Observing gadgets while traveling

Last week I spend a few days in New York city and as always traveling is a good source of inspiration. A couple of observations on gadgets I made during this trip:
  1. The personal entertainment systems on intercontinental flights are up for something new. The systems have lousy screens, a terrible user experience and on this trip the system, both on the going as well on the return flight, wasn't working properly resulting infrequent system resets. At the same time more and more people have kindles, iPads, Nintendos, etc. and take them with them onto the plane and the need for the build in systems is reducing. The first reports of airlines that start to offer loan tablets for entertainment are there. I'm not yet sure if that is going to work, but there is a lot of room for innovation. For instance WiFi, power and a streaming media server on board would be a good start so people can hook on their personal devices.
  2. New York city has the worst mobile phone reception I've ever experienced. Disclaimer: I carry a european phone and depend on GSM connectivity. I saw more often 'No service' than connection bars, not even on top of the Empire State building, probably 20 meters from a GSM antenna, I was able to call home. In the subway I've no idea what all the people do on their phones, because it's impossible to get any kind of connection on your phone. I never ever, not even outside, managed to get a 3G data connection and I really wonder how New York can be the Twitter capital of the world. All the discussions on expensive data plans and music cloud services for streaming to any device for sure don't make sense for New York city. It also made me realize why there luckily enough is a good availability of Wifi almost everywhere, it was really saved my days and the only way that allowed me to stay connected.
  3. The people in NYC tend to put their smart phones into protective cases a lot more than here at home in the Netherlands. This now explains to me why the US centered smart phone business creates, except for the iPhone, so ugly phones: people put them in even uglier cases anyway, so why put any effort into the design, since it's a waste of time. Those that carried naked phones could most of the time be identified as tourists. I also don't understand the US centric discussions on the thinnest devices; yeah the Samsung Galaxy Tab is 0.1 mm thinner than the iPad, but I put it in a quarter on an inch thick case anyway. It sure needs to look like a phone book!
  4. Riding the subway I noticed a lot more iPhones than Andriod phones what was surprising after reading the articles on the explosive growth and increasing market share of Android phones. A few explanations could be:
    1. Android owners don't ride the subway because they still have money left to ride cabs versus the iPhone users that spend all their money on AT&T and the phone and have no choice but riding the subway.
    2. iPhone owners are more out going and tend to show off, while Android owners are embarrassed about their device and keep it in their pockets. May be this is also the reason behing the inch thick protective cases, just to avoid showing your phone.
    3. Since there is no phone reception so all you can do is listening music or play a game and Android owners have an iPod touch for that. That is why I also saw so many iPad touches in the subway.

What are your travel observations? Leave them in the comments below!

Microsoft you make it very hard to switch back

A while back I wrote about my Apple and Google lifestyle and I still do it that way, but since I quit my regular job I also miss having a Windows laptop. I like Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 and enjoyed the promise of Windows 8. In general I think Microsoft had a good 2010, with the adoption of the web with HTML5 support in Internet Explorer 9 and introduction of Office 365, you show glimpses of the past glory. Unfortunately your hardware partners still don't know how to make compelling hardware and thus devaluate your software. I'm happy to hear you are working on this for your tablet strategy.

However while you recently have been doing better than for a long time, I still have doubt if you are able to maintain the ever increasing complexity of your software solutions. Just this week I wanted to do a simple upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 to Internet Explorer 9 on an older and bit forgotten piece of hardware. This machine used to be the pride of the living room acting as a media center, a concept that I still love and unfortunately Microsoft is not innovating in this area. The media center function by now is replaced by a second generation Apple TV. I was by now mainly using the hardware to test some of my web projects on Internet Explorer and since you do well with Internet Explorer 9 and I see adoption growing I decided to do a simple upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 to 9.

This unfortunately wasn't that a simple process. I downloaded Internet Explorer 9 and run the installer, but that only gave cryptic messages on an incorrect service pack. Some research was necessary and it appeared that on Windows Vista Service Pack 2 was required. I know, and many people already told me, that I shouldn't be using Windows Vista, but only a few years ago I was the latest and the greatest you ever made and I believed your promises and happily paid a $300+ for a Vista Ultimate license to run media center. It worked and I just didn't bother to upgrade, why fix if it ain't broken. So don't tell me know I'm stupid!

I first made sure that all required windows updates were installed and downloaded and installed service pack 2. Unfortunately the installation failed and again back to Google Bing and found a hot fix for the service pack to be installed first. Installed the hot fix and installed the service pack and all was successful, except for the last reboot before completion. It just doesn't boot anymore, not even in safe mode. I'm now stuck with a nice piece of hardware that just doesn't run anymore. I can't find the original disk anymore and vaguely remember I threw it away a few months ago and all I can do now is dish out $120 for a Windows 7 upgrade and reinstall. This $120 is not a nice message on the day that Apple introduces OS-X Lion for $30 and the Apple TV that replaced the media center was only a $100.

Microsoft, thank you for killing my media center with a simple Internet Explorer update. I know you work hard to avoid this kind of situation, but you really, really have to try much, much harder to regain trust so I want to spend money on you again. I'm for now trying to install from my 10 year old original Windows XP disks.

Meet my heater repair man

Hot showerThis story starts about a year ago on the hottest summer day of 2010. It was a saturday morning and our home heater, providing heating on cold and chilly days and hot shower water on all days, was failing. It was just not delivering hot water for a refreshing shower. A few years earlier it also malfunctioned and I decided to call the same repair man to get it fixed. His first question was: Do you have a service contract? and I replied: No, but just fix it and write me an invoice! Then he simply said: Well I don't service customers without a service contract in the weekend, end of conversation. I called a few other repair men and got a simular story until about the 4th of 5th that immediately answered: I'll be there in an hour.

He arrived as promised, fixed the problem and I happily paid the bill. We had hot water again and could go on with the weekend. Since the heater was about 15 years old I asked the guy when I should replace and he answered: When it's still going, let it go, but anything after 12 years is up for replacement one day. It was a nice guy, I valued the service he delivered and decided he would deserve my business when I need to replace the heater.

About two/three weeks ago the heater was giving troubles again. Most of the time it was working, but very often it first required a couple of kicks before it would deliver hot water. A bit annoying and time for replacement of the heater. I called the guy from a year ago, we had a chat and he also remembered last year and we agreed that he would send quotations for two different options. He asked if he could email the quotation on which I gave my email address and asked how to confirm the preferred option. He proudly replied: I'm modern and automated, you can view and confirm the quotation online. As promised I quickly received three emails, each with a quotation and additional information and specifications. I choose one of the options and could indeed confirm online. I liked what I saw and with my background in business software was interested and explored a bit further. I saw he was using MoneyBird a simple online quotation and invoicing solution in the Netherlands. A few days later we exchanged some emails to plan the day for replacement.

He arrived as promised and did a fine job. While he was busy we had a chat and he told was running his own business now for a little more than a year and a half and he was getting busier all the time. By the time he was done he took his iPad, and explained how convenient it was to immediately send out the invoice and process the payment (on a separate device). He emailed the invoice, I paid, he left and while he was driving around the corner I already received confirmation of the payment and a thank you for the business.

What did I learn from all this:
  • There is a huge opportunity for software vendors by providing simple solutions that enable entrepreneurs to deliver better service
  • The iPad (or any other tablet when they get good enough) is the gateway to automating these independent entrepreneurs.
  • Small entrepreneurs are looking for convenience, Software as a Service offers this. 

Image: Allie's.Dad