Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Looking for a must-see play in New York?  "RED" is the one. Starring Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko, written by John Logan and directed by Michael Grandage, it's one of the two theatrical works we've seen that brilliantly explores creativity in the visual arts, the evolving of art, and the angst of the artist. (The other is "Sunday in the Park" by Sondheim and Lapine, a musical about Georges Seurat.)  "RED" focuses on a specific issue that Rothko agonized over -- whether to fulfill a multiple-painting commission by the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.  This dilemma for Rothko serves as a platform to explore broader issues that he and all artists have always faced. "RED" is a play that combines first-class acting, writing and direction -- you can't ask for more than that.

This remarkable 37-year-old person, who has walked across Afghanistan, spent time in the foreign service, governed an Iraqi province, run an NGO in Kabul, served in the British Army's Black Watch regiment, written two books, produced a BBC documentary on Lawrence of Arabia, and held a professorship at Harvard, is now actively campaigning for the MP seat in Penrith and the Border (northwestern England).  It amuses me to see photos of this erstwhile international star now in the hustings talking (and listening) to farmers and pensioners about their parochial issues.

The election has been called for May 6.  Penrith is a safe Tory seat, so whatever happens to the Conservatives nationally -- whether the party can snatch defeat from onetime certain victory -- it's a pretty sure bet that this wunderkind will enter Parliament next month and become a force in British politics.

Imagine my surprise.  Last week, Donna and I were dinner guests at the Opera Club in the Metropolitan Opera House, with Tosca to follow.  We were all dressed up in formal attire (as is required by the club). Upon arriving at the club on the dress-circle level, we  were greeted by the maître d' with this gracious declaration to me:  "You cannot dine here unless you take off your waistcoat. You must take it off." Why, I asked?  "Because it has color."  "You're joking, I said."  He wasn't. 

Now, I'm pretty proud of my waistcoat collection.  Vests are one of the few opportunities for a man to dress formally and yet add a subtle individual touch.  But not at the Opera Club.  Black and white only!  Absolutely no color allowed.

Yes, my waistcoat did indeed have color -- see photo.  I violated the high aesthetic standard of the Opera Club.

So we reached a stand-off.  I wouldn't remove my waistcoat, and this officious maître d' wouldn't let me in.  (His tux, by the way, was properly 100% black and white.)  

Resolution?  We ditched the Opera Club all went instead to the Grand Tier restaurant, where, even though completely booked, the refreshingly gracious maître d' found a table for our party, and, as they say, a delightful meal was had by all.

And as to Tosca?  This new production, which opened in the fall, was excoriated by the critics.  In the performance we saw last week, there was a new cast, but pretty much the same maligned staging as earlier in the season.  Guess what?  It was fine.  Even more than fine. The cast was top-notch:  the versatile Patricia Racette as Tosca, the rising star tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi, and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Scarpia -- a meaner, more villainous Scarpia you'll never see.  These singers, along with some pretty good music to work with by Puccini, made us not only love the performance but forget about some earlier unpleasantness. 

Robert Parker makes a good living from the wine industry, with the Wine Advocate newsletter, his 100-point rating system, books, columns, lectures, consulting, et al.  What he doesn't make is good sense.  At least to me.  

He used to have a column in BusinessWeek, but it hasn't appeared for a while. (Wonder why?) I went back to some of his old BW columns to remind me of how obtuse his wine reviews actually were.  Admittedly, it's not easy for anyone to describe the taste of wine in words, and to differentiate among the thousands of different varieties and vintages.  And no one will pay you for writing that "this wine tastes good, that one is really good, that other one not so good..."  You need a gimmick.

Parker has a gimmick -- a vocabulary that is mind-boggling in its pretentious obscurity.  What in the world is he talking about?  To illustrate, I've plucked some descriptive words (from hundreds) that appear in his columns, words that purportedly are there to help the reader discern the taste of wines:

Crushed rock
Damp forest
Forest floor
Lemon oil
Pencil lead (I kid you not)
Steak tartare
Wheat thins

"Hey, Mr. Sommelier.  I'd like to order a bottle of wine with, say, a hint of pencil lead, a trace of forest floor, and a suggestion of steak tartare?  But please, no crushed rock today -- I just came from the dentist."

Former Treasury Secretary, former Citigroup Chairman of the Executive Committee, former Goldman Sachs Co-Chairman, former Master of the Universe, photographed recently testifying before Congress, responding to the question: "Mr. Rubin, how do  you explain the reasons for the financial crisis?"

Some are blessed at birth with talent:  

Mozart - music
Picasso - art
Shakespeare - writing

And then there are those of us who are born with ridiculous talents.  For instance, the ability to balance just about anything on one's nose or chin.  This, by the way, is a talent that has absolutely no known utility.

Friday, April 16, 2010

iPad: Reader Responses

A few days ago, I posted my impressions of the iPad.  Many of you responded, either in the “Comments” link at the end of the post or via emails to me. Here are some of those responses, group into Enthusiastic, In The Middle, and Unenthusiastic For Now.  Overall, a lot of enthusiasm, along with a fair amount of skepticism.


Rod Canion, Founder, Compaq Computer:

I am typing this email on my iPad with the keyboard dock. While I believe the iPad will be viewed as a successful product, I think the initial surge in buyers will be followed by a slower period while people figure it out and developers come up with new apps that take advantage of the larger screen. 

My belief is that bringing the iPhone platform to the iPad form factor is the seed from which a new industry will grow. I believe that in the future people will access and use Internet services primarily through an iPad type device. The iPhone type device will continue to evolve as a companion product, with the advantage of portability but limited by screen size. This should be an interesting time in technology.

Scott Cutler, Professor, Rice University:

I got a full week out of [my daughter’s] iPad and absolutely loved it.  It was great for email while not at my computer and became a preferred way to surf the net.  The picture application is better than anything I have seen for showing photos.

And for me, I chose to wait for the iPad 3G as that solution has benefits over the Wi-Fi only version.

But for me, the killer app is just placing one all over my house.  It is a phenomenal private airplane companion storing all the backup charts and manuals in PDF form.  It can control my wine cellar.  And I hope I can adapt it to control the three HD cameras I use for the chamber music concerts I hold in my house

In any event, I have two weeks to wait for my iPad 3G to arrive.  I am suffering severe iPad withdrawal.

Peter Norton, THE Peter Norton:

We haven't gotten our iPads yet (waiting for the 3G version) but I'm convinced that I need it and will love it. For me it will be an e-mail and Internet appliance whose screen size makes it what the iPhone can't be -- really usable.

Bill Gross, Idealab CEO:

I LOVE my iPad so far. Well, it WAS my iPad.  I showed my wife how great the book reader was, and she stole MY iPad and now it’s hers, while she ordered me a new one.

Then I showed our 5-year old son the $0.99 math game and he $0.99 letters game and the free labyrinth game, and now it’s HIS iPad, so we ordered another one.

We’re a three iPad household now – trying to hide them from our other kids.

David A. Ross, Art Museum Executive

This semester, I was teaching a graduate course at the School of Visual Arts in NYC exploring the history and future of the photographic book. At the beginning of the semester, we discussed (as everyone was) the impending arrival of the iPad. Only one or two of the students voiced an interest in the device, as they were all committed to the look and feel of a physical book.

Last night I brought my iPad into class, as we were exploring rich-media digital alternatives to the "dead-tree" publishing world. Even though it is clearly not a production device, by the end of last night's class, there was nearly universal recognition that this was the format for the future (once the HTML 5 vs. Flash issue gets worked through), and that they need to understand and embrace this profound change --especially since it will be the pressure of their creative work hat will push Apple and the rest of the industry to continually adapt the platform to the needs of artists.

By the way, the iPad comes with a desktop image that was made by the great California photographer Richard Misrach --even though he is not credited-- and it is a beauty.

Bob O’Rourke, Caltech VP PR:

Makes me want one

Bernadette, Marketing Consultant:

My laptop computer died and was taken by apple to replace the logic panel. I was in the midst of launching a fashion e-commerce site between clients and creatives. Devastating. So I HAD to buy an interim iPad. I love it. For those dealing with creative, images, photos, it's superb. We can review retouching and recoloring of products/images from fashion shoot. For those always on the run, in the car or a cab, it’s great because these old eyes can hardly see things on the iPhone. So it's sort of a large type NYTimes, so to speak. And my neck isn't killing me from lugging everything around.  REAL quality of life improvement - bad for masseuse.  Once this goes 3G and I upgrade, it will be even more valuable. And so much better in NYC cabs than reading email on a phone. 

The software/app limitations aren't the best but will continue to develop. I use Keynote for sophisticated presentations (great animatics to energize a ppt presentation), but the iPad app is very limited. Bummer. Also, wireless printing is not yet feasible. Another bummer.

But this baby goes with me to horse shows and across the lake and I'm relatively productive on it. Just need full wireless.

Can't wait for the 3G wireless in 2 weeks and for better software/apps.  Oh - great for photo slide shows and albums too! Also love the large Note pad for this chemo brain of mine! My Powerbook came back today and I'm still using the iPad. Love it for reading - quite right - far better than Kindle.
Just a chick's perspective.

Jane-Howard Hammerstein, Screenwriter and Raconteur:

I never liked even First Class air meals and never liked the iPhone at all: don’t do small+cramped.
I never carry anything around except in a car: don’t need small+cramped.
I never talk on the phone except in emergencies or to set a date for face time.
I love playing in sandboxes in rooms not called my office.

So the iPad’s my kinda mobile me.

Chris Burney, Associate Creative Director, Second Stage Theatre:

I really appreciated your insights into the iPad--and I completely agree. My mom got me one for my birthday--and I totally love it--but I'm not sure what to do with it! I'm taking my first trip with it this week to Los Angeles so I am very hopeful the iPad will fill some need I had not foreseen. As of now, it's fun to play games on it!

Nick Rubinstein, Tech Investment Analyst/Manager:

I do love my iPad.

Deborah Castleman, former Defense Dept. Deputy Asst. Secretary:

I'm eager to receive my 3G. From all that I've read, I think it will meet my needs for these reasons: I'm finding that most apps are too inconvenient for me to use due to my iPhone's small screen, and my MacBook Air is heavier and bulkier than what I find I am primarily using it for -- e-mail and the Internet. But the most important driver for me is that I want a better e-reader than the Kindle2 I have now, for all the reasons that Tim Childs [see below] wrote in his comments, and more: I'm hoping to be able to read newspapers and magazines as well as books on the device -- imagine, eventually I may be able to have nearly all my reading material on one device!! That would be marvelous!

I think the iPad will be a BIG hit for people like me, and also will open up the market for people who would not otherwise use a laptop or an iPhone for the aforementioned reasons. And I love the thought that I can carry it around the house with me, and simply throw it in my large purse/briefcase when I go on a trip.


Arthur Einstein, Advertising Executive, Marketing Consultant:
I am presently trying to resist device-creep. And so to satisfy my need for the latest, hottest gizmo, I bought one for my son, who has a bazillion ways he plans to use it. I've read lots of reviewers who share Vern's POV [see below] and while Mossberg is entranced, David Pogue doesn't seem to have made up his mind. As usual the market ignores the pundits and they're selling briskly.

I'm guessing, with Ben, that apps will emerge that make the iPad even more compelling - but it's hard to imagine another VisiCalc or Lotus 123 - both of which filled a pent-up demand that most of us didn't know existed.

I watch Joe Scarborough on my iPhone, but like most of the apps I use I'd love them more on a larger screen. My Kindle is useful - especially since I've run out of book shelves - and I love not killing trees.

The hemming and hawing about this device is because while it looks familiar it really is 'something completely different' - with enough entertainments to divert people till they find their best uses for it.
Part of the befuddlement is because the thing really doesn't replace anything - it's the first entry in a new category - which hasn't yet been named.

Tim Childs, Broadway Producer:
I’ve never quite bought the idea the iPad will replace the PC, but I’m looking forward to getting one (now waiting for a patch or two first) so I can sit on the couch and read magazines or newspapers, look up things on the internet, etc. It may be the expense will keep this limited usage from creating a big market for the iPad, but I think it will be a nice addition for those who can afford the indulgence. And I wouldn’t bet against Steve Jobs.

Interesting you feel what you now feel about the Kindle vs. real books. After an intense romance with the Kindle, I’ve come to the same conclusion, but I think an important part of my feelings comes from the poor design of the Kindle, which is the clunkiest piece of hardware I can remember. Maybe it’s just mine, but I can’t look back at the cover w/o losing my place - getting back to it by searching is often futile without page numbers - and a Kindle-user loses all the photographs, including the author’s photo, that are such important additions to at least some books. I’m hoping the iPad will solve this, but haven’t seen any comments to that effect.

Regis McKenna, Himself, Marketing Consultant:
I like to say that half our GDP each year ends up in our basements and garages under an inch of dust. These are the things we “wanted” but did not “need.” Fact is, most people rationalize “a want” by convincing themselves it is “a need.”
When I was on the Toyota International Advisory Board, I gave a talk on the difference between “need” and “want” to the Toyota Board. Paul Volker was also on the advisory board and he gave hard time on my comments. He thought need want and need was all nonsense. He said that he didn’t “want” a new car because his 15 or 20-year-old car (?) suited his needs well. Toyota execs grimaced.

I don’t have an iPad as yet but use my iPhone for everything. Probably will get the next release.


A Journalist:

I can’t figure out what to do with the iPad other than read books.  I did hear one great application on NPR.  When dark restaurants put their menus online you will be able to look them up on the iPad and read them when you are out for a romantic evening.

Joe Nocera, Journalist, Author:

You just helped explain to me why I don't feel any urge to rush out and buy one!

Barbara Motley, Cabaret Impresario:

The only long-term value I can see in the iPad is it potential to replace textbooks, notebooks and calculators.  Students are the only group required to purchase these tools these days.  However, I heard an interesting comparison of the 'green' value of the IPad versus traditional paper books on public radio last week.... the iPad lost...not a pretty footprint for technology.  I actually have gotten used to reading books on my iPhone, so an iPad isn't in my future I fear.

Bill Weed, Advertising Executive

I have not bought an iPad because I had a lot of questions. I’m not rushing out to buy one.

Rich Melmon, Tech Entrepreneur:

In the end, it may become somewhat important as a video consumption device.  Or, it may fall in the zone of death, not quite one thing or another, as you suggest. 

Vern Raburn, Tech Entrepreneur

I agree with your comments but am even more negative about the iPad. The iPad is basically the adult equivalent of the car back seat DVD player that parents use to pacify their kids. It does nothing more than a run of mill laptop does. And it doesn't do a whole of things that any laptop can do. And it depends on AT&T, the fastest non-existent 3G network in the world. But it sure is pretty and as you correctly point out gives insanely great demos. Of course it is going to change the way we compute.

As usual the normal pundits are falling all over them selves proclaiming that once again Steve is leading us out of the wilderness. But I think the iPad is likely Steve's next Next.

Having been deeply involved in the first generation of tablet computers (Grid, GO, Compaq, Apple Newton, etc.) you could say that I am somewhat jaded about the concept. But it is not so much jaded as understanding what people really do with computers including tablet readers! With the exception of being pretty, the iPad doesn't do much of anything that a machine that is going to change the way we compute needs to do.

I do disagree with your assessment of the Kindle. Having had a Kindle for nearly a year I find it really useful. I read the NYTs on it daily. But I read the WSJ the "real" way, on paper and will always do so. Overall Epaper and Kindle is the best our industry has done to date in terms of replacing paper and books. Is it perfect? Not yet, but it is a heck of a lot closer to something that I can carry and use daily than the iPad is.
Thomas Lemann, Lawyer, Renaissance Man:
I have a Sony X computer, which weighs less than the IPad, has a larger screen, plus a regular keyboard, and as I don’t do games, E-books, or the many apps available on the IPad, I figure I don’t need one.

A Tech Executive:

My guess is that you’re right to suspect that the e-reader and movie/video programs have the best chance of turning it into a category-creator.  But I must say I remain a skeptic.  A great form of app might emerge, but until it does, I can’t imagine any reason why I would get an iPad.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

iPad Impressions

Here’s a thought experiment.  Assume that the iPad was introduced in 2007 (not 2010).  And assume that the iPhone was introduced in 2010 (not 2007).  

The revised scenario…

2007:  Apple announces the iPad!  Brilliant hi-res color display, Internet, email, iPod features, beautifully displayed movies/videos/photos, touch display, game platform, and thousands of third-party applications.  Weighs just 1.5 pounds, and measures 7.5 by 9.5 inches – fits easily in your briefcase.

Three years later…

2010: Apple announces the iPhone!  Brilliant hi-res color display, Internet, email, iPod features, beautifully displayed movies/videos/photos, touch display, game platform, and thousands of third-party applications.  Weighs just 5 ounces, and measures 2.5 by 4.5 inches – fits easily in your pocket.

And, by the way, it has a telephone.  And a camera.

The iPhone.  Does almost everything the iPad does, does some things the iPad doesn’t do, and is really, really small.  We've taken the iPad functionality, augmented it, and shrunk it into an unbelievably small package.

So apropos of the iPad:  Is bigger better?  Or is bigger simply …bigger?

Here’s my take:

First off, I couldn’t wait to receive it.  I counted down the days after being apprised by Apple that the iPad would be shipped for arrival Saturday, April 3, at our home.  The UPS tracking info, which I checked every day, showed the origin scan in Shenzhen, China, on Tuesday, March 30; Hong Kong on Friday; Anchorage on Thursday (amazing how it arrived the day before it left); Louisville on Friday; Newark 6:55am Saturday; and finally, delivery to my New York City apartment a few hours later.  A logistics triumph.

The iPad is the essence of elegance, in the best Apple tradition.  Incomparable industrial design. It executes its functions beautifully.  The hardware-software interface is seamless. Looking at it, touching it, using it – they’re all pleasures.

I’ve now had it for ten days.  It does everything as advertised.  It’s a barrel of fun to play with.  But it turns out that my main use for it after a week and a half is… to demo it to others.  And I must say, the iPad gives good demo.

But I’m hard pressed to come up with a need for me that it fulfills.  Its utility lies somewhere in that zone between the smart phone and the computer.  When at home/office, I use the computer.  When on the go, it’s the iPhone, always there, hidden unobtrusively in a pocket.  I’ve also been schlepping around the iPad, but it’s a far sight less convenient to carry.

My guess is that the iPad will eventually create its own need, emulating the path that the personal computer followed.  In the late 1970s, when I was a Wall St. technology analyst, I occupied part of my time as a self-anointed PC evangelist.  I tried to convince institutional investors that the PC would graduate from its then role of glorified hobbyist tool and game platform to something much bigger and more important.  But my argument was pooh-poohed, that is, until the first mainstream business application was introduced in 1979 with a capability that could not then be performed on a mainframe or minicomputer --the VisiCalc spreadsheet.  The floodgates opened.  PC sales took off.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps Apple or third parties will develop such a killer app for the iPad.  An app that smart phones or laptop computers can’t do.  An app that will make this new form factor a megahit, a category creator. Some maintain that just having a larger screen for reading books and periodicals will suffice, along with offering a better movie/video/photo experience. And clearly, that could be a huge market. 

BTW, the iBooks reader app is pretty impressive.  It blows away the Kindle’s lousy contrast black-on-gray display with a brilliant high-contrast and large color display.  And all the other reading functions are superior – page-turning, search, navigation, graphics -- and deftly implemented.  But in the last week, having read one book on the iPad and one in the old-fashioned tree-based implementation, the latter wins.   A conventional book is easier to hold and is lighter.  It’s a 500-year-old invention that still has legs. Of course, I cannot speak for the entire target audience.  After all, septuagenarians are probably not really in the marketer’s crosshairs. 

Meanwhile, carloads of new iPad-specific apps are being made available daily, and the 150,000-plus existing iPhone apps can be accessed by the iPad, though most of the latter are not iPad-optimized. 

Is there a killer app in the crowd?  TBD.

Meanwhile, want an iPad demo?