The future of mobile interfaces and the rise of chat based apps
The other week I was lucky enough to have Aaron Harris, partner at Y Combinator, take time away from reading applications to have a chat about… mobile stuff. Our conversation turned into an enlightening exploration of what is now not so much a trend but the way the world is (mobile-first), what’s coming next in mobile, and how he personally deals with the fact that, yes, mobile is eating the world.d.”
It’s safe to say we’re undergoing an overwhelmingly rapid transition to a mobile-first world. Mobile-first evangelists (myself included) tout the imperative of making mobile not part of your strategy but the foundation of everything you do. In the mobile-first onslaught, however, sometimes we risk losing sight of the fundamental objective: to solve a problem.
Talking with Harris served as a useful reminder to this obvious point, which nonetheless sometimes get buried. “Ultimately a computing platform is being built and that software has to be accessible wherever your users happen to be and in whatever mode they want to interact,” said Aaron. “The goal of creating software that solves a problem must remain on the forefront.”
Of course, that said, more and more, those interactions are happening on mobile devices; in five or ten years, I would be surprised if 99% of digital interactions happen on mobile. As we chatted more about this, a few themes popped up around what Harris sees as the next big shifts in mobile.
One was increasing simplicity — in terms of function and design. The great thing about phones is that real estate is small, naturally forcing simplicity upon app developers. Or so you would think — too often, users face an unintuitive jumble of buttons, interfaces, and controls. The best apps those with clear applications and clear UIs. Uber, vaunted prince of Silicon Valley, is a simple app. It’s function is simple — get a car to drive you from point A to point B — and users can achieve that goal in maybe three actions, if that.
But simplicity, Harris acknowledged, goes well beyond clear use cases and good design. One of the next mobile progressions he’s most excited about actually, is preemptive applications — apps that remove all friction points but not requiring anything of the user at all. Instead of even having to open the Uber app when you land at the airport or walk out of the subway station, your phone will have already figured out that you need a car and will have ordered it for you. There’s a lot of work being done on preemptive applications right now, but there’s a long way to go. Harris mentioned being particularly excited about what Google Now on Android has cooking..
After dissecting the mobile world for an hour, Harris brought up a curveball — something I did not expect from someone who is so utterly immersed in tech. Harris, it turns out, observes a technology Sabbath.. That’s right — no phone, no email, no Snapping selfies — every single Saturday. “It’s these 24 hours a week where I don’t have a computer, I don’t have a phone, I don’t have any of that stuff. I actually have to think.” Finding moments, let alone hours, that are truly unplugged is becoming increasingly difficult, yet, (remarkably given the demands on him) Aaron has found ways to give his brain room to breathe. Aside from the Sabbath, he recently started to only answer email for an hour in the morning. Periodically, throughout the day, he will check to see if there are any emergencies, but he has broken the habit of constantly monitoring his inbox.
Quite a feat — one we should all probably take inspiration from. Read on for more insights from this enlightened individual below, or scroll further for the full transcript.
On the need to constrain problems:
“Constraints on a problem are some of the best things that you could possibly have and that applies to thinking about a new business or thinking about a new startup or tackling a new problem. Actually, constraining that problem is critical to creating something that’s useful. Otherwise, you just end up with hodgepodge.”
On the progression of technology:
“And then — it got personalized. You had to give the computer less and less information at any given time to accomplish the end goal. And when you jump towards things, if you follow that progression forward, you get to this idea that people really want technology to do something for them, right? And really interface is, in some ways, a barrier to that.”
On his hopes for Microsoft and healthy competition:
“…maybe Microsoft becomes the next integrated hardware/software maker, for the PC side. I can see it happening. Microsoft spends more on R&D than any other company or something like that. And there are still brilliant people there and they are capable of doing really incredible things. And I don’t know that necessarily, by the way, that Microsoft is making the best stuff or will, but I think competition on this is great.”
Transcript of podcast here:
A: Hi, my name is Aaron Harris. I’m a partner at Y Combinator where we work with lots of startups and I’m a longtime fan of Henrik Werdelin, one of my personal role models both in terms of hair styling and thinking.
H: I’m actually a pretty big fan of yours
A: Well, thank you.
H: So now this is awkward.
A: This is really awkward.
H: Aaron, tell me a little bit…what does a partner at Y Combinator do?
A: We’re basically responsible for finding new startups for YC to work with and invest in, whether that means going out and recruiting companies by meeting with great people wherever they are and talking to them, or sorting through the applications that we get twice a year for YC itself.
And then once we’ve actually selected those companies, we work with them for the three months that they’re actually in California with us. We spend quite a bit of time with them then, but also for the lifetime of the company — and even beyond. We help founders try to build great businesses and help in any way that we can.
H: We can honestly talk about many things, because you know about a lot of different stuff when it comes to startups and building different companies.
The thing that I was hoping to talk about today was I would say a little bit of a paradigm change in mobile occasions and how the interface of mobile and the avocations of it being done. I think it’s being referred to as hidden interfaces.
I think for people who are tuning into this podcast that would probably be most of the stuff that we’ll be talking about. Is there anything else that you feel we all need to know about?
A: You know, we might happen across some things at some point, but that’s the topic that you and I have talked about a little bit already. And I actually think the scale at which mobile devices have penetrated our lives is really, really interesting and so much larger than anyone anticipated.
And the platform itself is so new that I don’t think we’ve really hit what the right paradigm is for how we interact with computers in our pockets that are always on and always know where we are.
So, you know, there’s massive businesses yet to be built and that’s going to take a lot of iteration and a lot of different attempts at how those actually work.
H: I was sitting at a board presentation of a large PG company a few weeks back and I think it dawned on them — and actually it hadn’t even really dawned on me before then — how incredible this mobile movement really has become.
We’ve all been talking about it for a while…mobile is coming, mobile is coming, but where I am in my mind now is pretty much — there are no desktops.
Like even talking about mobile first is almost too dated because you should really just be thinking about mobile. Then, later you might be able to do a desktop application. Do you think that’s a fair assessment or is that just too extreme and dramatic?
A: You know, I think it’s a little too extreme because it depends on what kind of business you’re building. If you’re building something targeted towards consumers, then for a large, large portion of the companies I think that’s right. Though, what I would say is that mobile first feels a little dated, but I don’t think that it’s mobile not desktop.
It’s just the idea that you’re building for computing platforms, right? You’re building software and that software has to be accessible wherever your users happen to be and in whatever mode they want to interact. So that’s how you have to think about it.
H: In many ways building for a platform first is the wrong way of trying to solve a problem, right? Often you should identify a problem that you want to solve that customers at large have. Then, you should use technology to solve that problem and because people are spending a lot of time with their mobile, then, by design, it will probably be a mobile-first application.
But, it doesn’t have to be a mobile application: it has to be an application that solves a problem and then it has to be mobile.
A: Right, that’s exactly right.
H: The nice thing that we’ve noticed as we try to build these is that real estate in mobile applications is so limited and so everybody is trying to create minimum viable products. That term is starting to be used in a lot of different contexts.
And even if people try to make something that’s a minimum viable product, they still make the scope of what they’re trying to test very large.
So one of the things I like about mobile is that simply by there not being a lot of real estate it kind of gives you some limitations of how much you can shove into the stream. That actually forces you to be a little more specific about what you’re trying to achieve.
A: I think that’s totally right. Constraints on a problem are some of the best things that you could possibly have and that applies to thinking about a new business or thinking about a new startup or tackling a new problem.
Actually, constraining that problem is critical to creating something that’s useful. Otherwise, you just end up with hodgepodge.
And I think that extends to what you’re talking about which is: if you’re using a mobile device are you building for a mobile device?
When you say real estate, you’re talking about screen real estate, right? You can only show someone so much at any given time, which sort of drives you toward absolute simplicity or the least amount of interaction from the user required to accomplish a given purpose.
H: Over the last six to 12 months, I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the consigner’s apps. They are the text-only hidden apps or whatever you want to call them, that don’t really have a lot of functionality in the interface layout of the mobile itself. It has functionality in the back end and that’s exposed to the user by a kind of normal chat module.
First, do you think that’s true? And second, if it is true, why do you think that it’s happening?
A: I’ve definitely noticed the same thing and I’ve found it pretty fascinating because for a while everyone was talking about how important beautiful design was, right? Beautiful design is the differentiator, if your app is pretty and feels great, that’s the differentiator.
But if you look back at the progression of technology in terms of how we use things, each piece of technology is essentially trying to accomplish a given purpose, right? And the UI and the UX are really just ways to accomplish that goal.
And so, going back a few years, if you wanted to do X on a desktop, well the way things work, because the computer didn’t know very much about you and didn’t remember things you had to trigger each set of filters, categories and options every time you used it. And then, over time, that went away because computers can now remember the state from last time, remember who you are.
And then — it got personalized. You had to give the computer less and less information at any given time to accomplish the end goal. And when you jump towards things, if you follow that progression forward, you get to this idea that people really want technology to do something for them, right? And really interface is, in some ways, a barrier to that.
That’s kind of a weird way to think about things. Even the most beautiful interface is a barrier to accomplishing a goal when it comes to consumer services.
If you could eliminate that and basically just say to your phone: “Hey, do this thing for me.” And, you knew that it would come back with the right answer or the right solution, that’s kind of the ultimate in technology, right? That’s perfect. It does the thing that you want it to do without you having to do very much.
H: So there could be different thesis of why this is happening now, right? One thesis could be people are pretty used to complicated actions that a computer could do for it. But, the mobile screen real estate doesn’t really allow you to do that very well.
Therefore, you need to find an interface form that users understand, but that still allow the users to get a lot of complexity with very few clicks.
Now on the mobile phone, you can’t have 8000 different dropdowns and other tools that we’ve previously done on desktops and so the easiest form that people kind of understand is kind of like a chat system. Do you think that is a driver?
A: Yeah, I definitely think that plays a role. Do you know what an interesting interim sort of step is in this progression is if you look at…let’s take Uber right? It’s an app everyone kind of knows about, everyone appreciates…well maybe not everyone. I think a lot of taxi drivers hate it, but it works incredibly well. And it does one thing right? It sends a car to wherever you are. And as a user the only piece of that I really interact with is I pull it up, I open it up, it GEO locates me and I push, pick me up or whatever it is.
It’s one button. It’s one click. I mean, okay, now over the years you can select UberX, UberXL, this, that, the other thing. But, fundamentally it’s one button and if you thought about that from the previous paragon, it would seem crazy. That’s all you have to do. It’s filling in all the other information by itself.
And if you think about it, okay that’s one step, what if I could just come out of the subway, right? Or you know, land at the airport and my phone already knew that I want a car? And so the car would show up.
H: We’ve talked about that, even when Quantified Self was the talk of the town, everybody was measuring everything, but the computers couldn’t really even use the data for much other than the pretty graphs, right?
Like it wasn’t that suddenly it was coming with different types of running techniques. We didn’t use the data for anything meaningful to change our behavior or make our lives better. We just gathered and displayed it.
Do you see any examples of what you’re talking about? This kind of preemptive behavior functionality where the computer makes your life easier by knowing what you’re about to do and then suggest that you do it for it? Foursquare talked about it at one point a long time ago, but have you seen anything?
A: You know, I haven’t really seen anything that has done it well. There are glimpses of it when you use Google Now on an Android phone, right? It’ll tell you: “Hey, you have to leave now in order to get to that meeting by this time given traffic.” That’s pretty amazing.
But, I don’t think anyone has really accomplished that yet. But, I think that there is this idea of a text-only interface or even…kind of a Siri thing. Siri is just a bad way to input instructions because it doesn’t work very well, but text, you know?
It’s basically saying: “Hey do this thing for me, you already know the thing that I want, right? So now I’m just telling you to go do it.”
H: I think that’s true. I think when you search Google it probably does some of the preemptive stuff that you don’t even notice or see. I guess one of the elegant things about having a lot of intelligence in the computer is that ideally you don’t notice it if it worked.
One of the things that people have been talking about with text interfaces is this emerging of AI or neural networking or whatever the proper term is these days. Do you think that AI or neural networking applications are around the corner?
A: I don’t know, it feels like we’re getting closer in some ways, right? Our phones, our computers are definitely smarter; they’re able to do more on the predictive side.
Certain implementations of artificial intelligence and machine learning are revolutionizing the way that certain tasks are done. But it still feels like we’re quite a long time away from the robot companion or the computer companion, right?
H: You’re not going to install the Her emotional operating system anytime soon?
A: I don’t think so, but, again, this stuff is kind of hard to predict in terms of when it’s going to happen.
H: I think you’re right in the sense of some of the applications we’ve been working on. One of the things we’re launching soon is called Anco which is basically a back office for freelancers. So, it’s your emotional-rating system for doing all of the boring tasks of your freelancers.
One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about there is that because humans require so much emotional intelligence to interact with, you can actually build quite powerful super admin control panels that would allow a human to interface with quite a lot of people and scale it in that way.
So instead of going straight to AI where the computer is talking directly to the human, you are almost putting a human in the middle and then you give them a very powerful tool that allows them to talk a lot of people at the same time.
And I think that might be the in-between step, right? You have somebody, like a concierge type of functionality, where they are very good at being personable, they are very good at understanding you, and then they are very good at using tools that would be way too advanced for us to ever put on our phone.
A: I’m trying to figure out where our phones are going versus where other computing platforms are going versus where the computation takes place. It feels like it’s kind of talking about all of these things that we don’t know…it’s so hard to predict the path of technology in that way.
H: But isn’t that one of the points is that while technology is very difficult to predict, humans are like the slowest evolving point of that equation now? So one of the things that we probably need to optimize increasingly is how slow the human thinks or interfaces with computers.
And so I think we’ve probably been in a world for a few years where we kind of allow the human to adapt their behavior to optimize for ease of use from the computer’s point of view, right?
So we use a mouse because then a computer can understand that. We use a keyboard because that’s an efficient way. We use dropdowns because that’s something we can turn into a database and inquire really easily.
And I think increasingly it seems like we’re getting so fast and quick at doing stuff from the computer side, but the humans really don’t understand all these dropdowns and things. It would be neat to go a little bit back to basic where that is normal dialogue.
And especially on a platform like mobile phones where I think for the first 10 years was really used just for the chat dialogue, right? We text each other and therefore that we have like muscle memory and that kind of form of interaction.
A: One of the things that I would disagree with in what you just said is that humans are the slowest moving piece of this problem or of this challenge in a lot of different ways.
There are still these sets of problems that people are far better at solving than computers are and it’s going to take a dramatic leap in technology to actually equal how people do certain things, just based on how our brains work.
But, you know the computers are evolving probably at a faster rate than we are, so that’s right. But we’re making them evolve in a lot of ways, but they are getting faster probably at a better rate than our brains are changing.
H: I think that’s fascinating. I guess that goes into the whole singularity and what’s going to happen with that. You know, obviously computers can beat people now in a chess match, but I read somewhere that if you take a computer and a person versus a computer, then the couple of a person and a computer together will win over the computer.
H: So it’s obviously fascinating when you reach Chris Ward and people like that. Like how far are we from having to kind of superpower ourselves with technology tools?
I guess we do that already. We have our phones in our pockets and that’s basically extending our body with GPS and an internet connection and a camera and a few other things like that.
A: Yeah, it’s the combination of the two that’s so powerful. Then, to take it back over to the point about chat, where does chat fit into this as an interface?
And I wonder if it really has anything to do with AI or the singularity stuff. I don’t actually think that it has very much to do with that yet because it’s mostly, like the other side of these chat applications right?
It’s mostly not super complicated computer things that are happening on the other side. It’s not like you’re interacting with a complete chat machine on the other side that caters to your every whim. You’re usually giving a fairly simple set of instructions.
H: Let’s change gear a little bit on the chat interface. So one thing is obviously that you can do something fairly complicated in chat in a pretty easy way, that would require a lot of actions if you had to build interface for it.
Sometimes you could build something much easier on an interface right? Like a map or your example with Uber, that would probably take longer time to write out, like please send me a car to this and this address would take longer time than just clicking one button when you open the Uber app.
On the flip side, you see these concierge apps that are kind of trying. They are almost taking a number of different on-demand services and combining them into one, right? You take Butler or Magic or some of these other things that can text us anything.
Do you see a world where some of these on-demand apps will have less importance because these chat-based apps will almost create an abstraction layer before these underlying apps?
A: Well, I think there are two things happening there. One — I think there are simply too many automan apps which accomplish the same thing for slightly different pricing and so you have this paradox in price situation, right? Where people just don’t know which of the five different car share options they should use and they don’t know which of the four different delivery things they should use?
And two — no one wants to download all those apps and check all those things, so it’s much easier to offload that to someone else. And so you could do that in one or two different ways. You could do that by having people, by building some sort of solution that actually ties all those things together, right?
You could have some sort of magical interface that checks them all against each other. But, it’s much easier and certainly faster to say: “Hey, text us for this thing and then we’re going to do everything.”
H: Do you think that’s going to be a business model going forward? There are definitely some big players trying to become the interface to the rest of the world, just via text life, so they do everything pretty much. Do you think that’s a business? Or do you think it’s almost just a step in between and that in this on-demand era you will have to download a lot of different apps to get something else?
A: Well I think it’s a step, but I think it’s a step where if someone pulls it off right, it will actually be the next piece, right? If you have the right technology, the right set of people executing on that problem, what you end up doing is actually creating this thing that everyone kind of wants. Which is — going back to what you were saying before — not necessarily the predictive side, but I just say to my phone or tell my phone anything I want and it accomplishes it for me, right?
It’s like the computer in Star Trek, right? Anywhere on the ship, anywhere on the Enterprise you just say computer do this and it does that thing.
H: It is kind of fascinating. I just got one of those Amazon Echoes, have you tried one of those?
H: And so I bought it and I kind of hooked it up to my smarthome, so I can now go: “Alexa, turn the lights off.” And the light goes off in my living room.
It’s very powerful and it’s funny how we’re almost becoming so lazy that the alternatives are obviously either to go over and press the button or to take my phone out, open the app and then press a button and turn off multiple lights at the same time.
H: But, just by saving like eight seconds, which is like saying to somebody out in the living room to turn off the light, it’s actually pretty useful. I know it’s a first-world problem but it’s incredible how you can build something that is actually just a little bit better, but it just becomes a little bit magical.
A: Yeah, you know it’s incredible how important convenience can be and how important speed is and how we get conditioned to want ever-faster things. And you see this on web, right? Like Google prioritizes your website, if it’s fast. And that bar just gets higher and higher and higher.
Because it’s true, you hate watching things load, even though when you think about what’s happening, like you’re sitting on a beach with a little thing in your pocket that broadcasts a signal from your computer up into the world that gets information from the other side of the planet, that comes back to you, right?
Like it happens in the fraction of a second, when you think about that it’s crazy that you should be upset. It’s crazy that that doesn’t take hours, right?
H: Did you ever see that Louis C.K. clip where he’s being interviewed and he’s like: “it’s going to space, will you give it a second!?”
A: Yeah, it’s about being on an airplane with airplane Wi-Fi and how we’re so angry that the Wi-Fi is slow.
Conan O’Brien: In the 21st century we take technology for granted.
Louis C.K.: Well, yeah because now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care because this is what people are like now.
They’re got their phone and they’re like: “Oh, it won’t…” GIVE IT A SECOND! (laughter) It’s going to space; can you give it a second to get back from space? Is the speed of light too slow for some of you?
(laughter and applause)
Louis C.K.: I was on an airplane and there was internet, high-speed internet on the airplane. That’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go open up your laptop, you can go on the internet…it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips…it’s amazing, I’m in an airplane. And then it breaks down, and they apologize the internet is not working. The guy next to me goes: “pssss this is bullshit”. (audience laughing) Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.
H: Another thesis that I’ve been playing around with is text-based apps. I increasingly have a lot of meetings and a lot of people, so I often don’t have an hour to research a plane ticket but I definitely have six 10-minute slots throughout the day, when I’m sitting in the taxi or whatever.
So, one of the things that I notice is that I use a lot text-based apps. For example, I’m using something called Pana for travel. I break up what would normally be a real research project into bite size projects. So you know I’ll need to go to San Francisco but I need to stop in Columbus, Ohio on the way.
Normally if I had to do it myself on my phone, it would take a bit of time, it would be a bit complicated and then something will come up or somebody will ring or the session will timeout and then I’ll have to start from scratch. So I’m using all these micro-moments in time and I’m using one of the apps to fill up that time and to be productive in that time.
Do you think that’s one of the reasons why this is working?
A: I think you’re an unusually productive person, so I don’t know that it’s fair to generalize what you do out to why things are working overall.
I do think that a lot of us feel the need to always be doing something now, which is kind of sad.
H: I was thinking the other day as I was using this mindfulness app and I was thinking of the irony of me using an app to make me just sit and think and just look into thin air. I thought “god, I should have an app, which one is the best app, I wonder where I should research which is the best app for me to sit and do nothing for 10 minutes?” Or I could just really sit and do nothing for 10 minutes and I’d be fine.
A: I mean you and I have talked about the fact of why I am so grateful that I’m Sabbath observant, right? It’s these 25 hours a week where I don’t have a computer, I don’t have a phone, I don’t have any of that stuff. I actually have to think.
H: That’s really interesting. Do you think that changes your mood or does it make you come up with better ideas? Should all non-Jews incorporate a Sabbath, a digital Sabbath into their life?
A: You know, I’ve heard people talking about the digital Sabbath stuff, where you just volunteer to put your phone down for a few hours or even a day, and I think that’s great. I think it’s awesome for people to unplug for a little bit because it’s such a constant noise.
If you’re standing in line waiting for a coffee and everyone is on their phone — and I know a lot of people have said this, there’s nothing new to this idea — but I have to work so hard not to pull out my phone in that situation.
A: Because what am I going to get by looking at my phone in that situation? Check my email for the thousandth time? Nothing is that important.
H: Isn’t there quite a lot of research to show that basically you get some kind of endorphin rush when you do that? It’s a little bit like using a kind of drug.
A: It is. And it’s hard to break yourself from that situation. I used to do this thing when I got off the subway, coming back from my apartment at night. I would try not to look at my phone for the three blocks and it was so hard. (laughing) You laugh, but try it, right?
H: No, it’s true, it’s true. I have a little son now, as you know. He’s 20 months and he’s at the age where he mimics everything you do and it makes you very self-aware of what you’re doing.
So the other day I was sitting having dinner with my wife and we both had our phones lying next to us and we were both looking at it and I was like I do not want my son to mimic the behavior of his mom and dad just sitting looking at each other through a phone.
And so we made this little rule now that we’re not allowed to bring the mobile phone to the table. And to your point right, like it sounds almost obvious, what the hell is going to happen in that 45 minutes that you can’t miss. If something really dramatic really did happen, what people wouldn’t just call?
H: I’ve done another hack with that — I started to have my email clients only pull emails every 30 minutes because often you send an email and it is just boomeranged back, right? There’s a good chance that one out of four you’ll get a response on…and so basically the more you send out the more you’ll get back.
A: What I try and do by the way — — and I try, it’s not that successful yet — — is I basically try to do email once a day at this point. I only actually open emails in the morning. Like there’s an hour in the morning where I go through all my emails and I usually get up through the previous day and then I’m done.
You know if something urgent comes in, I’ll flip through things throughout the day, just to kind of see if there is anything urgent, but if there isn’t I just don’t respond.
H: And do you think that you are less productive because of that? Or do you think that people get upset with you because you don’t answer?
A: I don’t think so; I mean 12 hours isn’t a crazy amount of time to wait for a response on something. What kind of world are we creating that everyone expects a response inside of 12 hours?
H: What do you think is another kind of micro-trend when it comes to the mobile? We have the text message or the text interface as being something that seems to have a lot of mojo. Are there other things that are happening that you think are interesting?
Like obviously the new OS of Android is very elegant and I think is getting very close to the slickness of IOS and it might even have some advantages because the notification system on Android is so good. Do you see other things happening in mobile that you think are really fascinating?
A: So I’ve gone back and forth between the two types of devices. I think I was on Android for a year and a half and now I’m back on an IPhone for the last six months.
And I always felt that Android had a lot of features that are completely superior to IOS as an operating system. And like a way to live your life.
But, all the phone makers keep screwing it up, so unless you have something running just straight Android, you’re not getting the real experience.
But in terms of the other things happening — the thing that I want to happen, honestly, I would love for Microsoft to actually become a real player on the operating system wars.
H: How come?
A: Because, well Apple is this unified system right? Where you have the phone and then the hardware and the software so it works really well together.
Google, for the most part, honestly, is just software. They had their phone unit but then they got rid of it and still don’t have as tight of control on it.
Microsoft is starting to actually prove that they have the chops to create great hardware. It started with Xbox, but now if you read the reviews about the new Surface, like the Surface 4 or the Surface book, they’re doing incredible things with hardware. Look at what they’re doing with the HoloLens. If you ever play around with a Microsoft phone, it’s actually got some really cool interesting features.
H: It seems that Apple kind of won the war by not going against the PC, but by inventing computer systems around it, like the IPod and the TV and then the phone and then suddenly you kind of needed the Mac, you know seeing they changed the infrastructure of the IOS and it became very good.
It would be interesting if Microsoft did that right back to them, like they do the HoloLens. If they do the game platform and then suddenly you have all of these devices that are Microsoft based and then you’ll end up back on the PC.
A: It might happen, but it won’t be just generic PCs. Maybe Microsoft does it, right? Like maybe Microsoft becomes the next integrated hardware/software maker, for the PC side. I can see it happening. Microsoft spends more on R&D than any other company or something like that. And there are still brilliant people there and they are capable of doing really incredible things.
And I don’t know that necessarily, by the way, that Microsoft is making the best stuff or will, but I think competition on this is great.
H: Wow, so you on tape are basically betting on Microsoft?
A: Ahhh, you know, I just love the idea of there being more options and competition amongst the major players. And startups are going to provide a lot of that and I think startups are going to create the next great companies, but these incumbents still have juice in them. And I’d love to see what they could do on a level playing field.
H: That’s very true. Okay, a few things here at the end. Do you have an app on anything that you’ve installed recently that more people should use that or that you’re excited about? It could just be a service online.
A: Let me take a look.
H: What’s on your home screen?
A: Yeah, what’s on my home screen?
H: I actually have a few…how many text-based apps do you have on your home screen?
A: The truth is, I don’t use many apps. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but I have things that I kind of use on like a one-off basis.
H: I don’t really believe in the internet. (laughing)
A: The what now? The thing that I end up using the most are email and maps.
A: And then I try other stuff and all of the other stuff kind of comes and goes over time.
H: That’s fascinating. What do you think is the subject matter that people are not talking enough about?
A: Well, I think that there is a difference. I think that founders are talking about lots of things that maybe the press isn’t.
I think there’s a big problem with how the press talks about startups, where it’s kind of all about funding, which is fundamentally not the most important part, or the most interesting part, but it’s the easiest thing to write about.
H: I agree with that. I think that is incredible when you’ve done a few startups and you’ve done some that have done really well and sometimes you’ve even done some that go so well that you don’t need funding.
And then people think that it’s not going well because you haven’t been around raising capital and then you see companies that have raised all this capital and they’re going nowhere, but they raised a lot of capital.
A: Yeah it’s a crazy thing and it’s a crazy distortion. Things that people aren’t talking about though, I’m not sure. I’m really not sure. I’m also in the middle of like reading applications for the next YC batch so I’m seeing kind of a million different things so my brain is definitely a little frazzled.
H: Is there a trend in the new batch? Can you talk about it?
A: I’m seeing a lot of logistics companies in other countries, which is kind of cool.
H: And what kind of stuff? Like Uber type stuff or more like I need to get a product from A to B?
A: Yeah, more commercial stuff.
H: Oh, interesting. Do you think that the whole kind of the web app based world is going for enterprise now?
A: I think a lot of people are going after enterprise, which I think is good. I think there’s a lot to be done in enterprise, I think a lot of people who try it don’t realize quite how hard the sales cycle is, but I don’t agree that it’s like everyone is doing enterprise. I don’t think everyone is ever doing anything. There are rarely things that happen that tightly.
H: Aaron, you are an incredibly insightful person.
A: Thanks Henrik, I think the same of you.
H: Ah, thank you for spending all this time talking about mobile stuff. Is there anything that we forgot?
A: I don’t think so. I think that kind of covers everything kind of intelligent that I’ve been working on for the last month just to prepare for this.