iPhaults: How to Make a Better iPhone

I’ve often come across a perception that because I own an iPhone I must think it’s the most perfect gadget in the world.  While sleeping with my iPhone under my pillow isn’t far off, I sure would like to get some of my gripes with this seemingly untouchable (no pun intended) device off my chest.  If we can put aside the pretty horrendous service we receive from AT&T, which I’ve written about before, there are still some issues with this device.  So here, in no particular order, are a few (some quite simple) things that should be incorporated into the iPhone right out of the box.

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Google, you’re doin’ it wrong.

Today Google announced it’s anticipated and awaited laptop computer.  Equipped with Verizon 3G internet access, it’s being called a netbook.  This machine will not run Windows, or Apple’s OS, it will run Google’s very own software:  Chrome OS.  Or is it Chromium OS?  I have no idea – I haven’t sorted through the crap to figure that out.

From the little that I, the average consumer, can gather at this point there are a number of things wrong with Google’s entire approach on this.

First of all, the event was hardly publicized.  Only tech journalists were allowed in, there are a few pictures of the presentation floating around the internet, and there’s no real official place to go for a full recap on this.  Where do I go to learn about Google’s news?  Google.com?  The Official Google Blog?  (Yes, Google’s Official Blog is a ‘.blogspot’ blog.  I think they own Blogspot and all but c’mon…why not just GoogleBlog.com?) Or maybe I should check one of Google’s 5 or 6 YouTube Channels?  There was not even a GMail note sent out to GMail users.

And while I’m complaining about the lack of press on this front, what about the Google Nexus 1, Android OS, and other Google related news?  Would it kill Google to have a centralized place from which to address the world with all this fake branding nonsense?

It’s a very clear principal, Google; consumers need to understand you.  They need to understand your products, and they need to understand your company.  What kind of company is Google?  Advertising?  Mobile Software?  Search?  Cell Phones?  And now they make computers too.

Google has no identity.

When you have a behemoth such as Google putting their business, employment and money in all these areas the perception is that none of them are really being taken seriously.  We get a sense that Google is just kind of messing around with its massive amounts of spare cash to try things out, make cool stuff, and see what happens.  I mean…Google Labs?  Cmon.  How many freaking web apps can you guys make?

Y’know Google, just because you make some cute little icon to represent a new web app, browser extension or idea you’re trying out doesn’t make you pioneers in simplicity.  We just end up with a thousand cute little icons.  And the bottom line is, the average person has no idea what most of these things are.

In regards to the Chrome Notebook, check out this video.

First of all I must say that from a design perspective, this notebook looks pretty plain and boring.  It’s certainly not a stretch to call it ugly.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Essentially what Google has done is remove the desktop, and self contained storage management from the laptop.  Wow.  I’m stunned.

There are a million things I find so amazingly stupid about the above video, but I’ll only mention one.

Near the end, our friend Ryan tells us that when we’re done using the notebook we can just close the lid.  Then open it again to resume our work right where we left off.  Has Ryan been living in a cave?  Will he next teach us how to type, or use a trackpad?

Frankly, Google, you can take your Chrome Notebook back to the lab and do some work on it.  It’s a joke.  You removed anything that could be done outside the browser and called it something new.  At the end of the day anyone who has a browser installed on their laptop, already owns a Chrome Notebook.

Cloud Backup, you say?  If Google wants to back up all the data on all my hard drives and make it all work anywhere I go, that’s great.  But they don’t.  And if they do, they haven’t told me that yet.  And we’re back to square one here.

Honestly this product launch has only convinced me to not recommend Android OS to anyone until you get your act together.  Google, you’re doing it wrong.

UPDATE:  Google has posted video from yesterday’s event on YouTube.  It’s in 4 parts.  Guess we’ll see how this goes…

Don’t Hassle The Zuck

Recently,  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave what he thought would be a simple interview with two of today’s most prominent tech journalists.  It wasn’t so simple.

[Full video of Zuckerberg’s interview with D8]

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher questioned the 26-year-old entrepreneur as if he was a suspected serial killer with ties to the mafia running for president, resulting in an uneasy, odd, and downright painful display of what the interviewers seemed to think were tough, hard-hitting questions.  And yet, at the end of the day, most folks seem to be criticizing Zuckerberg for seeming nervous, and not answering the questions directly.

What a joke.

In the first place, it is absolutely inexcusable to be excessively critical of any aspect of Facebook be it privacy issues, or….umm…oh yeah….that’s the only issue people have come up with so far…

Why can’t you be excessively critical?  As I’ve said before: Because Facebook is free, voluntary, and asks absolutely nothing of you.  It repeats only what you say.  It publishes only what you submit.  If you don’t like it, quit.

This doesn’t mean we can’t have qualms with layout, controls, design, privacy, or whatever.  That’s just being critical.  But to grill the company’s CEO on privacy in front of a huge audience, and broadcast it live, online to millions of viewers…well…that’s taking it a bit too far.  I’m just not very interested in what Mark has to say on the subject.  I don’t care how popular Facebook is – it’s free, and totally voluntary.  You lose nothing by not having a Facebook account.  It’s a novelty.

It’s like inviting the developers of Farmville onto CNN and asking them if they think they’re negatively contributing to the cultural development of our species by producing an ultimately pointless game that retracts time and energy from causes like world hunger, poverty, and genocide.

I think the folks at Farmville would have a tough time answering questions like that too, and come back with a response akin to ‘Umm…we just make games…’  Meanwhile the media would analyze the interview, calling the developers poorly spoken, young, arrogant pin heads with no sense of worldliness or culture.

And then there’s the hoodie incident.
Here’s what happened: Mark got nervous and sweaty as he realized just how serious the interviewers were becoming with their questions, and when he went to remove his hoodie, Kara noticed the fancy insignia on the inside, awkwardly snatched it up and showed it to the crowd. Here’s the graphic:

As Mark attempted to explain that it was a company hoodie, and a company logo outlining Facebook’s mission, Kara bawked that it seemed “cultish” and “looked as if it belonged to the Illuminati“.  Meanwhile, Zuckerberg seemed to hide his embarrassed face, and the crowd pandered to Kara’s loud, ignorant, stupid comments.

And THAT’S what made the tech news the few days following the event… not that Kara Swisher is an obnoxious, self-indulgent, unfunny idiot..no no..what made news is that Zuckerberg choked the interview by sweating so much that he had to take off his hoodie.  And not only that, by accidentally revealing the symbol he has revealed a coded master plan of Facebook and we all need to be afraid of it because it’s going to kill us.  The internet became flooded with curt, ignorant analysis like this one.

Kara Swisher seems to have the professionalism, and humility of a high school girl on prom night.

But there’s more.

When Zuckerberg remarked that he was getting warm and he may need to lose the hoodie Kara also told him that there were women in the audience who would love for him to do that.

Could we be any less professional?

This is why Zuck doesn’t do these big interviews…people take him way too seriously.  He’s a laid back college kid who had an idea.  400 million people joined his free, voluntary club, and now 40 thousand or so (that’s 1% for those that are keeping score) are telling him his free, voluntary club sucks.  And here we have two of the country’s most prominent tech journalists trying to stick up for that 1%, really just reducing themselves to the level the loud, ignorant 1% of end users that any smart CEO would promptly ignore.

How would you react?

Swiftly?  Quickly?  Probably not.

He doesn’t owe anyone anything.

Interviewing Mark Zuckerberg with questions on privacy is a bigger waste of time than Ringo Starr’s song writing.

Get Him To The Geek

Today is the day of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference.  This means that it becomes an odd sort of culmination for us technophiles, and geeky interweb crawlers.

You see, for months we’ve been telling our friends and family about the latest Apple rumors that are so fascinating to us.  Rumors like a revamped Apple TV, Safari 5, new iPhone OS updates, iPad updates, and of course, the new iPhone handset.

And while our persistent updates seem to always fall on deaf ears – our friends shrugging them off and calling us geeks and nerds – today, tomorrow, and in the days and weeks to come, as this mornings WWDC events and announcements are highly publicized, our friends will ask us the questions that make my ears bleed:

‘Hey what does that new [insert new product or software] do?’
‘Should I get it?’
‘What’s so good about it?’
‘Why don’t you have one?’
and my personal favorite
‘Hey!  Did you hear about that [new thing]?!  Isn’t it cool?!’

Yes I did hear about it.  And so did you, weeks ago when I told you about it.

It’s the frustrating conundrum; no one is interested until everyone else is interested.

It pains me to say that there is absolutely NOTHING Apple can announce today that I haven’t heard about.  But it’s the truth.

Remember how the iPad was such a big surprise?

No – it wasn’t.  Geeks like me had been reading about it – what it looks like, how much it weighs, what it can do, Apple’s, strategy for it – for months, or even years before it was actually announced.

So this time, when the questions start rolling my way, I’m going to remind the inquisitive mind that they should simply embrace their inner tech-head, and I will graciously point them to the place that has all the answers, because I sure don’t.

Here it is.

Embrace the geek within.

You Say You Want A [News] Revolution…

One’s consumption of daily news has run an interesting course.

In its heyday, television newscasts were relatively popular, and perceived as authoritative, balanced, and informative.  I wish I could say the same for the 24 hr news cycle, which is easily the biggest media-related atrocity of the last decade.  And while internet based news has become more and more popular, print media, such as magazines and newspapers have clung to their values, remaining largely unchanged, thereby insisting their format is flawless.

And perhaps it is.

If you don’t already get most of your news via the internet, you’re either moving in that direction, actively avoiding it,  or procrastinating adoption of it.  The TV newscast is an obsolete closed, specialized, filtered, biased, ad-driven, outlandish, sensationalist and overtly dramatic form of news delivery that I believe will see a decline in popularity as more people turn to news that’s centered around facts instead of drama.

Intriguing idea, don’t you think?

Well, nostalgists should celebrate.  Because while news consumption moves more and more to the internet, we’re quickly discovering that internet based news is not about video.  According to this recent study, only 12% of videos uploaded by users are news related.  Online news is about text, photos, and graphics casting shadows over (hopefully) short, informative video clips included only some of the time.  And now, with the popularity of RSS Feeds, people can follow many different news sources throughout the day using RSS Feed Readers as their News Aggregator.  If you’re into self discovery of the most up-to-date stories and aren’t using RSS Feeds, you’re seriously missing the boat.  RSS Feeds are currently the best way to compile various online news sources into one place.  Most websites offer RSS feeds today, and there are many different RSS Readers.

My parents read their paper in the morning; I check my Feeds.

However utopian my description may seem to imply, the current system is certainly not without its problems.

Headline Lists
Perhaps the biggest problem with RSS Readers is their addiction to the ‘Headline List’ format.  What would you do if the front page of the New York Times was just a list of the issue’s headlines?  This is a boring, ‘2.0’ style of news aggregation and we need progress.  Bad.  Unfortunately, many proposed solutions to this complaint present the second and third major problems with the current state of RSS Reading.

Clearly, there is more than one place online from which one gets their news.  And often times, there may be several websites we enjoy that cover similar topics.  On the one hand RSS reading is great for this, as you can simply follow a dozen websites that cover a topic like Sports and feel as though you aren’t missing much in the world of Sports if you’re up to date on 12 different websites’ published content.  And you’d be right; that’s the beauty of the RSS format.  Instead of hearing what one or two or three networks choose to cover and air in my local area during their 30min dedicated to Sports, I can quickly browse a large range of dedicated Sports journalism, published to a global audience, on a global scale, and choose which stories interest me the most.

However, it becomes incredibly annoying when a major event occurs, (let’s say, this for example) and each one of the 12 or so websites I’m subscribed to via RSS publishes a story on the same event.  Of course it’s their duty to be reporting such a major event, but the user is left with an over abundance of identical news stories clogging up the RSS Reader, and getting in the way of other content.  And it’s not just 12 stories; many of these major events become ongoing, developing stories that last for days or weeks, while the user is forced to sift through stories related to this event when browsing for other news.  Anyone who follows a good number of Feeds will tell you that when some sort of major event occurs in their subscribed area of interest, it throws off the news for a few days, in a big way.  When the iPad launched I stopped reading the news for about a week because according to RSS world, it was the only thing that happened that week; just the way that if you watch Fox news you begin to feel that the only things occurring in the world are horrific deaths and accidents, coupled with a dramatic rise in socialism.

While much of this has a lot to do with the simple fact that news publishers love a good story, and want to milk it for all it’s worth, it would be great to see some sort of topic filtration that could take major news stories on the same event, including follow-up articles, and group them together as one.  Maybe RSS Readers could have an ‘Events’ tab that cruises headlines, trying to group similar or identical events together while also allowing the user to add new stories, that may slip past the software, to a particular ‘Event’, as well as tell the Reader that a story in the ‘Event’ may not actually belong there…

Anyway, this brings up the final big problem:

There are a number of alternative-style RSS Readers that claim to compile your news in a much more rich format, comparing them to a newspaper, or magazine layout.  This seems like a good idea at first, but the result is either a horribly designed user interface, or the sense that the common assertion that such software will ‘Learn’ your favorite topics and present them in a more prominent way simply feels like your news is being filtered and edited.  Whether or not this is the case is somewhat irrelevant, as the winner in the game will be one that gets out of the users’ way, and allows clean access to a wide range of news sources.

The user already filters their news to taste by choosing which sites’ RSS Feeds to subscribe to. We don’t need software for this.   We don’t need some news to be more prominent than others, and we don’t need a rating system.  Does the New York Times think that they’d earn more money if they offered various formats of their paper, specialized for users that want to hear more about a particular subject?  No – it’s just a bad idea, and a software version of this format is a novelty at best.  Users don’t want to hear about a news event they missed because it became a tiny link as opposed to a giant icon on their RSS Reader simply because they never read or rated a movie review, or a political article, or whatever.  It’s just silly.  We want access to things we subscribe to to be relatively equal.

The Future
As I see it, we need an RSS Reader that displays everything we subscribe to, and allows us to choose what to read in a richer, more enjoyable way.

'Pulse' iPad app by Alphonso Labs

Alphonso Labs has recently released Pulse [iTunes Link],  a new iPad app which seems to be a step in the right direction.   While the app is still very new, and has clear limitations, Pulse provides a very rich, accessible interface that still manages to stay out of the way, and let the user feel that all of their subscriptions are being equally represented, which they are. This is not an endorsement of Pulse, but an endorsement of what I perceive to be a very worthwhile change, and one that’s been a long time coming.  I think this style, and perhaps this very app, can be seen as a platform for the future of news consumption.

Similar to the way the iPad’s design gets itself out of the way of the user, presenting nothing but a big multi-touch screen, and allowing the developer complete control of the look of the interface, the best RSS Reader will present the user with huge amounts of news in an equally representative, dynamic, unobtrusive way.

Consider the following:

  • News Consumption is shifting more and more towards the internet
  • Internet-based news is provided chiefly by way of RSS Feeds
  • RSS Feeds need RSS Readers
  • A de facto standard for the best RSS Reader has still yet to emerge, and current formats are still begging for reform
  • Apple sold an iPad every 3 seconds for the first 2 months following launch
  • iPad has been described as, and predicted to become, a user’s primary means to consume internet media

Clearly, the king of online news media consumption (sorry TyrannosauRSS Media, it’s not you, even though I used your creative icon) has not only yet to be named, but is openly accepting all applications for the job.  The crown will probably go to an iPad-centric app that addresses the concerns above, follows the lead of apps like Pulse, and changes the world.

Your move, developers.

I’m Suing AT&T. And So Can You!

If you’re not an AT&T customer sick of their dropped calls, you probably grin gleefully every time you hear about it and repeat your mantra “I’ve never had a problem with Verizon.”

Well I have. I can’t be a Verizon customer using what is still, oddly, the most advanced mobile phone in this country…if not on the planet.

So I, like 40% of all of AT&T’s new customers in 2007, decided to bite the bullet and switch carriers in order to get my mitts on this wonderful device only to discover that AT&T is the biggest phone company in the world, and still figuring out how to…umm…make their phones work.

But there’s good news.  Now you can be a part of a class action lawsuit against AT&T from the privacy of your own home.

The website worstiphoneever.com will provide you with a simple, downloadable utility in order to collect data relating to calls dropped from an iPhone.

So far the website has gathered information from over 16,45,372 calls from 859 people and discovered that the total percentage of dropped calls is around 5% (over 85,000 dropped calls total) which I thought was actually surprisingly low.

If your phone can’t successfully complete phone calls, it’s broken.  Which means, according to their data iPhones are broken 5% of them time…at least.  It’s like the original Nintendo…it COMES broken.  Only you can’t take the SIM card out of an iPhone and blow on it to make it work.

Is this really the best we can do?

Apparently, yes.

Don’t Judge a [Face]book By Its Cover

If you do not have a Facebook account and are complaining about one of a plethora of things that have recently become quite trendy to complain about, please shut up and go away. It’s not your battle. As a matter of fact, it isn’t a battle at all.

If you do happen to be a Facebook user, and have also succumb to the vogue that is ridiculing Zuckerberg’s notorious kin, please delete your account (preferably on May 31, which happens to be my birthday!)

Then shut up and go away.

To sum it up, here are the main tenants of the most recent complaints:

Do any amount of reading about any one of these popular complaints, and you will discover that there is only one real issue: privacy.  Thus, I refer you to the following brilliantly written article entitled Facebook Privacy?  Who Cares? (it’s long, skim through later when you’re bored)

I submit, as did Mr. Cuban, that the Facebook privacy issues are none other than trendy headlines, and bandwagons for a generation that had no Woodstock to jump onto faster than you deleted (or at least stopped using) your MySpace account.

No, we don’t really care about how our data is shared any more than we care about identical privacy issues in our non-digital lives.  And let’s not forget that this is an optional service that posts or shares only what you feed to it.

“How dare this free, voluntary service not live up to my own personal, rigorous standards!”

It’s time for personal responsibility to trump issues like this.  It’s time for the complainers to decide how they really feel about Facebook, and do something about it.  Most of all, it’s time to stop giving Facebook so much credit, whether positive or negative.  Facebook isn’t insensitive and irresponsible, people are.  We’re flawed.  Sorry.  I mean, is this really Facebook’s fault?

But the sooner we become comfortable with whose fault it really is, the sooner we can all update our statuses and spread the word.