Sunday, September 30, 2012

Speculating About The X37-B's Secret Mission


I love reading about black ops programs. I'm not a conspiracy theory kook, but top secret military/espionage yarns are really appealing to me. That's why I like reading Tom Clancy, and speculating about things such as what the heck is the X37-B doing in space?

For those not in the know, shame on you. The X37-B is an experimental plane that had been in space for quite a while. No one knows for sure what it was doing while it was out in space: But it was doing something in its experiment bay that was ostensibly being tested or evaluated.

A lot of people have looked at the design of the X37-B to come up with its "top secret" purpose. Frankly, I think this is barking up the wrong tree.

The X37-B looks like a mini space shuttle that can maneuver in space remotely. With the space shuttle program shutting down, the U.S. military needs a way to get back up there. The X37-B is one way of doing so fairly quickly. So who cares about the X37-B? It's an unmanned bus to space.

To solve the mystery of the X37-B, the trick is not to focus on the what – but on the why.

Why does the Air Force want to be up in space? Let's make a list, shall we?
  • The ability to install new satellites
  • The ability to destroy enemy satellites
  • The ability to protect an existing satellite via weapons
  • The ability to hide an existing satellite via stealth technology
  • The ability to deploy a highly maneuverable satellite (including itself as a satellite)
  • The ability to repair, recharge, refuel and upgrade (and yes, rearm) military satellites
  • The ability to test components and modules for future satellites, specifically with regard to image resolution and quality
Now let's try to rank these into buckets of likelihood. The payload of the X37-B seems to small (and too cost-prohibitive) to launch or place new satellites in orbit. Ditto for carrying weapons to destroy enemy satellites or protecting satellites via weapons (i.e. anti-missile or rocket jamming technologies).

The last three are intriguing to me. What if the Air Force could develop stealth satellites that aren't visible? What about disguising a satellite as space junk? What if the X37-B was designed to carry stuff that could protect or hide the exact location of a satellite, either by serving as a target decoy or employing anti-missile technologies to zap a missile before it reaches the target satellite?

Obviously, the X37-B is a great (if expensive) "rent a satellite" plane so that it could be scrambled relatively quickly to monitor a hotspot somewhere in the world. In that context, it makes sense that an X37-B would be used to test components and modules for future satellites without going through the expense of a whole launch.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the X37-B is very maneuverable in space and able to get to other satellite locations fairly easily. What if the payload carried two arms? One to grab the satellite, the other to repair, recharge, refuel and/or upgrade components. With the Space Shuttle out of commission, this seems like a very important mission.

I know there's no hard evidence to back up anything, but my gut says that the payloads are for testing future satellite technologies only, and nothing more exciting than that. Feel free to respond if you have your own theory…



Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why the LG Intuition Is Destined To Fail


I could've saved LG millions of dollars if they had come to me first and shown me a prototype of the Intuition. I'd give them a lesson of what NOT to do when it comes to product design, and the three things you need to make a product truly successful.

But before we begin, let's give you the UXUiOS philosophy when it comes to great design.

At its core, design is simply problem solving. How do I clean my butt after I poop? How do I keep my teeth clean? How do I make a phone call?

As a designer, we can brainstorm to come up with thousands of ways to solve these problems. But we are paid to find the best way. So how do we get to that "magical" zone that is incredibly awesome design?

Simple. All design can be measured with these four benchmarks:

1. It solves my problem.
2. The solution is easy to use.
3. I need it now.
4. I want it … now!!!

To see how this works, let's focus on this problem: How do you clean your butt after you poop? Perhaps a crude choice, but it's one everyone can identify with.

With #1, that's a pretty low hurdle to jump. You can come up with thousands of ways to solve this problem: A garden hose, compressed air blasts, your fingers, etc. All design solutions start here but the bad designs tend to stay stuck here.

Getting to #2 is where functional design lives. Toilet paper is a good example for this #2 (get the joke?) because it solves the problem AND is easy to use. Much easier to put a roll of toilet paper in your bathroom than a connection to your garden hose.

Between #2 and #3 is when we begin our transition from getting from the solution to a specific product or design. So if toilet paper is #2, then we focus on specific designs, (i.e. such as those for Charmin and Angel Soft) to get any higher.

Getting to #3 is where marketable design lives. Sometimes, good design comes from consumer perception and advertising (whether accurate or not). Sometimes, it's in the quality of workmanship. Sometimes, it's in getting great value for the price. And sometimes, it's because it really is a good design.

In our case, most brands of toilet paper never reach this #3 level because frankly, you can't improve too much on the functional design of toilet paper: flexible, flushable, tears into squares, cleans the butt.

Charmin and Angel Soft may have added some unique design to make their products stand above the rest (i.e. thicker paper, more ply, softer feel) -- but frankly, the only reason they trigger someone to say "I need this specific brand now" is because of advertising and/or a good sales price. Their product designs may indeed be better, but really, it's advertising that gets any toilet paper to #3.

So how do you get past #3 to #4, which represents the world's best designs? Well, unless there's some revolutionary breakthrough in how we think about cleaning our butts after pooping, toilet paper will never make it to #4.


A good rule of thumb too is that when you reach level #3, you'll have competition, so the goal is to rise above the rest to really shine. Also, the more expensive the product, the more likely you'll need to reach #4 to really succeed.


Apple's iPhone is an obvious example of a #4: When it came out, there were tons of competitors with phones, but thanks to really good design, great advertising, and the perception of desirability thanks to the first two factors, it made people say "I want it … now!!!"

In the context of what I do for a living (user experience and interface design), I come up with mobile software solutions to solve my client's problems. If I phone in the design, I'll get to #2. If I want my clients to be happy with my design, I'll need to get to #3. But the only way I'll wow my clients and get repeat business and good referrals is if I can take my designs to #4 and make them and their customers say, "I want that ... now!!!"

So when both you and your clients see a design and you all agree, "I want that ... now!" you've probably got a great design in hand (either that or you're all too blind to see how bad it really is).

That's a deep dive in thinking about design, but simply put, you can hold up any product design to see if it can hit those benchmarks. So let's return to the LG Intuition and discuss.

So what problem does the Intuition purport to solve? It's a device that lets you use it as a tablet as well as a smart phone.

Right off the bat, I'd tell LG that they're breaking one of my core design principles, which is focus. They're attempting to solve two problems rather than just one. This makes coming up with a great #4 solution much much harder than if they just focused on one or the other.

That's a potential "uh oh" red flag -- but let's assume LG did their homework and did research that said there's a market for such a solution. Does the Intuition reach #1? Does it solve the problem?

Based on other reviews out there, the answer seems to be yes. Larger screen in a 4:3 format, but small enough to make phone calls.

How about benchmark #2: Is the solution easy to use? Again, based on other reviews, it seems easy enough to use. The browser seems to be slow, but overall it works just as you'd expect.

But getting to #2 is easy. Now we get to #3: Do people need the Intuition?

Right now, we're getting in trouble here with the Intuition. There are already lots of phones that can do similar things, even though they may have smaller screens. There are already lots of tablets that can do similar things, even though they can't place cell phone calls.

And we get to the beauty of these benchmarks. You can build a good solution to a problem, but if nobody needs it or wants it, the solution will fail to be marketable. Maybe if LG can use some great advertising and create the (what I would contend is false) perception that people actually need this, then there might be some hope. Alternatively, they can drop the pricing so that buyers get to #3 and #4 via a great price point (Remember the HP Touchpad? No one really wanted or needed one until it dropped to $99).

Frankly, looking at the selling points of the Intuition, I don't see anything I need. Tablet-like versatility? If I really needed a tablet … wouldn't I just buy one without being locked into a phone contract?

Aspect ratio ... who cares? In fact, reviews say the 4:3 screen is pointless for widescreen video.

Quick Memo? Why not just tweet the screen shot or email it to a friend with a text comment?

At the end of the day, the Intuition addresses the problem … but it's a solution that nobody needs or wants.

And that is why the LG Intuition is destined to fail.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fixing Yahoo! Mail in iOS 6

Long story short, couldn't get Yahoo! Mail hooked up again on my iPhone, even though it was working in 5.1. I got the "Yahoo! Server Unavailable" when trying to verify the account.

There are a few solutions floating around (delete the iOS Mail account and re-create it, or change your password on Yahoo! and log out/log in to the web site), but the only one that worked for me in iOS 6 was NOT selecting Yahoo! but Other as the account and setting it up manually. Specifically, the servers are:

imap.mail.yahoo.com
smtp.mail.yahoo.com

For the incoming and outgoing mail servers. Working fine now.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mobile Web Site Review: OakPark.com (Part 1)

One of my often-visited web sites is OakPark.com, a local news site that covers my community.

Instead of going the native app route, they created a mobile-optimized site that seems to be a template of some sort. For this review, I won't focus on the template or its CSS, but some content-driven tips that would make the site more user friendly. Hopefully to give them some free design suggestions and also give you some things to consider when designing a mobile-optimized web site.

Too Many Words: For a mobile site, word economy is key. Take the screen shot below:


Let's edit that stuff to make it mobile friendly: "News Articles" and "Blogs" for the title. "Full Site" for the bottom link. And shorten that note...

Add OakPark.com to your home screen: On iOS, tap the "Action" icon in the toolbar and select "Add to Home Screen." On Android, bookmark our site then add a bookmark shortcut to your home screen.

Even better, detect whether the device is iOS or Android and show just the instructions for that device.


Not Enough Words: Huh? Doesn't this go against everything I just said?

Not really. In the screen above, the latest comments have five or six words. That's not enough to get a sense of what the commenter is saying. It needs to be two or three lines of text at least so you have enough information to decide whether to read the full comment or not.

Also, since we know these are "Latest Comments" we can strip the words "Posted:" and "2012" from the detail line. If it were me, I'd add JavaScript so that if the date was today, it would just post the time or read like "1:01 AM today" to help decipher when the newest comments were posted.


Better Comments: Again, just some ideas to reduce scrolling. The title above could've easily renamed "193 Comments" (let's not assume all commenters actually read the article), which would get the "Add Comment | Comment Policy" on one line.

Another suggestion is for users to be able to give comments thumbs up and thumbs down so that the comments voted best appear at the top. I know that breaks the reverse chronology aspect, but let's be frank: Do you really think people are going to wade through 193 comments on a phone? Let's save them that trouble by letting commenters vote on other comments.

To wrap up, overall OakPark.com is a good mobile web site. I think these suggestions would make it even better.

Hands-On iPhone 5 OtterBox Defender Case Review: First 24 Hours


IMPORTANT UPDATE (Sept. 28, 2012)

Ha! The OtterBox I bought at the AT&T Store must have been defective, a one-off, a manufacturing variant, or a prototype version. I got a second case in the mail today from MacMall and it's PERFECT compared to the one I bought last week. The revised review is below.

Caveat: As an iPhone developer, on-the-go consultant, and person who frequently lets tech-savvy rugrats use his iOS devices, I am a heavy duty OtterBox user. I've tried lots of cases from many brands, but the combination of heavy-duty durability, splash-resistant design, and ability to withstand lots and lots of abuse made me one of the early adopters of OtterBox. 

So yes, I'm a fan, but I'm not afraid to speak out when OtterBox makes mistakes (don't get me started again on the first-gen iPad 2 Defender case). Of course, it's all relative: An average OtterBox case in my view is a great case compared to competitors. But I expect nothing but the best from OtterBox when it comes to their products.

I should also point out that I've never received anything from OtterBox other than the products I paid for myself out of my own wallet. So when you read this review, it's my product, my experience, my opinion. I'm writing this review because I use this stuff every day, and I'm intimately familiar with all of OtterBox's Defender offerings as a point of comparison: iPod touch, iPad and iPhone.

So let's get on with it.

I picked up my Defender on launch day plus one at the AT&T Store.  Got a second Defender from MacMall today. I know this comes in different colors but all my cases have been black.

My first impression was that it's NOT all black. The plastic is actually tinted a dark gunmetal gray that seems to try and match the gray texture of the back of the iPhone 5. This is a departure from every other black Defender case I had in which the plastic and rubber shell were matching black colors.

The different color was enough to make me ask AT&T to make sure I grabbed the right color, but the back tag said black.

Weird, the AT&T "black" Defender is almost gray. But I couldn't find that variant on OtterBox's web site. So I'm not sure what's going on with the case colors, but I suspect that AT&T messed up the label on its custom packaging because my second one is perfectly black. Very happy now.

Assuming my case wasn't defective, I don't care about the color too much. As I write this, looking at it next to the iPhone 4 case (pure black), it's different. Not good, not bad, just different.

My only complaint, I suppose, is that based on the official product picture above from OtterBox, the black colors look a lot closer on screen than they do in person.

The big change from the iPhone 4 Defender case used on my previous phone is the rubber case. The iPhone 4 rubber was flexible and squishy. The iPhone 5 rubber is more textured and much stiffer. Once you lock it into place, it's locked in tight. I like this rubber much more, although my concern long-term is whether the port covers will be prone to cracking since the rubber's so stiff (which happened to my old 2G iPod touch case). But the iPhone 5 rubber feels really nice for gripping. It also seems like it'll stay cleaner compared to the iPhone 4 version (that rubber seemed to attract dust easily).

Fit and finish is really great, once again OtterBox does not disappoint. If I had to nitpick at two things, it's that the back camera plastic border ever so slightly distorts the fit of the rubber around it. It creates a tiny wavy gap in the bottom left and a slight bulge on the top.  Also, on the bottom face, there's a noticeable gap between the port cover and the top, to allow easy opening ... but it looks odd visually because the plastic and rubber don't line up exactly.

But this is nitpicking to the nth degree. I've been so spoiled by the PERFECT fit of the Defender Case on my new iPad that set the bar absurdly high. You'd only notice these nitpicking things if you stared at the case all day. (And if it really did bother me I could call OtterBox and they'd replace it without hesitation.) But it doesn't worry me enough to even bother.

Guess what, the second case I got fits PERFECTLY. NO imperfections. I was so jazzed to see this.

The case feels great in your hand. Yes, I know, using a case defeats the purpose of owning a super-slim phone, but I've been using Defender cases for so long, that it's hard for me to type on an iPhone without having the edges to help grip it. The original Defender Cases were pretty bulky, but ever since the iPhone 4 version they're really slimmed down without sacrificing protection. The iPhone 5 case also continues that trend.

One side benefit of this case: The bottom plastic creates a small speaker "tunnel" that amplifies the sound when you point the bottom speakers at you. I don't know if it's the case design, the larger speaker port, or the combination of both, but the net effect is a much louder sound that comes out compared to my other phones.

Of course, the big selling point to OtterBox is its durability: Drop it, spill on it, splash it, and yes, dunk it (in a bathtub, it happened once), once it dries out, it's still as good as new. I'm eternally shocked that every time I remove an iPad or iPhone from its Defender Case that it looks brand new (except for the dusty areas which are easily wiped off with a microfiber cloth). If you think of your phone as an investment and want to protect it, if you're outdoors a lot with your phone, or if you have little kids who use your phone, you must have this case for peace of mind.

I know these cases are pricy, but do the math: Drop an unprotected phone once, and a repair replacement with Apple may set you back $50 or more. I've dropped my phone so many times that it's paid for itself in preventing damage or a trip to the Genius Bar for repair.

As for the belt clip ... honestly I've never ever used the belt clip. It looks pretty big and durable, but the whole point of a heavy-duty case is so I can slip it into a pocket.

Frankly, I'd be happy if they sold the clip separately and charged less for the case.

Another thing I love about OtterBox is their customer service. They stand behind their warranty, and if something isn't up to my standards, they've offered to fix it with no hesitation.

Well, if you haven't guessed, overall I'm giving two VERY big thumbs up to the iPhone 5 Defender case. Not as Just as perfect as the new iPad case (which I believe is their best-ever designed Defender case for any device I've used), but built solidly with everything I've grown to expect from an OtterBox product. And I like it enough to recommend it to my fellow developers and clients who use apps out in the field under adverse conditions.

P.S. I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you disagree or recommend another case you think is better. I battle-test all sorts of cases as an iPhone developer. If you're a company who'd like me to review your case, I'm open to suggestions -- but only if you think your heavy-duty case is awesome enough to pull me away from using OtterBox exclusively.

P.S.S. If you're from OtterBox and happen to read this ... where the heck are those Armor Cases? I'm eager and impatient to see the iPhone 5 case that just might replace this one.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why "Responsive Web Design" Must Die: Case Study #2

This case study is shorter and sweeter: the Drudge Report.


I know, I know. From a pure visual design standpoint, it's basic and boring. The Drudge Report does not support "responsive web design" -- and yet it remains one of the most read news aggregator sites on the planet.

The point here is not to endorse shitty web design. It's merely to point out that if your web site's content is compelling, timely and accessible, guess what: Users won't care about whether the site offers responsive web design.

Let's be honest: Have you ever heard someone say, "God, the Drudge Report looks so tiny on my iPhone screen ... well, that's the last time I visit that site!"

I'll even go a step further and say that traditional responsive web design would destroy a site like Drudge's, who embraces three columns of news. On a smartphone, your average "mobile optimized" template would force that into one column and make me scroll down like a banshee to read all the story links -- and take three times longer to read than if they stayed smaller and side by side.

So again, the point I want to leave here is if you have to choose between spending limited dollars on creating great content vs. responsive presentation, Drudge has 10 billion reasons in the past year why you should spend it on content.

My Two Cents on the New Microsoft Logo

Yes, in a previous life I was a "pure" graphic designer, and icon/logo design was (and is) one of my favorite exercises. So today's unveiling of Microsoft's new logo was an interesting "back to roots" story.
One of the things that I noticed is that the square boxes and the thin lines between are EXACT proportionally to the panels on a Windows Phone home screen. Furthermore, the white space between the right squares and the "M" in Microsoft is the EXACT same proportion to the empty black bar on a Windows Phone. You can see an example of the spacing below.

Assuming that was intentional, that's the kind of cool geeky stuff I like about logo design -- those "hidden" design cues that are subliminal but cool when you discover them. In addition the little "o" letters fit almost exactly inside a square, so there's a carryover of size and proportion as you read from left to right.

I never understood the whole "four colors" thing with Microsoft; but since it is a part of their brand DNA, I suppose killing it was not an option. (They'd probably be accused of what Apple did long ago when Steve Jobs killed the rainbow in its logo).

The connected "f" and "t" ... I'm a bit yucky on that. I know previous logos had that connection, but it just seems out of place when every other letter and shape has white space to separate them.

I know there are people out there who are crapping on the logo, but c'mon, people. Have a sense of proportion:

You're telling me that the company would've been better off keeping one of the older logos? You've got to be kidding. This new logo is a far better design than the last one. Kudos to Microsoft for trying to reinvent its image. That said, a logo is only as good as the products you stamp it on ... so get to work!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Responsive Web Design Will Never Ever Die ... Just Like Flash

Ah, crap -- even my design co-workers are giving me grief about my anti-Responsive Web Design rants. So just to ease their worries (and not get fired) some clarifying points:

1. You were the same web designers who told me that in 2008 Flash was the future of web design. I did not agree, and you mocked and teased. So cut me a little slack when I have a little skepticism when you say that in 2012 RWD is the future of web design. Just saying...

2. I have no problem with the concept of RWD. I do have a problem with the reality of RWD. You show me a web site that does RWD awesomely right and I'll give you 10 that get it awesomely wrong. And you know I'm right about that -- don't make me name URLs...

3. If you are my client and want RWD, you're money's still good here. In fact, I'll make it f**king golden for you. But I'll still make you read this.

4. If your business is e-commerce to mobile phone users for products that require immediate delivery (mobile apps, subscription content, express delivery, food, etc.) ... then mea culpa. Retraction issued. Get your mobile checkout on!

Here's another great analysis on semi-anti-RWD -- so I don't feel like a lone wolf on this one.

iPhone 5 and Form Factor

I always laugh when people say the iPhone is a dated design because it has a smaller screen compared to newer phones. Here's a recent example from Henry Blodget -- and his analysis is so off-the-mark it's laughable.

What Blodget fails to realize is that one of the early design directives for Apple's phone is that you could use it with just one hand -- especially for making a call and listening to music -- QUICKLY.

The key to keeping that directive with a larger screen, as is rumored for the next iPhone, is that the screen width MUST stay the same.

In addition, users have already been "taught" to work with this form factor; if the screen gets wider, they'll have to "relearn" how to type, for instance. Not a big deal, but Apple sweats details like that.

More importantly, a wider screen means you need two hands to use it. It then becomes a tablet phone. Apple has decided that tablet phones are a poor form factor (too big for pockets, needs two hands to use, harder to hold, etc.)

Try it out for yourself if you don't believe me: Take any iPhone, hold it in one hand, and trace the screen border with your thumb. For the average-sized hand, this is easy to do.

Now try that same exercise on one of the new Samsung phones. It's impossible. And now that ICS puts that action overflow in the upper right, you need two hands to get to it. It can become a usability issue.

Don't get me wrong: The larger-screen Samsung phones are great. But to call the iPhone outdated because of its smaller screen size ignores Apple's focus on usability, consistency and form factor.

Monday, June 25, 2012

UXUiOS Rule 2: Simplify


  • Delete "Loading..." because a spinner will suffice



Facebook Is Officially Dead To Me

Nothing personal. Just realized though that Facebook is great for personal stuff, but for my business, completely useless. Account deleted. Twitter, you win by default.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Creative Ways to Display Version Numbers

It wrecks aesthetics but it's a necessary evil sometimes: The version number.

Oftentimes, it's fine to keep it out of the app entirely, or hide it in the Settings app. But sometimes, it's necessary for the user to access it, either to check the version he or she is using, or for QA or debugging.

Here are some creative ways I've put them into an app:

1. Shake the first screen to make it appear.
2. Show on the first screen, then fade it out after 10 seconds.
3. Show it on the first screen via an invisible button (or easter-egg-type touch gesture)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Armor Series From OtterBox


I eagerly look forward to the Armor Series from OtterBox. A lot of my mobile design work centers on two target audiences: younger children and field service technicians and salespersons.

Both audiences require added protection for iPads and iPhones, and OtterBox has (mostly) offered the best cases I've ever used.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Surface Impression of Microsoft Surface Tablet



Microsoft finally joins the tablet party with the Microsoft Surface. Click the link for the details.

I'll reserve judgment until a price and release date come out, but on the "surface" I'm actually pretty excited about its potential. Larger screen, USB port, dedicated keyboard: Put together, it hits a niche  between the MacBook Air and the iPad that Apple has no answer for yet. (Then again, all Apple has to do is release a MacBook Air with a touchscreen: If it can run Metro and OS X in dual-boot, it would destroy Surface.)

So some random musings as I soak in the first news on the tablet:

  • Thank goodness they didn't call it the "Zine"
  • Apple's industrial design team must be having a fit, with the blatant design rip-off
  • That trackpad offset to the left ... you know that shit would never fly with Apple's ID...
  • ... especially, since, um, it's a touchscreen display
  • Why it will succeed: Cover with integrated keypad, larger screen, integrated kickstand, Micro SD support
  • Why it will fail: Poor price point, release date slippage, no app store support, no retina display
  • For this to have a chance against the iPad, the entry model has to clock in at $500; anything higher is the retail kiss of death
  • Battery life has to be on par with the iPad to succeed
  • Actually, if you can dual-boot Metro and Android on this baby, THAT is the killer feature
  • I think the real keyboard will be better to use than the chiclet-style pressure pad; just a gut feeling
  • Surface Project Manager: "This thing looks way too much like an iPad ... I know! I'll put a little white Windows logo at the bottom and that'll make all the difference!"
  • That 22-degree-angled back camera better have some adjustability, because it'll suck to try and film someone without being able to hold the pad strictly vertical
  • If I make cheap netbooks and budget laptops for a living, I'd be worried
  • It'll be interesting to see how other PC manufacturers who sell tablets treat Microsoft as a result of the Surface
In the end, this could be a serious competitor to Apple in the enterprise space with all the companies that rely on Windows already. And Apple rip-offs aside, you have to admit that it's a very nice design.

Why "Responsive Web Design" Must Die: A Case Study



So in the last episode, I spelled out the alternative to "Responsive Web Design" which was basically to do the exact opposite, and issued a fatwa on RWD. But hey, don't take my word for it.

Here's a great case study: Visit www.apple.com and store.apple.com.

Make sure to do this on your desktop PC, desktop Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android phone and Android tablet.

Isn't that incredible! The UX masters at Apple have become so adept at RWD, it enables a virtually identical user experience regardless of platform!

Oh wait a sec ... I think it's just the same web site. I don't think Apple appreciates the benefits of RWD. I mean, especially on an iPhone ... why not a mobile-optimized web site? You'd think with so many phone owners they'd do that? You actually expect me to buy something from the Apple web site? What a sucky user experience!

And that is why Apple wins.

Apple's web site conveys a message, an experience, a structure that reflects the company. In their eyes, a memorable web site is more important than an accessible one.

Why would they want to water that down or make a "light" site to compensate?

Honey badger don't care about your device. Neither does Apple. Because at the end of the day, it's about

Focus.

And creating the best UX possible. But only on devices that make that user experience great.

So going back to the phone, Apple does employ one RWD thing on the iPhone that makes perfect sense. When you visit store.apple.com the first time, you get a pop-up to download the Apple Store app. Because Apple understands that if you indeed plan on shopping using your phone, you deserve the best user experience possible. That is the one exception to the anti-RWD rule.

So at the end of the day, try designing one great web site, with downloadable apps that cater to specialized experiences, rather than a one-size-fits-all RWD beast-of-code that may sound wonderful in theory but difficult to execute, because it'll be more complex, require more people to create, and most importantly, make you lose focus on what makes web sites truly great.

Why "Responsive Web Design" Must Die: Reloaded

So in my previous post, I went medieval on "Responsive Web Design" and basically said it promotes UX suckiness because it kills...

Focus.

So let me throw out a radical anti-RWD design pattern that quite literally will blow your mind.

Design one web site. For all platforms. For all browsers. Using THE SAME DESIGN.

Holy shit, Batman. I just made a bunch of web devs poop in their pants.

But look at the advantages of anti-RWD:

1. I focus more on the UX and content. Reduce it to what the content really should be at a minimum, and how that will translate effectively on different screen sizes and form factors. The resulting design decisions are simpler. I'm not going to give user X a different web site because he's on a mobile phone. I'm going to give him the same experience because that's what he or she deserves, dammit.

2. It enables you to have that "come to Jesus" moment when it comes to UX design, which is…

3. Don't compromise great UX and your great marketing message by dumbing it down for mass consumption. 

This is important. I want you to read #3 over and over again until you get it.

Do you get it yet? Go back, dude. Seriously, read it over.

OK, so now when I say: "You really should do a mobile-optimized RWD of your desktop e-commerce web site for BlackBerry screens, because a lot of your customers still use BlackBerrys" your answer would be....

a) Totally! RWD is great and good!
b) Let me talk to my BA and come up with some pros and cons for you on that
c) WTF didn't you just read what I just typed? Maybe your users SHOULD NOT VISIT THE WEB SITE using their BlackBerry phones.

I just blew your mind again, but it's really fucking common sense. 

Focus on ONE web site design. Make it GREAT on the devices you care about. And accept the fact that it may suck on some devices ... and EMBRACE that. Because your UX is focused and consistent.

And if that BlackBerry user has to jump to their PC to see your web site correctly so be it. Fact is, you made that person's user experience better by forcing them to do so. 

It pisses me off that more UX designers don't get on board with this concept. Death to RWD.

Why "Responsive Web Design" Must Die

Headline get your attention? Good. Because I'm about to go honey badger on the devil's incarnation that is "Responsive Web Design" and tell you why it is bad for your web site and for the future of UX in general.

RWD has its merits: Optimize for the form factor, widest net in terms of audience reach, ability to adapt  and adopt new and ever-changing technologies.

But the most important benefit to RWD is for web designers and developers: RWD lets them charge more money to create more web sites so they can stay in business.

There. I said it. Honey badger don't care.

Thanks to the magic of RWD, your current web site is not enough. You need a mobile phone web site. You will (soon) need a large-screen web site. And if the web dev really needs the cash, they'll talk you into a tablet-optimized web site as well. And a game console version just to make things fun.

Those multiple web sites need custom HTML and CSS, all in the name of making great "user experiences" for your visitors. Because if you don't, your web site will suck on a __(insert platform here)__.

Lets assume that your web dev + design team has the skills and manpower to actually optimize each platform to its best. And that they'll actually bother to really think about the UX rather than just plug in some common-code synthesizer that spits out a cookie-cutter mobile site.

But hey, you're reusing the same code. Mostly. Right? I'm achieving synergy! It's all about UX! And optimization! And these neat tools that detect user agents and screen sizes! I'm so clever.

And so wrong. Because for all the things you've gained with RWD, it doesn't compare to the one UX principle you lost. The most important principle of all.

Focus.

Why PaintCode May Equal PainCode


On the one hand, I say, pretty cool to convert any vector graphic into a graphic rendered in iOS.

On the other hand, I say, if I have to update a rasterized image, in Photoshop I just have to swap out the image and keep the same name. As long as the image size and name is the exact same as before, it updates in XCode without a hiccup.

But if I have to update a vector graphic, won't that have to go through QA again? Because you're messing with the code using a third-party tool that may or may not be reliable.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the concept of PaintCode. Actually, it's pretty damn cool.

It's just that from a programming standpoint, a graphics tool that creates more code for me to debug ... well, I see more downside than upside on this one. Feel free to comment and disagree.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Awake TV Series Finale: The Ending Explained


WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

You've been warned.

A few weeks back I guessed at the ending to NBC's now-cancelled TV show "Awake" -- and after watching the series finale, I got the premise sort of right but the execution completely wrong -- and to complicate issues, the writers made the ending a bit more ambiguous to leave it open to different interpretations.

I loved the series -- great acting, compelling storyline, episodes that made you think outside the box when it came to the standard procedural crime drama. I wish it was on for more seasons, but in terms of the story arc, the series finale tied up everything in a nice little bow.

So I implore you again if you want to watch the series STOP READING NOW. Last chance.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

Okay, let's dive in.

So reviewing my earlier piece, I revealed the 'Sixth Sense" theory in which Detective Michael Britten died, and wife and son were alive but in comas of their own. Like I said, half right. So here's the working two theories based on the finale:

Theory 1: It Was All A Dream, Wife and Son Are Fine, The Crash and Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred

This is a plausible theory but you have to ignore lots of clues to buy into this theory. More importantly, this is a cheesy ending with no emotional payoff at the end. A complete cop-out, if you will. However, the writers did leave this open to interpretation, so it can't be ruled out 100%. But based on the "rules of the game," there's a better explanation for it all.


The Explanation: Everyone Died In The Crash, The Dreams Were Britten's Purgatory, All Three Reunite On Their Way to Heaven, The Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred But Frankly It Doesn't Matter ... You've Been Had!

I applaud Kyle Killen and the other writers for creating some excellent MacGuffins. Starting with the title, we are proccupied with what is happening instead of why. More importantly, we are led to believe that solving the conspiracy and/or decoding his dreams is the key to figuring out the mystery.

When in reality, the conspiracy is meaningless -- because it was merely a means to an end -- a way for Britten to find resolution to what he really needed all along. 

And the big clues were laid out in the early episodes, plain as day.

Like I said, a brilliant stroke. 

Let's start off with the first big misdirection: Under the show's premise, we were led into thinking that either the wife was alive or that the son was alive. And therefore, one reality was real and one was not. But the psychologists set the "rules of the game" but it took the season finale to make it clear.

Rule 1a: Britten had to fully accept his wife was really dead and gone.
Rule 1b: Britten had to fully accept his son was really dead and gone.

So for Britten to find true "peace," this is what he would have to do. 

We fell into the same trap Britten did: Even though we witnessed a horrific car crash, we refused to believe what we saw with our own eyes: Everyone died -- including Britten (although this part you can't figure out until near the last few episodes).

In one episode, in which Britten blacks out in one "reality" and can't return to it, he inadvertently discovers that he can accept that his son is gone, if he wishes, and stop the dream. But he ultimately decides he doesn't want to, and thus returns.

As for the conspiracy, it probably happened in real life, and part of the healing process for Britten is to solve this final mystery of who killed his family (and himself). I say probably because there is no clue in his flashbacks that the accident occurred for any other reason than getting run off the road.

But this double-Inception in which Britten's mind in purgatory builds these complex worlds and vast conspiracy makes it easily plausible that he made it all up subconsciously to get to following Rule 1a and 1b. Basically his way of going through the stages of grief and ultimately to acceptance.

So how does the finale wrap all this up? Well, the first catharsis is when he finally accepts Rule 1a -- that is, the only way to fully accept the fact his wife was really dead and gone was to say good-bye to her in the midst of that reality (the one in which he's in jail) crumbling all around him. 

And he finally reaches an "aha!" moment in which he learns how to escape "reality" by being able to control and shape it with his mind. The psychologists who tried to effectively keep him in purgatory are Britten's real enemies.

So when Britten walks into the light -- symbolism for dying in that reality -- he is left with one reality -- that only his son is alive. And that solving the conspiracy will give him closure. It does not. Because again, solving mysteries have nothing to do with the rules of the game.

Britten finally figures this out when talking to his remaining shrink: We assume that he is left with this one reality ... but what if this too is a dream? At this point, he has two choices: Remain stuck with this unsatisfying reality for the rest of his life, or not accept it at all.

Because he remembers how he could control his dream in the previous reality, he just finally accepts that his son being alive is a complete falsehood, and literally pauses the dream and walks out the door. Inception-esque kung fu.

Rule 1c: Britten had to fully accept he's dead too, but can sleep and be at peace knowing that he solved the murder of his family and is reunited once again with wife and son.

This brings us to the final scene, in which Britten finds himself back at home, in a third "reality" -- and huzzah! He's reunited with both his wife and son.

My gut reaction was this: "You mean, he was dreaming all along and none of this happened? Total bullshit!"

But then I watched that final scene again, and cinematically, they set up a number of cues that make that interpretation, well, total bullshit.

1. You never see Britten wake up in bed. He is just there, like he just walked through the door. Pay close attention that as the door slams, he turns his head. It syncs up as the camera cuts, hinting that he never got into bed but had a magical change of clothing.
2. His son alludes to him being stuck in purgatory: "I was beginning to think you'd never get up."
3. His son alludes to going to heaven: "Are you going to drive me? Registration is at 9 am." An allusion to going to school, but we never saw any hint in his dreams that his son was going to college or a new school prior to the accident.
4. His wife makes an ironic comment: "Look at this, he lives." Even though Britten has fully accepted that his wife had died and said good bye to her in another dream.
5. The closing shot, in which Britten closes his eyes one last time.

And thus the rest is left up to you, the viewer. And this is why Awake was so fucking cool.

You can choose to have Britten "wake up" from this third dream, and visualize what his "new reality" really really is. But the last psychologist clearly warns you, if you take this route, "it's turtles all the way down." That is, for all you know, you and Britten will just wake up into another dream, after dream, after dream, and never break the cycle.

Sadly, that would have been the premise for season two. But thanks to NBC, no more dreams.

So the more satisfying conclusion to the series: Accept the rules and accept the fact that the whole family is really dead, and Britten and his family can rest in heaven forever and ever, amen.

As you can see I really got caught up in the series and am sad to see it go. But now that I understand the rules of the show ... "I'm perfect!"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How I Think Awake Will End

This has nothing to do with mobile apps or UX, but I love the television show "Awake" and was bummed to hear it will be canceled.

For those who haven't watched it, I strongly encourage you to go to Hulu or use the power of Google to discover this detective mystery/fantasy/drama. For those who have, I'm sure you've got your own theory as to what the heck is going on.

If you're an avid "Awake" fan, don't read on unless you have watched the first 11 episodes and/or don't care about how the series may end. If I'm right about my theory, there'll be a ton of spoilage going on.

WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

So the premise of the show is truly unique: After a car accident, Detective Michael Britten now is experiencing two realities: One in which his wife died in the accident but his son survived, the other in which his wife survived and son died. 

When he falls asleep in one reality, he wakes up in another. As you can imagine, keeping track of what's happening in which reality is totally messing with Britten's head. To make things weirder, these realities share common as well as obscure links as he tries to solve crimes in these two realities. In many cases, a trivial event in one reality turns into a major crime-solving clue in the other reality.

The net result is that Britten has become a genius crime-solver who has to see two shrinks, both of which claim they exist in the "real" world, and who apparently never gets to sleep.

Furthermore, having his wife in one reality and his son in the other creates some crazy situations for his family (I'm keeping this part vague).

Honestly, the initial premise of the TV show sounds gimmicky, but it's executed flawlessly. The actor who plays Britten (Jason Isaacs) is perfect for the part.

2ND WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

So have you watched all 11 episodes yet? If you haven't, you really should stop reading this. Continue at your own peril.

So the whole premise for watching, ultimately, is to find out what the hell is really going on with Britten. And the obvious mystery: Which of the two realities is the "real" reality and which is just a dream?

This is what got me hooked into "Awake" -- trying to figure out his mystery. And although it took me 11 episodes, I think I figured it out. Read on if you want to know how (I think) "Awake" will end.

FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!
FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!
FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

OK, so let's go crack the "Awake" code. Let's start this deductively, by first eliminating some of the more obvious and common theories.

Theory 1a: Wife Is Real, Son Is Dream
Theory 1b: Son Is Real, Wife Is Dream

The show would have you believe that it must be one of these theories. And while either scenario is technically plausible, from a storytelling viewpoint, neither is acceptable. Assuming the series gets a proper wrap-it-all-up ending, at the end at least half the storyline never existed if you accept one of these theories. It's the equivalent of a middle finger to the viewing audience: "Hey, we just got you emotionally invested in two worlds but we just made one up for the hell of it."

Also, it's too damn obvious of a conclusion. And as you watch the episodes, there are no hints dropped that make you think one is more of a dream than the other. There are better theories than this.

Theory 2a: Britten Is In a Coma, It's All A Dream (and Wife and Son Are Probably Alive)
Theory 2b: The Entire Family Is In a Coma, The Wife Is Sharing The Dream With Dad, and The Son Is Sharing a Second Dream With Dad

So for a while I came up with and believed Theory 2a for a while, mainly when Britten started seeing hallucinations as well as the fact that there was just way too much crossover going on between the two realities. And under this theory, I presumed that when Britten solves the mystery behind his car accident, or some other catharsis with his wife and son, he'd wake up in his hospital bed with his wife and son waiting for him. Happy ending and all.

That theory works ... but it has a nagging flaw. You see, a few episodes in the show totally breaks this paradigm by showing scenes WITHOUT Britten in them. So part of me was like, "well they have to tell the story somehow" but the other part of me was like "this totally destroys the theory." You don't dream unless you're in the dream.

So that lead me to Theory 2b to explain this discrepancy. The entire family is in a coma: Wife and Britten share this "mind-meld" while in a coma, and his son and Britten share a second "mind-meld" reality. So at some point, all three will wake up and hug each other, realizing that they shared some crazy X-Files-type paranormal dream state. Happy ending and all.

Theory 2b held up pretty well ... until episode 11 just destroyed it. And revealed the true secret to understanding the show.

FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!! No Turning Back At This Point!!!

I don't know if the show's producers were aware the show might be canceled by the time they produced episode 11, but if they did, it makes sense. Episode 11 was a gamechanger because it introduced a boatload of new twists to the storyline, and finally spelled out what the endgame is for Britten.

And for better or worse, it gave away the show's secret by being too clever about it. But I suppose at this point, facing certain cancellation, there's no need to hold back the storyline any more.

So the major spoiler for episode 11 is this: The car crash was no accident; another police officer tried to kill him on purpose. Ostensibly to cover up another crime.

This revelation was revealed by an imaginary figure that pops into Britten's reality who just happens to look just like the police officer. Britten all of a sudden has a flashback that this guy tried to run him off the road, and remembered that he was at the accident site as well (pretending to help as a cop responding to the accident he caused).

There's a crucial scene where you see this bad cop look down at Britten, then look off camera (presumably to some unknown co-conspirator) and shaking his head "no" -- the implication is that bad cop failed to killed Britten and he's still alive.

If you thought that, you were dead wrong. Literally.

They repeat this scene several times in the episode, marking its importance. There are two crucial "aha" moments here. The first: It's clear that Britten survived the crash and was conscious when he saw this "bad cop" ... so why didn't he remember his face when he saw him again? The second is this: What if the "bad cop" shaking his head no means the OPPOSITE of what the show wants us to believe.

More fundamentally, what if "Awake" establishes a major red herring that would totally shock you once you realized how the show was really set up to be interpreted in a much different manner?

So once I took the show under this new theory, it all comes together in a neat package. Everything fits perfectly. So what is this theory?

The 'Sixth Sense' Theory: Britten Died In the Car Crash (Or Is In Purgatory), The Two Realities are HIS WIFE'S Coma Dream and HIS SON'S Coma Dream, and Britten Is a "Ghost" Who Drifts Between The Two Dreams

One of the things that nagged at me was how a detective like Britten, who doesn't seem to have a particularly creative mind, could create two highly detailed realities. This theory overcomes that issue.

Episode 11 really lays the groundwork for this theory. First off, it proves that imaginary people can travel from one reality to another. The show sets up the pretense that Britten is a "real" person ... but what if he's just a spirit capable of jumping into dreams?

But you ask, if Britten's dead, how the hell did he get into his wife's coma dream and his son's coma dream? Here's where "Sixth Sense" logic comes in handy. According to that movie, when dead people turn into ghosts, their spirits won't rest until they "fix" something wrong in the living world.

Britten solves mysteries; perhaps the thing he's supposed to "fix" (aside from his family relationships) is to solve HIS OWN murder. So he can rest in peace.

So when the "bad cop" shakes his head no, let's interpret that as "Britten didn't survive the crash" and that when we see Britten wide awake while his wife and son are knocked out, it's because in reality, he already died. That explains why he didn't remember seeing the "bad cop" before the car crash.

So if you can accept the idea that Britten is really a spirit, then it explains how he can enter and exit two different dreams without needing any sleep.

This also makes sense cinematically. They use a red filter for the wife and a blue filter for the son. While it's obviously done so you can tell which reality you're watching, it also aligns with the concept that these dreams could be separate entities.

Furthermore, the scenes without Britten now fit under this theory. If this is the wife's dream, then you'd expect to see scenes with just her in them. Same with the son.

So wait a sec ... so why all these mysteries? Is the wife and son actually dreaming them up? In the "Inception" sense, yes. They created the worlds these mysteries reside in. Britten is merely participating in them, projecting his mysteries, clues and presence to influence the coma-state dreams of his wife and son. While his wife and son never witness the crime-solving parts, they see when Britten is at home with them after solving those crimes.

So if the series is allowed to end neatly, I predict that the last episode will see Britten solving his own murder-by-car-crash, and transmitting enough information to his wife and son to give to Britten's detective partners to put all the baddies in jail once they awake from their comas.

It'll probably have some sort of cathartic moment when Britten realizes he's been dead all along, but before splitting the scene, say a proper farewell to his wife and son, so that when they wake up from their comas, they will be prepared to spend their lives without him. I also wouldn't be surprised if they name an important plot point in the show Michael in honor of dead ol' dad.

The final final scene would probably be at Michael's grave site, and at that point, the wife and son will share some comment that makes them realize that it wasn't just an ordinary dream, but that it was really Michael's spirit with them all along. Thus completing the blowing of the minds.

Thanks for reading this long-winded analysis of "Awake" -- I know it's dumb for a poorly rated show to take over my mind and blog like this, but what can I say ... I like solving a good mystery.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mobile websites vs. mobile apps

A good primer on whether to develop a native mobile app vs a mobile-friendly web site:

http://www.adobe.com/newsletters/inspire/february2012/articles/article7/index.html

The Problems with Android Design

I preface this article by saying that Ice Cream Sandwich is great. The OS is not the problem.

The problem with Android is that Google makes it harder to deliver great design:

Take Eclipse, and compare it to XCode. Guess which dev tool lets you design pixel-perfect visual layouts faster and more easily. Hint: Not Eclipse.

Google should've standardized screen sizes, and it shouldn't have allowed carriers to tweak the OS. The more time you have to spend to support varying screen sizes and carrier quirks, the less time you have available to make the app design tight.

And Google shouldn't release new OS versions unless it can deliver day and date to all major carriers at the same time. I shouldn't have to wait six months to find out if my phone will get an ICS update or not.

And don't get me started with 9patch. Perhaps if Android standardized screen sizes they wouldn't need this mess of an app.

If XCode didn't exist, all this would be moot. But the benchmark has been set, and perhaps Google should spend a little more time making Eclipse a bit more design friendly.

ClamCase

If I didn't have an OtterBox I'd seriously consider getting this case.

Getting Answers

My favorite sources for looking up information:

CSS: http://www.w3schools.com

iOS: Stack Overflow

Review: iPad Defender Case (for new iPad)


Just got the new iPad Defender case in the mail for my new iPad and installed it. First impression: A major improvement over the previous year's design (which I was a little disappointed with). They basically took everything good from the original and fixed all the problems I had from last year's case. The result is what I believe is the best-designed protective case on the market for heavy-duty users like me (an app developer who is often in the field).

What's fixed: The clear plastic protective screen is back -- no more adhesive screen stickers! The bezel is covered again so it's easier to grip. Much tighter and stronger rubber casing, so the thin edges and flaps lock in place better and are not prone to stretching. A much thicker case cover; the previous version had stress points that cracked and broke off. This is definitely more solid.

This is personal preference, but I never did get the reason why you needed a big back flap to dock the iPad. I just charge it with the cable. But it's gone now, so if you needed that big back flap, this new case won't work for you. But I never used it, so frankly I'm glad it's gone.

Finally, haven't given the sleep magnets a full test yet but adding them is a bonus. And I frequently use the stand + type incline prop, so I'm glad that feature remains the same.

My only concern is how this case might impact the new iPad's reported heat issues, but frankly if Apple says the temps are in spec, I'm not too worried about it just yet.

But overall, I think OtterBox hit a home run on this case - and iPad 2 owners, stay away from the previous gen case and make sure this is the one you pick up! Trust me on that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Holy Shit, I Have Witnessed the Future of Multimedia UX

At Cochella, there was a hologram of Tupac on screen singing his hits with Snoop Dogg.

Holy shit. It was obviously CG but it was scary real.

Imagine a future where movie stars never die; they just get their voice sounds digitized and archived (so they can craft any word from those noises) and get 3D body models so they can star in any movie even after they're dead and gone. So Brad Pitt can retire and license his avatar (20s, 30s or 40s) to different movie projects.

Holy shit. They already make CG backgrounds anyway so this is the natural next step.

You can make Star Wars episodes 7-9 by creating actor avatars of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

So what does this have to do with UX? Simple. What if you could buy these avatars yourself and make your own movies. Fan-based movies. A show gets cancelled? Fans make their own episodes as text scripts can automatically be converted into 3D movies. Dynamic commercials with an avatar actor that changes depending on your demographic.

In the UX world, static video becomes dynamic video. Unity replaces Quicktime.

Obviously the tech to pull this off convincingly is still a ways off, but if Tupac can pull it off, anyone can.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Memo to Internet Explorer: Wake Up!

Cool HTML5 and CSS design kung fu in Chrome, Firefox and Safari more often than not fails on Internet Explorer.

Microsoft's response? Fuck off. We own the browser market. Deal with it.

But as mobile web apps rise in prominence, some devs are starting to push back: 4ormat just dropped IE from its support matrix. Not only do I agree, I encourage more designers to advocate this. It saves time, saves money and saves headache.

Even if you have to support IE, just detect the browser to add a note at the top of your page saying, "This web site looks better in Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Isn't it time to upgrade your browser?"

Microsoft, your browsers are pooping on good user experience. Wake up!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dropbox Encore

I need to manage Dropbox accounts between various clients; when I found this little app/script deal, it was a godsend. I've been using it for a month now and it works flawlessly.

Best Web Services for iOS

Which web services are best for iOS? This is a bit dated but this presentation was the most complete and comprehensive analysis I could find.