Lyft—where reality meets the road

I had, by this time, commandeered the phone. If my mother had seen the screen she would have spent the next 30 minutes in the Dunkin’ parking lot, refusing to agree to the cancellation fee and trying to figure out how she could call directly Lyft and give them hell.

Living in a high-tech urban area like Seattle is living in a bubble. Turns out there’s nothing like trying to use a ride service in Southwestern Florida to get you out of your cultural cocoon.

My 100-year-old mother, who lives in Southwestern Florida, still drives. People are always nagging me to “take away her keys.” These are people who have never met my mother. I’d rather try to take away a fresh antelope from a hungry lioness.

Since my mom (wisely) does not drive at night, I thought a proactive way to wean her away from driving would be introduce her to a ride service like Lyft — pointing out that it would make it possible for her to attend evening events in town. My mom is fiercely independent and would not ask anyone for a ride (and, since many of her friends are nearly as old as she is, most of them don’t drive at night, either — or shouldn’t).

Why is there a picture of a monster truck on this blog post? Read on and you’ll find out.

Given that back story, you’ll understand why I was delighted when my mother agreed to install the Lyft app on her iPhone and give it a try, with me along to coach her. We decided to test the system with a non-critical, non-time-dependent errand: coffee and donuts at the local Dunkin’, a mere three miles from her building.

I’m still shaking my head over what ensued.

At 2:30 p.m. we went out to the shaded portico in front of her condo building and my mom tapped her way through the process of summoning a Lyft driver. She is somewhat impatient, and it was difficult to get her to stop pushing buttons while we waited for Lyft to assign the driver — a fellow with the rather fantastical name “Neotis.”

I will have to wonder what Neotis was like, because we never actually met the fellow. He arrived at the far back entrance of her condominium complex and parked. I (having seized the phone) set about trying to explain to him how to get to the large, clearly marked, high-rise front entrance. I texted him three times, while Lyft sent me a series of threatening messages that he was leaving. Finally, I called Neotis.

“No English,” Neotis grunted.

“Come…to…the…FRONT,” I tried.

“No English.

The accent was Russian, but, figuring “this is Florida,” I tried my weak Spanish. “Conducir al frente.”

“No English.”

All this while my mother was asking me what on Earth was going on.

I cancelled the ride, for which Lyft assessed my mom $5, and put in a new request. It was now 3 p.m. The next driver, Jose, arrived and off we went to Dunkin’. He told us this was his second day driving for Lyft. I could understand him only because I speak a little Spanish. My mother, who does not speak Spanish and is slightly deaf, had no idea what he was saying.

After our coffee, my mother pulled out her phone and gamely put in the request for the ride home. She was getting the hang of it! And the driver was just two minutes away! We dashed out of the Dunkin’ and Georgio pulled up — in a white Silverado. My mother, who is five feet tall, went over to the car, opened the door, and stared. The floor of the Silverado truck was at her waist level.

“How am I supposed to get in?” she asked.

Georgio looked embarrassed. “I guess I need to get steps,” he said.

He told us to cancel the ride and call another driver. Again, Lyft required that we accept a $5 cancellation fee. I had, by this time, commandeered the phone. If my mother had seen the screen she would have spent the next 30 minutes in the Dunkin’ parking lot, refusing to agree to the cancellation fee and trying to figure out how she could dial Lyft directly and give them hell about the Silverado.

I paid, cancelled, and then we called another driver, who showed up in a normal sized-SUV. We were able to get in and get home. This driver, with a year of local Lyft driving experience, was actually familiar with the location of my mother’s building.

My mom, who is a former data systems analyst with a decent grip on user interface design, somehow came away from our ordeal with a good impression of Lyft. “All they need to do,” she said, “is just let me put on my account profile that I need a regular car and not a truck and that I’d like a driver who understands English.”

Well, wouldn’t that be nice.

I don’t have the heart to tell her that Lyft has no way to let you customize your profile for these, or any other, needs. And for that reason, it’s a complete disaster in terms of meeting the requirements of the elderly (and, gee, they do seem to have a few of those in Southwestern Florida). It’s also problem for anyone not tall or athletic enough to vault into a monster truck.

As soon as we got into her condo, my mother handed me her iPhone. “Put on the Uber app, too,” she said. “This is an adventure.”

Working for Steve Jobs

Tonight I join the worldwide chorus to say, again, “Thank you, Steve.”

I joined Apple as a writer early 2000, just after the launch of iTools (later .Mac, now MobileMe, and soon to become iCloud). I left in 2006, after working on .Mac and the iTunes Music Store.

My favorite picture of Steve Jobs from May 2003, the launch of the iTunes Music Store.

I loved every day of that job, and left for reasons that had nothing to do with Apple but a lot to do with my family and my life in Seattle. (I’d been commuting from Seattle to Cupertino for one or two days every week, which wasn’t ideal.)

This story is about my last day working at Apple — or rather, the night before, which I spent at a hotel near the Apple campus. I went to bed that night feeling sad about leaving, and wondering if it were a mistake. In the early morning hours, I had this dream:

I dreamed I was at a games party, playing cards at a large table with friends from all parts of my life. The party must have been at Apple, because Steve was there, walking from group to group. He came by my table, stood behind me, and looked at my hand — leaning over me and turning the cards so he could see them.

This made me a little nervous. It wasn’t until Steve walked away that I realized that he’d somehow slipped an additional card into my hand.

I woke up from the dream and realized immediately what it meant: Apple wasn’t meant to be my whole career, but what I’d experienced there was going to help me with the rest of my work — and the rest of my life.

And so it has. Profoundly.

Tonight I join the worldwide chorus to say, again, “Thank you, Steve.”

What to do before upgrading your Mac to OS X Lion

Installing Lion? Be sure to consult Joe Kissell’s ebook “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion.”

If you have a Mac and have concerns about upgrading to the Lion operating system (expected to be released at any minute), good news: You can get clear step-by-step directions and advice from Joe Kissell’s new ebook “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion” ($10).

This not an idle recommendation on my part. I’ve been using Joe’s ebooks about operating system software for years. On several occasions they’ve saved me from making decisions about software configurations that I would have later regretted.

Joe takes the surprises out of the process — you know, the part where you find out two days after installation that the scanner you want to use right now won’t work with the new operating system. Really, there’s no need for that to happen. Joe’s ebook explains how to check your current software and hardware in advance so you know about potential glitches and can make adjustments before the upgrade screws up your workflow.

Those of you who might be planning on calling me if Lion gets confusing should know that I’ve already got an answer to your questions. That would be: Download “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion” and use it!

Some thoughts on audiences and marketing

Apple’s success illustrates what happens when you align your product marketing with your audience.

Good sales result when marketing activity is properly aligned with an organization’s audience.

Watching financial analysts trying to explain Apple’s performance and projections got me thinking about this equation.

Apple’s audience has changed profoundly in the past two or three years. Apple used to sell high performance computers to a small audience of UI geeks; now it sells handheld digital devices to the masses, with pricepoints ranging from dirt cheap (iPods and low-end iPads) to pricey.

In other words, Apple’s new profits are coming from a new fair-weather audience of people who like a pretty, easy-to-use, fun gadget.

And Apple’s changed its marketing to reach that audience as well as its traditional one.

This is a lesson worth studying. Somehow, Apple’s leadership has managed to avoid continuing to design products for themselves and has stepped outside of their own heads (and their friends’ heads) to design gadgets for the man on the street.

This isn’t the only reason why Apple succeeds, but it’s a key part of the equation.

I mention it because I see so many organizations these days obsessed with what key insiders think is important rather than what consumers (and their competitors customers) are looking to buy. You can call that vision, but it’s pretty narrow vision. For your organization to succeed, you need to get into your customer’s heads — and not just the dozen or so customers you play golf with.

(I have to note that when Apple gets into its customers heads, it seems to be looking at their dreams as well as their conscious expectations.)

Verizon: Waiting for the numbers

I had a lot of fun talking with Larry Sivitz at Seattle24x7 about the iPhone and my ebook on using it.

The long-awaited announcement this morning of the Verizon iPhone went the way of most long-awaited announcements and raised more questions than it answered.

As someone who writes about iPhone issues, I confess I’m stuck. The facts have been reported, including the only surprise: The Verizon iPhone is going to have the capacity to function as a mobile hot spot, meaning your laptop (and up to four other devices) will be able to use it for Internet access. Although jailbroken iPhones have this capability, iPhones activated through AT&T currently don’t.

I don’t think this feature is enough to have most AT&T iPhone owners switch, particularly because the iPhone 4 is likely to be surpassed in capabilities by the iPhone 5 expected to be released in June and because you have to believe that AT&T is going to make a similar service available.

Verizon did not announce pricing for the data plans. Until they do, or until AT&T makes a move, there’s not much substance to talk about. Not that I’ll let that stop me! I had a lot of fun talking with Larry Sivitz at Seattle24x7 about the iPhone and my ebook on using it. Here’s the article.

iPad, Mac questions? They’ve got the answers

Take Control has just announced their summer sale — 50% off on most ebook titles — so now is the time to buy and download.

If you’ve got a new iPad — or just about any Apple device — the Take Control ebooks are a quick way to master the basics and gets tips you’ll actually use.

One of the new Take Control ebooks about the iPad.

Take Control has just announced their summer sale — 50% off on most titles — so now is the time to buy and download. (You’ll even find an ebook covering iPad Basics that’s absolutely free.)

Full disclosure: Take Control is one of my favorite clients. I’ve edited two of the books in their current catalog: Take Control of iWeb by Steve Sande and Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner by Joe Kissell.

iWeb is Apple’s web software, a application that allows complete beginners to use Apple-designed templates to turn their words, photos, audio, movies, etc., in professional looking websites. Thanksgiving Dinner is, well, I suspect you have an idea. This free sample of the ebook includes Joe’s method for making great mashed potatoes and his tips for putting together a Thanksgiving dinner at the last minute.

You can’t tell a person without the book cover

How, indeed, can you tell if the ebook someone is reading on their Kindle or iPhone is Chaucer…or chick lit?

James Wolcott’s amusing article “What’s a Culture Snob to Do?” in Vanity Fair bemoans the impending loss of the book cover as a way to assess fellow travelers. How, indeed, can you tell if the ebook someone is reading on a Kindle or iPhone is Chaucer…or chick lit?

Wolcott goes on to predict the demise of the bookcase, and even the end of the coffee table book. But, speaking as someone with more than 30 bookcases overwhelming the house, I’d happily lose those and have more wall space available for art.

(Thanks you to The Culinary Curator for pointing out the Vanity Fair piece.)

Worth checking out

• Charlie Hamilton’s post at Web Worker Daily on the new Palm Pre, and why he hasn’t bought one…yet.
• Fahim Farook‘s new children’s game for the iPhone, Hoot Dunnit? Learn about animals and the sounds they make. (Note: Farook’s cat is better behaved than mine are.)
• This Cardiac Science post on automated external defibrillators and why you want to make sure there’s a AED in your school or workplace.