The first step to fixing the Android Marketplace has nothing to do with the Android Marketplace
Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010
Much fuss has been made about the user experience of the Android Marketplace and how it compares to the iOS App Store but, while there are many points to be made about how the Marketplace's design could be improved, the highest barrier to purchasing Android apps has nothing to do with the store's design because Android's standard provisioning of apps actively dissuades users from venturing outside the phone for more. If you'll excuse a little metaphorplay, consider the iOS app launcher as a desk with accessories on it. The user's first experience with the iPhone immediately lays out the capability that the device offers. 'Phone,' 'Clock,' 'Calculator,' 'YouTube,' 'Mail,' 'Music,' 'App Store.' Apple puts a premium on their real estate, ensuring not only that all the primary functionality is clearly displayed on the home screen with room to spare, but that the user isn't presented with apps that lack broad appeal or a clear value proposition based on name and icon alone.* In short, a new user can tell what an iPhone can do without ever going further than the default home screen. Leaving an empty space on the home screen is an essential part of the next part of the story. Apple deliberately pushed 'Contacts' off to the second page to keep several spaces empty. Open space adjacent to an 'App Store' icon implies expandability. Deliberately keeping a few showcase apps like iBooks out of the default provisioning gives the user a 'training mission' for the App Store. Apple guides them into getting a specific, high quality app in a fashion that gives the user both knowledge and confidence to go back in to the App Store in the future to add more capability to their phone. At the end of the day, there are two kinds of apps, those that are 'on the phone' and the thousands more that the user has been trained how to get. Now let's play the same scenario with a typical Android phone. Provisioning and UIs differ from provider to provider, but the salient problems are remarkably consistent across Android phones. The typical primary Android default home screen has anywhere from four to eleven app icons and a large widget on top, usually Clock and Weather or a Google search box. Consider the Android home screen as a workbench. It doesn't just hold apps and accessories, it holds tools. With several panes already configured with controls like the power widget, the tone is set: The home screens aren't just where you start a task, they're where you do stuff, they're where you read stuff. They comprise a workbench where you get stuff done. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. I really do wish the iPhone launcher had a bit more in the way of ambient notifications because even in California it's not always sunny and 73 degrees, nor am I always on De Anza Blvd just off 280 outside Apple's headquarters. Back to Android: All these widgets take space, and so the home is designed as a workbench (and a showcase for live wallpapers) rather than a place to store all your tools. Android has another place for keeping all the tools that come with the phone, the 'Launcher.' An entirely different place than the home screens with different behaviors and the capability to store many, many more apps in a big scrolling list. The Launcher is the problem. From one perspective, the Launcher sounds like a great idea. Instead of limiting themselves to 20 apps on one screen an Android carrier can include an unlimited number of apps and so many carriers throw a number of whiz-bang apps like Google Goggles into the Launcher to add to the value proposition of the phone. The net result is that the new user sees the home screen as the hub of interaction with their phone, and the Launcher as the secondary place (the role played by the App Store on the iPhone). When they want something that the home screen can't provide they open up the Launcher (tool chest) littered with gadgets whose utility isn't always obvious, for example Goggles, Car Home, Email and Gmail, Messaging and Talk, Phone and Voice, Voice Dialer and Voice Search. In short, when an iPhone user wants to do something new with their phone, they look around in the App Store. When an Android user wants to do something new with their phone, they look around in the Launcher and play with one of the tools they haven't played with yet. The Android Marketplace is another place entirely, a place many users are reluctant to go to when they don't feel they even fully understand the tools they've already got. When a phone ships with core functionality and an easy route to further provision it for your own needs, users end up with a phone that feels like it's their device, something they know how to use completely and have made their own. When a phone ships with kitchen sink apps and those with overlapping or unclear functionality, the user feels like they're using someone else's tool and, yes, they can add to it and customize it, but a large portion of users will still feel there are places inside their own phone that are fuzzy to them because they either don't have a use for the functionality or simply don't understand it. By simplifying the scope of the Android new user experience, challenging themselves by eliminating the Launcher altogether, and giving the users a yellow brick road to the Android Marketplace to get a few almost-critical applications, Android carriers would not only give customers a device they won't be overwhelmed by, but also supply the user with the confidence and the incentive to make the Android Marketplace a regular part of their smartphone experience. PS: 'Marketplace' sounds like a forum where dozens of shopkeepers are hawking their wares. Rebranding Android's shopping experience in a way that makes the user feel like they're shopping and purchasing from a single trusted entity with a trusted brand would go a long way. 'Google Store' has a nice ring to it.
There's a Toddler in My Brain
Wednesday, Sep 08, 2010

´╗┐There is a toddler in my head that's always looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear saying things like:

  • "I wonder if we got any new email in the last 40 seconds. Let's go check."
  • "Woah, it's been 5 minutes since we made that insightful comment on FriendTwitFace´╗┐ReddiFeed. Let's see if it got re-up-liked by someone."
  • "Wait, someone is wrong on the Internet. Let's tell them!"
  • "Wow, that song playing in the background is catchy. Remember your entire 11th grade? Let's look at our high school from space!"
  • "I wonder if we got any new email in the last 40 seconds. Let's go check."

This braintoddler can ruin my productivity. It's always pointing at things and saying 'What's that?"

Thankfully, when I listen to glitchtrance music like the latest from Bt, my inner braintoddler just stares at it, drooling with a twitching eye, while I get the chance to do some serious hackery. [I mentioned my braintoddler is a raging synesthete, right?]

Except the experience sometimes makes me write blog posts like this one. Okay, back to work for reals.

PS: BT stands for braintoddler, right?

Declaring Computer Bankruptcy
Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010

You're probably familiar with the term 'email bankruptcy', the throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air deleting/archiving/foldering of your entire inbox in order to start fresh, secure in the knowledge that anything important enough to require a response will surely be sent again, especially if your hand-up-throwing is performed in conjunction with a tweet, a status update, and a blog post.

The theory is that a clean inbox will clear out the pipes (err, tubes (too soon?)), abandoning triage and freeing you up to be proactively productive. The communicative equivalent of an extra life.

I haven't had the need for email bankruptcy because my inbox has always been a sieve rather than a bucket. Never archiving means that my inbox has thousands of items but some things fall through the holes. Think of a hundred tiny defaults rather than a massive bankruptcy.

But that's not today's topic. Today's topic is the infection of my computer. Not a virus, spyware, a trojan horse or even bloatware. Rather the cut of a thousand wounds of distraction. The multitudinous bookmarks that I check in order until, upon reaching the end, I start back at the beginning to see what new stuff has come along. the Tweetie client that nudges me gently with things that I' wouldn't miss but wouldn't miss. The popup from the Adobe Updater letting me know that it needs to be updated, ditto for Growl. A file hierarchy so muddled over time that search has become the de-facto file manager (perhaps a habit I picked up while at Google).

So I'm starting fresh. In a few minutes I'm turning off my computer, taking out its hard drive, replacing it with a new one and installing the OS from the DVD, then spending an hour or so running Software Update again and again until all the software updates, then installing the core applications that I need to create rather than consume: Coda, Photoshop, Chrome, Transmit, Dropbox, BBEdit, Lightroom and MarsEdit.

I'm sure I'll have to plug in the old drive a few times to transfer some essential files (Lightroom library, iTunes library and current projects) but sometimes there's nothing better to make a fresh start than moving in to a new house, even if it's just a virtual one.

In a few hours I'll be picking out new wallpaper!

Off the Grid Wednesdays
Wednesday, Aug 04, 2010
I'm trying something new. Given the constant infiltration and temptation of data and communication into every day's moments, I'm taking a day off every week. Starting tomorrow (technically, later this morning) I'm turning off my cell, staying away from email, the web, Facebook/FriendFeed/Twitter, my RSS reader, Xbox Live, and any other form of external communication that either intrudes without warning or tempts me to distraction. It's just an experiment for now, perhaps to become a regimen. It's not anti-technology -- I expect to read a bunch of my Kindle and maybe watch some fiction off the TiVo -- and it's not a ban on the Internet -- I may use a few reference sites while writing code -- but it is an aid to help me realize that I and the rest of the world can live without each other at least one day a week. Back Thursday!
Not Your Usual Fireworks Photos
Thursday, Jul 08, 2010

Rachel and I went to San Juan Island last week and shot the 4th of July fireworks. Though this is an annual tradition, I think this year's photos were better than usual. If you like these three, check out the full set!

Stellar Refugees



Hope you like 'em!

Not your typical recruiter
Saturday, Jun 26, 2010
An excerpt from a message sent this morning from a friend of 13 years:
I found it interesting that you felt that friends were pressuring you to help out with their projects. I'm on the horns of a dilemma: either hard-selling you on helping me with my company and endangering our long-held friendship, or respecting your wishes and leaving you alone. I decided to go for the hard sell, since I've never really liked you that much anyways. And I'm pretty sure that none of your other friends are showing any kind of scruples whatsoever.
Sigh and grin.
The trouble with videochat is the inability to suspend disbelief
Tuesday, Jun 08, 2010
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest contains a great explanation of the social challenges of video chat, but in one sentence he nicely sums up the reason video chat will never supplant simple telephone conversations:
Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her.
No doubt there will be many specific tasks (and demographic pockets) where the feature will be very popular, but Wallace's logic rings true for the greater use case. (via Kottke)
A Farewell to FriendFeed and Facebook
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
At the beginning of 2008 I left Google to start fresh, working with a tiny and brilliant startup team at FriendFeed. The last two-and-a-half years have resulted in so many good times, the opportunity to design for a site and community I love, and the privilege to work with yet another team of world-class designers, PMs and engineers after the Facebook acquisition. But Spring has sprung and I've decided that it's time for the next adventure. FriendFeed has taught me that entrepreneurship is what lifts my heart and so I plan to go in to private practice developing some ideas of my own while pitching in with the startup community here and there. I couldn't be more excited. But before all that I'm taking my first real Summer vacation in 16 years!
OmniGraffle for iPad only sold 5,000 copies so far?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Omni Group happily blogged today that they've sold 5,000 copies of their $50 OmniGraffle for iPad app and are one of the highest-grossing iPad apps to date. That's it? 5,000 copies? I was really surprised when Omni set such a high price point for their app, admittedly one of the few really desktop-level apps out for the iPad, alongside Apple's iWork apps. These are the kind of apps that new iPad owners are begging for to help justify their belief that the iPad could be a notebook replacement for most tasks. $50 is just too high a price for most users to spend on an iPad app in an arena where most cost $10. I wonder what percent of buyers are already avid users of OmniGraffle for Mac? I'd guess over 80%. Every day I get someone asking to see my iPad and they ask me to show them my favorite app. I don't show them OmniGraffle because, at $50, I haven't bought it. I'd bet that if Omni lowered their app's price to $19.99 not only would they get well over 3 times as many customers (most of them would be new business) but those customers would be evangelists, showing off the app to their friends who are deciding whether to buy an iPad. I understand that OmniGraffle is trying to break the mindset that iPhoneOS software should be inexpensive, but I can't see them fighting the tide much longer, press releases or no.
Deadly role of irony in Polish president's plane crash
Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010
A compelling blog post on Flightglobal's Flight blog discusses the political history of piloting the President Kaczynski, and the role it may have played in the crash. Two years ago the President wanted to make a last-minute change to his flight plans and fly to Georgia, which had just entered hostilities with Russia. The flight captain refused the President's request/order citing safety concerns and was later decorated for his sense of responsibility. This is where things get interesting:
Archives from Poland's parliament, the Sejm, show that Law & Justice party member Przemyslaw Gosiewski subsequently asked the defence minister whether a pilot had the right to refuse an order from a superior in the armed forces. He also demanded to know whether, by awarding the medal, the minister intended to show that "insubordination, cowardice and disobedience" would be rewarded in future. ... Investigators probing the loss of the Tu-154 at Smolensk have yet to determine why the pilots opted to pursue an apparently hazardous approach rather than accept a safer alternative. None of the conclusions will matter to parliamentarian Gosiewski who - having questioned the courage and discipline of crews that take such decisions - was among the 96 victims of the crash.
I encourage you to read the original article and the linked sources. The Polish government has indicated that information from the flight recorders, which will hopefully make the cause of the tragedy much clearer, will be released tomorrow.

Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
I can be reached at .

I also have a resume.


I'm co-founder in
a fantastic startup fulfilling the promise of the Internet of Things.

The Imp is a computer and wi-fi connection smaller and cheaper than a memory card.

Find out more.

We're also hiring.


I post most frequently on Twitter as @kfury and on Google Plus.


I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

©2012 Kevin Fox