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Courier & Foldable Tablets are Neither Innovative Nor “Different”

courier This is a sad “I’ve told you” moment, as I predicted the death of dual-screen tablets, be it the one by MSI or Microsoft’s Courier, which has just been canceled.  Says Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s VP of corporate communications:

At any given time, across any of our business groups, there are new ideas being investigated, tested, and incubated. It’s in Microsoft’s DNA to continually develop and incubate new technologies to foster productivity and creativity. The “Courier” project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.

Tech blogs are mourning the innovative, “different” device:

Courier was one of the most innovative concepts out of Redmond in quite some time.

I think dual-screen, foldable tablets are neither innovative nor different.  Well, different from other, truly innovative devices, like the iPad, but not different from good old books.  And therein lies the rub.  Hardware manufacturers rushing to the opportunity to follow Apple thought these tablets are mostly reading devices, so they imitated what we’re all used to: books.

Having two small pages side-by-side is not necessarily the ideal format for reading, it’s just the one we got stuck with for centuries when bound paper was the only way we could record / consume textual information. When we liberate information from paper, there’s no point in replicating the poor paper (book) experience. True innovation means embracing the paradigm-shift, rethinking the basics and maximizing readability, comfort, ability to interact as enabled by the new technology.

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When Design Meets Ergonomics – And When They Fail Together

Styling and ergonomics don’t always go hand in hand.  Look at these cool chairs:

SantosChair

And look is about all you can do – good luck trying to sit in them for a longer period.

But in the case of the latest Mouse War, you have great design, ergonomics and functionality all on one side, and ugly bulkiness and utter uselessness on the other.  But I’m not telling which is which :-)

openofficemouse magicmouse

(P.S. I seriously thought it was a joke – but we’re nowhere near April 1st)

Related posts:

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Nokia? Forget it …Kim Basinger’s Lifeline Would be an iPhone Today.

The 2004 thriller Cellular features three stars: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and a Nokia 6660 video-phone. The kidnapped school-teacher played by Kim Basinger pieces together a broken phone and reaches a random dude, Ryan (Chris Evans) on cell-phone – this call literally becomes her lifeline.

Ryan effortlessly uses his Nokia miracle-phone in the middle of a wild race in his (stolen) Porsche, even produces the video evidence that will put the bad guys away at the Happy End.

But are Nokia phones really so easy to use in real life?   Read on to find out

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Bad Usability Calendar

The 2008 edition of the (in)famous Bad Usability Calendar by is here.

The past three calendars have all been successful in distributing examples of bad design around the world. Check out the fresh examples of exaggerated use fancy of Web 2.0 design, cover flow, personalization, pull-down menus and more… 

Download the PDF here.

Courtesy of Norwegian design firm Netlife Research.

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Ugly

OK, OK, I get it… it’s the Future of Reading. It will change the world. Yet it’s undeniably ugly.smile_sad

“This isn’t a device, it’s a service.” True, this is a much more compelling package than the Sony Reader was, but at least that other, “dumber” device had style.

I can’t help but compare to the Seiko-Epson electronic paper display (see below) announced days ago: sheer elegance. Yes, I know, it’s not a complete product, just a display… but somehow I can’t see them turn this display into something that looks like a kitchen appliance. smile_tongue

Dan Farber says:

It’s enough to make Gutenberg stir in his grave and to make Steve Jobs envious

Well, certainly not for the design…

Aesthetics aside, Anne Zelenka makes a really good point:

Wouldn’t it have been cool if Amazon built an e-book reader so inexpensive they could almost give it away for free, then make money by selling e-books for people to read on it (or selling upscale versions of the reader later)? Instead, they stuffed it so full of technological wizardry that it costs $399.

Most people have no idea if they’d really like to use an e-book reader or not. It may be something you just have to experience to grasp. But who’s going to experiment with electronic book reading when the price of entry is so high?

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says:

“This is the most important thing we’ve ever done..It’s so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read.”

Something tells me it will take a price-cut to pursue that ambition…

Update (11/4): Mea Culpa for missing the point. It’s ugly with a purpose :-)

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Wiki: the Beauty & the Beast. Usability & Functionality (Event)

Silicon Valley Web Builder will host a wiki-focused event tomorrow, Wednesday. While their first wiki event almost a year ago with JotSpot, Socialtext , Atlassian and WetPaint was more introductory, this time the focus will be on – surprise! – the contrast or harmony of Beauty- i.e. attractive UI, vs. the Beast – functional robustness.

The Moderator for tomorrow is Luke Wroblewski, Yahoo’s design guru who has authored a book on Web interface design principles titled “Site-Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability” and is working on thee next one: “Web Form Design Best Practices”.

The Panelists are:

It’s definitely an interesting mix. Playing a bit with the metaphor, I’d say market leader Atlassian is known as the “beast”: whatever enterprise wiki functionality you can think of, their Confluence will likely have it.

Wetpaint got popular for the “beauty” – that’s why I called it the wiki-less wiki. It’s a most user-friendly self-publishing tool that allows anyone to create a site and transform it into an online community. Incidentally, the SV Web Builder site is built on Wetpaint.

Brainkeeper, a user-friendly enterprise wiki startup took me by surprise when they launched in January. Totally out of left field, they aim to be the beast like Confluence and the beauty like Wetpaint, with twists not seen in wikis, like workflow. I’m really looking forward to seeing how far they’ve got since launch.

MindTouch is transforming the Wiki from the Web’s best collaborative authoring tool into an open source service platform with a Wiki heart. Their Deki Wiki Hayes release is perhaps the most extendable Wiki tool available today.” I had to steal that line from Read/WriteWeb, I couldn’t have said it any bettr – oh, and congrat’s on reaching the 100,000 user mark!

Zoho is not a pure-play wiki player. Their wiki is just a part of a productivity/collaboration suite, and it shows. Beauty? The UI needs improvement, but this is the only wiki with not just simple a WYSIWYG editor, but a full word processor that writes true html, not wiki syntax. Beast? I think the emphasis here will not be on the standalone product, but how well it integrates with other Zoho offerings, supporting a flow-oriented world that matches how we think.

It will no doubt be an interesting event, so please check out the site details, and remember, admission is free if you register online, but $10 at the door. See you tomorrow.

Related posts: Laughing Squid, Lunch 2.0, Functioning Form, Mindtouch, Brainkeeper, Wetpaint, Zoho blogs, Centernetworks.

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Everything on this Vista PC is an Afterthought

OK, so I bit the bullet: after being so critical of Vista, I ended up buying a PC blessed cursed with this Operating System. Not that I changed my mind: I simply wanted an ergonomic desktop, for the times I’m stuck at the desk anyway. Costco had a fairly good promotional offer on a loaded super-duper-multimedia HP with this beauty of a display.

Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but this 22″ baby has beautiful colors, is fast and the most versatile I’ve seen – it can even pivot to portrait position – except I don’t know why I would want to do that, considering the software does not work, not even after the update.

But first things first: unpacking. This thing has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which is nice – but why on earth do I need to plug in a USB transmitter for them to work? This isn’t an after-market add-on, this configuration only comes with wireless. Talk about wireless, this being a desktop, my primary desktop connection will be via the LAN cable, but why does HP bundle another plug-in, a wireless antenna with this unit? (which, incidentally was missing from my package). Why not just build it in. OK, let’s move on: this whole multimedia center thingie (TV, DVR, remote) does not excite me a lot, but since it there, I will eventually figure out how to work it. But wait: for the remote to work, I have to … yes, you guessed it right, I have to plug-in yet another component, a wireless receiver.

I am not trying to expand the system: out-of-the-box, just to use the basic capabilities I have to plug-in three “extensions” that could very well have been built in. Are these features all afterthoughts? (And I haven’t even mentioned the jungle of cables into the monitor, including a USB connector to enable the two other USB ports on the side of the display).

The next two days were spent with installation, which primarily consisted of removing some of the junk software loaded by HP (I still could not get rid of the Yahoo Search-bar at the bottom!) and setting up my own stuff. I killed the 60-day Norton trial, not that McAfee is better, but it’s free with my Comcast subscription. Too bad it wouldn’t install. This turned out to be a case study on the worth of Customer Support:

  • Costco Concierge on the phone: after 4-5 minutes she is still stuck trying to spell my name – who has time for this? No way she can help me.
  • HP Online Support: quickly says the disclaimer that it’s not a HP product, so I should really go to the other vendor, but he will try to help anyway. Well, 8-10 minutes later he concludes I should go to Windows Safe mode for this install. Oh, boy. If I have to start safe-moding on a vanilla, out-of-the box machine, what else am I in for during the lifetime of this thing? I tell him I won’t do this exercise, will likely return the machine next day
  • McAfee Online Support: he is quite clueless, too, but has an interesting prospective: perhaps, despite the aborted installation (which I repeated 4 times, Control Panel-uninstall-reboot-install included) McAfee might actually be working properly on my machine. Although he didn’t seem to get the concept of corrupted (or missing files) and had no way to verify his idea, he still planted the bug in me, so later, on my own I found a McAfee diagnostic tool that verified that I have the correct setup on my system. So, perhaps I am protected. I guess that’s the definition of hopeware.

I will spare you the details of my two-day struggle with Vista, the fight with the idiotic permission-scheme, (can’t delete my own stuff), the incompatibilities, the fact that there’s less and less information to be found, other than from users – hey, even the User Manuals link points to nowhere… enough said already. After two days, I can use the system (the screen is beautiful) but I’m far from done.

I’m starting to see how this supposedly good deal will turn out to be more expensive then a matching Mac. The funny sad thing is, I myself talked about this, describing the $1,500 iPhone: it’s the cost of my own time.smile_sad . This whole Vista-Microsoft-HP-Dell-you-name-it enchilada is anything but user friendly, a pain to work with. In fact, “work” is the operational word here: I don’t want to work setting up this thing, I just want to use it. Perhaps Steve Jobs and co. are turning a disadvantage into an advantage: they are not the darlings of the corporate market.. so they have to focus on individual users, who don’t have an IT department to support them. That means they are just turning out usable, friendly boxes.

Oh, talk about boxes, Joel Spolsky has a hilarious post today: Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve, discussing Office 2007′s fancy box (which is the same design Vista comes in):

…I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.
…It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.
…It seems like even rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box that many people can’t figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design.

Chris Pirillo responds: Windows Vista Isn’t for Developers?

Hm, now I really don’t know what to think. All this while I’ve been making the point that Vista is not for earthly users; now Chris makes the point it’s not for developers, either. So, who exactly is Vista meant to be for?

Update: How timely… read Raju, a Mac Convert’s testimony: Windows (Dell) to Mac: Thats a smooth ride. Damn. I have 90 days (Costco’s return policy) to make up my mind. But even if I take the smooth ride, no-one is paying for my wasted time….

Update #2: I’m speechless… but Vista has just given me another proof that’s it’s not meant for *users*. Here’s am error window:

Windows decided to mess with Firefox, without telling me, the owner of the computer what it did. OK, let’s click on the link, perhaps it tells us what happened:

What changes does it make?

It depends on the problem, but any changes made are related to how Windows runs the program.

blahblahblah … but it gets better:

How do I turn it off or turn it back on?

Adjustments to the Program Compatibility Wizard can be made by using Group Policy. For more information on how to use Group Policy, go to the Microsoft website for IT professionals.

So let’s get this straight: Vista makes changes to my system, to the most important program I use, Firefox, without asking me, without telling me what those changes were, how to undo them. And if I want to prevent such aggression in the future, I should go to the “IT Professionals” site.

Well, I won’t. A computer sold at Costco, BestBuy, Fry’s ..etc is a Consumer Device. I am a Consumer. This Operating System is NOT for consumers. Microsoft (via HP) sold me garbage.

I can’t wait for the Vista related Class Action cases.

Update: I think I’ll try this tweaky-thingy recommended at WebWorkerDaily.

Update (8/23): Dell must share my views of Vista, or in fact Windows in general, having shipped this laptop without any OS at all ;-)

Update (8/23): Even a 6-year-old knows better… he is right, my next PC will be an Apple. And since I’m already doing most of my work on the Web, the transition won’t be a big deal.

OK, this is too much of a coincidence (or not?): when I described Microsoft Money as a showcase for what’s wrong with Microsoft’s Software + Service concept, Omar Shahine, a Microsoft employee responded – he experienced very similar problems. And what am I reading today on Omar’s blog? It’s been a bad month for Vista.