Category Archives: design

Personal review of the EVO 4G or what mobile phone manufacturers need to get right.

I started an email this morning summarizing my review on the EVO 4G, and it quickly turned out longer than I expected so I thought I’d post it here, seeing that I haven’t posted anything in 6 months.

I got the EVO 4G from my dad who attended Google I/O. Generous man that he is, he handed it over to me. For a month I carried the EVO 4G around with me, along with my Nexus One that had been updated to Froyo. It made for quite a comparison since I was able to carry two flagship android devices around with me and I’ve captured my thoughts below.

Pros
SCREEN SIZE – I can’t emphasize this enough but a big HD screen on a phone changes what you want do on the phone. Screen size seems to be one of those things whose appeal is hard to understand rationally. If you had told me it has a 4.3” screen, I might have said that’s too big. But after a single day of using the EVO 4G, I found myself always going to it instead of the Nexus One. Browsing was easier, typing was easier but most importantly I kept wanting to watch videos on the phone.

Kickstand – Who would have thought a kickstand would be useful on a phone, but it’s perfect on the EVO 4G. I would carry the phone with me to lunch, prop the phone on the table and watch videos of World Cup games. Very nicely designed.

Sense– Like the way Sense handles integration of facebook & flickr contents but don’t much like it’s UI. I ended up downloading an alternate home screen that replaced the home interface to make it look more like Froyo 2.2 (not that Froyo has amazing UI, but it’s minimalism appeals to me)

Cons

Lack of Froyo / 2.2 – I manually upgraded my Nexus One to 2.2 and it made a world of difference. Faster, better batter life and full flash integration. If the EVO was to get Froyo (which I expect it will in October), that will make a big difference.

Lack of a single HD video content / app – If you give me a big, hi-res screen – I’m going to want to watch videos and movies but there’s no single app in the android marketplace that does it (till now – Droid X launched with the Blockbuster app). The Sprint video apps were terrible. I tried Sprint TV multiple times and it either crashed, or the video didn’t fill the screen or it wasn’t of high enough resolution. I ended up downloading HD videos from youtube and vimeo and watching them. A partnership with nextflix, hulu, boxee would go a long way to making video on the android phones

Camera – Camera may be of a higher resolution than the Nexus One but pictures were worse.Lots of noise, even in daylight. Megapixels don’t always matter ( I knew that intellectually, now I know it in truth)

Contrast ratio – Compared to the AMOLED on the nexus one, the LCD on the EVo 4G looked washed out. Only pro for the LCD was better sunlight performance.

Battery Life – Definitely less than my nexus one, but with a big screen, didn’t expect any less. Had to turn off a lot to make it through the day

Call Quality – This is more of a sprint issue, but calls were not as high quality as tmobile. I felt like there was a lot of digital compression on the line.

4G – Nice in theory, never ended up using it since it sucked up battery so much. Until you can have 4G on and have the phone last through the day, I don’t see the point of 4G. Nail in the coffin is that T-mobile’s HSPA+ is expected to be faster than Sprint and they are rolling out HSPA+ by end of year. I just used WiFi instead.

Sense– The UI is too heavy taking up a lot of the screen real estate with the curved arc interface at the home screen. Also, considering it’s a google phone, lack of close integration with Picasa in the gallery is unforgiveable.

PPI – 4.3” screen deserves a higher/denser resolution than 800 x 480.

Front-Facing Camera – For this to actually be used, it needs to be paired to a solid video chatting application which Qik is not. In the month I had it, I only managed to make one video call to my dad who was on his laptop using Fring->Skype. Key here is a video chatting application that supports common video chatting applications (Gchat, Skype, iChat or FaceTime)

Mobile phone manufacturers – it’s pretty simple. Fix these issues, and you have a solid phone. I have high hopes for the Droid X since it has addressed some of the issues I’ve identified above (Blockbuster App with rental videos). Let’s see what the rest of this year has in store. It’s an exciting time to be an Android user.

The innovation discipline

I am reposting a comment I left on Scott Berkun’s Harvard blog post which he titled “Why Innovation is overrated”

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As a couple of others have pointed out, you seem to be differentiating innovation based on semantics and you definitely are confusing it with invention in parts of your blog post.

“These are all companies that figured out how to make really good, high quality, affordable things. None of these companies were the first in their field: Apple did not invent the cell-phone, nor the touchscreen. Google did not invent the search engine nor pay per click advertising. Pixar did not make the first motion picture. And even if they were the first, the world would not care. We care because they made things we love. Making good things people love is the true spine of these companies successes, and it’s a stronger framework for managers to use when trying to learn from their examples.”

Innovation is not invention
Innovation does not require you to be first to market
Innovation is not just about products
But you could say..Innovation is a disciplined approach to creating great products/services.

Another point you made was ..

“The truth is making really good things is difficult — it requires a commitment to craft, an attention to detail, and a love for work that has always been rare. And while we’d never call these three attributes innovations, it’s the success of creating an organization that rewards these things that leads to the products we often herald, after they’re done, as innovations. “

You are correct in that it doesn’t matter what you call it while your are doing it. But with the definition above, you’ve really not describing anything specific or prescriptive. I would argue that just as management frameworks are the collection and systemization of practices already in the industry, innovation is the development of principles and frameworks of approaches to “making really good products/services” which are already in the industry.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the innovation approach is popular now. Industries who have already adopted management practices, TQM, Lean, Six Sigma and numerous others which have come out of the many business schools are now looking for the next discipline which will allow them to compete successfully in a global economy by making great products/services.

If you really want to get a better sense of the emergence of the innovation discipline from what used to be a diffused and fragmented process, I would recommend talking to companies like GravityTank, IDEO, Ziba, Jump or go visit the Institute of Design.

Wrap up from the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference

Well,

I have some time this morning to write a quick summary of the Institute of Design’s Strategy conference which happened last week at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. This was one of the best conferences I’ve attended. Most of the speakers were excellent, the crowds were packed and there was definitely a sense of optimism in the air, quite unlike the prevailing sentiments you can find gracing any of our newspapers today.

Having an amazing seat at the third row didn’t hurt either – changes it from watching to engaging.

Some quick summaries of the presentations I thought were most interesting with my key takeaways.

Bill Buxton – Bill is a principle researcher at Microsoft. One of his points was that the success of design rests on where it’s situated within a company. When design is hidden under layers of management, it rarely has a chance to shine. As a case in point, Bill highlighted the timeline of Apple’s success, noting that Jonathan Ive was employed by Apple several years before it’s first big product hit, the iMac. It took Steve Jobs taking over the company to bring design up to a level where it could affect change. Oh, one more point which Bill made – never call the people who buy your products a consumer. When companies look at people through the lens of “consumption”, they will rarely be able to partner with them to create the kind of innovations which drive company growth, even during recessions.

Scott Cook – Interesting story on the founding and continued success of Intuit. I liked his quote ” Seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else thought”. I had a chance to speak with Scott at the reception and there were a lot of details missing from the story, it was nevertheless interesting to speak to him. There was a point made by Scott that I never quite got an answer for – he mentioned that executives in companies are layers away from what customers are saying and thus can rarely spot the breakthrough innovations. He gave an anecdotal story that even at HP, Dave Packard turned away many of the ideas that later came to be successful. Not sure how to validate a comment like that but it that’s true, what can executives do to be closer to the needs of their customers. Does the modern day executive need to pull a Henry Vth, disguising themselves to be closer to their guest.

Matt Mason – Co-Founder of Wedia and author of the The Pirate’s Dilemma, gave one of the conference’s best presentations about youth culture, piracy and what companies can do to combat it. He had many points to make but the ones that I thought were particularly interesting were companies use openness to combat obscurity such as Nike selling tricked out versions of Air Force One after Bathing Ape released pirated copies of Air Force One with their own crazy artwork. The next point he made was to sell what can’t be be pirated, either convenience or experience. As an example, he cited the popularity of iTunes which has sold billions of dollars of music when the music is available for free on the net, albeit for a lot more work.

These were just some of the highlights from the conference and speakers who I thought were particularly interesting. On a side note, I ended up taking these notes on my trusty but aging Blackberry Pearl and emailing them to myself and buying more than 3 books while listening to the speakers (damn you Amazon 1-click purchasing).

A friend and I are working on a next-gen product for the wireless presentation space and I found this behavior striking whereby interactions with the audience happen not just through verbal feedback but through the blogging of speeches, visits to the speaker’s websites and purchases of books etc, all while still listening to them speak. We’ll need to see how we can incorporate some of these capabilities within our product.

Heading to the Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference

I’m finishing my breakfast as I write, heading over to catch my school, the Institute of Design’s annual Strategy Conference. We have a great line up this year and I’m especially interested to hear what Bill Buxton has to say about Sketching User Experience. There’s a short interview with him which you can read here.

Other speakers who seem promising are Claudia Kotchka, EX-VP of Design and Innovation at P&G who has attended our conference in prior years as well. I say ex vp of design since Bruce Nussbaum reported this morning that Claudia is leaving P&G. I’m as surprised as Bruce is but more curious as to where she’s headed next. Talent like that usually can spot trends and opportunities ahead of others.
Speaking of Bruce Nussbaum, he doesn’t know it but he’s one of the reasons why I’m at the Institute of Design. It was his articles on Innovation and the Institute of Design that led me to explore further after which I decided to leave my job in Boston and move to Chicago for school. Thanks Bruce and if I get to see you in person at this conference, I’ll thank you in person.

Well, it’s about that time so I must head off. Thankfully, the MCA is 4 blocks away and I’ll keep you all posted on the conference.

In case you are curious

In case you are curious as to why I wrote three posts (4 counting this one) when I haven’t written anything for the past month, it’s because I’m officially on my summer vacation.

I’m going to be in Chicago this summer, working on a passion project of mine, trying to develop a better wireless presentation remote with my friend Ash, working on some interesting strategy and research work for the Michigan school district with Jeremy Alexis, a professor at the Institute of Design and taking three business school classes on International Marketing, Strategic Marketing and Operations Management. Oh, and of course, having a great time in Chicago which is amazing city, especially in the summer. I missed out last summer since I spent it at Minneapolis interning at the Innovation group at Target but not this time.

Keith Schacht, Financial Models and more.

I’m taking a class taught by Brad Nemer called Economics of Product Development. Brad’s an all around excellent guy, currently at Motorola and founder of JobPod and one of the reasons why I’m at the Institute of Design. He had a guest speaker in yesterday that some of you may know. Keith Schacht, a successful entrepreneur, co-founder of Inventables and current CEO of 42 Friends came to speak with us briefly on the economics of web companies. It was an interesting presentation where he walked us through some simple models on how he evaluates company cash flow. It was great to see someone that’s clearly passionate about what he does, succeed multiple times at starting companies. That’s definitely how I felt when I helped launch Infominder and Watch360 5 years ago and I know that I’ll start another one in the future.

The class was also interesting because we are trying to learn financial modeling to forecast the cash flow and expenses and NPV of different ventures. Our teacher Brad, who I consider both a good friend and adviser was particularly enthusiastic about a vending machine model and decided that it would just the kind of project that we could try out. So he divided up the class into groups, assigned various responsibilities to each of us to get a vending machine, source candy and get the operation rolling. I love stuff like this where teachers go beyond lecturing on topics and lets us takes a hands on approach.

The project has morphed into something more but I’m sure I’ll learn regardless of the final outcome.

Apple’s business model

Saw this article today about Gartner, a Boston based advisory firm (and competitor to AMR Research where I used to work) announced that the iPhone is ready for business applications. As my friend Ash had written about earlier, one has to wonder about the future of Apple’s business model.

Apple is the darling of many and people love the products they make. But public consumer product companies, for anyone who has looked at their revenues and earnings are notoriously volatile. Consumer products take a lot of resources to develop and there is no guarantee that they will be successful in the market. This results in revenues that look like a roller coaster which is makes it hard for management to make long term decisions about the company, such as what investments to make, how much to invest in R&D, how much to hire etc.

Any management company worth its salt will quickly try offset the volatility of their earnings by finding additional sources of revenues besides products. Most companies do this by including a service or subscription based revenue. Apple tried to do this without a subscription model by introducing the iTunes platform. This platform ostensibly would allow them to offset the valleys of product revenues through more predictable revenues from individual song and music purchases.

However, this morning’s Financial Times reported

“Apple, which is thought to make relatively little money from the iTunes store compared with its hardware sales, is also understood to be examining a subscription model”

This is interesting news and provides some insight into the crisis that Apple is facing.  As the purveyor of consumer goods which are priced at a premium, Apple is susceptible to the vagaries of the broader economy as a whole. Combine that existing risk with the risk from getting most of their revenues from product launches and suddenly, their outlook is not that strong.

It makes complete sense for Apple to start looking to get more predictable cash flows from a iTunes subscription model, as opposed to a pay-per-purchase model. Observant users will note that the model proposed by Apple in the FT article is not that different from Amazon’s Kindle business model – where the product and subscription are bundled in together at a single price.