Friday, September 14, 2012

Apple: And Now, The Decay

Apple reached apogee with the launch of the iPhone 4S.  A marginally better product, launched by a flat stage presentation from Tim Cook, but sales were still buoyed by the strength of the brand’s emotional impact and prestige, and people didn’t want to discuss their disappointments so soon after Jobs’ death. 

This week’s launch of the iPhone 5 marks the beginning of the company’s slide.  There were no real pioneering features in the new phone (well, maybe the thinner display), just things that make it better than the last iPhone.  Cook and industry journalists both felt the need to address gaps in the phone’s feature set (screen size, NFC, wireless charging, trouble with simultaneous voice and data on some networks), some of iPhone 5’s catch-up features (Siri improvements, LTE) and the foolishness of the new connector (Farhad Manjoo is too spun up, but still correct; John Gruber still believes that irrelevant elegance trumps the practicality of universal standards). 

Two disappointing launches in a row suggest that the post-Jobs Apple isn’t strong enough to preserve the religious fervor that has driven Apple sales.  The brand is becoming mortal.  Many acolytes will now abandon their Messiah. 

Apple should still do well for a couple of years.  iPhones are still easier for most people to use, and beautifully designed.   Google will wrestle with promoting some powerful new features like Google Now.  And Nokia will sink beneath the waves before having much of an impact with its exciting Lumia 920, if it ever ships.  But Apple is looking at 10% market share, long term, which will let carriers start to kick around their products (add carrier software and services, influence operating system update schedules, etc.). 

The question of whether Apple can really thrive after Jobs is gone has been answered:  No.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mapping and Data Pollution

You’ve seen this problem when using a GPS device on a highway.  You may be on the same road for 50 miles, but the system keeps changing the name of the road.  “In one mile, go straight on Officer Sanchez Highway.”  Then, 5 minutes later, “In 1/2 mile, go straight on Save the Fruit Bat Turnpike,” and you’ve been on Highway 15 the whole time.

Sometimes the names are legacy names that identify roads that were combined into your highway.  Other times they are honorific names assigned by politicians who thought they’d found a nearly free way to capture public sentiment or grant a favor.  But your GPS keeps hinting at the confusion and distraction caused by polluted map data.

The other night, within a beer of my legal driving limit, I called an Uber cab to get me home.  Pulled out the phone, entered the address (e.g., 2000 Main Street), checked it twice and then requested a car. 

About a minute later Dennis called, asking where I really wanted to be picked up.  He said Uber had sent him an address that just didn’t exist in the city (e.g., 2000 Mother Theresa Highway – yeah, this is a made-up example name, but the story’s true ).  I told Dennis Main Street, he picked me up and as he drove me back he told me that 20-30% of Uber pickup addresses are wrong, screwed up by the system and not the requestors.

The next day I looked up 2000 Mother Theresa Highway, the address Dennis had received.  Google Maps pinpointed it at 2000 Main Street.  There was no Mother Theresa Highway anywhere close.  It turns out that Mother Theresa Highway is an overlay name for Main Street, and nobody has known it as Mother Theresa Highway for at least 50 years.  But the public records haven’t been cleaned up, so Google  Maps is polluted, and until it is cleaned up taxi drivers will keep going to wrong addresses or having to manually verify pickup points identified by the place that organizes the world’s information.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Hidden Cost of Phone Carriers

It’s a busy day, and you see a call coming in from ‘Blocked caller.’  You let it go – it’s the week before a local election, and those alternative utility companies have been active on the phones lately.  Then you get the voicemail.

You just missed the pediatrician, who was blocking her number because she didn’t want callbacks outside of normal business hours.  Another missed connection, courtesy of AT&T.

Your pediatrician should have been able to purchase a modified Caller ID service that sent her name through while maintaining the privacy of her number.  How many docs, cute girls, etc., would love to have such a feature?  But the carrier has no real competitors, so it only offers lowest-common-denominator features.

Your carrier could have set up a caller verification and categorization program, to let customers block unwanted calls.  Unlike email, where anyone can open anonymous accounts, phone networks are designed to control who can call – after all, money changes hands when calls are connected, and the phone companies need to to know where to send the bills.  But even if you care who’s calling you, your carrier doesn’t – they’ll take the termination charges from anyone.

Your carrier could have offered selective call blocking that would let the pediatrician open her phone to callbacks only during specified times.  But they didn’t – again, there is too much money in termination charges to care what the users need.

Phone carriers have everything they need to cut unwanted calls and help the good ones get through, but they won’t offer it.  In fact, they’ll keep paying lobbyists (out of the fees you pay each month) to keep regulators from even suggesting common-sense improvements.  So try an Internet-based calling service like Google Voice, and don’t weep when it buries your old land-line company.

P.S. - In case you think this is too cynical, try an experiment.  Call your land line carrier and ask for a record of all the LOCAL (non-toll) calls you made in the past month.  Their response is sure to amuse.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stars Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Thanks to Emily Luchetti and her 20-year-old book, Stars Desserts.

Have on hand

  • Parchment paper
  • Strong hand mixer

Ingredients

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F

Mix the egg whites at high speed until they just beginning to firm up, then add the sugar slowly as you continue mixing until stiff.

Fold in the remaining ingredients, but don’t mix them completely – streaks make better cookies.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then drop 3-tbsp globs of the mixture onto it and give them at least 1.5 inches of space between each glob.

Cook for 35 min, or until the top of the cookie is dry and a little firm. Cool for 5-10 min, and serve immediately.

As an alternative, try substituting the following for the chocolate chips, chocolate powder and vanilla:

  • The zest of 4-5 lemons, or;
  • 4-6 oz candied ginger, well chopped, or;
  • A combination of the two

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Microsoft Should Just Adopt Android

If Amazon can build their own fork of Android and tie it to their own app store and download offerings, why can’t Microsoft?

Microsoft could apply their Metro UI if they wanted to, tie it to their own services, development tools and Windows 8, then offer their version of Android to all handset makers as WP8.

They’d get 300,000 Android apps for the new “Windows Phone”, and handset makers could escape the $5-10/unit licensing royalties they currently pay Microsoft for Google’s versions of Android.

Crazy?  No crazier than spending hundreds of millions (at least) on the doomed WP7.  And it would hit Google right where they live.