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

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.

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)

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