Today is Day 2 of the Google Books game. The game is a brilliant way of exposing new users of Google Books to the service, and to spread the word about the service.It’s also fun!
Play the 10 Days in Google Books gameWelcome to the world of books! The 10 Days in Google Books game consists of 5 questions per day, each day with a different theme. Find the answers using Google Books!Daily PrizesEvery day is a new chance to win. Here’s how: after you answer today’s questions, write a brief creative entry on the topic of books. Each day, the top 3 submissions will win Sony Readers. The first 20,000 people to play the game will also get Google Books laptop stickers.
An interesting twist to the game is that you also have to provide a 50-word entry with your take on the future of books and reading. It’s this blurb that is considered when they choose their Sony Reader winners.
The sensory experience of the context, geography and tactile feel of the book as it meshes with the story is not replaceable. We’ll use ebooks, smartphones for reference and mobile purposes. But for pleasure, we’ll have reusable folios instantly printed from online downloads. The best of both worlds!
What do you think the future of books will look like?
Thanks to Michael Danziger for the tip.
My computer is nearing the end of it’s professional career (it’s almost four years old), and about ready to head into its golden years of volunteer service to advantaged children.
It has given me a good opportunity to think about applications, functionality, and priority: Which applications do I use/need every hour? Which every week? Which every month? Which less often?
The Big Four
The every-hour ones come to mind quickly: Email (Mail), Contacts (Address Book), Web browser (Firefox), and Calendar (iCal). Rarely does a quarter of an hour go by without my using all of those applications. My “Big Four”.
Every day? PDF viewer (Preview), iTunes, To-Do list tracker (Things), Basic word processor (TextEdit), iSync. Most of these I use several times a day, but they’re not in constant use in the way that the Big Four are.
Every week? Page layout (Pages), PDF distiller/editor (Acrobat), Photo managment (iPhoto), Presentation application (Keynote), Photo manipulation (Photoshop), RSS reader (NetNewsWire), OmniOutliner (simpler for tracking many data sets than Numbers or Excel), MicroSoft Office suite: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, for reading files created by other people.
Monthly or less: iMovie and iDVD, QuarkXPress (down in the ranking since its heyday as my every-minute-core-of-the-workday application), Illustrator, Numbers / Excel, Skype.
There are “luxury” applications, of course, that I use frequently, but can get along without, like Twitterific and Calculator.
But with my computer having difficulty coping with the activities of daily life (and thus qualifying to collect on its Long Term Care Insurance), I’m reminded that the most critical functions aren’t even used hourly: they’re used every minute, or even every second.
Functions like the keyboard (working, and working as expected), mouse, real-time operating functions that let applications use resources in the most efficient priority order, display activity (including the ability to show presentations on a second screen), on/off, power management (and battery charge), trackpad and trackpad button reliability (the latter not an issue for new MacBook users — whether you like it or not), internal clock accuracy, a functioning internet connection (OK, that’s not necessarily part of the computer).
If any of these aren’t working, go see how impossible it is to manage for an hour, let alone a week.
But this isn’t a gripe post. I want to dig a little deeper; I want to look and see why the above is actually a product trend driver.
Several years ago, a team at Nokia started studying “mobility” in general, and “what people take with them when they leave the house” in particular. What they found? Three things that people don’t leave the house without: keys, money, cell phone. There’s a lot to learn from this about human needs, but for now, I’d just note that there’s been some nice progress in incorporating the money (and less so, the keys) right into the mobile phone. That’s a nice trend, but at it’s core “unnecessary”, because people will carry those three items even if they represent three discrete packing hassles.
It gets more interesting when you start looking at “luxury” mobile technologies. If you manufacture a mobile product (eg., camera), you’d darn well better make it integrate-able with a cell phone, or it will be(come) a niche product.
If You’re In, You’re In. If You’re Out, You’re Out.
You have only to look at the camera industry to prove the point: from film to digital to camera phone, just think of how our expectations about picture taking have changed in the last decade: we accept lower quality photos in exchange for the potential to snap a memory at any moment. “The best camera is the one you have with you” — that means the camera in your cell phone. The same goes for video recorders; the same goes for watches; the same goes for GPS devices, PDAs, handheld gaming computers, portable DVD players, even
iPods sorry, personal music players.
Today, the Blackberry isn’t just the hallmark of high-flying businessmen (well, in countries like Israel, where BB is still only available under corporate contract). Blackberry Pearl, Palm Centro, Apple iPhone, Nokia E62, T-Mobile Sidekick… these have brought smartphones to the masses, and the masses want them badly.
Why? Look back at my Big Four applications: Email, Web browsing, Contacts, Calendars… those are served adequately by a good smartphone, such as Nokia E71, Blackberry series, Palm or iPhone, although each of these has strengths and weaknesses in these applications. Voila! I don’t need to carry a laptop if I leave the office for a couple of hours.
The smartphone represents the integration of the Big Four application needs right into your mobile phone, alongside your camera, your wallet, and your watch. You’re going to take that phone along with you in any case, right? Getting those applications integrated into the mobile phone makes them necessities — everything else is just a niche product.
Which brings us to…
* * *
The Birth-Pangs of the Netbook Computer
What about the applications that I can’t get through the day without? PDF reader, iTunes, To-Do list tracker, word processor, iSync. PDF reader? Lousy for mobile. iTunes? Good if you’ve got an iPhone; not worth mentioning otherwise. To-Do lists? Depends on the phone you have, and the tracking software you choose. Word processor? Nada nada nada. iSync, OK.
Which means that if I go out for the day, I do need to take my computer, otherwise I’ll need to defer a lot of activity until I get back (blog posting, reading attachments, significant letter writing, major document creation, etc). Laptop computers are mobile. They’re also heavy. Either I’m shlepping a heavy laptop (after an hour’s hike through Frankfurt airport, or six hours walking a convention floor, you’ll see what I mean), or accumulating a backlog of tasks. Ouch.
This “Ouch” is what drives the growth of the new UMPC (ultra-mobile personal computer, or “netbook”) computer market. It’s a market category that seems obvious: make a laptop that’s light enough to really carry around, and that can get you through all your normal daily application needs, and most of your weekly application requirements. It meets a true need, so long as the real fundamentals (reliability, trackpad, etc.) are well-met.
Why did the netbook market take so long to gain traction, and why is it finally moving now?
Netbooks aren’t in the top-three items people won’t leave their homes without. So while they do meet a need, they don’t meet a Need, if you catch my drift.
For a netbook computer to make sense to me as a consumer, it needs to fulfill more needs than my smartphone, and offer some kind of major advantage over a laptop. Why? Because I’ve already got a phone of some sort (and won’t give that up), and I’ve already got a computer of some sort (which may as well be a laptop).
The netbook can’t replace my cell phone in any case; the best it can hope to do is replace my laptop (unlikely, unless I prefer a desktop computer as my main computer) in situations where I simply cannot manage on a smartphone alone. In other words, a netbook is a luxury.
So, what has changed, then? Why has this market now gained traction? How has the netbook moved itself from luxury to necessity?
Their Heads in the Clouds
Essentially, it boils down to the critical “back-office” functions: hardware, software, OS, broadband mobile data connections, and cloud-computing competence (to keep the applications and data available, usable, secure and in sync). Of those functions, the latter two are not under the control of the computer manufacturers, who have had to wait for them to catch up.
That “wait for them to catch up” vulnerability has, to some extent, been responsible for the move of mobile phone manufacturers into the internet content space (Nokia with Ovi, Apple with MobileMe, RIM with Blackberry Internet Service for individuals). You can focus on their sales of content, but that represents the raindrops — the real focus should be on their ownership of the Cloud. When you own the Cloud, you don’t have to wait for someone else to build it in order to provide the service.
The mobile phone manufacturers “got it” — the computer manufacturers didn’t (well, with the exception of Apple, which is probably why they became mobile phone manufacturers in addition to creating a cloud). So the netbook manufacturers sat and languished for years, trying (mostly futilely) to bundle cellular broadband cards into their machines, which just didn’t go far enough.
Today, though, the Cloud has grown. It has developed so drastically as to be competent to take over synchronization of personal computing functions that represent daily, weekly and monthly needs (email, documents, calendars, photos on Picassa and Flickr, etc.). While it’s still true that “cloud computing” exacts a toll in lag time while data is accessed, that inconvenience is bearable for applications that aren’t accessed on a constant basis. Google in particular is building the back-end infrastructure that allows the netbooks to succeed on a functional level.
With the support of the Cloud, a netbook can handle almost every personal computing need — at half the price of a laptop computer. It is the that Cloud takes the computing and storage burden off the mobile devices, allowing them to provide the necessary applications without actually providing them.
The ultimate set-up, of course, is a transparent set of perfectly synced devices: phone, ultra-mobile, and desktop sizes, from which any documents and data sets can be retrieved. Whether those devices are actually one core device with a number of corporeal states (a la Modu), or cloud-computing-served units (iMac + MacBook Air + iPhone) is a question of technology and security.
(Technology = Can the synchronization be maintained for discrete devices? vs. Can the cloud have little enough downtime and great enough bandwidth to be able to serve up the data on demand? Security = Distribution of multiple hardware units containing sensitive data? — think of UK government security issues, with computers and data files left on public transport — vs. Can the cloud be secure enough to entrust with all sensitive data?).
We anxiously await mobile utopia.
I’ve heard over the years that DOS [and Windows] sometimes err in calculations over a certain size. Something to do with floating points, I think. Anyway, I never understood the problem, so I appreciate that this report of Google Calculator having trouble includes an explanation:
It’s not a simple case of a cutoff where things fall apart, though. 1,999,999,999,999,999 minus 1,999,999,999,999,995 incorrectly equals 0, but 1,999,999,999,999,999 minus 1,999,999,999,999,993 correctly equals 6. And 400,000,000,000,002 minus 400,000,000,000,001 incorrectly equals 0, but 400,000,000,000,002 minus 400,000,000,000,000 correctly equals 2.
Perhaps most amusing for the schadenfreude crowd, Google botches some math involving a googol, which is 1 followed by 100 zeros. The quantity of a googol plus one, minus a googol, equals 0 rather than the correct result, 1.
I’m from Los Angeles. In L.A., we say “You are what you drive.” Sad, but true.
When I was a child, the car was a vehicle. My grandparents had cars (one per family, not one per grandparent) with bench seats front and rear. I climbed in and sat between Grandma and Grandpa, and we talked while we drove. If it got hot, there were these neat triangular vent windows that popped open in back, and roll-down windows that took about five minutes to roll back up (and an equal amount of time to recover from). Maps went in the glove compartment. Eating and drinking in the car were not conceivable.
When I was a teenager, the car had evolved to become a second home. My parents’ cars (one per parent) each had air conditioning, radio with five station memory buttons, power windows, console storage and a cupholder. The map was a fat Thomas Guide stuffed in the seat pocket behind the front passenger seat. That was new, too: the front passengers each had their own adjustable bucket seat (slide forward/backward and recline). We didn’t talk as much together in the car; we listened together to the radio. Usually the driver chose the station, so it was either news radio (both parents), sports, pop psychology, country music, golden oldies (dad), or classical music (mom).
By the time I finished school, the car had become an extension of self, part of a person’s identity. When you got your first drivers’ license, you started thinking about getting your own car. When my dad handed down his (totally cool) car to me, the first thing I did was earn the money to install a cassette player. I didn’t talk to anybody (car phones were so new that I only knew three people who had them, all in their forties), except sometimes my little brother, when I took him to school. When my first children were born, we drove and sang along to tapes and CDs.
Today, car interior design has gone farther than ever in cocooning the individual rather than the group: DVD players front and back, separate headphone jacks, individual climate control (front and back; driver and passenger). Second- and third-row captain’s seats. Cup holders in every door, seatback, and floor panel. iPod and mobile phone jacks. Memory storage of your seat’s height, location, and degree of lumbar support.
“You are what you drive.”
Step back for a moment, and you’ll see that these design trends paint a larger cultural picture. The car has moved from a shared space (bench seats, no entertainment, little customization) to a highly personal space that is unlikely to be shared. When it is shared (for example, in a family mini-van), every effort is made to create as much private space as possible (individual seats, individual climate control, individual cupholders, individual entertainment and entertainment controls).
It’s a very different attitude about the car and how you spend time in it.
To me, it’s speaks of a very Western interpretation of mobility: Freedom, Entertainment, Movement, Privacy, Independence. Mobility = Individuality.
This attitude and the design ethic it inspired isn’t limited to cars. It has been the driving force (sorry) in mobile phone design for years.
Listen to the usability experts up until about a year ago. Everything was about how “personal” the mobile phone is. Studies showing that a high percentage of people don’t feel comfortable sharing their phone, or letting someone even use their phone briefly. The personal messages, notes, contacts, call history, browser history, photos.
Even more, there’s a sort of personal identification and relationship with the phone itself. Going further, your mobile phone number is more meaningful that your social security number — it’s one of your names. Your mobile number represents you, unlike a landline number which represents a location, and doesn’t follow you around.
I have a book here on mobile phones in Japanese life called Personal, Portable, Pedestrian. That pretty much sums up what UI thinkers saw as being important to users.
It’s all true, but there’s a big problem with all this: it’s all based on “Western” cultures. Cultures in which individuality, freedom and personal space are high on the list of life’s priorities.
Paul Adams (User Experience Researcher, Google) at the MEX conference pointed out in his presentation that if you look at countries like India and China, there are people everywhere.
Americans look at these teeming masses and say, “chaos”. But it’s not chaotic to non-Western eyes. What we perceive as “chaos” may be perceived locally as “shared space”. Paul gave the example of Southwest Airlines’ seating system, which for years was a “first come-first served” arrangement, proven to be faster than assigned seating. For Americans, this was perceived as chaotic. We prefer assigned seats because we place so high a value on our unique, personal, private space. It defines us. (Southwest has since changed over to a numbered boarding order — with it’s own adorable website to explain it. Which already tells you something.)
But that isn’t necessarily true of people in other countries, other cultures. What is valuable to one person may be undesirable to another.
Even in our “own” Western culture, feelings about personal space are changing. Definitions of privacy (personal secrets that you share with 800 blog readers…), of space (virtual, real, contained within a particular device or account) are changing.
Spaces that were once shared (eg., living room, public bus) are now personal (iPod as a “sphere of isolation”, killing time with mobile broadband). Spaces that were once personal (eg., Walkman music player, internet browser) are now shared (sharing headphones, Zune WiFi, Facebook Wall, IM, location based services).
I just got a Nokia 1208 as a gift; an upgrade to my Kosher Phone account. (We’ll talk about kosher phones another time. Suffice it to say for now that a kosher phone is a phone with no data capabilities.)
If you’re reading this blog, a dual-band Series 30 phone [bet you thought S30 was extinct in the wild] probably isn’t on your mobile tech wish list. It’s three main selling points are:
* Get instant access to phone features [one programmable softkey]
* Add a little color to your life [lo-res color display and exchangeable color faceplates]
* Monitor and manage your costs [calling card tracking and call timers]
Notable features on the 1208 are an integrated LED flashlight on top (where some phones have the power button or IR window), speakerphone, support for multiple user contact lists, pre-loaded polyphonic ringtones, dust-resistant keypad, durable materials construction with non-slip backing, and a very long battery life (7 hours talk time / 15 days standby).
You may have noticed that the feature set doesn’t exactly match your checklist of phone features. That’s because the 1208 was designed for… well… less-developed countries. Despite the fact that its being sold everywhere (which is pretty interesting), priorities in the design were cost reduction, durability (many users, dusty climates) and sharability (if you can only afford to have one phone per household — or even per neighborhood — then making sharing easier becomes very important).
Which is exactly why the 1208 was on my Wish List; it’s a great example of the new attention being paid to read people, real cultures, real usage needs in the design of products and services. It has taken a long time to recognize that overall, we have enough feature. It’s about delivering them in a meaningful way, and hearing what people truly need.
It’s also about respecting other people enough to accept their own mobile identity definitions and priorities (family, community, participation, responsibility, communication), without trying to impose our “better” systems on them. In doing so, we honor others, while creating new design and product possibilities that benefit everyone.
You don’t need to hear me rant on again about uncontrolled Google Ads.
Yesterday, I moved the homepage of the Haredi Women Professionals (aka Supermom) Network to a new hosting site that plants automatic Google ads along one side of the page. In the ten minutes between my setting up the page and paying for a premium service entitling me to remove the Google Ads, the homepage was advertising links to pornography (how obvious, given the word “Women” in the title, right?).
Here’s another example (from a search results page). Not a mis-match of interests, this time, as much as poorly-chosen ad copy:
Need I point out that Orthodox Jewish Women are not for sale?! :.D
What is the “killer app” of the Apple iPhone?
I say: Scrolling.
Before you get all worked up about how much you adore Google maps and email and video, think a minute. Think about your own pleasure in using an iPhone or iPod Touch, and tell me if it isn’t really about feeling hip, feeling cool, feeling in control, and the fun of scrolling up and down lists; back and forth through album art.
Oh, all right, I’ll allow “scrolling” pictures larger and smaller by multi-touch spreading of fingers closer and farther. But that’s as far as I’ll go.
What do you say? Do you buy my argument?
The whole tagging thing is interesting. I think of tagging information as bookmarks for life. I’ve been doing it for ages, but now there are plenty of tools to help me do it (not that I use them).
Tagging is a reaction to search technology, and is proportional to the use of Search as the interface to the data. If you usually search for a contact in your address book by name, you aren’t likely to do lots of tagging in the notes field. On the other hand, if you usually do a search by, say, title (”Barber”) or where the contact lives (”London”) then you might.
Just the number of ways that we mentally search for a name or number — by first name, last name, company name, city, event where we met, job title, appearance (”the bald guy who sat next to the CTO”) — is astonishing. It’s all the more astonishing that my Nokia E65 only searches contacts by first/last name or company name (but not both — depending on how the card is listed.
I’m very sensitive to the way names are spelled: once I know how someone spells their name, I rarely (if ever) get it wrong. No Mark for Marc; no Allen for Alan. The spelling is an inherent part of the way I see the name in my mind when I think of the person. There have been a few occasions where I got a spelling wrong upon introduction (my fault or the introducers), and I’ve compensated for that by spelling the name incorrectly in the contact’s notes field. So one unexpected part of tagging data is tagging it incorrectly, too, so that it can be found by people making a mistake.
All of this rambling is a long way of saying that I think there’s still a huge opportunity for improvement to the interfaces for searching content on our mobile devices.
I’m finally getting down to organizing my notes and thoughts from the MEX Conference held last month in London.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“The user says, ‘It’s broken’ not ‘I’m suffering from a fragmented ecosystem’.” — Jo Rabin, MobileMonday London
“Most people don’t want to buy a 1/4″ drill, they want a 1/4″ hole.” – Scott Jensen, Google
“Cognitive simplicity” — Steve Ives, Taptu
“Neutral vs. Imperial” — JD Moore, Nokia
“‘Chaos’ is not chaotic to non-Western eyes. ‘Chaos’ is shared space.” – Paul Adams, Google
“The environment is the interface.” — Kieran del Pasqua, Intel
iPhone: “The interface is the device.” — Robert Weideman, Nuance
“The device is the analog-to-digital converter of life.” — Robert Weideman, Nuance
“‘Device talking to us’ doesn’t always work as well as ‘us talking to device’.” — comment during a Breakout Session on design use cases for the handset outside the hand.*
“Fragmentation is the result of innovation.” — Carl Taylor, Hutchison Whampoa Europe
“It is seven times quicker to read than to listen. It is seven times quicker to say it than to type it.” — Simon Crowfoot, SpinVox
“…’Point and Shoot’ as a UI design philosophy.” – Simon Crowfoot, SpinVox
*If you’re the one who said this, please let me know so that I may credit you!
An interesting post on the Google Code blog:
“Haptic feedback has been added to the finger down and up events triggered when a keyboard button is clicked. These events have been adapted to create a fingertip-over event which is fired when the finger moves over any button in the interface. When the fingertip-over event is triggered, a 1-beat smooth 70ms high intensity Tacton (2) is presented using the iPhone’s built-in rotational motor.”
I played with some haptic feedback devices at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month and was really disappointed. The vibration comes from somewhere in the back of the phone — from a specific location where the vibrating buzzer is. In other words, the haptic feedback comes from a location not associated with the area with which you’re interacting. For me, it was a distraction rather than a feedback
I love the concept, but in practice it’s not there yet.