My Mom is On Board

What would life be like without a cellular phone? Just consider that for a moment. You can’t make a call whenever you want. You can’t send a text message to anyone, or receive one. You can’t send or receive any email, either.

Now consider that this extends in to your home and office. You have no computer.

Think about that. You do not have a computer of any kind at home or at work. That means you have never sent or received a single email. You’ve only browsed the web once or twice from a friend’s house when you’ve been visiting. But browsing the Internet is pretty simple. All you have to do is click on things and read or watch. But you’ve never received a photo of your son, daughter or granddaughter who live on the opposite coast that was taken five minutes ago. You missed your granddaughter’s first steps because you didn’t get the email that went out to everyone else that had the link to the YouTube video. And because you live 35 miles from the nearest bookstore, you couldn’t browse the latest releases without conquering the snow and sleet.

But let’s get back to having a computer. You don’t. So you have no idea how to use one.

There are lots of examples of people who might fit this description. My mother is a mail carrier in a rural area. She’s never needed a computer. She’s never even really wanted one. She lives in a rural area and said that because of her location, $80 per month would be her monthly internet access bill (after paying $299 for equipment).

I asked her “would $30 per month for unlimited traffic be an amount you’re comfortable with?” She said yes. She didn’t believe me and assured me that she had called all around to phone companies and satellite companies and cable companies and that $80 per month was the cheapest that she could get.

So I put myself in her position and ignored everything I know about computers and imagined that someone put an iPad in front of me. They tell me that “Safari” means the Internet, but that’s all. I can see everything else (Mail, Contacts, Clock, Maps, Calendar, etc.) makes perfect sense. I’m told that all I have to do is reach out and touch the thing I want to do. That doesn’t seem likely, but I do it anyway. Suddenly the web appears. I see something I’m interested in so I reach out and touch it. All of this without any wires or keyboards.

Something is strange – I’m online and there was no hassle. I’m instantly productive on the Internet. How can this be? I don’t even know how to use a computer. But somehow it’s just working.

There’s no other machine and operating system in the world that offers anything even close to this kind of promise. And I will finally be able to email photos and video to my mother.

Potential

I find it so interesting how so many of my peers in the Microsoft software development arena fail to see the potential of the iPad. Some of the things they have said include:

  • I have notebook computer running my home network.
  • I’m not going to carry my laptop, my phone, AND an iPad.
  • iPad seems anticlimactic; but I sure do love my Windows 7 tablet!! 🙂

Let me just comment quickly on these three (and I could do all 200 that I found, but you have to stop somewhere).

  • Good for you. The iPad isn’t a laptop to run your home network.
  • You’re not supposed to.
  • Seems anticlimactic because you’re not able to see the potential. And by the way, I’m pretty sure I have the exact same Windows 7 tablet you do, and the touch screen is a complete disaster on a machine where two of the five people I know got one 3 months ago have had to send their unit in because the touch screen broke.

To these people I say this:

Just like me, you are not the target customer for the iPad v1. But if you can’t or won’t see the potential of the iPad for the general consumer, I honestly don’t know that anything but 2012 will open your eyes, after it’s had two years to take hold and mature.

Proactive Versus Reactive

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” – Steve Jobs

This quote that I read from this blog entry really got me to thinking.

So many products are built this way. Ask people what they want, build it, and then give it to them months or years later. Times change, however. In today’s world so much can change in a year.

“Pioneering” is a completely different mindset. People that see a future clearly and are able to deliver that will either win or lose. If you lose, you’re out of business. But isn’t that a risk everyone with an idea and passion should take? If I have an idea and I think it’s great and I execute on the idea and then nobody else likes it as I envisioned, doesn’t that make me wrong? I’m saying that’s a good thing. I should learn from that and move on.

Some just aren’t willing to assume that risk and are happy to deliver things that are already outdated when they’re released. Others wrongly assume the risk, because they’re just too stubborn to see certain things. Then there are those who take calculated risks and have tremendous vision. Those are the people that change the world.

Halo

I had never heard the Beyoncé song “Halo” before the Hope for Haiti Now telethon. As I listened I remember thinking that I couldn’t tell what this song was supposed to be about. She was singing “Haiti we can see your halo” and how she was surrounded by its embrace and how it was her saving grace and I just didn’t get it.

So today I went on the web to see if perhaps it was a song that had already been released. It was. Quite some time ago, I might add (just goes to show you how current I am with Beyoncé). The real lyrics make so much more sense! Apparently, for the benefit telethon, she just did a find & replace on the word “baby” and changed it to “Haiti”.

And that reminded me of this:

http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103772

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.”

Verizon's New Droid Ad

I think Verizon is misguided in its approach to the Droid ad campaign. Their latest one, shown here, seems to paint a made-up picture of the iPhone and then compare the Droid to that picture. But to anyone who has ever used an iPhone, the ad makes absolutely no sense.

I can’t help but notice how Verizon is not going head-to-head with feature and / or usability comparisons.

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.