On the Facebook Anti-Phone: Lies, Damn Lies, and CEO Pontifications

There’s been a lot of static lately about how Facebook’s CEO stated that his company would never make a phone. Like just last September, at the TechCrunch conference when he stated:

It’s a juicy thing to say we’re building a phone, which is why people want to write about it. But it’s so clearly the wrong strategy for us.
(TechCrunch; Mark Zuckerberg: “A Facebook Phone Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense”)

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned covering the tech beat for almost two decades, is that CEOs love to spew BS to throw competitors and the public alike off their scent.

Take the late Steve Jobs. He was full of it. At the first All Things D conference in 2003 he stated:

There are no plans to make a tablet. It turns out people want keyboards. … “We look at the tablet and we think it’s going to fail.” Tablets appeal to rich guys with plenty of other PCs and devices already … We didn’t think we’d do well in the cell phone business. … We chose to do the iPod instead of a PDA.
(Bags and Baggage; Friday, May 30, 2003)

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, so it’s easy to pick apart his comments now, and Jobs may have been gripped by an uncharacteristic bout of naivety at the time. But that’s unlikely, as it’s now generally well-acknowledged that Apple was hard at work on the iPhone as early as mid-2004.

More likely Jobs was playing a game of bait-and-switch with Apple’s existing and future competitors.

Here’s a more recent example, from October 18, 2010:

7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad
(Wired; Steve Jobs Says 7-Inch Tablets Are ‘Dead on Arrival’)

Of course, the 7.9″ iPad Mini hit the streets 2 years later, almost to the day.

The other factors at play here are a changing marketplace and a company’s willingness to learn from and adapt to the marketplace. I think that’s the case with the iPad Mini: Apple just realized that it was wrong and people actually did want a smaller (or maybe just cheaper) tablet.

Of course there’s the lame hair-splitting that Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook did in regard to the iPad Mini’s screen dimensions:

We would not make a 7-inch tablet. We don’t think they’re good products. We would never make one. One of the reasons is size. Not sure if you saw our keynote, but the difference in just the real estate size in 7.9 vs. 7 is 35 percent, and when you look at usable area is much great than that, more like 57 percent.
(All Things D, Apple Talks Lower Margins Now, Ginormous Sales Later)

Uh huh. Yeah. Right. Because that’s how most consumers think, in terms of abstract pixel dimensions and “usable area”. Better to just bit the bullet and admite, we changed our minds.

All of this is to say, simply, that you can’t trust a CEO’s public statements about what their company might or might not do. It’s not in their interests to expose their company to competition before it’s prepared for it, and it’s not in the public’s interest to hear about products before they’re ready to ship (got it, RIM?). What’s more, contrary to popular belief, things change.

The other tool a CEO has to work with is innuendo. Like, Apple won’t produce a PDA, but it’ll produce a phone. The company won’t produce a Tablet PC, but it’ll produce a tablet. It’s not 7 inches, it’s 7.9.

So maybe Facebook won’t produce a phone. Instead, it’ll produce an anti-phone, or a handheld social media meter, or a AdBox or whatever marketing term they choose to identify a handheld computer that operates on the Facebook platform.

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow, though.

Are Tablets the Perfect Computer?

Laptop computers took 12 years to reach 50 million people. That same milestone was reached by smartphones in 7 years. Tablets, which is to say the iPad, got there in just 2.

Many analysts predict that by the end of next year, total tablet sales will completely eclipse traditional computers.

But does it mean that the tablet is the “perfect” computer? Or is it just another gadgetstop on the neverending geek highway?

Most likely the tablet is just the first step in an evolution to something better that embraces a broader range of our natural communication behaviours. 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.”

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.

Is iPad the end of geek culture?

It’s a smallish chunk of glass, plastic, and silicon that has stirred up debate about computer technology like no other device before it (not even the iPhone).

Apple fanboys, as one would expect, are almost embarrassing themselves in their earnest efforts to hail the device.

Meanwhile, folks from the other side of the tracks are relentlessly attacking it as though it were some sort of heretical anti-computer. Which it is; but that’s the point.

This latter group’s actions are so reckless and violent, in fact, that they resulted in the temporary closure of the public forums on the internet’s largest technology blog, Engadget.

All of this for a device that almost no one has seen or, more to the point, held.

But it isn’t so much the iPad itself that has everyone worked up, though the debate centres on this device.

It’s more about the future that beckons (or threatens, depending on your perspective), should the iPad’s driving philosophies take hold. Continue reading

Time to take eBooks seriously, unfortunately

There’s a certain irony in the fact that contemporary books are almost completely created on computers, yet are delivered as products physically, on paper.

They are written in word processors. Their pages are composed in layout applications. They are prepared for delivery in a very specific digital format.

Then, oddly enough, they are printed.


Is it utility? Efficiency? Romanticism? Habit?

Is there any real reason for words to ever meet paper?

These are important questions to ponder because we are at a pivotal point in the history of books.

From here on in, there will be fewer and fewer books that will be delivered on paper.

Within a year or two paper books will be the exception rather than the norm.

Like it or not, this is a certainty. Continue reading