Remember 2006? How the Internet has changed in the past five years

Glimpse the Internet of 2006:

Most users accessed the Web via Internet Explorer. Facebook had just opened its doors to those outside college campuses. MySpace, dubbed the “27.4-billion-pound gorilla” by TechCrunch, had more than 75 million users.

Oh, how the Internet has changed in the past five years.

As we become inundated by the latest, shiniest Internet tools, it’s important to take a look back and breathe deeply. The prognosticators often skew reality and miss their predictive marks by miles. The most important lesson to me? Technologies and innovations change faster than most of us can predict.

I began this exercise while preparing for this fall’s Web Communication class. I was flipping through the third edition of the dated but still excellent Web Design in a Nutshell, and reviewed the chapters on usage. Internet Explorer dominated the browser landscape. “Web 2.0″ was a mystical phrase. Mobile was something to consider, but most usage was expected to come through desktop monitors at 800 x 600 pixels.

It sparked a quick dive back into history.

Browser statistics

I dug into browsers statistics from W3schools.com:

 

The statistics reinforce an adage from Harvard innovation theorist Clayton Christensen and his co-authors, Scott D. Anthony and Erik A. Roth (emphasis mine):

When the functionality and reliability of products overshoot customer needs, then convenience, customization, and low prices become what are not good enough.

In this case, by 2006, most users were satisfied with how their browsers functioned. Most could display Web pages and graphics adequately, and HTML/CSS standards were helping to mitigate the frustration of the browser wars. What people wanted was convenience through faster rendering engines and customizability through plug-ins and skins.

By 2011, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox had become major players by fulfilling these needs.

The lesson here? Speed, ease of use, and customization are critical for widespread acceptance of any new technology.

Web 2.0 and social media

Social media was coming to the fore in 2006, with MySpace garnering much attention and fanfare. People were still trying to figure out exactly what “Web 2.0″ meant, and media “gurus” were more focused on e-mail tips than Facebook marketing strategies.

Today, Facebook and Twitter garner most of the attention, but location-based technologies such as Foursquare and Groupon have started capturing users as well. Some have been buzzing about Google Plus, Tumblr, and Quora.

For me, the takeaway is don’t become too enamored of any one technology. The landscape changes quickly; you should understand how the systems operate. That way, you can adapt as the technology changes — because it always will.

Remember BASIC?

The advent of mobile

In Web Design in a Nutshell, mobile was just emerging as a data platform. The iPhone hadn’t been introduced, and the BlackBerry (dubbed “Crackberry” by regular users) was the smartphone of choice. But such phones were typically too expensive for most users.

In 2006, most still used their cell phones as phones, and the big concern was the thought that some people might actually replace their landlines with the technology.

Today, 83% of adults have a cell phone, up from 73% in 2006. And of today’s cell phone users, 42% have a smartphone. With the introduction of the Apple iPad and Android tablet computers, mobile has become the primary medium of interest.

Mobile is a natural evolution of the self-referential nature of media usage: We want information when we want it, where we need it. We don’t want to wait.

Browser statistics point to the need for customization and speed. The rise of mobile shows us how important time-shifting and immediacy have become.

The big takeaway

My goal isn’t to inspire nostalgia for a simpler, less saturated era. What strikes me about the evolution of the Internet is the consumers and individual users are the ones dictating how technology will evolve.

Our goal should be figuring what jobs we need done (to lift more of Christensen’s language) for those users, and finding the best tools to accomplish those tasks.

Sticking with the iPhone 4: Pros and cons after four months

In September, the home button on my iPhone 4 failed after a month. I called Apple Support and got a replacement phone (with an annoying $29.99 overnight shipping fee). Of course, the company had to determine that I was warranty-worthy. Fortunately, I was.

So here I am, four months in with the new iPhone, with a tinge of Android regret. Some tweeps I follow are quite enamored of their Droid phones, and AT&T’s cell service is less than robust, especially when you travel. And Apple increasingly seems to come across as the Evil Empire, as Steve Jobs seeks to control everything.

Still, I remain satisfied with the iPhone 4.

My initial impressions still hold for the most part, with a couple of annotations:

  • Keyboard issues: It appears my space-bar problems were related to imperfections in my particular phone. I’ve not had  the typing issues with the new phone (although autocorrect still drives me — and apparently others — crazy.)
  • Battery life: For the most part, I can go an entire day doing what I need to do, unless I turn on all passive functionality (push notifications, location services, and wifi). I’ve tried various contortions and found that wifi is the biggest hog of them all; it’s best to keep it off unless you are in a wifi hotspot.
  • Video: I’ve experimented a bit more with the video camera and have been quite pleased with the results. I also bought a camera app (ProCamera) to add some video functions (such as a horizon finder). Here is a clip I shot at a Lifehouse concert in October and uploaded directly to YouTube from my phone.

  • Memory: I find that rebooting the phone occasionally helps flush out the memory. A couple of apps (such as the aforementioned ProCamera app) seem to get gummed up over time.

When I am in a 3G area, AT&T’s connection usually is speedy. I’ve been able to watch video when needed, and the Twitter and Tumblr apps connect quickly to their respective networks. And I’ve not had too much of an issue with dropped calls.

I did take advantage of the free Apple bumper program and recently switched from the cumbersome Rocketfish cover to the sleeker bumper. However, the free bumper program ended in September, leading Consumer Reports to maintain its “not recommended” rating for the iPhone 4.

Favorite iPhone apps

Over the past couple of years, I’ve also found my user habits changing some as apps have morphed and the iOS has changed. Here’s my top 10 list of favorite iPhone apps, in order of usage:

  • Twitter (free): I switched from Twitterrific to the standard Twitter app after a revision eliminated the ability to connect to multiple accounts. Twitter’s free app (originally Tweetie) offers the ability to connect to multiple accounts, save draft tweets, and pass links to Instapaper — all for free. I check Twitter more often than anything else on my phone.
  • Bejeweled 2 ($2.99): I played the Blitz version of this game, which allows me to compete against Facebook friends. You try to collect as many jewels in patterns of three, four, or five in a row in one minute. Warning: It’s extremely addicting.
  • Dungeon Hunter (free demo, $4.99): I was fortunate to have grabbed this swords and sorcery game for 99 cents. It’s every bit as good as Diablo, with a good storyline, intuitive interface, and superb graphics.
  • Tumblr (free): Tumblr is becoming the new geek spot as Twitter becomes more crowded. It’s a blend of blogging and tweeting, and the app allows you to check your account and post from the road.
  • Foursquare (free): Yes, I’ve gotten sucked into checking in like a lemming. The big advantage of this location-based app — which uses the iPhone location services to find you — is finding tips for various places, such as favorite menu items or hidden gems. It’s also geeky fun to earn a badge or become a mayor.
  • Netflix (free, with annual subscription): We already had a Netflix membership, and with the basic subscription, you get free instant streaming. The quality is surprisingly good, and I’ve watched several movies this way. It’s much easier to sit on the couch watching the iPhone than viewing on my laptop.
  • Shazam (free, five songs a month): This app will identify songs you hear. Just hit the button, record a 10-second sample, and in a few seconds, Shazam’s servers will identify the song. It’s pretty hard to stump. I just hate that they’ve now put a five-song limit on updated versions of the free edition.
  • ProCamera ($2.99): This app adds some nice functions to the iPhone’s camera, including image stabilization and lens-finder grids for lining up your images appropriately. It is a bit buggy, though, and has locked up on me a few times.
  • NanoStudio ($15.99): This app is the priciest I’ve bought, but it is worth every penny, unleashing the incredible audio power of the iPhone. It is a fully functional sampler and multitrack music studio, every bit as powerful as programs that cost four to five times as much. Its built-in instruments have extraordinary sound, and you can produce some amazing tracks using the app. It’s a great way to jot down musical ideas on the fly.
  • Ringtone Maker (free): This app makes it easy to carve up songs for ringtones. The only problem: The process of plugging back in to iTunes to get the ringtones is convoluted. But hey, it’s free.

iPhone 4 revisited: Death of the home button

Today, the home button on my iPhone 4 died.

I push to my heart’s content, but nothing happens. Everything else works: The top button, the volume buttons, the touch screen. But the home button is useless.

I called Apple Support, and the specialist walked me through some basic steps like rebooting, but he seemed to think it was a hardware issue. (Apparently, I am not the first to encounter this problem.) I will find out more tonight when I try a full restore through my home iTunes, the apparent last-ditch effort before sending the thing back to Apple headquarters.

I’ll update the blog as I learn more. But given my previous endorsement of the product, I felt I had to share a quick post.

Kind of ironic it happened on the day when Steve Jobs unveiled iOS 4.1.

A month with iPhone 4: Initial impressions

Groves and iPhone

The iPhone and I

Earlier this summer, I waffled on whether to stick with the iPhone or switch to an Android phone. After some handwringing, I opted for the iPhone 4.

A month in, I remain satisfied.

Before you scream “Fanboy!“, let me confess that I, too, fretted about the antenna woes, the battery life concerns that arose with iOS 4.0.1, the growing Apple empire. But I’ve found my personal experience differs somewhat from that of the early rush of bloggers and journalists.

Granted, part of my decision to stick with Apple stems from habit. I’ve had an iPhone since 2008, and I’ve grown quite attached to its functionality and a number of its apps. I didn’t really want to spend time fiddling with a new operating system and app store.

With that in mind, let me share a few good/bad observations from my first months with the new device:

The Good

  • The screen: The much-touted 960-x-640-pixel Retina display is beyond sharp. Even a month later, I’m in awe of the screen’s clarity.
  • Responsive OS: Compared with my iPhone 2G, this device moves silkily from screen to screen with little effort. I’ve experienced none of the chokes of my previous phone.
  • Solid structure: The metal frame and thick screen feel sturdier than just about any other phone I’ve felt. It almost dares you to drop it.
  • Improved audio: This improvement is not appreciated often enough. As an audiophile, I find the sound clarity (both through the headphone and charging jacks) much improved over my iPhone 2G: Fuller bass, better separation, sharper imagery.
  • Front-facing camera: I love this feature. It’s great for those pics you need when no one else is around to shoot you and your loved one, and you don’t want to resort to the “mirror shot.”
  • GPS: I love how quickly the phone responds when I’m lost. On a recent trip to Denver, the iPhone saved me from missing an important presentation. (Warning: Real-time GPS does suck up the battery power.)

iPhone coverThe Bad

  • The keyboard/screen: On my iPhone 2G, I became adept at tapping out messages with the on-screen keyboard. But I seem to make more mistakes with this phone, either because of the screen or the OS. The spacebar is especially finicky and often fails to register unless I really poke it.
  • The antenna: The first day I had the phone, I dropped a couple of calls, including one to AT&T Customer Service. As soon as I bought a $15 Rocketfish cover (see photo) — which I planned on buying anyway — I have not had a problem with dropped calls.
  • The forced obsolescence: I have a charging block from a previous iPod that will not work with this iPhone. Also, the cable on my car stereo — which works perfectly with my iPhone 2G and iPods — will not charge the iPhone 4.

The Undecided

  • Battery life: I’m still playing with the right mix of settings for optimal battery life. Most days, I can surf the Internet, listen to music, play Bejeweled 2, write e-mails, scan Twitter, take some calls, and shoot a few pictures — and still have charge before bedtime. The biggest issue I’ve found is that occasionally, an app (usually Safari with multiple windows) will remain open and gulp down the power.
  • Multitasking: You mean bopping back and forth between apps? Few apps truly operate in the background, and I find myself using the phone fundamentally the way I have in the past: One app at a time.
  • Video: I don’t like that you can’t zoom, and I have recorded a couple of loud events that seemed to overwhelm the microphone. But the HD video is extremely clear. At this point, it’s too early to judge because I honestly don’t use this function much. It is, however, good to have in a pinch (especially for those kid events where you don’t want to lug around a camera).

I know there’s been much made of the antenna problem, but those critics miss a major point about iPhone users like me: My iPhone is a personal media device, not a phone. The majority of my time is spent on the Internet, not talking on the phone. For $199, it was definitely worth the upgrade.

And when I use it as a phone, it works just fine.

What are your experiences with the iPhone 4? Am I abnormal?

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iPhone or Android? A geek dilemma

iPhone or Android?

Original graphics courtesy of Apple and Google

When the Head Apple officially unveiled the long-awaited iPhone 4 this week, my first reaction was excitement: Finally, I can upgrade my first-generation iPhone.

But I have begun to have doubts about the Apple brand. It is no longer the little elegant train that could.

Instead of being that cute rainbow-colored Apple encouraging me to “think different,” it has become a dominating media presence that threatens to control the entire media chain.

Consider:

  • Overall size: Apple has surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization, and its revenue is growing faster than Microsoft’s. In the second quarter ended March 30, Apple reported $13.5 billion in sales, a 49 percent increase from the same quarter a year earlier. Its profits nearly doubled as well.
  • Music: Apple controls 70 percent of the digital-music market and had 28 percent of all music sales in the first quarter of 2010. The iPod’s tight integration with the iTunes music store guarantees it will continue to push toward monopoly status on the digital-music front.
  • Portable devices: Not only does the iPod dominate the mp3 player market with almost three-quarters of the total market, but its Touch incarnation allows it to make serious inroads into the gaming market. One analyst declared the iPod Touch as “the most dangerous thing that happened to (game) publishers ever.” From 2008 to 2009, the Apple iOS grew from 1 percent of the gaming market to 5 percent.
  • Magazines: Apple has already sold 2 million iPads, and some magazines are reporting vibrant app sales. Take Wired: It has sold as many iPad apps as print subscriptions.
  • eBooks: With such vibrant iPad sales, Apple hopes to duplicate its digital-music success in the eBook realm. Already, Apple reports 5 million books have been downloaded, which equates to about 22 percent of the eBook market.

Which bring us to mobile phones. The Blackberry RIM operating system still dominates the market, but the iPhone has moved firmly into second place with almost a quarter of the market. However, Google’s Android operating system has begun to gain some traction.

The dilemma for me isn’t about technology. It’s about openness. Do I continue to go with an elegant yet closed system, or do I support the open-source Android that better embraces the ethic of the Web?

I put the question to Twitter and Facebook and received some surprising responses:

  • “Leaning towards Android due to Google Apps. Have iPhone 3GS now, iPhone original as well”
  • “I’ve got a 3GS and am looking forward to the OS update. Other than the OS, the new iPhone isn’t very compelling for me. I will say, like the bottom of your article, that the open nature of the Droid is making me lean that way for my next phone.”
  • “I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have a Blackberry, I am planning on giving it up for an Android.”
  • “I’m going to stay brand loyal. iPhone has better battery, app store, and design.”

That last comment hits my conundrum squarely on the head. Over the past two years, I have become an iPhone addict. I love the simple OS. It has become my primary audio device, news reader, Twitter client, and phone. It is by my side throughout the day.

Do I continue with what has worked well for me, or do I challenge myself to change systems for the long-term good of technological innovation? Your thoughts?

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