Apple’s design accomplishments are legendary. Their design prowess in most ways sets the benchmark. Their feats and are often credited with inventing new categories of products we never knew we needed when I think they actually are simply the best at perfecting ideas. With that said what if that prowess extended far beyond the technology stratosphere and reached many of the simpleton things we encounter on a daily basis. Here’s my list of 5 things I wish they did just that.
- Vending Machines. Vending Machines universally suck. They constantly rip you off. They’re giant, orca giant, and noisy. Can you say, “Siri, can I have a Milky Way please?”
- ATMs. Also universally suck. “Siri, give me a Benjamin please.” “Certainly, how would you like that?” “Three 20s, two tens, two fives, and the rest in ones will do.” Notice I never had to select my language preference in this exchange and yes I’m aware of Apple Pay but the vending machine I frequent isn’t and is perfectly content stealing my cash.
- Microwaves. Now these don’t normally suck but how cool would it be to pop in your tv dinner, shut the door and it started automatically because it read some NFC tag or bar code that in turn translated to the proper wattage and heating time. It will even pause to tell you in Siri’s wonderful voice it’s time to remove the wrapper over the refried beans and stir them. Oh and the door makes virtually no noise to open or close. Why are microwave doors always so loud anyway? Loud buzzers, forget about it, just Siri’s delish voice. Step out of the room when the timer ends no problem, a gentle notification to your iPhone or Apple Watch will let you know your dinner is ready. It would also alert you when it detected metal and not operate until it is removed.
- Automatic faucets. You know the kind in public bathrooms. Seriously why do these never work when I put my hands under them and why do they stop when I haven’t removed my hands?! The urinals usually work as do paper towel dispensers and air dryers why not faucets?
- A Kid’s Tablet. Because my 5 year old has access to a LeapPad, a Kindle Fire, a Nintendo DS, and a Xbox Kinect but almost always prefers my iPhone 6 I believe because it offers the most hassle free experience for him. This may not qualify to be on this list because it’s still a tech product nevertheless I just want to see what Apple would do with a product designed from the ground up exclusively for kids.
I lauded the arrival of iOS 7 more than another other iteration of Apple’s mobile software mostly because I was so ready for its new flat look but it doesn’t remotely compare to my anticipation for iOS 8 and with it the arrival of third-party keyboard support. Apple’s stock keyboard has been much maligned for every successive iteration of their software and for me has been the single greatest point of frustration with iOS. Reasons for my frustration are quite simple and don’t really have much to do with snazzy gestures or pretty color templates so much as it has to do with accuracy. I simply just can’t master typing on the stock keyboard. It’s really quite maddening how poor I can be at times. It’s not rocket science but for reasons both known and unknown I can nary type a single sentence without an error and at this point I’m honestly resigned to the fact that I just suck at it. I had great hope that some third-party keyboard would come along and rescue me from my unmanageable thumbs. By the title surely you’ve guessed by now I was disappointed with the results. So here’s what lead me to the ultimate conclusion that I am ditching all third party keyboards for the stock Apple keyboard.
Somewhere in all the buzz leading up to the launch of iOS 8 and with it third-party keyboard support I came across news that a third-party app available on other platforms had set the Guinness World Record for fastest typing. Its name was Fleksy and after reading up on it I was immediately sold on its gesture based predictive algorithm. It seemed so fluid and quite slick. You see my crutch is simply typing accurately. I can spell just fine. I know how to structure a sentence. Still it’s a mystery to me why I err so much because I don’t have fat fingers, I consider myself very dexterous, and my thumbs keep in shape playing Xbox nevertheless I’ve always sucked at typing on the iPhone. The UI presented to me by Fleksy just seemed to hit the sweet spot because unlike most other keyboards including Apple’s it doesn’t try to predict as you type instead it just tries to predict what you just typed. Translation, it basically auto corrects your spelling. After downloading iOS 8 Fleksy was the first new app I installed. Frustration set in immediately as the keyboard crashed the very first time I took it out for a spin. After about a day of constant crashes I would learn that all iOS 8 users were experiencing the same thing and that the issue was baked into iOS 8 and affected all third-party keyboards. I would stumble on a couple more days until I just turned off the keyboard entirely to wait for Apple to offer up an update to fix what was a widely reported major bug. The first update supposed to fix the bugs we would quickly learn could brick phones and a successive update for the update would promptly come out soon after. I gave things a couple more days to smooth out before downloading that update. What’s important to note here is in that brief period while Apple was ironing out the kinks to the kinks so to speak I got some time with the updated stock Apple keyboard and discovered as advertised it had improved by leaps and bounds over the last one. It’s prediction engine was quite good and I would have to say did cut down my errors to some extent. That didn’t stop me from reactivating Fleksy once I finally downloaded the iOS update with fixes for third-party keyboards. I had after all already made my mind up to ditch yet another stock Apple feature for a better alternative something I have successfully done with practically every other stock Apple app or feature to date where alternatives existed.
Sadly Fleksy would turn into a maddening disaster. The predictive gestures were fun but what sunk it for me from almost the first day was its over corrective tendencies. How can you over correct the spelling of a word you ask? Simple really. Take the word “gun” for example. Typing it correctly would often yield a different word like “fun”. It begs the question how does this happen really? Wouldn’t in the hierarchy of rules a correctly spelled word take precedence over really any other rule? With Fleksy replacing a correctly spelled word with another word entirely happened astonishingly frequently. This left me altogether pissed off frankly. If I couldn’t correctly type in a word and have it accepted (especially since we’ve already established how much trouble I have typing accurately to begin with) then what is the point really? I researched the 3 major keyboards getting buzz at launch (Fleksy, Swype, and SwiftKey) and I’m not sure if I made it past two full days with my first choice, Fleksy, before moving on to my next choice. SwiftKey.
The lure for me about SwiftKey was really 3 things. First it was free which helps considering I had to purchase Fleksy, next it incorporated swipe to type gestures and learned your typing patterns getting better the more you used it (allegedly), and last you could always tap away if you didn’t want to swipe. I was at first really impressed with it but quickly discovered that learning your typing patterns was too much of a good thing. If I incorrectly misspelled a word in the same way a couple of times well…the incorrect spelling became its default first prediction thereafter. After 2 or 3 weeks I found myself full circle with the keyboard over correcting too often albeit now with a slew of misspellings. I could easily reset the keyboard to rid myself of all my polluted predictions but as I stated with Fleksy what’s the point of using their keyboard then? Truly frustrated I took a brief hiatus from third-party keyboards and went back to the stock Apple keyboard. At this point though I found that I had grown quite fond of the swipe to type gesture. It just felt more natural for one-handed use especially with the bigger iPhones that have virtually eliminated the ability to type one-handed so I finally convinced myself to drop a buck and download my third option. Swype. As luck would have it Apple would make it the FREE app of the week the very next day. Go figure. Nevertheless I found myself as with SwiftKey quite smitten with it I think mostly because it worked better (at first) than the previous keyboard I had tried, but not perfect. In fact Swype‘s fatal flaw is no different from all the others for me. Over correction. I don’t understand it really. I found it had trouble acknowledging swipes for words with two identical successive letters but not in the way you might think. For example I can’t tell you how many times it replaced “to” with “too”. Such a common word…too pun intended! Ultimately I concluded I was spending just as much time correcting Swype‘s predictions as I was correcting my own typos in the stock Apple keyboard so like I’ve stated the other two times what then is the point?!
I’ve been mulling this question over for some time as my frustration level has continued to build. Not mentioned with these three different experiences is the one factor that is the same across the board that muddles all of these third-party keyboard experiences. Crashes. Yep they are still a constant despite Apple updates meant to address these crashes. I know it’s not just my phone because in the middle of this experience I actually switched iPhones (for other reasons) starting from a clean slate rather than restoring from a backup. Users still complain of the constant crashes. They’re certainly better than at launch but nevertheless they are a daily miff. Honestly it’s astonishing really how prevalent they are and how little attention it’s getting. There’s another factor that has influenced my choice to spurn third-party keyboards. Emoticons or lack thereof. Support for them varies between the apps I tested with Fleksy doing the better job nevertheless emoticon support seems more or less an afterthought. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s a combination of both iOS restrictions and/or lack of creativity on the part of third-party app makers to incorporate them better. It seems petty to include this as a deciding factor but I must admit to embracing emoticons as a significant portion of my day to day mobile communication and to have it buried sometimes 3 taps back is off-putting to say the least.
It’s taken me two and a half months to finally throw in the towel but I finally did. It really boiled down to simple math for me. In the negative column you’ve got a common theme of over correction, constant crashes, and a case of emoticon denial. In the positive you’ve got an improved stock Apple keyboard that at least is stable and better at offering you up predictions while not jamming them down your throat. Ultimately though the deciding factor for me was my general level of frustration. When I use a third-party keyboard I have this expectation that it will work better than the stock one and that some launch bugs are expected but not to this degree. I expect it will not just be pretty but actually make the task of typing easier or more efficient for me. None of these have remotely been up to the task. I got more frustrated using third-party keyboards than with the stock keyboard which I guess in part is because I have come to accept some level of frustration already over the years with the stock keyboard. I’m left now with only one choice to return to the Apple stock keyboard.
Now that I’m reluctantly all in on the Apple keyboard train I offer a couple of thoughts for the masses who might agree with me. Why can’t we have different colors schemes for the stock keyboard baked in? It’s surely not because it’s not possible; I find a different color themed keyboard when I’m utilizing spotlight search versus Messages already. How about long presses to a secondary keyboard much like Swype already employs? Yes I know there’s already the trick to long press the 123 button already to get to that secondary keyboard but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the Swype keyboard in this regard. What about adjusting the size of the buttons like Fleksy offers? This one really seems like a no brainer especially with the bigger screens for the new iPhones. How about the option to add a top row of numbers or characters so I can easily tap out #comeonalready? Am I asking too much…really? Final parting thought, I wonder how long it’s going to take me to untrain all the different gestures and shortcuts I’ve learned the past 11 weeks and just get back to my normal pace of error laden typing? Er I feel worse off than when I started.
Every day I enter the doors to my current place of employment I pass by 3 plaques housing the names of every employee honored for 20 years or more of employment there. The plaques have accumulated 180 names total. Sadly this is a rarity in today’s marketplace. I would wager that 20 years from now, those plaques are removed because few new names are being added. This is no disrespect to my employer it’s just the reality of the marketplace where jobs are constantly abandoned for greener pastures. Loyalty exists paycheck to paycheck simply because money is usually the only morale driver at least in my region of the country.
I live in the Midwest where the famed startup stories and legends of company perks at places like Google are only part of some mythical place known as Silicon Valley. Typically the only benefits that differentiate one company from another in these parts is the amount of out of pocket expense incurred for yearly medical benefits. Boring. Except for the local Big Oil company or two most benefits and company policies are fairly interchangeable from one place to the next. Now I currently have a couple entrepreneurial things on the back burner and who knows maybe one day something will take off. When it does I’ve got a wish list of perks or intangibles I hope to institute from the start that I hope will coax a few people to work for me and stay put. Here they are and reasons why in no particular order:
- Offer A Flex Work Schedule. Can you say Half Day Fridays? This is something common in places like Colorado where you live in a real life playground but it makes sense for many other practical reasons besides morale that I won’t list here. I once watched a 60 Minutes special on Patagonia the outdoor gear outfitter based in California. One key to their employee success and productivity they highlighted was a very liberal and trusting flexible work schedule policy. It was simple; get your time in when you wanted to…period. For example employees still had to put in a 40 hour workweek but if someone popped in the door and boisterously exclaimed, “Surf’s up!”, they bolted for the beach and returned to work that afternoon, evening, or weekend when their cups were full and the waves had died down. It didn’t matter when so long as you got your hours in. You can only imagine the loyal employee base they have as a result! For some this simple flexible policy will cause an employee to think real hard before bolting for a job that paid a couple dollars an hour more. That’s a novel concept that certainly goes against the grain of our punch card culture for standard factory workers but perhaps a slightly more restrictive policy will still produce similar results. I know for me a similar policy would’ve allowed me to catch my son make his first snow angel this year rather than sulk that the moment was enjoyed via a texted photo. I would have happily came in the following Saturday after the snow had melted if I could’ve left early that day.
- Work To Play Is The Company Motto! I’ll never understand our country’s aversion to vacation allotment but it’s not remotely close in comparison to the rest of the industrial world. Some will argue it’s a factor that affords us the world’s largest economy but I say bunk. I say we’re successful in spite of our lack of vacation days. Two weeks a year seems to be the universally accepted starting vacation policy. That typically goes up as a reward for different milestones of company service. I’ll offer 3 weeks starting vacation minimum not counting personal time.
- Provide Only The Best Stuff For Employees. If the smartphone and tablet trend has taught us anything it’s that employees are tired of drab corporate centric products. Buy them that iPhone, iPad, or touch mouse they envy. Buy them the best gear available to do their job or at least help them get it. My company pays up to $100/year for steel toe shoes. I took the $100 and added $30 out of pocket to buy a premium brand that are ridiculously comfortable. I haven’t dipped into that $100 allowance the last 2 years because I’m quite happy with the pair I bought then. I’d say this was a win win policy for my company and me.
- Offer Internet Freedom. Want to foster employee loyalty? Show some trust. Naturally all things should be doled out in proper portions but for most company internet policies that means an all or nothing approach. Bandwidth restrictions I get because we are after all at work to be productive and a few Pandora boneheads can really sap internet productivity for the responsible majority. Restricting adult sites is a no brainer too, but that’s where I think a line should be drawn after. For starters open up social sites already! Get with the times employers and let your employees have a free second to make evening plans with their buddies or even a coworker. Internet filters in my opinion are a lazy exec’s way of micromanaging. It’s silly. If your employees are judged on their productivity and performance and they’re spending all their time on Facebook then their performance will suffer. These things work themselves out if your people are being fairly judged on performance.
- Never Waste Employees’ Time. Don’t make your accountant take a 45 minute online safety training course covering the proper shop safety gear when he/she will never ever set foot on the factory floor. Limit the allowable number of meetings/length of meetings for each business day. I know this sounds restrictive but most employees will actually appreciate such a policy for it’s time-respecting merits.
- Premium Toilet Paper. This one is self explanatory.
- Free Great Coffee. Can I get an Amen! Don’t be cheap, pick one great perk like free premium brand coffer or an expresso machine to splurge on your employees. It really is the small things that count folks.
Yesterday closed out a one day fire sale of Google Glass. It was opened up for anyone to purchase directly through Google’s site for a whopping $1,500 for one day only and it was supposedly a massive success with a complete sell out. For the past year+ since Google announced the developer version of Google Glass there’s been a ton of buzz. Much criticism has been cast as well. It usually goes something like It’s got the cool factor with a ton of potential for sure, but it’s also a little creepy too. The creepy factor comes with the built in camera that can potentially be activated with a simple wink. This is the foundation for both the cool and creepy factor. It’s also the greatest reason Google Glass will be a dismal failure. This is a first for me. I typically won’t rant on a product before it really has had a chance to get off the ground and prove the pundits right or wrong but I must make an exception here because it seems so obvious that it will fail. Here’s the scenario that will precipitate the dramatic fall or prevent a meteoric rise for Glass. Remember the helmet cam footage recently from the bikers’/Range Rover road rage incident from last year in NYC? Well there’s gonna be something as dramatic caught on Glass. This footage will air all over the world, a perpetrator will be tried and convicted based off the footage, and Glass will have all the free press it could dream of. A few days later somebody is going to be walking down the street minding his own Ps and Qs and take a wrong turn down some villainous city block. Some madman is going to take issue with said Glass wearing pee on and beat him to a bloody pulp for wearing it and invading his turf and privacy. It’s going to happen. Unfortunately it’s a solid bet and when it does nobody is going to want to wear their Glass in public for fear of a repeat performance. There are other factors that will lead to it’s demise like the first vehicular accident involving an offender wearing Glass but the camera will be Glass’s ultimate demise. How about instances where security is involved? Dare I mention this, but a synchronized camera feed would be a nice tool for terrorists to utilize when attempting to pull off coordinated attacks. FYI Google, there’s very good reason camcorder manufacturers started putting a little red light on their products when recording. Crap, did I officially just become a pundit with this last statement?
I applaud Google Glass for its possibilities and technical prowess but unfortunately we simply can’t handle the human factor as a society yet. Will I get one? Sure when the price drops 100% and will likely use it as a TV companion so I can blink my way through channel surfing in an effort to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome from excess remote usage. If I’m really lucky a series of coordinated blinks might even someday tell some Google Bot to appear with a cold beer in extended robo grip. Now that would exhibit some cool factor!
September 20th was the official launch of the new iPhones 5C and 5S and just prior to it’s release every tech site and news site all rushed to get out their verdicts on the new models. For the most part all the reviews were positive. It’s really hard to argue with Apple’s solid hardware designs and reliable and vast App Store but every single review I read dinged Apple on one common thing – screen size. The rumors were all abuzz with a larger screen for the iPhone but all proved to be untrue. Android has toppled iOS in worldwide market share in large part due to affordable designs and big and bigger screen sizes. It’s the same game that has played out year after year whether it’s TVs, laptops, or smartphones. What’s lost here is the value of true functionality, portability, and ultimately purpose. The purpose being that of a smartphone. By definition a smartphone is limited by size because of it’s inherent requirement to be portable but size can also limit functionality. How do you define and strike the right balance of portability, functionality, and features? That’s ultimately the debate in play in the smartphone market with ever increasing screen sizes. Personally I define it one way with one question. Can you fully operate the device in one hand? This is precisely the marketing ploy Apple baits us with. Most people can touch their thumb anywhere on the iPhones’ screen without having to readjust the phone in any way with another hand. This simple subtle fact I believe is at the core of the very purpose of a smartphone. In my opinion if it takes two hand to operate it then just save you money for a full blown tablet. Don’t be swayed by giant phone screens unless you just don’t care about portability. Make the overall experience your priority. I do believe there’s a market for larger screens sans the Galaxy Note 3‘s 5.7″ display but I treat that market as really the outer fringe of the tablet market. Even Samsung knows the Note’s screen is a stretch that’s why they’re solely paring it with the Samsung Gear smartwatch for now. Gee I wonder if the smartwatch market will play out the same way? Will we soon be toiling over whether 1.3″, 1.6″, or 2″ is the proper screen size for the smartwatch?
Today is the official start of the NFL football season and to celebrate it I’ve received two emails and counting from ESPN. One was a reminder that “NFL is back and ESPN has you covered” and the other was a reminder to download the fantasy football app. Last week I got the same reminder emails about college football and their corresponding ESPN College Football App. Seems like harmless notifications right? When I already own both apps and have likewise signed into both with the same credentials that included the very email address these emails were blasted to I find these emails decidedly repetitive and annoying. This post could be considered a bit of an overreaction but my frustrations go way beyond these emails; they just serve to illustrate a point. The point is, those emails were dumb. Ok so now I sound juvenile right? Couldn’t I have used a more eloquent word than dumb. Nope. There are at least two factors that qualify something as simply dumb. The first is could it have been avoided? The second…see factor #1. In the case of the ESPN example a simple algorithm in ESPN’s databases could very easily have filtered out anybody who has downloaded those apps by corresponding registered emails. The emails were simply pointless to me an already engaged app user. Is there anything wrong with a reminder email, no but folks these were not reminders emails, they were blatant pitches to download their apps. A separate reminder email encouraging me to engage with the app would have been just fine and frankly expected if I had opted in to subscribe to their alerts and correspondence. Junk mail. Purely avoidable. Dumb. ESPN has the means to know that I already own their apps and use them. Read More
With this post I will begin a four-part series that examines the importance and relevance of good customer service. For each post I will cover a specific customer service theme and as the title suggests I will offer real world examples good, bad, and ugly. For my first post I’ve chosen a theme that I believe is at the heart of what customer service means – helping. In this day and age of easy access to online forums, help articles, how-to videos, etc. it is easy to suggest that customer service doesn’t quite hold the importance it once did but that notion is easily dispelled the second you get a flat, or your AC goes out on a blazing August day, or you’ve made an honest mistake when paying a bill. In times of crisis we are sometimes forced to rely on good old-fashioned customer service be it via phone, in store, or online and nothing is worse than when you are at your most vulnerable and need help you get hit with fees and fees for fees! We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling when you ask for help and the response is “Sure, that’ll be $195 including service fees”. It begs the question, should customer service cost? The short answer is technically yes, because customer service, like parts and labor, costs companies and must be accounted for somewhere but we the consumers just don’t like to pay for it when we need it most. I’m no different; it’s like pouring salt on an open wound when I have to pay additional fees for an unexpected expense. Below I will go into a few personal examples I think illustrate how to properly service a customer and keep a customer because let’s face it bad customer service equates to lost customers.
If you asked four years ago, three years ago, even one year ago my answer to this question would have been one and the same – my Kindle eReader. Really? Yes, I’ll get to why soon but to answer that question today is a bit of a conundrum. First you need to know that I’m a voracious reader and naturally by reading this you must know that writing is a passion of mine so it might make some sense that the Kindle was my choice for so long but that’s not the main reason. I’m a big fan of things that focus on doing only one thing and not things that try to be all things to all people. I’ve owned a Kindle ever since I pre-ordered the 2nd generation Kindle back in 2009. I”m referring specifically to the Kindle with an E Ink screen, not the Kindle Fire tablets that get so much attention. Next to paper E Ink is still the best way to go for pure reading. I pretty much ditched print from the get go allowing exceptions for only a couple of my favorite authors. I won’t even attempt to knock print form because I actually morn its decline with many of you but I stop short of feeling guilty. Let me tell you why. Amazon’s Whispersync cloud technology means that I can go anywhere with my entire library of books and just like how iTunes and the iPod freed most of us from those giant cd albums once you go paperless so to speak you’ll never go back. Amazon’s controversial low pricing practices don’t hurt either. Read More
I’d like to get a little bit personal here and share the events of one of the best Father’s Days I’ve ever had yesterday. We live in a digital world, well I do anyways, and yesterday is a perfect example of how it suited me well. Well mostly well as a bit of today’s technology was responsible for a tad rude start to the day. I woke to the sound of an incessant beeping. When pounding on my alarm clock didn’t stop it I realized it was coming from the kitchen and the wifey was not in bed. After a couple of groggy calls to no avail I stumbled in to realize it was the digital timer on our oven that was sounding off letting me in on the surprise breakfast in bed. I found my wife in the closet no doubt trying to stealthily put together a bag of goodies. I let her know the cat was out of the bag and needed to get out of the oven as well or it would be overcooked and then I stumbled back to bed. That was easily overshadowed when the wife and kiddo later appeared with breakfast and gifts. The gifts were cleverly concealed in a Superman bag which was only too perfect for what was to come later. Inside the bag was a great memento craft/gift they made, a new Logitech t400 Touch Zone mouse I craved for some time, and of a large jar of Reese’s Pieces:) After consuming a yummy breakfast and showering I plugged in my mouse to my laptop and was awarded an effortless setup and a couple quick minutes to explore my new gadget while surfing the web. Visits to FB and a few chimes on my phone would yield plenty of Father’s Day well wishes from many friends and family. Thankfully a thoughtful cousin would mass text me and several of my other father friends. I utilized the opportunity to succinctly perform the same well wishing task with a simple mass reply to all. Soon I would be promptly instructed to get my shoes on because we were going to drop the kid off and catch a movie!
Remember the bag? That’s right this is the opening weekend to Man Of Steel and my wife knows me best, though I must say I was a bit torn as I haven’t had a chance to see Internship yet. Nevertheless despite not being able to resist the urge to read a couple bad reviews I was ready to take the plunge. Come on it’s Superman after all! BTW, DON’T listen to the reviews Superman is INSANELY good! A quick check on my Fandango app would reveal that my local theater at least expected a good turnout for Man of Steel since there were showtimes every 30 minutes throughout the entire day. Once arriving, I would of course check in to the movie on Foursquare and blast it out to brag to all my friends on all the usual social networking channels. I planned ahead by including a pic I took of the Superman bag and gave it the filter effect via Instagram. I would tag my wife so she would get props from all friends in her social feeds too. Read More