Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011
Last month some folks were speculating that the iPod touch would be on the chopping block, a rumor I disagreed with in my post, "Cancel the iPod touch? Lunacy." Now, folks are suggesting that the iPod shuffle and the iPod classic may be on the chopping block. This would leave the iPods nano and touch as the only iPod devices, adjacent to the iPhone and iPad. Ditching the Classic makes a lot of sense. The last torchbearer of the original iPod's form factor only exists today because its use of a hard drive enables it to store 160GB of media, 2.5x as much as the 64GB Touch, at just over half the price. With the release of iCloud and Music Match, 160GB is no longer needed. Those deep tracks can be downloaded to your device on demand, so as long as you have wifi or a mobile connection you'll have your whole catalog. Eliminating the Shuffle is where things get dicey. It's not an iOS device and it doesn't pretend to be, unlike the Nano who's multitouch UI seems like iOS though it's completely different under the hood. Getting rid of the Shuffle would clean up the product line, but would leave a huge hole in the bottom end. The Shuffle costs $49 but the Nano starts at $149, and $149 is just too high a price for an entry-level music player with no video capability or mobile connectivity. The 16GB Nano is only $30 less than a new Kindle Fire tablet. Could the Shuffle be eliminated next week? Yes. But only if the price of the Nano was lowered a great deal. I would guess that $79 would be the sweet spot, though Apple may keep the price as high as $99. Pricing the Nano at $79 would represent a 47% cut from the current price, but the manufacturing and material costs for a Nano continue to drop, and this would probably still represent a healthy profit margin, while keep Apple's market share at the low end of the product space. If they drop the Classic, I wouldn't expect them to mention it during next week's presentation. If they drop the Shuffle and move the Nano farther down the line, they might mention that. The more interesting question to me is, what is the long term future of the iPod and iPhone? The nano is squarely an iPod, the Touch is an iOS device arbitrarily called an iPod, while the iPhone is not. There's no arguing that the iPod touch is more iPhone than Nano, so at some point the iPod brand needs to either consume, or be consumed by, the iOS brand. But that's probably a strategy for another time. A time which, at the minimum, the nano-class device is a true iOS machine.
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011
As I write this it's Tuesday evening. Tomorrow morning Amazon's going to unveil the much-anticipated Kindle Fire, and most of the tech blogs are writing their previews from the 'tablet war' standpoint. Reportedly built on Android, the Fire is being compared to other Android tablets out there as well as the iPad, but tomorrow's grand reveal won't primarily be the hardware but rather the new channel Amazon has created for delivering and consuming a wide variety of content. Tomorrow Amazon will present its new business model as a digital media ecosystem with both subscription plans and a-la-cart content. The Kindle Fire is an important piece to the puzzle, but it isn't the star of the show. Take a look at how Amazon's primary navigation has changed in just the last 12 months: Books, Amazon's bread and butter, have gone from the top slot to #8. It's not unusual for the top slot or two to be used as a promo to raise awareness of a new product category, but not the top seven. Taking a closer look, the list is clearly divided into 'digital' and 'physical' sections. Going forward, this distinction will be much more important, as the Kindle Fire is a device intended to be the portal for accessing every item in the 'digital' list. Consider how each item on the list would apply to a 7" media tablet:
Friday, Sep 23, 2011
Shortly after leaving Facebook last year, I got approached by a number of companies looking for a director of product or user experience. Joining up with another outfit right away was the last thing on my mind but this startup was being led by an old co-worker of mine, was well-funded, and was working on something I was interested in. Moreover, they'd been looking for the right design lead for a long time, and one of the founders confided in me:
We've spent almost a full year sitting around here asking ourselves "what can we do to attract someone like Kevin Fox?" Seriously.I told them I was very flattered, but wasn't looking for a new gig, but would be happy to come in to the office and give them feedback on what they've got. Their product was ambitious (and in much need of UX help), but I had my own ideas of what I wanted to be doing and this wasn't something I was interested in jumping in to. They explained that they had a very generous referral program and they asked me if there was anyone else I knew who would be a strong candidate. I gave them two names of people who I knew were happy with their current jobs but who's skill sets and design sensibilities would be a good fit for the project. I didn't think much more about the company until about 6 weeks later when one of the people I referred, let's call them 'John Smith', IMs me:
So I've been talking with [startup]. They told me they've spent several months sitting around asking themselves, "What can we do to attract someone like [John Smith]. Seriously." It was really flattering.Who knows how many times they used the line, and maybe they meant it every time, but suddenly I felt like the company was a sharp well-dressed guy hitting on everyone in the bar, telling each person in sequence how they're the prettiest girl in the room. Ick.
Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011
Apple's rapidly heading toward the announcement of the next generation of iPhone, with the smart money riding on an October 4th announcement. As has become tradition, I've stirred together the various rumors out there with my own educated guesses and cooked up my predictions for what we'll be seeing from Apple in the iOS realm next month. As always, this is a work of speculation and does in no way represent leaked or privileged information. I never ask my friends at Apple about what they're working on, and I'm certain they wouldn't tell me anything if I did. So what will we see coming out of Tim Cook's pocket a week from Tuesday? The iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, and an update to the iPod Touch.
iPhone 4sThis will be the entry-level iPhone. Unlike the current low-price iPhone 3Gs, this time around Apple won't simply discount last year's model and call it the budget option. Android has seen huge adoption in the last 18 months and, thanks to having many competing OEMS, Android phones come in a wide range of price points. It's no longer reasonable to tell budget-minded customers to buy a phone that's over two years old, (which the iPhone 4 would be before the subsequent iPhone product cycle) so even though the iPhone 4s will be a refresh of the current iPhone 4, it will differ in a few important ways:
iPhone 5The iPhone 5 will be positioned as a 'no compromises' device, with a higher price tag in order to give premium components to people willing to pay for them. So what's in an iPhone 5? Let's see:
iPod TouchWhile some have speculated that the Touch may fade away, being replaced by a contract-free iPhone 4, I sincerely doubt this is the case. The iPod Touch is much thinner, cheaper to manufacture, and, let's face it, sturdier than the iPhone 4. A lot more parents would give a Touch to their kids than an iPhone 4, because it fits better in their hands and it knows how to take a spill without cracking. I think we'll see a bump in the Touch, but nothing breathtaking. Something like this:
Loose endsThere are still a few open questions:
One more thing...What will it be? Possibly nothing. Definitely not the iPad 3. Certainly much of the presentation will be the public release of iOS 5 and iCloud. There's a good chance there's a new app or two that will be rolled in to iOS 5 at the last minute. I'll be watching along with the rest of you in a couple weeks, but I feel pretty comfortable with these predictions. More so than usual.
Thursday, Sep 08, 2011
Today Apple announced to its US employees that it will match their charitable donations, up to $10,000 per employee, per year. I've never seen a company match more than $3,000 before. Nice.
Tuesday, Sep 06, 2011
Hire a CEO who has experience building consumer web properties. Someone who has experience working with engineers and product designers and is eager to do so. Someone who's claim to fame isn't schmoozing, swearing, or otherwise leading a company in a different industry. Take a look at the companies where your talented engineers, product managers, VPs and designers have gone, and consider that maybe those guys know what they're doing. You might find a leader from within one of those companies. Your problem is making and maintaining compelling products, not media partnerships. You'll have a better chance choosing a leader who knows more about that stuff than making movies or CAD software. Update: Yahoo!'s interim CEO, Tim Morse, joined the company three months ago after leaving Altera, a company that makes programmable logic devices.
Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011
John Gruber and VintageZen think it would be a good idea to cancel the iPod Touch, replacing it with a contract-free $200-300 iPhone. I think this is crazy. Yes it's nice to have a simpler product lineup, but that's the only plus here. They argue that it would help Apple's smartphone market share numbers to sell an unlocked device that many buyers would never actually buy a data plan for, but Apple doesn't care about analysts arbitrary market share numbers and even if they did, a device without a calling or data plan shouldn't be tallied as a smartphone in the first place, unless you want to start including Nooks and personal media players. Why is it in Apple's benefit to sell people an unlocked device that they could upgrade to a real phone by contracting with a carrier? Does anyone think Apple could negotiate a revenue share arrangement with a carrier for an unlocked phone they sell directly to the user? Maybe for a data-only device like the iPad 3G, but not a phone. The lock-in of a 2-year contract is too important to the carrier business model. So what would Apple's motivation be, when they could instead upsell the iPod Touch customer to an iPhone at a later date? There's also a zero-sum stigma about phones, in that a person only needs one of them. If a device is marketed as a cheap iPhone-that-you-don't-have-to-use-as-a-phone it still has the zero-sum taint, along with the mental inhibition of paying for a product you know you're not going to be making full use of. This floor wax / dessert topping use-case complexity nullifies any advantage gained by simplifying a product line. But the biggest reason for keeping the iPod Touch is because for someone who doesn't want an iPhone the Touch is a better, cheaper, smaller, lighter product. The iPhone 4 weighs 36% more than the Touch. It's 32% thicker, which makes a big difference in a pocket. The current iPhone 4 costs $400 more than a comparable iPod Touch, and if Apple can drop the price of a budget iPhone to the $200-300 range, you can bet they're able to lower the iPod Touch price point south of $150, opening it up to an ever larger market. No, if the product line is simplifying anywhere, it's going to be the elimination of the Shuffle in favor of the Nano. Further thought: An iPod Touch WiFi+3G, analogous to the iPad WiFi+3G, with an on-demand data plan option, would be really interesting.
Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011
Continuing his departure from Apple as smoothly as possible, today Steve Jobs relinquished the post of CEO to become Chairman of the Board and 'employee Steve'. Thank you Steve, for all you've done to change the world (and my life). I hope your influence and ideals forever endure at Apple.
Wednesday, Aug 03, 2011
The soundbyte is probably the single most destructive factor in politics today, forcing politicians to frame positions into a single sentence, throwing nuance and insight to the wind in favor of something catchy that sounds truthy. Twitter has democratized the soundbyte to be within everyone's reach, so any representative, official or not, can make a catchy assertion of 140 characters or less and not have to worry about a follow-up question or be held responsible for any more nuance than their truthy tweet. Today's case in point? Google published a blog post lamenting the state of patent law and the aggressive nature of Apple, Microsoft and others in bidding exorbitant sums of money for patent portfolios that they would use to extract royalties from other companies including Google and their partners. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith struck back with this tweet:
Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.Ooh, zing! Google's lying! End of story! 18 characters to spare! And of course the pundits (Daring Fireball for example) took it at face value and didn't dive deeper than the sheen of truthiness. So here we go, throwing down a little context. Microsoft's proposed deal was offered back in October of 2010, while several companies were bidding on the Novell patent portfolio. The patent portfolio is valuable to companies in the mobile sector for a few specific reasons:
Our Wistron deal today makes for four Android #patent license agreements in nine days. (No need to calculate pi to figure that one out.)The Wistron deal, like those that came before it, give Wistron license to a number of Microsoft-owned patents including those acquired in the Novell auction. So in retrospect, back in October 2010 Microsoft gave Google the option to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to help acquire a patent portfolio, or to make its partners pay what will likely amount to $750 million a year in licensing fees for access to the self-same patents. But hey, why care about the whole truth when you can make something that sounds so truthy in 122 characters? By the way, Microsoft, along with Apple, last month spent another $4.5 billion dollars to grab Nortel's patent portfolio. I wonder how many tweets Brad will write gloating about their use of that portfolio to kill its competitors, when he's not too busy tweeting about how he tried to be friends first? Update 8/5: I'd like to thank John Gruber for writing a thoughtful reply to my posts this morning. I can see his viewpoint a lot more clearly in this post than I could in his earlier ones, and only have a few comments: First, that I do see a significant difference between using patents defensively vs offensively. I feel that Google thinks 'empty patents' (not all patents) shouldn't exist, and that a defensive portfolio helps nullify their effect on Google. Proactively suing competitors for violation of such patents is not what someone would do if they think such patents shouldn't be enforced. Second, Gruber states:
What I’m complaining about isn’t Google playing the game, but rather their insistent whining about their competitors only after they lost the game.What if they're only losing the game, but that game is ongoing? Last month's $4.5b Nortel portfolio is an indication that things are only getting worse, not just for Google, but for an entire industry that's pouring money into an arms race fought within the context a patent system that nearly every party involved has admitted is antiquated and lacking. If companies whining about getting beat up in the schoolyard is what it takes to help sway public opinion on patent reform then I'm proud to have Google stand up and say they hope it gets better. Telling them to grow up, not pout, and 'play like the big boys' certainly isn't the right answer.
Sunday, Jul 24, 2011
Larry Tesler, one of Macintosh's Founding Fathers, writing on the Interaction Design Association mailing list:« Newer Posts Older Posts »
The original Lisa and Mac vertical scroll arrows were at the top and bottom of the vertical scroll bar, and the up-pointing arrow moved the content down. I ran a user study in the early days of Lisa development that informed that design. Most (but not all) study participants expected to position the mouse near the top of the window to bring the content hidden above the top of the window into view. One reason was that they were looking at the top of the window at the time. Another reason was that they were more likely, as their next action, to select content in the upper half of the window than in the lower half. Consequently, we made the upper member of the arrow pair move the content down. With apologies to computer architects, I'll call the majority whose expectations were met by this decision the "top-endians". The study also examined the question of which way the arrowheads should point. Half the participants thought the upper arrow should point down, the way the content was moving. Half thought it should point up, the direction from which the content was coming. If the latter is surprising to you, consider that a wind blowing air from north to south is called "northerly" in English, and that a standard PRNDL floor shift makes the driver push the stick forward to go into Reverse and backward to go into Drive. If you don't accept those analogies, note that the "elevator" in the scroll bar moves upward when the user presses the up-pointing arrow to scroll content down. Most of the product team wanted the arrows to point the way the content moved, and to point away from each other. The issue was escalated to Trip Hawkins, the VP of Lisa Product Marketing. After hearing the study results, Trip offered to go with the usability study on arrow locations if I'd be willing (which I was) to make the arrows point away from each other because it "looked right".Be sure to click through to his full post for more insights on the evolution of scrolling, and consider how the decisions the Mac team made so long ago have permeated almost every device on the planet that supports scrolling. Changing that behavior is a huge deal, but one whose time may have come.
For another great story, check out why dialog boxes say "OK".
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