Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our future looks bright ...

Back from what seems like a very long trip, I'm home and feeling rather satisfied.
As we have been working hard to evolve our business away from developing and selling "me too" products, 2 weeks ago at the Hong Kong electronics fair, all 3 of our brands took a large step forward as each released a number of products that drew show stopping attendance.

Magic Box continued to draw the crowds with the revolutionary design trends it has been setting over the past 18 months, and it continues to get bolder with each new generation of product launch. However, this time we have added to design and also jumped to the "next level" in audio quality with our 3D sound on display and ready to hit the high street before Christmas

With stiff internal competition, Binatone, always the most "traditional" of our brands was not going to be left behind. Previewing their new CliQ range of small kitchen appliances which have been under development for the past 9 months, the initial reaction from all around was exceptional. Stunningly designed using unique materials and cosmetic finishes, the "Apple-esque" touches were hugely appreciated by onlookers from major markets on every continent. Scheduled for production in March, we have people lining up to get these on their shelves for retail sales as soon as possible.

It was especially pleasing to also see Freeplay, the newest addition to our group, be so warmly received, despite its more humble presence on our stand at the show. Freeplay has been in gestation for the past 12 months since we bought the business, and the Hong Kong trade fair was something of a "coming out" party for the business under our ownership. The brand was warmly welcomed back by it's historic loyal customers excitesd to see what we have been developing for the past 12 months. They weren't disappointed with what we had to show and there is plenty more to come from that stable in the coming months.

In closing, I want to give a big thank you to all those who were part of the show ... those in front and those behind the scenes. To those who "executed" and to those who made the whole slick presentation possible.

So now the next stage of work begins. These projects are passed on for production where we have to ensure we deliver products to the market on time and keep the quality of product and finish top notch. In parallel, the great creative minds we have behind our brands move on ... it's time to get to work on the new consumer dreams for 2013.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My first impressions of iOS 5

I switched from Blackberry to iPhone about 6 months ago for 2 main reasons.

1) Etisalat (my phone service provider in the UAE) was threatening to stop supporting corporate Blackberry servers not located in the UAE, and

2) I had a growing reliance on my iPad and it's apps, and I was starting to feel lost not having these with me when I didn't have my iPad.

So I migrated and was berated by those I had previously preached to about the weaknesses in iPhones (which I maintain were correct). These included ...

1) I still prefer the feel and accuracy of a "real" keyboard.

2) The email functionality on iPhone has been poor (just barely usable) especially because mails cannot be deleted or filed when you are offline!

3) Updates need to be done via a computer.

4) Not necessarily an iPhone weakness, but definitely THE Blackberry strength, was no BBM!

There are a few other pet peeves I have, but then to be fair, I had some of those on Blackberry and Android, so let's stay focused on these "big" points.

I was eagerly looking forward to the launch of iOS5 last week, hoping it will answer most of my issues. I did the upgrade yesterday and here is what I have found so far.

1) It appears as though the mail problem has been fixed. Finally I can work offline. The amount of time I spend on planes and use that time for clearing my inbox, this is the "killer update" for me.

2) A "tasks" program has been added that syncs with Outlook. Till now I have been using "Zero", a 3rd party app that is simple and works really well. On the new iPhone task program, you can't "hide" completed tasks, so it has synced my tasks (live and completed) for the past several YEARS ... I don't really need those!

3) The very mediocre calendar was supposed to have a couple of improvements which I haven't yet spotted. One of these was meant to be a week view!

4) I only upgraded yesterday (a week after iOS 5 was released) because I was in Asia last week and updates, till now, could not be managed without being plugged into the main partner computer.
I have not fully tested this yet, but according to my iPhone settings screen, it appears that you still need to be partnered with a particular computer to get everything syncing, but it will manage the syncing over wifi instead of with a cable. That's a huge improvement, but why need a specific host computer at all?

5) The notification center is hugely improved (well... there wasn't really one at all before). It is now similar to what you get on Android. Swipe one finger down from the top of the screen and you can see your "live" calendar appointments and todos and a variety of other pieces of information you might choose to put there.

6) Fast and direct access to the camera is now available with a shortcut (a double tap on the "home" button), so when you need to snap something fast, this is a great improvement to what we had before ... Turn on the phone, unlock the password, find the camera app and launch it.
Additionally, I like the fact there is a hardware button to press for pictures instead of the previous on screen soft button.

7) iMessage ... The jury is still out as I can't find people to test this with! This is integrated into the SMS/message program (not something separate like BBM), and the iPhone is supposed to recognize if your contact has iMessage and it will then use that platform to send the message instead of network SMS. Perhaps an interesting idea, but I think a clear separate program would have been better, or perhaps an integration with FaceTime. For now, I'm sticking to "What's App".

8) Newsstand is an interesting addition. A good idea for an app to hold all newspapers and magazines (and a fresh revenue source for Apple), but I'm not able to move that app into a folder!

9) The upgrade process itself took about 7 hours! I have been reading that Apple servers were overwhelmed by the demand for the upgrade, but it's been a week now and they really should be able to cope after that length of time... so I'm not sure if my long download experience was due to server overload (still) or if that's genuinely how long the upgrade should take (in which case they should warn you in advance to do this only when you can be without your phone for half a day), or I may have had too many torrents downloading simultaneously when also running the upgrade :)

Overall, some useful stuff, but there's a lot more to do. I remain hooked because of the apps I have across my iOS universe now, and the email improvement has dealt with my number one issue on the platform.

Some articles I have read this week talked about battery issues with iOS 5, and although it's been a short time for me, I was on my phone more than normal yesterday (experimenting) and didn't notice anything significant in this field.

So it seems a worthwhile upgrade, but I look forward to 5.1 to smooth out the wrinkles.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Good bye Steve Jobs

Many people accuse me of being an Apple hater. This is far from the truth.

In this moment of sadness, I have to confess of being an Apple envy-er.

I remain of the opinion that Apple products are far from perfect (they do crash, they don’t function as flawlessly as claimed and they do come up short against the competition on a number of fronts), but at the end of the day, they are beautiful products, loved by tens of millions and there is outstanding creativity behind what they do.

Apple, through Steve Jobs, have created an evangelical following for themselves. What a position to be in where millions of people wait up to watch a product launch speech and then rave and blog about it to the whole world. How can a company get such a following of passionate consumers that won’t have a bad word said about the products it makes, even when it clearly has flaws? Indeed I know people who run their own successful businesses and speak with more passion about Apple and its products than they do about their own businesses.

So this is my envy. It’s a dream for my business to have even a fraction of that following and loyalty from its customers and consumers.

Apple achieved this because of a truly brilliant person like Steve Jobs.

He had a dream to change the world with his passion, and he achieved that … genuinely. He took the time to understand consumers in a way that consumers don’t understand themselves and he led a generation of business leaders to think different!

At the end, my envy is better served as admiration.

Steve Jobs … you will be missed!