iPhone unhappiness

Servers get overloaded. They go down. It happens. There has been a lot of interest and excitement over the iPhone 3G. People have camped out at stores to be one of the first to get the new device. Apparently between activating new phones and upgrading first-generation iPhones to the new 2.0 software, Apple’s servers haven’t been able to handle the load and some people are going home with nonfunctional devices. It’s too bad that their excitement is perhaps somewhat quelled by the fact that their phone may not work just yet, but as I said, it happens. New services excite people, and this is sometimes one of the results.

The disappointing part to me is what appears – or rather what DOESN’T appear – on the iPhone website. Conspicuously absent is any mention of this problem. There is nothing to tell us what happened or what Apple is doing to solve it. This is common, but it shouldn’t be so. I wish that just once, a major company would be up-front about a situation and post the details right there on the front page. Just once.

Ultra-cool Library Programs

In LITA‘s Top Tech Trends program a couple of weeks ago, Meredith Farkas talked about the educational and technical roles that libraries can play in their communities. As an example, she cited the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. I took a look at the list of programs available in their Technology and Computers section, and they have a fascinating array of offerings. Here is a partial list of classes they offer:

Photo Share with Flickr
Wii Bowling for Active Older Adults
Video Game Design
Digital Photo Albums
Digital Media and Animation Workshop Series
3D Choreographer
Photoshop Summer Camp
Music Composition with Doug Snyder
Digital Scrapbooking
Machinima Camp
Open Source: GIMP
Scanning at the Library
Animation with Corefx
Digital Photography 101.

How cool is that? Digital photography, computer animation, songwriting . . . even playing games with the Wii! If this won’t get people into the library, what will? You really have to hand it to these folks. These programs cover a lot of territory and undoubtedly represent significant investments in hardware, software, physical lab space, and personnel.

This dovetails in an interesting way with comments John Blyberg made during the LITA panel discussion. John raised the issue of the library as content creator, not just content provider. In his comments he was specifically talking about the highly produced, professional presentation of most media our patrons encounter and how libraries’ presentation may or may not compete with that. However, these PLCMC offerings put a new spin on this idea by helping users create their content. Major coolness factor here.

iPhone Frenzy Underway

Throngs of happy consumers are eagerly snatching the iPhone 3G off the shelves now that the feeding frenzy has begun. I have a couple of friends who will probably wind up with one, so I’m keen to hear their opinions of the new device. Actually I’m mostly interested in hearing about the app store. When the original iPhone came out, I had two primary concerns: the inability for users to install their own applications, and the inability for users to replace the battery. Well . . . at least Apple is solving one of those problems on the new iPhone.

I’m starting to find fault with my current cell phone. (Perhaps I just want to replace it.) The iPhone is looking a bit more appealing to me for a number of reasons. A real web browser would be a huge improvement over my current phone. More screen real estate would be a nice upgrade as well.

I have a few apps that I’ve grown quite attached to: ListPro, iSilo, and SplashID. In addition to the text messaging utility, these are the three applications that I use most frequently on my phone. In fact, I use them so much that I probably spend more time with these than actually talking on the phone. The software developers for these products are supposedly working on iPhone versions that will be available through the app store. I’m waiting and watching.

ListPro and SplashID both have desktop components that extend the functionality of the programs in addition to making the data entry easier. I’m curious to see when or if the iPhone-compatible desktop software will be available. I’ve heard that the iSilo implementation will be somewhat clunky. Apparently there is no way for users to load their e-books directly onto the device, so they will have to download them all again (ACK), and the downloads will be one at a time!

Beyond that, there is the keyboard issue. I’ve played with the iPhone several times, and I’ve never quite gotten used to the keyboard. Perhaps I’m just used to the tactile experience with the Treo. That extra screen space sure would be nice though!

Thinking about phones causes me to muse over the types of phones I see people bringing into our library. Most of them are pretty much the garden variety mixture of Nokias and Razrs. For those who have anything like a smartphone, it’s usually an iPhone.

Do library users even want library services on their cell phones? If so, what do they want? Courtesy and overdue notices via SMS? Easy access to the website and catalog via their phone’s browser? Do they want to receive citations, announcements, and event information as text messages?

It warn’t broke, but they fixed it anyway.

Dontcha just hate it when a company fixes something and performance takes a hit? Such was the case with Opera Mini 4.1 Final (in my case, 4.1.11355, 20080522).

I’ve been using a Palm Treo 680 for almost a year and a half now. Blazer, the built-in web browser was just okay at the outset. As I explore more websites and as the websites get more complex, I increasingly find that Blazer just can’t cut it. Several months ago I installed Opera Mini, and I have used it a number of times since then – primarily when Blazer chokes on a page. With the supporting software that Opera Mini requires, it was a bit of a pain to get going. Once I finally had it running, I kept it on my phone, dutifully upgrading with each new release in hopes of a better interface and a more refined Treo-like user experience. (Did anyone else notice that Opera’s implementation of the 5-way Navigator button was completely inverted when compared to ALL OTHER Palm apps?)

Anywho . . . suffice it to say that Opera ain’t working so good now. After “upgrading” to the “final” 4.1 version, the program is all but unusable on my Treo. All kidding aside, most of the time I can’t even load Google with Opera. It crashes my phone, and I have to remove and replace the battery to force a reboot. You know, that new iPhone is looking better all the time!

Oh, for a version of Firefox that would run on the Palm OS!

An Intriguing Comment

At the 2008 LITA Top Tech Trends discussion, Karen Coyle made an intriguing comment. She said, “What my job often is these days is that I’m paid to write reports you couldn’t pay me to read.”

How many of us have been pulled into a task force charged with producing a report that we knew was destined to gather dust on the shelf? Whether it’s projecting a dream technology plan for which there is no money or codifying a policy simply because someone somewhere said we had to have it written down, it has probably happened to most of us.

Karen’s comment reminded me of something I’ve heard somewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on the place or event. I heard someone say, “Librarians love to collect statistics and then do nothing with them.” (Citation anyone?) If we create that 10 pound report or accumulate years’ worth of data, is all that effort actually worthwhile? In some cases undoubtedly it is. I have seen some interesting reports, and I’ve seen effective use of data.

Too often though, we’re likely just jumping through hoops. And as in Karen’s case, if it’s truly so boring that you couldn’t even pay the author to read it, perhaps our time would be better spent on other projects!

Cell Phone Texting

Well, I finally bit. I get annoyed by websites that require users to register before they can read the content (even if it is free), but after holding out against the New York Times for all these years, I stumbled across a headline that intrigued me. For those interested in following it, the article is Drilling Down: Phones’ Texting Feature Often Unused.

In this article, Alex Mindlin reports, “In the United States, for example, 82 percent of cellphone owners said that they never used text messaging, 3 percent said that they used it monthly or less, and 15 percent said that they used it every week or even more.”

82%. That’s a LOT of cell phone users who don’t use text messaging. My guess is that those who don’t use text messaging may not use other features such as taking photos, web browsing, or reading e-mail on their phones. Libraries spend a lot of time thinking about about Millennials. We know this group uses their cell phones regularly, and they send a lot of text messages. They bring different expectations to their library experiences, and libraries are trying to design new services that meet their needs.

However, if the 82% estimate is correct, libraries also need to stay focused on those users who don’t bring Millennial expectations. In our search for services that engage technically savvy users, we must be careful not abandon those who have different needs. Sure it will be cool to search the library Web site on a cell phone and receive courtesy notices via SMS. But if 82% of our cell phone-toting public don’t use those features, we need to make sure that we continue to develop services that they WILL use.