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I'm Drew Breunig and I obsess about technology, media, language, and culture. I live in New York, studied anthropology, and lead strategy at PlaceIQ.

These are reactions to things I feel are important.

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Posts tagged design
  • Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Why, if I had half a chance, I could make an entire movie using this stock footage. The story opens on these mysterious explosions. Nobody knows what's causing them, but it's upsetting all the buffalo. So, the military are called in to solve the mystery.
  • Editor on Studio Lot: You forgot the octopus.
  • Edward D. Wood, Jr.: No, no, I'm saving that for my big underwater climax.

Introducing Reporter, an app which helps you track your life so that you might understand it better.

Nicholas Felton and I have been working on various iterations of this app since 2011, testing and tweaking it to capture the most data with the least amount of hassle and present it in the most insightful way.

Click through and sign up if you’d like to be notified when Reporter is available.

Stay tuned for more details.

The big announcement today is the M7. Ars summarizes:

The chip “continuously measures motion data,” and includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, Apple said. The chip measures and captures data from sensors without waking the A7 up, while a new API named “CoreMotion” identifies the user’s movement and makes “optimizations based on contextual awareness.”

A few thoughts:

1. There’s no greater argument for a watch than the introduction of the M7.

Being able to keep the A7 spun down while monitoring movement history is a big win for the ever battery impacted smartphone. However, the M7 isn’t a benefit but an enabler for a smart watch, which will require a multi-day battery life (I would be shocked if Apple shipped a watch with anything less than a 5 day battery life.)

Further, Apple has a history of piloting tech in niche products (which I imagine the 5S will become compared to the 5C) to weed out bugs and build reliable, scaled assembly lines without mass pressure. Consider the SSD in the initial MacBook Air, the large Retina display in the clumsily named MacBook Pro with Retina Display, or the pre-Bondi transparent plastic in the eMate. Shipping the M7 in the 5S boots up and scales the fab lines, begins accruing test data, and weeds out software bugs – all factors Apple would like mitigated prior to the big splash launch of a watch.

2. Fitbit needs to start acting like Netflix.

Consider the intro Austin Carr wrote in Fast Company wrote about the birth of Roku:

It was December 2007, and the device was just weeks away from launching. Yet after all the years and resources and talent invested in the project (a team of roughly 20 had been working on it around the clock, from ironing out the industrial design and user interface to taking trips to Foxconn to finalize production details), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was having serious second thoughts. The problem? Hastings realized that if Netflix shipped its own hardware, it would complicate potential partnerships with other hardware makers. “Reed said to me one day, ‘I want to be able to call Steve Jobs and talk to him about putting Netflix on Apple TV,’” recalls one high-level source. “‘But if I’m making my own hardware, Steve’s not going to take my call.’”

To the surprise of most employees at the company, Hastings decided to kill The Netflix Player, and spin the team out as a separate company. His decision, made almost exactly five years ago this month, was one of the riskiest moves in Netflix’s history. But it also proved to be one of Hastings’ most prescient. By shelving its hardware and remaining an agnostic platform, Netflix was able to transform itself into a digital powerhouse and become the dominant player in subscription streaming video. Its service is now ubiquitous, accessible on computers, smartphones, tablets, Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and video game consoles.

Every morning I pocket my keys and wallet, strap on my Pebble, clip on my Fitbit, and grab my phone. Three out of the five objects I carry everyday can count my steps (though the Pebble’s ability is currently latent). If Fitbit wants to survive going forward they should abandon hardware and build the best software for Android, iOS, and whatever is next. The M7 will spur apps upon apps which will put pressure on Fitbit. That it was Nike on stage and not Fitbit is worrying.

3. Human-Machine interfaces are being further blurred.

Apps can now more granularly utilize a person’s movements. Not just where they are, but how they’re moving. Context from around the device is bleeding through the hardware.

The iPhone 5S takes your fingerprint every time you wake it.

Siri is getting better and can now utilize Wikipedia as a collective brain. Talking to the 5S might eventually become practical.

It’s not hard to imagine a future where the line between human and device becomes softer, especially as Apple emphasizes health applications with the 5C.

Will the next home button log my body temperature? Will movement processing become more nuanced, able to tell when my step alters beyond my habits to notice a pulled muscle or worn down shoe? Will the new facial recognition APIs translate smiles into emoji within iMessage?

Our phones know more about us every year.

Biggest clue the Pebble design team is from Canada: the solid rubber band that doubles as a wrist-based sweat lodge in New York.

This object is the physical manifestation of the emotional moment when one realizes their the project they’ve invested countless hours into – be it a design, album, app, novel, whatever – is beyond repair and needs to be rethought.

At a high level it’s the hesitation to dive in, take a knife to your baby and rethink it from the bottom up so that it might survive in a different world than the one it was created for.

At the lower level it’s feeling you have as you wonder if you still remember what cable X does, and which other cables are dependent on it, as you tear it out in one pull.

This is also a Nikon DLSR stripped of it’s shell. To Nikon’s team, faced with a smartphone world, I imagine this isn’t really a metaphor.

(Image via ifixit)

Go to bed, says iOS 7.

Programmatic copywriting is a growing field. It requires subtleness and art. More akin to game design than traditional copywriting, it must consider variables and conditions while preserving a humane tone.

But if the tone is too familiar the output is bound to conflict with the content eventually. If I had 20 appointments tomorrow a jovial tone would feel off, revealing that the sentence as an awkward collaboration.

If the tone is too firm you might as well just show the data and skip the sentence.

In the coming years programmatic copywriting will reveal itself as a very valuable skill.

Drewbot • Why Vine & Other "Instagrams for Video" Won't Catch On 

But the problem with video social networks lies in variable Y: it takes much too long and too much attention to consume a single unit of content. This results in less feedback, which dries up the volume of content, which needs to be high to maintain a cache of enticing videos. And the network fails.

Since I’ve published the post about the math of video social networks, I think Vine has proven me wrong. They haven’t broken my equation, but they’ve cracked how to optimize against it.

Keeping videos short helps. It reduces the amount of content we need to process. And it raises the % of content that is actually interesting by increasing constraints and keeping investment low: t’s easy to screw up a 15 minute flick, but 15 seconds is a nice sweet spot that most people can hold others’ attention for the duration.

And finally, there’s the interface (which Instagram has made heavy use of). Small touches like having to hold the record button (not just switch it on) makes it ever so slightly harder to create lazy content. The recorder must be engaged, which raises the likelihood that viewers will as well.

So by keeping videos short and interfaces limited, Vine (and now Instagram) have reduced the amount of content hours created and raised the ratio of good content within the total pool.

Given Vine’s soaring popularity on Twitter these days, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been proven wrong and they’ve balanced the math.

iOS 7’s Icons Suck because Jony Ive is Used to Hardware & Factories

Neven Mrgan on the new icons in iOS, and the grid system that led to them:

The grid, by Neven Mrgan

Jony Ive’s new “icon grid” is a guide meant to ensure that different apps’ icons look harmonious on the home screen. That’s a lofty goal. The issue of whether a grid can really accomplish that is complex; most designers think that non-block-based designs (so, not paragraphs of text, not photos, not headings) require a lot of “optical adjustment”. This is fancy talk for “tweak it so it looks right.”

To me this illustrates Ive’s history with hardware design: meticulous designs down to fractions of centimeters, built for rigid standards so machines and processes can eventually be reused across entire product lines.

In software, such exactness isn’t necessary and is perhaps, well, wrong.

Adjusting an icon design to the eye, not to meet a standard, costs you nothing to implement. Stray pixels don’t require new factory machines, new lines, or new processes.

But the hardware world, the world that must keep in mind factories and efficiency, is the world Ive is used to.

That said: this is a first iteration and Ive’s first major crack at software design. Soon he will realize standards can be flexed within the virtual, and icons will defined to fit the standards of the eye, not the standards of the factory line.

"Designed by Apple in California" 

Wow. Click through, watch the video. With the new Pro, the new OS designs, and this statement it’s crystal clear: Apple is now Ive’s vision and Cook’s operation.

If Job’s Apple was the intersection of technology and liberal arts, Ive’s Apple looks to be the intersection of technology and emotion.

It’s a brand new era. How exciting.

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