Category Archives: Technology

Betting on the Future

When I was a child, one of my favorite neighbors was a man named Lynn. Lynn was well-to-do and loved to splurge on new toys. Despite Lynn’s high standards, he often bought something just because it was new and no one else had seen it before.

Lynn’s house is where I went to get a peek at the future. One such day that continues to stick in my mind is was when he brought home one of the first CD players. Lynn went out of his way to have me come over to watch him unbox it because, even then, it was obvious that I got a disproportionate amount of joy from new gadgets compared to other kids on our block. Seconds after he set it up, the benefits of this new innovation were obvious. But so were the problems. Sure it was great to be able to fast forward and rewind with ease. Sure it won’t unspool. But there just weren’t many CDs available, and Lynn had a hell of a lot of cassettes.

When—as snot nosed neighbor kids are wont to do—I asked about these two glaring issues, Lynn just shrugged and said, “You’re right, but I think it’s going to be the future, and I want to see if I’m right.” He had the means, and he chose to use them to bet on what he thought was the future.

In hindsight it’s obvious that a CD player was a great bet. But at that moment, it was just as likely to become another 8 track, Betamax or LaserDisc player: another innovation with immense potential that the world decided to ignore. And even though the age of CDs and optical drives is starting to come to an end, they were a massive part of the world I grew up in, whose influence spanned far greater than just music.

One of the great pleasures of my life has been to watch new technologies and mediums arrive and witness as the world decides if it will embrace them or, as it often does, ignore them entirely. An even greater pleasure is getting to bet on, and advocate for, those that I believe will be the future.

While I’m sure Lynn did not mean for his off-handed rationalization to influence me, it continues to play a role in my life. Like Lynn, I’m selective but often spend money to flirt with the future. I not only bet on what I think will be important, but when my expectations are met, I go out of my way to try and get other people excited about the innovations I believe will indeed be a part of the future.

Today, my Apple Watch arrives. I expect, like I did with Lynn’s CD player, that I will see equal parts potential and problem once it’s around my wrist. I do however think it’s a step towards the future, and that’s why I bet on it.

Only time will tell if the device, and the wearables category in general for that matter, will go on to be a relevant part of the world we live in or become yet another innovation that the world ultimately choses to ignore. But I have high hopes based on my early experiences with the Pebble, from what I’ve seen from Apple and from what I’ve heard from others regarding the watch.

The geeky kid in me is excited to play with it. The quasi-adult is excited to become bored enough with it to clearly see if it’s a useful tool in my life or not. But thanks to Lynn, what excites me most is betting on a device that I believe is the future and getting to see if I’m right.

Note: This piece was inspired by a recent post from John Gruber of Daring Fireball.

Questioning What The Apple Watch Means For Jewelers

Today, Apple officially enters the world of fine jewelry with the introduction of the Apple Watch, and with today’s announcement the industry I grew up in and the company I admire most will collide. Sure, Apple’s been a competitor for the jewelry industry for some time now—at least in the sense that the desire for a new iPhone, iPad or MacBook has shifted market share away from fine jewelry over the past few years—but with today’s detailed unveiling of the Apple Watch, they are now a part of my beloved industry.

As someone who loves and believes in the jewelry industry, it’s going to be fascinating, and more than a little terrifying, to see what happens when a massive company like Apple enters into our world. There has been concern ever since our new competitor first previewed the Apple Watch back in September. What comes next is far from certain.

What Will The Product Be And Will People Care?

We need to see the finished product, understand the pricing and see the positioning. It’s unclear if Apple intends to disrupt pricing within the luxury watch industry (where gold watches can run well into the tens of thousands) with a lower price point, or if they’re looking to embrace a higher-tiered price point and customer.

It’s safe to say based on the previously announced $350 entry-level price point that the low-to-mid tier watch makers have some serious new competition, as will both fashionable and non-fashionable wearables brands. Even so, we’re yet to know if there is a broad customer base for a connected device on the wrist, especially when you consider that younger generations are shying away from watches in general.

There are also challenges for those who do own and desire a watch. From what we’ve heard, the relationship we are meant to have with the Apple Watch aims to be as intimate as the one we have with our phones (which is often far more intimate than we care to admit). This flies in the face of the traditional watch world where you can change your watches to match your mood. Sure you can change out straps and change your watch face, but it will be a far more limiting fashion statement than many are used to having. It will be interesting to see if the functionality gained is impactful enough to replace the emotional connection that many get from their existing watch collection. As much as Apple needs to get one audience to put on a watch, they may have a bigger challenge getting another to take theirs off.

And what about Apple themselves? How will they handle upgrades, especially on the top-tier Edition watch? People aren’t going to be okay with having an obsolete device in a few years, but a trade-in program is a significant shift away from the long-term financial and emotional investment that many consider a watch to be.

How Will This Watch Be Sold, Both Today And Tomorrow?

All of this is speculation that just about every Apple Geek is currently doing, but what I can’t help but wonder about is how this will play out in the jewelry industry. We now have a very strong competitor in Apple. But will it be purely competition?

Casey Liss wrote an excellent piece questioning if Apple will ultimately be sold in well-known jewelry stores like Zales. It raises some interesting questions and possibilities.

I think it’s safe to say that for year one, the full selection of Apple Watches will exclusively be sold at Apple Stores. We may see some of the more entry-level models sold through authorized partners like Best Buy, but I have a feeling Apple will want to keep their arms around the higher end of this new business until they understand it better.

A year from now, I bet this changes. As Casey suggested, we would very likely see a key partner like Zales or Jared step in. Or perhaps it will be a watch-centric retailer, like Tourneu (although they are not in all states). They may decide to go with regional partners like Helzberg or Ben Bridge. But my guess is that these partnerships (at least in all doors) would be for the Apple Watch Sport or Apple Watch, and not the Apple Watch Edition.

I’d speculate, because that’s all you can ever do with Apple, that the Apple Watch Edition ultimately ends up in top-tier independent and regional jewelers alongside brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Panerai, Jaeger LeCoultre. I believe Apple wants the Edition to be sold next to these brands and that they will want it sold by sales experts capable of helping maintain an aspirational price point and experience (if they decide to go the aspirational route).

Another possibility, which was suggested by Steven Hackett, is that Apple could turn “part of their square footage into some sort of Watch-only, pop-up store-within-a-store.” Over time, Apple might partner with the “Rolex Jeweler” in each key market to enhance this experience. Ultimately Apple may just end up poaching sales people, but there’s room for collaboration. Many of the perfect jewelers for Apple already have experience with this type of collaboration from their partnerships on Pandora boutiques. Even though they may be able to get this by poaching staff, these jewelers already have something Apple don’t: relationships with those willing to spend serious money on a watch.

It’s a distinct possibility that, as of today, jewelers have some very real competition in Apple. This is bound to concern or upset a few in my world, as we don’t often take to change well. However, there’s a chance (however small) that instead we may have a new partner for collaboration. And while it’s likely just one Apple-loving, jewelry-working geek’s fantasy, I hold out naive hope that Apple manages to help grow the whole of our industry rather than just trying to squash a piece of its legacy like a bug.

The Three Things #30

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Why I stopped caring about the numbers — 512 Pixels

Michael on Success: All too often, we’re so obsessed with how we’re doing we tend to forget to focus on the work. We fall into a rhythm where all that matters is the stats. Instead of doing the work we’re meant to do, we do what we see is working. We water ourselves down hoping for one more link or one new subscriber. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but thankfully this week Myke Hurley was here to remind me (and all of us) what matters most. It’s not how many people you can reach but how much you care about those you do. A great post and a great reminder.

Clean, Safe and it Drives Itself

Howie on the Future of Cars: I can’t wait for a car I can sleep in while it drives or makes pancakes or martinis. One that never crashes and reduces traffic. Oh wait. I live in a town where there are no traffic lights or interstates or even double-lane roads. I’m really just excited to not have to drive.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Gini on Perspective: While I was on vacation, I finished reading The Stand (finally), read Dark Places, and read We Need to Talk About Kevin. The story is about a mother who sees all sorts of sociopathic tendencies in her son, starting as early as birth when he refuses to nurse, through high school when he pours Liquid Drano in his sister’s eye. He goes on to kill several kids, a teacher, and a janitor after school one day and the book deals with the aftermath, from his mom’s perspective. Written as letters to her husband – Kevin’s dad – it’s a compelling look into how a family of a murderer has to deal with society scorn. I finished it as the manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was coming to an end and it left me haunted. I highly, highly recommend it, if only to give you a different perspective on the human beings who are supposed to love these kinds of people.

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Drafting a Review of Draft in Draft

Draft is a new service that’s meant to revolutionize the way we collaborate on documents. Since there’s no better way to stress test a new application than by trying it, I reached out to my occasional editor, Jason Rehmus, to work on a collaborative review.

Neither of us has used the service, yet. In fact these are the first sentences I’ve written in it.

Setting up the account was easy. I hit the Try button, entered a username and password, hit New Document and here we are.

New Document in Draft

Now comes the fun part… I’m going to invite Jason in and see what happens.

Share in Draft

Share Link in Draft

Jason here. Michael sent me a link to the document he’d created. All I had to do was click the link, log in to Draft with the username I’d already set up, then click Edit. So simple.

Edit in Draft

At that point I was looking at the draft Michael had already started. I clicked (tapped since I’m doing this all on my iPad Mini) on the document, placed the cursor where I needed to tweak some things, and made changes. Then I clicked You’re Done Editing and sent the changes to Michael. He’ll be able to view my additions then choose whether or not to merge them.

Done Editing in Draft

At this point, I received an email back telling me that changes had been committed. Jason may have been a bit overzealous to commit his changes as I received three messages in the span of minutes (he’s very diligent). This may just be the learning curve, but I can see this getting annoying with regular use and a diligent committer. Once I saw that he was no longer editing, I was able to approve his changes (one-by-one or all-at-once) and correct one of his typos (few things are more pleasing than editing an editor).

Edit Confirmations in Draft

The one thing I didn’t think to do was reject one of his changes… Jason, do something stupid so I can reject it… (Note: Rejecting does not seem to be an option, hope to see this in a future update.)

Ok… as you may have noticed, this isn’t in italics and is still me. I ran into my first problems with the service. These could very well be user error, but I’ve been banging on it for a few minutes now trying to figure this out. The first is a relatively minor issue: there doesn’t seem to be a great way to let Jason know that I have more changes ready for him to review. I had to jump into IM to let him know. (Note: Looks like I was wrong here, more on this later.)

There also seems to be issues with what I’m writing now. Even though I can make additional changes to the document, it seems to be treating this text as Jason’s changes rather than my own additions.

Editing Problem in Draft

It also seems to be struggling to save them. When I approve the changes (which are actually my own additions), it seems to swallow the text. I’ve even tried to use the beautiful looking multi-draft review feature and it seems to be giving me some grief. The text I’ve written is there, but I can’t seem to save it as the main draft.

Multi-Draft Editor in Draft

I’m going to log out and see if that fixes things…

Hmm… it still thinks these are edits and not additional writing. I’m going to save here, invite Jason back. Let’s see what happens.

After Michael let me know he was ready for me to jump back in, Draft displayed a helpful message, updating me on the document’s status:

Draft Update in Draft

Now I can continue editing the document, just as I did before. I agree with Michael, though. It would be nice for me to be notified when he’s ready for me to take another look.

Ok, things seem to be back on track now. I was able to accept all of Jason’s edits and things are working as expected again. I also noticed that there is a comment window where we can both leave notes and I can ping Jason. They may want to make this a bit more prominent…

Comment Window in Draft

So, what do I think? I’m excited to see where this service goes. Traditionally I work with Jason through a combination of Dropbox and Kaleidoscope. The process works, but it’s clunky as I compare his edits in Kaleidoscope, his notes in a separate document and then work on the actual file in Byword. Draft has the potential to bring this all into one tidy little package.

My bottom line: Draft seems well thought out despite a few rough edges and missing features (remember, this is a new service). At the moment, I’d have no issue doing a single edit using the service. I liked it when I wrote, Jason edited and I approved. I’m a bit reticent to pass things back and forth as I ran into a few of those rough edges, most of which centered around reviewing Jason’s changes after I made additional revisions. Once I get familiar with its quirks, I may feel differently as I really like it when things work well, especially now that I discovered the comment panel… Jason, any parting thoughts? This is what you do for a living after all…

I love it! I do have a pretty smooth workflow for my editing clients, but Draft removes even more friction. Keeping all of our collective work in one place, easily reviewable at any time, is great. By the way, I did all of my writing, editing, and screenshots on my iPad Mini and had no trouble at all!

Now I just need to teach more people the benefits of writing in Markdown!

Note: If you’re yet to give Sweating Commas – Jason’s editing service – a try, now is the time as he is having a sale and is an amazing editor.

The Shame About The Mac App Store

On the latest 512 Podcast, Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett offered their thoughts on the state of Apple. It’s one of the better and more sensible conversations on the subject, especially when it comes to how Apple is serving the users that come to them through iOS. They also cover some of the amazing workflows that power users, like Federico Viticci, have created for their mobile devices.

Despite the fact that I’m writing this on my iPhone, I’m still more of a Mac power user than an iOS guy. And while I may write it on my phone, I will edit and format it on my laptop using a variety of applications working in concert. I see myself continuing to do most of my heavy lifting on my Mac for a long time to come. That said, they did an excellent job summing up how Apple is catering to new users–especially those who arrive at the Mac through iOS–while still allowing geeks such as myself to do as we please.

Mac App Store, Sandboxing and Discovery

The problem for me, however, still lies with the Mac App Store (MAS) and the current approach to Sandboxing. This is Apple’s method of “protecting systems and users by limiting the resources an app can access”, but the extent of these limitations is cutting applications out of the Mac App Store. I understand the need to keep users safe. But I struggle with the idea of making it harder for them to find powerful and useful applications.

I recently spoke about Sandpaper Apps here on the site. These are the applications like LaunchBar, TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro and Hazel. They are the applications that make my workflow and my overall computing experience better. Initially I was concerned that Sandboxing was the beginning of the end for apps like these. I admit this was panic. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that Gatekeeper will provide a way for geeks such as myself to have whatever experience we please.

But there is still a problem. While it doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, none of my beloved Sandpaper Apps are in the Mac App Store. This doesn’t make them any less usable, but it makes them far less discoverable. While the MAS will not be the only way to purchase applications, it’s unlikely that new users who are accustomed to only purchasing through Apple’s own store will ever find or seek these kinds of applications. I understand that Apple’s current approach is meant to protect users, but they also protect them from a better way of doing their work.

At this point, applications can either live outside the premier venue for selling Mac apps or developers can kneecap their applications in order to comply with Apple’s current approach. This mean that applications have to become less discoverable or less useful. An application like TextExpander would have to exist outside of the store or limit functionality in order to comply. Either one is not a win for developers and is not a win for Mac users, old or new. It leads to less innovation and less financial motivation to continue making a great app even better.

Yes, You Can Still Get These Apps, But …

As Myke pointed out during the episode, apps that choose to live outside the ecosystem can still be purchased directly through the website. I worry that this is akin to saying that a musician still stands much of a chance by only releasing their new album at record stores (ask your parents). While there may not be a perfect answer, I still hope and believe that there is a better one than Sandboxing. Apple still tests every app that goes into their store and could easily create a “warning” similar to the explicit tag in iTunes.

None of this is likely to make a difference to Apple’s bottom line. The Mac App Store is doing just fine in light of recent changes. It’s just unfortunate that useful applications that make the overall Mac experience better are now harder to find and therefore less likely to be created moving forward.

Am I Overreacting? Probably, But …

I agree with Myke and Stephen that the problem is being blown out of proportion, but I still think it’s important to voice these concerns. Is Apple being evil? Of course not. Is it going to change how a user like me uses my Mac? Not one bit. But it will make it harder for the next guy (and it would have made it harder for a guy like me who arrived at this platform a few years back) to find the best way to get things done on a Mac. And while this probably isn’t going to change, it’s still a shame.

There’s a better way, and while Apple certainly doesn’t need to find it, let’s hope they find a way to keep the platform safe while allowing it to be as powerful as possible.

Time for a Backwards Thinking CMS

Ben Brooks recently offered a look at what he would like to see from the next wave of CMS (or content management systems for you non-geeks). He provides a fairly comprehensive list of what he would like to see. Sites like Squarespace seem to be making headway in many of the areas he identifies, especially with their latest offering, Squarespace Commerce, but we’re not yet at a point where it is simple to turn a blog into a business.

Ben points out the very real problem that most of us who create content aren’t necessarily geeky enough to easily monetize the work we create. We either need help from others (which can get costly) or a service robust enough to meet our needs (which doesn’t always exist).

The list he provides would offer a robust tool for a blogger who, like Ben, sells his own advertising, runs a membership and sells their own products. It also touches on his own personal concepts with the need for a paywall. My goals are different, so is my interest for the next wave of content management systems. So what do I really want from a CMS? One place to house my content and multiple mediums with which to leverage it.

The words I create on this site are often meant to be less timely. I hope that what I write is relevant, but I want much of it to be useful a year from now, five years from now or possibly even ten years from now. As I write this article, there are currently 673 posts on this site. Most of them, 480 to be exact, were created after April, 2011, when I finally started to find the “voice” for this site. Of those posts, I’d like to hope that somewhere between 100 and 200 of those posts are still useful, especially with minor updates.

We’ve recently seen bloggers like Patrick Rhone, Mike Vardy and Nick Wynja create books from their blogs. I believe the trend will continue as the “Trade Paperback” approach to packaging content seems to be a great way for writers to highlight their best content while creating a method for new readers to jump on. It’s in this area that I’d like to see our content management systems do more. I can’t help but think that the greatest value a CMS has exists not in finding ways for people to support what I will write, but in offering more efficient ways for readers to enjoy what has already been created.

I’ve created logical options for readers. RSS and email subscriptions provide ways for people to see what will come next. My start page serves as a jumping off point for those who want to look back. It’s not ideal and at the moment, I have no incentive to keep hundreds of posts on my site current. There are certainly ways that I can improve navigation using existing options, but I haven’t found a great solution. It’s in leveraging the content on a site like mine where I believe the largest opportunity lies.

Since Ben did a wonderful job on the forward-thinking side, I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer an equally thorough glance in the opposite direction. Here’s what I’d like from a content management system:

  • Group posts together into collections
  • Leverage existing tags and collections to filter posts
  • Edit the posts within a collection with the option to either:

    • Change only the post within a collection
    • Change both the collection and original post
  • Reorder a collection into a logical reading order

  • Add “posts” into the group to allow for unique intros, outros and section breaks
  • Offer free or paid (either one time or recurring) access to the content in these collections
  • Serve up the content in order, starting at the beginning, through a variety of mediums:

    • RSS
    • Email
    • eBook (for completed collections or as a wrap up for lapsed subscriptions)
  • Provide standard templates for email or eBooks while allowing for customization

  • Offer forms that let users buy or subscribe to a collection
  • Allow the reader to set the frequency at which RSS or Email posts are sent
  • Use tags to automatically add future content to ongoing collections (i.e. Best Of, Geeky Posts, OmniFocus Posts)
  • Allow readers to change how they’re reading (i.e. switching from RSS to Email midway through a collection)

The Thinking

There’s a lot to like in Ben’s list, it just doesn’t offer the one thing I really want: a better way to serve up the useful information I’ve created and financial opportunity that can be created in doing so. This is something I’ve wanted for my own site for some time and something I’d love from others as well. Imagine visiting a site for the first time and having a logical way to catch up rather than what is often a difficult, if not futile, experience.

Like Ben, I want an easy way to sell things via my site, but more than that I want a site that helps me create those products. Products that give regular readers a way to say thanks and offer new readers a way to get caught up in a medium and at a pace of their choosing. This may be less conventional than what Ben is suggesting, but I don’t believe it’s any less viable or any more difficult. There’s no doubt that managing multiple time-shifted feeds is challenging, but it’s already being done.

In the next few years, we’re likely to see lots of innovation in how people monetize their sites. I just hope a few of them do more than look forward, because when you look back, there’s a lot to be excited about and a fair amount worth selling.

The Three Things #21

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

There’s No Romance in a Mouse Click — Curious Rat

Michael on Technology: Despite disagreeing with a fair amount of it, this cautionary post from Harry Marks is well worth the read. Harry and I love to disagree on the Internet. I don’t care about many of the things that he cares deeply about and Harry doesn’t care about much of what matters to me. But that doesn’t matter. What matters (at least to me, as I’m betting Harry will feel differently) is that we both care. It’s probably why I enjoy our squabble as much as I do. Harry’s right, our technology is a dangerous thing that can isolate us from the world. He’s also wrong as it’s an amazing tool for connecting people. All that really matters is how you care to use it. There’s as much “romance in a mouse click” as you care to put into it, but to Harry’s point, it is all too easy not to care.

Rebecca Marino Quits Tennis because of Social Media Bullying

Howie on Bullying and Social Media: This is outrageous and sad. It is why so many use aliases and why Facebook is shameful for forcing real names. It’s shocking to learn how often bullying happens online. Why would a celebrity or sports figure want to be on Twitter? Bad enough reading the news about you. In 2009, when healthcare reform was going on, I found some hashtags used by the teaparty and GOP conservatives etc (#tcot, #sgp, #orca) on Twitter filled with racist and hate tweets. So guess what Twitter and Facebook advertisers? Unlike TV or radio or print, your brand’s ads are showing up next to hate-filled bullying and racist content perfect for your brand image. Maybe if the social networks had no ad support they would take this more seriously?

3D Pen Launches

Gini on Technology: This is the coolest thing you will see all week. Heck, maybe all year. With the 3D printing technology, 3Doodler launched on Kickstarter and raised all the money they needed (and then some) to bring a 3D pen to you. I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice, so check out the video in this article. You’ll scrape up the $75 it costs, even if you have to rob your kid’s piggy banks.

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.