Why cut out half your market?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 by musingsofafool

I was looking at a review of the new Motorola Droid X, and though I do not have as good a feeling on how the UI is on the iPhone and I will have to wait to use it to figure all that out I did notice something about it’s industrial design.

The phone is HUGE. My personal opinion is that at that size (and plain old boring black plastic look) there is an extremely low probability that such a phone would ever be purchased (for personal use) by a woman.

I think this may be one of the success factors behind the iPhone, it has appeal to both men and women thus allowing access to the full market.

I think that from what I have seen of the smart phones that run on Droid all of them seem to be designed in a fashion as to only appeal to the male portion of the cell phone market and to be an even greater bigot I would say to the “IT guy” male portion of the market.

I am not sure how the market for cell phones breaks out relative to the population. However, I do know that the population breaks out roughly 50/50 and I also know that women have a greater tendency to value “social interaction” than men so I would tend to believe that would put them at at least 50% of the market if not more.

I think this is why Blackberry is also selling so well. I believe that the smaller models (Pearl et all) have a great appeal to women.

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Product and usability design

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 by musingsofafool

I think that anyone who is doing product or usability design (at least in the technology field) can learn a great deal from Apple.

Essentially, it appears to me, that Apple always designs its products for an isolated set of use cases. Furthermore I believe that they only design for the core functions of the use case and do not worry or bother with the fringe cases or any exceptions.

I think that these use cases are decided upon and selected along side product design and planning for what particular use case scenarios would compel a user to go and purchase one of their devices.

I also believe that they are not necessarily opposed to fringe use case scenarios, but that they will not compromise the core with a fringe and as such are willing to release a product and wait until some innovation can be made such that the fringe can be implemented without a compromise to the core.

Some examples are Numbers and Pages. The file management functionality of these two programs is extremely basic, and essentially is only useful if you are using the iPad for working on a specific set of documents (at a time) and then when you are done with them you off load them to your computer for archival purposes. I believe that this is probably the majority of what users will do.

Another example is the iPad, many people were underwhelmed with the number of bells and whistles that it had. This device just did a few things EXTREMELY well. Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Web (without flash) and iPhone Apps. Most were going “but why would someone get one of these?” In light of this observation I would say, well a net book (which does more) does not do any of it well let alone extremely well.

One more great example is copy and paste. When the iPhone was released it did not have copy and paste. The lack of copy and paste did not interfere with the CORE functionality of the use cases of the iPhone and as such it did not take away from the product. When Apple was able to figure out how to integrate the feature into the product without compromising the core use case, they did so.

This approach is diametrically opposed to the standard practice in the technology field (especially software) where fringe cases are discussed and looked to be handled ad nauseam.

I believe this stems from the fact of how a software developer thinks. A software developer (by the nature of his job) has to think in exceptions. Programming in many regards is like that old game of lemmings where the lemmings just walked and it was the job of the user to put up the necessary contraptions (or turn the lemmings into the necessary contraptions) such that they would arrive at their destination safely. This is very much the case with the computer, it simply executes instructions without any regard to what those instructions are. It is the job of the programmer to make sure those instructions will eventually result in something we want.

Microsoft suffers from “fringe use case” software bloat. Google in many of the initial apps it created did not. However, I think this was not as a result of design. I think it was as a result of circumstance. Many of the successful projects released by Google were developed by engineers on their own spare time. Thus being constrained by time, these engineers concentrated only on core use case functionality.

Power users may be happy with “fringe use case” software (provided it is done right, which may be next to impossible in a first iteration); however non-power users (i.e. the majority of the population) are perfectly satisfied with uncompromised core use case functionality.

The challenge here for any company is to do the same as Apple is doing. Identify and satisfy the core use case scenarios. Stick to those first and ignore all else.

Economics and the art of politics

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2010 by musingsofafool

So I am reading Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” and he delivers such a beautiful and clear articulation or economics. It makes me wonder why in the world is modern economics so darn “complicated”?

Here is my cynical answer. (If I keep these kinds of posts up, I will have to change this blog to musings of a cynic)

Macroeconomics is the domain of states. That domain is based in the perception of reality much more than any other domain. Thus, it would always want to find models of reality that are farthest removed from reality. In this manner the perception can be augmented to the largest degree and allow for favourable perceptions to emerge.

In that vein, those theories that are more convoluted, provide for better gray areas, and manipulation would be favored over those that are clear and straight to the point. As such, those who present such complex theories would then be called upon as advisors. They would be the ones to receive the most accolades and compensation and in turn they would be the ones that would be studied in school.

This would explain such funny things such as a consumer price index that does not take into account shelter and energy costs. Due to the reason that these are too volatile to track. So we can build models to track turbulence and create algorithms to animate 1000s of balloons, but to develop s more accurate true measure of economic health seems beyond our reach.

Inflation, not just a central bank problem

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2010 by musingsofafool

So, I have read somewhere that the elimination of the gold standard and the introduction of a central banking system was a great recipe for a state to print money and in general be a source of inflation.

Then I read this passage from “The wealth of nations”:

“The Roman as, in the latter ages of the republic, was reduced to the twenty-fourth part of its original value, and, instead of weighing a pound, came to weigh only half an ounce. The English pound and penny contain at present about a third only; the Scots pound and penny about a thirty-sixth; and the French pound and penny about a sixty-sixth part of their original value. By means of those operations, the princes and sovereign states which performed them were enabled, in appearance, to pay their debts and fulfil their engagements with a smaller quantity of silver than would otherwise have been requisite. It was indeed in appearance only; for their creditors were really defrauded of a part of what was due to them. All other debtors in the state were allowed the same privilege, and might pay with the same nominal sum of the new and debased coin whatever they had borrowed in the old. Such operations, therefore, have always proved favourable to the debtor, and ruinous to the creditor, and have sometimes produced a greater and more universal revolution in the fortunes of private persons, than could have been occasioned by a very great public calamity.”

It seems that one does not even need currency by fiat to print money, nor does the money need to be paper based or largely electronic.

All that is required is for those who are in authority. Those with the exclusive authority to exercise force to run up a large debt. At that point history has shown that the temptation to “undo” the debt is much too large. Oh I am sure this is always done for the benefit of the constituents (as was the acquisition of the initial debt).

Perhaps the solution to all this good for the people nonsense is to disallow the state to acquire debt. This way there can never be this temptation looming in the dark recesses of the benevolence of the state.

250,000 Apps, yes, but ALL developed on a Mac

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2010 by musingsofafool

Here is something that I have not heard much about.

Apple’s iOS SDK requires a Mac. So this means, that all of the 250,000 applications were developed on a Mac.

So, either plenty of developers went out to purchase a Mac so they could develop for the iOS, or (more likely the case) only developers who already own a Mac have spent time developing for the iOS.

A few questions emerge out of this for me. How many apps would there be if the SDK was also available on PC? How many Macs were sold for the sole purpose of running the SDK?

What’s in your utility drawer

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2010 by musingsofafool

So I get a question from my sister asking me what exactly is an iPad. Is it a laptop is it a large iPod?

My standard answer to this type of question is, if you must ask, then there is no point in giving you an answer because you just won’t get it. However, an answer like that only gets me hit up side the head. So I tried to dig a little deeper and here is what came out.

Go through your house and gather all of the philips screwdrivers that you can find.

Here is what a typical inventory of philips screwdrivers may look like. On you key chain you find one that is included with your swiss army knife. This one is very useful for opening those battery covers for young children’s toys and for tightening loose screws on your glasses. In your utility drawer you find a multi socket screwdriver. This one is useful for lose hinges, helping put together that shelf from Ikea. In your camping gear you find one in the survival kit. Not sure what it may be good for but it’s there none the less. The tool box in the garage sports some nice shiny ones purchased last year for Father’s day.

The point is that in general you will find more than one and each one will be a little different. Now, no one would ever even think of talking about the number and variety of philips screwdrivers at a cocktail party; however, if the subject were to come up no one at that party would think you to be strange if you had said that you had several philips screwdrivers at home. I am quite sure no one would ask as to why you have a multi socket screwdriver even though you also have a screwdriver set with each different head already available for use.

This is how the iPad fits in. Though, a laptop can probably do everything an iPad can do, an iPod can be much more useful and effective for listening to music (think going for a jog), and an iPhone can easily be used for communicating with the world. The iPad simply provides an alternative method to experience the tasks that we can already perform with the devices we have. Those that enjoy this new alternative will be iPad owners, while those that do not see any benefit in it will not. Just like with philips screwdrivers.

The iPad experience

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 30, 2010 by musingsofafool

In story telling there is an the archetype of a “magic window” where through this portal a person is transported into a new world. This is what it feels like to use the iPad. It feels as if you were holding such a window except for the fact that you are not only transported to a single new world but many worlds. What Apple created here is more of an information consumption experience than an information consumption device.

As such, for the first time in computing history, interaction with information feels much more like interaction with reality. I do not quite understand why all of a sudden, with this device, this is the case; however, I am willing to take some guesses.

First, due to the size of the device you are placed into a position where you have to use both your hands and some of your body to support it. Thus you become much more intimate with the device. With a phone I tend to find I hold it with just my thumb and index finger or in the palm of my hand like I would hold a tool. With a computer the most intimate contact is if I use a mouse and that is just the palm of my hand. However, mainly just the tips of my fingers, and this is more so the case with a laptop that has a track pad.

The large high resolution screen keeps almost your full field of vision immersed in the experience. Though a large size television does the same, I believe that because you are not holding and touching it intimately much of the immersive potential is lost.

Finally, the most important element in achieving a complete immersive experience is the touch interface. Touch is an interesting concept and up until the iPhone I feel that it has always been used as a proxy for button based interaction with a device. The innovation that Apple brings to the table is that touch is now used for manipulating information directly. With your fingers you reach in and manipulate things just like objects in the real world. It is true that there have been other technologies prior to the iPhone at did this with touch, such as the Microsoft surface, but this is the first one to bring it to mass market.

As important as the hardware elements are to the experience they would not achieve such a profound and deep feeling of satisfaction to using the iPad without the aid of well designed software.

The operating system (OS) and user interface (UI) shell have not changed much from the iPhone. The OS remains a stable unobtrusive platform for hosting apps. The shell sports some minor cosmetic enhancements all designed to provide for a smoother user experience.

All of the applications that come with the iPad are designed in a way to most closely reinforce an immersive experience. They are not simple “ports” of the iPhone versions, but reworked from the ground up to support the better capabilities of the iPad. The software takes advantage of all the capabilities offered by the hardware including very novel use of orientation.

In general when using the iPad, unlike using a netbook, there is no time spent waiting. Though the core O/S does not support multi tasking this does not seem to be such a hinderance as there is absolutely no waiting between switching applications. No waiting means that there is no time for the illusion to be broken. The iPad user experience remains a unbroken and the user is allowed to forget reality for a while and enjoy the use of this window into another world.

All that said even fairy tales are known to have dragons and demons. In part two of the iPad experience I will write about some of the problems experienced with the iPad; however, I am going to wait a few weeks to pen that article so that I can properly accumulate the necessary information. As with any relationship, the true warts of your companion only start to show only after the initial spell of the relationship is broken.

I have included some picture of my kids using the iPad to give an idea of how natural it is. Please note that both children found these positions naturally, they have not had much opportunity to observe me using the device.