Razor-toothed Piranhas Seldom Attack Humans

July 1, 2010

I was reading David Pogue’s always-interesting Thursday New York Times personal technology column, which yesterday was in two parts. The second discusses new mobile phone software called Swype. According to Pogue “It’s a new way to enter text, invented expressly for touchscreen phones…. When you use Swype, you see what looks like a standard onscreen keyboard. But instead of tapping each letter, you’re supposed to leave your finger on the screen and drag through all the letters of the word you want.”


You see? According to Swype, in the picture above “the word ‘quick’ was generated from tracing the path in a fraction of a second, by roughly aiming to pass through the letters of the word. A key advantage to Swype is that there is no need to be very accurate, enabling very rapid text entry.”

But what jumped out of Pogue’s report was the following:

The company maintains that this system is faster than regular typing. In fact, earlier this year, a Swype employee broke the Guinness Book of World Records record for speed texting. (He entered the prescribed test phrase, “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human,” in 35.54 seconds, using Swype.)

“The prescribed test phrase”??? Prescribed by whom, I wondered. By the Guinness organization? This was news to me. Whatever happened to the pangram “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”?


Well it turns out to indeed be the test phrase prescribed by Guinness World Records Limited, headquartered in London, England (but now owned by Vancouver, Canada’s own self-made billionaire, Jim Pattison). A Google search led me down several blind alleys, but finally to a site with a thorough answer to the question “Why this particular phrase?” It has to do with choosing the right phrase length as well as both the cognitive and physical challenges presented.

Though it’s too long for a tweet. Hmm….


I learned elsewhere that the current non-software-aided human record holder is Norway’s Sonja Kristiansen. In 2009 she set a Guinness record of 37.28 seconds. Only 21 years old at the time, Sonja demurred that she didn’t feel that her win resulted from regularly sending lots of text messages. “I send 400-500 messages a month,” she said. “There are many who send more messages than me. I’m just very quick, I think.” (A Google translation from the Norwegian interview.)

According to my first online source, Ms. Kristiansen was texting a little faster than the speed at which a woodpecker pecks.

Of course the weakness of this test is that the phrase is known in advance and the contestants can practice for as long as they can stand the boredom. And so LG Electronics, the $50 billion South Korean cellphone manufacturer (and many other devices) sponsored the LG Mobile Worldcup (sic), where contestants shared $150,000 in price money. LG’s January 2010 event involved entering projected scrolling text on QWERTY and numeric keyboards.

Another related Guinness record was set during the contest. Pedro Matias of Portugal established a new QWERTY “know the text in advance” Guinness record by typing “The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell (UK), who filed his patent for the telephone on 14 February 1876 at the New York Patent Office, USA. The first intelligible call occurred in March 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, when Bell phoned his assistant in a nearby room and said “Come here Watson, I want you.” in 1 minute 59 seconds, thereby shaving 23 seconds off the previous record set by Finland’s Arttu Harkki in 2005.

My goodness, this is leading down an increasingly dull path.

It turns out that the U.S. record holder for the Piranhas text is Utah’s Ben Cook (42 seconds). He however lost to Nuance’s leading speech recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, which transcribed the two sentences in 16 seconds.

I know. I know. You’re wondering who holds the world record for texting while blindfolded. Elliot Nicholls of Dunedin, New Zealand typed a 160 letter text in 45 seconds in November 2007, beating the old record of 1 minute 26 seconds set by an Italian in September 2006.


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Apple vs. Adobe, Round 3

May 1, 2010

Please read my previous post to catch up on the story thus far. Last Thursday Steve Jobs lobbed the big grenade with a major public attack on Adobe’s Flash. On Friday Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayan replied via a 15-minute video interview with Alan Murray at the Wall Street Journal. Shantanu is gracious and assured, even going so far as to compliment the iPad as a good first-generation device. You can hear (or read — it’s subtitled) the interchange for yourself, but his key point is that the Flash issue is a smokescreen designed to conceal Apple’s desire for proprietary lock-in versus Adobe’s open “multi-screen,” “multi-device” business model. Ultimately, Narayan concludes, Adobe will let consumers decide.

There are lots of others voicing opinions in the last two days. The plot thickens. Supporting Narayan’s statement (although written before the interview appeared), Computerworld‘s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka “Cyber Cynic,” blogs:

It’s this, not whether Flash itself is allowed on Apple devices that’s the real crux of the disagreement between Apple, Adobe and many other ISV (independent software vendors). Jobs, and all the other analysts, who have tried to turn this into a debate about whether Flash is, or isn’t good, enough for the future of mobile video are misleading us. That’s a red-herring. The real issue is who controls access to the platform. And, behind all the rhetoric, Apple wants absolute control.

He then quotes Charlie Stross, a science-fiction author and technology blogger. Stross wrote:

The App Store and the iTunes Store have taught Steve Jobs that ownership of the sales channel is vital. Even if he’s reduced to giving the machines away, as long as he can charge rent for access to data (or apps) he’s got a business model. He can also maintain quality (whatever that is), exclude malware, and beat off rivals.

Simeon Simeonov, founder and CEO of startup advisory FastIgnite, offers another insightful look at the battle on the VentureBeat site. Simenov writes:

Apple is taking advantage of what essentially amounts to a cross-subsidy: using the economic and market momentum of its combined hardware/OS platform to do two things:

1. Force developers to heavily, perhaps irreversibly, invest in Apple’s platform and in the process avoid alternative tool, services and runtime platforms, an area where Apple has traditionally had no expertise and where Adobe and others have a substantial advantage.

2. Provide some breathing room for the fledgling Apple advertising business, which the company obtained through the acquisition of Quattro Wireless for $275M, soon after Google signaled that mobile advertising is going to the big leagues by buying AdMob for $750M.

A paragraph later he looks further at the advertising angle:

Flash is a favored format for delivering interactive and video advertising — dozens of companies offer measurement, analytics, ad selection, targeting and delivery solutions based on Flash. Adobe also recently acquired analytics powerhouse Omniture for $1.8B. By blocking access to Flash, Apple is blocking a big portion of the advertising ecosystem from its platform, giving itself a substantial short-term advantage. Emily Steel reports in the Wall Street Journal that Apple is planning on milking that advantage.

Meanwhile, the great unwashed masses are raising their hands also. A new Facebook group called “I’m with Adobe” as of tonight has over 11,000 members. There are five different “I’m with Apple” groups, with a combined membership of 25.


The Wall Street Journal polled readers as part of its coverage. The result is essentially a tie vote:


Mashable ran a similar poll. I took screen shots of the results about four hours apart, and someone is stuffing the ballot box! 


Isn’t that illegal?

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The Apple iPad: Push or Pull?

January 27, 2010

When we evaluate new technology I believe that the key equation is “push or pull.” It is the rare new technology product released to the public where the reaction is an immediate: “I want that.” I suppose Facebook and Twitter are recent examples of “I want that” being a very common refrain. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were free. Microsoft pushed Vista for years without much success. Windows 7 is being pulled by consumers and businesses in record numbers.

Many new products need to be pushed hard onto the public, with the vendor hoping that it will catch on, “cross the chasm,” and thereafter an eager public will pull the product close, egged on by great reviews and great word-of-mouth.

In the case of Apple’s new iPad, was the public looking for something that met an unfulfilled technological requirement, or just hoping that Apple would provide a newfangled “must have” device?

I imagine that most (myself included) were looking for the latter. Did Apple fulfill that promise? I think not.

As Steve Jobs clearly stated in the hyped-filled product intro, he too recognizes that Apple’s task is to offer a must-have product. Jobs positioned the iPad as a pioneer in a new genre of computing, somewhere between a laptop and a smartphone. “The bar is pretty high,” he made clear. “It has to be far better at doing some key things.”

With the exception of a large and beautiful (albeit LCD) screen, we are apparently being offered a very large iPhone, without built-in telephonic features.

We can now access iBooks, a late and thus far weak entry to the eBooks foray (albeit in color).

The pricing is better than expected, although if you sign up for the whole package, the price does exceed $1,000 in year one (and most consumers will be drawn to get all the storage available as well as 3G).

Is Steve Jobs delivering on our needs or hopes? David Pogue points out in today’s New York Times, “My main message to fanboys is this: it’s too early to draw any conclusions. Apple hasn’t given the thing to any reviewers yet, there are no iPad-only apps yet (there will be), the e-bookstore hasn’t gone online yet, and so on. So hyperventilating is not yet the appropriate reaction.”

As a general observation Pogue makes a good point.

Based on the rumors of what the Apple tablet would offer I planned to buy one. Having looked fairly closely at the iPad, I’ve put my credit card back in my wallet.


Where Steve Jobs Says that Apple is Positioned

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Adobe Drives Another Stake Through the Heart of Print

January 17, 2010

No press release was issued by Adobe, but a few press outlets caught the story. I found it the other day in PrintAction‘s weekly enewsletter. Clive Chan, PrintAction‘s associate editor, tells me that he picked up the story from Macworld UK.

Further searching brings me to a blog entry from January 4, 2010 by the excellent journalist Cary Sherburne at PrintCEO.com. She had received notification from Adobe’s PR agency of the news, and it’s from her report that emerges the obsequious statement, “the print segment continues to be important (to Adobe).” Yes, and what a great way to share the love.

Adobe has no release on its site, but if you go to the Print Service Provider page on Adobe.com, you’ll be tersely informed: “The Adobe Partner Connection Print Service Provider Program has been discontinued. If you have any questions, please contact the Partner Programs Helpdesk (log-in required).”

Sherburne’s column produced 18 comments. Several were of the “oh well” variety, but more typical is:

The discontinuing of the program is a trend in marginalizing print. They dropped the printed Adobe Magazine, brought it back for a short term in electronic form. That too is gone. Seminars at trade shows, especially when new software was rolled out, was eliminated well before Seybold folded. The ASP logo gave the potential client some assurance of competence.


For Adobe to do this now, in this economy, is a stab in the back, since it was really the printing industry (that) helped get Adobe on the map. If it wasn’t for printers, graphic artists and prepress, Adobe wouldn’t be where it is today. So thanks Adobe for shooting us when we are down….This is the thanks we get for supporting Adobe all these years.

And finally:

I’m shocked to have to find out about it online as opposed to a letter from Adobe to its members. Is our loyalty of so little importance that we don’t even rate that? I have personally pushed Adobe InDesign over QuarkXPress to my customers for years in part because I felt Adobe was sensitive to the needs of print providers while Quark took a ‘here it is take it or leave it’ attitude….Watch out Adobe, snubbing customer loyalty is how Quark lost the top spot!

That last comment is I believe apropos and reveals what I can only imagine is Adobe’s thinking:

1. Adobe InDesign has essentially vanquished QuarkPress. Yes, there are quite a few legacy QuarkXPress customers, but Adobe wins the vast majority of new installations.

2. Print is an ever-declining source of revenue for Adobe, while as I’ve often noted, Adobe has a very clear strategy for moving forward on the web. No, Adobe is not abandoning print, it has merely dropped quite a few rungs down the ladder in Adobe’s list of priorities.

3. Don’t cry for me, print! I don’t blame Adobe for recognizing the reality of print’s rapid decline and placing its corporate priorities where it must. I just wish it would indeed recognize in some tangible way that these folks that it is tossing overboard did indeed help to launch the company into the enormous success that it has become. Of course eventually we have to pull the patient off life-support, but it can be done with dignity.

4. Adobe’s claim that membership was dropping and the cost to Adobe was becoming too high somehow doesn’t ring properly for a profitable $5 billion company that does manage to offer numerous other support programs, many directed towards web-related technologies (although there is a support program for the multiple media Creative Suite).

Enough of this. I rest my case.

Update: On January 20th Quark very wisely stepped into the breach, announcing,  “In continued support of the print community, Quark announced today special offers that allow eligible printers to join Quark output provider programs at no cost. Adobe Service Network (ASN) members, current QuarkAlliance members, and printers interested in Quark Promote are invited to take advantage of complimentary QuarkAlliance and Quark Promote memberships. Membership benefits can include priority technical support, a free copy of QuarkXPress 8, increased market visibility, and potential revenue opportunities….”

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The Seybold Report Interviews…Me!

January 4, 2010

The latest issue of The Seybold Report features an interview with me by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro about my Adobe-Omniture acquisition report, Adobe’s Designs on Web Analytics: The Omniture Acquisition. (The link to the report is broken.)

While I do offer a fairly generous excerpt on my site, this interview will give you a lot more detail of the content and thinking behind the report.

What I feel is most salient about Adobe’s move is what a great shift it signals away from the company’s print roots. As I remarked: “Now, when Adobe talks about print, it’s funny because it’s almost in a peripheral way—like whispering about Granny who lives upstairs and we have to sometimes take her out for a walk.” I’ve commented several times before that Adobe has over the last decade or more gone cold then warm then cold, etc. on the issue of print. I think it’s now 100% certain that Adobe management (and Adobe is not alone, and I’m not being critical; just stating the facts) sees print as a modest part of it overall software portfolio, with a diminishing future. The Omniture acquisition has essentially 0% to do with print and 99.9% to do with the Web.

I do however think that Adobe might find some fascinating ways to link Omniture-type technology to variable print-on-demand…it’s a fascinating opportunity that I hope Adobe explores.

In the meantime I weigh in largely favorably on the whole deal. The ROI may be slow in arriving, but I can see now that with the acquistionof Omniture, Adobe has clearly made a bold and brave move.

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