InfoNgen 'Publisher HD' Is Now In The App Store…

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I wanted to let everyone know that the first cut of InfoNgen’s iPad newsletter generation application – Publisher HD – is now up and available in the Apple App Store. Equally exciting is the great reception the app has received. It was even featured in the New & Noteworthy section for productivity apps:

If you get the chance to download it, I would welcome whatever feedback you have. There are a lot of things we want to add, refine and extend in the current release of Publisher HD, and we are already hard at work on putting that next version together. You can leave suggestions in the comments section for this post, or just email me directly.

Best of all, Publisher HD is free – just bring your own iPad. You can download it via the link below:

ENJOY!

Apple's WWDC'10 Keynote And AT&T…

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I wanted to do a quick followup on my previous post regarding AT&T’s announced changes to their wireless plans.

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While Apple certainly had a lot of good things to introduce at yesterday’s WWDC keynote, support for a new carrier wasn’t one of them. I can’t help but wonder what went on behind the scenes over the last 8 weeks (from the launch date of the iPad 3G) that made AT&T decide to change something so fundamental with it’s wireless data plan – and why they decided to make it effective the same day the iPhone 4 was introduced. It can’t help but feel something specific is responsible for the way this has played out.

Of course, sometimes coincidences are just what they seem, and that may be exactly what happened in this case. Whatever the reasons behind it, metered access has the potential to change usage habits in a way that may slow the development of some interesting mobile media initiatives. That would be unfortunate, and a real opportunity missed.

While I’ve discussed this only in terms of Apple’s mobile offerings, AT&T’s service changes have actually gone into effect for every smartphone/data device that they support on their network. RIM, WebOS and Android based devices are all impacted by this in the same way. With this broad an impact, market forces will definitely be at work here. And that means the success (or failure) of any metered access plan will ultimately be something the marketplace gets to decide.

Making Sense Of AT&T's Shift To Metered Wireless…

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att-logo-parentalBoth the iPhone and iPad are a big part of my digital life. To put it mildly, I was a bit upset when AT&T announced yesterday that – effective next week – they are doing away with their unlimited data plan options across all of their smartphones and devices.

From that point on, the closest option they will offer is what they call their ‘DataPro’ plan:

DataPro: Provides 2 gigabytes (GB) of data – for example, enough to send/receive 10,000 emails (no attachments), plus send/receive 1,500 emails with attachments, plus view 4,000 Web pages, plus post 500 photos to social media sites, plus watch 200 minutes of streaming video – for $25 per month. Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle. Currently, 98% of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.

While 98% of AT&T smartphone users may actually use less that 2GB of data per month, I am sure that the percentage of iPhone users that fall in to that camp will be considerably smaller. Smaller still will be the number of new iPad users that can fit within that 2GB limit. The people crossing this threshold aren’t doing anything crazy. They are simply using the mobile web the way people expect to use it – doing normal things like:

  • listening to Pandora on the iPhone
  • downloading a digital version of Wired magazine (at 500MB per issue)
  • buying a movie before boarding a plane (at ~1.3GB per movie)
  • using any cloud storage application (like MobileMe)
  • sending emails with attached presentations or documents

There is nothing noble going on here with AT&T. They are simply trying to take away the promise of the iPhone and iPad under the guise of lowering prices and protecting their users from that “2% Club” of real data hogs. And while AT&T is going to grandfather anyone that already has an unlimited data plan (good for current iPhone users), this will effectively do away with the month to month nature of the iPad data plan. (If you stop paying that $30 each month for the unlimited 3G service, the only options available to you when you light it up again will be limited plans.)

The real question in my mind though is why is AT&T doing this now?

The easy, obvious answer is that they are trying to get a handle on the increasing load being placed on their network, and this is the best way to make that happen. While I have no doubt that this is part of the reason for AT&T’s move, I believe there is something else going on here.

Something big.

Steve Job’s went out of his way to highlight that Apple had worked with AT&T to offer two attractive month to month data plans, the main one being an unlimited plan at $29.95/mo. The iPad 3G has been shipping for less than 2 months, and now that plan is being killed. The only way I can see that happening is if AT&T was told that something else was being killed as well.

U.S. Exclusivity.

I’m guessing that AT&T agreed to those data plans contingent on remaining the sole carrier with the iPhone, and that they will be free to retool their pricing once that changes. Is it coincidence that he new plan takes effect this coming Monday -the same day that Apple’s WWDC 2010 begins? The same day Steve Jobs is expected to announce the next generation iPhone? And maybe some other type of phone or device?

Let’s see what happens.

The Long Term Damage From "Unhelpful" Help…

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This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me.

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Last week, I went to a large electronics retailer in downtown Manhattan looking for a very specific type of microphone. I had a meeting to videotape, and needed what is known as a “boundary microphone” – a low profile microphone designed to pickup the voices of a group of people sitting around a table. I described what I wanted – and what I was trying to do with it – to a salesman in their pro-audio department, and asked if he had any specific recommendations he would make. He confidently directed me to a reasonably price shotgun microphone, telling me that it should work well for what I was looking to do.

Unfortunately, the type of microphone he was recommending was designed for a very different purpose from mine. In fact, it would be pretty useless in the situation I had described to him. It was clear from this that he was just looking to make a sale – even if it meant selling me something that didn’t really work for me. If I hadn’t known enough NOT to take his advice then, I would have ended up with an inferior (and potentially useless) recording – a situation I’m grateful I avoided.

But this type of situation isn’t that uncommon.

When it comes to more complex items, especially in computers and electronics, far too many sales people end up making confident – yet frivolous and uninformed – recommendations to the people they are supposedly “helping”. Their overt conviction may help them close the immediate sale, but it comes at a cost. They end up losing the more lucrative opportunity to convert someone into a satisfied long term customer that would happily recommend them to friends and colleagues. By not investing in the quality of their sales staff, many firms effectively squander the “network value” of their customers to get some kind of short term gain.

While many stores have reward programs for frequent shoppers, they seem to offer little to their truly highest value customers – the “frequent referrers” that keep sending new customers their way. The most important thing a sales person can do is convert a basic “shopper” into a networked “referrer” – even if it means not selling them something on a particular visit.

The more connected we become socially, the more important this approach will become operationally. The “velocity” of word of mouth referrals – both positive and negative – should become a a key operational metric in our 21st century economy. It’s the only reliable way to reach a highly oversold-to and fairly jaded consumer market. Customer service isn’t something that can be ‘bolted on’ at the point of sale. Being customer centric needs to become central to the way any modern organization thinks, plans, and operates. Long term success depends on it.

The role model for this market approach (as they are for many other things) is Apple.

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Apple thrives off of referrals. They count on having their existing customers convert the ‘Apple uninitiated’ through enthusiasm and word of mouth. That is why Apple focuses so much on the design, quality, and usability of every product they make. Even the packaging is an experience. But they also invest very heavily in something almost every other electronics manufacturer tend to take for granted – their retail channel. The entire Apple Store experience is first class. All of the people working in the store are both personable and highly trained, and seem genuinely invested in both the company and the products they sell. You can’t help but feel that everything Apple does with their retail stores is designed to create a satisfied customer out of every person that walks in their doors. And they seem to get it right almost every time.

But you don’t need to be an Apple sized company to apply this to your business. At the end of the day, great customer service happens one salesperson at a time. Every contact they have with a potential customer is a chance for them to demonstrate their value and gain that customer’s trust. If they do a good job truly helping every customer that walks in the door, the sales part of the equation will take care of itself.

That’s a lesson far too many companies still need to learn.

The iPad: Living Up To The Hype…

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If you haven’t actually used the iPad, it’s hard to appreciate what a compelling computing experience it gives you. Though at a physical level the device may seem to be nothing more than a large iPod Touch, in real world use it becomes something quite unique.

And that’s what makes the iPad so exciting.

I’ve been using the iPad as my main computer for the past three days, covering everything from email, web surfing and media playback to working on a detailed presentation and typing up the outline and notes to go with it. I even used the iPad to type up most of this post on the train this morning. While not perfect in every respect, the device has shown itself more than capable of handling everything I have thrown at it – no small feat for a small, mobile device.

Based on that experience, I wanted to share a list of those things with the iPad that seem to really work well, and also those that I think Apple still needs to focus on.

Working Well:
The iPad does so many things well, but certain things are really standouts. Here are some that I feel merit specific mention.

  • The iPad extensions made to the iPhone OS interface make using the larger display both intuitive and efficient. The pop-over displays are a great idea for maximizing screen real estate, and the way apps reconfigure to optimize themselves based on screen orientation is brilliant. The entire user experience here is simple and refined.
  • Every native iPad application brings more of a desktop experience than I’ve ever had on a mobile device. Unlike traditional apps running on netbooks, iPad apps don’t feel cramped or chopped up. In fact some iPad only apps – like Mail or the Wall Street Journal reader – actually seem to surpass the experience you can get on the desktop today. There is an opportunity for some groundbreaking innovation here that has been missing in the software industry for a long time.
  • Though touch-typists may feel differently, I found typing on the landscape keyboard to be very similar to typing on a MacBook. Though lacking the tactile feedback, having the keyboard on the same physical plane as what I’m typing gave more visual feedback than I get from a separate keyboard and display configuration. The auto-correct is also excellent, saving me from going back to fix common typing and spelling errors.
  • Battery life seems to be awesome. Unlike with the iPhone (where you always have to keep an eye on the power meter), the iPad just seems to keep running. I’d work on it for over 3 hours at a clip and never had the battery drop below 75%. I’ll be interested to see how well the 3G version does on this front.
  • Once I started browsing the web on the iPad, it was tough to go back to the traditional browser experience. Using touch to navigate around full sized web pages is so much more satisfying than using a mouse or trackpad. It’s the most natural way I’ve seen to move through information on a screen.
  • The iBook application is a real standout. I can see why so many publishers have become excited about the iPad as a delivery medium. I would like to see how this develops – especially around interactive and mixed media ‘books’. Short of reading in direct sunlight, the lack of eInk doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here. The display was crisp and easy on the eyes, and the book reading software was both playful and functional.
  • Apple multi-use iPad cover is a must have accessory. Beyond protecting the device, it provides a stand that optimizes either viewing and typing based on how you orient it.

Missing The Mark:
Not everything with the iPad deserves acolades. Here are a few of the less than optimal features that Apple will need to pay some attention to going forward.

  • While iPhone native apps do run on the iPad, they simply don’t translate well to the large screen. They look pixelated and lack the elegant interface touches that iPad native apps all have. I know that it will simply be a matter of time before most apps are updated to accommodate the iPad, but running ‘classic’ apps on the device right now isn’t very satisfying. Streamlining the process of getting converted apps approved and in the store needs to be a priority for Apple.
  • It’s hard to believe, but there is no coverflow for media files on the iPad. Given that coverflow is almost a signature Apple interface element, I’m at a loss to figure this one out.
  • While far from heavy, the iPad weighs more than I thought it would. I don’t notice it when I carry it around, but it is definitely tiring to hold it unsupported in a reading position for long periods of time.
  • Apple has done an excellent job adding books to the iPad, but treating newspapers and magazines as general applications seems to be a real kludge. Even if the unique nature of magazines and newpapers benefits from an application based packaging model, that should at least be collected and organized outside the general pool of applications, with given a consistent way for people to purchase or subscribe to them.
  • There is no obvious way to copy PDF’s or other published documents over to the iPad. I typically carry around a lot of reference documents and manuals, and was hoping the iPad could lighten the load of physical paper I currently need to carry around. Hopefully Apple or a third party will provide an app for that soon – it’s such a natural use for the device.
  • It seems out of place that a media centric device like the iPad won’t be able to include a video iChat compatible application. The lack of a web cam is something of a disappointment. At this point, I’d at least like to see a basic text iChat application released.

Based on the time I’ve spent with it, I don’t see the iPad replacing either my laptop or my iPhone. It is a unique device with it’s own place in my ‘gadget world’. That said, I don’t consider myself the typical computer user, so your experience may vary. What does speak volumes to me about the capability that is in the iPad is that its the first device that I could see taking on trips or vacations instead of my laptop. It is also my clear first choice for doing email, web browsing, and watching video. It really does fill the gap between my iPhone’s portability and my laptop’s power.

I think that for many people (non-power user, non-bit tweaker, real world people) the iPad could even end up becoming their primary computing platform. It does so many things well, and with a simplicity unmatched by any other device on the market, that I expect it to catch on with this broad demographic in a significant way. Once you actually start to use an iPad, you understand the limitations of what today’s computing experience offers.

You simply don’t want give it up.

And that’s the thing that makes the iPad so ‘magical’.

I would strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself. In every way that really matters, the iPad does live up to the hype.

The Battle For The Soul Of Computing…

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After years of waiting for a tablet device from Apple, the iPad will finally be shipping next week.
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Based on the rumors/news online (hard to tell them apart sometimes), it appears that Apple has picked up some serious momentum in bringing content providers on board for its roll-out. Both media companies and software developers are scrambling to capitalize on the expected early demand for the iPad. And as more providers come online, that demand should continue to grow.

Unlike Microsoft with their tablet (mis)adventures, Apple has been placing less emphasis on the technical aspects of the device itself and more on it’s broader content ecosystem and unique user experience. This is a smart move, and should help make the iPad a major success.

But what ultimately makes the iPad so groundbreaking is it’s combination of power, size and simplicity. It packages all of the basic computing tasks people most want to use in a lightweight, portable footprint that doesn’t feel cramped. It offers an incredibly diverse library of 3rd party software covering games, news, utilities, and productivity apps. It has the largest selection of digital music and video available, and has begun adding books, newspapers, and magazines to the mix. Some of this is free and some of it’s paid.

And all of it is just a download away at the iTunes store.

Apple’s decision to base the iPad on the iPhone OS instead of the Mac OS makes it much more than just a sexy new gadget. What Apple is really offering through the iPad is a fundamental challenge to the existing model of personal computing. The device is always on. The operating system is transparent. Software distribution is standardized. Updates for everything are automatic. In short, its a platform where user doesn’t need to worry about taking care of anything – it just simply works.

And for many people, that’s all they really want in a computer.

Now I do recognize that there are clearly computing tasks that require more traditional computer platforms – especially in professional disciplines like media creation or mathematical modeling and in infrastructure roles like web services, database hosting, and large scale data analysis and management. Hardcore gamers will also demand the raw power available with traditional computing platforms. Traditional computing platforms will continue to have an important role to play.

But what they do well isn’t what most individuals use computers for – even in business.

With the iPad (and more specifically, the iPhone OS) Apple is asking people to reassess what they really need from a computer – and then offering them the first credible alternative to the traditional PC model they are currently locked in to. It’s a transition that will take time, and the release of the iPad is only the beginning of the process. I see Apple developing a whole line of platforms built around the iPhone OS ecosystem – each one extending the appeal of this new computing model to a broader audience.

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It’s clear to me that at some point (sooner rather than later), Apple will introduce a keyboard/touch hybrid device that will transplant this new computing model into a more mainstream, laptop-like form factor. At that point, it can begin to attract that significant segment of the marketplace that wouldn’t be comfortable buying a pure slate based device.

And once it happens, the battle for the soul of personal computing will begin in earnest.

Adobe Strikes Back…

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After remaining relatively quiet over the last few weeks while Apple was out trashing their FLASH environment, Adobe has finally decided to respond. In this video, Adobe lays out their case for having flash available on any device, and takes a few not so subtle swipes back at Apple:

It’s no coincidence that Adobe has chose to feature HP’s yet to be named slate platform in this presentation. With Apple’s big push for the iPad just starting up, they want to dangle the promise of an alternative coming later this year. You can see the similarities:

HP “Slate”:

Apple iPad:

While everything Adobe is saying in their video has a strong element of truth to it, they fail to address the two key issues Apple has had with putting FLASH on their mobile platforms – it’s voracious appetite for power (that reduces battery life), and a less than optimal code base (that causes performance issues). These are not trivial issues in the hand-held computing space, and they shouldn’t be dismissed as just an attempt by Apple to assert control (though there is no doubt some of that wrapped in to all of this).

The fact that FLASH was able to gain ubiquity across the ‘traditional’ web doesn’t mean that it should necessarily play a significant role in the mobile web space. These are vastly different environments requiring different priorities and compromises, and I believe Adobe still has some serious work to do if it want to make FLASH a key component of mobile media delivery.

I’m just not sure if they see it that way.

Defining The Next Generation Of Books…

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Penguin Books seems to be aggressively embracing the concept of digital books. Take a look at this video:

While this is only a demonstration, it is clearly well developed conceptually. The model of using a traditional book framework as a ‘navigation map’ into additional content, applications, and services make complete sense. And it has the potential to redefine the economics of the entire publishing industry.

To make this happen in a way that can scale, the publishing industry (including Apple and other vendors) has to come up with a technical packaging model that moves beyond traditionally focused packaging like the ‘EPUB’ format. Having an open, commonly adopted standard for expressing/delivering these rich, interactive publications can shift publication from becoming one-off developments or publisher specific frameworks into a rich industry ecosystem. I believe that making this happen is the game changer the publishing industry needs. There is a lot to talk about on that front and I want to revisit and expand on it in a later post.

It’s exciting to see some momentum building behind the iPad. So much potential…

"Wired" Gets the Potential Of The iPad…

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It’s great to see innovation coming from more traditional media companies.

Wired Magazine a must read for for anyone interested in the intersection of technologies and the digital life style. Though firmly anchored in the more traditional media world, they have never been conformists. Both in print and on the web, Wired’s design and packaging of the content they create has always shown a level of creativity and sophistication that can challenge the mainstream while simultaneously defining the “new norm”. As the industry starts to embrace Apple’s iPad and other tablet form-factor devices for distribution, Wired will no doubt play a significant role in defining this next phase of digital publishing. This video is a good indication of their thinking:

While I am no fan of Flash (HTML 5 is the way to build this type of interface), the creative possibilities and potential revenue opportunities hinted at in this video can make your mind race. Any time a market is in transition, the explosion of innovative and even crazy thinking that takes place is exciting, scary and inspirational all at the same time.

I am more convinced then ever that the iPad will finally set this all in motion.

Windows Phone 7 Series Preview…

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Microsoft is betting ’7′ will be a lucky number for them.

Looking to build off of the initial success of Windows 7 (the consumer side looks good but still not sure how well corporate adoption will go), Microsoft previewed the next generation of their Windows Mobile operating system – the “Windows Phone 7 Series” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. As part of their introduction of the new mobile OS, they put together a video that essentially slams Apple’s iPhone platform:

While slickly produced, this video segment is somewhat misleading. It is comparing Apple’s current iPhone OS against an unreleased version of their mobile OS that probably won’t be available until late this year. I have no doubt that by then, iPhone OS 4.x will be out and offering quite a few new and updated features – including broader multitasking capabilities.

That said, there are some interesting concepts in Windows Phone 7 that give it a completely different feel from the raft of inferior ‘iPhone Wannabes’ that have flooded the market over the past 18 months. I would need to spend time with it to get a feel for just how usable it actually is in the ‘real world’, but it clearly represents a total reset of Microsoft’s previous phone OS efforts. This is something I applaud – the Mobile 6.x line was a complete dead end.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for Microsoft and almost every other mobile OS provider is that they are trying to support a broad range of hardware options and capabilities. While ‘consumer choice’ may seem like a good thing on the surface, apps developed for this type of heterogeneous environment either end up being limited by the least capable device they support, or developers make a conscious choice to limit their compatibility to selected handset models. While this approach may be satisfying to tech savvy users, it tends to confuse and frustrate mainstream consumers, and ultimately works against broad adoption.

Windows Phone 7 Series definitely looks interesting, and does demonstrate a real commitment by Microsoft to be successful in the mobile space. This is probably the last real chance they will get at making something to work here.

And I believe this OS is more important to Microsoft’s future then Windows 7.

NOTE:To find out more about how the 7 Series will work, check out this complete video of Microsoft’s preview event. It will start to play automatically once you make the video window visible. You will need stop it manually if you want to watch it later.