be very happy with their $3,000 Corolla while another person is unsatisfied with their $40,000 Lexus IS 250 (perhaps because their friend just got the more powerful IS 350, or because they’re a spoiled little brat who never worked for the car to begin with, and instead got it as a gift from their rich grandparents who are too sweet and naive to understand that they are inflicting a deep, permanent psychological disability on their grandchild through these expensive gifts that the kid has no ability to appreciate due to the fact that such appreciation would imply an understanding of hardship and work, the very two things the grandparents have made unnecessary for the said child), in the same fashion you can have some owners be happy with a crappier tablet while others are less happy with a better tablet. J.D. Power doesn’t measure if one tablet is worse than the other; it measures how satisfied with them their owners are.

C) The circles do not represent absolute ratings, such as when critics rate movies, or when CNet rates products; instead, they show manufacturers’ relative placement within the group. So if 3 tablets get performance ratings (on a scale of 1 to 200) of 149, 150, and 151, then they will respectively get 1 circle, 3 circles, and 5 circles despite the fact that their performance is rated virtually identical. (Note: I said “rated,” not “is”.) From this we can conclude that Apple barely won the 4 categories, and lost the Cost category by a wider margin. Again, “won” here does not mean that Samsung tablets’ performance or features were near identical to those of Apple tablets. It means that the survey participants’ perception of those metrics was similar, presumably without having used the other company’s tablets and hence having little to no frame of reference.

Of course, we can’t conclude an exploration of conundrum without pointing fingers – that’s like being Santa and doing all the work of delivering presents without taking advantage of the free cookies and milk. :) So I blame J.D. Power for not disclosing the underlying scores with every report and thus making their chosen method of presentation extremely confusing; I blame the media for spinning this as if J.D. Power said that one tablet is better or worse than another; and – let’s be candid with ourselves – I blame those of us who quietly accepted the results of this survey for years while iPad was on top, but suddenly started demanding full disclosure of data and an immediate explanation from J.D. Power when iPad didn’t come in as #1.

Let’s all hope iPhone’s rating never slips, or none of us will feel safe coming online and playing on Twitter for weeks thereafter. Now excuse me as I use my crappy, 2nd-place tablet to teleport myself to Hawaii.

The Case for Ashton Kutcher

I’ve noticed several high-profile people critiquing Lenovo’s hire of Ashton Kutcher as Product Engineer. I respect many of those people, yet I couldn’t disagree more with their critique; in fact, I find it very hypocritical.

Who was Steve Jobs when he started Apple with Wozniak et al? Nobody. He had no degree to qualify him for the job. He had no engineering chops. He was a college dropout, a hippie, and a druggie. But he had a passion about something. And that passion transformed him, and allowed him to play the roles of product engineer, salesman, leader, and CEO, among others.

On the other hand, we have Bill Gates – a true engineer. How much have you enjoyed the user experience of Windows over the years? Zune? Windows Phone? Windows tablets (pre-Surface, especially)? IBM is run by engineers – their products are anything but simple and easy to use. BMW has some world-class engineers – and their UI is one of the most complex and frustrating in the business. Engineers create great technology, but they often don’t know how to integrate and simplify it to produce superb user experience.

Ashton clearly stated that his role would revolve around bringing a better user experience to the already-excellent Lenovo hardware offerings; nobody said anything about designing electrical circuits. Time and again we’ve all agreed with Jobs and Tim Cook when they said, “Apple is an intersection of Liberal Arts and Technology.” And yet, when Lenovo hires someone from the liberal arts side to help their technology, we laugh. Why? This isn’t any different from what Apple has been doing.

I don’t know if Ashton will do a great job. But that’s the thing: I don’t know, so I give him the benefit of a doubt. I don’t pretend to know because it’s impossible for me to know. And, if anything, I see many parallels to Apple here, which is a good thing. I know Ashton is extremely passionate about technology. He has a successful record in technology investments. He has read more books than I maybe ever will. He surely knows enough about technology to know what is a good investment and what is a bad investment. His new role is to decide which features/design are a good investment of employees’ time and what aren’t – that doesn’t sound all that different from what he has already been doing.

Lastly, some people have issues with the word “engineer” being in his title. Well that’s just ignorance of English language – we don’t see Doctors of Philosophy degree recipients operating on patients. Like the word “doctor,” “engineer” is a versatile term.

I wish you the best of luck, Ashton – you have the passion, that’s for sure. And as far as I can tell, that’s the most important thing in the world. Martin Luther King wasn’t in a college marching band, yet he organized some of the best marches in history. And all he needed, he told us, was a dream.

Oh, and can we please have the next Lenovo laptop weigh exactly two and a half pounds?

Instead of Hiring, Invite to Join

News came out today that Tim Cook hired Angela Ahrendts for the SVP of Retail role. The word ‘hired’ just seemed out of place. It’s dominating and cold; it implies a hierarchy where one part reports to or is in other ways lesser than the other.

From what Cook and Jobs have been saying about the way they do business, they don’t hire people – they ask them to join. Steve asked the Pepsi CEO at the time to change the world with him, not to work for him.

It’s a subtle, but powerful difference. If you interviewed at Khan Academy, for example, wouldn’t you rather them follow up with “We invite you to join us in transforming education” rather than “We offer you employment for XYZ position”? The former is warmer and implies more trust, ownership, and a higher sense of value from the beginning.

Apple’s senior leadership, perhaps now more so than ever, is like a family rather than a collection of people working for Tim Cook. And he didn’t just look at Angela and said “You there, I want you. You’re hired.” Angela received in invitation to join Apple in changing the world; and by accepting, she became a member of the family more so than an employee of Tim Cook.

PS: For full credit, even though she doesn’t cover this in her video, I was watching Angela’s TEDx talk when this thought popped into my head.

iOS 7 iTunes Radio Tip: Explicit Tracks

By default, iTunes Radio has Explicit option disabled and there’s no option to enable it if you look at Settings -> Music. Instead, you must first start playing a radio station, then on the Now Playing screen tap the Information button, and then switch Explicit tracks on, as shown below.

Apple TV: Now that iTunes Radio is available on Apple TV – the switch is again Off by default and can be changed on the “Edit Stations” sub-menu (you can see the sub-menus after selecting iTunes Radio on the home screen).

Xcode 5 Developer Preview Crashes with Alcatraz or Lin Installed

If your Xcode 5 DP crashes on launch every time, check your plug-ins directory:

~/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/

(Note: if you don’t see Library directory in your username directory, tell OS X to show hidden files first by typing this in the Terminal: defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE)

Move Alcatraz.xcplugin and Lin.xcplugin into another directory and try launching Xcode again. I found that having either one of them installed (as of June 12, 2013) causes Xcode 5 to not be able to start at all.

If you continue having crashes, try moving all of the plugins into a backup folder on the same level as the “Plug-ins” folder or higher. If Xcode launches, move plug-ins back one by one :)

Hope this helps someone!