Ideas Matter




Apple iPad "Virtual Bezel", Why Design Trumps CPU Horsepower

Last night I synced my iPad and allowed iTunes to update the software by accident, wanting only to sync mp3's with my PC. The device had not been updated for months, to avoid one of the early updates that repurposed the rotation lock switch into a volume control. Apparently no one at Apple thought people read lying on their side, or they enjoyed reading text that is always perpendicular to the floor.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the rotation lock switch restored, how many updates ago, I couldn't say. Interestingly enough, one of the most cool little user experience features I've ever seen has been removed. I called it the "Virtual Bezel", a thin black frame displaying nothing but time and status indicators atop the display. When you rotated the iPad, this Virtual Bezel would quickly follow that motion with a smoothly rotating animation. About another half second later, the rest of the iPad display would appear in the new orientation. I thought this was a brilliant trick, giving the user immediate feedback, which on a sub-display maybe a mere 10-15 pixels across, was really fast. Reconfiguring the other 95% of the display, and associated rendering hardware and software pipeline and its memory buffers can take a perceptible amount of time, as seen on Android devices. The latest software update features the entire display smoothly rotating as you turn the iPad, albeit ever so slightly slower than the Virtual Bezel did. I suspect there has always been hardware acceleration available to pull this off, but maybe the code was not ready for iPad launch.

Other rotation accelerometer enabled devices, like Android phones, do not have this Virtual Bezel, so when the user rotates the screen, the wait for action seems to take forever before the screen pops into place.

As Android devices get faster processors, the brute force display system tear down and reconfiguration for rotation orientation will become less noticeable, but device builders will still suffer in terms of perceived user experience. Even with a faster processor, users may consider a given device to be less responsive than another running a slower processor if it's got a smart user experience trick up it's sleeve. This kind of thing takes planning and dedication of resources, something that follow on device makers would have been hard pressed to fit in to their first build schedules, given Cupertino's first mover advantage.

Many believe that Apple has Buzz, some aura of the wonderful acquired through brilliant marketing campaigns. Sure, marketing helps to get a product noticed, but when users pick up a device and play with it, it's these little intuitive, almost subconscious connections heavily weight purchase decisions. Do this year over year, and yes, there is a magical quality that has people hanging on their every word and deed. To tip the scales in their direction, Android device makers will have to reach beyond a few customizations of the Google template and forge their own unique Virtual Bezel like UX innovations.


FaceBook's IPO, The End Of The Social Web Or The End Of The Beginning Of The Social Web?

FaceBook's announcement of a possible IPO next year is largely seen as the defining moment for the social web. Will going public and thereby having to transparently report and justify activity in every corner of it's business change FaceBook's approach to innovation?  The thrust and parry cycle of privacy incursion and backlash backpeddling will have to change in some way as FB goes public.  It is this cycle that in part powered the success of FaceBook, moving large enough numbers of people into the social web as we know it(and a certain subset of users off FaceBook). Transparency and the influence of Wall St., could make the company hesitant, possibly hardening now fluid UI features(and privacy policies) into dependable, Ad earnings friendly utilities. It will be interesting to see what kind of floor and/or ceiling develops for others in the social web as FaceBook's stock price weighs in on every change to their product.  FaceBook will now have a more complex balancing act. The tradeoff between probing our willingness to give up more and more personal information in exchange for greater connecteness, will now have to compete with responsibilities to shareholders. 

If we see a solidifying of features post IPO, FaceBook will have provided a line in the sand, a before and after period,  much like the moment the Telephone or Radio made enough of an impact to change everything going forward. 



Palm Pilot to CDMA cellphone Data Dock 


Around 1998 I thought it would be cool to snap my Qualcomm Thinphone and Palm Pilot together to create what we now call a Smart Phone. Created the short concept video to raise some internal $ to have a prototype built. The QCP Thinphone and Palm Pilot connected through a COM port, which allowed the Palm Pilot to treat the cellular IS-95 data connection like a 14.4kbps modem. Estimated cost of the Data Dock accessory was less than $100. 


A couple years after prototyping this concept, Qualcomm released the pDQ, which combined a CDMA modem with Palm Pilot hardware, running Palm OS 3.0 I believe.  

Millimeter Scale Computer & Bio Power Source

Photo Credit: Greg Chen

This 1mm computer mentioned on CNET promises to enable really exciting implant sensor control and communication applications. The article does not really go into how this chip would be powered, apart from mentioning batteries or solar panels, which for bio apps would not be very practical. A few months ago I ran across an article covering research into a glucose based electrity generation system, which could allow this tiny computer to draw all the power it needs from the body. I can imagine having one of these implanted at birth to monitor a basic set of health sensing devices, with others added perhaps as part of elective or more advanced theraputic implants over our life cycle as needed.

A basic health application of this chip might perform acoustic analysis of our beating heart, counting time between beats, or identifying abnormal electrical signitures of various heart components over time. 

An example of an elective device might be an implant that goes near the ear canal, serving as a sort of sound-card, producing MIDI-like patterns, or synthesizing text to speech for devices located within the body, or outside. 

The number of areas this sort of chip can be applied within the body will be limited only by our imagination. Speaking of imagination, if you find this kind of stuff interesting and you're into Scifi, Acts Of The Apostles a novel by John Sundman is a must-read. You can find the first few chapters of his book and buy the rest on his website

P2P Wireless Networking


TechCrunch has a post on Peep Wireless and their CES announcement of a new P2P wireless voice call system. I think going for a voice network using wifi is an admirable goal, but will no doubt have challenges. That said, there is no way to get things like this going without giving it a try.

You can not account for human behavior when it comes to stuff like this. I remember in the early 90's when people thought that multi-player internet gaming would never work because of the latency of the net. Well, what they did not count on was that folks would simply stay away from game servers that were to laggy. Same thing here, if you have queues from the UI that let you know when you can/cant use the P2P voice, you'll adjust your behavior if there is a significant payoff to using the system. There have to be enough goodies locked up in a system like this to hang in with it when its performance degrades.

I would like to see a small step before going full voice, moving short messages, images between phones in a store & forward mode, where each client/server device accepts files and forwards some of their own. Reminds me of Epizoochory(really? yep, really), or the dispersal of seeds by animals. Imagine all the interesting stuff that would drift around the planet(just encrypt what you want private) when passed by proximity as phones make and break connections in freeway traffic, at the mall, etc. What if your local venue could not only check-in to you, but could tag you with a file that spreads to your friends just by being near them?