Bitcoin today reached an all-time high, surging past $4,500 for the first time. The cryptocurrency has more than quadrupled in value since December, and experts are beginning to get nervous. Peter Schiff, a longtime opponent to the idea that cryptocurrency has any long-term potential, decries this moment as further evidence that Bitcoin is a bubble about to burst.
If you believe him, it’s time to get out, and sooner is better than later. Schiff spoke to CoinDesk and dismissed the promise of Bitcoin as hyperbole:
There’s certainly a lot of bullishness about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and that’s the case with bubbles in general. The psychology of bubbles fuels it. You just become more convinced that it’s going to work. And the higher the price goes, the more convinced you become that you’re right. But it’s not going up because it’s going to work. It’s going up because of speculation.
It’s very possible he’s correct, however TNW spoke with another expert, who had an entirely different point-of-view. Zen Protocol CEO Adam Perlow said:
People aren’t speculating in Bitcoin with Bitcoin. It is an asset. It’s very good at being an asset and providing value. If it is a bubble, It’s very much like the internet. That was a bubble too, and it burst. The internet is still here.
Schiff might not be as optimistic about Bitcoin because he’s not really a fan. He also said:
The main benefit of bitcoin – the only segment of society where it’s used for something other than speculation – is crime.
When we spoke to Perlow a few days back we asked him a question about the misconception that Bitcoin is only useful to criminals, he provided us with a different point of view:
Cryptocurrency can serve a lot of great purposes that regular currency can’t. We’ve seen India make most of its currency, the biggest denominations, illegal – they’re crazy for cryptocurrency. Everyone there has digital wallets. In other places, places where you might have a totalitarian government, it could be impossible to conduct financial transactions any other way.
Cryptocurrency, for example, can help to fund aid for people stranded in places where they can’t report any money they have or recieve. It also solves a lot of smaller problems too, such as working with international companies without needing banks to insure transactions — and take a cut. Right now, Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency, and thus has the most potential.
That’s neither here-nor-there if you’ve already got skin in the game, though. The real question is: how high will Bitcoin go?
A popular investor who goes by masterluc, referred to as legendary by cryptocurrency website Coin Telegraph, says we’ll hit 15,000 by December. Take that with a grain of salt, but there’s plenty of others who are predicting that the upward trend is going to continue, including Goldman Sachs who’ve gotten it right so far.
As for me – the humble tech journalist reminding you that you shouldn’t get your financial advice from a writer, but instead consult legit finance people – I’d wager we’ll see $7,500 before Halloween, and $10,000 by Christmas.
Then again, I just love a good story with a happy ending.
Why Snapchat Spectacles failed
How come only 0.08% of Snapchat’s users bought its camera sunglasses? Hundreds of thousands of pairs of Spectacles sit rotting in warehouses after the company bungled the launch. Initial hype and lines for its roving, limited time only Snapbot vending machines led Snap to overestimate demand but underdeliver on quality and content.
Massive piles of assembled and unassembled video-recording sunglasses sit unsold, contributing to Snap’s enormous costs and losses, says The Information. Internal Snap data shows less than 50 percent of buyers kept using Spectacles a month after purchase, Business Insider’s Alex Heath reports. A “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week, with a source calling the retention rate “shockingly low”.
What was the problem? Snap generated huge hype for Spectacles, but then waited 5 months to openly sell them. Once people actually tried Spectacles, few kept wearing them, and word of mouth about their disuse spread. Snap never got visionary video markers onboard. And as Snapchat’s popularity waned in the face of competitors, the fact that Spectacles only interfaced with its app rather than a phone’s camera roll became a burden.
Snap did some things right with Spectacles. The fashion photo spread announcement felt classy and surprising despite clues and photos of CEO Evan Spiegel trickling out ahead. The initial launch was a marketing extravaganza, with multi-hour lines of cool kids waiting on the Venice Beach boardwalk to buy them. And the Snapbots being dropped in random locations was exciting and made people feel special if they got ahold of them. But once people put them on their face, the excitement died off.
Here’s a breakdown of the major flaws that emerged with Spectacles in the year since their debut, with a focus on the stilted launch strategy:
Botched Roll Out
Snap first announced Spectacles with some Karl Lagerfeld photos of Spiegel wearing them on September 24th 2016. Hype was high despite the beachey color options that turned some people off. It took until November 10th for the first Snapbot vending machines to launch. While the hype had cooled slightly, demand was huge as people wanted to be the first on the block with Spectacles, and lines stretched down streets.
But Snap whether it was because Snap wanted to milk the Snapbot promotion, couldn’t tell if Spectacles should be exclusive or widely available, or it had supply chain problems, it took until February 20th for Snap to start openly selling Specs online.
Waiting five months after the initial announcement was an eternity in the fast-moving teenage fad cycle. They weren’t cool by the time they were buyable. Everyone had already seen the sunglasses and circular video all over the Internet, most owners had long since stopped using them, the holiday season had passed, and few people wanted to buy so late. It took until June, 8 months after their debut, for Spectacles to become available in Europe.
If Snap had instead made its announcement, quickly outfitted some lucky normal users and celebrities with Spectacles, then launched a giant Black Friday sale at the peak of its hype, all those people fascinated with the gadget might have bought immediately. Everyone would have paid before word got out that people weren’t going to wear camera glasses all that much.
Alternatively, Snap could have gone the path of exclusivity lit by its fashion-focused debut. Rather than ever selling Specs openly, it could have gotten them into runway shows and magazines while sticking with the limited-edition Snapbots. Then after a few months it could have ceased all sales, turned existing pairs into fought-over collector’s items, and saved the mainstream rollout for an eventual v2 launch. Unfortunately, Snap seems to have got stuck between these exclusive and mass-retail strategies.
Where Were The Spectacles Influencers? – To drive demand, Snap needed to demonstrate all the creative things you could do with Spectacles, and the cool people who wore them. Yet at the time, it still had a very hands-off approach to dealing with traditional celebrities and web influencers. Snap didn’t make outfitting creators with Specs and training them to use the camera glasses a priority. Instead of top Snappers constantly posting circular videos and encouraging fans to do the same, Snap effectively left the gadget out to dry. Snap let random Spectacles buyers, often over-enthusiastic social media amateurs, define the image of the product, similar to how Google’s core mistake was allowing geeky developers to become the face of Glass.
Few Examples Of Great Content – Stemming from Snap’s failure to foster a Spectacles creator scene, it did a terrible job of showing off how Spectacles could be used beyond the initial commercial. Neither Snap’s in-house team or independent social stars were recruited to make videos exposing the creative opportunities of the device. It did little through event marketing or in-app promotion to encourage Spectacle content creation. Karen X. Cheng was perhaps the only Spectacles influencer lighting the path, with her first-person mirror dancing video and Spectacles-on-babies ad she helped Brawny make. But Snap should have ensured the Internet was flooded with these videos proving what you can’t do with your phone’s camera, and why you should buy Spectacles.
People Are Still Freaked Out By Camera Glasses – Google Glass tainted the market with its “not sure if you’re recording me” design. Even though Snap put more obvious recording signal lights on Spectacles, people would still question you about whether they were on camera. That not only made people uncomfortable being around Spectacles, but made you feel like a bit of a creep just wearing them even if you never tapped the shutter button. Their appeal was further limited by their polarizing “fashion-forward” design (some would call ugly), while the only non-black colors were aggressively bright teal and coral.
Limited Content Portability – When Spectacles debuted, Snapchat clone Instagram Stories had only just launched. But soon reaching over 250 million daily users, Instagram Stories grew bigger than Snapchat’s whole app that now has 173 million. Snap didn’t have the only Stories in town, and lots of people began cross-posting between the two apps. But Spectacles made that difficult. Specs shoot in a proprietary circular video format. On Snapchat, you see the content full screen no matter what orientation you hold your phone in. But when exported, those circular videos get inset within a white square in a locked orientation. That makes them look obviously ported from Snapchat rather than made for these other channels, especially inside a rectangular Instagram Story. Spectacles wouldn’t connect to your phone’s camera roll, only to Snapchat, making exporting a chore. And they didn’t take photos, just videos.
Stuck In The Fuzzy Sun – The shaded lenses in Spectacles made them tough to wear indoors or at night. That disqualified a lot of the parties, concerts, meals, and hang-outs people like to Snap. Beyond music festivals, beaches, back yards, and parks, there fewer opportunities to use them then buyers may have expected. I saw one guy who had popped the lenses out so he could wear them anywhere, but that made their look stick out even more. Snap never struck any official partnerships with companies offering non-shaded or prescription lenses, though some providers of lens replacements cropped up. That led some people with vision problems or who stay out of the sun to write-off the product entirely.
Usability Problems Galore – Having to pair Spectacles with Snapchat instead of the standard Bluetooth menu was annoying. Data transfers from the glasses to the phone took forever and would get easily interrupted. They only recorded videos in 720p, not 1080. Videos were clumsily first sent in low-resolution until a higher-res version could be delivered. Spectacles drain your phone battery super fast. The bulky and oddly shaped triangular prism case was tough to fit in bags and impossible to get in your pocket. The battery and recording lights were confusing. Sometimes Spectacles would require a “hold the shutter button for 55-seconds” reset that wasn’t clearly explained on any of Snap’s support pages. And finally, our hands are already an incredibly agile, auto-stabilized, selfie-able conveyance for a camera.
For a v1 product, Spectacles were a valiant effort. But it was the stuttered roll out, lack of promotional support, and rising competition combined with their hardware problems the doomed Spectacles. Hopefully v2 will correct these missteps. Snap already has a patent for an augmented reality version, and it’s shelved other product ideas like a drone.
If Snap wants to truly live up to its name as a camera company, it either needs to nail a single gadget you want to use multiple times per week forever, or release an array of short-lived but fun camera toys. Either way, it must seize on the hype it creates rather than letting it fade, and put the work in to foster an ecosystem of creators to pioneer videography styles everyone else can try. Building a trend-setting camera isn’t just about the tech you put into it, but encouraging the content that comes out.
Virtual reality – the only way same-sex marriage is legal in Australia
As Australians agonizingly await the final results from the same-sex marriage survey (which doesn’t even guarantee a change in the law), gay couples continue having to tie the knot elsewhere, as it’s insanely the only way.
A dedicated group from Sydney have done their best to try and change this with an event they termed Virtual Equality. The project gives Australians the possibility to experience a same-sex wedding the only way legally possible in Australia – through virtual reality. Giles Clayton, one of the organizers, wanted to emphasize that same-sex marriage is nothing to be afraid of:
The goal was for Aussies to get the chance to experience something they can’t right now and hopefully change perspectives about the fear of legalizing same-sex marriage.
The project was funded by J. Walter Thompson and Luscious International, both major players in the Australian advertising and video production world. To bring the event to life, the first step was finding a same-sex couple looking to get hitched.
Through a few degrees of separation, they came across Dan Thurston and Thomas Crow, a soon-to-be-married Kiwi-American couple based in New Zealand. The loving pair volunteered for the project, allowing J. Walter Thompson and Luscious International to attend their Kiwi wedding on September 22 and film the ceremony in 360-video. You can watch the ceremony here.
After attending the NZ wedding, the Virtual Equality team began organizing a second wedding for Dan and Thomas in Australia – only this time, in virtual reality. They invited the public, politicians and some of the couple’s Australian friends to attend and appreciate how great a same-sex marriage in Australia can be. Dan was hopeful that seeing would be believing.
I hope that, in seeing us as a positive model for marriage, Australians can see that marriage equality is a no-brainer and any debate about such basic human rights is dumb.
The ‘virtual ceremony’ took place in First Fleet Park in Sydney on October 10, with each guest receiving a VR headset and headphones to experience the Kiwi ceremony. Hundreds of people of all ages lined up to be part of the event, with responses ranging from joy and laughter to tears. Directed by Lou Quill, watch how it went below:
Guests included Sally Rugg, director of GetUp’s campaign for marriage equality and Jenny Leong, member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Newtown for the Greens. Leong was deeply affected that something so simple and natural can’t legally happen in Australia.
It’s bizarre that in Australia we can only experience a same-sex marriage through virtual reality. Especially in Sydney where we fly the rainbow flag so bright. Love is personal but should be inclusive of everyone and this is why we need to change the ban on same-sex marriage.
The legalization of same-sex marriage has been a controversial issue on Australia’s political agenda for several years. The current Marriage Act 1961 in Australia narrowly states that marriage is “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
Australia is currently in the midst of a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey which asks the question “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Unlike a referendum which seeks to amend the Australian Constitution if a majority of Australians vote “Yes” in the majority of states, the postal vote merely seeks to gauge public opinion on the issue.
That means, even if the postal vote delivers a majority “Yes” result, there’s no guarantee the law will change. Instead, the government will introduce a private member’s bill to amend the current Marriage Act. Members of parliament will then be allowed to freely vote for or against the bill. On the other hand, if the postal vote delivers a majority “No” response, the decision is binding and no bill will be introduced…
The team behind Virtual Equality are hopeful it won’t get to that. They have distributed hundreds of rainbow-branded Google Cardboard headsets to influencers and politicians around the country, letting them experience the same-sex wedding in VR. Rachel Wintle, one of the organizers from J. Walter Thompson explained:
With many Australians still fearful about same-sex marriage both companies urge positive responses from anyone who wishes to share or comment on the campaign, to counteract the often hateful messages that have been shared by members of the NO campaign over the voting period.
While the absolute deadline to return your ballot is November 7, 2017, both companies encourage Australians to vote “Yes” for marriage equality by this Friday, October 27th.
With same-sex marriage now legal in 23 countries, let’s hope that Australia will be the next to recognize loving relationships like that of Dan and Thomas. And the message to take away from Virtual Equality’s campaign: it’s time to make marriage equality a reality.
PSA: Bigger smartphone apertures don’t count if the sensors get smaller
In the past few years, smartphone manufacturers have started paying more attention to the optics they use on their smartphone, using wider apertures for better low light performance. That’s awesome, but as a photographer, I have an ongoing gripe about the marketing buzz around apertures: An aperture tells you little about performance if you don’t know the camera’s sensor size.
As a refresher, all else being equal, wider apertures (a lower number) mean better low light performance and shallower depth of field (more background blur or ‘bokeh’). The problem with smartphone photography is that rarely is everything else equal, sensor size in particular.
I’m going to oversimplify things a bit, but let’s assume two phones are technologically identical except for their aperture or sensor size. If two phones have the same sensor size, the one with the wider aperture will be better. But by the same token, if two phones have the same aperture, the one with the larger sensor will win.
If both of the variables are different, well, things can get pretty messy.
To use an exaggerated example, here’s a photo taken at F1.8 on the Pixel 2.
And here’s a photo taken at F3.5 on a high-end camera with a much larger micro-four thirds sensor.
Despite the ‘wider’ aperture on the Pixel, the micro four-thirds camera has much more blur (and would theoretically perform much better in low light too). That’s because the micro four thirds sensor is capturing more light overall thanks the much larger surface area on the CMOS chip.
To drive the point home, here’s the micro four-thirds camera at F1.8
This image compares common sensor sizes for different camera categories. The Pixel 2’s sensor is believed to be 1/2.55,” or a teensy bit smaller than the smallest sensor on that image. You can see the dramatic size difference.
I bring this all up because it’s far too common for smartphone manufacturers to claim a wide aperture while obscuring information on the sensor size. You can generally deduce this based off of other information like the pixel pitch and field of view, but that’s more complicated than it should be.
Take the LG V30, whose F1.6 aperture was the largest on a smartphone at the time of its announcement, and was heavily promoted in marketing materials. It was supposed to be a significant update over the V20’s F1.8, and I was all excited for bokehliscious night-time photos. That is, until I realized LG conspicuous didn’t mention the V30’s sensor size. There was a reason for that: the LG V30 is using a smaller sensor (1/3″) than the V20 (1/2.6″), largely negating the aperture advantage.
This isn’t to say the actual lens and sensor technology aren’t better on the V30 – it’s absolutely a better camera overall – but making a show of a larger aperture is disingenuous when the sensor is smaller. Worse, smaller sensors tend to have inferior dynamic range, which can’t be fixed by simply increasing the aperture.
That’s not to say making sensors smaller is always a bad thing either. The Pixel 2 also made a similar move (from a 1/2.3″ sensor to a 1/2.55″ one), but it gets a pass because in addition to a wider aperture (F1.8 vs F2.0), Google also added optical image stabilization for better low light performance, and seems to be using better sensor tech overall.
Again, the problem is when marketing heavily focuses on a larger aperture without mentioning the sensor has been made smaller. Sometimes a large enough aperture can overcome a smaller sensor in terms of low light performance, but it’s up to manufacturers to be upfront about how big that jump actually is.
So why are do smartphone manufacturers keep using small sensors? Thinness, of course. Larger sensors require larger lenses, and often require larger components for features like optical image stabilization.
As a side note, that’s part of the reason some manufacturers have taken to using dual camera systems where one sensor is RGB and the other monochrome. These systems generally use some of the smallest sensors for primary rear cameras, thus allowing for thinner frames (the Essential Phone, for instance, avoids a camera hump by using two 1/3″ sensors). In theory, these phones can get away with having tiny sensors by combining detail from the two images, but in practice, they’re rarely as good as just having one really big chip.
Of course, there’s so much more to smartphone photography than sensor size and aperture. The technology behind the sensor, the quality of the lens, the software processing, HDR algorithms, optical image stabilization, and now even fancy tricks like computational bokeh.
Point is, don’t judge a phone’s camera purely by its specs – the results matter more than anything else. And to smartphone manufacturers: stop flaunting your wider apertures if you’re going to shrink the sensors at the same time.
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