The great guys over at 37 Signals wrote an interesting piece yesterday about offering “desserts by the bite” to “turn a $1 coffee into a $3 dessert.” The cool thing about this concept - offering small desserts for cheap - is that it allows restaurants to add a little bit extra to your check every time. Rather than get excuses about how full customers are (since they expect the typically huge, overpriced cakes and brownie volcano eruptions), they will feel okay (and a bit healthful) with the idea of having a cup of coffee and a tiny “thing” along with it. I won’t say much more about this, since Jason at 37Signals explains it very well, but I think this is a fresh idea that more restaurants ought to adopt. I know I’d buy it.

Hotdogs and Metaphor

Steve has a successful hotdog stand. Very successful, as a matter of fact. His stand sells over 106,000 hotdogs a day worldwide. These are simple hotdogs. They look and taste great, and offer all the essentials as far as hotdogs go - bun, ketchup, mustard, even sauerkraut and onions if you’d like. And they come in several sizes to suit your hunger. Steve is expecting to sell close to 20 million hotdogs in the Holiday quarter alone, because it is the time of year that family and friends get together and buy hotdogs for each other in a beautiful display of community.

Now, just when Steve is sitting pretty and reportedly enjoying sugar-plum fairy thoughts of extending his hotdog reign even further in the New Year by teaming up with wireless carriers like T-Mobile and Cingular, a challenger emerges.

This upstart isn’t exactly a New Kid on the Block, either. Bill, as our challenger is known, has a mega-successful hamburger business that puts Steve’s small beef operation to shame (at least when it comes to worldwide sales figures and market share), but his business has recently been plagued by the E-Coli bacteria and Mad Cow, and consumer trust in his brand has diminished. Bill hasn’t been too successful in the hotdog realm so far, but sees Steve’s continued dominance in this area to be a threat and wants to take a bite out of the very lucrative pie Steve has more-or-less created from scratch.

Seeing the holiday season approaching, Bill introduces his new product. It is a single hot-dog, equal in price and size to Steve's mid-sized frank, and includes all the requisite fixings. The wow factor - the thing that Bill hopes will push his dogs over the top - is a simple sharing feature. All customers of his hot dogs will be able to share their hotdogs with others who also have a Bill Dog. People are impressed with this innovation, simple as it may be, but in practice it fails to impress because there is just not a large enough customer pool to sustain it. It is simply too difficult to find someone with which to share. And even harder to find another individual with any sort of “taste,” after all. Further, it nearly goes without saying that the lack of a lower-priced, cocktail-sized frank (by far Steve's best selling dog) really hurts Bill’s chances. Given the commanding lead Steve has in this market, it is a real uphill battle for Bill, especially given the limits on the single innovation he brings to the field.

What, after all, could Bill do if Steve decided to add the sharing feature to his line of wieners? With the market penetration Steve currently has (and imagine after the holidays!) hardly a day goes by when one doesn’t see a dozen or more people on the street holding their Steve Dogs and bouncing along happily.

In the end, it seems as though Bill has made another misstep in his competition with Steve by introducing a new product and entering a new industry at a time when he might have been better off focusing on improving his other offerings and reclaiming his good name in the hamburger world.

How will this story end? Only time will tell.

What are your thoughts?

Brand New MacBook Pro

This beautiful specimen is now mine, officially replacing my 14" iBook G4. It is a 15" MacBook Pro (the new Core2Duo kind), and is, officially, awesome. I spent a couple hours on Saturday reinstalling all my old applications (and some new ones like Lilt that I am going to check out and write about soon, because it sounds and looks really impressive), moving important files from my backup drive (best purchase I ever made), as well as a few more recent files that didn’t make it onto the drive, but which I backed up on my web server (wow, I’m good with the backup!). I installed a few new dashboard widgets and am having fun populating the greater screen space with cool stuff (including sprucing it up for Christmas with some flashing lights and a tree that becomes more decorated each day leading up to the 25th.

There’s lots to love about this new computer, and lots to discover over the next couple weeks, but what impresses me most about it (something that I also noticed with my iPod Nano) is how quickly it feels like home all over again. A few hours of work installing and configuring, and my MacBook Pro feels as comfortable to me as my two-year-old iBook. It’s a warm, huggable, human feeling. It’s family.

This is what Apple should be advertising. Not the dorky Mac vs. PC commercials that shoot for creating a cool factor - but family. A young boy and his grandmother taking pictures together using PhotoBooth, brothers and sisters making impromptu music using GarageBand and putting it on their parents’ iPods secretly in the middle of the night, a new couple watching and rewatching their wedding tape using iMovie/iDVD and browsing through the hundreds of pictures from the reception using iPhoto. And then posting their memories and soon-to-come baby pictures on the Internet for all to see using iWeb. Each of these tasks are easy to accomplish, elegantly designed, and created with real people in mind. They are not made for the professional crowd, but for the everyday user. For the families who can’t always find time to eat dinner together but who still gather together and still need each other in very real ways. Apple computers make it so easy to create memories and share them with others. Yeah, they are great at the geeky stuff (that’s why I use them, for the most part), but they truly excel in humanizing technology. If you haven’t made the switch away from Windows-based PCs, now is the time, more than ever, to adopt a Mac to your family. It is so worth it.

End unpaid advertisement.

Reasons Not To Get A Zune This Christmas

I am back to work this morning after a three-day sick leave and boy am I glad. This week has been pretty awful, between the sickness, cutting my own toe with glass by scratching it with my other foot, my iBook dying last night (I think the hard drive failed), missing the TechCrunch party yesterday, and the Zune release. The only good things I have to go on are Jaeda finally being eliminated from America’s Next Top Model (though Caridee was in the bottom two, which really sucked!), and watching the movie Slither last night, which was awesome.

But speaking of the Zune, it is now time for all the reasons NOT to buy (or ask for) one this Christmas.

First, a little primer: This week Microsoft released their Zune music player in order to directly compete with Apple’s commanding lead in the personal audio market. They want some of that big, big pie that Apple made not too many years ago, and has, for the most part, kept all to itself. The Zune is the most recent in the long list of supposed “iPod Killers”, and honestly, if any company could kill the iPod, it would probably be Microsoft. But never fear Apple faithful - I simply do not see that happening anytime soon. But we haven’t reached the commentary phase yet. I am still being objective. So back to the point - what is the Zune? Simply put, it is a portable music player that comes with a 30GB hard drive. It has a three-inch color screen, plays video, shows your photos, and allows Wi-Fi transferring of songs to other Zune players nearby. The Zune comes in three colors - white, black, and brown, and is controlled by what looks like an iPod clickwheel, but is actually just four directional buttons on a circular disc. Microsoft has created the Zune Marketplace - like the iTunes Store - for purchasing your music (and later, movies). There is also jukebox/syncing software that lets you manage playlists and listen to music on your PC (it is not currently Mac-compatible). Oh, and FM radio, I guess. Woo.

Okay, enough of the unbiased discription. Now is where the review part of the review happens. (Disclosure: I do not have a Zune. I have not seen or touched one in person. If you want to send me one to do a more proper “review” please go right ahead. I can be contacted at kevinmichaelkeating AT gmail DOT com. What this means is I am speaking nothing but the truth. Buy a Zune at your own risk, but not after reading this review all the way through. If you don’t, you will regret it. And, even if you do read it, and decide “Hey, it doesn’t sound that bad,” you’ll probably regret it.

So here goes. I am now going to abandon paragraphs and things for the super-popular list format.
  1. Brown? What?!! What kind of retro-hipster freaks are you targeting Brown to? Are you planning on making Zune the “Official Media Player of the UPS” for crying out loud?! Eww.
  2. It is bigger than the current iPod (even compared to the 80GB version).
  3. It is heavier than the current iPod (even compared to the 80GB version).
  4. It has a shorter battery life than the current iPod (which doesn’t even begin to approach the 24-hour life of the new iPod Nano).
  5. Crippled Wi-Fi sharing that restricts shared music to three plays or three days before deactivating and prompting you to purchase it. This applies even if you are the artist who recorded the song and want to share it with your Zune-carrying friends.
    Corollary to 5: Where are you going to find someone else with a Zune so that you can share? Are you seriously going to approach a stranger and try to send them the newest Timberlake tune? Do you want that random guy/girl on the subway to punch you in the face? (Worst pickup line of the new millenium: Is that a Zune in your pocket...) But seriously, for Microsoft to make the main feature of the device (the file sharing) something that relies completely on the device becoming ubiquitous is a major gamble. Without it, the Zune is basically a bigger, less pretty, and more socially irresponsible iPod.
  6. What looks like a clickwheel ain’t a clickwheel. It is a multidirectional click pad (four poles, plus center) that works in a context-sensitive way. What does that mean? It means that you won’t always know what to push to do what you want. Sometimes left will go back a song, sometimes it might changes menus, sometimes it might vote for Al Gore. Not cool. And because you have to flip the player on its side to watch video, that means the directions switch by 90 degrees. Confused yet?
  7. Wait, you have to turn it to watch videos?
  8. Installing the Zune sucks.
  9. You can’t use real money in the Zune Marketplace. You have to buy blocks of points (79 points equals 99 cents - easy conversion, right?) in increments of $10 (starting at $5 for 400 points). How much music do you have to buy to totally use up all your points? I won’t do the math, but the answer is: A lot.
  10. The application crashes all the time.
  11. If you buy a subscription plan (something like $15 a month lets you listen to unlimited tracks - though you can’t burn them to disc or keep them if you stop your subscription), certain tracks from what sounds like a lot of albums aren’t available. Meaning, you need to plop down at least five bucks to purchase the popular tunes individually. That is not cool. EDIT: I have no gripe about the subscription model - lots of places do it like that. But disabling certain songs unless you purchase them individually is not cool.
  12. None of the songs you bought in the iTunes store are playable on the Zune.
  13. None of the songs you bought for other players via Microsoft’s OWN PlayForSure format are playable on the Zune. This is absolutely insane.
  14. It doesn’t have calendars, contacts, podcasts, notes, games, etc. Not that I use those, but for some people those things are big.
  15. Lots of the album art is too small for the screen, and it looks bad when scaled.
  16. No Mac support. I suppose it could work if you have a new one and can boot XP from it. But I’m not sure about that. This is an oversight that goes way beyond competition, and way beyond PC marketshare. There’s a lot of potential users (Zunies? Zunesters? Zuners? Zunesketeers?) who happen to use Macs at home, and may have older-gen iPods and looking for a replacement. And what about all the people who have recently switched to Mac after trying and loving an iPod? Doesn’t MS want to win them back? Guess not.
  17. No small version. The iPod Nano is the biggest selling mp3 player, and the iPod didn’t really start to take off until the Mini was released. Why couldn’t Microsoft have developed a cute little device for the kiddies?
  18. EDIT: No true smart playlists. Way to give power users the boot. I guess these are just ultra-hidden.
EDIT - I just read this on O’Reilly:

Feel uncomfortable with Microsoft's watching your every move in Zune? Opt out. Say "No." Stand up for your rights.

Unless you make the affirmative choice to keep Microsoft out, you are by default enrolled in Microsoft's "Zune Customer Experience Improvement Program." This program assumes you want to improve Microsoft's bottom line (and nosiness) by allowing it to monitor your Zune software usage.

There’s more, but for now I think that will suffice. Maybe if I actually try one out I’ll post some more thoughts. Ultimately, I think this is a case of too little - too late. Microsoft has introduced a less-functional, less powerful version of a mega-popular product, and included only one innovation that is seriously crippled to begin with! If they had truly wanted to compete with Apple for a share of the market, we should have seen a cool-looking device that offered more disk space with a slimmer profile, better syncing, more options and features, even cheaper music(!) and eliminated some of the crazy DRM that pisses me off about Apple from time to time. Instead MS has agreed to pay Universal a dollar for every Zune sold. Clearly they aren’t bending over backwards for the consumers (as Apple appears to do by fighting to keep prices stable) - it looks like the opposite, in fact.

Please don’t get anyone a Zune for Christmas. If they ask for one (which they might, poor souls), say it is too much money (which it is) and buy them something else cool. Then, sneak a fabulous iPod Shuffle in their stocking (only $79 and awesome! I’ve touched it, so I know.) Really. Don’t make this a bad Christmas for anyone.

Buying a Zune = Coal in your stocking next year and Baby Jesus Crying

If any of you lovely readers happen upon one, let me know what you think! Disagree? Let me have it in the comments!

Thanks to Engadget, TUAW, TechCrunch, Digg, David Pogue and lots of other sites and writers whose previews and reviews I’ve read and cite as influences of this post.

English Only, Please!

I am still sick, but my mother sent me a link to this article in the Las Vegas Review Journal about the Town of Pahrump (which is where she lives, and where I spent my middle- and high-school years).

God, I am glad to be out of that place.

Here is a small taste of the article:

"Who's refusing to speak English? The ones promoting that people should speak their own language are racist," he said.

Town Manager David Richards said the ordinance is meant as a statement "that this is America and we speak English here."

"Everyone should speak English, and if you are going to move here then you ought to respect the American flag and fly it in prominence," Richards said.

Miraglia said he hoped the ordinance "gets the ball rolling" for other cities.

"We have to start somewhere," he said, "and in the state of Nevada the town of Pahrump is going to be the start."

Read the whole thing.

Furniture - The Invisible Made Visible

I first read about this months ago in the NYTimes Magazine (at least I think I did). It has been making its way around the web recently and I thought I’d add to the sharing. Swedish design group Front has a process where invisible pen strokes in the air are recorded by Motion Capture and then turned into digital 3D files which then become real through a process called Rapid Prototyping. The video below illustrates the process awesomely, and you should also check out their website, as some of their other work is pretty awesome too.

Sketch Furniture - video powered by Metacafe

Restaurant Search

Why is it so hard to search for restaurants online?

Unless you know the name of it (and even then it can be tough), you are stuck browsing through listings based on cuisine, price, and general distance from some address you enter. In New York, you can usually search by neighborhood, but this can sometimes be more trouble than it is worth. Using a service like Yahoo Maps can show you restaurants in the vicinity of your search, but the listings are far from complete, and don’t make it easy.

Googling for “restaurants near (or on) such-and-such street” doesn’t do much good either.

What I want to be able to do (and I suspect others might want, as well) is find a simple list of restaurants in a precise geographical area. For example, if I know I’m going to be on 23rd street for a meeting, I want to know all of the restaurants on that street. It would be nice, of course, to have the option to order the results by rating, or price, or cuisine, or whatever, but ultimately, I just want to know what restaurants are on that street.

Alternatively, what about times when you are walking around the city and see a restaurant that looks awesome, and you vow to return, only to get home and realize you have absolutely no idea what it was called? As it stands now, your only hope is to try to search for restaurants in the general area and browse through page after ad-filled page of junk that is meant to be browsed through with a different intent. If you’ve never tried to do this, let me just say, “It is hard.” More often than not, I remember what street I was on, or roughly, anyway. I sure as hell don’t know any real addresses, though. And how nice would it be to just see a list of restaurants in the order you’d see them walking down the street? Just simple text links to more information about the restaurants (where then you can display all the other fancy stuff like ratings and comments) ordered by location.

Something like this, of course, would be most helpful (practical) in big cities like Manhattan where one will be walking to these restaurants more often than driving. Further, creating something like this would take considerable physical exploration of the area, but could also be developed with help from others who may submit restaurants they know about.

I would love for something like this to exist, and almost want to make it myself, but I’m honestly not sure it’s something I could handle all aspects of. Maybe someone out there will hear this and get started, or maybe we could put some heads together and get something like this started. Perhaps it is something that could begin with accumulating data from other online listings and arranging it by street. Then the real field research could begin to supplement the current listings and we could start to collect data from users. Man, the more I write and think about this, the more I actually want to do it.

Is this something you would use if it existed for your city? Or am I just crazy?

Perhaps the most important question: Has someone already made this?

Torture Chic

From Richter Studio, Inc
In the former Soviet Union, people who disagreed with the government were thrown into secret prison camps called gulags, where they were tortured and often killed. Sound familiar? Yes, the gulag concept is alive and well, thanks to the U.S. government. Our "War on Terror" is responsible for illegal imprisonment, torture and murder. With blatant disregard for domestic and international law, the U.S. government is effectively demolishing our democratic ideals.

Strike back against intimidation - Wear American Gulag

American Gulag is a series of bracelets and necklaces made of tough and durable rubber and stainless steel that simulate barbed wire. Why barbed wire? Because it symbolizes our government's barbaric dogma of physical and psychological imprisonment - from abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to smear tactics used by President Bush's henchman, who call critics of his policies traitors and cowards.

Fight against the lies and fear-mongering.
Flaunt your outrage - Wear American Gulag.

A portion of all sales will be donated to a human rights organization dedicated to fighting these injustices.

The bracelets are priced from $13.95 up to $225 (for the silver model, naturally), and seem pretty cool. I’m not certain I could handle the spikiness though, especially with the silver, but I suppose one shouldn’t be comfortable wearing such a bracelet. “The Truth Hurts - Wear It” slogan on the site is most definitely appropriate.

A good Christmas gift? Maybe. If you have a fashion-conscious radical leftist on your list, then yes. Otherwise, I think they might want the receipt. Even though it is a worth cause, something tells me these won’t exactly fly off the shelves quite like Lance’s.