Posts Tagged ‘apple’
A couple of weeks ago I forgot my iPad on the train.
After getting over the initial overwhelming feelings of idiocy on my part, I started thinking a bit deeper about the consequences and whether I had taken sensible precautions to mitigate those consequences.
A couple of problems dawned on me:
- I had lost something that is quite valuable (one colleague told me with some measure of sincerity: “Nice gift for somebody else”. I don’t spend €700 casually and was distressed about losing something that is worth that much.
- More important than the device is the data that is on it. There are two potential problems here. The first is that you might have lost access to data that is important to you. The second is that somebody else suddenly might have gained access to your data. Both of these made me feel very uncomfortable.
- Finally, losing the device made it clear to me that all iPads look alike, especially in their locked state, and that there is no way for an honest finder to know who the rightful owner of the device is.
So here is my advice on how to minimize these problems. I recommend for you to apply these immediately if you haven’t done so already.
- Fully insure your device (I had actually done this). Even though this is prohibitively expensive and even though you really shouldn’t insure devices if you can afford to replace them yourself (those insurance companies have to live of something), I still think it is a good idea as there are so many things that can go wrong with it, just through bad luck. I take the cost of the insurance into account when buying the tablet and amortize that over two to three years.
- Ask yourself this question: Could I throw my current device in the water, walk over to any random computer with a browser and an Internet connection and access all the data that matters to me from there? If next, you would get a new device, would you be able to easily get that data back on the device? If your answer is no to either of these questions you should change your strategy. Some people might think I ask for too much as they are happy to backup to iTunes. I prefer to be as independent from iTunes as possible (I only use it for updates) and think most people would still lose a couple of days of data if all they had was an iTunes backup. Even before I lost my iPad, I was ok in this area. Here are some of the things that I have done: I like to have all my data in apps that keep both a local copy (for when I am offline) and transparently sync to the cloud. For email, contacts and my calendar that is easy: I use Google Apps for my domain and set it up to sync (you have your own domain right?). My task are managed with ToodleDo. My news reader of choice is Google Reader. All my notes are done with Momo. I have copies of my most important documents synced in a Dropbox folder. Dropbox also provides the syncing architecture for my iThoughts mindmaps and for the large collection of PDFs I have sitting the Goodreader app. I buy my ebooks DRM free and read them with Goodreader or I get books as a service through the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Apple now allows easy redownload of the apps you have purchased in the past.
- Make sure you set a passcode on your iPad (this I had done too). I’ve set it up so that it only comes on after a couple of minutes of being in standby mode. This why I get to keep some of the instant on and off convenience, but also know that if somebody steals it from my bag they won’t just be able to access my data. One thing I am still not sure about is how secure the passcode lock is. What happens when people try to connect a stolen iPad to their iTunes? Is there access to the data?
Apple provides a free Find my iPad service. I had never bothered to set it up, but have since found out that it literally only takes two minutes to do. Once you have it installed you will be able to see where your iPad is, send a message to the iPad and even wipe its contents remotely. All of this can only work once your iPad has an Internet connection though.
- Finally, I have downloaded a free iPad wallpaper and have used GIMP to add my contact information on top of the wallpaper file (making sure not to put the info underneath the dialog that asks for the passcode. This way, when somebody with good intentions finds the iPad they will have an easy way to find out who the rightful owner is.
To finish the story: a couple of days after I lost my iPad I called the railway company to see if they had some news for me (I had asked them to try and locate it as soon as I realized it was missing). They told me a fellow traveler had brought in my iPad to the service desk and that I could pick it up. Unfortunately, I have no way of thanking this honest person, other than by writing this post.
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about how Kaizen (the philosophy of continuous improvement) relates to the rise of the Good Enough paradigm. The post also has to include a non-digital example of Kaizen versus Good Enough. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
The world is full of badly designed things. I find this infuriating. A little bit of thought by the designer could make many things so much easier to use. My favourite book on this topic is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. It is years ago since I read the book, but I can still remember Norman agitating against all kind of design flaws: why would an object as simple as a door need a manual (“push”). I have therefore decided to start a new Twitter account titled unusablestuff in which I post pictures of things that fail to be usable.
Through Alper I recently learnt about the Japanese concept of Kaizen. This is a philosophy of continuous improvement that aims to eliminate waste (wasted time, wasted costs, wasted opportunities, etc.). Kaizen as described on Wikipedia is very much a particular process that you can go through with a group of people:
Kaizen is a daily activity, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work [..], and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.
I’d also like to see it as being a mindset.
Another thing I recently read was a Wired article titled: The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple is just Fine.
Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher. [...]
what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”
Both ideas have their appeal to me, but at a superficial level they might seem to contradict each other. Why would you spend a lot of time trying to continually improve on something, when good enough is just good enough? This contradiction isn’t truly there. Good enough is essentially relevant at a higher level than Kaizen. Good enough means you design for a specific task, context, audience or zeitgeist and don’t add things that aren’t necessary. It is about simplicity and lowering the costs, but not about lowering the design effort. Kaizen is about the details: once you have decided to build a netbook (smaller screen, less processing power, but good enough for basic browsing on the net), you should still make sure to design it in such a way that people can use with a little waste as possible.
Let’s look at garbage bins as an example. A garbage bin is a relatively simple product. It is a bin with a lid that can hold a bag in which you put the garbage. Oscar lives in one of the classic bins. In essence this is good enough. You don’t need auto-incinerators, sensors that tell you when the bag is full, odour protection, etc. The simple bin-lid-bag concept does have a couple of issues and problems that can be solved with good design.
Problem: Sometimes you need two hands to get your garbage in the bin. If you have to scrape some leftover peels from a cutting board for example. In that case you have no hands free to lift the lid of the bin.
Solution: You create a bin with a foot-pedal. A foot-pedal also keeps you hands clean as you don’t have to touch the lid of the bin which is often dirty.
Problem: When the bin is empty, pressing the pedal might make the bin move.
Solution: A rubber ring at the bottom prevents the bin from moving on any flooring.
Problem: It can be irritating to constantly have to press the pedal if you want to throw away multiple things and have to walk back and forth to get the garbage to throw in the bin.
Solution: Hinge the lid in such a way that if it opens all the way it stays open. Allow this to be done by a persistent movement of the foot on the pedal.
Problem: If the bag gets really full (by pressing down the garbage) it might press against the mechanism that is used to open the bin, making it hard to open.
Solution: Make sure that the mechanism for opening the lid on the basis of the pedal movement lies completely outside of the bin and is unaffected by the pressure.
Problem: When you put in a new bag it often happens that there is air trapped between the bag and the bin. This makes it hard to throw aways things as the full space of the bag is not used.
Solution: Put little holes in the top of the bags. This allows the air to escape when putting in a new bag.
Problem: There is often a vacuüm between the bag and the bin when you try to lift a full bag out. This gives you the feeling that the bag is stuck.
Solution: Have little holes in bottom of the sides of the bin. This way air can come in, preventing the vacuüm. Brabantia rightly thought that holes at the side of a bin look a bit weird, so they have created an inner bin and outer bin. This also solves an aesthetic (if not design) problem: the top edge of the bag being shown. This top edge now hides between the inner and the outer bin.
Problem: A lot of garbage has some liquid components. These liquids sometimes drip from the bottom of the bag.
Solution: Create an extra strong bottom for the bag of an extra impenetrable plastic.
Problem: When a bag is full it can be hard to tie it up.
Solution: First make sure that the bag is slightly bigger than the bin. Once the bag is out of the bin, the garbage has more space to spread and the top of the bag will have more space to tie up. Next, have a built-in string that can be used to tie up the bag (also highly useful for lifting out the bag). Make sure that this string is long enough to make for an easy knot.
I have had all these problems with garbage bins at some point, the Brabantia bin solves them all.
Many people will probably consider me a whiner (there are bigger problems in the world, can’t you get over these minor garbage issues?) or a weirdo (garbage bins, honestly?) and both are probably true, but that doesn’t negate my point. Getting a product on the market requires that is designed. Now think about the extra design effort to create a bin that solves common bin problems. How many more man months for the Brabantia design than for the classic “Oscar bin”? Now imagine the small problems that a user of a classic garbage bin encounters and multiply them by all the garbage bin users in this world. Any idea how many times an hour something is spilled in this world because there is no pedal on the bin? People like to blame themselves (“I am so terribly clumsy”), I like to blame the designer. Why not just spend some extra design effort and get it right?
I want to draw an analogy with the design of software. I think the believe in Kaizen is what makes Apple products stand out. The example I love to show people is the difference in the calculator on the Symbian S60 3rd edition (I used it on the Nokia E71, my previous phone) and on the iPhone (my current phone).
A calculator is a simple thing. Most people only need addition, subtraction, multiplication and division capabilities. Both default calculators deliver exactly this functionality. Nokia’s effort looks like this:
You need to use the keyboard (there are designated keys for the numbers) and the D-pad to make a calculation. The D-pad is necessary to navigate from one operator to the next. To do a simple calculation like 6 / 2 = 3 requires you to press eleven buttons!
The iPhone calculator looks like this:
You just use your finger to tap the right numbers and operators. 6 / 2 = 3 only requires four finger taps.
It is not just the touch interface that makes it possible to have a great working calculator. I managed to download another calculator for the Nokia phone, Calcium. It looks like this:
This calculator makes clever use of natural mapping to create a calculator that is as easy, if not easier, to use as Apple’s calculator. 6 / 2 = 3 takes indeed four button presses. Nokia could have made this. The fact that Nokia was willing to ship a phone with the default calculator as it was is one of the reasons why I have a hard time believing they have a bright future in the smartphone space.
In a next post I might rant about how many designers think the whole world is right-handed. Do you have any thoughts on design?
Mitchell Baker, chairperson of the Mozilla foundation, talked about the right for self-determination on the Internet. She explained that having a completely open (meaning free as in freedom) stack to access the Internet does not necessarily mean that you have ownership over your digital self. There is a tendency for web services on the net to be free as in free beer (think Facebook), without giving users true ownership of their data. Mozilla has started a couple of projects to try and move the open spectrum away from the internet accessing device to the net. Trying to make sure that at least one slice of the net is open. Mozilla Weave is an example project that aligns with this goal. I really like the fact that Weave does client side encryption of all data and that it is offered as a service by Mozilla but can also be installed locally.
Tristan Nitot then talked about “hackability”. He actually doesn’t like to use that word because it has negative connotations for the media. What he means with it is “generativity” (see The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It), but that word is even harder to understand. His argument was relatively simple though: vendors aren’t always creative imagining what their products can be used for. The telephone, for example, was thought to be used mainly for listening to opera music. It is important that people are allowed to play with technology, because that is where innovation comes from. Tristan finished his talk with a slide with the following text: “Hackability is getting the future we want, not the one they are selling us.”
Paul Rouget then demoed a couple of very interesting hacks using Firefox with Stylish, Greasemonkey and some HTML5 functionality. A lot of his work can be found at on the Mozilla Hacks site. An example is this HTML5 image uploader:
Finally we had Robert Nyman introduce HTML5 to us. I thought it was interesting to see that it was Mozilla, Apple and Opera that started the WHATWG and got the work on creating the HTML spec started. Their work will be very important (for example, it might mean the end for Flash) and should make a lot of web designer’s lives less miserable. Robert’s presentation is on Slideshare:
Some things will be much easier in HTML5: what caught my eye were some new elements (allowing more semantic richness, e.g. elements like <header> or <aside>), the new input types which can include client-side validation and the new <video> and <canvas> elements.
Finally I would like to point you towards the Mozilla Manifesto. This is the introduction to the document which is available in many languages:
The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet. We have worked together since 1998 to ensure that the Internet is developed in a way that benefits everyone. As a result of the community’s efforts, we have distilled a set of principles that we believe are critical for the Internet to continue to benefit the public good. These principles are contained in the Mozilla Manifesto.
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to include our personal browser histories in the post. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
If you are not interested in Browsers and/or usability, I would suggest you don’t bother to read this post.
I cannot exactly remember the first time I used the Internet. It probably was in 1996 in the library at the Universiteit Utrecht. I wasn’t particularly aware of the browser I was using, but I am quite sure that is was Netscape Navigator with which I did the Altavista searches. I used Netscape throughout my education, only to switch to Internet Explorer 5 when I got my own computer with Windows 98 and a dial-up Internet connection. I then used nothing but IE until I read about Mozilla Firefox in a magazine in 2004. Through Moodle I had started appreciating open source software and I liked working with Firefox and its tabs. I stuck with Firefox for a year or so, feeling quite the rebel whenever a site would only load in IE. At some point I noticed how much faster IE was than Firefox. That is when I switched to Avant Browser, a freeware skin around the IE browser engine which included tabs and some other advanced features. A little while later (somewhere in late 2005 or early 2006) I learnt about Opera. Opera had a lot of appeal to me. I liked how their developers pushed so many innovations in the browser space: tabbed browsing, advanced security features and mouse gestures were all inventions of Opera. I loved how fast it was and how many features they managed to cram in so little megabytes. Its cross platform nature allowed me to stay with Opera when I permanently switched to Ubuntu in the summer of 2006. I switched back to Firefox in early 2007 because of my slightly more hardcore open source attitude and because of its wonderful extensions. The latter allowed me to keep all the functionality that I loved about Opera and more.
About two weeks ago I switched to Chromium. This is Google’s relatively new open source offering in the browser market. I am able to automatically download new builds every day through the PPA for Ubuntu Chromium Daily Builds. Even though it is still beta alpha software, it is highly usable.
So why did I switch? I think there are three reasons:
While writing this post I decided to try installing Firefox 3.5 (without add-ons) and see how that would perform. After a sudo apt-get install firefox-3.5 I could start Firefox by selecting “Shiretoko Web Browser” in the “Internet” menu. The total score was 5781.2ms, a major improvement, but still more than one and half times slower than Chromium. Its interface is also still less responsive than I would like it to be.
Another nice aspect about Chromium’s performance is that each tab is its own process. This so called Multi Process Architecture isolates problem webpages so that one Flash page crashing does not affect the other browser tabs, something that happened very often to me with Firefox.
2. Screen Real Estate
Another thing that a netbook lacks is pixels. My screen is 1024 pixels wide and 600 pixels high. Especially the lack of height is sometimes taxing. I have done a lot of things in Ubuntu to mitigate this problem (if you are interested I could write a post about that) and I had to do the same with Firefox.
In Firefox I used Tiny Menu, chose small icons, used no bookmarks and combined many toolbars into one to make sure that I have more content and less browser. To my surprise I had to do nothing with Chromium and still got a bigger canvas with a bigger font in the address bar! Compare the screenshots below to see the differences:
Chromium shows more of the page and accomplishes this by doing a couple of smart things:
- There is no status bar. I could have turned the status bar off in Firefox, but I need to see where a link is pointing to before I click on it. Chromium shows this information dynamically as soon as you hover over a link. When you don’t hover it shows nothing.
- The tabs are moved into the title bar. It looks a bit weird for a while, but it uses some very valuable space.
- Some things only appear when you need them. The bookmark bar, for example, only shows up when you open a new tab.
3. It is a fresh look at what a browser should/could be
Most of my time behind my computer is spent using a browser. More and more of the applications I use daily have moved into the cloud (e.g. mail and RSS reading). It is thus important to have a browser that is made to do exactly those functions.
The developers of Chromium have looked at all aspects of a traditional browser and have rethought how they work. A couple of examples:
- The address bar is actually a tool with four functions. It contains your web history, typing some terms will execute a search in your default search engine (saving me two characters compared to how I search in Firefox), you can type a normal web address and you can use keywords to search. If I type w chromium in the address bar it will search for chromium in Wikipedia. The keyword search also works in Firefox, but Chromium has a prettier and more clear implementation.
- When you open a new tab, you see a Dashboard of sites you use often (a variant of another Opera invention). That page also conveniently displays recently closed tabs with a link to your browsing history. The history page has excellent search (it is Google after all!) and has that simple Google look.
- The downloads work in a particular way. They automatically save in a default location unless you tick a box confirming that you always like to open that type of file from now on. This takes a little getting used to (I like saving my downloads in different folders), but once again the download history is searchable and looks clean.
In conclusion: Chromium is a browser in which some hard choices were made. No compromises. That means that I, as a user, have to worry about less choices and settings and can focus on being more productive. Making tough interface design choices can be a very successful strategy: witness Apple’s iPod.
For now I will be using Chromium as my primary browser and will use Firefox when I need certain functionalities that only Firefox add-ons can provide.
I am looking forward to what the browser future holds!
Warning, this is a bit of a rant…
I hate false advertising. That is why I was delighted to read that Apple had to pull an iPhone ad recently (see: What the banned iPhone ad should really look like).
I am currently at the Online Educa in Berlin where Fronter is the Platinum sponsor. I found their brochure in the conference bag and was appalled by what I read.
Fronter has decided to adopt the discourse of open source software without actually delivering an open source product. Recently, this has been a strategy for many companies who produce proprietary software and are losing market share to open source products. This is the first time that I have seen it done in such a blatant way though.
Some quotes from their brochure:
The essence of Fronter’s Open Philosophy is to give learning institutions the benefit of an open source and open standard learning platform – while at the same time issuing guarantees for security, reliability and scalability, all included in a predictable fixed cost of ownership package.
Fronter’s Open Platform philosophy combines the best of two worlds; innovation based on open source, with guarantees and fixed cost of ownership issued by a corporation.
Open source: The Fronter source code is available to all licensed customers.
Open guarantee: In contrast to traditional open source products, Fronter offers tight service level agreements, quality control and a zero-bug regime.
I am sure the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would not appreciate these untruths. So let us do some debunking.
The term open source actually has a definition. The Open Source Definition starts with the following statement: “Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code.” It then continues by listing the ten conditions that need to be met before a software license can call itself open source. Many of these conditions are not met by Fronter (e.g. free distribution, allowing distribution of the source code or allowing derived works).
These conditions exist for a reason. Together they facilitate the community based software development model which has proven itself to be so effective (read: The Cathedral and the Bazaar if you want to know more). Just giving your licensees access to the source code, does not leverage this “many eyeballs” potential.
I really dislike how they pretend that open source products cannot have proper service level agreements or quality control.SLA’s and QA is exactly what European Moodle partners like eLeDia, CV&A Consulting, MediaTouch 2000 srl and my employer Stoas (all present at this Educa) have been delivering in the last couple of years.
What is a “zero-bug regime” anyway? Does it mean that your customers cannot know any of the bugs in your software? Or is Fronter the only commercially available software product in the world that has no bugs? I much prefer the completely transparent way of dealing with bugs that Moodle has.
Fronter people, please come and meet me at the Moodle Solutions stand (E147 and E148). I would love to hear you tell me how wrong I am.
I have a problem with locked-down hardware. It is not that I don’t like Apple’s products (the iPod Touch is a wonderful piece of hardware), I just don’t like the way Apple’s products treat their customers. I had to help somebody who’s Windows laptop had died. She bought a new Apple laptop and wanted to move her music from her iPod to her new laptop: impossible! It took Linux as an intermediary to get it done.
That is why I love the concept of open hardware. I personally own a Neuros OSD (great when you are on a holiday and want to watch your own videos on the hotel TV) and, since a couple of months, a Chumby.
The Chumby is a computer the size of a coffee mug and made of leather. It has a touch screen, an accelerometer, a microphone, stereo speakers, two USB ports, a WIFI connection and a nice soft button on the top.
So what can it do? I see it as having a couple of distinct functions. It is:
- An excellent alarm clock with an easy interface. You can set multiple alarms and decide whether you want to wake up with music or a tone. You can even set the length of your snooze.
- A relatively decent speaker set for your iPod.
- An Internet radio player. It is full of Shoutcast and other streams.
- A digital picture frame for photos that live on the Internet (e.g. Flickr, Facebook, Picasa). It can display photos from a particular user, but also from a particular tag.
- An RSS reader.
- And finally, an Internet enabled device for any kind of content.
The last point is the important one. You can load your Chumby with widgets. There are hundreds of widgets available. You use a web-based interface to add these widgets into channels. Then you set your Chumby to watch a certain channel.
I have created this virtual Chumby (please click the link, it opens in a new window!) to give you an idea of what these widgets look like. This chumby shows a particular channel which I created for this blog post and has a couple of example widgets. Each widget will be shown for about 20-45 seconds. It starts with some random Flickr images showing my favourite tag: decay. You can interact with the screen to move to the next or the previous tag. Next up is Twistori, this displays recent tweets with the word “believe” in it. If you prefer “love”, “hate”, “think”, “feel” or “wish” then you can click on those words to switch to them. The Chumby will then display recent top news stories from Google news. Next this blog using Chumby’s RSS reader (you might see this blog entry). It finishes off with the weather in Amsterdam (including a forecast), a web cam looking at Abbey Road (do you see people trying to imitate the famous Beatles cover?), some video’s from the excellent videojug and the classic blue ball machine animation.
As you can see the Chumby mostly pulls content in. My colleague Job Bilsen had the interesting idea of using it as a device for pushing content to people. He had visions of companies putting Chumbies on the desks of their employees and sending them important updates about things like compliance, RSI, internal news, etc. I can already see a plug-in for a VLE like Moodle. Imagine doing your homework on your laptop with your Chumby on your desk displaying updates from your courses and playing your favourite Last.fm channel (they are working on a Last.fm widget)!
The best thing about the Chumby: the specifications are completely open. I had to get an European adapter for it and they have the precise information about the power supply listed on their website. You are even encouraged to hack into it! Use it as a web server or log into over ssh? No problem.
Where do you get one? Currently the Chumby is only available in the US. They are in the process of complying to all the European rules and regulations so it shouldn’t take much longer before you can buy one over here as well. Want one now? Ebay is your friend!