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iphone « Simon Kenyon Shepard :: justLikeThat.
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Posts Tagged ‘iphone’

The mobile data monopoly : what holds smartphones back from the masses.

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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I have been paying a lot of attention to smart phones and expending a lot of brain power trying to gaze into their future to predict what is coming.

crystal_ball

One thing that baffled me for some time, was companies approaches to platforms. Google seems to be pursing two technologies, Android and ChromeOS similarly Nokia are doing the same with Symbian and Meego.

Why expend efforts on two seemingly similar projects and not converge them?

Well, I think the answer lies in market segmentation. At the current rate of progress, users break down into two types of categories, Tech savy and Non tech savy. Which conveniently for me is plainly clear by the difference between me and my sister. I go and seek out new technologies to use when they are still in their infancy and unrefined. She on the other hand holds back for as long as possible until the technology is mature and actually ubiquitous and useful.

Now lets move over to the iphone for a moment. Curiously they ARE NOT pursing two platforms. Again we ask why? Well, what was the underling cause of the success of the iPhone? Was it it’s amazingly slick user interface, the seamless integration of phone, media player and personal organizer or perhaps a phenomenal marketing campaign?

None of those.

The reason iPhone was such a successful product was because Apple did something very clever and forced you to have a free data package with the phone when you brought it. This meant that it was the first phone that a lot of people experienced the service of mobile internet on. Bang. Without free data, the app store and the iPhone would have been a spectacular non-event.

So still I hear you ask, why two platforms?

Well, mobile data is expensive, as much as we might wish for companies like Vodafone and O2 to disappear off the face of the planet, they are not going to. They make a large amount of money from holding the keys to these services and charging you whatever they can get away with for the privilege to use them here, overseas, anywhere. The phrase money for old rope springs to mind.

Undoubly they will die or change significantly. Their business model is old and out of date. But in the mean time, it leaves a gap.

This is a gap of technically able users who can use smart phones but who can not afford the functionality associated with mobile data. Also more significantly in this gap are users who do not have access to data, for example the billion+ people in India for whom 3g is not a possibility not from prohibitive cost but from lack of infrastructure.

Hence Google and Nokia are positioning a suitable fallback. An operating system that caters for online/offline users, users who are less likely to use mobile data, but more likely to come home and connect their phone to their home broadband powered wifi. An operating system that takes full advantage of all the services offered by smart phones that are not dependent on mobile data.

It is no co-incidence that Nokia is launching all it’s new phones with Ovi maps built in and not requiring a mobile data connection. It was quite a shock recently when my European based partner came to visit me in the UK but was unable to use Google maps on her iPhone becuase of the prohibitive cost of roaming data from her cellualr services provider. There is a large an important market place waiting to be tapped here.

So what can we do to slowly errode the control of unhelpful companies like Vodafone that painfully extract excessive amounts of money from consumers preventing innovation and more use of mobile data?

Well, I’d like to cross over back into Google land for a moment. I think someone at Google read this post on economics by Joel Spolsky the basic premise of which states that if you commoditize complimentary services to your own then your product sells more e.g. if you sell beer glasses it is in your interest to make beer as cheap as possible. This theory pretty much explains all of Google’s moves into other sectors, broadband, browser, mobile the list goes on. The more people use the internet, the more they use Google and it’s advertising. Kerrrrr ching.

So how do we commoditize mobile data in order to force the prices down? Well, we need to create viable alternatives to the networks controlled by these mega telcos. We need to create the equivilent of “open mobile data networks” based on the same principles as the internet, a collection of nodes freely passing information at no charge to the consumer.

But how? Well fortunately we already have the technology. It’s called WiFi.

Unfortunately however a few years ago, the mega telcos did a very clever thing and brought up all the hotspots. I was horrified when I went to a hotel recently where T-mobile wanted to charge me 30 euros an hour to use the wifi network. Hmmmm. That is not going to encourage the use of WiFi on smartphones.

What companies like Google and Nokia need to do is club together and create a simple WiFi router, that they give away for free, on the premise that users sacrafice a bit of their bandwidth to local wandering strangers trying to use their smartphones breaking the mobile data monopoly.

All hands : abandon scrollbars!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

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I’ve had to do a lot of things in my career as an interaction developer that I’ve despised.

A favourite bug bear of mine is having to reimplement standard browser controls in JavaScript. The familiar tale of the powers that be deciding they want to create custom designs for every tiny part of the web interface. Inevitably as the code monkey it’s your job to take it up the rear and produce these gems no matter how hard, annoying or pointless they are until someone, somewhere, can climax into a design ejaculation, probably whilst flicking through the centrefolds of a Taschen Philippe Starck product book. No wonder when you pick them up in Waterstones they are always sticky…

One of the repeat offenders of this list is the poor old scroll bar. Admittedly a tad ugly looking in some OS’s but never the less a stalwart of interaction design. The number of times I have been asked to re-implement this, using a variety of different colours, shapes, sizes has grown too long to count. I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing/swearing over scrollbar engineering principles and now it’s my turn to implement the scrollbars I want.

Now the scrollbars I want.

Are invisible.

I can’t remember when I watched it, but many moons ago, I came across Edward Tufte’s excellent dissection of the iPhone’s interface. The idea that really resonated with me on this, was the concept of eradicating “administrative debris”, controls that were just there to control, things that could be re-implemented to be intuitive behaviors, without the need for a reserved space of visual feedback that clutters and constricts the screen real estate. A beautiful example of this is how the iPhone, does away with scrollbars, in favour of a tactile drag/swipe scroll mechanism.

iphone

So, I thought, why not put the inane knowledge I have of JavaScript and the browser scrolling api to use, and implement a version of the iphone scroller, in a jQuery Plugin.

Six months later, someone else has beaten me to the punch.

There is already an jQuery iPhone scroller plugin, which is annoying as I produced the POC over six months ago, but only recently got around to tidying it up and refactoring it. BALLS. Oh well such is life. Anyway, mine needs some work, but is generally better.

Some examples are below:

Vertical Scroller

The iPhone platform elegantly solves the design problem of small screens by greatly intensifying the information resolution of each displayed page. Small screens, as on traditional cell phones, show very little information per screen, which in turn leads to deep hierarchies of stacked-up thin information–too often leaving users with “Where am I?” puzzles. Better to have users looking over material adjacent in space rather than stacked in time.

To do so requires increasing the information resolution of the screen by the hardware (higher resolution screens) and by screen design (eliminating screen-hogging computer administrative debris, and distributing information adjacent in space).

This video shows some of the resolution-enhancing methods of the iPhone, along with a few places for improvements in resolution.

In 1994-1995 I designed (while consulting for IBM) screen mock-ups for navigating through the National Gallery via information kiosks. (The National Gallery had the good sense not to adopt the proposal.) For several years these screen designs were handouts in the one-day course in my discussion of interface design, and were then published in my book Visual Explanations (1997).

The design ideas here include high-resolution touch-screens; minimizing computer admin debris; spatial distribution of information rather than temporal stacking; complete integration of text, images, and live video; a flat non-hierarchical interface; and replacing spacious icons with tight words. The metaphor for the interface is the information. Thus the iPhone got it mostly right.

Another critique of the current weather application (one that I believe can be rectified once the SDK comes out in February): more detail is difficult to obtain. For instance, most standard weather displays (TV, newspaper, etc.) give the chance of precipitation and the humidity level. This information could easily fit on the weather screen, but it isn’t there. If I click on the Y! logo at the bottom left, it takes me to a Yahoo mobile page that shows ads and no additional details about the weather (plenty of other random info about my area though…).

Quisque sem diam, ullamcorper et, volutpat et, dignissim sit amet, ligula. Praesent accumsan justo vitae metus. Nunc pretium aliquet libero. Nulla ut pede et lectus iaculis accumsan. Nulla aliquet arcu at quam. Pellentesque cursus adipiscing dolor. Suspendisse volutpat magna id nisi. Ut pretium nisi in elit. Curabitur id arcu. Maecenas eu quam. Curabitur ultricies, lectus quis commodo dignissim, felis turpis vehicula arcu, ac faucibus risus metus vitae turpis. Maecenas et lacus ut enim vulputate interdum. Mauris ut diam ut urna laoreet tristique. Aenean malesuada consectetur erat.

Phasellus eleifend, velit at semper fringilla, metus dolor hendrerit dui, id consequat enim purus vitae est. Sed tristique. Quisque hendrerit ullamcorper tortor. Vivamus pretium fringilla lacus. Maecenas in mi quis lorem auctor egestas. Vivamus quis urna dapibus sem euismod congue. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Mauris metus sem, molestie in, tristique non, pellentesque a, enim. Aenean eleifend urna sit amet libero. Cras in diam. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Nulla porttitor pharetra quam. Cras ac massa in nisi semper rutrum. Aliquam at tellus. Morbi tincidunt.

Horizontal Scroller

The iPhone platform elegantly solves the design problem of small screens by greatly intensifying the information resolution of each displayed page. Small screens, as on traditional cell phones, show very little information per screen, which in turn leads to deep hierarchies of stacked-up thin information–too often leaving users with “Where am I?” puzzles. Better to have users looking over material adjacent in space rather than stacked in time.

To do so requires increasing the information resolution of the screen by the hardware (higher resolution screens) and by screen design (eliminating screen-hogging computer administrative debris, and distributing information adjacent in space).

This video shows some of the resolution-enhancing methods of the iPhone, along with a few places for improvements in resolution.

In 1994-1995 I designed (while consulting for IBM) screen mock-ups for navigating through the National Gallery via information kiosks. (The National Gallery had the good sense not to adopt the proposal.) For several years these screen designs were handouts in the one-day course in my discussion of interface design, and were then published in my book Visual Explanations (1997).

The design ideas here include high-resolution touch-screens; minimizing computer admin debris; spatial distribution of information rather than temporal stacking; complete integration of text, images, and live video; a flat non-hierarchical interface; and replacing spacious icons with tight words. The metaphor for the interface is the information. Thus the iPhone got it mostly right.

Another critique of the current weather application (one that I believe can be rectified once the SDK comes out in February): more detail is difficult to obtain. For instance, most standard weather displays (TV, newspaper, etc.) give the chance of precipitation and the humidity level. This information could easily fit on the weather screen, but it isn’t there. If I click on the Y! logo at the bottom left, it takes me to a Yahoo mobile page that shows ads and no additional details about the weather (plenty of other random info about my area though…).

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Proin venenatis augue sit amet felis hendrerit lacinia. In molestie augue sed arcu. Mauris posuere velit eu leo. Mauris commodo. Aenean lacinia dignissim libero. Curabitur quis enim quis augue interdum facilisis. Integer elementum sem nec lectus. Curabitur rutrum nulla in felis. Morbi mattis turpis id diam. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum sollicitudin lectus. Morbi lorem augue, suscipit nec, iaculis eu, tincidunt quis, erat. Duis at ante sit amet dui molestie scelerisque. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Vivamus sodales, risus eu lobortis posuere, justo turpis laoreet ante, eget aliquet nunc metus in erat. Praesent imperdiet orci. Quisque sapien nulla, interdum quis, viverra vel, varius et, lacus. Proin nec risus a ante egestas dictum.

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In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Proin consequat bibendum tortor. Phasellus mollis, lectus non imperdiet ultrices, magna elit fermentum orci, rhoncus varius urna mi at est. Aenean ut velit. Pellentesque velit nunc, ullamcorper vel, iaculis cursus, facilisis non, nisl. Nam pede diam, venenatis sit amet, consequat vel, malesuada quis, enim. Ut adipiscing, turpis pulvinar mattis ultrices, enim mi euismod arcu, in imperdiet nunc nisl id pede. Maecenas non dolor. Nullam mi turpis, hendrerit ut, ultricies id, lacinia sit amet, turpis. Sed accumsan, ipsum at faucibus scelerisque, nisi neque commodo ante, sed tincidunt massa lectus in eros. Sed bibendum turpis scelerisque purus. Pellentesque vitae ipsum. Duis sodales fringilla ante. Pellentesque posuere posuere tellus. Phasellus gravida laoreet risus. Integer vitae felis tincidunt felis vulputate semper. Duis semper sem a pede. Praesent quis lectus vel felis varius feugiat. Phasellus ipsum nulla, auctor eget, euismod at, elementum ac, pede.

Proin venenatis augue sit amet felis hendrerit lacinia. In molestie augue sed arcu. Mauris posuere velit eu leo. Mauris commodo. Aenean lacinia dignissim libero. Curabitur quis enim quis augue interdum facilisis. Integer elementum sem nec lectus. Curabitur rutrum nulla in felis. Morbi mattis turpis id diam. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum sollicitudin lectus. Morbi lorem augue, suscipit nec, iaculis eu, tincidunt quis, erat. Duis at ante sit amet dui molestie scelerisque. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Vivamus sodales, risus eu lobortis posuere, justo turpis laoreet ante, eget aliquet nunc metus in erat. Praesent imperdiet orci. Quisque sapien nulla, interdum quis, viverra vel, varius et, lacus. Proin nec risus a ante egestas dictum.

smartphones move over, tablet computing is coming.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

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I’ve been watching two interesting computing phenomenons over the last 2 years.

iphoneThe first (for me to notice) was the introduction of the iPhone, well it was hard not to when suddenly a whole raft of people who were not the usual ilk of mac fanboys become remarkably smug and started touting their new shinny touch screen devices. In a deft blow Apple succeeded in evolving mobile telephones into devices that also allowed people to read their emails and surf the internet with an experience that wasn’t akin to trying to set the time on a Rolex watch with a JCB. They pushed the technology, the economics and the social aspects of owning a mobile telephone all at once and created a phenomenal success.

The other less glamorous revolution that was going on I discovered on a trip to Spain. For the last seven years I have been going on holiday and often to choose to stay in youth hostels, a) because it is cheap b) because it allows me to glimpse what young people now think is normal (as well as allowing me to pretend to be young again). On my last trip I was surprised to see a mixture of young American and European travellers using NETBOOKS to send reassurance home to their mothers that they were NOT out getting drunk on cheap Spanish beer every night. No longer were they queuing up to use a rather battered PC connected to the internet encrusted with the detritus of hundred of people with dreadlocks and rife with spyware, no instead they had their own cheap, disposable, low powered netbooks to connect to any wifi hotspot they pleased.

This was s fundamental shift in the idea of owning a computer, making them and more importantly the internet far more accessible to the masses. This was cemented when my sister brought one. Jeff Attwood has come to a similar conclusion and you can read about it here

So what does this have to do with tablet computing?

c-motech-tablet-09-29-09Well, I believe that tablet computing is an evolution of both of these two parallel streams of computing experience. The successful tablet PC will combine the portability and screen resolution of a netbook with the interface and input devices of the iPhone. The other factors involved, like app store, 3g data access, closed environment have all be refined to a point of maturity by Apple and created a business model for anyone with the strength of character and an ounce of sense to expand upon. So lets face it tablet PC’s are going to be big.

But from my point of view, what does this mean for web development? Well, it means the standard 1024×800 screen is not dead - and as a matter of course you should be testing your web site to see how they display on these things. The interface controls from the iPhone, multi touch, and gestures are here to stay and we need to figure out how to usability test them accurately and modify them for maximum user experience. We need to asses what this hardware is capable of and how we maximize performance while including all these new features and potential edge cases. But most importantly we need to figure what people are using these devices for that they don’t get from their current experience - what can we do to really take advantage of all these key features in new and innovative ways?

Here are some links I saw on Engadget (tonight) to whet your appetite: