Re-Imagination

I was totally impressed yesterday afternoon at the Apple store when replacing a damaged iPhone with a new one.

I’ve been through the experience several times over the years to upgrade to new models, and each time, it’s abundantly clear that Apple is continuing to re-make the retail experience.

An associate greeted us at the front entrance. Plugged a couple minimum bits of information into the (very slick and well-designed) software on his iPhone, and managed the entire transaction from the palm of his hand. All nearly instantaneous, digital, mobile, seamless.

I even signed the receipt with my finger on his iPhone screen.

The thing is, this is Apple’s secret sauce. They re-imagine an existing experience, then build the new approach.

The software interface. The publishing process. The portable music experience. The on-line method of buying digital assets. The phone. The tablet. Distributed app development. And on and on.

Re-imagination is not enough to create a business – you also need superb execution. But without re-imagination, you’re left with incremental improvements or marginal efficiency gains as a business model.

Perhaps we need to train our next generation of business people to continually ask two questions:

Why this?

And why not that?

Ha! This post by Dan Pallotta just showed up in my tweetstream, published yesterday at Harvard Business Review on-line. Talk about mind-meld!!

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Roddenberry was Right

Gene Roddenberry, the genius behind the early years of the Star Trek series, had an amazingly prescient view of the future.

In the original Star Trek TV series, crew members used devices called communicators which bore a remarkable resemblance to cell phones.

Then, in Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, items that seemed for all the world to be touch-screen computers, iPads, and iPhones were constantly in use. Digital everything. Ubiquitous screens.

Roddenberry got it.

And now, as we daily put to use that which he foresaw decades ago, we reach a point where old labels are shedding their meaning. We still use the term “phone” in various ways, but the idea of an analog device dedicated only to audio voice communication seems rather – quaint. But, we still cling to terms like cell phone, iPhone, Smartphone – heck, the phone is the least-used aspect of my iPhone!

In 10 years, we’ll look back and wonder at the old legacy labels that described separate “things” like phones or cameras or computers.

I’d like to suggest that ultimately, Gene Roddenberry had it right again. You know what these increasingly portable devices are, in their various configurations and form factors?

That’s right. Communicators. Personal Communicators. With which we send and receive messages, info, voice, video – it’s really a far more accurate description than phone, computer, tablet, or what have you.

Kinda brings a whole new meaning to the acronym PC, if you think about it…

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First Look: Skype Video on iPhone

This morning, I just finished a post on when things don’t “just work”.

Then I downloaded the new version of Skype for the iPhone, which includes the ability to do video calls with other Skype users. Jim Long (@newmediajim on Twitter) wanted to test it out also, so we had our first real-time conversation via iPhone-to-iPhone Skype video. Jim on a 3G network, and me from my home Wi-Fi.

In a word: Awesome!

It. Just. Worked. As with Skype on the computer, this was a totally intuitive process, and we connected right up and started chatting without a flaw or hiccup. Call me impressed. This may very well catalyze a changeover for me from casual (but happy) Skype user to a paid, heavy-use account.

If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl. The future keeps arriving in the palm of our hands.

Photo credit: Jim Long

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Steve Jobs to Unveil Apple’s new iPants

All the hullabaloo about a new tablet has been a carefully orchestrated hoax, according to a source inside Apple who leaked plans for the elaborate announcement of a brand new platform from the stylish technology company – iPants.

Reportedly, Steve Jobs was behind an elaborately planned launch that included a 7-figure payoff to American Idol to feature General Larry Platt singing what will be the theme song for the new product, “Pants on the Ground.” This YouTube meme went viral just before the big Apple unveiling in order to generate awareness of a major cultural problem in the inner city, that of ill-fitting pants.

“We plan to conquer the ‘denim divide’” Jobs told insiders in a leaked e-mail. “For too long, Apple has been known to produce high-priced products for elitists. Now, with iPants, we’ll use our technology and fashion sense to reach a whole new demographic – jeans-wearers who are not designers or techies, but regular folks who are simply not aware that jeans should be on the waistline.”

Leaked photos showed that iPants device, secured to any belt that has sufficient bling to generate a small electrical current, will deliver a mild but uncomfortable electric shock to the wearer whenever the pants droop over 6 inches from the ideal waistline location, determined via real-time sub-space transmission technology married to GPS triangulation. Wearers who have iPhones and Twitter accounts will also possess the option of a Foursquare auto message, such as, “I just got zapped by my iPants at Broadway and 33rd.”

It is anticipated that Jobs may actually drop his famous jeans during the product announcement ceremony to demonstrate the iPants shock, and rumors are swirling that the audience will then get a preview of the long-rumored iBriefs, currently under hush-hush development in the top-secret textile section of the Palo Alto campus.

For General Larry Platt, who recently signed a recording contract to belt out a series of operatic duets with Sarah Brightman, the announcement will come as a major lift to his once-floundering career as a zeppelin test engineer. “I thought that the Balloon Boy kerfuffle might help elevate my professional opportunities, but now, starting with iPants, I plan to evangelize Apple products in every city, or at least on YouTube.” When pressed for future plans, Mr. Platt would not comment on the stylish matching black hat and turtleneck he was wearing, only stating that the “iThreads wi-fi network you’re detecting has nothing to do with these wires in my clothes.”

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R.I.P. iPhone

The music played on. The purveyor of said music, however, was mortally wounded.

My iPhone was a regular companion on trips to the gym. Not that I’d do much surfing or calling when working out, but the iPod music aspect was a nice-to-have. On rare occasions, the iPhone would slip out of the gym shorts pocket and clatter onto the floor, but no harm done – it’s a tough little device.

Not tough enough, however, to withstand a 60-lb. dumbbell. Today, unbeknownst to me, it happened to glide silently to the floor while I was bench-pressing. The music did not skip a beat when the fatal blow was struck – in fact, I didn’t even know the iPhone was damaged until I picked it up and saw a strange separation on the side, and a spiderweb-like pattern across the front screen.

Now I’m a practical kinda guy, and don’t get too attached to things. But that was MY iPHONE! Which goes to show that the depth of brand attachment is sometimes shown in the grief of loss.

No tears were shed, and I don’t plan to buy a smartphone coffin and conduct a burial service. But I do plan to replace this thing pronto. Because now I can’t imagine being without it. You won, Apple. I’m addicted.

[Update - managed to transfer the SIM card to a cheap GOphone, so now I can use my cell # and wait until the new iPhone model is launched in July. But will I suffer the "bends" of iPhone withdrawal? Stay tuned!]

Five in the Morning 103008

10 Branding brownie points, offered by Ed Roach (of the Brand Corral blog). Not high-tech stuff; just simple ways to add significant value.

Laura Ries, on How and When to Attack (in Marketing). With good/bad examples.

Small Business Trends introduces Jim Kukral as a (video expert) contributor. Here is his post on how and why a small business should use Twitter, including a screencast (Jim is good people, by the way. Be sure to follow him if you’re not already).

Why I blog. From Susan Murphy (SuzeMuse). I think Suze speaks for many of us.

Dan Schawbel interviewed at MSNBC website. Theme: social networking and business.

PLUS: Free Wi-Fi at locations nationwide for iPhone users? Sweeeet!

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Five in the Morning 101308

Best Buy re-brands – what do you think of the new outfit? From the folks at Brand New – worth adding to your RSS Reader to see who’s up to the latest re-branding efforts.

Unconventional Marketing mapped out by David Armano – another thought-provoking post/graphic by a very creative thinker.

Shannon Paul explains that Free Content Makes Money.

For those of us who love gadgets and automation, a very cool movement in the hospitality industry – Hotels go High-Tech. I love this idea. From MobileCrunch.

First Age of Conversation #2 podcast is up, says Gavin Heaton (co-editor along with Drew McLellan). First victim of the 237 authors is Jay Ehret.

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Just for fun bonus: Words and phrases we should never hear again, collected by Kirsten Wright. I’m sure you can think of others to add!

Oh, and why not…what do you get when you combine an iPhone camera, fall leaves, a slow shutter speed, and a twisting-of-device-while-taking-image? This!

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There’s a Bumble in the Jumble

The announcement just came out that a new iPhone competitor, the G1 (using Google’s Android software), is about to be unleashed on the world. And this will be a coming-out party of sorts, not only for this branch of Google, but also for a contract phone manufacturer trying to make a name for itself.

Too bad they have such a memorable “name”. HTC. Blecch.

Why do companies do this to themselves? Why use obscure acronyms that simply blend into the background, and that stand out about as much as a single seed in a birdfeeder?

Effective marketing means, in part, providing a hook into the minds, memories, and imaginations of customers. And jumbles of letters and numbers are utterly self-defeating.

Just for fun, I scanned yesterday’s Wall Street Journal to gather some company/brand names that are designed to be forgotten:

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas)

CME Group (trading exchange)

CSC (technology resources)

TMI (executive recruting)

ELS (educational services)

If you’ve managed, through longevity and market penetration, to create a brand around an acronym (IBM, GM, A&P, etc.) that’s one thing. But if you want to stand out and be memorable, what is going to stick more in people’s minds – a well-crafted name, or a jumble? If you were investing, would you more easily remember a name like Fidelity (a word with actual, relevant meaning), or something like “ABX Resources”?

Companies and products should not be named by non-marketers and engineers. If I’m buying a LCD projector, I should not have to knot my tongue over a name like Panasonic PT-DW10000U. It’s a bumble to market a jumble, and a needless barrier to success.

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Apple’s MobileMe = MobileMeh – for now

I really wanted it to work.

I signed on to Apple’s MobileMe because it purportedly would solve one of my nagging little digital needs – one place from which to sync my laptop and my iPhone, especially the Calendar and my Contacts.

So, I went on-line to pay my $99.00 and sign up. That was when Strike 1 occurred.

They have to ship the thing? You mean, you can’t just sign up on-line for an on-line service and activate? Oh well, says I, it must be a really cool program, since it has to be loaded up (assumes I) from a CD or DVD-ROM.

And, next day, the package arrives via FedEx. Cool! But wait – there’s no disc! The box contains packaging, instructions, and an activation code. I needed all that wasteful material just to get an activation code for an on-line service?? Strike one.

Then there are the well-documented problems with the service (which even Steven Jobs admitted to), which was rushed out too quickly. Now it does actually seem to sync my Contacts fine, but the Calendar is slightly flaky, and you cannot set an “alarm” within MobileMe – only on the iPhone itself. I wanted that pop-up and auditory alarm, to help me remember tasks and appointments! But the worst thing was more subtle – some sort of script-running problem on the MobileMe site that slows down my entire browser experience and leaves with no option but NOT to remain on the site all day (defeating the purpose). Strike two.

Will Apple fix it? Most likely. The concept is too right to give up on, and so I’ll wait and hope that things improve. I really want it to work, and I’d rather not issue Strike three on MobileMe.

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Starbucker Caught with Glass 3/4 Empty

Terry Starbucker, the renowned “Ramblings from a Glass Half Full” blogger, was spotted yesterday in a small bar in Boulder, Colorado, nursing a wine glass that was three-quarters empty.

Blogger audiences – half of them, anyway – were stunned. RSS subscriptions dropped precipitously as disenchanted readers abandoned Starbucker like a beached Twitter Fail Whale.

“I can’t believe it,” cried Claudia Woodstock, sometimes 70′s hippie-rocker and owner of the Berkeley T-Shirt Shop, Half-Tees. “I have spend half of my adult life following Terry’s half-full philosophy, including subscribing to his blog way back in 1982 when he started out. If I’d had half a brain, I’d have seen this coming.”

Past attendees at SOBCon, which Terry helps lead along with Liz Strauss, were nonplussed or, in some cases, half-plussed. Tom Clifford (Director Tom), filmmaker and beret fashion icon, quickly came to Starbucker’s defense. “Hey, I once released a film that was only 7/8 complete, and no-one blasted me for it! In fact, no-one even noticed! Of course, I’m better-looking than Terry, but still…you can’t be half-full the whole time.”

Starbucker was remorseful that his glass somehow managed, for a few brief moments, to be significantly less than half-full. “Honestly, it’s never happened before. I always ask the bartender for a “topper” when the glass is at about five-eighths. However, I got to tweeting the Marketing Diva on my half-charged iPhone, and before I knew it, I’d gulped a few eighths too many. Then who should walk in with his video camera to document my embarrassment but Robert Scoble. I’m totally plurked now!”

Asked if he planned to change his blog title to the less specific “Babblings from a Small Snifter Containing an Indeterminate Amount of Potable Libations,” Terry was noncommittal. “I’m half thinkin’ about it,” he mumbled, before leaving 3/4 of the way through an interview.

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Taking the iPhone plunge

OK, I finally did it.

iphone-sm.jpgTired of a cell phone that wasn’t a great performer, and wanting to consolidate a number of functions (contacts, calendar, e-mail, music, etc.) into one device, I decided to shed the old technology garments and jump into a stylish new Apple iPhone.

I figured it was going to take a number of days to “figure it out” and bring the system up. Nope. In very little time, I had it activated, sync’ed up my iTunes music, connected to my Yahoo mail account, and easily explored many of the other wonderful functions of this very cool device.

First impression – where has the rest of the software design world been all this time? What a fabulous interface! As I have mentioned often to my clients, I am not at all easy to impress when it comes to interfaces – I’ve seen far too much user-hostile and non-intuitive design. The iPhone, however, is a delight to use – I was texting my 17-year old son in no time (and was he shocked when he found out I’d gotten an iPhone!) and my one concern – the flat-screen “virtual” keyboard – quickly became a non-issue when I began to use it. Sweet.

So, all you veteran iPhone users out there, help me out. What are some of the best tricks you’ve found? What are the free downloads and other goodies you’ve come across that you’d recommend? Tell the world (well, OK, at least ME) in the comments how I can better use this thing. Because if there’s such a thing as love at first sight when it comes to communication devices, I think I just took the fall…

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