Domino’s Falling Down

For some time I’ve held Domino’s in high regard for the ease of their online pizza ordering. Fun and functional, I thought. Today I experienced an acute counter example from my attempt to order a pizza on the way home from work.

Step 1 – Start the iPhone app – denied!


Step 2 – Upgrade the app – denied!


Step 3 – Realise they’ve created a new app rather than updating the previous one


Step 4 – Download the new app – denied!


Step 5 – Give up on app and decide to use web browser, only to be told…


Aaaaargh! I persevered and ordered successfully eventually. Would have been far quicker to place my order by phone – but smartphones aren’t really for phoning, are they?! In the end the pizza was ok, but the ordering process for once left a bitter taste in my mouth!

Too much toothpaste!

J and I were having a clear out the other day and realised we have an unnecessarily large stockpile of toothpaste! As if that’s not rock-and-roll enough, I noticed that Colgate has mis-spelled “anti-bacterial” on its teeny 25ml tube. Maybe they should brush up on their proof reading?

Long line of parallel toothpaste tubes

Too much toothpaste?

25ml Colgate toothpaste tube showing mis-spelling "antibacerial"

The "i" is dotted, but where's the "t" in anti-bacterial?

Bizarre Bournemouth

I stayed in Bournemouth recently for my Stag Weekend.  We had a great time, and as an extra bonus I spied a handful of delightful little idiosyncrasies in our hotel.

Anemergency” – the missing space inverts the meaning (like aerobic vs anaerobic), so when there is no emergency (i.e. under normal circumstances) people should sound the alarm in the lift?

Lift sign showing word "anemergency"

"anemergency" - situation normal?

Break Glass For Key” – but where is the key?

Fire point showing label "break glass for key" but containing no key

The key; the secret?

Fire Exit Upstairs? Does it really make sense to install a fire exit sign on a 2nd floor hallway door that opens, swapping the meaning from “down” to “up”?

Fire exit sign pointing up stairs from 2nd floor of hotel

Up and away - from the 2nd floor?

HulloMail – Visual voicemail for smartphones

Apple revolutionised voicemail with the iPhone. Rather than the traditional approach of calling your voicemail service and listening to each message in turn, “Visual Voicemail” brings the ability to see voicemails in a list (like an email inbox).  At last you can tell at a glance who called you when, and listen to your messages in the order you want rather than the order they were left. Even better – since the messages are downloaded onto your phone – you can listen to them even if you’re out of coverage and unable to dial into your voicemail.  This is fantastic for areas of poor reception where calls can be hit-or-miss – for example the office where I’m spending most of my days at the moment.

Sadly, VisualVoicemail is not offered by Orange UK (my mobile provider).  Vodafone UK users are similarly out of luck.  Only O2 (the original and erstwhile-exclusive UK iPhone purveyor) bothered decided to upgrade its systems to offer VisualVoicemail.  Naturally, Orange and Vodafone keep this quiet and still charge full-Apple-whack despite their second-rate voicemail service.

Maybe one Screenshot of HulloMail app on iPhoneday the cheapskates/laggards will get around to supporting VisualVoicemail.  In the meantime, thankfully, there is a workable alternative in the shape of HulloMail – essentially an app for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and other smartphones.  It’s even free-of-charge, if you can put up with ads and limited storage – otherwise pay a few quid for the ad-free version. It might not be quite as slick-looking or as snappily named as the original Apple offering, but it’s available.  It works.  I like it.  Read all about it.

PS: It was Orange that prompted this post.  They sent me an iPhone survey from their Better Together community, asking if I’d heard of Visual Voicemail and if I’d use it.  Too right.  Bring it on.  At least I’ve got HulloMail in the meantime…

iPad – why I pass (for now)

Sad iPadYou’ve probably seen adverts for Apple’s new iPad – it’s been splashed across TV and billboards nationwide. A sleek, touchscreen multimedia tablet with Apple’s customary ease of use; it is a very attractive device. But I’m not buying one. At least, not yet. Despite its many virtues, it doesn’t quite stack up as an ownership proposition.

What can the iPad do? It’s basically the iPhone’s big brother – excelling at all the usual email, web, iPod, multimedia stuff – and of course Apps. The bigger screen makes it easier to navigate and digest content, and makes it practical to read eBooks and electronic magazines (like the iPad edition of WIRED magazine). Compared to a conventional laptop, the tablet design is much neater and the touchscreen control more friendly – this really is a fantastic device with which to sit back and enjoy web and multimedia content. So what’s stopping me?

Any prospective new computing device would need to earn its place alongside my phone (iPhone 3GS) and my laptop (Dell XPS M1330), or replace one of those outright. The iPad can’t replace a phone (I’d look like Dom Joly shouting into his oversized brick), nor can it do everything I need from my laptop (downloading photos from my camera and culling/geotagging/organising them whilst on holiday is just one obvious example).  The obvious place for using the iPad is around the house.  That leaves the iPad needing to carve out a house-bound ‘multimedia’ niche:

  • Living Room/Sofa: Lots of potential here.  Browse the web and keep up-to-date with personal email/social/calendar/tasks stuff in tandem with telly watching (or video/music playback from our media library) – with an iPad that comes to life quicker than a PC (even running Windows 7 – recommended!).  The iPad could act as a great touchscreen remote control for media playback across our home network (via the brilliant PlugPlayer app). I had been considering dedicating a second-hand iPod Touch as a remote control, but an iPad could help earn its keep there.
  • Kitchen: Just think how much better an iPad would be than an iPhone – for watching online TV, doing online grocery shopping or to help with the cooking (using the fantastic Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals app or the freshly minted Waitrose app).  Remember to cover it in cling film first, so grubby cooking hands don’t mess up the screen.  There’s no way I’d use a laptop in the kitchen!

So, what’s the problem?  The fundamental problem is that the iPad is a single-user device. Only one person can set up their details on it.  This makes sense on a phone, but not on a larger multimedia device like the iPad that begs to be shared between people.  Say I’ve set up details of my email and other online services (Google Apps, Facebook, Flickr etc) on an iPad and then hand it to J, she would have to log out of each of the services and then log in as herself.  And vice versa when it’s my turn next.  Families with kids who are buying an iPad as a ‘family’ device are going to have bother (e.g. when little Johnny emails Dad’s boss, or deletes all of Mum’s Google Contacts). That’s a long way behind my laptop, which allows J and me to maintain separate profiles – we just log in with a quick fingerprint swipe and all our settings are as we left them.  The iPad is a fantastic bit of hardware that’s ideally suited to sharing (for example, the wide viewing angle of the display), but the iPad’s single-user operating system (rooted in iPhone beginings) limits sharing to “look at my iPad screen” rather than “let’s make this our iPad”.

Steve Jobs would no doubt say “just buy two”.  I say, “when it’s ready, I’ll buy one”.

Update 17/08/2010: Rumours suggest there might be a second-generation iPad on the way by the end of the year.  It will need to compete with a range of alternatives, the most interesting of which appears to be the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tablet.  I’ve also found an interesting comparison between the iPad and Tablet PCs.

Dogs must be carried

London Underground sign: Dogs must be carried

It’s an oldie, but a goodie; the sign at the entrance to escalators on the tube, saying “Dogs must be carried”. Seldom do I see anyone carrying a dog, but I do see lots of dogless travellers using escalators. So, either most people are flouting the rule, or the sign is barking. Obviously it’s the latter. But what *should* the sign say,to convey its real meaning (if you are travelling with a dog, carry it on the escalator to prevent injury), ideally in fewer words?

  • Any dogs must be carried” – Maybe a little better – but it’s longer.
  • Carry your dog” – Not quite. What if your dog is at home, or you’re travelling with a dog that’s not yours?
  • Carry any dogs” – Better, but you should really only carry your own dog.
  • Dog? Carry it” – Almost – but any literate dogs reading the sign would be thoroughly confused!
  • Carry dogs” – Two words, active voice.  At least as good as the original.  Works for me.

Other suggestions welcome in the comments.

Update 23/7/2010: A timely article in today’s Metro about Batman – the reading greyhound. Also you can find lots more reading dogs here.

Unlimited* marketing reaches Infinity*

Coloured infinity symbol

Infinity: unlimited, untouchable (and shampoo-free)

The shampoo bottle was the last straw. “Touchably soft hair” it promises.  Marketing claims and brand names become ever more contrary and vacuous.  Or perhaps I’m becoming more attuned to them (not to say grumpy!).

Let’s look at a trio of my current favourites:

  1. That shampoo bottle: “Touchably soft hair”.  Touchable means “able to be touched”.  If my hair were not touchable already, how would I apply the shampoo?  Does the bottle come with an applicator for people with fearsome, untouchable hair?  No.  So the shampoo is for people who already have touchably soft hair?
  2. Unlimited mobile data:  A few months ago, I took out a phone contract promising “unlimited” data.  Hidden in the small print is an “acceptable use policy”.  Unlimited means “limitless or without bounds”, so the use of the word is entirely incompatible with any small-print restriction.  Fast forward to the present; now the telcos are rushing to hide the word “unlimited” as their definitely-not-unlimited network capacity comes under pressure from exponential mobile data growth by expectant consumers.  Why didn’t they just make the limits clear to start with?  Is “500MB per month” too abstract/complicated for consumers?  I don’t think so.  We all cope with speedometers and fuel gauges in cars, and, if we don’t already know, we soon learn that the harder/further we drive the sooner the fuel runs out.  We could easily comprehend the equivalent gauges for data – showing us how much data allowance we have left, and how quickly we’re using it up.  If people didn’t realise that video chews data faster than music, they’d soon learn.  The networks could have raised “data awareness” by ensuring users have easy access to comprehensible data gauges.  Instead, they chose to accelerate themselves into a capacity problem by burying the truth under the “unlimited” headline claims.
  3. “Infinity” broadband: Infinity is the name of the next generation, optical-fibre-based broadband offering from the UK’s former state-owned telco.  I wonder whether the marketeers behind “unlimited” also came up with “Infinity”?  Are we to believe that this new offering will be the end of the road for UK broadband advancement?  I don’t think so.  But what comes after Infinity?  Nothing, by definition.  So what would I choose as the name?  How about “Lightning”?  It has the requisite super-speed connotations and embraces the word “light” as a nod to the shiny new optical fibre underpinnings.  The products could be named Lightning 40, Lightning 100 etc., where the number denotes the speed of connection – which (barring a dictionary re-write) will never reach Infinity.  Ever.

Update 1/7/2010: Just found an interesting round-up of Broadband Britain which picks up on spurious marketing claims.

* Subject to limits

Flattr – Funding quality web content

Would you put your money where your mouse is?

On holiday a few months ago, I was chatting with J and Tim about the uncertain future of free-to-access, quality content on the Internet. People are accustomed to getting quality content for nothing. Take TrustedReviews for example – a great UK site that helps its users to sort the new technology wheat from the chaff. Typically, such sites rely heavily on the funding they gain from the adverts they include on their pages. However, tech-savvy users increasingly employ ad blocking software to hide ever-more-intrusive adverts vying for their attention. Clearly this situation is not sustainable, and something has to give.  Either the content vanishes, or the consumer needs to pay – one way or another.

At one extreme, advertising becomes so perfectly targeted that people consider it a benefit and welcome it as part of their online experience. At the other extreme, people are given a way to “put their money where their mouse is”, paying their preferred content providers in return for an advert-free experience.

To my mind, neither extreme is currently credible. Firstly, perfect targeting of adverts would require the advertiser to have an inconceivable level of knowledge about the user that few users would tolerate. Secondly, paying for advert-free content is typically done on a subscription basis, and I don’t see users being prepared to set up and manage an ever-increasing set of commercial subscriptions.  And my idea of a paid-for “Internet Licence” (perhaps managed by ISPs), while reasonable in concept, could be a nightmare to administer (trying to justify which content providers deserve which fraction of the income) – and undoubtedly inconsistent across international boundaries.

Today I heard about Flattr – an interesting new service (ironcially set up by one of the Pirate Bay founders) that’s heading in right direction by letting users reward the producers of content they value.  In its current form it doesn’t give an ad-free experience, but I guess that could follow once content producers are confident that discretionary income can take the place of advertising revenue.

Here’s how the website describes itself:

  • Flattr is a social micropayment platform that lets you show love for the things you like.
  • Help support the people you like and enable them to continue with what they do.
  • Add your own things to Flattr and receive appreciation from others.

I think I might give it a go.  But I must admit, I’d really rather pay a little more to my ISP and have them do the running around on my behalf – rewarding the content providers I access in return for fewer adverts.