The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in Apple (17)


On a Mission to Disrupt the Apple Accessory Market

Two of my new favorite obsessions are Fab and Quirky, so I was delighted to learn about their new partnership. If you have an idea for an Apple accessory, then you can submit your idea and in lightening fast time, with the support of the online community, your idea can become a reality. And as if that wasn't enough, you might even earn a perpetual royalty for your genius. 

To kick off the company's new focus on Apple accessories, Ben Kaufman, Quirky's CEO, described the all night online design push that kicked off this partnership on his blog, "The launch of this project (and specifically the events that close out this week) is a bit of a throwback for me, having first run a live 24-hour product design sprint at mophie after a Steve Jobs keynote in September 2006, and another shortly after the launch of Quirky in September 2009 (see PowerCurl). These events produce great products, and are amazingly inspirational to watch."

Fab, a rising ecommerce star on a mission "to help people better their lives with design," will feature the results of the launch sprint in a sale on their site within a week from inception. On his blog, Betashop, Fab's CEO, Jason Goldberg writes, "Wednesday September 19, 3pm EST, just 7 days after the iPhone 5 was announced,  Fab launches a special sale featuring the newly design accessories. Smile, you’re designed to."


Who Really Has Influence?

There are a million ways to measure your influence across the social web. But it seems that being the Mayor of something or having a big Klout score really doesn't define us when we want something we can't have. 


Favorite Tweets of the Day

@businessinsider iOS Is Half Of New Enterprise Mobile Activations

@greatestquotes "You just can't beat the person who won't give up." - Babe Ruth

Blogging is the democratization of publishing via @jeffbullas 

Fascinating piece by @: Identity and The Independent Web via @

Impressions From D8

Share my experience at All Things Digital 2010 at Terranea Resort. And see it through multiple device cameras - my iPhone, Nexus One and Canon Powershot all made contributions to this montage of images. With so many ways to point and click, it can make a huge difference which one you grab, since the quality of the zoom, the low-lighting focus and the amount of time it takes to optimize the image can make the difference in capturing a moment...or not. In addition, snaps moved to the web in different ways - through SMS, as email attachments, and through tethered import. You can guess which snap was taken with which device and which route it took. (And, yes, some of the slides are not in chronological order, because this is not meant to be a documentary!)

Thanks, Walt, Kara, and Katie for a great few days.


Getting Comfortable With My iPhone XXL

Part Two in My Technorati Series - First Published May 11, 2010

The current iPhone 3G and 3Gs are just on the edge of being too large to be comfortable devices to use with just one hand. Of course, it is impossible to hold the iPad and use it with just a single set of digits.

The iPad has some challenging ergonomics, defined by the as "the applied science of equipment design,intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort." It's also not always as intuitive as you might think.

dock keyboardCan I Just Lean Here For A Minute?
If the soft touch and grip-ability were the only reasons you needed a case, then a silicon rubber condom would be enough. But the fact is, the little angle that the Apple case provides makes a huge ergonomic difference when the device is set on any flat surface.

To view videos, or use two hands to type, you have to lean it against something, and the darn thing just slips and slides constantly when propped up. I have a case that converts to a stand for my iPod Touch, and there is no way around it - you need the same thing for an iPad. It's simply not a one handed device, and holding and poking at the keypad is just no fun.

That's An Accelerometer Lock, Not A Mute Button

It seems iPads have a tendency to be confused when it comes to recognizing their orientation. Maybe it is a commitment thing. Apple added a new lock button where the ring mute was on the iPhone. I had not realized mine was engaged, and that resulted in some strange behavior.

I purchased Apple's Pages software, but had not realized the accelerometer lock was there, or that it was engaged. (It was easy to toggle it accidentally because of its proximity to the volume control, and my fingers inadvertently must have engaged it).

When I opened Pages the device launched the program with no application menus visible. The keypad was the only thing besides the Getting Started page I saw. For the life of me, I had no clue how to open or create a new document. Later, a friend showed me the purpose of the lock button, which I had thought was a mute key similar to my iPhone.

Even after the lock was dis-engaged, I found I was opening Pages in landscape mode wanting the largest keypad to type on. Unfortunately, Pages never displays the application menu when the iPad is in landscape mode, whether the accelerometer is locked or not. It never occurred to me that there'd be no way to invoke the menu, only the keypad, when the device was most comfortably positioned in the horizontal layout for typing. It takes a sharp move from horizontal to vertical in order to reveal the difference in the UI.

Skip The Apple DockiLounge ipad dock
This bias towards resting the device in the portrait, or vertical, mode is a flaw in the iPad's design thinking that continues with the dock.

The dock only allows the iPad to rest in the groove in portrait mode, because it must use the connector at the smaller end of the tablet. If you want to keep your iPad on your nightstand sitting in a dock to charge it while falling asleep to movies you will have to watch them play in the wrong aspect ratio.

And don't think you can leave it in landscape mode as a picture frame while giving it the juice, either. It makes for a compelling reason to get the Apple case, which biases towards landscape mode, making it great for typing and watching movies. It also lets you use the charging connector with the USB cable and power adapter.


Why I'm Waiting For A 3G iPad

A number of folks who read this blog or follow me on Twitter have commented that they expected I would already be cuddling my iPad, glowing in assurance I am a true early adopter of technology from having pre-ordered or waited in line at an Apple store. I actually did neither and each time I got close to placing a pre-order, I relented and abandoned my purchase.

So why don't I already have my iPad? The main reason is that I am waiting for the 3G version. When I have asked why other folks aren't waiting, I have often heard that people believe they will just use their iPad at home. These people maintain that wifi in their home is readily available without an additional monthly fee to access it. To them 3G, and a 3G data plan, is superfluous. I am just not convinced that's true. I want coverage, and 3G helps ensure coverage when i am mobile. On a long road trip, a larger screen and a connection that lets me surf the web could be just the ticket out of boredom. (And no, I won't be tricking out my SUV like the Sound Man has, but it illustrates my use case effectively.)

I also use my iPod Touch in addition to my iPhone 3Gs, and I find that when I travel the iPod Touch is the go-to entertainment device to ensure I can extend my iPhone battery life. And entertainment for me isn't just downloaded content I remembered to stock up on before leaving the house. Streamed content, online games on Facebook, and catching up on my friends feeds are all forms of entertainment that I enjoy when I am mobile, but which suck the life out of my iPhone when I may need to make or receive a call. 

Like most consumers, I tend to overbuy on hardware, hoping to extend the lifecycle of my purchase. That tends to be especially true for products i am not sure how I am going to use. Megapixels, memory, and now radios. More always feels better, giving me greater comfort that I won't outgrow the product, even if I never use all of what I buy. It's the movie popcorn theory, which maintains that consumers perceive there is a better value in the mega-bucket, even though they can't finish the contents of the bucket.

Waiting for 3G also has the added benefit of not being part of the first batch of hadrware assembly. If any parts or processes have created defects, I have the opportunity to let the real early adopters alert me.


What Has To Happen For Microsoft to Win With Windows Phone 7 

Since the new millennium, Microsoft has developed a reputation of letting other companies innovate in new product markets and then playing catch up by throwing money at the problem  – some times for acquisition, some times for marketing – to gain back its lost share.  Zune and Bing are good recent examples of this phenomenon.  In the smartphone category, the company has struggled to stay relevant with Windows Mobile, and spent a pile of money to purchase Danger, the maker of the operating system which powers the T-Mobile Sidekick.  Earlier this month at MIX10, Microsoft released developer tools for Windows Phone 7, revealing a lot about the current state of the new operating system.   For devices to be ready in stores with enough time for holiday sales to be meaningful, there is still a lot that has to happen to give Microsoft a competitive entry, let alone market share gains, in the smartphone category.

High QoS

Since Microsoft has bet on an end to end that service architecture it controls, it will need to perform much better than the Danger network has. If there is anything the company has learned from operating that service, which is solely backed up in the cloud, it’s that customers don’t like to be cut off from their personal data.  When that service crashed in October, Microsoft saw T-Mobile suspend sales of the device during the important holiday shopping season.  Now, not only are Azure services critical on the cloud side to Windows Phone 7 Series success, but locally, the phone must provide a rich set of application services that are always available to apps.  As recently as this week, Microsoft struggled with Live connectivity when it released Modern Warfare’s “Stimulus Package” to Xbox gamers.

Size Matters

Since the purchase of Danger, the app market has exploded, and the competitive battle is being played out through app tonnage - consumers over-buy on the number of apps they need just like they over-buy megapixels and minutes.  Size matters.  Microsoft needs a compelling number of apps, and preferably a number greater than Palm, RIM, and close to the Android number.  Apps for the Windows Marketplace will need to reflect a balanced mix of both familiar consumer brands and garage developer innovation.  Their strategy to convert existing Xbox and Silverlight developers may come up short in absolute number by launch given the current state of the SDK, and the published APIs that will be available to test against.

A Killer Xbox Mobile Experience

Enabling continuation of play between console and mobile device may be the single biggest feature that could accelerate adoption, and Microsoft must be able to capitalize on existing customer loyalty to the Xbox platform in a way they have not yet done in mobile to own a defensible consumer position.  Games must also be designed cross platform, integrating the users mobility and hardware into the gaming experiences for both “home” and “away” play.  With no gaming console to bolster the iPhone,  Microsoft has a real opportunity to use Xbox as a Trojan horse to break into mobile consumers’ hearts.

Compelling Email

In order to appeal to their target – consumers in their30’s - while not alienating existing Windows Mobile loyalists, Microsoft must deliver a compelling email platform for document management and communication.  The heavy emphasis on collaboration – an easy extension of consumer social networking architecture – may come at the expense of personal productivity, conceding that space to RIM.   In particular, how the applications enable handling attachments – file formats the device doesn’t recognize, saving attachment files, editing and forwarding files – could impact it’s desirability. User generated content comes attached to email in many formats, some of which are not handled well by Mobile Outlook today.

Appealing Hardware

The Asus handset used as a reference device at MIX was pretty ordinary. Touch-screen devices render many of the hardware control buttons irrelevant , leaving just the screen and casing to attract on a store shelf, and making it harder to tell the difference between one touch screen handset and another.  It will be imperative that new Windows Phone 7 devices are built as objects of desire on the outside, not just the inside.  Microsoft leaves handset design to its hardware OEMs, but many of them have already pledged some pretty sleek and innovative designs to the Android operating system they have been driving while Windows slept.

Palm and RIM

In the same time that Microsoft is racing to make an impact on holiday shopping, Palm and RIM are no doubt brewing their own plans to stay relevant with consumers.  But more importantly, RIM may see Microsoft’s commitment to the consumer as an opportunity to strengthen its support Enterprise IT managers who may be reticent about supporting mobile employees on a platform with limited device and policy management tools.  A Palm sale to RIM might change the competitive landscape, but probably not before holiday 2010.  Microsoft needs both Palm and RIM to stay their current course, in order to make a move in the crowded field.

An Ecosystem Of Accessories

A robust selection of third party accessories can help reposition Windows as a consumer lifestyle brand.  Of course, in-car audio and navigation kits should easily leverage Microsoft’s existing Ford relationship with Sync.  While the Xbox extensions – stereo speaker dock, conductive gamer gloves – are no-brainers. Tilting the public’s perception that Windows isn’t your father’s iPhone will be hard, but physical goods like fashion-oriented cases can support the marketing message at point of sale.

A Good Phone

At the end of the day, the device needs to be a good phone.  The less time the OEM has with a stable build, the more likelihood the device may have challenges with battery life, call handling, and reliability. Since Microsoft is writing the device drivers – as Danger did with the Sidekick – they will have a bigger role in commercialization, and potentially more opportunity to impact performance of the carrier network interactions with the handset.  Network polling for an always-on device and call continuity in low bar coverage are two examples of things that negatively impacted earlier Windows Mobile and Danger implementations, and which typically don’t get rigorously tested until final test cycles within the last 12 weeks before launch.  With so much left for Microsoft to do to stabilize and commercialize the platform, this is the area of biggest risk. While almost all of the blame for the history of iPhone dropped calls falls squarely at AT&T’s feet, consumers who couldn’t stand the experience also switch from their iPhones when they leave the carrier because of unreliable call handling.

While some of the above may seem obvious, when you look at what the list represents as a whole, you realize it is not a small hill that Microsoft has to climb with Windows Phone 7 to make it a must-buy for consumers. Considering their Director of developer evangelism told the audience at MIX10 that the company has been only working on this plan for the last year, the Windows Phone 7 team surely has its work cut out for them.


BuildAnApp Makes it DIY Easy To Be On a Smartphone

If you are a small business owner or tech savvy soccer coach wondering how you can get in on the mobile app gold rush and aren’t sure if you have what it takes to launch and manage an app, BuildAnApp may be just the platform you need. Anders Davidson, president of MobileOn, the company behind BuildAnApp says his DIY mobile app solution will simplify the process of communicating with customers regardless of which smartphone they have, because his solution publishes apps to multiple mobile operating systems.


Buildanapp logo

Using standard templates and a simple six step wizard, anyone – and I do mean pretty much anyone – can create a mobile app. You simply pick the content pages you want for your app, upload images, pick styles, add links and feeds, and you are ready to publish. You can even preview the app in a nice window next to where you customize the page inputs. Davidson calls the app “morphable” because of the large variety of combinations and customizations businesses can use to merchandise themselves, and because the platform automatically configures the same content for iPhone, Android, RIM, and Windows Mobile devices. “Small businesses don’t have time to manage and support an application, even though a mobile app can strengthen their relationship with their customers.”screens

Davidson has some relevant experience supporting small business as a product manager for Microsoft’s small business portal, bCentral. BuildAnApp provides useful tips for creating your app, too, because Davidson knows Apple has been cracking down on what they call their “Minimal User Functionality.” To be a great app, Davidson says, “you need original, useful and dynamic content.”

To make it easy for any budget-conscious community group leader to see what’s required to have an app, BuildAnApp offers a 30 day free, no credit card trial. Calendars, photos, and social media feeds are simple to hook up. It’s easy to imagine how the local Little League could quickly connect and inform mothers about schedule changes this way. Team managers can create a separate app that also shows stats and standings. “Cross platform is essential to these audiences, because they are so diverse.”

Davidson wanted to remove not only technical hurdles to having a mobile app, but economic ones as well. In 30 days, your app will expire unless you convert to a subscription, and the fee is based on how often you update your app. (The definition of an app update appears to need a little refinement during the beta period, because any streamed content which is added to an app may itself get updated.)

Once your app is published, a link is generated quickly that can be emailed to your existing customer lists directly without worrying about marketplace certification for three of the mobile platforms; the iPhone application goes through a separate three to four week approval process and costs an additional $19.99 fee to publish to it.

On Android, RIM, and Windows phones, applications can be side-loaded directly by the user, making it quick and easy to create and download my own a sample app and watch it running live on my Nexus One in no time. You can also tweet the link and put it on your website or Facebook fan page to drive downloads.

The platform is in beta right now, but Davidson claims there have already been 500 apps built with his company's platform. While you’ll give up a little elegance on the graphics and UI side to get an app that can run on almost any smartphone, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can say, “there’s an app for that” about your business, too!


Get to know Anders Davidson, a small business owner himself, as a consumer (his company has 5 employees), by hearing him in his own words.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer? Anders Davidson
Very intentional. I am not an “impulse” consumer nor am I impulsive with what consumes my time. By the time I am ready to make a decision about how I spend my time or money, I know what I value and what it is worth to me.

Speaking as that consumer…

What is the first and last app you downloaded for your personal use? 
My first app was the NYTimes because it’s a news source I value and the app allows me to have better access to its content than through the Web browser. The most recent apps I’ve downloaded are: 1) an app I built using our service for my son’s school so I can keep track of their schedule and key phone numbers and contact. And 2) the NCAA March Madness app because I enjoy following the tournament results but won’t spend much time watching the games on TV.

What product is sitting in a “saved shopping cart” that you plan to buy soon? 
None. I rarely save items in online shopping carts.

Thinking of non-technology items as well, what product or service have you bought recently that most disappointed you and why? 
I can’t think of any real buyer’s remorse I’ve had recently.

What is the one true thing that exists in every product you love to use? 
Simplicity. There’s often a big trade-off of simplicity vs. features, but smarter designers are getting better at tackling both.

What one piece of technology innovation would you say changed your life the most? 
In 2000, I had a Compaq ipaq Pocket PC with a sleeve that held a Wi-Fi card and was able for the first time to have real-time data come to my handheld device without the need to sync at my PC. This was for me, the beginning of the real promise of mobile computing...

What product did your family or friends have before you did, but you eventually had to buy, too? 

Are you a Mac or PC? 
Mac laptop dual-booting Mac and Windows XP

What phone are you carrying now? 
In my line of work I carry four. :- ): a Samsung Ace (Windows Mobile), Nexus One, Blackberry Pearl and an iPhone. But I mostly use the Blackberry Pearl because it’s smaller.

Do you Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn? 
I have accounts on each. For BuildAnApp we tweet with content relevant to BuildAnApp’s customers, I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family and rarely mix business into it. And I use LinkedIn to map my professional network.

What was your most unusual job? 
In the early-mid 90s I worked on political campaigns in Oregon, California, Minnesota and Washington.

Where do you like to shop?

Read more:


Should Apple Decide What's 'Beneficial' in an Ad?

First published on Technorati

The process of getting an application approved through the iPhone App Review team and into the App Store can be a mysterious one for application developers. Many complain the app review process takes too long, the rules for acceptance are vague, and the reasons for rejection are too subjective. Apple does produce guidelines for submissions, which highlight best iPhonepractices, tips, and rules to help developers successfully navigate the review process.

Earlier this week, Apple added a new tip about the use of location services for developers looking to get apps approved for the iPhone. According to the App Review team, the iPhone Core Location Framework, the programming interface that enables developers to “deliver information based on their location, such as local weather, nearby restaurants, ATMs, and other location-based information,” is not to be used primarily for targeted local advertising.

The wording in the Apple post continues to secure Apple’s position as content editor, and not just technical reviewer, in the App Store approval process. "If you build your application using Core Location, make sure your app first asks users for permission before you use their location to provide targeted information,” the tip suggests. “Once granted, the information you provide must be beneficial.”

What will qualify as “beneficial”? Apple goes on to clarify, “If your app uses this information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on user's location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store.”

This comes as important news to the mobile marketing community, although the insight was buried in a series of notes aimed at helping developers. For many advertisers who wish to use mobile applications to engage with customers, mobile location data provides invaluable targeting information.

It’s a delicate balance of providing value versus being invasive, says Pat Binkley, VP of Engineering at mobile developer, Zumobi. Zumobi produces iPhone applications for partners and then monetizes the content with advertising. Binkley goes on, “I think in the case of applications that do not have a local component, you have to balance the perception of invasion of privacy and disrupting the user’s experience for the sole purpose of delivering local advertising to them.”

Apple’s recent purchase of Quattro Wireless, a leading advertising network and mobile marketing platform, has fueled industry pundits’ and software developers’ concerns about the intent and impact of this recent tip posted on the iPhone Dev Center. On Twitter, one software developer, @Oliverbo,  summed it up this way, “That spells trouble: Apple: Core Location Off-Limits for Serving Location-Targeted Ads /cc @feedly.” Some, like AppleInsider, believe that through the Quattro platform Apple intends to restrain others from using a feature it plans to keep wholly to itself. Industry analyst Greg Sterling, also known as @gsterling pondered, “Is Apple Hoarding LBS Advertising?”

A December 2009 report published by Quattro Wireless, in partnership with DM2Pro, highlighted the importance of targeting capability to advertisers. When advertisers were asked what they considered the most important criteria for choosing an ad network, the ability to target segments of consumers was listed first.

Advertisers and agencies have been trying to monetize the emerging mobile application marketplace but have yet to broadly embrace one particular revenue generation platform. One digital marketing executive, Holly Brown, SVP of IPG’s MRM Seattle office, expressed concern that Apple is attempting to micro-manage the mobile advertising eco-system. “At a time when it’s more important than ever to engage consumers with relevant value, and to build monetization strategies for application developers, Apple seems to be interfering with the natural evolution of the market created between consumers, developers and brands (advertisers).”
Location targeting is not only a tool to help small regional businesses, like dry cleaners and cafes, promote services, but it also aids in the discovery of national products available locally. Location-based applications often enable national brands to target local promotions at a store level and can help customers find their favorite franchise or store nearby prompting them to visit with a coupon or in-store offer.

Because they add a layer of relevancy to the ad content, advertisements based on location can be more productive for advertisers. Brian Wilson, VP of Marketing at application developer Point Inside, which develops iPhone indoor interactive mobile mapping applications for navigating malls and airports, is supportive of the Apple position. “From our perspective, Apple’s notice only serves to reinforce the value that Point Inside is providing and the methods we’re using to provide it.”

Feel free to post a comment below and tell us what you think. Do you need Apple to decide for you which ads can be localized?


Product's Not Out Yet, But Reviews are In

First published on Technorati

Although the sleek new device announced today is not available, social media is already buzzing about missed expectations and opportunities squandered. The financial markets always anticipate a letdown when Steve Jobs, the company’s favorite presenter, walks on stage and today was no exception. Just after 10AM Pacific time, Apple’s stock (AAPL) took a tumble below $200, although it closed at nearly $208.

Most notably absent from the portable device was a camera. One of the main complaints iPod Touch users have had is the lack of camera, and Jobs’ demo of the amazing photo application on the iPad only served to highlight this missing component. One Apple fan, @itshenry, wrote, “iWish they had iAdded an iSight.”

Another loyal Apple user posted his disappointment with Apple’s continued lack of flash support, @markhall pointed out, “You can’t claim it’s great for browsing and not support Flash.”

Other add-ons many had hoped to be featured but were never shown include: expandable memory, USB ports, multi-tasking, a multi-user interface for shared usage and a better media management experience to improve on the Apple TV product, a less popular member of the Apple family.

On the services side of the equation, the most noticeably missing rumored feature of the iPad was an announced partnership with Verizon, which has long been expected to sell the iPhone, but which requires support for its CDMA network. Although the iPad will be sold unlocked, since a version that supports CDMA was not announced, Verizon’s customers will only be able to use the Wi-Fi versions of the new tablet. 


Is It Time For My Kindle Break-up?  

I still love my Kindle, although it now already feels like an 8 track stereo compared to the iPad. I am certain the bright color screen and page flipping will be more compelling than having the physical keyboard, although I can buy a keyboard dock for the iPad to compensate for any challenges I have with its onscreen multi-touch keypad. However, there is one thing I don’t think the iPad will do better than my Kindle and that is seamlessly connect me to wireless networks. With my Kindle, I never have to log in to a wireless hotspot, know an SSID or worry about proxy servers and sign in pages.    

The nookTM, which also uses AT&T hotspots, has a post on its help board online helps me clarify this point:

nook is programmed to automatically connect to the free AT&T Wi-Fi in any Barnes & Noble store...We see there are lingering questions about Wi-Fi ... So, for a point of clarity, you can connect on any 802.11b/g Wi-Fi hotspot, or wherever you have the SSID password. The exception to thie is Wi-Fi hotspots that use proxy settings (like you typically see in a hotel), where you have to enter a password or some other information before you can connect.

The truth is, for most consumers, even though free wifi is all around us it can still be somewhat confounding to connect to a hotspot with an iPod Touch, nook with a wireless-enabled device. Interstitial pages sometimes don't require logging in with credentials, but do require a web page to be clicked on. Occasionally, the iPod Touch is connected to the wireless network, but there is no Internet connection, making it unclear what state the device is in, until a browser is launched.

I  never have to ask someone for their network password to access wifi on a Kindle, and it doesn't ask me for a log in password to use my Amazon account when I lose connectivity and then re-connect. Every time my iPod Touch falls out of range of a wifi network, it seems to ask me for my iTunes login credentials when it discovers the wifi again. Once authenticated to the Amazon store, it sends me what I need as long as my Amazon account has a current credit card.

The frictionless access connectivity and consumption have spoiled me on my Kindle. I'm hoping Apple has fixed the machine to machine connectivity to be more seamless on an iPad than it has been on my iPod Touch. If so, somewhere during the 60 days till I can get my hands on an iPad, my Kindle and I will have the "it's not you, it's me" break up conversation.


CES - Mark This Spot as Dead 

One of the main complaints at CES this year was the incredibly horrible performance of the AT&T network. Given the massive adoption of the iPhone, and the fact that technology trade shows tend to generate mobile data traffic, the demands for bandwidth should have been predictable , if not addressed by AT&T in advance.  Because they were not, the company took a big hit in the battle of map coverage with Verizon.

My experience, personally, was not around dropped calls but the ability to even connect a call under what appeared to be full bar coverage. My device would show access to wifi and the AT&T 3G network, but then when the call was placed, it would fail to connect.  Worse, text messages were timing out before they could leave the device, making communication nearly impossible for most of the show if you were using an AT&T 3G device.

AT&T has an app on the App Store called “Mark the Spot” to enable customers to provide feedback to the company about where they experience network problems. The app provides options for reporting issues - Dropped Call, Failed Call, No Coverage, Data Failure and Poor Voice Quality – but what happens when the device doesn’t enable connectivity at all to send a report, and you want to communicate you can’t call and you can’t text? As connectivity became a more valuable commodity than the H1N1 vaccine, it became more important to find a way to communicate than to see if the AT&T app would register the complaint about the data or voice failure using the same network that wouldn’t allow connectivity in the first place.


If It's January, It Must Be CES

I'm about to embark on my sixth CES adventure. I have attended the show as an online retailer, at Apple, and then as a product development executive at T-Mobile. The show, at this point in my career, is what Comdex was during my days at Visio, back when boxed software sold primariy from the shelf of CompUSA. The adult entertainment industry, often a leader in technology adoption, runs a parallel show during CES just like they used to do during Comdex. The excess of parties, swag and traffic during the week hasn't changed, although the hotel landscape along the strip certainly has.

In addition to the Adult Expo, Digital Hollywood also runs a conference concurrently with CES, which does a nice job of connecting the dots between the entertainment and consumer electronics industries.  And, for the last five shows, at least, both industries have evangelized the arrival of the connected home. From Web TV to Tivo, home electronics have yearned for several years to unite with your PC and connect to the Internet.  Television screens have been wall-sized for a couple of shows now, but each year there seem to be even more ingenious ways to enjoy multimedia through them, thanks to the tension between the entertainment and high tech industries.

Men love to trick out their cars, and CES has dedicated a section of the North Hall to all things automotive.  While mobile phones are converging with handheld GPS systems, and bypassing the after-market car installers, supersized stereo systems never fail to impress most male colleagues I have attended the show with in years past.

The show has been heavily rooted in Microsoft and its partners, with an ever increasing buzz for embedded Linux thanks to Android.  There were ultra mobile PCs, and then netbooks and now smartbooks and tablets.  Consumers apparently want something bigger than their mobile device to type and surf the web, but not as big as a laptop. The right combination of thin client apps, connectivity, touch keyboard, screen size, weight and battery life just could define a purpose-built user experience this year.

MacWorld, a trade show focused on Apple at which the company has launched many products, has historically butted up against CES, but that never stopped an amazing number of Apple partners from participating in CES, especially the iPhod accessory vendors, the ecosystem of cases, docks, chargers, and speakers manufacturers that secures consumers' commitment to their Apple purchase. With a rumored annoucnement by Apple later in January, and MacWorld 2010 pushed to February, the Google wave will really gain steam quickly in the new year, starting with their January 5th, pre-CES press conference. The November 2008 launch of the T-Mobile G1, and the release of the first version of Android to the developer community in late 2008, made the operating system the ingenue at CES 2009.

I'm excited to be covering the show this year for Technorati, and you will be able to read my posts by going to their home page each day during the show. Additional content will appear here as my devices and their portable chargers and powersticks allow. Please let me know if there are any products or technologies you'd like to hear about by adding comments to this post or messaging me @gearheadgal.

And, since Vegas is a town of gamblers, I do have one superstition I can share with you that I succumb to each year because the new year is all about optimism...each year I put $10 on the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series at the sports book of the hotel where I am staying. Go M's!

And a prosperous 2010 to you all.


Unlocked Android Phones Already Available From Google

First Published on Technorati: December 15, 2009 at 6:33 am

Reuters on Monday quoted an unnamed source that confirmed plans for Google to sell both a locked and unlocked version of the leaked Nexus One device, with the locked version sold to T-Mobile US customers. T-Mobile official sources would not confirm the plan; however, former employees at the company reminded us that today unlocked versions of the T-Mobile G1 and T-Mobile MyTouch are sold through the official Android Developer website.

The site reminds developers that end user devices available through consumer retail outlets “are not designed to allow system image updates by the user,” the site says. It goes on to say, “If you are interested in manually updating the device with custom system images, then you'll need a developer device such as the Android Dev Phone 1.” Android Dev Phone 1 is unique finish of the T-Mobile G1, while Android Dev Phone 2 a variation of the HTC Magic, also known as the T-Mobile MyTouch.
From Google's Official Android Developer Site
In addition to providing developers with phones to run custom builds of the Android software, Google must also provide reference hardware for developers in markets where T-Mobile US does not provide service. Unlocked phones would give those Google employees in countries like China or India the opportunity to build solutions concurrently with new major OS release builds.

In addition, Google has an enterprise agreement with AT&T to offer employee discount plans, like many US corporations do.  AT&T has built a strong base of customers through enterprise sales, which are often designed to enable payroll deductions for wireless service and provide group purchasing power for employees.

Google maintains the Nexus One devices were handed out to employees to encourage “dogfooding”, or internal use of the pre-release product by employees to de-bug and accelerate innovation. However, for a significant number of employees to engage in that activity, the phones needed to be unlocked so their AT&T SIM would provide them a live service experience. Unlocking the device could signal a broader need for testers against a new major OS release, or significant changes to the hardware that triggered bugs across existing applications.

The unlocked G1 devices sold through the Android Developer site did not seem to put a dent into demand for the T-Mobile product, which reached its million-unit mark in Q2 of this year. For Google to drive a substantial number of unlocked units into the market, they will need a reseller partner or retailer who can manage fulfillment, returns, insurance and warranty of the hardware, something that has taken Apple years to develop for themselves. 

Related story: "Google Phone May Be Much Ado About Nothing"



Wind River's Android Platform Fuels Fragmentation Fire

First Published on Technorati: December 10, 2009 at 7:20AM

Wind River announced this week the launch of its Android platform, which is intended to aid device manufacturers in the realization of custom Android solutions. The software is designed to extend the kernel through rich media enablers and improved power management, and relieve the application developer from the burden of integrating applications across many devices. The platform will be made available via open source.

Reaction to the news was mixed, but some Android developers are sharing a familiar refrain: "... this just represents one more step toward a dangerously fragmented Android universe."

The negative reaction seems to reflect a bias against the idea of an emerging middleware solution that could potentially provide a path to harmony across ODMs. Creating such an architectural layer, if broadly accepted by multiple, competing hardware manufacturers, could also simplify the path for developers to achieve deeper ROM integration across multiple UI-device combos.

The Wind River platform could also facilitate cross platform portability of Intel-based solutions, helping to bolster the company's profile as a viable option for low cost portable devices, regardless of the operating system. Industry analysts have suggested that Intel's current position as the power behind processor-hungry Windows computers creates a credibility gap for the company in the price sensitive consumer market for mobile devices.

Wind River claims to be the global leader in device software optimization (DSO) today, supporting many competing names in the consumer electronics market. And the company does have existing relationships with CE vendors to commercialize embedded Linux solutions today. In June of this year, Intel entered an agreement to acquire Wind River Systems Inc. Under the agreement, Intel acquired all outstanding Wind River common stock in July for $11.50 per share in cash, or approximately $884 million in the aggregate.

The plan to release a Texas Instruments-based OMAP Android solution was obviously underway prior to the Intel acquisition, and may be the key to unlock Android for many electronics manufacturers who can extend development previously done with Wind River on the Linux kernel, and have been afraid to risk committing more resources to Android.

Porting solutions and services to Android through the Wind River platform could also help electronics manufacturers get innovations to market more quickly, especially in the emerging mobile Internet device (MID) category before the market gets more competitive with the highly awaited introduction of a 10.1" Apple tablet computer, expected by analysts to enter the market in the first half of 2010.

Intel's acquisition of Wind River may give the company leverage to grow quickly in low end netbooks, smartphones and MIDs, segments of the personal computing market Intel does not dominate today. 

Having successfully supported Apple's OS transition from PowerPC to its Xeon processors, Intel could extend the Wind River platform to support other OS development environments besides Android, including its own Linux based OS, Moblin. Such a move would give the company an opportunity to position itself with hardware manufacturers as the platform on which they can develop a single solution to deploy across multiple operating systems.


Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web - Is It Really a Competition?

There seems to be a raging debate in the mobile marketing arena about which will be the winning platform for mobile advertisers – the mobile application or the mobile web browser. I’d actually say it isn’t a fair fight.

Mobile applications should optimally use a process of integrating with the hardware and/or user interface of the software operating system, generally through application programming interfaces and a transaction engine or download manager, like the Apps Store or the Android Market. The browser, on the other hand, has limited direct access to hardware components (e.g, GPS, camera), yet depends on the software operating system for enablers like video playback. Browsers appear as a standalone application for retrieving and viewing standard web content on smartphones. The browser often requires a zoom-in to position content for reading, and different sites may or may not optimize page layout for a mobile experience, let alone for a particular device, screen size or aspect ratio. Apps tend to have a fixed layout purely intended for mobile display and can call a browser to support visualizing data outside the application UI.

The web provides a familiar metaphor to consumers for discovering content. App stores often have a merchandising architecture intended to promote new apps, top apps, of favorite apps. After that, a consumer must understand the categorization and information hierarchy to directly discover an app, so in either case search becomes the valuable solution.  It is possible from a web page to promote a downloadable app, and on Android devices there is a setting to enable downloadable apps from outside the device marketplace to have access to the device. In this case, a consumer might have an affinity with a brand, content or web service and see that there is solution to extend that relationship to their mobile device.  Added utility – capabilities enabled my the mobility of the user – can be a strong driver for a consumer to choose a mobile app.

For advertisers trying to leverage mobile, the notion that these two distinct user experiences require the same kind of consumer engagement is faulty.  The audience who doesn’t yet have an affinity for a brand won’t necessarily be motivated to discover an app on the shelf of the mobile device store unless it is highlighted and merchandised in the equivalent of a store “end-cap.”  Even though creating the mobile experience could be a tool to convert that consumer as a customer, it will not be enough to simply develop the app and get shelf space.  

First, an advertiser, publisher or content developer will need to determine the goal for their mobile experience – acquisition, loyalty, transactions, consumption – and then determine the right technical environment for accomplishing that goal.  If browser rendering can degrade an experience, then a mobile application can solve that. If there are hardware or application APIs that need to be leveraged, than an app will be better suited to integrate with them than the browser will.  If a mobile application is a desirable course of action, it does not mean that the mobile browser should be forgotten.  Consumers may still discover and engage with your brand through your website on their mobile device, and your application should at minimum be promoted, merchandised and supported through web pages, rendered in their device browser.

The initial choice for brands developing a mobile strategy shouldn’t be mobile application or mobile website. Mobile strategy must start with the consumer, and the relationship you hope to develop with them to engage with your brand. That likely leads to choosing to leverage both approaches.


CrunchPad Fails to Materialize

Today is Cyber Monday, and that is a day typically filled with anticipation about the holiday shopping season if you are a consumer electronics manufacturer or retailer. It's a day you hope to see great news coming from the marketplace about consumer confidence and the adoption of emerging technologies by the mainstream. This year, however, with the world markets fearful of a crisis in Dubai and the unemployment numbers still growing, there has been no break-out product every consumer has to have. And it appears Michael Arrington's goal of introducing that killer device that could generate the holiday good news will not materialize this season.  Click here to read more...