Mar 10

Can this tablet thing be a massive fad?

Apple, Tech, iPhone 3 Comments »


I mean, who buys Hula Hoops, Furbies, and lava lamps no mo?

Farhad Manjoo lays out his case on how the iPad could be unbeatable, and how competitors may be just hoping that the tablet is a fad.

I know that the iPad was purchased more than any laptop from another manufacturer… but I can also sniff the fad.

I remember getting the first iPad… such a long couple of years ago. At first it was fun to explore the touch interface, and I carried it everywhere I went. I felt like a dork pulling it out for meetings, so I kept it tucked away, but it had its place.

Shortly thereafter however, I got a MacBook Air, which is by far the best computer I have ever owned. Comparing my iPad to my 17″ Macbook Pro was different to the new work of the light, small, SSD packing, powerful Macbook Air. At this point the iPad stayed in my bag so much more. It turned out that having a keyboard was a nice feature! As was this “hinge” thing that meant that I didn’t have to hold the device…. and I could have multiple windows on the same screen (which was nicer than putting my iPad in a keyboard dock say).

My iPad is now a niche product. I enjoy it for certain tasks, mainly content consumption, but it is niche. So…. maybe this is a fad! The iPad killer could be the Macbook Air! In fact, the killer could be an Air with a retina display and the ability to touch the screen and undock it!

That doesn’t work though, as the UI would then end up in old Windows stylus land. OS X isn’t ever going to be touch friendly like iOS. Mixing and matching iOS and OS X though? Mmmm.

Then I turn from myself, and I think about my Mum and mother-in-law. I got them both iPads in short order as I saw a consumer-oriented OS for the first time. Instead of being afraid of messing up their computer, or worrying about viruses and the like…. they were free to explore and get things done. They would never go back to an OS of yore. Surely this market is the lion share. Add to that the fact that iOS will grow and grow, and I think that the fad isn’t here chaps. Time to dig in and execute.

But, there lies the other problem that Farhad Manjoo articulated. Many have told me that iOS vs. Android will end up as MacOS vs. Windows. “History will repeat itself”. That assumes that the same natural forces are in play, and I think there are huge differences. One big one is that the CLONES can’t just come in and win here. I had a huge gulp when I HP bought Palm and I quickly saw that we couldn’t make a tablet for the same price as the iPad. HP. They have scale. And, they couldn’t do it. Apple loves their margins and all, but they have a lot of room to make life reaaal hard for any competitor. You can’t just make something meh and cheap and win.

Also, the nail in the coffin, we have seen the tablet in the future…. on Star Trek, as seen at the top of this entry. Maybe a hip flash is good enough.

Mar 06

Messages Beta, iCloud, Apple ID, so near yet so far.

Apple, Tech Comments Off

When I installed the Messages Beta, I was surprised to launch it and see two world colliding in such an obvious way:


One window from each world…. from AIM and iMessage. I agree with Francisco on how weak the beta is, and it once again got me frustrated on how we are far from the unified world that Apple has the power to make happen in their eco-system.

My assumption when iMessage came along was that finally my phone number and email (and Apple ID) were all joined together. The fruit of this would surely be the following: when someone sends me a message to my email, the Apple system knows my phone, and that it isn’t available on the iMessage system, and thus I end up with a text message. Now that, would be magical. Instead I found myself confused in a sea of “OK, so if you iMessage me using my email it will get to my various devices, but now I can’t text message you back”.

It was the same feeling that I have had with Apple ID’s for some time. In the world of my home media, I want to be able to share my media across the devices that my family uses. Ideally there would be a root account of some kind, but I could delegate, so my wife could see and share all of the media too. Instead I end up in a world of setting up the store / home media sharing with one ID and making sure they are all in sync.

Then we have iCloud.

It feels like we are so close to a system that “just works”, yet right now…. it feels so far.

Dec 04

Feeling spritely about

Tech with tags: , , 2 Comments »

Man, I haven’t been as excited about a development tool as I am about Joe Stump’s in a looooong time (GitHub is probably the last time).

It is an incredibly timely tool for me. I use a variety of small tools for different projects. Open source hacking vs. large projects at work with a bunch of different teams.

I enjoy Pivotal Tracker, and have even begun to appreciate why I have to use JIRA…. and thus, for some projects I am forced to use both. This is far from ideal, and every few months I look to see if I can shoot one in the head to focus on one tool.

For some context, I should write down my high level believes around creating software products, and then we can talk tools.

If I try to distill my beliefs I get:


Everyone in the team builds software products (and should be empowered). Great organizations push down responsibility (yup, even Steve Jobs). This enables teams to have minimal bottlenecks, and by enabling the teams they will enjoy their work more, and will care. How many situations have you seen that end up with “well, some bozo boss told me to do that…. so duh, I did it… and of course it was dumb!”


The closer everyone is to a shared understanding the better. There are many levels of communication, on a variety of themes. In general I believe that a business/group should trickle down: business goals -> strategy -> high level roadmap -> products that fullfil.


Some people tell me that agile == an excuse not to plan. This seems to stem from people thinking that “we can’t see into the future” means “we shouldn’t plan, and instead react.” This is almost always a false assumption :)

If you aren’t thinking about the future and “skate to where the puck will be” then you can only ever slowly evolve. As an example, right now at my company we are trying to re-imagine what commerce and retail could be like for customers 5 years from now, and we can back track from that. Not being able to see in the future means that you end up making bets, but it is critical. This planning and thinking is all about product vision. It is not set in stone, and it can evolve itself. Steve Jobs thought that the network computer would be the future at one point (he was friends with Larry after all ;) but we still have hard drives.


I don’t favor complex planning tools. I like the basics. There are a list of things that need to get done for your product. You have people to work on making this happen, and you can prioritize the work. You need to keep on top of the queue of work and keep changing the prioritize tactically.

To execute you need all roles firing. Product management, engineering, UX, QA. The role of “stories” can give a high level common language that can be a great starting off point to interface these roles.

Although you can’t look into the future, the longer that a team has worked together, and the longer a project is in place…. the better chance you have of knowing how true your view of the project is.

So, with this all in mind, how do some of the tools stack up?

Pivotal Tracker

Tracker has been a great tool for development. It fits in to a lean methodology and the “queue of work” mentality. I find the UI very simple, and with one screen and keyboard shortcuts all interactions are fast.

The integrations, including Campfire (critical for communication), JIRA and others are crucial…. since no One Tool has been the solution.

There are some things that I don’t like though:

  • Although each story has a URL, if you go to the URL you get the entire UI loading… and then your item pops in (vs. a simple page with just that content)
  • Stories have tasks, but you can’t assign different people to those tasks. So, if you wanted to have a QA task and a design task as well as a development task…. the assignment breaks down. With JIRA you could use subtasks just fine, or you could use an assignment workflow
  • No ability to make bulk changes
  • Searching is a lil weak
  • Tags end up being the Solution For Everything
  • “The application has died. Please reload.”
  • Reporting is weak. Tracking the backlog and tying to versions etc is hard.


JIRA is an issue tracker. It is incredibly complex compared to tracker (and Lighthouse and Trac …) and you can extend the data and workflow behind it. The complexity is frustrating to many though. Having to grok Projects, Versions, Components, labels, issues….. is more than you often need.

It does let you have nuanced views on the data though, so you can make it do the right thing for the different roles. Searching is rich (there is a query language for the beast! eek :/) and you can slice or dice all day long.

I do not like JIRA for main development and tracker is for that…. but JIRA comes into play due to QA and other groups knowing it well.

I have tried Greenhopper a few times, trying to see if that view can take the place of Tracker, but it is overly complex for my needs and a frustrating experience. First, you need to configure things (setup a Ranking Field blah blah), and then you think that you should be able to drag things around and it never quite works right for me.

There are other things that bug me about JIRA too, such as:

  • The emails. They hide the interesting data and I need to look carefully to see what the heck it is trying to tell me!
  • The performance of…. I keep picturing OFBiz trying to keep up
  • How is there not a simple Campfire integration???? Really? I have to use Hubot?


I enjoyed meeting the Asana team, not only because it was fun to chat about their platform (Fibers and such), but also because they are trying to make Enterprise software not suck. The meta-system for master-detail is definitely something that you can use for planning and executing software products. It was a little too meta for me though (this was early beta) and I wanted some more features specific for software than custom fields to use. Also, the fact that there wasn’t a way to access on mobile or API to tie into integrations, mean that it isn’t there yet for me.


GitHub is amazing. It is an integral part of my software development and I think that these guys and this product could keep growing to Own It All if they so fancy. I like GitHub Issues, but they are still a little too simplistic for me for larger projects. For some open source projects of mine they are perfect, and having the great integration with code, commits, and pull requests is spot on. Working with larger cross functional teams though…. not so much. I again need more than “well you can use tags and a taxonomy to kinda make that work.” I very much do appreciate their vision, and how fast the tool is to use!

There are so many other tools across the stack (Lighthouse, Trac, VersionOne, ….) but I won’t go on and on.


If I look at the things that I believe in (up top), and the things in tools that I have used over the years that I like and don’t like, and then map this onto a “tool I wish I had” I quickly see that a lot of those features map on to Sprintly.

I haven’t even used it yet, but am very much looking forward to giving it a go. It seems to be the sweet spot around:

  • Thinks about cross functional teams
  • Stories and tasks in a way that makes sense (assign tasks to different people)
  • Great dashboard: visibility FTW!
  • GitHub integration up the wazoo
  • Looks beautiful!

It looks great already and it is probably a 0.6. I hope they keep pushin’ and make I can use GitHub+Sprintly as my go-to pair…. and I can leave the rest behind.

Has anyone been using it and thinks it stacks up? What other tools am I missing? Michael Mahemoff is a Trello fan :)

Oct 24

Mixing inputs; Voice++

Tech, UI / UX with tags: No Comments »

“I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant”

Really Andy?. I found this very defensive, and wrong. Who doesn’t want more help? Don’t get me wrong…. Siri isn’t there yet at all, especially for a Brit who has been in the US for almost half of his life, and one who lives without a great network available. It doesn’t get my words. It frustratingly doesn’t assist me when I need it (e.g. “launch pandora”). But, a good step, and you can see where this can end up.

Interestingly Android had a lead here with great voice integration deep into the OS. When working, it changes how we do things. I love texting via voice. Finally, asynchronous voice!

The other side of shit that siri says is the humanity that it sometimes comes up with (faking it, but aren’t we all?). The opposite of the robot. I was very excited to hear Matias Duarte talk about how many people don’t love Android as they should. That is ballsy to come out and say that. He is someone who cares, and who can fix that. We need that competition.

Lastly, voice has always been an obvious input. It is hard to do, and it will keep taking time…. but it is close, and usable. I am excited to start to see mixed mode input.

I want to be able to start typing a password and concurrently say “show password” and have the mode flip. Type an email and say “send”. I enjoy seeing trends from pushing buttons, to touching and swiping. Voice fits in nicely.

Smellovision here we come…. oh, and reading your brain waves.

Oct 18

The four personality types on the spectrum of design; VOL_07

Tech, UI / UX 1 Comment »


I was looking at the car display in my wife’s new Toyota and had a double take when I changed the volume. The display literally reads “VOL_##”. Who would ship that? Even more baffling was the fact that my own older car of the same make doesn’t have this ugly format at all. Surely this was the result of some i18n(”VOL_07″) and the mapping to “Volume 07″ was missing?

This started to remind me of the sliding scale of design and fashion awareness that I see out there. Here are some stereotypes:

Fashion Deaf

Have you met those people who couldn’t care less about fashion? Well, not even that…. they can’t even see the difference in quality. You give them two pieces of clothing, or two user experiences, and they have no preference what-so-ever. These people have no idea why some folk much prefer Mac. They would never notice or care about VOL_07 and more power to them.

The A/B Eye Test

Next up you have the folks who can tell that something is “better”. They love their iPhones, although they can’t really tell you why. If you put two UIs in front of them they will tell you that they prefer A over B, but can’t *really* articulate why. They get it at an unconscious level.

My eyes! my eyes!

Then you have the folks who are personally pained by unfashionablistas. VOL_07 and Android UIs make their eyes bleed. They think that Google needs to hire some designers for many of their products.

When given the A/B test, they are able to discern what they like and dislike about a given design, and they come up with things to improve. They get it.

The Creator

Then there are the folks who can go to the next level. They can create great design. It can look good in the current fashion, or the best ones are able to make the future. They come up with new amazing interactions and visuals. They make you love their product.

Now, of course these are gross generalizations. I can jump around a little between these categories even depending on my mood that day. I can amaze myself coming up with something decent one day, and then be staring at crap another. Kinda like my golf game…. you hit enough good balls that you are willing to come back some time to play again.

I really enjoy watching folks in the top two categories. Ben is one of those guys. I can stare at the same thing as him and he will find 20 holes in it that I do not. Watching a creator such as Sean Martell wielding his Wacom tablet is a sight to beyond. Watching greatness at work.

Where do you fit?

Sep 23

Why install time permissions suck. Why we wanted access to contacts in the Walmart app

Tech, UI / UX, Walmart with tags: 5 Comments »

I have always disliked install time permissions. The user is asked to make a decision up front that:

  • They don’t have any context around
  • They can easily forget
  • They often say “yes” just because they wanted to download the darn thing
  • There is no way to tweak the permissions


This reared its head today. We released a new version of the Walmart Android app. In there we are trying to make the user do as little typing as possible, so when you create a new address there is an option at the top to grab the address from your contacts. There is a good chance that you are sending the goods either to yourself (home, business) or to a friend / family member…. and you may have that info already available.

The problem is, that for us to get that information, we need to blanket ask every user for that access on install. Many users are privacy conscious and I respect that. They should be able to say “thanks, but I don’t want you to have access to my contacts”. We are using a contact picker UI, so the user is explicitly tapping to launch this and selecting the contact, so we don’t need access to anything other than what the user would select. Why do we need READ_CONTACTS?

Why can’t I let those users NOT allow the application access to contacts, but still be able to do everything else? The zero-sum game is nuts.

This shows up all over the shop. If I have an application that happens to have one screen that would be able to help the user by accessing the Geolocation API…. I have to ask for that up front. That screen may be used 0.0000001% of the time, and it just may be aided by that (not required to function).

We need to fix permissions. Would it be so hard to let us say “these permissions are nice to have and can even be on demand” so users can check or uncheck permission there? (this has happened to others too, and we should have realized it would be an issue, so that side of things is our bad :/)

For our users who were scared off when they saw the request for that permission, I am very sorry. We are looking to setup a new build that doesn’t require it at the expense of the convenience feature.

On another note, I am super jazzed at the hard work that went into this release. This app has a bunch of native and Web integration. Our Android and mobile Web teams have worked together to great affect, and although this is just the very tip of the iceberg, it has been great to see!

Remember, if you want to do Android, iOS, or bleeding edge mobile Web development that reaches millions of users globally, please let me know. Join us, the water is warm!

Aug 03

Bad Email UI

Apple, Tech, UI / UX 2 Comments »

It is so easy to nitpick on UI…. but this one gets to me everytime, and doubly so that it comes from Apple (known for user experience).

Season Pass Email

There are two links in the email. One is at the top, and the other is after the header showing the name of the show. The one next to the show sends you to preferences rather than downloading the darn thing! Both are “click here”.

How about a big link/button: “Download your show now”.

Is this just me?

Jul 26

Lion wimpers on Spaces

Apple, Tech, UI / UX No Comments »


There have been a slew of posts on Lion since launch. As with any new change of experience, there are bound to be detractors as well as well wishers. Just look at the new Facebook groups that jump to light whenever Facebook changes a pixel on the screen.

Lion has been somewhat buggy for me, and slower than its leaner leopard friend. The “natural” scrolling was a pain for a few minutes, but a couple of days in and your brain flips. In fact, even when I hit the up and down keys my mind considers them working on the paper as opposed to the scroll bar (and thus it goes the wrong way).

Sometimes one step forward can be one step behind. I just witnessed this over the weekend when voice mail was installed on the land line at my families cabin in Colorado. Before-hand, we had an old digital answering machine system. How archaic! As we setup voicemail we consider the improvements:

  • “Now we can check this from anywhere!”
  • “If the phone line isn’t working, voice mail can still be left by the caller!”

However, you then realize that you lose benefits:

  • “How do we see if someone has left a call?” Before-hand you could glance at the phone to see if there are new messages. We would need to purchase something that could do that for us now. Instead, you have to pick up the phone and listen for the tell tale voice mail beep.
  • “How can I screen a call?” Before-hand if someone called and you didn’t know / didn’t want to pick up right away… you could listen to them leaving the message and even jump in to pick it up mid way

This feeling of “step forward or step back?” is how I feel about the whole mission control / spaces overhaul. I really enjoy putting some apps full screen. However, that breaks my workflow. You see, I have a series of spaces that are configured for different use cases. I access them via Apple-1, Apple-2, etc. If Apple-2 has been my “calendar” space, I could wish to instead have a full screen calendar in that place. Unfortunately, as soon as you full screen an application it lives in its own space, and one that you can’t directly access via a quick key like that. So, I am now forced to keep Calendar out of full screen mode, and it becomes a tease.

When plugged into a monitor, I am further teased with full screen. It doesn’t take into account anything more than the one main screen. I can no longer have my email full screen on the main screen with my calendar staring at my from my laptop screen.

Ah shucks. I look forward to a world where I can neatly configure my various use cases (if plugged in, keep X, Y, and Z over on my secondary screen, else put them on these spaces).

Although we hear more about the visual changes within Lion, it appears that the under the hood changes are really the most important (security sandboxes, versions, etc).

Jun 24

An Epic conversation between Steve Jobs and developers from WWDC 97

Apple, Tech with tags: , 6 Comments »

It is always fantastic to get a blast from the past, and DHH linked to a conversation between Steve Jobs’ and developers from WWDC in 1997.

I find it fascinating. Steve was back as an advisor, but not in as CEO yet, so he talks about Apple in a very specific way…. and all throughout his time he keeps saying “my opinion is …. but I am not in charge”.

At one point, he mentions the frustration that people can have when they are perceived in one way, based on an old version of themselves. Or maybe an incorrectly perceived old version. The context for this is how the press or wall street was looking at Apple with year old glasses.

In this video, we get to see an older Steve, with immense skills. It is enjoyable to pick out the genesis of the Apple transformation, and visionary aspects of what happened. It is equally interesting to see where the vision didn’t bear fruit.

My highlights were:

  • It was fun to see Steve talk about Rhapsody and how developers can go cross platform! In response to a developer asking why they should write for Mac he said: “If you could write that software 5 to 10 times faster, and you could deploy it to Mac’s and PCs, would that be of interest to them?” Of course, Rhapsody didn’t work (which is why Steve may have flipped the bit on cross platform?)
  • Steve was spot on when he discussed the “Mythical Man Month”, and how he feels a new stack needs to help you abstract so small teams can do amazing things. He discussed how you can compete with Microsoft with apps as large software becomes hard to scale. He also talks about Lighthouse (bought by Sun, with Jonny Schwartz) and how a small team of 18 people produced an amazing suite of products.
  • Steve was coming out of a world where he had a personal T1, and his home directory lived in the cloud via NFS. He talks about having a computer that is just a keyboard and mouse. The “network computer” was strong in him (and Larry Ellison, and Sun) and he talked about it in a way that is much closer to Chrome OS than to iOS. iCloud is finally getting there, but in a different way.
  • Newton and focus. Focus came up frequently. Steve talked about how he thinks Newton should be shot NOT because it sucks… but because he couldn’t see a way for Apple to maintain MacOS, Rhapsody, and Newton’s OS. He did also talk about how the fact that Newton wasn’t network connected made it useless for him. “The high order bit of connectivity. Being in touch to a network. I don’t think the world is about keeping my life on this little thing and IRing it to a base station. It needs a keyboard, and you need to be connected to the net. So if someone would make a thing that is connected with a keyboard I would love to buy one! I don’t want a little scribble thing.”
  • CLONE WARS: “I believe that Apple should license everything. But I think they should get a fair price for it.” Funny to see Steve talking about licensing.
  • “Being proprietary in everything we do has really hurt us, a lot of smart people don’t work at Apple too.” Love see him talking about proprietary.
  • Steve talked about how engineering management was broken, and so great engineers were not working on the right things. Great technology isn’t the high end bit either. You have to work from the product backwards.
  • Steve cares about productivity. He mentioned how he sees Apple using crap tools (Eudora for email) and that if they would give the org a decent email system they could be 30% more productive.
  • Steve kept saying “it doesn’t matter what I say”. A funny time, before he was CEO, but you can see it unravelling.
  • Fun to see Steve pimping and trying to get devs excited, at a time where they didn’t have the marketshare. Now the game is quite different.
  • Steve is someone with great taste…. but even he wore patched jeans!

A great chat, and I am glad it was recorded for us to see the master at work. I hope that we have many more years of this.

Jun 20

iOS as the perfect projector? More fun mobile design thinking

Mobile, Tech, UI / UX 1 Comment »


I have to say it, I love AirPlay. Being able to use any device (phone, tablet, laptop) to project something to your lovely flat screen is fantastic. Up until now, the focus has been on media (which makes sense) and being able to send anything from a funny YouTube clip, to a movie you have purchased on iTunes, if solid.

But, with an improved AirPlay, the app developer can project whatever they want onto an AirPlay aware screen (or just audio for non-screen output). This has entered my mind into its latest “woooah, how cool would it be if [insert app here] used that feature to project [insert cool idea here]!”

The obvious ideas that people talk about first is gaming. iOS is already a force in gaming, but now that your devices are controllers and can teleport their views to a screen at a whim? Wow. I can’t wait to see the game that personifies having iPhone and iPad form factor controllers and helpers.

There is much beyond media and the games though. TV’s now come as weak app platforms. I have got a Twitter app on my Samsung. It sucks. I never use it. It is also not needed. I should be able to sit down with the Twitter iPad app open on my lap, and display tweetigoodness to my TV. I could have a simple view, but also, isn’t the TV a perfect TweetDeck?

As well as having the iPad as a controller but using the TV as the main display, you can also go with different modes. As you work on an image, you can see throwaways, or old versions, up on the TV for you to look at. The Echofon Twitter client has a Photofon app that shows you images from your Twitter stream, but that could be embedded and a screensaver kicks in.

Now you have these lenses on, I dare you to open up an app and not think about a cool visualization for another screen!

I hope that PhoneGap has a plugin in the works for this in their iOS 5 support (ASIDE: A birdy may or may not have told me that full screen WebViews run with the JIT which is good too) so Web folk can take care of this too. It would be fantastic to have Web views available to project over there.

There is still so much that will be coming too: More TV’s will be AirPlay enabled (so you won’t need an Apple TV); Other operating systems will start to support these modalities (read: industry standard AirPlay please :/); The browser is an ideal projector too, and cross platform; And, then the other screens will also start to accept touch input.

So, I now have another question to ask when I start a new mobile project…. to go with others such as:

  • What goodies can I hide in the scroll over space?
  • What could we put in landscape view here?
  • (hardware keyboard) What shortcut keys could we use, and what action can we type first to