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.

Form design – simple mistake

For good or bad, or probably just being plain nosey, I find myself attacking a questionnaire on my radio listening habits.

It’s a long and fiddly one, and just when I find myself getting towards the end, I get thrown by this:

Poll form - thinking vertically not horizontally

A cold viewing, I suspect, would make absolute sense. However, I’ve just been through twenty or thirty pages, with each one’s answers appearing in the horizontal axis. Here I find myself with only three distinct answers for four questions.

Otherwise, don’t get me started on the next button on the left, and the back button on the right.

National Geographic: Swarm Behaviour

National Geographic’s Swarm Behaviour is a thoroughly interesting article on insect behaviour. It discusses how research into insect behaviour is leading to new techniques in problem-solving, management, and artificial intelligence.

It even could shed light on humans and our behaviour.

“A honeybee never sees the big picture any more than you or I do,” says Thomas Seeley, the bee expert. “None of us knows what society as a whole needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign.”

Very often, we don’t try to see intelligence elsewhere. We’ve created a definition of intelligence based on what we know.

I like to think that us humans are pattern recognition and replication machines with vastly more soft-wiring than other creatures. Even so, there’s still a lot of hard-wiring and hormonal influences, much more than we would like to believe.

We certainly swarm, drawn to volunteering to mow church lawns or queue for iPhones. Whatever we do, we love to believe we can justify it.

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?

Artistic Composition – Eyetracking and Training

Eyetracking trace over the same image, one is more expansive, the other focuses on the centre of the image

One of these days I’ll get my hands onto some eye tracking tools!

Cognitive Daily: Artists look different discusses research into the differences between the way trained artists and ordinary folks view images.

 

As someone who works daily with architects, structural engineers, graphic designers and architectural photographers, I’d love to see how their eye movements differ from the above.

Vogt and Magnussen argue that it comes down to training: artists have learned to identify the real details of a picture, not just the ones that are immediately most salient to the perceptual system, which is naturally disposed to focusing on objects and faces.

Vaughan at Mind Hacks puts it more succinctly:

The study concluded that artists spend more time looking at areas of the visual scene that the rest of us pass over as less important.

That’s what I’d call composition. Working with talented visual people, I wonder if eyetracking could reveal their perceptions of good and bad composition, and how they differ by profession.

It’s also interesting to see the effect being ascribed to training rather than artistic talent.

I’m inclined to think that notions of composition come from some kind of imposed training, even if it is implicit training. My question is, does my brain think it’s good composition because it appreciates the arrangement, or because it’s been trained to?

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!