The distance between humans and computers

When computers first made their entry into mass market, there was at least one internet connected computer in a locality. We used to go to browsing centres to browse the web and send e-mails.

When they became even more affordable, there was a computer in every home.

When Laptops started to become a trend, there was a computer in every room; along with the advantage of them being somewhat portable.

And now, there is a computer in every hand; always accessible, always connected; just an arm’s length away – the smartphone. They are computers in every true sense of the word; packing quad core processors and 2 gigs of ram along with a camera and much more would have been considered to be a joke 10 years ago.

The smartphone is not an evolution of the phone; its an evolution of the computer. As time goes on, the distance between humans and computers will only diminish.

The era of real ‘personal’ computing has just started.

You, not it

Specs don’t matter. As a keen Apple follower, I have learnt it to be true. Specs really don’t matter. And yet, people seem to poke around in depth for the specs of a device.

When you are in the market to purchase a device, keep this in mind:

It doesn’t matter what ‘it’, the device can do. What really matters is what ‘you’ as a user can do with the device.

And after you purchase a device, read my Good vs Awesome theory to get more out of your device.

Good vs Awesome

As with all things in life, smartphones too become boring over a period of time. There are so many things one can do with them and yet, we hit a roadblock sooner or later. People often think that there is only so much that a device can do. The iPhone comes pre-loaded with a few stock apps. And they are good. Good, as in ‘not-so-good to be called as very good’. They are like government clerks who do the same job every day but never ever step out of the ‘good’ territory. ‘Good’ is something which works, but doesn’t make you feel great. It’s ubiquitous, but not so delightful. And anything that’s not delightful becomes boring over time. I have always heard the ‘iPhone is boring, so I am going Samsung’ moan. The very same users jump back to the Apple camp after a frustrating user experience at sammy which they never admit to. These users are the ones who seek awesomeness. They want change. There is a popular saying -’we often miss what’s under our nose.’ When things get boring on an iPhone, I seek awesome apps. Not other platforms. There are so many awesome apps which can put the stock apps to shame by trumping them in terms of design and functionality. 

Its funny how people never bat an eyelid when purchasing dump-worthy devices like the note tab or some other behemoth phones in the market, but are determined not to purchase an app to make their existing iPhone better. You can always promote your iPhone experience from good to awesome, just by replacing stock apps with 3rd-party ones. I will list out some of the apps which I have on my iPhone that makes the experience awesome. 

Camera

Good: Apple’s Camera app. With every iteration of iOS, the fruit company has improved the app with HDR, lock screen shortcuts etc, but again, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Awesome: Camera+. Its a great app with tons of editing features, and some clever controls. All this doesn’t just add to the experience of using the app, it also makes your photos much better than what they would have been as a product of the stock camera app. $0.99 on the App store.

Notable app: Camera Awesome. Its free to download, but has a dozen in-app purchases which makes it a more expensive alternative to Camera+. Free, with IAP on the App store.

Notes

Good: Apple’s stock Notes app. The font choices Apple made here are underwhelming, but its a good app to take some quick notes.

Awesome: Simplenote. This cross-platform omnipresent service is a powerful notes app with the ability to add tags and cloud sync. The interface is simple and minimalist so that you can focus on the content and nothing else. Free on the App store.

Browser

Good: Mobile Safari. There is nothing wrong with mobile safari, but I have become bored of this browser of late. 

Awesome: Google Chrome. The ability to sync tabs, bookmarks and history makes it a great alternative. The tab management interface is also well implemented. It may not have the speed of safari or the sharing options provided by the stock app, but it still has plenty of strong points going for it which makes it my primary browser of choice. Free on the App store.

Twitter

Good:  Twitter’s official app. Twitter demoted this app from very good to good status when they killed the original tweetie interface. I like the ‘discover’ tab, but nothing more. Its a basic twitter app and simply a no-no for twitter addicts.

Awesome:  Tweetbot. Arguably the best twitter app for mobile devices in the whole universe. The design, powerful features and gesture based navigation are too good to resist. $2.99 on the App store

Instant Messaging

Good: iMessage. Instant messaging apps are a god sent for message lovers as it gives you unlimited free texts. iMessage is simple, works well and is baked into the stock messages app. The catch: You can send iMessages to iOS and Mac users only. 

Awesome:  Whatsapp messenger. It has all the goodness of iMessage in addition to the ability to send messages to users on any platform. Use this app for communication because not everyone loves Apple. $0.99 on the App store.

Mail

Good:  Sparrow Mail app. This is an exception where the stock app betters this 3rd-party app by Dom leca. Sparrow has some really useful features like tag and folder management right inside the app. The interface does look good visually, but it takes more taps than the stock app to get things done. Lack of push notification is also a thing to worry about. Most of the shortcomings of this app is more due to Apple’s restrictions than the developer’s fault. Moreover since google has purchased Sparrow, it won’t be long before it launches in a new free avatar. If you are not too convinced with the stock mail app, and want a good alternative, go for sparrow. $2.99 on the App store.

Awesome: Apple’s own Mail app. This app has stood the test of time. It hasn’t changed much since its first version in 2007, but is still the fastest mail app on iOS. It may not be too glamourous visually, but the user experience is almost perfect. Even though I have Sparrow, I find myself using this more than any other app for my e-mail needs.

Files

Good: Apple’s ‘No file system’ theory. This theory ties actions and content with apps and not some age-old file structure. The theory holds good for the future, but we are still lugging on to files and thumb drives. Apple’s theory sounds good but not practical for those of us who are slowly making the transition from a file-filled world to Apple’s no-files world.

Awesome: Readdle docs. This app is a powerful file manager for all your files. It also acts as an app for accessing your dropbox and drive accounts. Some other powerful features include the ability to auto-download all your attachments from e-mail to your documents folder. It also lets you wirelessly transfer files from your desktop to iPhone/iPad. $4.99 on the App store.

Springboard

Good: Apple’s 4 x 4 homescreen grid layout. Its been there since 2007, its still there in the upcoming iOS 6.

Awesome: My excitement goes a notch higher whenever I am allowed to skip a step in a process. With the simplistic UI of iOS, getting some things done feels too lengthy; like a magician’s handkerchief. Fortunately, I came across Launch center pro. Its the most handy app on iOS and one of those few apps which is not for novice users. The kind of actions you can setup in launch center are endless. Go buy it and thank me later. $4.99 on the App store.

Calendar

Good: Apple’s own calendar app.

Awesome: People say Agenda is great. I don’t use calendar much, but if you do, Agenda is a great option. $0.99 on the App store.

Scanning Documents

Good: Cam scanner free. It does some great scans, but the ads.. I hate ads.

Awesome: Readdle’s Scanner pro. It scans pretty well and has plenty of nifty features. I love the way it creates folders. Other than that, its a universal app and keeps documents in sync through iCloud. I use it for all my scanning and automatically backup all my scans to a folder on dropbox. Very handy. $6.99 on the app store.

Weather

Good: Apple’s stock weather app. It’s not ugly, but it’s no beauty either.

Awesome: Weather neue, Solar, Soaring.. There are plenty of great-looking apps in the app store for the avid weather watcher.

The list can be endless, but you get the point. By spending a little over 20$, you can upgrade your experience by leaps and bounds. Give these apps a chance and it will spice up your otherwise boring stock iPhone. 

What are they?

iPad Its the undisputed king in the tablet world. You can write, mail, paint, play, watch videos and read books. You don’t need a laptop if you have an iPad. Period.

Laptop The devices which try to be a full-blown desktop and fail at that, but not so miserably. For all the designers and developers, its the best road machine.

Desktop Its ageing, its immobile. But its still the ultimate powerhouse for content creation. I think it should be used only by designers and developers. For others, the iPad is best.

iPad mini/ Google Nexus/ 7′ tablets This is a new category, and only time can tell how users adopt it. In the future, these will be considered as less-powerful alternatives to tablets. Only for consumption, not creation.

Tech horror: This guy’s iCloud account got hacked

Tech horror: This guy’s iCloud account got hacked

This raises questions about how trustworthy cloud services are. Mat Honan says his account was hacked but the hacker didn’t use the password to do it. The hacker got in via Apple’s technical support system. This is really scary. Can we really trust cloud services yet? I am afraid not.

via daring fireball

How many People use Twitter’s official apps?

How many People use Twitter’s official apps?

Benjaming mayo has done an interesting analysis of the usage of Twitter apps with a million tweets as input. 6 out of the top 7 clients are official. Another thing to note is that 77% of people use official apps. On Twitter’s decision to ban third-party clients he says,

For people that think Twitter will never ban third-party clients because there would be too much backlash, I think this 77% figure shows that Twitter could do it with ease. A large portion of the 23% would be happily herded to a first-party client, as they don’t really care what app they use — it just turned out that the client they first downloaded wasn’t a Twitter-owned app. The only people who would care would be the geeks, like me and anyone else who could be bothered to read this post, who actually care about the client they are using. And let’s face it, Twitter doesn’t care about geeks.

This kinda worries me and I dread to think of the day when I won’t be able to use my favorite apps like Tweetbot on iOS and Echofon on windows. Twitter really doesn’t care about geeks.

Hike- Not just another messaging app

Hike- Smart Instant messaging for Android

I came across this app at Beautiful pixels. There are two standout features in this app which makes it a significant alternative to WhatsApp (my goto messaging app now):

  1. Great design.
  2. The ability to send text messages (SMS) from the app to any contact.

I have tried many messaging apps in the past, none trumping whatsapp. But I think this one will. I can’t wait for this to be released on iOS.

The Facebook experiment- quitting fb for 50 days

19th may, around 11pm

Like any other normal day, I was browsing through my news feed on facebook. There was a constant stream of troll faces, weird facts and other kinds of ‘not so important’ clutter flowing in. I had spent the whole evening looking at various profiles, multiple photos and going back in time through my timeline. It was quite evident through my timeline that in the past few days I had invested a lot of time into facebook and gained nothing out of it. Overall, I started hating myself for overdrafting my wastable hours. We all love to have fun and facebook at times adds some zing to our otherwise mundane lives. But when something becomes an obsession, and there is nothing to gain out of it, it starts getting on your nerves. I didn’t like it and I made this decision to quit facebook- at least for a temporary period of time.

What prompted me to quit facebook

There were various reasons as to why I quit facebook. It was not a momentous decision and I did take some time before I pulled the trigger.

  • Things that inspired me to quit facebook
  • Uninspiring things inside fb that inspired me to quit fb.

Things that inspired me to quit fb

1.  Matt cutts’ 30 day challenge video.

My self-imposed fb exile is not my first. I followed the 30 day challenge to quit drinking aerated drinks for a month. It lasted for 32 days before I started drinking cola/pepsi again. There were two things to take away from that challenge:

a) Its important to let something go albeit for a short period of time if you are addicted to it, and

b) It helped me to de-addict myself from cola and even though I didn’t completely stop drinking aerated drinks, I do prefer mineral water or fresh juices over them- contrary to what I used to do before the 30 day challenge.

The 30-day challenge video (watch it, you will feel inspired):

 2 .   Paul miller’s experiment of quitting the INTERNET:

This is one feat I can never pull off. Rather, I wouldn’t like to. But I wanted to try something I could really do and quitting facebook is nothing compared to quitting internet. Read about Paul miller’s experiment.

3.   It was simply boring.

 Uninspiring things inside fb that inspired me to quit

Its right there in the first para of my article: troll jokes. When it was new, it used to amuse me. Slowly, it started getting boring and then it became annoying. It is annoying  to see every other post in your feed contain ‘bitch please!’ jokes. I must admit some were really funny, but most weren’t.

There are three kinds of posts on fb: ones that are genuinely good and likeable. Then there are posts which are for informative purposes mostly from caring friends, and the third type is from those who have the sole motive of generating likes for their posts. Naturally, the third type of posts are the ones which get the least amount of feedback. Those are the people I loathe for.

And did I mention all those downright crappy apps in fb? The ‘xyz viewed your profile zillion times’ and the ‘john found out he will die in october next year’.. they are all over the place. These and all the crapville apps. They are the weeds in the facebook garden.

Birthdays: There is one good thing zuck’s billion dollar enterprise helped us with. Remembering our friends’ birthdays. Nothing wrong there, but the way people started using it is demoralising. This is how people on fb wish their friends:  A notification appears, they go to their wall, and type ‘Happy birthday !’ with or without the exclamation mark depending on how lazy the person typing is. Some other busy people would type- ‘hppy b’dy!’. The same people won’t even care if you died.

The sad part was that even I was falling for this and fake-wishing others. Most of these fake-wishes were exchanged with people I didn’t know well or I didn’t know at all. What’s the point? its just a waste of time.

Gender bias

You know which gender gets more attention on facebook. They can get the conversation started just by updating a status about anything. Even an emoji is more than enough to garner likes and a trillion comments. Idiots to blame.

Did I really miss facebook?

The answer is no and yes. I will do the no part first. As I have written already, there are a ton of things I don’t really like about facebook and you don’t miss something you don’t like. Neither did I miss it nor did my friends on facebook notice that I wasn’t there since the many past days. It was a  reality check, which showed how unimportant my presence is in others’ news feed or friend circle. It shows people are too busy doing their own thing. But there is nothing wrong about that. Friends who follow me on twitter did know about my #noFacebook challenge though. So, what did I miss?.. which leads us to

What did/will I miss about it?

A couple of things. Firstly, photos from friends. Facebook has primarily become a photo sharing social network. They even acquired instagram and released a dedicated photo sharing app a few weeks back. Apart from that, I miss updates and messages from those who use fb as the only online communication tool- messenger, groups etc. These few things will make me use fb in the future and not completely dump it.

The other social network

I am an internet addict. To be precise, I am a twitter addict. I love twitter and it partly fuels my ‘ I don’t miss facebook’ feeling. There is a lot that I have learnt from twitter and there is a lot of amazing stuff shared there. Its unfair to compare the quality of content on facebook to that on twitter. This is not to say that I expect everyone on fb to share the best content in the world, but no one asked you to share filth anyway. To quit twitter would be a herculean task, but I don’t intend to do it just for the sake of challenging myself. There is nothing to hate about it, and it would be only be foolish to do so- for the simple reason that I would be missing out on a lot of great stuff. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any useless good for nothing tweets in tweetverse but let me be clear- the facebook crowd is much much more dumb than the dumbest tweeps.

What did I gain?

After doing so much, did I really gain anything out of this? Yes. I am a lover of design and like to design interfaces. Its one of the interests I have and would like to pursue as my career. Recently, I started a new design blog- designfort.wordpress.com, designed something, learnt some new design tricks and read some good articles elsewhere on the internet by not using facebook. I didn’t increase my productivity by a great level, but I sure did have a good feeling about it. Plus, deleting facebook apps from my phone and tablet put an end to the disturbance caused by the stupid notifications I used to receive.

Secondly, this experiment has inspired me to quit some other things ( I havent decided what) for 30 days or more.

Conclusion

This experiment shows me how facebook is not that important in our lives. But it also is a great platform to socialise online and be up to date with what your old school friends are up to. There are many who love facebook and may be, my reasons for hating facebook aren’t justifiable. As I mentioned earlier, I do love some things about facebook that will make me come back to the site soon. But as with my ‘no aerated drinks for 30 days’ challenge, this experiment has helped me gain the will to click the sign out button when it really matters and not just fool around for the whole day.


The iPad mini could sport a retina display and still cut costs.

john gruber on the iPad mini’s display :

I believe the iPad Mini (or whatever it’s going to be called) uses the same display as the iPhone 3GS. So instead of cutting these sheets into 3.5-inch 480 × 320 displays for the iPhone 3GS, they’ll cut them into 7.85-inch 1024 × 768 displays for the smaller iPad. Same exact display technology, though — display technology that Apple has been producing at scale ever since the original iPhone five years ago.

I think a better alternative would be to use the non-ips retina display found on the ipod touch. It will work out considerably cheaper than ips retina displays. Producing those in large quantities shouldn’t be a problem for apple. Plus, they could use the retina moniker to market the ipad mini. I don’t see Apple taking a step back in display technology just to cut costs.

The steep learning curve of Photoshop

In an era where most interfaces are uber-simple to use, Photoshop and its other Adobe cousins from the creative suite are certainly not one of those. I came across this amazing piece at ‘Rands in repose‘ where the author compares Game design and Application design. On photoshop’s design Rands writes:

The plethora of online Photoshop tutorials demonstrate its power and its flexibility, but I believe they also demonstrate its poor design. Think about it like this: what if each time you plunked down in front of World of Warcraft, you had to spend an hour trying to remember, wait, how do I play this?

I have always wished that Photoshop were easier to use. The learning curve is way too steep and could lead to endless hours of frustration. Perhaps its more about a form vs functions thing for Photoshop’s developers. The functions are way too many that it outweighs the importance of form and design. Usability gets crushed under all that overload of features. And when you realise that, you start thinking; ‘its indeed a herculean task to create a photoshop that’s at least half as simple to use as the current versions.’

But then, when I thought further, I realized that the truth is not what it seems like. The major problem with Photoshop is that it tends to be over-ambitious. It does too much, and in the end as I said, Usability is crushed. It would be much better if Photoshop had a strict goal of photo-editing and some other functions. Not just that, there are other reasons as well. We, the users are also to be blamed for using Photoshop as a one-stop tool for all our creative needs. There is a reason why dedicated tools like illustrator, fireworks and the like exist.

It’s all easier said than done. While we can endlessly rant about how poorly designed photoshop is, one can’t take anything away from its mighty capabilities. As Rands writes in the article ‘Two universes‘, some games/applications have too much reliance on exploration and some have too much reliance on explanation. The day when Photoshop’s creators strike the right balance between explanation and exploration, it will be a win-win for all of us- the creative community, the end user and Adobe.

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