The dust has settled. The larger than life keynote announcing the IPhone has ended, and the tech world is still trying to clean up it’s collective drool. While most of the stuff I’ve seen in the web is either stating that the IPhone will be Steve Job’s gift to the earth or the most horrible and destructive invention since the guillotine. Putting myself aside from the fanaticism (or at least making a good effort) if we take a step back and look at the keynote event, Job’s speech, and the promised features in the product, a lot can be learned and implemented in our daily business.
The keynote event itself was exceptional. Presentation was a key element. This comes to no surprise, Apple is well known for displaying top notch presentations year after year. Everything from the lighting, mac ad, movie/show clips, to the logistics of the show were beautiful orchestrated. Aside from the fact that some of the invited speakers are not as fluent as Jobs is another story, and sadly, something that is totally out of their control.
I want to make special mention to the technology being utilized to show in the projector the activities on the IPhone being used for the presentation. This isn’t a mind blowing concept. So they have some client/server application that is listening to all the events being fired on the phone’s UI and making an equivalent display on the projection. What’s the bid deal? The big deal is that without making a big fuss they solved a very important problem in presentations: third person view. In similar presentations, I am forced to watch a camera zoom in of a person utilizing the device himself. His hands (or whatever he may use to interface with the device) partially block my view of the device itself. This isn’t just solve the problem of “I can’t see the damn thing”, it also offers them a very subtle but important incentive: immersion. Immersion is that zen-like feeling you get when you are watching a movie and for a period of time, be it a split second, or the duration of the movie, you forget you are in your crappy life, and have full concentration in what is being presented. You are effectively in the movie, you are within it’s environment, it has your complete attention and you are solely interacting with it. Having the phone presented with no obstructions gave the audience and experience similar to what they would perceive if they were holding the phone itself. Someone is not pointing at the thing and showing it to you, you are experiencing it! This is a very important factor in convincing the journalists that assisted the event that not only should they report the invention as something that was worth purchasing, they want to get one as well.
The phone itself does not have any superficial technological marvels on the hardware side. I dare not speculate on the internal design of the device. The proximity, gyroscopic and ambient light sensors are not recent inventions by any extent. The device has other hardware related highlights, but I choose these since they are the most talked about features. Their beauty does not lie in the hype stating that these are state of the art concepts, and the mac crowd willfully believing it. Their beauty does not lie in that apple is the first one to implement these concepts. Some of these things probably exist on other existing portable devices in one way or another. Their beauty lies in that all of these feautres are put together in one package in a way which makes sense. You don’t have to remember to switch to horizontal view, it just does it. You don’t have to realize you are in the dark and can’t see the screen very well, it auto-adjusts. You will save your precious battery life, by making the screen go to low power mode will talking. That’s it. I love my current phone, but it’s inconvenient to have to switch photos from horizontal to vertical perspectives and vice-versa. To me, as a consumer, this not-such-a-big-deal feature is very appealing.
The phone runs OS X. We have no idea if it’s a mobile version of the OS, but it’s the most likely scenario. That means that all of the great applications (or faithful mobile versions) that have made mac users happy will be available. If you add into the equation the “free” services that will be thrown in from Google and Yahoo, and you have a very solid package. What does this mean? The user will not have a stripped down experience utilizing the phone and it’s features. Not text email, but HTML email. Not WAP, but www/html. Not minimalistic little applications, but the whole deal. You take away the sensation that you have to trade in the value of the software for mobility, and the product becomes very alluring.
The phone automatically syncs with your mac. This is probably one of the most important features. Since your contacts, your mail connection settings, your content… basically all valuable data will be transferred to your phone seamlessly, you achieve one of the most important things in this industry: You minimise or eradicate the fear of change. I’ve seen this over and over again. It’s one of the main problems that is stopping Linux distro’s from being ubiquitous on the desktop computer. Users are afraid of change. Even if you emulate their previous environment as close as possible (without violating any patents of course!), they still have that fear. Changing to a position where you are not sure what to do is discomforting. Especially if you come from a position where, after a lot of dedicated time and effort, you finally got a hang of what you are doing. This phone auto-magically sets itself up, and copies all your stuff over. The interface is very similar, so there nothing to worry about.
The genius behind multi-touch concept simply amazes me. Stop thinking about the technological side of it for a second. Analyze how babies and small children interact with the environment around them. When there is something new or different to them, they want to explore it with their senses to get acquainted with this alien object. One of the first instincts is to touch the new object. I know that a lot of accidents, funny stories and wrong doings may come to mind as well, but put them on the back-burner for a second. As you grow, you have some experiences which teach you not to feel so eager to touch everything you see. That doesn’t mean this necessity has vanished, you just restraining yourself from it. With the multi-touch, they are giving it back to you. Come on, touch it, it’s OK, that’s how it works! The gestures that make it work are natural gestures you would make in a similar situation. Slide your finger down to make it scroll, “pinch” it to make it bigger. One of my problems with the Opera browser’s gestures, is that you have to memorize the gesture-action library. They aren’t particularly natural or very mnemonic. I will admit it’s hard for them considering what the actions are, and that fact that your primary interface is a mouse. Nintendo has made great strides with this concept, first with the DS‘s stylus and touch screen, and now with the Wii‘s motion sensing controller.. Apple’s phone is a testament to how important it is to make device interface feel more natural.
Users are lazy. There is nothing you can do to change it. Instead of trying to change it, you need to realize this and utilize it to your advantage. The phone gives you instant gratification for just about everything you want to do with it. At least the features that they demoed in the keynote, one or two finger presses, and bam! You were there. Making calls, listening to a song, or looking up an address. No lag time was perceived on the interface. Users want their stuff and they want it now. I could go on about this, but I won’t be able to say anything more important than what I have already said.
I was inspired by these principals. Again, nothing revolutionary. Most of the ideas that have been employed are not well kept secrets. They’re public knowledge. The difference is that Apple took these principals, implemented them flawlessly, and set the bar to a new high. This is an excellent example of how to carter to the masses. I will definitely take these into account in the near future. Will you?
We have a new year, with it new experiences and opportunities are awaiting. This optimistic state when we are all gleeful is an excellent mindset to check out the new technologies which are presented every year at CES. For those of you who live under a rock, CES is one of the most important trade shows of the year. Thousands of companies display their new concept technology to thousands of journalists. The trend setters in each market generally give a keynote during the event, which will serve to give the rest of use some sense of direction as towards where their products and services will be headed in the near future. With our recent advancements in telecommunications, the average Joe can now participate in these events in real time, or with a couple of hours of delay.
Microsoft took the lead this year being the first company to lead in the series of keynotes. They generally have a big show, lead by the man, Mr. William Henry Gates himself, where something generates at least one BSoD before the show is over. The show all in all was not bad. No BSoD :(. There were some new “innovations” that seem fairly interesting, but I couldn’t help but be amazed at the section where they were announcing never before released, new and exciting details about Windows Vista. Justin Hutchinson, the gentleman which was responsible for this section of the presentation showed the public not only their advancements in technology, but their great efforts in research and development as well.
Now, keep in mind that Microsoft has been attacked relentlessly in the past for just buying out or shamelessly copying existing technologies or concepts and selling the in their name. There has been a joke going around for some time now that Apple is Microsoft’s R&D department. Never the less, I went into the presentation with out any biased expectations (or as little as possible). It is the optimist season of the year after all.
The first feature which was displayed was the start menu’s integrated search. Before long there was a small smile on my face. “They are finally making a practical search that works”, I thought. Sadly all good things must come to an end; this one much too abruptly. “If I just go in and type the first couple of letters of the item I’m looking for, Windows Vista will look across all my programs, websites I’ve visited, my files, my folders and even my email to bring me back the results I’m looking for…”, said Mr. Hutchinson. Then the strangely but unmistakable sensation of deja vu hit me. Wait, isn’t this just like the gnome deskbar? Which I have been personally using for quite some time now. Here is a snapshot of the ingenious start menu search followed by deskbar.
The presentation continued with the showing of the marvelous preview pane integrated into the file explorer. The preview pane basically let’s you see the contents of a file, without the need of invoking an application. The user doesn’t know that in fact his documents being read anyway, not by Microsoft Word, just by the file explorer, but in the name of instant gratifications little fibs like that can be told every now and then. Before I could start thinking of good uses for the this feature, there it was again. Just like when Neo saw the black cat for the second time in the Matrix. Hasn’t KDE’s Konqueror been offering this functionality for a couple of years? Here are pictures of Microsft and KDE’s respective offerings.
He continues with a story of how he mistakenly overwrote an important document. OK, it’s plausible. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. “I made a mistake last night. I saved the wrong document. […] Making a mistake like this before Windows Vista would be a problem, but thanks to a new feature called Shadow Copy I can restore a previous version of this document with just a couple of clicks”. Hey, that is a good idea. It’s hard to imagine coding without a versioning system at this point. The organization and piece of mind it brings you is important. In a business world, a similar concept for office documents should be a good innovation. But wait, there’s a memory creeping in the back of my head. I’ve seen this before… somewhere… oh wait! This is just like one of the new features in the next version MacOS X, called Time Machine. Only it was thought up and announced months in advance.
I will admit that the features they are offering in the media center variant of the operating system look quite interesting. They don’t necessarily have revolutionary concepts, but they do have a very appealing look and feel to them. It doesn’t matter how good your product is. If it doesn’t have a good presentation, there is very little hope for you selling it. Doesn’t matter what google tells you.
I don’t even want to start talking about the striking and uncanny resemblance between windows live search and google earth.
They also developed a partnership with Ford that lets you control by voice mobile devices like cell phones and MP3 players utilizing bluetooth as the communication bridge. There are already navigation systems and other offerings which give you similar functionality. This is just a play by Ford to try to kick up it’s sales. It’s Japanese counterparts are kicking it’s ass on it’s own turf. Also these efforts seem minuscule when compared to advancements made by Lexus and BMW, each of which have self parking cars. This can eventually evolve into self driving cars. Maybe we are not as far from the future as we think.
Even if these concepts are just “similar” or in the end are intention blatant copies of it’s counterparts, the argument and/or it’s result will bring little fruit. Whatever it’s outcome will be, I would prefer on the positive side effects of these events:
- Microsoft is clearly building a software stack that will is rival to none. From the operating system, to the applications and right up with the on line services. This tight integration will give it’s users better and more reliable experiences.
- The vast majority of windows users are simply clueless. They use something when and if it is presented to them. They have no idea what are the developments in other products or operating systems. I have met a few that aren’t aware that Windows doesn’t need to be on a computer or that there are existing (and superior) alternatives. These enhancements to Windows will be received by open arms by it’s community simply because most of them don’t know any better.
- Many of these features are inherently integrated with window’s network capabilities. The “Digital Home” or the “Digital Decade” as Mr. Gates and others try to sell us, emphasizes on the ability of accessing your content where ever with whatever. Watching a movie on your Xbox, that’s on your computer, seeing photos on your TV that were taken by your cellphone. All with relative ease for the common mortal.
- Even though I’ve been on the other side of this argument many times, I know publicly admit defeat. There is nothing like Microsoft Office. There are many copies, a lot of them offer similar functionality. A lot of them can be used day in and day out, and will perfectly serve all your needs. Having said that, none of them come close to Microsoft’s.
In the end the combined voices of joy of the many will drown out the concerned pointing fingers of the few. The world will have it’s new Windows, the IT economy will get a an economic boost as a result of the avalanche of upgrades. This innovation will be the base that will drive other companies to give us better aplications, games, security, integration and hardware. All will be well, or will it?