The “home tablet” use case scenario

As people buy more and more tablets, the time has come to see old tablets permanently docked around the house. The living room hi-fi player tablet, the kitchen tiny tv tablet. While this gives the impression that people will still use a tablet, in reality this is an entirely new use case.

RingO Multi Pack for iPad

So far we used to design our apps based on two dominating use case scenarios.

a) People are sitting in front of a computer at work, or at their personal laptop at home or while traveling. In this case it was safe to assume that the device was to be used for a long time span, and that the user had logged in the device and had a personalized selection of software and settings. Simply put, the user was using a customized environment, and had ample time to spend.

b) People are using their smartphone, much likely outside their house, but even inside the house as a secondary activity. This is not as clear as the computer use case, but still we got some constants. The user has his personal choice of software available, and may or may not have lots of time to spend. Still he’s using a personal device.

I highly recommend reading Luke Wroblewski‘s articles on the topic, such as this one.

In the new “home tablet” use case, we don’t have the “personalized device” concept any more. Consider the case where we got an old iPad 2 in the kitchen so we can quickly find recipes and watch youtube videos while having a snack. What other software fits in this device ? First of all let’s check at more parameters to get a better understanding of what people expect in this case.

  • It is possible that you don’t have your favorite apps pre-installed.
  • You have not logged in, in any app or website in this device.
  • You don’t have much time to spend in the device. If you got 5 minutes to spend in the kitchen altogether, the time you can spend in the device drops to half a minute or less.
  • Because of the above,  the attention span for any website can be 5 seconds or less. Comparing that to the 12 seconds we consider the norm in the computer world, it’s a huge change.

So in order for any software, to even have a shot at being used, at these new “home tablet” conditions it has to:

  • Have very clean and simple design. Menus with few items, clear separation of content and navigation and labels that describe exactly what functionality they perform. 
  • Display only the most important information. Most email tablet apps would fail this. Even the relatively simple Gmail iPad app is too bloated for a “home tablet”.
  • The application should be used without an account. We can’t expect people to lose 20 of their 30 seconds trying to type an email/password combination.
  • Even if the app must absolutely log in the user, this must be done in the simplest way possible. The preferred way would be to just log in by just tapping a button and using a third party provider like facebook or google to log-in. Even if that’s not possible, at least the app must remember the last used username, and ask the user only for a password.
  • A very powerful search engine. This should allow people to quickly perform searches to find “that brown sofa I was looking this morning at work”.
  • An easy way to find information stored from other devices, and an easy way to send information to other devices. We can expect that people will want to continue where they left off in another device.

The good news is that most well designed apps which take UX into account should already satisfy these criteria. These are qualities that were already important, but now will become absolutely necessary. As people divide their time into more and more devices, specialized power-user features will become less important. Less features IS the feature in such use cases.

The web is the platform that can better serve these needs. Not only because nobody will have time for app-stores, but because native apps serve the concept of a walled data space. On the other hand, the web has always had openness in mind, with linking being it’s primary concept. A web app can link to a specific point to another web app, where a native app can only serve it’s private space and has no visibility to the rest of the device.


An industry that’s left behind

As of today there is a huge number of startups, both in the US and abroad, trying to create new applications to inject functionality to cyberspace. It’s very easy to notice that these days we don’t have a problem of finding software to get our job done, but rather a problem of finding software to get the job done the right way and in the right timeframe.

I feel that the software industry in the 2010’s is quite similar to the automobile industry of 1910’s. Obviously we got “cars”, but not the right ones. Cars today serve  a variety of roles. Some are sport cars, some are trucks and some are busses. But our software is not equally evolved. It’s quite monolithic (and disapointing) that the majority of computers in the workplace today are evolved typewriters.


Ford model T

Ford motors, Model T, 1908


Yes we got the internet of course, which means that fortunately we got “roads” to let our information move. But the vessels that use these roads (computers) were not built for the highway. The basic elements which allow someone to use a computer, are the keyboard and the mouse. This means that so far, we have digitised the pen and pensil.

Watching at the huge amount of research taking place in the B2C software marketplace, I can’t but stop and think. Is this the best we can do, in the business software world ? Are we left behind ? Have we injected our organizations with a culture of innovation and adaptation of the new, or are we just laggards who just wait for the inevitable to be forced upon us ?

Unfortunately not a lot of people in the business world today talk about the concepts which make today’s software fresh and exciting. There is no UX research in business software today. There is no design which supports functionality in business software today. And worse of all, we still believe that it’s still ok to be stuck behind a static monitor, with a keyboard and a mouse.

The single most important factor in breaking the norm and moving forward is us. Humans are the weak link in the chain in the modern organization’s workflow. We still believe that software developers need a keyboard because they need to type a lot. And we believe that designers need a mouse to create “pixel-perfect” designs. They don’t.

Quite the opposite. We should be asking ourselves: How can we transform software production today so that it doesn’t involve huge amounts of typing ? How can we change the workflow of designers so that a mouse is rendered obsolete.

We must start producing new cars today. Sport cars, trucks and busses. We got engines, we got tires and most important, we got roads. The more we continue to use Model T’s in our organizations, the less competitive we are. And there is really no point, in waiting for retail computing to force the evolution upon us.

Update 7/5/2013:

I’m so glad to see that there are companies willing to really innovate and create new ways for us to unleash our creativity. This is adobe’s mouse and keyboard killer:

Why salesforce claims “No software”

If you have recently visited the homepage of you may have noticed a strange quote on their “welcome” banner. The slogan reads “No hardware. No software. No headaches.”. How can it be “No software” when right  below they claim that they are supposedly the leaders in cloud computing ? My bet is that someone from their marketing department insisted that people have associated software with viruses, painful error messages and technical terms they don’t understand. So the way they chose to differentiate themselves is by claiming “No software”.

salesforce no software

Yet it is software. In fact it’s a lot of software. It’s at least four software products that are deployed in desktops, tablets and smartphones. Yes that is a lot of software. And since they consider software a bad thing and claim not to produce it, we can easily understand the quality of their software. It takes only one click at the “Free trial” button to get a glimpse of what salesforce thinks about how software should be like. When you hit the “Free trial” button, you are faced with a form with 12 fields and buttons. Indeed that’s a lot of software for such a simple task.

If that is what salesforce’s idea of software, then indeed their software sucks. If it takes 12 fields to make a request for a demo and that complexity is carried out to their products as well, then it’s easy to understand why they view software as a nightmare. Because they have never produced great software, neither have they got the taste to appreciate other people’s great work. What a sad thing to see a company, with the mentality to create and ship crap and then just try to hide it from it’s customers with gimmicks.

Fortunately there are other companies which do their best, to produce great software products. We at Demian Labs are one of those companies that spend day after day, putting our knowledge and effort into tweaking every little detail that makes our software fast, easy and pleasurable to use. And as such a company, we are proud to claim “Yes, software. Great software!”.

Why you should say no to philanthropy

I don’t agree with everything Steve Jobs did, neither do I consider him an example that I’d follow. But I have to give him that not giving a cent to philanthropy was the best thing he ever did for the rest of us. You see, there is no greatest temptation for the modern man in the western world, than to find ways to justify his wealth. Deep inside we all know that while we wait for next cool iPhone 6 or a shiny fast MacBook, millions of people starve to death in other parts of the world.

Homeless person

The mess is all around us

But you don’t have to go that far to experience the mess. As a person living in the center of a capital, in a western country hit by recession, I see homeless people in the streets every day. Before the recession, people living in the streets was a problem of some major cities like New York and London. I’ve never had the chance to see people who literally just hope to make the day by finding food in the garbage.

In the first few weeks it was a shocking view. For the first time I’ve seen people whose entire fortune is just a blanket. But what was even more shocking was the months that followed that. I’ve started to notice each of these people individually and notice trends in their daily lives. There is one guy sleeping outside the office where I work. He only shows up after night so that all the people from the offices are gone. Another one, an old guy with a large beard, lives outside a jewellery shop and eats from the garbage can next to it. He sits for an hour or so before he goes back in the garbage for a snack.

There is a huge number of immigrants in the center of Athens as well. People mostly from Bulgaria, Albania and other countries of the former Soviet block but also from Pakistan, Afghanistan and even from African countries. At best they live piled up in old abandoned houses without electricity, water or heating. Ten or fifteen people are forced to live in the same room because that’s the best they can afford. Needless to say, they missed the announcement of the new lightning connector on the new iPhone.

Why do those people suffer ?

Why do all those people suffer so much ? Why is it that they can’t afford anything, while at the same time others have everything ? To be honest this is a question that goes beyond me. I can’t tell you if it’s the flaws of capitalism, or if people are greedy by nature. I can’t even tell you what we can do to make things better for them. Should western governments force multinational companies to raise the wages they pay on Asian and African countries ? Should we make more free trade zones that include the poor countries ? Perhaps there is an answer to be found and perhaps there is hope for a better more equal world. I certainly hope so although I don’t have such an answer.

However I am certain that we won’t find a solution through philanthropy. In fact I believe that the more we fund philanthropy, the more we condemn those people to more poverty. It sounds very reasonable though, I’ll give philanthropists that. How is it not help, when we give the poor people money ? It’s not help because you’ve missed the fact that poor peoples’ problem is not the lack of money.

What is the problem poor people have then ?

I have been without a job for a couple of long periods in my life. But it only took a few months each time, before I got a new job and joined the moneymakers again. I didn’t have an income at that time but had lots of other benefits to make up for it. Most of all I kept on being considered a part of society and an able worker. To everyone, including me, losing my job was only a minor temporary setback.

Unfortunately unemployed people and immigrants are not that lucky. Even if they do have a job, it is (ironically) considered a temporary success. The major problem poor people have, is the fact that by default, society considers them less entitled to wealth. This happens for one reason or the other depending on the case. For immigrants it’s their nationality, for black people it’s their color, for people in underdeveloped countries it’s the fact that they just happen to live in underdeveloped countries.

The global point of view (in the western world at least), is that Chinese workers are entitled to $400/m at best in companies like foxconn, while people working to produce the same products in the USA, are entitled to more than $15.000/m. So even if Bono succeeds in the “drop the debt” campaign, people in Africa will still be making pennies the next day. It will only take a few years before we get back to the same state. As long as we leave the causes of inequality untouched, we will end up in the same state.

But why is philanthropy a problem ?

The one thing (almost) all philanthropists have in common is that they never talk about what causes the problem. They want to offer painkillers to people with a rotten tooth. Nobody ever proposed a law that will cut wages in half in his country so that people in another country can have more. Everybody pretends to want to help but at the same time all they are willing to sacrifice is their 3rd iPad. Nobody ever proposed to change the way we see ourselves as entitled to wealth.

By donating a bit of your income to charity, you are practically washing your guilt away. It’s your way of saying “I gave you something. I am a nice person. I have done all I could about your poverty. That will be all.”. What this does is shift people’s attention from the real problem. If as a society, we got some people like Bono trying to drop the debt, we get the impression that we are already doing something about it.

But we are not. We are just giving people painkillers and consider their rotten tooth problem fixed. It’s only prolonging their suffering and shifting the conversation away from “the dentist”. And the worse part is that Bono considers that bankers should lose their wealth for the debt in Africa to be dropped. At the same time it’s perfectly acceptable for him to travel the world business class.

Because Bono deep inside, seems to consider himself a god-gifted artist with sensitivities, while bankers are evil capitalist pigs who must loose their money so he can keep his, and feel good at the same time. This is the exact mentality which causes the inequality problem in our world. That for some reason “we are good” and not part of the problem. The poverty problem is supposed to be caused by “others”, the evil bankers, evil lawyers, evil politicians. And since we are good we are entitled to our wealth.

And since all people consider themselves entitled to what they have, at the same time they practically consider the others entitled to their poverty. And all the philanthropy and charity in the world does nothing to change that mentality. It’s only rich people’s way, of feeling better for being entitled to their wealth, since they gave some pennies away.

How to simplify design elements and create an iconic logo

After some long brainstorming sessions, me and Jason came up with the concept of our new logo. It should be a clear iconic sign that makes immediately clear that we are a think tank and at the same time we got the horsepower to materialize our ideas. The new logo does just that and on top of it, matches our philosophy that technology and machinery are a interdependent part of human nature since the times of Hephaestus.

This is a great example of how to evolve ideas by simplifying each part to the point where it becomes an iconic pointer to a particular concept. The steps below illustrate the though process we did to get to the final result.

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