Dad’s Tech Quest – Introduction

TechQuest LogoWhen my kids were born, I decided that they would have access to technology. Real tech, not just games.

So before they could speak, their hands were slapping and clacking on the keyboard. This isn’t so unusual these days, as many modern American families have access to similar technology.

But I wanted to go one step further.

I believe my career in technology is due primarily to my early exposure to computers. My high school exposed us early in the 1980s to simple programming using the Commodore 64, a machine that was a gateway for thousands of tech-curious minds.

Then, in a move that would prove formative, my father bought me a used Apple IIc computer. It was a basic machine, but it was mine. I could tinker and explore at home, rather than in a computer lab. I used it primarily as a word processor, but it gave me the confidence to use technology as a tool.

And, like many before me, I was completely and utterly blown away the first time I saw my first classic Macintosh computer. Unlike many of my fellow students who walked past, I couldn’t wait to put my hands on it. Continue reading

How Apps Are Ruining the World

Tesla: Master of Lightning. That would look cool on a business card.

Between our iPad, iPhone, and three iPod Touches, my family has over 100 installed apps. Amazing utilities, clever social apps, and plain old silly stuff.

I love my apps, but they are ruining the world. Sad, really.

Here’s the thing. Programming something for iOS isn’t exactly easy. There are some tools that cut your time, but if you want to maximize your app, you’ll have to put in the time or pay someone to do it. Someone smart and patient.

I’m all for creative entrepreneurs generating a profit from their hard work. I’ve certainly done it myself, so I wouldn’t begrudge someone else the opportunity to earn money. Unfortunately….

Unfortunately, some of the smartest people in the room aren’t solving problems anymore. They’re not figuring out the kinds of things that need figuring. They’re not inventing or improving inventions. They’re not even experimenting.

Nope, they’re coding apps that they’ll sell for 99 cents. And if they’re lucky (because luck is part of success), they’ll make some money. If not, they’ll just make another app. That’s where the gold seems to be. Continue reading

5 Reasons You’ll Be Using an EReader in 2 Years

sony-reader-prs505-b

Sony Reader PRS-505

Do you look at ereaders and ebooks and wonder “what’s the big deal?” Then you’re probably like a lot of people who understand the technology, but figure that printed books, laptops, and iPhones are good enough.

Yeah, hate to break it to you, but in about two years, you’ll be using an ereader. It won’t look like today’s Kindle or Nook, but it won’t be that different either. Ereaders are an inevitable next-step technology.

The W+P=W Top 5 Reasons You Will Be Using an EReader in Two Years

1. Prices will drop.
Paying $200 for a device like a Sony eReader when you can read a book for free? Crazy, right? Well, not so fast. Is the book you’re reading actually free or did someone pay for it already? That’s right, someone paid for the media, even if it’s in a public library. As for the device, let’s not judge future prices by today’s prices. If that were the case, nobody could afford a plasma or LCD television in their home. Early home entertainment systems are always expensive, until manufacturers can figure out a way to drive down costs.

Today’s ereaders are relatively cheap for new technology. Expect cheaper prices, starting this year. In two years, they’ll be selling them at garage sales. Tech always starts high and comes down.

2. eBook exclusives.
Why read a digitial book when a perfectly good print version is there on the shelf? Well, just wait until the book you really, really want to read is only available in ebook format. Or the book that you have to read for work or school. Yeah, it’s going to happen, and sooner than you want it to. As you may know, I have published comics in the past. Nothing big, but I did enough to realize that more than 50% of my costs were going to printing and shipping. It’s the same for mainstream publishers as well.

Soon, publishers will release certain books only in digital formats. It’s probably going to start with textbooks, since there are 37 million kids in US schools alone. And they don’t get to choose what they read, right?

3. Free channels will fade.
When was the last time you went to a music store to buy new music? Yeah, same here. If you have an iPod, you’ve probably used Apple’s iTunes store. I love the Amazon store for new music. Every other strip mall in America used to have a record shop. Not anymore.

Now, with bookstores fading into the sunset, you’re going to be forced to do some shopping online. But print books, still need to be shipped. If you buy from Amazon, that price is fixed at $3.99 (before free shipping incentives). And the costs of shipping keep going up, up, up. One day, the cost of shipping a book will be prohibitively high. So high, that it will not make sense to buy a print book over the Net. Meanwhile, the delivery cost of an ebook will tend to remain fairly constant at $0.

Oh, and one more thing about “channels.” You know, when I was a young one, nobody could imagine paying for television. People scoffed at the idea of paying for cable TV, especially when you could just pull up the antenna and get reception. And yet, now paying for cable television is just another bill. In the future an ebook reader will be another device that you keep around the house for your basic reading needs.

4. Picture better pictures.
Right now, the graphics on Kindle are perfect for text. Pictures? Nah-so-good. The images are barely passable and sometimes downright unreadable. Lame.

In fact, the ebook reader of tomorrow probably looks a lot like your laptop of today. Except the ereader of the future will almost certainly have a touch display. Better pictures, movie watching, and web browsing will all eventually be included in high-end ereaders. Asus today announced the DR-570, a color ereader. Brilliant color pictures and 122 hours of battery life, at least that’s what they are claiming.

5. Content creators will want ereaders.
You may not pay for content, including pictures, words, and videos. Radio is free. Television is free (even though you pay for the wire into your house). But someone, somewhere is paying for it. Writers and editors and production people all need to get paid.

So the people who actually create content, like publishers, and the people who pay them (the advertisers) are already lining up behind new technology. Content creators will push hard for ereaders, especially since it will give them a new way to aggregate their content. Yes, piracy will run rampant, but enough people are willing to pay for good content that it will drive down the cost of the devices.

More importantly, content creators will gain access to incredibly detailed statistical reports. Old media is saddled with old-style reporting. New media advertisers want details about user behavior. eReaders will bridge that gap and make the medium instantly useful and credible in the eyes of advertisers. They will bring their dollars to this new medium, making it possible for content publishers to pay the people who create the content.

So, yeah, those are my Top 5 reasons why you’ll be reading from an ebook reader in under two years. There are probably more, but I’ve got a hot date with my Kindle and my favorite blogs. (Yes, I read blogs on my Kindle.)

10 Marketing Tech Predictions for 2010

2010-PredictionsI’m a total nut for tech predictions. Love ’em. Not only does it get me excited about the future of technology, it warms my marketer’s heart. Every new tech channel represents a new way for marketers to communicate with their target audience. And for people to discover brands and solutions that they actually want.

Since I primarily write about tech trends that affect marketers, here are my:

The Words + Pictures = Web
10 Marketing | Tech Predictions for 2010

1. Widgets and Apps Will Explode
Yes, we saw a pretty big year for Apps, thanks to the iTunes store servicing the iPhone and iTouch. But with Android and Kindle and even HP having stores, we’re going to see a big, fast expansion of useful apps. And people will want these apps to synchronize across devices and platforms.
What it means for marketers: A lot. Brands that create useful apps will see adoption rates soar. It doesn’t matter if it’s branded. If people need something, they will use it. If it happens to keep your brand top of mind, well, then good for you.

2. Web Analytics Will Improve
Every marketing initiative needs to have some sort of measurable ROI. Without a strong analytic package, you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. The tools that we use are probably (hopefully) going to get better now that Adobe owns Omniture. Even free packages like Google Analytics are getting better, which pushes paid solutions like WebTrend and Omniture to innovate to remain competitive. Expect to see better tools for measuring Flash.
What it means for marketers: Good news for marketers who like numbers. Now, you will have even more numbers.

3. Microsoft Will Strike Back
Signs of life are bubbling up again from Redmond. Microsoft took a beating from Google, which has reinvigorated their competitive spirit. Bing is turning out to be a pretty decent search engine, which is encouraging for search marketers.
What it means for marketers: Microsoft is serious about making money in search, so they are actively courting search marketers. We’re already seeing them push Google to release new features, which is good for everyone. If you are using search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns, you can expect more options from Bing. And from Google, who will continue to maintain their lead.

4. Tech Will Move Off the Desktop
In recent years, everything has been focused on the desktop. But powerful mobile tools have changed the way we interact with websites. The traditional desktop will survive 2010, but it won’t be the only way people interact with the web.
What it means for marketers: It means that every new device — from the Kindle to the television — is now a new channel to communicate with customers. Smart marketers will be putting messages everywhere.

5. Newspapers Will Slip Further
Okay, this one is almost a little mean. Like teasing the short fat kid in school for being, well, short and fat. But newspapers are going to slip even more rapidly than they did in 2009. In the end, it’s likely that we’ll end up with a few national papers (like USA Today), a few regional papers (like New York Times), and maybe a few weekly local papers.
What it means for marketers: It’s a mixed bag. If you have a good PR team, you can get a story on the wires and have it syndicate to a lot of readers. That’s very encouraging. But with fewer reporters and papers, it’s going to get harder to get some ink. With less print out there, it will get a little more challenging to communicate with older demographics.

6. Mobile Marketing Will Get Sophisticated
We’ve been marketing to mobile devices for years now. Some agencies are quite good at it, but sadly, many more are not. Most mobile marketing is pretty lame. This year we’ll see the good agencies roll out marketing campaigns that make full use of mobile devices. Right now, mobile marketing is still rather simple. Look for more sophisticated and personalized applications.
What it means to marketers: It means that mobile content and incentives will need to be formatted for multiple screens. Don’t expect users to wait for your massive homepage to load.

7. Electronic Coupons Will Become Location Aware
Everybody loves a good discount. But if you forget your coupon at home, you may wait until the next trip to the store before you make a purchase. That’s a missed opportunity for brands. Many new devices have location-based software, so more marketers will figure out how to use this for offering coupons and incentives at just the right moment….like when they’re in close proximity to a store.
What it means for marketers: More sales and happier customers. Also, brick and mortar stores will star to win back customers from online shoppers.

8. Content Marketing Will Matter Again
Traditional media is slipping fast. That doesn’t mean people don’t need content. People want to know more about the product you sell, but also about how your product compares in the category. Content marketing will mean that your content must be fresh and vital for your target. Set it and forget it? Forget that. Write more content and make sure it’s formatted properly for the channel.
What it means for marketers: Make friends with a good copywriter. Try to tap them for ideas on how to update websites and other resources, so that your are providing proactive content for your audience.

9. Social Media Marketing Will Mature
Over the last few years, social media channels have become an effective way to connect people and products. But as the audience grows and diversifies, Facebook (and other social channels) will offer more mature and measurable ways to talk to targets. Banner ads? Sure, for certain awareness campaigns. But also look for more powerful fan-page types of services that give more flexibility and power to the brand.
What it means for marketers: Social media is probably going to get more expensive, but you’ll get more for your dollars.

10. New Hardware Will Change Brand Messaging
Kindles, iPhones, and the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet will give us new and interesting ways to tell people about our brands. But as the hardware becomes more powerful, it takes longer to figure out how to truly use it effectively. Initially, we just mash up existing technologies with new technologies (look it’s video…and now it’s on an iPhone!). New hardware will give us some immediate and measurable ways to deliver messages. But this year we’re going to peel back another layer to these devices, and discover new applications and opportunities.
What it means for marketers: Figure out how your message scales to new hardware before the competition figures it out first.

So there you go. Those are some of the tech trends that I believe will affect marketers in 2010. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, but now you know what sort of stuff I’ll be working on this year.

Did I miss anything? Let me know your thoughts.

5 Tipping Points for eReader Technology

I’m an early adopter. If you create a new website, I will visit it. Develop a new gadget, I will buy it. That’s what early adopters do. We go in early, check things out, invite you to join us, and then complain that it was better before you got here.

Anyway. I’ve been talking about ebook readers a lot recently, both here online and at work. People are really starting to get excited about ebook readers, especially around the holiday season.

Some people (including myself) are predicting that 2010 will be a big year for ereaders. It may not be the obvious tipping point where ereaders go mainstream, but the tipping will begin to, well, get tipsy.

Here’s what needs to happen before we see ebooks and ereaders become as mainstream as, say, iPods and TiVos. (That is, as mainstream as they will become relative to the people willing to voluntarily buy new and interesting technology.)

1. A profit model. Publishers are dipping their toes in the water, but it’s really hard for book publishers to rally behind a bestseller priced at $9.99 when they are used to selling them for $24.99. Sure, you can tell publishers that they are cutting out printing and distribution costs, but that’s a cost that they’ve already internalized as part of being in publishing. A real profit model will need to be fair not only to publishers and authors, but also to retailers. Right now the retailer (like Amazon) has inordinate power, but that will likely shift. Publishing is a business. Writing, for many authors, is a career. We need professionals to create consistently professional product. And for that, they need to make money. It’s great to buy books for $0.99, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to sell a book for that price. People have become accustomed to getting everything for free on the Internet, but books are going to have to find a way to be profitable in this “free world.”

2. Color screens. This, of all the complaints about ereader, is the one I hear the most. When people check out my Kindle, they are immediately impressed with the eInk technology. It’s a reflective medium, so it’s easier to read then people would expect. But they fall back on, “I’ll get one when they come out in color.” The reality is that people read in black and white, not color. But color capabilities will be a major tipping point for a lot of people. Even though they’ll actually be reading the actual words in black and white, people want color.

3. An Apple solution. Apple knows user experience. If they make something, we trust that even the first version will have a quality user experience. Many of us are willing to pay a premium for that. So the day that Steve Jobs tell us “one more thing” and presents an ereader solution, lots of people will rush out and buy one. Amazon has done such a great job with the Kindle that it actually looks like a product that Apple would create. That, no doubt, has been one of the reasons for the Kindle’s early success. So if and when Apple gets into this space, we’ll see more people take ereaders seriously as must-have devices.

4. Universal micropayments. Right now, payments are still being strangled by credit card fees. If you join PayPal, you get slightly lower fees, but it’s still a pretty expensive system. Closed ecosystems like Amazon and the iTunes store are enabling publishers and retailers to produce content and set very low point-of-purchase prices. But people want to compare prices and shop at their favorite stores. Universal micropayment solutions, like ewallets (remember those), will lower barriers to products that Amazon and iTunes can’t or won’t carry. This is an industry-wide challenge. But whoever solves it, will likely become very, very rich.

5. Brick and mortar retail. I like shopping online as much as the next guy. But not everyone wants to submit their credit cards over the tubes. Barnes & Nobles and Borders are already spinning plans to create physical transactions for virtual books. At Radio Shack, I saw them selling casual games on USB keys. That’s the kind of product someone wants to have in their hands, especially if they are buying a gift product. iTunes is nice for something that you buy and download yourself, but giving someone a gift in person is more satisfying if you can hand them something. The Barnes & Nobles near my house set up a beautiful kiosk to demonstrate the soon-to-be-available Nook. Since you can’t actually touch one until you buy it, the Kindle is a leap of faith, and so are the books that you put on it.

Are there other barriers to ebooks and ebook readers? Sure. Price, habit, and skepticism are among the top contenders. Heck, even having too many devices is an obvious barrier.

The move from printed books to electronic books is inevitable. It’s the tipping point that fascinates me.

McCloud Talks Tech on TED

Scott McCloud is a comic book creator who wrote a brilliant book called “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art,” which is an amazing read, even if you don’t like comics. He masterfully breaks down the medium so that it becomes clear why comics connect with the brain to communicate stories.

A few years back, McCloud gave a talk at TED (Technology Entertainment Design), which is an annual conference in California. Not only is McCloud a smart guy who knows a lot about comics, technology, and science…he’s a terrific presenter.

Check out this video as he discusses how comic books and computers are evolving to leverage new technology. Good stuff. It’s especially compelling considering the implosion of traditional print publishing.

A blind love affair with the Internet

I have a quote taped to the edge of my monitor. I saw it in “Computer Currents” magazine, which is now defunct.

Here’s the quote by Clifford Stoll, noted astronomer, author, and computer expert:

Our problem is a blind love affair with the Internet. Someday soon we’ll wake up and say, “Oh my God. Look at all the time I’ve wasted online.”

by Clifford Stoll

Great quote, right? Spot on observation. But here’s the zinger…this quote is from 1997!

Think back to when you first got on the Internet. Most average people weren’t even getting online in 1997.

But somehow this guy Stoll knew that it would be a huge time waster. And blogs and social networks as we know them hadn’t even been invented yet!

I wonder what kind of predictions he’d make today.