Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Only iPhone Review You'll Ever Need - Part 2

I said I'd talk about the good things about the iPhone first - the things that make you go Hmmmm. But first, some context, especially for those who think I'm a gadget obsesses, chaser of trivialities (you're not wrong, it's just there's a reason as well).  I've had my problems with phones, and have often posted ... e.g. about the SamsungTreo 600, all Nokia phones, the Sony Ericsson range at large, early 3g phones, or just phones in general. I could have posted more previous references; the point is that I don't think much of mobile phones: they frequently crash, have trouble synchronising, have battery problems, aren't obvious or are just plain useless.  Been there, screen printed several of my own t-shirts.

My criteria for acceptance have been, from past posts:

- Has a battery that lasts at least a long weekend (treo 750 need not apply)
- Has a keyboard that registers your touch simply and effectively (samsung sgh600i need not apply)
- Doesn't crash more than once a week
- Works consistently.
- Adheres to standards
- Allows me to synchronise text messages, ring tones, speed dials to the PC
So, what about the iPhone?  Well, here are the things that make it stand out, for me at least:


- The screen.  It's a big call Apple are asking you to make: big screen/no keyboard versus smaller screen/keyboard. Corporate warriors looking at their blackberries should absolutely stay with those; but individuals who make calls and do lots of text, I think you have a real choice for the first time. I've played with many keyboardless phones (P8xx and P9xx had keyboard but were just useless with them so I took the keyboards off with the handy little screwdriver that was provided; HTC touch was better but not great).  The screen real estate is brilliant. It not only lets you play with all the ipod stuff - video, coverflow and so on - but it actually gives you room to see, say, a whole contact on one screen, or several similar contacts in a list, or a decent sized wedge of google maps when you're lost in Manchester (as I was last week - when I used the iPhone to show my taxi driver where the hotel that I was staying at was).

- The keyboard.  I was a sceptic, I admit it.  Even in the Apple store I wasn't convinced. After a few days use at home I still wasn't convinced.  And then it dawned on me - you have to trust the system.  Windows Mobile, as you peck at the tiny keys with a stylus (fat fingers no use), tries to guess what you're going to type and tries to save you time by giving you 2 or 3 choices.  Apple's system guesses what you really meant to type - dealing with horrible mis-types at the same time.  And, more often that not, it gets it right.  Typing texts becomes a one finger flier.   It's not touch-typing, it's not even feedback typing (I have sound off) but it's staggeringly fast.  You still have to watch for some words - if you type "si" instead of "so", the iPhone continues as if nothing happened for instance. The HTC touch, whilst a great phone, actually stopped me sending texts - it was so painfully difficult that the effort was worse than the reward; I just stopped sending texts.  The iPhone has converted me.  And, it's a fair trade between screen and keyboard.  I loved my Treos - 600, 680, 750 - for the keyboards and for one single innovation that they alone had, until now:

- Threaded text. I don't get why every phone doesn't have this.  It's essential.  All your conversations grouped together under the name of the person you're texting.  If you often have 5 or 6 text conversations going on and can't quite remember what you said to who sometimes, this will sort that out right away.

- It's the software stupid. Rarely have I seen a software upgrade applied to a mobile phone during the time that I owned it.  Once or twice the Treo folks published an upgrade but, more often that not, they kept it to themselves or just released it to new phones, not as an upgradeable item. Even the recent Windows Mobile 6 upgrade for the 750 has not really made it to the street (pirate Australian versions not included), despite it being more stable and with far, far better battery life than WM5. Apple have already released software upgrades just a couple of months after launch. And they're following a different strategy from Sony's with, say, the PSP.  They're actually offering you things you might want in return for things that they want - for instance, for the first time that I can ever remember, your bluetooth headset battery life will now show on the phone's main screen. They're also correcting the "duh!" functions that they should have had on day one - tapping 2 spaces will now insert a full stop a la blackberry.  In return, they're locking down some security holes that the hackers have exploited.   I have no doubt the hackers will get round it, but it encourages people to go legitimate for sure - show me a hacker who will volunteer to upgrade his/her phone first with all the recent problems around 1.1.1.  That said, what should have been a beautiful moment for Apple, the ability to add functionality on the fly, is going to be mostly ruined by adverse PR (and even lawsuits, although there's nothing new in that for most companies these days) as the upgrade apparently renders hacked 'phones useless - no need for that Apple, just don't let the install go ahead, detecting before install that there's something wrong.  Even Microsoft didn't ever shutdown a PC with a pirate copy of Windows.

- Three words: "slide to unlock". No more pocket noise.  With a name beginning with "A" (or "a" to some) I'm often the unintended recipient of calls or texts, sometimes a dozen in a day from the same person (only 1 or 2 persistently do this; you can imagine my response).  A very few times I've learned positively secret and commercially sensitive information as I listened in, and walked in to the room where the conversation was taking place holding my phone out so that they'd know what they'd done. You just can't make rogue calls with this phone.

- Proximity sensor.  No more beeps and squelches as you press buttons on the phone whilst it's held up to your ear.  The Treo 750v used to spend most of the time during a call changing the time or the alarm function, even though the screen was locked - it just didn't seem able to resist. Other phones have been much worse.  The iPhone disables the screen when it's close to your ear and enables it again when you lower the phone.

- Big icons, no menus.  Press the single button, get the home screen up, select what you want to do and just go.  No more pressing of menu buttons, searching up and down for the menu you want, selecting the sub-option and starting what you'd planned.  The bulk of the things that you want to do are right there on the home screen or a layer below. Want to check stocks? one button.  The weather? One button. Text? One button. Browse the web? One button.

- Rubber band scrolling.  This may be a more binary thing - people will hate it or love it.  I have just over 1,000 contacts in my iPhone.  On earlier phones I've always dialled someone by typing the first few characters of their name and then selecting it. The iPhone's rubber band scrolling was born to negate this - select the start letter and then scroll up or down at speed - see all the numbers in one go and then tap the one you want.  Send a text with one tap, add it to favourites to make it easier to get next time.

- Battery life.  I'm getting 2 clear days with a mixture of phones, text, wifi, GPRS, video and audio books.  It's good, not great.  But it's better than any number of Windows Mobile 5 devices and as good as any WM6 device (although on none of those did I ever watch video, play audio or use wifi)

- Rock steady.  Not a single crash or frozen screen so far. No spinning hourglass or multi-coloured kaleidoscope indicator.  No hang-ups.  No missed calls because it didn't ring. No reboots. Just rock steady.

- Bluetooth.  I've never been a fan of bluetooth.  That whole set to discovery, discover, type the 4 digit passcode stuff just gets my goat (no, not the same directionless goat).  The Apple bluetooth headset comes with a new cradle for the phone - the headset goes in its own slot and auto-pairs with the phone.  No buttons to press, no passwords to guess.  On top of that, when you turn the headset on the iPhone automatically switches bluetooth on and connects to the headset; when you turn it off, the iPhone turns bluetooth off.  Sure, it's not stereo for music and sure it's still bluetooth with its variable reception quality, but it's hassle free bluetooth.

- Synchronisation.  I keep my calendar on a PC in outlook, my music on a Mac (via a NAS).  I honestly expected some trouble synchronising to two devices and certainly syncing to a PC.  There were no problems.  Contacts and calendars moved straight away without a hitch and without any software install; music synced up nicely as did video.  The sync for video is a little odd - for TV shows it wants you to sync the X last unwatched, rather than perhaps the first Y unwatched.  But it just works.  Motorola phones have, in the past, required exports to CSV, edits and re-imports and other phones have just not synced properly. iTunes also backs up items such as SMS allowing you to restore them if there are problems - the only phones I've ever seen do that are the Palm-based Treos.

To follow this, in the next few days, I'll publish the things that make you go "uhhhh", the things that aren't so great, some of which I'm sure they'll fix in software and some that they won't. I may even add to this post too over the next couple of days to round it out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Only iPhone Review You'll Ever Need

I've been enjoying the ballyhoo over the launch of the iPhone in the UK on September 5th:  Expensive and wait for the next version. Not even 3g. First phone to cost a GBP1000. O2 will never make money on it. Could get yourself a Nokia N95 and have money left over to buy a Nano and a nice shirt. It's a dead duck.

Well, I beg to differ.  On many counts. I've racked up a dozen hours of calls, watched a few episodes of Lost Season 3, listened to a few hours of music and sent a couple of hundred texts on my iPhone in the last couple of weeks.  And it's the Best. Phone. Ever. 

image The iPhone is far from the "first GBP1000 phone".  When the StarTac launched in 1997 it was priced at $3000, falling to GBP1000 by the time of the UK launch - that's just to buy the phone, without the price of a contract included.  Back then you paid a premium and you liked it.  My Motorola 8800 in 1989 cost a similar amount. And now there's always Vertu to consider - I doubt any of those phones come for less than thousand.  Oh, and they're made by Nokia.  Jeeps my annual phone bill is more than a thousand and I suspect that most corporate phone owners are just like me.  I see the iPhone as almost disposable - perhaps as much as half the initial market will buy the newest one within a few days of it coming out, for the buzz, the newness and the chance to show-off.

We forget how recent it is that phones became available for "nothing" - i.e. were heavily subsidised by the operator in return for massively over-charging us for calls and, particularly, texts.  600GBP a megabyte for a 160 character text message? Wow!  Now of course, Apple is apparently over-charging us for both the phone and the contract.  Heaven forbid - an 18 month contract? How dare they!  I've got news for you folks - you want a shiny new phone from most operators now and they'll drive you towards an 18 month contract.  They need to reduce churn and locking you in is their only lead on doing that so far - after all, no one has got particularly excited by any operator-led content so far.  The endless promises of iTunes-killing music stores that will let us wirelessly download music have yet to either materialise or to excite anyone enough to switch operators.  I suspect it's simply that once you sign a contract you stay with that operator until you see a better phone that you like that's offered by another network and not by your own.  Perhaps tens of thousands - judging by the number I saw on the street - of people switched to Orange when it began to offer Treos, not least because no other network offered them at the time.  The iPhone will drive the same behaviour - for a certain segment of the market that is probably very lucrative for O2.

image I'm no Apple fanboy and Steve Jobs certainly doesn't need an apologist.  He's proved he's an inspired yet occasionally ruthless business man many more times than most.  He's had a long string of hits punctuated by some duds - the Lisa and the Cube for instance; but some of Apple's worst moves - ugly, beige, boxy Macs (thank you John Scully) & the Newton, weren't his.  Since his return to Apple the hits have far outweighed the misses.  $5.41 billion of revenues in the last quarter prove that. He may be winning no friends this week, first with the Apple price drop (criticised as too soon and too harsh by none other than the Woz) and then with the press release noting that those who hack their iPhone are not guaranteed future compatibility and may be left only with paper weights (no surprise - modding consoles, PCs, phones or whatever has always been risky and, let's be clear, the iPhone is not yet a platform; it will be, but it isn't yet) - let's be real though, a couple of hundred thousand people bought iPhones on the basis that they would be or could be unlocked.  If you don't want O2 as your network, you don't have to use them; just bear in mind that every time there's an update to the iPhone or iTunes you may have to wait a while before you can use it or you may just have to stay pat.

It's also clear to me that Apple is not trying to be Nokia.  Over the last year Nokia's mobile shipments have gone from 75.1 million to 100.8 million units per quarter - that's a run rate of close to 400 million a year.   Nokia's market share stands at 39.1% - therefore there's a total mobile market of a billion.  The next on the list, Samsung, who have come from pretty much nowhere in the last 4 years, stands at 14.5% (37.4 million phones last quarter).  Motorola, home of the RAZR, is demoted to 3rd place with 13.8% (35 million phones last quarter).  Apple want to sell ten million iPhones in the first year.  But that, of course, is the total phone market.  Apple is in a different market - one for smartphones, converged devices, "cool gadgets" and "must have toys".  Nokia had 56% of the smartphone market last year and sold 40 million devices. That puts the total market at around 75 million - for smartphones.  I believe Apple's total potential market is much bigger than that and so 10 million is eminently achievable - and, indeed, far more than that over the coming years. (Source for all these figures is "The Business" 8/9/07 via Strategy Analytics). 10 million out of a billion?  Sure, why not.  Why not 100 million out of a billion?

htc-touch image So, here's the only review you'll need.  It's in two parts after this part - those who think the "only" review in 3 parts is oxymoronic can think again.  Things that will make you realise you don't ever want any other kind of phone and things that will make you wonder whether you should wait for version 2. Only you'll know which of these is important enough for you to make the switch or to reject it all together.  In saying what's good or bad about the iPhone, I'm generally using four other phones as my benchmark - the HTC Touch and the Treo 750/680 (the former being Windows-based and the latter Palm OS) and the Blackberry 8800.  I wanted to use equivalent touchscreen phones - with and without keyboards - and included the Blackberry as the standard corporate road warrior device, lack of touchscreen notwithstanding.

In the next two posts I'll actually write "The Only iPhone Review You'll Ever Need."

Master Chief Suffers At The Hands of Local Government

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In the last few months London has seen the Tour De France come through (around a million spectators), had 35,000+ cyclists storm around the closed-off streets, handled 300,000+ spectators for the annual London Marathon, dealt with 25,000 runners for the London 10k, allowed tens of thousands of concert goers to see Prince at the O2, seen 70,000+ people attend games at Twickenham and the new Wembley and dealt with any number of major film red carpet premieres and even a midnight launch event for the latest Harry Potter where fans queued for hours or days to get their hands on the much-awaited book  ...

... and cancelled all of the launch events planned in Westminster for Halo 3.  Rolling on from that, none of the major chains (Game, HMV, Virgin etc) will be hosting any midnight openings for those people who want to get their hands on the game a few hours early.  Apparently the local government policy wonks are worried about just how many people might turn out.  Maybe all ten million Xbox 360 owners are coming to London for the day, although launch night in New York indicates that's not so - and they were allowed to stay up until midnight all without adult supervision,  Maybe Westminster figure a Covenant drop ship will descend and blast everyone away and they wanted to avoid sweeping up the mess the next day.

With the iphone launch just a few weeks away I wonder if those learned public servants in Westminster Council will adopt the same mind-bogglingly daft attitude. The spell checker in Windows Live thought I meant "bunglingly" there - that's probably more accurate. 

I can't imagine that there are more than a few hundred, maybe a thousand, people that would show up for such an event - fewer still for the iphone launch I suspect.   After all, they had so few people turn up for the UK PS3 launch that they were able to give them all LCD widescreen TVs.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gerry McGovern says ...

DSCN0237 (Custom) "Personalization is like building one of those fancy super-yachts. It's fun, it cool, it's a challenge. But employees are drowning in a sea of unusable applications, PDFs, and badly written, out-of-date content. They need a life buoy, not a yacht."

I still read Gerry's weekly email bulletin, but came across his blog today. I love the way he simplifies things - like this line

"Part of the reason is that as writers we are often too precious about our trade. We are loath to admit that there are formulas. In fact, to say that writing is formulaic is a criticism, not a complement.  You wouldn�t criticise a headache tablet for being formulaic."

Or how about this "Your intranet can be a goldmine, so don�t sell it like a coalmine."

Great stuff!

The Apple Of My Eye

iStock_000001823754XSmall

Like Caesar in De Bello Gallico, the iphone came.  saw. and conquered. And now they say they've sold a million - in less than 3 months - faster than they sold a million of the original ipod. I'm not sure that's a valid comparison - an unestablished product into an unestablished market, creative's mp3 players notwithstanding (I still have my original 64mb creative player). 

Perhaps a better comparison would be how long did it take to sell a million RAZRs?  Turns out that they beat that too.  But there are 100 million RAZRs in circulation now, probably about the same as the number of ipods (and, frankly, whilst the RAZR looked great I always thought the interface was designed so that you never rang anyone - keeping your call costs down -and letting you look cool just answering the phone without pressing any buttons).

Rumour has it that this Tuesday will see the launch event for the UK iphone, on the O2 network.  Rumour also has it that it will still not be a 3g phone.  Funnily enough, when I took the sim out of my US iphone, it's clearly marked "AT&T 3g" on both sides - in a sort of orange "go faster" blur. I guess the Americans have a different idea of what 3g means.

What seems plain is that Apple is up-ending the cellphone market.  Here's why I think that:

  • The traditional model is get phone for near-nothing (newer, hotter phones cost more but if you have a high monthly spend then any phone is available for near nothing). Apple is making you pay pretty much close to full price for the phone.  On top of that, Apple has extracted a percentage of the monthly forward contract spend.  They appear to be doing some interesting revenue recognition on those two different types of revenue too.
  • Apple have fixed some of the problems with nearly every previous phone I've had.  To name one massive improvement - the proximity sensor that detects when the phone is close to your face and therefore stops you from pushing random buttons.  There are few, if any, phones that have that - none in my current collection, including the latest Windows Mobile 6 phones such as the HTC Touch (looking forward, by the by, to the settlement negotiations between Apple and HTC over that one)
  • They're moving everyone to a 2 year contract.  Most UK contracts are 12 months although some appear to be 18 months now.  It won't be long before we're buying our gas, electricity and even our travel cards on the same basis.
  • They've dropped the price faster than even the PS3 dropped its price.  That could be because they wanted to goose the market in the run up to Christmas, it could be because component prices have dropped and they see that they can maintain their normal margins at a lower price, it could be because the price gap between the touch and the phone was too great or it could be because they want to make room for an enhanced version at a premium price very soon.  But they're definitely going to goose sales.  And with the various unlocking hacks available, as long as they're making money on the base price, they're going to do just fine, even without the forward revenue from AT&T and other carriers.  But there will be plenty of people who want it through the proper carrier, so that they can use visual voicemail, so that they don't have to worry about software releases invalidating their hack or so that they can just get on with using what really is a beautiful phone. 
  • They've released an almost entirely software upgradeable phone. It's rare to see patches for current phones.  Palm have released a couple of operating system upgrades for their phones in the past that have improved stability - my Treo 750v recently saw an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6 that is not widely available but made it into the wild at least. But the idea that a phone company - stand up Nokia, Sony and so on - would actually issue regular patches to their phones, not only fixing problems, improving stability but - omg - adding features?  That's unheard of.  Apple are already on their second release since launch and a 3rd is due anytime, rumoured to add support for wifi downloading via itunes. Like Sony and Microsoft, they may use these releases to tie down security features that have been exploited by hackers seeking to exploit their phones or they may be more relaxed; history says "relaxed" is an unlikely attitude for Apple to adopt. That said, I look forward to ever new features on the iphone.
  • Because they're not subsidising the phone at point of purchase, Apple seem to be betting that at least once, and maybe even twice, in the 2 year contract, you'll be prepared to spring for a new version of the hardware - one that brings things that can't be added by software.  One such feature is, obviously, a 3g radio.  Others might be slimmer phones (let's hope they don't go in for a phone with a smaller screen - that keyboard is tough enough as it is with my fat fingers), or maybe WiMax capability.  That's how the ipod model works after all - you want to buy the latest, slimmest, smallest, coolest gadget and, at �129 for an 8gb Nano, many millions of people will.
  • And on top of that, they're creating a layered market; one that will appeal to every segment.  You can have a shuffle - small and simple.  You can have a classic - high capacity.  You can have a nano - low capacity, flash memory, beautiful screen.  You can have a fully featured phone.  Or you can have an ipod Touch - for those who want the very best ipod but don't want the phone functionality added in.  Various journalists are seeing this as a weak strategy by Apple, desperate perhaps to find a chink in the armour (one that is certainly dented by the lack of 3g capability), saying "The new iPod [touch] will most definitely impact sales of the iPhone." Will it?  I'm not convinced.  I have an (several actually) ipods now, I have several phones including an iphone.  My ipod is for when I'm out and about.  I don't always want to carry a phone.  Some parents will buy an ipod touch for their kids instead of a PSP, but they won't buy them a phone as well - least of all on a 2 year contract without pricing subsidy.  No, I see Apple opening up the market and having a product for every sector.

People will, of course, debate this back and forth.  On the web, in the press and on blogs.  The good thing is that it will play out in the public eye. You'll be able to walk into the Apple store on Regent Street and see how things are selling or visit an O2 store and see if the HTC Touch is taking the iphone touch or the iphone out the back and shooting it quietly in the head.

All things considered, I think this will bust the mobile phone sector wide open. I'm looking forward to two things - a rising Apple stock price (now that I've made my money on the short side) and to sifting through the fallout in the rest of the sector because it will force new innovation and design changes that will only benefit the rest of the market that doesn't want to buy an iphone (and there will be more that don't want to than do want to I'm sure).

Friday, September 14, 2007

Test Expo 19.09.2007

Next week I'm speaking at Qbit's test expo.  I've been working on my slides today, experimenting a little with what Office 12 brings.  So far my productivity is way down.  Plenty has changed in Office 12.  When we were pitching DotP's content management system we'd often plug the idea of consistent design for government websites (search in the top right, navigation on the left hand side etc) by comparing government's sites to Microsoft's Office.  The line was something like "imagine if Microsoft moved the save button every time you opened word - one day it was under file, the next time it was under tools, the time after that it was under help".  It was a strong argument for consistency then and it's a strong argument now. 

Once, in conversation with Bill Gates, I asked him why he hadn't made certain changes to the way Windows works - things that would take it several steps forward.  He said that it was because big changes upset people and forced them to change their work practices, reducing productivity and increasing the learning curve.  Plainly that stance has changed.  Office 12 makes some big changes.  And it's taking me some time to find my way around them.

One of the things that most surprised me was: after creating the first draft of my slides I saved it in Office 12 format.  The file was just over 2mb.  When I saved it in Office 97-2003 format, the file was 8mb!  I didn't think I used anything special - no fancy backgrounds, no new animations.  Even when I zipped the 8mb file it was still 7mb.  Not much saving there.

Red Eye 1 At the conference next week I'll be riffing on the theme of whether "testers really thrive at night".  As the blurb from the conference organisers says

"Projects always start late. Sometimes it will be delays in approvals, other times it will be that the board meeting overruns and doesn't get time to approve it, it might even be that the business case needs several further revisions. Whatever, your project always starts late. Sadly, end dates are always fixed � there might be a ministerial commitment, a marketing campaign with associated media-buying, a really fixed date (2012 Olympics anyone?) or a need to be in the market before an important date, like Christmas."

Anyway, if you're in Manchester on Wednesday, come to the conference.  Looks like there are some good speakers and you can always leave before I get on stage.