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.

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.

Is technology slowing us down?

Seriously, is it? This might sound like a strange question from a technology early adopter and yet I believe this is a valid question. I realize that technology is actually fueling growth, opening up new opportunities and markets, giving access to consumers that were previously out of reach. It’s at the base of many new products and helps us connect with the world. But it also seems to be a burden, a barrier for many businesses in that same quest for growth. Every week I see decisions being taken – with clients, partners or friends – that are based upon technology and that should have been taken weeks, months or even years ago. Or even worse – decisions which we all know are wrong from the start, but where technology forces to do things in a certain way. This is just an observation but one I encounter too regularly to ignore. And I think these are the main reasons:

People can’t keep up. Being an early adopter for technology is one thing. It opens up opportunities if you are one, but it’s not really an issue for business when you’re not. The real problem with the rapid technology development is that this rhythm is very different than the business/marketing rhythm of many businesses. Even if they know which technology offers real opportunities, they haven’t got the means nor the organization to cope with that. On top of that the early adopters don’t care about that problem, they’re too busy being first with something new that it’s not their problem that the rest of the world can’t keep up. That is not the biggest issue though, the biggest issue is that business are seeing that the gap between the expected level of change and the ability to manage is is getting bigger by the year. And that that is largely related to technology. I didn’t  make that up, it was one of the key findings of the IBM CEO study.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

How to judge the expert’s expertise? At the introduction of new technology, experts are born. These experts range from people that have been researching about this new tech for the last x years to others who have read a lot about all this over the last few days/weeks/months. That makes them pretty different even though both will claim their expertise in similar ways and in both cases they will sound pretty knowledgeable to all people that are new to the topic. I’ve always found this a serious problem because everyone knows the importance of a good introduction to something new, and how hard it is to change people’s minds when that introduction wasn’t meeting expectations. You never get a second change to make a first impression.

Wrong decisions from the (recent) past. Maybe the worst reason of all. Companies often know that the technology decision they’re taking today is not the ideal one, but that earlier decisions and investments define the window in which they can decide. That’s really unfortunate of course, it’s like the perfect way to maneuver yourself out of competition. It’s also a very challenging one, because at the one hand you would suggest to make sure everything is researched properly before making a decision (to avoid things to turn out badly later) and yet we’re already being too slow to begin with. A big part of these decisions are platform decisions and I don’t think businesses need to take more time to decide, I do believe they need to approach platforms different compared to what they do now. More on that in a separate post.

Organizational hierarchy. There’s no better way to put this than with Putt’s Law below – this may be from 2006 but it’s still very much true today. Make sure you have the right people take the right part of the decision when it comes down to technology.

“Technology is dominated by 2 types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Archibald Putt

Stepping out of the App economy

Sometime late 2010 we started working on 2 rather big mobile projects and they made me think a lot more about apps and how our thinking for mobile is all about apps. Today mobile equals apps, and we are being dictated by the likes of Apple how we have to deal with that. So how big of an improvement the introduction of apps on mobile has been, I believe we limit our thinking by that same evolution, while it shouldn’t end there.

There’s no better way to experience the hassles one has to overcome when developing apps, then to develop your own (especially when the app is for the iPhone). And it was an article on TC about Disney that acquired an HTML5 game engine that got me thinking about this whole app approach. Smart move from Disney by the way. Bye bye appstores, let’s develop game experiences the way we like and let people pay what we think is right. And for multiple OS’s at the same time, all in one take. With Android gaining market share and also WM7 that will take it’s part of the cake at some point, HTML5 mobile web apps make it a lot easier to build experiences across OS’s and devices compared to today, and without all the appstore hassle. And if you go further, when you think about developing for mobile first instead of web and then mobile, I believe there’s a whole lot of untapped potential.

But the Disney acquisition isn’t having any live results yet. I think the FT was the first really big one to have made a move to go for HTML5 and the last few days or weeks a few others seem to have followed. LinkedIn just released a pretty nice HTML5 experience for mobile and earlier this week Amazon launched a similar experience for their Kindle:

“It can do everything that a normal Kindle app can do, such as synchronize your library, your last page read and bookmarks. Yet, the Kindle Cloud Reader is more of a reaction to the draconian app store rules instituted by the Cupertino giant than it is a dynamic new version of Kindle.”

It’s probably just a matter of time before those brand start pulling their apps from the appstore, or at least stop actively updating those in favor of native mobile web apps. I’m with Gigaom on this one when they say that Amazon might as well be showing media companies the future of the web with this one. Also sites as Twitter offer a rich and very nice mobile web experience, nothing like it used to be anymore.

I can only applaud brands moving in this direction and I believe that although the idea of apps on your mobile were a great innovation, they´re only a step towards a very rich mobile web experience. What´s your take?

Bonus link: HTML5 apps that are scaring the pants off Apple

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]

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 (part 2)

There are 3 reasons I once decided to get a digital television at home:

  1. Better quality. Especially with one of those fancy new full HD screens that’s a much better experience.
  2. Comfort features. Think about the EPG, easier recording, movie rental, …
  3. Interactivity. Push the red/blue/whatever-color button and you will get a richer experience

The end score, 2 out of 3. I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but in Belgium interactive part is pretty nonexistent. I’ve used the red button less than 5 times in the 3 years I’ve got digital tv at home. It was always a disappointment. Useless information, bad experience, ugly, … Content makers nor advertisers seem to show any interest in it. Too bad because I had really high hopes for this. It’s pretty easy to imagine how this could be used in many really cool ways. Didn’t happen.

When I read about the My Generation iPad app from abc it sounded like they built an app to do what interactive tv couldn’t. The same promise all over again, but you’ll need another device to experience it. And only with My Generation on abc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think these are cool evolutions. I’m just wondering why none of the richer tv experiences have ever really succeeded without the help of peripheral devices. Sounds like a missed opportunity to me for television makers.

Anyway, good stuff from abc. Curious to see how this will evolve further. What do you think?

Glass. How to make sharing more contextual.

Well at least that’s what I think it does. When I first read about this Firefox/Chrome plugin I thought it would be something similar to Weblin, a service I blogged about in 2007. Luckily it’s not the same. For one Weblin wasn’t as cool and interesting as I first thought and is in de deadpool by now and Glass has a different offering so let’s give that a try.

“Glass is a browser add-on that lets you share experiences and not just content. We’ve created a virtual sheet of Glass that lies over the entire internet that’s yours to affect. You can share your thoughts about anything on the web, right in the moment, by literally placing notes, (highlighting text, and even placing pictures and videos – to come soon) on top of any website and share those thoughts with only those you choose. We let you share the moment and thought together as an experience.”

I’m not sure actually if it has a benefit to share websites/comments the way Glass wants you to, but I got to have some friends on Glass first to figure that one out :) See it in action:

Glass is still in beta (invitation only) but I could still use the invitation code offered by The Next Web in their post about Glass so can you (code = thenextweb). If that doesn’t work anymore, I have 5 invites left so give me a shout if you need one of those.

That way we can both find out if this is a keeper or not.

Clean install

I picked up my copy of Office 2010 on Friday (was still on the beta which was about to expire) and decided to do a full clean install instead of just re-installing Office. Here’s an overview of all the stuff I installed, do you think there’s a piece of software I’m absolutely missing?

Windows 7 64-bit
Office 2010 Professional
Seesmic Desktop 2
Dropbox
Windows Live beta (Messenger now incl Facebook chat, Photo Gallery, Mail and Writer)
Microsoft Security Essentials
Chrome 6 (and extensions – Awesome Screenshot, Delicious, Instapaper, Postrank and Twitter Reactions)
Paint.NET
Adobe Reader
Zune

You’ll see no iTunes on my laptop. I am using it (much against my will though) for the iPhone and iPad but have it installed on a Macbook Pro for that. Have had a Mac for the last 15 years or so but don’t use them much.

Tab Sugar: for tabfreaks like me

I have now 72 tabs open in Chrome. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s just how it is. All tabs have sites open, stuff I want to read but didn’t get to yet, etc… And now I might just have found the solution to organize all of those tabs a bit better, it’s called Tab Sugar. Can’t wait to try it out.

[Via TheNextWeb]