This wireless, mind-read headset only costs a few hundred dollars. The training task in the demo feels very much like speech recognition in its early days. Motion control intantly looks antiquated.
Dedicated reading device no more?
Tonight, I turned my trusted dough scraper upside down and found it looks eerily similar to a recently announced magical input device. My mouse gasped.
Lighter, faster and improved screen contrast. 3G and Wifi model costs USD$189, Wi-fi only model costs USD$50 less. With this new line-up, the Kindles are now facing squarely with the iPad. The USD$139 model also undercuts other eBook readers on the market. However, paying USD$139 for only reading books and magazines is still a tough call for consumers to make.
(Update: Found this photo that I took in an article of the Telegraph!)
I remember the day when I got my first watch. It was the diver’s watch that my father handed down to me when I was 6. It was a symbol of independence and an instant grant of bragging rights to my friends. Fast forward 16 years, I saved money that I earned from an internship to buy a semi-expensive dress watch. I loved that watch and wore it every day through my university years.
Fast forward another 14 years to today, my watches sit inside my wardrobe for weeks without being touched. That is the same for most people. While the spirit of reading time is still alive and well, it has long left the metal and plastic shells on our wrist and into our mobile phones.
In late 2007, the CEO of Amazon announced the first Kindle to the world. It was hailed as the ‘iPod of reading’ and it would change the way we read books. The world bought the idea. Two and a half years and 3 updates later, the Kindles became the standard of e-Book readers. Other booksellers and device manufacturers followed suit and offered similar hardware and service. With the Amazon’s model taking the lead, eBook readers were on their way to make history.
But that road took a turn on Jan 2010, when Apple announced the iPad and iBooks. Unlike all eBook readers, the iPad is a generic device. It is built for all types of online contents from webpages to apps, games, videos, podcasts, music and books. The iPad ignited debates on the fate of the Kindles and e-Book readers alike. During the past 5 months, more and more evidences are showing that the future of e-Books readers are turning dim.
First were the price drops. Within the past month, three major eBook reader manufacturers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony) all dropped the prices of their products. The price of a Kindle dropped by 27%. The just released version of the Nook is 25% cheaper, and it comes with wifi and free wifi access in Barnes and Noble stores. The prices of those 3 eBook readers co-incidentally rest just under half the price of an iPad. In my opinion, those prices are still too expensive for eBook readers to remain attractive. In fact, I think the right price of eBook readers is 0.
Vast majority of people want to read books, not to own and maintain another electronic device. The value of being able to download books over-the-air and carry library of books along have now been marginalized by all the other features and possibilities offered by the iPad. All eBook readers on the market can only reliably compete with the iPad on readability of the display and weight, but those advantages will loose strength or simply overlooked by consumers as the iPad product line improves.
Some have argued that eBook readers, being dedicated devices, offer better reading experiences because they allow users to escape emails and other online distractions. That is a weak argument because people today are comfortable with multi-tasking. The explosive growth in smart phones attests that people are looking for devices that will allow them to do more and carry less. For those who really want un-interrupted reading, the off-switch to data connection on the iPad is only two clicks away. On the flip side of that argument, paying half the price of an iPad and get less than 20% of the feature simply doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Last but not least, the business model behind eBook readers is, and should be about selling books. The common denomination of feature that makes up all of eBook readers on the market today suggest that the hardware is already on the path to commoditization. I predict that before the next version of the iPad is released, manufacturers whose main business is in bookselling will either converge toward iPad to de-risk themselves all together, or give away eBook reader hardware for free and let volume of eBook sales support that channel. Other eBook reader manufacturers that solely profit from hardware will need to take the second option in order to stay in the business.
This tectonic shift under eBook readers is nothing but typical. Convergence of devices, contents and services is the counter-force that pushes back upon the endless gush of new offerings (and their variants) that appear on the market every week. Behind these convergences is the mind of consumers, who vote for the best solution to satisfy their practical and emotional needs every time. It is those needs behind that businesses should seek, not the questions that their offerings can help answer.
Following up with my previous reflections on my experience from being an interaction designer in Motorola, here are some additional thoughts:
Mobile makes it emotional
It is hard to disagree that mobile devices have become part of our identities. By carrying and displaying our mobile devices in public everyday, the brands, forms and screen treatments have become part of our faces to the world. The user interface has the biggest share of user’s attention on mobile devices. However, thinking and practices in mobile interaction design have not move beyond usability and information design.
Designers in the fashion and CMF (Color, material and finishing) industries have for a long time considered emotions evoked by colors in their work. Every year, color standards company Pantone nominates a color of the year. The description of this year’s color, Turquoise, reads like this:
Combining the serene qualities of blue and the invigorating aspects of green, Turquoise evokes thoughts of soothing, tropical waters and a languorous, effective escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of well-being.
The selection of Turquoise reflects its emotional influence in our collective state of mind. I am not suggesting UI designers to start relating our work to dreamy landscapes and new age music. However, I am advocating mobile UI designers to start pushing the boundary of our thinking beyond usability best practices and consider the characters of our designs against the ones that our end-users wants to project. For example, instead of just talking about whether a UI is learn-able, intuitive or compelling (a replacement of ‘sticky’ in the 90’s), we should also consider and evaluate whether the UI helps a user project confidence or provides relaxation.
Design should be diplomatic instead of democratic
Yes, ‘Design by committee’ happens large companies. It happens every day and designers complain even more frequently. The reason for which it happen is the very thing that large companies hire designers to produce — change.
Designers create changes for a living and most of us love changes. Changes mean creation, opportunities for improvements or refreshment to an existing solution. However, we are often unaware and insensitive to financial, technical and psychological impact of change to our work partners in the company. Broadly speaking, businesses rely on reaching stable goals and optimizing processes to increase profitability. Changes, especially changes for un-proven results, disrupt both of those cornerstones. ‘Design by committee’ are often put in place to dampen such impact. ‘Design by committee’ sometimes appear as a ‘Stakeholder Meetings’ mid-way through a project that includes people who’ve never been involved in the design. It can also appear as a ‘Quality Review’ that measures qualities that are either undefined or too broad to align with the design goals (e.g. be effective).
Affording some rigor to rationalize changes imposed by design and filter out impractical ideas is not a bad practice. The problem comes when members of the committee have not been bought into the reasoning behind the solution and they have no experience in scaling a design. Compounding to the problem, designers often are unable to rationalize their solutions in the audience’s language and have no idea how the value proposals of their solutions change when they are scaled. That combination lead to animosity between designers and the committee. At the end, both work relationship and integrity of the idea suffer.
It is the designers’ job to carry ideas to solutions, however difficult it is. In addition to evangelizing the practices and benefits of good designs, UI designers also need to learn the point-of-view, methods and languages of our business and technology partners. We can only be more effective if we are confident and capable to articulate our ideas with them and bring our brightest ideas to the market. After all, what good are ideas if they only live in Powerpoint?
Starting this July, each person who lives in Finland is legally entitled to at least 1Mb broadband access to the Internet.
While I am curious about how such law will be enforced, access to information on the Internet is not only a matter of convenience, it is a requirement to socio-economical survival in our modern societies. I hope other nations adopt a similar policy in the near future.