Automation is the next best thing

A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend about a potential start-up idea. The idea led to a discussion about what would make a start-up successful these days, given the boom that has occurred and the likely decline of venture capitalists investing in them. This got me thinking about what currently makes apps so unpleasant to use: data entry.

Currently, most applications require the user to actively input data in order for it to be used. This is the case with most tracking apps: health, fitness, budgeting, etc. and search apps: search engines, restaurant finders, etc. These apps only become lucrative when a user becomes dependent on them, which happens when they have committed enough information to them, but what if they forget? Let’s go through a real-life example.

Results from a quick search

I was training for a half-marathon some time ago. In my training, I wanted and app to track my time from one run to the next and help me meet my goal. I started by doing some research for the best apps and found a few which I immediately downloaded. To my irritation, most required a great deal of information from me to get  started.

I subsequently gave them each a shot at tracking a run and here is where it got hairy. For some, there was a ton of settings to set up for reminders and updates; for others, music was impossible to get started in-app. After four trails-and-errors, I finally committed to one application for a year because of its web app component which allowed me to review my runs. One year of data that app had on me, a couple of months ago, I switched.

What happened?

There is not a dramatically amazing experience from one app to the next and I abandoned ship on a ton of data that I had tracked. The issue is that data entry, was much easier on the app I am using now than the previous more. What’s more, this app doesn’t even let me enter data I forgot to track, almost like punishment, which allows me to associate the tracking experience as painless.

The Learning Thermostat

The coolest things now are those that make data capture and it’s use as automatic as possible. That’s why Google Glass seemed so hot for a while, because it would make most things that require staring at a small screen and typing buttons a more natural gesture. That’s why similarly “smart” and “learning” products like the NestIFTT, and automation apps are so appealing. Think of the first magical time you got into a car that had blue-tooth synced with your phone and the music started playing automatically so you can pick up jamming where you left off. That magic is the what we need start-ups to create. The kind that acts on a users’ needs before the user is aware of that need.

The saddest thing about tablets today

Allow me to preface by admitting that I have owned five tablets in the past two years; two of which had built-in stylus capabilities (not the capacitive kind). And that I started this blog partially because I could not contain my grief over the death of the dream pen-and-touch experience, the MS Courier. Approximately three years later, MSFT does the very thing that led to the Courier’s death, manufacturing hardware in-house, the MS Surface.

The Courier Concept

I am committed to the pen and touch experience. I strongly believe that it should be what drives our innovation, now that touch is where it is. I cannot fathom, why it has been so difficult for industry to answer this very serious need.

It has been two months since I got a Surface Pro and I am still dreaming of the Courier. Despite having Windows 8 on a Lenovo X220 Tablet the moment it came out; having most the capabilities of the Surface Pro and a better keyboard and track-pad experience, I purchased a Surface because I believed that MSFT would finally make my pen-and-touch dreams come true.

The dream to have a seamless pen and touch experience. The freedom to do away with paper almost completely, thanks to OneNote and the pen capabilities built-in to Office. Come to find, the experience is really, no better then on my Lenovo.

The Samsung Galaxy Note has attempted to address this with their suite of apps built-in to their flavor of Android, but the screen is not big enough for proper note-taking and too big for someone of my size (5’1″) to hold comfortably as a touchscreen.

Which brings me to this ongoing struggle I (and many I know) have with technology and industry today; that there are too many apps trying to address a solved problem and not enough innovators trying to tackle the ones staring us in the face. Please, industry, create a seamless pen-and-touch system. Save companies money, paper, time, and frustration.



Originally posted on Gigaom:

Wannabe developers on Codecademy are getting even more opportunities to build virtual tools. Last month, the New York-based learn-to-code startup launched a new track of lessons on using APIs (application programming interfaces) with partners like YouTube (s GOOG), NPR, SoundCloud and others.  On Tuesday, Codecademy said that it had added another set of lessons through partnerships with 14 companies, including Twitter, Gilt Groupe and Box.

Codecademy screenshot Twitter APIWith the new lessons, a student could access historical tweets or tweet from her website with Twitter’s API; explore her heritage and health risk with 23andme; or build apps for scouring the latest designs on Gilt. The full list of new partners includes WePay, Twitter, Box, Evernote, Microsoft Skydrive, 23andMe, Mashape, Gilt Groupe,, Firebase, Easypost, Github, Mandrill (mailchimp), and Dwolla.

“We really wanted to have a diverse set of partners that were real consumer brands – brands that people use in their everyday lives – so…

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WordPress, pulling a seductive design move

Click the image below to view the 2012 annual report for this blog. It’s a great example of the “personal touch” technique described in Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences (Voices That Matter). Really nice touch, WordPress!

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Danger: Tedious eCheckout Design

I opened up an enticing message from ThinkGeek a couple days ago that seduced me over to their site because they were having a clearance sale. I loaded up the site and found myself opening tab after tab of items that I was going to add to my cart.

Once I couldn’t see what my tabs were anymore I started going through the items to add the to my cart. Low and behold… *cue dramatic dum-dum-dum* there was no “add to cart.” A little stricken, I figured I’d just play along and clicked “Buy Now.”

Which led me to my entire cart. So I closed that tab and continued on. But item after item, I was sent back to view my cart. Making what should be a one step process, two or three, depending on how you get back to shopping.

After that, I couldn’t help but notice this serious flaw in their customer workflow. Why would you keep reminding your customer how much money they are spending? It should be a painless one step process: shop to your heart’s content, edit cart once, and checkout. This way you internalize the total once, not after every item.

What’s even more painful, is when I decided to finally checkout, the checkout process seemed to take forever despite my having an account, that should make the process speedier… Point is, I got so frustrated I decided to go without that sweet doormat with welcome in binary. *sigh*

One last thing, it might be a good idea to take down items once they are out of stock, since you don’t show it until you open the product detail page, it’s only adds to frustration.