Karma - the "just works" pay-as-you-go mobile hotspot

by Thomas Brady in ,

My mom has one of those Clear hotspots. You know the one. It comes with any of a number of logos on it. Looks like a tiny Apple TV with three green lights on the front—if you're very lucky. It's usually on a table in front of someone who's doing the Jerry Seinfeld posture—the one that says "Who's the genius who…"—and cursing profusely.

Enter Karma. I heard about them when someone—sadly, I don't remember who—tweeted about having received there's around Christmas. I did a bunch of reading, and, despite being incredibly wary of the hardware, more on that in a second, I placed an order.

The Karma is the very same hardware, by the looks of it, as that nefarious Clear Spot, though in Storm Trooper white to the Clear/Sprint/et al's Darth Vader black. The big—no huge—difference is the software. You don't do any configuring with the Karma. With the spot, or similar, there are lots of hoops to jump through, typically, to secure the modem—setting your own encryptiong method, password, etc. With the Karma, you simply login with your Facebook credentials. As much as I dislike Facebook, this makes for a superbly easy, works-right-out-of-the-box experience. They're so sure of it, and so proud, that this is the instruction card that comes in the box:

 Karma instruction card

Karma instruction card

That's pretty much it. There's more on the back, but with just that, you'll suddenly see a WiFi hotspot in range called, "Thomas's Karma," if your Facebook account is for a person whose first name is Thomas. It's already secured. Much like a coffee shop WiFi setup, you are greeted by a web page when you attempt to connect to the Karma, where you are asked to log in via Facebook.

This is all just icing, though. Even if the zero-configuration experience weren't a part of this offering, I would have likely ordered the Karma anyway because of the business model/pricing structure. Your Karma serves up pay-as-you-go data. Fifteen dollars gets you a gigabyte of data. No expiration dates. Dead simple, and fairly priced.

If you're paying attention, you may be asking yourself, "Wait a minute… what happend if some freeloader with a Facebook account logs in to the modem?" That's another interesting thing about their pricing/model. If this happens, that person is invited to use or create their own account with Karma, and purchase their own data at $15/GB. They're using your infrastructure to get there, but they're not using your data plan. And for the effort of lugging around and charging the modem you're both connected by, you get 100 MB added to your account when they connect.

So far the Karma has performed beautifully. I get great speeds (usually around 8 Mb/second), the battery lasts longer than I've ever needed so far, and I'm quite happy with the pricing.

My 3-yr-old

by Thomas Brady in

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a theme that could be stated, "So, my 3-hr-old…" 

Some favorites:

On election day:

My 3-yr-old: I didn't vote for piggy-bank. I voted for cheese. 

Just a couple weeks ago:

It's fun how my 3-yr-old is really grasping holidays this year. He just asked, "Can I be Dr. Doom for Christmas?"



He's a delight, and several hands full at the same time. For the past couple months, he's been getting up some time between 4 and 6 AM, usually toward the early end of that spectrum, and roaming the house. We find all sorts of things in a different place than they've ever been when we wake up. I try to get up with him, when I can, but our schedules have been a mess, and after three or four days of going to bed around midnight and getting up with him at 4 or 5 result in me sleeping right through his tyrannies. 

This past Saturday was just such an example. He woke us up waving around a gardening wand. Thing is, we don't own a gardening wand. When asked where he got it, he replied, "I was chasing the cat!" We also don't have a cat.

A couple heart-attacks later, we realized he'd opened the front door and roamed our neighborhood while we slept. The garden wand belongs to a neighbor two doors down and across the street.

I can't begin to think about what might have happened to him. I tried to warn him of the dangers of the outside world for an unattended 3-yr-old, while I pressed him to my chest like I was trying to make wine. All the while, in the back of my head, I couldn't stop thinking, "Are you making some kind of promise that he's safe when he's inside?"

The news from Newtown is devastating. As a parent of two young ones, I just don't know how to process it. I can't bear to think of it too long. And yet I want to be there for and with those families who were terrorized. I don't want to turn my back on them because I'm so concerned for myself, when my children are still alive.

My heart breaks for these families. I pray for you all. And I struggle to teach my children not to fear, but to have a healthy respect for the lives they've been given.

Here, below, is my 3-yr-old, Liam, as Joseph in a Christmas pageant from a couple weekends ago, doing it his way.

 Liam as Joseph. You don't see him?

Liam as Joseph. You don't see him?

P.S. I assumed, wrongly, that it went without saying. We have added chains to our doors that are out of his reach (for now, at least), and I'm ever-more-fervently attempting to adjust my sleep schedule to match his. We're doing our best.

Orchestrating the sounds of your interface

by Thomas Brady in ,

I'm a sucker for big-picture pieces like this, solutions to the problem of creating consistent, yet distinct experiences across a platform. Here we have GE creating a "sound palette" from which to pluck bleeps, blorps and chimes for distinct interactions with microwaves, refrigerators, stovetops, etc. Via Small Surfaces.

A novel, if not new, solution to urban mass transit

by Thomas Brady in

This is a co-worker, and I might get to help in little bits here in there on this campaign, but even if I had just stumbled across this in Architizer, either of the Austin American Statesman articles (1 2), on Wired or when I saw this video from PSFK, I'm pretty sure I would find this idea to be a brilliant solution to green, small-physical-footprint, hyper-efficient mass transit:

The Biggest Apple News Since Jobs's Passing

by Thomas Brady in , , , ,

Pro tip: If…

  1. You're in, say, the top third of the S&P 500
  2. Your last report card wasn't so good, or you think your next one might not be
  3. Wall Street shuts down for a day or two due to a storm

Let's just say maybe it's a good time to start buttering up your LinkedIn "friends."

Just ask Scott Forstall and John Browett, who, at least by the end of the year in Forstall's case, no longer work for Apple.

This is big.

Big enough to pull me out of an uplanned hiatus from the blog. Family emergency. My mother-in-law is recovering quite well, if slowly, from cardiac arrest while competing in a—not her first—triathlon.

Big enough that it brings a pretty obvious final answer to a series I'd been working on that could have been titled, "Who the hell is in charge of User Experience at Apple?" (Part 1: "What's missing from Apple's Org Chart?" & Part 2: "Apple and The CXO")

It's clearer now than it has ever been who it was that answered for user experience design across Apple. Just look at the lanugage of that press release, on what activities are being transfered from Forstall to Ive:

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design. His incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade.

Who's the CXO at Apple? Well, now we know. It's Jony Ive. The oh-so-obvious, but oh-so-wrong answer that so many people would have offered for so many years now has become the right answer.

And I think this might be the biggest news since October 5th, 2011.

I don't think that for all his time as VP (or senior VP) of iOS Forstall called all the UX shots. I believe that when Steve Jobs was alive, this—along with whatever else he cared about that day—was Jobs's purview. But when you phrase it in the business organization classic definition of "a throat to choke," that throat was Forstall's, I think, for some time now.

But the most dramatic subplot of this whole story is Sir Jony Ive's. Ive doesn't have any UI/UX design under his belt, at least not any that anyone knows of. He has seen great success designing hardware for Apple for over two decades, but from what we can see from the outside he hasn't touched a pixel.

This could go two ways. In the first scenario, Ive could turn out to be an incredible UI/UX designer as well as an industrial designer, or, perhaps more likely, he could prove to be able to lead a team of UI/UX designers effectively. In the second, he could terrible, or even only mediocre at the job, either of which would have the same outcome.

Apple is more vulnerable than it has been in some time. If it turns out that Ive is no good at this, Apple's reputation will be shaken like it hasn't been since the Newton. People already have high expectations of the man that was knighted for being such a design badass. People are looking for someone on whom to pin the Steve Jobs legacy. If Ive fails, "beleaguered," will be the nice thing the press says about Apple, which will certainly catch the attention of both the customers and Wall Street.

There is a hell of a lot (around $604 per share at the moment, not to put too fine a point on it, but, of course, Wall Street is closed for a few days) riding on that young man right now. For once I don't envy him.

Apparently Jony Ive isn't busy enough...

by Thomas Brady in , ,

This must be a first. PetaPixel reports that Ive will be designing a very limited edition Leica camera.

I don't recall Apple every loaning out key team-members like this. Ever.

This is for a charity event, and it does involve Bono, so all of the "just this one time" flags are flying, but, this is very unusual.

If I were paranoid, I'd say Ive was looking for greener pastures. There was kerfuffle last year that Ive really wanted to leave Apple and move back home to the UK, so that his children could go to school there. Of course, this May, when he was knighted, he said he's staying put.

Apple doesn't let stuff like this happen without thinking it through. Friends who work there have reported that they can't speak at any public event as an Apple employee without clearance from marketing. This is calculated. More than likely, this is Apple sacrificing a bit of Ive's time for a good cause, and a tax write-off.

Quite possibly, this is Apple and Ive saying to the rest of the industry, "well, we've lapped you enough times we're going to take a break now."

How to pre-order an iPhone 5 for pickup on Friday, today

by Thomas Brady in , ,

Here's how I see my Friday morning going:

  1. Get up, at the usual time.
  2. Have breakfast with my family.
  3. Get ready for work at the usual pace.
  4. Drop by Target on my way to work.
  5. Walk right up to the cell phone stand.
  6. Trade in an iPhone 4 for $158, and keep my cables and AC adapters.
  7. Pick up the iPhone 5 I pre-ordered last night.

This could go wrong, but currently I have a very low single-digit reservation at my local Target, mère minutes away. They did tell me that they were required to say the phone might not arrive until Monday, too. That still beats the heck out of the 2-3 weeks I'm hearing elsewhere.

How did this happen? Well, I don't think it was any accident.

While AT&T seems to be screwing up people's orders left and right—one way this could go wrong for me is that AT&T might not cancel the pre-order they somehow managed to already botch before Friday, thus using up my upgrade eligibility for an order that can't actually be fulfilled, oh, and I'm just one example of this predicament out of dozens I've encountered without even trying—Target is, well, just being Target. Doing what they do well. Focusing on great customer experiences, and trusting that a healthy bottom line will follow.

So while stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart are offering "pre-orders" that are really just gift cards and a chance to wait in line on Friday, Target is setting up a one-stop(okay, two-stop, since you have to pre-order in person, but I have kids, so it's not like I wasn't already at Target several times this week) shop where you can trade-in old phones for cash and pick up your actually-reserved pre-order in mere minutes.

Why isn't everybody pre-ordering at Target, then? I'm guessing two reasons: obscurity and planned obscurity. I think this is the first year that Target has gotten to participate in pre-order/day 0 iPhone sales, so, at least this year, it's not one of the first places people think of to go for day 0 purchasing. And, this being the first year, I think Target is choosing not to promote this so as to dip their toe and see how it goes. For one thing, at this stage, I don't think Target knows what kind of inventory they'll be getting Friday, and they're definitely an under-promise-and-over-deliver kind of outfit.

So, if you haven't secured an iPhone 5 pre-order, but you'd like to, and you don't want to get in line tomorrow afternoon at your local Apple store, drop by Target.

"Nintendo Hard"

by Thomas Brady in

I don't know about you, but one major facet of my cognition until about, oh, say the age of 20, 25 maybe, was the conspiracy theory.


Unseen forces pooling their resources and efforts to thwart me were the most obvious, and therefore best explanation for so, so many frustrating parts of my youth.

The craziest thing, though, is when you find out your instincts were right.

I submit to you, dear reader, the following TV Tropes article entitled "Nintendo Hard." (hat tip to The Tech Block for that link).

As a young man of about 11, I vividly remember sussing out that the programmers who produced much of Nintendo's content intentionally made the games nearly impossible to finish—"conquer" in the parlance of the time—in order to make them last longer.

As an older, obviously wiser man of 20-ish, I decided that my logic was flawed. Surely if you finished the game faster you would rush out to buy a new one sooner, and therefore give Nintendo more money. Therefore, my childish paranoia of mean game developers was just that.

According to that article, I was right. The first time. Sure, you might not be as quick to go out and buy a new game if the current game you were playing took longer to complete. However, the more investment you made in that game before completing it, the greater your perceived success, the more dopamine discharged into your pre-pubescent nervous system, the more hooked you became, the more likely you were to go out and buy another game or two.

It was a bet on the long tail.

And those bastards knew what they were doing. Grab any male between 30 and 45 and say, "but our princess is in another castle" and look for eye-twitching and phantom thumb movements. Ask him to mime entering the Konami Code.

UPDATE: It's in the zeitgeist today. Just got this amazing Pac-Man-as-Kafka-story SMBC comic link from a co-worker.


by Thomas Brady in , , ,

I don't really want to discuss the Apple v. Samsung thing much, for several reasons. I have mixed feelings about the outcome, due largely to my confusion over and disdain for the U.S. patent system. Also I'm not a lawyer. Finally, there's not much left to say that hasn't been said elsewhere. But speaking of said elsewhere, do not miss this Monday Note article by Jean-Louis Gassée, "Apple Never Invented Anything." Inside you'll find the most relevant parable to this trial that isn't in a holy book.

Apple and The CXO

by Thomas Brady in , , , , ,

Previously, on Bash Modern Quantity…

Coming up on a year ago, I asked the Internet "What's missing from Apple's Org Chart?". My premise went…

  1. Apple's biggest advantage over its competitors is its superior user experience,
  2. this superior user experience is the result of having a strong UX team at Apple and that
  3. a key to maintaining or growing this team and its strength would be strong, empowered leadership.

After lots of digging I could only find evidence of a director-level position within the UX discipline at Apple (also here). No vice presidents. No senior vice presidents. Nobody with a C in their title. It seemed obvious enough that Steve Jobs would have seen himself as the C-level representation of UX concerns at Apple, but it seemed equally obvious—to me, at least—that Tim Cook is not similarly capable of wearing that hat. It seemed to me it was time to appoint a high-level head of user experience design at Apple.

This week, on Twitter…

I read, via Crystal Ehrlich, Reuben Steiger's article, "Who's the Chief Experience Officer?", in which he described the need for such high-level representation thusly,

The crux of the problem is that building great experiences is everyone’s responsibility and nobody’s job.

If anyone was to have a CXO, wouldn't it be Apple?

Well, I think they do have a CXO, of sorts, and I'll tell you who it is. Well, actually, I'll let Steve Jobs tell you what he told Fast Company:

Think of it this way. If you look at your own body, your cells are specialized, but every single one of them has the master plan for the whole body. We think our company will be the best possible company if every single person working here understands the whole master plan and can use that as a yardstick to make decisions against. We think a lot of little and medium and big decisions will be made better if all our people know that.

John Siracusa, if he's reading this, just thought the phrase, "hippie-dippy," and who can blame him? This sounds like idealist, weirdo, airy Steve Jobs rambling, doesn't it? But here's the science behind it.

Business science.

James Allworth thinks "Steve Jobs Solved The Innovator's Dilemma." I think he's right. And I think this is a big part of how he did it.

In case you aren't familiar with The Innovator's Dilemma [yes, that's a dirty, dirty affiliate link], it was the 1997 Harvard Business School Publishing release by Clayton Christensen wherein he coined the term "disruptive innovation." Disruption theory is beyond[me and] the scope of this post, but it describes the vicious cycle in which what we would call a startup can become a big, slow-moving beast of a corporation, and can, therefore, stagnate, stop innovating, and fail to thrive while another startup comes along and steals its market. In short, it's not enough to come up with an incredible product. You have to keep coming up with incredible products, even if the new ones threaten sales of your old ones, or even your current, successful products. It means taking some risks, getting into markets you don't have any proven ground in and not holding onto anything too tightly. It's being able to change what your company is and does when the market changes, or, preferably, before the market changes. Like turning "Apple Computer," manufacturers of Macintosh personal computers into "Apple," the consumer electronics and media company.

I'll leave it to the Harvard guys'n'gals to go any further with that line of thought, but there's a nugget within there that's germane to our topic (no, I haven't forgotten what it was). How do you keep your finger so close to the pulse of the market that you know how and when to change what your company is and does? This is where the Venn diagram of "User Experience Design" and "Business Model Innovation" overlap, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

In "The hiring and firing of milkshakes and candy bars," episode 19 of Horace Dediu and Dan Benjamin's "The Critical Path," Dediu describes his own independent arrival at Christensen's theoretical solution to the innovator's dilemma, while observing user experience researchers at work:

The idea is that rather than asking people what they want—showing them things and asking, 'What do you think of that?' you would observe them using the product… It was very useful in identifying why people were clicking in the wrong places. This was a process of cleaning up the interface and finding out where people might be led astray. And I remember trying to actually suggest that method—and I was learning about this at a time before I knew job-to-be-done theory at all, I mean, it was actually before the second book was published, which I think is where it was introduced, in The Innovator's Solution [TQB: yes, another affiliate link]—and so it sort of clicked in my mind… that observation of actual behavior is more important than asking wishes, or asking of people what they want."

This is job-to-be-done theory: the idea that you can predict a market's behavior by looking at why your customer wants your product—what your customer hires your product to do—and optimizing your product to do that job well. If you're really good at this, you can figure out that customers are hiring unlikely products to do certain jobs because there are no better options, in which case you've just found an invisible untapped market. Or you might figure out that a sizable portion of the market is hiring a particular product because it's the best suited to do the job for which they've hired it, but that it's not really getting the job done. It's a "successful" product in terms of metrics such as sales or brand recognition, but customers may ultimately be very frustrated with it, even if they aren't aware of their frustration. This is how RIM's wildly "popular" BlackBerry could be toppled, among several others, in such short order by such an inexperienced little company such as Apple.

And how do you find out what your customer has hired your product to do? As Dediu said, you do user research, in the tradition of the user experience designer.

Obviously, then, I'm all the more justified in my cry for a C-level representative of the UX discipline at Apple, right?

I don't think so.

I think I was right when I said, "Steve Jobs was the de facto [head] of UX at Apple," but I think I was only half right. Whereas Steiger put it so poignantly, as quoted earlier in this article, "building great experiences is everyone’s responsibility and nobody’s job," I think at Apple building great experiences is everyone’s responsibility and everyone's job, especially if you have a C in your title. I think this is what Steve Jobs was talking about with his each-cell-knowing-the-master-plan analogy.

The executive leadership at Apple has been in charge of this for years. Think about keynote events. Who does the demos? Sure, while he was alive, Steve Jobs did the lion's share (yes, an intentional pun), but come on. Steve Jobs doesn't sit on the bench. More and more, though, even while he was still doing the majority of demos, executives of the top several levels demoed their hardware and software. As far back as 2000 you'd see these guys in the promotional videos released alongside the G3 Cube or the first aluminum PowerBooks. Yes, I realize that even Microsoft executives demo their own software, but I challenge you to compare those demos favorably. On one side you'll get a lot of boilerplate, stiff, clearly-rehearsed deliveries of speeds and feeds. On the other you'll hear someone speak with obvious first-hand, deep knowledge of the practical benefits of what they're showing you—the improvements to the user experience.

Not enough to convince you that the executive leadership at Apple is the apparent co-CXO of the company? How about this one, quite possibly the most important UX design datail in the history of Apple, the feature that could be credited for bringing Apple back to life: the iPod's click wheel? It was invented by Sr. VP of World Marketing, Phil Schiller.

This is the body-and-cell analogy quoted above. I don't think Steve Jobs tried to hide his solution to the innovator's dilemma, I think he just phrased it in ways he knew his competitors would never even try to understand. Here he is spilling the beans in Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson,

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything.

Sounds a lot like one of Steve Jobs's heroes, Walt Disney:

We don't make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.

It also sounds a lot like something one of the other cells in the Apple body—Jon Ive—was quoted saying to Wired:

We are really pleased with our revenues, but our goal isn't to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it's the truth. Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money.

That's good user experience design summed up quite nicely by someone who neither came from a UX background nor occupies a UX role at Apple. People often credit Ive with all things design at Apple, but he and his team are industrial designers. To be sure, what he does is a major part of the experience in an Apple product, but he doesn't work alone, or even head the division. Ive doesn't likely call any shots when it comes to pixels.

At most places, a user experience designer, if that title even exists, works in the domain of pixels. If it's a really enlightened company, they might get to sit at the table when decisions about hardware or services are being made. At Apple, they don't stop at pixels, they don't stop at power buttons and they don't stop at unibody construction. They don't stop at the packaging, and they don't even stop at the store display. They keep going. It's why you can buy most items in an Apple store right from your phone, without having to stop and wait in a checkout line. It's why you can get first-class support in person at the Genius Bar. It's why I haven't had to call them more than once in a decade, and why I never heard hold music that one time I did.


It's way too late for that header, isn't it?

This seemingly fussy little organizational detail may hold half of the secrets to Apple's wild success. They don't have a CXO because they don't need one. They don't need one because they've infused their very business model with the concerns, the metrics and even the techniques of user experience design.


Horace Dediu, responding via Twitter:

@thomasqbrady That's right. The CXO's job description is a "value" or priority that should be embedded in every employee.

Why we shouldn't be calling it App.net, nor comparing it to Twitter

by Thomas Brady in ,

As much as Twitter's recent API "warnings" have made us want it to be so, App.net is not, according to this excellent essay by Orian Marx, "How App.net Can Change Everything", just another Twitter alternative.

It's a platform. It's very close to what I was just begging new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer for, when I said,

Whereas a Twitter client is the current Hello World2, give us a platform that makes a Twitter-like service the "MyFirstWebApp.html" experience. Do for web application development what Blogger and Wordpress did for content development.

Along those lines, Marx suggests we call the social application currently featured at alpha.app.net "Alpha," to distinguish it from the infrastrcture?the platform?on which it was built, which is App.net. If this truly is the direction in which Dalton, et al are headed, I think good things are in store.