Post Jobs Apple: recycled design with function for the sake of function

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again wearable technology needs to be thought of as fashion accessories that are smart. I was excited to see what Apple were going to come up with today but I’ve been disappointed. This isn’t appealing to me and it won’t be appealing to the general masses because it’s a chrome blob.

Where’s the creativity? It’s like design has taken a backseat to something that tries to be too functional, is this post Jobs Apple? Trying to pack in features for the sake of packing features..  What happened to the days of old when they would release something entirely new? Where only 1 product version existed without a meaningless naming convention..

Apple Watch

The watch’s design is an unoriginal rectangle, recycled curved from the original iPhones with 2 massive buttons on the side that stick out like 2 sore thumbs. The watch’s design leaves something to be desired, it’s like Jony Ive has taken a sabbatical.

These features are nothing more than gimmicks

  • Learning a new interaction paradigm using the digital crown button
  • The other button
  • Sketch, Walkie-Talkie, Tap & Heartbeat are just gimmick apps in the unlikely event that 2 people have Apple Watch
  • A host of apps such as calendar, maps, photos and passbook which is confusing since you’ll need to have your phone anyway

I’ll end it on a good note, there are some interesting features such as ….

  • It’s clever enough to distinguish between moving, exercising and standing cleverly bundled into basic fitness tracking
  • Apple Pay is available on the Watch, great and convenient although authentication is a mystery at this point since authentication is done via Touch ID on the iPhone
  • Apps
  • Siri
  • Notifications
  • Heart rate sensor & accelerometer

Starting at $349USD from early 2015 with 3 editions that offer no real differentiation apart from price.

Apple Watches

What are your thoughts?

Android Wear and smart watches won’t take off without design

Many manufacturers are now releasing ‘smart’ watches. Samsung, LG, Pebble, Motorola, Withings and even Apple are rumored to be releasing a wearable as well. It’s no surprise really, watches have been around for a long time and they’re the next step in the evolution of making our everyday objects smarter.

Unfortunately many of these manufacturers such as LG and Samsung don’t understand that for something like a ‘smart’ watch to take off it needs to be thought of as a fashion accessory first. Traditionally when you buy a watch, only 1 thing matters and that is “Does it look good on my wrist?” You might argue that now these new watches are ‘smart’ but I challenge that, if these watches are ‘smart’ then how does that correlate with a ‘smart’ phone. All these ‘smart’ watches are there for currently is a combination of  the time, notifications and in some cases tracking steps and heart rate.

If Android Wear and by virtue smart watches are going to take off then Google need to start inspiring device makers to think outside the box with their Android Wear SDK. Google needs to design it for any form factor, from squares to circles and everything in between.

Smart watches will never take off with unoriginal design like LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. If you look at these 2 watches you can just tell that no design thought was put into it. There is not a lot of difference between them, they are the definition of generic.

LG G WatchSamsung Gear

They’re uninspiring and certainly not something I’d like to put on my wrist. Watches these days are thought of as fashion accessories, not ‘smart devices’. Consumers will want a fashion accessory that is smart.

Fear not, manufacturers can take inspiration from Motorola and Withings when it comes to design. If I were you I’d hold off on purchasing a new smart watch until these 2 are released. These 2 at least look like watches but behave like smart watches. The Moto 360 is an Android Wear watch but with a more familiar circular face. The Withings Activité is a smart watch that tracks your activity then syncs to an app, it’s not powered by Android Wear so it’s a more focused watch.

Moto 360 Withings Activite

 

Google I/O, a merging Google everywhere

Material Design

Sundar Pichai has started a new shift in Google where he’s bringing Chrome and Android closer together. It was inevitable since he’s the boss in charge of both but it’s interesting to see where he’s heading with it.

Google are attacking everything from all fronts in multiple ways in some cases, your computer, your phone, your car, your tv, your watch, your glasses and your home. The interesting thing is that they’re not attacking them in a cohesive way where each front is connected to the other. Eventually everything will be connected and Google is accelerating that front. It’s creating a merged multi platform approach that is tied by Android.

You might  be thinking well they’ve tackled some of these areas before like the car and TV but they failed, why this time? I think this time focus and simplicity is how they’re going to win. Perviously they just released SDKs and expected developers to flock to it. This time they partnered and released very basic functionality, only the bare essentials to get started.

  • Chrome is tackling computers very well according to Google, 10 of the top 10 laptops on Amazon are Chromebooks. They’re also doing work to port Android apps onto Chrome.
  • Android is obviously tackling your phones and tablets, they’ve got over 1 Billion 30 day active users
  • Android will be tackling your car, they’ve got all the major car manufacturers signed up for a simple interface that sits on top of their proprietary systems powered by your Android phone
  • Android will be tackling your TV, they’ve signed some big names onto this like Sony. They’ve also got the Chromecast which is also a hit by being such a simple device
  • Android will be tackling your wearables such as your watch for health tracking and convenience
  • Android will be tackling your glasses with Google Glass providing you with an augmented reality experience
  • Android will be tackling your home with devices like connected smart alarms, thermostats and lightbulbs

Google has realised that multiple platforms are hard to tackle for developers so they’re giving them time by giving them release previews of all the new SDKs and design guidelines across the entire range of capabilities. They’re also keeping the initial releases of these new platforms very simple. They’ve learned from Microsoft and Windows 8 that you can’t just expect developers to be able to scale their apps across platforms quickly and easily. These things take time so they’re trying to help with that as much as possible.

They know this is a hard problem as stated by Sundar “We aren’t building a vertically integrated product. What we are doing is building an open platform at scale”. this is obviously a dig at Apple. This has always been what Microsoft are doing as well. It’s easier to build a single product that only integrates with your own proprietary systems, it’s much harder to build a platform that can in theory operate on anything like Android can.

A preview of changes in Android L

Google announced Android L at I/O last week, they didn’t delve into much detail and it didn’t show many features. They didn’t announce a new Nexus device or actually release Android either. It’s only available as a developer preview on 2 devices. I’ve looked into it and it’s not a stable release for your main phone as of yet. The reason for this preview release is that I/O was purely aimed at developers. Google wants to give developers enough time to be able to design their apps for Android L using Material Design, their new design language across all platforms.

  • Notifications have been redesigned completely, now available via the lock screen and a new heads up notification style is available. Notifications
  • Material Design, a new design language that is visual and responsive. It also spans all of Google’s platforms. Think along the lines of Microsoft’s Metro. style-color-colorstory-01_large_mdpi
  • Multitasking now allows developers to have multiple screens per app, your Chrome bookmarks will also be part of the multitasking view. Personally I don’t think this is a good idea because many users have many tabs open and this will just create clutter. Hopefully an off switch will be available.
  • The new ART runtime will be switched on by default, along with it are 5000 new APIs
  • Personal unlocking, which allows your device to skip your Android pin if you’re at home or are near your wearable devices
  • Enterprise integration will allow enterprises to take full advantage of your Android by allowing enterprise apps to sit alongside your personal apps, they’ve also started to integrate Samsung Knox which is become the Android standard in enterprise.

Enterprise

 

Microsoft Office for iPad is here and it’s brilliant!

Microsoft has finally released Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad and they look beautiful.

Excel for iPad

It’s taken Microsoft 4 years to release Microsoft Office on the iPad. It’s all forgiven because it looks brilliant and seems to have a great user experience.

At this stage you can view/read Word, Excel and PowerPoint for free. Creating and editing will require an Office 365 subscription which starts at $80 USD for students and $100 for the general public.

I’m personally really surprised at how great the apps look and feel. They’re fast and fluid even on my 2nd generation iPad. The user experience seems to have been a major focus when developing the apps. Microsoft has done a great job of creating an iPad app that’s not just a stretched out iPhone up. It really feels like it’s made for iOS7.

This release along with the rebranding of Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure signals the new Microsoft that Satya Nadella is heading up. He’s doing a great job.

Make sure you give the iPad Office apps a try by clicking on this link.

Facebook’s “Context Album” using facial recognition

Think about this for a minute

  1. How many photos people take
  2. How many people are in all those photos unintentionally

There are a lot of scenarios where candid photos include people outside the intended subject of the photo. Think about photos in tourist areas, crowds at stadiums, shots of friends with lots of background, photos at night clubs or cafes or selfies.. The amount of people in photos is a n to n relationship. Now think about how many of those photos will include people that the photographer doesn’t know explicitly.

Facebook

Facebook’s Deppface project has reported that it’s facial recognition software has the ability to match faces with varying conditions such as light and angle to a 97.25% accuracy. That’s astoundingly good.

Unfortunately all Facebook can do with this technology is detect and suggest faces and people when Facebook users upload their photos. A pretty straightforward use of this technology.

Think of this interesting use case… what if Facebook released a feature that can detect a user’s face in all of Facebook’s photos. Think of it like this

  • User requests that Facebook finds all photos where it can recognise the users face
  • Facebook scans all it’s photos, finds matches
  • Facebook sends notification to the photo’s uploader to allow this person to a) see the photo and b) approve tagging this person (Should they request it)
  • Facebook can produce a small infographic of how many photos it’s found, how many the user can see, varying degrees of accuracy etc.
  • User can then see the plethora of photos that were taken of them unintentionally or otherwise

In essence this allows Facebook users to find photos of themselves that others have taken in whatever scenario it may have been. Imagine how many photos will be returned (Of course this depends on so many factors) of each user. The “Context Album”.

There are privacy and people issues in the mix here which Facebook’s product marketing will have to deal with but technologically it’s definitely possible now.

What are your thoughts? Would you use this feature and would you allow Facebook to tell others that they are in your photos?

Android Wear, the real future of wearables is here

Google has it’s hands firmly dipped in the mobile market with Android, they’re tackling the augmented reality market quite publicly with Google Glass and now they’ve released Android Wear.

Android WearWhat you need to know in a nutshell:

  • It’s a SDK (Software Development Kit), that means developers have a platform like Android to build their apps and release wearable devices such as watches, heart rate monitors etc.
  • It will allow developers and manufacturers to create wearables that adhere to guidelines like Android, essentially a platform
  • It will sync with your devices via Bluetooth
  • It’s highly contextual, it’s based on Google Now, it’s aimed at giving the user quickly glanceable information when it’s relevant
  • It’s interface is controlled by gestures and voice
  • It’s aimed at also monitoring your health and fitness

See the video below so that you can get a good idea of what you can expect from it

Before you get too excited, this isnt a device. Although it’s likely that Google will release a device which is made by a 3rd party much like the Nexus program.

Motorola’s Moto 360 and the LG G Watch are the first devices that are using Android Wear. Details are far and few, right now all we know is that they will be released in the summer. 

Of Course smart watches are nothing new at the moment, ever since Apple was rumored to release a smart watch. Many other manufacturers have jumped into the wearables market. Most of them aimed at the fitness market. Check out this list by Engadget. The most famous of which right now are Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Pebble.

So keep a look out for these around the end of the year because there will be a whole host of new wearable tech that’s using Android Wear. It’s definitely an exciting time!

Galaxy S5, more of the average copycat you can expect from Samsung

Full Disclosure: I’m by no means an Apple fanboy.

Samsung Band-aid

So.. yet again Samsung has decided to ‘stay’ ‘ahead’ of the curve while being the same unoriginally average copycat that they are. It infuriates me how much they copy and I’m not even an Apple fan boy. At least when Apple copied they changed things for the better.

From what I’ve been reading

  • Boring ‘safe’ design. Since Apple won their trial and proved Samsung copied, their hardware design it’s gotten worse
  • It comes in bandaid and Nexus 7 2012 models
  • Slightly larger display, really Samsung you can only increase your display size to improve your spec sheet year over year by so much
  • Terrible implementation of the fingerprint scanner. No surprise there.

  • The heart rate monitor is nothing new, many apps can read your heartrate from your LED or camera.
  • IT’S NOT EVEN RUNNING THE LATEST VERSION OF ANDROID!!
  • Samsung TouchWiz UI and apps, need I say more?

As you can tell, I’m not impressed with Samsung nor will I ever be. They continue to copy what Apple does a year after they do it and what’s worse is that it’s always just a blatant copy with no thought as to what problems they’re trying to solve for consumers. They’ve always approached their hardware and software design from a “What looks better on a spec sheet?” perspective. Often completely ignoring what problems they’re trying to solve and how. The fingerprint scanner and S Voice are prime examples of gimmicks that look good on paper and in advertising yet completely fail in implementation.

I’m surprised their interface didn’t change completely too, oh wait I suppose 5 months isn’t enough time to completely overhaul a mobile phone UI and update all apps too. Maybe the S6 will…

Thanks to Marques Brownlee for the Samsung Bandaid reference and image.

SwiftKey’s Note is a great way to penetrate iOS and eventually Windows Phone

Since SwiftKey introduced it’s Android keyboard I’ve never used any other. It’s fast, intuitive, customisable and it learns! I can typically type full sentences with just a few touches.

Unfortunately iOS users never knew what they were missing out on because they’re stuck on the stock iOS keyboard. There’s nothing wrong with it.. but that’s just it.. it’s just a plain keyboard that just does that. Some thought that since the iPhone 5 stretched the screen that it should have given way for Apple to add word predictions but they never did.  And they never allowed 3rd party keyboards so SwiftKey was always going to be stuck to Android only.

SwiftKey has figured out a way to penetrate iOS with a simple yet clever note taking app that has the prediction engine that SwiftKey is famous for.

The SwiftKey note app has 3 key features

  • Smarter autocorrect that learns from the user
  • Predicts your next word
  • It’s synchronized with Evernote to the cloud

I think what’s important about this is how clever SwiftKey has been about this, they’ve been able to enter a platform that has blocked them. If this is a success then they can also replicate this on Windows Phone giving making them a player in all major smartphone markets.

Download the app from iTunes here.

Essential Android apps in 2014

I’ve recently had a few family members and friends purchase Android phones. So rather than send each person an individualised list of essential Android apps I thought I’d just create a quick blog post. These are just some of my favourite essential apps for Android.

Android Apps

Make sure you install, update and use Google Now. It’s great app that just does everything for you from checking your flight status to money conversion and following your sports teams.  It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work and more.

Communication: I’m a big fan of not using SMS because of the cost that is usually involved. Any excuse not to use is great because you save money and typically the user experience of these apps is much better.

Facebook Messenger - A must for communicating with your Facebook friends. You can use it while using other apps. Using Facebook as a way to message your friends is also great because you can easily do it from any device like a computer or tablet too.

Google Hangouts - This is a great alternative that also allows group video chat. You can use this via Gmail and Google+ as well. 

WhatsApp - Just incase some people don’t have Facebook, WhatsApp is great multi platform messaging app as well.

Social Media: Great ways to keep in touch with the different social circles in your life as well as keeping in touch with the world in general.

Facebook - Facebook app, make sure you give Facebook Home a try.

Instagram - Photo Sharing that most of your friends are likely using.

LinkedIn - LinkedIn app, catch and keep your business circles up to date.

Snapchat - Great way to communicate via fleeting pictures.

Twitter - Twitter is a great way to keep in touch with the world and follow the things you love, it’s not about sharing and reading how others are feeling (although there’s a lot of that too if you’re looking for it).

Education: Learn something, you phone can help you do that!

Duolingo - Want to learn a new language? This app helps you do that. It’s a great example of gamifying learing.

Entertainment

Flipboard – Great way to catchup on news and other media, this app is built like a magazine.

Local: If you’re in a new place or looking to eat or do something new, let your phone help you.

Foodspotting - Rather than finding places to go based on reviews, find them based on pictures of their food!

Foursquare - Find the best places and things to do nearby, I’m always checking this app when I’m out and about.

Travel: Forget hotels, book villas and people’s homes rather than your typical accommodation, can be cheaper and a much more local experience.

Airbnb - Great for booking places to stay all around the world.

Music: Does anyone need to actually download or purchase music anymore? Streaming is the way to go.

doubleTwist - Great music app but I use it to browse, download and listen to podcasts. As far as I can see all iTunes podcasts are available via this app (in app purchase that is worth it)

Spotify - Spotify being technically free on mobile now so you can listen to music like a radio station without the DJs.

VEVO - All the latest music videos available at your fingertips.

Photography

Pixlr Express – Great app to edit and stitch photos and make collages.

Productivity

Google Drive - Google Drive’s mobile counterpart, online storage but more importantly free spreadsheet and document creator and editor.

Keep - Great note taking app that also syncs online with Google Drive.

Quickoffice - Create and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on your Android.

Shopping

Amazon - Amazon app, need I say more?

eBay - eBay app, need I say more?

Etsy – Great shopping app for hand crafted items, if you love browsing and buying from Saturday market stalls then this is the online version of that.

PayPal - If you don’t trust websites and apps with your credit card details then PayPal can help you.

Tools: These are my favourite apps to use in general.

AirDroid - Manage your Android from a browser, send text messages, copy images, install apps and so much more.

Device Manager - For locating all your Android devices for when you’ve misplaced them or when they go missing.

Pocket - This app is a great way to save any website, article, video etc so that you can revisit it later. It’s great because almost every app can share to Pocket.

Silent Time - Very simple app, automatically silences or puts your phone on vibrate. I use it to silence the phone at night and vibrate when I’m at work.

SwiftKey - The best Android keyboard alternative.

Sync.ME - Are your contacts missing pictures and details? No problem, this app syncs photos and details from social networks for you.

Google Translate - Break through language barriers with Google Translate. Translate between more than 70 languages

Yet Another Auto Brightness – Great app that personally doubled my battery life. Use it if your screen is draining your battery.

Games

Dots - Great simple game.

If you have another apps that you think need to be added to the list then let me know in the comments and I’ll include them.