Sunday, February 26, 2012

Let's get into character

There's a classic line in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction". Two hit men, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta), are on their way to a job where they could be dealing with as many as six guys.

Jules says to Vincent that they should “get into character,” indicating that they each play a part when they go on the job. The job of hit man is nothing more than a career choice and they don’t necessarily define themselves within those parameters.


That's great advice that every software developer and product manager should take note of. Put yourself in the position of the user and really role play the moment or the "day in the life". Better still - get out of the office and go on the road and sit with the user you think you are building software for. I say "think" because most people building software are kidding themselves that what they are building is good for the user. 
Think like a movie star. You really need to get inside of the head of the user. Only then will you start to realise that the user really doesn't want to use your application because it SUCKS! More to the point, the user is just a transient, using your software for a brief, fleeting moment to accomplish a task (e.g. make the hit) - and then they need to get out.

If the answer to any of the following is "yes" then you're in trouble.
  • the user interface is dictated by the data model 
  • you built the technology and are now looking for a use case
  • the user is expected to remember the process steps
  • the app has a lot of neat features that users "might" want
  • executive management changed the design to suit themselves
  • that's how the desktop version works
  • "well it was good enough in my day"
Put simply - if the application doesn't do anything for the user - it sucks. The user won't use it again, unless forced to - and that itself is becoming an outdated, unworkable model.

Enterprise software vendors beware. If you hadn't noticed - users are walking with their feet - choosing to use other applications and devices.
Put yourself in the shoes of the user and forget about your bias for one technical solution or another.  

Of course technology matters because if you use the wrong tech or approach the performance or scalability will suffer and again the user won't use the software. Technology should be the second consideration, after you have nailed the user experience.

So the next time you sit down with your development team to knock out a new application or update an existing one - put on the white shirt, black tie and black suit, put "Misirlou" on the stereo and "get into character".....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best Buy #FAIL: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Sony, Samsung, HP, Gateway - take note. You spend billions of dollars on research, development, marketing and advertising only to hand the keys to the kingdom over to a retail store and cross your fingers that the stores' happy elves will help your products will fly off the shelves.

Oh dear.

I went to Best Buy on Sunday - looking for a monitor for my office at work. If it's been a while since you've bought a monitor let me just say that now is an incredible time to get a great monitor for a low price. You should think about upgrading your existing monitor for an energy efficient LED model, they're as slim as a credit card, save space, look great. (OK - not as slim as a credit card - but pretty close).
As with anything technical I'd done my research before I went to the store - had a specific size in mind, resolution, HDMI ports and I'd preselected a couple of manufacturers. I checked that the store had the monitors I'd selected, in stock. Should have been a quick job, into the store, check the image quality, crank up/down the brightness/contrast, pick the one I like and then out right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, Best Buy had chosen to use all the monitors on display to advertise their warranty products. (We all know that warranties are a total scam and a waste of money). The video was a white, grey and gaudy yellow display that kept playing over and over again. There was no way to view anything other than the warranty video.

Net effect: it was impossible to differentiate between each product.

A store rep came and asked if he could help me. I asked him to remove the video so that I could compare the monitors by looking at the native display and several high definition images. At such a high resolution I'm sure the eye couldn't notice the difference - but each monitor does look different. If I'd wanted to buy blind I could have just ordered the monitor from Amazon.  The store rep said there was no way to remove the video. Despite explaining why, the store rep said that they could not remove the video. So there really was no way to compare the three models that I had preselected. Buying a monitor without seeing the picture is as stupid as buying audio equipment without listening to it.

So I left the store without a monitor. No sale for Best Buy - but worse still - bad news for the manufacturers. Just imagine investing so much in your product and your brand only to end up displaying some cheap ad for a useless warranty product. That's like swimming the English Channel only to give up two feet from the shores of France.

I drove to Fry's Electronics down in Palo Alto. All the monitors were displaying high resolution images on a slideshow. I could play video from each monitor. It took a while to decide as the monitors were all good and Fry's had a greater selection of monitors (also at cheaper prices). I left with a monitor and managed to get a discount on the monitor I'd selected. And no - I didn't buy the warranty package.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Get Dropbox on your Kindle Fire


Frustrated that you cannot find Dropbox on the Amazon store ? No worries, getting Dropbox on your Kindle is pretty straightforward and works like a charm. To do this all you need to do is set up your Kindle to accept installation of apps from unknown sources and then download the dropbox.apk file from the secure (https) dropbox.com website.

Here are the detailed instructions:

Preparation
  1. Click the gear icon in the top-right corner of the Kindle screen 
  2. On the Settings window click the "More +" button then select the "Device" option.
  3. Turn on ‘Allow Installation of Applications from Unknown Sources’. 
  4. Close the Settings window.


Setup
  1. Open the web browser, go to https://www.dropbox.com/android, click Download App.  This will download the Dropbox .apk file
  2. When the download is finished, open the notification in the top left corner and select the file.
  3. You will be prompted to install the application.  Click the button.
  4. Once installation is completed, start the Dropbox application and log in.

Now you can access all your Dropbox files on your Kindle. While you can transfer files using a cable, I find this to be another convenient way of sharing files - especially when deploying native apps to the device.