Context-adaptive devices

We are seeing growing trend in mobile platforms is to attempt to be relevant in the context in which you are using them, driven mostly by platform-specific virtual assistants but also by applications that are using platform capabilities such as geo-fencing.  One example every day that I see is Google telling me every morning around 8:30 what my current commute to the office will be, and if it’s longer or shorter than the day before.  Towards the end of the day, I get a similar message on my Android phone telling me about how long my commute home will be.  It’s able to do this because it knows it’s a pic1business work day, that I’m at the office, pic2and it’s about time for me to head home.  It takes into consideration the traffic conditions to give me the information that I need, at the time I need it.  I get similar messages from Cortana on my Windows 10 machine.

So this is great…but…mobile platforms need to take this concept much, much further.  What I experience in my life is that I need a mobile device that can adapt itself to where I’m at, what I’m doing, and what kinds of apps and services I need to best support what is going on at that moment.

For example, on a weekend – especially a weekend I’m out of town with my family – I don’t need immediate access to my email.  (I most often remove the Outlook app icon from my homescreen so I’m not even tempted to open it!)  I don’t need my Slack app, or need to be notified about new messages.  I don’t need easy access to Office apps on my device.  I do need quick access to messaging apps, my camera app, maybe a few social media apps, and my photo gallery.  And I need to prioritize battery life, because if I’m away for the weekend, and likely, I’m not near a power source.

During the week, at least between 7AM and 9PM, I need my device to be in “business mode” – I want notifications from business-focused apps, and I want quick access to my email and my calendar to stay connected to what’s going on with work.  I care less about social media apps, my camera, or photo gallery.  I want my device in “high performance mode” – typically I’m near a charging source, and often my device sits on a wireless charger when I’m not using it anyway.  Battery life is less a concern, so let’s max out the usefulness of the device.

There is no reason that my device cannot learn from what it knows about me to adapt itself, or at a minimum, allow me to create a set of rules which govern what mode it is currently in.  Our devices know all about us – it’s time that they start truly adapting to the context in which they can be most useful to us.


My ideal wearable

There is a lot of noise lately about wearables, from Google Glass to the Samsung Gear watches to the upcoming Apple Watch.  So far though, nothing is what I would consider worth me plunking down hundreds of dollars.  With CES 2015 going on right now, wearables, and especially watch-form factors, are looking to be a large part of the new gadgets that are making their way into the market this year.  

The show isn’t over yet, but here’s what I’m personally looking for in a smart watch wearable:

  • Built-in GPS with Garmin-like functions, so I can use it as a running watch.  I have a Garmin 620 now, and love it.  A smartwatch that could fill this role would be great.  Integration with a heart rate monitor too.
  • Stylish but rugged – if it’s going to be something I wear all the time and for running, it needs to be able to take a bit of beating and be…
  • Waterproof, and most certainly sweat-proof.  I should be able to run in the rain or swim with it also.
  • Phone capability – without an accompanying smartphone!  Paired with a very small Bluetooth ear bud for communication so I don’t have to look like Dick Tracy talking into my wrist.
  • SMS/MMS capabilities – receive/send texts and picture texts.
  • Application store/platform – for 3rd parties to integrate with.
  • Payment feature – support for paying for things.  (Apple Watch will have Apple Pay, so something like this)
  • Lightweight – shouldn’t be big or clunky, and weigh no more than your average watch.
  • Touchscreen – obviously.

And oh – battery life of at least a day.  I don’t mind recharging once a day – I take my watch off at night anyway – but even 8 hour battery life is too short. 

That’s all obviously a pretty tall order, and we are headed in that direction I believe, but we do have a ways to go before smart watch wearables are truly and incredibly useful.  Until then…we’ll be using multiple devices.     

Update: the Garmin Fenix 3 is getting close.

Oh Windows Phone…

Dear Windows Phone,

I’ve been with you for a few years now…since the very beginning when you made the leap from Windows Mobile – version 7.0.  I’ve watched you grow up.  I’ve enjoyed your devices, and had 4 different models since 2010.  I am currently using a Nokia 1020, and absolutely love it, especially the camera, which is really the primary reason why I bought it.  I’ve taken some amazing photos and actually use the DSLR-level controls. 

I’ve upgraded my Nokia 1020 to Windows Phone 8.1, and Cortana…wow, you are amazing.  Your voice recognition is spot on, you answer my questions, do my bidding, and kick Siri’s butt every time and iPhone-using friend and I compare you two ladies.

For me, Kids Corner is indispensible…how have other platforms not adopted this type of feature?

And lastly, email and messaging (and Office docs) are where I live, and Windows Phone is an outstanding platform for those mobile interactions.

But what is killing me is apps.  I know, I know, the platform has nearly all the major mobile apps and popular games like Angry Birds and Words with Friends. (Although still a few big ones like Nook are missing that I could certainly use)  I’m not talking about those apps.  I’m talking about two other categories of apps: what I’ll call second tier apps and innovation apps.  Second tier apps are those apps you might get at a conference or maybe a franchise restaurant.  These are apps that are not intended for mass consumption by all, but targeted at a specific audience.  What I’m calling innovation apps are those that are doing something new and unique, but are often iOS only – for example an app like Pixotale.  These are the kinds of apps that are missing from this platform.  (In fact a few years ago I carried around an iPod touch just so I had an IOS device to run some missing apps on!)

I don’t know how to do solve this problem.  It’s not a problem of the platform not giving developers the right support.  I’d argue that for tooling and development support, Windows Phone is the industry technical leader. 

I don’t want to leave the platform, but the missing app problem is getting to me. 



iOS 7–my first impressions

First as a disclaimer, I’ve been a user of iOS products (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) since the first iPhone was released in 2007.  I’ve spend a fair bit of my own money on devices, apps, and media for this platform.

I waited with baited breath to see what WWDC would bring with respect to iOS 7.  Of course the rumor mill was ablaze with about a heavily revamped user interface.  Now that dust has settled, and many opinions have been rendered.  The only way to see what the real deal is, is to actually get some hands-on time.

I first tried to install iOS 7 on my iPod Touch device I have for testing – but that didn’t work because it’s a 4th generation, not 5th generation device.  I dug out a iPhone 4 used for testing, downloaded the image file, and about 30 minutes later had an iOS 7 device ready to preview. 

My very first impression when I hit the home screen was “hmmm…that’s….colorful”.  Perhaps it’s the default wallpaper, but this candy-coating is quite different from the typically darker shades that iOS has been using.  WP_20130612_002

I go through the stock apps, and check out the new multitasking feature (seems familiar since I’ve been using a Windows Phone 8 device for a while now).  I’m realizing that this update isn’t a revolutionary new look at a mobile OS.  It’s really the same old iOS, with a hugely different skin on top of it.  Sure, there are new gestures, and features such as the control center, but this is not innovative stuff.  Honestly I can’t find one thing that isn’t on some other mobile platform either natively or as a third-party app.  I also expected to see a “Kids Corner” type of feature, such as Windows Phone 8 has, and perhaps that’s coming this fall, but it’s not in the beta build.  “Mommy, can I have your phone to play with?” still has the possibility of your child reading an email or seeing a text that their eyes should not see. 

Overall, I’m generally underwhelmed.  Maybe part of me was hoping to see something new and innovative that other platforms could then “borrow” from – to keep the industry moving forward, but this release doesn’t have anything that really stands out.  Perhaps they are going somewhere new with photo management.  On my phone I usually have a few thousand or more pictures, and being able to navigate through them more effectively would be a great feature. But that wouldn’t be enough to sway me to switch back to iOS. 

There has also been a lot of noise over the stealing of ideas from Windows Phone 8 and Android, and I think that’s all fair criticism.  But it’s also some level of validation that the concept of content over chrome is a good thing.  The design principles now touted by Apple are the same ones that Microsoft set forward in their Metro design language.  So while it’s easy to bash Apple for “stealing” ideas, they were in the position where they had to catch up to the modern interfaces set forth by WP8 and Android.  Will Apple next have a phone with a larger scale screen design because that is what consumers are demanding? 

In my opinion, Apple has a lot of work to do still.  This is a beta and there is still much fit, finish, and polish that needs to happen.  The iOS designers and engineers probably aren’t looking at much vacation this summer…

Windows Phone 8 App List (June 2013)

A few colleagues of mine recently starting using Nokia Lumia 920s running Windows Phone 8.  I’ve been using this same hardware and mobile OS for many months now, and thought I would help out with a quick list of apps that they might find useful.  I opened my phone and flipped over to the list of apps, and started writing them down – I was shocked that the list was so long!  Who says that this platform has an app problem!  Here is my list of apps I use on a fairly regular basis – this isn’t an all inclusive list – I have more than this installed, but these I use on a regular basis.

Activity Feeds (a Microsoft CRM app)
Audible – Audiobooks
Bank of America
BLINK (takes a rapid set of pics and you can choose the best to save)
Chase Mobile 
Clearer (to-do list app)
Cocktail Flow
Disney World (shows you ride times for the Orlando parks)
Facebook Beta (beta version of the new app)
Fuse (news feed reader)
glEEk! (twitter client)
Instance (Instagram app)
Lync 2013
MyRadar Weather Radar
Nokia Conference Beta (one-touch auto-dials conference lines from your calendar entries)
Pace Calculator (calculates running times/paces)
Reading Lens
Valpak Local Coupons