A few weeks ago Google announced Project Glass, or Google Glasses.
A number of people I’ve spoken to are quick to mock these as another bluetooth headset. While I agree that walking around with a bluetooth headset hanging on your ear and no one on the phone is a generally stupid idea, I think that computerized glasses are something much bigger and far more important.
Humans Conforming to Machines
The typewriter was invented in 1868, and we have been conforming to its shape ever since. Our technology does incredible thing, but it still breaks our bodies. Our devices inflict all manner of pain on our backs’, necks’ and wrists’. Tablets and mobiles aren’t an improvement in this regard. They still make us crane our necks’, and strain our wrists’. This is because we must contort our bodies to work with the shape of our technology. It’s a massive design flaw and the only people who benefit are orthopedists, physical therapists, and ergonomics professionals (who make a staggering amount of money for assembling chairs and installing wrist wrests for large corporations).
Computers as Glasses
If Google Glasses are light enough, they will represent the first powerful consumer computer that conforms to human physiology, and this excites me as both a technologist and as a vertebrate.
The combination of a camera, microphone, accelerometer, GPS and small heads up display in an always-on computer could do unbelievable things (which may one day be another post).
Making These Things Magical
The trick will be giving users a ton of control over what notifications will be sent to the user’s glasses. If your eyes are pinging every time you receive an email, tweet, Facebook update, or text message you might go insane. Limiting the active functionality is how you make computerized glasses empower users instead of distracting them. Having geographically activated modes could be cool. What I mean is that the device automatically shifts it’s configuration based on where you are, and possibly who is around you.
They work differently if you’re:
- At work
- At home (and alone)
- At home (with people around)
- Walking in a place you’ve been before
- Walking in a place you’ve never been
- At a museum
- In a store
The opportunities are endless, especially if the devies can recognize who you’re with.
On a personal note, I will be quite peeved if Google neglects us prescription glasses-wearers.
These can’t come fast enough for me. Bring on the future!
Who’s Making Hybrids?
Microsoft’s Windows 8 will serve as both a tablet and laptop operating system. This will allow PC makers the opportunity to produce laptop/ tablet hybrids.
Apple CEO Tim Cook likened it to merging a refrigerator and a toaster. Cook stated, “Anything can be forced to converge but the problem is the products are about tradeoffs,” and “You begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn’t please anyone.” He then claimed that Apple will not produce an iPad/ MacBook hybrid.
It’s worth noting that Steve Jobs claimed that Apple would not produce a video playing iPod, a year-and-a-half before video enabled iPods hit the market.
Are Hybrids Inherently Bad?
I don’t think that hybrids are an inherently bad idea. If Windows 8 doesn’t suck, and Microsoft and their manufacturing partners produce products that are both lightweight and comfortable to use, then it could work.
What does worry me is an iOS/ OS X convergence. Should Apple dumb OS X down to the lowest common denominator and force users to acquire all software via the Mac App Store, that would be catastrophic. Apple gets away with exercising a lot more control over their users than Microsoft does. That’s ok (I guess) for phones and tablets. However it’s horrible for general purpose computing.
Should Apple do this, they will lose me as a customer.
I’m genuinely confused.
Mark Zuckerberg dropped a billion dollars on Instagram, and has a small army of top development talent at his disposal. Why the hell can’t Facebook put out a good mobile application on any platform? Their apps are clunky and painfully slow.
I thought that maybe their database wasn’t playing well with mobile, but then I downloaded the Fast Facebook Beta, and it’s quick, does what I want it to, and it even looks nice. Zuckerberg should buy up Team2Soft.
What really gets me is that Facebook has had years to build these apps and they still suck.
Can anyone explain why? I can’t.
According to Nielsen, 85% of people who have tablets use them while watching television. The report also claims that 30% of tablet use happens while watching television.
“As mentioned, 85 percent of tablet owners use the device while watching TV. Nielsen also says that 30 percent of tablet use happens while watching the television. TV companies are creating companion applications to engage viewers on a deeper level during their favorite shows. Even cable companies are creating their own video-streaming apps in an effort to get in front of the cord cutting trend — severing ties with cable operators in favor of services like Hulu Plus. Comcast’s Xfinity app is an example of this.”
At SXSW 2012, I watched a panel discussion about “three screen convergence,” or the idea that people are using laptops, mobiles and tablets while watching TV. The panelists were positively giddy about the trend.
Two moments of the panel have stuck in my head over a month later. The first was when Eric J. Bruno, senior vice president of Consumer Product Management & Development for Verizon Communications told the crowd that he, “geeks out about DRM (digital rights management).” That isn’t relevant to my point, but I’m still trying to understand how he was able to utter those words without his brain melting and dripping out of every available orifice. But I digress.
The second, and much more relevant moment was when Soraya Darabi spoke about everyone’s favorite “screen convergence is great” moment, the Superbowl. The panel was abuzz about the Superbowl, and similar national experiences where most or many of us are watching one thing at the same time. Ms. Darabi spoke of the hilarious tweets she saw cross her feed during the Superbowl and awards shows. She just loved the sarcasm and comedy from those she follows.The panel thought this was great too. Their collective conclusion is that social media commentary while watching a television program equals positive engagement.
I’ve often used my mobile, tablet or laptop while watching television. The only times I ever do are when I am disengaged. When I’m watching something that someone else has selected, and I’m either not interested or in the case of Grey’s Anatomy, doing my very best to resist the urge to permanently damage my ears just to make it stop.
When I’m watching Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire the last thing that I want to do is miss a single second of the show. The only time I’ve ever touched another screen is to look up some reference from the show, and if I do, I’m hitting pause first.
The people tweeting funny things about the Superbowl and awards shows aren’t engaging with the show that they are watching, they are coping with the fact that they are stuck watching it. They’re the bored friend dragged to the Superbowl party, or the spouse stuck watching the Academy Awards. They are using a different screen as an escape, and looking for sympathy from their followers.
Old guard media executives can pretend that this trend is good for them, but it’s just an exercise in self-delusion.
Update: I found this just after publishing. This study, is remarkably in line with what I just wrote.
Full Disclosure: The Three Screen Convergence panel at SXSW 2012 was organized by a personal friend.
(Via Venture Beat – Media)
Question: “If we take Chrome apps to its logical conclusion: Do you like Samsung 5 Chromebook? Do you see any there at SXSW?”
Browser As An Operating Systems
Rumors circulated for years that Google was creating an operating system environment within a web browser. It’s a natural leap for Google because it benefits greatly from Internet expansion. Due to ubiquitous broadband (at least in the States), and relatively fast, and inexpensive processors have given this idea legs: an inexpensive machine that only accesses the Internet and other software that runs in-browser.
Google has a fun habit of releasing mostly-baked products into the market. They do so with everything: Gmail, Google Music, Android, G+, Chrome (browser). Now, they are doing it with Chrome OS.
When you buy a Chromebook, you are essentially paying to enter an open beta. That’s all well and good if you’ve got the cash, and don’t mind tinkering with partially completed software & hardware, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m happy to beta test a free product from time-to-time, but I won’t pay for the privilege.
What is Chrome OS Good at?
- Browsing the web
- Basic to intermediate word-processing & spreadsheets
- Editing content from within a CMS
Where Does Chrome OS Fall Short?
The Law & The Cloud
Technology moves fast. Regulations and laws creep when they move at all. Steven Levy put it best:
“…the legal and regulatory framework for cloud computing is still evolving, as we are reminded by the government subpoenas for digital information on people tied to Wikileaks. If we’re going to make the leap to the cloud, we’ll need renewed assurances that personal data on the servers of Google or other companies will enjoy the same protections as the information stored on our personal hard drives and in our desk drawers” (Wired).
This is a big deal because with every passing month, the US government has become more aggressive in expanding online search and seizure.
Are People Using Chromebooks at SXSW?
While I’m hesitant to use SXSW attendees’ behavior as a measure of good tech decisions, I have not noticed a single Chromebook. Mostly I’ve seen a ton of Macbook Airs & Pros, Lenovo Thinkpads, and iPads.
Where is This Headed?
For better or worse, our computers are going to become increasingly more dependent on the cloud. That being said, I do not believe that Chrome OS is the answer. Over the next few years we will witness an operating system convergence.
Apple: iOS & OSX will merge
Microsoft: Windows 8 is all about convergence of the desktop, television, phone & tablet
Google: Android & Chrome will become one
Chrome OS is kind of a neat idea if you can already do all of your work in-browser, and can mentally get past the privacy/ legal issues.
Personally, I can’t do all of my work in-browser. I can’t ignore the privacy issues, and completely surrender all of my data to Google. I am deeply troubled by the imbalance between meatspace and cyberspace civil liberties (which is not Google’s fault).
All that being said, this really is an individual decision based on personal values, and use-cases. If Chromebook is all you want and need, enjoy. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a Macbook Air.
This is just plain old weird.
Apple.com via a mobile browser:
Seriously? Apple.com isn’t mobile optimized? The “design meets technology to form magical blah blah blah, and birthed the mobile web into existence,” company never bothered to optimize their own website?
Note to Apple fanboys & girls: That “apps downloaded” ticker doesn’t count as mobile optimized. It’s lazy, and ironically self-celebratory.
Android.com via a mobile browser:
And Google isn’t off the hook on this either. “Mobile first,” Google never bothered to create a mobile-friendly version of their mobile operating system’s website? This is pathetic.
Us.Blackberry.com via a mobile browser:
You already know where this is going…
I can’t even get annoyed by this because I would have been honestly surprised if RIM got something right in 2012.
Windows Phone 7′s website via a mobile browser:
Surprise! It is mobile optimized…
… But only if you’re viewing the website in landscape. Switch to portrait and it’s improperly formatted.
This is so very Microsoft.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask the companies leading the mobile revolution to properly optimize their websites’ for mobile. It’s not like they have a lack of capable design or development talent.
Last week I had the honor of presenting to the NJ Mobile Meetup group. NJ Mobile is a collection of about 300 mobile technology enthusiasts that I co-organize. While I’ve been one of the groups organizers for quite some time, this was the first time that I actually spoke at an event. Much to my delight the presentation, which was partially based on my blog post The Rules of Mobile App Design, was very well-received.
My goal was to record the presentation and slides and post a video, but I’ve been experiences some technical difficulties of the crashing variety whenever I try to record my screen and voice at the same time. So here are the slides, and I hope to add the full video presentation soon: