Monday, November 25, 2013

How the NFL Should Embrace Technology, Increase Viewer Participation and Make More Money

I spend way too much time drawing up trick football plays and offensive schemes that have little chance of success. So when I suggested an offensive scheme where the offensive tackle reports as tackle eligible on every single play - the idea being to lull the defense to sleep before striking - my friend, Vik, gently told me to perhaps focus on other areas of the game. So I decided to take my radical thinking and dream up how my NFL viewing experience could be greatly improved. And I came up with a way where the offensive and defensive play calls could be shared with viewers in real-time. Here's how it would work:

1. The NFL would require all teams to submit their offensive and defensive playbook to the broadcast networks in this format:

Offensive Play In layman's terms
Red-44-Blue-ZebraDeep pass over the middle to a wide receiver
Charlie-Tango-Alpha-23                          Halfback run up the middle
Z-99-XYZFake punt

Defensive playIn layman's terms
Cover-Cover-Zebra-52Cover 2 Zone
Foxtrot-Alpha-MichaelMan to man, bump and run coverage
Tango-Overly-Complex-Playcall-44All out blitz

2. As the play is transmitted to the QB and the defense, it is simultaneously transmitted to the broadcast network.

3. As the offense breaks the huddle and lines up, the network transmits both the offensive play and defensive formation to viewers in layman's terms.

Why this works:

1. It would generate tremendous interest in the pre-snap formations and increase anticipation. Let's face it; NFL football watching is all about the five seconds of live action followed by 40 seconds of waiting around; I'm trying to reduce that second number.

2. Viewers would have immediate insight into what plays were called and whether the QB totally missed his read, should have audibled, or it was just a dumb play call by the offensive coordinator.

3. You get to second guess the play calls and decisions all day Monday. Heck, this might lead to second guessing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Why you might think this doesn't work and how I would make it work:

Q. If you are broadcasting the play pre-snap, couldn't the offense and defense simply have someone watching the broadcast and signal their team about what was coming up?

A. Absolutely. But note that there is a a transmission delay of five seconds, so chances are that TV viewers would see the play after the ball was snapped.

Q. Won't other teams be able to look at previous TV broadcasts and see what was called and come up with new information on what kinds of plays teams like to run?

A1. Yup. But the fact is that these days you have hundreds of ex-players coming out of the woodwork on multiple channels analyzing every play, tendency and weakness of each team. I can't turn on NFL Network or ESPN without being bombarded by never ending analyses. 

A2. Teams today spend way too much time watching film and most NFL teams would be better served spending more time practicing blocking and tackling.

Okay, so this is pretty wacky but tell me about how the NFL can increase audience participation and make more money. That's the only reason I'm still reading.

Well, here's where it gets interesting. If we have the above translation table why not allow for a fan to call a play? Say its a huge blowout and the home team is up by 25 points with five minutes to go. Well a team could hit a switch and fans could go onto some web portal where there could be a live auction to call offensive or defensive plays. So its 4th down, I pay my $1,000, or whatever, call in "fake punt" and that get's relayed to the coordinators as "Z-99-XYZ" using the table above. The money could go to charity or to NFL owner coffers. Can you imagine fulfilling football fan's fantasies this way?

Why this works:

1. There is nothing worse than watching garbage time of an NFL. For sure this would liven things up. 

2. Coaches would have someone to blame for running up scores. "Hey Coach, so why did you call the Hail Mary on the last play when you were up by 30 points?" "Well there is this kid from Make-A-Wish who really wanted to call a play and..."

3. Even if their plays weren't used, fans could prove or disprove that their play-calling was better than their team's offensive coordinator. "Hey Greg Roman, on that 4th down on the Baltimore five yard line when you threw the ball, 90% of your fans called for a run." (Yeah, I'm still bitter about the Superbowl.)

4. There are all kinds of gaming opportunities where participants could score points based on pre-snap predictions.

Why this doesn't work and how to make it work:

Q. Wouldn't gamblers who were more interested in point spreads than the actual game bid up to try and call in plays that tilted the point spread in their favor? Heck they might double down and call both the offensive and defensive plays; for instance have the offensive team throw a Hail Mary and on the same play have the defense play man to man.

A1. Ban audience participation for Nevada residents??

A2. Give the offensive/defensive coordinators first right of refusal.

In closing:

Technology and real-time interaction is pervasive. Asking the next generation of kids (raised on video games, web sites and individualism) to sit there and watch a three hour broadcast is unrealistic. I'm not going to be sitting by my phone awaiting a call from Roger Goodell. But heck every season it seems that he's watering down and wimpifiying the game more and more. Isn't it time he give something back to the fans?  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Windows 8.1 Upgrade: Long, Difficult and with Data Loss

Upgrading from Windows 8.1 beta to the official Windows 8.1 release has been a terrible experience. I've been running on Windows 8 for a year and I like the operating system.  Yes, its a bit quirky as far as trying to create one user experience for desktops, tablets and mobile which was overly ambitious and fell short of the mark.   However it was stable, quick and usable and that's enough for me.  

Over the summer Microsoft release a beta of 8.1 with the following features:

1. Snap - the feature that lets you quickly have two windows open side by side.
2. Start button
3. Boot up in desktop mode.

It is worth noting that these were all in Windows 7 but removed from Windows 8.  While my upgrade to the Windows 8.1 beta required some time and several reboots, it was relatively painless. So you can imagine my shock and anger when I upgraded to the 8.1 official release this week and realized that all my installed software had been wiped out and required hours and hours to re-install everything. Not only that but some of my spreadsheets and other documents were also missing!

I had to re-install Office, Chrome, Acrobat, Skype and every other software I use. Then more time digging through backups for copies of my documents. Windows 8.1
 didn't even recognize my one year old Canon printer that was running perfectly under Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 Preview.  I had to search the Canon site for drivers - the way we did it in the 1990s - and install my printer again. Aren't we a little too far along to have ridiculous upgrade experiences like this?? And even if we did, why wasn't there a huge warning upfront that all apps are about to be wiped out? It turns out that only those running Windows 8.1 Preview have the app and data loss issues.

In summary, here is my advice about who should upgrade to Windows 8.1:

Your Current Operating SystemMy Advice 
Windows 7 or earlier Don't bother.  Windows 7 is a stable, solid operating system.
Windows 8 Go for it.  You can get all those features back that you liked in Windows 7.  Yippee!
Windows 8.1 Preview Definitely not.  Unless you have hours to kill and enjoy swearing and pounding your desk with your fist.

Below is the marketing video from Microsoft highlighting the new features of Windows 8.1.  It's safe to say that Microsoft is completely confused.  The video shows a person with a desktop PC yet every single featured demoed in the video is done by touch.  How many people use touch sensitive screens on their desktop?  Also none of the three features listed above are noted even though these are the top three requested improvements when Windows 8 was released.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kindle Fire HDX 7: Lack of Camera Makes it Less than Perfect

Being a first day adopter of the iPhone and iPad, I decided to do the same with Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 7" which came out last week. It is is a cool mini tablet with a lot to like about it but ended up falling way short in one key area - the lack of a rear facing camera.  Let's start out with what makes it great and for who.

It has a gorgeous 7" HD screen which looks better than the Retina screen on my iPad, it's slim and lightweight with a battery that lasts 11 hours.  The key new feature is free built in customer support delivered via one way video conference  It's a new service called Mayday and you just press a button and someone comes on within 10 to 20 seconds.  You can see them as shown in the screenshot below, and they can control your device and show you how to use certain features.

I tried Mayday twice with amazing results.  If you have a grand parent or anyone computer illiterate, this is true differentiator that makes this product stand out from anything else out there.  And this is coming from a huge Apple fan.

I am also a user of Amazon Prime and use Amazon for an increasing amount of purchases as  well as books and movies.  The device's tight integration with Amazon allows you to access all that content in one place could certainly simplify my life.

It's priced at $269 but for forty bucks less you can get a version that shows you an ad every time you start up. I opted for the cheaper model and its really not very intrusive and doesn't bug me.

Here is a pretty good review comparing it to other tablets out there.

There were two issues:

The biggest by far is that it has only a front facing camera.  So while its great for Skype you can forget about taking any photos or videos. I was so sure that it would have a rear camera that I didn't even read the spec closely enough prior to purchase.  My wife was also convinced that the camera must be and even spent some time looking for it! I'm guessing that most people, like us, would rather have a rear facing camera and this is a huge oversight.  Amazon probably figured that most people have smart phones which could be used for photos.  But here's what's wrong with that thinking; tablets and mini tablets with their ten hour battery life were tailor made to be used as a camera. Plus no one wants to crowd around a smartphone to watch a video. Its hard to recommend this device without one.

The interface is also not quite perfect. Movies, books and apps are mixed together in a jumbled display of different sizes that I just don't find intuitive. In the screen shot of my screen below you see two apps, a movie and two books.  It just doesn't look right and a week later, I just don't like it.

When its doing something one doesn't get a full sense of what exactly is happening or when its going to be over.  For instance when fetching movies and books from my Amazon account all I saw was a message about the content being queued and later on they were there but never got a sense of what was happening or when I would have it.

There are a couple of competitors to the HDX; Apple iPad Mini at $399 and the Google Nexus 7 at $229.  You can see a detailed comparison of all three here
Based on my usage of 7" tablets, here are my power rankings as of November, 2013:

  • Apple iPad Mini (the leader with gazillions of apps, a simple intuitive UI and five year track record)
  • Google Nexus 7 (has pretty much everything you need except all those apps)
  • Kindle HDX 7 (a must for every Amazon user but no rear camera)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 (a distant fourth. See my review here)
In summary if you want to use your mini tablet as a camera, I would go with the iPad Mini or Google Nexus 7.  Else skip the HDX 7" version and go with the HDX Fire HDX 8.9 which has an 8.9" screen and comes with both front and rear cameras. The HDX 8.9 is a regular tablet comparable to the iPad and is priced at $379 and you can purchase directly from Amazon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3: Move On, Nothing to See

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 is a 7" mini tablet that attempts to compete with the iPad Mini and the Google Nexus 7, but at 60% of the price. Thinking that it might be good option for a family member who needed only email, web and a camera, I picked one up at Costco for $179.  The short story is that it falls short on almost every relevant front; the camera shoots poor quality photos, the screen resolution is poor compared to other tablets, the battery only last seven hours, and the user interface leaves much to be desired. With Apple, Amazon and everyone else seeming focused on screens, I find it odd that the Galaxy screen design hasn't been updated since their last design three years ago.

There's always a warning sign when dealing with disasters like this, and in this case it was reading Samsung's sales pitch where they start off by talking about how it had the "best hand grip" of any product (see sales pitch). 

You can see a video review of this device below and there are also several blogs comparing it to the iPad Mini, Kindle HDX, Galaxy Tab 3 and the Google Nexus 7 (mini tablet reviews).

I'm a big fan of many Samsung devices and this tablet is a huge disappointment. Even at below $200 there's no way I can recommend buying one when there are so many better options out there. Only those who rate "hand grips" over all other features would want this device. Re-stating the obvious, save your money and stay away.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Duracell Quantum Batteries: Unnecessary for the 99% of Us

Recently I checked out the new Duracell Quantum battery which came out this summer.  Advertised as the "world's most advanced Alkaline battery" with the longest battery life and featuring an on device battery tester. It sounded like the latest and greatest.  At roughly twice the price of a regular brand name battery and three times the price of a generic battery, I researched it online to see if it made sense to pay the premium.  After a ton of internet searches I couldn't find any scientific studies that mentioned exactly how much better it was. I found this very odd and could find nothing even on the Duracell site.  All I could find were tons of references about how Duracell was giving away a million of these batteries to First Responders which began to sound more and more like marketing speak (Duracell Quantum for First Responders announcement).

So I decided to test the new Quantum batteries against existing batteries to see if they are worth the additional cost. The result: Save your money and do not buy the new Duracell Quantum batteries!

I view Alkaline batteries as commodity items which have changed little in the last 100 years; I tend to buy whatever is available or on sale, and have zero loyalty toward any brand. With three kids and a ton of toys, I go through batteries by the case and fill more landfills than I should. To keep up with the demand, I typically buy large packs of generic AA and AAA batteries at Costco or other discount stores. I am aware of higher end batteries such as the Energizer E2 but never considered buying them since they are expensive and are not geared toward general usage. 

There are many kinds of battery tests and some specifically say "better for point and shoot cameras" or "battery operated flash". Plus, many of the comparisons, like the one below, compare the amount of flashes and the recharge time. But seriously, how many people are using these types of devices? And does the average guy on the street really care if it takes 4 seconds or 7 seconds for his flash to go off?  Some studies rate batteries on how many years they can last in storage without losing charge or leaking. Most of us are neither emergency workers nor outdoorsmen, so this is also irrelevant.  I just want to know which battery is going to power one of my son's toy trains for as long as possible without needing a replacement.

I decided to consider everyday devices where I use batteries. Flashlights, remote controls and toys. In the interest of saving time I sacrificed some scientific integrity and scratched "remote controls" off the list; it would take me months to analyze battery usage in remotes.  I started with a simple flashlight tests; I have three brand new Duracell battery operated flashlights which are rated, per Duracell, to run for an hour at maximum illumination on three AAA batteries.  I used three types of batteries for my test, Duracell Quantum, Duracell CopperTop and Costco's Kirkland brand. Here are the results:

Duracell Quantum:
Lasted 2 hours 1 minute.
Cost: Roughly $1/battery ($21.94 for 20 on Amazon)

Duracell CopperTop Regular: 
Lasted 2 hour 24 minutes.
Cost: About $.57/battery ($11.99 for 20 on Amazon)

Costco Kirkland Brand:
Lasted 1 hour 20 minutes.
Cost: $.38/battery ($18.22 for 48 at

In all three cases the flashlight dimmed in the last 15 to 20 minutes and the time I measured was until the flashlight was effectively useless in a dark room. Looking at the results, the winner by a landslide was the Duracell CopperTop and NOT the Quantum. It lasted significantly longer than the Quantum and twice as long as the generic.  At less than twice the price of the generic, its a no-brainer. It doesn't make any sense how Duracell's latest and greatest battery got outperformed by their base model. 

And by the way, the highly touted "Power Meter" feature is a useless gimmick. All it's good for is to tell if a battery is fully charged or discharged.  I ran a toy non-stop until it was almost dead and the battery power still showed that the battery had 75% charge.  A re-calibration is in order.  

The Duracell Quantum might be your battery of choice for the few folks who still use a battery operated flash, want a battery that can sit in storage for 10 years or have money to burn. The rest of us can stick with the good old CopperTop or commodity batteries.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Google Chromecast: Great for Youtube and Netflix but not Ready for Prime Time

I was drawn to Google's latest consumer product, ChromeCast.  A $35 device that looks like a USB flash drive plugs into any TV with an HDMI input and allows you to easily stream internet content to your living room.  It doesn't come with a remote. Instead you use your phone, tablet or laptop for setup and control.  The short story is that I'm already using it all the time but feel that it hasn't quite lived up to its hype. While the advertising implies that it works from your iOS device, its useless on my iPhone and iPad for anything other than YouTube and Netflix videos. However this functionality alone makes it worthwhile for me. ChromeCast is definitely in the discussion if you don't have AppleTV or Roku.  The low cost and ultra-portability make it a no brainer if you have young kids or watch a ton of YouTube videos.

Here's a Google video showcasing their new product:

My three kids have grown up in the on-demand era; the majority of their TV consumption is based on recorded shows, streaming services like Amazon and Netflix and an ever increasing amount of online videos.  We enforce parental control by not allowing them to surf online unsupervised.  So before ChromeCast, the three of them would frequently huddle around a monitor in my study where I would select videos.  The other option was watching on the living room TV using our DirecTV receiver or DVD player, both of which have the ability to stream online content.  Neither solution was great; getting four chairs in my study was difficult and watching in the living room wasn't much better. It is slow and painfully inefficient to use a standard remote control as a keyboard and I couldn't queue up videos. The result was a poor browsing experience, especially with a three year old who likes switching videos every minute.

ChromeCast has solved both problems for me.  I can use my phone, tablet or laptop to search for YouTube videos and queue them up.  Worth noting that once you "cast" a video to your TV, the device you are using is freed up and the content is streamed directly to your TV.  So at that point you can turn it off, leave the room or continue to search without any disruption of what is playing. It supports HD so the picture is really fantastic even on a big screen TV if you have a cable internet connection. 

Setup is pretty easy with a slick way to install and select your WiFi connection, but maybe a bit too slick for its own good.  It failed the first time because I used my iPad 1 and halfway through it decided that it wasn't compatible with iOS 5. Should have taken a developer a minute to put that check up front.  On my second attempt with my iPad 3 it worked perfectly.  Here'a video that shows the process.  

Unlike any recent electronic device, it's dirt cheap at $35. For once you don't have to game plan how to convince your spouse. An Apple TV or Roku is $100 and both currently have more functionality and you can click here for a comparison.  However, its only a matter of time until ChromeCast can stream your local content and has wider device compatibility. If you are a Hulu customer and don't want to pay for Hulu Plus; a Chromecast and a laptop can let you stream your regular Hulu content to your TV.  

Google and other companies are also actively working to increase ChromeCast compatibility. By the end of the year we should see many more services supported. It's also small and portable.  I'm definitely taking it on trips and will be adding it to the list of questions to ask a hotel. "Do you have WiFi?  Is there a pool? Do your TVs have an HDMI input??"

Chromecast advertising implied that one could broadcast any content you can view by using a Chrome browser.  That is true for laptops, desktops and Android phones.  However, on my iOS device Google still hasn't released plugins for the iOS version of Chrome.  It also only supports iOS 6 and later; so I am unable to use my iPad or iPhone 3 with the device.  There is a Chromecast app in the App Store but it only lets you install the Chromecast. So, say I want to share Facebook photos on my living room TV, my only option would be to use my laptop. Beyond the limited iOS compatibility, the other cons are that you can't use it like an Apple TV to share your photos, videos and music.  There is no support of iOS 5 or earlier; I have no idea why they wouldn't support iOS 5 devices.  There is no technical reason to exclude iOS 5 devices.  If they want to be an Apple killer they have to do simple things like this.

In summary the ChromeCast is definitely in the discussion if you don't have AppleTV or Roku.  The low cost and ultra-portability make it a no brainer if you have young kids or watch a ton of YouTube videos.  Most TVs made in the last ten years have an HDMI input; if you don't have one then its time to get a new TV. If YouTube and Netflix content is not a current priority then there is no compelling need to get one and give time to mature.  

You can pick up a ChromeCast at Amazon or other retailer. At $35 it will definitely make for a killer Christmas present!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Six Features I Love about Apple iOS 7

Following my post from last week about iOS7 UI features I disliked I'm following up with what I love the most.  iOS7 is available globally on Wednesday, September 18.  The minimum requirements are an iPhone4 or an iPad 2 and it is a free upgrade.

1. Improved battery life!! I am seeing much better battery life, probably 20%-30% better, than I was previously getting.  My Iphone 4 is three years old and even after getting a new battery I had to charge it more than once a day. I was on the verge of throwing it out when I upgraded to iOS 7.  Since then the full charge can last me a day and a half and it makes a huge difference not having to run out of juice every day.  Apple has really worked hard to maximize battery life including minimizing the amount of data pulled by apps running in the background; their efforts show.

2. Things just work faster. I can't really quote any specific metrics but the new UI is snappier and much more responsive than before. Part of the credit has to be given to the new design, elements of which I criticized in my previous post.  It also works better even with 20 apps running in the background.  It really does feel like a new phone and most everything works faster than before.

3. Quick access menu! The new quick access to settings, pictured below, is something I started using daily from Day 1. I can quickly and easily access and toggle settings such as WIFI, the alarm, rotation, bluetooth, and brightness.  The one thing missing is a quick link to the 3G/2G setting, which I am continuously turning on and off to save battery life since 3G and 4G eats away at it. 

4. Camera features.  Built in filters, square images and other effects that, previously, you had to use an app like Camera+ or Instagram. It also just seems to take much better images and that logic was
 improved upon.  Also the feature that lets you browse through images is definitely a huge time saver if you take lots of images on your iPhone.

5. Safari and multiple tabs. I was using Chrome on my iOS devices just because it was better than Safari at handling multiple tabs.  However Chrome does crash quite often and I was looking for new options. Safari in iOS 7 has been vastly improved, is really stable, and comes with a wonderful graphical way to quickly flip through your tabs, just like you would with your album collection in iTunes.  Even on an iPhone it works quite well and you can quickly see what is on each tab.  A maximum of four tabs are displayed at one time but you can easily scroll through if you had more.  

6. Folders can finally have more than 9 icons! Having used iOS devices since 2007, I probably have a couple of hundred icons and apps.  And even using folders in iOS 6 I still had at least four or five screens of icons that I inevitably had to thumb through to find my rarely used apps. In iOS7 you can put more than nine icons in a folder. It still only displays nine icons but the 10th icon onwards is accessible by simply swiping to the left.  In the screen shot below you can see how my News folder has more than 9 apps, noted by the two bullet points at the bottom. This feature saves me tons of screen real estate and I was able to easily get all my stuff on two screens of icons and that's made it much more functional for me.

So those are the features that appealed to me the most. The common theme is that each item highlighted saves me time in some way. I could care less about new features such Air Drop, the compass and the iTunes redesign.  If I was going on a hike in the wilderness I would just stick to a real compass. Overall a solid upgrade and I suspect many existing iPhone 4 and 5 users will benefit from the software and will feel less of an urge to go out and buy a new phone.  F
or a full review of iOS 7 features there are several great videos on Youtube such as this one below.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How Directv Sunday Ticket Addicts can Cut the Cord and Save Money

As a devoted SF 49ers fan who has watched almost every game since 1983, a staple of my television watching is Directv and the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Since I don't live in the Bay Area, Sunday Ticket gives me access to all NFL games. The only black out exceptions are when the game is on a national network or if the local team does not sell out a home game.  Living in Los Angeles which does not have a pro football team, the latter is not an issue. Since Directv has an exclusive deal with the NFL, I've been forced to be a subscriber. At $250-$300 per year its not cheap and recently I've been looking for ways to "cut the cord".  For those trying to save money or looking to cut the cord, here are three different approaches.

1. Slingbox.  Slingbox is a device you set up that streams the TV content over the internet.  It needs both TV and internet connections and HD is no problem as long as your internet connection can handle it on both ends.  To use it to get football games you obviously need to know someone in the NFL market where your team plays.  So you call up parents or Aunt Ethel or anyone who doesn't mind you setting up the device in their house.  Once set up you can stream the game over the internet to your location and you are golden.  The only caveat is that the person at the Slingbox house has to watch the exact same content that you are watching.  So if Aunt Ethel doesn't like pro football, see if she has an unused cable connection in the guest room or other you can use.  Slingbox come in three flavors - Slingbox Solo, Slingbox 350 and Slingbox 500, ranging in price from $100 to $300.  As long as the cable and ethernet are close together the lower end devices work perfectly.  If they aren't the high end, Slingbox 500, has WiFi and solves this issue.  You can find the whole range of products on here and elsewhere, starting at $60 for used devices.  

Pros: Cheap - one time set up of cost 
Cons: Requires Internet, at the mercy of the host, cannot watch all NFL games

2. Google Chromecast and Madden 25. This is a limited time option but if you are looking for the cheapest solution for the 2013 season then look no further.  Chromecast is the cool Google gadget that costs $35 and lets you watch HD internet content on any TV with an HDMI connector.  Madden 25 costs $100 and you have to buy it on Amazon to get the NFL Sunday Ticket internet package as well.  Note that if Amazon has sold out of the Madden 25 package then you can find copies on Ebay from $100 and up. And if you are trying to get it as cheap as possible you can always sell the video game.

Pros: Cheap - $40 for NFL Sunday Ticket, enables you to leave Directv 
Cons: Requires Internet, not a long term solution.

3. Negotiate with Directv.  Don't sign up for the package until the very last minute.  In my experience the negotiation window is in your favor right before the second game of the season. For whatever reason, that is when they count how many subscribers and they are most open to discounts.  With their marginal cost of adding you being close to zero, you might be able to negotiate them down to $100 for the year.

Pros: Saves you a few bucks 
Cons: Success can fluctuate widely from year to year

In summary, the Slingbox solution is the cheapest option long term if you can find the right partner in crime. Either of the first two options enable you to watch the games wherever you have an ethernet connection; so a good solution if you travel or aren't always at home on Sunday.  I decided to go with the Chromecast/Madden solution just so I could watch all the games and will report back on the experience later this season. I would love to hear about other suggestions - beyond going to a bar - to watch NFL games.  Go Niners!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Top Six Things I Hate about Apple iOS 7

For my inaugural blog post, I’m going to give my assessment of the Apple's new iOS 7 user interface changes.  iOS 7 is scheduled to be released later this month but as a registered iOS developer I've been running the new operating system on my iPhone 4 and iPad 3 since the beta was released in June. I am currently running the Release 6 beta.  Changes to the design were a cornerstone of the new version and, like some of you, I listened to Johnny Ive's comments about the design and quote, "true simplicity" of the new operating system which I have included here (roll video):

I should add that I've owned both an iPhone and an iPad since the day they were released in 2007 and 2010, respectively, so my comments will be most relevant to long time Apple mobile users.

1. Apple has replaced many of the icons we have gotten used to.  What happened to my favorite icons?  The Settings button doesn't look the same, neither does Notes and Contacts; it's totally different. If you have read anything about iOS design philosophy you know that Apple is moving from the current skeuomorphic, aka raised buttons design, to flatter, more realistic and minimalist icons.  I’m all in favor of the flattening of images because they lend themselves to various form factors – from your desktop monitor to your smart phone to your future smart watch.  They do look different for the first few days but you get used to it. My issue is that I was forced to spend time trying to find icons I have grown familiar with over the last six years. Couldn't these icons have been flattened and yet still retain the same color schemes??  All I can say is that my eyes were off the road for several seconds in the weeks after I upgraded. I won't be surprised if the accident rate goes up a notch in the first few weeks after its release. 

Many icons look different

2. The gesture to get to Search is now a downward swipe.  For six years I have been swiping left to right on my home screen to get to Search.  Six years!  Now all of a sudden that doesn't work.  It’s now a downward swipe. The win is that it works on any screen, not just the Home Screen.  But be careful; swipe too close to the top and you get the Notifications drop down. 
Since left to right swipe on the Home screen does nothing now, my solution would have been for Apple to simply leave left the left to right swipe on the home screen and allowed us to get to Search the way we always have. 

3. The settings upward swipe affects scrolling.  This is a new feature, pictured in the image on the right below, that gives you quick access to frequently used settings. But it ends up displaying the frequently used settings way too often. For example when I am scrolling through any long article or other piece of content that has a scroll bar.  Unless you are being careful, you will often "accidentally" swipe too high or too low.  
 In general the swipes need to be improved or it becomes an exercise in futility, especially when reading articles on the small screens of your iPhone or iPod. My solution for both up and down swipes would be to limit the area to the middle part of the screen.  By having it work right up to the right most edge, swipe up and swipe down needlessly affect scroll bars.

4. There are two different color schemes for ON and OFF.  The settings section of iOS 7 is pretty clear; green means ON and white means OFF.  But in the quick access area, black means ON and white means OFF.  You can see the differences in the screen shot below.  Why not just stick with good old green and white in both places and be consistent?  Months later I still have to remind myself which color means ON…black or white.

On/Off icons are inconsistent

5. Shutting down an app requires a new gesture.  Double click the Home button and just like before a list of apps that are running appears.  But the little red Close button in the top left of each app window is no longer there.  Instead, in order to get the app to close, you have to swipe the window up and away.  Now this action might be simpler to Johnny and his band of merry UI purists, but to me it takes more finger motion and therefore more time to close an app.  And more time to do anything plus increasing the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome trumps design. Would it be that difficult to keep the little close app button instead of getting rid of it?  

6. The minimum brightness is still not dim enough.  Okay, I admit it, this is nothing new with iOS 7.  But just for once can we get dim to go dimmer.  Does no one on the Apple design team ever read their email or surf the web in a pitch black situation?  I tend to read my email 24/7 and definitely when I wake up overnight.  Even at the dimmest brightness level my iPhone and iPad it is so bright that I have to squint plus it disturbs my wife.  It's like a freaking flashlight.  Seems like allowing super dim would be super easy, save battery life, and something they would have resolved by now. Would make this dimwitted person happy!

So that's about it and the common theme is most of these changes made me less efficient.  I also have four iOS devices at home and some can't be upgraded, so that doesn't help either.  What I’ve always loved about Apple iOS devices is their simplicity; as a user I've never had to read a manual when a new device or a new patch has been released.  With iOS 7, several things that have worked a certain way for years have suddenly stopped working. Having to spend time finding something or actually having to look up the solution is mildly annoying.

I could ramble on about other things that bothered me. But I would be remiss if I failed to mention some great improvements.  So please join me next week when I comment on what I like best.