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Rex Hammock

Initial Reviews, Random Thoughts, Recommendations After Using the iPad

Rex Hammock emedia and Technology - 04/26/2010-09:26 AM

I've been writing speculative (okay, "wishful") blog posts about an iPad-like device from Apple since 2006.* And now, for the past three weeks, I've been able to work (and play) with one daily (and nightly). So I thought it was time to collect and share some of the random thoughts, recommendations and post-launch review-ettes I've been collecting during Month One of the iPad Era.

1. If you can wait, wait:
This is my standard recommendation to anyone who asks me if they should purchase anything that Apple is launching. Somehow, the whole fan-boy gotta-have-it-first thing you find in any niche spilled over into the mainstream many years ago when it comes to Apple products. (I blame Walt Mossberg.) However, I promise: you can live without an iPad. Probably for years. (If you can't wait, you'll know exactly why without me explaining it.) In fact, I strongly recommend waiting until there's a user-facing camera on the iPad (See #3). It's like the Seth Myers line on the SNL Weekend Update (see left): Don't become a part of the new tradition of buying something just to see what it is. (I drive an 11 year old car. My "shiny new" needs are compartmentalized.) I will make an exception for one group of people, however: If you're in the media business and you want to understand the future, you're probably more in the "get one now" category than the "I'll wait until they are more than a fad" category. The pad/slate device is not a fad.

2. The iPad feels familiar:
Since purchasing my first Mac in the spring of 1984, there's always been some tactile or sensory surprise with unboxing and having that first contact with the product. The weight and balance and materials and color-shades usually come together in a way that photos or video can't convey. Perhaps because I've spent so much time thinking about what the iPad would be—and it came so close to my speculation—I felt more relieved, than wow'd.

3. Biggest surprise to me—Not having Flash actually is a problem:
In the three years I've had an iPhone, I've never once missed not having Flash (a type of software that enables lots of the web's animation and video—but that is not supported by iPod/iPhone/iPad). I even have Flash blocked on my browser. But on my browser, a click allows me to use it when I want to. Using the browser on an iPad is an entirely different experience than on the iPhone—it's more like using the browser at my desk. Video is much more of an intuitive expectation with a screen the size of the iPad's. While I was dismissive of those who whined about the lack of support for Flash, I'm totally on board now. FAIL.

4. Not having a user-facing camera is ridiculous:
This may be just a personal thing because I constantly use video iChat and Skype to communicate with kids at college and co-workers and clients in other cities. But, to me at least, the lack of a user facing camera is another failure of the product. Macs have trained us to expect to be able to have a camera atop the screen. The lack of such a camera is why I've recommended to anyone who asks my advice: "Postpone purchasing an iPad until it has a user-facing camera." As a cynical observer of Apple for 25 years (well, as cynical as a Pavlovian-trained fan-boy can be), since the "lost iPhone incident" revealed the next generation iPhone will have such a camera, I'm now assuming Apple may have feared that including it on the first generation iPad could have cannibalized sales of the next iPhone. Is it too hard to believe some people we all know will purchase the iPad 1, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone w/ the camera(s)? (Okay, stop looking at me.)

5. Why get a 3G iPad when you can purchase a mobile wi-fi device? If you travel a great deal, chances are you've done the math on paying for wifi at hotels and airports vs. purchasing a cellular modem. If, like me, your cellular modem is not under contract and the math works, ability to have wifi for up to five devices using a Verizon Mi-fi or Sprint Overdrive seems to trump the potential of spending any more money with AT&T. Now, let me be clear: the math may work in the 3G's favor is you travel some months, but not others. But for road warriors who may travel with both a notebook and iPad and need wifi for both, the mobile wi-fi option may be a better fit.

6. A Blue-tooth keyboard:
I can't figure out why I'd purchase a $69 iPad keyboard instead of a $69 Blue-tooth keyboard. No brainer: the Bluetooth keyboard is light-weight and, geez, doesn't have a wire. griffin ipad case

7. You need a case: With my iPhone, I'm not a case person. I don't care if it gets scratched up (it doesn't), I just prefer not having any extra bulk in my pocket. It took me only a couple of days to realize that a case for an iPad is a requirement. If,for nothing else than to hide the device so I don't have to talk about it when I'm reading something on it in public, a case adds a little discreetness to the conspicuous new-thinginess of having an iPad. Fortunately, Griffin Technology, the world's coolest source of iPad/iPod/iPhone accessories, and I both call Nashville home. Some elf (a Canadian one, I believe) there guessed correctly that I would blog how much I'm glad my iPad is sporting a new Elan Passport Case if one magically appeared on my desk. It's rather swell, if I do say so myself. (Disclosure: The Griffin Technology Elan Passport Case that I'm touting just magically showed up on my desk one day—magically, because I was just about to order one.)

8. How to fix the stomach muffled speaker problem:
When lying down on a sofa and listening to music, if the sound is muffled, rotate the screen 180 degrees and you'll discover the speakers sound much better if pointed upwards and not downwards into ones slightly padded abdomen area.

9. My rapidly evolving theory of what makes a great app:
Before the iPad appeared, the pre-release concepts I was seeing reminded me of early 1990s CD-ROM design. Sure enough, some of the early efforts have been along those lines, with many developers apparently believing they can replace intuitive navigation standards with goofy gimmicks. I'm finding my favorite go-to apps are those that emphasize (no surprise here) function over gimmicky features. Indeed, I find the best apps are those that don't stand between me and the content. Unlike the app from Popular Science that I really, really don't like, great apps aren't self-absorbed. They don't shout, "Hey, watch this cool navigational gimmick we just made up." They don't assume that you paid $5 to see their navigation, in other words. Here are a few of my favorite "early apps":

Instapaper: An app so awesome I can't believe the anti-awesome police haven't gone after it. The iPhone version is equally awesome. (It's all function.)

Evernote: It's the brain-augmentation software I use, so this is no surprise. (Note: I don't think it's marketed as "brain augmentation software" —but that's what I call it.)

Media and Magazine Apps I like: The NYTimes's Editors Choice app is my go-to news fix when I don't have time to glance at Google Reader. One of the coolest apps with a Magazine brand is Entertainment Weekly's Must List app as it demonstrates how to extend a brand onto an app by executing well on a narrow but scalable concept. I think such concept apps, with single sponsors, can be great opportunities for magazine companies—even in he B-to-B field. While it's not an app, check out Wired.com's website as viewed on an IPad.

NPR for iPad: Easily, the best designed news app I've seen. Takes all the great features of the NPR iPhone app and adds/tweaks features, content and design for better display and bigger format. Wonderful WIN.

Kindle: I've blasted the Kindle hardware on my blog many times, but I've never had anything but praise for the Kindle book-buying service—or Amazon's retailing savvy. The iPad using the Kindle app is everything I'd like the Kindle to be. One negative: On the iPad Kindle app, I miss the dictionary that's integrated into a book's text when using the Kindle device. I'd also like a copy and paste feature (available neither on the hardware or app except through a rather clumsy way in which one synchs the Kindle with ones computer, something I've never done). I'm assuming easy cut and paste is not going to happen in my lifetime as publishers will block it, assuming I'll copy and paste an entire book, page and by page. I've already read three books using the Kindle app on the iPad—no eye problems or straining. I've seen the complaints about screen glare when reading outside, but when I'm outside, I'm never reading—so not a problem here. I've also seen a news item suggesting the iPad's back lighting may keep people awake more than the ePaper technology of a Kindle. In my personal studies, no such problem exists. Reading in bed puts me to sleep no matter what the technology.

Kayak Flight and Hotel Search: Sets the standard for an e-commerce app. It is the first app I've seen that's better than the company's website.

USA Today app's "Today's Photos" and the Guardian Eyewitness app: Stunning photography inspired by the incredible Big Picture blog on Boston.com.

10. Is the iPad a "creation, lean forward, whatever the buzzword is today" device? There's this debate among the early fringes of the early adopters regarding whether or not the iPad is good for "creating" content (there's no debate over it being a media consumption masterpiece). As my content creation tends primarily to be in Google docs, the iPad fails big time there, as Google Docs is read-only using the iPad. However, I'm also a big user of Keynote and, while I'd never create an entire presentation on an iPad, I could if I needed to. This whole argument I can outsource to Jeff Smykil at ars technica who has reviewed the iWork suite that I've purchased—and concur with his review. I will say this: using a BlueTooth keyboard makes the device much more of a "creation" device than using the screen keyboard. One last "creation" note: If you are a real artist or, like me, a compulsive doodler, check out the iPad version of ArtStudio. It will stop all arguments about the iPad lacking in the creation department.

11. Will the iPad save magazines? Frankly, I've never understood the question. If the iPad completely replaced the way we all read content from companies that currently publish magazines, then I can see how that might be interpreted as saving a company. But to me, the magazine is a format and a medium and the iPad is another kind of format, platform and medium. I think the iPad provides lots of opportunities for magazine companies who do something other than replicate magazines on an app. As I've said for 20 years, as long as there are coffee tables, there will be magazines.

12. Will magazines be able to charge for content on the iPad?
Since purchasing the Kindle on the day it became available, I've spent more money on e-books than I ever spent on paper books during a comparable period—and that's hard for me to believe as I probably scale to the top end of book buyers. When Amazon priced ebooks for less than $10, a brand new price/value light went off in my head—you know, the paradigm shift light bulb. Now that book publishers are doing all they can to push up the pricing of e-books, the paradigm shifting light bulb will start dimming for me and other e-book buyers. I say that to predict magazine publishers can sell content, and a lot of it, if they get the price/perceived value right. Frankly, magazine publishers don't have lots of the baggage book publishers have with their business model and sales channel, so I don't know why they'd feel the need to protect something that is obviously broken. The right price will take into consideration the savings in paper, production and distribution of content delivered digitally vs. physically. Prediction: Those who believe people will pay the same price for an iPad "magazine" as they do for a print version will fail. I also have my doubts about those who believe adding some video and interactive features to the magazine will justify a higher price in the reader's mind (and wallet).

13. The iPad is not a one-shot "launch" product:
Every few days, I'll see an app that will make me realize the iPad is something more—or different—than I thought the day before. It changes every day. In fact, these random thoughts could be out-of-date within a few weeks. At least, I hope they are.

*
I wrote my first such speculative (or, wishful thinking) post in July, 2006, before the introduction of either the iPhone or iPod Touch. When the Kindle was launched in November, 2007, I wrote a long blog post comparing an eBook reader with what an oversized iPod Touch could provide the user. And in March, 2009 I went so far as to mis-predict a launch date (I thought it would be tied into a back-to-school push in September, 2009) but came pretty close to describing what would be announced 10 months later—including the price.

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Rex Hammock

What Geeks and Marketers Can Learn From the Next 60 Days

Rex Hammock emedia and Technology - 01/28/2010-12:22 PM

I woke up today to hear two NPR stories about the iPad.

Story one was a technology analyst blasting the device because it doesn’t have a camera and so, therefore, isn’t taking advantage of social media.

Story two was a publishing analyst describing the device as a savior of book publishing.

Of course, both of these analysts are right—and wrong.

The first analyst sees the iPad as a Swiss Army Knife that left off a cork screw and being a wine lover, he can’t understand why anyone would want a Swiss Army Knife without a cork screw.

The second analyst sees the iPad as a Kindle with color and video that will enable publishers to have an alternative to the pricing on Amazon—which publishers hate.

Like I said, both are right—and wrong.

Over the next 60 days, Apple will start bombarding the channels of traditional (old) media defining what one can do with the iPad. They will never mention features. Only what one can do.

The people who purchase the iPad will use it 90% of the time to do 4-5 things they’d rather do on the move than sitting at a computer.

The people who purchase the iPad will use it because they already own an iPhone and would like to watch movies or read books or tweak a presentation on a 9 1/2 inch screen rather than a micro-screen.

The people who purchase the iPad will use it because it will help them define themselves to those around them.

I could go on-and-on about the reasons people who purchase it will do so.

Watch. Learn.

It’s not about features something has or does not have.

And it’s not about what missing features prevent someone from doing.

It’s about what the existing features enable someone to do.

That’s all.



[This post originally appeared here.]

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Rex Hammock

It’s Not the Gizmo That Makes a Gizmo Successful

Rex Hammock emedia and Technology - 01/15/2010-10:00 AM

Why is the lightbulb the symbol for having an idea?

The obvious reason is that it symbolizes a light turning on in your brain at that “aha” moment.

I think the lightbulb is a great symbol for another reason. For how it was invented—and then the way it became what we know it is today.

First off, the inventor of the lightbulb is not who you think. At least 22 inventors before Thomas Edison “invented” a form of incandescent lamp. However, it was Edison who invented the entire channel necessary for the lightbulb to light up the world: from generating and distributing electricity, to creating uses for lighting, to, yes, the lightbulb or “lamp” part of the distribution channel that was like the version of it that Edison invented: long-lasting and capable of being manufactured in a way that made it economical to mass market.

The same is true today.

As I wrote recently, more than a decade of e-book readers came and went before the Kindle. The Kindle was, and still is, a fairly clunky bit of hardware. But like Edison & Co. with the lightbulb, Bezos & Co. invented an entirely new distribution and payment channel and system for the eBook. The same is true for Jobs &. Co. with the iPod/iTunes Store and the iPhone/iTunes/Apps system.

“The channel” is what matters. The gizmo is secondary.

These days, a company rarely gets to “own” a channel anymore. (And as consumer/users, we shouldn’t want them to). Apple and Amazon have pulled it off. Twitter has also. Facebook has, to a degree.

During 2010, you’ll see lots of companies who don’t have ownership of a channel try to exert power as if they did. They will put up pay walls around content and wonder why no one pays.

They will fail because they believe their content is a lightbulb that we, like moths, will be attracted to.

And they are correct, their content is a lightbulb. But they don’t own the channel anymore.

So they’re in the same boat as those 22 guys whose names no one can recall who invented the lightbulb before Edison.

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Rex Hammock

Newsweek's Newsweekopedia vs. Times' Topics

Rex Hammock emedia and Technology - 06/24/2009-09:37 AM

With its recent redesign (which I like), Newsweek.com cloned one of the lesser known but truly incredible parts of the New York Times Web site: an encyclopedia-like organization of its archives—including in most cases, an introductory overview—called “Topics,” that can be found at the easy-to-remember URL, http://topics.nytimes.com. Newsweek calls its clone Newsweekopedia but uses the Times-like URL: http://topics.newsweek.com.

That’s where all similarities end.

Newsweek broke rule #1 of building an encyclopedic resource—or anything that is "-opedia"-ish—they didn’t seed it properly. In fact, they barely seeded it at all. Compare, for example, the letter “H” on http://topics.nytimes.com to the letter “H” on http://topics.newsweek.com. The image above doesn’t do justice to the 1,000-plus entries on the Times site, but since Newsweekopedia has only one entry, I think you get the point.

Newsweek also broke cardinal rule #1 of anything you do on the Web: Don’t claim to be something that is drop-dead simple to disprove—like, say, that you have an “unmatched knowledge resource.”

My geek friends have a word for something like this: FAIL. (But please, keep trying.)

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Rex Hammock

The Dude Behind the List of Lists

Rex Hammock emedia and Technology - 12/10/2007-09:51 AM

I've done them. You've done them. Every magazine has done them: the year end list. Other than creating them—and claiming not to like them—I had never really given these ubiquitous lists too much thought until several years ago, when I ran across—and became totally addicted to—a Web site called Fimoculous.com that collects and organizes an annual mega-list of such lists. Since then—perhaps because we discovered we not only share the same first name, but also several mutual friends—I've gotten to know the list-guru behind Fimoculous.com, Rex Sorgatz. When not collecting year-end lists or being a weblog pop-culture maven, Sorgatz is a noted online media developer, most recently executive producer of MSNBC.com.

Over the years (he's been doing list-of-lists since 2001), Sorgatz's year-end list has become highly anticipated by the pop-culture, indie music and film community. And while the lists he aggregates are from a wide variety of sources, I've always been struck by how the majority seem to come from magazine Web sites. Recently, I e-mailed Sorgatz to ask him specifically about magazine year-end lists and to see if he had any hints for editors who compile them.

Here's our Q&A exchange:

Q: I used to dislike year-end lists -- but can't keep from reading them. Can you explain why?

A: I actually hate lists too. I find them reductive, simplistic, and cliche. But they're also elegant, consumable, and personal. I sometimes describe lists as miniature utopias -- little pictures of a reality that we wish existed. With all the crap that the culture industry creates in a single year, it comes as such a relief to actually celebrate some of it with a "Best Of" list.

Q: While you have year-end lists from a wide array of places, magazines seem a solid source. Other than being an easy-way to fill column inches, why do you think this is so?

A: Several factors are at work, but certainly the way lists deliver packets of insta-nostalgia contributes to their ubiquity in magazines. Also, nothing helps a publication define itself more than making a list of cultural objects (or sports teams, or candy) that it wants to celebrate. Like it or not, lists have become the ultimate indication of personality.

Q: What advice would you give to editors for compiling lists? Are there any tips you can pass along after reviewing thousands of them over the years?

A: Two things come to mind: 1. Go esoteric. We don't need another list of the best books of the year; however, we did need a list of the best book covers, because no one else has looked at the industry this way. 2. Add personality. Some of the best lists every year are those that are composed by celebrities. That could mean asking Stephen King or Margaret Cho for their favorite music of the year, but a better approach is probably to find micro-celebrities in your industry whose opinion people would care about.

Q: What are some of your personal favorites of lists from magazines?

A: There are too many to name, but some of this year's favorites have included New York magazine's use of multimedia to recap online video, the cross-genre quality of Sports Illustrated's Best Trades/Executive Decisions, Art Forum's annual use of specialists to recount music and film, and because I think lists are ultimately forms of prediction, The Futurist's Top Ten Forecasts. Oh, and I suppose Mr. Skin's annual Top 20 Nude Scenes, to remind me what I missed this year.

The end of the year isn't here yet though, so there's still a lot of room for surprise.

Q: What is the list you most look forward to each year?

A: The word-related ones intrigue me the most. Yahoo, Ask, and Google always target the zeitgeist by visualizing the most-searched terms on the Internet. There's an elegant, mathematical quality to the lists that seem to get at some sort of greater collective memory.

Add to that the dictionary lists that come along this time of the year. The OED, for instance, chose locavore at its "Word of the Year." Other contenders included tase, mumblecore, and bacn, none of which my spellchecker yet recognizes, which illustrates how of-the-moment lists can be.

Q: Do you have a favorite list of all time?

A: The Bill of Rights. It totally trumped The Ten Commandments.

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