Smart Watch

At the end of January was lucky to get my hands on a Moto 360 smartwatch. Though I’ve never considered myself a watch-person, I do enjoy tech, so naturally I’ve been wearing it since then. As Apple is about to launch their foray into the watch form factor, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts on how their competition is doing so far.

Android Wear is the umbrella term for the software that runs on the Moto 360 and other Android watches by Asus and LG. The 360 features a lovely round display and unless you know what to look for, you’ll mistake it for a traditional watch when you see it on someones wrist. The battery is conveniently all day and the screen decently readable outside. It’s also off most of the time but turns on with a wrist-flick. It’s an excellent first version, and that is a tremendously important milestone to pass.

I’m rarely a first-adopter of potentially sea-change inducing technology, but with this watch, I feel like I am. Give it a year or two, and the convenience level of these devices will have gone from that of a soft-close toilet seat to full on dishwasher. You’ll want one. But probably not today.

Android Wear does a few things well. It checks your heart rate, counts your steps, shows you all your phone notifications and lets you act on them. It’s a remote control for the media you play, and it’s feels pretty magical to play/pause a movie cast from Plex on your phone to the television through the Chromecast. Oh, and it lets you set timers, read your agenda, create reminders, and show you basic Google search results. Yes, there are flight notifications. It doesn’t yet speak danish, so all watch replies to my wife are currently transcribed from an adopted southern California accent. We have fun.

What gets me excited about the form factor is the potential that’s hidden here. All of the quantified self health stuff is all but inevitable, and that’s cool, but another way in which smartwatches can be transformative is in letting you get rid of your smartphone. XKCD speaks about the brief period in which our wrists were free, but failed to mention that this glorious period happens to coincide with a time when everyone’s looking at their smartphones instead. I don’t quite know if the smartwatch will make us talk again, but I hope so. As a sidebar, please dear Facebook, don’t put Instagram on the smartwatch.

The Android Switch

A little over two months ago, I switched to using an iPhone as my daily driver, having used various Android devices for the past half decade. I’m just about to switch back for a variety of reasons I’ll detail here.

I switched initially to get a deeper understanding for iOS, one that can only be had by committing fully. Given where things are going in UI design, it’s only prudent I know the platforms. If there is one single overwhelming conclusion I took away from this experiment, it’s this: you’re lucky to have either! It really is a remarkable time to be into gadgets — we carry little supercomputers in our pockets that are designed in a such a userfriendly way that more people than ever before can use them. The platform really doesn’t matter much anymore: smartphones are marvels of modern science that democratize technology in an unprecedented way. We are spoiled to live in an age where we can literally ask our phones questions and have answers presented based on the sum of human knowledge. For that reason I find it very hard, perhaps even petty, to criticise one platform over the other.

However, I also have an aversion to the words “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Nothing is ever perfect, and critical discourse is how we improve things. Neither iOS nor Android are perfect, but I’m still going back to the latter. Some of my reasons for doing so are bound to be due to muscle memory from using Android for a long time. Other reasons many will no doubt directly disagree with. Still, maybe some of the reasons I’m about to list are issues that are worth addressing in future versions of iOS.

Thank goodness you’re free to choose which platform you invest in.

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iPhone switch observations, just a few days in

Just a few days ago, I made a temporary switch to an iPhone 5C as my daily driver, just to get it under my skin. Here are some observations I’ve made so far:

  • Man, there are a lot of passwords to type in on a new phone.
  • The fact that I have to type in my password in the App Store all the time, even for free apps, is driving me crazy. I know the fingerprint scanner makes this a non issue, but it still seems sub-optimal that there’s not even an off by default option to not ask for passwords.
  • The camera… Even on this two years old tech it takes better photos than most Android cameras I’ve used.
  • The 3rd party keyboard implementation is so janky it’s almost not even worth using a sliding keyboard. And on the stock keyboard, letters on the keyboard are capitalized even when what they output is not. That has to be the last vestigial skeuomorph in the ecosystem.
  • The physical mute switch is a stroke of genius, especially when the Settings > Sounds > Vibrate on Silent option is unchecked.
  • The decision to not allow me to pick a default browser to open links in, feels completely arbitrary and archaic, especially since some apps like Digg Reader implement workarounds to give you the choice.
  • The app situation is good in this ecosystem.
  • Notifications aren’t great. Clearing them even less so.
  • I miss the permanent Android back button in the bottom left. It seems every back button in the system is different. Some screens but crucially, not all, allow you to swipe left to go back. I bet this is an issue on the 6+.
  • I’ve missed this small form factor. Imagine if they removed all the bezels to make the screen larger, I bet they could put a 4.5 inch on it without an increase in size.

Switching to iPhone for a bit

I’ve been a fan of Googles products ever since I switched from Alta Vista. So it felt like a natural fit to get an Android device back in the day when it was time for me to upgrade from my dumbphone, and I’ve been using an Android device ever since. I wrote about ecosystems a while ago, and the ecosystem is exactly what’s kept me there: you sign in to your phone with your Google account, and mail, calendar, notes, contacts and photos sync automatically. Also there’s a really great maps application.

In my day job I make web-apps that have to work on mobile first, and iOS is an important platform for me to know. Now I’ve used iOS for years — it’s the phone I bought for my wife and recommended to my dad. We also have an iPad, and I have used an iPhone for testing for years. I’m no stranger to how things work there. But I feel like something special happens when you make a conscious switch to the platform, make it your daily driver. Phones have become so utterly personal devices, they’re always with us and we invest ourselves in them. Unless I jump in fully, I have a feeling there’s some bit I’m missing.

So starting today I’m an iPhone user. No, I wouldn’t call this a switch — call it a “soak test”. I fully expect to switch back to Android — I’m actually eyeing a Moto X 2014. That is, unless the experience of investing myself fully in the iPhone is so compelling that I have no desire to go back, which is entirely possible. I won’t know unless I give it a proper test. Since I’m in the fortunate position to be able to make this switch, there’s no good reason not to. I’ll be using my white iPhone 5C testing device. I expect to be impressed by the camera. I expect to enjoy a jank-free fluidness of the OS, even if I expect to turn off extraneous animation. I’m curious how I’ll enjoy the homescreen and its lack of customizability compared to Android, and I can’t wait to see if the sliding keyboards in the App Store are as good as they are on Android. I should have some experiences to share on this blog in a month or so. Let me know any apps you want me to try!

Switching to iPhone for a bit

I’ve been a fan of Googles products ever since I switched from Alta Vista. So it felt like a natural fit to get an Android device back in the day when it was time for me to upgrade from my dumbphone, and I’ve been using an Android device ever since. I wrote about ecosystems a while ago, and the ecosystem is exactly what’s kept me there: you sign in to your phone with your Google account, and mail, calendar, notes, contacts and photos sync automatically. Also there’s a really great maps application.

In my day job I make web-apps that have to work on mobile first, and iOS is an important platform for me to know. Now I’ve used iOS for years — it’s the phone I bought for my wife and recommended to my dad. We also have an iPad, and I have used an iPhone for testing for years. I’m no stranger to how things work there. But I feel like something special happens when you make a conscious switch to the platform, make it your daily driver. Phones have become so utterly personal devices, they’re always with us and we invest ourselves in them. Unless I jump in fully, I have a feeling there’s some bit I’m missing.

So starting today I’m an iPhone user. No, I wouldn’t call this a switch — call it a “soak test”. I fully expect to switch back to Android — I’m actually eyeing a Moto X 2014. That is, unless the experience of investing myself fully in the iPhone is so compelling that I have no desire to go back, which is entirely possible. I won’t know unless I give it a proper test. Since I’m in the fortunate position to be able to make this switch, there’s no good reason not to. I’ll be using my white iPhone 5C testing device. I expect to be impressed by the camera. I expect to enjoy a jank-free fluidness of the OS, even if I expect to turn off extraneous animation. I’m curious how I’ll enjoy the homescreen and its lack of customizability compared to Android, and I can’t wait to see if the sliding keyboards in the App Store are as good as they are on Android. I should have some experiences to share on this blog in a month or so. Let me know any apps you want me to try!

Archive, Don't Delete

I’m one of the lucky … actually I have no idea how many or few have Google Inbox. In any case, I was graciously sent an invite, and have been using it on the web and on my Android phone since then. I love almost everything about it. I particularly love the fact that Inbox seems to be able to divine what archetype an email has. Is it spam? Don’t show it to me. Is it travel-related? Bundle it up. Same with purchases, social network notifications, promos, etc. It even does a good job of prioritizing each bundle, and only showing notifications when it thinks it’s urgent — configurable of course. It’s pretty great.

I don’t love how hard it is to delete an item. You have to dive down deeply into an overflow menu on a particular email to find the “Trash” button. I wish it was more easily accessible — I don’t know man, I guess I’m a deleter. I remember buying a 320mb harddrive called “Bigfoot” because it was so humongous, but even then I had to manage my space in order to fit everything. So I can’t help but feel like this is a generational issue, and I’m now a relic of the past. It had to happen eventually, and I’m getting a really strong vibe that the ceremonial burial of the trash button was very much intentional. It’s behaviorism: teaching you not to delete, because archiving is faster and safer.

The crux of the Inbox app is the embracing of the idea that an email is a task. This is contrary to a very popular notion that you should very much separate those two paradigms as much as you can, so it’s very interesting to see Google leaning into it. Combined with their concept of “bundles”, I think it makes it work.

Let’s walk through it: it’s Monday morning and you just arrived at the office to open up your email. You received a couple of promos from Spotify and Amazon in one bundle, an unbundled email from mom, 9 bundled Facebook notifications, and two shipping notifications in a bundle. The one email worth looking at is immediately obvious, so you can either tap “Done” on the “Promos”, “Purchases” and “Social” bundles to end up with only the one email, or you can pin moms email and tap the “Sweep” button. Everything but the email that needs your attention is archived and marked “Done”, and it took seconds.

This is how Inbox is supposed to work. You archive tasks you’re done with, you don’t delete. If something important did happen to be in one of the tasks you quickly marked done, it’s still there, accessible via a quick search. If you get a lot of email, I really do believe that embracing Inbox will take away stress from your daily life. All it asks is that you let go of your desire to manage your archive. You have to accept that there are hundreds of useless Facebook notification emails in your archive, emails you’d previously delete. It’s okay, they’re out of sight, out of mind, and no you won’t run out of space because of them. Checking 9 boxes and then picking the delete button, as opposed to simply clicking one “Done” button — the time you spend adds up, and you need to let go.

I know this. I understand this. As a webdesigner myself, I think there are profound reasons for hiding the delete button. It’s about letting machines do the work for you, so you can do more important things instead, like spending time with your family. It’s the right thing to do. And I’m not quite ready for it yet. Can I have the trash button be a primary action again, please, Google?