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The New York Times iPad Application

April 6th, 2010 No comments

It is interesting to note that the user interface on the iPad is not as effective as in iFlex due to the limited range of control provided by the original iPhone gestures list. On the iPhone the swipe gesture was only used to spin through a list. As a result the only swipe gestures provided are either horizontal or vertical to spin through a displayed list. You can not swipe up and down in a list that is displayed as sequence of horizontal screens.

In the iFlex user interface the user moved within an article by using the arrow keys to scroll vertically and with the left and right keys to scroll to the next article in the section. This provided a great user experience as scrolling down within an article was natural and scrolling left to right to skim the above the fold view of each article provided ideal article surfing.

With the restriction to a single left right swipe for the scroll through a list, the developers have been forced to only allow scrolling through an individual article, and then forced the user to use a very awkward button to return to the front page. Pressing a button is not directional, so doesn’t allow the next or previous article to be selected, and interrupts the surfing experience with the need to press a small button instead of using a swipe.

In the absence of multi-dimensional swipe, the iPad has a drag gesture which would allow movement both vertically and horizontally with gestures. It isn’t clear if the iPad presentation layer would allow this to be used to flip to the next item rather than providing a location for a moved object but this may provide an interim solution. The long term solution would be to switch to a swipe gesture which allows movement in both dimensions and a return to an elegant surfing of the content.

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iPad Launch

April 3rd, 2010 No comments
Apple Center, 86th and Lex

Apple Center, 86th and Lex

Apple Stores and every Best Buy with an Apple Center released a stock of iPads today, and as of 10am this morning some were still available for sale. There were 2 left at the 86th Street store in Manhattan.

The initial reaction from many was that they had imagined it being larger. The overall dimensions are just under 7.5 by 10 inches with the display area being smaller within that (9.7 inches diagonally). People seemed to have assumed that it would be letter sized (8.5 x 11 inches) and one can indeed imagine a larger display working well.

The general look and feel is the same familiar interface as the iPhone which somewhat undermines the newness of the experience but nevertheless it seemed to work extremely well. There was a snappy response to the touch screen, and the improved viewing area provided an excellent effect with Google maps and the fantastic photo pile representation in iPhoto allowing sorting of piles of photos.

The onscreen keyboard won accolades from the majority of people trying the iPad. Several commented that they had worried about the keyboard size and people seemed to be using the keyboard in landscape (Where it is significantly larger) and in portrait orientation without a problem.

On one 16GB model there appeared to be a recurring problem with the accelerometer not displaying applications in the correct orientation. The display models were one each of the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models with all of them appearing to have equally excellent speed.

The iBooks feature was launched in the iTunes Store this morning and there is a free application to read them which can be downloaded (Presumably also on an iPhone), though it requires registration with an Apple account which prevented the iBooks feature from being demonstrable in the store this morning.

Video displayed smoothly without a jitter while streaming over WiFi. The display of video was nearly full screen in some cases but within a frame from others such as CNN. The 3G version of the iPad is not available until the end of April. Streaming video over 3G is likely to be more constrained by the network itself than the iPad.

Most of the purchasers had, of course, arrived when the store opened rather than being persuaded in the store. I have an idea that selling online in the same way as the Kindle is a better model than in store for some new devices as the actual usage, as in the case of the Nook, can give rise to further questions and indecision.

The iPad experience was definitely positive, with a lot of interest from random passers by. One visitor from Australia spent some time with the iPad but felt it wouldn’t be good for use in Australia because of the US branded applications for CNN and others that were installed. In reality the WiFi version should work well in any location and the promise is that the 3G version will not be locked to its SIM so would be usable with local SIMs when traveling.

Most people will probably have to imagine over several days how the device would fit into their lives. This ambiguity of purpose is likely to slow down sales and it isn’t clear how many people will want to put money down on the device if it doesn’t appear to be work or study related. In this respect devices like the Kindle have a simpler sales story as they have a single purpose. The experience for those who do purchase the device does deliver and we can definitely expect the models in stores this morning to be sold out by now.

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Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

I Love TED

March 9th, 2010 1 comment

Some favorite TED bookmarks:

No message but you should watch these three humorous minutes by Renny Gleeson on social phone use; or some game theory regarding Iran; or even using house plants to provide air quality.

My all time favorite is the discussion of the developing world illuminated by some great graphics.

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Shopping Malls Can’t Charge Entrance Fees. So What?

July 5th, 2009 No comments

There seems to have been so much hot air as people struggle to understand Freeconomics. The idea that data will be free. Hopefully we are getting to the end of that debate.

Newspapers discovering they can’t charge for their web sites, or for that matter any service now finding itself in data form, is similar to shopping malls discovering they can’t charge an entrance fee for their splendid walled garden. So they make money in other ways. If shopping malls can’t make ends meet they aren’t going to be able to cover their financing with billboard fees so they had better suddenly develop one splendid food court or sell up to somebody with other ideas and move down to Florida.

Likewise the Music industry is discover that their consumers consider charging for copies of music a greater crime than the copying and are refocusing on convenient video delivery and concert performances.

While the incumbents are bound to try to protect their positions increasingly they need to just get on with adapting or cannibalizing themselves into new businesses because there are few people left who believe the arguments of artificial scarcity and want to listen to the sulking about how profitable their business use to be.

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Social Entrepreneurism

June 27th, 2009 No comments

One of the topics that came up in this week’s Thursday Morning Coffee Meetup was the extent to which companies should be following social rather than financial objectives. Most people want to do their bit for society and it seems that possibly the majority of people in the startup community are wanting to adopt a primarily social or charitable focus to their activities. I can’t help worrying that this is not a realistic path for most of the people following it. If one is generating cash then diverting a potentially significant proportion to charity definitely helps us all but trying to factor in social objectives to every business decision leads to some very difficult decision making.

One can barely travel to a client or deliver a product and present it as ecologically sustainable. Even the much heralded virtues of the ingredients of some chunky ice creams are really greening of a product which clogs arteries and even kills off customers. Trying to be truly consistent could lead to some very long office meetings. The effect would tend to be a weight on the ecologically and socially conscious businesses. The more equitable way forward, I would argue, is for people to be better informed to be able to make the decisions they need to make and to be less shy about regulation so that businesses are on a level playing field that takes account of wider social impact. For each company to try to decide this for itself is a less practical solution than the regulation adopted in Europe, Japan and increasingly in China.

The prevailing wish in the discussion this week to have corporations manage the decision is probably in large part an effect of being in US culture where there is minimal regulation, little supervision and a lack of any notion that government should have a more active social role. Or even be effective in general. Corporations seem to be looked to to solve all problems. Our national government spends less than 0.5% of spending on education, less than 1.5% on social programs and a total of 48% of non overhead spending on the military. So the idea that the national government should be taking care of social expenditure, taxing carbon emissions and other destruction often seems foreign. It does seem though that at least the need is being identified, which is a cultural change for the US, if the solution being discussed is still a very different one.

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The Next Big Thing: An End to Distraction

March 14th, 2009 No comments

With all the chatter, twitter, email and popping up nonsense on our screens what we crave is silence, simplicity, blankness. Space for a thought to get executed upon.

We need silence, minimalism, space.

Nothing new here. This is why people craved vacations or libraries before our hyper connected days.  With all the thought candy out there, just a google search away, every momentary pondering has the potential to loose another twenty minutes. Self discipline can prevent that but the elimination of every email, message arrival announcement, anti virus update, weather alert and even network disconnect notice has to be fought for in order to keep focus.

Hopefully product managers can take this on board and start defaulting some of these notifications to off for us, and potentially those of us plagued by Vista will be returned to a more productive life with Windows 7. Or is that just another hope.

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Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Why Tweet Tweet?

January 9th, 2009 1 comment

Why have you joined twitter when you are already on facebook?

Judging by the often overlooked question on the Twitter page, “What are you doing?” the original intention when twitter’s layout was designed was to resolve the presence problem. That is the problem that we want to know what somebody is doing, before we interrupt them. It is why we don’t call people on their cell phone when they are away from their desk in an office environment and is a major barrier to the flow of effective business communication.

Status indication, even from your phone, is already available on facebook but in practice that isn’t what Twitter is being used for. Twitter is being used for water cooler conversation. It is a business social environment with minimal profile information. Like linkedIn it has no photo sharing or cluttered graphics resulting in a more business acceptable presence. As a result it has attracted a more professionally chattering classes demographic.

Lifeblogging, the logging in diary fashion of what you are doing,  is uncompelling for others and the popular accounts are in reality supplying a little relationship building chatter such as Jeff Pulver’s discussions of the Miami sunrise, together with short form URLs which push their or other’s material. So maybe this is the long awaited push media. Maybe we accept push media from a friend or somebody we chose to follow.

Is it just an inefficient version of Digg? Possibly. Or maybe the network building features on delicious. As such, Twitter is very inefficient. I can’t quickly see a list of Scoble’s links for the day. Or a ranking of links from CES this week. So, if it is so inefficient, why are people using it?

While for most people spending too much time at the water cooler is an indication that they need a different role, for some it is an important element of their work. Journalists want to know what the current topics of chatter are and PR people need to create awareness and chatter in a forum where journalists spend time. But what about the general users of Twitter?

I think the answer may be in the prominence given to the number of followers. It is feeding into the need for social affirmation by giving people a ranking. Telling people they are influential or even that they have authority.  It has in many ways become a game where people compete to have the highest number of followers or the highest ranking on Twitter ranking sites. The high score seeking is a driving attraction. We are told when every new follower begins following and bad news is overlooked as they leave without any direct indication on the site.

That isn’t the end to the bad news. Many of the accounts are silent, but worse, many people subscribed to a large group, were overwhelmed, and never logged in again.  If you read the 2000th page of Scoble’s followers exactly 50% haven’t published in the last month and half of those haven’t published in the last six months. The unanswered question is how many of the silent accounts are inactive. Significantly there is no last login date shown.

The other issue is that many may not be reading those they follow. Anybody following more than 200 people isn’t reading the content. The accounts with large numbers of followers inevitably make up a large proportion of the following. Could it be that other than the PR world and journalists others are not really reading twitter? That they are self selecting out and that is why we see so many bloggers and marketing people left. Well, there are readers. With some of the short link sites used on twitter it is possible to track the number of clicks on the short URL and the click through ratio of these links is often as much as 10% of followers.

One possible benefit of Twitter is that people are more effectively selecting who they follow based on the chatter and as a result getting more effective results than on Digg or delicious. This is difficult to judge. A lot of focus around Twitter is on the most followed accounts. It is noticeable that the most followed accounts, not driven by external fame, have extremely short bios. This is probably because the short bio does not cause anybody to self select out and a high proportion follow. Some of the most followed such as the Digg Nation team have acquired their followers as a fun club ranking tool rather than for, or as, a result of any tweets they have communicated over the site.

Twitter needs to become more compelling to read. A user interface where the regular columnists are in sections as they would be in print. A ranking can be included and preferably driven by ones self selected network. Then twitter becomes an index to the short form, shall I call them headlines? which lead one to occasional reading of links into more in depth discussion on a blog or at an established media site.

I was struck by a recent tweet in response to another: “Was that really a necessary tweet?”. Well I’m not sure I have ever seen a necessary tweet. Or rather, I haven’t seen an important tweet but I have enjoyed many frivolous tweets. It is indeed more entertaining than delicious. It is water cooler conversation and occasionally one needs to turn away from ones work and have some social context. The clicks generated by the 10% of followers have a value but readers with things to do will only spend occasional time at the water cooler and if that time is too occasional they won’t play this game.  For that reason the site needs to continue to evolve to be more readable or be replaced.

The real question is “How should it evolve or where should we go?

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Categories: Marketing, Technology Tags: , ,