Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Google Glass is back! Let's hear it for understanding and meeting user needs

Google Glass is back! This time it's the Enterprise rather than the Explorer edition.
I feel a special bond with last week's announcement that Google Glass is back. In coverage from The Verge  (see above), Wired, and many other publications, as well as on Google's own blog (BlogX on Medium), "A New Chapter for Glass" the reincarnation of Google's once-controversial wearable has been well covered but I would like to use a couple of paragraphs to explain why this re-launch is special to me.

I was one of the original Glass Explorers back in 2013, qualifying (based on Google's instructions) with my tweet on why I should be one of the first Glass users. In my tweet, I played the Baby Boomer card, and how I could evaluate and write about the new product's capabilities based on first-hand experiences through the eyes (literally, one eye) of a boomer. The Glass Explorer "honor" meant that I qualified to pay Google $1,500 for one of their early units, and that sum didn't include transportation. I was required to travel, on my own dime, to pick it up, with San Francisco being my lowest cost and shortest distance between three cites. In their gorgeous offices overlooking San Francisco Bay, I had my Glass unit "fitted", and was given some basic instructions. On that momentous August 2013 day, I became one of the first people outside Google to try out Glass in what was basically a beta test program for the company. Putting it in another way, yes I was one of the original Glassholes!

Getting ready for the game - an early Fall 2013 visit to a Boise State football game, with Glass!
As a career marketing guy and for the past decade-plus, a graduate-level marketing professor, what did I take away from my days as an Explorer before the program wound down several years after it started? While lauding Google's ability to generate attention, excitement and even emotion (where do you think that crude nickname comes from?) in what we always called PR but now refer to as "earned media", I also decided the product didn't do that much for me in the end. Hands-free photo and video capture had its attractions but the lack of control worked against wanting to opt for Glass rather than my ever-more-powerful iPhone and/or standalone camera. Speaking of control, the voice-activated mode (e.g. "Ok, Glass, take a picture...") worked pretty well, and pre-dated the Google Home as well as Amazon Echo - though Apple's Siri set the stage a few years prior to Glass. Things like searching Wikipedia or using Google Maps were possible as demos, but were much more practical on other devices. The requirement to have an iOS or Android phone to control and add connectivity for Glass was expected, but like with the Apple Watch which followed it, became a "knock" in some camps. So all in all, my sale of my fairly well-used Glass for about $1,000 as the program began shutting down netted out as a relatively small cost for my two years with Glass.

It was lots of fun, and admittedly somewhat prestigious (in the right circles anyway) to be one of the first users, and for me, this did indeed satisfy a big user need - being "the first kid on the block" to have this much-hyped gadget, which many people were aware of because of all the press coverage Google received. (There was no advertising as far as I know.) However, the novelty wore off and I realized there was really little I could do with Glass that I couldn't do with another gadget, and its predicted status as a "dust collector" became true in my case, until eBay came to the rescue.

Now, Glass is back as an industrial tool to help workers do their jobs in manufacturing, healthcare and other industrial settings. Using their Partners Program as their sales channel as well, Google is recharging their Glass efforts with wind in their sails provided by very thorough customer research and employing partner firms to tailor solutions. From the aforementioned BlogX post, Glass Project Lead Jay Kothari's words on preparing its "second act" for market could bring tears of joy to an old Marketing Professor's eyes:

Back in 2014, my team was at GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, watching how mechanics assemble and repair airplane engines. Airplane maintenance is a complex and specialized task, and any errors can lead to expensive delays or having to conduct the entire maintenance process all over again. The mechanics moved carefully, putting down tools and climbing up and down ladders to consult paper instructions in between steps.
Fast forward to today, and GE’s mechanics now use Glass running software from our partner Upskill, which shows them instructions with videos, animations and images right in their line of sight so they don’t have to stop work to check their binders or computer to know what to do next. Since using Glass with Upskill, they estimate that they have not only reduced errors at key points in the assembly and overhaul of engines, but that they have improved their mechanics’ efficiency by between 8–12%.

Google could only be so successful by emphasizing one of the four "P"s of marketing - promotion. Ultimately Product and Place over-ruled and sent them back to their labs to work on specific, robust solutions for solving real user needs. From the looks of it, they are well on their way to making Glass a success!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Apple iPhone celebrates 10 years

Mossberg was in classic form in nailing it on the iPhone - it's not just a phone!

Apple iPhone celebrates 10 years today and I've been using one about 98.5% of that time. I remember when one of my marketing students (the local variety) had one that he showed me during a class break shortly after the launch, and I resolved that I had to have one too! I was already an AT&T Wireless customer and felt I'd missed the boat on cell phones up to that point, and that this new Apple gadget would help me catch up. I remember being particularly intrigued with the two-finger, in-and-out interface for viewing photos.

Early on, I remember reviewers as well as a jealous neighbor expounding that the iPhone's "telephony" (remember that word?) capabilities were not all that impressive. Again, coming from behind in that field, I was happy enough, but I was more inclined to take the "big picture" view inspired by Walt Mossberg (see above) that it was not so much a phone but more a revolutionary pocket computer.

I had fun taking my new iPhone on the road to an industry conference, in Vegas during August believe it or not, but had to live through having a dedicated BlackBerry user tell me how it was a nearly useless toy and that it couldn't come close to matching his device's built-in contact directory. (Again, more on that "phone" thing.) But later in the summer I also remember having a few young techies from a Portland startup visit me in Boise on their way to a Denver industry event, and their favorable impression of the device's technology (especially that two-fingered thing) renewed my faith!

Later in the year, after speculation that it was a bit over-priced, Apple did a price cut, and rewarded existing owners with a gift card, which I used to help my wife do her own catching up, this time in the iPod department (remember the iPod?). And also, near the end of the year, I remember being at a niece's wedding and enjoying being in the "iPhone club" when owners would notice other owners (which was quite infrequent except at something like a millennial-oriented event like the wedding) and offer a nod, wave or some other acknowledgement.

The year ended, and things like apps, and yes, printing, were still in the distant future, but it was great to be an iPhone early adopter. And now, looking back, who knew its impact would be so far-reaching? I recommend a nice summary in USAToday, "The iPhone’s smartphone revolution in 4 graphs", which boils down the trends to sales numbers, time spent on mobile devices, and consumer expenditures, and also includes a clip of Steve Jobs introduction speech. ReCode has a series of tweets also well worth reviewing, if only to answer the trivia question, what do the iPhone and gum have in common?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We didn't start the Fire...

My early-2015 "ColorFest" - A new lime-green Kindle Fire, along with Chromebook and Mouse
Wow - I haven't done one of those song-title-tribute headlines for quite awhile, and for that matter, I haven't been posting much at all lately. With that in mind and risking that I might have a little rust showing, my recent upgrade to a new Amazon Kindle Fire had that Billy Joel classic rattling around in my head.

Readers of my blog may recall that I've been an Amazon Kindle owner/reader since its inception. (See "Observations: Amazon's Kindle Stirs Up E-book (and Printing and Imaging) Excitement" from 2007.) And while I have had lots of experience using both the E-ink and color ("Kindle Fire") versions (and even do a significant share of my reading on the Kindle Cloud Reader running on my Chromebook), it's those lollipop-colored versions of the Fire that have recently gained my affection. The colors, and also the clever pricing that Amazon offers. This time, the new Fires came with an irresistible deal to spread the purchase price over five months, meaning that my new one at $49.99 would require a monthly payment of $10.00 for five months, automatically charged to my Amazon Visa meaning a 5% cash-back credit coming my way too! The State of Idaho (finally, starting on the first of May this year) gets their share with Amazon now charging 6% state sales tax, added to the initial payment, when my new Fire shipped, was $13.00, and now with four $10.00 payments upcoming. How painless can it get? (Of course I did the mental comparison that the payment would be less, sometimes far less, than my monthly e-book purchases.)

The new Fire is officially, in Amazon-speak, an "an All-New Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa, 7" Display, 8 GB, Punch Red - with Special Offers." I love the punch red! In the painless department, the new one asked me if I wanted to "restore" the Fire I was replacing, and I said "sure", which meant starting out, it had exactly the same setup, including apps, that I was accustomed to. A few password updates and I was in business with my "James's 4th Fire", according to Amazon. And so far, it's noticeably faster and a pleasure to read on, as well as being an adequate email and social media checker.
The "restore" option was a huge plus (and nice surprise)
As far as what others are saying about the new Fire 7? Brian X. Chen of the New York Times wrote a review entitled, "What You Get (and What You Don’t) From a $50 Amazon Fire." It is a realistic view of the product, i.e. don't expect a top-of-the-heap tablet for $50. Which I didn't, and I am happy!
Amazon's Fire 7 - and by their count my new one is "James's 4th Fire"

Thursday, May 25, 2017

HP Printing Business shows a revenue uptick after 23 negative quarters

The modest 2% yty growth in quarterly revenues looks pretty good after 23 consecutive negative numbers
Source: HPQ Investor Relations
HP Inc.'s second quarter 2017 results were announced yesterday, and surprise surprise, printer revenues showed an increase over the same quarter a year ago. The overall 2% growth, to $4.7 Billion, is made up of three components - supplies, commercial hardware, and consumer hardware - which all showed similar single digit gains. And while those components showed sporadic positive compares since 2011, the overall quarterly growth number showed 23 downticks in a row. Most of those were of the small single digit category, but no surprise, they add up! The overall quarterly revenue number leading into the negative streak (Q211) was $6.7 Billion, meaning a $2 Billion quarterly haircut. Congrats to HP for the winning quarter, and I guess those of us who care about the business can root for 22 more in a row!  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fun with lifelong learning

A new distance learning pursuit for me - Warblers!

Going back a few months, when I decided to give my monthly Observations a rest, I also committed to doing some alternative coverage on this blog. In my mind, this meant shifting from exclusive focus on the printing and imaging industry to something surrounding both my personal and professional interests.

It's been a bit difficult withdrawing from the former focus, as I look back at my irregular posts since last Fall. But today I'm mentioning my latest pursuit - The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's "Get to Know Your Warblers" course, which consists of seven weeks of one-hour classes. The sessions started last week and will continue through mid-May, timed very well for the return of the migratory Parulidae family (the New World Warblers). And so far, so good - I was very impressed with session one and look forward to the remainder.

This is technically not my first class from the CLO. I was a participant, back in the late 1970's(!), of "Seminars in Bird Biology", a now very-old-fashioned-style "correspondence course" where weekly lessons were sent by mail, quizzes were filled out and returned, and a grade was given at the end. I passed!

The "Lab" now has an entire division entitled The Bird Academy devoted to birding education, and I am excited to continue with "Warblers", and then see what else they have to offer. For the past several years, noting the decline in my skills based on too many years of not enough birding, I had been hoping to find a local bird education opportunity specifically focused on identification skills, both visual and aural (songs). So when the Cornell offering came along I jumped on it and I am happy I did - it was sold out at 1,200 students before the first class! Speaks to the interest in birds these days.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

HP-Boise sells out to State of Idaho

Stunning news today, at least from an Idaho perspective

In a stunning development, at least for a few HP old-timers like me, it was revealed that the State of Idaho is in the process of buying the HP-Boise site, with the company leasing back half the space for its ongoing business at the Boise site. revealed in the "scoop" by the Spokane (WA) -based Spokesman Review reporter Betsy Russell.

Shortly following Russell's story, the Idaho Statesman has the story adding additional details and perspective, including a local real estate leader's worries about the future of HP in Boise. While that concern has many factors that will play out over time, this change is significant in itself. Going back to my early days working at the what was then the shiny-new site, the thought of our "Silicon Valley North" oasis being taken over by something as mundane as the State of Idaho's Tax Commission would have been unthinkable.

I joined the Disc Memory Division in 1981, then a "captive" supplier for HP minicomputers, had the Idaho Tax Commission as a customer. They were a small customer, but nearby, and I remember a team heading out for a "field trip" to help them get their new drives up and running, with lengths of HP-IB cables in tow. How times change!

The Idaho Statesman story features a lovely airborne shot of the soon-to-be State of Idaho property

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

GIF Printing

Today brought to light a development in printing that I view as more fun than anything else. But since fun often places high on the interest list for me, I am sharing here.

The new-product site Product Hunt, one of my favorites, is featuring Print a GIF - and the interest is quite high. The solution - to "Turn any gif into a printable flip book" - is ranked in second place in today's listing, based on reader "likes" of the over-20 entries. As already mentioned, I mostly think of "fun" when I look at "Print a GIF", but it is tagged in five categories in PH, leading with "Productivity" and "Get Shit Done". Interesting!

"Print a GIF" holding a lofty #2 position among today's Product Hunt entries

Monday, January 23, 2017

Apps for your Printer - Remember when HP tried those?

Report - Problem with voice apps - stickiness
As an owner of Amazon Echo aka Alexa, and a gifter of Google Home, I was extra-curious about this morning's story in ReCode. Covering the market with a focus on "voice apps", writer Jason Del Ray looks at a new report by VoiceLabs and their analysis of the burgeoning market and the accompanying "Skills" (in Amazon lingo), or something more generically referred to as "apps". I recommend reading the article as well as the report summary.

The analysis also took me back to HP's "Printer Apps" which were announced in 2009 (hard to believe it's been nearly eight years). It was part of an overall launch of web-relevant printing-related products. From a post I filed on June 22, 2009, the day of the event in San Francisco (see "HP Reveals! Web-enabled inkjet all-in-one sets new industry direction"):

When it came time to unveil, at the Current Media studios in San Francisco, HP Imaging and Printing leader Vyomesh Joshi unveiled the "The HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web", a $399 inkjet all-in-one (available in September) that features direct Web access and provides a platform for application developers, with print-centric interests, complete with API's and an iTunes-like online app store dubbed "HP Apps Studio".
I remember talking to HP's then-top printer executive Vyomesh Joshi at the event, and suggested that his business was quite savvy in recognize the growth of apps for smartphones and tablets, and being a "fast follower" getting into their own apps. When I expressed that same sentiment to other HP attendees, also suggesting that it was a low-risk, worth-a-try endeavor, they argued that it was virtually guaranteed to be a success (this included that printer all-in-one with the multisyllabic name) and not a risk at all. that  I reported when their Apps Studio came online in September, and then visited and reported a few more times as the stable of apps, and reviewers, grew over time.

But the individual apps and Apps Studio never did pick up any real momentum, that printer model is now long forgotten, and the overall effort is only a memory for me, and I am betting that I am among the few who even remember "printer apps" at all. As to be expected, the old link to the app store from my post "HP's Print Apps Store update" gets hung up when I try to click through it, and the "home" site back then, the "HP Creative Studio", now takes me to Snapfish.com - quite interesting since that part of HP was sold off in April 2015 prior to the split into HP Inc and HP Enterprise. (See "HP Sells Snapfish - cites focus".)

That's probably enough looking back for now. And as I write so long here, let me say out loud, "Alexa play nostalgic music" and bingo, "she" says "Here's some music you might like", and serves up Van Morrison singing "Crazy Love", followed by America's "Horse with no Name" - love my Amazon Echo!

What the HP Printer App store (dubbed App Studio) looked like in October 2009

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