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.

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. 

Convergence – In search of the Uber Consolidation

Convergence logoAre you like me, Seeking the Consolidation & Convergence of all Applications, Tools and Electrical Wires?

I enjoyed this article from Engadget “What Apple could learn from Palm Web OS” and it spurred me to consider my state of un-convergence, with the multiplicity of electronics that I lug around, different coloured USB keys to swap files, portable disk drives for backups, Apples and Dells, iPod and Blackberry, camera and video, work and home, Freebox and AppleTV, avi and wmv… The list of interdependent yet not connected items continues to gall me. When can we have the uber-converged mother-of-all tool?

Specifically, I dream of consolidating all my address book information whereby all my snail mail and email addresses and telephone numbers are simultaneously updated and accessible across every platform — think Plaxo on drugs. I think of centralizing all my digital communications so that, instead of jumping from Facebook to LinkedIn to twine to twitter to Hotmail and gmail, etc., I just have one email site to open and one preferred functionality to use — think universal netvibes. I wonder if it is time for me to abandon a fixed line at home (like 1 in 5 US households apparently) to concentrate on one mobile phone (nix one for work and one for personal use) so that I have just one telephone number to give out and have one less bill to pay (albeit the fixed home telephone is embedded in an internet and television subscription here in France). I am confounded by the number of different electric chargers that I must carry with me to support my blackberry, my iPod, laptop and earphone, etc. — much less when I travel abroad with all the different plug adaptors. I puzzle at the stash of USB connector chords that I have by my computer to connect the various apparatus with non-standard fixtures to my main computer (thank goodness for the USB hubs). And, if all that were not enough, I just want my laptop, desktop, television, iPod and mobile phone all to be the same. On this latter point, aside from the large keyboard, one can sniff that an economically viable answer is around the corner.

Convergence Mobility Telephone & Computers

Somehow, despite my fast typing and reading skills, I still feel like I am near to being submerged by the burgeoning number of sites and applications to which I have signed up. Is my webiquity catching up with me? On the application front, among the solutions that are out there and that are truly helping, there is hellotxt that creates“what am I doing” microblog messages for a wide variety of twittery applications — and can be updated now via the mobile. There is the aforementioned netvibes (est 8 million users) or pageflakes for storing a good portion of different applications such as Facebook, gmail and/or hotmail (albeit you still need to switch to the individual applications to read and write). Still, there is no full coverage system. Proprietary applications and stonewalling is clearly stopping the creation of the mega-consolidator. One thing is for sure; I am not alone in my desire, even in France. There was a study done by Accenture in France about the desire for telephonic convergence in France (no longer available on line).

Palm Pre TelephoneI gather that Palm has come up with a new palm PRE (coming soon, pictured right) all-in-one product. See here at Engadget and here on Mobiledia for more details. A friend at Nokia has reliably told me that the Nokia E71 “connected freedom” is a good alternative with the bonus of being available already. And, there’s the Touch screen qwerty Nokia N97 coming soon. Could it be that a hardware company can come up with the wherewithal to centralize all the different applications?

But, as urgent and (de-)pressing as the need for convergence is, the world of the web is expanding like the universe…to appear and operate on many different media…well beyond phones… on buses, tables, buildings, all electronic appliances… And newer still appliances and applications are sprouting up like mushroom so that, just when you think you have it all together and think you can converge onto one new glorious, unifying ubermetaplatform, you are going to be faced with the mobile book reader (Sony’s PRS-700BC or Amazon’s Kindle); the to do list consolidator that wirelessly feeds the “shopping list” on the kitchen fridge into your uber-PDA todo list; or a digital pen that magically transforms letters on a page into a typed document.

Just think about it. There are a billion people connected to the net now via their computers. The next billion internet connections will come on mobile platforms… Ready for mobile phone banking and mobi-creditcards (try wizzit which won the top prize at the NetExplorateur 2009)? On-demand shopping assistance, advice and ratings on your uber personal mobile device (try Big In Japan – Biggu – T-Mobile G1 on YouTube coming soon to Europe)? The third billion one has to imagine will have internet literally at, if not, in our fingertips. Everything will be wired.

Of course, there’s another topic brewing here regarding the convergence of branding, entertainment, advertising and consumption and how best to tackle the convergence from a marketing standpoint. But, better save that for another post.

What are your thoughts about convergence? What are your favourite tools? Or do you feel that it is just an interminable rat race and a way to get us to spend more money (think Vinyl-DAT-CD-mp3-mp4…)?

Podcasts and Videocasts – New reasons to walk to work

Despite the sleek look & feel, I know that the Apple iPhone is still not perfect for my needs, so I have resisted the temptation thus far. Instead, I am content to max out my iPod. Although the agenda and contacts are weak applications in the Apple mobile platforms, I now have all my family videos and photos uploaded. And, thanks to the ongoing developments on iTunes, I have found ample pleasure by mining the available uploadable [mostly free] content, including the album covers, television rebroadcasts and podcasts.

If you have never done it, do go visit the podcast section of iTunes. The number of new podcasts being created is soaring (see graphic below). To those of you creating podcasts, keep at it! The choice ranges from newscasts to business to entertain to education to inspiration. And there are many special interests too. The development of the iTunes U section is absolutely fantastic: mobile learning with support systems to help educational institutions to learn how to do it (see this film for more understanding). I am currently subscribed to some 30 podcasts to which, of course, I cannot listen every day; but the repertoire provides great flexibility.

When do I listen to these podcasts? Walking to and from work, which takes me about 35 minutes to do the 2.8 kilometres. This is the novelty for me: like books on tape, podcasts are great for walking. At any one time, I can choose the podcast according to my mood, need or available time — and, of course, sometimes, I just listen to music. Unlike the commute in the metro which means many disjointed moments walking to the station, getting in the train for an all-too-short ride and then walking on to the office, I have an uninterrupted 35 minutes to myself when I commute by foot.

Walking to/from work with the iPod playing podcasts is a singularly great way to begin and end the day. Here are SIX substantial reasons why I strongly recommend it:

1. It is exercise in the open air (granted there is the pollution of cars, so I should theoretically get a mask to make it a healthier walk).
2. A chance to look up at the Parisian architecture rather than being cooped up all day.
3. It’s more ecological than driving or even taking the train — thereby reducing my CO2 footprint (which isn’t very good considering the flights all year).
4. It’s cheaper (than either the metro or car). We could all save a dime these days.
5. Considering the time spent circling to find a parking space, it is also oftentimes just as fast as driving. Moreover, by leaving my car at the underground parking lot at work, I avoid the unnecessary risk of leaving my car exposed for pigeon doodoo, or potential parking tickets.
6. And, the coup de grace is that I get to listen to the podcast with great attention. This latter point is critical for me (and I would argue for leading business managers) because, with the selection of podcasts now available, you can truly get new content to help drive your business or team.

For business leaders, there is a great selection of podcasts available. I have a few favourites that I would like to share with you (with links directly to iTunes):

o HARVARD Business Ideacast — This is a videocast.
o INSEAD Knowledgecast — Thoughtful videocast interviews with INSEAD professors and business people on a wide variety of subject — although this isn’t updated as regularly. You can get more content here in these INSEAD audiocasts.
o Go Green — Tips to go green and there’s also GreenTV, in partnership with UNEP and GreenPeace
o NPR’s This I believe — 500 words from someone that believes strongly in something
o Mitch Joel‘s Six Pixels of Separation for those wanting good web 2.0-oriented marketing and communications analysis and ideas.
o And finally, Robin Sharma’s inspirational podcasts

Do let me know if you have any other favourites you would like to share. Otherwise, get out your walking shoes and slide in to your next podcast.

Cell Phone Etiquette on Eurostar: It’s Not Good to Talk

It’s Good to Talk? An old British Telecom (BT) saying that’s not applicable for Eurostar … or any public transportation for that matter.

Having recently done a couple of Cell phone etiquetteround trips on the Eurostar I have made a few survey-of-one conclusions about the need for a standard of etiquette for cell phone usage on trains.

There is a severe need to reel in the mobile manners of travelers — and this before the airlines democratize cell phone usage on board. On these recent Eurostar trips between London and France, I started to make a mental note of the profiles of those who were prone to get up and be discrete with their telephone call and those who chose to make telephone calls while seated in the midst of their fellow passengers. Whilst my assessment obviously reflects the population on board, in terms of professional profiles, I detected a large number of lawyers [ironically] and other suits who tended not to mind talking openly. In terms of nationalities, I tended to hear more French. But, I am open for debate! [My recent experience at LAX has shown that the US traveller has equally little tact when it comes to his fellow partner.]

Cell Phone Etiquette - Discretion ObligeTyping on a computer, fiddling on the blackberry or listening to an Ipod hardly bother me. And if ever they do, hooking up a low volume Ipod is the perfect remedy. However, others speaking on the cell phone in such confined spaces do truly irritate me. Talking on your cell in the comfort of your [business class] seat demonstrates a total lack of courtesy to your fellow passengers. We have everything to learn from the etiquette of the Japanese who — admittedly reinforced with frequent public announcements — leave to find an isolated place to make an irritation-free telephone call. A culture of respect and cheap SMS are a good combination. Discretion oblige!

I know that many passengers in trains and buses around the world are also defying the most normal norms of politeness. Perhaps the transport companies will, themselves, have to intervene as they do in Japan? Otherwise, I fear the onset of liberalized mobile phone use on airplanes…

In the meantime, on line, you can find a myriad of sites giving their version of proper cell phone etiquette. Many of the ideas converge. Here are a few of them:

InfoworldThe Ten Commandments of Cell Phone Etiquette. Right on the money in terms of the major faux-pas (or ne faut pas) with a good sense of humour.
About.comHow To Respect The Rules Of Cell Phone Etiquette. A substantially dry but appropriate 7 rules…with nuances according to the person/people around you.
WisegeekWhat is Cell Phone Etiquette, with eight good points here, including the 10 foot personal space.
Digital Media Wire12 Unwritten Rules of Cell Phone Etiquette with some rules that should be or could be written and others that, as Scott Goldberg suggests, should remain unwritten.

You Don’t Need an Ipod or Itunes to podcast

No Ipod to podcast
For all the talk of podcasting, for most people there remains a large belief that it is “complicated” to listen to a podcast, much less make one. So, a couple of reassuring blogs/sites and a YouTube song [no more talking] for those of you who would like to jump in!

You don’t need an IPOD to podcast

A little more sophisticated answer to: What is a podcast?

Grateful Dead and Crazy … Fingers

Grateful Dead Crazy FingersMy friend, Black Peter, in LA, nailed this one for me as I was walking home through the streets of Paris listening through my IPOD to the Grateful Dead’s 1983 concert at the Warfield Theatre, SF. I told him that I was listening to the music as it kept me sane in a crazy world. Peter’s retort: “When we were younger, we used to listen to the same music to bring craziness to a sane world.” So right you are, Peter! Of course, in those days, we would sing at the top of our voices that when we got confused, listen to the music play. It seems that, in these hyper-frenetic times, those words are more appropriate today. And re-reading the lyrics of Crazy Fingers, I enjoy the change in prism:

“Gone are the broken eyes we saw through in dreams gone, both dream and lie…” (see a 1990 live version on YouTube here).

Saving the oldies

I am of the generation that began my teen years with vinyl 33 & 45 RPM records and audio tape cassettes (dolby). Eight-track were still used in certain rental cars (in the US) and the 78 RPM could be played on my sparkling Sony record player, but mostly to learn the words (and appreciate the quality) of the golden oldies. We’ve whizzed through VHS and skipped DAT. In the early 1990s, in a fit of spring cleaning, I left my collection of 500 vinyl records in an alley outside our home in Philadelphia. Led Zeppelin Three, Hendrix Are You Experienced, Yessongs and more… They lasted approximately half a day if that in the alley. I came quickly to rue my decision.

Now, I have a collection of 1000 CDs, the vast majority of which are now in storage. All have been digitized of course and my car uses my IPOD. The question is whether or to not dispose (sell or even give away) that collection. How can I be sure, with my music on two different hard drives & one external drive (all in the same house), that I won’t lose the whole lot and have to start all over again? Going to have to face the facts and get some external digital storage. Then again, will the format mp3 or mp4 be any easier to play in twenty years than 33 RPM vinyls?

Then there is the question of all the family photos, meticulously scanned and digitized. Aside from the burning question of how to view them (they certainly do carry dust anymore in traditional albums), these too face the risk of disparition. And, will the format jpg, gif be common currency in even ten years time?

After reading about and being moved by Martin Scorsese’s launch of the World Cinema Foundation [site under construction], a venture to save the old films [go for it], I snipped out a “cute” article in the IHT about “saving the oldies but goodies” — sadly too late for me in the case of my vinyls. There are still ways to convert your film reels into DVD (www.mymovietransfer.com), vinyls into CD (Ion iTTUSB turntable or Teac GF350), VHS into DVD (dual-deck player) and, of course, audio tapes into CDs (duh). But I am looking ahead and thinking about what to do with my DVD, CD and digital photo collections. Enough to make you stop getting the latest gadgets, perhaps.

That said, I still wires for my stereo speakers and that seems way too old fashioned.

What good solutions are out there for the wireless speakers? What to do with the 1001 CDs?

The (Grateful) Dead

Grateful Dead Live
Hard to believe that I haven’t done a special entry for the dear Dead. They remain a feature of my everyday life, lodged in some 20GB (thanks Charlie) of my IPOD which, in turn, is lodged in the glove box of my car. I get a little lift every time I go to work and a little “return to sanity” on the drive back. All that in 20 minutes. But that’s enough to adjust my mood! I can still see myself dancing and sweating at shows. Will it ever stop? ha. Long live the Dead.