Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Apple Magic Trackpad Makes Me Rethink Tap-To-Click

I am one of those folks who is forever in search of better ergonomics in my typing and pointing on computers. How troubled am I? Well, at one point in 2004, when I decided that my IBM Thinkpad, with its nubby, was the ultimate experience, I bought a crazy black Thinkpad accessory keyboard from IBM that had the full trackpad and nubby but no screen. It looked like a laptop where someone had removed the screen with an ax. I used that for about six months with my desktop computer. I got rid of that when I decided that it was encouraging resting my palms while typing, which is not good for your wrists.

At home, where I use a Mac Pro, I type on an Apple Wireless keyboard. That was a bit of an experiment for me since it lacked a numeric keypad. But lo and behold, I found I did not miss the keypad much at all. I guess Steve was right again. And no, I don’t find laptop ergonomics all that great, especially Apple laptops. Unibody Apple laptops have a razor blade for a front edge and can raise your body temp one degree per 15 min of use on an actual lap. My theory is that Apple calls them notebook computers for fear that someone will actually catch on fire using a Macbook on their lap and sue Apple, saying they encouraged the use.

In the pointing device department, I have long been a user of the $15 Microsoft Mouse. I then bought an Apple Magic Mouse about six months ago to replace my MS Mouse when I got tired of the mouse wire getting snared and realized that I mostly held my hand in one place and moved the mouse repeatedly over the same patch of desk, lifting to reset it. Yes, I sit in an Aeron chair (best work chair ever made). And yes, I do sit at a two level adjustable height desk that I fell in love with in 1995 when I worked at Silicon Graphics in Mountain View. At my last startup, we bought eight of them. The desks clashed with the decor at DoubleClick when the company was purchased and were turned back to me to the chagrin of my wife.

So, when Apple announced a new pointing device last week, I just had to try it. I really do have a drawer full of keyboards and mice. I am not sure my wife knows quite how full it is.

Now these are early impressions. I have used the thing for eight hours. But here it is. I think I like it for some type of work but not all. And I like it more when tap-to-click is turned on. Tap-to-click is turned off by default on laptops and for good reason. With the trackpad between you and your keyboard, it is somewhat inevitable that you are going to touch the trackpad and create a click inadvertently. But with the Magic Trackpad to the right, that is not really an issue. And once you start using tap-to-click, you realize that it is actually a lot less fatiguing than clicking.

Of course there are issues. The biggest is that dragging an object across the screen or selecting large blocks of text, while holding the mouse button, requires a very different gesture than using a mouse. With a mouse you just lift the mouse and reset it, while holding the button, if you run of out desk. When tap-to-click is enabled, you can double tap and hold to grab and move something (or select text). But when you reach the end of the trackpad, you are toast. There is no way to get more real-estate.

To get around this problem you can enable drag-lock as a sub-option for tap-to-click. Drag lock is a bit cumbersome. At the end of your drag action, you need to lift your finger and tap once once to release the object. I am going to try it, but I think there is a reason that tap-to-click is not on by default. It’s an acquired taste and requires retraining.

Interestingly, the problem of running off the trackpad does not exist when using a device like the iPad, because there the touch surface is one to one aligned with the screen and so if you are dragging an object across the screen, there is always enough room to express bringing it to any edge.

The other caveat is that if you are reading a long web page, being able to rest your hand on a comfortable mouse like the MS mouse is more relaxing then holding your hand above a trackpad, even if tap-to-click is turned off. The MS mouse has a wheel for scrolling.

So what’s the verdict on the Magic Trackpad? I like it, but I do have a mouse plugged in next to it just for scrolling long web pages and for comfort. I will post a follow-up in a few weeks to report whether the Magic Trackpad is still on my desk. Post in the comments if you have one of these new Apple trackpads and tell me your experiences.

Link Announcing Phanfare for the iPad

We are delighted to announce Phanfare for the Apple iPad. Phanfare for the iPad lets you edit, organize and display your Phanfare photos and videos on the iPad.

Phanfare for the iPad includes full screen photo and video slideshows with your own music. Slideshows take advantage of the increased screen real estate available on the iPad relative to the iPhone, bringing down higher resolution versions.

You can create albums, import photos and videos, edit captions, crop photos and perform basic edits all from within the app. Any changes made are synched back to the service. As always, Phanfare retains both your original photos and the edited versions.

Phanfare for the iPad works even when you have no network connection. You can run the app at home, allow it to synchronize your collection wirelessly, and then bring your entire portfolio with you.

For most of our customers, photography is a leisure activity. But until now, you needed to do the “work” of organizing your photos from your home office on your laptop or desktop. With the iPad, you can sit in the living room, lean back and immerse yourself in your collection while relaxed.

Phanfare for the iPad is available immediately in the Apple App store.

iPhone Support as Well

This version also runs on the iPhone and fixes some bugs that manifested themselves under iOS 4. The version supports fast user switching under iOS 4, and the increased resolution of the Retina display on the iPhone 4.

Link iPhone 4 Impressions

I have had an iPhone 4 since launch day. I upgraded from a 3GS. Overall, it’s nice upgrade over the previous version of the phone. The single best feature is the new 300 DPI Retina display. You interact with that display all the time and you never stop noticing how beautiful and sharp it is.

Overall fit and finish are a step above the previous phone. The lack of plastic means that it is more durable. It feels thinner in my pocket. It’s the size that I feel a phone should be.

The new antenna is both better and worse. If you touch the phone in its sensitive weak spot, where the GSM and Wifi antennas meet, you may drop a call and you will certainly see greatly reduced data rates.

But, if you take care to not put your finger over that weak spot, the reception is actually a bit better than the previous phone in my my opinion. The new phone is capable of significantly faster upload rates due to its implementation of HSUPA, good for Phanfare because our iPhone app uploads full size images from the phone.

This points out the maddening compromise that Apple made with the new design. The phone is capable of better reception and suffers from worse reception when held in certain ways. But there is no way I would consider returning the phone over this issue. I like it too much over the old phone.

I took the iPhone 4 and an iPad 3G on a recent European cruise and often found the iPhone could get a cell signal where the iPad got none.

On land when I was using the iPhone, I sometimes dropped from 3G to Edge and then realized my finger was over the weak spot. This was an interesting environment to test the devices both because GSM coverage is thought to be better in Europe and the devices were roaming across multiple cell carriers, looking for the best one.

Overall, the iPhone 4 is a pleasure to use. It’s fast and feels even faster because of the fast app switching in iOS 4. The only feature I miss from the 3GS/iOS 3 is that double clicking the home button used to bring up phone favorites for me. Now, under iOS 4, it brings up the task manager (I know Steve hates that term but let’s call a spade a spade).

I still miss the reliability of my old Verizon Blackberry as a phone. I had the Blackberry World Phone (CDMA + GSM). I could make a call on that phone and hold the call while driving from Princeton to NYC (at least an hour). With the iPhone on ATT, I would be lucky to get five minutes. I don’t know whether that’s ATT or Apple’s fault. I suspect a little of both.

But the iPhone is really a pocket computer at its heart. I use it more on WiFi than any other way. As a pocket computer it shines above all other devices on the market. The whole package: hardware, software, UI, and apps are unbeatable from my standpoint.

I think Apple is enjoying success with the iPhone platform, despite it being a so-so phone, because they properly predicted the transition from voice to data. I use far fewer minutes than I did 10 years ago. I nearly never leave anybody voice mail and often don’t listen to my voice mail. I just call the person back.

I used the camera quite a bit on my recent trip. It’s not a digital SLR, but in easy lighting situations, it takes a gorgeous photo.

You might notice I did not mention facetime. The only facetime calls I made are test calls to marvel over the technology. This is partially because I just don’t use the device as a phone all that often and when I do its a business call via bluetooth.

I would recommend the iPhone 4. It’s small, light, has superior battery life, a beautiful display and an improved camera. It is still unreliable in the US as a phone. If you need a phone that will always ring when you call it, and that can hold calls for more than 10 minutes, you should probably stick with a Verizon device. Not sure whether Android phones hold calls. The blackberry devices certainly do the last time I checked.

Link Phanfare Reaches Profitability

To our customers,

I am delighted to announce that Phanfare has reached profitability. We had our first profitable month ever in June 2010 and will continue to be profitable going forward on both a cash and accrual basis. This is a significant accomplishment for the company and I am incredibly proud of our team for making it happen.

Mark Heinrich and I founded the company in June 2004, six years ago. Our goal was to enable you to preserve your photos in original quality for generations to come. Like all startups, we have had our ups and downs. But we have never wavered in our commitment to you and preserving your photographic assets.

We raised prices in June to $99/year for Premium and $199/year for Pro to fix the economic model of the company and make the company sustainable.

We bet the company on that price increase. If significant numbers of you had quit, we would have had very few alternatives.

It took me a long time to get to the point of being willing to raise prices. I knew that raising prices would slow customer growth (it has), but I also knew that we were quickly running out of cash. My logic went like this: I will raise prices to a level where we will be profitable at our current size and let you choose whether we get to exist or not.

You have chosen to pay more for Phanfare and enable us to continue to serve you. Profit is not the purpose of business, but it is certainly a requirement. Peter Drucker believed the purpose of business is to create a customer, and I agree with that.

We have wonderful plans for Phanfare and we plan to be around a long time. We have visions of connected cameras and ubiquitous access to your photos and videos, all backed by a ultra-reliable service that preserves the fidelity of your images.

Thank you for taking this journey with us. It has hardly begun.

Andrew Erlichson
CEO

Link Can an Algorithm be Worth $100MM? Google Thinks So.

We received this note from Google today regarding the On2 product that we used to use to convert video. Google purchased On2 for over $100MM last summer.

At the time, we figured they were purchasing On2 for the patent portfolio. I guess we were right. They recently announced the new Google webm video format, based on the On2 VP8 codec. And now they just killed every On2 product. No great loss, their video conversion software was pretty rough around the edges.

Dear Flix customer,

As of June 21st, 2010 we are discontinuing sales of licenses for On2 Flix Pro, On2 Flix Standard, On2 Flix Exporter, On2 Flix PowerPlayers, On2 Flix Live, On2 Flix SDK for DirectShow and Live, and On2 Flix Publisher. Google will no longer sell or support these products.

FINAL ON2 FLIX PRODUCT INSTALLERS

Our Flix licensing server will go offline permanently on December 1, 2010.

IMPORTANT: We have created final On2 Flix Standard, Pro and Exporter product installers that do not verify license keys over the Internet. We strongly recommend that all On2 Flix customers download the final On2 installer for the product you are using and save a backup copy of the installer. These installers will go offline on December 1, 2010.

WILDFORM FLIX DESKTOP SALES AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT TRANSITION

Under a licensing agreement with Google, Wildform is assuming development and sales of Flix Pro, Standard, and Exporter under the Wildform Flix brand. We currently expect that Wildform will continue selling and improving Flix, and Wildform has already added support for the new WebM (http://webmproject.org) open media format to Flix. For more information visit http://www.wildform.com.

Wildform will not sell or develop On2 Flix PowerPlayers, On2 Flix Live, On2 Flix SDK for DirectShow, or On2 Flix Publisher.

Support tickets from On2 Flix Pro, Flix Standard and Flix Exporter customers must be opened through Wildform at http://wildform.com/eTicket/. Although we expect Wildform to provide reasonable support for these products for a period of six months beginning on June 21st, 2010, please be aware that the terms of support for each such product are governed by the product license or customer agreement associated with the product.

Sincerely,

John Luther
Product Manager, Google/On2

Link The End of Unlimited Data at ATT is Mostly a Good Thing

ATT today announced the end of unlimited data plans for wireless customers. Why did they do it? It was not about revenue. They sat around the table at ATT and asked: What’s the number one issue with customer satisfaction today? And the universal answer is network performance. How do they fix it?

Well, they could add more capacity but that takes a long time and is very expensive. Instead, they decided to ration the scarce resource of the data network by offering tiered plans. When people pay for what they eat, they eat less and more efficiently. I remember my freshman year at Dartmouth we used to have all-you-can-eat-dining at “Full Fare.” In that dining hall, the trays would go to the dish room with food sculptures and uneaten desserts. Meanwhile, in the “A la Carte” dining room next door, where students paid for each item, trays would show up at the dish room with an empty plate and a fork. Really. It’s just human nature.

With tiered pricing, ATT’s network performance is going to improve in high congestion areas. 98% of their customers will see reduced costs and the top 2%, if they want to pay for extra data above 2GB, will get good download speeds on their additional usage. Plus, top 2% customers are no longer the enemy of ATT. They pay a fair rate and can do whatever they want.

It’s also good for consumers because you can now get a cheaper entry level data plan for $15/month, great for kids.

Alas, ATT could not help but throw in a few items that are not customer friendly or rational. I hope they rethink them:

  • If you go over the 200MB in the entry level plan, they charge you an additional $15 for the next 200MB, effectively charging you $30 for 400MB when you could have purchased 2GB for $25 if you had planned better. This harkens back to the very consumer unfriendly practice of making consumers guess at their voice usage minutes per month and hitting them with unreasonable overage charges when they guess wrong.
  • Tethering will cost $20 per month extra. This is a mistake. If I buy a 2GB package, they should be comfortable with my using that any way I see fit for personal use. After all, I am not likely going to be using my laptop simultaneously with my iPhone. This is ATT being greedy. They just want a per device charge, but a per-person charge is actually more rational and customer friendly. Tethering has enough shortcomings in battery life and convenience to be its own punishment relative to buying a separate data connection for a device.

Even with this nasty fine print, the move to tiered pricing is good for ATT customers. Sure, in a perfect world there would be enough capacity that everyone could just use as much as they want, but the reality is that wireless data is a scarce resource today for ATT, and by charging people for what they consume, they will better allocate their resources among their customers.

How does this affect photography? Cameras are used sporadically. Allowing consumers to pay for the data they use will allow cameras to get cellular data connections that don’t need to cost anything when you don’t use the camera. Today, some devices are already sold this way, like the Kindle. Of course, ATT is not selling iPhone data like that today. It’s use it or lose it, but maybe someday they will. This is what is needed to put cellular connections on every device on earth.

Link Amazon Announces Reduced Redundancy Storage (Hint: We don’t use it)

Amazon just announced Reduced Redundancy Storage, designed to provide 99.99% durability. We don’t use that version of Amazon S3. We use the version of Amazon S3 that provides 99.999999999% durability and can sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities.

The exciting part of the news for us is not the reduced redundancy storage; it’s that Amazon has finally disclosed that the durability goal for the version of Amazon S3 we use is 99.999999999%.

What does that mean in human terms? Well, Amazon says that even their Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS) is 400x more reliable than a disk drive. But if you store 10,000 files using RRS, you would expect to lose one each year. Or put another way, the expected lifetime of a file is 10,000 years. But with regular Amazon S3, you would have to store about 100B files to expect to lose one each year.

Phanfare is built using the most reliable online storage available and is designed to be the primary copy of your data, far more reliable than anything you can do yourself. And it’s that durability that drives a significant part of the underlying cost of delivering the service and one of the reasons we recently raised our prices.

Even online backup services, which sell based on the fear of you losing your data, don’t typically use online storage with the durability of Amazon S3. That is how they get their price down. But they figure if they lose a little data, you have the primary copy anyway and they can just back it up again. Not so with Phanfare. We assume that you are using us as primary storage for your photos and videos.

Link HD Video for All

We are pleased to announce that we have changed our pricing plans to now offer HD video to all customers, a feature previously offered only to Phanfare Pro customers.

Here is a full summary of the additional features now being offered to our Phanfare Premium customers:

  • HD Video. Display your videos on the web in 720p HD. HD videos look gorgeous, especially fullscreen.
  • CNAME Support. You can use your own domain name with Phanfare and display your albums at www.you.com.
  • More Customization. Add your own custom header or footer. Change our colors to match yours.
  • RAW Files. Store your RAW files along with your JPEG files at Phanfare. Our Lightroom and Aperture plugins support RAW+JPEG export. RAW files require purchase of RAW blocks, which are sold separately.
  • No Phanfare Branding on Your Albums. This feature takes me back since it’s the way Phanfare was launched in 2004. ;-)
  • Subsites. (announced last week). You can have an unlimited number of Phanfare subsites at you.phanfare.com/subsitename, each with optional password protection and its own title and description.
  • We are making these changes because we want Phanfare Premium to provide everything a photographer needs to organize, archive and publish his photos and videos.

    This amounts to a re-segmentation of the Phanfare product offerings. Phanfare Premium is for enthusisasts and Prosumers. Phanfare Pro is intended for working Pros. The Phanfare Pro plan allows working photographers to monetize their work through the sale of photo merchandise. We pay 85% of the markup to the photographer.

Link Announcing Phanfare’s New Web Organizer

We are pleased to announce Phanfare’s new web organizer, available immediately. Phanfare’s new web organizer (internally known as Phanfare 4.0) brings some of the best features of our desktop clients to the web browser and introduces new organizational features to the Phanfare community.

  • Background uploading on the web. Upload photos and videos to multiple albums while continuing to organize, caption and edit photos.
  • A whole new look. The Phanfare organizer has been redesigned from the ground up and leverages the very latest in web browser technology (most-recent version of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer recommended).
  • A new logical way of manipulating album and image properties. You can now change album options, styles, across multiple albums at a time. Images can be manipulated in groups as well.
  • Efficient use of screen real-estate. You can collapse most elements to maximize the space for viewing images.
  • Phanfare Subsites for all along with new tools to manipulate and manage your subsites.

The new web organizer is available immediately at www.phanfare.com. Just login and start enjoying it. Here’s a detailed overview of how to use it if you prefer to start with the manual.

Phanfare’s new web organizer blurs the line between desktop and web software like never before for photo organizing. This new release takes us just one stop closer to our vision of cloud-based photography.

Link Phanfare Price Increases

We raised our subscription prices today for new customers and renewals. The new prices reflect the value we deliver to customers and will increase our margins to the point where we can continue to invest in the business.

Phanfare stores all customer photos and videos at Amazon S3 and we encourage customers to store all their media with us. We store the photos in their original quality and the video in HD quality. The average customer has 10GB of data. Amazon’s S3 pricing is well advertised.

Amazon provides the quality of storage that our customers expect. Data is kept in multiple data centers and the likelihood of their losing a single piece of data is so negligible as to not be worth discussing. The data will be there. And it’s all near-storage, not tape backup.

What does storing your photos in “original quality” mean? Well, if we got rid of photo renditions larger than what we use in our slideshow, we could remove 90% of our data costs. But if you are a customer of Phanfare, you don’t take photos to have us lose 90% of the data. Phanfare is the service that won’t have to upscale your image to show it on screens that are 600 DPI in ten years.

Unlike many services, Phanfare treats the data as if we have the only copy. We are not secondary; we are primary. Even backup services, that sell based on the fear of losing all your data, typically don’t keep the data in storage built to endure data center fires. Backup services expect you to keep a copy as well. Not true for us. Our vision is to be your cloud-based photo and video asset management system. Computers, mobile phones and tablets become cache-coherent terminals. Cameras become connected acquisition devices.

The decision to keep archival originals, which is one of our primary differentiating characteristics, drives our cost position. But Phanfare, as I blogged in 2006, was never designed to be the low cost leader. In a world of free, low-fidelity photo services with no customer support and me-too features, we try to produce a service that is better, not cheaper.

Phanfare enjoyed some margin at our old prices, but it was very thin. At enormous scale, the model was fine, but at the size we are today, and the size we will likely be in the near future, we require much healthier margins to invest in the business. If you are our customer, you want us to have that margin. Really, you do. Because the alternative is not pretty.

Today’s price increases merely represents our acceptance of the reality that we are willing to trade growth for the profitability and sustainability of the business. Our first obligation is to run Phanfare in a way that is responsible and enables our long term success. We are the steward of our customers’ memories.

I truly believe that there is a huge opportunity to build a trusted brand in photo and video management to last the next fifty years. Kodak had a strong enough brand to do it, but they squandered the opportunity. I am talking about a brand strong enough that you know that if you pay the company, your photos and videos will outlive you. We are not there today, but I want to try to get there. And the way to do it is to charge prices that give the company a healthy margin so it can control its own destiny.

© 2007-8 Phanfare, Inc.