Friday, January 26, 2007

iPhone.. Or Do I? The Rise And Fall Of The Telephone

I’m about to buy myself an iPhone the second it’s available. Not because it’s a great new telephone, but just because it’s probably the ultimate (and coolest) gadget ever presented in history of mankind. But did Apple reinvent the phone? Does iPhone represent any revolution in telephony? In short: No. Not in telephony, but rather in humanity. iPhone ends the telephony age, and makes the word “Telephone” obsolete, and “phone” to be nothing but a verb.

In the past year I found myself talking with my colleagues about the evolution of telephony. I claimed that although telephony seems like growing very fast, evolvement was pretty slow on the user experience side, comparing to other electric necessities. In fact, since the invention of voice dialing 7 years ago, there was no real progress, nothing revolutionary.

And then came iPhone. A revolution? I thought so, but couldn’t really find anything revolutionary in it. Not on the user experience side, anyway. When talking about making a phone call, user experience comes down to two questions: where and what - where you have to be to make the call, and what you have to do.

A brief history, with emphasis on the revolutionary user experience:

1. Manual operators (Alexander Graham Bell patent in 1876, actually invented by Antonio Meucci in 1849). Where: near the wall-jacked phone. What: pick up the funny thingy, and say “operator, please contact me with Bily”.
2. Automatic operators (Strowger switch, 1892). What: pick up, dial Bily’s home number on the rotary thingy.
3. Public pay phones. Where: near the phone, available in the streets.
4. Touch Tone dialing (1941 Baltimore, Maryland, 1961 released to public). What: push some buttons instead of using the rotary.
5. Home mobile (1946). Where: anywhere at home or in the garden. No tangling wires.
6. Cellular (Chicago, 1978). Where: anywhere where service is available.
7. Speed dial. What: push a single button to dial.
8. Voice dialing (2000). What: say “Bily”.

Of course there were more events, such as satellite transport, caller ID, and others, but those above are what I tag as the major revolutions.

So is iPhone revolutionary? It seems that it brings no big news to user experience. Sure, the graphics are cool, but in terms of “where” and “what” there’s nothing revolutional, nothing new.

But iPhone is revolutional in other means. The way Apple integrated all the components, the intuitive functionality, the flow of screens.. it all just made the word “Telephone” obsolete. It ends the telephony age. The only remainder will be that silly number, with too many digits to remember, and that too will expire soon.
Steve Jobs called it “iPhone”. The irony here is that the iPhone actually diminishes the phrase “I phone”. What Bell started in 1876, Jobs ends in 2007.

Welcome to the post-telephony age.


To see the iPhone presentation by Apple's CEO Steve Jobs, click here, and then click "Watch iPhone Introduction" at the bottom.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bread, DVD Player, and Some Bubble Please

What do bread and a DVD player have in common? Apparently nothing. Then how come I went shopping for bread and ended up buying a DVD player? A short story with deep economical insights.
Today I attended a VC conference of Genesis Partners, presenting a panel of Internet and software industry leaders, including the CTO’s of American Greetings and, Dr. Nahum Sharfman (“the Clint Eastwood of high-tech” – B.K), and others. The discussions were round and round web2.0 and social marketing, and how enterprise software companies assimilate with the current trends. It was a very interesting and insightful day, and the different voices shed some light on how enterprise and Internet relate. Then a question was raised (ok, it was me): “why are classic e-commerce business models of high value shoppers, such as jewelry and grocery, are abandoned in favor of blogs, social networks, and other business models based on advertising traffic and non-paying users? How can e-commerce evolve from here?”.
It seemed like a dark cloud fell on the panel floor, as I suddenly took them all back to the middle ages, where Internet websites made money by selling goods, and not by showing free videos of dancing animals or allowing teenagers to send each others animated silly faces, while struggling to be placed as high as possible in the traffic exchange food chain.
On my way home I stopped by at the mall to buy bread. Just bread. So I also picked some rolls, and an Iraqi Pita bread, and a new frying pan (who can resist that!). Then I recalled I needed rosin core solder, and if I’m already around the electronics department, why not get this T2-T3 splitter combo. On my way to the cashier I suddenly saw that DVD player promotion. Oh why not? It’s super slim, so I can carry it on my bike easily. I was supposed to spend about 5 NIS ($1), and ended up paying 350 NIS ($70). That’s about 7,000% more.
Am I a big spender? It depends on whom you ask, but I’m definitely a victim of the capitalist way (and I love it). You try to run a budget, and the stores try to convince you to spend ten times more on stuff you don’t need. A DVD player is now a commodity, so that makes it easier for them (and harder for me to resist). Is that good? For those who can target the consumers it’s awesome.
So what does my shopping spree have to do with the gnosis that the Internet industry is in its second bubble? Everything!
These days, Internet entrepreneurs who have found revolutionary ways to target online shoppers will find it much harder to raise money, than those who have found another way to share their personal video over their mobile devices. For free, of course.
A bubble? Again, it depends on whom you’re asking. I can only say that a bubble is as such only in retrospect, when it exploded.
My dad used to tell me “find out what people need most and frequent, and will always do. Then sell it in mass quantities for cheap”. I’m sticking to that. It just sounds more reasonable.
What do you think?



Saturday, January 6, 2007

Great Minds Don't Think Alike

Yesterday I attended Eurekamp, a full day gathering of all sorts of people, exchanging thoughts and ideas about anything creative or innovative, in a semi-organized format. They say "great minds think alike", and Eurekamp has just contradicted it.
Every now and then I get a new idea of something fun or helpful, but innovative. I usually play with it in my head, sometimes write it down, and if it's really good - I free some resources to make it done, as I'm currently doing with Cartly. Nevertheless, there is no alternative to talking about it with people. But will that suffice? Think that you talk about your idea with a 100 people, and they all say "sounds great, go for it" - how good is it? It's as good as a 100 people saying "it's bad" is bad. A 100 people's opinion is not worth much if they all think the same.
In Monty Python's "Life of Brian", Brian woke up in the morning, only to discover that a huge crowd is waiting outside his window, waiting for his word of mouth. He tried to convince them not to blindly follow him, and shouted at them "You are all different!", and the crowd shouted back "Yes, we are all different". Then a single voice said "I'm not".
But a versatile crowd's opinion is important not only as feedback to your startup idea, but also to as small idea as it can be, raised in a company, and as feedback to the way you lead your company, your family or friends. Just think that you're the CEO of a company, where all your employees agree with every decision you make. How good is it? It's bad. It's like not having any feedback at all.
If you want to be innovative and creative, gather around you a versatile crowd that won't have one opinion, and that won't blindly agree with you. It's a crowd of individuals.
My page at Eurekamp: