Category Archives: Web/Tech

Why the spec sheet method of buying a computer is dead

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 09:  An Apple Store ge...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Poor Charles Arthur. Charles wrote a relatively simple post asking the question of why the Mac has proved to be so successful lately, out-performing the overall computer market and growing its market share. And in response, he got a 500+ long comment thread in which multiple geeks are arguing over how the specs of the Mac do/don’t compare to Windows machines.

I’m greatly enjoying the batting around of specs like people buy computers based on specs anymore. If there’s one thing that the huge demand for netbooks a few years ago proved, it’s that people buy because they can see how a computer can do something for them, not on megahertz.

In the case of netbooks, the “something” was being a machine they could carry everywhere, and do simple stuff on. In the case of Macs, it’s having access to easy to use, powerful software like iPhoto, iMovie, and so on – in a package that’s good looking, well designed, robust, and so on.

It’s about the whole experience: Compare buying a Mac in an Apple Store to buying a Windows machine in PC World and you’ll see what I mean. Compare the ability to take your machine back if there’s a problem with it to a Genius Bar and have someone help you sort it out in a way that’s friendly and not patronising.

This is the thing that advocates of the spec-sheet method of buying computers, or any product for that matter, don’t understand. What lifts a brand from being a making of generic boxes into a real identity isn’t simply the spec you get for the money, but the overall experience of buying and owning the product.

To give a non-Apple example, consider Dell. What set Dell apart from other PC manufacturers was the build-to-order approach which let you tailor the product to exactly meet your needs. You went to the Dell site, and you got exactly the machine you wanted. It was competitively priced, but it was rarely (if ever) the cheapest option. The experience was simple, straightforward, and gave you what you wanted. In short, a good brand experience.

Unfortunately for Dell, this was a part of the brand experience that was relatively simple for other companies to copy, and it’s lacklustre performance in the market coincides with other companies copying this approach. Now, I can get a totally customised machine from most PC makers – so what’s left for Dell to say is unique about its experience?

People buy Macs because the experience of buying, owning and maintaining a Mac is better than the experience with any other computer maker. It’s the experience that matters, not the specs.

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Apple is dead in the water, redux

Charles Arthur, reporting for The Guardian on an IDC/Appcelerator survey of developers:

“App developer interest is shifting back toward Apple as fragmentation and “tepid” interest in current Android tablets chips away at Google’s recent gains in momentum, according to a new survey of more than 2,700 developers around the world.

In the survey, 91% of developers said they were “very interested” in iPhone development, and 86% said the same for the iPad. For Google, interest in Android phone add development fell 2 points to 85%, and for tablets – particularly Honeycomb – down three points to 71%, after having risen 12 points in the first quarter. The figures are within error margins for the survey, but don’t match the growing interest that has been seen in Android over the past year.”

Seems like developers didn’t get Fred Wilson’s memo, or heed the advice that iPhone was “dead in the water” from Henry “Screw the SEC” Blodget.

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Goodbye, JKOnTheRun

Warner Crocker on the demise of JKOnTheRun:

jkOnTheRun was one of the first mobile tech blogs I followed and JK was one of the guys who I always turned to hear or read his opinion. I still do. Whether it was reading posts on the blog or listening to the podcasts with James and the late, and still dearly missed Marc Orchant, it was always a blast. I always looked forward to those podcasts as I did the Mobile Tech Roundup podcasts with JK, Kevin Tofel, and later Matt Miller. I learned a lot from all of that reading and listening and the beauty of it is I was always entertained while doing so. MOTR still is in my podcast queue though James isn’t a part of that anymore.

I agree. I loved the On The Run with Tablet PC podcasts that James and Marc used to do. Blogs have moved a long way past the enthusiast stage, and I miss it. That’s not to say that what Kevin and the guys are doing about mobile at GigaOm isn’t great (it is) but it’s very much a different blogging world out there.

Google’s “proprietary information” (or, what makes Google money stays in Google)

From Steven Levy’s marvellous new book on Google:

“[Google] was becoming less a research project than an Internet start-up run from a private university. Page and Brin’s reluctance fo write a paper about their work had become notorious in the department. ‘People were saying ‘Why is this so secret? This is an academic project, we should be able to know how it worked’ says Terry Winograd.

Page, it seemed, had a conflict about information. On one hand, he subscribed heartily to the hacker philosophy about shared knowledge… But he also had a strong sense of protecting his hard-won proprietary information.” (My emphasis)

This pattern of sharing everything except the information and code which actually makes you money was set very early, and continues to this day. You can see it with Android: The bits which Google gives away aren’t the ones which define “the Android experience” for customers, like Gmail, YouTube and Maps, but the code which allows geeks to tinker. And, of course, the algorithms and data which makes Google its money via advertising remain very, very securely under lock and key.

I should say at this point: There’s nothing morally objectionable about this approach. But I think that this tension between what’s open and what’s closed at Google will, sooner or later, be something that forces the company to redefine itself.

Levy’s book, incidentally, is full of gems like this, and I’d highly recommend it.

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Google, Larry, And Social

Scoble gets it:

In yesterday’s Gillmor Gang I argue that Google and Facebook have completely different cultures. Google is very much about finding information while Facebook is all about helping people “waste time.” Think about why Zynga, a company that helps us “waste time” playing games built on top of Facebook’s culture instead of Google’s. These cultures are like oil and vinegar and if you force one to be another it could turn bad.”

An example of this? Google’s decision not to sponsor an NPR quiz show:

“To figure out where we might find talent like that already inhabiting our cube farms, I surveyed our engineering employees, asking what media outlets they tuned to. Unsurprisingly public radio news programing was high on the list. More than half of the engineers listened to Morning Edition or All Things Considered. Third on the list with 36% was the NPR quiz show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” (WWDTM ). So it seemed like a match made in heaven when NPR offered us a sweet deal to become exclusive sponsor of that show. I loved the idea. WWDTM was quick, funny, and news-based and NPR told me the show’s producers used Google to research their quiz questions.

Unfortunately, Larry was not a fan. “I just think the information content is low,” he told me. Well, yeah. It was a quiz show, not the BBC World Service. More surprising to me was that Sergey agreed. He didn’t listen to NPR for entertainment, just news.”

And Larry is now back in charge. Has he changed? I doubt it. Does he have a Facebook profile, a Twitter account? No.

Photo by niallkennedy

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad compared

How will the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 compare to the iPad 2? Seth Weintraub at Fortune highlights four points where the Samsung scores well compared to the iPad:

  • Runs on HSPA+ ’4G’ networks at up to 21Mbps without sending it back to the shop
  • It somehow weighs less than the iPad 2 Wifi at 599 grams with 4G equipment!
  • It has an 8-megapixel rear camera with auto focus vs.<1 megapixel fixed focus iPad and 5 megapixel on XOOM
  • Dual surround sound speakers.

Looking at those, my first thought is “good luck with battery life”. The same weight (it’s a gram less) plus HSPA+ is going to hurt the battery life quite a bit.

If you want to know the core of the Twitter API changes, this is it

That clever Matthew Somerville character has done a handy page visually showing the differences between the old and new Twitter API terms. There are lots of them, but I think the most important one is short:

“We want to empower our ecosystem partners to build valuable businesses tools around the information flowing through Twitter.”

Twitter wants you to build tools, not businesses. All your business r belong to them.

Why “evil” is the most over-used word in tech

One of the things which you often hear reading tech blogs, and particularly the comments, is that such-and-such a company is “evil”. What this usually means isn’t that they’re deliberately employing children or forcing workers to work in polluted factories which damage their health.

Instead, the cry of “evil” is used to describe companies that are trying to maximise their profits. That could be by destroying a market by giving away products to undercut competitors. It could mean locking customers in to platform so they face barriers if they want to switch to something else. Or it could mean trying to take a slice of income off every transaction made on their products.

This is a fundamental error, and it misunderstands what companies are designed to do. In a post on his blog, BBC business editor Robert Peston sums this up in relation to multinationals trying to minimise how much tax they pay:

“But given that company law obliges company directors to give greatest weight to the interests of their shareholders, criticising company boards for striving to minimise tax is a bit like attacking gravity for making the rain fall down rather than rise up.”

The same is true of tech companies. Apple isn’t “evil” because it is attempting to squeeze money out of publishers. Microsoft wasn’t evil when it tried to tie Office and Windows. Google isn’t evil because of its practice of giving away stuff which its competitors make money on.

They’re all just companies, trying to make the best returns for the only people that matter, legally, to them: The shareholders.

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