Of Standards, Convergence & Collaboration – Winning back consumer confidence

Modern life is, at best, complex Electronic Chargers and Rechargersand, at worst, horribly wasteful and confusing. I am galled by the number of chargers that I must pack with me when I travel with my various electronics. On any given holidays, I will leave with the iPod, the blackberry, the Bluetooth earpiece, the laptop, electric razor, and the camera… And my wife will bring her palm pilot and phone to add two more to the mix. Each requires a specific and, typically, different recharger (such as different voltage requirements and different attachment), taking up a sizeable portion of my suitcase. It’s a wonder my carry-on isn’t always opened at the x-ray machine.

Laptop Battery

On another level, I have observed the wildly confusing marketing claims for the duration of laptop batteries. And, going even further, of course, we have the outrageously confusing and mostly misleading eco “green” claims, all too frequently a version of greenwashing.

With a shake of the magic wand, would it not be more sensible for us to have a single charger with variable voltage, a battery life upon which one could rely and a confidence to say that the eco-savings into which one bought are true? In any event, a standardization and convergence on these elements of life in 2010 might go some way to improving my quality of life.

If we take the case of the longevity of laptop batteries, as an IHT article, “Warning: Stated battery life may have no relation to reality” (June 25, 2009), states, you can find wildly varying performances that systematically disappoint. Standardisation as to how long the battery lasts has been created for cameras and (increasingly) for cell phones. However, for laptops, the game remains confused and the consumer remains a frustrated, if not deceived, individual. The current MobileMark® 2007 tests are inadequate and unrealistic. Furthermore, the way to “optimize” the battery’s longevity seems to be fraught with grandma’s tales and urban myths (charge fully, then use the first time until it drains is all I know).

In terms of green claims, it strikes me that the various industry associations have been slow to react. Certain NGOs have attempted to identify green dilution and misleading communications. However, industry would be better off defining the rules of the game rather than letting the well-intentioned NGOs doing so; at the very least, industry and NGO should be collaborating together.

Convergence Image

The more I look at the panoply of brands, the breadth of products and the multiplicity of claims, I continue to see the need for a greater collaboration and “higher level” convergence between industrialists. Such collaboration should not hurt the consumer. Indeed, it should go beyond, even protecting the paying consumer (and such an objective would be honourable enough). If industrialists were able to find common grounds of collaboration – and I am not meaning collusion — this collaboration would be in the best interests of that industry, presumably, enabling it to help enlarge its pie – the sector’s market share.

So, while my inner liberal self might wish to rebel against rules and standards, might feel oppressed by communistic convergence, and certainly would be wary of secretive collusion, I am inclined to believe that the consumer and industry would benefit by figuring out some standard conventions. Of course, not everyone benefits and some would win more than others. The company around whose convention the rest rally will certainly have a first movers’ advantage. But, by clearing up the immense confusion and latent frustration, companies may again go some way to regaining the confidence and trust that consumers seem to have lost, at least in part, in corporate claims and, more broadly, in brands. And by having just one multi-unit charger and a reliable battery life for my laptop, I will certainly travel lighter and better. Of course, I still have to fret about the different electrical plugs. But, that’s another battle altogether.

Review of the Macally Ecofan bamboo laptop tablette

ECOFAN Laptop Bamboo TabletteI was intrigued the other day to come across a laptop “ventilator” tablette (2300 revs / minute and 23.5 decibels) which is designed to evacuate the heat coming from your portable computer. What grabbed my attention initially, I must admit, was the transparent computer (trick photography of course to show the tablette).

Produced by Macally, the computer accessories company has created Ecofan and Ecofan Pro, which have the additional particularity of being made “eco friendly” by using bamboo and recycled PET in the outer packaging [I am not aware of any other eco-friendly claims though]. Weighing 1.3 kg, the Ecofan Pro allows for three different inclinations (as opposed to one standard inclination for the Ecofan) for better ergonomy. That’s it for the good news it seems to me.

What is the ecological benefit to evacuating the hot air from the laptop? None of the doc I read cites any benefit that speaks to me. What I really would have liked is a way to use my laptop on my lap without it burning a hole in my trousers (or feeling like it!). This Ecofan clearly does not accommodate that market requirement because of its design (it will not lie across your lap) and, more emphatically because it needs to be plugged in (the 1m USB chord means you need to be very close to the wall). Instead, I will continue to use a cushion and save the planet for what, to my view, is a waste of bamboo.

BTW, the Ecofan Pro is priced at 39.95 € in Europe or $39.95 in the US.

Looking for an Older Version of your Software ?

Having spent the better part of the evening trying to download an older version of Internet Explorer in order to play an old DVD for my daughter’s homework, I finally landed upon the best solution:

OldVersion so rightly says in its tagline: “because newer isn’t always better…”

But in my case, it was because new just doesn’t work for my DVD…

OldVersion currently has 2862 versions of 190 programs for PC and 601 versions of 35 programs for the Mac.

OldVersion.com has several stated objectives which are quite noble and appropriate, including discouraging the use of spyware by software companies and helping computer users who are unable to continually upgrade their computer. As they write, “[w]e are doing our small part to help bridge the digital divide by allowing everyone to enjoy the same software titles regardless of their hardware.”

Anyway, if you are looking for an older version of the software you used to love or which you found lighter and more useful, then OldVersion is your place.

ATM or Computer Screen Readability in the Sunlight

Here’s a business opportunity for an enterprising individual: create a screen that can be read despite the sunshine.  I was in Naples last week and, braving the 40C degree heat, I attempted to draw some money from an ATM (pictured below).  With the direct sunlight, the instructions on the screen were absolutely impossible to make out, regardless of the shading I tried to provide.  You would think that bank managers with ATM machines in sun-drenched locations would have contemplated this need already.  Anyway, I thought I might put this one out there to try to inspire some keen engineer… Surely, for those of us working on the beach (laptop, iphone, etc.), we’d also benefit from the innovation that would allow for a screen to be readable in the sunlight.

ATM Screen blinded by Sunlight

I got my share of sunny money all the same.

Brain Game – How old are you?

Or how old is your brain?

Here’s a little game that will drive you nuts, especially if you have a competitive streak in you. The site instructions are in Japanese, so before clicking on this link, read below!

  1. Touch ‘start’
  2. Wait for 3, 2, 1.
  3. Memorize the number’s position on the screen, and then click the circle from the smallest number to the biggest number.
  4. At the end of game, the computer will tell you the age of your brain.
I scored 25 years old…But, in total transparency, I gained 14 years on my second effort. Somehow, I felt that the effort was quite worthwhile.

Nota Bene: The quiz does not take into consideration children. It’s rather disturbing for children to play in fact (unless you tell them that the higher the score the better!). Somewhere in the small print, perhaps, the game indicates the target audience.

Apple Stores – Sheer Genius

Apple Store Manhattan New York CityListening to Apple‘s videocast of the opening speech at this year’s MacWorld 2009, I heard that Apple stores around the world receive 3.4 million visitors per week.

Via a separate source, I see that Apple had 251 stores as of the end of calendar year 2008 (as reported here on CNET) and is planning to open another 25 this year (half outside the US), a slightly slower pace than the last few years. 

Doing the mathematics, that means that the each Apple store had, on average, 704,382 visits per year, or 13,545 per week (assuming 9-19h working hours, 7 days a week).

As a benchmark for other retail stores, this means that, on average (which includes the slow time and the startups starting at different times of the year), there were 3.25 people per minute walking through the doors.

On a sell-through basis, the numbers are pretty potent. Apple said that they sold 9.7 mm Macintosh® computers in Fiscal 2008 — and of course, I do not know the mix between own stores, internet and other stores.   The Company sold a record 22,727,000 iPods during the quarter ending December 2008 and 4,363,000 iPhones in the same quarterly period.

One thing is for sure, the genius that is on iTunes is also in their stores.  The harmony on a visual level and the service on a human level has raised the game of the retail experience.  I would love to know the conversion rate (consumers walking through the door who actually purchase); but, whatever it is, I am sure that there is an element of pride and satisfaction for each person that does make an Apple purchase, making them all the more pride to be able to flash their apple logo-ized bag.  Now that is MARQUE-ting. 

Worldmapper – The world through different filters

Here is a great site for people with a global mindset: Worldmapper — a wonderful way to review the the worldwide situation… The site features maps of the world distorted according to the criteria. In their own words, “Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, using equal area cartograms where territories are re-sized on each map according to a particular variable.”

As of today, the website contains 366 maps, with associated information and a PDF file, covering 99+% of the world’s population, and drawing on information from 200 territories. Much of the data is admittedly old or estimated. Anyway, you’ll get the picture.

Below is the world map according to population.


Among the 366 maps, I pull out a couple of pertinent ones for me:

The World’s Ecological Footprint – As we know, the United States, China and India have the largest ecological footprints — but it’s the per person CO2 footprint (i.e. combined with the map above) that makes it scary for the US.

Tertiary education – with the highest percentage of the student-aged population enrolled being “in Finland. Finland is 3.6 times the world average, with 140 times the chance of a tertiary education than in Mozambique.”

Hazardous Waste – “The three biggest producers are the Russian Federation, United States and Uzbekistan.” And Russia seems to have a big lead in this category.

Books published – A major European bubble, albeit with old data (1999). The most new titles produced in that year were in the United Kingdom, China and Germany.

Gender Empowerment – which points out that women are never at parity with men… even in Rwanda where there are now more women in government than men.

Personal Computers 2002 – Even if this is light years out of date, this PC representation of the world is my favourite esthetically speaking! A kind of Rorschach test too.

For more fun, check out the Worldmapper index here.

No Search Function on the Apple Iphone and Itouch?

Itouch/Iphone – In Search of The Great Ripoff?

I have been converted from the evil PC world to the wonders of the MAC. Despite having a wife who worked for Apple for five years and owning the very first ipods, I still maintained my PC world at home. Then, in 2006, I was finally swayed to Apple-ize our home. The ipods were upgraded and the itouch was a natural next step (blackberry at work).

However, while one must marvel at the recent marketing campaign and synchronized worldwide launch of the new iphone (including the price democratization and ability to swap in the old iphone for a relative pittance), how on earth can Apple justify not having some of the most basic functionality on the iphone/itouch, including specifically the search function? The Random Access search function is one of the MAJOR reasons (beyond backing up) that PDAs are better than paper-based agendas/address books.

People are talking rampantly in forums (see here a thread from a Psychiatrist lamenting the same and about how a team in New Zealand has been disallowed from selling the a search widget). SiliconeValleyWatcher has been on the case since last summer… And here another post on everythingicafe.

How is that Apple has not been listening to its passionate users?

Blog Wired suggests that Apple is working on it… but there is a shroud of secrecy on this and any other improvements. Reading the blogosphere, there are many other people complaining. It seems like a very basic slip up… and when you consider the cost of these machines, they are surely losing some clients (of course, not enough yet… as they rather need to increase the production of the iphones as the customers continue to queue up at stores around the world).

Nonetheless, Apple should send out an apology and, very quickly, get a firmware update FOC.

Ah, the pleasures of being in the countryside

A trip to the village of Eymoutiers (pop C. 3000), in the Limousin area of France, for a weekend of relaxation with the family. This is the village about which I wrote in a prior post, where the Casino supermarket is open Sunday.

On the way down (via the SNCF) from Paris, unfortunately the electric cable of my laptop DELL computer malfunctions. Catastrophe, as I need it for Monday.

Moreover, my wife’s Motorola cell phone (with the Orange subscription) was not recharging anymore, either.

In distress, we head out on Saturday (what were we thinking) to the electronics store of the village. I laid out the computer problem. The lady (about 60 years old) looked at me.

“Computers? No, never been able to get to grips with them,” she says.

“Oh well,” I continue. “I have also a problem with the telephone.”

Her posture snaps back from defeat back to victory.

“Then,” I continue, “here is my mobile and the problem is that it is not recharging any more…”

The lady’s confidence deflates. “Ah, no, not big on mobiles either.”

My stress level rises a tad…

Afterwards, we drive to visit the touristy town of Collonges-la-Rouge (blessed with a rare sighting of the sun – a beautiful surprise for this rotten August). En route, we improvise a plan B, and make a pit stop in the town of Brive – the land of Rugby – to try to fix our technological woes.

Arriving right before midday, I visit the singular computer store, where I discover the disadvantages of using a Dell. The spare parts are available only on the Dell.com website. Screwed (at least for the weekend).

Challenge #2, fixing the cell phone. We find the Orange store of Brive. But, the relaxing nature of the countryside means that the stores are closed between midday and 2pm. We move fluidly on to the Plan C.

For lunch, we score a table (on the porch) at Le Corrèze, a busy restaurant in the center of Brive. Bad sign, we spend 20 minutes just to place our order; and the whole meal takes 2 hours (trying the patience of the children).

For entertainment, we have a waiter who acknowledges that he doesn’t like to answer more than any one question. Also, in the street in front of us, there is a growing procession of cars waiting, without honking, for a BUT (name of the company) truck to finish its delivery. The driver re-appears some 15 minutes later and makes no sign to thank the waiting cars. It is clear that in this part of the country, people have a different relationship with time. That said, I only have positive things to say about the quality of food served at Le Corrèze (excellent duck confit), all at a very reasonable price (40E for the 4 of us).

The good news at this point? The shops – at least the one which interested me the most, the Orange store – had reopened by the time we finally got up from the table.

But, alas, we were reserved one last glum experience. The Service Department was, miraculously, open. According to the very nice Claire, the solution was to call the Customer Service Dept (CS) — even on Saturday, the CS was open she assured us. And, with great fanfare, Claire suggested that there would be a new telephone delivered to our premises in Eymoutiers within 48 hours. Wow.

In spite of the growing euphoria engendered by the hope that great service still exists, the Orange Customer Service brought to us crashing back to reality. We had to call Motorola as they were, in fact, the responsible ones in this particular case. Of course, Motorola’s Customer Service department wasn’t available on Saturday. Therefore, we were 0 for 2 still.

Ah, the relaxation of countryside living. The delicious pleasures of nothing to do. Nothing that can be done either.

(English version of a post written in French on MinterDial.fr)