Simplifying your tech

It’s funny how we purchase things that we think will enrich our lives or that will make things easier and then we realize we own so much we’re more lost than ever. Case in point: you own a desktop because you’ve had it a while, then bought a laptop for convenience. Maybe you also have a smartphone because then you can do work on your phone! Well, now there’s that iPad…

You can easily get bogged down in the devices that were supposed to make your life simpler. You have documents at home that you forgot you need for work. At The Big Money, the app guru, Kevin Kelleher, promotes the way he makes life simpler: an app. You probably saw that coming. You can upload documents and access them from anywhere!

Sounds like Google Docs to me, though. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve never used Dropbox. But I think downloading something else to my devices to make my devices easier to use, is probably the last thing I need.

That’s the problem with the way things are heading. Apps are supposed to make everything easier to navigate and find and use. Except when you download more than two dozen. Then your home becomes way more crowded than your laptop. I dislike having more than 12 documents or folders on my desktop and I have to use them all the time for me to keep them there. Do you really want to be scrolling through five pages to find that app you wanted? It makes me thankful that Apple thought to include folders on the new iPhone. But then it’s just going to become like a regular computer’s desktop soon anyway. And then the idea of apps instead of programs becomes sort of the same thing anyway.

Maybe we can’t avoid complicating things.

May 6, 2010 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

Google foiled!

When Apple announced its purchase of Quattro Wireless, some of the happiest people were probably at Google, surprisingly enough. Previous to the purchase, Google acquired AdMob, an ad developer for mobile phones, for a nice amount – $750 million. The one problem was that regulators were likely to step in so the combined entity didn’t take too much of the market.

With a renewed rivalry with Apple in the same field, Google probably thought it had smooth sailing. Not so. It’s now expected that the Federal Trade Commission will block Google.

The concerns are fairly valid. The market for mobile advertising is small and if a large company like Google snags too much of the market right off the bat, there will be very little growth and few new entrants.

On the other hand, the sector is small but the other company in it is one which Google is likely to fight tooth and nail against. Apple and Google just aren’t friends. And as long as those two companies are at odds (considering Google beat out Apple for AdMob, they aren’t going to suddenly become friends), it’s basically guaranteed that the industry will stay competitive.

Why let Apple have all the fun? I’m curious to see what Google’s vision of mobile advertisements look like.

May 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

Apple wants to control the world

When Apple comes out with a new concept, it’s like everyone and their dog wants to be a part of it. And it’s clear Apple knows that.

When Steve Jobs announced iAd, I was … ambivalent. It’s a good idea, even though I don’t want ads on my phone. And I realize they are a necessary evil. However, I don’t agree with the pricing model at all. There are mobile ads out there and maybe they suck and that’s the whole point, but I find it hard to believe that Steve Jobs wants people to go from paying less than $200,000 for a mobile ad to dropping a cool $1 million. That’s a huge jump.

And if you want to be one of the first, you’ll easily be paying more.

It seems like a rip off. It seems like Apple knows it can say “jump” and the rest of the world will ask “how high?” It gets worse too. Advertisers have to pay Apple when someone opens an app and just sees an ad. They don’t even have to click on it and Apple gets paid. Then if they do click on it, Apple gets more money.

Plus, Apple doesn’t even trust advertisers to get it right. In order to place an ad, not only do you have to pay a large sum, but you have to use Apple’s developer kit.

Apple is taking over the world.

May 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

If you’re reading this, you might be an addict!

Ever forget your cell phone or smartphone at home? How does that feel? For me, I feel cut off. I can’t call my sister, my friends, my fiancée, my parents. I can’t text someone. I can’t keep in touch.

As a young twenty-something I’ve had a cell phone since middle school. Back then I didn’t really need it all that much because, let’s face it, how often was I not with my parents? I’ve never experienced issues arising from not having a cell phone, except once. And I just borrowed someone else’s.

Often I wonder how things were for my parents growing up. People used to meet up by just … meeting up. No calls while you were on the way. No texts to meet me at the diner or whatever. And what if something came up? What if you were running late, or you had to cancel? What happened to the friend waiting there who got there first?

Cell phones make life so much easier and as a result we’ve become so attached to them. So attached, that in a study, students who were asked not to use their cell phones or other social media experienced symptoms of withdrawal. Like an addict trying to quit a drug.

The one thing the 200 students who participated for 24 hours were allowed to do was write a private blog post about their experiences. They felt like they were cut off and were “‘losing their personal connections.’” They admitted they might be addicted.

Of course, psychologically, they aren’t addicted. There’s no official addiction to media. But it does make you wonder. Are we creating a new psychological disorder where people become addicted to connections and media? Or is this the new normal? And if it is normal, should we really be so reliant upon it?

I guess that’s just the way technology goes. We become reliant upon it. I don’t consider myself addicted to my car, but I drive everywhere, even to the 7-11 just down the block (as if I shouldn’t walk to get my pint of Ben & Jerry’s). Maybe this is just part of the natural cycle and a few years down the line we’ll laugh about the fact that we once thought you could become addicted to social media and social networking.

April 29, 2010 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

The next step in e-book evolution (final part)

There’s no denying that e-books and e-readers are shaking up the publishing world. But some books might never be popular in a digital format. When technology doesn’t work for a book is something that publishers will have to weigh carefully.

“Does Anna Karenina work better as an app?” asks Jason Rekulak, an editor at Quirk Books. “Do you really want to sit and scroll through 900 screens?”

Another Leo Tolstoy classic, War and Peace, clocks in at 1,000-plus pages. These long novels might be difficult for people to handle on a screen, although it is entirely subjective. In Rekulak’s case, “long-form narrative reading is still superior in the form of a book.”

Another sect of books probably safe is children’s books. Rekulak has seen children’s books on the iPad that are less like books and more like computer games. “I’m not going to sit down with my child and an $800 screen and let him play himself to sleep,” he says. This reluctance is something he believes many parents feel, but not all. This video shows a two-year-old grabbing the iPad and going to town. She immediately starts playing and her father encourages her to use the apps. In fact, you can tell that he purposely bought apps that she could use. This is one instance where a parent believes a child should be comfortable around technology at a young age, regardless of how expensive it is.

“There would have to be a huge cultural shift,” Rekulak says. Today, it is more common for parents “to steer their kids” to books and away from video games. In the future, that sentiment might change. “Maybe you’ll sit kids down with their own baby screens. That’s a scary vision of the future for me.”

April 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm Leave a comment

The next step in e-book evolution (part 3)

There really is an app for everything, including your reading material. Publishers are experimenting with accompanying book apps, which can be anything from games to excerpts, because they like to think they’ll draw more attention and possibly bring in more revenue.

“Apps don’t get a very high price, maybe $0.99, so it’s hard to sell enough to make any money,” says Michael Shatzkin, CEO and founder of Idea Logic. “I think they’re more of a marketing device than a product. They alert people and make them aware of the book, but they’re rarely a separate product.”

Quirk Book’s small staff means it has no programmers and any apps based on books come from outside sources. “We don’t have any definite strategy because it’s all so new,” says Jason Rekulak, editor of Quirk Books. “Usually if someone wants to license it then we do.” The Pride and Prejudice and Zombie game was created by an outside company, but it helps keep the book fresh in people’s minds, not that the surprise hit really needed too much help in that area.

In Rekulak’s opinion, certain texts, “where the content is reliant on being up to the minute,” have to begin reshaping themselves. Books like restaurant guides fall into that category. “So they won’t be selling their books, they’ll be selling the content,” he says. “They need to be able to market their product across different platforms.” Apps might be the best way for guides to sell their content instead of an entire book.

This app has the same content as the book but is enhanced with location-based features.

A how-to book can be broken down into short, condensed screens for an app and sold at a cheaper price or given away free. Job seekers once bought a text coaching interview techniques. An app could be a series of questions and answers that one might encounter during an interview or tips and lists of dos and don’ts. Apps may be great advertising, but they run the risk of replacing the book. A $0.99 app with most of the information in the book might be more appealing to customers. From former HarperCollins publisher Marion Maneker’s perspective, that’s not completely bad.

“What’s the worst thing that will happen if the app replaces the book?” he asks. “From the author’s perspective their ideas are successfully getting out there and they’re making money off of them.”

He agrees with Rekulak’s point that publishers can’t be stuck in the belief that the content can only be sold as a book. By only considering printed products and how to transfer them to digital versions, publishers “run the risk of being bypassed.”

But there remains some types of books that could be safe as hard-copies.

Another vision of e-books will be discussed in “the next step in e-book evolution (part 4).”

April 23, 2010 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

The next step in e-book evolution (part 2)

Harper's Weekly ran Great Expectations from Nov. 24, 1860 to Aug. 3, 1861.

In the 1800s, Charles Dickens published Great Expectations in chunks over the span of eight months. It was common for authors to release books in a serialized formats. Rather than release the novel at once, a new chapter would be published in a newspaper, magazine or journal over a period of time. Then, the author could publish it as a complete novel later on.

Former HarperCollins publisher Marion Maneker predicts a return to that idea with less long novels for a few reasons. Pieces at 20,000 words will be easier to distribute for publishers than 75,000 to 100,000; and when the size of a book shrinks, the price also drops.

“People don’t want to pay $25 for a novel,” he says. “But they might pay $4 six times for a story that is stretched over installments.”

In 1996 Stephen King experimented with serialization when he published The Green Mile in six installments. More recently in 2007, Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road showed up in The New York Times Magazine in 15 installments. Both stories were later published as complete novels.

“If people are willing to buy at a lower price point, maybe people will start writing that way,” Maneker says. “So they can maximize profit by turning a story into something that they can serialize instead of just print in one shot.” The Twilight series might have charged less for more installments. Rather than four 500- to 800-page books, avid readers could have purchased 10 to 12 installments.

There’s a possibility that some books could lend themselves to being even shorter than serial installments by using a technology Apple made popular.

Another vision of e-books will be discussed in “the next step in e-book evolution (part 3).”

April 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm Leave a comment

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