It's a lot of little brushes that paints the big picture

When Smart Apps Get It Wrong

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In the Newton and Palm days, I had a rather popular software solution for helping automate my Task List creation. The discussion came up recently that the world of iOS/Android users could have their lives made easier by a new version of the old app. The first attack was to simply rewrite the software using more modern interfaces and current work flows. While this would be a very usable answer to many people’s life challenges, it isn’t the direction everyone is going with repeatable steps. Now, apps are attempting to watch and understand how a person works then automatically presents completed information instead of asking for users to plan or type.

So, do I rethink the app with magic automation or keep people in charge?

To help with the answer, I turned to watching people do task management. Also, I started paying more attention to how the current interactive apps impacted my life. Normally, I would keep an eye on the default calendar app, finding the smart interactive apps interesting but didn’t risk missing a meeting on them guessing things right.

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Standing in the rain with the dog, the clouds got it wrong since SkyMotion said it wont be raining for two hours. I let the app know through the provided interface that the clouds didn’t get the memo and dropping water now. An hour later, drinking my coffee and looking outside at the rain, SkyMotion still says it wont rain for another hour.

Osito’s Red lettered alert pops up on the screen, my meeting is in a half hour and my drive to the office is now showing 25 minutes long due to traffic. Great info, but since I’m already at the office, I just walk down the hall to the meeting room and hang out for the half hour I’m early.

Directions and timing of my morning drive to work is also highlighted by Google Now. Which, rather than going straight through the vineyards two lane highway for 20 minutes, would very much rather I went on the four lane highway South for 15 minutes then turn North West for another 15 minutes. A month ago, I found on Google’s Web site that there is no way provided to tell Now the path I prefer but it will learn over time.

EasilyDo has it right with; it’s raining outside, I’m at the office, I have a friend with a birthday coming up, a package has shipped from my ebay purchase and a coworker has a stressful post about his mom isn’t well. Uh… well, all the data is right, UI isn’t great, but I guess I can’t say EasilyDo got anything ‘wrong’. The shipping window goes to the shipper but there is no info, let’s blame that on the email or shipping company.

Siri, loves my wife’s voice, thinks I’m talking jibberish (apologies to the people of Jibberish). Gets the words wrong, wont open a requested app… I’ll go load iOS7 beta and see if that voice personal assistant is a better listener. Voice entry is cool, but with the shrinking desk space and less Work-From-Home time available, talking out loud is heard by everyone around. Funny times when right in a the middle of a meeting someone asks Siri out loud what a word is the boss just used in a arm waving lecture.

The smart auto complete of Tempo reminds me of the built-in capabilities of the Newton OS. While I replaced the Newton OS handwriting entry was quickly with Graffiti, the quick meeting creation was a hit for me every time. Tempo outlines similar features in their demo… just enter a name and a type of meeting, the app knows who I’m talking about and where we will be meeting. “Brian @ movie” got me a meeting for the current time with that same text. “Afternoon movie with Brian” gave me a meeting for the current time showing the 9 different “Brian” in my Contacts invited… no way to select which. And… it continued when I put in the theater, the movie… Hey, I’m late to get to the movie!

Finally, top-of-mind is FourSquare. I have mentioned before that the service has gone away from the gamification angle. Instead of going to the app and checking in, then seeing where friends where checking in. Now, I can check in and maybe receive a discount (not much good if I check in after I order) as well I can search for things around where I am that have been reviewed. Interesting, since the app knows it is 11:30 and I have not checked in for lunch… and the service knows where I have gone to lunch off and on for the last year, I would think it would pop up with a recommendation. “Hey, I see you like Pizza, you have not ate lunch today and you have not had pizza for a couple days so here is a Pizza place within walking distance to where you are”. Without smart interaction like that, why wouldn’t I just go to Google Maps on my handheld and look up local places than add to FourSquare’s database?

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It would appear that smart assistant is what everyone is buying into, but I am not seeing a lot of actual users relying on any one solution yet. So, no roadmap forward based on other solution successes. Rather than second guessing task creation, the initial re-release of the app will have auto complete based on history and the task timing can be calculated as well. Giving a bit more time for the continued development of databases that assumptions can be based on. Assumptions? Well, I’m sure someone will call it intelligent forecasted suggestions based on user history and best practices.

Apple’s new ‘iWatch’ found on Kickstarter

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Fans of Apple will call it part of the company’s genius. Those that love to find things wrong with Apple will say nothing new comes out of Cupertino. Either way, the reality is that Apple watches what is available in the world, has their design group redo the look and feel, then connects it to everything else they produce. While there were smart phones prior to the iPhone, they didn’t have all the dots connected so they didn’t receive the emotional connection that people had with the iPhone. Now of course, there are many other options in the field, all of which where copy/redesigns of the smartphone before it. Apple learned their lesson after the Newton, people didn’t understand the PDA concept of a computer being part of a person’s life rather than hardware used to write, calculate and draw with. The device showed that introducing completely new takes a highly unlikely ah-ha moment of the public, it is better to work into the use by modifying a currently accepted device… the phone.

OK, jump to today and the future of the Apple iWatch on Kickstarter. Towards the end of 2010, a company called Minimal offered a Kickstarter project for a touch screen watch. The project, Tik Tok, was a watch band and two creative ways of holding a iPod Nano. It received pledges of close to 1 million dollars. The Nano at the time was a small square device that was all 240 pixel touch screen on the front, a couple buttons on the outer edges, headphone jack and a 30 pin connector. There was basic built-in apps on the iPod, with no way of adding more. Music can be loaded and played, as well pictures and it was set up from the factory to work with Nike running devices. There was no video playback, camera, or games. There was a couple different watch faces. The second year of the Nano came with more (17) watch faces from Apple.

After the Kickstarter project wrapped up, the Tik Tok was available online, many gadget stores and even Apple’s stores. There appeared to be a market for an Apple watch that could be used as a timepiece, a radio, a audio playback and view pictures. A lot of people complained about no audible alarms unless the headphones where plugged in and the need to connect via the 30 pin connector to a computer to put things on and remove content from the Nano. Even though the Nano had a large clip on the back, runners started reporting liking the watch band mounting over the clip as way to gather running data (Nike), timing their run and listening to music. Just about everything needing to be done to interact with the Nano watch is a tap or swipe across the screen.On a personal note, no one with knowledge of the subject told this to me, it was interesting to see the Nano go back to the rectangle shape and video play back like the hardware prior to the square device. Perhaps, it was to avoid the comparison when a ‘iWatch’ was introduced to the Nano watch option.

More recently is the Pebble Kickstarter Project. The team that put the project up for Crowd Funding actually stopped accepting more money after they passed 10 Million dollars. Their concern was how long it would take to fill that many orders on a new device being created by a very small group of talented folks.

The Pebble connects to the iPhone via Bluetooth. It receives text messages, mail (limited qty of characters), alerts, alarms and caller ID. The watch has multiple watch faces, loaded via the iPhone. It can also be used to control music being played on the iPhone. The hardware is nicely done. Not what anyone would call high-end, but it meets the need. Like the Nano, it is sealed hardware with a few buttons around the outer edge. The only connector is a specialized magnetic charging cable (7 days use per charge), which doesn’t have a positive connection so I always doubt myself that I have it connected properly.

Between the two, if Apple was to do a ‘smart’ watch, a person can back into what it will have. Of course, there will be surprises, but using Apple’s recent history of using available information they will use what is working.

Video playback and a camera would be nice, but not likely.

Both Tik Tok and Pebble has shown that the iPhone is the watch/clock that people use now. Unless a watch is a fashion statement or tied to data, watches are not being worn since a smartphone has everything.

Apple didn’t jump onto the cable less charging and wireless only content management on the iPhone, instead releasing a special plug so expect to see that continue on a watch. Though, Apple does seem to be heading in the direction of no more wires as the Cloud solutions mature. Bluetooth is assured but will Wifi appear to start backup and data movement though iCloud?

Touch screen, but the hardware buttons are in question. The buttons will need to be easier to access than the Nano and high quality than the Pebble. It is a good time to move volume control to the headphones only.

Pebble has shown that pushing information from the iPhone to the watch is very handy, as long as there is a vibrate notification. Otherwise, having to look at your wrist all of the time, particularly with long sleeve shirts/jackets, it’s easy to pull the iPhone out of the pocket to check.

Loading apps will not be supported since it would mean a new version of all non-Apple developed apps. I can see the Apple OSX apps like Reminders being viewable on the watch, syncing with the desktop. Since there will be no way to enter data, beyond viewing desktop/iPhone created data, there is only the need to control music, app selection (Nike will continue to be built in), images viewing and watch/alarms.

Unless Apple is doing the face/head and band as a single unit, the Pebble has a nice option of being a standard band size so it can be replace by a user without factory help.

All of the ‘concept drawings’ floating around the Internet are fun to see. But, remember the Apple history over the last 10 years. Tweak and making better without being so radical that the finished product requires people to be told how the device will integrate into their lives. Clean, nice looking, easy to use and well connected… all lessons learned from the Apple’s iWatch predecessors available through Kickstarter.

Apartment Managers, rethinking communications – A Big Picture Project

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There is an apartment get together this weekend… I know because there was a color paper flyer on our door. At the end of the month, I get an email from another company offering the opportunity to pay rent online. And today I did a USPS tracking to find out my Pebble arrived a few days ago, delivered to the complex office. Some sort of communication would have been nice.

The apartments have tenant’s cell phone numbers. Perhaps a bit of software is needed.

How about a list of apartments with tags to sort by. Choose the apartment address or group of apartments, enter the text (HTML via WYSIWYG) and hit send. A very easy solution to get the word out about a neighborhood party. A quick reminder for folks to pick up after their dogs would be nice. Each household could have one or several cell numbers to send the messages to so everyone is aware they need to set the date for those pool parties. Why not have the calendar link included in the text so adding to a person’s cell calendar is as simple as a tap?

Jumping on board with PayPal would be the next step. Both a link in the text ‘pay rent online’ and a iPhone card swiper in the office. Finally, I could get rid of my checkbook!

There is nothing magical about all of this. There are services that will send the text messages (Google App?), it just needs a apartment management user interface. Who wants to build that, every complex big and small needs it!

Did we miss the message in The Terminator?

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We all know the three rules that govern all robots:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

This is great for what we think of as robots. Usually; a body, a head, some arms and legs. They will walk around, working with their human counter parts. Doing construction work where parts are too heavy for humans. They will make sure a person does get in harms way where they can avoid it. They will of course make sure no harm comes to themselves either.

Two fine details get in the way with the three rules perfect plan.

What if a robot doesn’t know something will harm a human. If a robot is told something is good for humans or the robot doesn’t understand the device it is in control of, harm could happen because there isn’t an understanding that the rules apply. This isn’t the case with the movie The Terminator reference.

Where the harm will actually come from is computer programs. There is no rules of good conduct built into software. A program has not appreciation of negative impact to a human. It could be told that a certain outcome is bad, but there is no reasoning that an action could lead to harm. I thought of this tonight when 60 Minutes was covering computer programs that buy/sell stocks in a fraction of a second without knowing anything about a company, it’s leaders or employees. The program only knows that there is a movement that matches a pattern which has an expected action to be taken. I doubt most stock brokers are worried about keeping an employee of a company happy, if the CEO is spending personal time wisely, but it plays into how the company stock is bought and sold. A computer has no concept that in it’s program to make money, employees will loose jobs effecting crime rates and possibly creating harm to humans. This is just a small example. The point being, risk comes from outside of the robots that resemble humans with their physical duties, rather the bits and bytes that control what makes the world go around.


March with 12 links

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10 Questions to Ask Before Quitting Your Job to Start a Business: Giving up the security of a full-time job to start your own business is a risky, often stressful move. “The biggest reason people don’t end up quitting is the fear of uncertainty. – by Alina Dizik –

Google Reader partially rebuilt in Zite: Many of our readers are mourning the impending loss of Google Reader, which will cease to function on July 1. The folks at Zite have a kinda, sorta replacement that can be used from within the free Zite personalized news app. – by Mel Martin –

Developing and Creatively Leveraging Hierarchical Metadata and Taxonomy: When confronted with projects requiring content, document or knowledge management, and presentation, more likely than not, the information architect will be expected to lead or contribute to development of the content classification requirements. And we don’t classify our content without reason. – by Christian Ricci –

Build This Lego Leica M9-P Hermes and Save Yourself $49,962: Lego master builder Chris McVeigh has cooked up a playful alternative to Leica’s obscenely and pointlessly expensive $50,000 M9-P ‘Edition Hermès’. The Lego version doesn’t actually take photos, but you’ll also pay only $38 for a kit if you can’t scrounge all the parts needed to assemble it. – by View Profile –

friends, cameras, action: friends, cameras, action vyclone is a social video platform that lets you co-create, sync and edit multiple views of a shared moment, effortlessly. –

CEO Dennis Crowley on Foursquare’s Biggest Mistake: For years, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley has been SXSW’s “It boy.” He’s sharp, quick, charming, and it helps that his location-based app blew up at South By for the first time in 2009. But four years on, Crowley finds himself in a different place. – by Mike Isaac –

The Philosophy of Time Travel: These are the pages from the fictional book “The Philosophy of Time Travel” by Roberta Sparrow . The text in these pages are crucial to understanding the movie and the rules within the Tangent Universe. –

Dear Assistant: A Twitter bot that uses Wolfram Alpha to answer your burning questions: Twitter bots are nothing new, but Dear Assistant is unique. It leverages Wolfram Alpha, the “answer engine” from Wolfram Research, to answer your questions on the social network. We first stumbled on Dear Assistant by chance earlier this morning. – by Emil Protalinski –

Coffitivity – Increase Your Creativity!: Your browser does not support the audio element. Ambient noise to boost your workday creativity! Plug in and start creating. (Note: For best results, set the player volume so your music is just barely louder than Coffitivity.) And a loud workplace can be frustrating and distracting. –

How to Make iPhone Conference Calls: While it used to require a conference calling service to get more than a couple people in more than a couple of locations onto a single phone call, the iPhone makes creating and hosting a small conference call very easy. And forget about dialing into special phone numbers and long access codes. – by Sam Costello –

Where the girls weren’t: A mil­lion years ago, back in 1978, I showed up at the Har­vard Crim­son in the fall of my fresh­man year to try out for a slot on our sto­ried school paper. Join­ing me for the first Crim­son “comp” of our col­lege lives were maybe a dozen other eager young would-be reporters. – by amy gutman –

Any.Do Moment for iOS and Android provides a new way to manage your never-ending to-do list: Reminder apps may be a dime a dozen, but Any.Do has carved out a niche thanks to its beautiful, minimalistic design, simple but powerful feature set, and cross-platform support (the app runs on iOS, Android, and as a Chrome extension). – by Nathan Ingraham –