Pico Projectors Have Arrived

They’ve been around for a while now, but with the WowWee Cinemin, it looks like pico projectors are ready for prime time.

Engadget has a great unboxing / demonstration video:

One Click

A friend told me about Jolly Time popcorn today, and mentioned that they had a new healthy version available. I think he sent me a link, but like a lot of people, I just Googled it instead of spending time hunting for the email.

The front page of their site has a huge Flash movie devoted to Healthy Pop, the product I wanted. Kudos to them for the real estate, but not sure why it was necessary to use Flash just to put an animation of the box dropping into view on a continuous loop. I suppose someone felt that just making it the most prominent image on the entire screen wasn’t enough, we needed the 2009 version of the <blink> tag to really drive the point home.

It’s completely distracting, and makes it annoying to look at any other navigation on the page, but that’s ok, because I’m just here for that product anyway, right? Alright, then, I’ll just click on the giant box of popcorn to see it, and…

Nothing.

Click again. Nothing. It’s not a link.

Now I have to figure out where I can go to see more about Healthy Pop, and it’s really not clear. While I try to look, I’m being hassled by the flying popcorn boxes, and there’s no other link on the page that says “Healthy Pop.”

There’s a link to “Products & Flavors,” which could be it, or another link to “Promotions,” which might be better, since they seem to be promoting Healthy Pop right now. There’s also a subtle search box hidden tucked away up in the corner, where typing “Healthy Pop” might be useful.

What am I really going to do, though? Do I really want to devote my time to searching through their site, when I’ve got work to do and a million things competing for my attention? Not really. I’m going to do the same thing countless other potential customers are probably doing right now, which is to shrug my shoulders and close the window. Sorry, Jiffy Pop, your new product just isn’t important enough for me to go on safari through your site to find.

You could have had me with just one click.

Stupid Squarespace Editor

One of the core principles of a Lightful interface is that no error should be unforgivable. Users should always be able to undo a mistake.

It’s hardly a new concept – Jakob Nielsen included “Error prevention” in his ten usability heuristics almost twenty years ago. Yet even today, such simple, fundamental concepts are routinely ignored by web developers who care more about building “cool” things than getting the basics right.

The company that hosts my blog, Squarespace, is a usability criminal of the highest order when it comes to this. While the text editor looks slick and beautiful with its two-tone black translucent window and row of unlabeled(!) icons, it contains a usability land mine just waiting to be set off.

In the top right is a innocuous looking dropdown menu with the label “WYSIWYG.” This is the method for switching one’s edit mode between raw HTML and a preview mode. After typing in a few paragraphs, if you would like to edit in a different mode, and chooses to use this tool, an uncomfortably worded dialog box appears to warn you that all your unsaved changes will be lost. There are two buttons to click – “OK” will destroy your work, and “Cancel” will preserve it. Just to be perverse, the default choice is “OK,” meaning an errant press of the enter key spells disaster.

For the user who dismisses dialog boxes too quickly, or fails to carefully read the difference between the effect of “OK” vs. “Cancel,” it means lost sentences, paragraphs, or more. No undo is possible, the words are lost forever.

As you might imagine, this is exactly what happened to me ten minutes ago. I have lost my work, and lost trust in Squarespace’s text editor. It’s hardly an ideal way to feel about the central and most important feature of one’s blog host. Bad form, Squarespace.

The Wrong Way to Sell Me a Palm Pre

My latest two-year AT&T contract is about to expire, and it’s time to consider a new phone while I’m eligible for a subsidized price. My original iPhone, purchased on the first day of the first year, after a six-hour wait in line, is the best phone mobile device I’ve ever owned. I can’t call it the best phone, because the truth is that as a telephone, it’s terrible. Without a headset, callers are hard to hear – partly due to the hardware, partly due to AT&T’s network, and partly due to the shape of the phone, which is almost exactly the wrong shape for holding to one’s ear.

It’s amazing to think that, 79 years after Henry Dreyfuss painstakingly determined the ideal size and shape for a phone reciever, we have managed to completely forget every ergonomic principle in the design of our “modern” phones.

With a headset, at least, with my V-Moda headset, I can hear a little better, but anyone I speak to is treated to an annoying half-second delay echo of themseves. I’m often told to call back from a “better phone,” and no wonder.

I suppose it’s a testimony to just how unimportant voice calls have become that, despite my iPhone being all but useless as a telephone, I still consider it the best mobile device I’ve ever owned. I’ve had a Treo 650 (with the Palm OS), several Windows Mobile phones, and on the “mobile device but not a phone” front, I’ve had a Nokia N810, a Toshiba Pocket PC, several Palm Pilots, and a Sony Magic Link. All of them held my attention for various amounts of time, being alternately novel, fun, exciting, and even occasionally useful, but none ever became a regular companion during my day. Even the Palm Pilot, which was the closest any device ever came to being a reliable part of my daily routine, often spent days or even weeks in a drawer.

My iPhone, on the other hand, has joined the category of my keys and my wallet. It is always in my pocket, to the point that even stepping out the front door without it (and my keys & wallet) feels instantly strange, so that I stop and wonder what’s wrong, and go back to make sure I have it with me.

Still, after two years, there are newer and faster models on the market, with more features, and of course, with a new warranty and battery. I haven’t switched to the iPhone 3GS, partly because my original iPhone is fine, and partly because I dislike the new design, with its wider face and cheap plastic back. I’m a prime target for the spate of iPhone competitors that have come on to the market, such as the HTC Hero or the Palm Pre.

Palm knows this, or at least, they know people like me are out here, and their latest ad is aimed directly at me (or at least, at people like me).

It’s almost perfect. They realize that millions of people bought their iPhones around this time two years ago, and that all of us are facing the renewal decision.

Faced with a “new” iPhone model that is disappointingly similar to the last model (especially in the wake of all the rumors that preceded its unveiling), and looking at the significant increase in monthly charges from AT&T, many of us are vulnerable to a come-on from a sexy new model. The Pre is the strongest competition the iPhone has faced, and even the prospect of suffering under Sprint doesn’t seem so bad – after all, we’ve muddled by with creaky old AT&T all this time.

Now is the time to hit me with a positive message – a message of hope, revitalization, a better tomorrow. Show me that there’s a better phone I could be using – one with great voice quality, a wonderful user experience, and beautiful industrial design. Tempt me with the shiny new toy that Apple failed to deliver this year.

They came so close.

Instead of thrilling with joy and excitement, though, look what Sprint’s ad has done. They’ve shown a boring photo of the Pre resting on a nasty old chewed-up apple core, and insulted my previous choice of phone.

Look at the first line. “The Palm Pre does things the iPhone can’t.” They’ve gone negative right out of the starting gate.

In political campaigns, negative advertising always turns off voters. The only reason it works is that someone has to win, and supressing voter turnout is fine, so long as it’s your opponent’s turnout that is suppressed more than your own.

In product advertising, though, all negative advertising does is make it harder for someone to get excited about your product, and easier for them to decide not to buy anything at all.

Product loyalty is often like loyalty to a political party or a sports team. The product we choose to buy is a reflection of ourselves, and the quality of that product is a reflection of our own judgement. No one wants to think they were stupid or easily misled when making a purchase, which is why so much work goes into the packaging and congratulatory messages that accompany a big ticket item. Reinforcement of a purchase decision after the fact is just as important as the marketing before the sale. Buyer’s remorse leads to product returns, it leads to negative word-of-mouth, and a lack of customer loyalty and repeat business.

We want to have that reinforcement. We read the manual for a new car, computer, camera, phone, television, et cetera, because it continually repeats the message you are smart, you are wise, you bought this product.

This is what fuels perennial debates like Mac vs. PC, Ford vs. Chevy, Republican vs. Democrat. Once we make our decision, to be told that the alternative is superior means we are idiots. After all, if Windows is so inferior to the Mac OS, and I use Windows, clearly I was stupid to make that decision – so I will defend “my” operating system of choice, and ridicule any attempt to be converted.

What Palm has done is to come directly at iPhone owners with the message that our iPhones are weak, ineffectual, and overpriced. We have chosen… poorly.

This message hasn’t worked in the past, and won’t work now. Campaigns like the failed iDont ads, Jeep’s commercials depicting Hummer owners as fat spoiled children, and others, served only to antagonize their targets rather than persuade them.

Palm’s CEO famously sneered at the prospect of Apple creating a phone in 2006, saying that “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”

When he said that, I was a Palm Treo owner, frustrated by my unstable and unenjoyable 650. A few months later, I was the proud owner of an Apple iPhone. Now, after nearly fading into obscurity, Palm wants to win me back by insinuating that I was wrong to leave, and thinks that going negative will let them take back some market share. It only demonstrates that they’re as tone-deaf to marketing in 2009 as they were to user experience in 2006.

What Does Facebook Remind Me Of?

I was thinking about Facebook today, and how it relates to the rest of the internet. It’s got all the elements of the internet, but with some training wheels to make it easier.

Email? They’ve got their own internal messaging system.
IMs? Check. Want to make a web page? Just fill out your profile.
News, weather, sports, games – they’re all there in handy “Facebook Apps.” You can stay in touch with old friends, hear about your favorite topics, and get ads about things that are of interest to you – all without ever going outside the walls to the rest of the Web.

Now who else has done that before? Oh, yeah… America Online! I wonder how long before Facebook starts its own complete service, and we get the 21st century equivalent of these:

Seriously, Safari?

When a company as normally mindful of user experience as Apple violates usability principles, it can be more shocking than encountering the same error in software where one’s expectations were low to begin with.

Installing the Safari 4 beta this morning, I completed the installation process and was confronted by this dialog box:

The idea of restarting my entire computer to install a single application is very Windows-like (I thought one reason for running a UNIX variant like Mac OS was to avoid this), but normally, not a big deal, since I can just delay that action for later.

Unlike most Mac OS X installations that do require restart, however, there was no option to “Restart Later.” Still, never fear, there’s always the trusty red button to close the dialog box. I pressed it, and voilà:

A nice zero efficiency sub-dialog telling me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to close this main dialog box without accepting the only choice presented, namely, restart.

Since I’m in the middle of doing my work right now, going through all my open applications to check save states, closing everything, restarting the entire computer and trying to get back to my previous work state is not something I’m inclined to do. As a result, I have no choice but to leave that dialog box open, and Safari in mid-install, until such time as which I am ready to take 10-15 minutes out of my workday to go through that process.

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

At least it’s not as bad as the equivalent Windows experience, succintly conveyed by the Reddit article: F*** You Microsoft … “Restart Later” means I will restart it whenever the F*** I WANT

The madness must stop.

Appropriate Language

I understand – marketers trying to write “hip” and “young” has been around since the invention of the teenager, sometime in the 1950s. I wonder, though – would Skittles have had any less success with their site if they hadn’t tried to write their legal copy as if their audience were composed of extras from the cast of Saved by the Bell?

Pearls Before Swine

There’s an excellent article at WIRED this week, “Why Do E-Books Look So Ugly?”

In it, the author points out the role of typography and design in traditional book publishing, and shines a light on the hidden craft that goes into designing a book so well that it seems as if it weren’t designed at all.

She shows why it is pleasant and enjoyable to read a book once it has been typeset, designed and printed, as opposed to the subtle dissonance that comes from trying to read something that has not. The article continues with a superb quote from typeface designer Mark Simonson:

“Different typefaces are like like having different actors in play or different voices in an audio book,” Simonson says. “The variations in typeface influence the personality of the book. Sticking to one font is much like having the same actor play all the different parts.”

And after all of that explanation, hoi polloi jump in with their comments, beginning with:

Thanks, for the info, more and varied fonts is important to the books and to stimulate the brain, something we need to push Amazon with. I wonder if there could be an automatic random font mode?

Someday, I will find a Firefox extension that allows me to strip reader comments from every page on the web.

Lightful – What’s Next After the GUI?

I just got the tapes from my talk at this year’s BIL conference, and here’s the video (click to watch, you’ll be taken to a new window):


It’s about the beginnings of an open-source system, not just a software or hardware project. We’re still using the WIMP paradigm that was created in the 1970s, and I want to bring the best user experience minds I can find together to define the next stage in UI evolution.

Lightful (that’s what I’m calling the project) is all about building a system – software and hardware both – that is centered around usability first and foremost. My eight principles are posted at lightful.org, which is also where the project will be housed and maintained.

Lightful.org has been laying fallow since BIL, a situation I plan to rectify very soon. I suppose waiting for the video gave me an excuse to delay, but now that excuse has been taken away from me, it’s time to get a move on.

Here’s to some good arguments about usability and moving past WIMP.

Why Isn’t This a Campaign Already?

David Pogue twittered this photo of a squirrel in his backyard, theiving a little Skippy:

Click the photo to go to David Pogue’s original post.

There’s such an obvious marketing idea here, and I’m not just talking about Skippy and this photo.

A savvy brand would have the word out, right now, that they are paying $0.10 per follower for anyone who Twitters a photo with good product placement. For your mid-range Twitter mavens, the ones with a couple thousand followers, that’s a cool benjamin or two. Certainly worthwhile, and since they’ll be concerned with their own integrity as much as the cash, the photos are likely to be more authentic and entertaining than anything a brand manager could come up with – after all, “all of us are smarter than any of us.”

Hop to it, world. You can send my royalty check when you pay out the first million.