Out and about: Blade Runner 2049

*** No plot spoilers*** Where do you start when talking about the most hyped film of the year?

Blade Runner 2049 starts up some 20 years after the original film. It captures the visuals of the original film, moving it onwards.  The plot has a series of recursive sweeps that tightly knit both films together which at times feels a little forced, a bit like the devices used to join Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy to the Matt Damon canon.

Blade Runner 2049

The 1982 film took the neon, rain and high density living of Hong Kong in the late summer and packaged it up for a western audience.  Ever since I first saw  it represented a darker, but more colourful future. I felt inspired, ready to embrace the future warts and all after seeing it for the first time.

The new film is a darker greyer vision largely devoid of hope. You still see the Pan Am and Atari buildings of the first film, now joined with brands like Diageo. The police cars are now made by Peugeot. It also captures the visual language of the book, something that Scott hadn’t done in the original to the same extent. In the book, Dick (and the Dekkard character) obsess on how the depopulated world’s crumbling ephemera is rapidly becoming dust.

Visually the film dials down its influences from Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore and instead borrows from the crumbling industrial relics of the west and third world scrap driven scavenging from e-waste in China and Ghana to the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. The filthy smog and snow is like a lurid tabloid exposé of northern China’s choking pollution during the winter. It paints a vision more in tune with today. Automation and technology have disrupted society, but orphans are still exploited for unskilled labour and vice is rampant.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford do very capable performances. And they are supported by a great ensemble of cast members of great character actors at the top of their game. Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi (Eye in The Sky) and David Dastmalchian (MacGyver, Antman, and The Dark Knight). The one let down is Jared Leto – who now seems to play the same character in every film since his career high point of Dallas Buyer’s Club – I suspect that this is as much a problem with casting as performance. I think he needs to be cast against type more.

For a three-hour film it still manages to hold your attention and draw you in to its universe without feeling tired. It’s also a film that forces you to think, so if you are looking for visual wallpaper for the mind a la Marvel’s Avengers series of films it won’t be for you.

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Apple Special Event – key outtakes

Key takeouts from the Apple special event with a little bit of analysis
 
Retail
First presentation by Angela Ahrendts. There is a question of why she hadn’t presented at previous keynotes.  My read on it is that that the revenue per square foot metric beloved of retail analysts will tumble. Apple seems to be taking the mall companies idea of shopping as entertainment and doing it for their individual stores.
Town hall – what they call the stores internally, bigger focus on engagement rather than transactions – is this an effort to try and recapture cool?
Store features
  • Plaza – public private spaces outside the store if possible, interesting implications on future store placements – probably less in malls
  • Forum – open plan internal space
  • Boardroom – private space focused on developer relations, was probably the most interesting push. Stores are being given a stronger push as embassies for developer relations. 
  • Creative Pro – Apple genius for the creative apps, probable mix of amateur and professional audiences addressed
  • Today at Apple – driven by Creative Pro staff to focus on creating more usuage of key offerings i.e. photo walks – think Nike Running Club. Also includes teacher outreach
  • Genius grove – the genius bar but with plants presumably to try and break up the overall store noise
  • Avenues  – wider aisles that products are on
Continued retail expansion in the US including Chicago – interesting that international expansion wasn’t mentioned. 
 
Apple Watch
  • 50% yearly growth – the series 2 fixed many of the hygiene factors wrong with the first version
  • 97% customer satisfaction – health seems to be driving this
Health features: focus on heart rate monitor and getting proactive about flagging elevated heart rate. Also focusing on heart rhythm changes as well.
 
watchOS 4 out September 19 available to all customers. Interesting that they didn’t drill into some of interesting features on watchOS 4 using Siri
 
Series 3 Apple Watch with cellular built in. Your Dick Tracy fantasies are alive. Apple thinks that people will leave their phones at home and bring their Apple Watch. They also see it as killing the iPod Nano with wireless music playback. I am yet to be convinced.
Apple added a barometric sensor; usage example was focused on health and fitness rather then locative apps. Not a great surprise given that these sensors have been in premium G-Shocks for a good while. 
 
Apple used specially designed lower power wifi and Bluetooth silicon. But no news about who is making the cellular modem. The SIM is embedded on the motherboard and presumably a software update? These changes could have interesting implications for future phones?
 
Interesting carrier partnerships, in particular all three of China’s mobile carriers, but only EE in the UK?
 
Apple TV
 
  • Apple TV now supports 4K, unsurprising hardware upgrade and includes high dynamic range – Apple is following the TV set industry’s lead
  • More interesting is the amount of content deals Apple has done with studios, in particular keeping the price point of 4K HDR content the same as was previously charged for HD content.
  • Interesting TV partnerships but no major UK TV stations only Mubi
  • Emphasis on easy access to sports on the Apple TV would wind up cable companies further
  • Apple TV was also positioned as the control interface for HomeKit smarthome products. There was no further  update on HomeKit in the presentation 
iPhone 8 incremental changes
 
  • Wireless charging with glass back. The steel and copper reinforcement of the glass is probably to help with the induction charging
  • Incremental improvements in picture quality. Bigger focus on AR including new sensors.
iPhone X
 
  • Positioned as future direction for iPhones. Biometric face ID is clever but has issues. I wonder how it will work with facial hair or weight gain – Apple claims that it will adapt. Apple also claims to be able to detect photos and masks. It’s also used for face tracking in AR applications with some SnapChat lens demos.
  • As with Touch ID, there is a PIN code if your face doesn’t work. I have found that Touch ID doesn’t work all the time so you need that PIN back up.
  • The notch at the top poses some UX / design issues and the industrial design implies case free usage which will be a step away from usual iPhone usage.
  • What isn’t immediately apparent to me is the user case for the iPhone X versus the iPhone 8 plus?
What was lacking in the iPhone presentation was a celebration of all in the changes in iOS 11 under the hood.
A11 – Bionic chip in the iPhone 8 and X
  • Includes new integrated GPU for machine learning and graphics. This explains why Imagination Technologies are in trouble
  • New image sensor processingThe A11 processor has a hardware neural network on the chip for the iPhone X – unsure if its also usable on the 8
Apple’s moves to embrace, co-opt Qi wireless charging and build a super-standard on top of it will likely wind up members like Qualcomm and Huawei. How much of this is down to user experience and how much is down to the desire to get Apple IP in the technology stack?
Apple is left with a large product line of iPhones: SE, 6 series, 7 series, 8 series and the X

Brandon Beck of Riot Games on eSports

Beck is the co-founder of Riot Games (best known for League of Legends) on the rise of eSports and what its future looks like.

Interesting that Riot are trying to give players a better base to build their careers, but how long is their professional life, when do they burn out?

Great interview with Adam Curtis

I’ve been watching a lot of Curtis’ work recently. HyperNormalisation, The Mayfair Set, The Trap, The Century of the Self, Bitter Lake and Pandora’s Box.

More information
Just Adam Curtis channel on YouTube – has curated many of his documentaries.

The September 11 post

15 years ago I worked agency side in Haymarket in London’s west end  for Edelman. It was a normal day, well as normal is it gets when you are in the middle of the dot com bust fallout.

My job meant working on communications programmes for the European subsidiaries of technology companies. This was to reflect a ‘business as usual’ face to their customers. This allowed the subsidiaries to keep their businesses largely intact so that they could be sold off to help bail out the financial hole that the parent company had made.

The businesses had grown on generous venture capital payments, share placements and bank loans. The dot com bust suddenly meant that there was a surplus of servers, network switches, bandwidth, commercial space and Herman Miller Aeron chairs.

Due to the nature of the business I worked closely with colleagues on the finance team because I spoke ‘geek’ and understood how screwed these clients happened to be.

The financial and corporate teams worked for a number of clients, notably Cantor Fitzgerald. They were to lose two thirds of their personnel by the end of the day.

It was early afternoon, when I realised that something was up. We had TVs around the agency that often weren’t on. This time they were all turned to Sky News, which was running the footage. After the troubles and bombings in Beirut, it wasn’t a complete surprise to see another landmark attack – at least at first.

Once the scale sunk in, then the realisation of how different the world was going to be started to dawn on me.