Obsolescence, dusty keyboards and shining screens

Now, I’m not overly proud of this picture… it’s of the keyboard of our home computer, and it would appear to be a bit… errmm, dusty…



It’s probably very fair to say that since we moved in to our new place at the beginning of February, neither Helen nor I have been near the computer that sits in the spare room. 

Indeed, I only noticed it because I had to go and print out some tickets to go to the Brighton Sealife Centre (print out!?!  It’s 2010, codes & mobile ticketing, please…).

But it did get me thinking, about two things that are, quite possibly, on their way out.

Firstly, the ‘home PC’.… 

Or at least, the description that will be familiar in many homes; a desktop computer that sits in a home office, or squeezed in the corner of the guest room, or wherever there’s room (or is close enough to a phone socket to plug a modem into)…

Like millions of other folks we’ve now got enough mobile/laptop shenanigans going on that to have a separate machine in a different, isolated part of the house is actually now just taking up space… desktops have been outsold by laptops consistently since 2006.



The desktop PC was designed not for convenience, of course, but for necessity.  To get as much computing power in as possible (and make sure that you could power it, cool it down etc), you had to have a big bloody box sitting under a desk somewhere.



Nowadays, though, you can fit all the necessary power into a laptop that you can take wherever you wanted to be in the first place… which was unlikely to be the spare room.

Which means we’re seeing the rise of things like social television (which this article from the BBC will tell you all about if you’re unfamiliar with it). 

Magical computery power is starting to change the dynamics of the home in lots of interesting ways, which will no doubt have more of an effect on the sectors people previously didn’t imagine t’internet would affect that much originally.

So, bye bye ‘home PCs’. 

Secondly, I started thinking about keyboards

The keyboard has been around for ages.  Have a read of the fascinating history of the typewriter on wikipedia…

…the earliest is arguably the ‘Typowriter’ (patented in 1829 by William Austin Burt), but by far my favourite is Giuseppe Ravizza’s “Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti”, which translates as “scribe harpsicord, or machine for writing with keys”



So approaching 200 years old is not bad going for a technology that by and large hasn’t really changed.  People talk about touchscreen computers (iPad et al), and claim that they’re not great devices for ‘creation’, just ‘consumption’.

What they really mean is that they aren’t great for ‘creation of stuff I now use a keyboard for’.

My generation (I’m 32 now) were introduced to a keyboard as a route to playing, creating or working, but in ‘isolation’; what you played or did via keyboard you did on your own.

A generation underneath probably see the keyboard as a route to communication first (email, IM, social networks etc), then playing, working and creating together.

Whoever we are, we’re all still rooted in that keyboard tradition… so many of us have been trained to use it already, it’s going to be a hard habit for society to shift.

But a generation that grows up in a world of touchscreens…

…well, surely they’ll work out a way to get from this…



…to this…



Just watching the wee fella with touchscreen devices is a joy… he’s only 7 months old, yet he gets the very simple concept that if you touch it, it does something. 

He’s really, really surprised that ALL screens don’t work this way, of course.  And tried to see if the fish tanks at Brighton Sealife centre reacted to frantic touch-motioning. 

Which, admittedly, they did.  Poor turtles.

Anyway, I reckon that keyboards might just be on their way out, but not for a good 10+ years or so. 

Or are we confident that like the wheel, the basic keyboard model is here to stay forever?


Pixels. Thousands of 'em…


Some folk feel like they’re being invaded by the scary digital world.

It might look look a little like the below video Suneil made by Parisian visual effects company One More Production…

Pixels.  Thousands of ’em…



Buttons and button-down flies

Over the weekend, in passing I flicked through an article on PSFK talking about the relaunch of the Levi’s flagship store on Regent Street… “definitely worth a look” it said.

So when Sean and I found ourselves in the vicinity last night after a meeting, we thought we’d pop in for a look… and yes indeed, it definitely is worth a wander through.



From the gallery installation that welcomes you at the front door, the wonderful theatrical touches all the way through, to the basement ‘mine’ of denim, it’s not a shop, but an experience…







We both walked out with some new jeans, as you would.

Anyway, there’s two things of interest that I took from our little excursion.


Firstly, it’s the centrepiece of Levi’s attempts to rejuvenate themselves in the UK; in this Guardian article last week, European president Armin Broger neatly identified their problem:

“The presence of players like Uniqlo and Topshop is a fact, but it would be asinine to try to be them.”

Levi’s can’t afford to compete with the ‘fast-fashion’ houses when it comes to jeans, so they’re centring on a mix of heritage and craft to convince people of the value of the clothes they make.

But rather than just saying it in an advertising campaign, they’re committing to it in a space they own, and using that commitment to become the story that spreads.

The gallery installation which forms the front of the store (you won’t see any clothes at all until you’re inside) features young artists and musicians chosen (‘curated’ no doubt) by Levi’s. It’s not a temporary thing either, apparently; this space will permanently be reserved for artistic space by ‘craftworkers’.

And it’s not just for customers; the staff I talked to were all thrilled to be working there.  One guy couldn’t believe it was the same shop when he walked back in after the refurb.



Now, it’ll be interesting to see how far this story, and the commitment, spreads… is it just a London thing?  The store in Brighton looks the same as it did, largely.  Is it enough to do something in the flagship store, then expect the whole UK business to turn around?  We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

On to the second point…


In the changing room there was this delightful little touch…



It reminded me of a button I saw a few weeks ago in Homebase… same idea, but it failed to encourage the customer to press it with the excuses and limitations added by the staff in the store…



Clearly a top-down idea that the in-store management has decided is impractical, and tried to change.  This is for ’tiling only’ now.  So what if the tiling guy isn’t around?  No-one answers?  Nice one, Homebase chaps.

Anyway, we love a button, don’t we.  There’s something very reassuring in the modern age to see a button that says ‘get help now’. 

Because we’re all used to have a button to press that finds us the thing we want, be it on a screen, wall or door.



Of course, with the advent of touchscreens, people have tried to replicate the physicality of ‘pressing buttons’ to give the same sense of satisfaction you get from clicks and physical displacement.

I used to own an LG Viewty touchscreen phone that had ‘haptic response’, which meant it buzzed back when you ‘pressed’ a button on the screen.  It was useful, but only because the touchscreen was so rubbish you needed to know if it had registered your actions.

In the future though, kids growing up now won’t necessarily need that type of interface… they’ll be used to the fact that screens can be touched, and will react, to the simplest, natural gestures.

Have a watch of this video where a two and a half year old tackles an iPad for the first time…

(from here, via Mark)

It’s astounding how adept the kid is with the iPad interface. 

The mechanical button could well be obsolete by the time she is my age.  But perhaps the chances are that the Levi’s button-flies will still be around though have increased.


The Retail Weather Map

This is really nice, I though… a retail weather map, hidden away in the depths of The British Retail Consortium website…



To my mind, it should be slap bang on the front page, but there you go.  If you want to find it, it’s here

It’s updated monthly too.  They should turn it into a widget that other people can put on their websites.


Money was round, then rectangular… now it's Square

I picked up on this before; it’s called Square, it’s from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and it’s essentially a little add on for you iPhone that allows you to use it as a credit card payment system. 



There’s some more details though, coming via ReadWriteWeb.

It’s theoretically going to work with ANY device that has an audio input jack (yep, just a basic headphone socket), which means if they build a version of the app for other mobile devices, it should work for them too.  So they won’t live or die on just being an iPhone add-on.

Cost wise, the unit will cost $1.  Yep, $1.  Where they’ll earn their money though is through commission; Square will take 2.9% of all transactions (and will donate a cent of each transaction to a charity of your choice).

It’s a really interesting, game changing invention I think… if you read the comments on the ReadWriteWeb post, there are some security issues to be worked through perhaps, but I think it really takes the notion of how we transfer money forward a step.


10 important things about the Apple iPad

The what?  The Apple whodjimmy?  The iPad?  What, you hadn’t heard?  Oh, they did some launch thing over in the States on Wednesday…

OK, so you can hardly have missed it, but here’s what I think are the headline points to bear in mind…

…but firstly, a quick overview of the device itself:



It weights 1.5lb (680g or so) so it’s pretty light, it’s half an inch thick, 9.5 inches high, and 7.5 inches wide… 

…it comes with either a 16gb, 32gb or 64gb solid state drive, all models connect with Wi-Fi, you can upgrade to 3G (so you can use a phone network, though you don’t need to have a contract, it’s pre-pay)…

…it runs all the existing iPhone apps, there”s a bespoke version of iWork (Apple’s ‘Office’ equivalent) you can buy as apps too…

…and it works just like a big iPod Touch or iPhone, really.

(stats from Mashable)

So, what’s important about it?

1. It’s cheap.

Trust the Scottish fella to focus on that. 

Seriously though, of all the things mentioned yesterday, this to me is the thing that makes me think it’ll take off. 

At a mere $499 for an entry model iPad, it’s already positioning itself as a device between a smartphone and laptop. 

It’s not aiming to replace more expensive laptops, but to do something different in between.  And I think that $499 is low enough for people to go and get one ‘just to see’.



Of course, netbook manufacturers, who led the way in producing small cheap machines whose purpose of existing was the access the internet wherever and whenever, are sitting this morning wondering where to go now. 

And they’re not the only ones…

2. Apple have made their own chip for it


Now, you may know that every Mac ships with an Intel chip nowadays, and they’ve spent a while shifting all the Mac OS X operating system across to work on the Intel architecture, and as this article points out they’re not likely to want to shift over again any time soon. 

Intel doesn’t yet have a proven track record in mobile chips currently (though have just contributed to their first Smartphone, the LG GW990), so Apple needed another option for the launch of the iPad…



However, it’s interesting news that the chip was made in-house, rather than sourcing another supplier.  Yet perhaps it’s a move as you’d expect would have been the eventual step for a company who likes to do it all in-house. 

Maybe at some point in the long term, they expect to make all of their own chips… which might cause a wee headache to some chip manufacturers…

3. Bye bye e-books

…though not as much of a headache as the e-book boys have right now. 



I spoke about this a while back in the ‘Kindle Killer?  Why Bother?‘ post…

“Winning the eBook war is a little like becoming the king of the dinosaurs… it may be good for a while, but something big’s coming to make you all extinct…”

Well, here it is.

Mashable’s got a list of 4 reasons why the Kindle’s dead, and 4 reason’s why it’s not that you could read. 

But to save you the trouble, the reasons ‘not’ are pretty lame.  So the future’s not looking great for the Kindle, but what about the much vaunted thought that…

4. “…it’ll save the newspaper industry

Let’s be honest; Apple haven’t exactly made it their mission to save the existing media industries. 

Just look at music… it’s not like the iPod & iTunes did anything to preserve the existing model for the music industry; if anything, it hurried the mass population into a new way of behaving that could only hasten the industry’s model decline…

“I can pay much less for music, and only pick the songs I really wanted”.

In that light, can you really see the iPad preserving the income levels that the newspaper industry like to imagine a daily read of their paper is worth?



No, neither can I. 

Sure, there will be a subscription model that’ll make a little money.  Micropayments too, maybe, through iTunes. 

But it won’t be anything near the level that newspaper owners think it should be; people will think…

“I can pay much less for news, and only pick the bits I really wanted”

5. It’ll have a big impact on TV

We like having lots of TVs in our home.  Living room, then bedroom, then kitchen… the family could quickly disperse to the different rooms around the house to watch whatever they wanted.

The iPad is reportedly an excellent TV & movie device (it’s HD quality, of course).  You can sit with it on your knee wherever you are (at home, on a train, in an airport, in the back seat of a car)…



…so watching content will be great; using a service like the iPhone TV Catchup anywhere you’ve got wi-fi would be a joy, much more so than it is on the iPhone.

But despite the ability to watch live TV like this, I think it’s still bad news for traditional linear TV viewing, and advertising by implication. 

People will have another option to watch whatever they want wherever and whenever.  It’ll encourage more use of downloading programming, which may have all the pre-rolls and whatever you like, but will not replace the money brought in by the traditional ad-break on TV.

And if content creators think they’ll switch to a revenue stream funded by ‘pay-per-show’, then they better be prepared to sell it cheap; already Apple clearly want to half the price of TV content on iTunes.

Finally, of course, we know that ‘two screen’ viewing is really coming into it’s own of late; sitting on the couch with your smartphone or laptop, with the TV on at the same time. 

But if the device you hold is bigger. brighter, better, easier to surf… then less of your attention is going to be pointed at the screen in the corner of the room.  The TV may be on, but the advertising will be increasingly ignored.

6. A new era of gaming

The iPhone was a huge success when it came to games.  So much so, that it kinda caught Apple by surprise (they’ve never been that good on gaming, let’s be honest).

What was apparent that people really did want to play more intricate, complex games on a touchscreen platform…

…but in such a cramped space such as the iPhone, that made it hard; at times it seemed half the screen was taken up by virtual buttons.



But with a bigger device, you get more ‘game’ screen, and less pressure to squeeze in fiddly virtual buttons.  Control gestures can be bigger, more natural. 

And of course you’ve still got the accelerometer to control things by tipping and turning the device.

When games developers are set loose on the new SDK (Software Developer Kit) for the iPad, we’ll start seeing some amazing, ground breaking games

Which brings us nicely to the next point…

7. The apps maketh the device

When the first iPhone launched, sure, there where a few things you could do with it. 

But it was only when the thousands of developers populated the iPhone with the 100,000+ apps that everyone’s really been able to make it their own personal, perfect device.  And now you can get all the iPhone apps on the iPad.

(BTW – Letting those developers in, whilst maintaining a level of control to keep quality at a decent threshold, was the smartest thing Apple may have done with the iPhone, IMHO)



But now there’s a whole new device to play with. 

The gestures are based on hands, not thumbs.  The viewing can be for many eyes, not just yours.  The holding position is more book & magazine, less phone and iPod.  



As Bryce says here, the iPad is about “packaging a new user experience which really comes down to the software’s gesture interface, the SDK and the underlying hardware that powers it all.” (HT David Cushman)

It’s not just a ‘big iPhone’; I think that’s just a lazy (if not snarky) observation to make.

When the developers are let loose on it in anger and start releasing proper iPad apps will we understand exactly what it’s capable of…

…and where it’s going to be of most use, like in…

8. Work

I think there’s terrific opportunities to adopt the iPad (and the new generation of devices it will no doubt spawn from competitors) more in a work scenario.

Which Apple do too, given that they’ve launched special bespoke versions of the ‘iWork’ tools (Keynote, Numbers and Pages) as $9.99 apps for the device.



Now, as John Griffiths points out here  it’s really at odds with the Microsoft Office charging model (who every time charge hundreds of dollars to upgrade to the next version of Office). 

Though Apple of course want you to buy the new sausage, so give you the sizzle for virtually nothing.

But I was talking to Mike at Made by Many about this, and we agreed there’s huge potential for a device like the iPad to move into healthcare, education as well as traditional business.

It could represent a new way of accessing, creating and sharing information.  Of course, you wouldn’t expect to walk into an NHS hospital and see all the Doctors accessing patient information on iPads, but there will be alternatives that are cheap enough to make widespread rollout possible. 

The iPad will change the perception of what is possible & desirable from a device in the workplace, creating opportunities for many other manufacturers too.

9. Some folk are pretty disappointed

It’s well known that techy, bloggy types want the moon on a stick.  For over six months, speculation has been rife about what the iPad ‘may’ be able to do. 

Of course, when it doesn’t arrive, people get all disappointed… and start making (inevitable) Downfall versions of Hitler being told about it…

Sure, there’s no camera, no Flash support (Apple are clearly trying to kill Adobe’s Flash too, just for kicks), no multitasking (so you couldn’t run Spotify at the same time as a Keynote app, for instance)…

…but the overall disgruntlement is, I think, misplaced.  Take this for instance…

“I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! … I want something new! I want them to think differently! Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!”

It’s not a reaction to the iPad this week.  But to the original iPod, back in 2001 (via ReadWriteWeb).  The first generation iPhone, when announced, faced similar disappointment and derision from within the techworld.

And look how they turned out…

10. The Market and Stephen Fry are impressed

Have a look at the Apple Share price over the last 6 months or so, ever since the rumour machine really started cranking up…



Not bad, huh?  The market clearly thinks Apple are onto a winner…

…as does Stephen Fry, who was there, and is in the Guardian today saying…

“There are many issues you could have with the iPad. No multitasking, still no Adobe Flash. No camera, no GPS. They all fall away the minute you use it. I cannot emphasise enough this point: “Hold your judgment until you’ve spent five minutes with it.”

No YouTube film, no promotional video, no keynote address, no list of features can even hint at the extraordinary feeling you get from actually using and interacting with one of these magical objects.”

I can’t wait to try it.

So there you have it, the Apple iPad.  Personally, I think it’s going to cause big ripples across many markets, and you know what, that’s how I like things.  Change is good.  The iPad is great.


Foursquare; getting past 'why would people do that?'

Two men who’re very much smarter than I have ruminated on the FourSquare thang.

Charles Arthur, Guardian tech supremo fella, isn’t convinced, saying

“…you go around collecting useful information for them (the location of restaurants, houses, and so on) and they “reward” you by letting you claim to be the mayor of Nonsuch. Except that if someone else comes along and checks in more frequently, they can become the mayor of Nonsuch. Oh noes! Oh, who cares.”

Russell Davies, in response, makes this point

“…web and mobile stuff lowers so many barriers. It’s lowered the cost, effort and skills required to build tools, express yourself, connect to people etc etc. All that.”

“It’s also lowered the amount of point something needs to have to be worth playing with. It’s lowered the point point. Using Foursquare or Gowalla represents such a minimal amount of effort and energy – normally in a moment of your day when you’re not doing anything else – that you only need a tiny amount of reward for it to be worthwhile. And, actually, for quite a lot of people, quite a lot of the point is in seeing how much point there is.”

I think that sometimes you’ve got to look past the ‘why would people do that..?’ 

It doesn’t matter why they would do it.  If they are, and there’s something interesting there, then ask a better question…

“…what can we do that would interest people who do that..?”

Now, I’m a big FourSquare fan…



…not necessarily just because I like finding out about stuff, but because I (think) I can see a world ripe with potential. 

(Which is what we agency folk do: we go hunting for potential, in lots of interesting places, because ‘potential’ no longer just lands on a media agencies doorstep in nicely defined lumps of TV advertising)

And it occurs that there is a terrific amount of space in FourSquare at the moment to “do things that interest people who FourSquare”. 

But even wandering around Central London, where you’d expect to find the greatest density of useful and interesting activity, the offers and tips you can find are pretty few and far between.

Yet unlike a lot of other creations in the social space, FourSquare has lots of convenient brand & company shaped holes in it. 

Free Friday coffee for the Mayor.

10% your trainers here if you’re Mayor of your local gym. 

Visit five of our stores, check in, and get a ‘superfan’ reward. 

Whatever you come up with.

Because then, I think it hits the point Charles sums up his article with…

“Location-based services are really important, and they’re potentially the source of substantial revenue-making opportunities. But only the ones that are grounded in the real world, and things you can do with that real world.”

So c’mon, let’s put some real world stuff in there… useful, entertaining, educational, connective remember?


Twitter: some irrigation inspiration

Mashable brings us some lovely juicy yearly growth of social networks figures (for the US, I may try later and get the relevant UK stats)…

The winner, as expected of course, is Facebook, who just keep piling on those numbers.  And on the face of it, Twitter’s had a great year too…



…but there is a continual whispering about Twitter, a nagging piece of gossip, a little tittle-tattle…

…it’s stopped growing.  Indeed, the stats show that unique users is falling, even…



But the thing is, the stats tell only half the story. 

Again from Mashable, we learn that the figures don’t include any of the use via a third party twitter client; the likes of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Tweetie, Echofon…

…anything that actually makes the rich information on Twitter more malleable and usable for an increasing number of people.



Vijay has pointed me to this, which is excellent… an actual estimation of the Twitter ecosystem, rather than just Twitter itself:



Read Fred Wilson’s great post on it, and see why the Twitter ecosystem may be 3x, 4x or even 5x bigger than Twitter itself…


Personally, I visit the Twitter site very infrequently, as I find it impractical as an interface… something that offers you the chance to route different feeds into different columns and presents them as an overview is much more useful:



But as was touched on back in The Social Lego Principles things like Twitter only works when you start assembling the building blocks together in interesting ways; just looking at one tweet, or one account, is a bit dull, unmanageable and uninspiring.

Which is I guess what a lot of people have been initially turned off by, just staring at a torrent of information in one linear delivery.

If you’re one of those folk, think of it this way:  You’re an idea farmer.  Your twitter account, with tweets from all the people you follow, is like a huge flowing river passing through your farm.



Now, you can try and just grow all your idea crops around the banks of that one river.  But it’s not very efficient.

So, instead, why not try a little irrigation:



Using something like Hootsuite, spread out the flow into lots of little channels… base it on hashtags you’re interested in, words of interest, a certain set of people.

Split the flow out into manageable little rivers, so you know where to go for what.

Because Twitter’s just the water; the more efficiently you can channel it, then the better it’ll be at growing lots of ideas for you…


The Apple Tablet; clicking like Lego

Ahhh, the Apple Tablet. 

It’s going to revolutionise computing.  It’s going to come packed with a free spaceship.  It’s a window to peer backwards through time and alter the present.  It comes with Wonkavision, so you can reach in and grab anything off eBay you fancy.  It’s actually built from Sport Billy technology, so it shrinks to become a regular iPhone…



Well, no matter what it can do, a lot of the conversation so far has been about where it fits into folk’s lives.  Would it replace the desktop computer, or the laptop, or the TV… or just aspects of all of these, but not as well..?

Well, here’s a thought; what if it took a trick out the Lego book, and the device as you see it above is just one brick… that can connect up to other bricks.



What do I mean?  Well, take the MacBook pro below…



But don’t think of it as one whole device, but two blocks.

The first block is your Apple tablet.  It can operate on it’s on, with the touchscreen, but you can then just slot it together with the keyboard element, and hey presto, you’ve got a laptop again.

Or think about a small television on a stand, like you might have in a bedroom or kitchen…



Again, the stand, the receiver, the hard drive with all your stored programmes are just other ‘blocks’ that you click a screen onto.

Of course, the laptop ‘docking station’ approach has been around for a while, and while I was looking around on t’net for an image, I found this patent filed by Apple back in 2008 (via Cybernet News, specced up by Gizmodo).



The supposition at the time was that it “looks like a typical Apple iMac screen base in which you would be able to dock one of those ultra thin and light laptops rumored by sliding it in right through the side of the screen. It would presumably fit completely inside of the monitor.”

But what if it was never meant to ‘fit completely inside of the monitor.

What if it WAS the monitor…