Friday, April 30, 2010

What Were They Thinking?
    — Interior is the New Exterior

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

This coupon flyer for Ridings Custom Painting showed up in one of the recent Valpak coupon envelopes that come in the mail once a month or so.

I’m sure they do superb exterior painting jobs.  So why not show some of them on the coupon?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CHASE: Considerably Hosed At Service End?

I bank with Chase.  Not by choice, but because they bought out Washington Mutual when it collapsed and thus they are both more convenient (in Seattle) than other banks and they still honor the minimal account fee agreements that WAMU had in place.  (But when they decide to starting adding fees back in, I might jump.)

Recently, they have been upgrading their ATMs to make them “deposit friendly”, which means that they can take checks in without an envelope, scan them, figure out the amount (if they can read the writing; they make you enter it if they can’t), present them for confirmation, and deposit right on the spot.  They can even take as many as 30 checks in a stack.  Pretty cool stuff.

So today, I had a check to deposit, but I needed to endorse it, so I went into the bank lobby.  (The pen at the desk by the ATM was busted.  Someone had pounded it point down and jammed the tip in.  Sigh.)  Since I was in the lobby, I took it to the teller.  (The one who sits behind four inches of bullet-proof plastic, in the downtown branch.)

You would think that if the ATM could process deposit checks this way, so could the teller.  Heck,you would think they would use the same technology: swipe my card, feed the check in, scan, display, confirm.  But nooooo!  The teller had to hand me a slip of paper and a pen, for me to fill out a deposit slip with my name, date, check info and amount, and account number (which I don’t have memorized, sorry, so I would then have to swipe my card and have the teller write the number for me).

Let’s review:
  • Use ATM: takes about 30 seconds, no paper, no writing
  • Use Teller: takes about 4 minutes, two people fill out 4-5 items on a piece of paper
Remember in the 1990s when the banks imposed teller fees, charging you to talk to a person so you would use the ATMs instead (and they could then lay off staff as no longer needed and thus cut a cost)?  They should have done it like this years ago!  Sure makes me want to avoid talking to a person.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gay Phone (definition)

An iPhone.  Every gay boy in the bar has one.

(Android phone?  Please.  There might be 1 of them in the bar for every 25 iPhones.  A faux gay phone.  But I’ll accept that five years from now, some other phone will be the trendy everyon-has-one, everyone-cruises-on-one device.  Then that one can be the “gay phone”.  But today, it’s the iPhone.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Further Thoughts on the iPad

By now, everyone and his brother has weighed in on the iPad.  Having been abvle to see and use one for a couple minutes, a few observations of my own come to mind:

It’s Apple, Stupid!

For all those people who complain about what the iPad doesn’t have:
  • Multi-tasking: the iPhone doesn’t have it yet, why would you expect the iPad to?
  • A memory card slot: the iPhone doesn’t have one, why would you expect the iPad to?
  • A removable battery: the iPhone doesn’t have one, why would you expect the iPad to?
  • A standard USB port: the iPhone doesn’t have one, why would you expect the iPad to?
  • Get the picture?
Do you get the picture?  No one who thought about the iPad in context of other Apple mobile offerings for more than 10 seconds would expect any of this hardware stuff, nor would they expect any of the software pieces to appear on the iPad without it appearing on the iPhone at the same time.

Apple works hard to try and maintain the illusion of consistency in their hardware offerings.  No matter how much you might wish for these things on a general purpose tablet device, they aren’t the Apple way.  Bitching that they are missing from the iPad means you’re either an idiot, or you don’t do anything but complain, or you have a beef with Apple itself and couldn’t say something good about the product anyway.

Think About the Market for a Moment

When he introduced the iPad, Steve Jobs positioned it in between the iPhone (very small, very mobile device) and the MacBook (device with some mobility but intended for keyboard and mouse-intensive operations).

Which means that when a reviewer complains that he wouldn’t replace his laptop with an iPad, he is missing the point.  The iPad is not intended as a laptop replacement (although with the keyboard dock and iWork software, it can do some laptop activities acceptably).  If it was intended to replace a laptop, it would not have been described as sitting “between” the smart phone and the laptop.

So instead of bitching about how it doesn’t do what you want from a laptop — and I agree, it might be okay for text editing, but not for coding and not for editing Photoshop documents — how about thinking about what (and whom) it would be good for?

While those of us who make our livings from computers usually need the horsepower and keyboard and mouse, a whole lot of people (the majority of computer users, frankly!) don’t.  They need (want) Facebook.  They need a music and video player.  They need a web browser.  They need e-mail.  For these people, the keyboard and mouse are things they tolerate, pieces of the computer system that they use because that’s what computers have for inputting information and navgiating.  But no one needs a mouse to click (touch) a play button.  No one needs a hardware keyboard to enter a URL that they already have a bookmark for, nor to enter their credit card number for an online purchase.  And so on.

These are the people — and more, the uses — that the iPad is intended for.  Not you (most likely).  Them.  Think about them, and what they need, and how they might use the device.

Welcome to the Future

Who came up with the concept for the iPad?  Well, it wasn’t Apple!

Many geeks will claim it was Star Trek.  After all, the flip-top cell phone is pretty much directly from their Communicator,  and they have also had the PADD (Personal Access Display Device; never actually referred to that in the show) going all the way back to the original show.  I would submit, though, that those were PalmPilot and stylus-based tablet computer inspirations, typically vertical business/military applications rather than general purpose consumer/media devices (although such would surely have existed as well).

In terms of something that we recognize completely as an iPad-class device, though, consider these panels from the Legion of Super-Heroes showing consumer devices intended for reading, writing, and media consumption, dating back to 1984:
Rokk Krinn using a device as a story book, with pre-loaded content.  From Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #2 (2000).
A space shuttle passenger reading from a device, almost exactly iPad size and shape.  Possible pre-loaded content, possibly dynamic.  From Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #0
R.J. Brande using a device as a sketchpad, with a stylus for pen-like actions.  From Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #0 (1994).
Colossal Boy with a newspaper-reading device.  The new content is loaded dynamically.  From Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #1 (1984).

Missing from these images, unfortunately (because I didn’t have an appropriate issue handy to scan from; I’ll get one eventually), is a version from the late-80s/early-90s version of the Legion.  In these stories, the McCauley Omnicom was ubiquitous: everyone had one, and everyone used them, for everything from portable computing to PDA tasks to online diaries to media consumption, pretty much exactly what the iPad is destined to be used for (especially a couple generations down the lilne).  In particular, this Legion series often featured diary pages and the like as background material, presented as displayed on an Omnicom.  And thus not just did Legion reader see the character interacting with the devices, they were directly shown an example of the device in actual use.  Needless to say, Legion readers from that era see an iPad and know exactly what the expected uses of it should be.

Did the Legion actually create the concept?  Oh, gods no.  You can be sure that diligent research would probably turn up science fiction stories dating back to the 1930s which reference hand-held newspaper readers and the like.  But what the Legion (and Star Trek) did do was to clearly visualize both the form factor and the uses of both stylus-based PDAs and multi-touch tablets well in advance of actual devices being viable.

Will I Buy an iPad?

Almost certainly.  I’m planning to for my birthday in late August, which will give time for a software update or two to come out, new app concepts to some out, and hardware add-ons to be released (such as the mysteriously absent video conferencing webcam).

You see, I travel quite a bit for pleasure or what I call “professional obligation” — not career-related trips, but ones where I have duties such a teaching dance workshops or being an organizational delegate.  On these trips, I want to stay connected to my e-mail and the web and social networking sites, and I want to consume media like music and video.  If I had the capability available, I would edit web pages and do graphic design work, but those are a tiny fraction of what I use a computer for while travelling.  (I did once create an event poster wholesale on a plane trip, but that was an exception.)

I used to have a Mac laptop I could use for this, both one from work (in a past job) and one of my own.  The latter one, I gave to my ex when we split, so that he would have a computer.  Lugging the laptop around was significant added weight on trips: laptop, charger, mouse (because I despise use trackpads for more than a couple minutes), and assorted cables.

After that, looking for other, lighter/better solutions, I bought a Nokia N800.  It was a nifty little device, but I found that I needed an external keyboard to use it efficiently, and the screen was just too small for most of my needs.  I could use it, but it wasn’t especially great.

I then bought an Asus Aspire One netbook.  Now I was back in laptop domain, with a large enough screen and a keyboard and such to run a browser and an e-mail program.  On the other hand, it is a Linux box, and you have to use arcane UNIX-style terminal commands to install any software at all.  I found some sites with step-by-step details to get me running Firefox and Thunderbird instead of the default apps, but I haven’t taken the time to relearn UNIX commands enough to generalize those steps to add other apps.  And I have had to completely reinstall the OS at least twice, meaning I’ve had to go back (find online again) through all those steps again and again.  It has all the joys of a hacker device, which is to say all sorts of pain for someone who just wants to be online and consuming media!

I’ve also got an iPhone.  This has the advantages of being an Apple device and thus both synching very well with my main system and having software which is familiar in how it works.  Make no mistake: these are massive plusses.  My e-mails, my calendars, my contacts: they are just there on both systems.  The screen isn’t very large, of course, and there’s no opportunity to do web page editing, document editing, or graphic design, and of course the lack of multi-tasking restricts some switching between mail and web, but the convenience of being able to do things like check my e-mail when in line at the grocery store are major things that just weren’t possible before with other devices.

So where will the iPad be viable for me?  Why, just where Steve Jobs said it would be.  I probably won’t use it waiting in line at the store, or to “Bump” my contacts to someone at the bar.  And I won’t use it to design an event poster.  But when I’m in a static location — the couch, the kitchen table, the hotel room or airplane seat — I’ll now be able to read mail and browse the web and watch video without needing to deal with a keyboard or needing to sit at my work desk, and without needing to squint at a tiny screen.  Basically, all the things that I can sort of do on the iPhone (or the N800), I can now do more effectively, and with a system I can manipulate in a familiar, comfortable, and easy manner (without the hardware getting in the way).  For 95% of what I need to do when I’m not at my work desk, the iPad will be a superb option.

(And you know, I probably won’t ever we able to do native Photoshop file edits like I can on a desktop keyboard/mouse system, but I’ll bet we’ll see WYSIWYG web page editing system that I can use for some of those tasks in a matter of months.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Were They Thinking?
    — Baby Bumps

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

The local Eileen Fisher store had this display in their front window for a few days.  (Sorry about the reflections.)  It is three suspended dresses, with a light inside the lower body section of each dress.

Under the idea that the audience creates the meaning from art (and advertising), I say they were pushing pregnancy.