Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The wrong response and a correction

While I was away recently I got a letter from Terminix (pest control) with the text below:

Regardless of what you may think of the economy etc this is the wrong thing to do for your customers. If the times are bad, they're bad for your customers too, don't make it worse for them.

So naturally I called them to cancel my account. I was paying $110 3 times a year with the proposed hike to $114 3 times a year. After a chat about the right way to treat customers i'm now on the $98 3 times a year plan. Yes, rather than making an extra $12 from a customer this year, they managed to anger a customer and have instead lost $36 per year from the customer. Sometimes doing nothing is better.

We can only change bad behaviors like this by making the right decisions as consumers.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

iPad for Media

Well from this string of posts you're going to think I hate the iPad, but lets just say i'm calling it as I see it and i'm not blinded by the light of Apple.

On the way out on my vacation I watched a movie (X-Men Wolverine) on the iPad. The screen size and weight are perfect for video on the airplane. But there were a few problems. First, since its a touch device the large screen is littered with fingerprints, smudges etc. Its a pain to clean such a large screen and whole sites and products are springing up discussing this issue. They claim the iPad has a fingerprint resisting oleophobic coating on the screen, but mine is quickly littered with fingerprints and smudges. So when you go to read a book or watch a movie it must first start with a cleaning session. I never had to do that with the old DVD players I carried on the plane or my laptop (whose screen I had no reason to touch). The second, is since Apple chose a glossy glass screen, all light is reflected back at you. On a plane, during daylight hours, this makes it hard to see stuff on the screen. For these two reasons, the iPad is not great as a video device unless you have oil free hands (they have cures for that) and only watch movies in the dark. 

On the way home I wanted to try an eBook. My had had been reading Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow, currently #7 on the NY Times bestseller list and I figured i'd give that a try. I started with Apple's iBook's application and looked in the store. Gone Tomorrow is episode #13 of some character (never read any of the others). iBooks had 4 of the 14 books in that line and Gone Tomorrow was not one of them. Then I went to the Kindle store. They had all 14. With content, its either there or it isn't. The iBook store, missing current bestsellers, is currently a nonstarter. This wasnt the first book i've looked for to find missing there.

Next I read the first 6 chapters on the iPad with the Kindle sample. That went well and was enjoyable enough. But with the smudges (mentioned above), the limited portability of an iPad (I wouldnt dare take it to a beach or have it next to me at the pool while the kid splashes), and the inability to share a good book with a friend I find that eBooks have less value than real books, yet cost more. My Dad had given me his paper copy so after chapter 6 I switched to the "real" book and i'm back on track.

I love gadgets, but they have to be built for a purpose. My experience so far is that the iPad was built with no conceived purpose, but with the hopes that others would figure one out. Thats a sad thing to do to your customers. Build products with a purpose, if you find your customers use it for something different then adapt and do it quickly. 

Traveling with the iPad

Well I made it through a week's vacation without turning on my MacBookPro. That was partially because vacation came at a good point, but also because the iPad filled the gap well enough. In using the iPad more over the last week i've had some additional observations. My main conclusion is that its a great platform that has a lot of promise but most of the promise has yet to be fulfilled. In a year or so perhaps it will really become what it should be.

One thing that shocked me on the iPad when I went looking for things I assumed were there because they're on the iPhone was that they arent there. There's no alarm clock on the iPad and there are no free ones yet that I saw. The iPhone has it, the iPod Touch has it but the iPad doesnt. What was Apple thinking there?

Also, in this highly visual touch device, the iPod app has no Coverflow support. Whats that about? Even the iPod nano has coverflow.

Then originally I had my email (google apps based) setup using the Active Sync approach. I found for email accounts setup this way you cant do anything at all when offline. I switched mail over to IMAP and it seemed to let me do some offline mail etc while I was on the plane. 

For all that Apple has stripped functionality from the iPods and iPhone in delivering the iPad they've delivered little new other than using the larger screen space. In addition they've opted for up selling you on features that make sense for the platform like their iWork products. 

It almost seems like the iPad is an experiment on how big a fan base they have rather than delivering a product that really is well rounded and meets market needs.

So yes, I skipped powering on my MacBookPro and it was a great video device on the plane but I still had to carry my MacBookPro with me because I the iPad isnt a computer, its an oversized, but stripped down, iPod.

Friday, April 9, 2010

iPad/Google Reader Update

After more searching around I found out that you can get Google Reader to work with the iPad although why it doesn't work out of the box I don't know. Here's the link:

They also updated Gmail for the iPad but because of their constant confusion between Gmail and Google Apps Gmail it only works for Gmail and not for Google Apps.

I'm not a fan of the current Google Reader for iPad interface but it does work and you can see everything etc. That means I can now catch up on news and its a nail in the coffin for the overpriced NetNewsWire for iPad.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Now being stuck with a portable but not cell connected device I began to think about the lack of free wifi access everywhere. Especially in airports and the sticks where I live. A friend told me about the MiFi and it sounded like a good idea. I've had an aircard (USB thing that gives you internet access on your computer anywhere you have cell coverage) for years. I pay $60/month and its on Verizon so I get decent coverage and speed. The speed is like DSL speed. Since my contract was up, the day I got the iPad I went to verizon to ask about an upgrade. Because of the contract expiring etc I moved to the Mifi for a whopping $3.00 after the rebate.

The MiFi is great. Now instead of USB connection its wireless and supports up to 5 devices. It came just in time since my company was having serious internet issues with our T1s (turns out that was verizons fault, seems to be justice in that somewhere) and a bunch of the guys jumped on my MiFi while we were in pain.

And now my iPad is on wireless, through a decent carrier, wherever I want it to be. That makes the iPad more useful.

Better yet when the family is stuck at an airport now all 3 of us can jump on the net and surf etc.


So if you're reading along here you were probably asking yourself if I went ahead with the plan on the iPad. Well, the short answer is Yes. I'm an iPad owner. Unlike others that pre-ordered and waited impatiently last saturday for FedEx to arrive, I got up around 9am, drove to to the mall with the Apple Store, walked right in and picked it up. Was in the store for all of 2 minutes and had it hours before the pre-order friends I have.

The first experience is amazing. It really is a new device and you are instantly enchanted by it. For me that lasted about 2 hours. After that I started wondering if the thing would really be useful long term of if its another toy. The best way to describe it is a large iPod Touch. Minus most of the applications. And minus the portability, but add in the honking big screen and better battery.

Despite what Apple says, the iPhone apps don't look good/work well on the iPad. At least all my favorites were just supersized versions of the iPhone ones and were ugly. So bad I uninstalled them. They also only worked in vertical iPad orientation from what I can tell (more on orientation later).

There are surprisingly few iPad supporting apps out there despite the long hype. There are even less free ones. There seems to be a current trend to charge for iPad apps where the iPhone ones are free (NetNewsWire) or charge more for the app on the iPad. Some even charge you twice for the app, once for the iPhone version and once for the iPad one. This leads you to even less apps on the iPad. I described it as 2 screens of apps (that are spaced very far apart for some silly reason). One screen of the stuff that is actually useful and runs on the iPad and another because you wanted more stuff and thats the best you could find. 

So whats good?

  • Email. I found the vertical orientation of the app to be frustrating with the odd mailbox behavior. The horizontal one is a charm. In general i've found most apps are better looking/work better horizontally. I wonder if thats intended?
  • Web. Safari browsing sites etc is really nice
  • Big iPod Touch. Nice big pictures, cover art, movies, music you name it. Its a fancy ipod with great graphics and a nice interface

So what isnt?
  • Some apps from Apple arent on the iPad. Remember Remote? Stocks? Odd that Apple didnt even port their own apps to their new platform
  • A major use case for me was going to be reading/keeping up on my RSS feeds. Well, NetNewsWire is a whopping $10 (way overpriced), but Google reader (mobile or non-mobile) doesnt work on the iPad. You cant scroll/get at stuff in the non-mobile one and the mobile one is tiny. So to me I cant do RSS feeds on the iPad until NetNewsWire gets reasonable (or I get less cheap) or Google fixes things for "the other mobile OS"...
  • Once you have a bigger platform you want to do more. That means task switching. Well the iPad doesnt do that any better than the iPhone so you're missing multitasking, multiple windows etc. Shame to have such a nice screen/device with a single threaded interface. Could you imagine sliding windows around, pinch zooming etc? Sigh.
  • Many of the apps that are on the iPad are skin-deep in beauty. They look good for the first screen or two but lack any real depth. There's great potential there but a long way to go. Especially for them to be worth money to the masses.
  • Apple for some reason tried hard to make some of the apps (Calendar, Contacts) look like a physical calendar/address book. This comes off as cheap and it wastes a good platform. They could have done much better in this area. 
  • iTunes has no ability for you to sort your apps by their support for your device. So if you're like me and have 100 apps for your iPhone and want to only install those that work on the iPad on the iPad, you will be doing a lot of grunt work in figuring that out. They did it right on the App Store, but blew it in iTunes.
  • Major apps that make sense for the device, like Facebook, haven't been ported. Sure the web page looks great on there and thats a plus and you can make a shortcut on the iPad desktop etc. But still. 
  • No camera. Yes we knew it in advance, but a user-facing camera for Skype would have made it an ideal "chat with the parents while on the couch" device. I'm still stuck at a keyboard for my video calls. How lame is that?

So will I invoke my plan to give it to the wife? Well, I asked her. She asked about using Word and PowerPoint. I had to explain there were different apps on the phone. She asked about accessing her files on her iMac. I had to explain there was no synchronization with her iMac but she could port her files to the Apple apps (Pages etc) and then keep them on the (slow) MobileMe. Then she asked about facebook. I gave up. So far the device is failing my "basic user test".

The kid meanwhile wants the new laptop. So I have a nice toy I play with a bit but cant really use much because the things I want to do arent there yet. The apps I use arent ported or are no longer free. Perhaps i'll break down and buy a few. So far the only app I ever bought was OmniFocus for a whopping $20 and i've regretted it ever since since its such a slow piece of junk. Give me more trial/demo apps and then expire them or something. I want to use NetNewsWire before I shell out $10. Especially after how they ruined the iPhone app.

BTW don't get the stand and the case for the iPad. If you put the iPad in the Apple case it wont go in the stand. But yes, Apple will gladly sell you both at the same time without mentioning that. Fortunately they also take back the stand after you find that out :)

So I have an $800 toy (32G version (friend talked me into more room for movies), Applecare (1st gen product and potential to be abused by wife), and case/dock). I hope someday some enterprising developers will make it the product it has the potential to be. It is a game changer, I just wonder if Apple will win the game or just tip people off to how its played?