Category Archives: Featured Articles

Lackluster? 'Scuse Me?

About two hours ago Apple reported their best quarter ever. Part of that was due to the iPhone, and sales of the iPhone were up 100% from the year-ago quarter. How does Edwin Chan describe a double in sales? “Lackluster”.

In an article he titled “Apple posts record Mac sales, iPhone lackluster” Edwin quotes Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu: “What we do know is the iPhones were light. People were looking for closer to 9.5 (million).”

What people? Analysts like Shaw who don’t work for Apple? A company just had its best quarter ever and DOUBLED its iPhone sales from the year-ago quarter. How in any sense of fact-based reality, can that be “lackluster”? How is that “light”?

But the truth is that the stock market doesn’t function based on fact. It functions based on people with microphones and whatever they choose to say.

HP's New Slate PC (Tablet)

As reported ahead of time by many sources, Steve Ballmer showed a new Windows 7-based tablet PC from HP at CES 2010 this evening.

Notice anything?

There’s a Windows Task Bar on the bottom of it. There’s no keyboard (although I’m sure you can plug one in somehow if you wanted to), so this device is meant to work via touch. There’s just one problem (and I think it’s a REALLY big problem): Unless I’m mistaken, it’s the Windows 7 touch technology. They haven’t developed a new version for this device as far as I know.

I wrote about the touch in Windows 7 after I received a free tablet PC with Windows 7 when I attended Microsoft’s PDC event a few weeks ago. They didn’t do this right.

I think the Daring Fireball John Gruber says it very well in his post on the subject:

“Anyway, all these “slates” announced tonight are just tablet PCs running Windows 7 — a terrible interface for a touch screen. Nice job, Ashlee Vance of the New York Times.

Maybe Microsoft thinks they’re somehow sticking it to Apple by taking the “slate” name first, but everything tablet-related they announced on stage was boring non-news. The only cool stuff they announced (Natal) isn’t going to ship for close to a year. This is a comparison they want to draw with Apple? I’m left with the impression of a company that’s flailing.”

Microsoft and Touch

As an attendee of Microsoft’s 2009 PDC conference I received a free Acer laptop with a touch screen that swivels around so instead of using it like a “clamshell” type laptop, you can also use it like a big thick clipboard, writing and tapping on the screen to accomplish your tasks. I appreciated this gesture from Microsoft. They are really trying very hard to shed the poor image they earned themselves over recent years. I haven’t had a Windows machine in the house for a number of years now. While I don’t need one, there are a couple of things I can think of to use it for.

The first thing I wanted to play around with was the touch functionality. Not only can you use your finger to point at things, but it also comes with a stylus. Microsoft has been a huge proponent of “digital ink” – that is, using a pen-like device to write on the screen. They’ve been pushing this for years. It’s never really taken off in the consumer market, however.

So, knowing that I’m grateful for the laptop and that I’m commenting on their touch functionality ONLY and not the laptop specifically, here’s what I think.

As far as the consumer is concerned, Microsoft’s progress on the touch interface over the last several years has been virtually zero. You’ve likely seen the commercials about Windows 7 and the new touch screen computers you can buy from the big vendors. So while there’s more hardware support these days than there was a couple of years ago, as a user I don’t find any meaningful advances from Microsoft’s last six years in this area.

I’m sure that there are lots of things Microsoft will say to try to get you to believe they’ve revolutionized touch on the laptop and desktop computer, but I’m just not seeing it when it comes to Windows usability. Sure, custom restaurant point of sale systems can (and do) benefit from the touch interface. But I’m not using those. I’m using Windows. And as for touch being a user interface for Windows, Microsoft is still a long, long way off.

Take, for example, my new laptop’s ability to swivel the screen around 180 degrees so I can hold it like a clipboard and use the stylus. Well here’s the problem with that: when I hold it, my fingers wrap around the case and touch the screen, which totally screws up what Windows thinks my input is. I’ve tried to hold the thing differently, but I don’t want to drop it. I’ve also tried putting it down on the desk, but one of the things they haven’t accounted for is the fact that most people put their hand on their desk when they write on a piece of paper. Think about it. When was the last time you wrote a note to somebody while keeping your writing hand OFF the table?

So rather than embrace writing, which is something almost everyone in the world does, what they’ve done is to force everyone to adapt the way they write in order to use digital ink. That strikes me as the complete opposite of how one would approach this. Can people re-learn how to write using Microsoft’s solution? Probably. Should they have to? No, I don’t think so. My opinion is that people should use things in a natural way. In other words, features aren’t features at all if people can’t (or don’t want to) use them.

Next, I wanted to talk about the onscreen keyboard that you can opt to use when the laptop is in “tablet” mode. For some reason that completely escapes me, they’ve implemented this as a “tap one key at a time with the stylus” feature. What were they thinking? They simply moved “hunt and peck” to the touch screen. I tried typing on it, but it failed miserably because it’s not designed to accept more than one key every second or so. In addition, there isn’t any kind of logic involved with regard to typing with your fingers. For example, if I type the letter “q”, it naturally follows (based on the English language, in my case) that “u” is a likely follow-up. Unfortunately Microsoft didn’t take these kinds of things in to account. So I could type “qiestion” (over the course of 7 seconds or so) and Windows 7 does nothing at all to make logic out of that. In Word, it might highlight that as a spelling error, but it doesn’t preemptively correct these mistakes.

The kicker is, there are already companies that do this. You don’t have to press the “BKSP” key to correct what you’ve done because if you just keep typing it will determine the work you had in mind.

“Speak and Spell” or “Tonka” level is what comes to mind when I think about Microsoft’s touch functionality. These were toys when I was a kid, for those who don’t know. 🙂

So there it is. A couple of my opinions about Microsoft’s touch work. I welcome comments, particularly those that tell me I’m wrong and if I just flip a switch everything works fine.

So Long, Citibank

citibank_logoFor the last 18 years I have had a credit card with Citibank. I opened it in 1991 as a college student. I called them today because I’ve been a customer for a really long time, with a perfect payment history for a good couple of years now, and I was interested in having my interest rate reduced. It is currently 18.99% and I felt that even if they lowered it by a single point it would be a huge win.

I was informed that on November 30th, my interest rate was going up to 29.99%.

“Why? What did I do?” I asked.

“It’s not because of anything you did, it was a business decision that was made in order to offer consumers credit.”

A long pause.

“What are my options here?” I asked.

“Well, you can reject the rate increase and close the account.” she explained.

Another long pause.

“I’ve been a customer for 18 years. You’re saying that on November 30th every dollar of my balance will be subject to 11% more in interest that is compounded daily and there’s nothing I can do but close the account?”

“Yes sir, I’m afraid that’s so.”

“And it was nothing that I did?”

“No sir, it was a business decision.”

I’m just kind of numb that they would do this. Then I realized that the number of people who will close their accounts is far, far less than the number of people who will pay the higher interest rate so they can have their credit.