Forcing simplicity of choice

Garr Reynolds has a nice piece on Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

Clearing up the Adobe-Microsoft competition

Right now there seems to be much confusion surrounding the new competition that has developed between Adobe and Microsoft. With a new technology being released seemingly every week and acronyms flying around left and right, it’s been tough to stay on top of it all. In this short article I’ll try to clear things up by talking about each technology and what its competitors are. The easiest way to talk about it is by diving things up into two categories: the desktop and the browser.

Desktop Applications
Desktop applications are stand-alone programs that run off your hard drive. They may or may not connect to the internet. This category includes all the software that you use on a daily basis such as Word, Photoshop, iTunes, iPhoto, etc. The new competitors in this space are WPF from Microsoft and Apollo from Adobe. Let’s take a quick look at each technology.

WPF stands for Windows Presentation Foundation and it is the new graphics engine for the Windows Vista operating system. WPF applications can still be run on Windows XP if the user downloads a 50MB runtime file. WPF is appealing to designers because it allows you to easily add animations, 3D, and excellent typography to Windows applications. WPF is backed by the immense .NET framework and it allows you complete access to the users devices, drives, etc. It is important to note here that WPF is for building Windows-only applications.

Apollo is the code-name for the new cross-platform runtime from Adobe. Apollo allows you to use a combination of HTML, JavaScript, Flash and Flex to create desktop applications that run on both Windows and Mac. The user needs to download a 5MB runtime in order to run Apollo applications. One of the major selling points over WPF is the fact that it runs on Windows, Mac and in the near future, Linux. But this cross-platform compatibility comes at the expense of power. Apollo currently only allows simple file reading and writing from the user’s drive. As Adobe itself has said, you couldn’t make Photoshop in Apollo, it’s just not powerful enough. This is why Adobe has been careful to note that Apollo is geared for creating Rich Internet Applications (RIA) for the desktop. If you need to create a branded media player application or an offline email client then Apollo would be an excellent fit.

The Competition
There isn’t as much competition between WPF and Apollo as some have made out. Like I mentioned above, WPF and Apollo are geared for different purposes. WPF for full-blown Windows applications and Apollo for lighter, internet-connected applications. But there is of course a gray area where the two technologies overlap and both companies are fighting to own it.

The Browser
Browser experiences are obviously anything that runs inside any of the standard web browsers. Here the main competition is between WPF/E from Microsoft and Flash/Flex from Adobe. Let’s take a look at each technology.

WPF/E is the code-name for Microsoft’s cross-platform browser runtime that allows you to create rich browser experiences using a small subset of the standard WPF technology. Unlike WPF, WPF/E runs on both Windows and Mac. You program WPF/E using XAML, which is the new WPF markup language, and JavaScript. It is still in the very early stages and only currently supports a tiny fraction of the features of regular WPF. WPF/E is a great choice if there is need to play WMV video in a branded experience and video is the area that Microsoft sees the most potential in.

Everybody knows Flash as it has become the clear leader in delivering rich content to the web. With the release of Flash 8, Adobe obliterated the competition in the web video space. This is apparent when you see that YouTube, Google, and most TV networks currently deliver their video in Flash. Flex is a companion technology that allows developers to make RIAs but the end result is still a Flash file. With the newly released Actionscript 3 language as well as incredible open-source projects like Papervision3D, Adobe is continuing to raise the bar when it comes to rich web content.

The Competition
This is the area that Microsoft has its work cut out for it. Flash has become so prevalent and powerful that it will be hard for WPF/E to ever put a dent in it. But there are definitely some situations where WPF/E would be a clear choice, such as delivering secure WMV video to users. But it is still way too early to tell how this space will pan out and I know that Microsoft has some big announcements coming regarding WPF/E.

I hope this cleared some things up. It could be that tomorrow everything changes again. That’s why you need to stay on top of your technology RSS feeds!

Organic Electroluminescent is Cool

-- from wsj --
Sony to Start Selling Flat TVs With Next-Generation Screens
April 13, 2007; Page B4
... excerpt...
Sony Corp. plans to start selling small televisions with a technology that's a contender for next-generation flat-screen TVs.
Sony will begin selling an 11-inch TV with an organic electroluminescent screen by the year's end, a Sony spokeswoman said. OEL screens are already used in mobile phones, personal digital assistants, camcorders and other small-screen gadgets. Sony believes it's the first company to launch an OEL TV, she said.

Chattin’ About WaMu

Washington Mutual has been carving a distinctive place for itself in the stodgy world of banking: irreverant, customer friendly, and poking fun at the rest of the banking institutions with a series of witty TV spots. Even it's name is not conventional.
There's a 1-pager interview with WaMu's CEO, Kerry Lillinger, in the April issue of Fortune, and he talks about the importance of making five-year plans: Relaunches

-- from mediapost --
"The first phase of the new launched April 10th with improvements in search and navigation, a more streamlined user interface, an archive of how-to videos, and an extensive article library.
"Promised later this year are community-focused polls, forums, message boards and other features built on passions."
Personally, I was hoping for this ever since the site was brought up by David in The Apprentice: Martha Stewart back in late 2005. I had always assumed would be the bomb, but after I visited it, I found that it could probably be improved upon.
I think the new site is what I had hoped to have seen then.
> the story...

Launch Your Own Mobile Network

-- from springwise --
Now, anyone can start their own MVNO using Sonopia, which launched earlier this week.
Sonopia works with Verizon to handle calls and data transfer, and lets anyone from a rock band to a church group set up their own mobile network brand. In return, the mini carrier will receive 3-8% of revenues generated by the customers they sign up. Brands create their own calling plans, get a co-branded website and are able to send their members messages about the latest news or special events.
> more of the story...

t-weed comes to your mobile

-- from fiercewireless --
Smart SMS is teaming up with boutique brand engineering firm MP3NY to launch mobile banking through Columbia Card Services Mobile Visa Debit Card, which aims to give unbanked Americans, small business owners and immigrants the freedom that comes with a debit card. The service is called T-Weed Wireless Visa.
> more of the story...

where does inspiration come from?

As a good GenXer, I firmly claim The Stooges as part of my cadre and even more so these days.

-- from nyt, 4/11/07 --
'Iggy repeatedly asked for the house lights to be turned on: more boundary-ruptures. At one point, lights fully on, the band started "Real Cool Time," and Iggy brought the audience into his world, or so it seemed. "Invade the stage!" he begged. "Fly!" About a hundred did, many of them dancing, many trying hungrily to kiss him or pile on him. The road crew suddenly had to protect the band, the backline of amplifiers and Iggy himself, who nonchalantly reached for the arm of a roadie at critical moments. (The mob stayed onstage for “No Fun” as Iggy dodged feet and hands while singing "no fun to be around/walking by myself/no fun to be alone ...") Iggy Pop is all right with physical danger and leapt into the crowd several times to prove it. One of those times, memorably, was a dead-man dive: he just tipped over into the front rows, face-first.'

The next wave of sourcing in China

There's an interesting article by Jim Hemerling of BCG's Shanghai office about China's migration to the next wave of sourcing, in which China emerges "as a global R&D and innovation hub in its own right."

He breaks the history of Chinese sourcing into three waves. The first focused on low-cost procurement. The second wave saw the very same suppliers who participated in the first wave mature to the extent that they could participate in product innovation and design. The numerous announcements of new R&D centers being set up in China are evidence of this wave. These R&D centers not only localize for the Chinese market, but have evolved to develop products for global markets as well. See also previous discussion on this blog here.

Hemerling's interest is in the third wave, of which he cites IBM's recent relocation of their global procurement organization from New York to Shenzhen and GM's relocation of its power-train electronics procurement organization to China as examples. He argues that the third wave -- China becoming a global center of procurement -- may make sense for some companies, but that there are numerous performance issues to consider for most.

I find the third wave to be more an issue of cost savings that result from scale and from being a multinational organization that can truly function in an integrated way across regions -- no small feat and a positive reflection on the company's (e.g., IBM's) structure and operations.

That said, I find the second wave's transition of Chinese R&D centers from product development for the local market to global markets more interesting. The development side (the D in R&D) is straightforward, but how does the research side (the R) do this? That's the difference between China becoming a global R&D hub and becoming an innovation hub. The latter emphasizes understanding users and markets and the design of products -- this capability is much harder to centralize (and doesn't need to be anyway).

Context Is King

What can we learn from a street musician flopping in front of a busy commuter crowd in Washington D.C.? Tons, if that musician happens to be Joshua Bell, recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize.

On January 12th, 2007, the Washington Post set Bell in a busy commuter station as a street musician to see how the crowd would react to having one of the greatest classical musicians on earth delivering a free concert to no one in particular. The resulting article's findings are astounding.

Bell was virtually ignored.

Aside from this being a fascinating cultural experiment, there is an excellent lesson embedded within it that designers of any ilk should heed: context matters more than you would like to believe. In one setting Bell can fill halls with people who gladly pay hundreds of dollars to see him and stifle their coughs in reverence to his craft. In another, more than 1000 people pass him by without even the slightest acknowledgment.

No matter how good your idea is and no matter how well you execute on it, if you get the context wrong you will miss your audience entirely. Like Bell, this will be hard for you to stomach because the mastery of your craft is no different between the varying contexts, only the environment has changed. Because of this it is tempting to blame the commuters for their cultural ineptitude, just as it is tempting to blame users for not fully understanding our systems.

Accounting for context is, and should be, an integral part of understanding the user experience. If we are designing a mobile application, we must be aware not only of the diminished screen space, but also of the environments users may be in. These environments may cause them to only use one hand, only have half an eye available, or may require them to operate the application blindly. If we don't take these factors into account, even the sexiest, most kickin' application ever put together falls flat.