Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Hidden Reason Behind Google's Pixel Phones

About 3 years ago, I wrote a post about Apple's iPhone 5C and its potentially hidden business proposition for the company. At the time the debut of the iPhone 5C was perplexing given that it was essentially an all-around inferior product to Apple's newest flagship, the iPhone 5S, and even lesser compared to the previous iPhone 5. Pundits and critics everywhere reasoned that Apple may have overplayed its hand in being so explicit in its targeting of the emerging markets - in particular China, as supposedly the "c" represented that country.

Fast forward 3 years and it looks like these critics were right: Apple has never again released a product like the iPhone 5c. It looks like a failure that the company is eager to move on from and forget. But as I conjectured back in 2013, the iPhone 5c likely had a hidden value proposition of making its superior cousin more attractive in the eyes of the consumer. In other words, Apple may not have cared about how many units of the iPhone 5c it sold or even if the product made a profit at all. Because its main purpose was create a perception that the iPhone 5S was of better value and convince potential customers to buy it instead. In behavioral economic theory, this is known as "relativity" - the human tendency to compare products against one another. Unlike Android or even Windows Phone, there are no other companies other than Apple making iPhones; therefore Apple has to take it upon themselves to create this sense of relativity, that the iPhone 5S is a truly amazing device.

So how does this all relate to the title of this blog post? Without rehashing what all the tech blogs and news outlets have reported, Google earlier today announced 2 new phones under the names of the Pixel and Pixel XL. This marks Google's first official foray into the lucrative smartphone business - since they never marketed a phone under the name "Google" while owning Motorola. On paper, both smartphones are very capable devices with some unique distinctive advantages compared to the competition. They have fast processors, good screens, and brilliant software. But akin to the reception of the iPhone 5c, it seems like everyone is criticizing Google for its pricing structure of starting at $649 for the lowest model. Essentially, the criticism is that Google is taking a page out of Apple's iPhone playbook by creating a direct competitor. And that it'll inevitably fail because no one can play Apple's game besides Apple itself.

But once again, my hypothesis is that Google's true intention isn't to sell the Pixel phones for profit or even break even point. I don't think they even care for how many units it sells ultimately. The real business reason is, rather, to reinvigorate the Android market and challenge the other manufacturers to stay on top of the game. The comparative example is arguably Microsoft's Surface business. Microsoft essentially created a new market by themselves in the 2-in-1 segment of tablets, to the extent that it's now a staple in every PC manufacturer's marketing brochure and even copied by Apple into their iPad Pro product. Likewise the Google Pixel phones are meant to motivate and inspire the Android manufacturers, especially towards the upper end of the market in pricing and features. We'll see if this is a true or false hypothesis.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Phases of Life - My Phase 3

Oh man I really haven't posted since February of this year?? Now I'm super duper bummed out.....not. It's not that I don't value you few readers out there, but it seems like this year has been flying by at breakneck speed. Without further adieu though, I'll grace you with my newest entry below.

I've been traveling a lot this year. And when I mean "a lot", I do really mean it's been a lot lot of traveling. Think of somewhere internationally at least once every 2 months. Strictly for fun and no work. So during my last trip to the Southern Hemisphere, I had a new thought about the modern life and how it can be divided into distinct phases. Thus the title of this blog post.

The so-called "Phases of Life" are inherently subjective and unique to each individual. Yet at the same time, it's a useful tool to categorize individuals since there's no phenotype-defining or mathematically-formulaic features like hair color, race, and age. For example, I could be in the same phase of life as someone much older, of a completely different ethnicity, background or even gender. It's probably easier to understand if I first define what these phases could look like.

Phase 1 - Post-College, First Job, Master's degree
Rather than start all the way from childhood, I'll define my Phase 1 as my post-college self. Coincidentally it was that person who started this blog. This version of me was quite unsure of himself, but excited at being finally independent and having moved to a new city. I remember these years as thrilling yet uncertain - thrilling because of all the potential to be and do, but uncertain due to inexperience and fear of failure.

Phase 2 - Career Progression, Homeownership, Wanderlust
In my mind, there was a clear delineation between the first and second phases due to my job change. But it was much more than a job change. Over a span of 3 months, not only did I change jobs and make more money, but I also became a homeowner. I thought about back then how that would change my mindset....and it did happen. This was followed by a totally unplanned period of wanderlust, of prolific traveling across the world. It was addicting, enthralling, but also introduced a sense of nomadic living and unable to live a "normal/typical" city life. Therefore my goal is to make this the last year of this.

Phase 3 - Marriage, Houseownership, Dogownership, Entrepreneurial Success
This is the phase on the horizon and what a massive phase it is. I'm not sure how long it'll span (3-4 years) but certainly a lot of things packed in here. In contrast to the previous phases of singlehood, this one is punctuated by becoming married in addition to buying an actual house. I've always wanted to have a dog so why not lump it into this phase too? And last but not least, this is likely the last phase I'll have to really strive to be an entrepreneur so it's time to make it or break it.

Phase 4 - Fatherhood, Financial Independence, ???
The post-future phase if you will, since it's the one after the next one. I can only imagine what it'll look like, though assuming it'll be punctuated by another major life event: becoming a father. That'll certainly profoundly change my life. Hopefully I'll be financially independent by the time that happens?

So as you can see above, these are my interpretations of my own life and where I am currently - also where I'm headed. What about yours?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Prime Years

For a few years now, I've been contemplative of the term "prime years" that generally refer to the "best years" of one's life. My encounters with this term has oftentimes been in the arena of professional sports, such as sports announcers or commentators talking about an athlete's prime. Prime, in the case of professional sports, refers to the the physical prime. 

But to me "prime years" is a reference that encompasses the psychological aspect as much as the physical - in short, it represents the point at which the sense of possibility is highest, the maximum potential. You can become whatever you wish to become. This isn't to say that life thereafter will all be downhill, only that one aspect or another will be diminished. If this seems a grandiose thought, then it could be be reduced to helping to view the world and one's life in a fresh perspective.

More recently, I came across this term "prime years" in the show Master of None on Netflix. The occasion was the climax of the show's first season, where the girl angrily stormed out of the boy's apartment after having lived together for 1-2 years. She accused him of wasting her prime years which, at first sounds weird, but upon reflection is very much true. The female character was in her very late twenties and probably crossed the 30-year age mark during the time she was with him. 

Not to ignite a debate about gender inequality, I do think we can all agree that for better or for worse, men have a slightly longer horizon than women when it comes to their "prime years". For example, a woman's optimal childbearing age is believed to be from her early to late twenties while a man's may extend into the early thirties. Our social norms reflect this as it is much more common to see a older man with a younger woman than the reverse. 

So how do I relate to all this? This year I'll be turning 28 and technically can no longer refer to myself as in my mid-twenties but rather in the "late twenties". It's not a huge difference on the surface, but it does mean that I'll be edging closer and closer to 30. And the number 30 conjures up this excellent TED talk I watched a while back: Meg Jay on why 30 is not the new 20. In short, I agree as much with Meg the speaker now as I did back then...if not more so. I'm a huge proponent that every age bring about something unique and the twenties is the defining decade where many decisions and habits are made and built that will reverberate across the rest of one's life. Borrowing a few of Meg's examples, most of life's major decisions such as choosing a career, a spouse, and a home are made in the decade of the twenties. The average human life expectancy may still be rising, but that we make our major life decisions in between the 20th and 30th years of our lives does not.

And boy do I have major plans for this year. Dating woes and wife-hunting uncertainties aside, I intend to start at least one business with a deeper sense of conviction that my first attempt back in 2012. I see it as an opportunity to potentially retire at the age of 40 if the business becomes successful and I'm able to grow it properly. The other side of this coin will be what to do with regards to my current employment - I'll likely be leaving to the private sector and hopefully working with a major tech company since, well, I am admittedly a huge nerd and sucker for new gadgetry. Along with both these things will come the decision on whether I'd like to move elsewhere or stay here in the DC area. I'm forever inspired by a good friend's past decision to challenger herself by moving to DC temporarily, as otherwise life back in California would been too "comfortable" and "easy".

I'd also like to build some good habits such as getting into optimal shape and having good sleep patterns. Funny-mixed-with-alarm, I have been feeling more tired as of late - at least not recovering as quickly from exhaustion or physical strain as in the past. This also aligns with a more pronounced commitment to giving back to society, not just becoming a consumer of its infinite offerings. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thoughts on US Presidential Race for 2016

Growing up, I've always been disinterested in politics and the selection process of American presidents. Maybe it was a byproduct of not being able to vote until the last election (2012). Or a general apathy to a world that I did not understand well and to which I had even lesser influence. Today when I'm asked about my political beliefs, my default answer is always between "I don't really follow it to have an opinion" to "I'd say I'm a moderate who leans Republican only on fiscal policy". This all being said, I've been following up this election cycle with marginally more interest and consequently have formed an opinion of my own.

I feel that despite all the posturing and talk/debates from all candidates, the nominees for each party at this point are clear: Hilary Clinton for the Democrats, and Marc Rubio for the Republicans. This may change in case of an unexpected turn of events but should not and it makes sense.

For the Democrats, Hilary, for all her faults and damaged reputation, remains the household name and the most viable of the 3 major candidates. Bernie Sanders is too extreme in his views and Martin O'Malley is either too discrete or too much of a bozo (e.g. a talking head). This is not to say that she'll win the general election at all - in fact, I'd be willing to bet that she'll lose. As I'll get to in a bit, the public has shown an anti-establishment preference in its favoring of Donald Trump and Ben Carson on the Republican side; this runs directly counter to what Hilary stands for, which is a return of the Clinton name and its former policies. Hilary is simply the best candidate from the Democratic contenders, period.

For the Republicans, Rubio makes sense for his mixture of inexperience, age, and potential to bring in the highly-touted Hispanic vote. I understand that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are currently the front-runners but the American people are not stupid to vote for a candidate devoid of any political experience. As much as I dislike politics, it's like a game that you cannot refuse to play as a President - lest the end result be Obama's current situation of a deadlock with a legislative arm (e.g. Congress) refusing to support his ideas and initiatives. Political experience is a major plus, though arguably too much experience is a minus; likewise idealism and fresh spirit are great to have, but too much freshness leads to...green and possibility of ill-advised undertakings. Therefore Trump and Carson would be disasters if they ultimately win the nomination, and I trust that the public recognizes this and will vote accordingly.

At the other end of the spectrum, the other candidates are likewise inexperience (Carly Fiorina), damaging reputation (Chris Christie, Jeb Bush), or general lack of credibility (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz). I know there are others in the field but let's be honest, they should've dropped out by now. To summarize quickly my thoughts on these:
- Carl Fiorina's experience is staked in her tenure as CEO of HP, which was in fact a disaster for the company. She presided a period of accelerated decline for HP and consequently, this is in fact negative experience.
- Chris Christie's reputation for frankness is marred by his questionable role in "bridgegate" and his image in general. Again let's be honest, we vote for candidates who look presidential and this man needs to seriously lose some weight to look the type. The irony is that he may in fact be representative of American obesity but that's something neither the American public nor the rest of the world wants to see.
- Jeb Bush is a Bush and has shown little in terms of initiative. Unfortunately for him, he's running in a crowded field and on a party base tired of establishment players.
- Rand Paul is too much of a flipflopper and this will be exposed if he ends up with the nomination. This is unfortunate as I liked his father (Ron Paul) a lot but whereas dad was consistent, the apple seems to have fallen far from the tree. I like his stance against NSA and government spying on its citizens but in general too wishy-washy as a candidate.
- Ted Cruz is similar to Martin O'Malley and seems to be a bozo. I question his stance against net-neutrality, which hints at some bedroom behavior with the major corporations. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts on Michael Brown Shooting and Black Suffrage

Allow me to begin this post by noting that I'm not black/African-American. Instead, I'm an Asian-American who immigrated to this country more than 10 years ago. If my ethnicity automatically disqualifies me from commenting on the Michael Brown shooting event - because I'm not black and therefore cannot comprehend the underlying issues - then so be it. I understand that there are aspects of culture and history of blacks that I may never fully grasp. But I'm going to share my thoughts anyway, as a citizen of America, a bystander, and a part of today's American society.

In short, I agree with the decision by the Ferguson grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in late August 2014. That's not to say that I believe Wilson is completely innocent as there are certainly steps he could've taken to mitigate the confrontation - e.g. drawing his handgun perhaps a bit prematurely, which probably exacerbated Brown's reaction. Yet reading over the witness testimonies and information presented to the grand jury, the simple fact of the matter is that Brown not only refused an officer's orders but outright attacked him maliciously and violently. When a police officer orders you to do something, you comply regardless of the order because he or she is a representative of the rule of law. Any wrongdoing in the order can be argued afterwards.  The punishment (death) doesn't befit the crime in this case, but it's a strictly a matter of right vs. wrong. It's right to follow a police officer's orders and wrong to attack a police officer. 

In other words, if you're stupid enough to attack an armed police officer, then you have to be mindful of the possible consequences of your own ignorance and stupidity. This is irregardless of the earlier reported burglary at a nearby convenience store, which was allegedly carried out by Brown. You just don't attack someone and not expect retaliation. However, this highlights the underlying problem for a small subset of the larger black community/population: lack of respect for the rule of law. 

Rule of law is created to apply for everyone in American society, regardless of your wealth, family background, job, etc. It's the basic fabric of this country and is what makes us the beacon of democracy and freedom to the rest of the world. It sounds cliched but it's the simple truth. There is no preferential treatment or circumvention of the law - not even for the President of the United States. As the U.S. Constitution attests to, we are all under the law and no one is above it. Yet there appears to be a perception within a subset of the black community that the rule of law is rigged against them, and therefore they should fight against it. Unfortunately, this sentiment is so pervasive that one hears oftentimes in songs and stories. Song lyrics like "f*** the police" are not uncommon and one is regarded as "cool" to have defied the police or committed any crime. It's a minor but disturbing nonetheless - and perhaps explains Brown's disposition when first ordered by Wilson to walk on the sidewalk instead of the road. Brown may have been offended at being given orders, especially by a police officer and accompanied by a friend, may have wanted to show off his toughness. The fact of the matter is that he acted defiantly and took steps to express his defiance.

Going a bit further, another underlying issue is the victim mentality of the black community. And this may not be limited to a small subset of the overall population. The victim mentality is commonly understood as derived from the slavery of blacks during the early American history. Slavery oppressed blacks at the time, and its effects still reverberate in today's society. In other words, black people were screwed as slaves and continue to be screwed because they were manipulated and taken advantage throughout the process of nation building. The result is a feeling that society is indebted to blacks and should treat them as preferred citizens of this country. Arguably the best example of this is repeated calls for slavery separations - payments to current blacks for the ills of the past. And herein lies the real shame and the very reason why blacks have not moved forward much since the days of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Self-victimization undermines a sense of accountability for one's actions and ability to influence one's destiny. The perception is that society is unfair and inherently skewed to keeping black people down. The end result is predictable: if you believe the house rules are unfair, then how can you rise up through the inequality? A sense of possibility is greatly diminished and, along with that, the drive to achieve great and wonderful things in life. Furthermore, the darker side of this perception is anger towards the perceived status quo. Fighting back against the inequality would translate to lack of respect for the rule of law and, worse, acting out against the personification of it: police officers. Personally, I this is a damning sentiment and until blacks move beyond disrespecting current laws and rules in place, unfortunate incidents such as Michael Brown shootings will happen. There will be another Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in the near future.

The greater truth is that blacks are not alone in having been manipulated and used to the building of America. Many differences races and peoples have been too, such as the Irish immigrants in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and the Native Americans whose lands were confiscated and forcibly removed from their homes. The history of sacrifice is shared amongst all Americans and cannot be claimed by a single race or people. But more importantly, the key is moving beyond the tainted past and together building a better future. Or maybe taking the best of the past as constructive lessons to impart to future generations. If one believes the law is unfair and biased, then the action would be to engage the legal mechanisms to make the appropriate amendments. This means voting for the right officials into positions of power who can enact on the changes. Not through aggression towards society at large such as attacking police officers. Life is what you make of it - making the most out of opportunities around you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Predictions for AMD

AMD stock prices have fallen roughly 20% combined in the past couple of days, precipitated by the changing of guard in its top leadership. Lisa Su has replaced Rory Read as the new CEO of AMD, becoming the first female top executive in the company. The general sentiment on Wall Street appears to favor Lisa Su, but concerned about the timing of the announcement. To say the least, the change is both unexpected and abrupt, belied by the company's Q3 earnings release next Wednesday (10/15). 

Unfortunately for me, I made a significant purchase of AMD stock a couple of days ago (which means I'm effectively down 20% on my new investment). This also means that had I had this foresight, then I would have been able to acquire 20% more AMD stock had I waited 2 days. Sometimes the market gets you. Good thing I'm a value investor...

To keep this post short, I'll just share my immediate thoughts about the recent events for AMD:
  1. I remain bullish on the company and its future outlook. While the past couple of years have been tough, with the company squeezed between a rock (Intel) and a hard place (Nvidia), portfolio diversification of AMD's product lines has started paying dividends. Its new initiative in ARM chips and monopoly over current generation consoles (e.g. Xbox One PS4, Wii U) will at very least guarantee steady income for the next 5 years. That being said...
  2. ...the stock will fall some more before next week is over. I'm predicting a weaker than expected revenue growth for its Q3 earnings, which I suspect is the reason Rory Read was ousted so suddenly and unexpectedly. Expectation is for the stock to fall to around $2.20 before it climbs back up.
  3. Lenovo will begin offering much more products with AMD chipsets than previously. Despite the announcement yesterday of Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro series, which marks the first use of Intel's newest Core M line of processors, I firmly believe that new CEO Lisa Su's background as a former executive in Lenovo will influence her old company to adopt more AMD chipsets. Everyone may be praising her technical and industry background, the elephant in the room is that Lenovo is currently world's #1 computer manufacturer. Intel may boast faster chips but 90% of Lenovo's user base will neither notice the speed difference, nor particularly care if they're given an AMD-based laptop instead. AMD's chips are cheaper than Intel's so there's that to seal this deal.
Taking the 3 points above together, it seems clear to me that AMD is a severely undervalued stock at the moment and has incredible upside in the next couple of years. It has a promising product roadmap ahead that targets industries that its direct competitors in Nvidia and Intel have largely ignored. With both Nvidia and Intel firmly entrenched (and struggling) to battle it out in the ARM market with the likes of Qualcomm and MediaTrek, this is a chance for AMD to buckle down and get ahead. Needless to say, I'll be looking to further increasing my AMD stake next week.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thoughts on Apple Pay

I'm feeling very bullish on Apple these days. Despite the #bendgate controversy that began a few days ago, they've done a tremendous job with the unveiling of not only 2 versions of iPhone 6 but also the Apple Watch. I like them so much that I upped my holdings in its stock this morning.

The star of the show, in my opinion, was none of the gadgets Tim Cook revealed during the past 9.09.14 event. Sure the iPhone 6 is snazzy, loaded with the latest processors, camera technology, and even the bigger displays. It's bound to sell millions upon millions -- especially bringing back users who migrated to other platforms for bigger displays. The Apple Watch will also be a huge hit, mainly for its tight integration in Apple's ecosystem and as a fashion accessory. But both of these are just gadgets at the end of the day. The real star was: Apple Pay.

As a tech enthusiast, I've heard about mobile payments before and even have Google Wallet installed previously. But never before has a company with Apple's leverage entered such as space and it's bound to revolutionize the way we think and use mobile payments going forward. Want to know how much leverage Apple has? A good example is looking at the emails sent out by banks and credit card companies to announce their support for Apple Pay. Every single one of mine have sent me emails to profess their love and support. That is absolutely staggering. Not many companies are able to pull off Day 1 third-part support the way Apple has done it here. Rumors are transaction costs are bound to decrease as Apple Pay is supposedly more secure than other means.

More importantly however, is the ease of use. For the first time last week, I used the Starbucks app installed on my Android phone to pay for a couple cups of coffee at Starbucks. Nothing extraordinary about this event except for that it was: (1) my first time ever doing such a transaction, and (2) surprised by how easy and seamless it was. The latter in particular stood out as I returned the following day to do the same, with same results. I swear that the experience (not the coffee) was so good that I felt more attached and loyal to Starbucks. Yet Apple Pay promises to be even more seamless as you no longer would have to go through the motions of unlocking your phone screen and opening an app to pay the transaction -- if Apple's demo holds true, all you have to do is hold your finger to the fingerprint scanner for a second and pay the payment receiver with your phone. Voila! Takes about a second or two, and the transaction is completed.

Overall, I think the changes Apple Pay will usher in are two. On one hand, people will purchase more things and use their phones to pay more frequently due to how easy and seamless the process is. No longer do you have to take out your wallet (after finding it first), pick out the card you want, swipe it, enter your zip code, and (oftentimes) signing the receipt for the cashier. All you'd have to do with Apple Pay is pull out your phone, hold, tap, and done. It's that simple. The second change will be what I mentioned before -- strangely enough, I felt more attached to Starbucks despite McDonalds being my preferred coffee venue (disclaimer: coffee is a commodity to me, so the cheapest vendor gets my business). But likewise I can see myself going to shops and restaurants that accept Apple Pay more than those that do not. What you'll see then, is a domino effect of stores and restaurants scrambling after one another to install NFC-payment receivers for Apple Pay and other forms of mobile payment (e.g. Google Wallet).

Now, everything is not all rosy as Apple Pay has just been introduced and the public hasn't really been using mobile payments. But Apple does a heck of a job marketing its products and features, so I expect people to catch on quickly. The iPhone 6 will eventually give way to future generations and the same goes for Apple Watch. But Apple Pay as a platform is here to stay and it's going to be absolutely huge. I've put money in my mouth by investing significantly into Apple today, with a strong possibility to further increasing my holdings in the near future.

Oh and one more thing: Apple takes a cut out of every transaction made using Apple Pay.