On Convergence and Features

Anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is about trade-offs, and you end up with trade-offs that don’t please anyone. You can converge a toaster and refrigerator, but the end result won’t be pleasing to the user.

Tim Cook

Every single person involved in product management or user experience should read this at the start of each day. It doesn’t matter if you’re working at a giant multinational or for yourself, this applies to every feature decision, large and small.

Innovation, the US and China

If you haven’t read the excellent How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work in the New York Times, you should do so now. The story describes a seismic shift in technology that many haven’t noticed until only recently.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Similar stories could be told about almost any electronics company — and outsourcing has also become common in hundreds of industries, including accounting, legal services, banking, auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

Charles Duhigg and Keith Brasaher- How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work

It’s also worth reading Why China Wins after you’ve read the first article for additional context:

Go to the lobby of the Sheraton Four Points in Shenzhen — or a dozen hotels like it. Table-after-table is a white guy from middle America trying to make his company competitive again sitting with a Chinese factory head or “fixer” who can get them into the right factories. It’s not unlike wandering into Cuppa Cafe in Palo Alto and seeing table-after-table of VC sitting with hopeful entrepreneurs.

It shocks me that people always assume the Chinese can only make inferior products when Apple– the gold standard of well-made products– is made in China. Sure, China can make shitty products for cheap. But it can also make the world’s best products. Again, like Silicon Valley can produce a bloated, uninteresting startup like Color and a nimble startup like Instagram that millions love. The startup machinery doesn’t make a company great or bad. It just makes whatever is put into it, more efficiently than any other place. Ditto China and manufacturing.

Sarah Lacy – Why China Wins

If you haven’t tossed all of your old assumptions about quality, innovation, China and the future already, you should do so now. If you want to be prepared for the future, you can’t carry old expectations as baggage.

Apple, Flash and the Web

this whole saga is much more about Apple’s ability to control its own destiny than it is about revenge, cynicism, or pride. Apple nearly died in the 1990s. It was so far gone that it took money from Microsoft and had to pray that second-class ports of Internet Explorer would keep the Mac relevant in an increasingly online world.

Apple is not going to let anything like that happen again.

Matt Drance – Cocoa, Flash, and Safari

Matt’s article Cocoa, Flash, and Safari, provides insight into the current battle pitting Apple against Adobe on the iPhone and iPad. I highly recommend you take two minutes to read the piece to gain an understanding of the present and future of the platform and the business behind it.

My Must Have OS X Apps for Business

Application Icons - Copyright their respective owners

While I’m in the process of changing machines I’m going to document many of the apps and plugins that are on my “Must Have” list. I love a fresh start and given my proclivity for demo software and beta apps it’s positively refreshing to start with a clean Applications folder.

I’ve also collected my System Tweaks for OS X if you’re interested.

Productivity Apps

OmniGraffle

I plan to write a post with all of my must-have UX components, which will include many OG resources, so I won’t go into those here.

Microsoft Office

I use Pages, Numbers and Keynote on my personal machine, but their integration and support of the de facto workplace standard just aren’t good enough, so Microsoft Office is the suite of the day for work. Specifically, I use:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Entourage – Mail.app’s support for Exchange is pretty decent, but the calendar integration is sorely lacking when you want to book a room or see your coworkers’ availability,
  • Entourage 2008 for Mac Web Services Edition – a free update to the Entourage client which adds some very useful functionality

Design and Development Applications

Adobe’s Creative Suite is indispensable. I spend a lot of my creative time in Photoshop and Illustrator, while others swear by Fireworks. I’ve tried many of the smaller, independent image editors, but I’m accustomed to the power and features of these pro tools.

Coda is one of many Web development applications that I’ve tried since switching to the Mac. While I used TextMate for a few years, Coda has replaced it with a combination of efficiency and beauty. It feels much more oriented to front-end development and flow than the spartan TextMate, and feels “right” to me. The built-in support for multiple sites, FTP, terminal, Subversion, preview capabilities and code snippets integrate with the code editor beautifully for a great experience. The only thing that it lacks from my point of view is code-folding, which is quite likely the most-requested feature, so I hope they’ll add it in the next release. For me, the benefits easily outweigh that one negative.

Versions is a beautiful and easy to use Subversion client, which says a lot as most SVN clients, even on OS X are convoluted and not much of a step-up from doing everything at the command line. While I have used the command line in the past, I really like having a graphical UI for interacting with version control.

MAMP stands for Mac, Apache, MySQL, PHP. It’s a self-contained install of those server technologies that I’ve found easier to configure and run than the native OS X installs. That said, I haven’t tried the pre-installed versions since 10.4, so it’s possible that my use of this app is purely out of habit.

General Utilities

LaunchBar is quite possibly the most used utility on my system. The app speeds the launching of other applications. With a simple keyboard shortcut, I open LaunchBar type a couple of letters and hit Enter to launch an application, start or stop music, find a file or even run a quick calculation (without the calculator app). It also has a setting that will keep track of multiple clipboard items, so I don’t have to run a dedicated utility for that functionality.

Evernote is my note-taking application of choice as it quickly and quietly syncs content between computers, the Web and my iPhone, guaranteeing access to information where and when I need it. The fact that I can easily add photos is killer, especially as Evernote will index the text inside the photos so it’s searchable.

Adium is a great instant messaging client that unifies the various networks, ensuring that I can communicate with anyone that I need to regardless if they are on AIM, Yahoo!, MSN or Jabber.

Things is one of countless to-do and GTD applications available for the Mac, but for me, it stands above the rest. I love its structure and the ability toe create projects, which can be grouped into areas. Additionally, being able to assign dates – both specific and general (“Someday”) – allows me to get ideas out of my head without being oppressed by an overwhelming task list.

Dropbox syncs files between computers, both Macs and PCs as well as my iPhone and does it seamlessly. Dropbox is elegant, powerful and amazingly enough, it’s free unless you need a very large amount of space. Many apps that lack their own ability to sync information can use Dropbox to add information sharing. For example, I use Dropbox to store my Things database, ensuring that both my work and home computers have the same list of tasks, without my needing to do anything extra to keep each up to date.

If you sign up, please use this referral link as we’ll both get an extra 250mb of space for free.

Skitch is one of the many screen capture apps released in the last year or two. It’s a great app that just works, making it easy to take a snapshot of part of the screen and annotate it if I need. Additionally, it makes it easy to upload the capture to online services, which is how I typically add interesting bits to my Web Detritus set on Flickr.

1Password is one of those applications that causes me to wonder how I worked without it. It is the best password manager I have ever worked with, hands-down. 1Password guarantees that I can use very complex passwords without risk of forgetting them, nor worry that they’re sitting around for someone to steal.

Browsers

In addition to Safari, I install Google Chrome and Firefox, which are currently battling for supremacy in my daily workflow.

Fluid is another browser I use regularly, though it has a key difference. Instead of acting as a general Web browser, it turns Web sites into desktop applications, complete with icons in the Applications folder and on your dock. My most common use for this is for Google Reader, but I have also tapped it for Web-based mail and to-do lists.

And More…

For Preference Panes, please see my post about System Tweaks for OS X.

Back in 2006, I wrote Software for a Switcher.

What are the Apps You Can’t Live Without?

Please expand this list by adding your recommendations in the comments.

OS X System Tweaks

As I’m switching to a new machine, this is the ideal time for me to list all of the tweaks and changes I make to OS X and various core apps.

System Enhancements and Plugins

  • FunctionFlip “individually controls your MacBook or MacBook Pro’s function keys, turning special keys back to regular F-keys, or vice-versa. FunctionFlip is a preference pane; you’ll find it in the “Other” category in System Preferences.”
    These are the settings I flip for the newer model MackBook Pro:

    • F8 for quick Spaces access
    • F9, F10 and F11 – To provide quick access to Expose functionality
    • F12 – To PRovide quick access to Dashboard
    • Set it to start at login
  • KeyRemap4MacBook
  • Growl is a must-have for every Mac.. It provides a platform for programs to notify you of activity.
    • Start at login
  • iStat Menus
    • The Blaqua skin with the Fire skin color
    • Disable checking for updates at startup, relying instead on checking every 24 hours
    • I monitor the CPU, combining multiple CPUs into a single graph
    • I monitor Memory
    • I disable monitoring of other stats
    • I enable Date & Time, using it as a replacement for the system time stamp in the top right because I like the compressed calendar layout
  • Witch Thanks to Flip for the link (The Developer appears to have disappeared altogether, so there isn’t a site to link to)
    • Set it to ignore the LastFm.app
    • Set it to “Ignore Windows that identify themselves as floating windows (tool bars etc.)”

Overlay Drawers for Dock Stacks are a nice touch, but do not provide anything beyond aesthetic pleasure
SymbolicLinker simplifies the creation of symlinks.

Preferences and Settings

  • Disable Bluetooth I don’t use any Bluetooth devices, so there’s no need to drain the battery and chew up processing power for it. I also take it out of the menu bar to reduce clutter.
  • Pair a Remote The Apple remote that used to come free with Macs can be really useful, to the point that I keep mine with the laptop wherever I go. You never know when a presentation will bust out in the street.
  • Sound Effects – I go with Submarine as I like it a bit better. Exciting huh?
  • Universal Access – I enable access for assistive devices, which provides hooks for a couple of other 3rd party tools.

The Dock

  • Enable Dock Magnification – I like to enable a subtle magnification, so the currently indicated icon has a bit more prominence.
  • Enable Automatic Hiding and Showing of the Dock – I don’t like the Dock cluttering the screen and using up pixels when I don’t need it.

Spaces

  • Enable Spaces – I like to use four spaces to separate different types of activities. Additionally I select the box to show Spaces in the menu bar for easy access via Mouse.
  • Disable Switching Spaces Shortcuts – I don’t typically switch to a space, more often I switch to an app which happens to be in a space, so the shortcuts aren’t useful for me and occasionally conflict with application short cuts. I leave the activation shortcut (F8) as it is.

Keyboard

  • I bump up the default key repeat rate a notch
  • I do not check the “Use all F1, F2 , etc. keys as standard function keys” as I install FunctionFlip which provides the granularity to select which action is taken for each key. See below for detail on my settings.
  • Check Illuminate Keyboard in low light conditions and set it to turn off after a minute of inactivity.
  • I change the Full Keyboard Access to “All Controls” as it makes it easier to navigate through some applications without the mouse.

Finder

  • Customize the Tool Bar
    • I add the Path button to the left of the display options
    • Enable Use Small Size Icons
  • Enable the display of Hard disks on the desktop
  • Disable the display of iDisk in the sidebar
  • Select “Show all filename extensions”
  • Modify the search behavior so that Search defaults to searching the current folder instead of the entire machine

Thoughts on A Complete Experience

I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.

For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.

OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.

Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.

If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.

The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.

A Complete Experience

In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.

The experience matters.

SproutCore: Apple's Flanking Move?

SproutCore LogoI wasn’t all that familiar with Sproutcore, Apple’s JavaScript framework prior to reading this article, but after thinking the arguments over, I think Apple has been flanking the other players in the application marketplace (both online and desktop) for a while. The article Cocoa for Windows + Flash Killer = SproutCore provides some very good reasons for Apple’s moves onto Windows with Safari and other apps; I highly recommend you read it if you’re the least bit interested in development on the Web, the iPhone and/or Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Being based on open web standards and being open source itself means SproutCore will enable developers to develop cross platform applications without being tied to either a plugin architecture or its vendor.

Sitting on top of web standards will also make it easy for Apple and the community to push SproutCore ahead without worrying about incompatible changes to the underlying layers of Windows, a significant problem for the old Yellow Box or some new Cocoa analog. SproutCore also lives in a well known security context, preventing worries about unknown holes being opened up by a new runtime layer.

Daniel Eran Dilger – Roughly Drafted

These developments are exciting for oru industry, but also for the world as a whole – a solid platform that can be as portable and accessible as the Web, yet have the power of the desktop has long been sought. We may finally have it in our grasp.

Mmmm….iPhone

Images snagged from Apple
Images snagged from Apple
Just announced at Macworld: The Apple iPhone

iPhone combines three products — a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching — into one small and lightweight handheld device. iPhone also introduces an entirely new user interface based on a large multi-touch display and pioneering new software, letting you control everything with just your fingers.

This is the ultimate device: beautiful phone with a ton of major feature and usability enhancements, iPod, PDA (running OS X), digital camera with Wifi, and Bluetooth in addition to the cell connections.

Coming in June, though sadly, only to Cingular. This is the first time I’ve ever been seriously tempted to leave Sprint for cell service.

Apple Delivers Speed Boost to Creative Suite

My copy of Adobe Creative Suite CS2 arrived last night (woohoo!), making me a very happy man. This morning, as I perused my feeds, I came across the great news (via John Nack, via JD on EP) that Apple’s release of the 10.4.8 system update includes significant improvements to Rosetta, the software that ensures older applications will continue to run on newer platforms (like my Intel-based notebook). These improvements, according to Macworld’s benchmarks, provide a 34% improvement for the CS2 suite on the MacBook Pro! The tests specifically relate to image manipulation, so that number actually matters. The same improvements had only a minor impact on non-graphics oriented applications like MS Word, which gained a tiny bump of 3%.

While this isn’t quite as good as Intel-native versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, et al, it is a much appreciated and unexpected improvement. Thanks Apple!

Photon

Photon “is the open source iPhoto plugin that gives you the power to manage your Movable Type™, TypePad™, Blojsom and WordPress photo-blogs in the familiar surrounds of Apple iPhoto.”