If anyone is to topple Microsoft, now is the time…

I was going to the bathroom today, and it dawned on me… (as things typically do when I’m in my primeval “think tank”) If anyone is going to make a dent in Microsoft’s operating system dominance, NOW is the time!

Microsoft unleashed its Vista operating system to the public, to find it very poorly received. In the past, hoards clamored to upgrade every OS. Corporate IT departments worked around the clock to prepare for the new challenges and bugs that each new OS would bring, and pushed for early adoption due to the desirable new features. Vista adoption in Corporate America has been slow… very slow, and it’s apparent that Microsoft is losing steam.

What do they do next? They no longer have a ubiquitous platform. Their user base is fragmenting into those who really likes XP, those whose machines won’t support Vista, new users who are stuck with Vista, and then those ardent Vista HATERS who will stop at nothing to point out its failures and shortcomings.

So if you are Microsoft, having recently lost your founder and visionary, what do you do next?

If Apple/OSX or any Linux desktop OS is going to emerge to compete with Microsoft, now is the time.

iRan

On Friday, Condie Rice announced new sanctions against the Iranian military and Iranian financial institutions that are involved in Iran’s nuclear program and funneling arms and financial support into Middle Eastern terrorist networks. There is a great debate as to whether or not these new sanctions will have any real effect on Iran, and America begins to wonder if we are on a collision course with that country.

I, on the other hand, have come up with a totally new solution to the problem. What we need is a new, modern Iran, full of fresh new ideas and leadership.

First, I propose we rename “Iran” to “iRan.” We can create a NEW Iran just by lower casing the i on Iran and giving it a brand new industrial design. This will modernize, pluralize, and make iRan cool, hip, and “now”. Let’s face it, mp3 players and cell phones existed before the iPod and iPhone, but look what the new capitalization has done for them!!

map of iRan 1

Second, I propose we make Steve Jobs the new CEO of iRan. There, he can give long winded, disconnected Keynote presentations to his heart’s content. He will have a totally captive audience. Also, having Steve in iRan will open the way for a new “mecca” for Mac-Philes. The tourism industry of iRan will grown 800% in the first year, with people making their annual pilgrimage to the center of Apple-dom.

map of iRan

Third, (and most important of all) we have learned that the ‘hearts and minds’ campaign is the most difficult one to win, and to succeed in this, we will introduce a revolutionary new device called the iRan.

the iRan

This device will be based on the iPhone and iPod touch. Except it will come pre-loaded with all sorts of incredible content (cause as far as we know, the internet probably hasn’t been invented yet in Iran).

The iRan will include all the 60’s protest music we can find, the entire Beatles anthology (the rights to which will be taken from Michael Jackson as part of his current legal proceedings), videos of people getting smacked in the junk, and of course W’s last 6 “State of the Union” addresses.

We should also throw in lots of Hip Hop music, because I really feel like the suppression and objectification of women embodied therein will resonate in that culture. Also, it wouldn’t hurt them to learn the F word and repeat it at leisure every time they see an American, even if they don’t really understand how offensive it is.

We also need to put in every Tom Cruise film, for the pure capitalistic presentational melodramatic action packed nature of them. We should include the complete works of Meg Ryan as well, to show America’s cutesie, optimistic, love struck side.

I welcome your suggestions on other content you think might be appropriate for the iRan. It will be forwarded to the appropriate congressional subcommittee and is guaranteed to go absolutely nowhere.

This revolutionary device will change the way we fight wars and win hearts and minds the world over! A new era has begun.

State Department, are you listening???

On/Off Button.

Terrible (and Not) Retail Experiences

Last night I had another terrible retail experience which has solidified in my mind the reasons why retail stores might ultimately disappear from the face of the planet.

The Experience

I needed a printer. In today’s printer world there are a PLETHORA of options. You can get inkjet, laser, or solid ink technology printers in black only or full color. Each has their pros and cons. Then, to make the decision even more difficult, there are all these multifunction printers as well, which combine scanning, faxing, and copying in many different configurations. Then there is the question of connectivity. USB? Network? Memory card readers? Legacy parallel connections? The list goes on.

I have been putting off the new printer purchase for some time now. I’ve been waiting for the color laser multi-functions to come down in price and mature in quality. I could wait no longer, so I decided to go to Fry’s Electronics and get (at least for now) some simple black laser printer that would get me by for the short term, until I decided on a color-laser-network-scanner-copier-faxer-with-auto-document-feeder-and-network-connectivity-which-is-fully-mac-compatible bohemuth to spend my money on.

Now, I am all about having a premium retail experience. For example, I enjoy shopping at Target instead of Wal-Mart for one reason alone: in Target, they don’t come blaring over the loudspeaker every 2 minutes bellering for so-and-so to pick up the blue line. These small things make all the difference.

When I walk into Fry’s the place reeks of hierarchical struggles. There is a “Person in Charge” podium at the entrance, as well as “Person in Charge” podiums around the store. Usually someone dressed in a suit is standing behind the podium watching the many minions mill about.

Each of the employees at Fry’s acts as though they have some gun pointed at their head; like they might be fired at any minute for any reason. Even stockers and cashiers, who have very simple, limited jobs walk around with a cloud hanging over their heads. I’m not sure why this is, but it is a tense, uncomfortable energy that pervades throughout the store, which puts consumers on edge.

So after perusing the printers for a while, a salesman came over and asked if he could help, and after answering a simple question about where I can find the printers (they weren’t clearly sectioned off into Laser and Non-laser or clearly labeled on their tags as Laser, Inkjet, or other), he left me alone to peruse. After he showed up again, I started telling him what I was looking for in a printer. I only wanted to spend $3-400 if I could get a good multi-function package, otherwise I just wanted a cheap black and white. It was also very important that the printer be Mac compatible, as ALL my systems are Macs. I knew I was in trouble when he responded to my compatibility query by saying, “yeah, well they all should be [compatible].” I know for a fact that most printers are Mac compatible, but multi-functions are basically a coin toss. When I pointed this out to him, especially that scanning software wasn’t always compatible, he offered to get the boxes for the printers I was interested in so he could check specifically.

As I was about to give up and go back to researching online, just by chance I glanced underneath at the boxes that were in stock (rather than the display units), and saw a Color Laser with scanner and network connectivity for $500. It was the CM1017 by HP. “OK this will work,” I thought. When we still couldn’t tell if it was Mac compatible, he invited me to go to a nearby computer to look up the details on it.

When I looked up the printer on HP’s website, I found they were listing the same printer (CM1017) for $474. So I asked if they would match the price ($25 less… come on!), and he looked as though I had just called his mom a four letter word. “No we just can’t match websites… that doesn’t include shipping… we just can’t match websites.” I laughed a bit and was being understanding until he said, “Yeah… we can’t even match our OWN website.” Then I realize, Oh my crap… this corporation is totally backwards!

I showed him that with shipping and taxes from HP.com it still was only $508, as opposed to the $540 I would spend at the store. He held his no website matching ground though.

After thinking about it I thought, “you know, I can spend $30 extra, have it in my hand today, and this guy has been helpful to me despite having absolutely no knowledge about sales, mac compatibility, or finding the right product to fit my needs.” So I said I would take it.

The gentleman got a cart for me and loaded it up, then did a “ticket” (the way he gets his commission on the sale). I walk through the aisles toward the register weighing my choice… did I really want this printer? Was it worth the $30 savings to ditch the cart and go order it online? Somehow, I made it to the register with the cart still in hand.

The lady at the register scanned the “ticket” the guy gave me, then scanned the product itself. Then she muttered something to herself, then went to go call the salesman. I looked down on the box, the printed price label said $699. She had muttered that he had gotten the wrong box, and that he’d be back to replace it. I said, “No. This is the right model. This is the printer I want. The sales tag underneath it said $499, the HP website lists it for $474, and now you’re trying to sell it to me for $699??? This is crap. I’m just going to buy it off their website, you guys need to get your act together.” When the manager lady saw I was losing my grip, her reaction wasn’t to try to explain, she just said, “Okeey.. Dank you. Goo bie.”

I ran into the salesman on my way to the exit who was running back to fix whatever problem he had created. I said, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but all I know is I can get that same printer for $40 cheaper online, and you guys need to get your program together.” And I walked off.

It turns out, yes, the salesman HAD gotten the wrong printer. They were not going to let me out the door with the CM1017 without selling it to me for $699. It was the CM1015 that was $499 (the only difference being the network connectivity).

So I went home, and in less than 30 minutes of searching, I found the same printer (CM1015) for $280, and the CM1017 for $360. I bought the CM1015 online.

Why Retail Stores Suck

So… this retail store lost because:

  • Total lack of knowledge about the products you sell.
  • Lack of ability to match needs of customer with product you sell (this is what salesmanship is, BTW)
  • Lack of competitive pricing and website matching (even matching your own company’s website… hello!)
  • Relying on impulse buyers and people who don’t know better to buy their over priced products.
  • A generally uncomfortable atmosphere set by uncomfortable employees and supervisors.
  • Lack of good communication with the customer.

I don’t just want to end by picking on Fry’s. Here are my other big box retail store #1 complaint summaries:

  • Best Buy: Prices are not competitive, but sales staff are generally knowledgeable and less pushy than Fry’s.
  • Wal-Mart/Target: Stock is typically out of date.. as much as a year. And they still sell them for MSRP, when much newer better models are already available. Also, there is NO sales knowledge or customer service.
  • CompUSA, Staples, Office Supply Stores: High prices, but there is a better chance that sales staff are professional and knowledgeable.

So what do you do? What is the answer? Go to best buy if you want to play with the product, go to an office supply store to ask a question about it, then go home and buy it online.

The Exception (the Not)

Now, there is one exception to this rule. (And I swear I don’t work for these guys) But Apple has saved retail! They really have rethought it.

  • You will always pay the same in an Apple store as you will on Apple’s Online store
  • Apple’s employees are INCREDIBLY knowledgeable (about mac products), and if they can’t answer your questions, they will show you to the “genius bar” where the really smart guys are.
  • I can get my corporate discount at any Apple store or online at apple’s store.
  • I don’t have to wait for clearance sales, collect discount coupons, or find redemption codes. None of these exist for Apple. They do not discount merchandise until a replacement product comes out.
  • You can receive Apple support in the Apple stores. Rather than calling India for help, you make an appointment (they respect your time), and you take your Mac, iPod, or iPhone in and they fix it for you on the spot.
  • Apple’s stores are modern, well stocked, easy to visually parse (not too many products, aisles, or shelves), and accessible (if you’re in a major metro area)
  • The staff totally love their jobs, are encouraged to be individuals (not uncommon to see piercings or tats), and genuinely believe in what they’re pushing.

This is a store I can spend my money and time in.

iPhone launches in UK

I was very disappointed this morning when I found out that Apple had not changed the iPhone hardware AT ALL when it launched in the UK. I was sure the recent price drop was to pave the way for a 16GB model with 3G (europe has mostly 3G networks). Instead, O2, the exclusive provider in the UK, is having to roll out the 2.5G EDGE network. Stupid, dumb, stupid.

Whatever…

The longer you make me wait for iPhone 2.0, the more I’ll be tempted to buy this ugly, unusable, cheap, windoze phone:

Welcoming iPod “Touch”

Apple hosted an iPod event today, revealing a refreshing of it’s iPod line in time for the holiday season.Here are the key takeaways:

  • iPod Shuffle
    • Just new colors. Yawn.
  • iPod Nano
    • New, fatter, round cornered industrial design
    • It can play videos now!
    • A few small UI enhancement
  • iPod
    • Renamed to iPod “Classic
    • New industrial design.. same rounded corners as iPod Nano
    • Bigger hard disks… up to 160gb
  • iPod Touch
    • New iPod based on the iPhone form factor
    • Large multi-touch display with similar OS X interface as the iPhone
    • Integrated wi-fi
    • Safari web browser, as in iPhone.
    • iTunes wi-fi store now allows users to purchase music directly to the iPod itself, later syncing with the host computer.

The shocker, though, was that the 8gb iPhone, previously listed at $599, will now be sold at $399. The official reasons were that they wanted “an iPhone in every stocking this Christmas,” but I have my own ideas:

  1. The iPhone was overpriced to begin with, targeted at early adopters who would pay any price for the much-hyped system.
  2. The iPhone must come down at some point so new, higher-end iPhones can be introduced at the premium price.
  3. Sales for September and October were likely to slump since all the early adopters had already purchased their iPhone, and all the wait-and-see people were likely to wait for a iPhone v2.0
  4. The number one barrier to most people buying an iPhone was that it’s too expensive. This will start to solve that problem.

Things that weren’t announced that have been in the rumor mill for a long time:

  1. iPhone nano: this one might be a reality, might not. Wait for the next iPhone event in January or February.
  2. Beatles albums now on iTunes. Nope. Not yet. Go buy the CDs if you like the Beatles that much.

New iPods On Their Way

The Apple Rumor Mill has been a-buzz lately with confident speculation that Apple will be announcing a new line of iPods in the next few weeks; as early as September 5.

Here are my summaries/predictions/conclusions:

  • The new iPod will feature a widescreen, multi-touch display, and will play video.
  • The new iPod will be based on a OS X, like the iPhone. This is a no brainer for Apple. Now they have put the work in to make iPhone an iPod, just leverage all that work in an iPod only form factor.
  • The new iPod will look very similar to an iPhone. Same widescreen, multi-touch technology. Same singular home button. However, there will be some kind of design change or color difference. iPhone users will want to maintain their outward iPhone superiority to the less expensive, iPhone looking iPods.
  • Many have speculated that the new iPod will be based on NAND flash (the type of memory that is in the iPod nano) rather than a 2.5″ mobile hard disk. The hard disks are the single greatest point of failure in the old iPods, and the NAND flash in iPod nanos is practically indestructible. HOWEVER… I’m not 100% sold on that. NAND flash is much more expensive per gigabyte, and packing enough NAND flash into the iPhone form factor to equate the current largest iPod (80gb) would do it in. Apple can’t make the margins it needs at that price. I don’t see them shrinking the capacity of the largest iPod either. With every iPod release up until this point, they have expanded the storage capacity at the high end. Will we suddenly go crashing back down to 32gb after we have enjoyed 80gb? I doubt it.
  • They will certainly refresh the iPod, and likely refresh the iPod Nano (although it will mostly just be the new OS), but i’m not confident they will refresh the iPod Shuffle.

My prediction is that the new iPod will be a HUGE financial success for Apple (much bigger than iPhone), and will drive their holiday sales and 3rd to 4th quarter profits. Apple’s timing and strategy have been perfect.

iPhones were a perfect product for the summer, because a cell phone is not a product that we can all just go grab and use. Most of us have contracts we can’t break and can’t justify over $1000 to switch carriers and handsets. The hype was good. But the MONEY will come now with the new iPod.

Everyone and anyone can use a new iPod. Teens, old people, even babes in arms. It has been almost 2 years since the last iPod refresh, so we’ve all been waiting for this one for a very long time!

iPhone – Why I’m Still Waiting…

I would absolutely love to buy an iPhone…

-BUT- (there’s always a but)

Here are the top reasons why I have not purchased my iPhone yet. If Apple wants my $600 and at&t wants my wireless business, they will have to address these items first.

1. Voice Navigation/Calling

The most crucial problem facing the user interface of the iphone is its lack of tactile buttons. You can’t use your motor memory to make or even receive calls. For example, using my current cell phone, without even looking I can press Softkey 2 to open my contacts and press the M key will bring up “Mom”, then I press talk… no need to even look at my phone. With the iPhone, I have to look for “Contacts”, flick through the list until I find “Mom” then press her contact, then press to dial her. I had to look at my phone at least 4 times, not including a very prolonged look to flick through the contact list. What this equates to is millions of drivers having to LOOK at their cellphones to actually use them. This will create major safety hazards on roads (as if the current state of the 21 and under crowd txting from their cars wasn’t bad enough). Even when I just had a standard iPod, I found myself distracted by it, trying to switch playlists or genres while driving.

2. 3G EDGE Network

There is no excuse for launching the worlds most anticipated mobile device, promising to unleash the mobile internet in a way that has never been accomplished before, and then (in effect) putting a 14.4kbps modem on it and expecting everyone to love it.

We crave SPEED! Launching iPhone with the 2.5G network is dumb. Maybe it was the excessive power requirements of the 3G chip. Maybe it was the added cost. Maybe it was that at&t hasn’t rolled out the 3G network widely enough. Maybe the iPhone is just ahead of its time…

And don’t try to sell me a line about how the built in wi-fi will satsify me. Unless I am at home or at work, I am not in a hotspot or near a hotspot. I am freakin’ mobile! Public hotspots at coffee shops and airports cost WAY too much money… no way i’m using them!

3. Corporate Discounts/Accounts

Although this one doesn’t affect the public at large, this IS a PRIME segment of your market, and the ones I would argue are the most important to iPhone success: people who work for tech companies… THE EARLY ADOPTERS. Many tech companies pay for their employees phones, and Apple’s/at&t’s absolute refusal to grant them the ability to offer the phone to them is just plain silly.

I would even be OK if they didn’t want to discount the iPhone, but precluding corporate paid users from even purchasing the iPhone is shooting yourself in the foot. If you haven’t guessed by now, I work for a tech company. My co-workers and I would absolutely LOVE to buy iPhones. We would love to recommend them to everyone we see. We would love to show them off and tell everyone how Apple has made our dream device… but you just simply won’t let us.

4. Support Stereo bluetooth headphones and get rid of the proprietary headphone jack.

You can’t advertise an iPod that you can’t plug a set of non-Apple headphones into. People spend BIG bucks on earphones these days, and it’s no secret that Apple does not have the good ones. The white wire sure is stylish, but if I want a good $200-500 set of noise-cancelling earphones that lets me hear the music rather than the plane’s engines, I CERTAINLY want them to work in my $600 iPhone.

Along these same lines, let me utilize the bluetooth capability and go wireless with my headphones! iPhone does not currently support stereo bluetooth headphones. This is a MUST!

5. The Battery

This has been one of the biggest issues for everyone, and simply summed up it is this:

  • People can’t live for 3-5 days without their phone while Apple replaces their battery (or actually swaps the handset)
  • People want to be able to have spare or extended batteries in case they are using power intensive applications (which on the iPhone is pretty much everything: video, voice, data, wireless technology)

Honestly, it is less of an issue for me. I have owned an iPod for 3 years and still haven’t seen much degradation in the battery, such that I would want to replace it. However, knowing the flawed nature of Lithium Ion batteries, Apple needs a better battery strategy.

That’s it Apple. Fix those 5 things, and I’m on board.