Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Jawbone Thoughts, Day 5

A few more thoughts on the New Jawbone, now that I've been using it for nearly a week...

Range/quality ratio seems to be similar to that of the original Jawbone. I've sat as far as 20 feet away from my BlackBerry while using the new Jawbone, and quality is good--assuming direct line of sight. As you might expect, anything that interferes with line of sight attenuates the signal. Walking into another room leads to signal loss; moving into another room, particularly more than about 15 feet away in the Faraday Cage that we call our home, leads to an almost unusable connection. Again, this is similar performance to the original Jawbone, and is perfectly acceptable in my mind.

The inclusion of an audible tone to alert when you've come back into range is a welcome addition. On the original Jawbone, you'd get a really annoying tone (thankfully ameliorated in the new Jawbone) when you walked out of range, but would have no mechanism to know when you'd walked back into range. Now, you receive a nice, soft tone to inform you that you're back in range. Way cool.

Finally, I still haven't found a totally comfortable fit with with the ear hook. I don't find the fit painful or uncomfortable per se, but I'm just not getting a warm fuzzy yet in terms of fit. My next step is going to be a pair of pliers, in an attempt to better shape the ear hook to my ear shape.

Further updates as events warrant.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Jawbone Review, Day 2

(Scroll down for first day of the new Jawbone review, or click here.)

After wearing the new Jawbone for an entire day, I find it light years more comfortable than the original. As I noted in my initial review, I've already switched to the Jabra mini ear gel off of my original Jawbone. If someone made a customized ear gel that would fit snugly and firmly in the ear (hint, hint, Mr. Berkey), I believe I could get rid of the ear hook altogether.


The one thing with which I'm still experimenting is ensuring that the Voice Activity Sensor (a.k.a, the little doohickey that must touch the cheek to make the unit function properly) is actually resting against my cheek. I had a couple of complaints today from folks on the other end of the line that they couldn't hear me very well; as soon as I readjusted the headset to ensure that the VAS was firmly against my cheek, the complaints went away. One other issue which will bear further testing...when on the phone with The Wife on her BlackBerry Curve's speakerphone, I noticed an annoying hum in the earpiece. This was definitely on my side, rather than coming from The Wife's Curve.

One final point.

Kudos to Aliph for getting the product damn near totally right this time around. Promote whoever runs product management.

While you're at it, fire whoever runs marketing communications. I just popped over to the Jawbone website to find out the proper name of the cheek doohickey thingie (Voice Activity Sensor). I noticed a link entitled "Club Jawbone" on the bottom of the home page. So, I clicked it...and found the following...
(click the image for a bigger version)

Seriously? You launch a successor to one of the best-reviewed Bluetooth headsets of all time, meaning you're gonna get millions of hits, and you can't even get a freakin' opt-in newsletter set up. Seriously.

I mean, how about a little effort on the website campaign? When I click on the link for Club Jawbone, you throw up a page that basically says "Go play in traffic". C'mon. "Please check back soon" Seriously?

When I think of the cost of customer acquisition for any manufacturer, particularly one in the headset category (where many consider the items throwaways after a year, and where very little brand loyalty exists), and I look at this lack of effort, I'm stymied. Flummoxed. Mortified even. Put up a freakin' web form that says "Enter your e-mail address here, and we'll let you know when Club Jawbone is ready to launch. We promise, it'll be something you can sink your teeth into."

Or something like that. But, Aliph, you're killing me here. I'd love to know how many people have clicked on that link, and how many lost customer or prospective touches you've lost by not putting forth the most minimal of efforts to capture an e-mail address.


Friday, May 16, 2008

New Jawbone Out-of-Box Experience and Review

If you know me, you know that I tend to be an early adopter on some stuff; on other stuff, I'm a fan of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" concept. I still chuckle at the teenager who looked at the 2G iPod I still carry, and said "Dude, how big's the drive on that one?" "Uh, 20 gig, Skippy."

Just call me Old School.

That said, I've probably gone through a dozen Bluetooth headsets over the years. I bought the original Jawbone a couple of months after its introduction, based on extremely positive reviews from a couple of buddies. While I can say that the original Jawbone has never been as comfortable as the Plantronics 640 and 655 I had immediately prior, it's been amazing in terms of battery life (better than 6 hours' straight talk time) and noise reduction, although I still wish A) that Aliph provided some type of carrying case (like the well-designed Plantronics units do), and B) that Aliph would ship something other than the absolutely crap hard plastic earpieces which make use of the original uncomfortable to the point of being downright painful. If you missed my post-CES recap on the original Jawbone, you can find it here.

With today's introduction of the new Jawbone, I decided to put my money where my mouth is. Having used the original Jawbone for the last 15 months or so, and loving it despite its flaws, I was eager to see if Aliph had listened to feedback from the blogosphere.

Apparently, they have.

Is the new one perfect? No. The charger still uses a proprietary attachment, rather than a mini- or micro-USB port. That said, the new connector is a dramatic improvement on the previous one, connecting and aligning via surface-mounted magnets and contacts, rather than the insertion method (heh, heh) on the old model. The earpieces are now a soft rubber, and the earhooks are smaller.

So, to the positives of the new Jawbone. First, size. Second, improved noise canceling technology (which was pretty damned good on the original). Third, branding.

Let's start with the branding. Since I spend quite a bit of my professional life thinking about various topics in consumer electronics, I'm psyched to see that Aliph has made the Jawbone packaging a little more visually appealing, luxurious even, than the original's packaging. I expect that in 6-9 months' time, the new Jawbone will show up at a lower price point in blister packaging, just like the original has. For now, big kudos to whoever did Aliph's visual identity implementation for the new product.

If you click on the next two photos, you'll see a bigger image of the new packaging.

Here's the front...

...and here's the back...

You'll note a couple of things. First, I've never even contemplated shooting photos of an out-of-box experience, so apologies for the lighting in these photos being off, but I didn't have any 3200K kit floating around the house. Second, I love the packaging, and the tagline--NOISEASSASSIN--just sounds freakin' cool.

The next two shots are from the initial unpackaging...

As I was opening the package, I felt a little like I think The Wife feels when she opens a gift from Tiffany. Tiffany & Co. absolutely get it when it comes to packaging appeal. Ladies, what other brand conveys such absolute appeal, making you know that you're likely to be thrilled with whatever's in the Tiffany Blue shopping bag with the white handles, in which resides a Tiffany Blue box wrapped in a white ribbon, in which resides a Tiffany Blue felt bag, in which resides, well, a surprise that you're likely gonna love? From a packaging standpoint, I think the typical male equivalent is a 4x4 at In 'n' Out Burger. The new Jawbone's package sets a very high bar for the competition, in that Aliph is now selling luxury (at least until the new Jawbone ends up in a blister pack). Yes, I'm willing to pay more for it. I'm a consumer. Judging from the fact that the first two AT&T stores I called today were already sold out of their allotment, I'm not the only one.

First views of the new Jawbone itself...

A couple of shots of included accessories...

The power adapter and all included accessories...

Various shots comparing the original Jawbone with the new Jawbone, along with a shot of the power adapter attached...

Now, to the most important question. Will it blend?

No, wait, wrong site.

In admittedly limited testing today, I found the following...

The fit of the earpiece still isn't good. While I love its smaller size and lighter weight, the headset feels like it's going to go flying off my ear. I'm using the largest of the 3 rubber earpieces, but I sure wish they had a larger one. My Plantronics 640 and 655 both fit perfectly and snugly in my ear using their large earpiece, with no need for an over-ear hook. I wish that Aliph shipped a bigger earpiece, but compared to the original, a definite improvement.

That said, the official mod of the original Jawbone looks like it's going to work well with the new Jawbone. Within a few days of my purchase of the original, I turned to the 'Net to see what the world had to say about better earpieces, since the original hard plastic earpieces were so brutal. Lo and behold, I discovered that the blogosphere had spoken, and that I needed to get ahold of some of the original Jabra mini gels, which you can find at HelloDirect's website. I feel like I should be getting a referral commission from these guys, since so many of my friends have purchased the Jabra mini gels after my positive feedback!

The 4 ear hooks seem to be improved from the original version, but I'll reserve judgement. While smaller, they lack the internal rubber piece that the original versions had which put light pressure on the back of the ear; on my ear, they provided an incremental but beneficial feeling of security that the headset wasn't going to fly off. 2 of the new ear hooks are encased in leather; the other two have what appears to be a very fine rubber coating. The new ear hooks are also universal, rather than the left- and right-ear specific versions on the original. I was a bit reluctant earlier today to really manhandle the hooks to get them to fit my ear; in doing so now, the fit feels much better, but the lack of a truly snug earpiece means I'll be further munging the hooks over the coming days and weeks. That said, with the Jabra ear gel, the fit is quite good, so maybe I'm all set.

When connecting the headset to the phone, the new Jawbone emits an audible tone. This is great, as I don't get stuck looking at my BlackBerry's screen to figure out whether or not they've connected. A definite improvement.

When turning on or off the headset when wearing it, the loud and annoying long tone on the original is now a somewhat melodic and much shorter tone. A definite improvement.

Performing tasks like changing the volume level are still non-intuitive. I'd love a simple rocker switch that enables up and down volume control. Instead, you're still stuck remembering which button to press (Noise Assassin) to cycle up through volume levels. No change.

Voice dialing appears to work just as well as on the original Jawbone. I say "appears", because the voice dialing on my Curve absolutely sucks. Whenever I try to use voice dialing, the phone gets the request wrong, I curse, and the phone ends up dialing Madagascar or Molvania or some such. Apparently no change.

So, net-net, after less than a day's use? Two thumbs up. Check back for an update over the coming weeks, or just add the site to your RSS reader.

Oh, and the cost? As you can see in the very first photo, AT&T is happily getting $129.99 plus tax in their stores. If the new Jawbone performs even the same as my original one, while being lighter and smaller, this was a purchase worth making.

Let me know your thoughts...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Customer service can't afford a bad day...

The Wife and I spent yesterday wine tasting with our friends Mike and Tina. Tina's in the wine industry, and has an ultra-refined sense of everything surrounding a given wine; she's an unbelievably talented resource, even though she's fairly new to the inside of the wine business. The Wife, Mike, and I aren't nearly as sophisticated, but we definitely know what we like, and what we don't. As my palate has matured over the past 8 years since I began drinking wine, I've moved from simpler reds like Beaujolais to those considerably more complex. But, regardless of complexity, it's fair to say that when I'm enjoying a glass of wine, I manage to shift into a different mental gear.

Note that I used the word "enjoying". I think it's safe to say that we consider wine a hobby we enjoy. Sure, some might consider that statement a bit wine snobbish, but I think it's important to enjoy a hobby on one's own terms. I look at triathletes and think they're nuts; however, they obviously enjoy the sense of accomplishment they receive from their hobby, despite the pain they have to endure to prepare, to compete, and to recover. They enjoy it. And I'm there at the finish line to enjoy a glass of wine, either with the triathletes, or in a toast to them.

Personally, we tend to steer clear of the big, traditional wineries of Napa and Sonoma, instead searching out smaller, more boutique-style wineries who cater more towards individual wine drinkers. Nothing against the Broncos and Gallos of the world; hell, I'm a capitalist, too. But, we strive to find the small guy who's trying a little harder to be different. Whether it's Kaz in Sonoma, Willow Creek Winery in Amador, or Paoletti in Napa, we try to stay a half-step away from the crowd.

To me, much of the enjoyment of visiting wineries is the ability to talk to the folks who work there. In the big wineries, we often end up speaking with folks who are there because they're interested in wine, but for whom the job is, well, a job, not a calling. At places like the three I mention above, I have extremely fond memories--of Kaz leading 20 of us into his basement, walking us through the labor and love that goes into succeeding as Sonoma's smallest publicly-open winery; of Dave and Kevin blending wines right out of the barrel to get our opinions on their unique Portuguese-style creations; of sipping a brilliant Malbec while walking through the caves with Gianni, listening to him describe the lifelike statues lining the walls.

For small businesses, cultivating a relationship with each and every customer is vital; we feel welcome as customers at these three (and many other) wineries, because we're there and take an interest in what they're doing. Maybe we'll buy some wine that day, maybe we won't, but we've stumbled into the winery for one reason or another, planned or not. Whether the customer is a loyal repeater, a first-timer with intent, or a random one-off, the small businesses of the world (of which I'm one) always need to have their game faces on, and can't afford to piss someone off--true if you're a winery, a mechanic, or a one-man consultancy.

I mention this because of an experience we had yesterday at a winery we've visited a number of times. The four of us had discussed which wineries we wanted to visit yesterday; the consensus was four locations, all of which some or all of us had visited in the past. Since we weren't really looking to go out and find a new place, we chose to spend time with wineries we'd enjoyed in the past, from both a wine and personal interaction standpoint. Three of the wineries provided us an experience exactly in line with our expectations; our wine purchases ranged from a half-case to more than a case at each, with good karma and fond memories at each one.

However, the representative at the fourth winery absolutely stepped in it by being a total jerk. As Francis Soyer said in Stripes, "You just made the list". Luckily, the winery to which I'm referring was our second of four for the day, so the great time we had at locations #3 and #4 more than made up for the experience at #2. But, wow, what a downer. In past visits, we've enjoyed spending time with the couple who own the winery, make the wines, market the wines, pour the wines, you name it. Unfortunately, they weren't there yesterday.

Entrepreneurs typically have a tough time handing off control or responsibility to anyone else, believing that no one else will be able to execute in the same fashion as he/she, the founder. At worst, this type of megalomaniacal control leads to a company that ends up being a cult of personality around the founder(s), an approach that rarely works well, save for rare cases like Apple. At best, the company fires on all cylinders, growing well beyond the wildest dreams of the founder(s). Case in point--HP has announced their intent to acquire EDS for nearly $14 billion. How many people who read the stories surrounding this acquisition knew that Ross Perot originally founded EDS back in 1962? Sure, he sold to GM in 1984 (from which EDS spun back out a dozen years later), but wow, what a case of huge growth from one guy's idea. And, perhaps fittingly, EDS is selling to HP, a company itself founded on the ideas of two guys named Bill and Dave. In both cases, EDS and HP have seen highs and lows, peaks and valleys, but they've ultimately succeeded by delivering in-demand products and services in a manner that makes customers satisfied and leads to repeat business.

So, to the point of the story from yesterday...

Be careful who you trust with your baby, whether that baby is a winery, a bakery, a dry cleaner, a technology company, or a baby. Yesterday's encounter not only turned us off, likely forever, on this particular winery, but by extension, they've lost referral business from the four of us, and probably from the other folks at the other wineries who heard our story. I'd like to chalk this up to just an unlucky day for everyone involved, but our experience reinforces the importance of hiring, training, branding, messaging, you name it, top to bottom. One bad employee, or even a good employee having a bad day, can totally ruin the goodwill every company strives to create.

Not only that, but it can make the wine taste bad, too. We typically leave this particular winery with at least a case of wine, but we only bought a single bottle, which was probably one bottle too many, as the wine didn't even taste good yesterday. To my earlier point, we enjoy wine, as a hobby, as the final ingredient in a meal, as a lifestyle. Any small business, particularly a winery, needs to try a little harder than the established big guys. Running a small business necessarily means you're selling yourself, too; hiring someone who destroys the selling you've done and the goodwill you've established ruins the recipe for success.

Net-net: rotten eggs don't do well in small businesses, and they sure as hell don't go well with wine.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shaving the playoff beard

With the Sharks' elimination Sunday night in the eighth-longest game in NHL history, I join the rest of the weekend's eliminated players in shaving today, both figuratively (back to blogging) and literally.

This morning's cleanly-shaven chin-scratcher? A $1.00 charge on my hotel room bill called "visitor assessment". Uh, isn't that inherent within the concept of paying for a hotel room? They give me a room, and assess me a charge. But now they're tacking on an additional buck?

Oh, wait...I bet they're going to assess me on how good of a guest I was--THAT'S the visitor assessment. If I took too long of a shower, or messed up the bed too much, or made the room too cold, I get a poor assessment, maybe by the energy police.

Assessing the Sharks, they get an F for their performance in Game 2, C's for Games 1 and 3, an A- in 4 and 5, and sadly, a B in game 6's loss. Unfortunately, that failure to move on results in an F, with the Sharks now having lost more playoff games since 2004 than any other team in the NHL. Getting to the playoffs consistently is great, but unless you're raising The Cup over your head (or at least skating in the finals), you don't get an A.

My assessment? I probably took too long of a shower, and didn't get enough sleep (since I was up late watching hockey). I give myself a B+.

Can I have my dollar back?