Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hollow scooping -- business lessons from ice cream

I was buying my daughter a single scoop of ice cream at an ice cream shop the other day and I had to tell the lady scooping the ice cream not to "hollow scoop". For those of you that do not know what hollow scooping is, it involves creating a nearly perfectly round ball of ice cream with a hollow space in the middle -- effectively you wind up with a very beautiful scoop that lack a good portion of the substance it would have had it been a compacted scoop.

When I was growing up, there were basically 2 choices for ice cream: Thrifty ice cream at $0.25 per scoop or the higher-end Baskin Robbins or Double Rainbow at around $1.50-$2.00 per scoop. Thrifty used a funky scoop that was cylinder-shaped and nearly always guaranteed that you would get less than a full scoop and it was put into a flimsy cup or a really cheap cone that resembled wet cardboard as soon as the ice cream started to melt; usually there were only 3 or 4 flavors available -- it was cheap ice cream, but it was $0.25 and you knew what you were getting for what you spent. Baskin Robbins and Double Rainbow, on the other hand, had numerous flavors to choose from (at least 31) and the scoops were put into nice cups with lids or you had a choice of cones that tended to not turn to mush in your hand. The promise from Baskin Robbins and Double Rainbow was that you were getting a better product, more choices, and a better experience -- hollow scooping killed it.

It's hard to believe, but I remember the first time I was told about hollow scooping. I was pretty young and my cousins had taken me to a Baskin Robbins by their house -- they wanted me to try bubble gum ice cream with real gumballs in it (strange what you remember, right?). When the guy was scooping the ice cream, my cousin yelled across the counter to him and told him not to hollow scoop; the guy was a friend of my cousin from high school and they knew each other. Curious, I of course asked about, and the guy behind the counter proceeded to make the most beautifully round ball of ice cream that I had ever seen that was easily twice as big as any scoop I had every been given. He handed the cup across the counter to me, handed me a spoon, and told me to dig in, so I pushed the spoon into . . . nothing. There was a space at least the size of a tennis ball inside the scoop and the whole thing collapsed in on itself when I applied pressure. At the time, I was convinced this was the coolest thing ever and used to tell other people behind the counter not to hollow scoop my ice cream while growing up.

There's a not-so-new style of ice cream now that involves using a cold stone -- they can't hollow scoop because they have to mix up the chunk of ice cream that they pull out for you with the toppings that you want in front of you on that, well, cold stone. There's full transparency in the process and an even higher premium in the price.

So let's look at it:
  • Thrifty -- low cost, low experience proposition, low expectations
  • Cold stone ice cream -- high cost, high experience proposition, high transparency
  • Baskin Robins, Double Rainbow -- relative high cost, high experience proposition, hollow scooping
People don't like doing business with hollow scoopers and they're unfortunately common -- it feels dirty, like a trick has been played on you. Once you've been burned by a hollow scooper, you're likely to go for the known, lower cost and lower value option or the higher cost and higher transparency option.

PS -- if you serve ice cream, I hope you learned a lot from this article and I hope that nothing that you learned had to do with hollow scooping techniques.

PPS -- if you don't serve ice cream and you've been hollow scooping with your goods or services, I hope you stop TODAY because it's never been easier for your customers to cry foul and they have big megaphones, or at least just start charging the $0.25 that it's worth.

Photo lifted from Sweet Strain

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why the iPad will eventually make Amazon a software company

I wrote yesterday that the iPad is the best Kindle yet -- you sent me some e-mails about that, so let me expand.

The iPad runs a Kindle application that is easily as functional as my Kindle 2 though not quite as fancy as the iBook app. However, the iPad features a backlit, easy-to-read IPS screen that seems at least as easy on the eyes as electronic ink and requires not external lighting source. In addition, the color qualities of the IPS screen make the browsing experience much better -- looking a book covers in grayscale electronic ink seems prehistoric when compared to the full color of the iPad screen.

Although I elected to purchase the iPad without the 3G, the Whispernet over wifi flies -- there is no wifi option for the Kindle, so you are stuck with Sprint coverage and Sprint speed if you want data connection to your Kindle. The 3G version of the iPad works worldwide and, although there is a worldwide Kindle version available, those of us that purchased the original Kindle 2 are limited to using it within the United States. I will say, however, that it was nice to be able to pop on to the Kindle 3G and purchase a book in an airplane (before they closed the door, of course) if I happened to run out of books on a trip -- wifi only will cause me to have to make sure that I download what I need over the airport wifi before I board (or start flying an airline that has in-flight wifi).

One of the major differences between the Kindle 2 and the iPad is the physical size and I have to admit that I have not yet tried using the iPad in all of the places where I use my Kindle 2. The Kindle 2 is very much the size of a regular hardback book (much thinner, of course), while the iPad is more towards the magazine side of things. However, I did have the chance to compare the iPad to the Kindle DX and it seems equally as manageable from a size perspective -- of course, the iPad has no need for the fixed keyboard that the DX has, so the iPad feels like it has more screen real estate.

On to the title of my post: I honestly believe that Amazon should/will become a software purveyor instead of a hardware purveyor. At the time that Amazon wanted to push the e-book market hard, there simply was a vacuum as it related to hardware/readers, so they created one -- the hardware drove the core business sales, which were the books. Since releasing the Kindle 2, Amazon has churned out Kindle reader software for Windows, OS X, the iPhone/iPod Touch, and BlackBerry, effectively dissociating the Kindle branding from the hardware and associating with e-book consumption via multiple hardware platforms.

Operating under the assumption that Apple will continue to drive the price of the iPad down as they release future versions (did $99 seem too cheap for an iPhone when it was first released?), it may become too costly for Amazon to compete with Apple, and the big question is whether they really want to. One strategy, probably an attractive one, would be for Amazon to release one more hardware revision of the Kindle as a bridge between the price of entry for the iPad and the current price of the Kindle. Ultimately, Amazon could focus on continually refining software and expanding the platforms that they use as conduits to sell books and magazines, and get out of the manufacturing business.

It is important to note that Amazon has an awful lot of software offerings already such as EC2 (elastic compute cloud, which allows you to use its servers to create virtual servers) and S3 (simple storage solution, which allows you to pay pennies on the GB to store files on its servers) -- you can find a full list here. For those of you that might question the software strategy, it is important to understand that software is already a part of the strategy, not something new; manufacturing/product design was the real departure.

Here's to hoping Apple continues to allow the Kindle app on the iPad.

Monday, April 05, 2010

(the inevitable) iPad Review

I received my iPad (though not my iPad case, which is still in delivery) on Saturday afternoon -- no standing in line with all the rest of the folks. As with most Apple products, it came 99% charged, making it somewhat usable directly out of the box, except that I had to connect it to my computer to complete the activation/registration process (i.e., you can't just turn it on, it gives you that little connect to iTunes graphic).

Once I had completed the registration, I configured it for manual sync, moved everything over and started get errors. Lots of errors. All of which were generated by the applications. Not good. Apple's online help suggested a number of things, including deleting the applications from the computer and re-downloading and deleting them from the iPad and downloading them over wifi -- didn't feel like doing either of those.

In order to start with the simplest solution first, I unplugged the iPad, plugged it back in, and wound up at the registration process again. I had thought that the whole thing got nuked, but all of the music I put on was still there and the applications just re-installed.

Once I had it up and running correctly, I was pretty impressed -- the screen is gorgeous, the speed over my wifi is quick, and the processor seems to render things quite quickly. First app I launched was the Kindle App because I wanted to know if I could lose a device and charger out of my bag -- Kindle displays beautifully on the iPad, works great, and allows me to access my sizable Amazon investment, which is great (so, someone downstream in the family is going to wind up with a new Kindle). After verifying the Kindle app, I played around with the music and must say that the speakers have decent sound and good volume range; I also played around with the microphone and it seems to work pretty well. As I tweeted about before, Sketchnotes is going to be (for now) my go-to note-taking application -- being able to take regular notes and scribble drawings and notes with my finger is perfect for me.

Let me also note that I have had this thing running since Saturday around 2PM MST with the wifi on and the battery's only at 90% -- battery endurance is pretty amazing and I hope that the next gen iPhone learns some battery lessons from its bigger sibling. Some have complained about the lack of a camera on the iPad, but I have to be honest that trying to take a picture with this thing would be like mounting a camera on an awkwardly-shaped dinner plate and trying to take a nice still photo; I would agree that it probably would have done well with a front-facing camera in the bezel for video conferencing, but that probably would have driven the cost up higher than the price points that would have wanted to sell at for generation 1.

The shape of the iPad is quite awkward to hold and I look forward to receiving the case. While the screen is much easier to read on (and backlit) than the Kindle 2, the Kindle 2 is much easier to hold in your hand -- my hope is that the case will fix that issue. It almost seems as though there should be a stylus that you can use for drawing on the screen because of the size of the screen real estate -- I went ahead and ordered a Pogo stylus just to see how it works with the iPad (seemed like it was overkill for an iPod Touch or iPhone screen).

One of the disappointing things about the applications on the iPad is that the ones that are not made for it (or have not been upgraded to use all the screen real estate) are not fun to use; the iPhone apps don't scale up very well in the 2X mode and are just awkward to use in the normal iPhone screen size in the middle of the iPad. One of the interesting experiences was deciding which apps I would actually use on the iPad vs. the apps that were really only useful on the iPhone -- when it came down to it, I did not install all of the apps that are on my iPhone on the iPad.

Overall I'm happy with the iPad and will be even happier when the case arrives.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The iPad wifi vs. the iPad 3G

Conversation I had with someone today:
Me: Have you ordered your iPad yet?

Him: No, I've read the reviews and they say I should hold out for the 3G version.

Me: Ok, but where are you going to use it where you don't have wifi?

Him: Hadn't really thought about it that way.

Me: Because the only thing you're paying the extra money for is the antenna and SIM receiver; it's not like the 3G version has a camera or some other cool feature.
Here's my opinion: $200ish for the 3G isn't worth it. You're not going to be able to upgrade the chipset via software when AT&T rolls out LTE to activate its 4G coverage. You can create a wifi hotspot with your phone to leverage the 3G/4G you're already paying for -- jailbreak your iPhone and use Mywi or use Proxoid on your Andriod phone. If you want to or are already paying for another data card, look into a Mifi 2200 from Verizon, a Mifi from Sprint, or even a PHS300 from Cradlepoint (just plug in your USB dongle from any provider and it autoconfigures and runs on batteries).

Just my opinion and something to think about.