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StopUber

Two Uber executives were taken into custody by French police today for running an illegal taxi operation. This arrest comes on the heals of a French taxi-driver revolt where most of the cars participating in France’s version of UberX (called UberPop there) were damaged or destroyed by protesters.

You could argue that Uber had it coming; that their business practices were predatory and aggressive. Uber has received s quite a bit of bad press in the last year, accused of being extremely unfair in the way they do business. But, is our criticism just? Or, ironically, are we unfairly judging Uber?

There is no debate, Uber’s business is extremely disruptive. They have flipped a century-old business on its head in less than 2 years, and they have doubled or tripled the revenue expectations of the entire transportation-for-hire industry, all on their own.

Is this kind of disruption good or bad?

The fundamental question for us is: “Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?” (if you got that reference, a hat tip to you). To take it further, we are not talking about basic human needs, but ways to make our lives just slightly better, mildly easier. Uber offers a ‘convenience’ for many while destroying jobs and businesses for a small few.

As a society, should we encourage those kinds of disruptions? Well, we already have.

Refrigeration disrupted the salted-meat industry.

The automobile disrupted the horse carriage industry.

The Mac disrupted the typesetting industry.

The CD disrupted the vinyl record industry.

If my examples appear to be trivial, than your dad probably was not a typesetter. Mine was. And the truth is, he survived and prospered once he embraced the inevitable change brought on by technology. He did not join a large group of typesetters to protest Apple for unfairly eliminating his profession.

There is no progress without conflict and true progress always comes at someone else’s expense. I always get a little worried when the small minority gets mass sympathy because they vigorously protest their own self-interested point of view. The reason why Uber is popular is because the Taxi industry did not compete, they did not innovate on their own, leaving an opportunity for their business to be disrupted.

Are you a little concerned that Uber has been vilified? If Uber is successfully squashed or minimized, than other thoughtful and necessarily aggressive startups may not pursue this same kind of progress. Off the top of my head I can think of ten industries that need to be aggressively dismantled and reconstructed just like Uber did to the Taxi industry, and all of those industries have way more impact on my life than the difference between waiting 5 or 20 minutes for a ride

Twitter has undoubtedly changed how we all interact with news and content. It has given an unprecedented “voice to the people” by making it easier for anyone to share a quick glimpse of news to the world.

But, I believe there is a deep problem at Twitter – that Twitter is hiding a truth, a massive lack of user engagement. I believe the “firehose” of tweets are mostly going to waste to a user base that is totally uninterested or totally disconnected from Twitter. There is quite a bit of evidence that twitter’s active monthly user base is a paltry 25% of their total number of users – I have a little more evidence to add to the argument

I have started several companies in the last few years, each time I begin a business, I buy the domain and then go to twitter to grab my handle. Each time, I have been met with handles that are already taken, and the handle has always taken by a user that has not tweeted in years.

Further, when I go thorough the process of trademarking the company name with the USPTO, Twitter refuses to turn over the handle of those inactive accounts.

The most recent example of this is with a company I started called “mc squares” – We’ve been in business for about a year now, our trademark issued over 6 months ago. The twitter account “@mcsquares” has been inactive for over 5 years…

mcsquarestwitter

I decided to go through the process to grab the twitter handle that is our name – I first, of course tried to contact the owner of the handle, but there is no way to ensure a message actually gets to the owner. I received no response when tweeting the user or when I try to DM the owner. The process to grab the handle that is a registered trademark is fairly simple, you fill in a form at https://support.twitter.com/forms/trademark. I filled this form in, with all the proof I own the trademark – and I received a form letter back

TwitterFormLetter

I’m not complaining about Twitter’s policies to protect user accounts, not at all. Individual’s should be protected from the hijacking of their accounts from business or from anyone. However, I believe Twitter makes it super easy to set up an account, set up hundreds of accounts, and squat. And they provide no means to clean up the hundreds of millions of unused twitter accounts.  My only conclusion is that twitter policies are unilaterally skewed towards growing a false number of twitter users.

Truthfully, the issue for mc squares is very minor, we secured the handle “@mc_squares”. But, I believe Twitter’s policies on user accounts are too self-serving to make Twitter a sustainable credible media source. Twitter is self-governed and, ironically, secretive about the reasons why they govern the way they do. My only conclusion is that they need to keep the user accounts growing to sustain their business even if those accounts are meaningless to the true value of Twitter.

I’m sitting in the Las Vegas airport, shoes off, looking at the fellow CES’ers waiting for our flight back home. We all look beaten down by the 72 hour onslaught of tech sales and marketing tactics. There were microphoned sales people, yelling, trying to be heard over the speaker companies’ attempts at attracting us with loud music. There are video chat companies with live performing rappers trying to earn their paycheck by rhyming the features of the products. There are ridiculously objectified booth-babes that had no information about the products they were “hired to represent.” And, there are even elvis impersonators trying to sell security.

Elvis Impersonator at the GoldKey booth

Elvis Impersonator at the GoldKey booth

I came to CES with excitement and hopeful anticipation about where our industry might be going, but all this conference has done is destroy my technological optimism and replaced it with tech-buzz-word skepticism. Granted, I’m exhausted, so that pink, hair-brush, selfie, iPhone case may appeal to me after I get some rest. I have to admit, it stood out in my head from the other 96 selfie stick companies I came across.

proof that I'm not exaggerating

proof that I’m not exaggerating

I know there are some companies here at CES that are doing their part to have meaningful impact on the world. Intel, HP, Bosch, NVIDIA, and Sharp all stood out to me as companies solving big, complex problems in elegant ways. But, they are the minority here. Tuesday, I walked out of an amazingly engaging panel on wearables with the CEO of intel and walked right into a live broadcast Engaget interview of Will.i.am who was telling us that the future is all about fashion-ology  (thats fashion combined with technology). He tells us that he is months away from producing a really cool leather jacket that will also be a “device.” If it isn’t coming across, I rolled my eyes as I typed that.

The truth is, Will.i.am was engaging for one reason. He is a musician among computer nerds who fantasize they are suppressed rock-stars that aren’t awkward, but just merely misunderstood. What he said made no practical sense, but it was gobbled up by the crowd because he is “cool” and we are not.

We, the ‘technological elite’, suffer from a collective A.D.D. This conference put its emphasis on everything that is wrong about technology and obscured technology’s promise – to improve humanity. The focus on features and not meaning was never more prevalent than in the Samsung booth. It was probably the prettiest space in the conference, but all of the products were displayed showcasing the intelligence of their engineering, with no regard as to why that engineering was important to people. The 8k television was the most idiotic example of this. If you held up a magnifying glass to the television, you couldn’t see the pixels. Let me say that again in a different way in case I lost you – A television, designed to be viewed at a distance far enough away so you can see the entire television, had a resolution high enough it could be watched standing 2 inches away holding a magnifying glass. You simply can not tell the difference, standing 5 feet away from a 4k tv and an 8k tv. The engineering effort was staggering, but so what?

Samsung 98" 8k television

I get that there are fringe elements in most any industry, not just in technology. The companies that try to capitalize on naive or socially bankrupt customers can be found in Transportation, Pharmaceuticals, Insurance, Banking, Energy, Education, Telecom, etc. However, at CES that fringe has officially become the majority. The tchotchkes have taken over and they’re drowning out the voices that have a real shot to make a positive impact on society. I think CES should take a hard look at itself. It should employ more discernment on the types of companies it allows to display their wares – I know my request is ludicrous because that would mean lowering their revenue and operating with a touch of a moral compass. Perhaps that is why the conference takes place in sin city: to set the attendees’ expectations away from noble pursuits.

My plane is boarding, I need to get my shoes on and get on board –

Okay – I should probably apologize for using such a strong word. But truthfully, that word, coward, captures the viscerally negative feeling I get when someone says the word “innovation”. The word innovative has become like most buzz-words; their overuse convolutes their meaning ad absurdum. Buzzwords are totally ineffectual because clever people develop mental masking tape for them in order to get through a meeting.

I’m certain that is my primary issue with the word “innovation”. It is that it has no real meaning anymore. The term is passed around like zigzags at the Denver October-fest (honest, I’ve never inhaled). A friend told me that he was a consultant at a company that was paid six figures to “quantify the underlying psychological reasons people like chocolate in order to create a platform for candy innovation.”  If that doesn’t strike you as just plain silly, self-important language than you probably shouldn’t read on.

My second issue is when I hear leaders tell their employees “we need to be more innovative as a company”. That’s like telling someone that they need to be more funny – an impossibly hyperbolic and subjective request with no tactical application. Saying you’re “innovative” is like saying you’re “cool” – if you have to say it, you’re defiantly not “it”.

The definition of innovation that resonates with me the most is that innovation is the combining of things that are already invented ( via pbs ). If you agree with that, than innovation is quite simple. And, the more things you combine, the more innovative you can call yourself. How about a mobile charging, key locating, pill splitting, clamshell busting, letter opening, paper cutting, box opening, bluetooth, usb connecting, flash-drive screwdriver? (Seriously, it exists.)

We are now in an era where innovation is the easy way out. It is the intellectual’s boredom cure because the things we should do are mundane, like product improvement, or better yet, feature reduction. Sometimes just plain, old-fashioned product maintenance is the best course of action we can do to serve our customers. How about, we just make better chocolate? I have worked with departments that have over 200 apps deployed. Each app was an attempt to be an innovative “silver bullet” to a customer’s complaint or an executive’s tangent idea. Most of them are complete junk as they were more about departmental motion rather than company movement.

As I was discussing this post with a colleague, he asked me “are you calling Steve Jobs a coward?” Actually, Mr. Jobs never called himself an innovator – he preferred to think of himself as a discoverer. He had customer problems he would try to solve and would have his eyes wide open, looking for ways to solve them. He didn’t innovate for innovation’s sake – he discovered and created for his customer’s sake. I believe innovative is a title you earn after success, not a process you take to be successful.

The best products I have been a part of would not be categorized as “innovative”.  The great product leaders of today are methodical, feature frugal, and customer empathetic. In short, they are brave leaders committed to the “boring” and methodical aspect of their job: continuous improvement towards the way they serve their customers.

I don’t try to hide it – I’m fairly vested and a true believer in Apple’s products and business philosophy. Every once and a while I try and predict what they will reveal next. (here, here, and here are examples)

This is a bit early for me as Apple’s announcements aren;t expected until September – but I think I have enough data to make some good guesses as to what is next…

iPhone 6

  • Offered in 2, larger sizes as compared to the 5s –  4.7″ and 5.5″ ( this is nearly a lock )
  • Thinner than 5s
  • Apple will launch both with immediate availability and will not have initial supply issues
  • New haptic feedback (dynamic vibrations based on what you are touching on the screen)
  • Processor upgrade
  • Touch ID improvements
  • Sapphire Glass
  • Available in the same 3 colors as the 5s
  • Thinner
  • Modest battery improvements, larger battery improvements will be attributed to iOS8
  • $100 and $200 price increase for the models from the 5s
  • Drastic camera improvements
  • Water resistant
  • New, faster A8 processor
  • No major industrial design changes outside of size

iPhone, older models

  • 5s price will drop $100
  • iPhone 4 goes to “free” on contract

iPad

  • Touch ID
  • Camera improvements
  • Inclusion of M7 chip

Mac lineup

  • Apple will talk about “amazing adoption” of the new mac pro
  • Modest improvements to MacBook Air and MacBook Pro
  • iMacs will have modest improvements

Apple TV

  • Major announcements here, mostly software related
  • Apple TV store
  • Totally redesigned UI – tighter integration with iOS for gaming
  • A8 Processor
  • 1080p video gaming will be heavily showcased, showing off graphs comparable to serious console games
  • iBeacon receiver to associate individual’s “home presence”
  • Will act as a HomeKit hub
  • Announcement of a partnership with major content providers to stream media

iWatch

As much as I would like to see an iWatch this year, I’m very skeptical that Apple will announce the launch of an iWatch The most we may see is a sneak peak of something they will launch mid-next year. We haven’t seen any leaks of hardware on the device, nor does it appear that Apple is finished making key executive hires for the wearables team. My bet is that Apple is taking its time on the launch to get the function (a ton of health sensors and long battery life), as well as the fashion (women’s and men’s styles), perfect. However, I believe the iWatch will have:

  • Sensors for heartbeat, glucose, and motion
  • A somewhat flexible graphene or sapphire glass display
  • Easy to customize bands
  • 4 day battery life with normal use
  • Wireless charging (perhaps even solar cells in the display)
  • Waterproof to 20M
  • Companion only to another iOS device (not a stand-alone device)
  • Integrated with HomeKit
  • Priced in many variations from $400 to $4,000

 

Competition:

Given Samsung’s recent plateau in the mobile space, I believe they will see a dramatic decline in their market share once Apple articulates their iOS ecosystem in September. Apple’s focus on device and software integration will prove to be at least a decade ahead of any competition.

 

Now, if i can only get a preferred spot in the Cherry Creek Mall Apple Store line, I’ll be all set.

 

I just had an interaction with an insurance company’s website while shopping for home owner’s insurance. I experienced a very odd feeling of total frustration. I was frustrated with how the site was architected; in other words, it was difficult to get a quote in an easy manner. But what I found to be odd was that the site was no worse, from an interaction architecture perspective, than the other insurance companies I visited before it. The only difference was that this site had much better visual design. This lead me to a hypothesis that, for almost all users, a good visual design increases my expectation of the usability of the site. I expected the poorly visual designed site to be a bit awkward and clumsy. But for the great looking site, I expected it to be easier. This actually lead me to believe the better designed site was much worse.

I drew up the following graph to illustrate how I think this might play out:

Visual Design VS Interaction Design

 

For clarity, I define “visual design” as the pure aesthetics of a design. Some may argue that you can’t do good visual design work on a crappy interaction architecture. I don’t agree with that. I’ve experienced lamps, toasters, phones, computers, even automobiles that were pretty but confusing to operate. I’ve had many clients come to me to fix “apps” after their creative marketing agency designed something totally beautiful that was totally unusable. In the reverse, I’ve had many IT departments come to us and ask us to make their poorly interactive architected system “pretty” (I even had several companies specifically ask me to put “lipstick on the pig”). I can honestly say I haven’t seen a single engagement be successful under these circumstances.

If I’m correct, not only is good interaction design far more important than good visual design, but adding good visual design to a poorly architected site will actually do more damage than just leaving it alone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – I’m considering a study to prove this out.

I honestly thought gamification has been dead for about 2 years ago, when I saw the last RFP come across my desk with a company requesting “gamification” as one of the features they wanted in their business app. But now, companies are trying resurrect the term to drum up more business. 

Gamification is an industry buzzword that some software designers use to describe the introduction of game design into apps that are business focused (instead of entertainment based.) It is a tactic provides value in very rare circumstances. The following need to be all true:

  • The people using the app are lacking motivation to complete their digital tasks and this motivational vacuum is not a systemic issue of a larger problem (like a crappy product or poor leadership)
  • There is no way to simplify the app in a way that makes it easier to use (in my experience, this is extremely rare).
  • The company using the technique has a playful culture – one that embraces “fun” as a part of their core values.
  • The primary objective of the app is either publishing or learning.

If you attempt to execute a gamification strategy to get your customers to do something that they do not want to do, you will be very disappointed in your results. In every circumstance I’ve seen a request for gamification, the primary objective was to prod people down paths they weren’t willing to naturally take. People aren’t cattle. Always keep this in mind: your job as a digital product designer is that you are here to serve your customers, not manipulate them. 

 

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