Thursday, August 26, 2010

iPhones and Family Plans - A Saturday spent at AT&T and Apple Stores

After two years with two different cell phone plans, we made plans for a consolidation, and due to an existing iPhone in the family, and the new far less expensive data plan from AT&T, the decision was made to go with AT&T.

Our family members were given the choice on phones and to make a long story short, all picked the iPhone. It was a long Saturday and it started easily enough with a visit to the Apple Store in Los Gatos, CA. Tip: go to Apple Stores that are not in Malls. The Apple retail staff are more laid back.

The Apple salesman was very nice and we got two iPhones enabled and old data ported over in a little over an hour and a half. It was nice and relaxing at the Los Gatos store. I saw the CIO of Cisco there and she looked pretty interested in a bunch of iPad accessories. That was the start of the journey.

Apple can only add a phone to an existing plan or create a new plan. They are not authorized to set-up a family plan. Very strange, but it is reflective of the relationship between AT&T and Apple.

Next stop was the AT&T store. We waited in line for over an hour. After that, we got the new phones correctly updated and our other son's plan migrated to a family plan. My wife decided not to go with a Blackberry Torch and the AT&T store had no iPhones. So it was back to the Apple Store at a Mall across the street in San Jose.

We waited at the Apple store for 45 minutes before getting served. It was not relaxing like the Los Gatos store. They had an iPhone 3GS that I bought and it was turned on and the data was migrated from the old phone. Then it was back to the AT&T store to get it added to the family plan. The AT&T Salesman was very nice and claimed we were all set.

We finally got home well after dinner time.  While it was a long day, it was no longer than when we signed up with Verizon two years ago. It would be nice if Apple had more ability to setup AT&T family plans.

It was all good until this week, when we started getting messages that we were over our unlimited texting plan. A quick phone call to AT&T solved that.

I will say this. Never underestimate what a teenager can do with thousands of apps from the iTunes app store. The hot tip for your teens is to teach them how to connect their iPhone to wireless networks (home and school). That way, they don't go over the limits on their data plan.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

iPad Envy: How Apple Caught the PC Industry Off-Guard

2010 will be remembered most in technology circles as one in which Apple caught the entire PC industry off guard. We're talking about the Apple iPad and the Tablet wars it has stoked. Was this a stroke of genius or just another example of design and usability as a core operating principle of a technology company.

First, the rumors in January about an Apple Tablet. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer tried very hard to circumvent that by announcing Tablets (referred to as Slates) at CES in early January. Jump ahead seven months later and there is no Slate to be seen.

After the iPad announcement, there was lots of criticism until shipments started. After that, People went wild and so did news agencies (racing to develop iPad Apps). I wrote about the five principles that make the iPad a winner before the match even started in my blog post titled: The Five Factors that Make the iPad a Winner. While some might refer to Apple's success as a 'rounding error', by June, 2010, Apple had already sold over three million iPads.

Figure 1
Figure 1 above shows the impact that the Apple iPad has had on technology providers. In fact, today there is not a PC provider or a carrier that isn't laser focused on this new category. Count the wanna-bes far and wide: Verizon, Google, Dell , Microsoft and even Blackberry. So far, few vendors are shipping any devices (the HP Slate is not shipping;  the Dell Streak is shipping outside of US).

Will tablets go the way that smart phones are headed, which implies that Google's Android has a big chance at victory (due in part to mass marketing by hardware manufacturers and cellular carriers)?

Google still is learning about User Interface design and the usability that goes with it. Every engineer at Google learns how to optimize applications for Search, Google's cash cow. Google would also be wise to invest in more UX training.  A plus for Google is that their time-to-market, the time it takes to release a new OS version, is impressive. That said, can you name the Droid device most people carry? Naming and branding needs work as well.

What about Microsoft? Well, a stealth project Tablet called the Courier was cancelled.  Why? Well, it probably lost a battle with the Windows 7 team. Courier looked pretty cool. Check out this YouTube video of a Courier.  It looked far more advanced than the iPad, but again, innovative ideas are killed off every day in the corporate world.

Rest assured, Microsoft will be in the market with Tablets and they will run ads on TV. The problem is that it is more than putting Windows 7 on a device. Microsoft needs more than a 'tuned' version of Windows 7. If it was just that, why didn't tablets take off years ago when Microsoft introduced Ink in its OS.

The reality is that right now, with the iPad, Apple has a multi-year lead on the rest of the Industry. The iPad doesn't require tinkering or tuning. It works and the UI is so intuitive, you see Grandparents using them on planes.

Building for design and usability with tight integration between the OS and the hardware platform is art and science combined. It seems so simple, but the reality is that thanks to Apple, users (IT jargon for people) now have a design and usability standard. The rest of the industry needs to pay close attention to these important lessons.