The Pew Research Center has put up a nice, interactive graphic showing some marriage statistics by state. So, based on what we’ve always been told, you might expect liberal states — especially those which have allowed same sex marriages — to have some of the worst numbers.
It doesn’t really pan out that way, though. In particular, the states with the highest percentage of men having been married three or more times are some of the reddest of the red states: Arkansas (10%), Oklahoma (9%), Tennessee (9%), Alabama (8%), and Mississippi (8%). The state with the lowest percentage in this category? Blue, gay-lovin’ Massachusetts at 2% (stats aren’t much different for women, incidentally). So much for the gays ruining marriage; we heterosexuals seem to be devaluing that hallowed institution just fine on our own.
I’ve been watching some of the events around Wolfram Alpha lately with some interest. I had a copy of Wolfram Mathematica in grad. school and have always felt somewhat in awe of the sense of raw power one gets from using their software. It’s so open and endless; it is really more like a framework or even an operating system than most one-trick pony applications we know and use. So, this morning I see that Wolfram has priced their iPhone app for Alpha at $50. Stephen Wolfram thinks pretty highly of himself and his company also thinks quite highly of their software, right?
I agree with John Gruber that this a good idea and good for the app store, in general. And based on my experience with Wolfram, they’re just the company to do this and won’t be bothered if they never break the top of the app charts. Given the relatively high price of their desktop applications, it actually seems quite cheap. It’s not as though Mathematica ever broke any sales records compared to other desktop software. Most folks have never even heard of it, I suspect. Alpha is a nice interface for a handy service, but I never got the impression this is meant to be a Wikipedia competitor for the average user; it’s a professional application for people who want distilled, unbiased data at their fingertips.
I think part of the issue with the sticker shock at $50 is that that is probably the average that most folks spend on desktop applications. That’s even high if you don’t ever buy anything from Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple, frankly. But when it comes to mobile platforms — and the iTunes App Store, in particular — that seems to be way above the average. But here’s the catch: Wolfram doesn’t intend for this to an application for the average user. It is meant to be an app for professionals who need access to data.
As I work for a company which also produces professional software for a fairly limited audience (infrastructure engineering), I can attest that high prices are the norm for professional software which is solely intended for professional settings. In the structural group at Bentley, I think the lowest priced application we sell is about $1,800. Just ask any amateur photograph who bought what they thought was a fancy camera only to learn that Photoshop cost even more than their camera! There are generally alternatives for folks who just want to tool around. Professional software isn’t for them and it is going to priced accordingly.
There are plenty of precedences for professional software on mobile platforms costing much more than $5 or even $50. My wife’s pharmaceutical database — Lexi-Comp Complete — is about $300, for example. I imagine that’s more than most iPhone users spend on all of their apps and their phone, combined! But that’s the point. The phone here is a platform to have this sort of data handy, not the end in of itself, which just has the capability for fancy widgets. And this is the real power of such a device as a platform; much like when a computer was just seen as a fancy typewriter instead of what all it can actually be.
If the iPhone is to be taken seriously as a mobile platform, then we need to get away from some notion that all applications should be cheap widgets.
Dan Silverman doesn’t like his Avaya desktop phone1 very much. He explains how its cryptic buttons don’t really provide enough information to make sense of their function. He also includes this gem on what happens when industrial design fails (which is almost always, to some extent):
Yes, in the case of electronic devices, the design should intuitively convey how it works without the need for a manual. But if the design is bad, a manual is the next best thing.
Writing the manual or the help should be integral to the process of design and not left until the end (or worse, after the product ships). Good manuals and help can indeed be the next best thing to an inspired design and make products far more usable.
1see how I invented a new phrase to describe an old thing based on the way we do things now?
Nate Anderson at Ars Technica takes a trip down memory lane for the content industry’s century-long fight against technology. Every step is a fight against the conveniences we enjoy everyday (and these fools later learned to monetize):
The anxious rhetoric around new technology is really quite shocking in its vehemence, from claims that the player piano will destroy musical taste and the “national throat” to concerns that the VCR is like the “Boston strangler” to claims that only Hollywood’s premier content could make the DTV transition a success. Most of it turned out to be absurd hyperbole, but it’s interesting to see just how consistent the words and the fears remain across more than a century of innovation and a host of very different devices.
So here they are, in their own words—the copyright holders who demanded restrictions on player pianos, photocopiers, VCRs, home taping, DAT, MP3 players, Napster, the DVR, digital radio, and digital TV.