Archive for May, 2013

The AppleTV is Pretty Good! But…

May 23, 2013

I purchased an AppleTV. I did it on a whim. I was impressed, and I was disappointed. I think I see the next step for the product, though. You’ll like it!

The Good:

– The GUI (graphical user interface) is simple and efficient.
– Configuration is easy!
– Image quality is superb!
– iTunes integration is great; it  just works! Great!
– Airplay works – it just Works!
– Photoflow integration is great – it, too, just works!
– The remote commands the Apple TV through obstacles!
– My bluetooth keyboard works, too!
– It’s compact!  And no wallwort!

The Awkward:

– The top level interface is configurable by Parental Controls – huh…
– Not many free media choices. YouTube, iTunes podcasts and Trailers.
– Hulu Plus works fine, but not the free Hulu service – WHY NOT?
– Search text entry is arduous with the remote – get a keyboard.

The Bad:

– Image aspect ratio is fixed.
– Some media sources use HDCP (copy protection) – grrr.
– No way to browse the web.
– No way to install an iOS app.

At home, where we are not quite in the “modern World”, I need a gadget. At home, our TVs do not have HDMI interfaces (we also do not have a BluRay disc player). A burglar would just pass us by – our TV set weighs more than 100 KG and barely fits through the door. So, I have a simple gadget to satisfy the HDCP feature and convert the AppleTV’s HDMI output into an S-video output or an RF output depending which archaic device I want to plug into and watch. All is well with this gadget. It is a Sabrent DA-HDRC Converter for $50 from Amazon.

The remote is amazing. I swear that it commands the AppleTV around corners and through obstacles. JC says it must be UV, and not (or not just) IR. It bounces off of walls and furniture.

The AppleTV is great in a hotel. I take my Airport Express (another great product) and  AppleTV with me when I travel, and I plug the AppleTV into the TV in the room. It works anywhere in the world. If bandwidth is good enough, which it sadly may not be, I have entertainment! Not so bad…

But, I want more – I want to participate in WebEx video conferences (I don’t need a camera). I want my bluetooth headset to be supported by the AppleTV. I want my on-line ATT Uverse service. I want news channels like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, C-Span. I want access to more free media sources!

I want to be able to adjust the image aspect ratio – to stretch the image a little – a little more – a LOT more! The variety of media sources and display devices needs some accommodation in the AppleTV.

I want to be able to bring other video sources into the AppleTV. If  only it had a USB interface. I want to be able to watch a DVD – if only I could plug Apple’s nifty, slim DVD drive into the Apple TV. How about plugging an ElGato EyeTV USB TV tuner into the Apple TV. There are great possibilities, here!

I believe that the AppleTV will be transformed in the near future – give it two years… You just wait! Just as the Mac mini is an iMac without a display, the AppleTV will be an iPod without a display. Just you wait…

In the mean time, the Apple TV is pretty good! But…

How Fast can You Change?

May 12, 2013

A friend asked me, “Brian, why has the economy seemingly stalled?” My spontaneous answer was, “Well, I don’t think that people can change their behavior fast enough to take advantage of the changes happening all around them. I think that people are overwhelmed today by the chaos. The consumer has been left behind.”

The puzzled look on my friend’s face told me immediately that he did not see the connection I was making at all. Rather than taking a step backward, or taking a second step forward hoping to see indications of understanding, I let the conversation take a different course. Let me peel the onion that I did not peel that afternoon – let me make a few observations…

1) Product innovation that is too rapid leaves the consumer behind. Have you ever stopped upgrading software because the new features were not obviously of any use to you? Still using Windows XP? Well, the product innovation left you behind.

Perhaps the new features were not well thought out, and they were in fact duplicative or of no practical use to you. Phewy – why spend money for something you can’t use and don’t need for anything? That’s not a problem with you – blame the product designer for the ridiculous.

Perhaps, though, those new features are so different from what is familiar that you don’t see how they are useful. Even if someone points out how the new features are significant improvements on what was – significantly better tools, you might reason that if you don’t need those new features for what you do today, then why learn how to use them – nope, pass the upgrade by. Maybe that IS a problem with you. But you, my friend, are not alone if you fall in this second camp of consumer.

In the case of Windows, product innovation has left the consumer behind for a combination of both of the above reasons. If you discount Windows OS sales associated with new computers purchase, consumer upgrades from XP to Vista to 7 to 8 has been lethargic and reluctant and even painful – and getting more so with each successive release of the OS – and terribly disappointing for Microsoft financial results. Windows OS product innovation has left the consumer behind. And the Windows economy has stalled.

2) Product innovation that suddenly presents too many alternative products to the consumer leaves less room for a runner-up to succeed, and a bubble may emerge. Or a monopoly may emerge. How many consumers do you imagine shop for a large screen TV because of the 3D feature? In the near term, a crowded market quickly turns into a price-competitive market that squeezes new entrants out of the marketplace before a product sells a threshold amount that justifies the next cycle of innovation. Truly good products can disappear from a crowded market for no rational reason visible to the consumer. Companies fail. Innovators lose confidence and backers. In the near term, the good products in a crowded market don’t always win unless one product in particular is a true standout (Apple’s iPod). In the near term, this kind of market may become a bubble that bursts.

In the long term, mediocre products may be the only survivors simply as a result of deeper pockets of cash with their manufacturer, and being perceived as the least risk choice for the consumer. Monopolies of lackluster products may develop, and monopolies are inefficient markets over time. Inefficient markets full of ineffective products are not “vibrant” by any measure, and those markets will eventually stall or become declining markets. Monopoly markets are incredibly hard to upset with exciting competing products – after all, how fast can the consumer actually change?

Back to the question: How fast can you change?

I am a technology product manager. Once I launch a new product – a challenge in itself, I immediately plan for the innovation path. The problem for me in a nutshell is to innovate fast enough to challenge and out do the community of competitors, but slowly enough for the consumer to be able to appreciate the coming innovation, desire the coming innovation, and be able to change their behavior to utilize the coming innovation.

Apple succeeds in no small measure through evangelists. Apple recruits evangelists from their consumer population by engaging the consumer. Apple hosts developers conferences, hosts user forums, offers training in their stores, offers personalized shopping experiences, offers one-on-one services, etc. Apple has “genius” evangelists at every store to explain product features by way of solving customer problems. At every turn, Apple is working to propel the consumer forward through evangelism faster than if the consumer was left to their own devices.

Apple succeeds in no small measure by taking small incremental steps with their software. How different is MacOSX 10.8 from 10.7? 10.7 from 10,6? If you look at the release notes for the OS releases, Apple consistently touts more than 200 or 250 new features, but only several are significant, and the rest are nuances and polish. Apple sells the value of so many new features, but genuinely challenges the consumer to change their behavior on just a few. And how much is that new OS? Just $30 most recently… Heck, why not! Apple takes small steps with their current products.

Apple succeeds in no small measure by selling entire ecosystems that are smoothly integrated and virtually flawless. MacOSX / IOS / App Store / iTunes Store / iTunes Match / AppleTV / AirPlay / Photoflow / Bonjour is just one ecosystem. Apple has a communicator ecosystem (the iPhone is part), a developer ecosystem, an office productivity ecosystem, a hobbyist AV ecosystem, a pro AV ecosystem, an enterprise ecosystem. Apple sells a range of outstanding hardware platforms to suit these ecosystems. Apple ecosystems are all almost flawless – “and it all just works.”

Microsoft, on the other hand fails on all these strategies. Transitioning from Windows 7 to Windows 8 has compatibility headaches, fractured ecosystems, radical user interface changes (and challenges), steep pricing, and there is no one to sell the “goodness” or pull the consumer gently forward.

When I look around me, I see market after market filled with “Microsofts”, and not “Apples”. The consumer sees what I see, though they may nor comprehend what they see in the same way I do. The consumer sees a dizzying range of confusing products and services they don’t understand, fail to appreciate, and can’t really afford, and they are keeping their money in their pockets. How much money will YOU spend on a “flash in the pan” gimmick (if that’s how you perceive it)?

And by the way, more and more consumers over the past decade in particular are keeping more and more money in their pockets for essentials like food, shelter, medical care and transportation that combined are more and more often exceeding their incomes… You can’t understate this factor.

So, in summary, my friend, the economy is stalling because the vast middle class faces shrinking disposable incomes and mind-numbing, confounding choices in the market. There are exceptions, of course: the 1% is doing quite well, and there are in fact some excellent products and services in the market. But the 99% is largely keeping what little disposable income they have in their pockets (and not expanding their consumption of credit) because there is not much that is compelling to purchase.

Well, that’s my view when I wear my product manager hat!

Update – a follow-up question: “What do you think about Windows 8?”

I think Windows 8 is the most innovative Windows release in many, many years. The ability to flip from app to app with a swipe and the constant updating of the summary display with notifications are all terrific innovations I wish my iPhone had. This user interface is not quite ready for the desktop; however. And this user interface is a huge leap that brings too many changes too fast for the majority of consumers. I like it!

How fast can you change? Most consumers want to change rather slowly…

Mark Hepworth for Mayor

May 3, 2013

My City Councilman is running for mayor of my fine city. I Like Mark!  Mark Hepworth is a fine person who is determined to stomp out cronyism and the “good ole boy network” in the City politics that stymies citizen voices and involvement. I have known Mark for about four or five years. He says what he thinks, does what he says, and he asks what you think, by the way. He listens. He speaks with clarity. His base motivation is to do good, and not for personal gain. He shirks notoriety. He’s a refreshing personality in the City.

Mark stands for term limits.

Mark stands for transparency in government.

Mark wants to stop the “entitled attitude” of city leaders.

Mark wants new leaders to infuse new ideas.

Mark wants anyone living in our city to be able to talk directly to him – in his office – in Council chambers – on the street.  He genuinely cares to know what people have to say.

Got a few minutes – here is his message in one minute chunks:

Mark Hepworth for Mayor – a Minute with Mark

This is refreshing. When was the last time you heard these ideas from a sincere politician?

If you live in Grand Prairie, Texas, get out and VOTE! “Mark the ballot for Mark!”