Archive for the 'mobile' Category

Friday, December 13th, 2019

A non-professional critique of the Weather Underground app

I’m not a UX expert, but I have opinions.

Weather Underground is one of my most-used apps. It gathers data from thousands of neighborhood weather stations run by individuals. Here’s the new front page:

Weather Underground front page, above the fold

The first thing you might notice is the large circular dial. That’s taking up a LOT of real estate here, and it doesn’t add a lot given that the temperature is already listed. (It took me a bit to realize this was temp, and not a compass direction). The app used to show relative weather (“Today will be cooler than yesterday”) which I really miss. Likewise with hourly specifics, like (‘Rain will begin around 2:00’) rather than just a percentage spread out over some unspecified amount of time. I just want to know if I need to grab an umbrella or not, and so on.

And what’s going on with the little wind dial? Is it pointing northwest or southeast? And I have no idea what that — underneath “Winds” is supposed to show.

The Wundermap is nice, but I wish I had more control over what appears above the fold…

Let’s scroll past the huge tracts of ads. (not faulting anyone for this–gotta pay the bills)

Are my eyes playing a trick on me, or are the “daylight” sections of this top readout darker than the nighttime ones? Nights are the dark times, right?

The other thing that keeps tripping me up on this page is that there is no indication of where “now” is. It looks like it will start raining in the evening, but I can’t get a sense of how imminent that might be.

The red line looks like temperature, but what those unevenly-spaced hollow dots represent, I haven’t the slightest idea.

The hourly section came up exactly like this on a fresh launch of the app. Admittedly, forecasting the past is easier, but still I with it was scrolled to the point where I could see what’s upcoming. Maybe some indication of “now” here would also help orient viewers, and link the hourly forecast to the daily one above.

Anyway, the devs are always tweaking things, so I hope they’ll run across this and take it into account in their designs.

Signed, a fan -m

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

About the iPhone slowdown issue

When their hand was forced by hard evidence, Apple admitted what many people had suspected: they deliberately slow down older phones, in as little as a year.

Their apology letter is a masterpiece of copywriting. But let’s have a closer look, shall we?

A chemically aged battery also becomes less capable of delivering peak energy loads, especially in a low state of charge, which may result in a device unexpectedly shutting itself down in some situations.

It’s true that batteries lose capacity over time and use. But it doesn’t so easily follow unexpected shutdowns are the result of this fact of physics. In particular, competing phones seem to avoid this problem.

They glibly follow this two paragraphs later with:

It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable.

Cute. Apple doesn’t get off the hook so easily. Know what else goes without saying?

They have full, unrelenting, absolute control over every detailed aspect of the design of their products. They alone are responsible for the bizarre obsession with making phones thinner at the expense of everything else. They alone chose the size, composition, and performance parameters of the batteries they use by the millions. They designed the power handling circuitry, specifying its behavior under load. They alone control every scrap of power handling circuitry on the mainboard all the way down to the CPU. They alone tested their designs in as many varied circumstances as their imaginations could provide.

It goes without saying that lithium batteries are consumable components—ones they’ve deliberately made non-user-serviceable, in some cases gluing them into the inner chassis so thoroughly that they’re nearly impossible to remove. Speaking from experience here.

So in that context, no, I don’t buy the polished arguments about how this was done for my benefit. They’re definitely optimizing for something, but long-term customer experience ain’t it. -m

Friday, October 10th, 2008

More mobile XForms goodness

I haven’t tried this, but these guys claim to have a solution where

The form definitions are saved and exchanged as XForms, and the data as XForm[s] models. The data can be exchanged over http (if the phone users can afford GPRS and have a data connection) or over compressed SMS messages.

Sounds like they have the right idea… -m

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Do you Yahoo on iPhone?

I prefer the Yahoo! Search iPhone interface. Search Assist and SearchMonkey goodness abound, and make a concrete improvement to the experience.

But why can’t I get Yahoo! Go for iPhone? I’m gobsmacked that such a strategic app isn’t available this far into the game. Yahoo! Go was first announced in 2006. Then 2007. Then 2008. Maybe 2009 will be the year. -m

Monday, August 18th, 2008

New mobile number

I have a new mobile phone number now. If you need it ask. Don’t call the old one, it’s gone… -m

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Two miles barefoot

Without the bike commute, I’m back to barefoot running for exercise. I can now do a stretch of 2 miles on asphalt with no problems (other than sore calves). Why barefoot? Because it feels better, and it’s ultimately easier on the joints. The human biomechanical system does excellent work if you let it, and is easily capable of soft landings via shock-absorption in the knees, ankles, and musculature. In contrast, when one wears shoes, it’s too easy to slam the feet down and let the padding (attempt to) take care of impact management.

If you want to get started, go slowly. For a month I only walked, starting out with very short distances. I’m at the point now when I see a new texture of carpet, hardwood, or other floors, I’m tempted to kick my shoes off and sample.

Alas, I don’t think I’ll be ready for the Nike+ Human Race 10k coming up on August 31. (And I wonder how many runners in a shoe-company-sponosred race will be barefoot) :-) -m

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Yahoo! Mobile: outgunned and outflanked

According to Ars Technica, Google captured 61% of mobile search market share in the first four months of 2008. Yahoo! came in at a distant 18%, so pretty much reflecting desktop search market share. This is due, of course, to Google being the default provider on the iPhone, and the iPhone being the biggest bulk of mobile internet usage.

So Jerry (or whoever is on deck as CEO), you should probably look into this mobile thing and see what’s up with leadership there and whether anything is salvageable… -m

Monday, June 9th, 2008

The comedy stylings of the Windows Vista Blog

For instance, The Business Value of Windows Vista. Seriously, Vista for “speed and security”? Or mobile? The comments on this post alone are worth the click. -m

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Apple Mobile Me? (But watch out for falling SCO)

Rumor is that the .Mac service is being renamed to “Mobile Me”. Great, in it’s present state, it’s always been the kind of thing that’s completely useless to me, even aside from the annoying name.

But watch out: everyone’s favorite gang of bankrupt litigious weasels, the SCO group, in a desperate effort to prove they they have a broader business plan than making up claims about owning open source software, already have a mobile-related product called “Me, Inc.“. On the plus side, these guys are so deep into their bankruptcy proceedings that they probably don’t have the mettle to go up against Apple at this point. But neither do they have much to lose for trying… -m

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Weekend Project: save $75/month with Ooma

New gear, an Ooma VOIP box. I plan to post more technical details soon, but the short story is that you get a sleek little box that goes between your dsl or cable modem and your router, and you get unlimited local and long distance calling. For free. For life (or 3 years, according to the TOS). Check out the Flickr set of the unboxing experience.

WIth this, I plan to turn off my landline, to the tune of about $35 a month, and by not using our mobile phones for so much long distance, reduce the calling plan for another $40 a month. The one-time cost for the box set me back about $231, so I will be even in just over 3 months. (Only recently, these things were retailing for $599.)

How do these guys stay in business? I’ll write more about this too, but the short story is that bandwidth is really, really cheap, monopolistic efforts of telecom companies notwithstanding.

So far I’m really happy with it. The online Ooma Lounge isn’t as good as Vonage’s system–for one thing, you can only see voicemails, not any kind of call logs. But the features that are there Just Work. The documentation is short and simple but thorough. Setup was a breeze.

Have you tried Ooma? Comment below. -m

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Hands-on Kindle

Amazon hosted a networking event tonight. They had me at free beer and a chance to look at a Kindle. Now that I’ve actually played with one, I can comment on some of its features for better or worse.

It’s heavier and more solid than it looks. With the little padded cover, it could pass for a physical book in most situations, and it would probably survive a drop to the floor just fine.

The screen does look great, even in the sub-optimal lighting conditions of a bar. I had to compare with the XO when I got home, and with the backlight off, I think the resoloutions are very nearly similar. However, the XO (without backlight) is fairly hard to read at indoor lighting levels, though in full sunshine it’s great. I don’t know how easy it would be to read the Kindle in full sunlight…

Page turning is annoyingly slow, and annoyingly easy to do by accident. The annoying part is that after pressing the button, nothing seems to happen for a second, then the page blacks out, waits another second, then displays the new content. I understand the technical limitations of the black flash (and the corresponding benefits–essentially zero power consumption to hold an image). But it feels like if it started working as soon as the button was pressed, it could cut the overall page change time in half. Keyboard entry felt slow and lagged as well.

Overall, the device didn’t feel usable to me. I somehow stumbled my way into Wikipedia and got to see the browser in action. I would love to see a touch-screen version.

Did seeing one change my mind about buying one? Nope. Still waiting. I’d buy this one at half it’s current price, an updated model for maybe more. -m

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Yahoo! introduces mobile XForms

Admittedly, their marketing folks wouldn’t describe it that way, but essentially that’s what was announced today. (documentation in PDF format, closely related to what-used-to-be Konfabulator tech; here’s the interesting part in HTML) The press release talks about reaching “billions” of mobile consumers; even if you don’t put too much emphasis on press releases (you shouldn’t) it’s still talking about serious use of and commitment to XForms technology.

Shameless plug: Isn’t it time to refresh your memory, or even find out for the first time about XForms? There is this excellent book available in printed format from Amazon, as well as online for free under an open content license. If you guys express enough interest, good things might even happen, like a refresh to the content. Let’s make it happen.

From a consumer standpoint, this feels like a welcome play against Android, too. Yahoo! looks like it’s placing a bet on working with more devices while making development easier at the same time. I’ll bet an Android port will be available, at least in beta, before the end of the year.

Disclaimer: I have been out of Yahoo! mobile for several months now, and can’t claim any credit for or inside knowledge of these developments. -m

P. S. Don’t forget the book.

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Kindle my disappointment

Where’s Project Gutenberg? One difficulty in launching an ebook platform is the lack of available titles. I keep hearing about 80,000+ titles, but expressed as a percentage of Amazon’s book catalog, it’s minuscule. There should be all kind of public domain titles ready to go on day one. And where’s the Creative Commons books?
There’s some public domain books to be found, but none are free. Take, for example, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a book (in paper form) sitting just out of arm’s reach as I write this, waiting to be read. If I had it on a device, particularly one with a good screen, I’d be more inclined to keep it, and dozens others, on hand in my backback and be ready to read at a moment’s notice. But no.

The problem is the the “we take care of the wireless delivery” part, called Whispernet(tm). It’s not really free, nor bundled in the service price. It’s bundled in to the cost of every media access. Is it fair to pay $9.99 for a New York Times bestseller? Sure. But it sucks to pay $1 for an A-list blog that’s free everywhere else, or to get literally nickeled and dimed for the privelege of “converting” and delivering your own content to your own device.

By the way, who gets the money paid for accessing, say, a CreativeCommons non-commercial licensed blog via the Kindle? Somebody should look into that.

I applaud Amazon for pushing to innovate in a space that badly needs it, but the financial model behind the wireless access encourages the wrong kind of things. Exceptions, like unlimited Wikipedia access (be still my heart!) still need to be hand approved by the gatekeeper. Information wants to be free, it doesn’t want to be a service, though that’s hard to see when the dollar signs get in your eyes.

Many folks are comparing this to the original iPod launch–remember, the huge klunky one with a tiny capacity, black and white screen, and a mechanical click-wheel? There’s some strong points of similarity, but stronger differences. For one, anyone with an iPod can easily rip their existing CDs, not to mention obtain MP3s from other methods (so I hear). There’s nothing like that yet for books.
Where’s the documentation for the new, proprietary ebook format? I don’t care about the DRM crap. I care about being able to create new content, or repackage existing content for which I have the rights, and for that, I’m having trouble coming up with a rationale for an entire new format. I would love to do some cool things with this platform. Perhaps I will some day, though my enthusiasm is somewhat lessened by the difficulties I would face getting anything cool onto the devices. -m

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

Steven Pemberton and Michael(tm) Smith on (X)HTML, XForms, mobile, etc.

Video from XTech, worth a look. -m

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

2 years at Yahoo!

Today is my 2nd anniversary at Yahoo!. Looking back, it’s been a great time. Since I don’t know how long ago, I’ve fantasized about being involved in research. Check. Since sitting across from the mobile guys for 5 years in W3C meetings, I’ve fantasized about working in mobile. Check. And since I wrote Web search, without the web (demo), I’ve fantasized about working on web-scale search.


What will the next two years bring? I don’t know, but I’m certain they will be even better than the previous two. -m

Friday, June 29th, 2007

no iPhone

No iPhone for me. No waiting in insane lines. No paying $600 to beta test first-gen hardware. And definitely no signing up for two years under the AT&T regime. Now when does the 2nd gen iPhone come out…? -m

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Get yer Go

Still more mobile news. Yahoo! Go is shipping. No alpha, beta, gamma, etc.–the real deal. Give it a whirl. If your phone, like mine, can’t handle the awesomeness, you can visit the slick web-only version at -m

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

More iPhone details leaked

America’s Finest News Source has the scoop. -m

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

More phones have Y! buttons

Have a look at these new Samsung phones, especially on page 2. Still limited to Asian territories, but this sort of thing has to be coming to the US and Europe as well… -m

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Poor-Man’s Apple TV: Your Old iPod

I have an older iPod. I don’t go G numbers, but it’s 40 gigs and a black and white screen. The battery life is measured in minutes. Hmm, 40 gigs, same as the original Apple TV.

We don’t have a TV in the place, but we do watch movies on the computer screen. As long as you’re willing to plug in what’s essentially a portable hard drive, you can watch movies on any screen with a nearby FireWire port. Battery life isn’t an issue because the only time you use the iPod, it’s plugged in.

What do you do with your old iPod? -m

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Search On

The approximately seven readers of this blog have probably already heard this, but just in case: I have a new role at Yahoo!–working on next generation search.

Lots of details are still falling into place. For now I describe it: “Imagining, specifying, prototyping, developing, and evangelizing next-generation web search experiences leveraging the full and unique capabilities available within Yahoo!”

In many ways, this is a logical stepping stone after oneSearch, and I’ll be dealing with lowercase semantic web issues more now. Expect the focus of this blog to shift accordingly (though I’m still interested in mobile and will make note of important happenings.)

Search On! -m

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

The billion-dollar sand trap?

I thought this article was interesting in overall tone and a specific quote:

Modifying the software for each phone’s display is a matter of brute-force labor. There’s no intellectual way around it. Yahoo! is one of the few companies that’s been able to pull this off, but only because they have an army of Ph.D. hackers working for them.

Thanks! The primary design for the content adaptor was done by one non-Ph.D.–me–with plenty of help from the resident “phone whisperer” and a talented team of fellow non-Ph.Ds. It’s not a matter of “brute force” at all. The only way to solve the problem with finite resources is to understand developers, understand the problem space, and be smart about drawing a line between the two (and being flexible enough to handle the inevitable unknown).

One thing is certain: the industry is changing fast. A mobile app working great today will look dodgy in a year, and be obsolete in two years. It’s not clear if this will stabilize at some point, or keep shifting..

But I’m curious about what the rest of you think. Is mobile the next big thing, or a huge sand trap? Comment below. -m

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Big money in small screens

Here’s a NYT article on Yahoo! Mobile, including a picture of the “warroom” where I spend a few hours on a typical day. The sign on the back wall says “platform team”, and on top of that “Maru” in Kanji and roman characters. -m

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Mobile search compared

Here’s a great comparison site. Try out some searches you might run from your phone and let me know: which one did you prefer? Why? -m

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Yahoo oneSearch launches on mobile web

Today Yahoo! launched oneSearch on their other front page, OneSearch has been available for a while, but only from within Yahoo! Go. Now it’s available to millions of mobile devices equipped with a data connection and XHTML browser.

The basic premise behind oneSearch is to replace the tri-modal search box, where you have to say whether you are searching the web, local, or images, with a single all-knowing search box. Available context information, such as your zip code, is used to guide the search. Internally, the application is smart about figuring out what kind of things you might be looking for. For example, someone searching for “pizza” in a mobile context is probably more interested in a list of restaurants (with reviews) than in a list of hyperlinks. Behind the simplicity of a single search box, there is a great deal of work going on to make your life easier.
Ever since Yahoo! Go betas (and gammas) started coming out, folks have been asking me how else they could get access to this application. Now it’s easy.

Not too long ago, the front page relaunched simultaneously in 19 countries. The new design was simple, and based on a new platform called Sushi, as mentioned in published sources. OneSearch shows off the power of this approach, even though this launch didn’t cover 19 countries…yet. (Getting access to local data for movies, restaurants, sporting events, and so on is no small feat.)

As I said before, this is only a small part of an overall strategy that has been years in the making. Much more to come. Watch this space. -m

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Entertaining phone review

Go read it for yourself. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is all too widespread in the industry. -m

Friday, February 16th, 2007

J2ME Disappointment

Sun Java Wireless Toolkit 2.5 is out of beta. Can anyone explain to me the logic of making a Java toolkit that’s Windows-only? Sheesh. -m

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Windows Live Search for Mobile

Spotted under the headline Windows Live Search for Mobile Goes Final, Still Great (like they were expecting it to suddenly plummet in quality?) on Gizmodo. It’s a 114k jar file that runs on my SLVR, where Yahoo! Go isn’t yet available yet, so points for that. Search suggestions show as you type, hugely useful on a klunky 9-key entry situation. They use an interesting UI to hold search results, densely packed–6 down the screen–with a status bar on top, and each search result marquee-scrolling back-and-forth as needed. A detail page can zap you in to map mode or set up a call.

My standard test search–a little offbeat but still plausible–for mead near Sunnyvale produced disappointing results. The meadery within walking distance didn’t show, and of the top 6, two were duplicates. Scrolling down to the 10th result, though, did show an interesting, useful result, albeit 60.15 miles away: Knowne World Meads. I wanted to visit the web site, but here lies another problem: there’s no web integration. None of the search results include a URL or clickable link.

For all the hassle, I’ll stick with Opera Mini and my favorite search engine, thank you. -m

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Is HTML on the web a special case?

Some random thoughts and responses to lots of blog discussion sparked by the XML2 article, where I asked “Is HTML on the Web a special case?”

By which, I mean, if you go through all the effort of writing down all the syntax rules used by the union of browsers that you care about, then go through the pain of getting consensus within a standards body, will the resulting document be useful beyond HTML on the Web, much like how XML is useful beyond being a vehicle for XHTML?

I don’t know if Tim Bray had that same version of the question in mind, but he answers “obviously ‘yes'”.

But I don’t think so. Once you have that set of rules, wouldn’t it be useful in other areas, say, notoriously RSS on the web? SVG? MathML? In fact, I’d go as far as saying that any hand-authored markup would be a candidate for XML2 syntax.

What about mobile? Anne van Kesteren responds:

in that article Micah Dubinko mentions mobile browsers living up to their premise and all that. What he says however, isn’t really true. Mobile browsers and XHTML is tag soup parsing all the way.

He links to this page, which does a rather poor job of making a point the author seems to have decided upon before starting the experiment. If you look at the specific test cases, one tests completely bizarro markup that no author or tool I can imagine would ever produce. Another test checks the handling of content-type, not markup. On the other axis, the choices there seem a bit jumbled: lists of user-agent strings, one for stock Mozilla, and a footnote indicating confusion about what browser is really in use. If anything, this page shows that the browsers tested here, with the exception of Opera Mini, are crap. If you spend more than a few minutes in mobile, you’ll discover this widespread trend. (And I’m working on a solution…watch this space).

Look at this from a pragmatic viewpoint. Check the doctype used on Yahoo! front page vs mobile front page. Despite the poor browsers, XHTML adoption is still farther ahead on the mobile web then the desktop web.

The last thing nagging at me (for now) is whether XML2 will have an infoset. Will it be possible to use XPath, XQuery, and XML tools on XML2 content? How well will these map to each other? In the strict sense, no, XML2 won’t have a conforming infoset because it will never include namespaces. But might it support a subset of the infoset? (Would that be a infosubset?) That’s a huge open question at this point. -m

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Yahoo! Keitai

A few more tidbits on the Softbank Mobile turnaround, for which helped architect the mobile platform.

SoftBank phones have a “Y!”-button which links to Yahoo!-keitai. Yahoo-Keitai! offers a list of official sites, new services (e.g. a new communicator service), and also access to free mobile internet sites through the YAHOO directory, as well as access to YAHOO services, such as YAHOO-auctions.