When Smart Apps Get It Wrong

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.

Apartment Managers, rethinking communications – A Big Picture Project

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?

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.


Every employee should know the 10 and 30 second elevator pitch

Only 50% of marketing works… no one knows which 50%.

It’s an idea, that many believe isn’t true now that there is the ability to track visitors and where they came from… on the Internet. What is still not sure of is exactly what caused the person to seek the services a company offers. It might be the reason that hot new ad campaign is working so well is because a movie had a similar item used by the star, usually the person reaching out to a business doesn’t really know. They may think they do which will cause a new ad campaign with a similar message to go out. New movie goers will jump on board or something else might trigger them, but very doubtful the ad did all the work.

Now, lets jump back to the company when it was just starting out. What was important was getting the message of the business out to would be ‘investors’ and ‘buyers’ of the service. Most often, the message had to be delivered very quickly… standing in line at the store, between meetings… or on the elevator. If your new to starting a business, there are two versions of your quick message needed. One that is 10 seconds long that you can deliver to the question “what are you up to these days?” or “crazy weather we are having”. If there person is at all interested, meaning they didn’t turn and run, you need to be able to roll into a 30 second message. If it is good, the person won’t get off the elevator on their floor to hear what you have to say. If you can’t get a person’s interest in 30 seconds, you have a bad message or you are talking to the wrong person.

Back to the ‘what marketing works’. You can’t be everywhere, all of the time. So, empower your employees to say the message. If they believe in the business, they will have no problem saying the 10 second bit with enough energy to make it an effective marketing moment. If someone asks them what they are doing these days, they shouldn’t have to think about it and say “Oh, the same thing as before, selling kitchen stuff”. The ‘better’ answer would be “Changing the world one dinner at a time… I’m working for XYZ helping people see that a really great spoon makes meals more enjoyable”.

If you have a business with sales or tech support, every person should know the 10 second elevator pitch for something you offer. They should practice and see the success of a simple mention that represents excitement rather than a pitch they are reading off of a card. This is not a suggestive sale, you don’t want everyone to say “do you want fries with that?”, you NEED them to put a different view on what a person may have seen a million times before but missed.

The sale might not happen at that moment, don’t let the employee feel they need to close the sale. You may not even get the future sale when you run your next ads, but later your customer won’t be able to put their finger on it but they will seek you out. Usually we don’t remember the elevator ride but we feel good about the energy around that spoon company’s product when at the store… “must be because of that magazine ad they ran”… they don’t know why and you won’t be able to pin your success to one employee chatting in the grocery store line, but everyone will win in the end.


Years ago, I saw a magazine article where a person with the company I was working with had mentioned they had very successful workouts on the way to their job with XYZ. When I mentioned it to the c0worker, he let me know that the company’s lawyers let him know that in the future he needs to get permission to mention the company’s name. In the positive light of the article, they would have been better suited giving the employee tips on how to talk about the company and if they can help him get into other related articles.

The cold hard facts about customer support… as I see them

I am your customer, I’m calling you.

First, listen to my problem, make sure I understand you care. Ask questions to make sure you have all the facts.

Do not state I did something wrong. If you feel I am in error, help me understand that without making me feel embarrassed. If you feel your company may be at fault, do not open with an apology. Tell me how you will solve my problem.

If you do not have an answer right now, tell me what your next actions will be. Explain when you will be calling me back… you, your the one that answered the phone. Let me know that if we don’t connect, you will leave a voice mail but encourage me to call you back if we don’t connect. Let me know the number to call and the reference information.

Then, do what you promised.

Do not offer me a discount, do not offer to do something for free. Just help me get my problem solved without any more effort on my side. If you discount, your telling me that I overpaid when I first paid for your service. You don’t believe in the value of your products. If I ask you for a discount, find out who in your company is offering the discount. Due to their actions, there may be the word out in the world that people can get your product for free just by complaining.

Use the above as the starting point.

To repeat – make every attempt to solve my problem instead of turning to discounting. You answered the phone or read my email about my issue, your now a sales person. You represent the business I called and control if I will come back and buy again. In the age of online social media, a miss step spreads around quickly. How do I feel if I read how someone got your products for free, yet I paid $50? Next time; I will go somewhere else to buy a ‘better’ product, wait for a coupon to buy at a discount or complain online to get you to give me your product for free. Well, me and everyone I know, everyone else that pays full price are not smart with their money. If you create this world for your company, you can expect to get some time off when the business starts cutting positions as they try to understand why sales are down.