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A Cheaper Reader

Engadget recently posed the question "How would you change the Sony Reader?"  To me the answer is obvious: cut the price in half.  As I discovered with my Nokia N770, a low price tag can save a weak product.  Of course, price isn't the only problem with the Sony Reader...

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My Nokia N770


A couple weeks ago I bought a Nokia N770 from Woot for about $130.  The N770 is a pocket size web browser that connects to the web via WIFI.  It has a 4.1" touchscreen that delivers as surprisingly good surfing experience that really rivals a full PC.  It handles lots of web browsing tasks just fine, including Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk and so on.  But easily the two best things about the N770 are it's price and the size.  The N770 has plenty of shortcomings, it's Flash support is a few versions behind, so it can't play YouTube or Pandora.  Also, the processor is pretty underpowered, which can cause some performance hiccups, and the virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition are really lousy.  But for price and the convenience of a web browser I can stash in the glove compartment of my car and start up in less than a minute, it's problems become forgivable.   Still, for a little more money, I'd much rather have the ASUS EEE PC or, of course, an iPhone...

You can still pick up an N770 for about $145 from Buy.com

On-the-Go Delete on the iPod


Sinve I've started listening to a lot of Podcasts on my iPod, I've wanted the iPod to have a Trash Can even more.  I usually just listen to each podcast once, but I rarely remember to manually delete the ones I've already listened to.  When I first wrote about this idea, I proposed that the ratings interface also be used to delete, but that has some problems.  Unfortunately I can't think of a really good way to delete music from the iPod without adding another Now Playing slide-across screen.  Maybe, with the next iPod revision we'll see some more advanced functionality.

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Open Letter to Palm from Engadget

Engadget has an open letter to Palm with a ton of great ideas for how to restore Palm as a leader.  Here are some of my favorite bits:

  • You guys got handhelds right when everyone else, including Apple, was struggling to figure it out.
  • Get thin - Three words: FIGURE IT OUT. If HTC, Apple, and Motorola can offer thin (and we mean friggin' thin) smartphones, you can too.
  • YOU NEED TO MAKE THE PHONE LOOK NICE....  How have you failed to see that innovative and engaging design is necessary to win (or even compete) in the mass-market consumer cellphone world?
  • we do, honestly, want you to make it through this thing. We want to love Palm like we loved it in the old days, and know somewhere, deep down, you've got some fight left in you.

Bluetooth and Audio

David Pogue's recent article, "Bluetooth and the End of Audio Wiring," really highlights the need for more computers, particularly notebooks, to support wireless music playback with Bluetooth.  The article also great job explaining the confusing aspects of Bluetooth audio in very plain language and describes some very cool Bluetooth audio gadgets that can free your music from your cell phone or iPod.

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Attach Pages Documents in Gmail


Every time I try to e-mail a document created in Apple's Pages using Gmail, it gets stuck in this this endless "Loading" loop.  It seems that Gmail can't send Pages documents, and perhaps even other documents created in iWork.  And I thought Google and Apple were all buddy-buddy lately.  Anyways, they should really do something about this.  So far the only work-around I've found is to change the extension before e-mailing it, and then restoring the extension when you download the file.

A Second Look at the iPhone Copy and Paste Video

I was watching this iPhone copy paste video again and something didn't add up.  Watch it again and see if you can figure it out for yourself.  Otherwise, hit the jump...

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Recent Apple Ideas from Around the Web

They Should Do That is all about ideas for products that individuals can't carry out themselves.  So I love to see work from around the web with a similar purpose.  Just after the iMac announcement this great "Where's the Mac?" entry appeared.  The author's basic point is that Apple offers the Mac Mini, the iMac, and the Mac Pro, but no "Mac" which he proposes should be less powerful and less expensive than the Mac Pro but offer comparable expandability.  It's a great little read, and the comments are priceless. 

Also, this really cool video appeared demonstrating how copy-and-paste could be implemented on the iPhone.  Apparently iPhones can't copy/paste, which is probably pretty annoying for people who do a lot of e-mail on their phone.  The production is awesome and weird, but it seems like only one of a number of ways copy and paste could be implemented.

iPhone Copy and Paste from lonelysandwich and Vimeo.

New iMac Released: Evolutionary more than Revolutionary


Apple did release the new iMac on Tuesday pretty much like everyone expected. It has a new aluminum enclosure, a glass covered screen and it's even slimmer than before. Much to my disappointment, but not surprise, none of the things I mentioned in my little iMac wishlist came true. Actually, I am a little surprised about the whole Leopard thing. Mostly because I really thought there was a good chance Leopard would be released early, especially since all the developers at WWDC got a copy of Leopard back in June. Also, two months before a major OS X release seems like sort of an awkward time to update any Mac. That said, I'm sure if Apple could release Leopard early, they would.

Last Minute iMac Wishlist


Apple is widely expected to unveil new iMacs tomorrow along with a new slim keyboard design.  There are a lot of features that I hope will be integrated into the new iMac (like a nice big muliti-touch screen or a TV tuner), but instead I'm going to focus on just a few.  The biggest thing I'd like to see with the new iMac is inductive charging along with new Apple wireless keyboards and mice that can be inductively charged.  With inductive charging a wireless keyboard and mouse could be recharged just by being placed in contact with the iMac; no more replacing batteries or plugging-in charging cables.  The stand of the current iMac is a great place to stash the keyboard and mouse, and with inductive charging it could be a great place to charge those devices too.  The other thing I'd love to see included with the new iMacs is OS X Leopard, and that Leopard will be available early. Also, I can't believe Apple would launch a new computer in August only to release their latest and greatest new operating system in October.  If the new iMacs don't ship with Leopard they should at least come with a coupon for a free upgrade to Leopard.  The last two things I think Apple should include with the new iMac are really minor: more USB ports (current iMacs just have 3 USB 2.0 ports), and LED backlit screens for better energy efficiency.

Apple's Product Design Strategy

In my last entry I discussed how Apple's approach to product development is affecting the technology industry, and citied some examples of how other companies are responding.  I'd like to describe, what I believe to be, an important aspect of Apple's design strategy by way of this awesome image of Apple's products:


To me this image demonstrates that Apple approaches almost every product as though it's creating a design icon for the ages.  The products have an incredibly long lifespan, for instance: the basic iBook design was basically unchanged from 2001 through 2005, the iMac design is basically unchanged from 2004 to the present, and the aluminum PowerBook (now MacBook Pro) and full tower desktop designs have lasted from 2003 to the present. On the surface this might be seen as a decision purely motived by aesthetics, but it's also enables Apple to minimize design and manufacturing costs. Instead of creating all new product designs (with new parts that have to be tooled and manufactured), Apple can focus on incremental refinements and improvements. By comparison companies like Dell and HP seem to release totally new (and often unremarkable) product designs almost every year.  All those designs seem to be piling up.  For instance Dell currently offers 8 different desktop enclosures to home customers, despite there really only being 3 distinct sizes.  Even worse, most likely all those enclosures will be totally forgotten within a year.

The Other iPod Halo Effect


Something often attributed to Apple's astonishing growth is the "iPod Halo Effect" which is the idea that lots of people who bought iPods will buy other Apple product because they like the iPod so much.  But there's another iPod Halo Effect at work that's reaching beyond Apple to the entire technology industry.  The other iPod Halo Effect is that technology companies are finally realizing that customers want attractive, easy to use products, that interface seamlessly with their computers and, furthermore, that all new products need to be expertly marketed.  The effects of this newfound interest in design can already be seen.  Belkin has released a steady stream of new computer accessories with compelling designs, like the laptop@home products designed by Mike and Maaike and their line of attractive surge protectors.  Also, Microsoft's Zune is another great example.  With the Zune Microsoft abandoned their normal strategy of making the software platform and letting other companies make the hardware.  Instead Microsoft created the Zune device as well as the Zune software and music store to deliver a much more cohesive user experience (at least in theory).  Dell and HP have even stepped up their advertising with some pretty sweet tv spots.  Dell also is ramping up their design capabilities, as evidenced with the new M1330.  In this interview with Vio Luminosu, one of Dell's lead industrial designers, he says:

we've built up our internal design department we have a stronger goal and a stronger focus on design within our group

Of course companies trying to match Apple's product design may still find it difficult without also making some serious changes to how they approach hardware.  One of the reasons Apple is able to execute such attractive and specific designs is that many of the components inside Apple's devices are custom manufactured just for Apple.  Companies like Dell and HP, for instance, typically just design their own enclosures for someone someone else's hardware, which is often the same hardware used by countless other companies.  That can make it difficult to achieve a unique appearance, feature set or sleek form factor.  Of course, the M1330 is good indication that we may see Dell begin to change all that, and hopefully the M1330 will work as good as it looks.  Also, while Microsoft's XBOX 360 looks great and is a leader in the current generation of game consoles, it's also suffering from terrible hardware failure rates.  Microsoft made a big splash with Surface, but it's bulky hardware is destined to be upstaged by something thinner and more advanced.  While hiring great industrial designers designers, user interface designers, experience designers, and marketing companies is a great first step, many tech companies will also need to increase their hardware capabilities so that the are able to support the vision of the designers and marketers they hire.

Pandora Town Hall


Last week I attended a "Get Together" event for Pandora users.  Pandora is an internet radio station that allows users to create their own channel based on a particular song or artist, then Pandora plays similar music.  As each song plays you can give it a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" which helps Pandora learn what kind of music to play.  It's really a lot of fun to use and it's great for background music and for finding new artists.  Also, Pandora is free.  Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora, ran the event and he essentially told stories about how Pandora started and took questions from the audience...for over 2 hours.  The experience was absolutely amazing.  We were able to get direct responses to questions, new feature requests, problems, and even details about the pending legislation in congress that could hike the licensing cost of music for internet radio stations and shut services like Pandora down.  But more than anything, the event made all us listeners feel really important.  Quite frankly, I can't think of too many more effective ways to build a brand and create customer evangelists than events like this.  More companies should find ways to reach out to their customers/users directly and personally.

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