Design, Marketing, Psychology, Tech, Uncategorized

When Is Bigger Better?

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Photo credit: Janitors)

Chocolate bars?  Sorry.  I’m referring to phones at the moment.  Anyone who answered anatomically – no comment, but you know who you are.

In the last few years smartphone makers have been simultaneously racing to make the thinnest phone whilst also ensuring their screens are bigger than everyone elses – bigger numbers sell it seems.  For years Apple played no part in this, with Steve Jobs apparently saying that bigger screens were impractical, until they then made a bigger screened phone and suddenly it was an obvious thing to do because it is the perfect fit for your thumb’s range of movement.  Right.  What they haven’t done (yet) is make a 6″ screen phone, what many tech bloggers mockingly referred to (when Samsung unveiled the Note) as a Phablet.

How they laughed.  Until millions of people went out and bought them.  25.2 million shipped in the Asia-Pacific region during the second quarter of the year, according to IDC.  Samsung still has around 50% of the market tied up in Notes.  The larger screen smartphone trend was really started by the Dell Streak but the Galaxy Note really made the form popular, especially with its s-Pen stylus which gave back touchscreen devices truly precise pen-like use even though, again according to Steve Jobs they were an outdated way to control a device.  People like to doodle and make handwritten notes though and this is easier with a pen, as it properly drawing something, annotating a plan etc…

One reason that larger phones are catching on is that they’re not really that big, the screen size has increased but the surrounding bezel has reduced almost to the point of non-existence so, combined with thinner chassis the phone doesn’t feel too bulky – though despite the idea that we’ll evolve different shaped thumbs due to texting is a massive misunderstanding of evolution our trousers may evolve bigger pockets.  Or sales of jackets and cloaks with poachers’ pockets may increase.  A particular user group for big-screen phones is apparently people with impaired eyesight as the larger on-screen keys are easier to read and type on.  Lastly the availability of high-speed mobile internet and the fact that smartphones can connect to wi-fi internet whenever possible makes them popular for watching films and tv or gaming on the move, though personally I wouldn’t want to watch a film on anything less than my 7″ tablet.

Some have aired concern that as manufacturers battle to have the biggest screen size consumers will be forced to accept bigger phones in order to get higher specs elsewhere in the device and this could be a problem, as this Gizmodo UK article points out they should also release smaller versions too and it seems that this is happening with smaller but not spec-crippled phones beginning to trickle out from companies like HTC and Sony.

One considerable downside is the size of the phone when you actually make a phone call, I know, it’s crazy but some people still do that.  I’ve not tried it but I’ve read that after so many years of phones becoming so tiny and inconspicuous that you’d sometimes appear to be talking to yourself it feels odd to have something the general size and shape of a thin paperback novel stuck against your head whilst talking to it.  This is the difference between today’s big phones and the eighties bricks – back then you wanted people to see your expensive mobile and didn’t care how big it was.  To this end phone makers have come full-circle and are developing tiny satellite handsets which look eerily like late-nineties GSM phones, with buttons and everything, connected via bluetooth for the purposes of making voice calls via the smartphone lurking in your pocket or bag.  It’s only a matter of time before we get these add-on handsets made to look like classic Nokias or Motorolas, I suppose, with the current retro obsession in other areas of technology.

Taking all this to its (il)logical conclusion in the future perhaps the smartphone will become a hub, connected to your smartwatch for notifications, your Google Glass style eyepiece for even speedier updates and navigation, and your peripheral handset for talking.  At which point we’ve gone from carrying many devices doing various jobs to many devices doing various jobs but connected together.

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Business, Marketing, Random, Tech

Everything’s Better With Bacon

Horse And Cart

Horse And Cart (Photo credit: foilman)

To be honest I quite like the adverts for the UK’s EE phone network featuring the always-connected Kevin Bacon, even if I’m not a fan of the name “EE” – at least I can still say I’m on Orange if anyone asks.  The latest ad dips into popular colloquialisms for its inspiration and shows Kev dragging a “shedload of data”.

My first thought was where they could go next with the idea:

“Why you lugging a cart of manure Kev?”

“That’s not manure, it’s data, it’s a metric shit-tonne of data.”

There you go EE, have this one on me.

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Business, Marketing, Tech, Uncategorized

Ad-Free or Not Ad-Free, That is The Question

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

The home of my other creative endeavour is over at Flickr, a site that many say has been left to stagnate under the ownership of Yahoo mainly because it didn’t become the kind of social network that Facebook is.  The thing is that it started out as a photo sharing site and it still is, the recent makeover improved how your photostream was presented to viewers and in general it was still doing its job as an online portfolio of photos.

Today though something odd has happened and the Flickr community as a whole is not happy.  Me included.  The facelifted interface had a nice grey toolbar across the top, it was all very clean and modern looking, very professional, but today something else appeared, a lilac bar – referred to now by forum members as the Y! Barney Bar – displaying links to other Yahoo sites and services.

As many commenters have said it looks like something from a nineties website, wedged between your browser’s chrome and the elegant Flickr interface, a distracting layer of pink nougat taking up screen space and cheapening the experience for your viewers.  The thing that has annoyed most people though is that many of us pay to have an ad-free interface both for our own use and for those viewing our photos but this amounts to an advert for Yahoo’s services, driving viewers to the ad-land that is Yahoo’s main site, to gather more revenue.  Yahoo staff have said that “The idea is to make it easier to access other places in the Yahoo! network and make visiting Yahoo! pages a more seamless experience.” and that it brings your photos to a wider audience.  If that’s the case add another menu item to Flickr’s own toolbar not this monstrosity.

Many users have pledged to leave altogether if it’s not removed immediately but most think it’s unlikely because Yahoo are copying Google’s trend of having the toolbar at the top of everything, but at least Google’s bar fits in.  What you’re paying for on any site like Flickr or our home here at WordPress is the avoidance of your content being juxtaposed with adverts which may detract from what you’re trying to say or the aesthetics of your site, to make it feel like your own space not part of a larger corporate behemoth, that is what the Yahoo bar makes Flickr feel like – just a part of a search engine and internet portal, it takes the shine off the presentation, makes it feel less special.

Some commenters have said that at least this hasn’t happened to the sites of our blogging brethren over on Tumblr – but as Yahoo haven’t had much time with its new purchase as yet perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

[Flickr Forums]

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Business, Marketing, Psychology, Society, Tech

Material Love

English: Apple iPhone (left) vs HTC Hero (righ...

English: Apple iPhone (left) vs HTC Hero (right). Adapted from original source, to scramble screenshot of non-free software. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My phone’s outer shell is made from plastic and a piece of thin glass.  My car’s made of metal.  If the car was made of carbon fibre it would be seen as premium and special, yet the new Samsung Galaxy S4 has been criticised for being made of plastic, because it’s not metal like the iPhone 5.

It’s not the first time the tech industry has had a metal fetish, in the seventies and eighties everything “premium” had to have a brushed aluminium fascia, then we went through the period where clear coloured plastic was fashionable, a fad caused in a large part by Apple again with the original iMac and its guts-and-all on show design approach.  Sleek black plastic in exotic moulded shapes was the future.  For a while.

Today it doesn’t matter how good quality the plastic, or more accurately in expensive phones, polycarbonate is the legions of gadget blog and mag writers and commenters will whinge that it feels cheap compared to the metal iPhone or new HTC One purely because it isn’t metal.  The idea that metal is premium comes from the sense that it’s more resilient, like high-end granite kitchen worktops, and that it takes more effort, more craftsmanship to make, hewn from blocks of aluminium by bespectacled artisans.  A CNC milling machine in reality is a little less romantic and premium.

The strange thing is that the metal phones are more prone to the screen cracking, easier to scratch and more likely to be permanently dented when dropped.  But despite this and despite the fact that the plastics in even my sub-£100 phone feel solid and quality as far as I’m concerned metal is the thing to have.  But it’s all image, until the iPhone gained a metal body no-one cared about it, there were plastic phones that felt sturdy and plastic phones that felt like they were made out of microwave meal cartons and the iPhone 3G was one of the former (for better signal strength).  In fact many old phones had metal backplates that many people probably didn’t even think about.  It’s also marketing, use a different material for the case, tell people its revolutionary and so much cooler and better and people will snap it up.

The next big thing?  I’ve heard it’s going to be ceramic phones*, you know shiny, glossy, tough enamelled ceramics.  It’ll be the thing to have.   “Aluminium?  The same stuff they make Coke cans out of?  So cheap feeling, so cold, look at my new phone, it’s ceramic.”

(* – I may have imagined this.)

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Business, Marketing, Society, Tech

Smart Uses for Dumbphones

Nokia 8250

Nokia 8250 (Photo credit: xcode)

Smartphones are everywhere now it seems, especially as they become increasingly intuitive to use, more powerful and as such multi-functional.  However what are now referred to as dumbphones still have uses.  People who just want something for making and receiving phone calls or texts appreciate them, one iPhone user turned his into a dumbphone by removing all the apps except the SMS and dialer and found the experience refreshing – I wonder if he’d have found it as easy to sell the shiny, touchy-feely one and buy a £20 Nokia.

In much of the world though dumbphones are the most used phones, often for reasons of cost – both the hardware and the costs of data which make smartphones unviable.  As an article in Wired said amongst our world population of seven billion there are six billion mobile-phone subscriptions, in Columbia, Egypt and Indonesia the mobile penetration is over 90 percent and it’s more than 100 percent in Brazil, Vietnam and Russia.  The same article is about how marketers are using the ubiquity of basic mobiles to reach new markets.  The cost of mobile minutes in emerging markets are high and as such are a precious commodity, or currency.  The article author, Nathan Eagle’s company Jana provides services whereby mobile users can be rewarded with airtime for trying new products, filling in surveys and looking at adverts.  74 percent of users in Brazil would be happy to receive adverts in return for airtime.  Multinationals are catching on, P&G have launched a campaign and Jana helped Danone doubled sales of yogurt via a similar campaign.  This kind of targeted marketing that we’re used to with our smartphones is now reaching more emerging markets and according to Nathan Eagle using advertising budgets to give emerging markets consumers these airtime bonuses would give them more disposable income.

Also, in Wired’s April 13 edition is a piece about an Indian startup called Innoz and its service SMSGyan which is a search engine without the internet – again perfect for basic mobiles.  Founded by Deepak Ravindran, Mohammed Hisamuddin, Ashwin Nath and Abhinav Sree who dropped out of the Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Engineering in Kerala to persue the project to give more people access to information, and answers.  “Gyan” means “knowledge” in Hindi and the service has partnered with Wikipedia, Bing, Wolfram Alpha and others to enable the system to answer questions sent to their servers by text message.  Costing the equivalent of 1p per query it returns an answer as a text message.  The networks gain revenue, the service’s 120 million active users gain information.  The next step is expansion of the service beyond India, as the ability to gain access to info when you have no data service can be vital just about anywhere.

As Wired’s Jana article pointed out this is the second time basic mobiles have created a communications revolution in emerging markets.  The dumbphone’s not that dumb after all.

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Business, Marketing, Tech

Cheeky Marketing

apples

apples (Photo credit: msr)

My parents will tell you that when I was little, as in younger not shorter, I watched the adverts on TV more than the programmes.  back then there were many amusing and memorable ads, these days though too many try to be clever or ironic but fail to be funny – notable exceptions being the current Fosters “Good Call” campaign and Three’s Dancing Pony.  Some of the pseudo-science can be hilarious if you’re of a scientific persuasion but that’s for another post on another day.

One recent advert immediately caught my eye and made me laugh, then had me wondering whether they’d get away with it.  No, I thought, their lawyers must have checked it.  It’ll be fine.  The ad in question is, of course, the Somersby Cider parody of the excitement that surrounds the product launches of a certain fruitily named purveyor of shiny gadgetry.  I was impressed with the creativity and just how many gadget puns they managed “single core, dual core” and the “less apps, more apples” tagline.  The fact that it’s cider just added to the enjoyment of it.

But it’s not just Carlsberg who have been a tad cheeky recently, in the days preceding Samsung’s Galaxy S4 launch LG placed an ad for their Nexus 4 on their Times Square billboard above Samsung’s “be ready 4 the next Galaxy”  which read “ready 4 you now”.  Cunning.

Then on the launch day while journalists were waiting to enter the venue and feeling rather chilly in the midst of the New York winter HTC thoughtfully laid on complimentary hot chocolate.  So yet more tasty marketing.

It’s good to see that in our times of vicious patent lawsuits and arguments over who invented rectangles with rounded corners companies can indulge in some light-hearted competition.

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Business, Marketing, Society

It’s The Thought That Counts

Easter eggs // Ostereier

Easter eggs // Ostereier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was younger Valentines Day involved giving an anonymous card to someone you kinda liked.  Easter involved a gift of chocolate eggs.  At the end of the school term your teachers said “right that’s it, piss off, see you all in September” and everyone gave a sigh of relief and went for a smoke – often both the teachers and pupils.

Now though before Christmas is fully over we get adverts flogging “that perfect Valentines gift for someone special” and it’s not just expensive jewelery but DVDs, Tablet computers and phones.  Now I’m not unromantic but I don’t confine my displays of affection to blingy jewelry in February.

Next there’s Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day which has also moved beyond flowers or chocolate, handmade gifts and cards to similar flogging of expensive electronics, and the card aisle also now includes cards for husbands to send to their wives and vice-versa on these days and even Mother’s Day cards for Aunties.  The inevitable next step is the largely informal Grandparents’ Day, not that I have a clue when that is as I haven’t seen the adverts for it yet.

Today I’ve seen an advert for a remote control BMW toy headed with “struggling to find that perfect Easter gift”.  What, we now have to buy actual toys and expensive electronics for Easter too?

Finally, just when you think the gifting season is over the kids are breaking up from school and are encouraged by marketers to take a parting gift for their teacher(s), to remind them of all the little darlings they’ll be missing dearly over the six weeks holiday.  This year has even seen an advert of choice items teachers can buy for the pupils.

Now I love giving gifts to people, I’m able to, but these additional gift-giving times apply increasing pressure on people to give increasingly expensive presents or risk appearing to not care, or being left out.  With all these days seen as just another marketing opportunity its easy to believe that today the thought no longer counts.  I like to think though that that’s not true.

By the way, remember there’s still five shopping days ’til Easter.

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Business, Marketing, Psychology, Society, Uncategorized, Work

Sign of The Times

19203945

We have two sites, a glassworks with trade counter and a plastic window factory.  Outside the plastic window factory is a sign with our logo on it which contains the word “glass”.  Nowhere does it say “glass sales” or “get your quality cut glass here, guvner.”

It does have a phone number on it.

A few weeks ago our chap at the factory rang me to warn me about an irate individual who was upset that he couldn’t get glass from our plastic window factory.  “It says glass on the sign and you’re telling me I’ve got to go to the other side of town, it’s disgusting, your managing director needs to take that sign down immediately, it’s misleading!”  He’d said, unnecessarily angrily.

When the man arrived at my counter I was in the middle of taking an order.  I said “I’ll be with you in a moment” but it seems he didn’t hear me because when I turned my attention to him he began to shout “Don’t bother, I’m not being treat with such ignorance by you, all the staff of this company are rude and arrogant, obviously you don’t have any customer care training.”  I told him I had and he demanded to see my certificate, which is at home, I don’t tend to carry it around in my wallet.  This exchange continued for a while, he’d clearly arrived looking for a confrontation as he felt he’d been wronged by our sign.  He wrote a letter to complain about the sign.  He didn’t get his glass.

About half an hour later a woman rang asking for an appointment for a quote, she lived quite a way out-of-town but had been to the main post office and seen the sign for our company on the building next door, and as she hadn’t been aware of our existence up until that point she thought she’d get a price from us for her windows as well as the other firms she’d asked.

Can you guess where she’d seen the sign?

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Marketing, Meta, Tech, Uncategorized

Still Free After All These Years

36236699I’ve written a few books, I have only ever half-heartedly attempted to get one of them published – thinking that I’m not really a writer, more of the outsider thinking I talked about recently.  Writing these books though was enabled by free software.  I’d had an Amstrad PCW which was a word-processor but I only used it for programming at the time.  I didn’t write stories, despite being told at school by my last English teacher that I was a good fiction writer, because again I feared being laughed at.  By the time I decided to write again I’d moved onto a PC and suddenly I was confronted by word-processing software like Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and so on costing hundreds of pounds.

Thankfully, I got a free copy of Protext 4 for MS-DOS with a computer magazine.  This was a big deal in those days, free software was often written by hobbyists and tended to be utilities, text editors and drawing programs were mostly shareware which you could “try before you buy” and then there was the commercial packages with their eye-watering price tags.  Today my laptop cost less than them.  I used Protext for years, those who don’t remember early nineties computers may be amazed that you had to control the whole thing with the keyboard.  No mouse.  At all.  It was surprisingly quick to use though, no distractions of formatting and pictures, no internet, no emails, just you and your words.

I moved onto Windows word-processing when I worked for a PC shop and got a cheap copy of Lotus WordPro which we used to bundle with the computers we built.  I’m only now moving onto the next big thing – which is something we kind of hoped for but didn’t expect back in the days of ordering a 1.44Mb floppy disk of freeware programs from a paper catalogue.

Big complicated software like Office packages take big teams of programmers or a lot of time, or both, to write and in the old days collaboration was more difficult but now there are organisations like Mozilla, Apache and others who organise teams of coders who volunteer their time and skills to create fantastic free software like the Firefox browser (which I’m using at this moment) and the Microsoft Office-compatible OpenOffice (and it’s offshoot LibreOffice).  These charitable foundations and teams who code for the enjoyment and achievement of it are creating ever more sophisticated software and giving it away for free, only perhaps politely asking for a donation towards their efforts which flies in the face of the idea that people will only create something if they are financially rewarded.  A large number of the coders on these projects are professionals volunteering in their spare time too.

There will always be a market for commercial software as many people and businesses either want or need to use software that has become industry standard no matter how closely compatible the free software is, and often the commercial software just has features that free competitors either haven’t got or can’t have due to patents.  There is also the issue of future updates and technical support though with the use of online forums you can usually get an answer to any problem you have with free software pretty quickly and even updates and bug fixes are generally quick in appearing.

With the advent of smartphones and apps there has been an explosion of free software yet again.  The centralised nature of the App Store and Play Store has encouraged people to learn to code and get something they’ve made out there, just like the old days of PCs, as it’s now even easier to get your app seen and used.  Of course much that appears to be free often isn’t quite free and many apps are also supported by advertising or the dreaded in-app purchase which I’ll write about in a future post.

Sometimes though some people expect free software when it isn’t at all though as other companies have shown giving away old software can be a canny move, introducing people to the brand, giving them skills which can lead to employment using the current version etc.  Serif in the UK have always been good at this, every version of their software I’ve used has been either a free version or more recently a two-version-older copy at a bargain price, and Google’s products like Chrome, Google Earth, even the Android O/S are free because they encourage you to use Google’s search products.  Even Microsoft now gives away many very good pieces of software like Live Essentials and Security Essentials.

So long live free software, what would some of us do without you.

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Business, Marketing, Music, Society

But It’s a Bargain

The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2

The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just noticed on Amazon.co.uk that the top five kindle books at the moment are all priced between £0.20 and £0.99.  Is this a coincidence or is it the same reason I also bought the number one book (besides it being a QI book) – only 20p, I’m having that!

I’m sure they’re all good books but it also shows that almost giving content away can give a book, or music, momentum in the sales charts.  It’s only really been possible thanks to digital media’s lower distribution costs and the benefit is that once people have tried it they’ll tell others about it and maybe they’ll still buy it even if it’s at a higher price later.

The music industry needs to pay attention.  It isn’t devaluing, it’s marketing.

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