Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wasting My Time with Productivity Enhancement

I don't know whether someone has already proclaimed this law, but I have observed that the number of home help desk issues that I face is directly related to the number of devices that I own.  When I say help desk, I really mean things I need to look up online and troubleshoot either for myself or for friends and family.

I have many devices and software products that help me be more productive, including a home laptop, a giant multimedia laptop, a netbook for mobility, an iPad, a Droid phone, a Kindle, multiple MP3 players and more. 

These devices perform most of their functions simply and reliably, but I am not content with that.    I demand that they do something which was not quite what their makers had in mind.  I want to connect to a new data source, reformat the way something is presented, or make things work together that were made by different vendors or by the same vendor at different times.

I want so much to be productive that I don't take the time to learn new devices and software as well as I should, or to do complicated setup tasks.    Would voice dialing on my phone make my life easier?  Maybe it would, but when I say a family member's name and it dials someone in my address book that I swear I never met, it doesn't seem so.  Will I train it by recording the names of the people I call most often?   Probably not before I end up replacing this phone with another that uses different software.

Devices require care and feed such as backing them up and keeping them up to date.   One way I know that Internet access is working is when I get the nearly daily upgrade notification for Adobe Acrobat.   The other way, of course, is my ceaseless torrent of SPAM.

Many of the features that make smart phones so much fun take more time to use than I am willing to spend.    I have never had custom ringtones and rarely changed screen savers and backgrounds.     Would it be cool to how the caller's photo appear when the phone rings?   Maybe, but not if I have to upload the pix or link to a social networking site to snag them.

So at the end of the day, I end up with a simple equation: more devices = more problems.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Jim Dreams of Apps

This weekend I watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which follows an 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo and his two sons.   Jiro opens the movie by saying that once you choose a career you must devote yourself to it completely.   He is so obsessed that he dreams of sushi. It was inspirational to see someone so focused on success and attentive to even the smallest details.    His sushi restaurant has only 10 seats, but was awarded three stars by the Michelin guide.

I may not be Jiro, and my company InfoStrat has not yet earned Michelin stars, but I love my job as Jiro loves his job.  Instead of sushi, I dream of apps.

I dream of apps that will really make a difference.   I wonder how we can use today's latest technology to change the world, and change our lives for the better.  Too much of our innovation in computing hardware and software is focused on diversion rather than solving genuine human problems.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin complains "You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead I got Facebook" on the cover of MIT Technology Review.  The article explores why money and effort are focused on trivial things, a phenomenon that is directly related to the decline of NASA.  Companies and individuals in my crazy business make billions and millions on things like fake farming games or enhancements to social networking or game time wasters.   

I'm not giving up, though.   Somewhere we can find an app that will make a difference, so I have to keep searching.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When It Comes to Apps, Less is More

For many years, software applications have competed with one another by adding features. Every version would promise new power and flexibility, and the inevitable charts comparing features grew with each version. This lead to excellent, comprehensive products but in some cases also created bloated, slow applications that were hard to use and learn.

Mobile apps have changed this paradigm. Ease of use now trumps functionality in driving new users to adopt apps. The most popular apps are often breathtakingly simple.

You only get one shot at a first impression with your app, so try and resist loading it down with too many features. Hold back and add some later as you track the usage behavior of your users. You will get more credit for adding or changing the app later than for guessing wrong out of the gate.

If the scope of what you are trying to do with your app defies simplification, one approach is to split the functionality into two or more apps, striving to make each one as simple as you can.

People don't read docs to learn apps. If your app requires users to attend training or read documentation, you may want to go back to the drawing board.

Perhaps less is more when it comes to blogs as well, so I will leave it at that.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Since When Did We All Become Doctors?

When I took the SAT in high school, we were asked what career we planned to pursue. I said I wanted to be a doctor. Now, after over thirty years in international affairs and information technology, I am becoming more like a doctor after all. No, I'm not healing anyone and my medical knowledge is not immense. I'm just becoming more like a doctor in the way that nearly everyone I work with is behaving like a traditional doctor. First, we all have today's equivalent of a pager -- the smartphone. Can you resist the urge to check on important new text messages or emails during an elevator ride? At a stoplight? Has the urgency of all tasks increased in proportion to the speed of communications? It's no longer sufficient to make phone calls; now I have to make an appointment to make a phone call via email. I have close business associates who will send me appointments for calls rather than call me. We then go back and forth on the appointment to nail down a convenient time, sometimes when we are both available to have had the call instead of shuffle our calendars. This false urgency is taking a toll on us. We are distracted, scattered, and shallower than back in the good old days. I think the quality of our work and our lives is suffering. I would like to research this more, but several new emails arrived, and I have a con call scheduled in 16 minutes, so I will have to revisit this topic later...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Multitouch and Natural User Interfaces

Last week I attended the Microsoft Public Sector CIO Summit in Redmond, WA. Hundreds of chief information officers and other IT executives from federal, state and local agencies were in attendance. The presentations were wide-ranging, from security to cloud computing to anticipated new product releases.

Of all these, one of the most exciting themes that emerged was the newest generation of interfaces: multitouch and natural user interfaces. The prevalence of smart phones, particularly the iPhone and Droid, have put multitouch in the hands of millions of users. At the larger end of the device spectrum, Microsoft and Sumsing offer the second version of Surface, a multitouch device that may be mounted horizontally or vertically. The other piece of the puzzle is Kinect, Microsoft's motion sensor that has been a runaway hit on XBox360.

More than any vendor, Microsoft supports the full spectrum of devices and form factors. With recent announcements to support iPad, iPhone and Droid with several products, Microsoft will help create a rich user experience that transcends individual devices.

InfoStrat presented this future vision at the Public Sector CIO Summit, showing how all these devices can work together for disaster recovery and other government scenarios.

For more more information, start here: http://www.infostrat.com/news/Informer%20February%202012