Tag Archives: jeremy toeman

Jan 06

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Stage Two, UI/UX

5 Technologies That Have Impeccable Taste

As we wrote in an earlier blog post, consumers care less about the technological muscle “under the hood” of new gadgets than they do about functionality and simplicity of those products. Added bells and whistles do not make the difference between winning and losing technologies. Rich feature sets are not the deciding factor between amazing products that consumers love to use and sub-par products that users abandon quickly.

Taste is the difference between great products and disposable, disappointing tech.

Anyone can grab a bunch of parts from an overseas warehouse and deliver a functional product. Given enough resources, they can even deliver cutting edge technology to the masses. Lifestyle technology is easily made: a new phone, a cool gadget, a computing device.

The winners of the consumer electronics industry really differentiate themselves from the herd of also-rans in the taste department. Tasteful tech is beautiful. It is functional. It is simple design that delivers an intuitive, meaningful experience to the user.

Taste is not useless innovation (does my phone really need a kickstand? Answer: No!). Taste is, well . . . tasteful.

Here are 5 examples of our favorite tasteful technologies.

5 – XBOX 360

The XBOX represents one of the most successful convergence devices produced to date. Heck, it might be the only successful convergence device produced to date. Microsoft’s second take at home gaming fuses internet, music, TV and movies. The thing plays DVDs and also streams online content. Never mind the red ring of death (although I’m still bitter about spending $99 bucks on that), this machine is gorgeous. It is beautiful to look at and the user interface is clean and simple. I mean, even the box is beautiful. The new Kinect opens new, interactive experiences for living room entertainment. When form and function combine in a simple to use package, there is a clear level of taste present behind the technology.

4 – RED by Virgin America

Virgin America delivers tasteful technology before, during and after the flight.

Even before they board the plane, passengers can check in to their flight and print their boarding passes online- no more waiting in a ticketing line before waiting in a security line before waiting at the gate. Eliminating redundancies is elegant and appreciated.

Once on board, travelers experience RED, a state of the art media environment embedded into the seat. Every passenger has an individual media remote (complete with QWERTY inputs) and a personal viewing screen (that responds to touch). Passengers order in flight meals, watch live satellite television, chat online and purchase media from their seats. Google maps display the position of the flight in real time. Even the safety video is entertaining. The overall experience is personalized, novel and fun.

3 – Bose

Bose has a reputation for delivering great product design with their quality speakers (we know there are those who would pooh pooh Bose and say you need to have X Brand to have good sound. We are not getting into that debate right now). There is no doubt that the company understands consumer audio. But they also understand that taste, not tech, can be the difference maker when consumers decide what to purchase. Just look at their QuietComfort 3 Accoustic Noise Canceling Headphones.

They look more like ICBM launch keys than headphones. From the refined finishes to the museum-like presentation, the taste level that Bose brings to the headphone space is one of the reasons these headphones command a $350 price point in a space where people can purchase ear buds for around ten dollars. You can’t walk through a first class cabin without seeing at least one person wearing these things.

2 – Jawbone

Ever since its launch in 2006, Jawbone has set the standard for design excellence in the Bluetooth headset arena. Their earpieces are gorgeous. Their packaging sparks an emotional reaction in individuals. Even their website is beautiful.

Great tech and tasteful design attract sophisticated customers who don’t want a Plantronics headset for less than the cost of a sandwich.

1 – Sonos

For full disclosure, Sonos has – at multiple times – been a Stage Two client.

Sonos delivers multi-room music wirelessly. Did you catch that? A complete music solution that is scalable, customizable, beautiful and wireless. Sonos delivers ease of use, simple set up and controls – and – oh yeah, no wires harshing your feng shui. You might think this is a small thing, but when I was remodeling my house, I designed it with Sonos in mind. (Sonos is also the only technology in my house that my wife appreciates and uses on a regular basis).

Sonos has garnered many positive write-ups from tech reviewers. That is expected. What is amazing is that the simplicity and functionality also hooked one reviewer’s wife:

I find it very hard to send the Sonos review units back.  Even my wife, who normally doesn’t get sucked in by tech has said she wants to buy a Sonos system…so we’ll be whipping out our credit card soon, I imagine.

And that is probably the best example of why it is important to craft tasteful technologies. Technophiles will appreciate robust technical solutions because they love technology. When gadgets display taste, however, average users and non-users take notice, become believers and adopt these products into their lives.

What are some of your examples of tasteful technology? Let us know in the comments.

Jan 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Products, Smart TV, Stage Two

America’s Media Universe: Nielsen Factsheet

The Nielsen Company just released its factsheet for America’s media habits. The highlights?

31% of American mobile phone owners have smartphones.

The Apple iPhone 3GS is the most popular smart phone in America.

66% of mobile phone users send text messages.

43 Million American homes have a DVR.

45% of all recorded TV ads are viewed.

The average American home has 2.5 TVs and almost a third of all households have 4 or more televisions.

Click the image for a larger view and more media statistics from Nielsen.

Jan 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Smart TV, Stage Two

Smart TV is the Tech World’s Afghanistan

The Huffington Post has a great article that compares Smart TV to Afghanistan. Quoting from the piece:

Web-savvy tech companies have spent the last decade battling for command of the screens that dominate our lives, successfully capturing our attention on cellphones and computers. But the television screen has proven to be the Afghanistan of the technology realm — the unavoidable place that every great power has dreamt of conquering, only to become bogged-down in a long, costly, and ultimately fruitless battle.

[SNIP]

Why has the living room proven such a quagmire for the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google, enormously successful pioneers that have built empires and attracted millions with must-have offerings in smartphones, software and search? Can this sphere ever be conquered, or will it prove impenetrable, even to the same formidable marketing and engineering masters who have managed to convince us to turn their brand names into verbs and trade in our cell phones every two years?

The post then highlights some of the key challenges facing Smart TVs. The inability of the industry to successfully define and market Smart TV services, limited access to broadcast content (especially news and sports) and the passive nature of the living room are all considered in the article. This last point is especially salient; in order for new TVs to catch on, they must deliver new features as effortlessly as changing channels on the television. Again, quoting from the article:

In essence, the goliaths of technology have placed a high-stakes bet on their ability to seduce couch potatoes with greater interactivity, yet it remains debatable whether viewers really covet a more active experience on a device known popularly as the boob tube.

The entire article is worth a read as it smartly examines a variety of forces shaping the future of Smart TVs. As major entertainment and technology companies continue to battle for the largest screen in the home, advances in Smart Televisions will shape how individuals locate and interact with media in the coming years.

Jan 03

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Products, Smart TV, Stage Two

Fortune: What The Hell is Going On With TV?

Fortune has a great post on the CNN.Money site that takes a look at the state of the digital living room.

After more than a decade of false starts, web TV is here — sort of. I’m talking about more than just streaming a sitcom on my laptop. We know the web has the power to make any media distribution system cheaper and more efficient. This is different. Thanks to streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix (NFLX) and new portable devices such as the iPad, we’ve begun to expect that TV should be more like the web itself: social, mobile, searchable, and instantly available. When we can’t figure out what to watch, web-based recommendation software (“If you liked Inception, you’ll love Heroes!”) might do a better job of finding us programs we like than the professionals who program ABC — or we might just want to check an onscreen guide of our friends’ status updates to see which shows they’ve enjoyed recently. And once we’ve reached a decision, we want to click and watch on any screen that happens to be nearby.

The article includes a detailed discussion of the media stakeholders and tech companies that control how we consume TV on the web and get the web on our TV. From Netflix and Hulu to Apple TV and Roku, the article is informative and thorough and deserves a full read.

As with smartphones, there’s a race on among tech companies to own that platform. Electronics maker Samsung is trying to get ahead of the Internet behemoths with Net-connected TVs that support apps. Microsoft is trying to turn its Xbox gaming console into a TV service. Apple is following the Jobs playbook by trying to launch a closed system in which, just as with music, we buy all our shows directly from Apple. Google TV is the most forward concept to date: It offers a full web browser and attempts (but mostly fails) to create a seamless experience for the viewer switching between cable and streaming video.

But for any of those platforms to take off, they’ll need the networks to participate, and that’s proving difficult. ABC, NBC, and their ilk are hamstrung by pay-TV companies, and they’re fearful that by putting web TV on real TVs, they’ll have to settle for paltry web ad dollars instead of TV’s mega ad dollars. Jobs tried to hammer out a $30-a-month iTunes TV service but couldn’t work out a rights deal with the networks and gave up. And shortly after Google TV was launched, those same networks blocked it.

The article includes a video with Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone, who says that web TV is still in a transition period and many of the current Web TV offerings will look like AOL in 1995.

For full disclosure, Clicker is a former Stage Two client and we maintain a professional relationship with Jim and his team.

Jan 03

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Smart TV

With 3D TV a Bust, Industry Looks to Smart TVs

Evan Ramstad has an interesting article at the Wall Street Journal that covers the rise of Smart TVs.

For more than a decade, consumer-electronics manufacturers have been trying to marry the Internet and TV. In recent years, they’ve added connectors that let TV sets hook up to the Internet and, in some cases, added software that provides shortcuts to Web-based services from companies like movie-rental service Netflix Inc.

But this year, starting with product announcements at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, manufacturers are making a full-on push with “smart TVs”— models that have built-in computer-style processors and operating software so the sets can be modified with applications just as computers and smartphones are.

Of course, the journey toward a fully connected living room can be perilous. The article mentions Google TV’s notable absence from CES and points out that slim profit margins are already impacting manufacturers.

Other hurdles facing smart television include 10 usability concerns. Many people won’t want to channel surf with a mouse and keyboard, so input devices need to be reconsidered for the space. Finally, while people expect a certain amount of loading from their PCs, they do not enjoy watching their television boot up or load content.

TV manufacturers also are working to reduce the boot-up time associated with the smart part of smart TVs. Consumers are accustomed to TV sets turning on almost instantly and have gotten used to the always-on nature of smartphones.

In order to gain widespread adoption, Smart TVs must deliver an intuitive user experience that performs as fast as a cable tv channel. We’re looking forward to see what advances the TV makers unveil this week at CES.

Dec 28

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two

Five Ways To Write Like Calculator

One of the quickest ways for technology companies (and products) to aggravate and annoy users is to speak “tech-ese.” Tech-ese is like Portuguese but instead of using words, it uses numbers, specs and obscure technical jargon.

The origins of Tech-ese are clear. Specs rule in tech circles. It is only natural for technical professionals to want to tout their amazing specs to the competition and to the general public. In the real world, though, benefits>features>specs. Too many times engineers write press releases or (god forbid) blog posts and the results speak (badly) for themselves.

Stage Two has compiled a list of five common tech-ese mistakes. This list is meant to be illustrative and not exhaustive. There are many more types and kinds of poor tech writing. You can leave your own examples of bad tech-ese in the comments below.

5. Don’t Write Calculator:

If you use more numbers than letters, you are in trouble. If your blog post is a list of specs and features that only resonate with a small, targeted audience, you are in trouble. If users get the feeling that a calculator or a cylon wrote your copy, you are really in trouble. This happens a lot in the technology sector.

Send This Press Release Beep Beep

The following is an actual blog post from an actual company. See if you can grok what the author is getting at.

Open MPI v1.5 (and v1.4.3) released!

Representing over a year of research, development, and testing, the Open MPI team is extremely pleased to release version v1.5.  Read the full announcement here.  Version 1.5 is chock full of new features and countless little enhancements.  We hope you’ll enjoy it!

Open MPI Version v1.4.3 was just released a few days ago, too.   It’s mainly a bug fix release that increases the stability of the time-tested v1.4 series.

After reading this post I felt like a small child lost at the circus. I was confused. I was scared. All I could smell was livestock and grease paint. Frantically, I clicked on the full announcement link to get a better sense of what the heck was going on. Oh what a terrible, terrible mistake. Just look at this monstrosity.

To be fair, this example is taken from an enterprise level networking blog. But it is still a blog that customers can access. And this type of calculator copy writing happens all the time. On consumer electronics sites, in set-up manuals and especially in bad press releases.

Check out this example from Josh Weinberg’s excellent ebook:

This is a product that doesn’t need specs to influence purchases and still insists on using number heavy jargon. To avoid this type of tech-ese, try to think about a potential reader who has never heard about your products and is allergic to numbers. Then write something that talks about the benefits of your product in plain, natural language.

4. Products Have Names

This one is closely linked to calculator blogging, but is its own special level of tech-ese hell.

Let me say this very clearly: Products. Have. Names. The iPod. The iPad. The Kin. Consumers want to relate to their products. It is hard to relate to the The Irex DR800SG or the Toshiba Satellite L505-GS5037 TruBrite 15.6-Inch Laptop.

If your product is a string of useless numbers you are speaking bad tech-ese and alienating customers. How in the world can someone tell their friends how much they love their new VIZIO VA19LHDTV10T 19-Inch ECO 720p LCD HDTV? Again, shout out to the Digital Life Consulting Group and their excellent take on product readiness.

3. Don’t Be So Boring

Regular people relate to technologies with personalities. Blogs, start-up guides and technical manuals all need to have a human voice and point of view. Lifestyle electronics companies (and the technology industry as a whole) should look over their communication matrices and ensure that the benefits and not the specs are highlighted. Bonus points if you can cogently drive brand and product identity through your messaging.

2. Beautiful By Design

Keep information clean and visually appealing in all materials. If your packaging, manuals, blog or newsletter looks like something from the IRS you are speaking tech-ese. Investing in a designer may seem like an added cost with no benefit to tech companies at first. But users want to have an emotional experience with technologies. They want to be inspired by great products and moved by beautiful product design. Companies that deliver great document and packaging design bolster positive feelings and inspire brand loyalty.

1. English, Do You Speak It?

One of the fastest ways to alienate users is to create grammatically flawed technical copy. The spelling, syntax, meaning and flow of product copy must be perfect to create brand affinity and positive mind share. Also, we’re not biased toward English here – if you bring your product to any market, you should localize it to the utmost of your ability!

Avoid Engrish at all costs. Make sure that you hire a copywriter who speaks the native language fluently and spend at least a little time developing a localization strategy or you could wind up with something like this:

The Sweet Hint is Sweet

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 22

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Stage Two, UI/UX

What do Ikea products and good cookbooks have in common?

Take a look at this recipe for pasta sauce:

Now check out this Ikea chest:

So what does a Swedish dresser have in common with Italian sauce? (Hint: the answer is not Swedish meatballs.)

Both Ikea products and cookbooks deliver a well defined set up process. They explain what materials people will need before they get started and walk individuals step by step through the assembly process. The language in both examples is clear and direct and the layout is logical and aesthetically pleasing. Cooking recipes also give an approximate time frame for cooking. Both show what the finished product should look like.

So why do we mention this here? Because in terms of initial set up, consumer electronics companies can learn a lot from cookbooks and Ikea. The manual should be written in plain English and tell users what materials they will need to complete the process. The design should be appealing. Basically, not like this:

The setup process for any product should be treated like a recipe in a cookbook, setting the user’s expectations for setup duration and required materials/steps from the start. The steps required for setup should be spaced out logically and thoughtfully. The writing should be error free and compelling. We believe that great copy engages people’s emotions and turns customers into fans. Finally, the visual design should be appealing.

Let’s look at an example of a well composed set up manual. It is for Dropcam, a company that makes personal network connected cameras. The entire physical install guide is only one sheet (front and back pictured below) and the remaining set up takes place online via a wizard. For full disclosure, Dropcam is a Stage Two client and we designed the following install guide and online wizard per internal best practices.

Setting up a new device or gadget is one of the first experiences users have with lifestyle technologies. Delivering a confusing or frustrating set up process can destroy positive mind share and erode brand affinity. Conversely, if people know what materials they will need, have a clear install guide and have an idea of how long the set up will take, they will likely enjoy their new gadget. An easy install will also score points with the press and reviewers.So before you ship your next set up guide, be sure to ask yourself, “Is this like a Billy Bookcase?”

Dec 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Social Media, Stage Two

Get Your Twit Together

Twitter is awesome.

Before Twitter, I had to use fan forums, illegal wiretaps and high powered telescopes to keep up with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After Twitter came along, I can stay up to date on all my Brent Spiner news without getting charged with stalking.

The micro blogging platform has changed the way we communicate with one another. And not just because the Reading Rainbow Host is in my twitter stream.  Twitter has emboldened citizen journalists and social spammers brand evangelists. It has connected bloggers and helped people “tweet up.” Never mind the new neologisms and political activism the service created.

Despite the social media advances the service engendered, there are places where Twitter can improve. As 2011 approaches, it’s time for Twitter to grow up and get its twit together.

Kill the Fail Whale

It seems like I see the fail whale more than I see my siblings. Technical issues are expected for internet service companies – even Google hiccups once in a while – but in order to grow, scale and mature as a messaging platform, twitter needs to deliver a web page that works flawlessly for new and existing users. After a recent $200 million dollar round of funding, it’s time to pay for servers that work all the time.

Don’t Count Usernames and URLs as Characters

It’s microblogging. I get it. But for the love of fun, be reasonable twitter. Your strict adherence to the 140 character dogma is proving you to be a techno-philistine. Surely we can agree to a new (better) set of standards where usernames and URLs don’t count toward the 140 character limit.

Won’t spammers abuse this with an endless stream of links and hashtags and callouts?

Yes, but people are smart enough to ostracize those accounts. The system will self-correct. For every eastern european spam bot that would tear up the relaxed rules there would be (at least) one real user who benefits from character counting changes.

Auto shorten my incredibly long URL.

It’s time for twitter to automatically shorten long URLs and, like bit.ly,  provide some basic metrics on the links people share within the site proper.

Make Money

Time for Twitter to sell out ads. Sponsored tweets, banner ads and commercials are coming. With the number of creative professionals using the service, look for innovative social campaigns in the coming months.

Drop the 140 character limit

The 140 character limit made sense when the service launched. Most people were using SMS messages that capped character counts. Now with smart devices and twitter apps, the technology allows for longer posts. I’m not suggesting that people be able to post War and Peace to their tweeple, but something like 250 characters seems more reasonable.

Dec 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Press, Smart TV

Internet Television Security Risk, Says Security Firm

The Register has a smart piece of reporting that looks at a recent report from a security company that points to the potential security flaws of internet televisions.

Mocana said its researchers were able to use hacking techniques familiar to the world of PC skullduggery (such as “rogue DNS”, “rogue DHCP server”, or TCP session hijacking techniques) to inject JavaScript onto a vulnerable device “allowing attackers script integrity before running code”.

However, much like the cable sports network that released a study showing “cord cutting” is near 0%, the motives of Mocana likely color their research. Again quoting from the article:

Overall, however, we can’t help but conclude that Mocana is talking up a threat in the hope of later selling into it, thereby helping it to establish a new line of business. The supposed threat of hackers turning off internet-connected fridges, thereby causing your milk to go sour, has been around for more than 10 years (example here). Hacking TVs is a new spin on a similar theme and for that, at least, Mocana is to be congratulated.

While the study may be biased, fear of hackers and spammers will likely keep people from adopting internet connected TVs. The industry as a whole needs to educate consumers to ease their security fears.

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