Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simplifying speech

“I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one.” - Blaise Pascal

Recently, I decided to reduce my use of the following words, along with others that aren't coming to mind.
  • very
  • like
  • really
  • extremely
  • incredibly
The reason? I believe my overuse of emphatic adverbs decreases the emphasis. "I really enjoy that painting" imparts less meaning than "I enjoy that painting." Even though I've said that I really enjoy the painting, I believe it sounds as though I don't enjoy it as much as if I omitted really. "That dress is very beautiful" doesn't mean as much as "that dress is beautiful." I believe overuse of emphasizers also decreases memorability. When I think of the most persuasive people I know, they tend to speak simply and focus on a few concepts, instead of giving lower emphasis to more concepts. Their focus drives home a clear message - something to remember the conversation and the topic by.

There's a few other words I'm trying to say less often:
  • thing
  • stuff
These words require more mental engagement of the reader or listener. "Would you bring those things over here?" (and pointing) requires the listener to determine the meaning, whereas "would you bring the plate and glass over here?" puts the burden for my request on the speaker. Even when the noun is obvious to speaker and listener, replacing the noun with "stuff" or "thing" frees the listener from determine the speaker's meaning.

Twitter has trained me to be more precise in my statements. The Twitter service, with its limit of 140 characters, pushes users to retype their tweets to impart maximal meaning in finite space.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The landlord game

Helen and I have been on the lease for our apartment since September 2007. The landlord had us sign a 2 year lease, with a $50/month rent increase after 12 months (in September 2008). There hasn't been another rent increase since then.

The rent is low for Palo Alto. I joke to friends that our approach has been to not contact our landlord at all - if she forgets about us, then she won't remember to raise our rent! Seems that our landlord thinking about us may have caused a rent increase!

Our downstairs neighbors changed about a month ago, and over the past month the landlord has been involved with coordinating repainting the house and repairing the back steps. This week, I had to contact the landlord when a pipe rusted out and we started dripping water onto our downstairs neighbor's yard.

Today, I got an email notifying us of a rent increase of $50/month, effective January first. The rent is still fair, so I have no complaints. But it seems that our stay-out-of-the-landlord's-mind approach had been working!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

iOS from an Android user's perspective

I'm starting at Strava at the end of the month - a cycling and running data company that has iOS and Android apps. I already have a Google Nexus S Android device. I wanted to be able to try out Strava's iOS app, so I picked up an iPod Touch 4G last week.

I had an original iPhone and iPhone 3G. While working for Google, they gave me a G1, a Nexus One, and a Nexus S. The G1 was terrible, not worth switching to. It was slow, Android then was clunky, and it didn't engage the user the same way that the iPhone did.

I liked the Nexus One better than the iPhone 3G (more responsive, widgets, etc), and I happily switched over to T-Mobile and the Nexus One in December 2009. When Google gave me a Nexus S, I upgraded to that. When on Android, I've always used phones that were latest-release-track, carrier-software-less.

Every once in a while, I read iPhone users' responses to trying out Android, and invariably they're frustrated, disappointed, and certain iOS is the better platform. Every time a friend asks me iPhone versus Android, I wax on about how Google Voice is amazing, the Gmail and Google Calendar integration are great, and I summarize "Android is a better phone that does other things with less polish, whereas iPhone is a device that happens to make phone calls. If you live a Google life, use Android and Google Voice. If you like your music and well polished devices, and happen to make phone calls once in a while, buy an iPhone."

After a few days poking around on iOS, I'm disappointed by the ease of use of iOS. I believe I gave Apple too much credit.

There are things that I like better on iOS / the iPod Touch:
  • The screen has better colors than the Nexus S. The iPod Touch screen is brighter and crisper.
  • The iTunes integration is perfect. Musically, I live an iTunes life. doubleTwist is an inconvenience versus staying in iTunes. I've never synced a podcast to my Android devices - I have no clue how.
  • In the same vein, automatic conversion of high bitrate songs to 128 kbps AAC is convenient.
  • The iPod Touch is thin. Sure, the iPod Touch lacks phone hardware, but darn, every time I pick it up I notice its thinness.
  • The touch responsiveness is better. Every once in a while, I need to lock-and-unlock cycle my Nexus S to have it recognize when I lift off my finger. No such issues on the Touch. (Maybe I haven't dropped the Touch as often as I've dropped the Nexus S!)
  • Software consistency. It sucks that carriers put their own layer over Android - software I think doesn't make user experience better. It sucks that carriers and manufacturers don't upgrade older devices quickly or often.
  • Availability of third party devices for iPods is high. (eg: iHome, hotel alarm clocks, in car integration, Garmin ANT+ adapter)
  • Many applications are iOS first or iOS only. (I wish Android had a Chipotle app.)
Things that have annoyed me on iOS:
  • The keyboard always displays capital letters, even when shift isn't selected. (I miss Swype a lot too, which isn't native Android, but replacing the keyboard isn't possible on iOS.)
  • Lack of turn-by-turn directions in Maps.
  • When an app loads, and it has multiple prompts, I see the first prompt, then immediately see the second. I have to respond to the second prompt before I see the first prompt again. It's a jarring user experience; the prompts should be serial instead of going over each other before a user can react.
  • Prompting users for permission for push and location services on first app load is distracting. I'd much rather do that on app purchase/download like on Android.
  • The iPod connector insertion is awkward. I keep thinking I'm breaking something.
  • iOS presents the ability to sync with Gmail and Google Calendar from the phone, but not Google Contacts. (This is way better than it was on the 3G, where I had to do IMAP and iCal syncing manually, but still sub awesome for the legions of Gmail+Calendar+iOS users)
  • Calendar and Gmail didn't background sync by default. They're pull systems - I understand that they could be push if I dug deeper, but that's annoying.
  • At some point, the home screen instructed me on how to rearrange the apps. However, I'd already done that a few times.
  • To change settings on some apps (and most iOS apps), you have to go to the Settings application. Why do I mentally have to context switch do change settings in the app I'm already in?
  • I miss the hardware back button. Each app seems to have its own convention about how to go back. (On the other hand, at least in iOS it's clear what back goes to.)
  • The screen doesn't get bright every time I turn the display on.
  • The address bar / search box differentiation on the mobile browser is silly. Apple: please steal that from Android or Chrome.
  • I need to authenticate repeatedly. I had to type my password to download a free app.
  • There was no way to discover what "iTunes Match" was from the settings dialog asking me if I wanted to turn it on. (Much of the iCould stuff seems slapped on)
And here are some design decisions I disagree with, but aren't clear iOS problems:
  • I miss widgets - desktop items that aren't simple app launchers.
  • Apple charges money to take songs you've already purchased and crop them to ringtunes.
  • App store policies and platform rigidity / control. Why can't I replace the keyboard? I wish it had deep Google Voice integration.
  • Where's Siri? Why is Siri iPhone 4s specific?
  • Fanboys. Actually, that could be true for both iOS and Android.
My conclusion? The iPhone has become more complicated since the 3G, and the user experience hasn't kept pace. Apple did a good job with Visual Voicemail - but Google Voice and its deep Android integration makes Android a better phone. I can place and receive calls and text messages from my computer or phone, and I can listen to my voicemails on my computer or phone. I'd give my mom an iPhone, but she'll still be confused for a while. The device for anyone who's frequently using the phone as a phone, or someone who wants to highly customize their device? Android.