Robert Dwyer

Talking longer-form than Twitter and shorter-form than blogging about: Wine, Points & Miles, Deals and Family Travel @RobertDwyer on Twitter.

Apr 6

Is Silvercar Bad for Audi?

Silvercar is a new car rental company that rents just one model: The Audi A4. And they’re all silver.

It got me thinking whether this is good or bad for future sales of Audi in general and silver A4s specifically.

On one hand it might make people feel like they’re buying a common car if they opt for a silver A4, especially if Silvercar expands to more locations.

But I was driving by an Audi dealer recently and saw a silver A4 leaving the lot for a test drive. I’m usually drawn to other brands but for the first time I looked at that car and thought, probably as a result of Silvercar, that a silver A4 is a classic combination that’s going to look good for a while. Maybe I should check them out.

Whenever I make a purchase I think of resale. There’s security in making a classic choice as opposed to a highly customized one.

I have no idea whether there’s some tie-in between Audi and Silvercar. No idea whether Silvercar cares how their peculiarly-specific choice of silver Audi A4s as the basis for their young companies influences Audi sales.

But for as much as it might make silver A4s seem like a commodity I think more people will think like I do: That a silver A4 is a classic combination that’s going to look good for a long time.

Feb 27

I Had a Dream

We were flying on an airplane with a 100 foot wide restaurant area down the middle. Near the windows of the plane were standard seats - two on each side.

As soon as you sat down the flight attendant asked what you wanted to eat. You could get simple stuff like a burger for free but if you wanted to get up and walk around you could eat at one of the sit down restaurants for a nominal fee.

Cruise ships have gotten larger and included all kinds of incredible things on board, but airplanes seems to have stayed the same and in many ways have gotten worse.

Why can’t airplanes be better?

Sep 17

It’s hard to beat a hot cup of Dunkin’ coffee on a cool New England morning…

Well, actually I think you could beat it if their breakfast sandwiches weren’t so consistently disappointing. Their sausage egg and cheese on an English muffin is puzzlingly inferior to the all-time king of breakfast sandwiches: McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.

But what am I going to do- go to McDonald’s and try their Jailhouse Blend coffee? I haven’t tried their coffee in years but it saddens me to think of starting the day with a cup of McDonald’s coffee.

My perfect morning combo? A Starbucks Caffe Americano with a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg. Attainable in nearly a single stop at select airports- like Logan’s Terminal B on the (dreaded) US Airways side. It almost makes flying the Greyhound of airlines tolerable.

Wait — I guess you can beat a hot cup of Dunkin’ on a cool New England morning. But it’ll do quite nicely in a pinch.

Aug 26

Netflix App Review: Where’s the Content?

I just downloaded the Netflix iPhone app which allows you to stream content instantly if you have an active Netflix subscription.  Seems like a great idea, and I’d look forward to an iTV that allows similar streaming directly to our TV for $99, but limited availability of the content I want makes the technology a non-starter for me.

And it’s not just a Netflix problem- I continue to see the same problems with iTunes rentals and through Amazon.

Take for example the AMC series “Breaking Bad”.  Awesome show that we’ve been watching by renting DVDs through Netflix.  It seems inefficient to be passing these 3-episodes-per DVDs through the mail, but how else can I watch this series?

Although Netflix carries the DVDs, the series isn’t available to Watch Instantly.  I can buy prior seasons through iTunes ($11.99 for the first season, $21.99 each for the second and third seasons) but I can’t rent the series.  I see it available on Amazon for $1.99 per episode, but I’d like to be able to watch through an existing subscription I’m already paying for. How many relationships do I need to form with content providers?  And how many different streaming situations do I need to navigate to easily watch the show on our TV?

The situation isn’t unique to Breaking Bad- I seem to be in the same boat when I try to find content that’s in any way outside of the mainstream new releases.  Shouldn’t that be one of the primary benefits of streaming vs. passing around DVDs?  That more obscure content can be everywhere at once and we don’t need to fight over it?

As much as I feel like a Luddite for continuing to rent DVDs through Netflix, I don’t see a better solution at the moment.  I hear about people loving their Hulu boxes and streaming Netflix through their Nintendo Wii, Xbox, or PS3- but where is the content coming from?  Where do you turn when the content you want isn’t available?

So I ask: What’s the easiest, most affordable source of instantly available content available right now?  What’s working well for you?

Jul 15

Idea: Use Social Media to Monitor Driver Karma

Have you ever seen someone driving so aggressively you’re certain they’re headed for an accident?  Let’s use social media to shame these people into behaving better behind the wheel.  Here’s how it will work:

You’re driving in your car and someone cuts you off.  Bust out your phone, take a picture of their license plate and upload it to a site along with a 140 character comment.  Or if local laws don’t allow smartphone use behind the wheel remember the plate for later use.  Include an optional like/don’t like and over time you get an idea of the rudest (and kindest) drivers out there.  Offer prizes as people rack up kudos and zings.

Let the local police department see who’s terrorizing the road the most so they can keep an eye on the troublemakers.  Give people bumper stickers as they rack up merit badges for allowing you to merge in heavy traffic.

Businesses have to be getting sick of every nut job out there blogging, Yelping, Tweeting, TripAdvising their customer service.  Time for everyone to be held accountable for their actions on the road- and this is the way to do it.

Jul 13

BMW is continuing to push the envelope in terms of how iPod/iPhones are integrated in cars, but I wonder whether they’re pushing in the wrong direction.

With support for iPod Out, they allow you to control the iPod portion of your device with support for whatever feature Apple dreams up next.  For example, when Apple introduced Genius mix on their devices existing iPod integrations didn’t support it.  As users you were out of luck into you got your next car of ponied up more money for a spiffier new integration solution.

This seems like a great idea, but it feels like the car makers are still forever playing catch up.  Why?  Because I don’t want to just listen to music from my iPod portion of my iPhone.  I want to listen to Pandora and ESPN Radio's streaming app.  And that's just today. Tomorrow I'll want to listen to some other streaming app, and I'll want to be able to control it too.  And after that I'll want to switch to an Android device and see support for that as well.

Therefore, what I’d like to see car manufacturers provide is a universal mount that places phones just to the right of the steering wheel so I won’t have to buy one of these and one of these.  Add support for simple video out if there’s a rear entertainment system and I’ll be all set.

Car manufacturers: You’ll never be able to keep up.  You had 8-tracks when we wanted cassettes, cassettes when we wanted CD players, CD players when we wanted mp3 players and XM satellite radio when we wanted to be able to stream from our cell phones.  Just stop the never-ending race and give me what I want- simple AUX in with a clean mount near the steering wheel.

Thanks in advance,

Jul 6

Recommended: CNBC’s The Pixar Story

Lately I enjoy content on the web more than on TV because it’s so hyper-targeted at my interests. But occasionally I catch a story on TV that’s even better than an article on the web because it goes more in depth and is more engrossing overall.  CNBC’s piece on The Pixar Story is a fine example of this.

We enjoyed our family vacation to Disney World this past January, thanks in part to this book on navigating the parks.  When we returned I wanted to learn more about Disney so I read this book about Walt Disney himself.  It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it gave me a good background on how Disney revolutionized animation- a field which itself was revolutionized relatively recently by the folks at Pixar.

What made this story so fascinating to me was the overlapping cast of brilliant personalities it depicted.  Not just John Lassater but also Steve Jobs from Apple.

First, the story described how Lasseter was an animator at Disney who got the boot after he pitched a computer-generated animated short story to his bosses at Disney.  He then left Disney, took a job at Pixar and guided the studio to a string of hit films so impressive Disney acquired Pixar:

  • Toy Story
  • A Bug’s Life
  • Monster’s Inc.
  • Finding Nemo
  • Cars (and others)

Behind the scenes of all this was Steve Jobs.  After Jobs was edged out of the CEO seat at Apple, he invested somewhere around $10 million in Pixar prior to Toy Story being released.  Pixar would later be sold to Disney for more than $7 billion.  Nice return, Steve.

I resist the urge lather irrational praise on Apple products.  That said, you’ve got to hand it to Jobs and the string of products/brands he’s been behind:

  • Apple II
  • Macintosh
  • Pixar
  • iPod
  • iPhone (and some other moderate successes along the way)

I often think as I visit one of the Disney parks what it was like to live in the times when Walt Disney was alive and had his hand directly on the excellence of the films and parks he oversaw. 

I hope I don’t sound like too much of a fanboy when I say the closest thing we see to this today is John Lasseter and Steve Jobs in their respective roles.

Jun 16

The Reason iPhone 4 is Generating So Much Interest

I just read this post from MacRumors saying the new iPhone is generating 10x more interest than the prior model.  There are a number of reasons for this, but primary amongst them (in my view) is that we’re at the point in time where a typical cell phone user is making a purchase decision and the cost of an iPhone isn’t that much more than the basic phone they’re using right now.  And it comes with a boatload of features they can see being useful.

This is a different situation than we saw just a year or two ago, and the reputation the iPhone has built up for being an excellent device is paying dividends in terms of non-technical people being comfortable with buying one.  Make no mistake- a smartphone is still a big leap for your average user: “Download iTunes onto your computer, sync and charge the phone through your USB cable, etc”.  This is strange stuff compared to cell phones most people are used to, but it comes with a benefit: The iPhone gets better and better as more features become available through software upgrades.  When was the last time a non-smartphone got better with age?

As much as early adopters have complained about AT&T doing away with unlimited data plans, I think a $15/month entry point for data service on the device is a huge win for your average person.  It greatly reduced the total cost of ownership of an iPhone over a 2 year period and you can do a ton of stuff with 200MB per month.  $30 x 24 months is $720.  $15 x 24 months is $360.  That’s a ton of value in exchange for the heavily subsidized iPhone 4 for $199 (or even an iPhone 3GS for $99).

As Apple continues to improve its mobile platform in conjunction with more and more people going to smartphones we won’t call them smartphones anymore.  But there will be more options out there.  It looks like a race between Apple, BlackBerry, and Android if you ask me.  Android is intriguing but I’m sticking with Apple for now.  The iPhone 3GS (and the iPod touch I had before that) represents the best tech money I’ve spent in the past decade.

May 14

May 4

Who should run your corporate Twitter account?

Answer: The highest ranking person in the organization with the technical wherewithal, the time, and the interest in doing so.

The reason it should be the highest ranking person is because people want to deal with someone that embodies the business and is empowered to make decisions on the spot.

From there, it’s only a matter of finding someone with the interest in running the account because the technical wherewithal and time can be developed if the interest is there.

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