Thursday, 22 November 2007

iPhone - Smartphone for the Normob?

I've had plenty of people wanting to have a look and a play and everyone has been

  1. amazed at it's beauty
  2. able to use just about anything on the phone without much guidance
  3. grinning from ear to ear while they've had it in their hands

Which makes me wonder if perhaps the iPhone is actually the perfect phone for the Normob. Obviously I'm ignoring the hefty price tag and big old data plan.

A friend of mine who has a phone for calls and texts and that's it, and like any true Normob has no idea what model of phone she has, took one look at the iPhone and declared her immediate desire for one.

Because it was so intuitive, she could actually see herself using most of it's features. Photo's of her children, emails as she moves about, a bit of web browsing if she needed to check something out and of course all with a phone attached, perfect.

I reckon I must use 80% of the features of the iPhone, I probably used about 20% of my N95. I've passed it on to Kate in the office, who was very excited and has spent lots of time fiddling around, loading music and getting it just so. She was however a little daunted by the encyclopedia, masquerading as an user manual that I passed to her shortly afterwards.

Julian has been quite dismissive of my purchase. He believes (correct me if I'm misrepresenting you Julian) that Apple have missed a trick by not making the iPhone exclusive enough. He feels it is too easily attainable and therefore will lose it's caché. I'm not so sure.

Apple revolutionised the MP3 market with the iPod by giving people music on the move rather than just a feature rich MP3 player. They've sold and continue to sell bucket loads of devices that are still the most desirable on the market.

I believe that the iPhone could have the same revolutionary impact in bring the mobile Internet to the masses. The feature laden, geek friendly smartphone alternatives are very similar to the original MP3 players. Ghastly user experience, tricky to setup, awkward to use, tiny screens. Enter the iPhone and you just touch and stroke a few times and you have access to the Internet wherever you are.

I really want the iPhone to succeed and by success I don't necessarily mean commercially for Apple. It's more that I hope that it's a catalyst for a revolution in mobile Internet devices. I hope that other device manufacturers step up to the plate, competition like this breeds innovation and BiP (Before iPhone) things were starting to look a little bleak IMHO.

If the net result is Normobs wanting to and being able to use the Internet on the move then that can only benefit us all.

Sarin to Jobs: your sneakers stink and your GUI sucks | The Register

Saw this on The Register today.

Sarin to Jobs: your sneakers stink and your GUI sucks | The Register

Very funny, with some interesting thoughts about inebriated Europeans being unable use the touch screen during the Christmas Season.

Given that when one is inebriated a phone can very easily transform from a device for communication to a method of menace, this probably isn't such a bad thing.

It's what computers have become

I seem to remember this being the slogan for the N95 when it first came out. It was perhaps stretching the capabilities a little but it really has an impressive set of features.

I posted last month in To iPhone or Not To iPhone about how I was besotted with having a 5MP camera sitting on the platform of a 'proper' phone. Seems I was a little hasty.

If the N95 truly is what PCs have become then it's lineage should be traced back through the Wintel family. Features are king, the more the better, cram them in, it's what sells.

The mobile phone according to Apple however is a wholly different story. The interface truly is exceptional. There is something about touching and stroking the glorious screen that has engaged me with it like no other before it.

The camera, despite being 2MP is good and is a damn sight quicker to use than the Nokia. I've been using it to photograph slides in presentations and am forever missing them while the camera application starts up. That said, without a flash it's pants for indoor shots.

The iPod functionality is great, the mail application is really easy to use and the visual voice mail is excellent. Who needs SpinVox when you've got that application shipping for free.

The web browsing experience, when you have data coverage, is truly awesome. It's replaced my laptop for a lot of my casual browsing, blog reading, research etc. Sat in the lounge at home, in a hotel bar, etc it's far less cumbersome. Starts up a lot quicker and I can read the content just as well.

So that just leaves the infamous touchscreen keyboard. It''s OK. It's pretty accurate, you do get better at it and the intelligent correction is pretty accurate. It is a bit irritating to use, but I find typing on a standard numeric keyboard irritating as well.

This also means when I'm browsing I tend to browse and read rather than use forms or other mechanics that require text entry. I think I'm slightly more prepared to do it knowing there's a Qwerty there should I need it. Though that could also be the novelty factor.

There is one problem and I have to admit it has irritated me no end. It's probably out of all proportion, and it's probably because the other aspects set the usability bar so high, but I hate it.

It's that awful, recessed headphone socket. It's either downright ignorant or downright arrogant. Why on earth force people to use the headphones that ship with the device? I personally have two problems with this

  1. I must have funny shaped/small ears. I can't get most ear phones to stay in if I'm in any way energetic when I'm using them. How people run with them in I will never know.
  2. I do a fair bit of flying and have bought myself some rather lovely Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (birthday present to myself when I lost the actual day in the air to Australia, thank goodness for the electrical shops in Singapore airport). I can't plug them in!

So my iPhone now has a tail in the shape of a Griffin headphone adaptor.

Defaced but compatible.

So in conclusion, a truly wonderful device with a revolutionary new interface that sets a new standard for personal communication devices. Yes the data coverage is a bit of a pain but most of the time I can get WiFi of EDGE so it's pretty much fit for purpose. And when the 3G version comes to the UK, whenever that might be, and if they can keep the battery going long enough, it could just be perfect.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Not thinking, on a budget

One of my post Web 2.0 Expo book purchases was Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I obviously missed the boat as this is now the second edition published in 2005 but it cropped up on one of James Kalbach's slides so I thought I'd check it out. 48 reviews on Amazon with an average 5 star rating was enough for me.

It's everything a business book should be. Short, I've read it in two evenings, and with all of its points clearly made.

There is some really valuable material in here, especially the chapters on how to do useability testing on a budget. I'll definitely be getting the video camera out when I get back to the office.

Having just gone through the process of designing and developing the new Esendex web site I feel that perhaps we've missed a trick.

In reality however we've made some massive improvements and web site design and development should be an iterative process, the trees really do get in the way after a while.

Eating in Barcelona

I've posted about it before but Cerveseria Catalana really is a top place to eat. It's a fantastically social place and a great place to go with a few friends, lot's of people chatting, rubbing shoulders, waiting for a table or a perch at the bar.

It's also a great place to eat on your own. The large oak bars provide a great place to sample the multitude of tapas options without feeling lonely. The staff are really helpful with any confusions and of course the food is fantastic. I always eat too much.

In particular the solomillo de ternera (below) are to die for darling.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Is Pair Programming really working for us?

Nicholas and I are having some misgivings at the moment about whether Pair Programming is all it's cracked up to be. We're not sure whether we're in danger of becoming dogmatic about enforcing it.

One problem is that in our environment requirements and demands on time can be quite fluid, especially as the development team also help our SMS API customers with their integration. This inevitably leads to pairs splitting and less optimal work sessions.

Another is that people are not created equal, there is inevitably a leader in any pair. This can be down to having more development experience, more experience of the part of the system being worked on or just having a more forceful personality.

This translates into a less than optimal contribution from one member of the pair. Especially in the latter case, the less forceful person is likely not to be contributing anyway near to their potential if they're being 'bulldozed' by the stronger party. This isn't necessarily down to arrogance or any malcious intent, it's just they way people are.

So what's the alternative?

We're going to trial working in pairs but on coding two tasks, ideally related to each other, individually. That way you have someone available, on your wavelength to discuss design decisions, patterns, tests, etc but you can knuckle down and get some tests written and functionality produced at your own pace. When you're ready, then you bring in your pair for a review.

This stays true to the concepts of discussion, collaboration and while the code reviews are notquite inline, they are very close to it.

We're running this as an experiment until Christmas. We'll report back

Web 2.0 Expo - Berlin

Last week was a refreshing change. I realised that it had been a long time since I'd been to a web/development conference rather than one with a mobile industry focus.

That said the conference venue was dreadful. It was a cold, souless place in the middle of nowhere. The session rooms were a long way from the keynote hall which in turn was a long way from the exhbition hall.

During one of the keynote session (held at lunchtime which was very civilised) the organisers asked for a show of hands for next years venue. Barcelona seemed to get most votes, so here's hoping.

The quality of speakers and sessions was generally good. Highlights include:

Ajit Joakar (while he wasn't fondling or looking at his BlackBerry during is presentation!) delivered his view on the Mobile world. There wasn't a lot new in it for me, but judging by the size of the audience and the positive feedback he received the web world is definitely trying to understand the mobile world.

James Kalbrach delivered a interesting review and recommendations around Tag navigation. As the concept of self categorisation with tags is gaining ground on more and more sites, this is going to become more and more relavent. Not just in the UGC world either.

The session on getting UCD (User Centred Design) to play nicely with Agile development given by Leisa Reichelt was another session worthy of note. It was a bit heavy on the introduction to Agile methodologies for me but the 'meat' about how to integrate user interaction designers into the agile development process definitely stirred some thoughts. In fact it was probably this session that generated the most items on my post-conference book order.

So it was worth going. It was the first time this conference had been run so there were bound to be some teething problems. It was a bit also pricey but subject to the agenda and them changing the venue I'd expect to be going next year.

Saturday, 10 November 2007


It's a joy to use, so intiutive. Could this mean goodbye N95?

Friday, 9 November 2007

Everything is OK

Just as I hit publish on the last post Kirsty from iPhone/O2 support called.

Gave her some more details,driving licence, etc, and apparently I'll be activated in an hour.


Well I bought one

Waiting for it to be activated, seems O2 do not want to welcome me with open arms.

The signup process really is alien to a simple European like me. I'm used to waiting a couple of hours and it just working. Not quite sure why Carphone Warehouse couldn't activate it for me while I was instore. Surely I could enter my iTunes details at the counter rather than waiting until I get home and then spend the evening frustrated.

The Bay Area Buzz

One of the keynote sessions included an interview with Tariq Karim, founder and CEO of NetVibes, who talked about the Bay Area buzz. He tries to make sure he get's out to San Francisco every couple of months to get is entrepreneurial and createive mojo recharged.

Having experienced it myself on my recent visit, I was good to hear that someone else also found it infectious.

Europe does seem to be difference, there is some fantastic stuff happening but it's a lot harder to find. I wonder if because so much is happening around San Francisco the good stuff has something to rise up above and gets prominence very quickly.

It just goes to show that despite all this virtual interaction and location independet collaboration. Actually meeting and interacting with people face to face is what really makes things happen.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Space Tag Continuum

I've been at Web2Expo the last couple of days and at a session on Designing Tag based Navigation I got involved in a discussion about multi-word tags and how they should be input.

There are many sites out there, Flikr,tag cloud shown below, being a prime example, where they only support multi-word tags if you enclose in double quotes. Surely this is just poor design. It's a requirement enforced by a development decision rather than actually giving thought to how a user thinks.

Tags are used to categorise artificts, be they pictures, blog posts, documents or whatever. When you want to categorise something, often a phrase is best, eg: New York, New Years Party 2007, or Dan's Birthday.

Amazingly, to me anyway, people in the audience thought it was perfectly reasonable for the user to be required to either remove the spaces: NewYearsParty2007; or use double quotes: "News Years Party 2007". You'll notice above New and York appear has separate tags while some people have adapted their entry to remove the spaces for newyork.

To the first one I say there is no such word as NewYearsParty2007 and to the second one I'm not quoting anyone. We forcing the users to adapt their natural behaviour to fit a system that could just be designed better.

When we write lists, in English at any rate, we delineate with commas. What's wrong with doing that when inputing tags? Even better make it culture specifc.

I've posted previously about Normobs, I wonder if we need the concept of Norwebs (Normal Web Users). For those in the UK, I know it's also the name of a utility company but I don't think there's a trademark collision.

While it's easy to get excited about the possibilities of the latest web applications for them to realise their true potentional, we must remember the Norweb, for they are many and they are right ;-)

Facebook for BlackBerry, the problem is...

None of my friends have it.

So I'm ready to interact whenever and use Facebook to communicate with my friends about friends stuff while I'm out and about, they have to be sitting down. And not just sitting down, but sitting down in a place or time that is Facebook friendly.

With organisations increasingly blocking access to sites like Facebook or restricting access to lunchtimes, etc, I wonder if my prediction of Facebook participating in a new paradigm in communication is really going to be realised.

While the service is delivered as a web site it's easily blocked by corporate IT. A mobile device interface allows people to interact when they're not sitting down.

On the way to and from work I would say is the time when most friends would want/need to communicate, reviewing the day, last night's TV or planning the night ahead. They could access the Facebook mobile site but the problem with that is the synchronous nature of the interaction.

Navigating a mobile web site requires a consistent data connection, not always possible on the commute. The beauty of the device based applications is that they can work asynchronously, masking network availability fluctuations from the user.

They can also provide a responsive and functional user experience, another area where mobile web apps suffer, flying on PC browser style interactions with servers that we designed with a reliable data connection in mind.

So we need, Symbian, Java, BREW and I guess Android versions of these applications. Someone like Facebook, with a lump of Microsoft's cash, probably have the resources to do it and to drive this forward but is that really going to really going to be the answer?

From a purely technical point of view, it comes back to opening up the OS on phones and standardising the APIs, something that Google's Open Mobile Alliance is purtaining to be about. The problem is that some rather large companies stand to have the business models that made them what they are today destroyed if this happens, so it probably won't.

While innovation and adoption happens at light-speed on the Internet, in mobile it can't while these interests remain protected.

I'm not naive enough to beat a drum and say this must change irrespective of the outcome. These companies employee huge numbers of people and contribute greatly to economies all over the world.

So I guess we'll just have to see where the chinks in the armour open up. There are enough developers and entrepreneurs working in and watching the mobile space to work out how to make these things happen, me included, so when it does happen, you can bet it'll happen quickly.

Friday, 2 November 2007

I was on the radio today

I was interviewed along on with BBC Radio Nottingham with Huw Hilditch Roberts of the National Farmers Union about the way they are using our Web SMS to keep farmers up to date on the latest about Bluetongue and Foot and Mouth disease.

It was my first time live on the radio, slightly nerve wracking but kinda fun at the same time. Alan Clifford was very kind, he certainly didn't take a John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman approach.

If you want to check it out go to BBC Radio Nottingham listen again and choose DriveTime on Friday and fast forward to 40 mins in.

Next stop Newsnight ;-)