Archive for 'Gadgets'

Mar 11

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Only Apple Could Make The iPad 2

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Apple iPad 2Country, Spock recalls an old Vulcan proverb that says, “Only Nixon could go to China.

I firmly believe that only Apple could deliver a device like the iPad 2. Their focus on usability and user experiences ushered in a post-PC paradigm in computing. The Cupertino company defined the tablet space and is expected to ship 30 million tablets in 2011. There is a reason other tablet makers don’t have Apple’s market share- their tablets just don’t measure up at this time.

I recently reviewed the Motorola Xoom, and in the first few seconds of interacting with it, it became clear that it was not an iPad. From the moment I picked it up, it just felt wrong. The first time use feels cumbersome and even languid. Motorola’s tablet asks me for account information – user names and passwords – before I can do anything with the device. When I pick up the iPad, it works – quickly and effortlessly. There are other differences, as well. Stability, for one. As the venerable Walt Mossberg puts it in his iPad 2 review: “[The iPad] never crashed in my tests, unlike every Android tablet I’ve tested.” Then, of course, there is the price point ($800? Really?). And finally, the news that Xoom owners will have to send their devices back to the manufacturer for a 4G upgrade. Quoting Dvice:

Poor Motorola Xoom. We all wanted to love you, but you may have popped out of the oven a bit too soon. If you want 4G LTE on your shiny new Xoom (goes on sale today), you’ll have to return it back to Motorola for the upgrade.

This debacle is more Motorola’s fault than Android’s. Someone at Motorola said that this tablet was ready to ship when it clearly wasn’t. Who is that guy? What motivated his decision making? At what point did making customers return their product for an upgrade seem like a good idea?

Hardware makers must innovate tablet technology while delivering fun, functional user experiences. The reviewers and consumers have weighed in and at this point only Apple can deliver a tablet worth waiting in line for.

Mar 11

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Clients, Events, Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Sphero Heads To SXSW – Named Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator Award Finalist

Sphero is heading to SXSW in Austin this week and is a Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator Award finalist.

There’s a lot going on here, so please pay attention.

Mashable House Geek Games

Sphero will be at the Mashable House Geek Games with a brand new game developed specifically for Southby. Come out and experience Pepsi MAX Sphero Bowling at the Geek Games on Monday.

Plutopia: The Future of Play

Sphero will also be at Plutopia: The Future of Play from 6:30 till Midnight on Monday the 14th. This “sense event” features emerging technologies such as augmented reality, robotics and more.

Below is Sphero’s full schedule for SXSW. If you’d like to set up a time to meet in Austin, just reach out to meghan@stagetwo.com.

Sunday March 13th

10am – 5pm Find us in and around Austin!

6pm – 11pm Techcocktail

Monday March 14th

2pm – 5pm Mashable House Geek Games

5pm Accelerator Award Presentation Round 1

6:30pm – Midnight Plutopia: The Future of Play

Tuesday March 15th

10am – Noon Find us in and around Austin!

Mar 09

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two

Apple Could Ship 29 Million Tablets in 2011 Says Wall Street Analyst

AppleInsider has a jaw-dropping post up this morning that looks at Apple, the iPad2, and how the tablet bubble could burst.

J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz predicts that Apple’s tablet business could grow 100% this year, with the Cupertino firm shipping close to 30 million iPads in 2011. What that means is that the rest of the market may not find buyers for their products. Quoting from the article:

“In our view, the technical and form factor improvements of the iPad 2 stand to make it tougher for the first generation of competitive offerings to play catch-up, meaning actual shipments could fall well short of plan,” Moskowitz wrote.

Using discounted build plan estimates to project tablet shipments for the year, the analyst claims that tablet makers will build approximately 65.1 million tablets in 2011. When compared against J.P. Morgan’s estimates of 47.9 million tablets sold this year, companies could find themselves with as much as 51 percent oversupply in a worst case scenario.

This analysis is in keeping with other Wall Street thinking, that sees iPad 2 controlling much of the tablet market in the coming year. Dan Frommer concurs, and sees the iPad controlling 60% of the market for years to come. Yes, Android and Windows tablets are coming, but the question is, will anyone buy them?

Mar 02

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Events, Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Apple Announces iPad 2

White iPad 2

Apple's iPad 2

Engadget had a great live blog from Apple’s media event this morning, where Steve Jobs and others introduced the iPad 2. As expected, the iPad 2 has a slimmer form factor and more processing power than the original tablet from Apple. It also has front and rear facing cameras and a gyroscope. The iPad 2, which comes in both white and black, will ship March 11th along with iOS 4.3, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Other features touted during today’s announcement include a 10 hour battery life and updated Garage Band and iMovie Apps.

Jobs took this opportunity to highlight Apple’s first mover advantage in the tablet space. He remarked, “many have said this is the most successful consumer product ever launched. Over 90% market share . . . our competitors were flummoxed.” In fact, the iPad has sold more units than every other tablet PC ever sold.

But jobs went further to differentiate Apple from other consumer electronics manufacturers. First, he defined the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad as post-PC devices. He then stressed Apple’s commitment to delivering technology to the arts and humanities.

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive (emphasis added).

Apple has dominated the tablet space in past year. As we blogged earlier, other companies need to innovate – rather than imitate – if they want to compete with the iPad 2.

Feb 28

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Is Your Cell Phone Making You 48% Dumber?

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox has a well written piece up today that looks at mobile usability. The post examines a recent article in the International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction that studies how screen size affects reading comprehension. The article found that “when reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex Web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores.” That means it is twice as hard to understand what you are reading on a mobile display.

A smaller screen hurts comprehension for two reasons:

* Users can see less at any given time. Thus, users must rely on their highly fallible memory when trying to understand anything that’s not fully explained within the viewable space.
o Less context = less understanding
* Users must move around the page more, using scrolling to refer to other parts of the content instead of simply glancing at the text. Scrolling introduces 3 problems:
o It takes more time, thus degrading memory.
o It diverts attention from the problem at hand to the secondary task of locating the required part of the page.
o It introduces the new problem of reacquiring the previous location on the page.

The study, performed by R.I. Singh and associates, highlights the need for mobile application developers to deliver clear, simple content to their users. Both the content and the UI must help people understand key messages of the application.

Feb 28

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Verizon iPhone Sells 1 Million Units

Despite a bevy of headlines calling initial sales “underwhelming,” The Street is reporting that the Verizon iPhone has sold over one million units. Some tech press observed “short to nonexistent” lines at Apple and Verizon stores when the device launched and cited sources concerned about low sales numbers. However:

Dan Mead, Verizon Wireless chief, told media outlets this weekend that 60% of the company’s iPhone sales were preorders. This would explain why the turnout on a cold February launch day was much lighter than some may have expected.

We won’t know official sales numbers until April, but it makes sense that large numbers of preorders cut the initial lines down to size.

Feb 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Building Hardware is Hard

Kara Swisher is reporting at All Things D that student tablet maker Kno

is considering selling off the entire hardware part of the business and is in talks with two major consumer electronics manufacturers to do so, according to sources close to the situation.

Engadget also picked up the story, and cites competition from more established hardware manufacturers as one of the motives behind this move. Kno will reportedly focus on providing software for the iPad and Android tablets going forward.

The news only underscores the point that bringing well designed hardware to market is a difficult proposition. Some individuals think that because they have built a successful software business or popular website, they will be good at building hardware. This is a lot like assuming that if you are good at plotting data on a graph, you know exactly how a black hole works. Hardware is a complicated, complex animal. It presents many potential points of failure, and has its own unique challenges. The key to delivering great hardware is assembling an experienced team that knows how to handle everything from product concept to product launch.

Let’s imagine a web entrepreneur who starts a successful dating site (or cooking site, etc). Given the way the web works, he could easily transfer all of the lessons he learned building that site to another URL. Everything the first experience taught him about customer acquisition, internet marketing, and web design would apply to his second website (and his third and fourth, etc). If this CEO used the same transferable skills to build a number of websites he would be considered (rightly so) a savvy entrepreneur.

Now let’s look at what it takes to build a gadget, and the paradoxes that are inherent in successful hardware manufacturing. The more successful one is at building a gadget, the more money is needed to continue to be successful and the more likely the gadget business is to fail.

Wait, what? It seems counter intuitive, but with hardware, growth = problems. The moment your device becomes a success you need to accommodate more orders from the distribution channel (those are the guys that place your hardware in retail, BTW). For example, if you sold 10K units last quarter, and orders for the next quarter are 30K, you have to start building for the quarter after that. The good news is that sales are projected for 60K units. The bad news is that you need to pay for those gadgets now.

Hardware presents problems that software and websites never encounter. Bringing a hardware device to market can take 9-13 months. During that time there are significant costs and multiple points of failure that can come up (the power button won’t work, the driver is malfunctioning, the gadget loves to catch on fire, etc). As opposed to the web/software entrepreneur mentioned above, almost all of these hardware problems are unique and no amount of software success will apply in the gadget realm (you can’t pivot a defective mother board).

This post isn’t meant to pick on Kno or its leadership (by any means). And the point is not to say that startups that build hardware can’t be successful (they can). The point of this post is to point out that a great product team determines hardware’s success. They do this largely because they have done the work before and were successful. (Take us for example, we have been building award-winning devices in the CE space for years, but don’t ask Stage Two to design a main frame- that’s not our bag). Dedicated product professionals understand how complicated hardware is and have the mettle to think through every potential problem, from the quick start guide, to the distribution channel, to customer service and support. Building a new device is hard. Make sure that your product team is up to the challenge.

Feb 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Press, Products, Stage Two

Stop Enabling Mediocre Technology

Enabling personality types tend to minimize obvious problems, “protect people from negative consequences” and suffer from intense denial, among other psychological traits. While the urge to enable is “born out of love,” the results of this behavior are ultimately destructive. A loved one makes excuses for an addict in the family because they feel that this will help them. In reality, though, it only encourages and prolongs the negative actions.

In my mind, many tech reviews – both professional editorial content and amateur user comments – enable mediocre products by overlooking their obvious flaws. These articles give glowing impressions of consumer technologies that are clearly “not ready for prime time.” The reviewers and commenters are acting from a place of love. They think they are helping by engaging in this behavior. They may feel strongly that a certain company makes great devices and they really want other people to feel the same way. But what winds up happening is that these individuals make excuses for devices that are lacking in quality and the entire tech industry suffers as a consequence.

The quotes below are from positive product reviews. The names and quotes have been altered to protect sub-par devices:

I’m sure it will improve over time.”
- Top Tier Blogger

“This device has a lot of potential.”
- Well Known Gadget Site

“There is a ton of potential here.”
- Tech Review

Again, these quotations are from three and four star reviews. This kind of cognitive dissonance happens all the time. Never mind that the device breaks sometimes, or that it’s missing some core functions at launch. It’s still a good purchase, say the enablers. And because we refuse to call out bad consumer tech, the manufacturers feel they can get away with shipping so-so products. As long as there is sufficient “hype,” “buzz” and “social interest,” who cares if the gadget doesn’t work that well?

This enabling happens in every sector of the lifestyle electronics industry. Take almost any product in the smart TV space, for example. Not that great. But you wouldn’t know that from all the noise. These devices have been written up – for the most part – as a good first try and well worth investing in. Android mobile up until 2.1? Same apologetic story (I can’t remember if that version is called Hot Chocolate or Snow Cone).

Every member of the CE industry needs to deliver on the promises of amazing tech. We all need to work together on this and raise our standards, not lower them. When a product doesn’t work – we should say so. If a device ships with a lot of “anticipation” but doesn’t deliver on its promises, we need to say that, too. If most products are written up as “pretty good,” it makes it harder for consumers to distinguish the truly exceptional devices in the field.

16% of Galaxy tablets are returned. Why? The enablers are partly to blame (although with those numbers there is plenty of blame to go around). The bottom line is that we all need to approach tech from the perspective of a consumer. We need to hold companies accountable for shipping bad products. Not in a nasty way, but in an honest way. When that starts to happen, I believe that the overall quality of consumer tech will improve. By encouraging people to purchase products that do not perform as they should, we tacitly encourage bad behavior from the industry as a whole. And that is the definition of enabling.

Feb 16

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Why You Won’t Beat the iPad by Building an . . . iPad

Hey, you look familiar.

If anyone really wants to compete in the tablet space, they can’t do it by creating products that look and feel almost exactly like Apple’s iPad. We’ve blogged on this topic before, but it bears repeating here. Chasing the iPad’s form factor, feature set and price point will not differentiate PC tablets or attract new customers (with the rare exception of the Apple haters, which isn’t really an exciting market to fight about). If anything, we can easily see the decision to copy the iPad driving even more consumers to Apple’s tablet.

The three most prominent tablets in the news right now (that aren’t the iPad) are the Blackberry Playbook, the Motorola Xoom and the recently announced HP TouchPad. What do these tablets all have in common?

They all feature interfaces that look the same as iOS.

It doesn’t matter if competing tablets run Android, Windows or webOS. They all run operating systems that look like the iPad’s iOS. Sure, some tech enthusiasts (read, fanboys) will line up for the next version of Android, but for the vast majority of consumers, all the tablets look the same. This is a disadvantage for iPad competitors. They have failed to innovate and differentiate themselves.

They all have a form factor that mimics the iPad.

All of these tablets look like the iPad (sure, the Samsung Galaxy is a bit smaller, but the device hasn’t sold all that well and suffers from a 16% return rate). For the most part, other tablets are following Apple’s lead. The TouchPad even has the same one-button design. Engadget writes that it “is shaped almost exactly like the iPad.” The Xoom and the Playbook also have a physical profile that mirrors Apple’s original. Where is the innovation from Apple competitors? Where is the tablet that has ten physical buttons (hyperbole here, to be sure, but why only one button)? Where is the tablet that is easier to hold? Where is the slide out keyboard? There are so many ways to create a unique tablet experience, but most tablets today are content with imitating the iPad.

They all have prices similar to the iPad.

Almost all of the competing tablets have price points near the iPad’s (except the crafty Xoom which costs $200 more than an iPad). The failure to differentiate on price is a de facto win for Apple. Quoting from my earlier blog post:

No consumer will want to spend more than $500 for a Windows or Android tablet. At that price point, they will simply purchase the iPad. It is desirable, it is stable, it is fun and has a cultural allure attached to it thanks to Apple’s brilliant design and marketing.

Even pricing below $500 is problematic for Apple competitors. A $300 tablet is just close enough to the iPad’s price that people will probably wind up mowing a few extra lawns or clocking some overtime to get their hands on the genuine article from Cupertino.

They all have the same target customer as the iPad.

Sure, there are a few specialized fields where non-iPads can grow rapidly (think medicine, defense, kids tabs, and enterprise solutions). But apart from those arenas, it seems that every tablet coming out from PC makers is competing directly for potential iPad customers.

They have all announced products that haven’t shipped yet.

There is almost no upside to announcing products that are not complete. All you wind up doing is telegraphing your punches and revealing your plans to the industry at large. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, these other companies have announced their unreleased tablets prior to the iPad 2 shipping. Has no one read The Art of War?

“The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why would a company move its “army” (read, tablet) into field when it knows the enemy (read, iPad 2) is coming very shortly? What advantage is there in telling the world about a new device that isn’t quite ready yet and will ship sometime soon? There is almost no discernible advantage. In general, do not share your product road map, and do not announce products publicly until they are ready to ship.

Conclusion

Hardware manufacturers will not erode iPad’s first mover market position by copying the iPad. In order to gain market share (and mind share) tablets need to show people something they haven’t seen before. Where are the tablets that let you divide the screen into multiple sections and run different programs in each “zone”? Why do all the other choices seem to be copies of the original iPad? Given the explosive growth of the iPad, other tablets need to innovate, not imitate.

Jan 26

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Gadgets, Stage Two, UI/UX

Fortune: How Steve Jobs Gets Things Done

We ran across this interesting Fortune article today that examines how Apple CEO Steve Jobs gets things done.

He doesn’t just develop new products; he changes games. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad, along with iTunes, have created massive disruptions, forcing players in the music and telecom industries—among others—to change their business models.

The piece is well worth a read. It examines how Jobs is able to create successful consumer tech again and again during his “second act” at Apple. While there are a number of factors at play here, the article pays particular attention to how Jobs focuses on product design and User Experience.

He views a product as an experience, not just an object. He can visualize what it will look and feel like, and can then execute it to near perfection. He makes advanced technology friendly to consumers based on his uncommon talent for connecting it to user experience. He has an innate feel for design, convenience, simplicity, and elegance in the product.

Fortune also points to his ability to manage people, make critical decisions and identify new opportunities as contributing factors to Apple’s meteoric rise in the past 12 years.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent phones, MP3 Players or Tablet PCs; he made them simple to use and desirable by focusing on how hardware and software design relate to the user experience. Steve Jobs gets things done by demanding the best from his people and building technologies that people desire.

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