The e-Paper revolution is upon us! This prototype still has a few kinks to iron out, but is clearly the beginning of a new wave in note-taking innovations, especially for educational purposes. Most people want access to the gadget, I want access to an API
Posts tagged Mobile Technology
Parent Company: Catch.com
Pricing Structure: Freemium, with Pro account for $5/month or $45/year. Also an option of a Premier account for $16/month or $145/year.
Strengths: Catch is designed to make sure you never miss an idea by making it ridiculously easy to capture all types of information. To start, users are able to work with multiple media types from including text, voice, photo, and checklists. Additionally, as a native app, this functionality works online and offline. Furthermore, Catch has a uniquely mobile capture wheel which takes literally a swipe to activate – no two taps here and a click there. The wheel is comfortably placed at the bottom of the screen where it is extremely simple to access. Along with the graphics and overall user experience, it feels almost fun to record a thought or idea!
The other amazing part about Catch is that it is built so that you can come back and work with the data later, so you don’t have to organize it right away. When you do return, the app allows you to put those notes into “Spaces” and to send notes to different collaborators. This functionality is closely tied to the previous idea because by allowing you to share later on, a user can focus on just catching an idea during a moment of inspiration without the burden of thinking about where it should go.
Finally, Catch has done a great job integrating the mobile experience (on iOS and Android) with their desktop client. Notes generated from the mobile app quickly jump onto the desktop, and syncing back onto the app is just as seamless. Providing a web interface means notes are accessible anywhere, even if a user forgets their phone at home or otherwise misplaces it, making web integration a much bigger deal than most people realize.
Weaknesses: For all it’s sleekness, Catch is still just another todo-list app and has the major limitations of all such apps, which is the inability to organize the stored items. Tags, folders, and “Spaces” does do some of this, so I don’t want to discredit their effort, but there’s no ability to see all these items together to draw conclusions. There’s no way to create a hierarchy of Spaces. There’s no way to view and organize complex notes with a small mobile screen.
Ultimately, Catch is an amazing note-taking apps, and definitely one of the best ones at taking full advantage of uniquely mobile features. Catch truly pushes the boundaries of what is possible with a todo-list app, but as far as a tool to spark innovation, it is not.
A critical component of start-up success is having a credible product that satisfies a sizable market with an unmet need. However, clear opportunities rarely exist because most lucrative industries are either entrenched with a handful of colossal incumbents, or in absence of high barriers to entry, these markets are filled with countless me-too companies scrambling for any slice of ever-thinning margins. However, in rare cases, start-ups have an amazing opportunity to enter into a space as the foundation of an industry is shaken up by external change. This could be due to social shift beyond the industry’s borders or when emerging technologies signal a shift in what the standard product can provide. Therefore, one of the reasons productivity software is so exciting is the existence of both factors that allow the potential upheaval of current market leaders.
- Cloud Computing – allows a user to store their ideas in the cloud and access them on demand
- LiquidText – allows a user to manipulate their ideas through a natural user interface.
- Tablet Adoption – allows a user a large screen to view their ideas simultaneously, a portable form factor to carry with them at all times, and enough consumer penetration to shift the burden of teaching users to use the technology to the tablet manufacturer
- Operational Transformation – allows a user to message and collaborate other people at real-time speeds, with the technology available through an open-source protocol along with a number of other userful APIs
- Touchscreen Responsiveness – allows a user to write to a screen like they would on a real piece of paper
Altogether, we have a future where online, real-time collaboration is not only possible, but actually a norm. The user experience will be intuitive, interactive, and fluid with minimal delays in user feedback. What makes this inevitable is that once users acclimate to new technology, they soon see it as standard. With the thousands of productivity apps in iTunes alone, some of them will offer these features and soon everyone else will follow. The leader though will be the one who can combine everything in a elegant and seamless experience, which is exactly what I intend to do.
During Disrupt SF 2012, Mark Zuckerberg noted that:
“When I’m introspective about the last few years I think the biggest mistake that we made, as a company, is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native… because it just wasn’t there. And it’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, on long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that’s interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile Web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile Web is a big thing for us.”
To me, this means that Zuckerberg feels that Facebook bet too early on HTML5, and not that HTML5 is inherently the wrong direction. This is exactly the stance I have been taking for awhile, and my current bet is that web apps will come into their own 3-5 years out.
On a related note, today’s iPhone release really shows the end of Apple’s reign, and as a consequence, the eventual fall of the iTunes AppStore. This shift allows competitors (most notably Windows 8) a chance to steal market share from the current leader. Apple is showing a sign of weakness and Microsoft is coming out with the first version of a completely redesigned operating system. A battle will clearly ensue.
This leads me to my next point, which that, with three competitive app stores, and and ever increasing amount of apps in each one, the call to create cross-platform applications will only grow. Along with the general confusion of managing native apps, the benefits of web-based apps are starting to really shine through. Yes, native apps currently have higher performance, but as web apps and HTML5 start to adopt all the really awesome features currently only available to native development, building for the web will become the norm. Let’s not forget that building web apps means getting to keep all of your revenue, without a automatic 30% cut going to the various third-parties.
In conclusion, despite Facebook’s turn towards native app development, my prediction that web apps will become the standard in 3-5 years is still a position I am fully willing to support.
The outstanding new features of Microsoft Office 2013 can be broken down into three general areas: (1) Touch Interactions (2) Cloud Support and (3) Social Integration. Overall, this version of Office is one of the most superb yet, and it has to be as it serves as the main driver for introducing people to Windows 8.
As technology moves into the post PC era, more and more people will be expecting their digital interactions to occur in natural user interfaces (NUIs) rather than graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Therefore, Microsoft decisive action towards getting touch right should only be viewed as an amazing decision. They are aware that touch will be one of the main interaction methods of the near future and embracing it has allowed Microsoft to add an innovative new dimension to their products.
Anyone looking around today recognizes the extreme proliferation of tablets, smartphones and hybrid mobile devices, and Microsoft is no exception. They recognized that new user scenarios are emerging where people are getting work done leaning back in a chair, leaning forward on a train, bus, or plane, sitting on a couch, lying in bed, standing in line, or walking down the hall. Since most of these use cases don’t involve the connection to a physical keyboard, having the software adapt to a touch-only environment is critical in allowing people to continue working without missing a beat.
With the newest version of Office 2013, there is a complete revamp of OneNote and Lync, along with improved touch-enabled experiences in everything else within the product lineup. To start, one major upgrade is general touch responsiveness. Items and images respond to your touch as if they were actual objects. If you move an image to a new location, the text around the image shifts to accomodate the new object. There is momentum and inertia when pushing objects around. This type of responsiveness required a move from GDI to modern hardware accelerated graphics.
Touch targeting, which refers to successfully touching the thing you’re trying to touch, was also another area of improvement. Targeting is almost entirely about raw physical size, but knowing when to increase sizes and when it is acceptable to skip over an item still requires careful decisions. Fingers are much bigger than mouse pointers or pen tips, so things need to be physically larger on the screen in order to be comfortable to touch. The Windows team did extensive research to develop guidelines for hit target sizes, which they used throughout the new designs. Additionally, selecting text and objects are changed by adding new text selection handles to various products, which function similar to selection handles found in iOS.
Typing and text input in general has been major pain point for many users migrating to a mobile platform. While Office 2013 is still a far cry from the ideal user interface, it takes us a giant step closer to seamless human-computer interaction. Whereas before the keyboard didn’t appear easily, it is now very easy to invoke keyboard button and in some situations the program is smart enough to recognize when it should come up automatically. Furthermore, in the past, the keyboard would sometimes cover what you were typing, and now the cursor and page scroll will adjust to stay on screen. Next, given the much more limited screen size, Office 2013 has the ribbon is automatically minimized, with smart understanding of when to stick around a bit longer (ie. Bold, Underline, Italic), and when to close itself after one-use (ie. Insert Table). Perhaps most exciting of all is when the app eliminates the need to type at all. For example, Excel’s new Flash Fill feature essentially automates text-to-columns or Concatenate, depending on the direction you are going.
Finally, there are many more commanding options optimized for touch. The mini-bar concept has been expanded, which is a smaller selection menu that pops up when you select certain objects. Additionally, in-canvas commands are now shifted to the right or left on tablet devices so they are more easily accessible with a user’s thumbs since this better aligns with real-world usage. Perhaps the most risky change is the new radial menu for OneNote that gives functions in a circle rather than a dropdown menu, and includes touch-shortcuts that allow you to simply swipe in certain directions to quickly create a change. Design patterns for shortcuts and simple functions don’t exist in mobile yet as they do for desktop interactions (such as Ctrl+C for copy), but if any company has the ability to influence future behavior in this area, Microsoft would be the prime candidate.
In conclusion, for expert users, the entire touch experience has been redesigned from the ground up to be fast, fluid, and efficient – all the qualities needed to great productivity software.
Office 2013 brings integration to the cloud in a large variety of manners. Just as improving the touch experience is critical to the mobile user experience, so is connecting to the cloud. To begin, Office 2013 has upgraded syncing capabilities through a new-and-improved Skydrive. Although Skydrive has been around for since 2007, it is only now ready to really compete with the big players in the space. This includes independent players like Dropbox and SugarSync, as well as integrated platforms such as Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive. The major benefit of SkyDrive include the ability to sync documents, presentations, and other files. Within a document, Skydrive is also able to save personal settings, such as themes and custom dictionaries, as well as document states, such as the the last page edited. Finally, Skydrive is great for just general purpose storage as an external drive.
In addition to syncing, Office 2013 has vastly improved streaming abilities where the software is able to downloaded directly from their servers through a feature called Click-2-Run. Through this service, a customer can get a Office 2013 perpetual license directly online. In fact, most installs will probably occur through Click-2-Run because even those who go to the brick & mortar store will likely only receive a coupon with the passcode, rather than a shiny plastic disk.
The most dramatic change to Office though has to be the switch to a subscription model. Although customers will still be able to buy permanent license to Office, and even though is technically already available through Office 365, annual subscriptions have the potential to monumentally shift how users interact with and think about software. No longer are applications something that come pre-bundled with the computer and part of the system, but rather a purchase that users have to actively choose to stay opt into. With the option to subscribe comes the option to cancel that subscription, something that people probably did not associate with applications in the past. Especially as Microsoft and other Fortune 500 companies push into the mobile landscape, we will see more and more norms and values change in relation to software applications.
Finally, it’s probably worth mentioning that all three cloud services play well with each other. When a customer subscribes to the new Office, they can download their software by streaming it from the Internet, and their subscription information will be synced across a number of devices. In particular, users can download up to five temporary versions of an application with what is likely monthly or yearly subscriptions. This software will be full functioning, and allow you to work and edit documents as normal. The main difference is that is it periodically checks to see whether your subscription is still valid. If not, the service essentially shuts down, and only allows you to read and print documents. Ideally, the entire application would live in the cloud and you wouldn’t have to download anything to the desktop. These are called Office Web Apps, but while improved over previous versions, are still lacking full functionality. In the end, it is clear that Microsoft is moving into the cloud, making them only a couple years too late (half-joking).
Unlike touch and cloud support, social integration is not related to the new mobile paradigm, but instead is driven by the current popularity of social networks. Unfortunately, rather than taking this opportunity to push the boundaries of mobile technology (possibly through voice-integration), Microsoft instead responded by taking the mindless route of simply jumping on the bandwagon. Whether this becomes the right decision remains to be seen, but if it’s not clear by now, I am not a believer.
However, social integration plays a prominent role in the newest release of Office 2103 and deserves is own commentary. First, there are many more ways to share files including, inviting other users, creating a link, posting to a social network, emailing, presenting online, and publishing as a blog post. While these options were available in the past, Office 2013 has baked them into the system in a seamless manner. Second, there is now much better live collaboration, otherwise known as co-editing or multiuser co-authoring. This allows people to make changes to the same document at the same time, and is a common benefit found in Google Drive products. Next, after Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer in late June 2012, a smattering of new social features have been popping up here and there in various products, and many more to come. Within Sharepoint, there is now a Newsfeed to keep up with what other co-workers are doing. Outlook has redesigned People Cards where one can directly send an email, shoot an IM, or make a phone call. Microsoft Word got threaded comments, and Microsoft Excel got survey creation abilities.
Overall, if Microsoft uses the calling of “social” as a way to improve collaboration and sharing of ideas, then they are headed in the right direction. However, if their foray into social is just as a gut reaction to the success of Facebook, then anything they come up with will just play second fiddle to the leader, and frankly be counter-productive to Office’s main use case, which is to get stuff done!
For the most part, Office 2013 is just next iteration in a long line of Office releases. However, bold new moves such as the totally redesigned OneNote and the expanded subscription model forecast a radically different future for Office and Microsoft as a whole. If Redmond continues to take the big risks necessary to push ahead of the competition, then they just might become the top hotshot company once again.
This could be a big deal.
And that’s really all I can say so far because all the major details still remain missing. Let’s start with what we do know. First of all, the new Microsoft Surface 2.0 has a revolutionary kickstand built into the device itself. It also has two new internally-developed keyboard attachments, which doubles as a screen cover. One of them is thinner, but the other reflects the actual buttons of a keyboard. Both come in multiple colors. On the software side, the Surface will be running Windows RT, but will also have Windows 8 on within the year. Finally, we know that the screen is 10.6 inches with a width 9.3 to 13.5 millimeters, depending on the version.
So why do I like it? To start, Microsoft has obviously invested a lot of money in mobile technology, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Unlike Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system is a clear deviation from Apple’s iOS, which brings real competition and diversity into the marketplace. Therefore, as a consumer, I appreciate the shifting economics that Microsoft brings to the table. Second, the new keyboard means a user can generate input as quickly as their fingers can type. This type of innovation is absolutely necessary for bringing mobile technology to the masses since many people have to use physical keyboards for user input. Therefore, as a proponent of mobile technology, I am excited that we are taking this big step forward into the future. Lastly, the new operating system will integrate nicely with other Microsoft software, meaning it should have native support for the MS Office Suite. This is great news to IT departments who want a enterprise-grade method of going mobile, but is also great for workers who are used to running robust enterprise-grade applications. Although other apps like Google Docs are coming close, there still isn’t any software on the market that has as much power as MS Office. Therefore, as an efficiency and productivity geek, I really like the idea that we will finally be able to get real work done on the go.
What might go wrong here? Well, although we know Windows 8 is different, we don’t know if it’s necessarily better. Will consumers get used to the fact that there is no menu bar, or that everything is based on tiles? If there isn’t enough traction for Windows 8 for it to make a significant dent in the marketplace, then we are probably stuck with iPad clones for the rest of our lives. It’s not even that you and I need to like Windows 8; it’s that enough other people need to like Windows 8 to make sure that we have healthy competition and innovation in the space. Next, although the keyboard looks great, I am a firm believer that the stylus will be the way to go when it comes to truly natural user input. When people scribble a thought down onto a notepad, they aren’t using keyboards, and when we all start adapting to writing on tablets, we won’t be using keyboards either. Finally, although Windows 8 works great with MS Office, the future of productivity is in the cloud. This means Windows 8 needs to work great with external cloud services or MS Office needs to step up its game in that area. Overall, there’s just a lot of unknowns in deciding whether or not Windows Surface tablet will be a game changer. I, for one, hope that it will be!
More Info: http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en/us/default.aspx
One of the main reasons this blog is called Productivity Anywhere is that everything in the future will be mobile. Productivity in the near future will at its core be about how people are more productive wherever they are, rather than just at their workstations. The mobile revolution is a big deal because when people think about getting work done, the image that is conjured up is still of a person plopping down in front of a laptop at their desk. This will not be the case. Ubiquitous computing isn’t a neat area for a company to explore, such as going green or mobile payments; it’s a fundamental shift in how people will interact with technology. This page is a collection of links to support this hypothesis:
- Tablets will be more powerful and used by more people. More importantly, frames will be everywhere, so you can use your smartphone as just a thin client that powers everything else. (http://www.readwriteweb.com/mobile/2012/05/tablets-want-to-kill-your-laptop.php)
- Mind Blowing iPad Stats (http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1556)
Change is the only constant. – Heraclitus
Make the computer do the work
Great software is a joy to use because it eliminates all extraneous actions that don’t require the user’s explicit attention and instead allows the user to focus on the task at hand. To start, this simply means making everything fast. In this case, the unnecessary “action” performed by the user is waiting for the computer to finish its calculation. Increasing speed can be accomplished through a combination of many factors. One way is making technical changes such as intelligent caching or multi-threading. Another way is making efficiency changes such as clean code or clear information architecture. And while these proposed improvements require non-trivial amounts of engineering effort, I would consider them basic steps because the issue is easily identifiable. Someone just needs to take the time to do something about it.
The next step is to get rid of actual actions the user has to take. In this sense, the software should be doing as much as it can to automate, prefill, guess, and parse. Examples of this include having changes auto-save or having text auto-complete. Furthermore, little details such as auto-positioning cursors or creating unobtrusive tool-tips go a long way in reducing the cognitive load induced upon a user when completing a task. Overall, the goal here is to minimize cognitive friction by making the computer guess what the user wants rather than making the person guess what the computer wants.
The third level of creating an effortless experience is going beyond minimizing clicks and onto removing a series of steps. A excellent example of this is restoring a user’s previous state to the last time they logged in. Another example is auto-syncing user content across devices. In these situations, the computer isn’t just helping eliminate a stray click here or there, but rather helping the user perform an entire set of actions.
Taking a step back, one must be cognizant of the fact that the computer doesn’t always get it right. As a case study, one can look at the decision to pre-populate form fields when a user is going through a checkout process. In this scenario, the computer already has access to a pair of text strings from when the user filled out the billing address. However, the user might end up sending the order to a different shipping address. In these instances, it may be tempting to give the user more freedom by leaving the second entry form blank, but for most people this isn’t necessary.
In concordance with the principles of Simplicity and Sensible Defaults, just because the system can’t predict every use case doesn’t mean it shouldn’t make an effort to speed up the lives of the majority of users who will enter applicable input. Admittedly, it is a fine line between balancing computer assistance and user control, but more often than not, you want to make the computer do the work.
We are now in an age of unprecedented growth when the quantity and diversity of connected devices is exploding. Due to the proliferation of networked mobile platforms, nothing exists in isolation, and devices of every shape and size are all connected. The new standards of sharing and consuming content will lead to a shift in existing communication systems, as existing workflows and infrastructure break under the onslaught of new devices. In this ever-changing landscape, a company’s core services should be based on fundamental business strategies rather than simply following the year’s hot new platform (build iPhone apps) or trend (going local or social).
In most cases, there is no mobile-specific use-case because users are visiting your website on their mobile device for the same reasons they visit your website on their desktop. Yes, mobile devices have smaller screens, and yes, they have limited processing power, but that doesn’t change what users expect out of their mobile experience. Users may access your site in different contexts and locations, but they often have the same intent. We should all aim for universal access as the default and only diverge when absolutely necessary.
The first step in embracing this future is letting go of the format in which your content is displayed and instead focus on just generating great content. We must move away from graphical user-interfaces and go towards natural user-interfaces where the navigation is the content. Don’t worry about how pretty the service looks, and instead focus on just making it awesome by designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in. Ultimately, people don’t mind a simple user experience, but they do mind a broken one.
Talk about Mobile First:
From the design team to the executive team, those within Kayak say it now makes more sense to do the opposite. “I got to the point where I actually liked iPhone app better than our website, I thought it was aesthetically more beautiful,” Kayak co-founder and CTO Paul English told me in an interview last week.