Archive

Posts Tagged ‘OS’

The Perfect Tablet

August 22, 2010 1 comment

In the last few days LG’s mobile device marketing VP Chang Ma has stated that their tablet will be better than the iPad, the key phrase being “It’s going to be surprisingly productive”. This has led to much debate on what this could mean, and of course whether the iPad is truly productive. Many have pointed to the iPad App store as evidence of its productiveness, where productivity apps take the majority of the top 10 paid application slots, but this is inconclusive. The majority of iPad owners have justified their purchase of the expensive product with the belief that it will enable them to work more effectively. In order to reach this goal, productivity applications must be purchased but this does not imply that iPad owners succeeded in making their device productive.

It is hard to define what would constitute the “perfect tablet”, but I believe there are some key criteria that must be met in order to make the device a fully productive netbook/laptop replacement and true competitor to the iPad:

Keyboard

The tablet should have an optional Bluetooth keyboard which comes with a leather case that holds the tablet and keyboard. When in the case, the keyboard covers the screen in the same manner as the keyboard of a laptop. Once opened, the leather case “locks” at a 110 degree angle, thus offering a laptop-like experience with the keyboard as and when required.

Email & Calendar

For a tablet to be productive, the Outlook-like experience must be at the core. The email application has to allow folder support, multiple account handling, full exchange support, the ability to view and edit attachments, full calendar synchronisation etc.

UI

Alongside traditional multitasking, The device should offer what I shall call a “Quadrant” method. For specific applications (messaging, calendar, browser, IM, memo pad, music player, folders) it will be possible to place them in the 4 corners of the screen to be displayed simultaneously. When in this layout, the applications can be displayed at 50% or 25% of their maximum display area. This immediately allows for the type of multitasking not possible on any current tablet or mobile device.  Outside of these “Quadrant compatible” applications, it will be possible to divide the display in half. Applications will also still be able to run in the background as normal.

Applications

The types of applications and media player options available on mobile devices are now so common that its the experience that separates them. I believe that one key experience should be the ability for applications to “auto-save”. To be more specific, anything a user edits or creates should be automatically saved as soon as they move to a different application. While many applications allow for a “frozen” state where for example the memo entry will remain open in the background, I am referring to an actual saving and closing of the application. This has been present on mobile operating systems before such as UIQ and to some extent Windows Mobile. The uniqueness of the “auto-save” is that it allows for full flexibility on the move. For example you can edit a document right up until the subway doors open, then simply press the power button and the document will be saved and closed in the background. This also enhances the speed of use on the device as a user can easily switch to another application without the need to find a save option.

Hardware

There are not many ways for a tablet to stand out in this regard, but the few that are available are indeed very compelling. Pixel Qi or similar display, battery capacity and storage capacity can all attract consumers. I believe that for any manufacturer to truly take on the iPad, they must have a SKU that includes a Pixel Qi type display and a large battery capacity.

OS

Contrary to popular opinion, this is not very important. What is a important is that the platform has good developer support. If the device will have pre-installed Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Flickr and full DIVX, XVID, H.264 etc playback, consumers will be happy.  Add this to the email, calendar and general office document management and this would be a fine generic device for the work place.

Pricing

The maximum baseline for any tablet that aims to take on the iPad and become a truly mass-market device should be $299, peaking at $499 for the top of the line product.

If a manufacturer can produce a product that fulfils  all of the criteria, it would be impossible not to stand out from the crowd. A fluid, stable OS completes the device and would present an incredibly compelling offering to the marketplace. The Adam from Notion Ink has consistently been seen as a product that can come closest to defeating the iPad, but time is moving on and we are still months away from a release. RiM’s “Blackpad” could be an intriguing product. They recognise the importance of a full email experience on the move and I am sure in developing this tablet they would have looked to their business customers for guidance on use cases. One way or another a product matching this criteria will be released, but at the moment it seems that with the incredibly slow movement of their competitors, Apple are just as likely to produce such an offering in a refreshed iPad as anyone else.

Advertisements
Categories: Ideas... Tags: , , , , , , ,

How To Convince Mobile Users To Change Their OS

Over the next 12 months there will 6 major smartphone operating systems vying for the warmth of your trouser pocket: Meego, Web OS, Blackberry OS, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. With so many options to users, how can any one OS rise up to dominate in the manor Apple has achieved?

The key is not in being the best, but in educating the user.

A mere 5 years ago moving from a Nokia to a Siemens device only required copying your contacts to the SIM and deciding just how important it was to play Snake on a daily basis. As simple as this seems, the mere thought of changing manufacturers and using a device with unfamiliar icons was considered adventurous beyond belief by the average user. Those who dared to peruse such a road were considered mavericks (or nerds and shunned to the “weirdo” corner of the social stratosphere). Returning to the present and we now have the dominant smartphone OS of Apple, which has taken mobile handset Neanderthals into the area of installing applications. These same people just a few years previous struggled to comprehend placing their contacts on a SIM to switch manufacturers; how can they even begin to grasp the concept of installing applications on a different platform and no longer using iTunes?

Believe it or not, Apple has laid out the rule book for how this can be achieved:

The Promise – Great products fail before they have stepped off the factory floor because they are never presented to the public as something that can fulfil their needs. I believe the main culprit for this failing is the belief that the need must first exist to the public at large before it is addressed. This is a common misconception; you need only to observe any Apple product launch to see how such a situation is handled. First, a problem allegedly found by their analysis of the market and highlighted by their customers is explained in great detail, to emphasise the depth of their “investigation”. This detail is vital, as it implies that the solution that will be announced over the following minutes has been well thought out, and it is unlikely any other solution can be found. If this is executed correctly, the reveal of the solution produces a psychological sigh of relief, as the short lived (but “important”) problem has been resolved. The launch/re-launch of an OS is thus defined by its ability to solve the problem its designers highlighted. For the iPhone OS, the problem was complicated, ugly UIs and the solution was a visually appealing UI matched with incredible simplicity.

Hype – No successful product has been launched on hype alone, but hype is still vital. Gaining “hype” is quite simple as long as you have a worthy Promise. The key is to minimise the time between announcement and shipping. If you are unable to launch within a month, it becomes necessary to supplement the hype with leaks or interviews. If we use Android as an example, the build-up and hype would be towards the next release. A supplementary leak would be a screen shot or two of a pre-release version of the OS on a device (using a device rather than emulator implies that the release is close). Committing to providing units early to certain websites/blogs such as Engadget, Tech Crunch and CNET also guarantees some extra coverage as you build towards release.

Marketing – Apple are renowned for their advertisements; they are able to get across their message using simple, concise methods while still making their products aspirational to the public at large. The construct of an Apple advert is quite interesting: a normal person, a normal environment, a desire to conduct a simple task in the environment + The Solution to complete the task. This entire construct is almost the exact opposite of how mobile devices are currently advertised. For example recent campaign by Motorola contained a series of advertisements showcasing the differences between the iPhone and their new Droid device, using a “Droid Does” slogan. These advertisements were entertaining to the geek community and did highlight key failings in the iOS platform, but none of this mattered to the average user. The adverts placed the device in the typical high-end mobile device niche (advanced, hard to use device “full of features I do not require”) and insured it would never become a mass market success in the vein of the RAZR or iPhone. Apple’s method works because it appeals to people of all ages. An OS with intentions of competing directly with the iPhone must appeal to the same user base.

Another method Apple uses to market their devices is product placements. Here also we must learn from the way in which Apple is presented. Their is no real focus on their devices or any major functionality in their product placements in television shows beyond on occasion a character finding it necessary to install an application to accomplish a goal (note the simplicity of the problem – resolution method used here). In most instances we see average people use their iPhones to achieve simple tasks like making a call, sending a text message or taking a picture. There is one key element however that is highlighted by every TV show – the speed of use. There is an assumption that in fact the focus is on simplicity, but that is purely a by-product. TV shows are about progression, the movement of a storyline from one scene to the next. Each scene is filled with as much information as possible to allow the ease of transition on to the next one. Its impossible not to be aware of this while watching your favourite shows; a common example is when you are checking the clock profusely if it seems a story may not be resolved before an episode comes to an end. A regular viewer of a series also recognises when a foreign element is introduced. When this happens, if The Promise and Hype have been executed correctly, the viewer will recognise the product and be interested to see its use by familiar characters. The viewer will notice if this product changes the manor in which a character normally operates. What viewers notice with Apple products is their favourite characters completing tasks quickly and simply. A great length of time is not spent with a character demonstrating and explaining what they are doing as its simply not necessary. Far too many marketing departments wrongly assume that showing someone achieving some great technical wizardry on a device entices customers. They assume that if they have your attention, they’ve succeeded in selling you the product. What they fail to realise is that while an image can be eye-catching, if they have failed to show the average user that they can still achieve their simple, day to day tasks with ease on this device (or OS), the average person will never assume it can also fulfil their needs.

Matching iOS apps experience – Applications are the key to any OS; they can be used to highlight how mature, stable and innovative a platform is, while also showing all of its limitations. Handset manufacturers using the Android platform believe that the purpose of the applications being used is more important than the apps themselves, so as long as the same goals can be achieved on their devices, there is no problem. They are wrong however, there is a problem. On a mobile device, the method in which a task is achieved is fundamental. Any change in this behaviour affects a user negatively at first, as they will need to learn the flow of this new UI. What this means is that a user of an email application on one platform will not be convinced that their experience will be the same on another platform, just because there’s an email app there too. Users have to be shown that their experience with their applications can be transferred. Individual applications have to be highlighted, showing the quality of the experience available and that it works almost exactly like what they are used to. Added features and functionality is fine, but asking a user to use a completely new menu structure in order to update their Facebook status will not win customers. The focus should be on making the transition as seamless and pain-free as possible. You are more likely to convince users to switch by offering them the same basic package + more, than by offering them something completely different. Different means new, something to learn and things to consider. Even if its better, this only matters if a user is unhappy with what they already have. Ideally, the easiest way to achieve this is to get the same programmers building versions of their application for your platform, but this is not always as easy as it would seem.

This last, final step is the hardest to achieve for any platform. Good product management practices dictate that to achieve such a goal, development of applications would be brought in-house, or at the very least a multi-year contract would be signed guaranteeing support of the application on the handset, backed up by a financial reward and penalty. The truth is the margins in the mobile space currently are being squeezed almost past the breaking point; the risks for such an undertaking are too dear for anyone other than Microsoft to consider.

Or Google. With their Android platform they are in a prime position to take on such a strategy. They have nothing to loose with such an undertaking. Android will become the dominant mobile device platform with or without their promotion, purely due to the wide ranging support they have not just from handset manufacturers but makers of tablets, laptops, microwaves, cars… The breadth of support allows them to take more risks, recognising that the potential pay-offs are immeasurable. Even if their campaign somehow managed to fail, it would not hinder the growth of the OS by any stretch of the imagination.

Consider this strategy being used for the upcoming Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) release. They announce that this new release will run on every new Android handset released after the 30th of November, and will allow all devices to have access to all of the applications in the Android Market. A week or two later screenshots emerge of the OS running on a handset and a tablet. An Android Market icon can be seen on the tablet, indicating that tablets will now have Android Market support. A couple of weeks on and the advertisements begin. One airs showing someone taking pictures, then emailing them to a friend. The friend opens one of the images, then using a menu option plans a route to the location as the image was geotagged. Another ad shows someone sat on a couch browsing on a tablet. They come across an ad for a sale starting tomorrow at a local store, so they click on the Google Maps button on the website which brings up the address and they save the location as a starred item in Google Maps. The next morning we see the person walk out the door leaving their tablet on the couch, but with their phone in hand the user launches Google maps where they are already logged in and sees the starred item created on the tablet. They select on the shop address and choose the options to navigate there. One advert explains to a user that they can do something that they have done before (take a picture, email it easily, navigate to a picture) and another shows them something new which they have not done before. Put simply, they are able to do exactly what they do now, but there’s also more. This is beginning to become a compelling product.

The general public does not care about the best OS, as they have no way of knowing what that means. They only care whether something is easy, familiar and enjoyable. The iPhone OS is all of these things, while not being the best OS, but that doesn’t matter. For the majority of iPhone users its the best OS because it gives them exactly what they want. No other OS on the market is currently able to match the iOS this out-of-the-box experience (applications do need to be installed for an idevice to have any real value but this is still a much easier process than competitor offerings), but this will not be the case forever. There is a massive opportunity for Google, Microsoft or even Nokia to step out and demand attention, to declare themselves ready and willing to not only match but beat the iOS platform. The move is bold and almost certainly suicidal for someone like Nokia at this stage but, he who dares wins.

Google is just another company…

Google’s entire aim is to simply push people online, why would they care about perceived fragmentation of a platform they make no money from? The best example of what we’ll call Google’s “Dual Support” is Firefox. Google created their own browser to push people to the internet even faster, and yet they still financially support FF. Why? Because all roads lead to the same money pit. It doesn’t matter how people get online, only that they do. Pushing innovation in browsers of all kinds is the right move to make for their bottom line.

Some might call it a long con, but its really just sound investment. Everything they do that enhances the way in which people get connected and stay connected pushes innovation throughout the market. Ultimately this means that whether you’re using a Google platform or browser or something from their competitors, you’re still getting online faster than ever and giving them access to you faster (if you use Google for your searches of course).

Google seems to be filled with some of the most visionary business minds in the industry. They fully recognise that regardless of your size, constant innovation should not only be encouraged, it should be a mandatory requirement. In an industry that is constantly evolving, the only way to stay relevant is to lead from the front. Gone are the days when someone like Microsoft could come in after Apple and dominate the market with inferior products; today almost exclusively, to win the race you have to lead from the start.

Well I think that’s the first full rant completed! Please feel free to comment on any and everything said on this blog. I’m just as interested in hearing equal or opposing views as I am venting my frustrations!

Google Is Your Friend…

Since we’ve all been enjoying Google IO recently, it seems fitting that the first little rant I expunge is on that little advertising company.

It seems that what Google have realised is people put no value in something that’s free. Simply because Google releases so many free programs and features, people just ignore the end goal. It could be said of course that the end goal for Google is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said, but how true is this belief?

I see some of the frankly comical pieces from technology blogs, demanding that Google unify the Android platform and wonder how these people have never asked the obvious question – how does that benefit Google? By ‘design’ Android is a platform that will always be fragmented, simply because it is being used in devices with differing functionality. Why would a TV need to have the same OS as a tablet device? Its interesting that on a basic level (why does Android need to be on a TV?) these questions are asked, but the thoughts of many never seem to go further.

Ultimately it is down to device manufacturers to decide if they want their phones or tablets defined by the free OS that anyone can have or their own custom applications that set their devices apart. A manufacturer will never want their device defined by an OS anyone can have, there is simply no commercial sense in that line of thinking.

As for Google, they are not interested in empowering geeks with whatever they want; Google are simply trying to get people online as conveniently as possible. Why? They are a web based advertising company and they want to continue making money. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it is always important to remember when you are signing up to the latest free Google service.

Facebook could learn a thing or two from Google. If they gave away free features before trying to acquire personal data , they’d probably have maybe half the info on their users that Google has in theirs…