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Jun 2011

Why does a next-gen product qualify business-worthy?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

Today is the first day of E3, for for those outside the spectrum of games industry knowledge, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This three-day conference (five, for the press) centres on new games and technology produced by the big three – Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. It also saturates games news sites with lots of smaller (or sometimes equally important) announcements and news bits from individual games or gaming tech developers.

One of the biggest topics will be Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor, something I’ve written about here recently, as their conference starts at 5:30pm today. Also today, BusinessWeek published Lee Yi’s three-item list by which someone could confirm whether or not an app or piece of technology would benefit a business well enough to justify keeping it in play. Given that, outside of the hacking community, Kinect is struggling somewhat, it’s an interesting time to think about these criteria.

The first is thus: Is the app or tool a fad, or does its provider have long-term potential?

This is a major issue for me when considering purchasing new technology, one that was recently relevant to my shopping list as I braved the negativity surrounding Sony’s Playstation Network data security issues and bought a PS3. For items designed by small businesses, it’s especially relevant – there are countless companies producing new apps, and some will end up like Rovio (creators of Angry Birds, and now one of the richest apps-only developers around, as of 2011 at least), while some will fade. However, how can we judge whether it’ll stick around? The second qualifier for a long-lasting product helps with this.

The cost of education and transition.

This is crucial – for example, I’m considering switching from Microsoft Word to Scrivener for the purpose of writing and researching. I am considering this because Scrivener allows me to put my notes, research, images, plans and outlines all into the one program, as a single project file, whereas Word requires me to open multiple document windows and a browser – possibly more programs, if I need them. However, if it takes too long for me to learn Scrivener’s intricacies, I will abandon my attempt because my time is worth money, and I can’t waste too much time trying to shift between programs. It’s pick-up-and-play, or cut-and-run.

The third sign of how your product will perform in the long-term? Current employee behaviour.

Now, for a business, the individuals using the app or technology matter, because if your office is full of people who have a hard time adjusting to new ways of doing their jobs, this could make using a new concept extremely difficult and potentially far more costly than you could justify to investors or shareholders. “The key to productivity is user adoption,” states Yi, “so finding out what your employees like to use or are currently using should be a factor in your strategy.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now here’s the final test, tonight – will people finally see the merits of adopting Kinect, or Scrivener, when simpler alternatives, like conventional controllers or the old favourite, Word, are right there and ready to go? I’ll follow up on the Scrivener experience from a writer’s perspective, but for now I’d love to hear your thoughts. What software packages or bits of tech made your business better, and how worth your time and investment was the transition from the old to the new?

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Mar 2011

Do smartphones make us more efficient people?

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

Recently, I came into possession of the monolithic handset that is the HTC Desire HD. It’s big, but extremely powerful, fast, and the screen size means that typing in landscape is a breeze.

But has it made me better at my job, or at communicating in general?

Well, that’s a question I’ll answer in several parts. The first is the fact that I’m writing this post on my phone, underground, on a train. I do this often now, as I find it relaxing to hash out blog posts when commuting.

I can also schedule emails to be sent, catch up on tweets, play games, read books and edit word documents. Bar the internet connection, it’s a laptop. Even better, it’s allowing me to do my job better by cutting down the time I lose when commuting to and from the office.

Some would argue that it’s also a distraction, but I’d tell those people to learn some self-control. I come to work, I plug it in, and I use my computer, picking up where I left off. For small businesses, where offices may not be in desirable or close locations, this is perfect.

I’ve also found that I’m generally more efficient in my day-to-day-life. I text faster. I shop faster. I read my Google Analytics data easier. If you feel like you’re just not in the right place for a long laptop session after work, just work on the phone. I’ve done that a lot this past fortnight, and I feel like I’m enjoying the web a bit more.

I suppose the most exciting part is the Android Market, the crazy, open-source beast that it is. If I can’t do something or don’t want to take the long route, I find an app for it. For those taking yonks to type a report and and tweet it, switch machines and app that task!

I’m a convert, and all the rumours about battery life are not a problem if you know how to do a proper first charge and regular drain. So stop moaning, ditch the retro gear and get all 2011.

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Sep 2010

Small businesses, get your app on!

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

You know that advert that says ‘there’s an app for that’ for just about everything you want? Wouldn’t it be great if you could get an app to make your business improve massively? Well there is, sort of. Why not hop on the band wagon and make an app for your business?

If you haven’t been persuaded yet, I’m going to give you some reasons why getting your business an app is a click in the right direction.

1. Everyone’s at it:

According to a new study from the Pew Internet Project, 82% of American adults use cellphones and 43% of these have apps on their phone, of which two thirds use them regularly. That works out at about 24% of the US adult population who use them regularly. It also says that when someone has an app, 2 in 3 of them will use it every day and 1 in 4 use them for more than 30 minutes a day.

2. It’s affordable:

You may be surprised to learn that setting up a customised app costs less than you may think. You can spend however much you want, depending on whether you want something basic or more advanced. However much it costs though, the amount of people it will help you reach should far outweigh the price.

3. Lean on you:

Create a function or a service on your app that people can’t and don’t want to live without. It only has to be slightly related to what your company does, but it has to be something that will sell well. The more useful it is, the more popular it becomes, the more money you make and the more business your company gets.

4. Keep it new:

The online world is moving so quickly, it seems that every day there is something new that is getting people talking. If you are already using social media, you will find that starting to use an app is pretty simple. Think of it in the same way as how you use social media, you aren’t selling people something but providing them with something that they can use. To be in with a chance, you have to keep up with he competition, if they have an app, you must too.

Before you dive head first into the world of apps, consider a few things first. What platform are you going to use? Don’t automatically go for the iPhone. Yes, they are known for apps and are really popular but spend time doing research, see what most of your potential clients use?

Think about what exactly you want it to do. Go with a clear idea, the simpler it is the better. Ideally it should offer something related to website, although it doesn’t have to have nearly as much ability, such as using Flash. This doesn’t mean it should be the same as the website, work out exactly why it is an app, not just a mobile version of your website.

Once that is sorted and your app is up and running, watch as your app entices new customers and brings in more money.

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Jul 2010

Applied knowledge

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media, Usability, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

If you’re working in social media, or realistically anything that involves logging onto something once a day, chances are you’ve probably got a smartphone. I’m going to go ahead and push that even further, and wager that if you do, it’s either a BlackBerry or an iPhone. If it’s an iPhone, and unless you’re one of the many shedding tears over the recent issues with the fourth iteration, you’re likely happy to spend a little bit of cash on a huge variety of useful applications, or “Apps”. If you are one of those people, and you’d love to find out how useful a businessperson with their Apps geared for productivity can perform above their peers, then read on. If you’re not busy sending hate-mail to Steve Jobs, that is.

Apps: tasks made convenient

If you’re on the run and you’re needing to work on the accounts for last year as April’s creeping up on you a little too quickly – then don’t worry. Grab your iPhone, launch the App Store, find Spreadsheet, pay just under six dollars, and you’re able to edit a spreadsheet on your phone. I’m not joking, and it’s even visually appealing. Personally, I’m on a hiatus from Apple products, but I have to admit that the appeal of being able to do mundane tasks on the commute and the more enjoyable ones in the office sounds fantastic, and why not up your productivity?

If that’s not enough, why not Documents To Go? That’s your PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PDF, iWork (c’mon, it’s still an Apple phone), Google Docs… the list goes on, quite literally. Netbooks are all good and well, but if you’re a city-dweller, you know as well as I do that bar Starbucks, taking a computer out in public is a risky proposition, at best. However, an iPhone is literally the size of a phone, and unless you’re an optimistic-but-misguided person trying to pocket an iPad, it’s perfect for the job.

The main advantage is functionality, and of course, portability. Being able to ensure your presentation runs the way you want it to, or correcting a typo or two moments before taking to the stage is a vital business advantage, and you’ll find your productivity soaring. If you’ve got the phone, take advantage of it – not doing so is like having a car but never putting it in reverse – you can keep going forward, sure, but when everyone else is squeezing into the smaller spots you’re going to be aiming for the bus lane and praying for the warden to look the other way.

But there are other smaller benefits – simply having a smartphone as a manager or a CEO is crucial in today’s digitised economy. Missing that vital email or PDF contract just before you’re in a phones-off meeting can be disastrous, and making sure you’re hooked into the biggest communications network on the planet is all too logical. It’s a pity one of the best phones on the market is rather pricey, but if you’re after something that lets you edit, record, document, process and approve almost as smoothly as on your office computer, then invest.

Anyone else out there?

Of course, one of the biggest draws of smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, has to be the ability to social network. Twitter and Facebook have become a huge part of almost everyone’s everyday lives, and with a massive 400 active Facebook accounts and the mind-bending Twitter statistics from one of my recent posts, you’re looking at a lot of time invested in other people’s comings and goings. So, with that in mind, and the business tactics we’ve discussed on this blog quite often about getting more customers through good social networking on behalf of a company, how do we engineer the smart use of Apps in order to facilitate this?

The answer? Ensure people know you’re thinking on the move. A CEO who’s in a meeting but still finds time to Tweet about his breakfast is a bad thing. A CEO who Tweets about the important and public aspects of said meeting is an honest, open, respected CEO. If you’re sitting high on the employee hierarchy and you’re feeling a little left behind by the office’s dedicated social media buff, then take it into your own hands. Of course, it’s worth making sure you know what and what not to say, as not everyone will appreciate a mix of your charity work and a TwitPic gallery of your new boat, but otherwise, why not ensure everyone knows you’re not someone with more money than time?

There are, of course, other benefits – subscribe to the Twitter accounts of your competitors, even with a subtle account. Being able to monitor them on the go, especially if they make an announcement five minutes before your annual press conference, is a key business strategy. All too often, announcements go unheard by competitors until they see it on the showroom floor later that day and, hand clasped firmly to forehead, stagger towards the hungry press-hounds to redeem themselves. Even tweeting in response to a competitor’s announcement moments after they make it can have a huge impact – you’re aware, and you’re critical but appreciative of your rival’s business presence.

We live in a world where Stephen Fry’s more interested in tweeting on his iPhone than anything else, and when one of the UK’s leading minds is into Twitter, it’s worth taking note. But being able to do so, as Fry has done, in the middle of a television broadcast, and watch the presenter laugh at Fry’s tweet from across the set is something quite exceptional to watch. Now, imagine that Fry is your competitor, and the rest of the room represents the show’s host, and you’re the only one with no iPhone App for Twitter. Sound isolating? It is, and if you’re going to rocket to the top, you’re either going to need a lot of chemistry and astrophysics, or you’re going to need a phone heralded by a man called Steve that has turned public transport into a phone-rotating, music-heavy, endlessly tapping festival of productivity.

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Feb 2010

In Case You Happened To Blink. Google Presents: Buzz

Posted in Blogging, News, Social Media | 0 Comments

Ok seriously. You turn your head for two seconds and there it is: another product from Google. As it happens, I was thinking about creating an entry based on an article I read about Googling v Binging when BUZZ, out of seemingly nowhere, pops up. Following the Tweets and FB comments along the way, the biggest questions seem to be ‘What is it?’ and ‘Are you going to use it?’

Upon its release and my discovery of said release, Buzz had not been activated on my Gmail account, but within about an hour it was (upping my Google paranoia). Since then (it’s been three days) the majority of posts I’ve seen have come from Mashable. Mashable and I are really developing quite a relationship, I’d say. Good old Pete. I commented on a couple of their posts, read a bunch of the articles about Buzz that they have posted, read a couple more articles from other sources and have basically been sitting on the topic for a couple of days.

I must admit that I’m starting to feel anxiety over the pressure to ‘get’ new products and understand their usefulness. This anxiety is greatly reduced as I read comments on FB status and within Twitter – my personal fave at the moment is from John_Cleese: ‘Do not, I repeat, do not, confuse me with this Buzz stuff’. You said it, John. First reviews indicate that it doesn’t integrate with FB, as Twitter does, and as AOL is starting to as well. However, Buzz does integrate with Twitter so your Twitter posts can automatically go out to your Buzz contacts, but that’s not 100% integration so you still have to have both accounts. The question remains, why would I start using Buzz when I already have Twitter? Because it’s integrated into my gmail? Well…hmmm. I’m already annoyed that the few responses to comments I have made have gone directly into my email (you can set up a filter and that won’t happen, but I think messages should, by default, land in a separate location. This makes me want to treat Buzz like email, or IM. And, as if to illustrate this, when I posted ‘Why would I use Buzz over Twitter?’ the response I got was from a friend (who doesn’t use Twitter) saying ‘So we can talk like this now, too’. I had to explain that if she wanted to talk, we could IM through gmail, email through gmail, or even speak through gmail, but that Buzz was meant for a different purpose. The purpose that Twitter has already established, I think. Why didn’t Google just BUY Twitter? Furthermore? Visually, Buzz is messy. Following Mashable means that I have to scroll, forever, to get to other posts from my other contacts. On top of Mashable’s posts, I also see all of the 458 comments on said post. Seriously? No thanks.

Interestingly, while Twitter’s inception was based on the question ‘What are you doing?’, it seems to have evolved into ‘What’s going on?’. That seems to be where it’s most useful. Not to digress TOO much, but this morning, from the window of my hotel room, I could see a massive plume of smoke (that was precipitated by a huge flame) and wondered if it was a fire or if I was seeing things, again. Within 10 minutes of noting it, Newyorkology retweeted a post that there had been a transformer explosion, causing a fire in the exact location where I had seen the smoke (and fire). Further proof I can be as nosy (and lazy) as I want from the couch of the hotel room.

All this to say that if Twitter can deliver that to me – faster than a Domino’s pizza? Why would I switch to Buzz. Just so I could start saying “I’m going to Buzz that”, I guess. I never have been a fan of the Twitter usage of the word ‘Tweet’.

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