Some good takeaways from this year's Oculus Connect event by Norman Chan of Tested. To me the most interesting bit of the week was this video - Uncovering the Grammar of VR - in which Saschka Unseld of Oculus Story Studio (formerly of Pixar, The Blue Umbrella) discusses some of the things he and his team have discovered about storytelling in a new medium.
We thought okay let's try to tell a comedy, typical slapstick animated character comedy, and the final film turned out to be more sad than funny. If you were to cut it as a film exactly the same thing, you would have a lot of laughs, but in VR you don't. If someone falls on their face right next to you it's not funny.
.... A book works through inner monologue. You read what a character thinks. In a film you understand the character through his actions. In VR, I think you understand the story more through how you feel in a situation.
With carrier contracts going away and Apple's new AppleCare-bolstered financing plan available, it seems that Apple is now financially incentivized to make the iPhone more resistant to commonplace damage.
The 6s is a first stab at water resistance, but crack-resistant screens and dent-resistant materials can't be far behind.
An interesting thought from Aleš Nešetřil - the same could be asked of non-Medium articles as well.
The UI he comes up with is interesting, but the UI is probably the easiest problem to solve here. Recording audio worth listening to requires good equipment (not a phone mic), a good voice (no sickness or congestion), good editing (no flubs) and a significant amount of time. It also makes tweaking text or adding updates a more difficult decision, and deciding how to treat images in a consistent way is also tricky.
That said, I can see the benefits for people with reading difficulties who'd prefer any person's narration over their phone's crummy text-to-speech system. It could also help make online writing more conversational and potentially less volatile since you'd be able to hear how the author emphasizes certain words. Audiobooks are popular for a reason.
I actually tried narrating some of my old articles and reviews last year, but the quality of the audio deterred me from publishing the recordings. Maybe someday the right opportunity will arise, but until then text-to-speech seems like the most consistent way to go.
Darlene's story is just one of the many complex and difficult subplots What's Eating Gilbert Grape tackles. I haven't watched the film in a few years, but the memories that stick out make it worth recommending for a somber evening. Very few films or TV shows bother trying to present life and family in the way that it does.
There are three things in particular that I'm interested in seeing later today.
1) Whether Force Touch (or 3D Touch) on an iPhone will enable anything interesting
The rumored example is being able to press down on the Phone app icon to quickly launch into voicemail or something that you can manually set, but that's honestly boring as heck and not worth the learning investment. The quick action features we've seen on OS X like previewing your calendar or a map location are nice, but I struggle to imagine myself using them frequently enough to matter.
2) What the Apple TV's remote will look, feel, and work like
I think the affordances provided by the next Apple TV's remote will ultimately be more important and worthy of discussion than the box itself, or maybe even the UI.
The rumored trackpad I understand, and it'll be one of those things that Apple doesn't implement first, but nails on the first try. Swiping through lists and pressing down to select things should feel quicker and nicer than buttons (for those without arthritis, at least) and I'm sure they've come up with simple ideas for video scrubbing and volume control as well. Grandparents should be able to understand it and like it, or else just use Siri for almost everything. Text entry might get weird though.
The rumor that the remote will also be the primary game controller for the semi-console really confuses me though. If the face of the remote only has 2 buttons, they're probably directly below the touchpad within thumb's reach. If that's the case, turning the remote horizontally (like a Wii Remote) would be pointless. I'm also not sure how the buttons could be used anyway, given that one would be needed to exit out of the game and the other is likely dedicated to activating Siri.
If Apple intends for people to buy MFi bluetooth controllers, well, good luck with that. Some kind of standard needs to be set, and right now it sounds like accelerometer-based games that work with the Apple Remote included in every box will dominate. That doesn't sound fun to me.
Charging and battery life should also be interesting.
3) The iPad Pro and its stylus, keyboard/stand, and primary orientation
I've been using a Surface 3 in pretty much every scenario it was designed for since last May. Someday I might collect my thoughts on that device into a review, but the relevant gist of that review would be:
A stylus as a secondary input device is actually really helpful for "pro" things like sketching user interfaces, which I've been doing a lot recently
The kickstand and type cover aren't quite as annoying or clunky as I thought they'd be, and I much prefer them over the iPad's lack of both (the Smart Cover is no longer good enough)
A larger 12-13" screen is better for a work-oriented device (and me personally), but the ability to connect to an external display is even more critical
The concluding point would be that if the iPad Pro doesn't take a more Surface-like approach to tablet productivity, I'm likely going to get a Surface Pro 4 when it's released. I'm fully aware that people knock its weird hybrid design, but I honestly prefer it over the even kludgier Bluetooth keyboard + landscape case combo that seems pretty common among people who use their tablets for work or school.
The mysterious second port on leaked models and power button on the upcoming bluetooth keyboard make it seem like the iPad Pro will move in that general direction, but until the logo on the back is rotated 90 degrees I think those changes are only half-hearted.
At the moment I prefer the Surface's approach, but I'd love to think otherwise by the end of the day.
There's a lot to think about in this huge but entertaining piece by Maciej Ceglowski. It's a bit sprawling and takes on a lot, but I agree with at least one of his core tenants: we need to think about what the web, and technology more generally, is really for and fight to preserve it. You can watch the presentation that this article is based on here.
Many of the things that come out of the California-based tech industry - attempts to save the world through the power of closed software - end up having more power to hurt than they do to help. Small but sustainable web businesses are seen as failures, and startups that want to "change the world" are created with the intent of being bought out by one of today's tech monoliths before they run out of VC capital.
That's not the future of the web that I want to help build. That web really sucks.
A few bits of wisdom from designers, developers, and artists. Mike Monteiro's "Write" sums up the whole point of this site, although I haven't done a great job of doing that lately.
Personally, the most memorable bit of advice to stick into my brain recently has been:
If it's a good idea, just do it. It's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
Context is important of course - taking things without permission is still called stealing - but there's a good chance I wouldn't be in graduate school today if my professor hadn't said this to me during my sophomore year. If I had waited for the approval and support of other students and faculty before trying to start a making-oriented club, it never would have happened, and my college career would've been significantly less impactful.
"Show up" is also a good one. So many of the opportunities I've had while in college were the direct result of me simply attending things. You do yourself a great disservice if you decide not to go to something because your friends aren't going, or because you feel too embarrassed or pessimistic about it. Just show up.
Last night I took a Peter Pan bus from Boston to Hartford, CT. The interior was brand new, and so was the little spiel the driver gave as he pulled out of the gate.
He thanked us and gave us an ETA, directed our attention to a short safety video from Peter Pan corporate, and told us that he'd talk about mobile devices and Wi-Fi afterward.
But he forgot. His speech was never finished, the Wi-Fi was never enabled, and he also forgot to turn off the screens, so the bright DVD menu stayed on for the duration of our nighttime trip.
But I'm not complaining - it was an interesting design case study. Clearly the new bus smell and procedure had distracted the veteran driver enough to miss a couple of steps, but I don't blame him at all. I blame the design of the bus' systems instead, and whoever caused them to work that way.
The bus' Wi-Fi and screens are passenger-oriented systems that are entirely unrelated to what the bus driver should be focused on: driving the bus. I'd argue that the driver shouldn't have to worry about the state of either system, and that they should take care of themselves automatically based on the bus's speed and display input activity.
Unless I'm missing an important component here, it seems like if the bus has been traveling for a few minutes (meaning it's out of the terminal where random people can mooch off of its connection) then the Wi-Fi should turn itself on, and if the A/V system hasn't displayed anything or been controlled after a certain number of minutes, then it should turn itself off. DVD players did this many years ago, and in-bus accelerometers/GPS are far more advanced than they'd need to be for auto-Wi-Fi.
If these errors had been anticipated or spotted during usability testing and fixed, our fancy new bus ride experience could've been close to perfect. Instead, most of us were mildly annoyed by the driver's mistake without considering the actual root of the problem: poor systems design.
The Jeep Cherokee (and I'm sure others) can be completely hacked through its Sprint-powered Uconnect feature. Wipers, transmission, steering, brakes, etc. With knowledge of the car's IP address and the right timing, drivers and their passengers could be killed remotely from anywhere in the world with a burner phone.
Of course, that's not exactly the kind of language Fiat Chrysler Automobiles used in their firmware update announcement:
Similar to a smartphone or tablet, vehicle software can require updates for improved security protection to reduce the potential risk of unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems. Today’s software security update, provided at no cost to customers, also includes Uconnect improvements introduced in the 2015 model year designed to enhance customer convenience and enjoyment of their vehicle. Customers can either download and install this particular update themselves or, if preferred, their dealer can complete this one-time update at no cost to customers.
Via a USB stick of course, for whatever dumb reason.
“Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems,” the company’s statement reads. “We appreciate the contributions of cybersecurity advocates to augment the industry’s understanding of potential vulnerabilities. However, we caution advocates that in the pursuit of improved public safety they not, in fact, compromise public safety.”
Ahem - and cost us boatloads of money from product recalls and civil lawsuits - Ahem
The two researchers say that even if their code makes it easier for malicious hackers to attack unpatched Jeeps, the release is nonetheless warranted because it allows their work to be proven through peer review. It also sends a message: Automakers need to be held accountable for their vehicles’ digital security. “If consumers don’t realize this is an issue, they should, and they should start complaining to carmakers,” Miller says. “This might be the kind of software bug most likely to kill someone.”
Something to remember as our cars become increasingly connected and automated. Chrysler is taking the heat right now, but I'm sure that other systems are just as vulnerable. Earlier this year BMW's ConnectedDrive system allowed anyone with some simple parts to wirelessly unlock doors, for example, and I'm sure we'll see plenty of other serious exploits in 2015 and beyond.
Also, putting people in danger by demonstrating the extent of the exploit on a highway with traffic seems incredibly dumb to me. What the heck?
Interesting thoughts from Brian Krogsgard on independent blogging, and in particular the need for a new container to emerge that combines the best of closed platforms like Medium or WordPress.com with the benefits of self-hosted solutions (total control, subscription cuts, etc) to make blogging more sustainable in the future.
Effective & concise piece by Jesse Weaver on the recent "X-ers should learn to code" movement:
Saying designers should code creates a sense that we should all be pushing commits to production environments. Or that design teams and development teams are somehow destined to merge into one team of superhuman, full-stack internet monsters.
Let's get real here...
Designers and developers should know enough about the other discipline to be able to anticipate problems and communicate more effectively, but stepping on toes and actively trying to do the other person's job isn't recommended, as Jesse describes.
The world of MFi controllers is still a bit of a crazy one at the moment....
I would have hoped that by now any game that should support controllers would, but sadly not. Part of this is that despite a standardized protocol, you still hear of developers having issues with individual controllers.
So, developers are wary to add controller support, because it's pretty much a situation like on the PC, where there's all sorts of weird devices to potentially support. But with Apple certification, this shouldn't be happening. It scares off developers from implementing MFi controls, which leads to fewer games getting them, which leads to fewer people wanting to buy controllers, which leads to fewer games supporting them as the audience for controllers is ever smaller...
If Apple wants iOS (or the next Apple TV's OS) to have the kinds of games you'd see on dedicated game console, I'm convinced that they're going to need their own first-party controller. There has to be a standard for the platform, and an Xbox 360 controller knock-off made by Mad Catz isn't going to cut it.
Side thought: wouldn't it be interesting if, when the next Apple TV is eventually revealed, a representative from Nintendo walked on stage and announced that all existing bluetooth Wii Remotes and accessories would be compatible with games on the Apple TV and iOS 10? It's technologically possible, and if Apple wants gaming on Apple TV to thrive but doesn't want to get into the mess of creating gaming accessories itself, Nintendo's support would put it many years ahead of anything Android attempts to do.
A number of factors make this scenario unlikely, though:
Nintendo has already confirmed that they're working on another dedicated console, so enabling their controllers to work on the Apple TV would be like arming their worst enemy.
Nintendo still hasn't experimented with iOS gaming yet, even though they plan on doing so later this year. They wouldn't be comfortable with a move like this.
Both Nintendo and Apple are strong believers in controlling both hardware and software. If Apple allows Nintendo to become a (quick-to-be-dominant) controller-maker for the Apple TV, Nintendo is going to start probing about Apple's future hardware. That kind of relationship will lead to divorce unless Nintendo exits the dedicated console market (unlikely anytime soon) and signs a massive deal with Apple. I doubt that'd happen.