Kindle the college demographic

There have been some recent news articles about how Amazon is planning on entering into the textbook market by making a textbook version of their Kindle eBook reader. I think I speak for everyone when I say, finally, what took so long? Some of us (me) have had had this idea for some time now (three years) and was hoping someone would do it (I have the design to prove it), and do it right. The college textbook market has been almost comically redicilous, but the current options are so poor that they can still dominate. So many of us have tried buying books online and although prices are much better, there is a significant hassle associated with it. In most cases you have to wait until the first day of class to get the syllabus, only then can you figure out exactly what books you need (especially editions) and order them. Media mail is awesomely cheap, but coupled with slow processing times can make ordering online an extremely slow process. The alternative is to download textbooks via torrent. All I can say is having three huge textbooks on a flash drive is absolutely awesome. Furthermore, being able to search the text within the books is almost priceless.
       Clearly the Kindle is a very intriguing idea, especially in the textbook market. For a long time people have said that eBook readers were just flat out sub par. Hard to read, poor battery life, small memory were the most common complaints, and the Kindle seems to have solved some of these (battery life is mediocre).
       In my reincarnation of the eBook reader I took a different route then the Kindle. I really didn’t see the need for a keyboard, all you really need is a power button, two buttons to flip the pages. In the case of textbooks I though it would be very cool to have some highlight functionality, so add a stylus and you could highlight portions of the text.
       When I look at the Kindle there are a few things that I can only hope for which would make the Kindle a useful tool. First, some form of highlight/tagging feature which allows you to select parts of text. Then once selected you can iterate through all of the highlighted items for a quick review of the most important parts. Next, if Google’s $700 stock price has taught us anything, search is key. There is a keyboard on the thing, please make use of it and allow people to search through text books. Sometimes you need a quick reminder of the truth table for a clocked d-latch, and if I cant search in the textbook everyone will just resort to searching for it online, or spending a while finding it in the book.
       I read an article which touted the Kindle as the next iPod. Please. As innovative and interesting as the Kindle if it was 1/10th as popular as iPods I think it would be a success in most people’s books. Its price point has to drop significantly from $350 for it to even have a chance.

Dont be so surprised by Seinfeld

I’ve read so many articles about Jerry Seinfeld apparently becoming part of the new Windows Vista ad campaign that I am about ready to explode. Most articles are quick to criticize how Seinfeld as a long way from his popularity 10 years back or how on his show there was always a Mac in his apartment (apparently that makes him the biggest fan boy of all). To address the ludicrous first, I have yet to see any article or interview that actually have Seinfeld saying he owns or even likes Macs. I have no doubt that the computer in the show wasn’t an accident; if you have ever seen advertisements and more recently commercials you will notice that all computers are mysteriously white and curvaceous. Macs are pretty, there is not question about that so why would they put anything less in their commercial? Yes, it was mostly an Apple IIe which may not be pretty now but you don’t even want to see the PC’s back then. Show me an interview, article, picture, then we can talk…

People seem perplexed by them picking Seinfeld, I mean weren’t they supposed to pick someone hip, cool, and just flat out AWESOME?! Not to be brief, but no, absolutely not. If there is one thing that Microsoft surely is not going to do it, its try to out-cool Apple. Criticize as you please, but Microsoft is not dumb, and they know that trying to out-cool Apple is a loosing battle. Now I was surprised as any when I heard the news, I didn’t even think Microsoft would have a “spokesperson” for the campaign since that is an extremely risky venture. But, if you are going to pick someone, Seinfeld is an excellent candidate. When you think about the target market, as much as they would love to go after the hipsters, Microsoft has a somewhat older market to cater too. So although Seinfeld has been out of the limelight for a little while now, those of us who are old enough to remember the show like Jerry and don’t have one bad thing to say about him. You wont find pictures of him on TMZ smoking outside a club or running over paparazzi, in fact, aside from his show, Seinfeld lives a quiet, unpublicized life.

As George said:
George: Well, I got just the thing to cheer you up. A computer!
Huh? We can check porn, and stock quotes.
I probably should bring up the episode which involves Jerry and computers, the white laptop crowd will have a field day..

Laptops in Corp Land?

I started reading this article over on Arstechnica and the more I thought about it I still see a fundamental flaw in their logic. To quickly summarize, the article makes a case for why very soon desktops will only “appeal to a niche market” even in the corporate world. Since employees are traveling significantly more and mobile broadband provides reasonable coverage laptops will soon dominate the corporate market. The article continues about how laptops serve as a viable extension for ones personality, and if you’ve been paying attention, you will know how annoying I find that.

Even still, I will concede the home market. If you have been paying attention you would have heard that notebooks now outnumber desktops in terms of sales and I don’t see much reversing this trend, in the home market.

The corporate market, are you kidding me? Clearly the author sees the corporate employees as a bunch of busy bees just buzzing their way around the country for months on end. Only returning home to the hive for the occasional meeting and suckle of honey (take that as you will). Perhaps Mr. Reisinger has been eating too may dinners out with his journalist cohorts because although people are traveling more, not nearly on the scale that he is implying. Without sounding too green, I might venture to say that most non-sales people probably spend about the same time on vacation then they do traveling for work. There are, however, practical uses for laptops which don’t require an airport or gas stations. Having a laptop to take around the office, into meetings, even home can be quite convenient and is probably where most laptops get their use. When you think about these three cases you will mention the fundamental struggle with laptops: Size/Portability vs. Usability. For the most part, the bigger the laptop the most usable it is (bigger screen, full sized keyboard, track pad) and the less portable it is (larger, heavier). Yes, some laptops make better use of space then others, but it’s rarely by much. Based on my empirical (and utterly unscientific) study I’ve found that the median home laptop is 15” while business laptop would be 14”. Like I said before, this is because business users travel more, albeit still not very much.

One thing that becomes apparent when looking at laptops however is that they are not even close to desktops in terms of usability. Clearly a smaller monitor has a pretty large effect on usability, but even worse is mice. Trackpads are the most popular “pointing device” in laptops and basically the only improvement we have seen in them over the past many years are the scroll bars. Multi-touch you say? Meh, wake me up when you can do something interesting. And if you have the ThinkPad “TrackPoint”? Ouch.

Wait a minute, why not just buy a docking station and you get the best of both worlds. Well you smart cookie, that’s a good point. You get the portability of a laptop since you can undock it and take it with you, and when its at your desk you can use full size peripherals. Unfortunately one other thing you will get with a dock is a lighter wallet, they do not come cheap at all. Why pay $300 for a docking station when you can get a whole new desktop for $500?

If you aren’t yet convinced that laptops wont be taking over the corporate landscape any time soon you should take a look back over this article, because you must be missing something.

Why waste your money?

Throughout the past few years quite a few people have asked me for advice on buying computers, whether it’s because I’m a Computer Science guy or Jewish is not necessarily clear, but I sense (hope) it’s probably both. In most cases I get the standard “I just want to surf the web, check some email, and the occasional X” where X is some software that requires a somewhat more powerful machine (e.g. photo/video editing, gaming, etc.). Interestingly enough, my answer over the past few years has been the same and it is this; “You have two choices, A) you can bargain hunt for a few weeks and find a Acer/Compaq/HP deal with decent specs that will run you $500-600 depending how hard you look or B) Get a coupon for a Dell laptop and spend $1000 and only pay ~$800.” Of course, since I also fall into that category, I practice what I preach and have ordered combo B with a large soda a few times. To be honest, as long as you do your homework you will find a good machine which can handle all of the WOW you throw at it.

With that in mind, I am baffled when I talk to people who have and buy $1500+ laptops. Before you get offended, if you require a quad-core, 13”, 2 lb. laptop (or an Apple) then by all means, close your eyes and hand over your plastic. Those crazies aside, (I knew was going to offend people) I have seen a lot of expensive laptops being purchased and they all tend to share two key things, they look sexy, and they have very mediocre spec’s. Clearly a sexy looking laptop is a very important feature, I know that when I am out about on the town that I cannot be seen without a sexy laptop to match my handbag. Now I am not going to lie to you and say that Macs/Dell XPS’s/Sony Vaio’s are ugly because they clearly not. Yet, I find it difficult to justify paying so much more for a nice looking laptop when realistically most laptops look pretty nice. Before you boil over about my mediocre spec comment I’ll explain. One would think that if you were shelling out almost twice the amount of money that you would get a beast of a machine. Not so fast, the low end models are generally WORSE then the low end of less sexy laptops. So…you pay more to get less? That is correct. But…if you want to pay MORE money then you can actually get a sexy laptop with decent specs.

Note: For those of you who are squirming out of their seats about how Macs don’t require as good specs to run decently, hold onto that thought, I’ll be there soon.