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


Posts tagged design

Looking Forward to Our Smart Watch Future

The Apple Watch feels like the first iPhone or iPod. It’s too expensive, too bulky, lacks apps other than a few example Apple entries, but is good enough to convince us that a smart watch future is inevitable.

In a few years, a sub $200 device will land in a semi-mature ecosystem and sweep the holiday season. Apple’s watch will almost certainly have it’s iPod Nano moment.

The big question is whether Apple or Google will launch this ideal device.

Apple clearly will nail the hardware, but Google will lap Apple when it comes to services, contextual data, and algorithms. Most of a smart watch’s interface is invisible. It is the health, location, movement, social, scheduled, and other context data which drives the device 95% of the time. And right now I’d bet on Google Now over Siri.

But it’s close. Google products are contextually aware but socially awkward. Apple products are socially aware but contextually awkward. Google ships a face computer. Apple ships jewelry.

I’ll be thinking about our wearable future in the coming days and weeks, but my immediate reaction to Apple’s show yesterday is an excitement for the eventual change in how we interface with technology. As wearables improve, I’m looking forward to:

  • Shorter, responsive emails that are more like conversations than memos.
  • Contextualized decisions based on health and context data. (For example, if you use your free hour between 3 and 4 to go to the gym your fitness chart will look like if not it will look like that.)
  • Biometrics based security.
  • Practical dictation tools.
  • Smartphone-format devices we mostly leave in our bags and pockets.
  • Smartphone-format devices that don’t need to manage notifications.

This is the type of eleventh-hour nonsense you’d expect to avoid when software and hardware design is managed by the same team.

"The Finalists Of The 2014 Innovation By Design Awards: Apps" 

Reporter is in ridiculously good company.

Sony Marketer: “Our radical camera designed for selfies needs a name!”

Sony Engineer: “Well we called it DSC-KW1…”

Sony Marketer: “Sold!” (snatches camera and runs out of room)

Just the book I made of all my conversations—this 400-page book, almost like a bible, that encapsulates the year—just looking at that, not even reading it, but just looking at it, and realizing that I could go to any day of the year and basically relive it through my conversations, it’s really powerful.


The new Report is out.

I haven’t seen the book, but I have seen the database. Having so much qualitative data organized so precisely is fascinating. He was able to pull up every conversation we had in 2013, from the mundane to the significant.

On Convenience-Tech and Trusting Technology

Time for more Yo thought pieces (and you thought they were done!) as the one-touch design model spreads. Today Push for Pizza, an app that does exactly that. Watch the usually well-made Sandwich video:

The current wave of convenience-tech products (Uber, Push for Pizza, all 1-day delivery applications…) suggest that our technical capabilities outstrip our ability to package them.

It feels like 1999 all over again. Suddenly anything can have a webpage, so it can. Suddenly anything can have an app, so it can. Suddenly anything can be on-demand, so it will be.

This phase of the tech industry is what I’d like to call the Malcolm Phase, named after a wise man who once commented that people become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And we all know what happened next.

But unlike cloned dinosaurs, all of these applications are inevitable. The question is are they inevitable right now.

Think about 1999. Pets.com died a fiery death, but now we have Wag. WebVan failed but FreshDirect thrives. Kozmo’s business model dusted off the ashes and was reborn as Seamless, Grubhub, and more.

Why the failure then and success now?

As I see it, while technology may advance quickly, human behaviors are sluggish. We are advancing slowly on a road towards complete faith in digital transactions. Using pizza as an example, here are the phases of trust we’re advancing along:

  1. Trust in Digital Purchases: “If I pay for pizza on a website, will they receive my money and actually delivery a pizza to me?” (this wasn’t present in 1999)
  2. Trust in Digital Recommendations: “Does this service know of a better place to get pizza than I do?” (we’re barely at this point now)
  3. Trust in Digital Completion: “Does this app know a great place to get pizza from and how to get it to my house?” (Push for Pizza is aiming here)
  4. Trust in Digital Instigation: “Does this app know when I’m going to want pizza?” (Some are already planning for this)

Another good way to think about this is the various job we’re hiring the app or service to be:

  1. Cashier: Take my money, give me goods.
  2. Concierge: Give me a few ideas, let me make the choice.
  3. Admin: Go research and complete a transaction for me.
  4. Proxy: Anticipate my purchase needs and execute them.

Obviously these trust levels are related to disposable income. If you have a ton of money you won’t mind if an Admin or Proxy screws up every now and then. But for most people, we’re only at trust level 1 and 2. Yelp and other’s recommendations have a high enough hit rate that we’re willing to spend money on an untested restaurant regularly.

But Push for Pizza jumps to trust level 3. And I’m not sure we’re ready for the commitment.

To their credit, they’re taking a smart approach: the risk costs are low for the user (pizza is cheap and relatively commodified), the audience is focused and impulsive (did you catch the brief shot of one of the kids exhaling smoke in the video above?), and the trust precedent is set (Uber has paved the way, which was handled cleverly in the video without being tired). We’ll have to wait to see if these tactics will be enough. Best of luck to them1.

  1. The biggest reason I think they won’t succeed, beyond slow user adoption, is that these three strategies (commodified product, focused audience, early adopter customers familiar with the business model) are rarely all aligned. Pizza is not a commodity in affluent, tech-savvy markets like New York, San Francisco, and LA. The core audience will never try again if they hit the button and Dominos arrives. 

Colin Campbell, writing for Polygon:

Created by Upper One Games in association with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, [Never Alone] is inspired by the people who have lived in Alaska for many thousands of years, surviving through a closeness to their unforgiving environment. It is difficult for many of us, cosseted by technology and a complex society, to appreciate their worldview. This game allows us to glimpse life in a new way.

The CITC sees this video game as a way to defend their culture, by telling the rest of us that the Inupiat exist and that they have value. The story underpinning Never Alone is one of survival, not just of the girl Nuna (the word means ‘Land’) but also of where she is from.

The game begins with a narrator speaking in Inupiat, a language of striking beauty and resonance. Its art style is taken from Alaska Native scrimshaw carvings. There is a deep attention to detail in the way the snow, ice and frigid water is portrayed. Strange creatures appear, from their ancient myths. The levels are based on stories handed down from one generation to the next, stories about survival , interdependence, resiliency and inter-generational exchange, the idea that wisdom can be exchanged between young and old, between humans of every stripe.

This type of collaboration should be the future of anthropology.

  • 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.

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