What is the Killer App for the iPad?

In marketing terminology, a killer application (commonly shortened to “killer app”) is any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware or a gaming console. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.

One of the first examples of a killer application is generally agreed to be the VisiCalc spreadsheet on the Apple II platform. The machine was purchased in the thousands by finance workers on the strength of this program. Other examples include Space Invaders (for arcades) and the Halo series (for Xbox and Xbox 360 gaming consoles).

But there is no one Killer App for the iPad. There are dozens of categories of uses, thousands of apps. The iPad started out popular, then became a phenomenon. But nobody can agree on what it’s best used for.

What’s Your Killer App?

Many of my clients ask me about the iPad. Do you have one? Yes. Do you like it? Yes. What do you use it for? I use mine largely for couch computing – web browsing, email, weather monitoring, and using Remote for controlling iTunes playback throughout the house.

Some people use it as an eBook reader with iBooks. Or as a productivity tool with Pages and Keynote, InstaPaper and Dropbox. The Cloud lets you view your files wherever you are, in or out of the office.

Many folks are using the iPad as a media viewer or TV replacement. Watching Netflix, Hulu, or (if you’re lucky) your local cable channels. Listening to Pandora or NPR podcasts – very handy during fundraisers!

It’s something to keep the kids occupied. Quite a versatile thing in fact, engrossing, engaging, and entertaining. Another kind of TV replacement.

Making music is growing in popularity, there are lots of virtual instruments, recording applications, and a killer new GarageBand for iOS. iBands are no longer a novelty.

The iPad is excellent for training and education. You can take classes, run classes, even run your whole school! It also seeing growing popularity for medical imaging and records management.

And, the latest reports are that iPad 2 makes one of the best portable gaming platforms on the market.

My clients also ask: Do you really need one? Well no, not really. Not with multiple Macs, an iPhone, and several AV systems already in my technology arsenal. But do I appreciate what the iPad can do? Absolutely. It’s a $599 slab-of-wonder. It does so many things well.

But we haven’t yet seen something which totally defines the medium. There is no one thing driving use and sales. No single answer to the question, what do you use your iPad for?

The App Store

So, what is the Killer App for the iPad?

I think the answer is: the App Store. That vehicle which so easily and seamlessly allow people to add capability to their iPads. It’s the heart of the iOS software ecosystem – and which, by design, is the only (official) place to get iOS software. It’s where everything for iPad comes together for distribution, and where nearly all developers want their software to be found. Without the App Store, there would be nothing else.

The App Store is the iPad’s Killer App.

At least, today.

Sources: Wikipedia, “Killer application”
This article first appeared as “What is the iPad’s Killer App? The App Store.” by Adam Rosen, May 9, 2011

Yelp Ads: A Viable Marketing Strategy, Or a Total Rip-Off?

I like having a blog. It lets me rant about things. Here’s my latest on Yelp.com’s oddball ad model and pricing.

The last article I wrote on Yelp centered around their controversial review-filtering algorithm. Today’s rant, however, will focus on their core advertising and revenue model, how it differs from the popular ad models of Google and Facebook, and why it may not be the *best* fit for a business like mine.

Warning: Lengthy Technical Online Advertising Explanation

Major companies that make money primarily by selling ads online, like Facebook and Google, serve up ads to their users using a competition-based bidding model. When you see an ad on these sites, it is targeted specifically at you using the droves of personal data you’ve provided Facebook and Google over the years. Advertisers then use this data to compete with one another for the privilege of showcasing their products & services to you, with highly-competitive niches commanding large CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) prices.

For example, users who “Like” the iPad Fan Page, or people with browser histories full of iPad-related searches, will likely be shown iPad-related ads on Facebook and Google, respectively. If Facebook/Google sees that a lot of people are clicking these ads, the ads will be shown more often, and their CPM price will increase. Over time, the highest-performing ads for a given niche will nudge out lowest-performing ads, because Facebook/Google makes more money from the ads people are actually clicking on.

When you buy an ad on Facebook/Google, you design the ad, set a budget, and you’re up and running: your targeted ad is displayed, and depending on your niche, you’ll pay anywhere from $.01 to $5.00 per 1000 impressions. Things are a bit different for Yelp advertisers, however.

The Yelp Advertising Model: A Total Rip-Off

Strangely, Yelp’s online advertising model is based around selling subscription-based ad packages in 6-12 month contracts. Their intro ad package (at the time of this writing) requires that a business sign up for a $300/month, 6 month minimum package (with a $600 early termination fee). They guarantee 600 “targeted impressions” each month, i.e., they would show my ad 600 times to users searching for “computer repair” in my area.

This represents a whopping $500 CPM, or $500 per 1000 impressions. This is over 100x what national online advertisers typically pay for huge ad campaigns.

Compared to standard and widely-accepted online advertising models, Yelp’s model looks like blatant exploitation and robbery!

Exploitation of Technical Ignorance

Of course, Yelp Ad sales reps will never, EVER mention terms like CPM or CPC. They don’t want potential advertisers to know just how ludicrously overpriced and low-tech their ads actually are. (Yelp offers advertisers nowhere near the tracking and targeting data that Facebook and Google do)

It seems to me that the Yelp revenue model relies on three factors:

  1. Building a business owner’s perceived value of reviews,
  2. Using that perceived value to justify the sale of expensive ads, and
  3. Exploiting the fact that *most* business owners have absolutely no knowledge of standard online advertising practices.

I cannot support a program that, in my estimation, overcharges people by exploiting their ignorance. Too many unscrupulous computer consultants and other tech-savvy businesses are guilty of similar unethical practices and behavior.

It’s a shame that their ad program is the way it is, because I use and recommend Yelp, and everyone I’ve talked to that works there is extremely friendly and courteous.

But if you’re a business owner and looking for affordable advertising, look elsewhere.

Never Trust a Computer Technician (and Other Issues of Business Ethics)

Not long ago, a woman contacted me and asked me to come to her house. She had located me on the Internet, and offered to pay me for computer services.

a computer technician under attack

I decided that she probably just needed a computer technician to fix her laptop, that she fully intended to pay me, and that she certainly wasn’t going to re-enact scenes from Misery with me. She had also (rightly) decided that the risk of inviting over a total stranger was outweighed by the benefit, and both client and computer technician benefited in the end.

However, our simple (but potentially risky) transaction could not have occurred without a mutual willingness to put worries aside, or without a shared desire to form a business relationship based on trust.

Issues With Trust

My job at Silverleaf allows me to help people from all walks of life. Nearly everyone has a computer, but few people are tech-savvy, so many folks decide to contact a technician for help at some point in time. In my business, I meet a lot of different people, and I’ve learned that they all have something in common.

What I’ve learned from years of service is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a computer technician, photographer, or lawyer: everybody just wants to work with professionals who are competent, fair, and most important, trustworthy. In other words: nobody wants to get screwed-over.

Trust is essential for any business relationship to flourish, whether it’s between a technician and client, a boss and employee, or myself and a partner. Before any service agreement, warranty, or other legal “guarantee” is written and signed, and before any work begins, all business transactions start with an implied promise: to efficiently deliver a product or service, and to do so in a fair and honest manner.

Business Ethics and Branding

I could be the best computer technician in Los Angeles, relying on skill and technical prowess alone *wink*, but if I can’t gain the trust of my clients and colleagues, I’m finished.

a spoonful of computer technician lard

That’s why being skilled in a craft is only one key to success: clearly and honestly advising a client, employee, or partner so that he or she can make an informed decision is an essential way for any professional to earn trust and be successful. This is especially true when working on large, complex projects, when any lapse in communication or trust can result in a significant loss of time/money. Besides, it’s just easier to work with people we trust.

Any significant loss of trust, however, or a reputation for being untrustworthy, can be extremely costly. For example, as a sole proprietor I am 100% liable for doing business under the Silverleaf name. Additionally, any negative impact on trust in Silverleaf directly affects trust in me, so any damage to my brand is especially costly for me.

It may be a risky way to earn a reputation as a brand and as a computer technician, but it’s my way of showing people trust.

Planned Obsolescence: Why You Should Buy A Custom PC

On the inside, computers are all the same.

This iMac uses the same standardized hardware as a custom PC

All computers use a processor and memory to crunch the numbers, a hard drive to store the numbers, and a motherboard to hold it all together. Plug in a monitor and keyboard, and you’ve got a computer!

Manufacturers like HP®, and Apple® put together standard parts and sell “pre-made” computers (such as this iMac® pictured to the right). Although fast enough for typical use and competitively priced, these systems use second-rate hardware with limited upgradability.

Planned Obsolescence

A big problem with pre-made systems is that they don’t last very long, at least not in a useful way. After a few short years, even the most expensive pre-made systems will start to slow down. This is because most manufactured systems are built with cheap (and/or integrated) parts that have limited upgradability; and with no capacity for upgrades, the only way to speed-up an aging pre-made system is to replace it with a brand-new computer!

Pre-made systems are poorly designed with this kind of “planned obsolescence” in mind: manufacturers purposefully use inferior hardware, so that their products become unusable in a short time. And when consumers incorrectly believe that they have to buy a brand-new computer every few years, manufacturers make more money from selling more pre-made systems!

But don’t despair: on the inside, computers are all the same, and there are alternatives to pre-made systems!

Custom Computers and Long-Term Value

Did you know that it is possible to build high-performance custom computers, for less than it costs to buy “pre-made” systems?

Since all computers use standardized components on the inside (for example, Intel® processors), you can choose your own hardware components to create a fast, rugged, and truly custom machine.

A custom PC being assembled.

To build your own computer, first pick a motherboard (along with matching processor and memory), choose a hard drive, video card, and PSU, and then wire it all together in a case. Install the operating system, update the hardware and software, and voila! You now have a fast and reliable computer, built with the latest technology and high-quality components.

When you build your own computer, you get to choose the hardware that goes inside. If you want a huge hard drive with lots of storage space (or even better, a state-of-the-art solid state drive!), you can install it. If you’d rather spend your money on a super-fast processor and RAM, you may do so. And if you want to customize your machine with extra USB ports, a Blu-Ray drive, or even an old-school floppy disk drive, guess what? You can!

But the main advantage of owning a custom PC is that when you choose the hardware components, you know that you’re getting the best available hardware that is ALSO upgradable. Pre-made systems lack this feature, because manufacturers don’t want you to upgrade: they want you to buy a brand new computer when your old one slows down.

When you build your own computer, you get an upgradable and “future-proof” system that will stand the test of time. However, assembling a computer requires extensive technical knowledge: this is where I come in!

My Custom PC

My six-year-old custom PC.

I use my computer for photo editing, multimedia and video streaming, 3D gaming, and other graphics-intensive applications, so it’s important for me to stay up-to-speed with a reliable machine that does what I need it to do.

When I first decided to build myself a custom PC, I had no idea I’d be using the same computer over 6 years later! I’ve done a few inexpensive hardware upgrades in that time, but the computer is still so fast that I don’t need to buy a whole new system. Realistically, I plan on using this computer for at least four more years… giving my custom PC a useful lifespan of 10 years.

In my opinion, assembling a custom PC is the best way to buy a new computer: the long-term value gained from choosing quality, upgradable hardware makes building a custom PC extremely cost-effective. Dollar-for-dollar, a well-built custom PC is faster and more reliable than a pre-made, and over a longer useful lifespan.

If you are interested in building a custom PC, order now or contact me for a free consultation and estimate.

Is the Apple Name Really Worth the Price Tag, Or Should You Get a Custom PC?

What’s So Great About A Mac?

I’m the first to admit that I love Apple products. They’re user friendly, stylish and innovative. However (and it’s a big “however”), they’re so expensive! And, God forbid, something goes wrong with a MacBook and you’re out of warranty – it’ll cost a fortune to repair!
Is a Mac Better Than a Custom PC?
So, despite my love for sleek Apple computers, I’ve come to realize that there must be a more affordable alternative that’s equally user friendly and has the same (or at least comparable) hardware. And, after searching around a bit, what I’ve found has been a bit shocking to this Mac devotee.

Are you ready for this? Newsflash: all computers are virtually identical on the inside! Maybe I’m just really not technologically savvy, but for some reason I just assumed that the higher price tag of a Mac was for a good reason (i.e., that there was better or faster hardware used in it). That really, really isn’t the case.

Newsflash: All Computers Are the Same

Evidently, all pre-made computers (e.g., Mac, HP, Dell, etc.) use more or less the same cheap processors, memory, hard drives and motherboard, and you’re just getting charged more based on the brand. Because these manufacturers use cheap parts, the computers become antiquated and bogged down really fast. So, you end up paying for something that should last many, many years, but you only get a couple of years’ use out of it!

And because Apple especially has many of its features “integrated” into the pre-made computers, it makes it either really difficult or really expensive to upgrade. So, when it comes down to it, when you buy a Mac, you’re getting something really stylish, but you’re also getting a really low performance to cost ratio when you consider that you could get the same thing from a PC for about half the price.

What Kind of Computer Should I Buy? A Custom PC, Of Course!

A Custom PC Is Better!
Really, when you look into it, the best route to take seems to be building a custom PC for yourself (or having a professional do it for you, if you’re tech skills are anything akin to mine – sheesh!). When you take the extra time to have a custom PC built, it’s really worth it because you get a truly custom computer, made just for your needs, with an emphasis on long-term value. And, when the time comes, you can easily make hardware and software upgrades to fit your changing needs, without having to buy a whole new computer!

Once you know (like I now do) that all pre-made computers use the same cheap parts, getting a PC custom made seems like the only logical option if you want custom specs, superior performance, a great cost, and an easy and affordable way to continue to upgrade your computer to fit your changing lifestyle.

I know what my next computer will be… do you?

A Review of Yelp Reviews: Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

Computer Services Reviews on Yelp

Early on in my career as a computer service professional, I realized the importance of referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. So I decided to list my business on several review sites in order to gain positive reviews and increased business.

y-2

A review site is a website on which users can write and read about people, businesses, products, or services. Yelp.com is a popular review site that offers users a convenient way to seek out new and highly-rated restaurants, write a review on their favorite (or not so favorite) business, or create their own business page.

Consumers and business owners alike love review sites, because they all provide a “word-of-mouth” sense of community and trustworthiness. Yelp’s slogan “Real People. Real Reviews ®” embodies this attitude, and the company’s commitment to providing “real reviews” is so strong that it only scores 3 out of 5 stars: on its own website!

But how can Yelp allow people to use its service for free? How do review sites stay in business?

Paying For and Filtering Reviews

Yelp.com, like many review sites, is supported by advertising. And as a popular site (#170 in Alexa.com worldwide rankings at the time of this writing), Yelp.com may charge a considerable fee to allow businesses to advertise with them.

However, critics of the review company say that it unfairly gives its biggest advertisers a higher ranking in search results, or that it punishes and decreases the rankings of businesses that refuse to purchase Yelp ads. Spokespeople from Yelp have repeatedly denied these allegations, responding that the company does everything it can to ensure that the reviews on its site remain real and unbiased.

To help address these credibility problems, the company has instituted a review “filter”: a computer program which determines if a review is legitimate and thus displayed in search results, or suspected as a fake and then filtered out. The filter periodically re-evaluates each review, so that previously un-filtered reviews may disappear, and old filtered reviews may come back.

Silverleaf Computer Services – Filtered!

filtered-reviews-2

So I listed my business on Yelp, and clients have written reviews for me. Now, when a person looking for “computer services” near “van nuys” types these terms into Yelp’s search engine, they may find my business near the top. They can click the link to read reviews about the business, where currently only 3 of a total 11 reviews are displayed. One can still find these filtered reviews, but they do not count towards the overall rating.

The majority of reviews for Silverleaf Computer Services weren’t always filtered out: in fact, the filtering soon began after a phone call I received one day. “Billy” from the Yelp Ad Department called to comment on how great my business was doing in search results. He also wanted to know if I felt that my business benefited from being in Yelp (which it has), and asked if I’d be interested in advertising with them.

I politely declined.

Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

I’m not going to bash Yelp.com for unfairly filtering my reviews as punishment for not buying ads. On the contrary, I’ve come to understand that even though these reviews were written to help my business, they are part of an online community that Yelp owns and maintains, and are not “my” reviews.

All review content (though user-generated) effectively becomes the property of the website on which it is written. Yelp, or any ad-driven site, may provide or deny access to its own content as it sees fit: if the site wants to use this valuable content as incentive for advertisers, then it may do so as a viable marketing strategy.

But people who rely on review sites (or any search engine for that matter) for information should realize that these websites are ad-driven, and are NOT free of bias. And while search engines are powerful information-finding tools and do a good job of providing relevant information, search engine results should be taken with a grain of salt because any company that gathers, organizes, and ultimately controls what information is displayed on the Web also has the power to NOT display certain information.

In conclusion, do not simply rely on companies like Yelp or Google to provide only “good” information while filtering out the “bad.” Such reliance can leave you open to manipulation by advertisers, or worse, information filtering and censorship.

Data Recovery: Dealing With Loss (And Hard Drive Failure)

My computer and I were getting along just fine: I could run all sorts of applications simultaneously and quickly, I could play all of my games on maximum graphics settings, and I had seemingly unlimited access to photos, videos, and any other data I wanted.

All of that changed one day. I turned on my computer in the morning, only to be greeted by errors, strange noises, and no data. The operating system wouldn’t even boot up, and from the sound of things it seemed like I had a failed hard drive.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just recover my files using this handy external hard drive backup.” I plugged the external drive into another computer to prepare for the data recovery process, only to discover a terrible truth: My backed up data was over 6 MONTHS OLD.

I panicked as I realized that all of my data was either lost or obsolete. In despair, I wondered: how could this have happened?

Hard Drive Diagnostic and File Recovery

As one of the only moving parts in a computer, a hard disk drive is especially prone to mechanical failure. The platters (sensitive magnetic discs where data is stored) spin at 7200RPM, while the actuator head (analogous to the needle on a record player) continuously moves back and forth, reading and writing data. These components are sealed in a metal shell, impervious to data-destroying dust and other contaminants.

Although a hard drive diagnostic may show warning signs of a failing drive, even the highest-quality and best-maintained hard drives can die at any time. Critical data can become corrupted, making it difficult to retrieve usable data from the drive. Even worse, the motors controlling the spindle or actuator can fail: in this case, file recovery requires that the drive be disassembled in a clean room, which is a very expensive procedure.

How I Recover My Files: With a Recovery Disk

Fortunately, I was able to recover my files and my operating system because I had a recovery disk: a special disc that allows you to re-install your operating system in case of an emergency.

The best way to guard against hard drive failure and data loss is to backup, backup, backup! Seriously, back up your data. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you will have an up-to-date copy of your information when a hard drive crash occurs. Invest in an external hard drive, and use it to keep backup copies of your data.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of performing regular backups until their primary hard drive crashes. If a victim of hard drive failure has a backup, then data recovery is a simple process of copying the backed-up data to the newly-installed hard drive. However, without a proper recovery disk, not only will some or all data be lost, but an expensive operating system re-installation could be required.

Invest a little time and money now in a backup solution, or pay big time later on when your computer’s hard drive crashes!

For help with data recovery or installing a backup drive, please contact me.

How to Buy a Quality Laptop (and Avoid Laptop Repair)

Laptop Uses: Which is Best For You?

After a few years, even the fastest and most-reliable computers can begin to lose steam. Even worse, for those unfortunate enough to be stuck with an unreliable laptop as their primary home/work machine, paying for laptop repair is too costly. In this case, it makes more sense to purchase a new laptop: but how does one choose?

The answer to this depends on a more important question: what will you be using the laptop for? For light use, a small netbook is enough to browse the web and check email (tablet computers are perfect for these simple functions as well). For use as a work machine, a durable frame and ample processing/memory capabilities are key. Serious gamers and graphics artists, however, may find that laptops simply do not offer enough graphics rendering capability, and may consider a desktop instead.

What Really Matters (Regardless of Primary Function)

So you’ve decided on what you want to do with your new laptop, but there are so many different models and specs that making the right choice can be difficult. Regardless of function, there are a few other important factors to consider:

Durability: since laptop computers are designed for on-the-go use, it makes sense that a well-designed laptop should be durable enough to withstand such use. Look for a model with a solid aluminum (not plastic) case. A durable shell is essential: if the computer is dropped or damaged, it is oftentimes prohibitively costly to do screen replacements, motherboard replacements, and other expensive laptop repairs.

Heat Dissipation: Laptops are especially susceptible to overheating because they are built with relatively small air ducts, heat sinks, and fans. When buying a new laptop, consider a model that does NOT have a downward-facing air intake, but rather air intake ports positioned on either the side or front of the case.

Mac Versus PC

Mac cultists and PC geeks can argue all they want about design, function, and performance, but the only real differences between Macs and PCs are their costs.

With a whopping $1999 price tag, the Mac Book Pro’s high initial cost is offset by long-term laptop repair savings. Mac fans will gladly pay a high price for their devices: their trust in the Apple brand ensures that they are investing in a high-quality product that is backed by a reputable company. If their laptop is ever in need of repair, the Apple Store will usually take care of it.

PC laptops, while almost identical to Macs in terms of hardware and performance, are significantly less expensive. However, buying a cheaply-made PC brand laptop can mean increased long-term expenses in the form of costly laptop repairs. Additionally, there is no “PC Store” that will take care of all of your repair requests, and some PC brands are notorious for having bad customer service.

In the end, buy the laptop that meets your budget and performance needs, but pay special attention to factors like durability, cooling capacity, and upgrade capacity. And if you need some professional buying advice or affordable laptop repair, please contact me.

Socially Engineered Malware: Your New Facebook Friend

Embarrassing confession: I was tricked into downloading a computer virus.

Socially Engineered Malware: Your New Facebook Friend

Last week, a high school friend of mine sent me a “Group Invite” message on Facebook®. The message urged all recipients to “help out my friend by ‘liking’ her page”, and included a link to said page. Being the helpful friend that I am, I decided to “CLICK HERE!”

Then, something strange happened: when I tried sharing the link by “Attaching” the URL into a message to a friend, Facebook did not correctly generate a description of the link. Instead, it only displayed random JavaScript code…

I knew immediately that I was infected with a virus. Shamefully, I asked myself: how could a supposed computer professional like me download a virus?

The answer: I was tricked!

Socially Engineered Malware

While some types of malicious software (malware) work by exploiting technical loopholes in a computer system, socially engineered malware exploits weaknesses in human nature. Even Mac users, with their perceived immunity to computer viruses, are not safe: without any technology dependencies, socially engineered malware can target users running either Windows or OS X.

From a cyber criminal’s perspective, tricking users into downloading and installing malware is a preferred means of attack. By manipulating trust (rather than hacking software), criminals may cast a wider net and target more victims. And the implied trust relationships inherent in social networking sites, such as Facebook, make them full of perfect targets for socially engineered attacks.

I, for one, certainly did not expect that the link sent to me by a friend would contain a virus: those clever hackers exploited my trust in my social network, and mislead me into clicking on the infected link (so you see, it wasn’t my fault).

Protecting Yourself against Socially Engineered Malware

I could have had all of the “smart” filters, firewalls, and anti-virus programs in the world installed and still downloaded that virus. Although these tools together do a good job of preventing most malware downloads, ultimately it is was me that made the decision about what to click.

Socially Engineered Malware: Anti-Virus Programs

It is therefore very important to “look before you click.” If you suspect a bad link, do a bit of research and mouse-over the link (without clicking!) and look at the preview URL that your browser will display. Pay special attention to the domain name (i.e. www.silverleafcs.com), and make sure that it is one that you recognize: if you notice random-looking characters and numbers in the domain name, this is a telltale sign that the URL could be an automatically-generated malicious site.

So the next time somebody (even a friend) sends you a link entitled OMG i cant believe she posted this LOL click here NOW, exercise a bit of caution. Clicking responsibly can mean the difference between discovering a new hilarious video, or even more hilariously (for the hackers), downloading socially engineered malware.

And if you do happen to accidentally download something bad, don’t be embarrassed, just click here. (link tested to be 99.9% malware-free)