SMS Promotions on Merchandise Advertising

On a recent trip in Milan, McDonalds had a game going on where you registered via SMS. Using SMS to connect with customers is quite common in Europe and Asia, but still in its infancy here in the US. When looking at it though, it sparked the idea that SMS could really change the way merchandise promotions functioned. The simplest example would be the Coke rewards program. How much simpler would it be if they had a short code and all you had to do was send an SMS to their short code with the number on the bottom of the bottle cap. There system would then recognize your phone number, register you if you haven’t yet and track your points. I bet many more people would participate if they didn’t have to keep track of those bottle caps until they were near a computer!
My favorite merchandise promotion is McDonald’s Monopoly game. Since I was a kid I loved collecting the game pieces and hoping that I’d win one of the big prizes. I never did though, but still enjoyed it each year. Now that I have much cooler toys that use the Internet, I’d like to see a virtual version of the game where each game piece could be registered online or via SMS. This way, I wouldn’t have to keep track of the pieces.
The possibilities are endless and the customer connection is intimate. Provided you were exceptional about how you used and protected your customer’s mobile phone number, I think a lot of people would participate. The trick with all of this will be integrity. You need to state your rules right up front (like how many times you’ll contact the person if they give up their number and send a message to you). After that, you have a two way dialogue you’d never have had.

Office Lunch Aggregator with PayPal Billing

On one of my last projects, one of my managers that regularly gathered lunch orders, proposed the idea of a simple online site to do the job. There are a number of restaurant delivery services in different cities, but none of them that I am aware of offer an aggregation service for work colleagues that includes split check billing.
The idea would be to have integration with a number of different restaurants that provided take-out lunches. The system would then have one person choose the location for the day and then allow a group of colleagues to go to the site and pick their order. They would then be able to pay for their portion via PayPal or something easy for the pick-up person to be able to pay the bill (or have it automatically paid) and get the food.
The simplest way to integrate this service with restaurants would be to have online orders simply faxed to the destination, aggregate the funds from each colleague and transfer them to the person doing the pick-up. More fancy integrations could include automatic payment to the restaurant and automatic insertion of the order to their systems. With an open platform, this could be really awesome.
For now, we’ll all continue to collect cash in the office.
Author’s Note: As part of all my blog entries I try to provide a lot of links to relevant reference material related to the entry. I typically do this research after I’ve written the entry. In this case, I was impressed to find Lunch Prodigy. Now they just need to add billing capabilities!

Remote Desktop Support for Mobile Phones

With the increasing use of smartphones, many users are simply overwhelmed by their features. I’d like to see the ability to access a mobile phone similar to how current remote desktop applications work. I think it would be great if the mobile company or manufacturer of the phone could simply connect to the phone directly and help the customer resolve their issue. This idea may be way before it’s time and need, but it originally came to me when I wished my father knew how to use the SMS application on his mobile phone. I wanted to be able to remotely show him on the phone by having me navigate online and have his phone menus change in front of him. Additionally, with all the enterprise customers out there, I think IT help desks would appreciate being able to remotely take control of a Blackberry or iPhone to investigate an issue (I spent several hours and multiple days with a support person in India trying to troubleshoot a synchronization issue with my last Blackberry and the Blackberry Enterprise Server integration with my companies email servers.

Cupid iPhone App

With all the social networking applications being built for the recently launched iPhone 2.0 software, I’ve noticed that my favorite idea of tech flirting still hasn’t really been approached. I suppose Dodgeball comes close, but not taking full advantage of location based services.
I’d like to see a simple application that is location aware and keeps a profile of me and my interests. Imagine being in a park and the Cupid app pings you to let you know someone else is in the park that has similar interests and is interested in meeting new people. You could immediately connect these two people, allow them to have some anonymous flirting on their mobile phone using SMS or some kind of chat app, then connect them up if they’re interested.
Imagine the possibilities, you could do a “missed connection” feature where Cupid pings you, but you didn’t take the ping because you were busy or not interested at the time. You could follow up later and ping the person with a “missed connection” that would tell them you were both at X location on Y date and time, your profiles matched, but it was a missed connection.
You could share profiles with each other before flirting, during or after. You could even monetize this by charging for the connection. It would need a great online application to complement the mobile app, filling all the traditional features of match.com, etc.
eHarmony has spent a lot of money trying to figure out the algorithm of love. I wonder if what we do and where we go would be a better indicator than a survey. This app could keep track of these things along with our Yelp ratings, Netflix favorites and even our Amazon recommendations.
I’m sure it’s in development or coming soon… Let me know if you’ve seen anything like this.
Some interesting approaches:

Add to iPod Playlists On-The-Go

I have too much music on my iPod! It’s impossible to figure out what to listen to. Recently I have started building play lists that fit a particular mood (e.g., “fun vacuuming songs”, “rainy day smooth”). But, it’s a pain. It takes forever going through my library and listening to all my songs long enough to determine what list to assign them to. What I’d really like is to be able to just turn on shuffle and when a song jumps out as something I’d like to add to a play list, I could do it. It could work similar to how you build an On-The-Go play list, but would allow you to assign to one already existing.

In Line at Apple Store for iPhone 3G

DSC03847.jpgAbout half past midnight I left my house to head to the Apple store on Stockton Street in San Francisco. I had on multiple layers of clothing and my motorcycle leather jacket, stocking cap, gloves and a back-pack filled with more layers and even a towel. I was as prepared for sleeping on a sidewalk as I figured I would need to be. I’ve been known to be able to sleep anywhere, so I figured I didn’t need any fancy tarps, tents, blankets or other creature comforts I was sure would be on display in the line.
DSC03840.jpgWhen I got to the Apple Store there were about thirty people already in line. I had heard that the first person started out Wednesday evening. It was a fairly quiet group of mostly geeks and artists (inclusive of Apple developers). The ratio of boys to girls was unfortunately very high (come on girls get into tech!). I walked to the last place and just stood there. I had no idea what to do now that I was actually in line. Now, many people are thinking, “this guy is nuts waiting in line outside in a city to buy a phone.” I even wondered to myself if I was maybe crossing some imaginary line between the already obsessed Apple enthusiasts and well, part of the cult of Apple. I figured it was going to be a great adventure to say the least, a first person experience of where society comes together for a single moment to celebrate innovation. To be honest, the first hour was pretty boring.
I think I was expecting some kind of secret hand shake to be passed down to me. Wasn’t I now part of a new tribe? I sat down and took a nap. I couldn’t sleep long though, there seemed to be a buzz building. There was no reason. Nothing had changed and only a few more people had joined the line behind me. It was now around 2am. There was a difference though. We had all been waiting there bored. Then it occurred to people that we were all a part of something bigger than ourselves or the individuals we may be standing in line with. Then, the mix. DSC03833.jpgA guy came over with his laptop asking for a MG. He pinged a few of us in line, but none of us was who he was looking for. By the way I saw him glancing back at his computer, I assumed he had made a connection with someone in line, online. He had. A couple people up from me was MG. The two connected live and a whole group began to mix into conversation. The line was starting to interact. I’m sure the folks at the front had their moments already, but the tail was starting to wag. We were now a group. Occasionally, someone would need to run to the bathroom or grab coffee from the 24-hour Starbucks. When they went to go, they’d just turn to their neighbor and ask, “will you watch my stuff?” It was an instant nod and the bond of trust amongst the line increased. There were laptops, cell phones, music players, back-packs, blankets, tents, and even a dog. Everything was safe. Everyone was together.
DSC03848.jpgI happened to be one person away from the guy “holding a place” for an editor from PC Magazine (he was paid $250) and one behind MG from VentureBeat. By 4am the line was now to the end of the block and creeping around the corner. A few folks kept joining the tribe every twenty minutes or so. At one point an SUV pulled up and a whole group got out, set up a giant tent and then went and parked the car. Amongst all the tech, the greatest was seeing the basics of passing time still included, such as reading a book and playing DSC03853.jpgcards. The news crews starting showing up in the early morning, still before sunrise. They’d walk up and down the line interviewing the “die hards”. Application developers were also there pitching their new applications on handbills or demoing them in some instances (Pandora cofounder was walking the line I believe – Pandora is awesome). The excitement kept growing. By 5am no one was even trying to sleep. We were all anxiously awaiting 8am. We were now a part of something. As the sun began to rise, more and more people showed up. We broke a hundred before dawn, but by the time it was day light the line stretched around the block, thicker, stronger and buzzing.

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Apple Store Doors Prior to 8:00 AM

8:00:00 AM Pacific Standard Time
DSC03856.jpgSecurity was at the doors, even the police had arrived. Everyone was up on their feet, stuff picked up, and all moved forward about twenty feet. We bunched up. We had been waiting for this moment. We all watched the clock intensely for about twenty five minutes prior. There were film crews from the news stations and photographers everywhere. The doors were opened and thirty people were invited in. First it was about a half of a dozen quickly allowed in, then as we all blinked and wondered if we had really seen anyone enter, the rest of the first group were allowed through the giant glass doors. It had begun. As I was 34th in line I was now at the front of the door lined up to be in the second group (we had all heard they were letting in 30 at a time as folks were still online with their laptops and iPhones reading about what the other experiences were from the East Coast onward. Nothing happened for a while. We could see the first group in line up the stairs. No one came out. We all calmed ourselves by reminding everyone that it was going to take about 15 minutes to get one person through the process. It was 8:06. It felt like it was 9. DSC03871.jpgFinally, the guy that was first in line, came busting out the door all fired up. He was upset because nothing was working and he still didn’t have an iPhone. He had been apparently told that he had to move his tent or the police were going to confiscate it, so he was allowed to come back outside. As he did he was mobbed by the media and went off on a tyrant. He was really peeved. The media ate it up. I was surrounded by cameras, journalists and #1. We just wanted our iPhone 3G. The guy next to me had an original iPhone with a bit of juice left. He said the stock was starting to really slip. I knew it was bad. We heard the servers had crashed and that everything had come to a grinding halt. I knew what happened. Too many transactions all happening at once on systems that weren’t ready for this volume. I’d been in that situation before. I was very happy to not be in the call center fighting this time, but was hopeful that the IT folks would figure out a solution quick. After a while, the first iPhone activated walked out the door. He wasn’t first in line, but his worked first. Slowly a few would come out at a time and eventually, the second group was allowed in the door.
My Turn
When I walked into the Apple store my group was greeted by tons of Apple employees in blue and orange t-shirts clapping and cheering as we ascended the stairs to the second floor. We felt like heros. It was amazing. All smiles….until you got to someone with mobile terminal to ring you up. It seemed like everyone was having problems. My experience was miserable. DSC03877.jpgWhen it was my turn I debated quickly, “white, black, white, black, white, black, … which one do I want”. I choose black. As the employee started the transaction, it quickly failed. She couldn’t get me setup. Nothing worked. She wasn’t sure why either. I had heard from some others before me that there were problems with people that had corporate discounts, not corporate accounts mind you, but just discounted person accounts. As it turns out, Apple and AT&T didn’t setup Apples point of sale system to handle customers that had a corporate discount. What?! That has to be most customers out there! I was distressed to say the least. I was tired, dirty and felt like a two year old having all their toys suddenly destroyed. I was really upset. I slept over night for this. I was a part of this. I was a part of the group. I couldn’t walk out without an iPhone 3G. Multiple people tried to help. Everyone said it was impossible and that only AT&T could do my transaction. I refused to believe it. I was so upset. But, I knowing how these systems worked, I knew that if they didn’t build it to support that transaction, there wasn’t anything I could do. The only option they offered was to get a new phone number (I was an existing AT&T customer). That wasn’t an option.
I left the store, head bowed, and quickly passed the media before I could get grabbed. About twenty paces toward home I remembered that the AT&T store was just a couple blocks away. “Maybe there aren’t many people in line there,” I thought to myself. I began heading toward their store. When I got there, there was of course a long line that had gone down the block and was three or four wide. And, right as I got there, I heard them say they were running out of phones (it was about 9:30am). I decided I’d try to pull the sympathy card and grabbed one of the guys outside that was helping to manage the line. I explained my story and told him that Apple had sent me over here. He was confused and pretty sure they should have been able to activate me. He took my number and went into the store. I waited about five or ten minutes before he came back out. He said everything with my account was fine and that I was eligible for the upgrade. He also was now very confident that Apple could do the transaction and had discussed this with the store manager. Unfortunately, the store manage made the decision that he or she couldn’t let me get one there as I wasn’t part of their line. The guy asked if I thought I could get back into the Apple store. I said yes and asked if he’d give me his phone number to have someone from Apple call when they got stuck with the transaction. He did and I ran off back to the Apple store.
I got into the store after explaining my story and the lady managing the door connected me with one of the managers in the store. I believe his name was Dilon. This guy was amazing. He told me very candidly that he was sure they couldn’t do the transaction, but since I had this AT&T guys number he’d let me into the store and we’d try anyway. I wasn’t sure who to believe at this point, but wanted to try again. Dilon called Cliff from the AT&T store (on a new iPhone 3G – white). They talked for a bit and then came to the conclusion that Apple in fact could not handle my account. But, while talking, one of them had the idea to dump my corporate discount and then try to do it. (Dilon had already tried to inspire Cliff to pull one aside for me at the AT&T store, but that didn’t work). I nodded my head yes in agreement that I was fine having them take off the discount. I figured if it can come off, it can go back on later. Dilon put me on with Cliff as he worked to remove my corporate discount and I got to talk on a live, new, white iPhone 3G. My AT&T account was quickly updated and the first girl that tried to ring me up saw I was back in the store. I caught her up on the story and she went and grabbed someone with a point of sale device so that I could try it. (Apple folks were amazing – patient, empathetic, sincere, passionate) At this point I had a few Apple employees standing around me hoping it would go through. Everyone wanted it to work. We went through the steps…it prompted for me to pick a SMS package…it worked! High fives all around. I was so excited. I was the brand new owner of a WHITE (changed my mind after seeing Dilon’s) iPhone 3G. Of course it wasn’t activated. It was about 10:03am (asked the time) and I still had to “activate” the phone. This process was also supposedly taking a long time. The Apple store was sending most people home to do it, but had lined up all the laptops downstairs to activate phones for those that wanted to hang around and try. Dilon wanted me to try as he wanted to personally ensure that my phone was working. I was game for it too! We went downstairs and he connected me with one of the groups of employees helping people activate. Basically this was the process of connecting the iPhone to a computer with iTunes up and running, waiting for it to time out, unplugging it and then plugging it back in. I did this many times for almost an hour and finally was going to give up. On the last attempt, as I was asking what to expect when I got home so I was prepared, I pulled off the plug and it suddenly activated. SMS messages started coming through and I was live! This was exciting. I thanked everyone for helping me out and now walked out of the store, head held high, bag in hand and a big smile across my face. I felt famous. I was an iPhone owner. As I left the store a guy from CNET was there on his laptop keeping a live blog of what was happening. I briefly told him my story and how awesome the Apple employees were and took off. It was 10:48am.
My iPhone 3G review.

Netflix Recommended By

Often I’m in a conversation with a group of people that leads to movies. It always amazes me how many people remember great detail about movies they’ve seen (e.g., the titles, actors, directors). Having a Netflix account, if I hear about something interesting or strongly recommended I make a note in my phone to add it to my queue later or get online right then and add it. Having done this several times with odd results, I would like to know who recommended the odd or sometimes disturbing movie to me (author note: my father typically is the culprit). Netflix should add a little comment field so that someone could keep track of who recommended the movie. It’s great when another Netflix friend does it online through the site, but often these recommendations come the old fashion way.

Mobile Yelp Like Social Networking

In typical napkin fashion, this idea came to me several weeks ago on a plane while reading more stories about how the mobile web is taking off with the iPhone and expanded consumer use of smartphones with web browsers and increasingly fast Internet connections. Having not yet drafted this blog entry, I recently learned about Loopt, a mobile social networking setup that allows you to know where your friends are and likely have been (was announced during the Apple keynote and thus downloading of the software seems to have overwhelmed them and I haven’t been able to demo yet).
I think it’s great that mobile social networking will allow me to know when someone is around the corner at the other Starbucks, but what about the past? My idea was along the lines of “was here” graffiti in bathrooms. I’ve always been fascinated by why people want to leave their names in bathroom stalls. Do they really believe a friend well happen upon their tag, or are they somehow trying to find celebrity? I really don’t have any great insights into this habit, so I’ll end here. But, I do think it would be cool if I could do a virtual “was here” when I happen upon a really tasty new burrito dive or a bar that happens to serve my favorite vodka, Ciroc, that still is not distributed enough.
Having used the Google Maps application on my Blackberry for several months now having only the cellular tower triangulation location specifics, I’ve been inspired to want to leave breadcrumbs of where I have been, how it was, whether I liked it or not, etc. Especially when it comes to restaurants (still believe there is no great restaurant guide online).
Here’s how I’d setup this service. It would need to be a mobile application that ran minimally on the iPhone (Apple if you’re reading this I’ll donate my ___________ to work with you). Leveraging GPS or cellular triangulation technology now being used by other mobile applications, it would be able to keep track of where you were. You could then add your thoughts to the location and share them with friends, both real time and later online. The online site would then become a home for your adventures and opinions, like your own personal Yelp meets TravelAdvisor.
Darin.washere.com could be the format of each individual users info. Add in some social networking functionality and bingo. Here are some other key features I’d like to have:

  • Snap picture in location with tag of your thoughts. When others are in the location, they’d be notified that a friend has been there and could view your picture and comment (of course there would be all kinds of permission based settings such as what I want my boss to see and what my best friend gets for a true commentary)
  • Store location data from phone and attach as meta data. This obviously allows you to link up what the place is (like Google Maps already does on the phone). If the location wasn’t “registered”, it would have a way to register it. This would include temporary venues such as a concert in a park or annual street fair
  • When visitor is at location they can access others washere photos and messages (you could also have the option to share with the world publicly either anonymously or as your handle, providing a real time Yelp type service) [maybe Yelp could provide the service into this so as not to reinvent that wheel]
  • Social network integration would allow you to see if any of your friends were there when you were (having just heard about Loopt, this is covered)
  • Track individuals and use map pins of where they were; show online to friends (think this is also covered by Loopt). Again key here is having the website where you could have a better UI for more complicated permission questions, such as do you want your paths to be forever available or dissolve as time goes on.
  • Browse where your friends have been. What a deal, no longer would you have to answer the question of, “what have you been up to?”
  • Reference company with tag sticker program that’s similar
  • As soon as you get into a place, the system would notify you that one or more friends have been there. You could then decide what to do with the information. If someone you know was there right then, or recently, you could then decide if you wanted to connect with them. Of course, I’m a big fan of invisible mode too as many times I don’t want to be bothered. Come on, you know you’ve put your head down and walked faster by someone you know at least once in your life when you didn’t want to be bothered.
  • Notifications if someone with similar tastes liked it (mobile yelp)
  • Recommendation engine for businesses. If I’m walking around and want lunch, I should just be able to ask where the closest food is that I would like. It’s great that Google Local can tell me what’s close, but if I’ve rated a bunch of burrito shops and so has a hundred other people, I should be able to make some correlation between what people like and recommend places based on others assessments that like similar places that I do.
  • Recommendation engine for events (sports, date) using the same process

Author’s Note: After researching references for comments in this entry, I found Wirrl mentioned in an article. It looks to be the closest application out there to fit my idea. It looks like when the iPhone application store comes online, they’ll have it!

Computer Keyboard Drum Pad

Waiting for Windows to boot provides plenty of time for random contemplation. During a recent reboot, while stuck in small airplane seat, my hands began tapping away at the keyboard to mimic drum beats I’ve tapped out on many inanimate objects over the years (played the drums in high school). Lightly tapping the keys and hitting them hard produced different sounds that entertained me just enough for the boot. But while tapping away it dawned on me that the current Garage Band type keyboard setups for musical instruments are too limited when it comes to actually “playing” music on a QWERTY. Why can’t it use all the keys and associate groupings to one single drum head or key of an instrument? Why should I have to hit a single key to produce a single note?
A few years ago Palm released the updated Treo. The biggest part of its early fanfare was the keyboard. Their engineering led them to develop a smart keyboard that would know what key you meant to hit, even though you likely fat fingered a few keys because one key ultimately would be selected first in the I/O burst and thus could be assumed to be the intended key, allowing the smartphone to ignore the rest until the next major keystroke. Well, why not use the same approach to musical instruments on QWERTY’s? I’d like it if the bass drum was the combination of the space key, N, M, “,”, “.”, alt and some other funny windows menu key (HP Compaq 6910p). The snare drum could then be the lower left section containing keys such as the Z,X,C,S,D lot.
This could make for some fun jam sessions in the home office. You could also write the software to assume if you did hit more than one key, you were hitting harder.
I’m not sure what the computer gets for info from a keyboard, but if the I/O data is there, this would be a great enhancement to Garage Band. I also look forward to the iPhone application that allows you to tap out your music.

TV Set-top Guides

TV guides are painful. It seems I spend more time going through the menu than watching quality programming. The sheer number of channels is overwhelming. But, what really rubs me wrong is when I finally see something of interest and I get the message, “Channel not purchased.”
I propose a few minor changes that I think will dramatically improve the experience.

  • Expand the favorites option to allow for multiple users in the household
  • Provide the option to filter out those channels that are “not purchased” (tried “Channels I Get” on DirecTV and still had channels come up that I couldn’t watch)
  • Allow picture in picture box to display the channel you are flipping though on the guide
  • Have a recommendation engine (by user)