Pebble, Rock, Stone

This is a blog post that has lived with me for several years, and this version originates from August 2010.

Computing has gone mobile, it has moved over more than half a century from room-filling beasts, through so-called mini computers, to the desktop PC and other static devices, through the laptop and onto the mobile phone.

It couldn’t get any smaller, not without changing the way we connect ourselves to the device, so we have seen the next step with the devices getting bigger. The iPad is not the first tablet, but it will probably remembered as such.

Apple appears to be the winner for now, although we have seen how sales of Android phones have overtaken the iPhone in a way many people did not expect.

Oddly enough, I thought Microsoft had won the game a decade ago when it announced its tablet PC version of Windows XP. While others dismissed the idea out of hand, I thought the concept was exactly what people would want when using a device at home or on the move.

I could picture myself at home, in front of a television, using my tablet for web browsing and for controlling my home theatre. Even then it was easy to imagine being able to combine live television and web on a single large screen, combining digital multi-channels, and really being able to command a complete experience.

So, what have we got, and how can that form the complete experience?

The Pebble
This is your mobile phone, you carry it with you 90%+ of the time. It is a powerful computer in its own right, and behind its cellular phone network are banks of datacentres ready to augment that power whenever you need it. Why do you need anything else?

Of course, data entry is difficult, and you wouldn’t want to watch movies on it. Sometimes you need a lot more on screen than something a few inches across can provide at an acceptable speed.

Therefore you need something a little bigger.

The Stone
This is something you can carry with you most of the time. It might be your tablet, or it might be your laptop. A lot depends on the way you need it to be used – whether always on or for something more precise, for example data entry.

It should pair seamlessly with your phone, perhaps relying on its data connection, or augmenting it, even providing a better aerial.

But your phone can add to this equation too. It can be a secondary display, a handset, a remote control, even a portable keyboard or mouse.

You now have a powerful mobile computing platform, but you aren’t always on the move.

The Rock
This is the most flexible of all three (unless you want a fourth category, the boulder perhaps).

It can be a desktop PC at the office or at home. It could be your television and media centre. It could be something that hasn’t yet been dreamed of.

Immediately you have two secondary displays or input devices (actually we need a name for this kind of device) that can act as remote controls or augment the viewing experience. I for one would love to be able to watch Formula 1 races with the ability to select my own camera views, to move them around the screen or display data of my own choice.

Pebble, Stone, Rock
What is important here is that these devices blend together seamlessly. Once paired, they should just work.

There is no reason that it should be Apple phone, Apple tablet, and Apple TV and not playing well with any other devices. It cannot be beyond the wit of companies that stand to make trillions to work out a series of APIs.

Once upon a time, I dreamed that my lightweight MP3 player could talk wirelessly to a battery-powered hard drive in my bag, and from there to my office and home PCs. That was in the days before 3G communication made the wireless web possible, and before Google and Amazon would deploy for me their cloud computers at a moment’s notice.

From now on, devices should not be isolated. It is pretty dire that Apple could not get iPhone and iPad to play together from day one. If Apple doesn’t lead the way, then Google, or perhaps a few Android/Chrome manufacturers must do so.

Happy 0th Birthday to Me

Happy 0th birthday
Happy 0th birthday

How nice for My Offers to think of me on my birthday, but I’m sure I remember 30+ birthdays, and really don’t fancy being born again.

Thinking what’s going on behind the scenes, they have mislaid or lost my year of birth (not sure how that can happen) and their email-generating script hasn’t been set up to 1) check if there is no year of birth and 2) not check for rogue values (e.g. below 16 or over 100*)

Okay, they only look silly – and I’ve got a blog posting out of it – but there may be times a “clever” email like this could leave its sender looking more than stupid.

It would also be rude to point out the errors in “to help make this year year’s celebrations celebration one to remember, but I’m clearly too young to know better.

Is anyone policing your out-of-office comments?

How does your organisation represent itself in its emails?

Do you have a brand document that declares in minutiae the absolute font, size, colour and wording of signatures? Do you leave it to managers or individuals? I’ve lost count of the number of job titles I’ve given myself over the years.

Certainly, consistency is good for the brand. And anything that prevents some of those absurd graphics, animations or multi-colour texts cannot be said to be bad.

What about your out of office autoreplies? Do you have any level of advice?

In all honesty, not many people ever see more than a couple. In May, as part of an office-use study, I received over 400. I’m not going to name names, but here are a few highlights:

I am out of the office until Wednesday 30TH May. Please contact XYZ or ABC with any questions.

All other e-mails will be answered on my return.

All e-mails will be replied to on my return.

On dd-dd-dddd I will leave [organisation]. As such I no longer have access to emails.

If you message is related to Sales Development please email [name surname].

If the message is for me please email [freeserve email address]

This one doesn’t help if you don’t know how to contact the relevant team:

I have now left the [organisational team]. Please forward any emails to the [organisational team]who will be happy to help in any way they can. Many thanks

Please note I do not access this E-mail account and consequently your E-mail will not be responded to.

Please use [email in related organisation]

Tactile Phones – forget about touch and haptics

What do you really need from a phone? How do you really use it?

This is something I photoshopped a while back and forgot about, but it seems quite relevant just ahead of the 3G iPhone arriving in shops.

tactile-phones.jpg

Pic 1 is of the LG KF700, another phone trying something different, in this case a spin wheel. It got me thinking about physical feedback from phones. How do you orient it without looking at it? Can you easily switch mode to, say, silent and know that it is in silent mode with it in your pocket?

Pics 2 and 3 are the extension of this thinking. Could you slide the wheel in and out to switch between two modes. Pic 4 is another way of indicating something – perhaps vibrate if there’s a waiting message.

In real life, when you’re walking on the street, you can’t always hear or feel the phone ringing or vibrating in your pocket. In the office, it would be reassuring to know it won’t interrupt that important meeting without obviously switching it off.

What other physical factors would be handy? A quick release keylock that saves you from answering the phone as you struggle to get it out of your pocket? Simple feedback it’s still on? A jog-dial that controls your MP3 playback?

Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t promote anything that encourages fumbling in one’s pockets.

The gold rush to new extensions – Gandi Bar

Like many others, I’ve got mixed feelings about the “relaxing” of top-level domain names. There are great potential domain extensions like .movie, .book, .sony, .apple and many more. Some leave me puzzled, would I prefer myrestaurant.ldn or myrestaurant.london? Some will leave me baffled at their arrogance, ignorance or avarice. No doubt, there will be lots of people wanting to make money off this – all wanting to sell me one extension or another.

And where there’s a rush, there will be people overextending themselves. Maybe it’s expensive and half a million dollars is enough surety, but I’ve got a horrible feeling this could bring down more than a few speculators, risking the domains (and livelihoods) of many, many more.

It’s a relief to see one of my providers, the French firm Gandi, taking a firm line against this, The gold rush to new extensions – Gandi Bar:

Our wish is to provide an irreproachable level of service, and we cannot do this if we are both the judge and the party, the supplier and the reseller, the regulation authority and the distributor. A notary cannot simultaneously be a real estate agent and promoter: this is exactly, at any rate for us, the same problem that is applied to Internet addresses and to the websites that are on them. However, this is what has been happening in recent years, because all of the actors believe that the market is so stupid that it will not wake up one day from its torpor.

Benjamin Zander: In contribution, there is no better!

Benjamin Zander in actionI feel indebted to Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen for introducing me to Benjamin Zander, or at least the following video of him talking to music students:

Link: YouTube – Benjamin Zander Speech Preview

Zander is the British-born conductor of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, clearly an incredible presence on stage, and apparently now a big name on the management training circuit. Here, he is talking about being a performing musician, but the parallels are not lost:

We are about contribution, that’s what our job is … everyone was clear you contributed passion to the people in this room. Did you do it better than the next violinist, or did he do better than a pianist? I don’t care, because in contribution, there is no better!

Spin that yourself any way you like, but Zander clearly isn’t a man interested in the substandard.

Web facilitates wisdom of crowds: Gerry McGovern

As every week, Gerry McGovern provides food for thought, this time on the wisdom of crowds.
In Web facilitates wisdom of crowds he says:

The Web is not about crowd-think, but rather about amalgamating and sifting the results of many people’s independent opinions on particular subjects. This approach is the essence of Google’s success-the more people who vote for (link to) a website, the higher it ranks in Google.

I see this explanation almost like water sloshing about in a breached boat, just because a few people push the balance of the argument off centre, it doesn’t mean the resulting surge takes it to the correct tipping point.

Every week, I find myself seaching for some web technique or another. Google regularly takes me to pages that have been superceded, but from which the balance hasn’t been restored.

In elections where results are declared before the polls close, many people vote for the person they believe is going to win. How many Digg users only digg the stories they find within Digg?

That’s not to say I’m pro-experts in this debate. An expert has to create a niche with a differentiatable product which will sell. Their message can be easier to corrupt, while a crowd’s can merely be diverted.
Experts can be smart, crowds can be smart, experts can be dumb, crowds can be dumb. Gerry’s closing comment is smarter than I can manage:

Something extraordinary and quite revolutionary is happening on the Web. Millions of minds are coming together to create a vast global brain and memory bank. We will spend the next fifty years pondering the implications of all this.

Ideas will compete, crowds will vote and vote again. We may become wiser, but will we attain wisdom?

iPhone: Where are the games?

I know everyone’s talking about the iPhone and, hey, I’m no exception.

This is the first product in a long time that has drawn real attention from technology fans across the spectrum (i.e. dedicated PC nuts), and it’s been interesting to see a lot of the initial excitement fade as the reality of Apple’s business decisions becomes apparent.

My question, which I only ask as I haven’t seen elsewhere, is where are the games?

If we’re to believe the hype, Multitouch is the most important user interface development advance in a decade. It’s certainly something I’ve been dreaming of for a while, and maybe it’s the most intuitive interface ever.

I doubt it. I’ve spent too long explaining shortcuts like shift-clicking to select multiple items, double-tap to drag on a trackpad, even CTRL-X,C&V for clipboard actions. What the new interface needs is a selection of games that expose users to the new methods and turn them into instinctive actions.

Of course with light sensors, accelerometers and a touch screen, we’re talking a nifty little handheld gaming console.

It’s unfortunate Apple don’t want to open up the iPhone to developers. Just look at it, the iPhone is the new holy grail for hackers.

Perhaps someone will even make it smart enough to detect when someone’s using it while walking down a busy street, and then scream in their ear “PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD YOU *********!”

Ten things I want from my phone

Tim O’Reilly starts an interesting, if tech-heavy, discussion in Ten Things I Want From My Phone.

In January I’ll be looking for my eighth phone in 11 years, in which time I’ve only owned three PCs (discounting upgrades) and have become a little sick of the rigmarole of installations and buying extra kit.

  1. Universal connectors and power supplies
  2. Talk to my PC without software/driver installation – perhaps a web interface like my router
  3. No non-standard file formats
  4. Zero-effort backup and transfer to new phone
  5. Transparent contracts
  6. Device and operator neutrality
  7. Wireless sync at home / work
  8. To be my control centre on the move
  9. Seamless (and secure) connection to other devices
  10. Phone must know when I’m looking for it and should alert me to where it is!