My wife was recently using her tablet and I asked if she’d replied to an important email. She promptly put down the tablet and reached for her laptop. “Why not your tablet?” I quizzed. She gave me her best “Are you kidding?” face, saying in total deadpan, “I have work to do here”. My wife loves her tablet and uses it nearly every day but she clearly reaches for her laptop for ‘serious tasks’. While most of us can likely agree that mobile is the future of computing, something very interesting is happening here. In a world where new technologies usurp the old nearly every year, many of us are reaching for our old school laptops surprisingly often. This isn’t just nostalgia, there is something deeply inadequate about mobile. This post is about figuring out how to fix it. Continue reading
We all acknowledge that the web is full of click bait headlines. But what amazes me is that it isn’t just dystopian headlines such as “Robot crushes factory worker to death”. We’re seeing overly positive positions as well “Soon you’ll be able to 3D print a new iPhone!”. People are grabbing onto some new technology demo and then spinning out extremes, posting a derogatory (or delirious) story depending on their mood. I used to believe in this quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C Clark
There is a classic “Smart Home” scenario that you’ve all likely heard: my calendar talks to my alarm clock, allowing me to sleep in an extra 30 minutes. When I finally do get up, the alarm clock starts the coffee maker so as I walk into the kitchen, I’m greeted by fresh brewed coffee.
I hate this scenario with the heat of a thousand suns.
If I’m ever asked what’s most important in UX design, I always reply “empathy”. It’s the core meta attribute, the driver that motivates everything else. Empathy encourages you to understand who uses your product, forces you ask deeper questions and motivates the many redesigns you go through to get a product right.
But empathy is a vague concept that isn’t strongly appreciated by others. There have been times when talking to product managers, my empathy driven fix-it list will get “We appreciate that Scott, but we have so much to get done on the product, we don’t have time to tweak things like that right now”. Never do you feel so put in your place when someone says that your job is ‘tweaking’.
I am very excited so many are getting involved with the Physical Web. Nearly 3500 people have starred the github, with many active collaborators finding bugs and adding features. In addition, several companies are selling beacons that broadcast URLs (using the URIBeacon standard). While it’s still early days for this technology, it’s encouraging to see so many people supporting this open approach to extend the web into the physical world.
Since the ecosystem is still evolving, it’s understandable to see some generalizations popping up. Some have compared the Physical Web to iBeacon for the simple reason that they both use Bluetooth Low energy beacons. It’s a bit like saying two products both use wifi and therefore they must be after the same market. Let’s get beyond the underlying technology and discuss the three core things the Physical Web is trying to do and what sets it apart. Continue reading
I just returned from CES and it was filled with discussion about who is going to win the standards war when it comes to the internet of things (IoT). The technology world tends to have a long history of perceived winner-take-all horse races, some definitive (VHS vs Beta) and some perennial (Android vs Apple). It’s not surprising that many think an IoT standard will be similar. That type of thinking is old fashioned and lazy. We need to think about this problem more broadly.
Using Bluetooth beacons in a way that protects privacy
Juliet’s lament is often mistakenly thought of as ‘where are you Romeo?’ when it actually means, ‘Why must you be a Montague?’ It is Romeo’s family and their struggle against the Capulets that keeps these two star crossed lovers apart.
Beacons, like Romeo, also have a bit of a name– a heritage– that seems to set them apart from the mainstream. In fact, the term ‘beacon’ has grown into such an odd mishmash of apprehension and potential, it creates as much confusion as it inspires. Several Capulet tech articles brand beacons as a Montague technology, a rival family that is out to get us: watch out, don’t trust, be afraid. Continue reading
In doing product design for nearly 30 years, I’ve witnessed several waves of innovation. Some were obviously successful like personal computers and the internet. But others were much less so, such as MultiMedia CDROMs, and open document formats.
What people don’t appreciate is that great ideas, before they are great, tend to look remarkably similar to stupid ones. Few are willing to take a chance on a new, seemingly crazy product idea. This is why the technology industry tends to be so incremental. Most companies, truth be told, wait for others to make the mistakes. Continue reading
The level of hype around the “Internet of Things” (or IoT) is getting a bit out of control. It may be the technology that crashes into Gartner’s trough of disillusionment faster than any other. But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure things out. Quite the contrary, as the trade press collectively loses its mind over the IoT, I’m spurred on further to delve deeper. In my mind, the biggest barrier we have to making the IoT work comes from us. We are being naive as our overly simplistic understanding of how we control the IoT is likely going to fail and generate a huge consumer backlash. Continue reading
Deconstructing IoT Part 2
In a previous post, I had a modest goal of introducing a simple functional vocabulary for smart devices. Too many journalists were discussing science fiction scenarios about swarms of devices without realizing that there were much simpler, yet very valuable alternatives. This post moves into user experience, proposing a simple grid of types. There are of course, many ways to break things down, this is just one that I’m finding useful. I hope this prompts a discussion of other approaches. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Continue reading
The W3C is working on multiple documents on moving the core web application platform forward, the primary one being Core Mobile Web Platform. There are also the Closing the Gap task force, the Web and Mobile Interest group, and numerous technical interest groups on dozens of specific topics, from DOM performance, to device hardware APIs and many many more.
These efforts are excellent and clearly important. What’s missing from this discussion is a framing document, something that attempts to motivate at least part of a broader picture. Is performance the only issue? Why do we need these varied technical proposals? Are they adding up to a coherent whole? This short document is treading into opinionated waters, not to create a definitive list of projects but to attempt some guiding principles to help motivate these and future projects. Continue reading
I was invited to the 2013 fooCamp this past weekend. It was actually my second fooCamp, having gone in 2007 as well. It is an amazing, exhilarating weekend where 250 ‘Friends of O’Reilly’ come together to have an unConference. They now do Ignite talks, where you have 5 minutes to run through 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Nerve wracking but very very focusing.
When talking about the Internet of things (or IoT), I frequently bring up a Smart Toaster as it is such a lightning rod. People just love to make fun of it. My favorite was the tweet, “I don’t think my smart toaster needs apps” which off course was retweeted into the stratosphere.
When I read things like this, I just shake my head. You can’t evaluate tomorrow’s concepts by yesterday’s tasks! Of course a smart toaster doesn’t need apps. A horse doesn’t need wheels either. We just need to look at what smart means in a more nuanced way. The goal of this post is to convince you that the SmartToaster™ actually is a bold new vision of the future. If I can unpack what it means to be smart, so that even a lowly toaster starts to make sense, we’ll be thinking about the IoT in a much broader context. Continue reading
The building hype…
The hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) is building. People are getting excited, almost too excited really, about its potential. We’re oscillating between smart lightbulbs and smart dog collars, not really clear what this all means, yet we’re convinced that something transformative is coming. The Gartner hype cycle charts the rise and inevitable dip of any new technology over time: Continue reading
Over the last year, my writing and speaking has focused on a fairly straight forward thesis:
- Cheap computation/networking will make nearly any device ‘smart’
- There will be lots of these things
- Using ‘an app’ to control each one (what we currently do) just won’t scale
- Smart phones will be joined by smart TVs, smart glasses, and smart tabletops
- All the ‘smart devices’ will want to play with all the ‘smart displays’
- We need to make this happen through open source solutions
I’ve given this talk to thousands of people and it’s so gratifying to get such enthusiastic endorsement. But whenever it comes down to concrete next steps someone almost always says “you really need to sketch out how a company can actually make money doing this”. The intent is good; they are clearly trying to be supportive, but this is exactly the wrong approach. Continue reading
The Internet of Things (or IoT) is finally going mainstream. Not only do I read about it frequently online, but I’m now talking about it with clients at frog. Unfortunately, as it has become popular, it has also grown to the point where it can span everything from home Wi-Fi networks to smart cities. Much like the story of the three blind men describing an elephant, the essence of IoT depends on your point of view. Continue reading
Smart devices require a significant shift in thinking
This blog explores how to design smart devices. But these new devices are just so new and require such new insights, that our quaint, old school notions of UX design are completely blinding us. We are stuck between the classic paradigm of desktop computers, and the futuristic fantasy of smart dust. The world is either fastidious or fantastic. The path ahead is hard to see. Alan Kay said the best way to predict the future is to invent it… but what if we don’t know what we want? Continue reading
I’ve written previously that the history of mobile has been a long, painful process of copying desktop computers and then sheepishly realizing that it just doesn’t quite work right. This is actually the way of all progress, not just in technology. Art and music follow a similar pattern of copy, extend, and finally, discovery of a new form. It takes a while to shed old paradigms.
Some innovations transcend short term competitive advantage
Since capitalism and design are, for the most part, governed by market forces, there’s symmetry between them. Capitalism tends to be most effective at its lowest levels, meeting demand through efficient supply. Companies that do that well succeed and those that don’t fail. The same is true for design: At its “lowest levels,” a clean look, a simple flow, and an elegant layout are fairly well understood and valued. Products that reflect these low levels succeed and those that don’t fail. Continue reading
Moving beyond the desktop towards just-in-time interaction
So often what passes for vision is usually nothing more than tiny extensions of what is already known and safe. Of course, it’s only natural as people tend to think within what is most comfortable. I call this “Default Thinking” and have already discussed this in my first post, (it was initially discussed as far back as 1962 by Thomas Kuhn). Continue reading