Tim Bray defends Google Glass
May 23rd, 2013 by ravi

Tim Bray defends Google Glass

Tim Bray works at Google and on his blog (which reflect his opinions, not Google’s) he defends the re-masculating device in five or more paragraphs most of which are spent on answering criticism (of dorkiness, privacy invasion, so on), before getting down to the question of “Why Google Glass?”. That he dispenses with quickly:

Do They Meet a Need?

Seems pretty obvious to me; I’m damn sick of hauling out my mobile to find out what time it is, or to check on my next meeting, or to glance at a map, or to snap a quick photo of an interesting streetlight or whatever.

What he fails to answer is how obvious this is to others who may not be sick of occasionally using an appropriate tool to address an occasional need, rather than have one attached perpetually to their head. Even the guys who used to walk around with Bluetooth pieces permanently implanted in their ear seem to have of late taken a different view from Bray’s.

If anything, Google Glass use as envisaged by Bray limits the multi-tasking/interfacing abilities of humans by reducing their interaction with the device and the world beyond to vision and voice.

I wonder if Bray would be equally receptive to the idea of walking around with a fork strapped to his index finger lest he be at pain to haul one out of the drawer should a tasty meal present itself?

iOS Maps Reconsidered
May 6th, 2013 by ravi

iOS Maps Reconsidered

Scott Forstall had to go. It was owed to Apple users who had to suffer the onslaught of skeumorphism brought on by Forstall, that turned the OS X UI into a riot of over-the-top textures and tortured selection of fonts and colours. But when Forstall refused to sign on to the apology for Apple Maps (in iOS 6) he had a small point.

And that point was that for the majority use cases the new application did a pretty decent job. Stories of stranded motorists in the Australian outback, while true and horrifying, were misrepresented as the general case, to unfavourably compare the new iOS Maps to the latest Google Maps, the latter a product that has undergone years of updates and corrections — many of those corrections coming from users like me.

When Google released their own maps app for iOS, Apple, having shed Forstall from its ranks and bent over backwards in apology, went so far as to recommend it as an alternative to their own product. Media pundits giggled in delight at the opportunity to speculate wildly on the effect of the release of the Google Maps app on the adoption rate of iOS6, before reversing themselves once the data came in.

Today, Apple released a list of the 25 all-time highest downloaded apps, and right at the bottom, at #25 sits Google Maps, many slots below Facebook Messenger and the app that got in first among 500 peers and thus managed to claim the name Flashlight. Google Maps is relatively new, even in comparison to Facebook Messenger, and it is possible that the relationship of download count to a human being or device may be many to one (a device passes hands and someone reinstalls an app but using a different and new Apple ID), which would inflate the download counts of older apps in contrast to new ones. But one thing this does say, in my opinion, is that download counts for free apps do not tell us anything concrete beyond the fact that people like free stuff especially if it might be useful. You might disagree… perhaps you know a user or two that actually uses Facebook Messenger on their iPhone?

The right kind of customer
May 5th, 2013 by ravi

The right kind of customer

I was a very early adopter of Instapaper and an ardent promoter of it to friends and acquaintances. When people complained about the clutter on websites, I would express mock incredulity that in 2010 they were still reading web pages in their native ad-infested homes or bookmarking them to their browser, bookmarking service or in some strange instances Facebook[?!], for later reading. Not using Instapaper (or Readability) seemed masochistic.

Instapaper was (is) noteworthy for other reasons as well. It was near ubiquitous (with a bookmarklet and web interface for the desktop and an affordable iOS app), clean and perhaps most important, its sole proprietor, Marco Arment, seemed to have the right ideas (competitors are yet to implement one of the most useful features of Instapaper: the ability to save an article to Evernote).

And yet, in the last few months I have been weaning myself off Instapaper and moving to competitor Readability. That Readability comes with a cleaner and more sophisticated interface than Instapaper on the web, in embedded mode, and the mobile app, is one small reason for this change. A host of other factors — such as Marco’s shift to the misguided idea of “email address as identity” and his confusing rollout of this change (which mysteriously caused sign-in using my login identity to stop working in the mobile app), or the discontinuation of subscription to other users — pushed me over the edge.

Arment will not miss me and I think that’s quite the way it should be. What he writes with regard to customer satisfaction may be good advise:

No matter what you make or how much you charge, some people will find things to complain about. If you drop your app’s price all the way down to free, people will still complain — just not about the price. They’ll move on to the features, the implementation, the design, the updates, the way you look, or what kind of dog you have. They’ll complain about every facet of your app, and then they’ll complain about unrelated topics just to pile on. They’ll say they use your app every day and love it, then give it a two-star rating until you add their pet feature. They’ll drop you from five stars to one star after an update that broke their edge case, then never come back to update that review after you fix it. […]

You will never please everyone. You will never win that battle.

But I wonder if there is a danger in Arment mixing in cranky ranters — the types who leave 1 star ratings on review sites because of a pet peeve, who cannot be satisfied or won over because they have no interest in that at all — with customers who have a divergent interest in the app.

The story goes that when famed designer Dieter Rams was asked if he did consumer research he replied “Never! We were out to change the world”. Consumer research is a bit different from consumer feedback but I sense a tendency today to take this line with regard to any interaction with customers. All feedback, whether it is about the “kind of dog you have” or about the working or future of a feature, are perceived as “complaints”.

Arment’s words are good psychological reinforcement (“illegitimi non carborundum” and all that), but I think for an app developer trying to reach the sort of success that Arment rightfully enjoys, drawing the right distinctions between customers might be valuable.

All of which reminds me, Instapaper seems to automatically recharge the subscription fee to my credit card every three months. This action is not clearly specified in the subscription page on the Instapaper site, something I had pointed out in email to Marco. I never heard back. It probably landed in his Spam folder… or perhaps he took it as a comment about his dog!

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