Category Archives: consumer news

Slow Neat Receipts Cloud Software Results in Customer Complaints

Background

In the mid to late 1990s, Visioneer PaperPort was one of the first portable scanning solutions that included OCR (optical character recognition) to magically make your scanned documents searchable. By 2002, there was an increasing demand for an Apple Mac compatible solution, and Visioneer was committed to only supporting Windows. So, many people chose Neat Receipts as a solution when it was first introduced. As the Neat solution improved over the years, and cloud synchronization was added with mobile app support, Neat became the perfect document imaging product. PaperPort later became a product of Nuance.

Neat Captures The Market

Currently, the 4.5 version for Mac (5.7 for Windows) of the Neat software represents the pinnacle of excellence in terms of speed, reliability, and convenience.

With the ability to have separate locally stored libraries, the software could allow the user to maintain a long-term solution for document imaging. The software was fully compatible with the Apple OS X experience allowing Time Machine backup functionality and Spotlight searching capabilities.

After 14 years, given that the company has captured the market with a best-in-class solution, and demonstrated an upward climb with continuous improvement practices, one might ask: “What could go wrong?”

Neat Starting Over

After 14 years of building a loyal customer base, and refining an excellent scanning and document imaging solution, the leadership at Neat decided this might be a good time to scrap everything and start over. This has resulted in problems at every level in their company. (source)

Neat is abandoning the customer base and software that took 14 years to develop. The company has announced:

“As of March 1st, 2016, we will no longer be developing software updates for the retired software versions. Agent-assisted support for the retired software will end after April 30th, 2016. The installation files for retired versions of Neat will no longer be publicly available on our website.” (source)

The old software was so exceptional, they had to remove it from their site because it would compete with the new software. Perhaps some embedded patents or leased technology became cost prohibitive or licenses ran out. It’s unclear.

Customers who have been with Neat for more than a decade will barely recognize the new software or the new company. The leadership has changed. The employees have changed. The focus has changed from hardware (with free software) to a subscription-based software product. The software has changed significantly. It’s not a new version of the old software. It’s completely rewritten on an entirely different platform. It’s basically a new company. Only the name and color scheme of their brand remains.

The software is now up to version 1.4.2p4.2 as available on their website. This could be considered a beta version. Response times are very slow, and at least with the Mac version, the CPU will be heavily taxed when the program runs.

So, essentially, the company took an award winning hardware and software solution, and in a very short time have run it into the ground. This has resulted in thousands of disgruntled customers, and hundreds of 1-star ratings on ConsumerAffairs.com — a site that Neat pays to belong to.

Had the owners and employees of Neat simply taken a year off and done nothing, they would have been immensely better off than they are now. Instead, they are presently going through an internal meltdown and implosion, hemorrhaging employees and customers.

Instead of spending time and money on their problematic software, or unreliable iOS App, they seem to be investing in upgrading the appearance of their website and spending money on fake news coverage through sites like PRWeb where companies can pay people to write positive reviews about their products. To address the problems with their software, they are increasing their customer service call center staffing.

All of this, instead of just fixing the problems with their software that would have garnered them 5-star reviews and plenty of free word-of-mouth advertising. With thousands of upset customers, they are risking a class-action lawsuit.

This episode in Neat’s history is an exceptional textbook example of what companies should desperately avoid doing. Their example will be a useful learning tool for others.

Author’s Note

The point of providing the above history and review, is not necessarily to criticize Neat, but to emphasize this example for other companies as something to avoid. We plan to continue with Neat through the coming difficult months, providing product feedback, and hopefully seeing their resurgence on the other side of what promises to be a challenging time of transition.

Further Reading

HP Instant Ink: Ink replacement subscription service savings may be overstated

Instant Ink Subscription Problems

There are some significant shortcomings to the Instant Ink program that result in much consumer frustration and consumer complaints. This is unfortunate since HP printers are generally quite good, and those who don’t use the Instant Ink program are generally very satisfied with HP products. Here’s a short list of what’s wrong with the Instant Ink program and below is a description of what HP can do to fix these problems.

  • Fluctuating Print Needs. Those with varying print needs from one month to the next, or those who occasionally get a large print job, will not be satisfied with the Instant Ink program. Here’s why… Let’s say you get a huge print job to do that ends up causing you to run out of ink prior to when your replacement cartridges ship. You’ll be with a non-functional printer. If you go to the store to get more ink, you’ll find that ink doesn’t work. Some stores won’t take back those opened ink cartridges so you may lose over $100. Those who go for a month or more without using their printer, will still pay for that month. So, in other words, those who underuse or overuse their printers will ultimately pay more per page.
    • Note: This system is how mobile phone service contracts were in the past — with customers paying a really high price for their minutes of talk time over their limit, or paying a monthly fee regardless of how much or little they use their phone. The program was so disliked by consumers that the mobile phone industry had to change.
  • Owner Transfer. Let’s say you want to sell the printer at a yard sale or donate it. That printer will be useless unless you go through the process of deactivating the subscription ink program on it.
  • Service Deactivation. You can turn off web services, but you’ll still get billed for the instant ink program. You’ll need to follow the instructions on how to cancel HP Instant Ink service. You’ll be required to return your cartridges to HP. If you don’t know your HPInstantInk.com login information that will present an additional barrier. Perhaps it’s something you setup a year ago on an email account you no longer have access to. Plan to spend some time on the phone with HP.

Some simple steps below describe what HP should do to fix these issues.

What Should HP Do?

The subscription plan in its current form is about as annoying as mobile phone service contracts or lease vehicles where you estimate your usage ahead of time. Inevitably there’s some waste or money lost. HP should really make some tweaks to this program and roll out a new version that offers the following:

  • Automatic. Like the current plan, automatic orders are placed based on when your ink is starting to run low, but HP could just send out regular ink cartridges, not special cartridges.
  • Economical. Let there be a 30% savings on each ink cartridge purchased, not some imaginary potential savings on charges per page printed.
  • Fair & Green. You pay for ink, not pages, so you can be rewarded for responsible printing choices such as less page coverage and using draft mode. This is fair and promotes more sustainable practices.
  • Non-Program Ink. Allow for standard HP cartridges to be used in the printer as well as subscription cartridges. This would provide a HUGE benefit to the customer and would cost HP nothing. It would actually result in a win-win because the customer would be happy and there could still be profit from retail sales of cartridges.

The emphasis would be on the convenience, while delivering sufficient savings to motivate consumers to choose the subscription service. The above suggestions would resolve all the remaining problems and customer complaints found on the rest of this page.

What Consumers Can Do To Save on Ink

If you really want to save on ink, you should get a printer like the HP OfficeJet 8710 and purchase extended life capacity cartridges from the store and always keep extras on hand, ordering more when your backup ink supply runs out. It’s that simple. The reason you’ll want a business-class OfficeJet printer is because the low-end home consumer HP printers typically use just two ink cartridges (one black and one tri-color cartridge). Run low on blue ink? You’ll need to replace the entire color cartridge system. The smaller cartridges seem to be more prone to drying out. However, the cost of printing when using a business-class printer is reduced because they use separate color ink cartridges (not combined in one) so individual ink can be replaced. Also, the XL cartridges offer many pages of printing per cartridge.

For those having trouble with the HP Instant Ink program, the remainder of this document, originally written in 2015, is provided below for reference.


A Monthly Subscription Plan for Ink

Hewlett Packard (HP) recently launched a new subscription service for printer ink that’s based on a cost per page rather than the cost per ink cartridge. Your printer communicates your number of pages printer with HP and you’re billed 3 to 6 cents per page for ink consumed. They claim that the service can save you hundreds of dollars per year as shown in the chart below:

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-service-subscription-cost-savings-per-year

The program seems like an amazing deal. However, if you take a closer look at the cost estimates, it’s clear that the savings are exaggerated.

Sustainability Efforts Haven’t Gone Far Enough

HP offers extended capacity (XL) ink cartridges for lower printing costs and to reduce waste. Presumably that’s the maximum amount of ink you can fit in a cartridge.

Yet, apparently they’ve been holding out on us.

Take another look at the chart above. Notice the statement: “Our cartridges have more ink than HP XL ink cartridges…”

So, all along, HP could have been putting a few more pennies worth of ink in those cartridges, reducing our carbon footprint, saving a trip to the store, and saving money. Yet, instead, it turns out that their XL cartridges don’t hold the maximum amount of ink. That’s apparently reserved for the customers who pay for the monthly plan.

HP Overstates Potential Savings

For example, the HP Officejet Pro 8630 uses the 950 series of ink cartridges. If, like most people, you print mostly using black ink, you can purchase a black ink cartridge for $38 that will yield 2,300 pages.

20150725sa-hp-950xl-high-yield-black-ink-2300-pages-output

That’s about 1.5 cents per page, or $54 per year for the 3,600 pages that HP says could cost you $792. That’s way below the annual amount claimed by HP in their promotional materials. Even the ink subscription ‘savings’ plan of $120 per year is over 100% more than what you’d pay just buying about one extra capacity cartridge per year.

Let’s say you use black ink and color inks equally. That’s very unlikely, but let’s say that’s what you do. Then you’ll spend about $120 for a set of four which might yield 1,500 to 2,300 pages. That’s still only 8 cents per page at the lowest estimated yield.

HP is claiming you’ll spend $792 a year on ink to print 3,600 pages. That’s 22 cents per page for ink. That’s virtually impossible regardless of what printer you’re using. Even if you’re printing hundreds of 8.5×11″ portrait photos (which most people aren’t).

If you use the black only setting, and the draft option whenever possible, your print yield will be much higher. Combine that with purchasing XL (extended capacity) cartridges, and you actually could save hundreds of dollars on ink.

Promise of 50% Savings Not Accurate

In the marketing materials, HP states that you can save 50% on the cost of ink. At first glance, any reasonable person would assume that you’d be purchasing ink at a savings of 50%. That should be achievable given that subscription services for products are typically more economical, and if HP is ‘cutting out the middle man’ it seems that a 50% savings off of retail prices might be possible. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the subscription plan in this case could cost 100% more rather than 50% less.

What’s strange is that some of the marketing materials promise 50% savings. Yet, elsewhere, like the chart above, the savings are more like 85% ($120 instead of $792). Why would the representation of savings be so different?

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-subscription-cost-savings-claim-50-percent

You Pay Even When You Don’t Use Ink

On the subscription plan, you pay every month, even if you’ve printed nothing. HP claims that unused pages on your plan ‘rollover’ just like a mobile phone company. However, there’s a limit and the credits don’t accumulate beyond one month. For example, if you’re on the 50 pages per month plan, you can roll over 50 pages to the next month. Then you loose those credits after a month. You’ll never accumulate more than 100 pages total.

You can cancel any time, but will people really remember to cancel when they go on vacation and then reinstate the program when they return?

What about mis-printing, when you mistakenly have a page with just one word print. With HP,  you’ll pay as if the page was covered with words or pictures.

What about printing on smaller pieces of paper, like 5×7 size pages for photos? Presumably you’ll pay the same as if you’re printing 80% coverage on legal size 8.5 x 14″ pages.

The monthly fees are shown below.

20150725sa-hp-instant-ink-replacement-service-cost-savings

Who is the Program For?

Like a buffet for big eaters, the people who really save money on the subscription plan are those who regularly fill the page with colored ink. It’s well suited for people who use more than the average amount of colored ink consistently and have significant page coverage. These people might only get 1000 pages yield per XL cartridge. So, they might save money on the $10 per month plan (for example).

HP really needs to create a simple online calculator to help consumers determine if this program is right for them. The statement of saving is really arbitrary. The savings will be different depending on a user’s typical printing needs.

Intentional Misrepresentation to Persuade Consumers?

Unfortunately, it seems that HP is engaged in misleading representations about the annual ink costs in an effort to encourage people to pay for a service they may not really want if they knew the savings weren’t that great.

Why Not Switch to Another Brand?

Whenever we’re dissatisfied with a company, there’s always the option to switch to another, right? Well, that’s not so with printers.

Other printer manufacturers aren’t any better.

At least in HP high-end inkjet printers, the ink cartridges are tightly sealed which extends their life during non use. With other brands of printers, the ink and/or print heads can dry out after a month or two of non-use. Other manufacturers use separate components for printing heads and ink tanks. This means it’s possible to overrun print heads causing them to dry out or otherwise perform poorly. HP all-in-one devices such as the Officejet 8630 have very fast scan times — about 3 seconds per page for 300 dpi high quality color. Other scanners sometimes take 10 seconds just to ‘warm up’ and then another 10 seconds or more to scan a page. HP printers are built solid. For all of these reasons, it’s not possible (or at least not practical) to switch to another brand of printer.

 


Case Updates

Below are updates regarding this case.

  • Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 @ 5:12 AM CT. We continue to receive numerous consumer complaints to our page about this program. We’ve revised this page so at the top are a brief listing of the main problems with the HP Instant Ink program, and also a short simple list of how all these problems could go away by a few changes to the ink subscription program.
  • Saturday, 26 July 2015 @ 1:14 AM CT. We contacted HP using the Senior Vice President feedback page and provided a synopsis of the above information.
  • Monday, 27 July 2015 @ 9:50 AM CT. We received a call from HP Case Management in response to our communication yesterday. The case manager was very polite and appreciated the feedback about the ink subscription program marketing materials. They said this case would be escalated.
  • Sunday, 22 November 2015 @ 7:25 AM CT. We noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook that continues to promise in at 50% off (see below). So, apparently nothing has been done yet about their advertising campaign.
    201511sssu0725-hp-automatic-order-ink-50-percent-savings

Conservative Campaign Against @KINDSnacks Morphs Into Dubious FDA Warning Letter

So, the FDA recently sent a Warning letter to a snack company. What’s the latest threat they are protecting us from? It’s not Hostess Ho-HosLittle Debbie, or Twinkies. The FDA is apparently concerned with companies claiming that raw nuts are healthy. Their target? KIND bars.

As you’ll no doubt agree, the lengthy and overly nit-picky FDA Warning is a bit too bazaar to believe, so we dug a little deeper to try and connect the dots.

This excerpt from a Huffington Post article sheds some light on the absurdity of the FDA warning:

“The FDA’s crackdown on KIND Bars for saturated fat is ‘well-intentioned but absurd,’ according to Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. ‘It’s a bit ridiculous that saturated fat from nuts should be counted against a product, because nuts are about one of the healthiest choices you could possibly make… This is an example of something with good intentions based on concepts that are hugely obsolete.'” Huffington Post, 14 April 2015 (source)

Here’s what we know… In February 2015, an article on RedState.com presented an appeal asking readers to stop supporting KIND Snack company because the CEO, Daniel Lubetzky, founded an organization called OneVoice which has partnered with an Isralie group called V15, that opposes Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s nothing illegal about supporting or opposing political candidates, but conservatives apparently took issue with Lubetzky not being a Netanyahu supporter.

By mid-March 2015, the anti-KIND campaign seemed to have morphed into a dubious FDA Warning sent to Daniel Lubetsky citing numerous petty violations about the product labeling, and taking issue with the naturally occurring fat content (from nuts).

This kind of harassment seems similar to the IRS audits of conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with consumers making shopping decisions consistent with their politics. However, when government agencies are used to selectively target liberals, conservatives, or any other group, it’s wrong.

Three things are unusual about the FDA Warning:

  1. Concern About Nuts. The KIND products are almost exclusively raw foods with little or no processing or additives. They are primarily comprised of nuts. The FDA concerns about the KIND products could be equally leveled against any products containing nuts and indeed any vendor of raw nuts. The FDA Warning Letter asserts that nuts aren’t healthy. The KIND product formula has remained consistent over the years. Why is the FDA suddenly now concerned about the product line? If nuts represent a serious health risk to consumers, shouldn’t a health advisory be issued?
  2. Concern About Labeling. The primary focus of the FDA Warning seemed to be about the product labeling. While there are many products on the market that contain misleading package images, the KIND products have mostly clear wrappers, through which the consumer sees the  unprocessed raw ingredients. Imagine someone selling a clear plastic bag of walnuts and being told their product packaging is misleading.
  3. Media Leak. The story was leaked to the media on April 14 with most media outlets getting the story wrong — stating that “KIND Bars are unhealthy.” This incorrect reporting, across multiple news sources, suggests that incorrect information was fed to journalists. The FDA Warning was directed primarily toward the product labeling and not the product content. No change to the product content has been requested, and no warning on the label has been requested.

Another point raised in the FDA letter was with regard to the address printed on the food labels. Many companies use a Post Office box as their primary mailing address used for business and legal purposes. Indeed, the FDA no doubt used the KIND PO Box to reach them by mail. Essentially, the FDA says in their letter mailed to KIND, that KIND isn’t reachable by mail.

“Specifically, the statement ‘Kind, LLC, P.O. Box 705 Midtown Station, NY, NY 10018’ which is provided on the label does not include the street address and the street address of your business does not appear in a current city or telephone directory. FDA is unable to determine the physical location of your firm using a city or telephone directory and the address listed on the label.”

Apparently the FDA has never heard of Googling a company. They are still using phone books.

Midway through the threatening letter from the FDA is this statement:

“The above violations are not meant to be an all-inclusive list of violations that may exist in connection with your products or their labeling. It is your responsibility to ensure that your products comply with the Act and its implementing regulations. You should take prompt action to correct the violations. Failure to promptly correct the violations may result in regulatory action without further notice, including seizure and/or injunction.”

So, Daniel Lubetsky has been given 15 days to comply before the FDA might seize the company property and bank accounts without further notice:

“Please respond to this letter within 15 working days from receipt with the actions you plan to take in response to this letter, including an explanation of each step being taken to correct the current violations and prevent similar violations. Include any documentation necessary to show that correction has been achieved. If you cannot complete corrective action within 15 working days, state the reason for the delay and the time within which you will complete the corrections.”

That means KIND would have two weeks to redesign packaging for their entire product line. That’s a huge undertaking. Undoubtedly, nutritionists and a legal team will need to help in the response to the FDA surprise attack. That will take time and cost a lot of money.

By wasting time and money on harassing KIND, the FDA is neglecting to go after real misleading packaging like that found on Good Natured Baked Vegetable Crisps. These chips show colorful carrots, spinach, and red pepper on the bag, yet in fact contain more sugar than any of those vegetable ingredients. It’s the blatantly misleading product packaging that the FDA needs to be doing something about — and not hassling the companies that are wrapping raw nuts in clear packaging.

Below is the ResourcesForLife.com response to the FDA Warning Letter to KIND. ResourcesForLife.com awarded Kind Bars the Most Healthy Nutritious Snack Bar Award for 2015.

* * *

Regarding the FDA KIND Bar Warning

Today an FDA advisory regarding KIND Bars was in the headlines. We believe the FDA warning is misguided and a waste of taxpayer money. It maligns an exceptional brand.

It’s not surprising that the FDA announcement was miscommunicated by the major media with story headlines such as CNBC reporting: “Kind Bars are not ‘healthy’ says the FDA.”

That’s what most people will conclude when hearing about the FDA warning. In a world where consumers don’t read much further beyond the Twitter limit of 140 characters, an FDA Warning and statements about a product not being healthy can take many months and millions of dollars to recover from.

The FDA warning was not about KIND products, but instead about labeling and product claims. It’s not that KIND Bars are not ‘healthy’ but instead the point in question is about the product labeling.

As a result of this confusion, KIND has issued a public statement about the FDA warning.

On the KIND Bar packaging, some relatively obvious common sense statements appear such as “Healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome.” Our own research concluded that the products are healthy, tasty, convenient, and wholesome, but you can eat a bar and draw your own conclusions. Statements like “good source of fiber,” were also criticized by the FDA, even though the bar we evaluated has 7 grams of fiber, making it what we believe to be a good source of fiber.

The real story here is how uninformed the FDA is with regard to the current nutritional findings that most healthcare practitioners would agree is common knowledge today.

Meanwhile, products that are truly misleading and deserving of an FDA warning letter go unfettered, such as Good Natured Baked Vegetable Crisps that depict vegetables on their packaging, yet have more sugar than any of the vegetables shown on the package.

Please do what you can to help support KIND through this unkind treatment by the FDA.

“Because consumers have so few good choices when it comes to quality food products, it’s essential that consumers know what those choices are. KIND Bars are an excellent nutritious alternative to other less nutritious foods available. It’s important that consumers not be dissuaded from purchasing these products.” ~ Greg Johnson, Director of the Consumer Defense Resource Group

Media Coverage

The media coverage below shows how an FDA warning about product labeling was misconstrued as a product warning. Surprisingly, most of these media outlets got the story wrong by implying that KIND bars are unhealthy.

Only the Huffington Post Got the Story Right

Only one major media outlet got the story right. The Huffington Post reported “Why The FDA Action Against KIND Bars Doesn’t Mean They’re Unhealthy.”

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Coca Cola Removes Claim About Sugar and Diabetes

In the 8 April 2015 video report below, Greg Johnson of the Consumer Defense Resource Group criticized a statement by Coca Cola (UK) that claimed there was no connection between sugar consumption and diabetes. (See from 13 minutes 8 seconds until about 15 minutes.)

By April 11 the statement about sugar and diabetes was removed from Coca Cola’s website.

The article below documents the controversy and provides evidence of the statement that has now been removed.

Holding Companies Accountable

Most of us have had the experience of being in a conversation or discussion with someone and at some point the person responds, “I didn’t say that.”

Consumer advocacy is sometimes like a discussion that criticizes advertising, product labeling, or public statements made by businesses.

Yet, in the Internet age, with less information in print, companies can rewrite their webpages or completely take them down if they are caught making false statements. It’s the same as claiming, “I didn’t say that.” For a consumer advocate, it’s frustrating because you’re constantly dealing with a moving target.

Google Search Results on Diabetes Sugar and Coca-Cola

At the time of this writing (12 April 2015), if you do a Google search for diabetes sugar coca cola, the top (non paid) result out of 623,000 is a statement from Coca-Cola about sugar and diabetes as shown below.

“The reason I knew to search on diabetes sugar and Coca-Cola is because I’d seen the claim on their website years ago, and wanted to review it once more for inclusion in my video.” ~ Greg Johnson

These search results will be changing in the near future, because Coca-Cola has now removed their statement on sugar and diabetes.

20150412su1118-google-search-for-diabetes-sugar-coca-cola

Recording and Preserving Removed Internet Content

Fortunately, we’ve placed a saved version of the page in PDF format on Scribd, as shown below.

In addition to saving PDF versions and screenshots of web pages, it’s possible to use the Internet Archive service. The screen shot below is from the archived page as it’s existed for several years up until this week when it was taken down. This screen shot dates back to October 2013. Other more recent screenshots are also available.

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Coca-Cola’s Statement on Sugar and Diabetes

Below is Coca-Cola’s present statement on the link between the sugar in their products and diabetes.

Yep, as you noticed, they’ve taken it down. No apology. No revision. No public statement. No forwarding link to more information. Nothing. To their credit, at least the document that had been there for several years directed consumers to the American Diabetes Association website.

Presumably the powers that be at Coca-Cola later decided that the American Diabetes Association might not be a resources they’d want their existing and potential customers to know about. Maybe they are worried about sugar being the next tobacco, along with the health risk and legal implications that go along with it.

20150412su-coca-cola-diabetes-statement-404-page

Measuring Impact

Sometimes in consumer advocacy work, we are able to engage in a discussion with representatives of a company. This helps document the process, and demonstrate that our work is having an impact. However, there are circumstances where a company won’t comment, won’t respond, and won’t acknowledge that any problem exists or existed. This is to avoid any appearance of fault or legal liability. Because of the huge sugar related lawsuits that may be looming on the horizon, it’s not surprising that Coca-Cola quietly took down their webpage and isn’t going on record about any of what you’ve just read.

Google Promotes “The Interview” Movie and Tobacco to Under-Age Viewers While Offending Billions of People — Gets Kicked Out of China

20141230tu-the-interview-poster-header

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates movies based on a variety of criteria and determines an acceptable viewing audience. According to FilmRatings.com (the MPAA rating site), The Interview, by featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is rated as ‘R’ due to “pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.” Colombia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment were in the news due to conflicts with North Korea over the movie.

This article isn’t intended to be a review of the movie, but instead an assessment of how it has been promoted, and what the impact has been.

Since its release, and up to the time of this writing, Google has been promoting The Interview in the Google Play store side-by-side with children’s games as shown below.

20141230tu-google-promotes-the-interview-to-general-audiences

The Interview seems out of place with game titles like Club Penguin, Gummy Drop!, My Emma, and Pop Bugs. It’s like advertising cigarettes to children. In this case, it’s literally true since the film shows people smoking. There’s a legal disclaimer at the end of the film stating that the use of tobacco in the film wasn’t a paid endorsement (just a free one).

A Popular Genre of Cinema

There’s unarguably a popular genre of vulgar and gross teen comedy films like The Interview that have a cult following — even among adults. Just as comedian Sarah Silverman draws crowds of people to be entertained and offended by her shocking and often ‘inappropriate’ style of vulgar humor, films like The Interview are praised for their shock value and intentional offensiveness.

Such content seems to be increasingly in demand. Just as people pay to go on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, people are equally willing to pay to be shocked by entertainment that is offensive. They want to be offended. This explains the popularity of films like American PieThe Hangover, JackassSuperbad, and others.

Problematic Promotion

However, the promotion of The Interview is problematic. First, the movie received world-wide attention by the news media. Capitalizing on this, Google is promoting the movie in a way intended to reach a wider general audience than these films are generally intended for. Of course, the original news stories weren’t part of the formal promotion of the movie (unless the news media was manipulated by the entertainment industry for promotional reasons).

Unlike a movie theatre where people can be easily ID’d prior to entering, or accompanied by an adult, streamed movies on the Internet are delivered to millions of homes with little or no restriction to who might viewing.

When you watch the movie, there is no clear rating declaration at the beginning. So, many viewers, young and old alike, who might otherwise avoid such content, will be lured into viewing the movie based on the trailer and numerous fluff reviews.

The Ramping Up Effect

The movie ramps up the levels of bloody violence, vulgarity, and nudity toward the middle and end, so that parents watching the beginning of the film to preview it will conclude that it’s typical teen humor.

Similarly, the average viewer will be drawn in as far as they are willing to go, and like the frog in the kettle, will find toward the end they are taking in images and content they might otherwise have avoided.

It may seem a little nit-picky to bring up such points. To those who are immersed in the violent visuals of today’s ‘first person’ video games and fully acclimated to vulgarity on television, in the movies, in music, and in comedy, The Interview probably seems fairly normal. To those who aren’t regularly exposed to that kind of content, the film probably seems inappropriate and culturally insensitive.

Lack of Targeted Promotion is a Disservice

Ultimately, Sony and Google do a disservice to the film and the genre by not limiting its promotion and release to a warm market. When this happens, reviews are skewed. Rather than having a film watched by and rated by the people who might most enjoy it and appreciate it, the film is released to people who aren’t acclimated to that particular brand of humor — and possibly never will embrace it.

The film is now being pushed to a world market, that’s already primed with interest, yet perhaps unaware that the movie contains crude humor and graphic bloody violence.

What’s unfortunate is that the film could have just as easily been produced in a way to meet PG-13 standards and been much more successful, and more widely appreciated.

Cultural Sensitivity and Global Response

At the time of this writing, the film has earned nearly $18M and is Sony’s top online film ever. (Source: NPR). So, American’s have spoken, and they’ve said, “We like this kind of humor, and indeed this kind of movie, more than anything else presently available.”

The film is perceived in the U.S. to be an act of demonstrating free speech, a criticism of North Korea, and in this case, a victory over those who would threaten to censor the film.

To foreigners watching the film, it is perceived as an example of American humor and the content produced by the U.S. film industry. It’s become our ambassador to world community (at least during its 15 minutes of fame).

Because of its content, the film serves to embolden those who advocate censorship of content from “the West.” In this regard, it provides an abundance of examples showing why anti-American jihadists should continue their struggle through war and censorship, concluding “If this is what America has to offer, we don’t want it.” The film is a Christmas gift to those who want to portray Americans as vulgar.

Google Blocked in China Days After Film Launch

While The Interview intends to be about North Korea, the potentially offensive jokes could just as easily be poorly received by people in other countries such as China, for example.

Drawing from bigoted caricatures, the movie pokes fun at portraying how Asians sound when speaking English. This is an outdated trope that is viewed by some as funny, but perceived by others as borderline offensive. At one point in the movie, someone holding a cute puppy proclaims, “Guess who’s going back to America where they don’t eat doggies?” Making fun of people with Asian accents, and making derogatory references to the animals eaten in Asian countries, might make some people laugh, but other people could very well take offense at these jokes.

It’s not surprising that only a few days after the heavy promotion of this film by Google on their search page, in the Play Store, and through a direct email campaigns. China has now blocked Google Gmail and Google’s search page.

The Search Page Campaign

Below is Google’s home search page as of Christmas morning. With the power of reaching approximately 210 million people every month (about 7 million people per day), Google chose to promote The Interview on Christmas day with a direct link to the streaming movie in their Play store. Click the image for a larger view.

Google promoting The Interview on their search page with a direct link to the streaming movie in their Play store.

The Email Campaign

The screen snip below shows an example of the direct email campaign launched by Google to promote the movie on Christmas day.

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Disingenuous Disclaimer

At the end of The Interview, during the final moments of the credits, a legal disclaimer from Sony and the film’s affiliates states:

“The characters, incidents, and locations portrayed and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity to or identification with the location, name, character or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. So, it’s entirely coincidental that there’s a country called North Korea and political leader called Kim Jong-un. Did the producers really say, “Oh, really? Wow, we had no idea when making the film that these places and people actually exist! What a coincidence!”

That’s like someone slapping you in the face, and then saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I just slapped you in the face. (slap again) Was that your face? Oh, I’m sorry. (slap again).”

It would have been more sincere to say something like, “We intentionally spent millions of dollars making fun of another country’s leader, and joking about his assassination, and we knew full well we were doing it.” At least that would be honest. So, now we’re offensive and misleading. Great. This should generate lots of support and goodwill.

Movie Review of The Interview

This is likely a film that is destined to win the “Worst Movie Ever” and “Best Movie Ever” awards in the same year. For further reading, you can click here for a thoughtful movie review of The Interview.

Movie Poster

Below is the movie poster for The Interview.

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North Korean Reaction

For those unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding the film, here is a brief excerpt from the Wikipedia page about the movie and North Korea’s response to it — which suggests they didn’t find the humor in the movie.

On June 20, 2014, Kim Myong-chol, an unofficial spokesman for the North Korean government, said The Interview “shows the desperation of the US government and American society … a film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the US has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.”[16]

On June 25, 2014, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state-run news agency of North Korea, reported that the government promised “stern” and “merciless” retaliation if the film were released, stating that “making and releasing a film that portrays an attack on our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”[17][18] The Guardian wrote that the film premise “touched a nerve inside the regime, which takes a dim view of satirical treatment of its leaders and is notoriously paranoid about perceived threats to their safety”[19] and that North Korea had a “long history of sabre-rattling and of issuing harsh threats that it does not act upon.”[20]

On July 11, 2014, North Korea’s United Nations ambassador Ja Song-nam condemned The Interview, saying that “the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”[21] The Guardian remarked that his comments were “all perfect publicity for the movie.”[21] On July 17, 2014, the KCNA wrote to U.S. president Barack Obama, asking to have the film pulled.[22]

In August 2014, shortly after The Interview ’​s release was delayed to December 25, it was reported that Sony had made post-production alterations to the film to reduce its insensitivity to North Korea. These changes included modifying the designs of buttons worn by characters, originally modelled after real North Korean military buttons praising the country’s leaders, and plans to cut a portion of Kim Jong-un’s death scene.[23]

Rogen predicted that the film would make its way to North Korea, stating that “we were told one of the reasons they’re so against the movie is that they’re afraid it’ll actually get into North Korea. They do have bootlegs and stuff. Maybe the tapes will make their way to North Korea and cause a revolution.”[11] Business Insider reported via Free North Korea Radio that there was high demand for bootleg copies of the film in North Korea.[24] The human rights organizations Fighters for a Free North Korea and Human Rights Foundation, which previously air-dropped offline copies of the Korean Wikipedia into North Korea on a bootable USB memory device,[25] plan to distribute DVD copies of The Interview via balloon drops.[26]

Update: 31 December 2014

As of 12:30 AM on 31 December 2014, Google has modified their promotion of The Interview in the Google Play store so that it is no longer listed adjacent to video games for kids. We applaud Google for their prompt corrective action in this matter.

Apple App Store Pricing Model Flawed

Over the past 30+ years, there has been a pricing model for computer programs that has generally worked quite well: Anyone buying a new product pays full price, and people who are already a customer using a previous product get a discount.

This pricing model seems fair for everyone involved. Users of a program pay a small price for the marginal incremental benefits they gain when getting the next version.

This helps software developers because even if a marketplace is saturated, they can at least make some money selling upgrades.

With the Apple App Store pricing model, once a consumer purchases a software program for their phone or computer, they get free upgrades for life. This pricing model can only work in the short-term because new sales will diminish as the program is more widely used.

Vendors will be pressured to constantly find new customers, since their existing customers won’t be paying for any future versions of your flagship products.

Imaging having a company with hundreds of employees working all year long preparing to launch the new version of your software program. When the program goes on sale, there are millions of downloads. However, those millions of downloads don’t produce any revenue because they are for people who already paid for your product in previous years.

Business doesn’t work this way. Usually, whatever industry you’re in, you build a customer base and continue to sell to those customers — new products or enhancements to existing ones. This customer base is a kind of equity. You don’t have to re-create your entire customer base each year.

Eventually, software developers will grow tired of working hard to make their programs compatible with the latest devices and operating systems, as well as adding new features, yet not be financially compensated for their ongoing work.

What we need is a pricing model where a new software purchase might cost $5 (for example), and upgrades would be $1. At least software developers could rely on some income for their ongoing work.

Mediacom Injects Real-Time HTML Message Inside of Customers’ Browser Windows

On 21 August 2014, Mediacom injected an HTML message inside of their customers’ browser window session. Those browsing the Internet in the evening may have seen the message appear at the top of whatever web page they were looking at. This injection inserted with the web content currently being viewed represents what some feel is an intrusive and unwanted act that interfered with the delivery of content. Below is the message that was displayed. Click for a larger view.

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South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission Impacts U.S. Software Returns

For years, some retailers have falsely claimed that they can’t provide a refund for software products because a federal law prohibits returns of software.

Most consumers don’t know any better, so they take a loss on software that’s been falsely advertised, poorly written, or not compatible with their computer.

South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has ordered Apple to change their “no-refund” policy for software sold through the App store:

Apple and Google have been ordered by South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission to revise their “no-refund” app store policies in addition to a number of other provisions, reports The Korea Herald. In response to the ruling, Apple reportedly stated that it would consider applying a revised App Store policy worldwide, with Korean officials requiring that Apple send a notice users when its terms and conditions have changed.

(Read More…)

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Buying Local with Secondary Local Sourcing

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Buying local is something you can do to help the environment and your local economy. However, not everything that’s sold as local is really locally sourced.

For example, a manufacturers of food products, although local, may get the product ingredients from suppliers hundreds or thousands of miles away.

A local computer store, although they are just down the street, may be selling computers that are made overseas. A better choice may be to purchase a computer made in the USA even if it’s sold by a company in another state, such as Apple’s new Mac Pro.

When purchasing local, we need to inquire about the sourcing used by local vendors and manufacturers. If someone is simply ordering items from Amazon, and then putting them on shelves in the store, how is that any different from us ordering from Amazon directly?

There’s also the ethical choice to not purchase local in favor of having money go to support economies elsewhere. This is the idea behind the Ten Thousand Villages project.

The choice to buying locally isn’t always as simple as we may have once thought.

Apple: Planned Obsolescence and Engineered Discontentment

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Introduction

Why is it that Microsoft email services such as Outlook work perfectly on an iPhone, yet on a desktop computer, it’s necessary to configure your Microsoft email as an antiquated POP email service? As a result, laptop or desktop devices don’t offer synchronization across devices (found in IMAP services). That’s frustrating. Perhaps frustrating enough that you’d want to purchase a mobile device for that feature alone.

“But wait, there’s more!…” as they say in late night infomercials.

Let’s say you want a touch-screen experience. Unfortunately, almost a decade after Apple pioneered touchscreen technology in their smartphone, it is still missing from their laptop and desktop computers. Again, something that frustrating enough that you might just purchase an iPad for the touch-screen functionality.

There’s a really cool feature in iOS that allows you to use a single IMAP catch all account for multiple alias email addresses. When you reply, the from address is the alias email originally used by the sender. However, in the Apple Mail program, it’s necessary to go to preferences, and then accounts to manually change the reply-to email address every time you reply to a similar catch-all email. This is another one of those annoyances you might use an iOS device to avoid.

The Facebook app on an iPhone lets you choose between the most recent posts from friends, or a news feed that attempts to show you important posts based on your interests. However, the desktop experience doesn’t provide this functionality.

These are all examples of where a lower-cost mobile device is excelling beyond the higher priced laptop or desktop system.

Why is this?

We’ve all heard of planned obsolescence. That’s when companies manufacture products to break down or become less useful over time.

This ensures consumers will come back for replacements in the future.

However, this approach was primarily used during an age of machines.

Electronic devices have fewer moving parts. Indeed, computers manufactured decades ago still turn on and function.

Manufacturers soon realized that the old approach of having mechanical obsolescence was no longer practical.

Discontentment must be engineered into products for the newer models to seem appealing.

Apple Pioneered Discontentment

Apple was one of the first companies to engineer discontentment into their devices. In fact, they do this in parallel across multiple devices. Consider their current lineup of products.

  1. The iPhone grew in popularity because of the touch-screen experience. (Cost: up to $850)
  2. However, the small screen caused consumers to desire something like the iPad Mini as a larger yet portable touch-screen device. (Cost: up to $830)
  3. Yet, they kept the iPhone for phone calls since the iPad couldn’t do that.
  4. Wanting an even larger touch screen experience, consumers would purchase the full-size iPad. (Cost: up to $930)
  5. However, since it doesn’t have a full operating system, the MacBook Air became popular as a portable device. (Cost: up to $1,850).
  6. With limited power, storage, and expansion of the MacBook Air, consumers still needed something larger like a MacBook Pro for intensive mobile work. (Cost: up to $3,300)
  7. However, working on a 15″ screen can feel a bit cramped, so consumers also purchase the 27″ iMac for projects that require larger screen space. This is how people can end up buying so many devices from a single company. (Cost: up to $3,950)
  8. The higher-end iMac is useful for most tasks, but sometimes the wait time on video rendering and exporting is just prohibitive. That’s where a Mac Pro is necessary. (Cost: up to $16,000 with dual 4K displays)

This is how a person can quickly spend up to $28,000 on technology devices.

The VW Bug Phenomenon

There’s such a thing as a product that’s a runaway success. The early VW Bugs were a wonderful invention – a vehicle that doesn’t need a cooling system, radiator, or servicing of those parts. It was a rugged and reliable vehicle. In fact, it was too rugged. People loved it so much, they didn’t want to purchase any of the new vehicles coming out. So, it was time to scrap the VW Bug.

Integrated Frustration

The same was true for the early iPhones. The transition to iOS 7.0 included many integrated frustrations. The most significant is how difficult the font was to read. Consumers complained. They couldn’t switch to another device because: (a) they were locked into a service contract and breaking it would cost hundreds, (b) they were heavily invested in apps and cloud services that can’t be moved to another platform. During the months after releasing iOS 7.0, Apple began slowly spoon-feeding consumers features that they had taken away.

On 10 March 2014, Apple released iOS 7.1 and provided such amazing features as bold text for input keyboards.

You know something is going on when a company introduces a “new and improved” product  with features that were already present years ago but had been taken out.

The new philosophy of marketplace psychology is born:

“A certain level of consumer frustration and irritation is necessary to ensure forward motion. A donkey can’t be moved simply with a carrot, one must employ a stick as well. Discontentment must be engineered into devices. If necessary, good products must be made worse.”

Reducing Multiple Devices

Samsung has taken an interesting approach to their product designs. With screen sizes from 5″ to 6″, the display is large enough that it can be used in place of a tablet, and with the $100 Samsung dock, you can turn your smartphone into a replacement laptop or desktop computer (just add keyboard, mouse, and full-size display). Rather than looking for ways to build-in limitations and frustrations, Samsung is looking for ways to innovate and help consumers reduce their need for multiple devices.

Dell offers an 18″ tablet device that doubles as a desktop computer. When you’re home or at work, set it on a stand and use a full size keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals such a printers, scanners, and external hard drives.

Conclusion

Why does Apple still not offer a touch screen laptop or desktop computer? Why does Apple still sell tiny smartphones? This is all a part of engineered discontentment.