Something’s Got To Give- Connectivity, Privacy, and Targeted Marketing

•March 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If there is anything that the connected economy has become, it’s a contradiction wrapped in a paradox stuffed into a conundrum. We are connected to our data, our devices, and each other, as we have never been before. Yet we are more acutely aware (and seemingly protective) of our privacy than we have ever been in the past. This creates a very complex relationship between marketers, technology companies and the users where consumers want more customization, more prognostication, more access, more convenience, more interaction- but less invasion, less monitoring, less data collection, and less profiling. The users want to be public but anonymous. Services should be customized but the service shouldn’t know anything about them.

How did we get here? How do we manage this? Where are we headed?

The Evolution of the Portal

The Internet has completely changed the way we live and how we interact and it’s quite striking to realize just how quickly this change came about. Let’s begin with what was the first experience many people had with the Internet and the company whose seemingly endless CD mailings proved to be a valuable source of beverage coasters for those of us who were around at the time: America Online.

Born of a complex origin, but debuting widely to the public in the early ’90s, AOL was arguably the first service to really crack the code (no pun intended) and bring the World Wide Web to the masses. Promising everything from entertainment to communication to shopping, AOL was an enormous portal that served not only as a technical on-ramp to the Internet, but a gatekeeper to everything that lay beyond.

AOL was not just a portal to its users it was an enormous middleman. AOL hosted email. All traffic went through its pipes. Chats happened within its systems. Website content was proxied and redistributed to its users in special formats. The browser was built into the system, though savvy users would rage against the machine and rebelliously fire up Internet Explorer, or that radical upstart Netscape, for their surfing pleasure. AOL was also one of the first modern media conglomerates to control connectivity as well as content (Foley & Finney, 2002)

Let’s fast forward to the modern day and look back on that model with our aged, wizened, and increasingly cynical eyes. This is a single company that controls access, intercepts all of the traffic, and controls virtually all of the data. They know you. They have your credit card, DOB, and name. They know where you go, what you do, and to whom you talk.

And the general public was more or less OK with that. So what’s changed?

It’s safe to say that the technological and connected world had transformed in countless ways since those heady days of the ’90s when AOL was at its peak, but the transformation of the general public’s attitudes towards online privacy have shifted for a few key reasons:

1. We are more connected than ever before and are sharing ever more information, whether we are aware of it or not. People understand the growth of this information sharing, even if they do not understand all of the technology behind it.

2. It is no longer nearly as clear who has access to what. In the days of the early web portals, there was a single entity that had access to this information (generally speaking) and much of this information was contained. Today, the landscape is totally different with companies such as Google and Facebook actively monetizing user data to generate advertising revenue. The fact that users often don’t know who has access to their data or know how to control it creates an element of the unknown. Elements of the unknown create atmospheres of distrust and fear.

3. The business models are completely different. AOL monetized access and services. Sure, there were advertisements as well, but that wasn’t where the money was. Frankly, these early portals didn’t have a way to monetize user data in the same way as modern companies do.

4. Transparency and understanding. Users knew what they were paying for and could understand the business model. That is no longer the case. Ask the average user how Google makes their money and you are likely to get a general shrug of ignorance. The fact is the business model has changed from charging users for a service, to providing a service to users in exchange for user data, then selling that data to third parties. Users have actually become the product instead of the customer. As more users begin to understand this, they are becoming increasingly wary of these business models and the role that they play within them.

As Google and Facebook are rapidly moving to become the portals of the new world, providing services, content, and communication, we can see that this structure is not so different from the AOL model. The striking differences are in the business models and the attitudes of the public regarding the use and collection of their personally identifiable information.

Finding the Balance

When beginning to address the balance of privacy issues for users with the new business models that are appearing in the connected economy, one needs to begin with a healthy dose of reality for both marketers and users. Let’s start with the marketers first.

Marketers- the first thing that you need to accept is that the general public’s information is not, and should not, be an all-you-can eat buffet. There are pieces of information that are, quite justifiably, off limits. Aside from legal compliance with regulation such as HIPPA and COPA, there are some things that the public feels that you should not have access to. Users’ likeness, their personal information, and their families- these are all categories of information that users are not going to be comfortable sharing with you without their consent.

Here’s the thing- users simply don’t trust you to do the right thing with their information. Why should they? They aren’t clear on how you are getting it, what you’re doing with it, how you’re storing it, or how secure you are in your technology and business practices. This is compounded by obscure legal documents that bury the user’s permissions somewhere in page 397 of a legal document that they never got around to reading in the first place.

The technology that allows you to use UTM and cookies to track users around the web so you can gain additional information about users appear to most users as some kind of black magic that suddenly means that your product is showing up in more and more ads as they surf the web. This gives the appearance of Big Brother and generates paranoia- if you don’t handle things properly (more on that in a minute).

Now, let’s talk to the users. Those marketing guys, right? Always trying to get your information and using it for nefarious purposes. Sheesh, the nerve. Unfortunately, you play a role here as well.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and all of those other “free” services that you use are businesses. As much as we might like to believe that they are providing all of these wonderful services out of the goodness of their hearts, the reality is that they need to pay for all of that. The infrastructure, the development, the maintenance, the support do not come to these companies for free. Just like broadcast television and radio in the US are able to deliver you a quality service and generate their revenue from advertising, this is really the same model that the tech and social giants are using.

This isn’t a terrible thing on the face of it, and it didn’t come from out of nowhere. Every time you go to your favorite app store, have a choice between a paid app and the free, ad-supported version and choose the free one, you are driving home that this is a model that you are OK with. Every time you sign up for a free Gmail account instead of paying for an email service, you are saying that you’re comfortable with the tradeoffs. Pay me now, or pay me later- you choose the timing and the currency-money today or data tomorrow.

OK, so now that we know where we stand and the role each party plays in this equation, let’s hug it out and see what we can do to get to a mutually beneficial relationship.

Marketers first. You need to be more open and clear about your privacy and data collection policies. Be open, transparent, and up front about what you are collecting, how you are using it, and what (if anything) users can do about it to control their information.

Skip the endless legal documents and put this information in plain language that anybody can find, read, and understand. The goal here is to build trust, and simple transparency goes a long way in that effort.

Use opt-in instead of opt-out and do not use dark patterns in your programs and design. If you are truly operating in the best interest of the users and the public, explaining what you are doing and why should suffice. Sure, you are going to lose out on some information and data, but you will be gaining faith in your brand from your most valuable customers. If what you are doing won’t survive that transparency, perhaps you need to reevaluate your value proposition and business practices.

Now to the users. First, you need to accept that ads are not going to go away. They are part of life on the web and they are a viable revenue source for sites, products, and services that you use every day. No marketer wakes up in the morning with the malicious intention to see how many people he or she can annoy before they punch out in the evening. Most of the complaints that I hear about advertising on the web are related to things appearing that offer no value to the person who is viewing it. Guess what targeted marketing is aiming to solve?

Targeted marketing has the goal of putting information in front of users who are more likely to find the advertised item or service appealing. This is really something that we all want- the marketers want to get more bang for their buck and you want to see things that are actually interesting to you. Not so awful, right? In order to do that, you will need to provide some information that will allow this targeting to work. We’re not talking about your bank accounts or name of your first pet, but rather what are you interested in? Are you currently shopping for a specific category of product?

Users also need to educate themselves on the technology that is used and their rights that they have. Those privacy statements are not written out of sadistic pleasure (well, most of them aren’t), they are there to inform you about your rights- the ones you retain and the ones you waive. Yes, you really do need to read and understand those if you are going to use a product or service.

Once we can get to a point where users understand some of the benefits of targeted marketing and how the technology works while the marketers make efforts to make their policies easier to understand and more transparent, then we will all be in a better place. We need to remember that we are seeking connectivity and customization as consumers, and that we need to provide information that will enable this. As stated in The Offensive Internet : Speech, Privacy, and Reputation (Nussbaum & Levmore, 2010),

“Just as there are costs to protecting privacy too little, there will be costs from protecting privacy too much.”

Looking Forward

We can see how radically the connected world has changed over a very short time span and how these changes have created whole new business models and product categories while killing others outright. During this time, we have also seen changing public awareness and attitudes about privacy and security as the landscape changes around users. Guess what, folks- it’s about to move on to a whole new level.

We have evolved from isolated communication and online portals to connected web services, to connected computing devices and data. Now we are moving toward connected homes and environments. The Internet of Things and Services promises a whole new world of connectivity and offers tremendous benefits to users. The flip side of that is a completely new category of personal data will be offered up and exposed by users and their environments.

This information could be a treasure trove for marketers who will now be able to learn not only about you as a person but you as a lifestyle. How warm do you like your home? When are you on vacation? What time do you go to bed? When do you walk the dog?

Many people perceive the greatest barrier to the IoTaS as being technology. It may very well turn out to be the case that the biggest barrier is customer trust and privacy. The winner in this technological race may turn out to be the company that engenders the most faith and confidence in the users instead of providing the best tech.

The landscape is going to continue to evolve and the matters of user privacy are only going to become more complex to navigate- for both marketers and users. We have a chance to start to form a better approach to collect and utilize the data that marketers desire while operating in the best interests of the users. By coming together, we can all make progress towards striking the right balance.

References

Foley, M. E., & Finney, M. I. (2002). Bodacious : An AOL Insider Cracks the Code to Outrageous Success for Women. New York: AMACOM.

Nussbaum, M., & Levmore, S. X. (2010). The Offensive Internet : Speech, Privacy, and Reputation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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Customer Life Cycles In the Age Of Social Media- Adding Value For the Connected Customer

•February 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Those poor marketing departments.

Marketing has always been a tough gig; taking that big idea to the masses and walking that fine line between pumping up interest and becoming intrusive and obnoxious. Being clever without being cloying. Being everywhere that’s needed but nowhere that’s unwelcome. These are the people that we love when we find that must-have” product we can’t live without once we hear about it and, the next moment, revile when we see that ad for The Snuggie come on for the third time during the latest episode of our favorite TV show. A tough gig indeed.

I just want someone to love

Like it or not, we are all engaged in a tango that marketers refer to as the Customer Life Cycle. It is a multi-faceted process that is best summarized in a dating analogy. We begin in the Acquisition phase (“Gee, if only I could get their attention, I know we’d have a great time together.”), move to the Conversion phase (“Awesome! We’re going out on Friday night!”) and eventually move into the Retention phase (“Friday was wonderful! Now, how do we keep the good times rolling?”). In reality, we are constantly going through this process with new brands and products as well as old. We are constantly reevaluating our relationships with the brands we know and exploring new options as they come to our attention.

As with the relationships we have in real-life, our newly connected world has opened up a whole new set of options and elements in how we participate in this ongoing dance. Certainly, anybody who has looked at a website, search engine, or social media site in recent history has seen the profound changes in promotions and advertising that marketers are dealing with. The ability to target and reach new audiences has never been greater- or moved at a faster pace. However, once the partner has been found and the relationship has begun, these new channels and methods pose some significant challenges for the marketer. How do you retain the customer and keep them coming back in an environment where so much competition is vying for their attention (and dollars)?

What’s in it for me?

Customer retention is arguably one of the most important elements of the customer life cycle. The textbook Internet Marketing: INTEGRATING ONLINE AND OFFLINE STRATEGIES (Roberts, Sahay, 2013) summarizes this nicely:

“…it is important to retain customers in order to create the highest possible customer lifetime value (CLV). Retention is most often the result of adding value to the customer purchase and use experience and superior customer service. A planned program of customer contact, carried out at appropriate points in the purchase cycle, can also be a useful component of retention programs.”

It can be seen that customer satisfaction is a clear driver of customer retention and that this can be achieved through customer contact. The question then arises as to what kind of contact will be most beneficial to achieving those goals? As stated in their article “Customer Perceived Value, Satisfaction, and Loyalty: The Role of Switching Costs” (Yang & Peterson, 2004), the authors suggest that the best contact is that which adds value. The authors state:

“Customer satisfaction, in turn, is hypothesized to be influenced by
perceived value. Perceived value, as it has been defined herein, is the ratio of benefits received from providers relative to the costs sacrificed by customers. In essence, it is a variable that reflects the net utility derived from a provider.”

So let’s summarize all of this: customer retention can be driven by perceived positive value of a product or brand, and customer contact that provides a high level of value is one of the best ways to achieve that.

Adding the value

In the world of connected economy, adding value can be a very dynamic thing and there is no single way to achieve this. Traditional methods of offering additional promotions or offers to existing customer can definitely be a starting point but, in many ways, this is simply carrying over traditional customer retention methods that marketers have used in the past.

Web 3.0 offers the marketing community the ability to provide higher levels of interaction and personalization to their customers and this can be a key value driver to providing this critical value. A key element of this is responsiveness and adaptability.

A wonderful example of this is the blog written by Agile Bits, the developers of the popular 1Password password management utility. This blog provides regular posts on both the development of the product and helpful how-to articles as well as responses to news of the day, such as emerging security threats. This provides value to the customers through informational material that allows the customers to gain additional value from the product that they have purchased. It also creates a high level of confidence in the product by demonstrating that the developers are in tune with the way security concerns are developing in the wild. This actually achieves three goals: 1) continue to generate product and brand awareness through information instead of promotion, 2) provide customers with increasing value in their product, and 3) maintain high levels of customer confidence in the product and the brand.

These blog posts are distributed via the Agile Bits website as well as social media. This allows customers to share the information to their friends and colleagues across the web. Thus, the strategy achieves the goals of customer retention through added value while fulfilling a secondary goal of customer acquisition through sharing and distribution via social media channels.

Sometimes value can be added by simply being there for the customer. Social media is a curious thing and mountains can easily be made of molehills. This can work to the benefit or detriment of a brand. Tweets and status updates can be fired off at a whim and these communications can sweep the globe in an instant. A compliment from a customer can travel untold miles and reach thousands or millions of eyes in a way traditional word-of-mouth opinions never could. Unfortunately, so can damaging criticism.

To counteract this, a brand must be highly proactive in how they monitor and address their social media accounts and presence. A brand must be highly vigilant and responsive in their customer interactions to amplify positive mentions and mitigate negativity. This is perhaps one of the most powerful elements of social media for a brand- clever and honest interaction with a customer can turn a negative event or comment into a positive perception of the brand- so long as the brand handles the situation appropriately.

The “Right Way”

So, what’s the right way to add value for customers via the web? Simply, put, there is no single right way. Every business, market, product, customer, and strategy is going to be different. However, there are some key points that will benefit any company that interacts with their customers online:

-Be there and be real. If you are going to interact with the customer, they are going to want something real, not a robot or empty advertising messages. Make sure that you are able to provide that BEFORE you engage.

-Add value. People want to interact with companies that are adding something to their lives. Give people information, not ads. Publish value, not marketing. Build confidence in the brand, not endless, empty slogans. If you add the value first, the promotional objectives will follow.

-Know who you’re talking to. A brand needs to listen before they speak. Customers will guide the strategy in how a company can best add additional value to them. But the company needs to be willing and able to listen to this first.

This takes creativity and attention on the part of the marketer to constantly monitor and modify their strategy and efforts. Perhaps the biggest challenge for a marketer is that much of this occurs in the public eye- customers (and competitors) are able to watch the process unfold to see what a brand is doing right and where they need improvement. This means that a marketer needs to be quick and agile and always looking for new opportunities to add new a novel value propositions for new and existing customers.

It’s a brave new world. Is your brand ready for it?

Citations

Zahay, D., & Roberts, M. (2013). Internet Marketing: INTEGRATING ONLINE AND OFFLINE STRATEGIES. (T. Edition, Ed.) Mason, OH, USA: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

Yang, Z., & Peterson, R. T. (2004). Customer Perceived Value, Satisfaction, and Loyalty: The Role of Switching Costs. Psychology & Marketing, 21, 802-803.

Week One With the Droid-Let’s See How It “Does”

•February 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have recently expanded my overly connected tech collection, and added a Motorola Droid to my nightmarish tech utility belt (an iPod or two, the work phone, occasionally a Leatherman and flashlight, and now, the Droid).  I’ve been playing with the idea of getting myself a personal cell phone ever since my work phone dropped one too many calls from my wife, decided not to inform me of a few important personal VMs and, well, generally sucked too much for me to want to deal with it any more than necessary.

“You have failed me for the last time, Admiral”.

I promise that will be the last Star Wars reference in this post.

Fair and Balanced

Now, before I get into my impressions so far, here’s a little background as to where I’m coming from.  With devices like this, there are three basic areas to comment on.  First you have the technical features, such as processor speed, screen resolution, etc.  Second, there is the anecdotal experience; how is the connectivity in the reviewer’s area, what kind of speeds are they experiencing, how responsive does the device feel, etc.  Finally, there are the purely subjective aspects of the device, such as the GUI, the workflows and the architectural philosophy.  Everybody is going to react differently to these things, and have opinions on how they think a certain function or aspect of the GUI should behave.  Some of this is going to be based on standard methodologies and conventions, while others will be formed by personal experiences and biases.

Since you obviously have a browser open right now, and there is nothing to stop you from opening a new tab and doing some searches, I will not get into the well documented technical details.  Also, having only been using the phone for a week, I do not have a solid enough experience yet to give you any truly meaningful anecdotal stories about connectivity or speed.  So, I will focus here on that last bit; the subjective details.

I am not a “cell phone guy”.  While I avidly study technology , work with its development daily in my day job, and have a vastly above average collection of gadgets and gizmos, I am not a serial collector of cell phones.  I have had a second generation iPod Touch since they were released, and I absolutely love the device.  The design is good, the GUI is intuitive, the apps selection is vast, and it is very stable and reliable.  My personal use of a smartphone would probably breakdown to:

60%-web and connectivity

30%-apps and PDA functions

10%-actually making phone calls

Apple has done a great job not only with design, but in developing an ecosystem.  While I do not always agree with the specific details and methods, I do support their philosophy of tightly controlling their system and the apps that are developed for it.  This limits some options to be sure, but ensures a higher level of reliability, consistency and quality.

Android, meanwhile, goes in a completely different direction.  It’s the wild west out there, and sometimes that means you can stake a brilliant plot of land to make your own, and sometimes you get shot by a drunk cowboy.  The utter freedom that Android provides is both its blessing and its curse.  More on that later.

I would have held out for an iPhone, but circumstances simply ruled that out as an option (*cough-AT&T-cough*).  My wife has used a Droid for the past few months, so I’ve had the opportunity to play with and research that, it seemed like a great alternative, so that’s the way I went.  In my experience so far, what I have found are some things that I like much better than the iPhone, some that are a wash, and a couple of utterly stunning omissions or failures on Android/Google’s part.  I’ll explore each of these areas in more detail in future posts, but here are a couple of key aspects in each area.  So, with no further ado, here we go…

Love it, Love it, Love it

GUI Customization

When I talk with people about software, and how our customers design projects for end users, I always preach that one of the most important thing they create is a GUI that is designed for the user-not for the designer.  You can have the greatest functionality, features for days and every bell and whistle under the sun, but if the GUI is awkward or uncomfortable for the user, they will never be able to take advantage of these things.  Everybody’s workflow is a bit different, depending on what their personal preferences are and what exactly they are trying to do.

Android allows an almost complete customization of the interface.  While the core of the apps and the system remains largely unchanged by the average user, how they work with that core is free to be modified and tweaked to their liking.

Widgets

This is a key part of the customization aspect.  I make moderate use of widgets on my desktops and laptops, but on a mobile device, they really shine.  It’s great to be able to get a quick glance at the weather or other mundane details of life without diving into an app to get there. As an aside, it will be very interesting to see if Apple embraces widgets for the iPad, as this could quickly become a key part of the user experience.  I admit, I was skeptical at first, but even after a few days, I’m sold on the value of the widget.

OK, that’s…different

Notifications

This seems to be a divisive one.  On the Droid, notifications are listed in the notification bar at the top, and to get to them, you must pull down the notification “drawer” to see and access them, at least in the stock home theme.  You do not, for example, have an “unread e-mail” indication on your mailbox icon, as you do on the iPhone.  Personally, I find this awkward, and requiring more steps than it should.  However, this does provide a persistent list of all system notifications in a single place, which is a handy thing.  There are ways to modify this behavior, and this is not necessarily worse, just a different way of doing things.

Multitasking

This is DEFINITELY a divisive one, and you’ve all heard this angst-ridden aria before, so feel free to sing along (since we’re not in the same room, you can feel free to choose your own melody):

iPhone Haters: “It doesn’t multitask!  What if I want to do something at the same time that I’m doing something else!?!”

iPhone Lovers: “But multitasking drains the battery, slows performance and allows processes to run in the background, which could be a potential security risk.”

OK, personally, I tend to come down on the side of the iPhone on this one, for the reasons mentioned above (not to mention that the iPhone does have a level of multitasking), but I’m game, and I’m happy to be proven wrong in situations like this.

Apparently, the iPhone supporters are not alone in these opinions either, as judged by the proliferation of third-party task killers available in the Android Market (Android does not include a task manager).  When you are in an app and hit the Home button, the app continues to run in the background, you do not actually “close” it.

The alternate home screen I’m using now includes a task manager, but I have yet to use it.  So far, I have yet to experience either the wondrous benefit of multitasking, nor the horrible side effects.  However, this is an aspect I’m going to be monitoring closely as I use the device.

WTF?!?

Syncing

It’s Google.  It’s all about the cloud.  I get it.  I will push the horrifying echos of the T-Mobile Sidekick debacle out of my mind, accept that I must use DoubleTwist for my media, or pay $50 for The Missing Sync for Android.  I will be content with the fact that since I already use a lot of Google services for e-mail and contacts, my life is probably a lot easier than other Droid owners who do not (and are forced to create a Gmail account when they get the phone).

But here’s what I don’t get-bookmarks.

I use Xmarks to synchronize my massive collection of meticulously organized bookmarks across multiple computers, multiple browsers, multiple operating systems, my iPod and the cloud.  I cannot conveniently get these onto my Droid.  I could enter them BY HAND into my Google account (since there is no obvious way to import them) or continue using a third-party app that promised full syncing-and did successfully move all of my bookmarks onto the phone, albeit while stripping the entire folder structure and creating an unorganized, unusable mess.

What I wound up doing was creating a shortcut on my home screen to my Xmarks cloud page, where I can access all of my bookmarks in their properly organized, constantly updated goodness.  But I can add any from the phone.

The fact that I can use this workaround is a plus for Android, the fact that I have to is a big minus.

Seriously, if there are other Android users out there who can point me in the direction of a better way to deal with this, please let me know in the comments.  This seems like such an utter face-palm on Google’s part, I just have to believe I’m missing something (although days of searches online for the answer have turned up nothing).

Android Market

Apple created the app explosion, and has led the way in content delivery.  Personally, I’m not terribly impressed by the 100,000 app number, as this say nothing about the quality of things that I might actually use.  The only thing this tells me is that there are a lot of options, but if the signal to noise ratio is lousy, it also means I have to work harder to find what I want.

Fortunately Apple has taken steps lately to improve this process.  The management and listing of the apps has improved, they have rolled out web previews, allowing a user to view the app page online without having to load iTunes.  There are still improvements to be made, but it is continual progress and I can generally find what I want and need with a minimum of hassle.

When viewing the respective stores through the respective devices, they are relatively on par with each other, as far as navigation, searching, etc.  But, I personally prefer to search for my apps online on my laptop, so I can make comparisons, read reviews and do deeper searches for problems with a given app or alternatives.  And that’s where it falls apart.

Here’s a challenge for you.  Take a spin over to the Android Market.  Search for an app that will let you open and edit MS Office documents.

Oooh, sorry, there is no search box.  Let me say that again-the online Android Market-a sited owned, operated and maintained by Google-has no search function.

Well, then surely I must be able to get into Category listings and filter through the options.  My friend, I’m afraid that’s strike two-there are no category listings.

OK, well, I know through an alternate source, that I’m probably looking for Documents To Go, one of the most highly regarded and popular mobile Office suite.  Surely that’s going to be listed in the Most Popular Paid listings!

Strike three, and YOU…ARE…OUT OF HERE!

Now, all is not completely lost.  A wonderful gentleman has ported the Android Marketplace from the phone to an online website called Cyrket, with categories, search and all of the features of the Marketplace from the phone app.  A valiant and much appreciated effort, but it is lacking the slickness of the Apple App Store, and is frankly, kind of a sad statement about what Google-THE web company- has created for their users and ecosystem.

So, where do we go from here?

I’m optimistic about the device, the OS and its evolution over time.  There is a huge amount of potential here, and some absolutely great features.  Rough edges and downright bizarre faults or omissions aside, Android has genuinely inspired a devoted fan base and is creating some great technology.  If nothing else, even if you’re an iPhone user, this is great for everybody-it creates competition and offers alternatives.  That, in the end forces everybody to raise their game and redouble their efforts to create the next big thing.  No clearer evidence of that exists than Microsoft’s recent demo of Windows mobile 7-a package that may never actually see daylight, but shows that somebody is clearly paying attention.

Now, please excuse me, I’m off to play with some apps and tweak my GUI!




Brain: Stop Trying To Kill Me-Or What Your Reactions To the iPad Might Be Trying To Tell You

•February 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I think too much sometimes.  Part of what keeps me going each day is a quasi-obsessive need to analyze, dissect and understand everything I come across.  These are tendencies that have made me a reasonably successful person, but occasionally, they can get in the way.

Long ago, my wife learned the futility of taking me out to see a play, and dreads the prospect of seeing live music with me; she knows that the analytical part of my brain is going to get in the way of a fun evening.

Her: “Man, that guitar player is really on tonight”

Me: “Mmm, sure.  Boy that 8kHz in the PA is really annoying…”

Her: “Wow, the drummer and bassist are really tight!”

Me: “I bet they could fix the LF power alley here by adding a bit of delay to create a gradient array.  I wonder what kind of DSP they have?”

And so on.  Fellow audio geeks understand this; they know the self discipline that is required to “turn off” and just enjoy the experience.  This is something we all must do, for the sake of those around us, if not for ourselves.  It’s far too easy to begin to obsess over small things that nobody but you notices, and lose the joy of the moment.

So, what does one take away from this (other than the fact that I’m no fun at parties)?

The recent announcement of  the iPad initially had me scratching my head, thinking about what an anti-climatic keynote Mr. Jobs had delivered.  My brain immediately went to my previous experiences with tablet PCs, how I worked and what I needed in a computer, and how utterly limiting this device really was.  Judging by the fury with which the blogosphere is descending upon Apple, I was obviously not alone.

“OK-so it’s a big iPod Touch.  Yeah, the new iWork is pretty neat.  The interface is really good, I’ll give them that.  But, it’s just so limited, and restricted, and locked down and simple.”

And it was that last word-“simple”- that lit the proverbial light bulb, and I began to get it.

The short answer was that this was not a product that was intended for me.

I’m a guy who travels with two laptops, a cell phone, two iPods and various other electronic “necessities”.  When the TSA opens my bag, it looks like Fry’s Electronics threw up on their table.  I’ve got networks, and gadgets and gizmos at home, all tweaked within an inch of their lives and talking to each other in bizarrely complex ways.  To me, this is, and always has been, perfectly normal.  With every computer I have ever bought, the first order of business has always been to tweak, hack and modify the device so it works the way I want and need it to.

System Preferences-POW!  Device Manager-ZAP!  Regedit-ZOWIE!

What that proverbial light bulb I mentioned earlier was telling was that maybe there are people out there who don’t enjoy doing that.  Maybe there are people who DON’T consider that normal.  Maybe there are people who have been missing out on a lot of things because they are unable or afraid to dig into their systems just to make them usable.

My grandmother has never received an e-mail.  Never looked at all the family photos we have online.  Never been able to experience what the WWW has to offer, because she has never owned a computer-they are too complicated.  My grandfather worked as an engineer for AT&T for 50 years, but never bought a computer.

For those of you who are tasked with being the on-call tech support for your friends and family, try to look at it from that perspective.  When you get that call about something not working-from somebody who uses their computer for nothing other than web, e-mail and video, do all of those tweaks and customizations and points of failure in a normal computer look so attractive?

The moral of the story is, what a geek like me considers to be sins of omission in a device like this are precisely what could open up computing to a whole new market, enriching lives and nicely lining Apple’s pocket in the process.

I’ve mentioned that analogy to other people, and I’ve gotten responses ranging from “great, it’s an old person’s laptop” to “I’ll wait until somebody hacks it so I can run Linux”.  OK, great, have fun.  But I don’t think they get what Apple was going for.  It’s not about just the hardware or just the software-it’s the complete package.  My personal opinion is that if you need to tweak, hack and modify this to be right for you, then it’s not right for you in the first place-and that’s OK.

And that’s also the point of the iPad.

Sometimes you need to turn off the analytical side and jut sit back and enjoy the experience for what it is.

Hello world!

•January 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment

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