iPhone Dock

iPhone Dock

 

I was talking with a smart dude yesterday who told me that people are very lazy when it comes to choosing what tool to use to accomplish a given task. They’ll generally opt to use what they’re comfortable with, and what’s immediately available to them, rather than using just a little bit of extra effort to find the more reasonable tool for the job.

In the case of iOS this manifests itself in users choosing to use the app that is sitting on their homescreen instead of scrolling to a separate screen, opening a folder, and choosing the app that will make their life easier. And going one step further than the homescreen, you would assume that users would be obsessive about what apps they give space to on their dock – the four apps that sit anchored to the bottom of every screen.

But while I’ve anecdotally observed that people are decent about organizing their homescreen, I’ve found that either out of laziness, forgetfulness, or naivety, users are less likely to organize the shortcuts in their docks. I myself took two weeks after upgrading to iOS 7 to realize that I don’t even use the baked in Music app very often, yet I was dedicating one of my four shortcuts to it.

This morning I gave some thought to what I was using frequently, and what I needed access to quickly, and did a little dock reorganization. Out was Music, and in was Google Maps – which I need quick access to sometimes if I’m sitting at a red light, or stuck in traffic. Swapping out Mail for Mailbox is something I did on day one. And Chrome for Safari is an improvement for me because I appreciate sync with my desktop browser within Chrome. I thought about iBooks, as one of the most frequently used apps on my phone, but I don’t think I ever need lightning quick access to it. Camera would be another likely candidate.

Anybody using any “dock hacks” out there? Any outside of the box apps or tricks which are invaluable to have quick easy access to from every screen?

Apple, Hopstop, Locationary

A lot of people have asked me over the last few days what I make of Apple buying both Locationary and Hopstop in the same week. As someone who founded and ran engineering at a local data company, my opinion is likely biased, but I say it’s an important move by Apple that, with effective integration, will allow them to improve Apple Maps and other local product offerings in across dimensions.

Local data is measured on three axis: breadth, depth, and quality. Breadth consists of how much data you have. This is the easiest problem for a company like Apple to solve. They can buy or license local data from various providers – essentially just throw money at this problem and solve it quickly. Depth and quality on the other hand require much more time, engineering, and multi-pronged strategy to really live up to what users expect.

The Hopstop acquisition is a direct investment in depth (or how deep can you get on one specific attribute of local data). Hopstop immediately gives Apple best of brand support for intercity transit directions – something that is required to compete with Google Maps public transit integrations. How can I get from point A to point B is a very common mobile query, and trying to build a system that answers this yourself requires going city by city, datasource by datasource, deal by deal. Hopstop has been doing a great job of executing on this for years, and will likely to continue to do so with Apple’s resources at their back.

Based upon what I’ve read since the Locationary acquisition, I assume that this is an investment in data quality. Their CEO wrote an amazing post for Techcrunch a year ago outlining the technology required for maintaining high data quality (similar to what we built at Hyperpublic), and it looks like they’ve invested heavily in crowdsourcing to ensure freshness in their data. Combining technology + the crowd is necessary to make progress on this problem.

Unfortunately you can never fully win at solving the local data challenge because you’re working within an ever changing world where the data just isn’t always available digitally. The best you can do is show constant improvement on the breadth, depth, and quality axis and use the right mix of team + technology + crowd to keep chugging along. I’m happy to see Apple recognizing the importance of investment in this area. Congrats to the teams at Locationary and Hopstop.

HipChat

As we’ve been getting started with development at our new company I have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate developer tools and workflow. At Hyperpublic I had the chance to try a lot of the tools that emerged as part of “make everything a cloud service” trend that was sweeping the late 2008-2010 era. I have stuck with many of the old stalwarts – Github (source code hosting), Pivotal Tracker (feature and bug tracking), Dropbox (files haring) – however one welcome new addition to the workflow is HipChat.

HipChat is a private group chat client developed by Atlassian, the company who brought us Jira (ticket tracking) and Confluence (information collaboration). It runs natively as an Adobe Air application, and there’s a browser based UI for search and history should you need to access a piece of information on the go. It supports multiple rooms for group chat, one on one private chat, file and link sharing, and has a useful API for integrating with other services in the workflow.

A nice benefit of integrating our other services with HipChat is the activity stream that is produced which helps everybody observe progress. When code is pushed to Github, a new pull request is issued, new comments are left, new stories are created, Chef finishes running, integration tests fail….everybody is kept up to date on progress in a way that isn’t obtrusive and doesn’t clog the inbox. I’ve noticed an increase in engagement with code reviews and an increased commitment to our intended workflow – both huge benefits. If you’re looking for a team alternative to Campfire, IRC, or even iChat I’d recommend checking out HipChat.

* Hat tip to our team member Jamie for bringing HipChat to the team.

iOS 7 Background Updates

When Apple releases iOS 7 this fall there will be a few features that capture users attention immediately: the newly designed flat UI, AirDrop, Siri improvements, and an updated Camera + Photos interface. ¬†While all of these are welcome improvements, the features that I’m most excited about are the background update capabilities.

Background updates will allow applications to update their content when the app is not running. This means that when the user opens Mailbox his new email will be waiting for him, and he won’t have to wait for it to load. When he opens Twitter he won’t have to pull to refresh and he’ll automatically be taken to the most recent tweets. And when a friend shares a Youtube video with him it can automatically download in the background so it can begin playing immediately upon the user clicking the notification.

This may not sound like a major feature, but it has the potential to improve user experience across nearly every single application on the phone. Weather, stocks, sports scores, driving directions, media, and more can all be kept up to date and made accessible immediately whether online or offline. In a world where data and services live in the cloud, and people interact across multiple devices, background updates will allow the phone to always contain the freshest content personalized for the user.

From a product development perspective, I strongly urge developers to wow their users via creative uses of background push. Apple gives developers the option to check at certain intervals for updates if they expect updates frequently (though they’ve built intelligence to optimize for battery life, usage patterns, and connectivity), or the option to push updates to users only when they become available, in the case of less frequent updates or in response to events. From this point forward, if an app icon is badged, I’m going to expect to see some new content the second I click to launch. Away with the expectation of web latency and onto the era of responsiveness becoming the norm.