TIME the big picture

How Maker Faires Are Inspiring Young ‘Makers’ All Over the World

JAPAN-ROBOT-ENTERTAINMENT
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO—AFP/Getty Images A boy plays a keyboard to control robot guitarist "Mach", a member of a robot rock band "Z-Machines", during the two day art and technology event "Maker Faire Tokyo" at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo on November 3, 2013.

Young children and their parents flock to Maker's Faires to get hands-on tech time

One of the truly bright lights in tech education is the Maker Faire. The granddaddy of the Maker Faires celebrated its tenth anniversary this weekend at the San Mateo, California Events Center, drawing around 150,000 kids and their parents who went to explore the world of making things.

The show itself has a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) emphasis, and all types of tech-related projects were being showcased at the event. The founder of the Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, says the goal of the show is to create a world of makers. In fact, the vision of the maker movement is to inspire people to become makers instead of just consumers of things. Maker Media, the folks behind the Maker Faire, sponsored more than 130 events all over the world in 2014. Its executives say they will sponsor more than 200 events this year, with the addition of Maker Faire’s school program, which means more events at high schools around the country.

While en route to the event, I spoke with Demaris Brooks-Immel and her son Sam, who were also on their way to the Maker Faire. She told me that Sam looks forward to the Maker Faire every year, and he asked that next year they spend two whole days at the show. Demaris said that her son is a tinkerer at heart, and his school in San Jose — Booksin Elementary — has a special Create and Innovate program that highlights various maker projects during the school year.

One of the first things you will notice when attending a Maker Faire is the awe in the eyes of the kids who attend as they excitedly go from one booth to another checking out the various projects or demos on hand. There were dozens of areas where kids could sit down and help with building robots, make motor driven cars or even learn how to solder inside a special tent where skilled adults introduced kids to using soldering tools for use in all types of electronics projects.

One of the sponsors of the show is Atmel, which makes micro controllers that populate most of the Arduino boards used in various maker projects. Arduino makes various electronics kits letting users build a wide array of electronic devices, such as mini robots, drones and other products. At the Atmel booth, I spoke with Amtel Senior Manager Bob Martin and asked him why the company is so committed to the Maker Movement. He told me that once the Arduino community started using their micro controllers in their boards, he convinced top management to “put significant resources behind this movement and to support projects that will make life easier for people.”

Intel is another big sponsor of Maker Faire. Its CEO, Brian Krzanich, is a huge supporter of the Maker Faire, and Intel’s large booth had many hands-on demos and projects for kids to work with to learn more about the micro processors that have driven the tech revolution.

Another important group at the show was LittleBits Education. Its goal is to fuel students’ creativity; they have 6,000 educators, 1,500 schools and 375 universities in 70 countries helping kids develop design skills, creative confidence and technology fluency with LittleBits. Facebook and Google also had booths at the show, showing they too are committed to tech education.

While most of the kids at the event were boys, there were a lot of girls there as well, and the Maker Faire had kits designed for helping girls get interested in tech and making things. One company at the event was Roominate Toys, whose line of products are designed to get girls interested in all types of tech and design projects. I am also a big fan of the Golidblox line of products for girls and have bought many for my granddaughters in the past.

After last year’s Maker Faire, I wrote a piece for TIME on why the Maker Movement is important to America’s future. The Maker Faires’ goal of helping people become makers has driven a high interest and demand for these shows. But I also mentioned a concern I had about the lack of diversity I saw at the Faire. Like last year’s show, I saw very few African American or Hispanic families at this year’s event. This is still a concern, as I know the Maker Movement and Maker Faire is very inclusive and wants everyone to participate.

After my TIME column last year, the Maker Faire’s Dougherty called me and told me that the lack of a diverse representation at the Faire is a huge concern for him. In fact, he told me that he personally sponsors a summer camp for Hispanic girls in the Santa Rosa, California area where he lives. He and others in the movement have been pushing STEM programs and trying to get more local sponsorships in areas where kids of all backgrounds could connect with the Maker Movement.

Over the last year, the issue of diversity in tech has risen to the forefront thanks to people like Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and the Women in Tech Summits. And many African American and Hispanic leaders have come to Silicon Valley to speak with top leaders to make them more aware of the lack of diversity in tech companies.

I truly hope the world of tech becomes more inclusive. However, I think that it starts at the youth level, and things like the Maker Faire and the various STEM programs being employed in schools across the world needs to accelerate. Initiatives like them need stronger backing from corporations and educators who can help get more kids of all backgrounds interested in tech and equipped with the kind of skills that will be necessary to compete in the job markets of the future. Only then will the maker movement and the tech market in general really live up to their potential.

 

TIME the big picture

How a Chinese Company Became a Global PC Powerhouse

Inside Lenovo Group Ltd.'s Headquarters And Flagship Store
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Lenovo Group Ltd. logo is seen on a laptop computer displayed at the company's flagship store on Qianmen Street in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.

Lenovo is the world's top PC maker 10 years after buying IBM's PC unit

One of the great business stories of the last 10 years is how Lenovo, a Chinese company, was able to take IBM’s PC unit and integrate it into its own, becoming a global technology powerhouse in the process. The story is one of the greatest case studies on how to merge massive international enterprises into a winning firm.

As part of my consulting gig for IBM back in 1984, I was asked to be part of the company’s first laptop research program. The IBM PC had been on the market for three years by then, and many of IBM’s customers were clamoring for a more portable version of that PC. During a two-year period I often traveled between Austin, where the laptop was being designed, and Boca Raton, IBM’s PC headquarters, to work with the teams as they tested various models. Eventually, they came up with what was IBM’s first clamshell-style PC that found success on the marketplace.

Over the next five years, IBM’s laptop designs took advantage of newer screens, processors and battery chemistry. Their laptop morphed into what has become the very popular ThinkPad brand. For most of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, IBM had a strong PC business; the ThinkPad was the anchor of their portable line. But by 2004, IBM’s business had changed, and it was looking to get out of the PC hardware business. So on May 1, 2005, IBM sold its PC business to Lenovo — and over the last 10 years, Lenovo has become the #1 PC player in the world.

Since I was close to IBM and had been on their mobile advisory board at the time, myself and about eight other analysts were invited to go to Beijing to meet with Lenovo’s management team, speak with its executives and hear its vision for what had been IBM’s PC products. At first, I was highly pessimistic about the success of this venture. Here was a Chinese company that was going to take over IBM’s famous PC business and try and make itself into a strong global brand. At the very least, I figured the culture clash would be a major issue. Plus, almost all of the IBM employees being sent to Lenovo in the deal were Big Blue lifers, and I suspected the top talent would choose to stick with the company they knew.

It turns out that Lenovo was able to coax most of IBM’s top PC execs to join the new venture. They helped assure IBM’s corporate customers as well as any consumers who bought their products that everything would be business as usual, and that Lenovo would honor all past warranties and service their needs well into the future. An initial hiccup came when some in the U.S. government were reluctant to give a Chinese company access to government data or contracts, but within a year the deal began to smooth out.

Lenovo’s success has to be credited to the hard work of the Chinese and American teams. The merging of these two business cultures alone is quite a feat.

One thing I didn’t expect is that the Chinese leadership took a hands-off approach to the U.S.-run PC company, fully trusting their leadership to keep the business moving forward. That was one of the assurances us analysts got during our trip to Beijing, but I wasn’t sure that would hold true. But Lenovo’s Chinese management put a great deal of trust in Steve Ward, the architect of the deal from IBM’s side.

I recently spoke with Peter Hortensius, who is Lenovo’s Chief Technology Officer and a Senior Vice President who joined Lenovo as part of the executive team that came from IBM. He told me that Lenovo’s dedicated focus on delivering innovative products and being willing to branch out in new areas is key to its growth. Last year, Lenovo bought Motorola and IBM’s server business, adding new breadth to its product offerings. Although relatively new to the smartphone wars, over the last five years they have become the #3 smartphone vendor in China and #4 globally. They are also the #1 PC vendor in the world, with an extremely strong position in China in both business and consumer PC’s. According to Hortensius, “Lenovo is committed to creating great hardware based products, plus a rich ecosystem that will be a driving force for their future.” He pointed out that software plays a major role too, and that Lenovo plans to continue to innovate in hardware and software to help differentiate itself from the competition.

I’ve had a front-row seat for Lenovo’s evolution, letting me see up close how it used the integration of the IBM PC business to become one of the major tech companies in the world. They consistently get high customer ratings, and now with Motorola and the new server business, it seems poised to grow exponentially. When I asked Hortensius what the company would look like in another 10 years, he said Lenovo, under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing, the company will grow in all of the categories they compete in now, and did not rule out the idea that over time the company could broaden its product portfolio still further. From my experience, Lenovo is an extremely focused company that is highly disciplined, with a powerful leadership team that seems to all be on the same page. Ten years ago, none of us could foresee how Lenovo acquiring the IBM PC business would turn out. Now we know.

 

TIME the big picture

How Intel and Boeing Are Helping These Kids Learn STEM Skills

Intel STEM
Ken Brown A first grade class at Waggoner Elementary School in Tempe, Ariz. after completing the first-ever Intel volunteer-founded STEM and Supply Chain Outreach program.

An entire region of Arizona has made STEM education a core economic development tenant

As a tech analyst, one of the areas I’m highly interested in is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. I have written columns in TIME about why the San Francisco 49ers and Chevron are willing to spend millions of dollars getting kids up to speed on STEM. Their central goal is to help kids prepare for a world where technology has become pervasive, one where there will be a need for millions of STEM-educated students to work for and run all types of companies around the world.

I was recently told about an entire region in Arizona that has made education — and especially STEM education — a core tenet of its economic development strategy. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of going to Phoenix and attending what was called the PHX East Valley THRIVE Economic Diversity Summit. It was sponsored by what is known as the PHX East Valley Partnership, which encompasses Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, Gilbert and Scottsdale.

This partnership was created in 1982 as a 501(c)(6) nonpartisan coalition of civic, business, educational and political leaders dedicated to the economic development and promotion of the East Valley of Greater Phoenix. The group advocates for improvements in areas such as economic development, education, transportation and infrastructure, arts, healthcare, and other important areas.

The PHX East Valley Partnership is led by the energetic Roc Arnett, who serves as its president and CEO and is quite a visionary when it comes to leading this group of cities and helping them expand their overall economic fortunes. In my many discussions with Mr. Arnett during the event, he kept coming back to the importance that education plays in his region and how he, along with the mayors of the six cities involved, are highly dedicated to making education and STEM-related programs a fundamental emphasis of many of the companies in this area.

According to Gilbert, Arizona Mayor John Lewis: “[The] presence of firms like Intel, Orbital, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Banner MD Anderson in the Phoenix East Valley, coupled with an emerging pipeline of technologies and a specialized workforce from state universities, solidify the region’s competitiveness for rapidly growing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations. Our communities are working together with the world class companies and educational institutions in our region to ensure the most educated workforce is ready for our future.”

The first company involved in the partnership I met with was Boeing. Its facility in Mesa, Arizona produces the Apache helicopter and supports other Boeing-related projects around the world. Boeing’s STEM-related program is called “Engineering is Elementary.” According to Boeing officials, Engineering is Elementary is a professional development program for pre-K, kindergarten, elementary and middle school teachers, initially developed by the Museum of Science in Boston. It’s designed to foster students’ understanding of engineering and technology, with a goal of boosting students’ problem-solving abilities in STEM. The program, supported by Boeing grants to the Mesa School District since 2012, has impacted 530 teachers and 16,875 students in 66 Mesa schools.

“Boeing has a strategic community focus to increase teacher effectiveness in math and science and to attract more students into STEM-related careers,” said Mary Baldwin, Arizona community investor for Boeing Global Corporate Citizenship. “Engineering is Elementary provides teachers and students a greater understanding of engineering, and it accomplishes that in a fun, interactive way. Our goal is to interest students in engineering at an early age and increase the number of scientists and engineers for Arizona’s future workforce.”

I also met with Intel officials at the company’s Chandler, Arizona facility to hear about their STEM efforts. Intel invests $100 million worldwide in various educational programs, many which are STEM-related. According to Jason Bagley, Government Affairs Manager for Intel’s Southwestern U.S. region, Intel’s educational charter is “to grow engineers, but it is also about helping society become more tech literate in terms of the types of issues that people need to deal with around climate change, healthcare, and understanding how to interact with all forms of digital information.”

Intel’s Chandler STEM program is unique in that its STEM focus includes helping kids understand supply chains.
Intel Employees Cheryl Dalsin and Ken Brown founded the volunteer-based program and piloted this STEM and Supply Chain Outreach out of the Chandler facility with the intent of explaining STEM through microchip technology concepts, including “sand to silicon,” wafers and photolithography. Students build simulated silicon wafers using cookies, frosting and sprinkles.

This first pilot activity inspired Cheryl Dalsin, who is a technical program manager in Intel’s supply chain group, to incorporate concepts from her professional field of supply chain into the program. She developed hands-on activities that simulate real-world supply chain principles – source, make, deliver, reuse/recycle – as well as manufacturing challenges and STEM principles. Younger students began by making lemonade – they learned what makes a good supplier, and what happens when a supplier can’t deliver on time, or at all. They go on to build LEGO cars using a bill of materials and design constraints. They use wild cards describing good or bad scenarios that add an element of the unknown that every supply chain professional must learn to handle. The program has grown to reach more than 10,000 students in five U.S. states, three Asian countries, and is under development in Ireland.

I love the way many tech companies are backing STEM, seeing it as critical for their future. But a regional focus on education and especially STEM, like the one that is organized and promoted by the PHX East Valley Partnership, should become a model for many cities and municipalities in the U.S. to make sure we have enough STEM-educated students to meet the forthcoming demands of all types of companies around the world in the near future.

TIME the big picture

All Your Modern Technology Is Thanks to This 50-Year-Old Law

Moore's Law
TEK IMAGE/SPL—Getty Images/Brand X Microprocessor chip in circuit board

What Moore's Law really means for the tech world

I first heard about Moore’s Law during my first visit to Intel in the early 1980s. It was the first time I got to meet then-CEO Gordon Moore, who was already a legend in Silicon Valley even though it was the early days of the personal computing revolution. As a new industry analyst assigned to cover PCs for Creative Strategies, Intel invited myself and a few journalists to learn about its newest chip, the Intel 80286, designed for use in next-generation IBM PCs and eventually used in PC clones.

Moore first made his now-famous computing observation in an article for Electronics Magazine published April 19, 1965. At its heart, Moore’s Law (so dubbed by Caltech professor Carver Mead) is the idea that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit would double approximately every two years. Translated from tech-speak, that means every generation of computer processor would tend to get smaller and faster, and in some cases draw less power. Moore’s Law has been the heartbeat of the tech world ever since, with almost every tech product from laptops to smartphones to smartwatches following the rule.

Moore’s Law has proven to be an important guiding light for the tech industry. It sits at the center of innovative design, as companies that create a product tend to use Moore’s Law to guide their vision of the future. I have often heard companies in the design stage of their next version of a product quote Moore’s Law in their efforts to double the performance or add new features in the next iteration of their product.

This is the goal of all semiconductor engineers as they strive, at the very least, to double the performance of every next-generation processor they work on. Accordingly, the folks at Intel came up with some fun facts as comparisons to Moore’s Law:

  • If fuel efficiency improved at the same rate as Moore’s Law, you could drive a car for your entire life on a single tank of gas.
  • The space program to land on the moon cost $25 billion. If prices fell at the rate of Moore’s Law today, that program would cost as much as a small private plane.
  • Compared to Intel’s first microprocessor, the Intel 4004, today’s 14nm process delivers 3,500 times the performance at 90,000 times the efficiency and at 1/60,000th the cost.

But the rules of physics suggest Moore’s Law must have a stop. At an event at Intel’s Oregon office last summer, I asked Intel Senior Fellow and Director of Process Architecture and Integration Mark Bohr — one of the smartest semiconductor engineers I’ve ever met — if he thought Moore’s Law would continue well into the future.

“Through the decades, many experts have predicted the end of Moore’s Law,” Bohr said. “So far, all have been proven wrong. I am confident we can continue Moore’s Law for another decade. That’s been true for many years – we generally have pretty clear visibility about 10 years into the future. There are certainly physical limitations and it’s true that no exponential continues forever. But instead of hitting a wall, I believe Moore’s Law will evolve and adjust. Engineers at Intel and in our industry have been remarkably inventive over the years in finding ways around scaling ‘limits.'”

I asked the same question of Intel Chairman Andy Bryant. He said he could easily see the doubling continue with Intel’s 10nm process, which will be their next move forward (Intel’s current chips use a 14nm process; this number gets smaller with every new generation of processors). He also argued the doubling will apply to Intel’s next 7nm and 4nm chips over the next 10-12 year period. Bryant pointed out that Intel’s engineers keep pushing Moore’s Law, and each time it seems to be at its limit, his company’s brightest engineers find ways to extend it. Semiconductor engineers are also experimenting with new materials such as gallium arsenide, silicon carbon and graphene, among other materials, that have conductive properties which could eventually supplant silicon and could be used to expand Moore’s Law as well.

Today, Gordon Moore is 86, retired and lives in Hawaii. It’s really great to have one of the real pioneers of the digital age still with us and to be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a rule that has served our tech world faithfully for half a decade.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

TIME the big picture

Why This Apple Watch Rival Is Very Important

Pebble Pebble Time

The Pebble Time offers an important alternative

The day the Pebble smartwatch went up on Kickstarter a couple of years back, I pitched in enough money that I got the device when it was finally made. The good news was the early version worked mostly as advertised. But Pebble’s early software was basic, hard to learn and unstable. Still, Pebble quickly addressed those issues, and to date the company has sold 1.1 million smartwatches — the startup was second only to Samsung in terms of smartwatch sales over the recent holiday quarter.

Not long after the first Pebble smartwatch came out, however, devices powered by Google’s Android Wear operating system hit the scene. I decided to retire my Pebble in favor of an Android smartwatch, but I kept my eye on Pebble, hoping it would continue to improve on its design. Indeed, like all good technology companies, Pebble’s team has kept making the company’s watches smarter and better. The company recently headed back to Kickstarter to raise a record $20 million for a brand new smartwatch sporting a completely new operating system with a cleaner user interface and streamlined app installation process.

That new watch, the Pebble Time, especially intrigues me. In designing it, Pebble execs looked hard at how people were using their devices and noticed a key trend — people used it in what Pebble now calls “timelines.” Built around this metaphor, the new Pebble Time will have 3 buttons connected to people’s timelines. One button is for the past and gives you things like a sleep score, calories burned, steps walked, and so on. The second button is for the present, like controlling music or checking texts. And the third button is for future items, such as a list of flight reservations coming up or dinner reservations. Pebble has also introduced smart straps that add functionality to its watches — for example, a strap with built-in GPS could add location services to the Pebble. I really like this approach, which should help Pebble stay competitive against the upcoming Apple Watch and the various Android Wear devices out there.

The new Pebble Time will be important for the smartwatch market for two reasons. First, the Android Wear operating system isn’t well designed, and most Android Wear devices have a long way to go in the style department. If you’ve got an Android device, you won’t be able to use the Apple Watch — but Pebble’s offerings give you an important alternative.

At $199 retail, the Pebble Time also offers a cheaper option for iPhone owners not ready to invest $349 or more in the Apple Watch. Those who have been using the Apple Watch tell me that it’s very intuitive and extremely powerful — but it may be more than some people need. The Pebble Time may appeal to plenty of iPhone owners who may never want or need what the Apple Watch provides (The Pebble connects with both iPhone and Android devices).

The good news for people in the market for a smartwatch is that most of them will soon have at least two platform options — Apple Watch and Pebble for iPhone owners, Android Wear and Pebble for Android users. While Apple and Android may get the lion’s share of the smartwatch market, the new Pebble Time offers a solid alternative and increases consumer choice.

 

TIME the big picture

Apple Is About To Change the Watch Industry Forever

Apple Inc. Reveals Bigger-Screen iPhones Alongside Wearables
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The Apple Watch is displayed after a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

Luxury watchmakers won't be able to keep up with what's about to happen

Apple has already disrupted the computer, phone and music industries — and now it’s poised to change the watch industry forever, too.

I’ve had a great interest in watches since my grandmother gave me a Hop Along Cassidy for my fifth birthday. Almost all of my watches have been cheap but functional, save a TAG Heuer I bought for $700 on a trip to Switzerland in the late 1980s. That’s still the most expensive watch I’ve ever owned, and today it holds great sentimental value even though I broke it playing golf a few years ago.

Before whipping out my credit card to spend a fortune on that Swiss watch, though, I worked at a Mountain View, California company that made some of the first LED watches in the 1970s. Those devices preceded the birth of digital timepieces, which posed a significant threat to traditional watchmakers: By the early 1980s, the market was flooded with cheap digital watches coming from Asia, forcing some European watchmakers to join the digital era. But there was much resistance, and even today brands like Rolex, Breitling and TAG Heuer make analog watches that appeal to the upper crust — evidence there will always be a demand for high-end watches purchased for their style over their utility.

When Apple introduced the Apple Watch last fall, I started asking people in the high-end watch world if they viewed the device as a threat. Surprisingly, many told me that the Apple Watch could very well redefine what a “watch” is and does. The same people pointed out that high-end watch brands are already responding to the Apple Watch before it even hits store shelves, moves evidenced by TAG Heuer’s announcement it’s making a smartwatch along with Google and Intel.

The Apple Watch won’t force high-end watchmakers to change course entirely, as the jewelry aspect of their business will always have appeal and lasting value. But talking to those in the watch world gave me a real sense that the Apple Watch is a game-changer. When digital watches flooded the scene, they were easily copied, explaining why the 1980s-era transition from analog to digital happened so fast. But Apple’s approach — they own the hardware, software and services — will be nearly impossible for watchmakers to replicate. Devices like the TAG Heuer/Google watch that run Android Wear will continue to try to compete, but from what I’ve seen from Apple, the Cupertino giant could have an edge for at least a year or two, if not more.

What Apple is ultimately bringing to the watch market is a redefinition of what a watch is — the watch folks use the term “wrist computer.” And because it’s a platform for apps, the Apple Watch can be many things to many people, not just an aviator’s watch or a diver’s watch. Traditional watchmakers understand this. While the basic concept of the watch won’t change, it’s clear that the Apple Watch, which analysts expect to sell between 22-24 million units in the first year on average, will cause a massive shift in the watch industry.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981, where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

TIME the big picture

The One Thing That Makes Apple a Totally Different Company Now

Apple's focus on design means it's free to make all kinds of new products

In my 34 years of closely watching Apple, I’ve seen it go through plenty of life stages. For most of Apple’s life, it has been a technology company. But after Steve Jobs rejoined the company in 1997, it began to take on a new persona.

I met with Jobs on the second day he was back at Apple, during a very dark time in its history. When Jobs returned, Apple was in the red to the tune of $1 billion and only two months from bankruptcy. When I asked Jobs how he planned to rescue Apple, he told me the first thing he would do is take care of his core customers, meaning Mac owners using them for graphics design, desktop publishing and engineering.

But the second thing Jobs told me startled me: He said he would start focusing on industrial design. I remember scratching my head at his statement — I just couldn’t imagine how industrial design could save Apple. Of course, just a year later, Jobs introduced the candy-colored iMacs, forever changing what a personal computer could look like. Jobs then went on to make design a core tenet of Apple’s future, making the iPod, iPhone and iPad into sleek works of art, undoubtedly helping turn Apple into the behemoth it is today.

Apple Senior Vice President of Design Jony Ive was recently profiled by The New Yorker in a piece that made clear Apple’s focus on design has become a strategic piece of its mission. But even with Apple’s focus on design, I still consider it a tech company first and foremost. Still, a good friend of mine, Ben Thompson of Stratchery, recently wrote another excellent piece (subscription required) that puts Jobs’ 1997 comments to me into a new perspective.

“When I stated previously that Apple has always been a personal computer company, that is because Jobs believed so deeply in the potential of the computer to change people’s lives. If Ive, as this profile argues, now serves Jobs’ function as the soul of Apple, my characterization is surely obsolete: perhaps we need to think of Apple as a design company with a specialty in computers, not the other way around. And it’s much more plausible to imagine that Apple building a car.”

Thompson was primarily referring to rumors Apple might be working on a car, but his overall perspective is important. As Thompson writes, if Ive is now driving Apple, that could turn the company into a more design-focused firm free to create products outside its historical business model.

I still have trouble believing Apple is building an entirely new car instead of just working on car software. But if Apple’s top leadership has fully embraced industrial design, Apple could be free to create not only cars and watches, but anything that could be tied into Apple’s app and services ecosystem.

After more than three decades of understanding Apple by following its history, I have to admit that we could be witnessing the birth of a new Apple. For a lot of us, that means giving up our preconceived notions of what Apple is today in order to understand where it’s going tomorrow.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. and has been with the company since 1981, where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to many of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

Read next: The Biggest Misconception About Apple

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME the big picture

Why Chevron Is Helping Fund STEM Education

Chevron Posts Heavy Decline In Quarterly Profits
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The Chevron logo is displayed at a Chevron gas station on May 2, 2014 in Greenbrae, California.

Chevron's STEM efforts should serve as a benchmark for other companies, says analyst Tim Bajarin

Over the last year, I’ve become more interested in the Maker Movement and programs that focus on STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math. Like many people, I believe the U.S. education system needs to do more to get kids interested in math and science, as technology sits at the heart of new job creation and is impacting our lives in ways none of us could have imagined 50 years ago.

I shared my thoughts in a TIME column last May about the Maker Faire, a very interesting program that has sought to bring technology closer to kids. The Maker Movement is quite exciting, and dedicated Maker Faires are popping up in many places around the world that emphasize how people can create all types of things from scratch and learn a great deal in the process. The movement has its roots in tech hobbyists circles, where people were using things like Raspberry Pi motherboards to create various tech gadgets. However, Maker Faires now include things like knitting, bee keeping, organic gardening and just about anything that involves making things.

At the beginning of the new school year last fall, I visited a unique STEM program that the San Francisco 49ers, with help from Chevron, created in their new stadium in Santa Clara, California. In a piece I wrote for TIME on the project, I shared how the 49ers were bringing 60 students to the stadium each school day to run them through three distinct activities related to STEM.

Here’s a short excerpt from that article that explains this program:

Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects. For example, one class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan.

I find the use of sports metaphors to explain physics, math and science a fascinating way to bring these subjects alive for kids. Since then, I’ve looked for other examples of how sports can be used to get kids interested in STEM. The folks from Chevron shared another sports example with me a few weeks ago.

At the recent AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament, Chevron put up a huge tent in their area dedicated to STEM education. Inside, it had special areas where kids could learn about various aspects of golf, including the math and science that goes into a golf swing, the physics involved with hitting the ball and how air flow impacts its speed and direction, as well as lessons on agronomy, or the science used to create a golf course.

Hundreds of kids from the Monterey Peninsula were brought to the golf tournament to go through the “STEM Zone,” as Chevron called it, to do hands-on experiments and learn first hand how math, science and technology impact the sport. They also got to participate in some fun video projects. All of the kids I talked to at the event were having a great time learning about science in this most interesting way.

I had chance to speak with Blair Blackwell, Chevron’s manager of education and corporate programs, and asked her why the company was so interested in STEM education. She told me: “Chevron is an engineering company at heart, and needs well-qualified people in the workforce to hire as part of their team today and in the future.”

Chevron’s backing of various STEM programs around the world comes from over 100 years of early workforce development commitment. As one of the biggest companies in the world, Chevron needs to have an educated talent pool to draw from at all times. Chevron will spend $30 million in STEM-related programs in 2015 and has another $130 committed to STEM and other educational projects over the next three years.

The more I look into various STEM-related projects, the more I see major companies that need tech workers putting a lot of money and effort behind them. Many companies, like Intel and Boeing, for example, are doing the same as Chevron and backing STEM education in a big way. Many other tech companies are putting money and effort around the Maker movement too. Here in Silicon Valley, you need a serious education in math, science and engineering to get hired for key jobs at any of the Bay Area tech companies. And as more companies integrate technology into their work flow, the need for STEM-trained workers will multiply. That’s why it’s so important that Chevron and hundreds of other companies today work harder to get STEM programs in schools — and bring these programs to inner city areas where they can reach kids at all socioeconomic levels.

I’m impressed by Chevron’s financial commitments to STEM education as well as the amount of talent, effort and passion it puts into these specialized programs. I hope its efforts serve as a benchmark for other companies who help make STEM education central in schools all over the world.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

TIME the big picture

Why Microsoft’s Future Suddenly Looks Bright Again

Satya Nadella Delivers Opening Keynote At Microsoft Build Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Microsoft's new leadership is fundamentally changing the company for the better

The first time I visited Microsoft in the early 1980s, it was in its then-new red brick offices in Bellevue, Washington, packing less than 50 people. You could walk down the halls and see Bill Gates plugging away at his keyboard and Paul Allen coding in a small office. In fact, I was told that I was one of the first analysts to ever visit Microsoft, as it was just gaining ground with its MS-DOS operating system thanks to IBM’s decision to use it in its first PC.

Consequently, I got to watch Microsoft grow from the beginning. It quickly became a high priority for me as an analyst, as its actions greatly impacted the growth of the PC industry. The company even asked me to advise on several different projects over the years, from its early experiments in graphical interfaces to its first steps into mobile. However, I haven’t worked on any Microsoft efforts since 2004, and now mostly watch the company from afar.

While plenty of today’s pundits write about how Microsoft missed the boat on mobile, I was concerned about Microsoft’s Windows-only focus as early as the late 1990s. By then, the market was already starting to expand well beyond PCs and moving towards a mobile future. And after the turn of the millennium, I felt then-CEO Steve Ballmer had become so Windows-centric he could no longer see the tech world expanding and splitting into different directions. As Microsoft rival Apple gained important ground in music players, smartphones and tablets, I felt Microsoft was way too Windows-focused, causing it to miss the opportunity to expand the company well beyond the Windows brand that, while still important, was keeping the company from innovating.

Apparently Microsoft’s board had similar issues with Ballmer, who early last year was succeeded by Satya Nadella. While Ballmer and I had a strong relationship and often swapped ideas over lunch, I’ve only met Nadella once, and then only briefly. But since he has taken over, I’ve seen a new Microsoft emerge.

Microsoft is now more inclusive, finally embracing the diversity driving the next wave of personal computing. The recently revealed Windows 10 is a great addition to the Windows world, fixing the sins of Window 8. And Microsoft is finally doing something I lobbied for in the early days of its mobile efforts: Making a consistent Windows interface that functions about the same no matter what kind of device it’s running on.

If what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 isn’t a strong enough indication of how the company’s culture is changing, this might be: When I visited Microsoft last fall, a software team leader pulled out his personal iPhone to show off Microsoft apps built for iOS, like the new Outlook app. For a Microsoft employee to show off an iOS app would’ve been unthinkable under Ballmer. But Nadella is extremely realistic about making Microsoft relevant to all platforms, mining for dollars well beyond the Windows brand. That’s fantastic for Microsoft, as it’s a strategy that’s going to give them broad potential in the future.

Read next: Apple Is Still a Startup

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME the big picture

Why Sapphire Isn’t the Future of Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

Sapphire just costs too much and doesn't make for good screens

Apple’s long-awaited announcement of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last fall came with an unexpected twist: Contrary to rumors, the company opted not to use an ultra-strong glass called sapphire for the devices’ screens. That was startling because Apple was involved in a major deal with sapphire company GT Advanced, ostensibly to provide the material for Apple’s newest phones.

After Apple announced its sans-sapphire iPhones, it was revealed that GT Advanced couldn’t deliver the amount of the material Apple required on time because of production issues. In a column I wrote last fall, I said Apple never planned to put sapphire screens in the iPhone 6 regardless of GT Advanced’s problems. However, it turns out that Apple did in fact enter into the GT Advanced deal wanting to use sapphire screens in its new iPhones, but by late 2013, the company realized that issues at GT Advanced meant that just wasn’t going to happen. Apple changed direction at the beginning of 2014, when it began working with Corning to deliver its newest version of Gorilla Glass for use on the iPhone 6.

Not long after the iPhone 6 was announced, the relationship between Apple and GT Advanced imploded, with the latter filing for bankruptcy. As of today, there’s no indication Apple is still seeking sapphire screens for any new iPhones — but its patent filings mean it’s impossible to rule out this possibility.

But there are other reasons sapphire won’t see the light of day in smartphones. First, it’s incredibly difficult to make sapphire screens in serious quantities at a cost that would make them feasible for even top-of-the-line smartphones. Also, the smartphone market’s trend toward bigger screens is making sapphire even more expensive to produce and buy.

I recently recorded a podcast with two professors of material sciences that helped me gain a better understanding about the costs and difficulty involved with creating sapphire screens in volume. Joining me in this discussion were Richard Lehman, a professor and chair of Rutgers University’s Advanced Polymer Center, and Dr. Helen Chan, chair of Lehigh University’s Department of Materials Science.

You can listen above, but here are some of the key points we discussed:

  • Glass is used in almost all smartphone screens, and is a great solution. Lehman pointed out that sapphire is used in watches and products that have a long life. But because smartphones have a lifespan of 18 to 24 months, the extra cost involved may not be worth it for most consumers.
  • Lehman said glass costs about a nickel per square inch to manufacture, while sapphire costs several dollars per square inch to make. He also pointed out that manufacturing glass is highly scalable, while Dr. Chan explained that it takes a 2,000-degree furnace to melt sapphire, which has a serious impact on the environment.
  • While both professors are not experts in manufacturing, they brought up key points on the virtue of sapphire as a potential material for screens, but questioned anyone’s ability to make these screens in large volumes. In addition to the melting process, sapphire must be cut razor-thin and subjected to extra polishing, according to Chan. It takes at least four different steps or procedures to produce each sapphire screen.
  • The issue of transparency came up, too. Lehman pointed out that with sapphire, “there is a high reflective index involved that cuts down on the transmission through the screen and it also could give glare.”
  • Lehman said Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 4 is twice as tough as Gorilla Glass 3, providing 80% more protection in standard tests on survivability.
  • The professors also pointed out that hardness (a key attribute of sapphire) might not be the best way to go with next-generation smartphones. Here’s a video from that illustrates this point well and explains the breaking point of glass compared to that of sapphire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVQbu_BsZ9o

Although the podcast and the video explore the possibility of using sapphire as a screen material for smartphones, they reinforce the idea that the long-term prospects of sapphire screens on smartphones just aren’t viable. Given the additional costs to make a sapphire screen and the increasing strength of more traditional glass, anyone pursuing sapphire for use on smartphone screens would be up against some pretty formidable challenges. For sapphire to be the future, we’d need to see a major breakthrough in its manufacturing process — and from what I can tell, that just won’t happen in the near future.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com