UX comes in small packages

When I stay in Las Vegas, I usually book the same hotel. I like this hotel. It’s just off the strip and has no casino. It’s more quiet and I like it that way.

The elevator button panel though drives me nuts though. It takes too many brain cycles to select the right button. Here’s a photo of it:

If they would’ve added 1/2″ of spacing between the button and the number, it would make it a lot easier to select the right button. Now I’m standing in front of it and have to make a mental leap to look at the left to remind myself it’s the floor number first and then the button. If you’re on floor 10, that’s just annoying.

Often UX improvements aren’t big changes, but little convenience choices to reduce the mental load of making the correct choice or perform a certain task. The new password manager integration of IOS 12 is a great example of that.

Innovation is a process, not a strategy

3M and Google’s product incubation processes

Yesterday, I was attending a presentation by Steve Cadigan about the changing dynamic in employment hiring and retention. During his presentation, he mentioned the 3M model for product innovation. They allow their staff to spent 15% of their time on their own pet projects. There’s a process for asking for seed money to get new products incubated allocated by business unit managers (and not necessarily from your own business unit manager). The product can move to a next stage with a dedicated team and separate budget to get further off the ground and commercialize it.

I found it interesting because it has a close resemblance when people talk about the Google product and engineering processes.

There are three key learnings here:

  1. Give people a sandbox in the form of time and budget to innovate new ideas
  2. Allow for success AND failure
  3. Create a fair (eg. non-political) internal competition for budget and resources

A model which is right for one company does not necessarily be a good fit for another company. But a good model should adhere to these 3 key characteristics to create a safe place to innovate and a way to get ideas and products launched.

Hotel Wifi

It’s interesting how hotel wifi used to be a major thing in my life when traveling and today it isn’t. Yesterday, I traveled to Vegas for a conference. I would not be able to tell you if the wifi in my hotel is free or any good. This used to be such a big deal.

In the not-so-distant past, whenever I booked a hotel the quality of the wifi was a huge decision factor. I would troll the hotel reviews for clues of its quality. In general, paid wifi was better than free. Free wifi meant no internet between 6pm and midnight. Paid wifi was often such a bore because you had to pay per device and you had to decide which devices you wanted to bring online.

Today, I don’t care. I use my phone and T-Mobile – my provider – is pretty reliable in urban areas. My other devices just connect to my hotspot. I don’t even bother with hotel wifi anymore.

It’s interesting how fast that changed.

Tech wars

When Titans Fight

Apple, Google and Amazon are the most valuable companies in the world and they’re fighting to each other. Unfortunately it’s the consumer who loses in this fight.

A few examples:

  • Apple’s products are not officially available on Amazon
  • Same applies to many of Google’s products
  • The Nest skill on Amazon Alexa is a joke
  • You can’t buy or rent Amazon Video products on their IOS or tvOS app
  • Spotify is nowhere to be found on Apple TV
  • YouTube doesn’t want their videos to be on the Alexa Show

The list goes on.

Remember that Google Maps app on IOS back in 2012 just had 60% of the features of the same app had on Android? It made it necessary for Apple to launch Apple Maps. It wasn’t great, but at least it had navigation. Google caught up quickly, but Apple to this day spends significant resources to keep Apple Maps alive. They have to.

All of these companies are very successful in their own domains and the anti-competitive behavior is not hurting their bottom line by much, but it’s the consumer who loses and gets inferior propositions. I also wonder how often this happens to small but successful companies who are not in a position to fight back. We certainly can do better than this.

Favorite IOS12 feature: AutoFill passwords from 1Password

The ability to drive AutoFill passwords in IOS12 from 1Password (or any other password manager) is easily my favorite feature of the new IOS release. The ritual of copy & pasting usernames and passwords from the 1Password app into Safari is now reduced to a button click and a FaceID confirmation. It’s seamless, easy and fast.

Also Apple allows you to disable Apple’s own password service and rely solely on your own password manager. It’s the right thing to do – not everyone is entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.

It’s really easy to setup AutoFill passwords on IOS with a password manager. If you’re like me who uses a unique password for each and every account it’s a godsend. Thanks Apple.

Oh hello Kounotori!

Yesterday, I was working from home. My eye fell on my live ISS camera feed and I saw this – apologies for the bad photo quality, I only had my iPad Mini on hand:

The Japanese supply ship Kounotori has arrived with fresh supplies for ISS. It launched last Sunday and it took 4.5 days to get to the space station.

Isn’t that so cool?

Prince – Piano & A Microphone

Last week a new album of Prince called “Piano & A Microphone 1983” was posthumously released. It was a recently discovered tape made in his home studio. It’s pure Prince without backing or editing. It’s really great.

When I got the news that Prince passed away, I realized that I hadn’t listened to any of his music for a long time. Prince had big problems with the streaming business model and none of his work was available online. I’m glad that’s no longer the case and Prince’s music is available today. I’m enjoying it.

Honey, I broke the internet!

I’ve been an adblocker since early 2000s. I did it for three reasons:

Reduce cognitive load of the web – ads are meant to grab your attention but distract you from the actual content

Speed up browsing – ads slows down page loading significantly.

Privacy and tracking prevention

Early on adblocking didn’t happen in the browser, but was an add-on for a proxy server. I always run my own somewhere on the internet or at home. Life is much simpler now with browser extensions doing the work.

I do remember that using an adbocker often broke the internet. It was certainly not for the faint of heart. It took perseverance to keep using them and live with the “broken” internet. The filters at the time weren’t as sophisticated as we have today. Also browser extension have much better context of the content where as the proxy server had no such context – it just analyzed network requests.

You can imagine that not always went down that well at home. It certainly didn’t support the “wife factor” well.

Even though adblocking no longer breaks my internet, VPNs break it today. I use a VPN to get into the internet regardless of my location. ISPs routinely sell your browsing behavior or mess with your DNS to inject their own search results. It’s like the phone company routinely selling the numbers you’re calling or texting with. I don’t want that.

Yesterday, I ran into two of those issues I common encounter when using a VPN. First, Google thought I was in the “United Kingdom” even though my VPN endpoint is located in the US. Second – and I get these a lot – is that some service thinks I’m a bot because my VPN endpoint is not an ISP-owned IP-address. Google’s version of the bot protection makes solve silly puzzles to improve their automatic driving object recognition software.

Here’s an  example:

I got that again when I was changing my credit card on FreshDirect. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone ever tested that at FreshDirect because I was unable to complete the form after the finishing puzzling for Google. I ended up using the app to fix it.

Another issue is the streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, etc. To avoid people spoofing their location, they don’t allow VPN-based streaming of their content. The whole thing is just silly. I wish they were more like Apple who just uses the payment method to determine someone’s location, but I digress.

I do value my privacy more than a perfect working internet – I do hope this gets solved. Meanwhile I’ll keep helping Google/Waymo by solving their puzzles.

Browser Fingerprinting

Yesterday, I was reading an excellent review by Ars Technica on Mojave. One of the new features which stood out to me is the new fingerprinting protection in Safari 12. In the article a few sites are mentioned to test your browser and I tried them all out:

The end result? It’s easy to fingerprint my browser and ultimately track me. I encourage you to try it for yourself.

I recommend everyone not on Safari to disable third-party cookies in their browser. Even though they still might be able to fingerprint you, it’s harder for them to track you over time and across different devices. Apple has the good sense to do this by default. Firefox and Chrome (and its derivatives) should get on-board to. It’s the right thing to do.

Privacy is important. I’ll write about that another day.

HD Earth Viewing System (HDEV) at Home

On April 30th, 2014 the HD Earth Viewing System was installed on the ISS. It consists of four cameras pointed at the earth. The goal of the experiment is to test the longevity of off-the-shelf commercial video cameras in space. The views are absolutely breathtaking.

When I came across it back, I was absolutely mesmerized and wanted to have the live stream at home. The video stream was available through ustream and I had a spare iPad to run it on. Unfortunately the ustream app on IOS was never reliable enough to keep the stream playing for more than half a day or so. Eventually I gave up on it.

Earlier this year, the stream became also available on YouTube (see above). YouTube is a lot better at keeping the stream going. It can run for weeks without me having to restart it. Clearly YouTube’s engineers have done a great job on this.

I could finally build a setup to see the live stream all the time. I bought a 1st gen iPad Pro 13″ on eBay – they’re surprisingly affordable – and a AmazonBasics tablet stand.

It’s a daily reminder that we live on this beautiful planet and there’s a whole universe still out there to explore. It’s both inspirational and humbling to see the earth slowly pass by.