Not an iPhone review

There are plenty of iPhone reviews out there. This is not another. This post is just an observation as to why the iPhone is so different and inspires such goodwill from those who use it. It is simple really, but Apple has taken tasks that on most (all?) other phones are cumbersome, non-intuitive, and often just plain crappy and made them a joy. I am not really over stating this, the iPhone is really fun to use. Browsing the web is not reminiscent of the “real” real web, it IS the real web (ok a web without Flash – for now). Google maps works just like Google maps should. Email is great, not some crippled version, and the phone, despite what some have said, is very nice too. Almost all the interfaces are easy to use and it is easy to know where to go and what to do to make things happen. My previous Windows Mobile phone and my Palm PDA phone before that, took a while to master and it was only because I learned their backwards way of doing things was I able to manage on those devices.

This should serve as yet another lesson from Apple that design matters. Make interfaces (both physical and virtual) that are fun and intuitive and people will enjoy using them and tell their friends.

A couple other observations – No wonder there is a 10% restocking fee if you return an iPhone. With the amount of plastic they use – wrapping everything multiple times in their way. It would take a while to wrap all that stuff back up, I imagine. And what is up with the industrial glue used on the bags they put the phones in when you buy them. Not sure if it is the same at Apple stores but at the at&t store the clerk put the phone in this bag and then pulled away a strip between the two insides and the bag sealed up tight – had to use keys to rip a hole in the bag to open it. When we asked him about it, he said Apple was making them do that. Think different, I guess.

MinneBar remembered

Lots of folksBy our count nearly 350 geeks and “geeks at heart” converged on the Railroader building in downtown Saint Paul this past Saturday and I think most everyone has been very positive about the result. I believe that number (or any number over 300) would make minnēbar the largest barcamp outside of India (Barcamp Bangalore 3 – just a couple weeks ago – drew over 500 people!). I know that barcamps are supposed to be about local community and ours was no exception, but it was still nice (and a little amazing) that we had quite a few people drive or fly in from New York (at least 2), South Dakota (at least 2), Wisconsin (6 or more), and Chicago (at least 1). Knowing that this event is worth someone’s Saturday is one things, but also worth a six hour drive, or several hundred dollar plane ticket? That is awesome.

I am very happy with the way the event turned out. I think the sessions, by and large, were first-rate. The special guests such as William Gurstelle and his excitement for making things that go Whoosh, Boom, Splat as well as the Scout Robots from the University of Minnesota gave a nice real-life tech component to the day. Of course David Heinemeier Hansson was a highlight as he was his usual witty and charming self. I have had lunch with him before (at Etech last year) and have seen him present, but he seemed even better in this setting. All his answers came very freely and he didn’t really seem to struggle with any of the questions. I am sure he had been asked about such things time and time again. Even so, I thought Jamie Thingelstad did a very good job with his side of the interview, as well.

I was very worried that the size of the crowds would really take away from the intimacy and sense of participation that is crucial to barcamps, but I don’t think these fears turned out to be warranted. Plenty of people talked between sessions or headed off to an “ad hoc session room” to discuss this or that and the sessions (with a few exceptions) never got too full. I still believe that the 50 minute session length is good. It is not so much that it can get too detailed so people really have to know their stuff. I spoke with Shourya Sarcar, one of the planners of barcamp Bangalore, and he said that one of the differences between the Minnesota and Bangalore barcamps was that their sessions are 30 minutes and that they “vote with their feet” meaning they leave a session if it is no good, or not what they had hoped. Minnesota “nice” retards that practice a bit, but there was still some wandering between sessions.
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MinneDemo

I would be remiss if I didn’t post a followup to the successful MinneDemo event put on last week by Luke Francl and Dan Grigsby. Aside from being a victim of that success (the room soon got to be too small for the burgeoning crownd) I think things went off really well and the way has been paved for future demo events to keep the community engaged between the larger MinneBar events (mark your calendars for the 2007 event to be held sometime in April). Here is a followup and here’s another followup of MinneDemo and here are some photos from the event.

Agile design

At the MinneBar conference in May I presented a session titled Agile Design and a great discussion ensued. The talk centered around the concepts and ideas of the Agile Method, but, you guessed it, as it related to information and visual design. I have had a great opportunity in my current role to help to define and evolve our process and practices surrounding software design and development. I love the team I work with and hope to continue breaking new ground with them.

I also wanted to post a bit about some ongoing and upcoming projects I am involved in so you know what I have been up to and what to expect.

First, I am planning to launch a new site with some peers of mine that will be focused on the agile method and particularly how it pertains to the development of “web 2.0” apps. You might think of it as a Signal vs. Noise type blog with less of a marketing spin.

I am also helping to plan OpenBar for the fall of 2006. OpenBar will pick up where MinneBar left off but its entire focus will be on open source software, using open source in your business, and is aimed at developing, enriching, and bringing together Minnesota’s large but disjointed open source community.

I also have a Minnesota blog aggregation site brewing slowly, but my decision to write in Ruby and on the Rails framework (as my first foray into such technologies) is retarding my progress. Hopefully, I will post more on this soon.

Lastly, this site is on the verge of another facelift. I really like the new visual design a lot, but am more excited by some of the ways the new site will be organized as well as some of the additional features and content I will be adding. Not sure when this will happen, but I am hoping for a June launch.

Flickr UI improvements truly improvements

flickr photo page design refreshThe new improvements made to the Flickr UI are great and well worth the wait. When you go, what you won’t see are drastic changes to colors or brand, nor should you. What you will see are subtle enhancements (except for maybe the more radical improvement of the Organizr) that shouldn’t confuse veteran users too much and should allow for new users to more quickly utilize many of the more powerful features of this great social photo sharing application.

Here is a small set of screenshots and discussion of the changes.

Google Calendar launches, is Google Office next?

I have put the new Google Calendar app through its paces and like many people, have found many things to like (invite features are looking good. I think evite is in trouble and Skobee is likely DOA) and some to dislike (still very buggy with refreshing itself after certain actions and there are some issues with duplicating entries for the same shared event). The purpose of this post, however, isn’t really about those things. It isn’t really even about Google Calendar. It is about what’s next for Google and the glimpse they have given us within this new application.

It is obvious that they will soon integrate their calendar and mail apps. My thought is, though, that they will not stop there. I think the time is ripe for them to unleash their first version of an integrate office style suite containing search, mail, calendaring, and word processing. I mocked up some screens as to what I think it may look like when it comes, posted them as a Flickr set and added notes to them as well. Here are some thumbnails:

  • Google Search as part of the Google Office Suite
  • Google Mail as part of the Google Office Suite
  • Google Calendar as part of the
  • Google Writer as part of the Google Office Suite

minnēbar update

With 90 participants as of about 5 minutes ago, MinneBar is really gaining momentum. Now I fear the venue will not be able to accommodate this mass of geeks, hipster designers, and open-sourcers all in one place. I think all this pre-conference excitement will really boil over to some great discussions at the conference. I hope everyone can check their “Minnesota Nice” (aka introversion) at the door and really participate.

The idea for a Fall event has already surfaced, this time with a focus on open source and open solutions: OpenBar. I will keep people updated on the event status and will post a review and such after the event. But with less than one month to go, I just hope I don’t have to turn anyone away.

Let’s find a place that can accommodate 200 next year. Any ideas?