Tag Archives: iphone

Spotify’s Interface Insanity

How not to design multi-platform

I’m a huge fan of Spotify, and love their product — it’s profoundly changed the way that I consume music. I use their product across a wide range of platforms however, and I’m constantly baffled by the lack of interface consistency.

Every different platform (see the images below) uses a different menu layout, slightly different iconography and unique labels —all without making use of any platform-specific interface options (like gestures). Although I’d like to believe it has to do with the different use cases of the different platforms, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Check it out and LMKWYT:

Spotify on the iPad — lovely start screen

Notice the layout of menu options. Playlists — which are the most important feature of the system — are buried near the bottom of the menu. And for good measure, when you first login, you get that nice, ugly, blank search screen (where the majority of the real estate isn’t devoted to search, but rather to telling us about how much of the world’s music is available). Also unique to the iPad version is a menu called “What’s New” that doesn’t exist in any other interface. At least settings is somewhere logical.

Now, take a look at the iPhone:

Spotify for iPhone: Now with Discover!

So in the iPhone version, we have a new feature called “Discover”, a new concept called “Me” (how existential), Search and Browse are together, Radio comes before Inbox and settings is not separate from the other menu options. Maddeningly, playlists are once again below search, discover and radio…as though Spotify on the iPhone isn’t about playing existing music, but rather about deep discovery.

Now, let’s look at the desktop (Mac) version’s menu:

Spotify on the Mac Desktop

Here, search is in a completely separate area, there’s a concept called follow, I can play a queue — and because it’s probably really important — one of the highest priority menu items is “(manage) devices”. For kicks in this interface, there’s a new concept of a “collection” that includes local files (even though local files are also available on every mobile device). Playlists here are conveniently shown at the bottom of the pane, “starred” is not a playlist (instead living in the collection area),and playlists are not ordered by any obvious/logical order.

Also unique to the desktop client interface, the mini player and play controls live in this left pane….not in the central area as they do on the apps.

Spotify Web Client

Answering all of my prayers, Spotify has also released a web client that runs in standard modern browsers — though it’s in beta. Although this app uses the same real estate as the downloadable client, they chose to follow the iPhone client interface…somewhat. Here, search and browse are separated again, playlists is where it “should” be (if you don’t actually care about usability) and all the social features appear to have been rolled into follow. Below this, settings is where I expect it, but the web client also appears to introduce a new set of options: my profile (the avatar), a music chat bubble and notification buttons. These options don’t exist in the top level nav of any of the other versions.

The web client is the cleanest and best-designed app, though I’m sure you’ll be as frustrated as I was when you discover that it’s not available directly by logging in at Spotify.com — you have to click a music link to actually launch it. I’m sure this feature will come in the future, but it’s just another example of the company’s current UI bipolar disorder.

Which Spotify is which? I have a lot of respect for the company, and their product is transformative. But as my quick tour of their apps illustrates, they are not approaching UI with a common vision — and I’d posit that they don’t really even understand how their users use the service (evidenced by how poorly Playlist nav is handled). A consistent experience from one platform to another would go a long way to raising usability and eliminating confusion.

And just for shits and giggles: if you are a Sonos user…have a gander at the Spotify navigation there. I know it’s under Sonos’ control, interestingly, it is the cleanest nav in my estimation. What do you think?

Spotify for Sonos — really consistent, huh?

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How the iPhone Changed The World — Not By A Tech Analyst

Before using an iPhone, I was skeptical towards it.

Mostly because it came one month after I got a Samsung Jet and my phone contract doesn’t support iPhone (I have to wait another 2 years), secondly because it looked so cool and awesome but I couldn’t afford it and thirdly because the Jet was so laggy and less functional and less beautiful as compared to the iPhone.

I made up reasons and convinced myself an iPhone sucked. The parts and displays were made by Samsung, what I was using was Samsung! Mine is better! iPhone users are mainstream! I am the alternative smartphone guy!

But as months went by and I saw more people using it. Tech sites were talking about it all the time. I was at Razer at that time, doing product development and there were Apple fanboys too.

The designer fanboys were in awe of the smooth product design, the packaging and the screen resolution even though it was around the 3GS era. They talked about how awesome the camera was, everything was so functional and beautiful etc etc………..

The engineers were using it. The project managers were using it. Even my direct reporting assistant director was using it.

One of the many things he mentioned about the iPhone: “Once you use an iPhone, there’s no going back.”

And its true.

I realised the iPhone is magical and revolutionary. Yet the idea is so simple, but not easy. It is the first of its kind. Something so amazing and spectacular in a form of beauty never seen before.

There are loads of articles talking about how phones were like before and after the iPhone. Today there are more choices of touchscreen phones other than the iPhone. So “Once you use an iPhone, there’s no going back” is still true, to me.

Because today’s smartphones are based on the iPhone.

Soon the day came where the Jet no longer satisfies me. In fact I regretted when I unboxed it (but convinces myself its not that bad, but failed). It was laggy, design was bad, videos were slow, typing was slow, graphics were ugly, they’re not colourful and attractive, emails were complicating to check, the browser lags, the list goes on and on…

An iPhone 3GS alone beats everything.

And obviously, I soon got it and I remember it was a white one. I loved it.

The feeling was… inseparable. It was like when I received my first favourite toy. I want to have it with me at all times. Bring it with me to all places.

My peers, colleagues, friends, relatives.. were mostly using iPhones.

When I take the train, the bus, people were using it to watch shows, listen to music.. Cab drivers were using it to navigate.

Soon, more and more apps began to surface. Games, utilities, informative, news apps… and of course, Social Media.

The iPhone became viral. It spreads. The idea of it spreads. The usage of the product spreads. Tech sites, News sites, Finance Sites all talk about it. How the iPhone changes different worlds.

I’m glad I have the opportunity to be part of this phenomenon. This viral process. It’s crazy, and fun. People still talk about the iPhone today. But the magic has faded. The craze has lessened. The innovation is lesser.

Functions are better, faster and stronger. It’s thinner. Displays are amazing.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities.

The power Apple have is innovation. Now that they have changed the world with the iPhone… the world is looking at them that it is their responsibility to change the world, again. And again, and again.

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The FLIR ONE Case Gives Your iPhone Thermal Vision

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The FLIR ONE iPhone case significantly ups the imaging powers of your iPhone 5 or 5S, making it into a thermal imaging camera that lets you see heat signatures from either live people and animals from up to 100 meters away, or from environmental sources including heating ducts, wall gaps and more.

Most of FLIR’s products to date are aimed at hunters and professionals, but this iPhone case brings an affordable smartphone-based thermal camera to the masses for the first time, the company told me at CES. The FLIR is $350, which might seem steep for a case with a built-in camera, but it’s actually around $750 cheaper than their least expensive standalone model currently available, and it provides an easy-to-use interface that anyone could quickly learn.

The app for the FLIR ONE offers numerous modes that interpret thermal data differently, with some showing many degrees of temperature, and others more clearly showing more or less binary differences between extreme heat, average temperature and extreme cold. Amazingly, it also picks up residual heat, like that left by a foot on a carpet for quite a while after a person was there.

At first, I was a little skeptical about the potential use cases for a thermal iPhone case for the average consumer, but the company’s representative at CES explained that you could use it for something as simple as figuring out whether your dog is climbing up onto your bed when you leave or not. It could also be used for home security, detecting thermal leaks in your house, or finding water leaks in pipes behind the walls.

Of course, it can still be used for industrial and commercial applications, too, including contracting, home inspection and building maintenance. Users can snap photos of infrared images for their phone’s library, and share pictures from within the app. There’s also a plan for an SDK later in 2014, to let others build apps for the case.

The case also has a battery within that powers the camera itself for up to four hours of continuous use, which can also provide up to 50 percent more power for your iPhone, too, if used as a backup battery. The company says it’ll ship this spring, but pre-orders are open now. Thermal imaging might not be on the top of every smartphone user’s wishlist, but it could end up appealing to more people than you might suspect.


What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Learn From Food Trucks

If you just build it, they probably won’t come.

In the era of Amazon, Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes, buyers are increasingly choosy when it comes to what they’ll spend their money on. To woo potential clients, brands have to offer something extraordinary. And then there’s the small issue of retaining those new customers.

I’ve noticed that in the race to win consumers’ hearts (and wallets), entrepreneurs—from restaurants to software vendors—are increasingly turning to an old-fashioned fix. Their quaint recipe for success: Don’t make the customer come to you. Go to them.

These companies—many of which just so happen to be household names—have all found ways to make it easier for clients to engage and transactions to happen. Think of it as door-to-door sales for the digital age.

Food trucks: Bringing tasty, affordable cuisine straight to the customer.

The explosive growth in popularity of food trucks in North America over the past few years has been hard to miss. Food trucks are featured on reality TV shows, they’re being Zagat rated and they’re the focus of hundreds of adoring blogs and massive media coverage.

Why? Food trucks did what most bricks-and-mortar restaurants couldn’t. They brought their tasty, affordable offerings straight to the festivals, street corners, and office buildings where their target consumers live, work and eat. Forward-thinking vendors chose a new, more direct way to reach their target consumers. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.

Zipcar: Convenient transportation for people who didn’t even know they needed it.

When Zipcar first emerged in the early 2000s, it seemed like a far-fetched idea. Sharing cars? Ten years later, the company is at the head of a flourishing worldwide car-sharing industry. In fact, earlier this year one of the world’s most established car-rental brands Avis Budget Company, purchased Zipcar for a cool $500 million.

Why did Zipcar take off? For starters, they parked their rentals along streets in heavily trafficked urban neighbourhoods—right under their target customers’ noses. Zipcar brought cars to drivers instead of waiting for drivers to come to them. Sprinkle in a bit of tech savvy behind the scenes and convenient registration and you’ve got a formula for success.

Netflix: Home entertainment straight to your doorstep. . . and TV screen.

It’s hard to believe that less than 10 years ago, Netflix was David to the then-Goliath Blockbuster movie rental chain. Fast forward to the present and Blockbuster is nearly defunct, while Netflix has turned the video rental industry on its head, changing the way that people consume home entertainment. And the company shows no signs of slowing down, having hit all-time stock highs this year.

Netflix’ enormous success over the past decade is of course largely due to the fact that it skipped storefronts and instead reached its target consumers more directly via the internet and their mailboxes. By taking this non-traditional approach, Netflix was able to reach and lock down a loyal new consumer base.

Square: Easy, on-the-go transactions in the palm of your hand.

A friend of mine was recently blown away when he went scuba diving in the tropics and was able to pay for his equipment and training session on the beach using his iPhone. Three years since its launch, Square has become a runaway hit, giving merchants armed with just an iPhone the ability to conduct seamless credit card transactions—from anywhere.

Today, over 3 million merchants have signed up for the Square transaction service to process $12 billion a year in transactions. By taking the point of transaction to the consumer rather than making the consumer come to the point of transaction, Square has transformed how we shop.

Hootlet: Social media, everywhere.

In just under a decade, social media has emerged as a game-changing technology, forever altering the way we communicate with each other—at home and at work.

At my company we’ve recently added a new tool that lets people tap into social media easier than ever before. With the Hootlet, users can (while browsing the web) immediately share anything they find to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more, without ever leaving the window. They can also search for geo-specific social media messages by others in real-time, all from within familiar platforms like Google Maps or Yelp.

In short, we’ve taken a page from the food truck strategy, bringing social media directly to our users, rather than making them go to social media. Once installed into your Chrome browser, the free Hootlet is there instantly, adding a social element to anything you do on the web.

How do extraordinary brands win your heart? Do you prefer that companies come to you?

Did you like this post? To read my weekly insights on social media, leadership, and tech trends, just click the ‘follow’ button at the top of this page.

For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow HootSuite on LinkedIn.

Image Credit: Timothy J Carroll

Posted by:Ryan Holmes


Need a Digital Detox? 5 Free Apps to Simplify Your Life in 2014

December 30, 2013

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Here’s some irony: Thanks to amazing advances in technology, we now have an endless selection of ingenious, time-saving apps and tools to fill our beloved smartphones, tablets and laptops. But thanks to these very technologies, we’re also finding we really don’t have a second left to spare.

What’s the solution? Yes, it would be nice to unplug and tune out. But for many of us—me included—that’s just not possible. Running a social media company, I can’t afford to turn my iPhone off, even for a few hours.

But I have found a few great tools to simplify and streamline my digital life. Here are five free apps—some classic and some new—that will help you save time and be more productive in 2014:

LastPass: Stop password madness
According to a recent ranking by SplashData, the most commonly used password last year was, you guessed it, “password.” If you’re ready to upgrade your security options but hate remembering dozens of different passwords, it’s time you finally got LastPass. Introduced all the way back in 2008, LastPass stores and automatically fills in all of your login credentials. It can even generate hack-proof passwords if you want.

But maybe you’ve been holding out all this time for the obvious reason: If someone hacks LastPass, won’t they have access to all of your sites? Consider this: LastPass stores your data online in a form that even the company (and the NSA, for that matter) can’t read. Plus, they offer two-factor authentication options to ensure you’re actually who you say you are. (While LastPass is free, the mobile edition starts at $12 per year–a small price to pay to never have to fumble through a login with your iPhone keypad again.)

Sunrise: A calendar app to actually get excited about
Even if you don’t really get excited about calendar apps and you’re perfectly happy with iCloud or Google calendar, I suggest taking a quick peek at Sunrise for iPhone. Not only does it pull in all the events from the aforementioned calendars, it also incorporates social data from services like Facebook and other networks. So, for instance, you can see Facebook events and friends’ birthdays, Foursquare check-ins, and more on one synchronized calendar. Plus Sunrise has a seriously eye-pleasing interface, with a two-week view up top and your day’s schedule in detail shown in a panel below.

Apart from those key features, it’s the little stuff that sets Sunrise apart from other free competitors. You can send and respond to event invites from within the app itself. A tap brings up a handy map to help you get to your next appointment. And, my personal favorite, Sunrise pulls in weather for your location and shows a little icon next to events throughout the day, so you always know when to bring the umbrella.

Hootlet: Stop wasting time on social media
Considering how popular social media has become, it’s still a headache in a lot of ways. To post to social networks or view the latest Tweets or updates, you generally have to stop whatever you’re doing on the net and go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Hootlet ends all that. (Disclaimer: This little free tool is from my company, HootSuite.) Install it on your Chrome browser, and you can share any webpage with just a click, across any (or all) of your social networks (and even schedule when the updates go out). Then there’s the really cool stuff. Do a Google search and you’ll automatically see the latest relevant Tweets. Search for a restaurant on Yelp, and the most recent Tweets on the venue pop up. Put in any location on Google Maps and see Tweets sent from nearby.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Instead of having to make an effort to go to social media sites, Hootlet brings relevant social media to you–integrating Twitter and other networks into your browsing in all kinds of time-saving (and long overdue) ways.

Vizify: Your digital self on one snazzy website
You’ve got reams of social and professional info scattered across all corners of the net–on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and who knows how many other networks. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could somehow consolidate it all–with a few clicks–into one professional-looking website?

This is the charm of Vizify, which stands apart from existing personal site builders with its eye-catching, customized infographics. To set up the site, you just need to connect existing social profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Relevant data is then pulled in and automagically arranged into not just a homepage but an entire website, with pages dedicated to your resume, education, social-media activity, and more.

It takes a bit of tinkering to get things looking just right, but the layout and graphics are top-notch. Among the coolest features: a timeline of all of your tweets showing which words you mention most from month to month; an instant graphical resume; and a customized animation illustrating all the places you’ve called home over the years.

Evernote Web Clipper: Never lose another web gem
For anyone who devours the web on a daily basis, the biggest problem is too much of a good thing. There’s so much extraordinary content–from articles to images, videos and Tweets–that it’s almost impossible to keep track of it. You read the most amazing gluten-free pizza recipe at work, for instance, and by the time you get home you have no idea where you saw it.

Enter Evernote’s Web Clipper, a browser extension that lets you “snip” out those little gems you encounter online and store them all in the cloud–neatly catalogued and accessible on any device. You can select a piece of text or an image or choose to save the entire article or page. The selection can even be highlighted and marked up with text and arrows, so you remember exactly what caught your interest and why. Plus, this can all be shared via email or on social networks. Web Clipper has been around for years now, and it’s hard to imagine my digital life without it.


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Posted by:Ryan Holmes


Snapchat, Vine among top smartphone apps of 2013

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO Tue Dec 31, 2013 3:36pm EST

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(Reuters) – Snapchat, Vine, and Candy Crush Saga earned coveted spots on smartphones this year, making them among the most downloaded apps of the year.

There are more than a million apps on Apple Inc’s App Store and Google Inc’s Play store, the two dominant marketplaces for apps, which see billions of downloads each year.

This year, the most downloaded apps were new takes on communication, gaming, and entertainment, according to mobile app experts.

“2013 was a really interesting year in terms of maturation, milestones and new trends,” said Craig Palli, chief strategy officer at Fiksu, a mobile marketing company based in Boston.

“The most downloaded apps were in familiar categories, but offered new twists,” he added.

While old favorites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — available for iPhone, Android and other devices – continued to be popular ways of communicating with friends, Snapchat eclipsed them in downloads in 2013, becoming the sixth most downloaded free app of the year on the App Store, according to Apple.

“Snapchat went from being a niche app to achieving much more critical mass, so much so that Facebook was reportedly willing to spend billions of dollars to acquire the company,” said Palli.

With Snapchat, users can send photos and videos that disappear shortly after they are viewed.

Launched in 2011, the app’s user base continued to grow rapidly in 2013, with over 13 million people using the app in October, according to the latest available estimates from global information and measurement company Nielsen. In December alone, over 400 million pieces of content were shared through the app, according to Snapchat, based in Venice, CA.

Vine, a video sharing app released earlier this year by microblogging company Twitter Inc, was the fourth most downloaded free app in 2013. The app, for iPhone, Android and other devices, allows users to share videos under six seconds in length. Nielsen estimates over 6 million people in the US were using the app in October of this year.

Snapchat and Vine fall into a category that mobile analytics firm Flurry calls camera-enhanced messaging, which they said grew eightfold in 2013.

“The communications category underwent phenomenal growth this year. Messaging apps like Snapchat, Line, Kakao (KakaoTalk) and WeChat are all exploding and becoming bigger than the carriers in their home countries in terms of users,” said Simon Khalaf, chief executive of San Francisco-based company Flurry.


Games were another popular category, with Candy Crush Saga for iPhone, Android and Kindle Fire securing its position as the top downloaded free app, and as the top revenue grossing app. It has been downloaded over 500 million times since its launch last year, according to its creator King, based in the UK. Nielsen estimates that over 20 million people in the US were playing the game in October of this year.

In the entertainment category, Pandora continued to be the leading way to stream music and was the ninth most downloaded, and third top grossing, app in 2013.

“Clearly the device has swallowed radio,” said Palli. “Despite the new entrants, Pandora remains the dominant player in the space,” he added.

But the biggest trend of 2013, according to Palli, is the emergence of apps as a way to control companion devices, which he believes will continue to grow in 2014.

On Christmas Day, apps that pair with devices were among some of the top downloaded apps on the App Store.

The Fitbit app, for iPhone and Android, pairs with an electronic wristband to track metrics such as steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned. It was the 16th most downloaded app on December 25, according to Palli, who monitored the Apple rankings.

Other apps that pair with devices, such as Chromecast, UP by Jawbone, and GoPro were also among the top downloads that day.

Khalaf predicts that apps for televisions will be the trend to watch for 2014.

“I think 2014 could be the year the TV industry gets disrupted by mobile,” said Khalaf.

“If you think about it, every American spends $100+ dollars per month on a service that is not personalized and not mobile. It’s an area that’s ripe for disruption and I think someone will come up with new content, maybe a new device and more importantly a better business model.”

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Gevirtz)

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Longposting: the case of Apple’s iPad

Life on iPad — this is how the text storytelling sells

View story at Medium.com

Apple has recently launched its “Life on iPad” campaign,

This is the brilliant example of how the longposting works:

  • Long-form type of content: stories and examples illustrated
  • Communication: not a direct sell, but a storytelling

Let’s analyze it in few steps.


The campaign runs for all languages.


See the skin-diver in the bottom row? That’s a tile for the campaign.

Cover image

By choosing a cover image Apple signals that it will be showcasing interesting stories, not products technical characteristics.

And we see it by clicking the tile.

“Life on iPad” English page


The title of the story matters. A lot.

First of all, Apple highlights that the tile is about stories. Simply compare: iPad Air — iPad Mini with Retina Display — Life on iPad.

Second, the word “Life” is strong enough to be ready to listen to stories and to express emotions.

Now it’s time for stories

That’s about Apple’s presentation of stories on iPad.

Already familiar with the approach? May be. A collection of stories, big pictures, even more visual power, utilizing cover images, typography, spacing.


The new idea about stories’ pages is that Apple shows it as real stories/articles, the ones we used to on Medium: full-screen text, large quotes, titles and subtitles, left/right aligned images, even more pictures, also with text above.

Just compare it with iPhone 5S Forward thinking page to notice some incremental changes.

And see any of Medium’s Editor’s Picks as well to understand the beauty of long stories.

Full-screen text, large quotes, titles and subtitles, left/right aligned images, even more pictures, also with text above.

So these are the elements of Life on iPad articles.

Cover image and title

Subtitles and short article description


Text illustrations

Smart typography

To sum up.

Apple has used the longposting approach with all the style it has.

And that’s all.

Who’s next?

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Just in case. Business cases. Visual Storyteller. Sarcasm alert! Twitter: @redisflat | The voice of @StepicLab


How He Met My Mother – The unlikely sequences that lead to a new life.

[This story is reprinted from the December 6, 2012 edition of The Magazine. The Magazine is currently running a Kickstarter campaign featuring a “best-of” book (in hardcover and ebook formats) featuring lots of great stories, including this one. Please consider pledging to this sure-to-be-awesome book project.]

I’m driving my parents’ car down a two-lane desert highway, my father in the passenger seat. Chauffeuring him feels a little odd, but despite his fierce independence he seems to acknowledge that it’s a kindness.

From my parents’ house in the Arizona outback to the suburban Phoenix hospital is an hour’s drive. My father is 81. A year ago, nearly to the day, he had a pretty severe heart attack. He doesn’t have much energy to begin with, and what little he had this morning he depleted at my mother’s bedside.

My dad has always been a storyteller. My mother would retreat from a room as he regaled the guests with a favorite anecdote—entirely new to the appreciative crowd, but one she had heard dozens of times before. These days, his short-term memory in disrepair, he repeats those oft-told stories even more than he already did.

The car stereo is off for the entire drive. A child of the pre-rock era, my father has no interest in the music on my iPhone. And I’m not interested in listening to his preferred political talk-radio programs just a few days before a presidential election.

So instead, he tells me stories. And to my amazement, after knowing him for 42 years, he tells me one I haven’t heard before.

It’s 1963, just months before Kennedy will be assassinated, and the man who will one day be my father has finished a long shift at the Victor Equipment Company on Folsom Street in the grungy, industrial South of Market area that four decades later will host shiny conferences put on Macworld, Apple, Oracle, and many other companies not yet founded.

The neighborhood will change a lot, but the weather won’t. It’s July in San Francisco, which generally means cold fog, but not today: it’s sunny and warm. Driving south toward his house on the Peninsula, my father impulsively detours to Half Moon Bay. He’s never been there, but he knows it’s got a beach, and today he can have that rarest of things for a San Francisco summer: a walk on the beach with no jacket.

He parks his blue MGB and walks out on the beach. There’s a blonde in her early 20s sitting on a blanket, her nose in a book. The woman who will one day be my mother has come to the beach as a reprieve after several days of entertaining her parents and teenaged brother, out from Pennsylvania to visit her and her sister.

She doesn’t want to talk to this strange man—she wants to be left alone. He’s persistent and apparently somehow successful, because they talk for an hour or two. But the ultimate prize eludes him: She doesn’t give him her full name or her phone number and drives off in her Corvair. He thought they had hit it off, but in the end, it’s an opportunity missed.

I had known bits of the story before. I knew my parents had met on the beach at Half Moon Bay. And I clearly recall the moment when I was 18 that they mentioned the meeting had happened a full five years before they were married. My half brother, the youngest of the three children from my father’s first marriage, was born in 1964. But if they had been married in 1968 and met five years before that…

In that moment, my understanding of my relationship with my older half-siblings changed completely. Before, with barely any inkling of the complexities of adult relationships, I just knew they had a different mother, and that it was awkward when they came to visit my dad and his new family.

What I hadn’t understood was that my mother was the Other Woman, and that my father met her nearly a year before my half-brother was born.

My father is free to drive to Half Moon Bay and chat up a skeptical blonde reader because his wife and two daughters are spending a few weeks of their summer vacation with her parents in Southern California.

From the perspective of the far future, when the Other Woman would be his wife of 44 years, it’s easier to forgive his actions. I have no doubt he was unhappy in his marriage. Was there some special spark with that blonde 24 year old on the beach, right from the start? Or is that too much to project onto a 32-year-old father of two trying to pick up someone up while his young family is safely out of reach?

Regardless, my father doesn’t shrug off the conversation with the blonde girl. He’d learned that she works for county health, and that she drives a rear-engine Corvair. In those innocent days, car registrations had to be in public view, so once he finds her car by checking out public-health parking lots, he gets her name by simply looking at the steering column. He calls the health department, finds out where she works, and leaves her a message, using a fake last name so she can’t look him up and discover that he’s married.

Now the ball is back in her court. She can ignore him again, but he’s shown his interest. She must have been interested, too, or maybe just intrigued by his persistence. In any event, the girl with the Corvair relents, and returns the call of the man with the MGB.

My mother is the healthy one. She’s eight years younger and has a statistically longer life expectancy. Women on her side of the family are extremely long-lived. My father was diagnosed with serious carotid blockages in the late 1980s and has been talking about his imminent demise for the intervening two decades. He’s had four major surgeries and two monthlong hospital stays.

So, in a sense, I have been preparing for my father’s death since 1988. My wife and I talk about what we can do to support my mother after he’s gone. We always figured she’d outlive him, maybe by decades.

I think about this as we pull into my parents’ driveway and unload the shopping bags from the car, and prepare to make us some dinner. An hour away, my mother is in intensive care, recovering from her emergency triple bypass.

Four years after meeting my mother, my father is planning his exit strategy. He and his wife are enmeshed in the professional community of Walnut Creek, a suburb at the eastern edge of the Bay Area. But he plans to open a second orthodontic practice nearly a hundred miles away in the rural Sierra Nevada foothills, a move to leave his old life behind for a new one.

His wife knows there’s another woman. One night, my mother had picked up the phone at her apartment, and a woman’s voice had said, “May I speak to Dr. Snell, please.” My father took the phone. It was his wife. The cat was out of the bag.

It’s 1968, and it all still hangs in the balance. Even if his marriage his over, does he know he really wants to flee to the countryside and marry his girlfriend? She wants children. He’s already fathered four and raised three. Does he want to be a parent again at nearly forty?

This is all going through his mind as he’s setting up his new office, a small space built directly over a small creek in downtown Sonora. He’s installing the furniture and equipment himself. My mother goes off to do some shopping downtown as he installs Formica countertops using contact cement. When she returns, opening the front door creates just enough air movement to waft the contact cement’s fumes over the office’s gas pilot light.

There’s an explosion that bows the office’s windows outward and creates a fireball that engulfs my father. He crawls across the burning countertops and out the door, then drops 20 feet off a deck and into the creek below. There’s enough water in the creek to put out the flames, but not enough to insulate him from smashing into the rocks and cracking his ribs. He climbs out of the creek and helps put out the fire in the office.

Hours later, my mother knocks on the front door of my father’s house. “Your husband is in the hospital,” she says.

Forty-two years after my birth, my father tells me that this is the moment that led directly to him divorcing his wife, selling his practice, giving her the house and custody of the kids and a monthly support check, and marrying my mother. In that moment he’s on fire and dropping 20 feet into a rocky creek. And he knows what he wants: He wants to marry my mother, and have children—well, maybe one will be enough—and leave his old, successful, unhappy life behind. Three months later the divorce is final and my parents are married.

He’s telling me this part of the story at the kitchen table in their little retirement house, while 40 miles away the woman he married, the one he’s always expected would outlive him, is heavily sedated after having her ribs cracked open and three veins grafted to her heart to save her life.

Two days before, I was in San Francisco and she was going in for an angiogram to find out what was causing her some chest pains. Now the two of us, husband and son, are eating breakfast by ourselves in the middle of her kitchen.

What he’s telling me is the story of his true love, a story in hindsight of nearly 50 years together, no matter how messy it might have been when they were living it. What I’m hearing is the complicated chain of events that explain my existence.

From “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

In the landmark comic-book series “Watchmen,” the nigh-omnipotent character Dr. Manhattan can see the entirety of space and time. To him, humans—even his long-time girlfriend, Laurie—are no more relevant than ants in an anthill.

But in this dark work of fiction, set against the backdrop of Cold War-era nuclear annihilation, there comes a surprising glimmer of light. Laurie discovers that her biological father is the man who had once attempted to rape her mother. She believes this proves her life is a meaningless joke, but Dr. Manhattan views it as an affirmation that every human life is itself a miracle:

Thermodynamic miracles…events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter…

Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold…that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.

But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget…I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away…For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.

It’s 1963, and a man impulsively decides to go to a beach he’s never been to.

It’s 1967, and he’s on fire, falling into a shallow creek.

It’s 1970, and a baby is coming into the world.

It’s 1989, and a new chain of circumstances is created when I’m introduced to the woman who will become my wife.

It’s 2012, and I’m serving Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen of my parents’ house in Arizona. My children are there, both with their own stories of a series of choices my wife and I made that led to their existence. My father sits at the head of the table, turkey and mashed potatoes in front of him. And next to him, home from the hospital for three weeks and recovering from her heart surgery, is his wife, my mother.

There we sit, eating dinner. Thermodynamic miracles all.

The Author with his parents, wife, and children, December 2012.

[Addendum: My father passed away a few months after I wrote this. The time I spent with him in the car seems all the more special now.]

Jason Snell is editorial director at IDG Consumer & SMB, publishers of Macworld, PCWorld, and TechHive. Prior to that, he was editor-in-chief of Macworld for seven years. His projects outside of work include The Incomparable, an award-winning podcast about geek culture. He lives in Mill Valley, California, with his wife and two children.

Further Reading

Life Story

 — [This is an adaptation of something I read at the Arizona National Memorial Cemetery on February 28, 2013.]

Written by

Editorial director for @Macworld/@TechHive/@PCWorld. @theincomparable podcaster. Writer, primate, parent. IDG Consumer & SMB SVP/Editorial Director

Published December 11, 2013


Android Usage Data Only Tells Half The Story

Apple’s Tim Cook likes to pillory Android as a “junk market” of devices that don’t get used. He’s wrong, and here’s why.


Matt Asay December 30, 2013 Mobile
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If marketing is all about creating stories around a product, few CEOs are as good at storytelling as Apple’s Tim Cook. But that doesn’t mean the stories he tells are true.

At least, not as true as he’d like. Like any storyteller, Cook likes to cherry pick the data that suits his purposes best. For example, the big news over this holiday period has been, yet again, just how dramatically Apple’s iOS devices lead Google’s Android when it comes to usage for web browsing and shopping, as illustrated by IBM research. Based on past versions of this same analysis, Cook concludes that Android leads the “junk market” and that only iOS gets used while Android devices sit “in the drawer.”

But this isn’t what the data says. Not really.

Missing The Forest For The Trees

Commenting on data indicating that, despite Android’s massive market share, it still doesn’t get used much for Web browsing, Cook opined to Bloomberg earlier this year:

Does a unit of market share matter if it’s not being used? For us, it matters that people use our products. We really want to enrich people’s lives, and you can’t enrich somebody’s life if the product is in the drawer.

IBM’s data says that iOS devices capture 32.6% of Web traffic on Christmas Day, as opposed to 14.8% for Android. The IBM Benchmark report focuses on e-commerce data between mobile devices and traditional Web browsing and notes that iOS nearly doubles Android in online spending per sale as well.

It turns out that there are lots of things to do with a smartphone or tablet that have nothing to do with visiting websites or shopping. Recent data from the United Kingdom suggests that the primary thing people do with tablets is watch video and play games. Neither necessarily sparks any online browsing or shopping data to be captured by IBM’s report.

Neither may count as “enriching people’s lives,” either, but then, it’s doubtful that much of the shopping or Web browsing being done on Apple’s iOS devices does, either. We’re a generation that wastes an inordinate amount of time on Instagram and SnapChat and the average American carries over $7,000 in credit card debt: talking about enriching our lives through better ways to browse and spend seems patronizing in the extreme.

Remember Books?

Indeed, the device that actually does enrich my life—the Android-based Kindle Paperwhite—doesn’t show up on IBM’s analysis at all. It’s miserable for Web browsing and only lets me shop in one store: Amazon’s. But I tend to buy a lot of books there (never videos – it’s a Paperwhite, not the Kindle Fire) and … GASP!, read them on the Paperwhite too.

Nor am I alone, as Flurry data on new device activations shows:

Indeed, separate Flurry data also suggests that WiFi-only tablets are the most gifted devices, given that they’re cheap and don’t require contracts with a wireless carrier. Cook may have forgotten just how powerful a low-cost, single-purpose device can be (iPod, anyone?) in his haste to denigrate Android adoption. The fact remains: Android devices may not get used for Web browsing but they are getting used.

To be fair, Flurry also released data earlier this year that shows the average Android user also spends about 80% of the time that with apps that an iOS user does. What none of these studies really achieve though is the ability to break down Android usage as a generic term into specific devices. Many Android smartphones are destined for budget-conscious consumers that may have limited data plans and free time. Comparing the entire Android ecosystem to the iPhone and iPad is no longer a one-to-one an equal equation. If you take the top Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Galaxy Note 3, the Google Nexus 5, HTC One or Moto X and compare them to the iOS devices, would the data look the same?

The analytics on Android vs. iOS tend to talk in generalities without taking the specific sectors of the market (high-end versus low-end smartphones) into account. These generalities play well into Cook’s hands as he can then wag a finger at Android and say, “hey, I told you so. Buy an iPhone.”

I see the diversity of uses for Android devices whenever I get my hair cut (my barber has two Android devices, one for playing music and the other to entertain her kids with video) and when I go to church and use my Android-based Kindle Fire for nothing other than a once-per-week set of scriptures. These are just two of a variety of examples that Cook seems to ignore. Cook may not think such use counts as “enriching” but it really doesn’t matter what he thinks.

After all, he’s just trying to pitch a story that sells Apple to consumers and Wall Street.

But What About Developers?

Of course, this does overlook one important constituency: developers. As happy as I may be to use my four Android-based devices for single purposes, developers aren’t. They make money selling me apps and they’re making far more money on iOS than Android.

That was then, this is now.

It turns out that enterprise app developers make more money, more consistently, than consumer app developers. As we reach saturation in mobile (ReadWrite’s Dan Rowinski writes that we may already be there) coupled with increasing success of single-purpose “smart” devices, I suspect we’ll see a serious shakeout in the consumer developer ranks.

But not a shakeout in tablet and smartphone interest.

While true that the average smartphone user installs 25 apps on her phone, I suspect that the average number of apps actually used is far lower. I can count on one hand the number of apps I regularly use on my iPhone, and can count the number of apps I use on my iPad on two fingers.

In other words, the real winners in mobile may be the device manufacturers, not the app developers, leaving Cook’s rage against the Android machine sounding somewhat hollow.



What do MySpace, Netflix, and iTunes all have in common?

The annoying difference between mobile and desktop.

I hate their desktop user interface design, and love their mobile UI. Why? Horizontal Scrolling.

Yeah I know, the horizontal scrolling argument is old news, so why are some of the most popular websites still using it?

Desktop interfaces that display a large amount of content have yet to make horizontal scrolling user-friendly. Laptops with trackpads are making the experience more like mobile, but it’s still not the same. It is very difficult to consume content while horizontally scrolling, and it is typically hard to control.

On mobile, horizontal scrolling is much easier to control. A simple thumb gesture shows new content without scrolling too far, and mobile devices have made accelerometer-based gesture recognition a breeze.


In my opinion, Netflix is the worst of the bunch. The desktop UI doesn’t even have a scroll bar. Users have to wait for the slider to scroll their content while continuously hovering over the navigation arrow.


By the time I get to the end of the New Music list, I can’t read because my eyes have been destroyed from trying to read two different rows of text that are moving. Good luck trying to read the band names as they move below. Yes, the user could make the section stop scrolling in order to read them, but that means the user has to inch their way through the list.


Never would I have thought the MySpace UI would be better than Apple’s or Netflix’s. MySpace makes their images and text large so they are easier to consume while scrolling horizontally. Still, it’s difficult to control and remember certain places while scrolling side to side.

What’s the real problem?

Horizontal scrolling doesn’t allow for breaks or changes in content, which doesn’t let the user consume content like they would vertically. Imagine reading Tweets horizontally, or if Apple.com made their product pages (like this one) scroll horizontally instead of vertically. It would make things very difficult. So why does iTunes, Netflix, and Myspace have such poor horizontal scrolling?

From my perspective iTunes, Netflix, and Myspace have too much content to show at one time. The iPhone 5c page has very little to portray; iTunes has billions of images to display. Horizontal scrolling has been one of the only answers to displaying tons of content on one page without taking up too much screen real-estate. Beyond that, horizontal scrolling sites can sometimes appear to be new, and cool. In rare cases it can be done well, like these: Whitest Boy Alive, Make Your Money Matter. But, even on YouTube and Hulu, carousel scrolling is still done poorly.

From my perspective of the perspective the designers had while creating these interfaces, horizontal scrolling can be much simpler than using a typical slider when considering users who may be unfamiliar with the UI. If a novice user doesn’t understand where the images went after they slide to a new set of images, they will become upset and cancel their service then the economy will crash and the world will blow up.

Axe It, or Upgrade

Remove the typical horizontal sliders, and build usability focused media carousels — like many smaller sites have already done. Use everything a desktop device offers: a mouse click, trackpad gestures, mouse-wheel, arrow keys, leap motion, etc. Using these actions to the right while hovered over the carousel should quickly show new content without scrolling too far. Using the actions to the left should show the content the user previously viewed, then in reverse. I think this would make advanced users happier, and would not be too complicated for novice users.

The other option is to make media-driven sites vertical, like Google Play.

It’s time to either remove horizontal scrolling on a desktop, or find ways to make it as easy as it is on mobile.

Written by

I design things on the interwebs. @EvanNite