Monday, February 14, 2011

The PC community remains an evil empire: selling customers what they don't need remains too common

For the past few months the talk of the few months about the troubles publishers are having with Apple, it is easy to lose sight of the way the PC community works out in the real world. While one company tries to create easy to use products that free the user from plug-ins, add-ons, and the like, the ease of use of iOS products, and the way consumers have responded to them gets lost.

All this came back to me in an instant while trying to coach my aging mother on what to buy so she can be better engaged with the world, and communicate better and more often.

On her way to buy an iPad which I'm sure would have had a real impact on the quality of her life, she was hoodwinked by bad advice and a retail environment that pushes out the old PC products to make way for the same thing. She went in wanting to buy an iPad, and came out with a laptop and so many future troubles that the PC is destined for the back of the closet.

The AzCentral iPad app from the publishers of The Arizona Republic -- not a good example of a tablet edition.

Let's recap why the iPad (and possible future non-Apple tablets) would have been the smart buy.

Instant-on: you want information at your disposal, well there is nothing like the instant-on effect to show that "booting up" is for losers. Instant-on transforms a work device into an utility. If you need to get a file, look at something on the Internet, watch a video, and your laptop is off you think twice before pressing that button, don't you. With Windows you must wait to load, wait to hear that your hard drive has stopped. You wait.

Internet: with the 3G model my mother could have bought unlimited Internet access for $25 a month -- a smaller data level for $15. No card to buy, not contract, nothing. $15 or $25. And how hard would it be to get on the web? Press the home button and unlock the iPad and you are online instantly. No card, no settings, nothing. It's just that easy.

The NYT: if you are elderly, which is easier: launch a browser and typing in the URL of the NYT, or simply pressing the icon on the NYT? Sure, you can create an alias for the NYT URL, but do you want to explain to my mother about how to create an alias? You even where any of her applications reside?

Finally, e-mail: with a PC you have either web mail or Outlook. You have to boot up your computer, go online or launch Outlook to access e-mail. With an iPad it is just like your phone. As long as the device is on you will get e-mail, you have to do nothing.

This is about a device that is so easy to use that Rep. Giffords, recovering from being shot in the head, is using an iPad to try and get back in touch with the world.

So why did my mother end up with a laptop? For the same reasons millions of people get them: they are sold them by companies that can accessorize the sale with extended warranties, Internet cards, contracts, and more software. They sold by companies that load up these devices with trial applications, with virus software, with peripherals.

And they are sold by people who only know the world of Windows. Ask any Mac owner what it has been like these past two decades as we go into store after store and listen to retail sales people explain to prospective buyers that "Macs need special speakers, better off getting a PC". "You better buy a PC if you want to run Office" and on and on.

(My favorite is the one where the retail salesperson tells the customer that displays don't work with Macs, that is why Apple only makes the iMac and laptops.)

This post originally was going to be about what apps one should download -- free only -- if you are new to an iPad, with special emphasis, of course, on media apps (after all, that's what we do here).

I was going to mention the NYT app, of course. But second on that list would be The Weather Channel app, after all, old folk like to talk about the weather, right? But just think for a second how a Weather Channel app is a different experience from the past. Now one can instantly access the weather, not only for local but for where your grand daughter is going to school. You get instant weather maps, alerts, all instantly. And this isn't an iPad thing, of course: all smartphones will do this for you. But how different experience is this for someone who has only once before had a computer, and that came with a dial-up connection to the Internet.

I was going to mention that the Arizona Republic has an iPad app, as well. But it is a simply RSS driven app before suited for a smartphone than the iPad. Since they subscribe to the print paper I would have told them to not bother, read your print edition as you have for years.

What else would I recommend for an older person: solitaire, Kindle, Windowshop, Netflix (!), games (too many to list), Virtuoso Piano Free 3 (she used to play piano in her youth) -- and I'm sure you can name more. All of these are free, all of these are available instantly, and none come with install disks.

The more I think about it, the more I am sick to my stomach knowing that once again the PC community has swindled another customer. My aging mother, too old to drive, ended up going to the store for a gallon of milk -- she walked out with a cow, a milking machine, a bottling machine, and truck to transport the beverage to her house. Another great sales job by a Best Buy sales person.