Monday 28 September 2009

Retail with a difference

I have blogged about Apple's retail operations before. This time I am concentrating on what some would call hype but what i would call a retail business advantage. I attended the very first opening of a UK Applestore here in Regent Street some years ago now. It was almost a festival, with some Apple addicts camping out for days in advance. i just just happened to be passing through London that day, actually arriving on a long haul flight to Heathrow at 6am that morning. So I stopped off at Regent street and joined the line already a thousand or so long. That was my first  tshirt celebrating a store opening. Since then I have attended many more openings and it is always an interesting experience. The most distant was Toronto at their first Canadian store, since I just happened to be in the city that day.

On Saturday I attended the latest UK opening at the Chapelfield store in Norwich. Again it was fascinating to witness the excitement they were able to generate amongst the people lined up from early when the mall opened. By the time the doors opened at 10am, the queue was winding around the mall central area and almost outside and down the street. Knowing people familiar with the training of new Apple Retail employees, I know the amount of work put into preparation and motivation of the staff is very significant. The result is a pumped up and enthusiastic and happy set of employees ready to greet those people who wait in line for the doors to open. One interesting idea is that the retail staff are actually let out of the new shop to meet the people in line before the people get to enter the store.

Analysis of the line of people is also interesting. Sure there are a number of Apple fanatics and evangelists. But there are also a large number of ordinary inquisitive people who want to see what is going to happen. And looking at the age profile of the people in the line, although there is a mixture, the bulk of people are young adults ... something which is a very positive thing for the future of a company's customer base.

So yet another black tshirt with a different name is added to my collection. It was fun to meet some others in the line last Saturday and good to buy my Snow Leopard upgrade when I got inside the store. And of course my iPhone kept me amused while I waited in line as well! The look of envy on the faces of other retailers in the Chapelfield mall on Saturday was almost palpable. I'm not sure there were as many people in any other stores let alone waiting to go in! Sure there are many things that affect retail success. But seeing enthusiastic and smiling people who are ready to serve you inside is one important one.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Media rubbish?

In all sorts of contexts, there is high end and low end, expensive and cheap, and high quality and poor. Some laggards of the Internet often just say things like "well it's all rubbish on there isn't it" and similar. I realise that I am preaching the wrong audience here in that since you are reading a blog, you are probably more pro-Internet than not. But I think it's up to all of us to tell it like it is to the doubters we meet.

Sure there is a lot of rubbish on the web. And what is and what isn't is very subjective. But if you look at TV for very long, you find it's much the same there too. Some of the programmes and many of the adverts are just awful. They do nothing to innovate nor advance the media industry they are part of. They are just used as low quality cheap-to-make schedule fillers for 24 hour TV. But most people see through it to the good stuff on TV and don't generalise or denigrate it to such an extent. After all it has been around a lot longer than the Net. It's another example of social changes instilled by technology. It's another example of the relative immaturity of the Net as a media channel. So next time you hear someone say that they don't use the Net because it's all rubbish ... just tell them how it works for you!

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Intel presses on with smaller geometry

Intel is due to start shipping commercial processor chips using a 32nm geometry size by the end of this year but is always continuing to push ahead with reductions in die size in order to push the gap further between it and its competitors. They have already demonstrated a 22nm wafer that is populated with RAM chips at a conference. It contains 2.9 billion transistors in an area the size of a fingernail. The 32nm Xeon chips which will find their way into systems during the first months of 2010 are the sort that Apple typically uses in its Pro tower models. The 22nm process should become part of standard manufacturing by the last quarter of 2011 and a move to an amazing 15nm process by 2013.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

The latest hybrid car in the UK

It was last weekend when I was fortunate to have an in-depth look at and drive of the latest Toyota Prius. This is the third generation of the model to hit the UK's roads and is a significant leap forward from the previous generation. The hybrid performance has been improved and the CO2 emission figures reduced below the magic 100g/cm3 despite the petrol engine included under the bonnet (hood for our US readers!) having been boosted to 1.8 litre.

The high end (spirit) model includes all the previous innovations such as voice control, automatic parking assistance and route guidance integrated with traffic news / incident replanning but a couple of new features caught my eye. The first is the introduction of a fighter-plane style Head Up Display (HUD) projected onto the windscreen (US: windshield!). This really does mean that in driving the car you need to divert your eyes from the road considerably less. The second innovation which is an costly option (probably only worth it if you live in a mainly sunny area such as California!) is a solar powered sunroof and air-conditioning system which pre-cools the car before you get in if left in a sunny spot but without turning on the ignition and without using any petrol (US:gas) fuel. Interestingly if you choose this solar sunroof option, you must have smaller and hence lighter wheels (and no spare) fitted in order that the overall weight allows the fuel efficiency figures to be achieved, which shows how close to tolerances the environmental aims are pushing things.

The new model Prius drives much like the previous one although the throttle response is variable and very obviously different in three new power settings (eco/elec/perf). Externally as well as being a little longer, the most striking change is the redesign of the light clusters. The latter seems to cause the main dislike I have about the new model which is the move to a single reversing and single fog lamp at the rear, compromise too many in my view. Overall the car is great example of pushing the hybrid lead that Toyota have even further.

Monday 21 September 2009

A new camera

Recently I was in the market for a new compact digital camera. There are a huge range to choose from. Narrowing down to the features I wanted and the top review comments I could find, I chose the Panasonic DMC-TZ7. This is a very slim model from their Lumix range. It has excellent intelligent automatic settings and picture quality seems great. For a compact it has an ultra wide angle 25mm lens with 12x optical zoom. Storage is via standard SD cards, which fit into most other devices unlike Sony's MemoryStick which put me off some extremely good competitors from their range.

The other distinctive feature of the TZ7 is its video capability in High Definition using the space-saving but harder to edit (except on a Mac!) AVCHD standard format. It takes rechargeable batteries and a metal case (my previous compact had a plastic outer which cracked), and also includes an HDMI output socket. My only real criticism of it so far is that there seems to be a very low level beeping sound superimposed on all video recordings made which is somewhat annoying. Overall its a great camera though and given the small size, will mean its easy to slip in a pocket or bag and great pictures should never be missed.

Sunday 20 September 2009

My summer break! Tech catch-up!

Well I'm back blogging again after a short summer break. What's happened in the meantime? Well I finally started using twitter ... not to tweet so much as to follow some other people's tweetings ... I still haven't convinced myself that I really have a use for it! I also recently upgraded to the latest iPhone 3GS and am exceptionally pleased with it. I am particularly impressed with the dialogue you can have with it using voice control to find the number of people in your contacts list when there are multiple matches to names you say. The AlertMe system I use at home has added cameras to the mix which also seem to work well. Apple's seasonal music event has been and gone signalling the start of the addition of cameras to most of their music player range further extending the lifetime of the iPod as the iPhone begins to drive significant business. I also bought a new compact camera during the summer and will probably blog my review of it when I get a chance.