As Apple Computer seems to lose a little of its luster (perhaps only temporarily), it’s heartening to see products in other market sectors pick up where the late Steve Jobs and the conspicuously silent John Ive left off. Indeed, some products have picked up the baton and taken it even further, when it comes to out-of-the-box user experience. One such example is the impressive Nest Learning Thermostat, the latest version of which I just installed today. The product works wonderfully, a pleasure enhanced tenfold by the exquisite care taken by the product development team to ensure that my introduction to, installation of, and experience with their creation be nothing short of brilliant.

I kept running back and forth from the living room and the hallway, where I was installing the thermostat – eagerly sharing with my wife each and every childlike discovery: “there’s a cute screwdriver included in the kit!”; “it automatically determines what wires I have, and whether it needs to jumper the connection!”; “they included little sticky labels to identify each of the wires coming out of the wall!”; “the digital display comes on automatically as you walk up to it!”; “we can manage it all from my computer, iPad, or phone!”; and so on.

I did feel a twinge of concern, when I realized that use of this thermostat included communicating when I was home and when I was away. This fact, combined with the requirement to enter my home address and other personal information, makes me wonder what sort of fun high-tech burglars might have, were they able to hack in to the Nest servers, and remotely track the comings and goings of homeowners…

Extant that challenge to my otherwise usually enthusiastic embrace of new paradigms in social transparency, I was thrilled by this update to an obviously well-conceived piece of consumer electronics genius. More often than not, startups are trying to practice alchemy: attempting to fashion something priceless out of nothing, or something very close thereto. When an innovator comes along, recognizing the shortcomings of something so ubiquitous as a thermostat, and leverages advances in networking technology and product design, the result is far more exciting than it ought to be.

Some might say that Tesla Motors has achieved the same result with automotive innovation, while Amazon’s Kindle has shifted the landscape of literary hardware, and ARM and Intel continue to duke it out in the technology battle for supremacy in combined processing power and energy efficiency. Innovation abounds, moving our society forward, not so much by leaps and bounds in to the unknown, but rather (I’d like to think) in an inexorable arc toward improvement, so long as we – the consumer – continue to demand integrity in sourcing, sustainability, and workforce management.

What recent product release do you feel has most startlingly advanced an otherwise mundane or hitherto predictable market?

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It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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