iPhone Still the Best in a Crowded Market – Barely

As Apple introduces the latest generation of its iPhone this week, it’s important to put the company’s flagship device in perspective as just another smartphone in a crowded marketplace.

Long gone are the days when the iPhone exemplified the cutting edge in mobile computing. Now it’s well matched by competing products from other companies like Samsung and Nokia.

Even the iPhone’s long-vaunted iTunes media ecosystem isn’t as unique as it once was. Until just a couple years ago iTunes was the best way to buy movies or music on a mobile device.

No more. Superior competing services like Rdio, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have vaulted past Apple’s languishing media platform.

That leaves apps. Apple invented the concept of the mobile “app” and made it easy to install and use them. The iPhone remains app nirvana, but Apple is at risk of ceding leadership here too. Continue reading

Why Isn’t More Technology Like LEGO?

2012 has been a bumpy year so far, and my mind hasn’t been on the technology game at all.

So I had to ask my 8-year old son, Cole, for a column idea this week.

“Tell everybody about how much I like LEGO,” he says.

That’s not hard to do. He likes LEGO a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

And to be honest, so do I.

Many of us primarily look at LEGO products as toys.

But they can also be considered as a technology unto themselves, as base units for conceiving and building other things. Continue reading

A Mac User Considers His Zune Options

So, if it isn’t obvious yet, I’m quite smitten with Microsoft’s Zune subscription service. Mostly because it’s cheap.

I’m a heavy music consumer and spend anywhere from $50 to $200 every month at iTunes. And that’s with an extreme degree of musical abstinence!  I generally don’t listen to what I purchase more than two or three times, though, so it’s a very, very costly habit. Spending $10 at Zune every month for the same thing is an extremely attractive proposition, and it would grant me more options in terms of listening to what I want, rather than what I can afford.

The problem is, I don’t have a Windows-based PC. I don’t have a Windows Phone 7. I have an XBox, but I’m not always listening to music in my living room.

So how do I make Zune work for me? Continue reading

I called Google TV’s “Fling” (and Apple’s “AirPlay”) back in January

Okay, from the new Google TV website:

Find a great website on your phone and want to show it to everyone? Now you can. “Fling” what you’re watching, listening to, or doing on your phone by sending it to your TV with the press of a button.

And from a post I wrote in January (iSlate: The Son of Apple TV), about the then-rumoured iPad:

…you’ll be able to watch a movie on the iSlate.

But with a simple swipe, you’ll be able to “toss” the video stream to another display, like your TV screen.

It’s really not unlike Apple’s new AirPlay technology, actually, but Apple’s seems more expansive in its vision. AirPlay is more of an independent protocol and will support a broader range of devices like stereo receivers and even cheap consumer-grade speakers.

I just felt like I had to toot my horn today when I caught Google use of the word “fling” to describe the services; it was way close to my “toss.”

Will a qualified iPhone competitor (finally) stand up?

The mobile phone industry is boring.

It can be summed up in simple terms: the iPhone rules, everything else sucks.

And that’s getting really, really tired.

Fortunately, it might be about to change.

Apple’s would-be competitors are finally, at long last, after years of navel-gazing, gearing up to launch products that might, just might, be able to compete with the iPhone.

The reason I remain doubtful that a qualified iPhone competitor is on the way is because no other company seems to understand exactly why Apple’s mobile device is such a hit.

And it’s really quite simple. Continue reading

Microsoft (and HP, and Adobe) still don’t get it

So, I was watching this video co-produced by HP, Adobe, and Microsoft yesterday…

…and I was struck by one thing: they still don’t get it.

And by it, I mean the iPad specifically, but in a more general sense I mean humans.

Like, check this screen shot:

This is how Adobe, HP, and Microsoft imagine that you want to edit photos on a mobile device.

The problem is, there’s hardly any photo on screen to edit. Look at all that surrounding interface! A browser bar, a browser tab bar, a massive tool panel, scroll bars (that aren’t even required!), and then big, fat, black bars on either side of the photo.

There’s more interface here than photo!

For comparison sake, I snagged a screen shot of Adobe’s Photoshop.com Mobile iPhone photo editing app:

Like, oh my gawd — it’s a big photo!

Not as if that makes sense or anything; I mean, filling the screen with the photo you’re editing and kicking the interface to the curb?

Even though these two screen shots demonstrate the exact same application – Adobe’s Photoshop.com – they clearly demonstrate the difference between Apple’s approach to mobile computing and the approach that just about everyone else is taking.

While it’s true that Adobe is responsible for the user interfaces in both screen shots, it’s important to examine the constraints that they experienced in designing each.

For the interface demonstrated in the first screen shot, on the HP device, Adobe was limited only by what its own proprietary media platform, Flash, could do. In other words, that’s Adobe’s version of an ideal mobile photo editing environment.

In the second screen shot, for the iPhone app, Adobe had to conform to Apple’s iPhone human interface guidelines. That’s why such a different app was produced.

I think of it this way: there are two parts to every sentence in the English language, the subject and the predicate. Apple’s mobile philosophy focuses on the subject – the person or thing which the sentence is about. In most cases that would be the person using the device or the material on the device they’re dealing with.

The other guys focus on the predicate aspect of mobile computing. They focus on the aspect of the situation that modifies the experience of the user. In most cases that is the software or the device itself.

So if I write a sentence like, “Sue edited the photo on her mobile device,” Apple would be concerned with the primary subject, Sue.

On the other hand, Adobe, Microsoft and HP would clearly focus on the mobile device and its software.

The result in the latter approach is an overabundance of technology. In the first screen shot, there’s definitely too much interface. The app has decided not to consider the needs of the user and instead just sort of pukes out everything it’s got in terms of functionality, cluttering the screen with a distraction of visual detritus.

Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, provides the user with what he or she wants, as he or she requires it. Toolbars disappear off-screen when they’re not required for use. They don’t hang around to distract in perpetuity.

In many iPhone apps, there is literally no interface. Consider this screen shot from the acclaimed iPhone writing app, WriteRoom:

That’s it. Just you and your writing. Nothing else.

Compare that to Microsoft’s take on mobile word processing:

I’ll skip past the horrid green skin and just point out that, even on a miniscule screen, Microsoft believes you need as almost as much interface as subject area. And that’s just wrong.

The point of the matter is that, as Apple continues to release revolutionary new devices, first the iPhone and soon the iPad, competitors continue to miss the point. It isn’t about the device at all. That’s why Apple’s physical design is so minimalist, and it’s why they don’t pump the tech specs in their ads.

It’s about friction. Apple is all about reducing the friction a person experiences when they interact with a technological environment.

Until the other guys figure that out and quit drowning us in over-designed user interfaces and dramatic device forms, Apple’s just going to continue kicking their collective ass.