App-titude

31 01 2010

In today’s technoscape, it seems that nearly all the attention is on Apple. They can hardly do wrong (with the possible exception being iPad, a name that was quickly corrupted by some to iTampon and other less-flattering monikers). Still with 40 million iPhones sold worldwide, well over 6 billion song downloads at iTunes, and gazillions of apps sold or given away at the App store, it’s hard to argue with their success.

Surely the computer geeks in Redmond WA (Microsoft) and Mountain View CA (Google) must be shaking in their boots.

Actually, no.

You see, while everyone may be abuzz about the iPhone and the 135,000 apps now available for it, there is a growing number of analysts who think that the App Store’s days may be numbered. And here’s why. Google’s Android operating system is not limited to just one phone; it is currently available on at least 20 different devices. There are now some 10,000 apps for Android alone, and the fact that it is open-source leaves developers with a much better taste in their mouth than that of a rotten Apple.

While 40 million phones is nothing to sneeze at, consider that within a couple of years, everyone will have a smartphone. And Apple’s share of that pie will likely shrink. The novelty may be high now, but it is going to drop. With app developers increasingly growing disenchanted with Apple’s strident demands, they will be looking elsewhere.

Now consider this: With a fragmented market, the only thing that can result is confusion. What is needed is a platform that will work across all phones. It is horribly inefficient to have to create apps for every phone or operating system. The funny thing is, the answer has been in front of our eyes all along. It is the web app, one that works in a mobile browser.

While everyone and their brother will likely continue to push their iPhone apps for the short term, expect the Next Big Thing to be the mobile app. And lest anyone think that apps of any stripe are still uncharted waters, consider that many folks said the same thing about web sites a decade ago. And you see where that got them. While web sites are rather passe these days, they are still a requirement, just as is having a basic business card to distribute at meetings and luncheons.

And phone apps will likewise be as ubiquitous, offering the same levels of interactivity as current web sites. Don’t have one? Welcome to the dinosaur graveyard.

I just hope Steve Jobs finds something else to do by then. It’s been a nice run, but the apples are starting to fall off the tree. And I don’t see any blossoms forming.

Dr “Sorry To Upset The Apple Cart” Gerlich

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YouStars

30 01 2010

For the last year we have heard more than we ever care to hear about the H1N1 virus and how easily it is spread among humans. The media and government managed to whip us into hysteria, and ever since we have been installing Germ-X hand sanitizer stations every three feet. The thinking is that clean hands equals healthy, happy people. Or something like that.

In the real of the web, though, it is unsanitized mouse-clicking hands that spread other kinds of viruses. You know, the ones that manage to catapult seemingly unknown average citizens into rock star status. The only thing missing is the rock star bus.

And even that might materialize if things go the right way.

Take Lauren Luke, the YouTube sensation from the UK who has taught countless women how to apply their makeup. Now being a guy does not afford me a whole lot of insight into this ritual, but at first blush (pun intended, thank you very much), Lauren has found the pot of gold at rainbow’s end. Her YouTube channel is a shrine to mascara, lip gloss and all things girly.

Which brings me to my point: The continued disintermediation brought about by the internet allows Average Joes to not only be citizen journalists, but also Subject Matter Experts. All you need is a video camera and broadband connection, which are about as common these days as a microwave oven. If you have an above-average level of insight or knowledge about anything, adding your own YouTube station is child’s play. And in the case of Lauren Luke, she is actually getting paid to do this, and now has her own product line.

How’s that again? You mean she’s not just doing this out of the goodness of her heart? Estee Lauder should have had it so easy. Max Factor could have retired much earlier.

This all loops back around to something I blogged about recently, that being the power of Word Of Mouth (and especially its power online). We simply trust other human beings more than we do paid corporate celebrities. And even if the Lauren Lukes of the videosphere go on to become paid spokespersons, we know that they started just like us. As Average Joes. Not as Cy Young Award-winning pitchers or Hollywood heart-throbs. This makes their believability quotient soar. We can identify with them, and so we feel perfectly comfortable embedding those YouTube clips in our own blogs and web sites, or posting the link to our Facebook page.

In the mean time, my colleagues and I are taking inventory of what we know and what we could share with the world. Because after all these years in the trenches, there has to be something we know a little about. Because our pedigrees imply some level of expertise. But mostly because we want to ride around in that rock star bus.

You know. The one Lauren Luke is riding around in right now.

Dr “Stars In My Eyes” Gerlich





Keyboard Confessional

29 01 2010

They say that confession is good for the soul. The Roman Catholic Church has made confession a formal part of its membership involvement, and Protestant denominations likewise encourage it. It’s the reverse of Festivus in which we air our grievances; instead, we air our shortcomings, the very things that others (e.g., family, friends, God and governments) might have against us.

But what if we post our confessions online on a Twitteresque site for the whole world to see? Heck, there are still millions for whom the idea of answering the pressing question, “What Are You Doing Now?” is not only an imposition, but a tremendous waste of time. Never mind that few people really even care what you or I happen to be doing right now (FB Status Update: I am writing my blog. So there.).

So that’s why I am a little mystified with Blippy.com, the confession booth of all things credit.

Yep, you read that right. Blippy members reveal their purchasing habits (every last one of them) to the online denizens who might actually give a flip. It’s bad enough for me each month to read my transaction history for all of my credit card accounts; I cannot imagine posting it in real time for the world to see.

Now maybe this confession is good for their consuming souls, but for life of me, I cannot figure out how this could lead to any good. Maybe a person simply wants to brag about their consumption in a conspicuous kind of way. And maybe they wish to reveal their own inability to rein in their spendthrift ways. But I just don’t want anyone and everyone to know how I spend my paycheck each month. Imagine the marketing data to be mined from such digital breadcrumbs!

No, my expenditures are between me, Visa, MasterCard and my bank. If you want to know how I spend my money, just hang out with me for a while. It will all become pitifully obvious. I do not need a social network for sharing my financial indiscretions (or obligations). The little Apple sticker on the back of my car already broadcasts to whom my computing and phone allegiances lay. Most of my clothes have some sort of identifying logo on them somewhere. And my bikes are very well-branded.

And I really don’t want to leverage the social web to broadcast any more of this. Well, except maybe when I get that Apple tattoo. That’ll be something to tweet about.

Dr “Just Don’t Tell My Boss” Gerlich





iThink, Therefore iPad

28 01 2010

Yesterday, the 27th of January, will be remembered for two things: President Obama gave his State of the Union address, and Steve Jobs announced the introduction of the new iPad tablet computer. Guess which one we will remember more?

It’s a pretty telling commentary on our times when a savvy entrepreneur (demigod perhaps?) can upstage the POTUSA, but that is exactly what happened. Blather on and on and about jobs, health care, etc., and you will inspire senators to yawn uncontrollably (like Nevada’s Harry Reid was seen doing). But introduce the coolest thing since the iPod and…well, the world stops to listen.

The iPad is basically an iPhone on steroids. It is combination e-reader, netbook and iPod, all with the touchscreen usability we have all come to love (or loathe) as iPhone users. It will be available in 3 storage configurations, as well as with or without AT&T 3G wireless connectivity. With an entry level price of $499, it is decidedly a lot pricier than simple netbooks on the PC platform (starting at $300), but its coolness quotient is up in the stars.

And here’s a reality check for PC fans: When was the last time the world ground to a halt in anticipation of an announcement from Microsoft?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Of course, the voluntary Apple Tax prevails. There are no discounts on Apple products (unless you can exploit the meager education discount). But coolness and quality have a price. If you want the familiar Apple logo tattooed on the back of your neck, that’ll set you back a few more hundred.

My biggest concern, though, is that touchscreen keyboard. I admit to already having to be extremely careful while typing on my little Acer netbook. I also know that I make a zillion typos on my iPhone typing with my right thumb. I just wonder how well I will do on a larger touchscreen. Will I be hamfisted? Will I be able to use my otherwise clumsy typing skills, or will I be reduced to hunt-and-peck with my index fingers?

You know what? I don’t care. This device will allow me to do a lot of things (and the 10-hour battery life is a big plus!). Do I need it? Nope. Do I want it? I’m kind of foaming at the mouth right now, so I guess the answer is a resounding Yes! Will the iPad be the Next Big Thing?

Probably.

Because Apple has a way of leading us into tomorrow, while others have made a commitment to today. Or yesterday. I’m not sure yet exactly which Apple store I’ll be traveling to, but you can bet your bottom iDollar I’ll be in line to snag one of these.

Now who wants to buy my Kindle?

Dr “Still Pondering That Tattoo” Gerlich





I’ll Have The Large Bowl, Please

27 01 2010

I have my favorite restaurants, those places where I can reliably dine on tasty food and beverage complimented with prompt and exacting service. But there is no restaurant of which I know that can whip up that most delicious of delicacies, for it grows not on plant or tree, nor roams the land or seas of this planet.

I speak of irony, and it is best taken not with a grain of salt, but rather with the sweetness of honey.

And if you can tolerate a little Seussian sleigh ride, I like my irony on a train, in the rain, in a car, near and far, by a lake, at a clam bake, in the fog, and in a blog.

Ba-da-boom.

Today’s bowl of irony is served up by Big Box Retailer Office Depot with their current “Barber” television commercial. In that spot a small-town Mr. Barber is dismayed to find an Evil Large Chain store offering $6 haircuts has located right across the street. But savvy Mr. Barber goes to Office Depot to buy supplies to create a banner that reads “We Fix $6 Haircuts.” Justice flowed forth as beautiful poetry; Evil Large Chain shuttered its windows and got the hell out of Dodge 5 months later.

Now let me give you a little backstory. My very first job was at Dugan’s Office Supply in Lansing IL. I was in the DECA program, and friendly teacher Mr. Oderwald fixed me up so to speak, and made the connection for my employment. So from September 1976 through August 1977, I drove a delivery van all over the south suburbs, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of drivers as I sped from one office to another with precious parcels containing tablets, Liquid Paper and typewriter ribbons.

A little over a decade ago I returned to my hometown, only to find that Dugan’s was no longer in business. I have no idea how long it been gone, but I entered the former storefront that was then occupied by a small printing firm doing wedding invitations, or something like that. I had to know more.

“So…what happened to the office supply store that used to be here?” I asked the man behind the counter.

“Oh, the big box store over on Torrence Ave put them under,” he replied.

Yep. Uh-huh. Where have I heard that story before?

You see, Office Depot is to small office supply stores as the big haircutting chain is to sad Mr. Barber. After their role in the demise of so many mom-and-pop stationers, how can Office Depot possibly run this ad and still live with itself? Have they no conscience? Scruples? It’s like the copier is on, but it’s out of paper and toner.

I just wish Dugan’s Office supply had been able to work the same TV magic as pitiful Mr. Barber. I can see the banner they should have hung: We Fix Lousy Service.

“Oh waiter…can I have another bowl of this stuff to go? I’d like to take it to my former employer.”

Dr “I Deliver” Gerlich





About Face

26 01 2010

As I look back on what is now nearly 51 years of erratically making a path through life, I continue to be amazed at how much I am able to get done in a 24 hour period. It’s not like those 24 hours have changed any…they are the exact same unit of analysis. It’s not so much that I was slower a few decades ago. It’s just that I can now do so much more than I once did.

Like play around on social media sites.

According to Nielsen, the global monthly average for social networking sites is now five hours per month.

I know what some of you are thinking. Five hours? Are you kidding? Hell, I keep my accounts open all day long (and much of the evening), and my iPhone apps always stand at the ready to post another compelling tweet. I spend five hours on these sites before lunch.

Of course, it’s not like I am doing nothing else. Like most modern workaday warriors, we are multitasking, and multiple browser tabs allow us to allocate our constant partial attention to about a dozen things at once.

Still, that social networking usage is up some 82% since last year is a telling stat. It means that we have so embraced this phenomenon that it is as big a part of our day as brushing our teeth. And if you are like most users, you have one or perhaps two social networking sites that you call home, and that’s it. Brand (site) loyalty runs high because it is hard to work with multiple crowds of friends and fans; furthermore, each site has its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and it’s just easier to streamline instead of learning multiple platforms.

But there is one pressing question: Is all of this time spent networking on Facebook, et al, one gigantic time suck, or have we simply learned how to cram more activity into a 24 hour period? In my case, I can argue that because of the classes I teach, I actually get paid to know about this stuff (I can thus justify every second I spend reconnecting with friends…so there!). But what if you don’t have an ironclad excuse like me?

Yeah, I’m sure that for some folks, Facebooking is a dedicated waste of time (or, at best, an innocent use of leisure time). But for the vast majority of hard core users, I bet we have just become better at what we do. Right now I have 7 things running in my Firefox, and I bounce around like a bee hovering over a field of clover. The high tech gadgets of our trade are vast improvements on the stone tools with which I grew up.

I am thus not amazed or surprised one bit that we are spending more and more time on social networking sites. I do not feel like the time has come out of anything. Like an economy whose engine is greased by the velocity of money (thereby creating more spending power in the process), we have simply managed to squeeze 40 hours of activities out of 24.

And I suppose that’s something to tell all of my adoring fans.

Dr “Tweet This” Gerlich





Stuck In Traffic

25 01 2010

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in traffic. Unless, of course, you’re trying to run a destination web site and want to sell advertising. Eyeballs are everything in this game; fortunes are made and lost as a result of them.

And right now the eyes are upon social networking sites. Who in their wildest dreams in the mid-1990s could have foreseen that 2010 would be the era of sites whose primary purpose is to connect people with people, and not people with products?

Depending on who you rely for web traffic stats, Facebook is the hands-down winner of this battle, with somewhere around 100 M-as-in-million unique visitors in December 2009. With over 350 million users worldwide, Facebook has grown from a digital version of the Harvard handout, to the ultimate means of finding long-lost friends and cousins.

And with that many eyeballs, you can bet your bottom budget dollar that advertisers are giddy at the prospect of getting on your screen.

Surprisingly, MySpace still carries some weight, and came in second in this month’s rankings with about 60 million visitors, with Twitter in third with about 25 million. The big eye-opener, though, is Classmates.com, in 5th place with over 10 million visitors (out of its 40 million members). Classmates has the distinction of being the very first social networking site (launched in 1995), and uses a “freemium” model (basic service for free, but enhanced service costs $39 per year). The other big sites are completely free.

All numbers aside, the real story to write home about is how we are using the web. Sure, we continue to shop at Amazon, bid at eBay and browse corporate brochureware sites. But we are spending increasing amounts of time (shameless plug: see tomorrow’s blog) at social networking sites to either communicate with our legions of friends and/or play another round of Farmville. Oh yeah…and let’s not forget all of those “fan” pages at Facebook used to promote celebrities, organizations and companies.

But advertisers really do not care so much what people are doing, but where they are doing it. Network and cable TV stations would kill for such numbers. For example, American Idol on Tuesday 12th January was the highest-viewed broadcast TV show in the US for the week ending 17th January. It had 15.5 million viewers. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are killing TV (and Twitter still hasn’t even figured out how to monetize its business, still wondering how it might incorporate advertising in its product offering).

Yet American Idol isn’t having trouble selling ad slots.

Sure, we are talking completely different presentation formats and advertising methods here, but the point is still the same: The real traffic is in the social networking sites. Which means more and more advertising dollars are going to be redirected from older traditional media vehicles to Facebook, et al.

And while I never like getting stuck in vehicular traffic, this is one traffic jam I can see a lot folks really getting into. It’s gridlock out there, and everyone is eye-to-I with one another. So when is that Facebook IPO?

Dr “Take Stock In That” Gerlich