The web is full of location-based startups at the moment, struggling to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. WorkSnug seems to be one of them, pitching itself as a way for the modern “urban nomad” to find places to work. I have been in this situation myself a few times – time to kill in an unfamiliar location and looking for somewhere to plop down with a laptop and a decent coffee (and ideally a network connection) so I guess the basic idea has value.
However, the approach taken by WorkSnug seems odd, and somewhat flawed. They make a big deal of the Augmented Reality nature of their service – the ability to “look through” an iPhone screen and see labels on nearby buildings indicating the location of likely workplaces. This is just a crazy way to approach the problem. Think about it. To successfully find this sort of location using this sort of interface will only work when all of the following things are true:
- the mobile device knows the current location
- the mobile device knows the current direction (in 3D space, it seems!) of view
- workplaces in the local area are registered with the system
- the user is looking in a direction where there are registered workplaces
- the user is near enough to registered workplaces that they can be projected on nearby architecture
Arguably the hardware and infrastructure may be able to provide the first two of those conditions, and in the (unlikely?) case that the service takes off then we might achieve the third point. But the last two are the killers. Are the WorkSnug folks really imagining streets filled with laptop-carrying execs twirling like dancers while holding their iPhones aloft just on the off-chance that they might catch a glimpse of an office with a spare desk?
Fundamentally it’s a problem with data density. In areas so densely packed with eligible workspaces that they might be visible using such an AR approach, finding one is not really a problem and the solution is not very valuable. It’s in the areas where working space is harder to find (suburbs, small towns, rural areas, industral areas, …) that this kind of service has value, but these situations are exactly the ones where Augmented Reality makes no sense.
By all means run a registry of workplaces, and show them on a map with details of how to get there, but give up on the AR, please.
Oh, and also give up on the pretending that the service is busy by scrolling a bunch of pregenerated activity messages on the home page. It’s been many times before and just makes the creators of the service look like liars and charlatans.
From time to time I have been asked if I know how to deliver Caller Ring Back Tones (CRBT). While it is obviously a popular feature in some parts of the world it has always mildly baffled me.
It’s nice to read that at least one person also finds this odd.
In a more general sense, though, this is interesting from a user-interface point of view.
I’m all in favour of giving users the ability to personalise their service as much as possible. Being able to paint the walls and move the furniture is a great way to get comfortable with a service. But the point of this is that each user is customising their own experience.
CRBT breaks this model. With CRBT, each user is, in effect, customising someone else’s experience. As an approach, this can have significant impact on usability, causing congnitive dissonance, a feeling of powerlessness, and a reluctance to use a service.
If you are designing a service, please think twice before adding features which allow one user to change the experience of another.
Interesting post about the different usage and expectations of mobile search and general search. In short, location matters.
ShareMe -The Mobile Future : Mobile Search is Not GOOGLE SEARCH
For some time I have beem mulling over the posibilities of deploying applications to low-cost wireless routers to provide hyper-local services to wi-fi surfers. One thing which has always put me off is the apparent need to dig deep into low-level Linux hacking. It’s a *long* time since I last did any significant C development.
However, it seems that there are ways to support a small footprint Java virtual machine on some of this class of devices. This in turn opens up opportunities for deploying some of my own small-footprint java software here.
Wolf Paulus’ Web Journal:PhoneME, a JavaVM for the Fonera FON Router.
Mobile application development is certainly a hot topic at the moment. People seem to be climbing over one another to produce iPhone apps, and Google’s Android is never far from the tech news. But there are also other players, and several want to enable a more familiar web development experience on mobile devices.
SitePen Blog » PhoneGap, Palm Pre, and the State of Mobile Apps
A really fascinating look at different slices of US life. Top 10 grossing movies, sure, but also mobile phones, product placements, favourite commercials, and plenty more.
THE NIELSEN COMPANY ISSUES TOP TEN U.S. LISTS FOR 2008 (PDF)
A while ago I wrote about th every limited way that many educators use student response “clicker” handsets. Now I read yet another article on the topic.
Classroom response systems – elearnspace
The thrust of the article is that the use of specialist handsets is limiting, and it considers alternatives such as commodity mobile phones using bluetooth, SMS and so on. But it still misses the point. Even while acknowledging that students have massive access to communication technology, its use in education is almost universally limited to answering multiple-choice quizzes.
This is “in the box” thinking. A quiz is an extremely blunt instrument for measuring student engagement and learning. The lack of a “back channel” of information flow to the teacher has been a limitation of education ever since the first students gathered at the feet of a master. This unidirectional transfer has become such a part of the educational process that it is no longer questioned. Sometimes it is even seen as a virtue, rather than an unfortunate consequence of scale. Communication from student to teacher is carefully isolated in the small bubbles of tutorials, seminars, and one-to-one chats. “Proper” education, it appears, takes place when listening to lectures and reading textbooks.
With pervasive communication technology we now have a way of breaking out of this constraint. Think of the possibilities!
- Imagine every participant gets to indicate privately whether the pace is too fast or too slow.
- Imagine every student is free to raise non-interrupting questions or misunderstandings, and others get to answer them or vote them up if they have a similar problem. Common problems can be addressed immediately, others can be dealt with individually later.
- Imagine student notes, thoughts, and problems could be shared both with the teacher and the other students during a session, as well as being recorded for later use, rather than each student having his or her own “silo” of bafflement.
- Imagine a screen with a real-time “dashboard” of student interests and concerns as the session progresses, so a teacher can adapt and drive the session with open eyes.
- Imagine students could “log in” and “log out” of sessions without disturbing other students or the teacher, and yet still be able to track what they have missed.
All of these things are technically possible. Most are possible using commodity “clicker” hardware, let alone the power of a modern mobile phone, Wi-Fi iPod, or laptop.
Before dismissing this as a pipe dream, consider that these things routinely happen at technical conferences, where it is not uncommon for a large proportion of an audience to be twittering, blogging, messaging and commenting throughout each presentation. Strangely enough, this does not seem to result in the wisdom of the presenter being swamped by mindless chatter, rather that it is amplified, distributed, and even sometimes corrected.
The world of mobile systems and software is potentially a very exciting place to work, even if sometimes I am so close to the code that it seems just like every other piece of software I have ever worked on. Nice to note that the BBC see some crossover potential, too.
BBC News: The mobile future is calling
A while ago I spent some time banging my head against the needless inconsistencies between US mobile carriers for a project which remained at the prototype stage. If we ever pick up such a project again, the following list of email-to-SMS/MMS addresses could well be useful.
How to Send Picture Mail via SMS / MMS on the iPhone at JAW Speak
More indication that mobile technology is continuing to change the process of education. This time students at a university are all issued with iPhone or iPod touch handsets so they can use specific collaboration software at university and outside course times.
iPhone University: At ACU, Students Navigate College Life via Apple iPhone – CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership
I’m very interested in both mobile technology and education, particularly distance learning, so the concept of “m-learning” (mobile learning) is doubly interesting. Clark Quinn has put together a useful summary of the field.
M-Learning Devices: Performance to Go
A few days ago Apple finally changed the terms of their iPhone development license to allow people to talk (and write) about how to develop software for the iPhone and iPod touch. The Pragmatic Programmers already had a book project waiting in the wings and have made it available as a “beta” available to buy for download now.
No excuse not to get started writing that killer mobile application now!
The Pragmatic Bookshelf | iPhone SDK Development
An interesting analysis from the New York Times of the progressive replacement of traditional fixed-line phones by mobiles.
The Count – Users Are Tossing Their Landlines Overboard – NYTimes.com
update: a similar conclusion about the European market
I’m always interested in how other parts of the industry view the key issues in mobile and digital music publishing. It seems like a few people got together for a conference on this topic on 23 September in London. Here’s a few links about the event
EconMusic – the economics of digital music : Blogs : BCS
EconMusic Video: Billy Bragg In Reuters’ Conference Wrap-Up
EconMusic: Direct-To-Fan: Radiohead, Marillion And The End Of Labels
There’s a certain amount of “duh” in this article, but what fascinates me is not that reading and writing text messages while driving is a distraction (there’s that “duh” again), but the statistics of how many people do it.
BBC News: Text driving ‘worse than drink’
Several software companies make and sell systems which provide a way to buy and download mobile content, including games and applications. Over recent years I have occasionally been involved in the web and mobile front-end of such systems and I am always on the look out for information about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s a critique of T-Mobile’s App Store:
Wendong’s Smart Phone Weblog » T-Mobile’s new App Store: huge disappointment
An average article about the nature of the mobile market to teenagers. Do read some of the pro/anti iPhone comments, though!
For teens, the future is mobile | News – Digital Media – CNET News.com
An important part of my work is producing web and mobile user interfaces. Both cases have traditionally had trade-offs: A modern desktop or laptop computer web browser is so powerful and potentially has so much screen space to play with that deciding how best to make use of all that resource is a daunting task. Typical lowest-common-denominator mobile devices, on the other hand have so little power, flexibility and screen territory that getting enough information and interactivity on any single screen-full is a struggle.
In this arena, the success of the iPhone is especially interesting. For many application developers, the iPhone has already gained enough market presence to be worth re-building mobile and web applications to suit the particular blend of size and features offered by the device. This in turn has led to some surprisingly usable condensed applications.
Slipstream – On a Small Screen, Just the Salient Stuff – NYTimes.com