The saddest thing about tablets today

tech

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.

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Reflecting…How I work

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This is an reflective exercise using Lifehacker’s How I work interview questions:

Consuelo Valdes is a Research Fellow at the Wellesley College Human-Computer Interaction Lab. She leads a team of students on a variety of projects. These projects include: large multi-touch tabletops, designing and developing the software for the large multi-touch tabletops, and developing software applications for a variety of multi-touch devices (iPhone, Android, Microsoft Surfaces, and Windows 8 tablets).

Name: Consuelo Valdes
Occupation: Research Fellow
Location: Wellesley, MA
Current Emplyer: Wellesley College
Current Computer: Lenovo x220 Tablet running Windows 7 Professional with an i7 and 8GB of RAM
Current mobile devices: Galaxy Nexus, Kindle Fire, HP Touchpad running CyagenMod – ICS
One word that best describes how I work: Juggler

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I spend most of my time in Chrome. I tried Internet Explorer for a while but couldn’t stick with how slow it was and the lack of cross-machine syncing. In Chrome, I usually have Gmail and Google Calendar open for my personal account and my professional account. I like to keep the divides between these, that way if I’m trying to “relax” I can close the work account tab. Other than that, I’ve recently taken to Springpad. I love the notebook interface, the searching, smart tagging, everything. I’ve recently started sharing things to my teams there, as well. I create a notebook per project and have to do lists tagged by people responsible for the items on it, notes, relevant links, etc. It’s pretty great.

What’s your workspace setup like?

I don’t have an official workspace at my lab. Although, when I’m in the lab I’m usually connected to a heart-racingly gorgeous Dell UltraSharp 30″ monitor and I use a Logitech MX Anywhere mouse when I’m not using the tablet stylus or my finger. I usually work at a large table.

What email app do you use?

Gmail.

What’s your favorite time-saving trick?

For a home-life time-saver, I cook food in bulk. I’ll make a meal or two a week and if I get tired of it and have extra time, I’ll freeze it for later on when I might have less time.

For work-life, the biggest time suck for me is scheduling with a large team of students with conflicting schedules, so I have everyone in my team in contact lists so that scheduling per project or sub-teams is as easy as typing two or three letters and use the “find a time” option in Google Calendar to find a slot from their calendars.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I’ve tried everything from paper and pencil, Remeber the Milk, Springpad, Evernote, Any.Do, Google Tasks, and then some… They all failed somehow to me. So, I don’t keep a to-do list anymore. Instead, I track how long I spend on tasks as I do them in Google Calendar. For example, if I spend a significant amount of time on an email, I use the “Create event” option in Gmail or just mark the completion of a task and set the start and end time of the event so that I am aware of how I spend my day and adjust accordingly. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day knowing where the day went as well as making a log of what I’m doing that’s searchable, unlike many to-do lists.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My phone. When I’m away from my computer it’s an extension of myself: calendar, contacts, places to eat… I think of it as the modern survival kit or Swiss army knife. I absolutely would die without my phone. It’s my everything when I’m not working on my machine. Not to mention, it’s a lifesaver when I’m out and about. I’m vegan and it’s tough to know what’s OK to eat when you’re eating out but there are tons of apps that help give you an idea what’s Vegan-friendly and you can typically find the menu with ingredient lists online.

What do you listen to while you work?

I jump between things. I’m still a huge fan of Pandora because you start it up and you’re set for the day. Lately, though, I’ve been listening to Univision Romance: it’s the Spanish equivalent of an R&B station.

What everyday things are you better at than anyone else?

I don’t think that I’m better at this than anyone else, but I think and have been told I can pick anyone up from their lowest lows. If I suspect someone is down, I do my best to make them laugh or ask them what’s going on. My goal everyday is to make people smile, really. If I haven’t made someone smile today, I’d say it wasn’t a good day.

What else should a reader know about you? ( I modified the question a bit…)

Well, considering this is just an exercise and anyone who stumbles upon this may not know what this is all about, I’d suggest you check out the Lifehacker: How I Work archive. It’s pretty great because it’s a window into the world of how “real” Lifehackers get it done. I like to think of it as hearing a mini-talk by the best in the biz about how they got to where they are and advice for life.

Loving and hating the Google ecosystem

hci, Reflections

In my attempts to stay away from the Apple game in the beginning of the touch screen- smart phone revolution, I have inadvertently planted myself in the Google ecosystem. I’m not sure when I got so deep I couldn’t get out but I realized it after Google search went social and I tried to switch to Bing and Hotmail. I found that it was impossible to escape Google easily; mainly because of my phone. One thing that is amazing about Android is the automatic uploads.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty cunning trick Google pulled because I find myself using Google+ more and more because of the automatic photo uploads. But the Photos web app could use some serious UX attention. The main issue, which should be obvious, is navigation. You can’t easily navigate to a particular date or picture all you have to go on is the scroll bar jerking up and down while date labels are  flying by as the only indication of your progress through time.

A month by month stack of images like the Albums page (shown below) seems like a quick and easy to implement feature to maintain a consistent experience while allowing the user to easily navigate their photos.

Albums pages

And then there are the apps I don’t want to update that are stock Android/Google apps. For some reason, Google Earth was installed on my phone and I can’t seem to get rid of it. I know there are complicated ways to get rid of it, but really, shouldn’t I be able to uninstall it just like any other app?

All in all, I don’t have many complaints about my experience with my Nexus, but if they could make Photos better on Google+, I’d be there more. Google’s design oversights, combined with their inability to play nice with Facebook, are only hurting them.

Unrequited love: The story of a failed struggle for a Galaxy Note

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For those of you who don’t know, I live for pen and touch interaction. That is why I side with Microsoft instead of Apple [Courier]. Since the Courier died I have been anxiously waiting for the next big thing to bring this style of interaction to the forefront of tech. I bought a Pocket eDGe hoping for this seamless interaction and was sorely disappointed by the very disconnected interaction between the two screens and the poor touch capabilities. At UIST 2010, I was super excited by the interactions explored in the Pen + Touch = New Tools paper with the Surface app Manual Deskterity.

Manual Deskterity Demo

The point is, the Galaxy Note was basically destined to be my phone because it integrates pen and touch well, in ways that tablets and other smart phones don’t when you just buy a stylus for them. (This is mostly because of S Memo and S Planner, which pair sketches and handwritten notes in ways other phones don’t yet.)

Unfortunately, the Galaxy Note is not carried by Verizon, putting me in that awkward place that loyal iPhone users know so well, where AT&T has what you want and you have no other options. I was ready to switch despite the fact that it would be $20 more per month for fewer features.

Anyway, I decided to sign up for a new contract online because it’s usually easier and cheaper that way.  Plus, I like to read through disclosures, research funky options, make sure I know what I’m getting into. I went through the preliminary steps, filling out my information, credit check approved, then I got to the disclosures. Something sounded scary in the disclosure so I called AmazonWireless support just to clarify. Everything was OK, but when I got back to agree to the disclosures, I was logged out! I had been on the phone for maybe ten minutes.

I’d have to go through all that again. I’d have to agree to another credit check which is sketchy and brings down your credit rating. So, Verizon, here I stay with the Galaxy Nexus S. A great phone, but not my phone. *tear*