Tag Archives: iPad

Mar 25

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, UI/UX

Why the HP TouchPad, BlackBerry PlayBook and Motorola Xoom are DOA

I was recently asked to do a Xoom review and I have to say that I am pained just picking up the device. And apparently I am not the only one who feels this way. The Motorola Xoom recently launched to tepid reviews and slow sales. Engadget said “there isn’t much here for consumers right now,” and there are already rumors that Motorola is cutting production of their Android tablet.

When the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook are released, there is no doubt in my mind that they will suffer the same fate as the Xoom: lackluster sales, middling reviews and generally regarded as also-rans in the tablet kingdom.

Since the iPad 2 came out (and sold a million units over a single weekend), the writing is officially on the wall. The tablet space is Apple’s game to lose.

So here is the message for HP, RIM and every other company developing a tablet computer right now: stop the presses. There is nothing to be gained by releasing these devices as they are now. Unless these firms have extremely small unit goals for their devices (which they don’t), they need to reevaluate how they can compete in the tablet space. And they won’t compete by launching tablets that look kind of like the iPad that are aimed at current iPad owners. Apple competitors need to innovate and differentiate themselves if they want to win.

Let’s be clear. There are markets for these products – I outlined a few of them in this earlier tablet post:

Here are a few sectors that present real opportunities for non-Apple tablets.

Medicine

We are quickly approaching a world where medical records and information will be displayed on tablets. Windows and Android devices could thrive in this vertical.

The Military

Someone is going to sell the Pentagon a lot of secure, battle ready tablets. Smart manufacturers should keep an eye on this space.

Kids

A “cheap,” sturdy tablet for kids is a no-brainer. Part coloring book, part media player, part game center- think LeapPad on steroids.

It’s time that the consumer electronics industry takes a hard look at the iPad’s strengths and comes up with a few interesting alternatives for these specific market segments.

Instapaper founder Marco Arment has a post that talks about the iPad abandoning office productivity apps and moving more toward “casual media creation.” Since the iPad’s role “doesn’t include office productivity for most of us,” there is an opportunity for an enterprise tablet built for business needs. If someone other than Apple made an amazing office tablet, people would love it- they would just love it differently than they love the iPad. HP could own this enterprise tablet market. It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where people absolutely adore their HP work tablet. In order to thrive, though, these devices must be inspiring, not merely functional. There is an opportunity here to connect with people and improve their working lives (and maybe surprise and delight them in the process). HP (and others) just need to seize it.

RIM, HP, Motorola and others can’t deliver products that are a little better than the iPad. Their offerings need to be far superior or far different to the iPad in order to succeed. They need to create a user experience that people love. The fact is that the PlayBook and TouchPad – as they are designed and marketed now – won’t capture people’s emotions the way the iPad has. Which is why they should not be brought to market.

Mar 10

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

How Apple’s Focus on UX Created the Post-PC Paradigm

We recently blogged about how Apple’s commitment to amazing user experiences is ushering in a new Post-PC paradigm in computing.

Determining the best tech products was easy in the old PC era. The best devices were the ones with the best hardware. A 5 megapixel camera was better than a 2 megapixel camera. Specs settled all debates. End of discussion.

But in this new, post-PC world, usability dictates which device “wins.” ZDNet picked up on this theme in a post that claims “user experience is everything, hardware not so much.” Quoting from their article:

Apple has proven time and again that the user experience is the primary thing on any product that will get millions of mainstream consumers to purchase and enjoy using the gadget . . . The user experience is everything, from the way a device handles users’ common tasks to how pleasant that experience is perceived by the device owner.

The best device is no longer the one with the biggest chip inside. The best device – in this post-PC world – is the one that users enjoy interacting with the most. And with that definition of success, Apple products (including the iPad 2) will continue to outsell their competitors.

Engadget smartly highlights how specs are diminished in the new post-PC era of usability.

In a post-PC world, the experience of the product is central and significant above all else. It’s not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it becomes purely about the experience of using the device. What that means is that while Motorola and Verizon will spend millions of dollars advertising the Xoom’s 4G upgrade options, CPU speed, and high-resolution cameras, Apple need only delight consumers and tell them that specs and and speed are the domain of a dinosaur called the PC.

Apple’s iPad defined the tablet space just as the iPhone changed the very nature of the telephone. But it wasn’t the hardware that made Apple the second largest publicly traded company on the planet. Their dedication to usability and creating simple, stable products that people love to use drove their growth.

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.

Feb 08

Posted by Jim

Posted in Marketing, Stage Two

Why Engineers (Usually) Aren’t To Blame For Missed Product Deadlines

Picture this: Your company is about to miss a second product deadline that you’ve committed to publicly. You’ve told the press that you are launching Feature X tomorrow and QA knows it’s not ready. What do you do if you are the CEO? Marketing Manager? VP of Engineering? Whose fault is this and how can you course correct?

Many people’s first response is to blame the Engineers. After all, they didn’t deliver on time. It must be their fault. But this is usually an oversimplification of the product development process. There are best practices for managing a product crisis, and almost none of them involve screaming at engineering.

Ideally you never want to be put in this situation. But examining this hypothetical example of missed public deadlines can be instructive for executives and professionals in a variety of fields.

The first question to ask when staring down the barrel of a (second) public shaming is, “How did we get here?” There are many ways this scenario could have happened.

This kind of problem usually occurs when a company builds something new. Maybe it is a first-run product or a new set of features. Maybe there is a new third party API. Whatever the product or feature is, it typically contains a lot of unknown variables and hidden horrors that push out expected deadlines.

There are also institutional issues that contribute to missed product milestones. Problems can occur when business or financial motives arbitrarily set product deadlines without getting sign off from the “boots on the ground” in engineering.

A good rule of thumb for setting product development deadlines is to have the engineering team 90% confident that they can meet proposed milestones. Not the head of engineering (at least not without the confidence of all his team leads). Not the CEO. Managers can’t will something into existence if it requires code, no matter how persuasive they are. Make sure that all the people who own the product have committed to the date and encourage them to send honest feedback up the food chain.

Of course, the best possible scenario is never missing a public deadline in the first place. Here, then, are our guiding principles for managing missed public deadlines.

1. If you miss a publicly announced deadline, don’t set a second deadline publicly.

2. If there are variables in the project that are out of your control (such as third parties) don’t set a new deadline publicly.

3. Only announce a ship date after the product is ready to ship and all the bugs are worked out.

4. If marketing (or any other department, for that matter) changes product features, engineering needs to adjust the ship date. If this date is publicly available, you must communicate the changes to the public.

5. If you work in Marketing/ Communications/ PR/ Social Media, be realistic. Don’t be hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, angry or ashamed. Be real. No one cares how you feel about your missed deadline. Stick to the facts.

6. Don’t blame others for your own missed milestone– it’s petty.

7. Clearly explain why the deadline was missed. Open the kimono and tell what happened (in diplomatic terms), what your initial expectations were and why you were wrong.

8. The moment an organization knows a product will be late it must begin the process of communicating that information to the press and public. The sooner the better.

An analogy here is to think of going on a hot date. If you have a date with an attractive person at 8:00 pm, and you know that you are running late, when would be a good time to tell that person that you won’t make it on time? Should you tell them as soon as you know, or at 7:59 pm? It all depends if you want another date.

9. CEOs should investigate the process and find out where it broke down. In addition to issuing personal apologies the CEO should be prepared to fire inept senior managers.

In general, keep your product road map a secret. Ask yourself why you are announcing something before it is ready? It can’t be to drive sales, because the product is not on sale. Is it for pre-orders? There is almost no upside to releasing dates to the press and public. There are, however, many downsides.

Apple does this incredibly well. If Apple told the media that iPad 2 would ship on XX day with YY features, that would only cut into the original iPad’s sales. So they never announce a product until they know that it is ready to ship. To conclude, there are many things executives can do when a public deadline is missed, but the most important one is to not give a revised deadline that people will not have faith in.

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.

Jan 20

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products

Windows and Android Tablets are Coming- But For Who?

Apple recently released their sales numbers for the iPad, and the device seems to be catching on.

Apple shipped 14.8 million iPads last year, generating $9.6 billion in revenue. Last quarter alone, it shipped 7.3 million iPads for $4.6 billion in sales.

And, as Tech Crunch noted, no one saw this coming. Both industry analysts and tech bloggers failed to predict the success of Apple’s tablet. Jeremy Toeman even thought the iPad could be a technological bread machine; a device that starts out with a “hey this is kind of cool factor” and then loses its appeal and usability over time.

Before the iPad, no one was buying tablets. Now, everyone is buying them.

So other computer makers have jumped on the Tablet bandwagon. CES was full of Windows tablets and also a few Android Tablets. (This is not the place to argue whether or not Android will make a great tablet. They won’t. Apple COO Tim Cook has even dismissed Android tablets as “bizarre” and vaporous.) This article points to a serious question for the consumer electronics industry: Who are the target users for these non-Apple tablets?

If hardware manufacturers are shipping $500 tablets, who do they expect to purchase them?

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. If you went to the store and wanted to buy your Aunt Mable a tablet, would you get her an Acer tablet or an iPad? Exactly.

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.

At $250 people may simply opt for an iPod touch.

I hate to give the entire touch market to Apple, but it is hard to imagine a scenario where non-Apple tablets show similar growth in such a short time. So where do Windows Tablets thrive? Here are a few sectors that present real opportunities for non-Apple tablets.

Apple Haters

There is a small, dedicated group of Apple haters who will support non-iPad tablets. They do so for mainly ideological reasons and although they have a vocal presence in some corners of cyber-space, they make up a negligible portion of the total tablet market.

Medicine

We are quickly approaching a world where medical records and information will be displayed on tablets. Windows and Android devices could thrive in this vertical.

The Military

Someone is going to sell the Pentagon a lot of secure, battle ready tablets. Smart manufacturers should keep an eye on this space.

Kids

A “cheap,” sturdy tablet for kids is a no-brainer. Part coloring book, part media player, part game center- think Leap Pad on steroids.

To conclude, there are a number of specific verticals where Windows tablets and Android devices can grow rapidly in the coming months. But for average consumers, the iPad remains a desirable, functional device that people seem to enjoy.

Dec 28

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Gadgets, UI/UX

Microsoft Kinect: A Usability Review

We recently ran across this well written piece over at Alertbox that looks at the ten foot gestural UI of the Kinect.

Kinect, the XBOX peripheral that lets users control games with their bodies, breaks new ground in ten foot usability.

Despite having few established usability standards (this makes sense for a new product) the article points out the many strong points of the device. Quoting from the piece:

Kinect has many great design elements that clearly show that the team (a) knows usability, (b) did user testing, and (c) had management support to prioritize usability improvements, even when they required extra development work.

This makes sense; the only reason for Kinect to exist in the first place is as a casual game system that’s easy to pick up. It’s not for hardcore gamers who are willing to suffer through contorted combos of button-pushes to make their game characters do moves. Kinect is targeted at the much broader masses, which requires strong usability. (Indeed, the game sold 4 M units during the first 6 weeks after launch.)

The article then compares the 10 foot usability with the iPad’s 2′ usability.

While Gestural UI is not a viable path for corporations, governments or NPO’s, the piece concludes that the device makes a strong showing in game usability.

Dec 15

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Clients, Smart TV, Social Media, Stage Two, UI/UX

Stage Two Announces New Client Vualla

We are pleased to announce Vualla (pronounced Voila) as a new client. Vualla is a new start up with a vision for creating an amazing social TV experience.

Vualla recently created the Vualla Guide, a Social TV Companion that allows users to find and share shows using their iPads. The Vualla Guide incorporates Twitter streams and Facebook updates into the TV watching experience and alerts people when shows they are interested in are about to air. Rather than placing social content on the big screen, Vualla moves conversations to the iPad’s second screen, creating a harmonious Social Television experience. Users can also comment on specific shows and customize search results based on their location and individual preferences.

Stage Two has a passion for smart TVs and social television. We’ve been thinking about this space since 1999. No, seriously. We want to push the boundaries of convergence to deliver cutting edge media devices to market. We are pleased to work with the Vualla team and their mobi-social television companion.

We are currently developing an improved product experience for the Vualla iPad App, including detailed UI / UX work. Stage Two is also creating a positioning and messaging strategy for the growing firm and handling all Public and Media relations.

As broadband, cloud and mobile computing gain traction, people will increasingly look for elegant, powerful and fun solutions to deliver meaningful information. Vualla has created a TV centric social media hub that lets fans connect with content and each other.

Sep 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

The Real Secret of Apple’s Product Philosophy

CNET has a great article up that details the secrets of Apple’s customer service. Erica Ogg highlights the recent findings of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, a sort of Michelin guide for customer service and appreciation. Apple not only earned its highest score to date in this survey, it established a monster lead over other PC makers.

The real story is how much further ahead of its peers Apple is in this [survey].The Mac maker’s nine-point lead is now the largest lead any company has over its competition in any of the 45 categories that the ACSI study surveys–including home appliances, gas stations, autos, e-commerce, airlines, and more.

The real secret to Apple’s success is that there are no secrets.

Apple is dominating its competition in customer service because the company cares about creating a quality customer experience at every brand touchpoint. And they do this for a reason – it’s called “profit”.  Apple has built an immensely successful business model around the depth of caring about product experience, and it’s translating all the way from customer sentiment to Wall Street.  From corporate leadership and the vision of Steve Jobs to customized retail environments showcasing flawless product design, Apple is invested in delivering amazing experiences to their customers.

We often hear that Apple “plays the game” better than Sony, HP, Dell, etc – that’s not quite right. Apple is playing an entirely different game. What’s most amazing about this?  Nobody else seems to want to play with them, they just keep playing the “other” game, and poorly.

Apple is committed to creating fun, functional products that perform flawlessly for consumers. The iPhone changed the way people engaged telephony and internet everyday. iPad introduced tablet computing to the masses. From their take on music to a rock solid operating system, every product design choice Apple makes is governed by simplicity, ease of use and functionality. Apple deliberately kept the user experience in mind at every stage of product development and has benefited greatly from it.

The other guys?  They either license existing devices from miscellaneous unnamed overseas manufacturers, or “innovate” through tiny incremental feature design – aka copy others.  They certainly talk a good game about product experience, but it’s not even in the picture at anywhere near the same level.  And we don’t understand why.  It’s easy to see how they all got here, but surprising to see them not trying to change, especially if you bring the dollars into it.

The Cupertino company’s market cap is through the roof. They make boatloads of money on hardware, software, apps, services, content, etc.  The company has built a following of brand evangelists and is attracting consumer goodwill by the truckload. People love the Apple experience so much that they are willing to forgive recent mis-steps by the Mac maker. From antenna-gate to a camera-free iPad, to a little bit of Chinese child labor, consumers are choosing to remain with Apple (or wait around hoping for them to come their way).

The investment that Apple made several years ago in superlative product design and user experience has resulted in not only brand loyalty but brand growth. At Stage Two, we help companies of all sizes create exceptional user experiences and polished products, because we believe this is an investment utterly worth making.  It’s a tough thing for any internal product or engineering team to face – the thought of an external group nitpicking apart their gem, but it’s worth it.  While there’s certainly religion at Apple, the religion is about the product being exceptional, and that’s the right kind of focus any consumer-facing product company should have as well.

UPDATE: We want to thank everyone for contributing to the discussion here. Special props go out to Cult of Mac for publishing our post to their audience!