Apple Watch and remote control eject buttons

We didn’t have tech culture magazines back in the 80s. There were things like Computer Shopper and probably Tandy catalogues, but, with perhaps the exception of nascent video game mags, no-one loved the change of experience that was coming – it was all about hardware and tech specs. God, it was dull.

I distinctly remember reading an article about a new CD player in a solemn hi-fi publication. The reviewer found it hilarious that the remote control had an eject button. He thought it must clearly have been an oversight as what was the point in ejecting a CD from across the room? You had to go to the machine anyway, so who needed such a button?

Of course, all remote controls now have such buttons. No-one needs them, but little, marginal conveniences all add up to a better product experience.

But people don’t like change. It makes them uncomfortable. And it’s much easier to direct that inner discomfort externally with left-brain scoffing about why something won’t work and asking whether people realy need them.

The Apple Watch reminds me of that review. I took delivery of mine this week and I know this is the start of something.

The killer benefit of the Watch is that you spend less time needing to fish your phone out of your pocket, unlocking it and navigating to the app you need.

Now text messages, sports scores, walking directions and more are a simple glance away. Leave the phone in your pocket, your bag or on the kitchen table.

That doesn’t sound like a huge existing problem being solved, but when you experience the simpler, smoother experience, you don’t want to go back.

It’s a bit like having the CD already ejected by the time you’ve walked over to the player.

Blockchain is bigger than you think

Blockchain is looking like a seriously transformative technology – maybe as big an idea as http or bittorrent. 
 

Here’s a great primer. It looks techy, but is very readable.

 

Sample wow quote, “Companies like Ebay, Facebook and Uber are very valuable because they benefit tremendously from the network effects that come from keeping all user information in centralized in private silos and taking a cut of all the transactions. Decentralized protocols on top of the blockchain have the potential to undo every single part of the stacks that make these services valuable to consumers and investors. They can do this by, for example, creating common, decentralized data sets to which any one can plug into, and enabling peer to peer transactions powered by Bitcoin.”

 

How to guarantee mediocrity

Great line from Apple’s Jonathan Ive on the role (or not) of research in product development:

“we don’t do market research,” because “it will guarantee mediocrity and will only work out whether you are going to offend anyone.”

Testing, listening and optimising is great. Blanding out ideas so as not to upset anyone, or using research to cover your arse isn’t.

Brand death by a thousand cuts

Brands don’t usually die because of some apocalyptic event/mistake (though it can happen), rather they suffer death by a thousand cuts, each of which seem innocuos enough, even sensible. But they chip away at the magic and by the time sales have suffered enough for someone to notice, the negative brand equity momentum has long become unstoppable.

This post by Seth Godin today summarises this point terrifically, where he explains the magical, intangible elements  that make for great marketing, and how easy it is to kill them. Referring to a great little restaurant, he says:

…it’s the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. “Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?”

Launching the Guardian’s websites 1998

I was brand manager at the Guardian when the “Guardian Unlimited” websites were launched in the 90s. As part of the launch, I was tasked with creating a CD-ROM called Get The Net which had starter ISP software and this video of the editor, Alan Rusbridger, giving his thoughts on the internet revolution. I think his thoughts stand up pretty well.

 

Why Instagram works

There are many photo editing apps and many offer some kind of sharing.

Yet Instagram (see my previous post) is way ahead of the pack in popularity and buzz. This fantastic article goes into why. My favourite aspect is about how it deliberately limits its functionality. you can only load one image at a time. Imagine how natural it would seem to add many at once. But that would detract from the product’s simplicity and delight.

Design is finished not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

A picture is worth 140 characters

I’ve said before that one of my favourite tricks in developing new products is simply to break one rule – take a successful formula and change just one thing.

Instagr.am does just that – it’s the Twitter model of easy microblogging, but based around photos rather than text and it seems to be catching fire by enabling people to broadcast their creativity to friends and strangers in a fast and customisable way.

There’s a need for this. Whereas Facebook’s blithely happy environment pulls towards the mainstream, emerging services such as Instagr.am skew towards the thoughtful and creative. And there’s a place for that.

Natural design v engineering tension

Fascinating post from former design chief at Nokia, laying bare his frustrations at innovating in a mega corporation. Alongside some eye-popping comments, this stood out as something to be wary of, yet embraced and made useful:

“Designers are also, by training and predilection, inclined to design for the usual, where engineers are taught a kind of rigor that compels them to account for, and overweight, low-probability events.”

Will supermarket shelves look like Piccadilly Circus?

New wireless power technology will allow packaging to light up in an eye-catching way. Whilst this will no doubt get annoying quite quickly, you can imagine retailers being keen to try this on high-margin goods. Flash forward a few years and will we be yearning for the peaceful supermarket days of 2011?

The induction technology behind this has other applications too, including cooking ready-meals in their packaging and alerting when due dates are near.

Ten principles of good design

This list of Dieter Rams design principles is eternal. I expect that the work of Apple’s Jonathan Ive would stand up well to this test. Picture the iMac/iPod/iPhone as you read down it.

I’m reminded of that wonderful aphorism about design being complete not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

Vitsœ’s designer, Dieter Rams. Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann

No, the iPad will not save magazines

The iPad is a gorgeous media consumption device. It’s desirable, it’s selling like hotcakes and buying apps is easy. Print media owners shackled by declining sales can be forgiven for willing it to their saviour.

It won’t be.

As the paltry sales of GQ’s iPad app indicate, simply having an app isn’t enough. The dirty truth is that no-one ever wanted a magazine. Just as Coke sells happiness rather than fizzy drinks, what people actually get from mags are:

  1. Signalling. What magazine you hold up on the train carriage, or have on your coffee table sends a message about how you see yourself – be it Viz, the Economist or Wallpaper
  2. Passing the time. Mags work great to wile away train journeys and lazy bath-times
  3. Special interest Whether you love cars, photography, cycling or houseboats, there’s a mag for you.
  4. Sense of belonging People like feeling part of a community and sharing tips.

Magazines have delivered on these benefits very well for decades. The challenge is that digital does all of these better, or changes them:

  1. No-one knows what you’re reading. It’s the device itself that says something about you. iPad v Kindle, and iPhone v Android is the new Mods v Rockers.
  2. You’re never alone with a mobile. Yes you can read magazine-like articles and look at professional photos, but you’re more likely to listen to music, watch episodes of Glee, email your friends or check-in at a foursquare location.
  3. Niche interests are hyper-served by digital. I’m not just interested in digital photography, I want to read in-depth articles on not only Canon lenses, but that particular lens, and those particular types of shots
  4. Sense of community has of course been owned by the massive, real-time, rich media interactions of social media. I want to know now what people think of that Cameroon goal.

That all said, magazines will not die. Print has winning attributes of portability, ever-lasting battery life and brings a simple, tactile pleasure. However, it will of course change. There will be fewer titles and producing them will become a leaner, tougher, much less pleasant game. Print dollars really will be replaced by digital cents. Get over it.

My counsel is:

  • Think brand and not product. Top Gear is the shining example of a media brand that has transcended its format and is thus less vulnerable to channel shift.
  • Embrace failure. There are no certainties in this era of disruption. Things will not settle down, and it is delusional to ‘wait and see’. No-one has a right to survive. The only viable strategy is to keep testing and keep learning.

The birth of social TV

The 90s brought Appointment TV – the hyping of TV schedules to create must-watch TV moments such as Friends, 9pm on Channel 4. The ensuing conversations in offices the morning after became known as watercooler moments.

These “did you see…” conversations seemed set  for the cultural junkyard in the noughties, thanks to greater choice of viewing, the explosion of excellent TV DVD box sets and Sky+ powered time-shifting. We were all watching different stuff.

I think that’s changed again. I wrote 9 months ago about  real-time watercooler moments: the emerging behaviour of using social media services such as as facebook and Twitter while watching an ‘event’ programme such as X-Factor.

Up until now, this has been pretty disjointed and not something most media owners had properly considered. However, the advent of ITV Live, conceived and led by friend and former colleague Dominic Cameron is changing all that. It’s the first serious attempt to create a joined-up TV/social experience. It recognises that people like to talk with friends and fellow fans about the experience they’re sharing – and provides the tools and content to do just that.

It’s a fledgling service, and has its clunky moments, but the ITV team should be praised for leading the way in this field globally.

They’ve even been audacious enough to run the service around matches they don’t have the TV rights to – so people can watch a game on the BBC and discuss it on ITV Live. Neat.