Monday, July 23, 2007

Apple and the iPhone

[This is part of my snailmail bit]

July 24, 2007 

Apple
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
408-996-1010 

Apple,


I would like to congratulate you on the release of the iPhone last month. All news indicate that the product lived up to most of the hype and sales are strong. Great work! There is however, a problem.


What you’ve done is set the bar high for other device manufacturers. That’s great. The problem is that you’ve somehow managed to convince America that spending $600 for a phone is suddenly no big deal. I applaud this accomplishment and yet am concerned that the age of affordable devices is over.


Since you started this mess, I expect you to fix it. I see only one satisfactory solution: free iPhones for all. I thought about this a great deal and decided that anything over $200 would be too much while anything less than $200 would be too irresistibly close to “free” for the marketing guys to resist. Thus, I propose that beginning this fall, iPhones be given away.


While I’m at it, let’s talk about the cost of service plans, too. A standard entry-level plan will run you about $60/month. This is slightly cheaper than it was a few years ago, plus you get a lot more for the same dollar now (more data, web, etc.). But still, $60/month…forever? I don’t think so.


Let’s not kid ourselves with the $60 sticker price. If you manage to stay under all the limits, it’s really more like $75 including taxes. At this rate, mobile service can run you $900/year. Hypothetically, if you applied that $75 to a $150,000 30-year fixed mortgage at 7%, you’d knock almost 6 years off the payments. I’d like to see the $40 basic tier move to $25 and the $60 data plans slashed to $35. While I’m making up prices, let’s go ahead and cut the cost to add a line down from $20-40 to $10 flat fee—all plans, just $10 (and no trying to charge extra for data or messaging for the extra lines!).


In my na├»ve college days, I though the federal law enabling number portability would change everything. I thought we’d see the inception of new and innovative products, plunging prices and an explosion of exceptional customer service. While handset capabilities have improved for high-end devices, it’s hardly true that any of these has improved markedly.


You, Apple, were supposed to change all that! The iPhone is an excellent piece of technology but you’ve done nothing to address the core problem with the industry: cost and service. While it may be that pieces of your master plan have yet to be revealed, it’s still disappointing that you locked in with a single carrier (not well regarded for their network or customer service) and offer only high priced service plans with your device.


You’ve done a better job in other industries and lived to tell about it. Take the iPod, for example. The long running dominate player in the market, the iPod has enjoyed unimaginable success. Even though I can’t figure out why a few megabytes of downloading from iTunes costs the same as a comparable number of tracks purchased as a CD, you’ve remained firm with $0.99/track pricing (somehow this is competitive for online music sales). I’m sure working with the music industry to sell digital copies of their precious property is no picnic but if you can do that, surely you can do more with the mobile carriers.


If you can’t save us, who will?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

New Bit: Random Letters

I've decided to launch a new bit on this site: approximately each week, I will write a letter to someone or some company. My goal is primarily humor but I will also use this opportunity to voice good or bad service etc.

I open this new bit with this letter to Google, which I will mail out (on actual paper, in an actual envelope) tomorrow:
July 4, 2007

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Dear Google,

Thank you for providing cool web tools like universal search, GMail, Calendar, and Reader. These applications are an integral part of my daily life.

With respect your code of conduct (http://investor.google.com/conduct.html) and informal motto, “don’t be evil”, I encourage you to not take over the world.

Having recently read of your acquisitions of popular services like YouTube, DoubleClick, FeedBurner, and GrandCentral, and your recent installation of a solar power generation array capable of meeting 30% of your energy needs (http://www.google.com/corporate/solarpanels/), I’m growing quite concerned.

As the popular fortune cookie postscript goes, “…in bed,” so must Google-related news be followed with, “…and their plan for world domination continues.”

I urge you, Google, be mindful of this incredible power you are building.

Best regards,

Michael Haren
mharen@gmail.com (but you already knew that, didn’t you?)

Moving Again

I apologize for the lack of updates to the blog--I've got some things coming down the pipe so stay tuned.

On a personal note, I have some updates for you. We have (finally) sold our house in NC and are moving into a new (to us) house in Kent at the end of the month. We're really excited to get the place all ready for Peanut so expect several updates as we go along.

House Front

Flying Sucks

I travel quite a bit for my job so I've become all-too familiar with airports. They suck.

Sometimes I wonder if the whole air travel industry is really just a giant experiment to see how much crap people will put up with. I can see some PhDs at a think tank sitting around one of those yin-yang tables brainstorming:
How about this: we say they can't take liquids of any kind on the plane--even if they buy them on the other side of the security checkpoint. Then, a couple of weeks later, we'll say you can take as many 3oz bottles as you can fit into a single 1 qt bag and people will cheer--but they gotta be in a bag! And, if we want to make people really happy, we'll let them buy water and take it on the plane, too. They'll hate it at first but when we give a little, we'll all be heroes! All hail SkyMall!

It seems to me that the whole airline industry is taking the wrong approach to solve the issue of security. Instead of belittling thousands (millions?) of people each day with completely ridiculous procedures, I suggest we try something else.

First, let's recognize that a plane is basically a bus that can fly (you are so clever, Airbus). Terrorists or any other nut job can take a bus (or diner, or super market, or cafe) hostage much more easily than an airplane and yet all the focus is on planes. I guess this is because of the sole difference with airplanes--they are unique in their ability to be used as missiles. Let's focus our energy and money on that issue.

Instead of spending billions on sniffers, scanners, and detectors, let's make the cockpit into a tank and just let the pilots fly the planes. Build in some fail safes to keep the pilots isolated from cabin activities (including conversation) when the plane goes into "hijack" mode.

With this system, passengers can breeze through a greatly reduced and simplified security system and hop onto the plane (without showing up 90 minutes early for the flight).

If I can listen to a couple hundred channels of music on my XM radio which decodes a signal from space, we can probably have the planes controlled from space, too. I bet the avionics of a commercial plane are nearly 100% electronic anyway so a remote override, perhaps with on-board confirmation by the pilot, shouldn't be too difficult.
I guess my point is that flying from point A to point B shouldn't be any different from busing from point A to point B. Of course once you get in the air, the two are quite similar. Sadly, the two hours leading up to each journey is very different.

Programmers That...Program?

As a software guy, this article made me very sad. The basic gist is that a lot of software grads these days can't actually write simple programs. I'm talking about really simple programs that I am confident both my wife and brother could implement with their single introductory programming class.

The example from the article, is an application that prints a list of numbers from 1-10. A slightly less ridiculously easy version is to:
Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print ?Fizz? instead of the number and for the multiples of five print ?Buzz?. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print ?FizzBuzz?.

Any programmer should be able to implement these "programs" in a half-dozen languages in under five minutes. It's tough to convey to non-programmers just how easy this should be--this is something that a programmer should be able to do in any language with 2 minutes of googling. We're talking like Hello World, part 2 type stuff here.

Here's my wife's implementation (with only a little help):
(while n<100)
{
n++;
{
if (n Mod 15 == 0)
{
print "FizzBizz";
}
elseif (n Mod 3 == 0)
{
print "Fizz";
}
elseif (n Mod 5 == 0)
{
print "Bizz";
}
else
{
print n;
}
}
}