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Merry Christmas dear readers! You may have noticed that three stories got published in just a few minutes yesterday. My apologies.

As you might have guessed, I’ve started on my holiday — outside of weddings, my first and only holiday of 2014! — and Internet access has not been a given. The stories were written on planes and trains but I only had the chance to upload them yesterday. Hopefully, going forward I will have Internet access more often.

You might be asking why I’m even publishing at all given the holidays. I read an article somewhere — I want to say one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, but I can’t be sure — it was about how, when trekking long and dangerous distances, the groups that did better were the ones that did it consistently.

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I once wrote how the future of driverless cars won’t be one in every home, but one replacing taxis and other car services. Imagine a future where these cars are optimally located around every corner; enough units to match demand, and easily deployable where mismatches occur.

Singapore is the first to take a step into that future in 2015, when they will pilot driverless cars on the road in one of its busiest neighborhoods.

Driverless taxis make a lot of sense for this densely packed city-state. Singapore has long discouraged its citizens to buy cars. A Toyota Corolla that costs $23 thousand in the US, for example, would cost a stunning $136 thousand in Singapore (source). Even then, cars are only allowed to be on the road for 10 years, after which they are scrapped unless you pay another exorbitant tax.

Singapore wants its citizens to use public transport as much as possible and keep congestion out of roads. This is a city-state where a mobile app used to easily hail taxis existed long before Uber became popular.

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Starbucks is not just in the business of coffee and real estate — they are moving into mobile payments and are Apple Pay’s real competitor.

Earlier this week, Starbucks dropped Square for mobile payment in its stores, unwinding the partnership the companies announced in 2012.

Square had made Square Wallet obsolete in favor of its newer Square Order, but Starbucks declined to support either. According to a spokesperson for Starbucks:

Starbucks is not adopting Square Order in our stores. We opted to build our own mobile ordering solution, leveraging our own mobile app and world-class loyalty program.

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I am a little confused by all the hubbub the The Interview movie has generated.

Did the North Korean government really do it? I have no doubt there’s a hacker unit in their intelligence agency — there’s probably one in every agency — but why would you target a movie or a Japanese entertainment studio of all things? I understand The Interview is offensive to North Koreans, but the movie isn’t even out yet so how would they even know just how bad it is.

If I was the head of that agency I’d target something more important. Something that would actually matter to national security and strategy. I wouldn’t expose my country to something as mundane as a movie, and a comedy at that.

I’m also a little confused with Sony. They pulled the movie because theaters didn’t want to show it? Everyone’s talking about this movie; it’s a goldmine with all the publicity it has generated. If I ran a movie theater I’d be falling all over myself to show it.

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There was the PC revolution, than the Internet and now mobile. Tech analysts are falling all over themselves to predict the next great thing, with wearable devices like the smartwatch being the primary candidate.

Maybe the next frontier is not on your wrist but on your butt instead, by which I mean cars.

There’s some impressive tech on the horizon coming soon to cars. There is of course driverless cars, and that’s been covered here before. There’s a ton of cool stuff brewing between now and that future.

The first is this new take on navigation by Jaguar. Forget the traditional map and blue lines. Imagine a blue hologram car that’s just ahead of you, guiding where to go. It’s the future take of how we used to do guidance — by following a buddy.

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As entrepreneurs or as aspiring entrepreneurs, we all have pressure to succeed. Given many of us gave up dependable, rewarding careers to do our own thing, it’s a burden that can weigh heavy at times.

There’s a story out of Japan that’s a good reminder not to lose sight of what’s important: creating real value and not just the perception of it; the satisfaction of a job well done and not the pursuit of celebration and admiration.

That story is disgraced researcher Haruko Obotaka, who earlier this year claimed she discovered so-called STAP cells that can grow into any tissue in the body. For example, it could grow new human organs for sick or injured people who need them. If true, STAP cells would have been game changing for all humanity.

It was the kind of discovery on par with Louis Pasteur and vaccination — and coming from such a young, relatively attractive woman too. And so, unsurprisingly, Obotaka became an instant celebrity and national hero in Japan.

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Google announced yesterday the initial roll out of a new “store visits” metric for AdWords. Essentially, it is an attempt to trace conversion from an ad click to an actual store visit. According to Google:

With the holiday season upon us, it’s clear that the majority of sales for many industries still happen in person – in fact, roughly 95% of retail sales take place in physical stores.1 And online activities are influencing offline transactions more than ever, bringing together the digital and physical worlds. Thirty-two percent of consumers say that location-based search ads have led them to visit a store or make a purchase, so it’s more important than ever for businesses to understand the impact that search ads have in driving visits to your physical locations, whether that’s a store, hotel, auto dealership or restaurant.

The implementation, however, leaves something to be desired. Google will establish location by conventional means, e.g. geo-fencing and Wi-Fi, and which can have an error rate of over 500 meters!

This means the store visit metric will only work for certain kinds of retailers. It won’t work for stores in dense areas or in shopping malls. It’ll only work for a Costco-like mega store that’s in the middle of nowhere by itself.

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My strategy professor from business school once said that if you left your company’s strategic plan on the bus and a competitor discovered it…and you were then screwed, it was a bad strategic plan. I completely agree.

A great strategy is one that’s unique to your company. For Apple, it’s a commitment to simple designs that cater to the every-person, and to deliver integrated, vertical experiences even if that means basic feature sets. Everyone knows this, but only Apple can be Apple. Only Apple has a large, loyal fan base that absolutely trusts Apple’s product taste and are willing to always pay for it. Only Apple can attract the best talent without needing to pay top dollar for them. Apple’s war chest means they’re able to tightly control their supply chain so competitors have a hard time matching its product quality and profit margins.

Elements of Snapchat’s strategic plan were leaked in the recent hack of Sony Pictures, and so I was surprised to read a very emotional reply from the CEO of Snapchat, Evan Spiegel.

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In a recent conference keynote, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said the following:

We’ve got to monetize [Windows] differently. And there are services involved. There are additional opportunities for us to bring additional services to the product and do it in a creative way. And through the course of the summer and spring we’ll be announcing what that business model looks like. At the same time it’s wonderful to see these nine-inch and below devices explode, because that was an area, candidly, I was blocked out and I had no share of what was getting built. So it’s a very fascinating transition for us. And finding new ways to monetize the lifetime of that customer on those devices, again, I would tell you we’re learning, we’re growing, and we’re smarter and wiser every day.

The key language is “finding new ways to monetize the lifetime of that customer,” which is another way of saying that they’re shifting from a product-centric view to a customer-centric one. It doesn’t have to be Windows per se necessarily.

Many have interpreted that to mean the base OS might be free, and that Microsoft will earn via subscription or freemium. While the Redmond company will likely continue to charge enterprises and computer manufacturers, Windows and all its updates should absolutely be free to consumers. It probably will.

Although it may not look like it, Microsoft has actually been dealing with monetization questions for a long time. Back when Windows was a monopoly, it was difficult for Microsoft to add features to Windows without incurring anti-monopoly wrath. Security was one such example – the likes of Norton and McAfee lobbied hard behind the scenes to keep built-in security out of Windows.

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One of my biggest learning from writing this blog is the power Google wields. Building a following that is loyal and reads whatever you write is incredibly hard; much easier to appeal to the Google gods to send traffic your way.

I understand this, and I’m writing a rinky-dink blog.

The newspaper publishing industry in Spain doesn’t, so they lobbied the government to enact a law so newspapers can charge Google every time snippets appear on Google News. This wouldn’t just apply to Google News but to all other news aggregators too like feecha.

Google responded the way I would’ve and called their bluff — by pulling Google News out of Spain and excluding Spain-based newspapers from Google News.

Here’s the industry’s response:

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