Radio Shack Nurtured a Culture of Everyday Technology

UnknownWe knew it was only a matter of time. We just didn’t know how much time. It appears as if that long dreaded day has arrived. By “it” I mean Radio Shack filing for bankruptcy. Radio Shack has been a staple on 4,000 American streets for decades. It was founded in 1921 by the Deutschmann brothers and was the destination of millions of dads, and moms, who walked into their local Shack in search of everything from batteries to diagnostic equipment to an additional cell phone charger. It was not a retailer that emerged because of a fashion trend or a personal hobby. No, no, no. This franchise was in search of a much more noble purpose. It provided a place where Americans could go to see, touch and purchase electronics and home technology. It was the first of its kind and the last of its kind.

The Shack was a savvy retailer—correction, merchandiser—that figured out long ago our country was headed for a serious case of addiction to the magic of technology. The tech then was radio and television waves broadcast across the landscape, captured by antennas and transformed into audio and video that arguably, had more to do with shaping this countries’ culture than almost anything else.

My father was an electrical engineer. He was constantly tinkering with the insides of radios and televisions. Capacitors, transistors, resistors, rectifiers, vacuum tubes; his workshop was full of them. I knew what a printed circuit board was when I was 8 years old. He used a slide rule to compute equations, not a calculator, and wired a Color Bar and Dot Generator to an early color television to troubleshoot problems.

My Father’s Slide Rule

There’s a generation today that cannot wrap their heads around the concept of a Radio Shack, let alone consider entering one. I’ve heard some bid a happy farewell, while others never even noticed. The demise of Radio Shack is not like what happened to Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster relied on late fees to prop up revenue which is never a viable long term strategy. BV was unable to weather the digital tsunami and were completely lost when it came to the internet.

Radio Shack is not the Apple Store, not by a long shot. But it paved the way for Jobs and Cook to enjoy stunning success. How? By making electronics familiar, approachable and affordable. The Deutschmann brothers likely had no clue that their desire to bring radio equipment to the public would be laying the tracks for the digital world.

The Original Radio Shack Store

In contrast Radio Shack did embrace the Web and shifted lots of their sales to eCommerce. But it’s very difficult to keep a single brand relevant for decades when you’re being drowned out by new and more interesting messages. Best Buy and Circuit City came along with more ad muscle and bigger stores, further squeezing Radio Shack into smaller spaces in strip malls. Then Amazon came along and soon the American public was trained to shop by Web search and picking up their packages off the porch instead of driving to a shopping destination.

Over the years, Radio Shack saved me many times. The need for a USB extension cord, a liPo Battery voltage meter, but most often it was their small electrical parts that I needed to keep my tinkering habit fueled.

They are not going away forever. Many stores will remain while others will be taken over by the cell phone provider Sprint who will maintain some items from Radio Shack.

Another page is turned.

Money 2020: The Future of Currency and Payments: Part 1 of 3

Money 2020 GlassI attended the Money 2020 conference in Las Vegas this November. It’s a gathering of over 7,500 financial and technology professionals from over 60 countries. Essentially we all talk about the innovation of money and payments, both of which are undergoing unprecedented disruption. It was the forum’s 4th year but my first and I found it exhilarating and thought provoking.

The conference format is multi-layered. Big room keynote presentations, breakout sessions that are panel discussion style, live demos and an exhibit hall with hundreds of booths. I also found it to be a bit of a homecoming event as I ran into at least a dozen people I previously worked with or worked for me at one time. Nice to see friendly faces again and catch up on what they’re doing.

The breakout sessions are set-up in tracks; regulatory, security, e-commerce, retail banking, etc. My role in the bank is very broad, so I elected to pick and choose across the tracks and ingest a bit from each. The conference doubled in attendee size from last year but it occupied the same space in the Aria Hotel. Needless to say things were very crowded. Some people got shut out of sessions because they arrived on time or a bit late, only to find them already full. Standing room only in many of the sessions I attended.

Money Crowd

The content covered a wide range of topics so I don’t claim this post to be a summary of the conference itself. Instead it’s my perspective. What I observed through my lens of “convergence.” I gleaned four distinct themes of content and exploration.

  • Consumer Research: Who will influence change
  • Mobile Payments: Who will win?
  • Crypto Currency: The reinvention of money?
  • Fraud and Security: Will hacking impede progress?

Consumer Research

Lots of the latest consumer research was unveiled at Money and I carefully planned to attend as many of these sessions as possible. We know the world is big, but thanks to Social Media and the news cycle we tend to lose appreciation for that fact. Check out these insane numbers.

Global Stats copy

3.6 Billion unique active mobile phone users on Earth! People are saying they’d give up a lot of things in their life before they would give up their mobile device. You’ve see those studies. Indeed the mobile phone has been embedded in our lives and are neurally connected to our finger and hands. It’s happened in the blink of an eye. Steve Jobs released the first iPhone on June 29, 2007. Many think that the phone has materially impacted the way people pay for things, but the following chart reveals that the change began a decade and a half ago and the tectonic plates of payments has been steadily shifting ever since. The phone has not influenced nearly as many people to consider their payment options as debit and credit cards. Plastic still rules. Note: many of these slides were taken with my iPhone from audience seating. I apologize that some are of low fidelity or are not well framed.

15 Years Transactions

As we can see, while checks and cash dominated the transactions of choice for U.S. consumers in 1996, it has been forever overshadowed by credit and debit. Cash is not going away any time soon and if the security of credit and debit cannot be substantially shored-up, the never-ending rounds of retailer database hackings could keep cash and checks on life support for some time to come.

One study asked consumers how they will pay for things in the future. Every one of the presented forms of payment rose except credit, debit and cash. All three showed a decline, with cash leading the way. Certainly it’s very hard to be confident about a survey looking six years out. In the technology innovation mind it’s an eternity. Many disruptive species will be born in that time. But the scale and footprint of payments is vast and when you add in the generational and geographical aspects one cannot be faulted to remain skeptical.

Future Payments 2

Notice in the chart above that the green line (future) and black line (today) are not that divergent. People say they are expecting to pay in newer ways in greater numbers than now, but those shares are still small. Is this due to the momentum and the buzz around P2P money movement tools as well as the growth of PayPal? Is this how people will prefer to pay in the future?

The chart below puts a future date on the survey questions of 2020. When you look at the numbers by instrument they are not widely different from the above study. What’s interesting is the orange square in the bottom left. An overwhelming number of consumers prefer to use a familiar network provider (Discover, Visa, Master Card, etc.) to provide them with payments choices. Not Square or PayPal, or whatever Silicon Valley garage door opens, but the old guards of payments. Certainly the disrupters definitely have a head start on what attracts consumers. One could say however that it’s the Network’s and Issuer’s battle to lose.

Pay in 2020 2

The Emergence of the Millenial

When you wander a conference and keep your ears open you take note of the words or phrases that are repeated in nearly every type of content session as well as what’s said over a libation or two. One of the words that stood out without a doubt at Money was, Millenials. This generation is defined by most as a combination of Generation Y (25-34) and Generation Z (18-24). Seems like a very wide range, but when coupled with exposure to technology and shifting attitudes towards work and education, one can see why they can be coupled.

All camps that I observed lauded the Millenial population as one that brands − old and new − must attract and retain to ensure growth and to maintain relevance (otherwise known as survival). It doesn’t necessarily require a complete reboot, but it does mean we should guard against doing old things new and focus instead on doing new things that accomplish longstanding needs. This will be hard for financial institutions, but the future is all about change in relevance.


Our young friends are absolutely adorable. They are confident and have an “I can” attitude. They are book smart and savvy, which means they carry a significant share of the $1 Trillion student loan debt now piled up in the U.S. As such, many live with their parents because they can’t afford a mortgage. An alarming share are under-employed, experiencing a large and confusing cognitive gap between their image of a job while in school and the reality of what they are doing Monday through Friday. This somewhat explains, at least to me, their zealous interest in getting promoted. Dues (literally) have already been paid in the form of tuition and they are looking for a faster track to pay back.

Research I saw at Money outlined an interesting persona of Millennials . They ike to have fun first then hard work next. They are close to their parents, many who have doted on them as children. They buy prestige brands and will spend more to design or customize a product to reflect who they are. As social natives they have more intense relationships with brands and don’t think twice about calling them out for either handing things well or dropping the ball. Their use of Social Media gives them an outsized voice that smart brands are addressing.

What is most fascinating to me is how they leverage technology to positively impact their financial position. We know they are getting their driver’s license later than previous generations, relying on Uber and public transpiration to get to where they want/need to go. Owning a car, actually driving a car is not at all important. They do not define themselves by the cars they drive.

When it comes to consuming content they don’t have a monthly cable bill the size of a car payment. They’re not cord-cutters because they never plugged in the cord. Television ownership is also much lower among Millenials . TV is on a grid. You have to be in the same physical space as a television to watch it. How barbaric! Why do that when you can stream almost anything to the glass surface of your smartphone, tablet or laptop? Oh yes, they don’t own desktop computers either (how mainframe of us).  Oftentimes they share Netflix passwords or Prime accounts so everyone can get on the same series. The CBS network recently announced “All Access,” a content streaming service. For $5.99 per month subscribers can watch full seasons of current primetime shows and leading daytime and late night CBS Programming. Others will likely follow.

Another bit of interesting research came from a study on values Millennials rated as important vs. Gen X’ers rating at a similar life stage. Millennials value enjoying life, having fun, authenticity and stable relationships much higher than their Gen X counterparts. They moved freedom, close friends and knowledge down in importance.

Millenials vs. Gen X

Y’s and Z’s were influenced by the internet in their formative years. Gen X is actually more closely aligned with the Boomers in that they were more or less adults before they were faced with the prospects of a digital world. One study drew closer connections between Millennials and Boomers than I would have even imagined. It seems the two categories to be reckoned with, especially among financial services are the Boomers of course (we have all the money) and the Millennials who will eventually have all the money. They will just interact with it in a much different way.

Understanding what your customers value, particularly a segment with this much power is critical to financial success. My next Money 2020 installment will cover Mobile payments and eWallets.

Read Part 2: Mobile Payments and Crypto Currencies

Read Part 3: Tech Crime Takes Off.

Image Credits:

Money 2020 magnifying glass: Money 2020

Crowd at Money 2020: Steve A Furman

Various Slides: Taken during live sessions by Steve A Furman

Image of Several Millennials: Mirus Reporter

“i” is for Jobs, “A” is for Cook, and Other Thoughts about Time

Two days after the big Apple announcement event in Cupertino I’m was just beginning to digest all of the content. One of the things that hit home was subtle, meaningful and very much Apple. Amidst the hundreds of rumors and musings about what would be coming, the iWatch and a wallet of some sort were the headlines.

As it turned out a watch was announced and so was a wallet, but they weren’t iWatch or iWallet. Steve Job’s owns the “i” and it’s sacred territory. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac all these inventions and ways of changing so much belong to Mr. Jobs. Was Apple making a conscious separation from the Jobs era and the Cook era? So we have Apple Payments and the Apple Watch. Mr. Cook and the design team took the iPhone to a new plateau as only they can. Engineering, materials, technology and assembly all combined to give the world the next generation of iPhones.

Then came the Apple Watch announcement.

Apple Watch

The Arrow of Time

I fancy myself a watch guy. A serious, but not showy watch collector, as in I own watch winders. Why? Well, the necktie is long gone (thank you), which means men have fewer accessory choices in our wardrobe. Actually that’s not the reason I like timepieces. Mostly it’s likely due to a hardwired XY chromosome thing. I own more than my share of watches. Most of them are very modest in price, but I do have a few gems. Watches are similar to wine. You can get a great one without overspending. But 99.9% of all watches do exactly the same thing. They provide a window into the arrow of time.

Sean Carroll, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, studies dark energy and general relativity. He describes the arrow of time.

There’s something called “the arrow of time” and it is simply the direction in which time passes from the past to the future. There are many ways in which the past and future are different: things become messier toward the future; we remember yesterday and not tomorrow; actions we take now affect the future but not the past. All of those reflect the arrow of time.

Now, the origin of the arrow of time is a mystery. Based on the laws of thermodynamics, we understand how it works. But we don’t understand why there is an arrow. It comes down to conditions near the Big Bang; the universe started out highly organized and has been becoming more random and chaotic ever since. The universe is like a mechanical toy that started all wound up, and has been winding down for the last 14 billion years.

Watches don’t keep time, or track time, they simply tell the time. providing the illusion you are in control even when it’s obviously in question. They fix you in the time-space continuum and of course, remind you there’s yet another meeting to attend. According to the arrow of time, things are now more difficult today than they were yesterday. That’s somewhat true I suppose, but the arrow of time does not take into consideration we become smarter over time, even as things become more complex.

There are tens of thousands of watch designs, faces, bands, shapes and sizes. Despite varying features, they are all essentially built to do one simple, singular thing. Display the time.

It’s Time For a Smartwatch Conversation

A classic line from a Mad Men episode, slightly altered, but completely relevant today. The smartwatch began to gain momentum and my attention over the last few years. There are essentially two flavors of them. One is health related. It tracks steps, elevation, etc. and oh yes, it has some kind of timekeeping device inside. The other is a concept watch that tries to combine the utility of a smartphone onto the small but infinitely complex wrist watch.

I got sucked into the Tik Tok and Luna Tick hype. A Kickstarter project that created watch bands for the iPod shuffle. At first glance it was kind of cool, but the more you looked into it or wore it, the more you realized it was wrongheaded in so many ways. I have a smallish wrist and this solution turned out to be  larger than I usually wear. But still, I was drawn in by the concept and of course, the potential for exciting convergence.

Next I learned of the Cookoo connected watch. The makers said that “it’s a wearable extension of your smart phone that helps manage your connected life.” Sounded interesting. It was not usable for a watch person like me. I couldn’t read the watch face and couldn’t use it to tell time. A problem? Yes. They only updated their app features once over the eight months I used it off and on. It was not an “extension” of anything and completely “unmanageable.”

Then I got a Pebble watch. Much lighter and more comfortable to wear. It has a lot of watch faces but none of them appealed to me except the Text Watch. I felt like I was wearing a wanna be Smart Watch.

3 Smart Watches

Then I bought a Martian Passport. This one looked like a standard watch with a small window below that displayed texts and @twitter notification to my personal handle. It was the best of the bunch so far. The microphone / speaker integration with Siri worked seamlessly. I got excited about it in the morning. Alas, both these devices were battery hogs and required me to charge much more often than i wanted.

When you look at your watch, which, in the days before smartphones existed, occurred up to 50 times per day, your mind raced back and forward across that arrow of time. Take this test.

If you’re wearing your watch right now, close your eyes and answer these questions. Does the face of your watch have numerals? Are they at all twelve intervals? Are they Roman are Arabic numerals? Are there slashes instead of numerals? Do you have a calendar window? Does it also show the day of the week?

Chances are you can’t answer most of these questions with any confidence despite the fact your watch face never changes and you look at it so many times per day. We have been trained over our entire lives to use a watch in a rote fashion. Raise your wrist or steal a glance under the table to get a marker. Is time running out or dragging? The seconds tick away with consistent precision, but our state of mind swerves from guardrail to guardrail.

The Apple Watch

I predict that the Apple Watch will be the bestselling technology device of 2015. It’s light years beyond anything else that’s been developed and will only add to the genius and essential nature of the iPhone. Will you hand down your Apple Watch to the next generation to be cherished as an heirloom? No. We’ve got those analog models for that. What it will do is start others working on challenging and improving what Apple has done. That’s a very, very good thing.

The Death of “Just in Case” Web Design

Just in CaseEver since the first web browsers were created in the mid 1990’s people have been endlessly debating on how to design a web site. Or more specifically their companies’ site. At first it was left to a small group of people to make the decisions, because it was probably a fad and why spend time there. Once the fad thing became the next big thing everyone wanted in on the gold rush. Opinions were as common as… Well, you know.

To see how far we’ve come, check out Evolution of the Web an interactive site that shows the progression of Internet technology and human adoption and integration in their everyday lives.

Usability science came along, disciplines were created and the work was put into trained hands. The problem lies in the fact that most corporate web sites, especially ones that are  C to C and have a significant traffic, must sometimes serve a dozen or more masters. That calls for scorecards, prioritization frameworks and, oh yes, a check back to what the objectives are.

I’ve sat in so many meetings where business partners want to put things in the interface “just in case” a user may be looking for it. They come up with all manner of wild use cases. They are very creative. Bring them back to reality. Search is what we use when we are looking for something. Navigation is for fast access to what you want or need to do during any given visit. Design is for connecting with a customer so they will want to know more.

The new design trend emerging, one of “Point Solution” is I think fantastic. It fills the digital canvas, is responsive to the device that beckons it to life and incorporates a storyscape of the functionality. It seamlessly combines high impact graphics, video, animation and interactive scrolling. When done well one doesn’t know if we are learning or accomplishing a task. And the doing becomes commerce, crossing an invisible line without being detected. It’s bulletproof for solving one or two use cases, but challenged when there are ten to twenty functions available for customers.

The “Just in Case” design is too broad and the “Point Solution” is too narrow. Designers with the help of business partners must find the middle way between the two. Uncovering the dark data hidden in the click stream married with back end analytics is critical. Start with eliminating all of the use cases that are remote, then progressively work your way toward the desired outcome. Oh yeah, you need really, really good designers.

It takes courage to avoid the “Just in Case” design trap and to stave it off you must have hard data showing it’s the right way to go. It’s best to be able to bring a design to life that has absolutely no hierarchy, only a flow of perfectly quilted content.

The poster child for “Point Design” is the Pencil 53 product site from the company Fifty-three. I love the site but loved the product even more. That helps. Their singular objective is to communicate everything about the Pencil 53. What it is, what it does, why it’s better. My review of the Pencil 53 is here.

Pencil 53 Screen shot

Apple is great example of incorporating “Point Design” when they want to be bold about a product, then shifting to a  more traditional design for product comparison, shopping and support. Sometimes you need to tell the story on a deeper level. For Apple’s 30th anniversary they created a time line of their products and the people behind them. They allowed a user to click on their first Mac and let Apple know what it meant to them. Emotive memories. They have always excelled at closing that last mile between a person and technology.

MAC 30 Time line

Microsoft is also getting in the game. They are simultaneously upgrading their product design as well as their sites. Their Surface experience is excellent and they are working hard to put the brand back on track after years of being completely lost.


Samsung has a very difficult design problem to crack. Parts of their site are absolutely on point while others appear archival but are probably effective at selling, so it may not matter. Remember the data. The Apps and Entertainment section is outstanding at showcasing a breadth of products and covers a lot of ground without being overwhelming.


We see people, read their stories, watch their videos and learn how technology works in their lives for convenience, efficiency and peace of mind.

Notability + Bamboo + iPad = Paperless Note Taking

RELATED POST: January 25, 2014

Pencil 53 Product Review

Original Post Starts Here

I have been a collector of notebooks for decades. I love them. They’re portable, come in all shapes, thicknesses and sizes. Some have lines, others are blank for sketching and still others offer a grid. I have been a devoted user of the Moleskine for many years and very much enjoy the visceral experience paper affords. Although I enjoy the paper, it is difficult to find something you wrote months before, as it’s buried in the stream of pages.

When the iPad came along I thought it would be cool and easier if I could use that as my notebook. But taking notes on a tablet is tricky business. First you need a good app. I immediately begin trying different apps for taking notes. I downloaded and experimented with Draw Pad Pro, Noteshelf, Idea Flight, Design Scene, HelvetiNote, Penultimate, Adobe Ideas, Simplenote and of course Apple’s Pages. Some of them are not very good at all, while others do some things well, but none of them really bring it all together in a way that leverages the multimedia features built into an iPad. I wondered if I would ever get off paper.

There are three ways to get content on an iPad. You can use your finger, a stylus or a keyboard (interface or external). It you choose the external keyboard then you’ve got to carry that thing around and keep it charged. I’ve spent $200 on two keyboards and don’t use either one. Just not comfortable to use. I did come across what looks to be a very cool keyboard on Kickstarter. It’s called Brydge and it looks splendid. I’ve become a backer of Brydge but must wait until October to get one. One’s finger does not work that well because you can’t place things precisely on the screen. The stylus is getting better, but most have ignored ergonomics and balance in favor of rushing to market. I’m a bit of a pen snob and spend lavishly on writing instruments, so I was horrified when I purchased my first stylus. I’ve got a drawer full of failed attempts at finding one.

Then I found the app Notability and the Bamboo stylus. This combination is fantastic. After about two months using this together I’m happy to report that I’m off the paper notebook.

Notability provides:

  • Quick toggle between internal or external keyboard
  • Several line thickness and colors
  • A highlighting feature
  • Numerous choices of tablet styles and colors
  • Ability to embed voice notes or photos
  • Create, organize and file various notebooks
  • Simple to use interface
  • Auto synch to Dropbox and other storage systems
  • And so much more

The Bamboo stylus feels like a finely balanced writing instrument vs. those cheap plastic pens. It has a narrow tip that can be replaced if worn or cracked. I’ve found this to be the best choice for writing and sketching. All I carry to meetings now is my iPad and Bamboo stylus and I love it. Now, what to do with all those notebooks I’ve collected.

Memo to the Afterlife: Steve Jobs is Yours Now. Get Ready for 2.0.

I did not meet Steve Jobs, but I feel as if I knew the man. I did not work with him, but I am embedded in each one of his products. Everything he created was built for humans, for himself, and for all of us. Steve was driven to excellence in every way, and I believe his example has made many of us better. He has planted seeds all over the world and the forest has yet to sprout. It’s going to be amazing.

I have written several times on this blog about Mr. Jobs and Apple. But today it is not about devices or operating systems. Today, this is my reflection.

And when shall we come round to ourselves?

When shall we be ourselves again?

Ourselves in the round climate,

in the murky dark.

Ourselves soaring on the

marvelous syllable of the wind.

Ourselves in the boundless stream of time.

Ourselves as if we were stone.

We say, Oh anything but ourselves

in this vanishing skin.

But our true self. Unwinding, always moving.

Not beyond us, but right here.

Fast and forever.

You will be missed Steve.

Apples will Continue to Fall from Trees

It’s not so much that Steve Jobs has stepped down as the head of Apple that saddens me, it’s the reason why he is stepping down. Cancer invades so many people’s bodies and it’s a ruthless scourge. Regardless of which side of the technology war you are on, no one should be happy about the fate that has befallen Mr. Jobs. Go ahead and despise Apple, but keep Mr. Jobs on the good side of your thoughts. I had a brush with cancer a couple of years ago, but was one of the lucky ones. I am completely cancer free now and expect to remain that way for a very, very long time thank you.

With or without Steve, Apple will continue to grow and thrive. It’s not simply a computer manufacturer any longer. It has evolved well beyond the days when Macs were found in the occasional household. Apple has transformed the music industry and the personal computer industry, redefined the handset into a smartphone, remade retailing and introduced the tablet.

How did they do it? They broke with conventional wisdom and overcame the inertias that weigh down firms and industries. But the main ingredient of success in my opinion, is they made products that worked with people’s daily lives. Seamless integration and updates. No tribal language code. A near flawless user experience that are beautiful to look at. Not always plug and play, but pretty close. If you make products that people can use and fills a desire they have, you are more than halfway there. Apple actually went the full mile, closing the last 50% by making what they delivered emotional. They then amplified those products with superior positioning and marketing.

But most of all, they never gave up. No matter how dark the investor and pundit predictions were, or how large and dominant Microsoft became, they came in everyday and worked at it. Admirable.

Remember when no one wanted to copy Apple? Now everyone covets and races to copy them. Was this in large part the work of Super Steve? You bet. But there is no way he did this alone. It takes a village, and he has built a really big one.

Tim Cook, now the leader, did some amazing things. He got Apple’s on hand inventory down from months to days and is credited with being the supply chain wizard that allowed the firm to bring out so many products so often and quickly. Does he have the vision of a Jobs? No, no one does. But he does have a vision, and Steve is not walking out the door. He will be around and he will have more ideas and the wise folks in Cupertino will listen. His fingerprints will be on things for quite some time. It’s quite possible that not being CEO will give him even more time to be creative. That could actually accelerate Apple’s momentum. Perhaps he should have resigned sooner.

Don’t write off Apple or Mr. Jobs.

Blackberry Playbook Has Promise

The guys from Blackberry were in the office today showing off the new Playbook. Like most companies we carry Blackberry devices for corporate email, so we chat with our friends from RIM from time to time. I got to play on it for about 20 minutes. Here are my first impressions.

  • It’s nicely sized and easy to operate with one hand
  • Has some nice heft, but won’t fatigue your arms
  • Right thickness
  • Rubberized back casing makes it less cool looking than an iPad
  • The viewable screen is surrounded by a fairly large black bezel
  • This Bezel is important as it is the starting point for swipe gestures that activate the keyboard and change tablet modes
  • It’s very, very fast
  • Only comes in WiFi, but I don’t see that as an issue
  • No native email, but it has a pretty slick bridge (Bluetooth) to the Blackberry I already carry. They claim it’s a security thing
  • When you cut off the bridge function none of your firm’s data, or documents stays on the tablet. Big plus.
  • It does Flash
  • You can connect to a projector for presentations or directly to HDMI
  • Video is 1080p and very crisp
  • You can have programs running simultaneously and simply swipe from one to another and they continue to run
  • Runs versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel without the issues one sees on the iPad
  • Priced at $499, $599 and $699 based solely on storage capacity
  • No simple program like iTunes to help manage getting content from your hard drive to the Playbook

It’s not an iPad killer, but it will turn some corporate heads and probably increase their dominance in this important market. It will serve as a choice for consumers, as the iPad is not for everyone. All in all I think it’s a great opening shot for Blackberry.

The Beginning of the End for the PC? Not Exactly.

Pundits aplenty have been predicting that smartphones will be the predominant device for accessing the web in the near future. That future may be accelerating. IDC, the International Data Corporation, has reported that smartphones have now out shipped personal computers.

Source: IDC

Smartphone shipments have tripled, while PCs shipments are growing at less than 50%. In the past you had to buy a new PC every 3 years or so to keep up with innovation and performance (I’m including Apple in there). But the innovation curve belongs to smartphones now. PCs are fast enough and feature rich enough for the majority of people. Consumers can do things on their smartphone that, in the past, had to be done on their PC. New features, functionality and performance are now dominated by the smartphone. Consumers can do more with their phone than their PC and it’s completely mobile.

So is the PC dead? Absolutely not. The reality is that PCs are becoming closer to a television; mature and ubiquitous, and used for very specific activities. They will be replaced at a much slower pace than in years past, and if you have young children, they will buy less than half the number of PCs you have owned, but purchase three or four times more smartphones than you ever did.

This is what has made Apple so strong over the past three and a half years. They saw this shift coming and created the technology to enable it. Their MacPro heavy aluminum tower computers are losing sales ground to the all in one iMac model because there is less need for that purebred desktop computer. The acceleration of tablet sales will put even more pressure on PC shipments.

Brands need to be designing their experiences and business models to adapt to this technology landscape shift, or risk being relocated to the basement with the old folks, while the young, cool, hip people are tapping on the handheld device at the coolest party in town.

iPod Nano to Become a Touch Watch

Scott Wilson is the founder of Chicago based design firm MINIMAL, and he has a new project. Mr. Wilson and his colleagues are working to integrate the Apple iPod Nano into the first multi-touch wrist watch. How cool is that! Scott’s studio seems to have the chops to do this, having worked in technology, interaction and consumer products, with brands like Dell, Microsoft, Apple and Steelcase on groundbreaking designs, including the new Xbox Kinect. His obvious passion for design has fueled this new, exciting project.

I am a collector of classic watches. It’s arguably the only jewelry accessory that men have in their otherwise flat fashion regime. Choosing a serious watch is a pure gentlemen’s action. Face, case, strap, size and movement combine to make a statement about position, personality and lifestyle. There are so many types and styles of watches, and I most often gravitate to the classic designs and brands. I’m traditional in what I choose, and at the end of the day I carefully place my time piece into an electric winder. Normally I wouldn’t be attracted to a mash-up design like this, but when I saw the video and the way in which they were so thoughtfully incorporating the Nano into the case and band, I wanted to have one. In fact, I wanted to have both of the designs, the TikTok and the LunaTik.

Exploded view of the LunaTik design with a Nano

They have a clever way of funding this project. You can back them with as little as $1 or step-up and essentially pre-pay for one or both of the watch band designs. Once you select your pledge level you connect with your Amazon account and pay for it through their commerce engine. Very smooth. Will I wear them when they arrive? I honestly don’t know. I think it will work for me in certain settings. If not, I can pass them along to either of my two sons. I’m sure they will love them, but of course they will expect the gift include the Nano.

LunaTik bottom view

Apple works hard at making things smaller. When Steve Jobs keynoted the Nano launch he mentioned that it might transform to a watch some day. That day is near. Follow the progress of this project and find out how you can back it yourself  here.

iPad Fits Nicely into a Social Lifestyle

It’s been about six weeks since I took possession of my iPad 3G. From the conversations I’ve had with people and the chatter read on the net, there appear to be two camps emerging. One group doesn’t see the value of investing in the iPad because it’s not a computer and it’s too big to carry. The other guys, where I am, have placed the iPad into a very comfortable space resting exactly between a desktop and a smartphone and we’re not concerned about the size, in fact the size is the best part, because we plan on keeping our smartphones.

Having an iPad has freed me from spending so much time on my desktop computer in the office. I don’t use a laptop at home, except for work, and so that means I spend a lot of time in my office, sequestered away from my family. The iPad allows me to do a lot of things I used to have to go to my computer for, and it turns out these are the things I do most frequently now.

It breaks down like this. I use my iPad anywhere in the house (or patio) for e-mail, calendar, contacts, browsing the web, enjoying photos / videos, social networking and light note-taking. When I analyze the time I spend doing that vs. heavier computing tasks, it comes out to about 70% of my screen time can now be on the iPad.

Using the iPad gets me reacquainted with the other rooms in my home. True there is no hard drive on the iPad, but that means no waiting for a boot up. I use Penultimate  and HelvetiNote to sketch and capture ideas. Each of these apps allows me to email the content I create to myself or anyone else, making incorporating it into ongoing or new projects easy. The 3G works great when you are in an airport and want to make the wait time more productive.

We have been using smartphones for a while now which makes transitioning to an iPad a breeze, with nice upgrades. A large, beautiful screen and easier to use touch keyboard. Factor in photo and movie enjoyment and the iBooks application (Apple has captured 22% of the eBook market in just 65 days) and we have an appliance that we didn’t even know we needed. That’s the magic of Steve Jobs. He sees the possibilities ahead of most of us.

Which brings me back to the two camp mention at the top of this post. I’ll wager that most of these people in camp one haven’t experienced the iPad and as such, still don’t know what it can do. Bottom line is the iPad fits neatly into my lifestyle, like so many Apple products have done in the past. Can’t wait for the iPhone4.

Mobile = Shift For Designers and Consumers

Humans have always been obsessed with what they need to “take along” whether it’s going to work or play. The advances of mobile phones and apps has led many of us to shift activities we once did exclusively on a desktop/laptop to our smartphone. This is naturally followed by an increase in the number of places we carry out basic computing tasks; now in the car, at a restaurant, waiting for a flight, watching a child’s sporting event, etc. It’s growing quickly partly because people are relieved of trying to remember what they need to bring with. As long as you have your smartphone (Swiss army knife) you feel better prepared. I have been reading, debating and thinking deeply about mobile these last few months.

I attended two mobile sessions at the recent South by Southwest Interactive track (SxSW) in Austin. The first was entitled The UX of Mobile, with Barbara Ballard of Little Springs Design, Scott Jenson from Google, and Kyle Outlaw of Razorfish. I’ll cover the second panel called Time+Social+Location with Naveen Selvadurai from foursquare, Josh Babetski from MapQuest  and Greg Cypes from AIM in a later post.

This post mashes together notes from those panel sessions with what’s been brewing inside my brain and recorded in my Moleskine since last fall. It all runs together which makes it hard on the attribution front. The shape of my thoughts was obviously influenced by what’s out on the web and what was shared at SxSW. Thank you to all mobile thinkers.

In The UX of Mobile, the moderator kicked it off by asking each panelist to define user experience:

  • Allow users to reach goals
  • Think about the whole system, SMS
  • It’s everything that causes a user to not want to use your product; scrolling, buttons, etc.

Mobile today is hyper-focused on apps because the mobile browser is lacking (and because of Apple). When the mobile browser catches up to the app experience, there will be a monumental shift away from apps. The mobile web will be where things will get interesting and play out. But simply trying to put the web onto the phone (miniaturization) is not where the value lies. Mobile screens are a new window into the Internet. It’s the closest thing we have right now to wearable computing and so designs needs to account for mobility as well as personal connection. Design for interoperability, take advantage of mobile cache and leverage the cloud. One should design for the “mobile moment.”

  • Design knowing that interruptions are inevitable (the waiter comes to take your order)
  • A phone in your pocket can also be useful (vibrate to signal when you need to turn right or left)
  • Don’t bring the web to the mobile phone, bring the browser (Safari with iPhone/iPad, Chrome)

Mobile demands that you design for the screen. A smartphone has many more features available to the user than a desktop. Barbara Ballard ticked off a great list of things to be considered when designing for the mobile experience. Notations after → are my additions.

  • Gestures   Human
  • Accelerometer  →  Framing
  • Bluetooth  →  Extension
  • Camera  →  Pictures
  • Microphone  →  Voice
  • Location  →  Mapping
  • Address Book   →  Social
  • Calendar  →  Schedule

The mobile phones of today are closer to traveling ecosystems than operating systems. As such, usability testing for the small screen becomes more critical than browser designs. Designers/developers need to test in context, including social context; in short the real world. For me real world testing will mean getting out of the lab and test in cars, libraries, retail stores, restaurants, sporting venues etc. Internet connections are fairly reliable now; always on and fast. The cell phone carriers are not there yet. It’s better than the 9600 baud days, but not yet comparable to the speed we enjoy with today’s modems. When 4G arrives, we will be a heartbeat away from moving everything the mobile device. That will be a watershed moment.

The iPad is a Roaming Device, Not a Mobile Device

Pick up the April 2010 Wired magazine (I’d include a link but the paper version gets to me before the digital version; go figure) and turn to page 75. There’s an extremely insightful article by Steven Levy, Why the New Generation of Table Computers Changes Everything. In it he talks about how Steve Jobs is “writing the obituary for the computing paradigm” and how desktops will vanish and laptops will be used “primarily as base stations for syncing our iPads.”  While at SxSW I spent a lot of time with Ian Magnini, principle at MCD Partners in New York. We work closely on strategy, design and visioncasting. He turned to me and said.

The iPad will replace the magazine rack in your home. There will  be one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – Ian Magnani

I think he’s dead on. The iPad has a huge mobile drawback in that it can’t fit in your pocket or purse. So maybe it’s not cell phone mobile, but it could be the perfect “roaming device.” I can picture people using the iPad to read magazines, newspapers, books, then launch the browser to order groceries or do online banking all while sitting in a comfy Barcolounger. Battery life is 10 hours and taps return instantaneous responses. Keypad will be the big challenge.

As always, Jobs will ensure that the design experience will be outstanding. I have heard that there won’t be a calculator on the iPad at launch because he didn’t like the experience. It doesn’t matter. Once it’s right, it will be included in a future version.

Much more to come on Mobile.

Apple iPad Purchase Intent Poll – Are you Buying?

Now that we’ve had some time to let the idea of the iPad sink in, I can’t help but wonder where we are on the purchase intent scale. At first I was solid on getting one. But now that I have done some extensive thinking on how to leverage it for business (it’s not clear to me), I am having second thoughts from a personal perspective.

Please take a moment to let me know where your head is right now through this simple poll. Thank you.

The iPad Experience will be the Difference

The last thing the world needs right now is another blog post about the just announced iPad from Apple. But I feel compelled to put in my two cents, and here’s why. Newly announced Apple products are typically polarizing. The enchanted swoon and the disenchanted spew bile. It happened with the iPhone and it happened again yesterday after Steve Jobs left the stage. I reviewed the blogosphere at length and noticed there was a new and sizable population of neutral observers. They pretty much said that it looked like an enlarged iTouch, and asked, “What’s the big deal? One of my staff told me that he believes that it really was an iTouch and Steve Jobs had shrunk himself to make it look larger.

Like all exceptional Apple products, and they aren’t all fantastic, it’s about the experience. When they get it right, like they did with the iPod and especially the iPhone, it delights beyond imagination. I truly believe that the reason some people felt it was a let down yesterday is because it looked too familiar and too simple. They were expecting a miracle (the danger of hype) and felt cheated.

Apple engineers and design experts think deeply about how humans use products and software in their daily lives. But they don’t stop there. What sets them apart is their products are designed for their place in space and time. Mr. Jobs fully expects his products will become obsolete, that’s why he keeps reinventing them. He matches evolution with revolution. Macs continue to sell and gain market share because they fit naturally with how people live their lives today. Photos, movies, social connections, calendar and the web all converge in people’s lives. Having a device that can work seamlessly to help you organize and optimize a complex world is very attractive.

When you listen to Jobs describe the iPad and he says “It’s the best browsing experience you’ve ever had,” he means it. Simple is always better and unique experiences are valuable. That’s Apple. They live on the corner of main and main. I say wait till it comes out and give it a try. Then fall in love or not.

Two Years with My iPhone

Steve Jobs with iPhone January 2007
Steve Jobs with iPhone - January 2007

Today is the second anniversary of the release of the iPhone. Yes, two whole years ago Steve Jobs changed yet another industry that was not computer related (music and cell phones). Now don’t get all mushy on me and start crying for heaven’s sake. I know, I know, you love your iPhone almost as much as your mother. Almost as much? Really. Does your mother synch your calendar, to do’s, and photos? Does she give you a full browser web experience? Has she provided you with a store that allows you to download thousands of applications you may never use? Can she integrate with Google? I thought not. Time to revisit.

First came the hype. I can’t remember when there was so much anticipation over a product (ok, Cabbage Patch dolls). Despite all the warnings about people waiting in line on that day, I got mine within 30 minutes of entering the Northbrook Court (Illinois) Apple Store on June 29, 2007. There were those who doubted Apple could keep up with demand. But that didn’t seem to be a problem, and when I returned to that same store over the next few days and weeks, I always saw people coming out carrying iPhone bags. No need to recount all the things an iPhone can do. We already know. Since that fateful day they have released two successors; the 3G and 3GS. Others are still trying to catch up with not much success. But I will admit, the Palm Pre has a chance.

This is just a sampling of what I do with my iPhone.

  • Check the weather
  • Use the maps to find homes, restaurants, museums, businesses
  • Update my  blog
  • Check my Facebook page and update my status
  • Tweet
  • Show people my photos
  • Take and share photos
  • Start revolutions
  • Listen to music on a flight
  • Check and send e-mail, including read attachments
  • Review my calendar for appointments, or make them
  • Seduce women
  • Manage my finances
  • Tame tigers
  • Settle bets
  • Browse the web
  • Learn what phase the moon is currently in (werewolf warning always on)
  • Text my friends
  • Quell uprisings
  • Watch movies
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Run governments
  • Entertain a bored 5 year old with games

Many complained that the battery was sealed, like an iPod, and it would only last a year. Then you would have to ship your phone back to Apple and pay $99 to have them replace it. Here’s my experience. I use my iPhone everyday, all day, and charge it about every other day. I’m still on the original battery and I’ve noticed no difference in how it holds a charge.

I was a bit peeved with the price reduction a few short months after I bought mine. Apple left early adopters, like me, high and dry. We complained and clawed back half of the price drop in a store credit. That left some scar tissue having been true to the brand for so many years. But time heals all wounds.

For me I don’t see myself getting a new iPhone until I’ve run this one into the ground. Although the video feature is tempting. And when I finally do, I’ll keep it, unlike what I did with all those old Macs I got rid of over the past couple of decades. The Day One iPhone goes in my personal museum.

Will Apple lose its Muse?

Steve Jobs with the Macintosh 128k
Steve Jobs with the 128k

I’ve purchased seven Macintosh computers, three iPods, one iPod shuffle and an iPhone so far in my life. Each time I bought a new computer the older one was passed along to my son. None of them ever stopped working. Each one as well as the operating system was an improvement on the one before. We all know what the iPod and iTunes has done for the music industry, and the iPhone has redefined the portable handset.

Seems like almost everything Steve Jobs has touched since returning to Apple’s helm has turned to gold. Obviously it’s not him alone. He has no doubt assembled a talented team of executives and managers in Cupertino that have played critical roles in Apple’s success. But there is no denying that Mr. Jobs is the visionary. It’s his company, his strategy, his legacy. When Pixar was purchased by Disney, it wasn’t Disney execs that were asked to join Pixar’s board, it was Jobs who was asked to join Disney’s board.

There is a lot of talk out there right now about Mr. Job’s health, and whether or not he will return to Apple after the recently announced 5 month break. If he doesn’t return, Apple will go on and continue to be successful. Large corporations like governments are engineered for transition. It’s a necessary and inevitable aspect for longevity. But it definitely won’t be the same.

I sincerely hope Steve Jobs is able to weather this storm. I so much appreciate his vision and through his products share in it every day. But all that stuff is only software and hardware. That’s not what has meaning. It’s the mind, heart and soul of Steve Jobs. Get well soon! That’s all that matters.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

My Favorite iPhone Apps, So Far

I’ve got a first day (June 30, 2007) iPhone. The beauty of the iPhone is how seamlessly everything is knitted together. Email, text, contacts, calendar, phone, camera, photo gallery, music library, maps, the Internet. I can get to just about anything I might need to know as long as I have it with me and it’s charged. Not one problem so far.

The concept has always been based on operating system instead of a handset, which has been elevated to a new level with the release of V2.0. Apple combined the iPhone 3G launch with the software release (maybe not such a good idea in retrospect) as well as the applications store. I’m not really tempted to get the 3G model. I just don’t need it. But the apps are delightful. Here are my favorite iPhone applications, so far.

  • WordPress – Keep up on your blog stats and post on the go.
  • Twitterrific – I’m finding Twitter to be a great source of information for my professional as well as personal life. The app delivers the big browser experience vs. a string of text conversations you would normally see on your phone screen.
Twitter on the iPhone
Twitter on the iPhone
  • Facebook – Gotta have it if you are on Facebook for the same reasons you need Twitterrific.
  • WineSnob – An unfortunate name. I love wine, but am not at all snobbish about it. It’s a nice companion whether at a dinner party, a fine restaurant, or shopping to stock up. But know that it simply re-purposes the Wikipedia wine entries. Not a bad thing, but a kind of a killjoy. Hugh Johnson, where are you?
  • WeatherBug – A meteorologist in your pocket at all times. Since we are now focused on climate change, this could turn out to be the most useful app of all. You can also view live web cams.
  • Labyrinth LE – The classic maze game brought to life on your iPhone screen. You hold the phone like the box and work your way up the levels of difficulty. It’s missing that wonderful ball bearing rolling across wood sound. Maybe that’s part of the pay version.
Labyrinth LE
Labyrinth LE
  • myLite – Kind of cheesy, but has come in handy while on the way to my son’s room in the middle of the night so I don’t trip over a plane, train or car. Also used the concert lighter feature last weekend at a friend’s band performance.
  • Pandora – Your favorite internet stations carry over to your iPhone. Keep the music coming.
  • NYTimes – Shows up everyday in my driveway (that’s right, the real paper). I don’t always get to it the same day, but I never recycle them without reading, no matter how old they are. The app keeps me up to date on breaking news. Used it today in a meeting. Read an Op-Ed article to the social media team. I read it in the paper while at a stoplight on the way to work. Makes you look sooooo smart.
  • PangeaVR – View stunning panorama photos from all over the world by accessing their database, or enter a web site URL. Great for photographers. Kind of like sightseeing with your phone. Pangea means entire world.
  • Nearby – My Platial maps are always close at hand with this app. I can add a new place while I’m right there, or surf the popular tab and explore what’s around me. I’m very impressed at how advanced the current political campaigns are with social media. They’re all over Platial.

I only paid for one of these apps and it was less than $3. Entertain yourself or your kids, stay more tightly connected, be more productive, or just escape. The iPhone application store has it all and it’s dead simple to use.

WordPress iPhone 2.0 Application

I’m writing this post on my iPhone using the just released WordPress application. Seamless install, and access to all my categories. Allows you to insert a photo from your iPhone library or take one with its camera. You can preview your work and when ready set a publish date and time.

If you are browsing your existing posts and notice a typo or simply want to say it differently, you can do it in a snap from your WordPress iPhone application.

A bit slow, and obviously you don’t have all the features of WordPress or a full keyboard, but it will come in handy when you just have to post. It’s also free. If you’re a WordPress blogger, you gotta get it.

Pandora on iPhone 2.0 Applications

Like millions of others, I was browsing the iPhone 2.0 applications on iTunes last Friday. I got my iPhone on June 30th, 2007, the first day it was available. I have been giddy over it ever since, but am comfortably encased in my talk and data plan, and don’t see enough of a benefit to switch to the 3G, at least not at this time. I spend more time on SMS, talking to people (yes you can do that on a phone), managing my calendar and contacts and using the applications than surfing the web. The extra speed would be nice, but not the additional expense.

While on the iTunes applications site I came across the Pandora application. I’m a big fan of Pandora as you can read in a previous post here. I have spent some time setting up stations so I can listen to them through my G5 Mac as well as on my Sonos music system. The Pandora iTunes application is seamlessly integrated with your web settings, and allows you to log in and gain access to all the stations you have set up through your computer. So now I can access the Music Genome Project where ever I go. Love it. The Pandora application is free. Get it, use it. It rules.

Human + Machine = Manifesto

For purposes of the post, Human is the Marketing department and Machine is the IT department. Manifesto is my rant. Nothing should be read into the terms. I have the highest regard and respect for IT and Marketing people (I am one) everywhere.

I attended Interwoven’s annual client summit, GearUp 2008, held in San Francisco April 22-24. Interwoven is a major player in the content management software space with over 4,200 customers in 60 countries. They develop enterprise strength solutions that help companies create, publish and archive all types of content.

A software application such as this has largely been the purview of the IT department. But Interwoven has been working to expand their offerings into a tool set suite in the hopes of transcending IT and engaging marketers, by allowing them to leverage content with increased relevancy. They are re-proclaiming that “content is king” and is the single most important asset firms have to influence brand consideration and purchase. With the explosion of online community and social networking this approach makes sense, and their extremely well run conference really got me thinking.

As a marketer myself, working in the Internet space, I rely heavily on my IT department to understand what I want to do in the online channel and then execute. We come at the world from very different mind sets, which sometimes makes communication challenging. I know the following dot points are oversimplified, but I believe they make my point.

  • IT works in machine code and Marketing works in human code
  • IT has build guidelines, Marketing has information architecture
  • IT writes code, Marketers employ goal-directed design
  • IT has an instruction set, Marketing uses personas

We have a great relationship with our IT team, but are always exploring ways to make it better and more effective. In my opinion a major point of convergence is in the offing.

  1. Companies should require regular strategic planning sessions that bring to the table the Internet solutions VP, the E-Business VP, the CIO and CMO. This will help the organization understand the breadth of what needs to get done from infrastructure to presentation layer, from database to targeting. These will be sobering conversations.
  2. CEOs should combine marketing and IT functions into one seamless high performance team. It will be required if firms want to accelerate the return on their already significant online investment and extend its effectiveness to drive business results.
  3. Get social or get served. This is a courage call. Think, smell, taste and breathe social (I know, duh). But not that many traditional companies are doing it for all the reasons we already know about. In order to get social, IT and Marketing must be one social team.
  4. Set up social tools for IT and Marketing to communicate and build their unique community. If given the chance and mandate, they will find common ground. Actually I worry less about the traditional marketing areas getting clued in, as their activities will continue to get more expensive and eventually will serve to support the richer interactive channels.

It’s all about having system(s) flexible enough to be both a marketing and servicing platform. Then it’s about the teams working to connect these systems in an online ecosphere. There are very big things looming on the horizon and companies that have not set-up their infrastructure and organizations to be more agile, will not grow. Or worse, they will be overtaken by competitors who are able to do this.

Now back to the Interwoven GearUp summit. Guy Kawasaki was a keynote speaker, tackling The Art of Agile Development. Guy is now a venture capitalist, but spent several years at Apple Computer in the late ‘90’s as their software evangelist, trying to get more coders to produce products for the Macintosh operating system. I first met Guy in 1996 in Chicago. He was on one of his road shows for Apple and spoke at the Chicago Public Library. He was engaging, funny and smart, and it appears that some 12 years later, none of that has changed. Guy knows the marketing speak, but he exposes the long held marketing doublespeak for what it is, and that rings true to IT. This is an important clue to getting the two teams on the same page.

You have to see Guy in person to really appreciate what he is saying. My notes can’t do that, so I won’t even try. I don’t have the slide deck presented at the summit, but this one is very close. Catch him live if you can. If you can’t visit Guy’s blog is here.

More to come.