Tag Archives: mobile

Do we still need a Save button?

Doing some basic mobile development for Android has led me to question a lot about what we take for granted with Desktop applications, and one of the reasons people find these smart phones and tablets a bit more intuitive to deal with. One of the big points is around the Save question.

Ask yourself for a moment, is there any desktop application you use where automatically saving every key stroke would be a bad thing? And for the few of you that can come up with an example, is that content that you are already explicitly versioning with some other system, like source code?

The existence of Save is part of what make computers fragile, or at least feel fragile, to people. You have to be ever vigilant of your data. The price of that vigilance is less productivity, as you always have to remember that you have to Save. Everyone has a moment when they lost some really hard work when they lost that vigilance for a short period of time.

In mobile, there is no time to Save. You have a mobile app open, you are waiting for a bus, and it shows up. You are done, and the phone goes in your pocket. If you had to remember to save, that state is lost. This is a much more natural interaction, and a much more expected one.

When you leave your house in the morning, you don’t nail all your furniture to the floor. You have a pretty good expectation that when you return home your couch and tv will be where you left them, they won’t all have been pushed to a corner, requiring you to reassemble your living room every night when you come home.

The way the real world works is when we push something someplace, it stays. The fact that personal computers broke this metaphor is part of what makes normal people get really nuts about computers. Yes, making software without a save button is harder for developers, but it creates a sense of durability that users really do resonate with. It’s a best practice in mobile, and hopefully something that will bleed over into the desktop application space.

More uses for your Foursquare data

From Programmable Web:

Yes, you read that title correctly. WhereTheLadies.At is, indeed, a thing that exists. Before you get start joking around, let’s be honest. Checking in all the time on Foursquare has earned you nothing but Mayorships and a free slice of pizza every once in a while. Well, that’s about to change.

This Foursquare API-based web app (the iPhone app, which is literally a giant compass pointing towards said ladies, is coming soon)

It apparently started as a joke… but has become really popular.  What a brilliantly funny way to reuse public location data.

Wanted – Android Layout Manual

I finally got back around to working on Where is Io again, trying to get myself past this hump that I’ve had in front of me for a couple of months where I know exactly how I want something to look…. and I have no idea how to do that with the layout tools provided.  After almost 14 years of hacking on web applications in my spare time I’ve got a set of tricks that I understand pretty well.  Given an end goal, I can do a pretty good job of getting html to look like it.

I remember with fondness when I got myself a copy of DHTML the Definitive guide, which had 200 pages of all the html tags, all their style attributes, when they were supported, what they did, and some examples.  That, and the “view source” button on every browser, made learning HTML layout something that was feasable.

The mobile application space lacks both of those things.  While there is a decent amount of open source applications on top of Android, they cover a very small set of similar appearances, so I definitely find my motivation can sometimes wane while trying to figure out how to right align columns in a table.

I think this explains a lot about why Flash isn’t going away any time soon.  Learning new layout paradigms is a heck of a lot harder than learning a new programming language, and that kind of investment is far more of a lock in than a language.  It’s the reason my Chumby will probably never end up with any custom widgets from me (as I’d need to learn Flash), and the Meego effort has a very dim future (C++ and Qt… in 2010… really?).  At this point I’m willing to put in the time to learn a new layout and UI model for Android because I’ll be able to use it on my phone and my TV, but my interest in having to get good at a 3rd UI paradigm is just not thrilling.

Update: I managed to get over the hump with learning a bit about building custom components.  Hopefully that means a new release of Where is Io out this week.

Are you from the past?

Music labels and radio broadcasters can’t agree on much, including whether radio should be forced to turn over hundreds of millions of dollars a year to pay for the music it plays. But the two sides can agree on this: Congress should mandate that FM radio receivers be built into cell phones, PDAs, and other portable electronics.

The Consumer Electronics Association, whose members build the devices that would be affected by such a directive, is incandescent with rage. “The backroom scheme of the [National Association of Broadcasters] and RIAA to have Congress mandate broadcast radios in portable devices, including mobile phones, is the height of absurdity,” thundered CEA president Gary Shapiro. Such a move is “not in our national interest.”

“Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do.”

It’s pretty impressive how entirely screwed up the big media industry is.  Really guys?  Mandating FM radios in all mobile devices?  Don’t get me wrong, I bought a quality FM antenna for the house so that we get NPR crystal clear here…. but this is just nuts.

Exciting times in mobile

Android has finally arrived.  The comparisons to the iPhone are everywhere, and rightly so, as this is going to be a very interesting show down between Google + Open and Apple + one of the best design teams in the world.  I tend to place my best on Open, but if anyone can compete against it, it’s the people that convinced the world that devices with non replaceable batteries are good investments.

It’s also interesting that the dramatic challenge in getting everyone excited by mobile wasn’t really a bump up in technology.  90% of what the iPhone can do today would be doable on your random flip phone from verizon, except the carriers block you from doing it.  Carriers:

  • block your access to the gps on the phone.  Every phone has had a gps for the last few years due to e911 requirements.
  • make it difficult to deploy apps to the phone, as they want a cut of every one.
  • make it impossible to really provide free apps on phones (by the previous point)

A good instance of this is the fact that I’ve got google maps on my Sprint flip phone.  Google wrote the app, and it does all the close searching for things like the iPhone does.  It can’t tell me where I am, because sprint blocked the gps.  But, when it comes to finding a restraunt in a strange city, it works quite well.

What Apple and Google have really been working on is getting the carriers out of the way so that mobile devices can really become a more primary platform for consumers.  They basically forced AT&T, T-Mobile, and hopefully soon Sprint, to break down their walls against letting consumers really do things on the mobile networks.  This is exciting.  I’m eagerly hoping that Sprint (who is part of the Android alliance) puts an Android phone out by the end of the year, because I’m going to snap it up immediately.  I’ve already got the Android SDK installed, and am going to start puttering around with applications that I’d love to be on my phone.