Auditing in a touch-screen world!

Every time I inspected a home before renting it out, or even before buying it, I wish I had a quick checklist of repairs or cleaning required. In the absence of a checklist, there was no perfect way to record the defects in a house. Not having a checklist would lead to problems later – if both parties do not agree to defects. For example, you may have to pay for the stain on the carpet that was not your fault.

I found this amazing app called iAuditor. The iAuditor has a few built-in checklist that can be filled out using an iPad or an iPhone. The UI is a very simple and intuitive:

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I started a new Audit. The App has a few built-in checklists (you can also create your own customized checklist):

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I decided to try out the Accommodation Inspection Checklist:

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The checklist has the following options: Yes, No and Not Applicable. Selecting No gives an option to directly add photographic evidence of non-compliance by clicking the Camera icon.
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There is also an option to add additional comments. An interesting feature of the App is the option for both parties to add signatures directly from the iPad!

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Once both parties have signed on the Audit checklist, the App gives an option to directly export to PDF. This is how an exported PDF looks:

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As a Technical Writer, I am extremely impressed by the perfectly formatted PDF output. I can imagine hundreds of good uses for this App in business. The following uses come to my mind:

– Safety Inspection
– Regulatory Compliance
– Manufacturing
– Pharmaceuticals
– Construction
– Real Estate

In addition to the above business uses, this App can be used in personal situations as well.

The next time you check out a home for rent, make sure to carry your iPad or iPhone. Using the iAuditor App, carefully track the defects that need to be fixed. If not, don’t be surprised if you are dinged for a stain on the carpet that existed before you moved in!

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Milk, Diapers, and an iPad

During my recent visit to the Apple store, I saw Apple experts demonstrating an iPad to a group of kids and their parents. I increasingly see kids holding iPads instead of toys. An iPad is expensive, and fragile. I was curious see how a 2-year old could use an iPad. Most importantly, I was also curious to see if an iPad App was simple to use for a kid.

I downloaded Crayola Paint and Create – a free App for the iPad. I was interested in studying the features, user interface, user interaction, and the overall user experience. This is how the App looks:

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The main elements were Coloring Pages, Fun Activities and Free Draw. I decided to use Coloring pages and color a drawing:

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I clicked the Crayola icon at the bottom of the screen to display various types of crayons with different colors. You can see the following icons on the right: Pause (to pause the movements like snow falling or pause other interactive elements), Undo, Redo, New, Settings, Share (to share via email or on Facebook), Help, and Exit.

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This is how a partially colored coloring page looks:

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I could easily use different colors and fill different parts of the page with solid colors. This is how a fully colored page looks:

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The app is configured to use a finger by default. There is also a setting to use an iMarker instead of a finger (an iMarker is like a pencil that can be used with the iPad). Obviously, the Help and Settings are a little complicated for kids since they may not be able to read. Apart from Help, Settings, and Share, the other options were extremely easy to use.

What is Apple’s strategy to promote iPads for kids by launching a Kids Corner in the Apple store? What is the value proposition for parents to purchase such and expensive device for their kids? Here’s what I think:

Get an Apple user for life – That’s right. Catching them young will ensure they are Apple users for life! Kids will never choose an Android device or another tablet if they are introduced to the iPad at the age of 2. Apple’s strategy of catching users at a very young age will lead to huge revenue for years to come.

Reduce cost per user – The cheapest iPad costs approximately 400$. If a family of four – two parents and two kids use an iPad, the cost of buying an iPad is divided by 4. Although families do not use terms like Cost per User to decide whether to buy an iPad, they definitely calculate it sub-consciously.

Tap a new market segment – Kids are a huge market segment – not just for games, but also in the field of education. Tapping this market segment leads to a huge revenue for Apple.

Use kids to market the iPad and Apps – I was amazed to see how Apple was using kids to market the iPad. With the Share option, kids could share their coloring pages with their friends (the parents might share it for them). Other kids looking at these colorful pages would want to do the same. Not only is Social Media being introduced at a very young age, the iPad is being marketed via Word of Mouth (the most powerful way to influence prospective buyers).

Save money for families and schools – Families and schools can save money on paper, crayons, and other consumables required on a daily basis.

A safer option – Kids (at home or in Pre-K) eat crayons that may be harmful for their health. Since the crayons on an iPad are electronic, it is very safe for kids.

Save the environment – Reducing the usage of paper obviously save trees.

Crayola Paint and Create gave me great insights to Apple’s strategy. I could also envision the future – where most of the interaction happens through touch screens instead of keyboards. It also helped me realize that language will never be a barrier for user interaction since expressive icons are a great way to communicate with the user. Intelligence, knowledge, skills, language, and education will never be a barrier for users in the world of touch screens.

Hello kids, welcome to the iWorld!

Apple’s Art of War

Apple is the most valuable company in the world today. The main reason for Apple’s success (apart from great products) is how it fights in the mobile war. Apple uses the Guerrilla warfare strategy to make all its competitors bite the proverbial dust.

Strategy 1: Rise from the ashes with infinite wisdom

Guerrilla battle teams rise from the ashes of past defeat with the wisdom required to win. Apple was a fading company in the 90s. With the learning from previous failures, Steve Jobs’ leadership, and the launch of the iPod Classic, Apple rose from the ashes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Strategy 2: Remain hidden until it is ready to attack

Guerrilla battle teams are hidden until they attack the enemy. Similarly, Apple, with its absolute secrecy, ensures that its product strategy is always hidden. Its product lines, features, and components are always shrouded in absolute secrecy before launch. For example, nobody knew Siri was the key feature before iPhone 4S was launched.

Strategy 3: Use its weakness as a strength

Guerrilla battle teams use their weakness as strength. For example, they are small (weakness) and hence extremely mobile (strength). Unlike Windows, that can run on a variety of hardware Mac OS X could only run on the Mac hardware. This exclusivity was perceived as Apple’s biggest weakness. Today, because the iOS runs on iPhones, iPods, and iPads, it thus creates a common framework for Apple Apps. Across various Apple devices, Apple users have downloaded the apps over 25 billion times. This uniformity of hardware and operating system is now Apple’s biggest strength.

Strategy 4: Enjoy Public Support

Guerrilla battle teams enjoy public support – that’s why they win. Similarly, Apple has built a huge cult following over the years that it can tap into. Mac, iPhone and iPod users always remain loyal to Apple. This fan base is a huge plus for Apple since loyal users always upgrade to the newer versions of Apple products. For instance, have you ever heard of people standing in lines overnight for Android or BlackBerry devices?

Strategy 5: Grow stronger as the enemy grows weaker from within

Guerrilla battle teams draw their strength from the weakening enemy. This tendency is psychological as well as practical. As RIM constantly reduces the price of the BlackBerry Playbook, it shows that the BlackBerry Playbook is not worth the original price. HP shutting down its tablet business signifies defeat. The weakening and dying enemies help Apple grow stronger psychologically as well as in market share.

When Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War, I’m sure he did not think Apple would use it to reach the zenith of excellence and success!

Laptop, Netbook, Tablet or Smartphone?

The problem: I already have a desktop at home as my primary computer. I am trying to choose my secondary device to carry around with me. I am looking for something that I can travel with and also take with me to the local coffee shop. I am interested in social networking, writing blogs, Google Maps, and e-mails, but nothing much else.

Following are the options:

Laptop: Carrying a laptop has its own advantages and disadvantages. A laptop is a complete system with a lot of processing power. A good laptop has enough battery to last you a long time. With a large screen, and multiple programs installed, a laptop is a good workhorse to carry around on a day to day basis. On the downside, it is heavy, bulky, and comes with a lot of accessories that need to be carried around. The power cord, the laptop case, and the mouse (an optical mouse or a magic mouse for a Mac).

Netbook (Ultrabook): The best part of the netbook is its battery power. Most netbooks have a battery life of around 8 to 10 hours (the ASUS Eee PC 1000 HE). However, it has a small screen without a CD/DVD drive. A netbook is slower and mostly used for travel. A netbook is very compact, but can be used only for email or basic surfing. Once you start doing some advanced word processing or graphics, and the netbook starts stalling.

Tablet: A Tablet is a very good option IF you don’t need to type a lot. Most tablets are very good for multimedia, movies, and social networking. If you need to type a lot, you need to have an external keyboard. A tablet does not have tactile feedback and you don’t feel it when you have pressed a key. Some tablets can play a sounds when a key is pressed. Also, in some tablets, the key is highlighted when you press it. Other than that, there is no tactile feedback. A good bluetooth keyboard is very important for a tablet in case you need to do a lot of typing.

Smartphone: A Smartphone is a very good option if you want to make and receive calls (and stay connected to the Internet). You can use a smartphone for emails, social networking, and apps. The smartphone is always connected to the Internet. The best part of a smartphone is it does not need to be booted up like a netbook or a laptop. Since smartphones are basically phones, they are always ON. Using a bluetooth keyboard, you could always type a lot of long emails or blog posts. The screen is small, but with a slightly larger font, it would be readable from a distance, say top of a table.

Assuming you don’t want to invest in a laptop or a netbook and you want something as your ‘secondary’ device, a tablet or a smartphone can serve as a very good option.

How do you choose your secondary device? Here’s how you can decide. Which of the following features do you want to use the most?

  • Internet
  • Social Media
  • Games
  • News
  • Email
  • Blog
  • Camera
  • Movies

Once you zero down on what you want to do, we could probably choose the best device. Tablets are really cool since they can do all of the above (with an external keyboard of course!).

Let us assume you just want to type long emails or blog. And you also like to interact with people using Facebook. If you don’t want to watch movies or do anything advanced on your device, maybe a smartphone with a keyboard would be a good idea.

If you would just like to use the device for blog posts or long emails, it might be ok to have a small screen. You could just get a bluetooth keyboard and type away!

This is what your setup (smartphone with a bluetooth keyboard) would look like:

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However, if you want to do something rich in multimedia, watch movies or just edit photos, you might want to go for a tablet.

Comparing a large and small screen might seem funny, since this is what the comparison would look like:

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But you can’t really carry around your iMac, can you?

Another good device (which the ad classifies as both a tablet and a smartphone) is the Samsung Galaxy Note. The Samsung Galaxy Note is slightly bigger than smartphones but definitely smaller than a tablet.

Once devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note enter the market, the decision just gets more difficult. In a world where you need to decide between netbooks, laptops, tablets, and smartphones what would you call the Samung Galaxy Note?

The decision just became harder.