What responsive design should really look like

I found this video from the interactive prototype Room-E on the 72U project blog. It’s a prototype showing what will be possible in the near future when you think about a more responsive environment.

“The future of the computer is to essentially make it disappear—a disconnected interface, so the house or the office or the building or the city is the computer.”Mark Rolston, Chief Creative Officer, frog

Check out the video below.

Is Google Glass the Segway of this era?

Not so long ago Mike Butcher (from Techcrunch) tried on a pair of Google Glass lent to him by a Glass Explorer at a conference and even though his experience with Glass was rather short he made a conclusion that nailed it for me:

“So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.”

I had a chance to buy a Google Glass 5-6 months ago when the original Google Explorers were allowed to invite 3 friends to join the program. As managing partner for digital at Duval Guillaume, I need and want to be on top of major tech innovations and Glass is definitely one of those things. So I volunteered immediately and made some arrangements to be able to buy it whilst not completely following the standard procedure. You have to be a US resident for instance which I’m not. But that was pretty easy to overcome. So I got my Google Glass pretty soon after and once it was all set up (which was pretty easy) I started playing around with it.

At first I was in awe. The little projection screen of Google Glass is crisp, the voice & touch controls are very intuitive and simple to get familiar with and it’s pretty impressive what it can do. It’s the same when you share that experience with others, every time one of my friends or colleagues put on Google Glass and performed some of the main key tasks they were amazed with the result. That and the jealousy of some to get hold of their own.

I took some really great pictures of the rising sun while driving my car, got directions pointed out to a unknown shop while walking in the city, watched Youtube video’s after searching them via voice commands, shared Facebook updates also via voice, … A lot of nice things actually. But then there’s also a problem. There are a few, like battery time for instance (which is worse than on a smartphone). But that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that actually wearing it makes you look weird – or at least different enough for people to notice. It doesn’t look natural and so people will make a comment about it. They either know what it is and want to try it, or worse, want you to take it off, like if you’re constantly filming people. Or people don’t know what it is and think you look ridiculous. And you can’t blame them because you know you look ridiculous with the glasses on.

And if people ask what the benefits are and you tell them, they will tell you all of that’s also possible with your smartphone. With the difference you don’t have the take it out of your pocket, but then again you don’t have to wear those strange glasses all the time. And indeed, there’s not much you can bring into that. Because there are very few moments that you can say that you couldn’t possible reach for your phone, in which case Google Glass really was beneficial to you.

And for that Mike’s comment makes a lot of sense. When it makes no real difference to use Google Glass or your smartphone for the same tasks, the smartphone is still a winner. But when you’re a policeman, or a flight attendant, a medic, … and you need your hands for other things then the Glass makes total sense. Therefore it cannot come as a surprise that NYPD is testing Google Glass or Virgin Atlantic.

I’m not sure how the final Google Glass will go to market nor when that will happen. But it still needs massive change before people will adopt it because it don’t think it is appealing enough to the masses how it is right now. Let alone the price tag of course, you can buy yourself some pretty sweet smartphones for USD 1.500.

Don’t get me wrong by the way, I’m still pretty happy to have one and I will keep testing the device for quite some more time. It does help to get insights on where wearables might go to and it still is pretty amazing if you’re willing to unthink the fact that you are wearing empty glasses with a battery pack on the side. Let’s see what comes next.

Note – I wrote this on the plane about a week ago, since then Google announced Android Wear which subsequently makes a lot more sense to me than the Glass does for the moment. Or maybe I should just wait until we see what RayBan is going to make of it.

The “Basket of Remotes” Problem

Jean-Louis Gassée brought up an interesting challenge or issue with regards to the current hype around the Internet of Things:

It’s actually a very simple thought when you come to think of it but one that I thought is very true and relevant. Because indeed, the idea of all these connected devices in your home that need to be ‘operated’ via some kind of remote is all great but knowing that we haven’t been able to fix this for television in the last 50 years is something to think about.

“Indeed, so-called “smart” TVs are unable to provide a machine-readable description of the commands they understand (an XML file, also readable by a human, would do). We can’t stand in front of a TV with a “fresh” universal remote – or a smartphone app – touch the Learn button and have the TV wirelessly ship the list of commands it understands…and so on to the next appliance, security system or, if you insist, fridge and toaster. If an appliance would yield its control and reporting data, an app developer could build a “control center” that would summarize and manage your networked devices. But in the Consumer IoT world, we’re still very far from this desirable state of affairs. A TV can’t even tell a smartphone app if it’s on, what channel it’s tuned to, or which devices is feeding it content. For programmable remotes, it’s easy to get lost as too many TVs don’t even know a command such as Input 2, they only know Next Input. If a human changes the input by walking to the device and pushing a button, the remote is lost. (To say nothing of TVs that don’t have separate On and Off commands, only an On/Off toggle, with the danger of getting out of sync – and no way for the TV to talk back and describe its state…)”

We’re clearly not there yet. I wonder if it isn’t because both hardware and software manufacturers are increasingly investing in their own controlled and often closed ecosystems which implicates that little to no enterprises will be interested in opening up to this idea of 2-way thinking.

And also the idea that the phone will be the one and only device to rule everything in the future is an idea which I doubt will be realistic in the near future as I’ve written before.

Sweetie: the 10 year old pedophile hunter

Alright. There’s not much I will say about this, you just have to watch the video. In short, the organisation Terre Des Hommes that fights child exploitation, created a robot that looks like a 10 year old child. This robot, called Sweetie, is operated from Amsterdam and once online engages in chats with pedophiles. Apparently when you go online on popular chat services with the profile of a 10 year old Philippine you attract these sex offenders within seconds so that’s what Sweetie’s for. And since they all ask to put on the webcam, Sweetie activates that webcam without any hesitation… and while the conversation lasts, the specialists in Amsterdam get photo & video evidence of the offenders and they try to find all information that helps identify these men. And it works: 1.000 pedophiles identified in merely 2 months. I don’t say this often but this is just amazing! Watch. And don’t forget to sign the petition.

Is your smartphone becoming too smart for its own good?

The feature phone. A ‘new’ name for something that exists for a long time already just so we can differentiate it from the more recent forms or versions, as so called retronym. Because that’s what it is, for people my age we used to refer to the feature phone just as a mobile or cell phone. That’s until the smartphone came along and before we all started using that.

It wasn’t just a phone with a contact list that was stored on your SIM card (and limited to a certain number of people), the smartphone was also a camera and would have a browser to surf the internet etc. And the smartphone only got smarter and smarter over time. Today you can have a phone that is a very good alternative to a lot of digital cameras, it’s packed full with apps that can do the most amazing things like track your running, sync all your documents over the cloud, recognize music, program your DVR, and a whole more.

And it doesn’t look like we have reached the end of all smartphone smartness. The new iPhone has a fingerprint scanner, another step in the process of our phone becoming a key. A key to our data of course, but also a key to our house or our car? It’s only a matter of time. With the right apps and add-ons your smartphone is also becoming a payment device and since it can also already hold your tickets, vouchers, loyalty cards it will replace your wallet. It is also becoming a health appliance, you can use it to geo-locate people or items, etc etc. And of course let’s not forget the camera, a pretty damn good camera these days.

What’s more, it’ll drive most of the content and functionality of your smartwatch, of your smart (Google) glasses, … the smartphone is replacing so many things and powering just as many other things that it is becoming incredibly powerful.

Awesome. And at the same time a problem. Since the battery life of the phone hasn’t evolved as much as the feature set and actually is getting worse with every OS update, the all-in-one promise of the smartphone is a dream. Just like most of you I am using my iPhone for quite simple tasks – calling, email, agenda, todo, a bit of social and the camera. And I cannot make it last a full day. And if I’m at an event at which I do more photography than usual than I’m out of power before 5PM and I cannot make any calls anymore.

So the idea of using the smartphone to its full power is unreal today. And since everything is in there at some point you will lock yourself out of your house and you don’t have the ability to call anyone for help. Nor can you pay anyone to fix your problem. Am I exaggerating? Probably. But the problem is there. How much I love the idea of using the iPhone for all the things mentioned before, the device needs to change drastically before I actually will lock all these things into this one single device.

Your thoughts?

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.

Another week, another tablet

For about 10 days now I switched my iPad for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to see how they compare – thanks to Belgacom. First things first, this is the first version of the 10.1 (now renamed to 10.1v), there’s a newer one coming on the market that has the same name but is slightly thinner than this one.

The hardware specs on this tablet are quite impressive. It has a 1280×800 screen resolution, runs Android Honeycomb 3.0, has an 8 megapixel camera (that doubles as 1080p HD video recorder), Wifi and 3G and a 1 GHz dual-core processor. That all weighs just under 600 g making it a bit lighter than the original iPad (it’s also a bit smaller).

What do I like about it?

First of all – nice screen, solid battery, powerful, … everything you expect from a tablet that wants to be a serious competitor to the iPad. Getting the basics right is obviously crucial in this game so no remarks there.

It’s my first real experience with Honecomb and I must say that I was rather pleased with the result. It’s an intuitive experience and something I like about Android in general is that you can add more than just app icons to your screen. The widgets for recent browser history for instance is one that I use quite often and.

The tablet came with a data subscription and I was surprised by the loading speed in both browser as well as with downloads from the Android Market place when on 3G. It’s definitely faster then the data connection Mobistar currently offers on my iPhone.

Flash. You sort of learn to navigate around Flash enabled websites when you’re surfing on the iPad but it’s still annoying when trying to consult a webpage that cannot be displayed due to the no-Flash policy of Apple when it comes to mobile. The Samsung’s browser displays Flash just like you’re used to and that still is a nice surplus.

Last but not least

What can be improved?

I like the more solid, the more polished feel of the iPad. The Galaxy Tab feels a bit more plastic but as mentioned before it’s probably the reason why it weighs less as well.

What needs most improvement in my opinion has more to do with Android Honeycomb than with the device itself. Unlike with the iPad you cannot see which apps on the Android Market are built for tablets, meaning that most apps you download are regular Android apps. Those are decent apps – nothing against that – but they don’t use the screen estate like they should. Similar with the browser as most websites detect your device as a mobile device, defaulting to the mobile phone experience. You will have to switch to desktop version to get the full advantage of the tablet. Since that is a change you can make it’s just a little annoyance, the differentiation for Android and Android Honeycomb in the Android Market is something I would like to see changed soon though.

Overall pretty decent result and definitely worth checking out in my opinion.

[Disclaimer: Belgacom provided the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v to me including SIM with data subscription]

When augmentation is about reducing (Pt. 2)

In February of this year I wrote a post about Kevin Slavin’s talk on Augmented Reality at PICNIC NY Salon. In that video he talked about something that made total sense to me… which to be honest is true for most of what Kevin says anyway :)

“His thoughts around augmented cities and why maybe ‘augmented’ should be about taking things away instead of just adding them to the world as we are already drowning in data as it is.”

So when I got this video today from a colleague about a research project on ‘Dimished Reality’ by Jan Herling and Wolfgang Broll of the  Ilmenau University of Technology, it was like a proof of the concept Kevin talked about a year ago now. I don’t like the name ‘Dimished Reality’ because it still is doing more on top of what is really there. But in this case less really is more, check it out:

Reading white papers on the iPad (Evolved)

I recently figured out a nice way to read white papers on the iPad and thus finally catch up to the reading of all those white papers. It was/is a good solution but there are 2 elements that could be improved:

  1. Would have been nice to be able to open the PDF’s in iBooks straight from Dropbox without having to open them in Dropbox first and then in iBooks. Minor issue but could be easier.
  2. You can bookmark pages in iBooks on the iPad but that’s pretty much all the interaction that’s possible. It could have been better if you could make all kinds of annotations on the document, like notes or highlights etc.

And well what do you know, I just found out there’s a solution for that called GoodReader, a relatively new app for the iPad. It doesn’t look half as good as iBooks where you get that nice view of all your document covers on those shelves… but you can sync with your Dropbox folder from within the app and you can make all kinds of annotations on the document which you can save separately as annotations or immediately within the document. Sounds like a winner to me.

Check it out.

The promise of interactive television (Cont’d)

Via Brandflakes for Breakfast I learned about Yap.tv which seems to be another interesting view on what interactive could be like. Other than the My Generation app from abc which I mentioned earlier this week, the Yap.tv app is useful for all channels and all interactivity is added without collaboration from the channels themselves.

If this is the direction we’re going – and it sure looks like it – interactive tv will be re-invented by people and companies outside the tv business and not by the networks or content owners.  I suppose that’s what happens when you try to protect an outdated business model. That’s kinda sad in a sense but also very exciting. Wanna bet that is exactly what is going to happen? I do ;)

In the meantime check out Yap.tv if you’re living in the US, I can tell you it’s pretty useless in Europe. It’s the idea that counts.