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Frustrated by task-management tools? Matt Neuburg reviews Sciral's Consistency, which brings a new approach to managing tasks that lack specific schedules or strict deadlines. Also this week, anyone thinking about marketing software should read Mike Diegel's behind-the-scenes look at what's necessary. Jeff Carlson compares four iPod cases, and we note the releases of iCal, Watson 1.5.5, Font Reserve 3.1, BBEdit 6.5.3, and QuicKeys X 1.5.3.
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Apple Releases iCal; Announces Mac OS X-only Booting -- At Apple Expo in Paris, Apple today released iCal, the company's simple calendar application announced at Macworld Expo in July. iCal provides an attractive Aqua interface, supports multiple calendars, and allows for calendar sharing via a WebDAV server or via .Mac (which can also publish calendars so they can be viewed in a Web browser). The program is free and is a 6.3 MB download, but keep in mind that it requires Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar and can send email invitations only with Apple's Mail.
The other noteworthy announcement from Apple is that starting in January of 2003, all new Macs will boot only into Mac OS X. Older applications will remain accessible via the Classic environment. The announcement is no surprise - we've all known the day was coming when new Macs would cease to be able to boot into Mac OS 9 - so if you were thinking about buying a new Mac and need the capability to boot into Mac OS 9, you might want to buy something in the next few months. [ACE]
Watson 1.5.5 Adds Google, Amazon Plug-ins -- Karelia Software has released Watson 1.5.5, its utility for easily gathering information from the Web that offers more features than Apple's otherwise-similar Sherlock 3. New in this version is the capability to perform Internet searches using Google, along with a module that helps you find and purchase products from Amazon.com. The ZIP Code lookup utility has also been improved, and Watson is now fully compatible with Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar. It's often easier to use Watson instead of a Web browser to look up information such as movie times, flight schedules, eBay auctions, and more. Watson 1.5.5 is a free update to owners of Watson 1.5 and later, and is available as a 2 MB download. An individual license to use Watson beyond its two-week demo period costs $30; a "household" license costs $40. [JLC]
Font Reserve 3.1 Released -- When Font Reserve 3.0 was released as DiamondSoft's first attempt on the Mac OS X fortress, it couldn't handle Mac OS X fonts, such as .dfonts, .otfs, and Windows .ttfs - rather a serious limitation for a font management utility. (See "Font Reserve Moves to Mac OS X" in TidBITS-620.) Now an update, version 3.1, fills that hole; it's a 10.2 MB download. Font Reserve 3.1 is Jaguar-compatible and manages all Mac OS X font types. Auto-activation now works too: when a document is opened by just about any Mac OS X application, if it uses any fonts that are in Font Reserve's database and aren't active, Font Reserve activates them transparently. Those who favor Font Reserve's centralized approach to font storage and its database-like features that make finding and navigating even huge quantities of fonts easy will be delighted to see at last a Mac OS X version that truly works. It's free for owners of version 3.0, $30 for owners of previous versions, $50 for owners of ATM Deluxe and Suitcase, and $90 for new users. [MAN]
BBEdit 6.5.3, QuicKeys X 1.5.3 Add Jaguar Compatibility -- Now that developers have had more time to work with the shipping version of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, applications are being updated to address various compatibility issues. Last week saw updates to Bare Bones Software's BBEdit and QuicKeys X, both free to registered users. BBEdit 6.5.3 is a 7.7 MB download; QuicKeys 1.5.3 is an 8.9 MB download. [JLC]
by Jeff Carlson <email@example.com>
Apple took a lot of flak from many people - including me - about the iPod's initial high price of $400. Although the snazzy MP3 player was certainly well designed, other devices, such as the Archos Jukebox, boasted more storage and lower prices. However, when I finally broke down and bought my own 5 GB iPod, I realized that the specs tell only part of the story; the real secret to the iPod's success is its size.
Attentive TidBITS readers will note that just as Adam can be obsessed about data backups, I'm obsessed with the size of devices: laptops, Palm devices, and now the iPod. I use it far more than I expected I would because it's so easy to carry around. I find myself listening to it when I'm working, even when it's just as easy to use iTunes on my PowerBook, so I can continue to listen to music as I walk around the house or office.
However, the iPod's smooth, minimal design can also be a drawback: I either have to carry it in my hand or put it into a pocket (which isn't always comfortable, and increases the chances of scratching up the exterior) when I'm on the move. Exercising also becomes a bit of a hassle: I like to keep my hands free when I go running, and running clothes seldom offer good pockets. Clearly, I wasn't the only person longing for a better solution, which is why several companies now sell iPod cases. After doing some online research, I contacted three manufacturers and asked to try their iPod cases. I also managed to look at Apple's new iPod case, which ships with the 10 GB and 20 GB models.
iGlove -- Like the iPod, the iGlove from Software & Things was designed with simplicity in mind. It's a one-piece black leather pocket that the iPod slides into from the top, with a circle cut out of the front for access to the iPod's controls. A plastic window protects the iPod's screen; a leather-covered metal belt clip is mounted on the back. The iGlove's stitching faces outward, which provides a tighter fit for the iPod and also offers a few millimeters of shock-absorbing bumpers around the edges to help protect the iPod during a fall. My only irritation with the iGlove is that the raised stitching around the circular controls makes me have to use my fingernails to press the buttons around the iPod's scroll wheel. The iGlove costs $27; a model without the belt clip is available for $25.
XtremeMac iPod Case Bundle -- With four different bundles of iPod accessories, XtremeMac wants to make sure you and your iPod are covered no matter what your needs. Each of the four bundles contains a case for the iPod, a swivel-style belt clip (like those frequently used with cell phones), and a mesh pouch for holding the iPod's earbud headphones; this basic package costs $30. For $40, you also get two adhesive-backed swivel mounts for clipping the iPod to a wall, desk, or monitor case, and a neck lanyard for wearing the iPod like a Macworld Expo admission badge. The $50 Essentials bundle, which is what I received, adds a charger that plugs into your car's power adapter. And finally, the $90 Ultimate bundle includes all of that plus XtremeMac's iShare earbud splitter, a set of audio cables, and an audio cassette adapter that lets you route the iPod's music through your car's tape player and speakers.
If you're looking for case variation, XtremeMac offers 16 different styles, from colored leather to suede to denim to camouflage (including a style that comes with a place for a small photograph). An oval hole at the top of the cover provides enough room to open the large front flap without unplugging the headphones; this becomes important time and again, because you can't do anything else on the iPod without lifting the flap. However, I like that the flap is flexible enough so that I can pull it all the way around (sans headphones) and lay it mostly flat against the back while the iPod is connected to my PowerBook via the FireWire cable.
To protect the iPod's face, the case uses a sheet of clear plastic with the required circle cut out to access the navigation controls. It took me a bit of fidgeting to match the circle with the controls, but because the plastic is fairly thin, the controls are easy to use even when the iPod isn't perfectly lined up.
The swivel-style belt clip is very secure, requiring that you insert the case's round knob into one of the included swivel mounts at a 90-degree angle; to release the case, you rotate to the same angle and push a button that unlocks the mechanism. When attached, the case can spin freely. I ended up using the belt clip mount most often; the lanyard is a clever alternative, but I found the iPod too heavy to carry around my neck.
I wasn't able to use the car adapter to charge the iPod because my car is apparently one of the few American vehicles that doesn't have a cigarette lighter or charger. And while the small mesh bag sounds like a good way to store your earbuds, the opening was just small enough that it was annoying to get the earbuds in and out of the case. Also, the bag clips to the side of the case, which made the whole package feel more bulky than necessary.
Super Dooper iPod Case -- This ballistic nylon flip cover case, by WaterField Designs, nicely solves the problem of what to do with the iPod's headphones: a pocket on the underside of the case's cover has a wide opening to store the earbuds without adding much to the bulk of the overall unit. The pocket is soft to protect the iPod's face, which is otherwise uncovered, unlike the other cases I examined.
However, I'm not as impressed by a slit in the top that provides access to the iPod's inputs. It's a narrow eyelet, which means the FireWire port and Hold switch are always partially covered. This is good news for people with 5 GB and early 10 GB iPods that lack a FireWire port cover, but in practice I find it irritating. You can use the FireWire cable's end to push aside the "eyelids," but it's unnecessarily cumbersome. Worse, it makes the Hold switch tough to toggle, a feature I use all the time to make sure I don't accidentally skip a song by bumping the iPod.
The rest of the Super Dooper iPod case is fairly well done, with Velcro patches at the bottom to hold the flip cover in place and a swivel-style knob that clips into an included belt clip. The back is made of a tight mesh that allegedly helps dissipate the heat generated by the iPod (I've never noticed it as a problem), and also lets some of the device's mirrored rear finish shine through. Although actually putting an iPod into the case can be a bit of a challenge - an "escape hatch" (WaterField's terminology) opens to slide the iPod into place - once secured, the iPod enjoys a snug fit. The $40 Super Dooper iPod case comes in three colors: red, blue, and white.
Apple's Designer iPod Case -- There's no polite way to say this: unless you buy an iPod with the case included, steer clear of this overpriced add-on. There are no openings to access the iPod's controls (presumably because the 10 GB and 20 GB iPods also come with Apple's iPod wired remote control), and I've heard reports of the attached clip mechanism breaking easily. Apple offers it for $40 - alone, not with the remote control - which is $40 that you could better apply toward buying more music.
Case Closed -- After I purchased my iPod at last January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, one of the first people I showed it to was frequent TidBITS writer Chris Pepper, who lifted his own scuffed and scratched iPod and said, "Get a case." Of the three cases (since Apple's fell out of the running quickly), I find myself alternating between two. The iGlove is a great general-purpose case for tumbling around in my bag and when listening to the iPod at my desk; I like its protection and open access to controls. However, when I'm exercising, I take advantage of the XtremeMac's swivel mount and belt clip (which attaches acceptably to my running shorts) and all-enclosed design. Not only is my iPod still in good condition, it's much easier to carry around everywhere I go.
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by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Consistency, from Sciral, does one thing and does it well. Its interface is pleasant, original, and crystal clear. It's utterly simple to use. And it's inexpensive shareware. In short, this is my kind of program.
Consistency is a cross between a calendar or scheduling program and a to-do list, with a difference. It isn't about things that occur on fixed dates, and it isn't about things that occur only once. It's about things that recur, and that you'd like to have recur with a certain regularity - though perfect regularity is not completely necessary.
A good example is watering plants. Some of my plants like to be watered about twice a week - about every fourth day, though it isn't a disaster if they have to go for five or even six days without watering. I have other plants that can stand being watered much less frequently. In situations like this, I have two problems. One is that I'd like to be reminded when it's time to water each kind of plant. The other, which is really the flip side of the first, is that I can never remember when I last did any watering. So I want both a record of the past and a sense of what deadlines are coming up in the future. That's just what Consistency gives me.
Another feature of this situation is that my deadlines are flexible; and they are flexible in two ways. First of all, as I said before, if I miss watering my four-day plants by a day or two, I haven't really missed a deadline at all; this is a deadline with some width, as it were. Second, it's a recurring deadline that needs to be self-adjusting: whenever I do happen to water my four-day plants, be it on the fourth or fifth or sixth day, or if by chance I have to water them a day early, or even if I miss my deadline completely, I want the reckoning to the next deadline to start from when I actually did the watering, not from the previous deadline. Consistency gives me that too.
Consistency's interface is a grid of colored squares. Every row is a task, labelled at the left. Every column is a date, labelled at the top. The date labels are inserted automatically, but the task labels are up to the user, and when you create a task you also specify the minimum and maximum number of days you'd like to have elapse between recurrences. When you perform a task you double-click on the square for that task and that date, and a black circle appears in the middle of it. The squares to the right of that square now recolor themselves, as follows:
The squares between the performance of the task and the first day on which you'd like the next recurrence are purple.
The squares representing the range of days on which the next recurrence should take place are green, except for the last one which is yellow.
The squares beyond the yellow square, indicating a missed deadline, are red.
Each day, of course, "today" moves to the right, and so you pass through the colors - first the purple, then the green (and yellow). The object of the game is to avoid arriving at a red square; before that happens, you should hopefully have performed the task again and double-clicked it to record this fact, thus inserting a new set of purple, green, and yellow squares, and pushing the red squares off to the right once more.
Thus, the colors of the squares in the future alert you to how soon a deadline is coming and how serious that deadline is getting. Meanwhile, the colors of squares in the past don't change, so by looking backwards you can see how often you performed a task and whether this ever involved missing the deadline completely. Consistency is thus both a reminder and a log.
That's basically all there is to it, but there are a couple of nice extras. First, it's possible that after a while a task's deadline range will change. For example, in winter my plants may need watering much less often. Consistency accommodates this; you can't change the past, of course, and you wouldn't want to, but for the future you can change a task's deadline range, and a tiny white square appears in the day you did this, to signal the point where the new range starts. Second, some tasks have no deadlines; in my case, sweeping the house or doing a laundry are good examples. A task likes this hasn't enough regularity to it to make a deadline meaningful, but I still find it useful to keep a log of the times I've performed it. Consistency accommodates this too: a task can be "inactive," in which case all its squares are gray, but the black circles show its past performances.
[Adam here. Matt has perfectly described the main thrust of Consistency right now, but I think it has even more promise for the future. I'm currently using it to track my main projects so I don't have to worry about forgetting to put in some time on each one regularly. But I still have to track traditional tasks in another application so I can have one-time, scheduled, and repeating events, plus reminders. What I'd like to see in a future version of Consistency is a second level of task, where the second-level tasks would be traditional task types. When you mark a second-level task as done, that action would percolate up to its top-level task, marking it done as well. Options could include reminders, concealment of completed one-time tasks, and ignoring of weekends for work-related tasks. Though I like and use Now Software's Now Up-to-Date as a calendar, Consistency's rethinking of how a task manager should work has helped me better juggle all the projects I keep in the air, and these small changes would make it even more valuable that way.]
Consistency is a simple, elegant little program; I'm delighted to have it in my world, and it has proven genuinely helpful to me. You might feel the same way, so take a look.
Consistency runs only in Mac OS X and is a 1.4 MB download. It's $25 shareware; if you don't register, the only penalties are a reminder when you start up the program and a restriction to five tasks per document.
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by Mike Diegel <email@example.com>
So you've built what you think is a great application. All your Mac-using friends think it's cool. Your beta testers tell you that it works. All you've got to do now is post it to VersionTracker and Download.com and you can quit your day job, right?
Don't do it. Not yet, anyway.
You may have an application, and it might be truly useful (rather than a candidate for MacHack), but you don't necessarily have a product or, more importantly, a solution. What's the difference? A pencil is a product, but it's not a solution. Sure, you write with a pencil, but you can't do anything with that pencil if you don't have a pencil sharpener and paper. So until those items are in the mix, you don't have a solution.
As a software developer, you're probably more comfortable building your software than marketing it. While there's nothing wrong with creating software to "see what I can do with a Mac," you'll need a marketing perspective before you'll successfully sell your application as a solution.
Three Dangerous Assumptions -- Developers, like anyone else who creates a product, can be susceptible to dangerous assumptions, which, unless examined closely and continually, can doom the product to failure. Perhaps more than most, developers need to avoid falling into three traps.
Trap #1: The product will sell because the creator thinks it's a good product. What matters is the customer's point of view; an application's cool factor in no way guarantees its success. Keep in mind that there are ways to convince the customer it's a great product, which we'll look at in the second part of this article.
Trap #2: Customers will buy a product because it's technically superior to the competition. You don't have to go very far to see how this one plays out: Windows has 95 percent of the market. The Mac OS has 5 percent. 'Nuff said.
Trap #3: Customers will agree with you that the product is great. Maybe, maybe not. You can't ever assume that.
Taken together, these three assumptions often can lead to equally false beliefs, such as the product being so cool and so great that it will sell itself, or that you somehow will be able to insulate your product from any competition. The history of software is littered with the corpses of applications and companies, big and small, that have perished under such lofty ideas.
Improve Your Odds -- So, how can a developer increase the admittedly long odds that a new product will succeed in the marketplace? You need to ask yourself a series of questions and be reasonably sure that you have solid reasons, backed by market research, to believe your answers are real and true.
First, who will buy the product, and what problem will it solve for them? You may think that because you're developing Mac software that the whole universe of 25 million Mac users is your market. That's unlikely to be true. For example, I consulted for Sustainable Softworks, a developer of Macintosh networking products and utilities. If you have only a single Mac, you don't need a networking application. If you don't have an Internet connection, you don't need a firewall or software to optimize that connection. Sustainable Softworks' products were therefore applicable to only a specific galaxy within the Mac universe.
Further, you need to think in terms of your addressable market. What portion of those 25 million Mac users can you actually reach? How will you reach them? Do you have an ad budget? Can you write effective press releases and do you know where and how to distribute them? Also, a significant portion of the Mac market is overseas. Can you communicate to those users in their language(s)? If you can't do those kinds of things, your addressable market will shrink.
Let's say you've identified a real problem that your software can solve for users. Congratulations! You've made a significant step forward. But there are often multiple solutions to any problem, and you need to understand how users are solving that problem today. Are there workarounds that, while inconvenient, may not be sufficiently inconvenient to cause the user to want to spend money on your solution? Always keep in mind that people will tell you what they want, but will spend money only on what they actually need. The toughest part of your job is figuring out what they need.
If you can offer a better, faster, and/or cheaper solution to a problem, you have a good chance of being successful - but you must be able to prove it. For example, email is clearly better, faster, and cheaper than a fax for getting a document into another person's hands. A fax, while it often was more expensive than using regular postal mail, obviously was faster than the post office.
On the other hand, for years the primary claim of many Mac products was that they would somehow make you more productive. That's a tough thing to quantify. You need to consider how you will demonstrate to the customer that your solution is better, faster, or cheaper than what they're doing now.
The next questions to ask yourself relate to how you will sell the product. What will be your distribution method? Will you sell online? Will you do only electronic distribution, which is cheaper, or will you offer the software on CD-ROM, which seems to be favored by more people? Do you need a network of salespeople or resellers? Who is your target market? Consumers, small businesses, network administrators? All of these issues contribute to how you'll sell your product.
You also might need to consider an ancillary question: Can you survive financially while you build your customer base? The time period during which a market adopts a new product varies with each product, but consider this: Innovators are those who are the first to purchase any new product. Most experts believe the innovators make up about 2.5 percent of the market. Early adopters (about 13.5 percent of the market) are the next to purchase, followed by the early majority (34 percent), late majority (34 percent) and then the laggards (16 percent).
Finally, how will you differentiate your product in the market? Most developers think in terms of features. Fair enough. Many customers say things like, "I wish I could [insert action here]" and developers respond to that. But remember that, while features are important, customers actually respond to the benefits of those features, not to the features themselves.
For example, look at Apple's Mac OS X box, which touts Aqua, a feature. Aqua's benefits include being "intuitive for new users", and "powerful and customizable for professionals." The Finder is a feature; its benefits, Apple claims, include helping you "quickly navigate and organize gigabytes" of various types of data. You may or may not agree with that claim, which points to the importance of being able to convince users that what you say about your product is true.
Before you can successfully differentiate your product, you must fully understand your competition. Once you've done that research, you can begin to craft your marketing message and value proposition - how your product will benefit the user - to suit your target market(s). That message may vary depending on what stage of the adoption curve - the phases in the process of deciding to make a purchase - the customer is in at the time the message is delivered.
Set Phases on Sell -- Every buying decision a customer makes goes through six distinct phases, though some phases may take place simultaneously. The first stage is awareness, where the customer learns about your product. The second is the information stage, during which the customer gathers information about the product and develops an interest in it. The third phase is evaluation: the customer envisions using the product, and also considers alternatives.
The fourth phase is the trial phase, where customers might experiment with the product itself, but also tests it for "social acceptability" - the customer is interested in what others think of the product and what friends and acquaintances might think of her if she buys and uses the product. Phase five is full-scale adoption. The customer has bought it and uses it. The final phase is reinforcement, where the customer is continually reminded that she in fact made a good buying decision.
The process of getting a customer to buy the product includes a combination of appeals to logic and emotion, delivered through either impersonal media (the mass media such as print, broadcast, or the Internet) and personal media, which include friends, experts, opinion leaders, and the like. In the second part of this article, I'll talk about how you can make those appeals with a good marketing plan, and also include examples of sales successes.
In the meantime, I'd encourage you to check out the following Web resources for more information on marketing software: the Product Development and Management Association; the University of California, Berkeley's Software Product Marketing page; the Silicon Valley Product Management Association; and the Association of Shareware Professionals
[Mike Diegel is a strategic marketing and public relations consultant specializing in helping small businesses and other organizations use the Web more effectively.]
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