Businesses – Embrace the Mobile

While on vacation recently, I tried to do business with two different companies from my iPhone. I was trying to add services that I wanted, and that would have translated into a little more revenue for them. Alas, it was not to be. For both products, I was able to successfully navigate all of their sign-up forms until I reached the very last “submit” button.

 

The. Very. Last. One.

 

As in  . . . the one that equals “buy”.

 

It just didn’t work. I tapped and tapped, but the phone couldn’t submit the content.

 

For one company this won’t be a big deal. I’ll have an opportunity to use their service again later. For the other company though, this represents a tiny little loss in profit. I needed their service while I was on vacation. Now that I’m home, I don’t need it anymore, and I haven’t been back to their website. All because the website didn’t support a mobile browser.

 

Now I understand that when you’re coming from a mobile browser, you shouldn’t necessarily expect the full website experience, and I didn’t. But if the website lets me make it most of the way through a purchase, I expect it to let me complete the purchase. Oh well. Maybe they just didn’t want my business since I was coming from a mobile platform. Funny thing though . . . the company has two mobile apps that I wanted to use after I subscribed to their service. Go figure.

Open Up the Platform!

News is now spreading across blogs that Apple has finally approved Opera Mini for the iPhone. (Need it? Get it for free in the iTunes store.)

So what does this hold for the future? In the short term, I hope this means Firefox for the iPhone. I like Firefox, and I’ve been hoping to see an iPhone version for some time. For the long term, does this mean that Apple is changing its stance on apps?

For those who don’t know, Apple has officially been opposed to apps that duplicate core iPhone functionality. That has been interpreted to mean that since the iPhone has a built-in e-mail client, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in telephone application, you can’t make another one for it. Since the iPhone has a built-in web browser . . . well . . . you get the picture.

Given all that history, the fact that the Opera Mini web browser is now available for the iPhone, could be huge. Or it could be nothing. At the very least, it could be a sign of Apple opening the door for some changes. However, as many developers have experienced, Apple can slam doors just as quickly as it opens them.

I’ve played around with Opera Mini, and I’m not impressed yet even though I like the tabs. Opera Mini actually seems a little slower than Safari on my phone, although others are experiencing better results. Faster or slower though, I hope that Opera’s approval by the App Store reviewers bodes well for things to come.

Why I didn’t want an iPad, and why I think I want one now

When I saw the iPad preview information, I was struck with a lot of the same impressions that others had: it’s a big iPod Touch. To a great extent, that’s still my opinion. However, several days ago I read a review that (somewhat) changed the way I think about the iPad.

David Pogue, writing in the New York Times, did a two-part review that looks at the iPad from both a techie perspective and an “everyone else” perspective. In his closing, Pogue wrote, “ . . . the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on.” Strangely enough, these few lines made the difference for me.

When I look at a product – computer, camera bag, kayak, whatever – I take a “be all that you can be” approach. I expect the item to have loads of functionality. In short, I expect it to be the be-all-end-all device. That’s unrealistic of course, but I still expect it! So whatever the device, I look at all potential uses to which I might put it, and then I evaluate it based on how well I think it will meet my expectations.

This was the test that the iPad failed when I initially considered it. In my mind the iPad was the PERFECT form factor for a true tablet PC. However, it lacked the one-two punch I consider essential for a tablet: a stylus and good handwriting recognition software. In spite of what Steve Jobs has to say, I can see the value of a stylus, and I wish the iPad had one. I have previously used Microsoft OneNote under Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The handwriting recognition software was really very good for either print or cursive writing, and I saw a lot of possibilities there. Unfortunately, the PC itself was just too heavy. That’s why I thought the iPad would have been perfect, but alas, no stylus.

But David Pogue’s review made me rethink the iPad. Once I resigned myself to the fact that it’s not a great device for creating stuff, the idea became a lot more palatable. When I think of it as a device for consuming stuff, it makes a lot more sense. Since my first portable device, I’ve read a lot of e-books. The iPad should be fine for that. The browser and add-on apps should make it a good device for consuming lot of other content as well.

This seems to make all the difference to me. In trying to accept the iPad for what it is, I have (somewhat) rejected what I think it could be. And it truly looks like a great device for consuming content.

So . . . maybe I do need one after all.

Evernote and Cloud Data Failure

As a general rule, I don’t like my data in the cloud. Let me go ahead and get that out there so my prejudices are fully disclosed. I use it because I must, but I don’t like it. The primary reason I don’t like it is a practical one: data in the cloud means that you have to be able to connect to the cloud, and far too often, I can’t. Living and traveling in a largely rural area, network coverage is far from ubiquitous. And no network coverage sometimes translates into no data. Setting aside security concerns and the additional hook into my devices that each application seems to want, connectivity is my main concern.

Until recently, that is. Several months ago, a friend recommended Evernote. There are a lot of things I like about Evernote. I like the clipping feature, and I like the IDEA of being able to access my notes from many locations. Unfortunately, I recently lost a lot of data to Evernote. As in POOF – gone forever.

I was recently on vacation, and I started making some travel notes with Evernote. As luck would have it, my vacation area didn’t have great coverage, and Evernote had a lot of trouble every time it tried to sync with the Evernote server.  Initially the result was relatively benign but nevertheless annoying: sections of content would be duplicated several times throughout the document. I had to scroll up and down, find the old stuff, find the new stuff, delete the duplicate stuff, and save it again. Annoying, but doable.

Until the very last day. Over the course of my vacation I spent several hours making notes so that I could remember specific details about the trip. And then the last day everything disappeared. Well . . . almost everything. I still have a blank document with a title, but that’s all. Everything else – all of my CONTENT – is gone. It happened after one of those periods when my local application was trying to phone home. Apparently something went awry, it couldn’t connect properly to the Evernote server, and Evernote inexplicably thought that I wanted to delete all of my content. Grrrrr. Double-grrrrr even.

These were just vacation notes, true. It wasn’t critical work/medical/financial information. But the principle is the same. I relied on the cloud. The cloud ate my data. The cloud failed. The scary thing is that more and more companies are pushing data for mobile devices into the cloud. While the idea is a good one, the execution is everything. If you’re going to eat my data, I really can’t trust your service. Moreover, I can’t in good conscience recommend it to others.