Tag Archives: LinkedIn

Hey! We Made That!

Almost a year ago, I got brought in to help design the new Verizon VCast Messaging client for Android. Now at last, the finished product is finally out in the world (and out of non-disclosure!)

Much like a movie, the final cut of the product morphed a little from the original design, but the fundamentals seem to have made it to the marketplace intact. Kudos to our visual designer, Mark Castaneda.

Engadget even linked to this rather nice preview (from Droid Life):

http://www.droid-life.com/2011/01/13/verizon-enters-the-text-app-arena-with-v-cast-messages/

The Quickie iPhone 4 Review


Got it in a day early (thanks, Apple!) and just had a bit of time to play with it. Here are the highlights:

Style

As nice as you’ve heard, although (as usual), absolutely a magnet for fingerprints. If you liked the current line of iMacs and MacBook Pros, this fits the same line style perfectly.

Activation

Smooth as can be. No fooling around was required at all–just plugged it into iTunes and it transferred over my old phone’s activation and software without a problem. Do be sure to back up your old iPhone first, if you’ve got one. Carolyn (who’s meant to be the recipient of my old iPhone as part of the Great Bickford Technology Pass-along) hasn’t activated hers yet as you need to upgrade to iTunes 9.2 first to get going and she hadn’t done that as quickly as her tech-obsessed husband has.

The Screen

Nice, but not earthshaking. Fonts do look better, but it’s still the same physical size, so don’t expect to be reading full-format web pages full of teeny, high-res type unless you have better vision than I do. It’s more of a qualitative difference than a game-changer.

Multitasking

Having Pandora running (at last!) while using other apps is a huge plus. Most other apps seem to use the multi-tasking model for quick app switching, but it causes some real problems as there’s not an obvious way to close an application (although I did discover that a double-press of the home button followed by a long press of an app icon in the new launcher that appears lets you do this). All last night, however, I was getting what sounded like text messages going off telling me that such-and-such an application was “going to sleep” to save my battery, even though I’d already switched to another application and assumed I’d closed it. I didn’t figure this particular trick out until well after a nigh-sleepless night.

The Camera

Here’s where most of my hopes lie in terms of improvement. The first iPhone 3G camera was a nightmare. The 3GS camera was barely usable for the most casual of pictures. My hope is that this one–being the camera I’m virtually guaranteed to actually have with me at all times–will be the one which manages to be about as good as an old basic point-and-shoot. Certainly the responsiveness is far improved–it actually takes shots immediately if there’s enough light–and the simple LED flash does a reasonable job of at least getting light on subjects. The resulting images range from “viewable but reasonably ghastly” to “looks decent”. If I can manage to keep most of my pictures in the second category, all those spur-of-the-moment casual shots of kids and events have a chance of making it into the scrapbook at last.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve already got a working 3GS iPhone and your wife’s phone hasn’t got a cracked screen, it would be hard to justify the extra $360 (with California tax!) that I had to shell out to get the newest and best. It’s an incremental upgrade to be sure. That said, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an older iPhone, or for those wanting to know what the whole iPhone nuttiness is all about. The applications available for this platform (which also run on your iPad or iPod Touch) are nothing short of amazing in their variety and there are sure to be several you’d be lost without.

iPad to Launch on April 3rd

A little less than a month from now, we’ll be able to grab one in person; pre-orders through the Apple store start March 12th–although no word as of yet as to whether that applies to both the Wi-fi and 3G models.

For myself, I go back and forth as to whether 3G matters–everywhere I currently would want to use an iPad has a Wifi connection, and I’ve got an iPhone for the odd spot in between). I’ll definitely be grabbing one for myself, however–Ah, but which model?

The Apple iPad: Why a “Fourth Device” Makes a Lot of Sense

At CES, the buzz was on 3D, but  my money is that the new consumer device most bought this year isn’t shutter glasses and a new 120-240Hz TV, it’ll be an e-Reader of some sort–and most likely one with a picture of a piece of fruit on the back.

Apple, of course, just announced their long-awaited (and unfortunately named) iPad. Starting at $499, it’s a very slick piece of technology, although the gadget press overall seemed muted in their enthusiasm. Most of the critical comments centered on it being a “fourth device” (the others being a desktop, laptop, and app-phone) which doesn’t really replace anything. While I’m sympathetic to the complaint about lugging yet another device around, I’d argue that for its intended audience it very well may replace something: books. And for many other people, at many times, it may also replace the laptop and television as ways of consuming entertainment on the go.

What we’re seeing in the iPad is a new being: the media consumption device with a few capabilities to process and mark up media on the go. Unlike say, a laptop, it’s not equally capable of both authoring and consuming media; it’s fair to poor at the former, and outstanding at the latter. But luckily for Apple, most folks, most of the time, are media consumers.

Given the right ecosystem of content delivery, the iPad (and its successors) could prove as indispensable to people on the go as the tattered Dean Koontz paperback in their overnight bag. What’s more, it has the potential to replace stacks of textbooks or (more immediately in my case) the need to carry around several hundred pages of product specifications and technical notes as part of a work project. It also has the potential to prove an amazing device for browsing the web–probably the most-favored (and little-recognized) time-killer next to watching television.

Lastly, the iPad is already changing the eBook game, bringing full color and snappy screen response as well as the ability to read all the books from both the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble libraries (assuming Apple keeps to their promise that anything that runs on the iPhone will run on the iPad).

In the end, I think the iPad will succeed and find a way to become that fourth device in people’s book bags. In all likelihood, it’ll just replace a few of the books in order to make room for itself.

Human Computing Gets a Phone System Upgrade

Please share in our joy at putting a stake through the heart of our old telephone system at the office–or at least the telephone answering/routing portion of it. (Note to AT&T: Your 974 is a fine office phone, but the 984 answering system at the heart of it—to quote Jean-Louis Gassée– “…could be even better.” I’ll spare you the translation of what that implies it is currently).

In any case, the direct phone numbers to reach us all on are:

Wish us luck as we settle into the new phone system, and please let us know if you have any difficulty with any part of it.

Progress Bars for Stop Lights

Designer: Damjan Stanković

from Yanko Design–a brilliant concept.

The designers offer a rationale that seeing exactly how long you need to wait for a light will let you know whether it’s worth it to switch off your electric car, but this strikes me as a bit grasping. The real worth behind the concept is the same for progress bars everywhere–they’re tremendously reassuring indicators that the wait is progressing steadily toward an end, and which let you adjust your own expectations immediately toward the perceived completion time. (Thwarting this is what makes Microsoft’s Copy progress bars so frustrating).

(From XKCD)

In a study I did at Apple years ago, we subjected users to an unexplained delay in the computer’s processing after they hit a “Save” button while doing data entry. Half the users actually concluded that the computer had crashed (getting up from their seats for help or pressing the Reset button) when it didn’t respond in 8.5 seconds. Displaying a watch cursor bought several more seconds, and an animated watch worked even better. But a progress bar* had the users more-or-less-happily waiting for several minutes–exactly the effect you’d need to calm tensions in a cross-town commute.

*A standard (not indefinite) progress bar–we didn’t test indefinite progress bars in this study.

As enthusiastic as I am about the concept,  then there’s the part where reality intrudes: The LED technology behind current stop lights makes this physically possible, but although the circuitry needn’t be expensive to make it work, the labor and construction costs involved with replacing or retrofitting existing stop lights–quite possibly running nearly six figures per light(!)–make any sort of broad-based switch-over extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future.

The Future of Comics: Coming Faster Than Even I Thought!

From TechCrunch:
http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/11/01/marvel-comics-partners-with-panelfly-to-bring-mobile-comics-to-the-iphone/

Now don’t get me wrong: reading comics on your iPhone right now is a stunt. It’s nothing you’d really want to do unless there was just no other way to read them.

But very soon, the same ecosystem that brings you $0.99 comics on your iPhone will bring you $0.99 comics on something that’ll be a lot more attractive to read them on.

Also worth noting: Amazon has confirmed that they’ll soon be releasing both Macintosh and Windows versions of their Kindle reader, and Barnes and Noble’s e-Reading software for Mac and  Windows is already real. Adobe is also well underway with their own initiative to bring forth a universal ePub content format for eBooks, which looks to be gaining some traction.

Frankly, the world of e-reading content looks like it’s about to explode. And as far as comics are concerned, the porting of Marvel’s content to the iPhone is likely to be remembered as just the first wave of before the floodgates came fully open and washed away much of what we know about the comics market.

Hold on, folks–this is going to be a helluva ride.

Mac Mini: The World’s Most Power-Efficient Windows Server (?!)

We all knew Apple made pretty computers with great interfaces, but have they also managed to create the most power-efficient Windows server machine on the market?

We just wrapped up a huge round of server upgrades at comicbase.com and AtomicAvenue.com. Last to go were our three oldest servers which we use to run a bunch of essential but boring jobs like our DNS, email, Microsoft Exchange, and Active Directory Domains.

The old servers were “1U” jobs–your basic short, wide, and very long boxes packed to the gills with heat-generating electronics. These were cooled–barely–by a suite of fans at the back of each box blowing at hurricane speeds.

Having these servers around the office was like having a cleaning woman permanently parked in the back room vacuuming up a storm. In fact, the noise of these servers was enough of a factor that finding a “server room” to put them in where they (a) wouldn’t overheat and (b) wouldn’t drive us all bonkers with their unceasing roar–was a major part of the search for our last two office locations.

So what replaced these power-sucking, heat-generating, noise-blasting behemoths? A trio of tiny Mac Minis running Windows Server 2008, thanks to Apple’s Boot Camp utility which lets you dual-boot them as either Windows or Mac OS X machines.

These are computers so diminutive that we can fit all three of them side by side on a single level of our server cabinet. They’re so quiet and power-efficient that they don’t even have (or need) fans to cool them. And the total power draw? About 57 watts total when they’re running full-out at their assigned jobs!

Now, I can’t recommend the Mac Mini for every server job. For one thing, their small, slow, laptop-style drives make them unsuitable for anything involving the storage of any great amount of data, or where disk speed enters the equation in any real way. For instance, they’d make pretty mediocre file servers or web servers, and fairly horrific database servers. They also lack a lot of server niceties like hot-swappable drives, redundant network adapters…or any of the other things which IT folks tend to gush over but rarely turn out to be useful in the real world.

But for jobs like DNS service, where the computer can load all the data it’ll ever need to serve in a small amount of its RAM, they seem (so far) to be working out as well as the buffest, most costly machine we could have thrown at the problem. Better yet, they’re doing it at a fairly trivial hardware cost, in near-perfect silence, and with a power draw hundreds of watts less than the servers they replaced.

I don’t know how Apple managed it, but I’m blown away that Apple–known everywhere for pretty interfaces and beautiful design–may have also created the world’s most energy-efficient server in the bargain. Well done, guys!

The Apple Tablet and The Future of Comic Books

Noted comics writer James Hudnall writes in his blog that the rumored Apple Tablet (concept art shown below) could wind up saving the comic book industry. I agree that the Apple Tablet is going to be hugely disruptive to the print media world, for many of the reasons listed in another blog.

apple_tablet

Here’s how I see the whole thing playing out: Sometime in January or February, Steve Jobs will get up on stage and announce the Apple Tablet. Essentially, it’ll looks like a big iPhone, complete with touch screen, glossy plastics, and impeccable industrial design. Wi-Fi is also a given, along with some sort of interface (Bluetooth?) which lets you set it in an equally impeccable cradle for charging, keyboard, and mouse access.

But the real win is going to be as a portable media “slate”–think HD movies, full-screen video conferencing, and the like…and then imagine reading a book on it.

This is where Jobs turns the demo over to little Johnny from Public School 323 somewhere. Johnny’s class will have been road-testing the Apple Tablet for their science textbooks, and he’ll hold up the tablet to the camera where it shows an elegant textbook cover which “opens” through the use of a gesture. Pages will be “riffled” similarly until Johnny arrives at some science diagram, perhaps showing the way an LED emits photons. Johnny will then tap the diagram with his finger, and it  will come to life showing an animation depicting the whole process. Next will come history books showing famous speeches next to the picture of the speakers involved, recipe books showing video instruction for the dishes being cooked, etc.

And then–if I were Steve Jobs–I’d have Amazon’s Jeff Bezos come out on stage and announce that all those jillions of Kindle books which can already be read on your iPhone will also work on the Apple Tablet. Ditto for the Barnes and Noble book inventory.

So what about comics? Well, for a start it’s easy to imagine Marvel…err.. I mean Disney (of which Jobs is a board member and single largest stockholder) doing comics either specifically for the platform (a la Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.) or simply making sure that the already-strong Marvel digital offerings include making it possible to buy any current (and possibly older) Marvel comic directly through the device at a fraction of the cost of buying it in paper form.

Although motion comics are expensive to produce, and still in their infancy in terms of technique, all modern comics are likely to pass through a digital “final” form (e.g. PDF) on the way to the printer anyway. Running it through a batch process to whip out the digital reader version is simplicity itself for the publishers.And if they sold the digital copy in a way which clears them a single dollar per copy, they’d already be more profitable to publish than the paper versions.

In this digital future, you’d lose the feel of paper and some of the other qualities (not least of all resalability) of the physical comic, but readers would also have them in pristine, archival format for an eternity without needing filing, comic boxes, or bags. And they’d cost a lot less–probably no more than $1 to $1.50 per issue.

Not everyone will go for it–at least not at first–but expect a larger and larger percentage of the comic buying audience to switch to digital in the same way that newspaper readers have. (And the month that an Australian reader can get their Marvels in this format for $0.99 instead of the $7.50 or more they currently pay, it’s all over on the newsstand).

At first, expect the readers–especially Apple’s–to be expensive enough that they appeal mostly to early adopters and those with fair amounts of spending money. But that’s not such a dissimilar demographic from the comic buying audience as a whole right now (comprised mostly of post-college males with higher than average family incomes). I think the digital future will be one us far faster than most would dream now.

To steal a surfing metaphor, a big wave is coming for the world of comics. You either gotta get on your board and ride it, or get prepared to go under.


The Great Game: Kindles, Bookstores, and Shameless Comparison Shopping

It’s not often that I walk into a store, buy something, then feel guilty. But it happened to me again tonight.

Barnes and Noble is a favorite hangout for me and the kids, and we often browse there after grabbing a mocha in their in-store Starbucks. It’s a great way to spend an hour relaxing in pleasant surroundings, and I’ve definitely dropped a fair amount of cash there in the process.

But tonight, after I sipped a mocha from the B&N Starbucks and browsed through Tom Vanderbilt’s new book, “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)“, I did something that’s become all-too frequent a habit of mine: I comparison shopped it on Amazon.com via my iPhone to see how the store price ($16 in paperback) stacked up. Given my Barnes & Noble membership card, my store price would have been $14.40 — but then the ridiculous Santa Clara County sales tax of 9.25% kicked in, raising it back up to $15.73 again.

In comparison, Amazon.com had it for $10.88, with no sales tax and free shipping (I also belong to their Amazon Prime program which gives me “Free” 2nd day shipping on most items for a yearly payment of about $70). “So,” I thought, “there’s my decision. Is getting it now vs. two days from now worth $4.85 to me?” And given how busy my schedule was, the answer was almost certainly, “No.”

But Barnes and Noble’s case got worse mere moments later when I realized that it existed in a Kindle edition for $9.99–I could be reading it in a minute or two, with no tax, shipping, or even a book to shelve or dispose of when it was all done with (I doubted I could recoup much or any of  the cost by selling the paperback later).

“But wait!” I thought a moment later. “Here I am, sitting in this nice local store. Shouldn’t I occasionally spend $4.85 to help these guys out from time to time?”

A brief pause here to talk about my own personal shopper psychology: In our house, money spent on essentials and building for the future is OK–whether that means school for the kids, server upgrades for the business, or an appropriate business wardrobe for Carolyn (who just went back to work). On the other hand, things like books about traffic jam psychology, tin robots, Lego sets, etc. fall into the “luxuries” category, and there’s only so much of that I can do before the guilt kicks in pretty good. I love my non-essentials, but I can’t go nuts buying them. And I usually comparison shop.

So here’s my problem: I love Barnes and Noble, and if my $4.85 means the difference between keeping them around and not, I’m happy to spend it on them. But I also admire and respect Amazon.com. They run a great business, and the Kindle is a massively innovative (and disruptive!) piece of technology.  The harsh reality is that if Barnes and Noble (or anyone else) wants a customer’s business, they have to get it by offering the superior value proposition–not just by appealing to the customer’s sense of guilt or charity.

But how does a physical book store–even a great one like Barnes and Noble–compete in a world where someone can get interested in a book by browsing it over a cup of coffee in the store, but buy it for less from a competitor before he even leaves the premises? Sometimes the physical properties of the book are enough–whether it’s color, binding, feel, etc. which can’t be easily copied digitally. But all-too-often, the simple answer is, “they can’t.”

So it’s with huge relief that I note that Barnes and Noble appears to be going on the offensive on their own, and engaging on the digital front in the war for readers with their own e-reader device designed to best the Amazon Kindle. If rumors are true, the device may even be revealed tomorrow, and it ups the ante by using twin screens (including a color, touch-sensitive one), and an aggressive price point. If they can also do battle on the content side, offering up similar offerings at similar prices, I’d be only too happy to jump on board. (Picture from Gizmodo).

b-n-e-reader-rumor

(And yes, using the peculiar logic of geeks and small businessmen, it’s not a personal expense to buy a $259 e-reader if it turns out that we can also use it to view ComicBase reports. Then it’s an exploratory business development purchase, and comes out of the guilt-free “business” budget instead of the “luxuries” budget where a $259 purchase would cause me more than a little pause. Heck, look how I worried over $4.85 for a paperback!)

So bring it on, Barnes and Noble–I’m cheering for you.

And Amazon, I’m cheering for you too! Not to mention Apple, Microsoft, and anyone else who wants to engage in another round of the most amazing game in the world: Capitalism.

The rules are simple: You have to make something cool that people want more than they want to hold onto their money–i.e. you have to invent an entirely new thing, or beat the competition in some way that matters to the customer. And when the competition fights back with a new innovation of their own, you have to raise the stakes again with your own innovation, make your old thing more affordable, or quit the game. Force of any kind is considered cheating, especially when you attempt to get the government to use force on your behalf. Players can retire anytime they want, but the game  itself never ends. And everyone wins except the quitters.