Archives For June 2013

In his Google I/O keynote, Larry Page said “Law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. Like, it’s before the Internet.”  Some people were riled up about that.  When I read about FAA re-considering it’s 50-year old ban on using gadgets on the flights, it reminded me of what Larry said.  While obviously some values don’t necessarily change with age, for anything that involves technology, I contend that 50 years is eternity.  Things just don’t apply as they did before.

We really are in an age where technology changes so rapidly and we are at the cusp of where technology really is taking over human labor in a big way.  How do lawmakers keep pace with this and how do we define laws in this society? I’m sure all of us have heard of ridiculous stories where someone has been pulled over for touching their phone in the car.  Yet, a study shows that the biggest diversion comes from paying attention to children in the car!  Do we turn around and create laws that prevent us from interacting with our kids in the car?  There would be an outrage if that happened!

I don’t know the answer to how we should be defining laws.  Part of the problem is that we cannot have one rule for amending laws across the board.  In the case of lawmakers, we are talking about folks who are at least one step removed from the pace of the technological changes most of the time.  But as it turns out, the technologists also fuel some of these stale rules.  Take the use case of automatically turning off your phone when detecting you are on a plane, for example – this one has been making the rounds in context aware research cycles for a while.  It works on the assumption that turning off devices on a plane is a given.  When technologists go after applications that support the outdated laws, it is a bad signal to me.

We need to be better at creating our own destiny – and by ‘we’, I mean the tech community.  We need to be able to distinguish when technology needs to bridge some gaps when the gaps make no sense and need to be addressed more fundamentally.  To really push the boundaries, that must happen.  And to really innovate, we must push the boundaries.

Is 50-years an eternity? In the world of self driving cars and networks on balloons, it most certainly is!  This doesn’t mean we change our fundamental human values every decade.  But, it does mean that the technologists help the government and lawmakers understand the leaps that have been made at some intervals such that our constitutional rights and laws can be kept relevant.

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After bashing Apple a little on its lack of innovative breakthroughs in iOS following WWDC, I am going to praise them a little here.  Cult of Mac published this post about how the iOS7 design is a masterpiece.  While I don’t think the interface design itself brings distinctly unique elements that we haven’t seen in Android and Windows, there is some truth to the iOS design being amazing.  Notice I didn’t say iOS7 – because the brilliance is applicable to all iOS designs from day one.  In spirit, this goes to one of Steve Jobs’ quotes about design – “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”. 

If you had a flawless interface design implemented with stutter, that automatically means it is not a brilliant overall design.  While design elements are certainly getting amazing on Android, the feel of the interfaces are still short of flawless.  This is the real place where iOS continues to shine.  The touch interface must be psychologically satisfying and stimulating to the user.  When you touch an icon, the interface must react like it was touched.  The animation of going from a small icon to filling the screen and back to dispersing and collapsing into the icon’s spot without any glitch whatsoever provides the user with such visual pleasure that we want to keep coming back to the experience!

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Consider this simple case of touching to copy text.  I’ve been attracted to the iOS text selection for a while. A long touch usually selects the right section of text that might be of interest to the user.  As in the screenshot above, it will select the relevant paragraph in such a case.  In another case, it might select a link or text in a bullet, etc. It is a small detail – but the attention to detail is superb!  

Psychological satisfaction should be the goal of every design.  Every action should be designed and implemented with the goal of providing the user an incentive to come back to perform the action.  And this is almost always about elements in design, software and hardware all coming together to produce that brilliant experience.  Even if one of those elements is less than ideal in the way it functions, the experience is going to be less than ideal.  This is why integrating multiple disciplines of engineering and design and iterating over the experience until perfection is accomplished is paramount.  

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In 2007, Apple created a revolution in computing with the iPhone.  It marked the beginning of a journey for smartphones as the single most important device in people’s lives.  Something so personal and so indispensable that will go on to become one that we’d carry 24×7.  In 2013, Apple is truly acknowledging that they are becoming followers and not trend setters.

WWDC 2013 (TechCrunch highlights here) left me unimpressed.  Minus a couple of odd security features, iOS7 mostly appears to be catching up with the explosive innovation that has happened in Android over the last couple of years.  Let’s run down some of this:

From Skeuomorphic To Flat

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This has been rumored so much, I’m almost tired of it already!  Maybe it’s just me – but, I don’t quite get the hype about this transformation.  Not to belittle the design changes – as always, the design is pleasing and fantastic.  But, a choice between skeuomorphic and flat seems rather a matter of taste.  Some claim flatter is more modern, I personally think the real world feel of OS X and iOS icons were brilliant – but, really the appeal of this flat iOS7 is all about change, I believe.  Today’s fast changing world seems to get bored with UI designs quite easily – for that, the iOS7 redesign brings a beautiful alternative.  But, I fail to see all the fuss over this change!

Everything Else

I really feel I can put everything else in one bucket for sake of this discussion.  Easy access controls, a bezel swipe to go back, (intelligent) multi-tasking, a better notification center – these are all about catch up (it’s about time!).

Sure, iTunes Radio can be a big deal – but, it’s a me-too game as well.

In short, I see nothing innovative from Apple this time around.  Nothing at all. In fact, I’d go so far to say that they have a long way to go to catch up – for example, where is the predictive gesture keyboard iOS so badly needs?  I use several Apple products and am constantly amazed by the performance of these products.  I absolutely love the smoothness of iOS animations and overall performance.  But, Apple has just not given me a reason to feel the urge to switch.

ios_vs_android

Unfortunately for Apple, this is evidence that they’ve gone from trendsetting to following.  This also shows that a hungry and innovating ecosystem cannot be beaten by innovation from a single player.  I wrote about how Google I/O demonstrated an innovating ecosystem.  I think iOS7 just made it clear that Android is leaps and bounds ahead in packing intelligence into these devices.  All these years, Apple could afford to lag in functionality as their products more than compensated for that in usability and design.  But, the rest of the world has caught up to that and more.  Usability and design is paramount everywhere now – everybody gets that they need to focus on design or they will perish.

So, with Apple stripped of the design advantage, it is really time to evaluate how to foster innovation through the ecosystem rather than trying to go at it alone, not to mention without the vision of Jobs to guide them!

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Just how many networks do we have to check on a daily basis?  Facebook.  LinkedIn.  Google+.  Instagram.  Twitter.  Quora.  Pinterest.  Wordpress.  And probably several other groups that we are a part of.  In my case, the list is so much longer as I’m trying out several new apps at any given time.  For instance, at the moment – Fab, Etsy, Voto, Photopoll, Fashiolista, StumbleUpon, Seesaw, Polar, etc.  This is, of course, only a sample.

At the end of the day, I’m exhausted just thinking about all the networks I haven’t yet caught up with.  By the time I wake up in the morning, there will be fresh news to catch up on and I won’t know what I missed.  I’m afraid of missing that critical piece of information – a baby that everyone except me knew my friend was having or Yahoo!’s next acquisition that slipped by in the few hours that I was away from technology news! 

The exhaustion is not only about the content ready to be consumed.  But, it is also about the content you produce.  How do you socialize your own content?  Do you put it on all the networks?  Only a subset of them?  If so, how do you decide which one should be publicize where?  There are so many sites providing advice on “N number of ways to publicize your blog” or “getting noticed”… Great, now that I spent all that time writing the content and coming up to speed on my social media content for the day, it is time to comment on blogs, browse and follow random blogs, add it to bookmarking sites, send out links on various networks, etc.!  

I have not even talked about some types of content that we may like to consume that steal some of our attention as well.  It is simply exhausting to be subject to this explosion of social media and there is no sign of a slowdown. 

I uninstalled Facebook the other day from my phone and went without it for over a week – turns out I didn’t miss it all that much!  I caught up with it when I actually had the time on a laptop.  The main reason I brought it back on my phone was because of the hundreds of other apps that I’ve authorized to use my Facebook credentials – without it, I had to manually log into each one of those apps and that was extremely painful.  

Are you equally exhausted by socia media? I’d like to understand how people deal with this and filter out various types of information on a daily basis.  To me, this is pretty daunting.  A challenge that is only going to compound in the coming years.  

Social media has transformed us into fidgety people that often have a separation anxiety without access to a connected device.  I find myself turning my phone on to look at notifications far more often than I should and I suspect I’m not the only one.  As you can tell from the picture here, I don’t actually read any of my emails from the various social networks.   Just looking at the big picture is exhausting enough!  

Obviously, this is not a sustainable trend.  The answer is in relevance filtering and summarization.  But, I’m not really sure that we can build these technologies as quickly as the information is growing.  For a while, I believe we will struggle to deal with excessive social media impact before we figure out a sustainable path!