Note to Apple: iPod/iTunes Suggestions

We are a two iPod family, and as we’ve used them we’ve realized that Apple needs to work on the Windows version of iTunes, and indeed on the installation of the iPod.

Right from installation of the first iPod I experienced some difficulties that I’m not used to with Apple products. Generally installation went well, but I disliked being forced to enter personal information and complete a survey before I could register my iPod. I was also asked for the serial number of the iPod, which is printed in a tiny font normally reserved for the fine print at fast cash services, and to make it worse it is printed in white lettering on a silver background. Once that was complete, and I started iTunes, it located all of the music on my drive. This is nice, but problematic because we use Windows XP, and have several accounts on each machine. Every time my son wants to use iTunes to upload music, he gets a message saying that someone else is logged on. That’s reasonable; XP is multi-user and we never log off. Unfortunately, iTunes thinks that someone else is using it, even if no one else is running the actual program.

Another problem occurred when we went to use the second iPod. They don’t work right out of the box, but need to be configured. So, even though we already had the software installed, we had to install it again. Apple does not describe any situation where two iPods use the same computer. So we installed the software – again – and configured the iPod, not knowing what would happen to the first iPod. When we connected the iPod, a picture of the iPod connector appeared on the screen, but there was nothing in the manual about it at all. My son theorized that it needed to be plugged back into the wall, which turned out to be correct. We were now able to upload music to the iPod.

As a result of this, I have somesuggestions for Apple:

1. Respect XP as a multi-user OS. Don’t start any services until you start iTunes. That way it won’t mistakenly believe that someone else is using it.

2. Provide a way to configure the iPod without re-installing all of the software.

3. Try to foresee situations like two iPods and one computer, and document them. Your user forums were quite helpful though.

4. Describe all of the icons I will see on screen, especially the cable connector icon.

I do have to say that we absolutely love the iPod, and were obviously willing to suffer through the pain.

Drive through call centers?

From Marginal revolution comes this story about a McDonald’s drive-thru in Missouri that relays its orders through a call center in Colorado, and then uses computers to present the order to the staff. The system has cut order time by 30 seconds, reduced errors by 50 percent and saved on labor.

Though Alex is surprised that it works, it just follows the same process as any other call center. Present one clear and consistent face and service to the user, minimize errors, and repeat it over and over.

Should have bought a Dell…

According to this article in the Toronto Star, Ontario’s social assistance computer system was down for 16 days last year, with a loss in productivity of over $2 million. The Province of Ontario, in Canada, paid $500 million for the system to manage administering benefits. Use of the system is shared with municipalities in the province. Apparently the system is unable to calculate a 3 per cent across-the-board increase to welfare and disability benefits for 670,000 people without $10 million in upgrades and testing.

I’ve been in the software business for a couple of decades, and I’ve seen some pretty fair sized contracts, but this one is a milestone of impressive salesmanship. Getting $500 million for essentially a database and calculator is good. Getting $10 million more for what amounts to less that 10 lines of code and some testing is amazing.

It seems that you hear of these kind of situations everyday. It used to be just government that got involved, but more and more I hear of companies that spend more than $100 million on ERP implementations, about 50% of which fail from what I recall reading. I’ve written a number of ROI calculator for use in the sales cycle that suggest what kind of savings as customer will see, but I honestly wonder of these companies ever see a payback on a $100 million investment. It would surprise me to say the least.

A predictable result?

A survey commissioned by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) found that almost 30 per cent of those who responded said downloading, file sharing and burning were the main reasons that their purchases had declined, and suggested that users download average of 180-million tracks per month. CRIA blamed CD burners and Kazaa for lost sales, stating that the use of CD burners had almost doubled from 18 per cent in late 2001 to 35 per cent today, and said this spells doom for the music industry.

As mentioned in the Globe and Mail article, recently the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the downloading described in the survey is lawful for Canadians who download for personal, non-commercial purposes and burn music on to CDs, as Canadians are already paying for their music through a levy placed on blank CDs, a levy that the music industry demanded the government institute. The copyright board of Canada, agreed with the court, and went further to say that it has already recognized the increased downloading and burning activity by expanding the scope of the levy. The levy is paid on all blank media regardless of whether it is used to burn music CDs or back up computers.

Silly Patents…

As reported on Slashdot, Amazon has patented the ability to get bank information from data entered by a user from a cheque. Isn’t this roughly equivalent to getting my name when I enter it? Of course they need to calculate a checksum, but I’m pretty sure that calculation hasn’t changed in some time.

So why hasn’t someone patented the ability to enter text into a field on a web page? They could call it “Extraction of information from information entered by a user”. Just remember, I suggested it first. Sadly, I’ll probably read tomorrow that somebody has already been granted the patent.