Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tech Shopping with Mom

My Mom, like most moms, is not very tech savvy. A few months ago she mentioned to me that she wanted a new laptop. I live hundreds of miles away, so the best I could do was send her a few links based on what features she told me were important to her. A month or so later she mentioned that she bought a new Dell XPS Laptop from QVC. If you're a tech person or a deal hunter you can imagine my surprise when I found out she bought a laptop from a home shopping channel. However, I quickly realized that QVC was the easiest, least threatening purchasing choice for her. Unfortunately, when the laptop showed up she was unhappy with the weight and the glossy screen.

She returned her laptop to QVC and asked me to help her pick a new one out when she came to visit San Francisco. After some obligatory sightseeing we went over to Best Buy to pick out a new laptop. Upon arriving in Best Buy we proceeded to check out the numerous laptop and netbook brands they carry, including Dell, Apple, HP, Acer, and Sony. We quickly discovered that almost all of the laptops today have high gloss screens. These are great for watching movies but not so good for working in bright sunlight. Further, older individuals like my Mom have an especially hard time with the screen glare. We asked the friendly sales associate if they carried anti-glare screen covers that we could sample. He kindly referred us to Office Max.

With our choice severely limited, we decided to evaluate the Macs more closely. Their screens were still glossy but not nearly as pronounced as some of the other brands. She quickly became enamored with the MacBook Air which offered everything she wanted. Notable selling points included the built-in webcam, lack of viruses, light weight, backlit keys, and general ease of use. Although her previous laptop ran XP, she was facing the challenge of learning a new OS on both Mac or PC (Vista).

After settling on a MacBook Air we headed over to the GPS and digital camera sections where our frustrations were repeated. These products, like almost all tech products, are not designed for simplicity or use by older people. For example, the leading digital cameras either have microscopic buttons or touch screens with complex menus. They pack in features while increasing complexity. The cameras with simple menus or large buttons are all low-end models with poor picture quality.

Finally, we went home empty handed to continue our research online and look for the best deals on the models we liked. With my assistance she was able to get some great deals online at Newegg and the Apple store. Her MacBook Air came refurbished from Apple for $999 and her Fuji FinePix came with an accessory bundle from Newegg.com.

Our experience was stressful, typical, and somewhat enlightening. Once again, I realized that there is a vest unaddressed market for user-friendly technology products. The Baby Boomer generation may not have grown up in a high tech world but they have disposable income and a desire to stay connected to their children and grandchildren. Technology companies, software companies and retailers need do a better job of designing and marketing their products to this audience. If you need a tech gift for Mom (or Dad) check out my approved list below.

Tech Products for Older Folks
Digital Camera: FUJIFILM FinePix - large rubbery buttons, a sliding lens cover, and bright colors make this camera a great choice.
Computer: MacBook Air - Light and easy to use with a built in webcam and iChat to remotely trouble shoot for mom.
GPS: TomTom 340 - Simple menus and large icons for easy use.
Computer Service/Training: Apple One to One - Get going on your new Mac for $99.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Best of SF New Tech 6/17

For the last few months I've been a regular attendee at numerous Bay Area tech events. SF New Tech is hands down one of the best events for the companies featured, the format, and the networking. With so many great companies presenting I've decided to highlight the best companies each month.

The June 17th New Tech, "Widgets up the Wazoo," included Clearspring, Gigya, Sprout, Sellit, Adgregrate Markets, Toobla, & Transpond. All of these companies had interesting technologies but the two that impressed me most were Transpond (B2B) and Toobla (B2C).

Toobla is esentially a rich media version of Delicious. The site lets you bookmark any content from the web and organize it into folders that can be embeded on other sites. The visual nature of the bookmarks makes them perfect for sharing through social media or on your blog. Toobla also makes it much easier to share things like video playlists or sets of documents from sites like Slideshare, VisualCV, and Sribd. The company did a nice demo at New Tech but unfortunately since they are still in private beta I haven't had a chance to really test their site out. They will be slowly opening up the site over the next few weeks so sign up with your email or check back regularly.

The most impressive B2B company of the night was Transpond (formerly iWidget). The company provides a platform that facilitates the easy creation & publication of applications. They integrate with social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo Connected TV as well as moible platforms including the Palm Pre. Their new platform update is drop dead simple and their flat rate pricing will keep your budget happy.

For more coverage on the night check out today's WSJ article. SF New Tech broadcasts live on Justin.tv so if you can't make it to the next event you can always tune in online.