The Importance (and Color) of Roads are Fading

Justin O’Beirne published a fascinating post on the recent changes to Google Maps. It started off as a comparison between Apple Maps and Google Maps, but then he shows how Google first changed many things (less saturated colors, flattened textures, skinnier roads) last year in preparation for a huge change in maps this year: going from a road finder to a place finder. 

If you are a fan of UI, UX, or maps, you need to read this post.

https://www.justinobeirne.com/a-year-of-google-maps-and-apple-maps

Yes, You Can Change

So much discussion in our modern society seems be around change - our ability to change, how hard it is, and how do it. As a person who is committed to change as a lifestyle, I admit that I often have doubts about our ability to change. Wanting to believe it is possible is not the same as it actually being possible.

For others on the change path, there is recent encouraging research that "finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77."  This bodes well for those of us who are always looking for ways to be a better manager, leader, and husband.

After 10 years, Apps Are Eating Themselves

I have watched the mobile app industry grow and mature over the last decade. From the early days of Java/Brew/WinMob to the current days of iOS and Android, I've watched every step. 

Flurry Analytics has also been there through same journey. A dedicated app analytics tool, it survived many challenges to become the barometer of how we use apps. 

Flurry recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the iPhone with this post showing how our usage of apps is growing more concentrated, with apps with many eyeballs pushing out the narrow-focus apps. I expect this will continue as the mobile ecosystem continues on its recent plateau of innovation and the big get bigger. The app store is no longer friendly to innovators.

They also mention the continuing form factor migration to phablets. Phablets are taking market share from both tablets and small-screen phones. Despite many people complaining about how large the phones are, my experience has shown me that once you go big, you can not go back.

So thanks, Flurry, for being there during all these changes. May you survive whatever happens to Yahoo.

I Am Google's Slave

 Image Source:  Charliesaidthat

Image Source: Charliesaidthat

It is no secret. I have been a fan of Google since the early days. I claimed my gmail account when Google employees started using their ten account introductions (remember the days of scarcity?).

I do Mac and iOS also. I was in the mobile industry for 10 years, starting in 2005, so I have had many smartphones, including the early PalmOS devices, Windows Mobile, Brew, Java, Symbian, Blackberry, Android and iOS. I usually carried multiple phones, and until lately (thank you briefcase thief), I carried both iOS and Android. 

Being a hacker-at-heart, the closed nature of iOS always annoyed me, so Android was almost always my primary phone. From the beginning, I also had affinity for Google's rebel nature, causing disruption in the traditional tech universe of Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, etc. Who didn't want to support a company whose motto is "Do No Evil?" Of course, living in Mountain View added that hometown hero aura, making me always root for the home team.

I needed to switch back and forth between iOS and Android for my work, and since Apple makes it very hard to use their mail, calendar, notes, maps and browser history on non-Apple devices, I standardized on gmail, gcal, Google Maps and Chrome.

For other functionality, I preferred "best of breed" apps. I chose Evernote for notes, RunKeeper for runs and bike rides, Foursquare/Swarm for checkins, Dropbox for cloud files/photo storage and Songza for music.

Fast forward to 2017. I now use Google Keep for notes because of Google Home integration. I moved to Google Fit when I kept having problems with the RunKeeper app. Google Maps keeps track of my location history (which you have to enable), so Swarm, once my "digital breadcrumbs" source, is now keeping me only through gamification, so it may not last. Google Drive, because of my business, is now my default cloud file and photo storage (through Google Photos). Songza was bought by Google, so I now find Google Play to be my music source, with their one app giving me access to my own library, curated playlists, and artist/album streaming.

So the Google takeover is almost complete. I am now a drone in their ecosystem of free functionality, though I do pay for additional storage. They know more about me than my wife. Heck, they know more about me than I do. I have accepted that trade-off for years, but I am starting to feel uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable enough to start switching, but enough to consider my choices more carefully. But for now I like the functionality, the device support, and the user experience that comes from their integrated apps.

I believe that voice, bots, and personal assistants are going to be the new technology silos in the future. Google Assistant and Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Echo, Microsoft Cortana and Apple's Siri will all be vying for your attention and choice. Their interoperability will be very minimal, and if the Amazon Echo is a good example, third party integrations will always be inferior to native functionality. For example:

  • You can use Echo for a shopping list, but it is a list only in the Echo app. Yes, people will write IFTTT adapters and Evernote will add Alexa support, but early efforts have been very clunky.
  • You can use Google Home for streaming, but you can't stream your own music unless you pay for Play Music Premium.
  • Echo supports "find my phone," but only by downloading, registering, and using yet another app.

All of this adds pressure to use the native services. Great, yet another reason to remain Google's slave.

The New World of Voice Experience

 Image courtesy of  Backchannel.com

Image courtesy of Backchannel.com

I spent some time at Christmas setting up and exploring Amazon's Echo for my mother-in-law. It was a gift from her boyfriend, and the idea was that it would be an able assistant as her MS continues to progress.

We enjoyed playing music, setting up shopping lists, and having Alexa tell jokes. But beyond that, it was tough for an older person to find much utility to justify the price and learning curve. 

However, I do not think that older people (defined as over 25!) are the target audience. I think that children are. Just like babies swiping iPads in 2010, we are starting to see kids that are growing up in a voice controlled world before they learn a keyboard or phone. In a recent article by Ben Thompson (subscription required), he shared reasons his household has embraced the Echo:

The degree to which my kids love interacting with virtual assistants (not just Alexa but also Google Assistant and Siri) is startling. They are constantly figuring out what each assistant can or cannot answer, and don't get frustrated at all when it doesn't work; it is very difficult for me to imagine them living in a world where voice is not the dominant interaction interface.

Why learn about apps and websites when you can just ask verbally? This idea should make anyone involved in UI/UX design think about the future of their career. Or maybe UX shifts from screen experiences to voice experiences? We will find out in the next five years.

More perspectives on voice assistants:

Fred Wilson (VC) - http://avc.com/2017/01/a-side-by-side-comparison/
Tom Harrison (developer) - https://chatbotslife.com/amazons-alexa-echo-changes-everything-12ba621ea6ce#.trvq034pv

This clip from Star Trek 3 is a great perspective!

Another Way to Look at Wellness Investments

  Photo: Flickr user  Green Lane Project

Photo: Flickr user Green Lane Project

I live in a town obsessed with Wellness programs. Most involve apps, personal trackers, programs, and marketing. We all want other people to be healthier to bring down healthcare costs, but we often overlook perhaps more effective avenues such as this recent look into bike lanes and public health. Warning - this is self serving as I am a big proponent of bike transportation!

Politics Be Damned

In the aftermath of the US presidential election, I bring you a very thorough, yet entertaining presentation that touches on the intersection of technology and our lives. Maciej Cegłowski, a specialist in the morality of technology, brings a fresh and needed perspective to the question "Who Will Command The Robot Armies?" Ranging from autonomous weaponry to IoT devices in the home, his 20 minute read will leave you smarter (and laughing).

The Intersection of Healthcare and Technology

I have lived in a technology-dominated world for 20 years in Silicon Valley. Now I am living in a healthcare dominated world in Nashville, TN. I am often frustrated by the lack of intersection between the two. This article presents three challenges that Artificial Intelligence has in healthcare, and I believe these reasons can be generalized to other technologies: access to data, deployment, and regulation. The good news is that these challenges are slowly being overcome.

https://blog.cardiogr.am/three-challenges-for-artificial-intelligence-in-medicine-dfb9993ae750#.78wq0qcrs

And for more data on AI in healthcare, see this overview by CBInsights:

 https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/artificial-intelligence-healthcare-startups-funding-trends/

How Do I Stay Sharp?

I have a favorite question when meeting other professionals in my business - How do you stay sharp? This reflects my passion for staying sharp and always wanting to share, and steal, ways to keep learning. In the Silicon Valley, this task is much easier, as almost everyone you talk to is working on something that has never been done before. New ideas, new methods, new products, and new companies are the currency of even casual conversations in the Bay Area. 

Thankfully, the internet provides similar ways to learn about the next new, new thing, and I am going to share some of my favorites for technology and startups:

AVC - An invaluable resource covering culture, finances, term sheets, technology, and giving back. The value here is split between the posts by VC Fred Wilson (every day) and the community that is shared in the comments. 

Stratechery - Ben Thompson provides great analysis on technology companies and strategy, offering a free weekly post and subscription based daily posts. Worth every penny to get his thoughts on macro trends and company strategy.

Benedict Evans - Ben is now part of Andreessen Horowitz but continues his regular blog posts and weekly emails to keep folks up on the technology and startup world.

Azeem Azhar -  Azeem's weekly emails provides a curated list of deep thoughts and perspectives on technology. Love the section "Short morsels to appear smart at dinner parties"

How a Technologist Sees Healthcare

I am often befuddled by the inefficiencies of the healthcare system here in the US. After four years in Nashville, I now know enough to be both demoralized and energized at the same time. Here is a great article (though from last year) that captures much of what energizes me about the future of healthcare, technology, and consumerism.

https://alexdanco.com/2015/10/20/software-eats-healthcare-for-dummies/

Mary Meeker keeps me sane

There are a few people that keep me sane here in Nashville. I will introduce others over time, but my first shout out goes to Mary Meeker. A part of the Kleiner Perkins crew, every June she releases her Internet Trends Report. It is always in depth, always insightful, always on the verge of exhausting. But the best part is watch in the video of her presenting it. Rapid fire delivery leaves viewers panting for breath just to keep up, and she still seems to run out of time before she is finished with her slides. Enjoy her latest!

Report here: http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

Video here: https://youtu.be/334Gfug5OL0

Mobile testing never gets simpler

I have been involved with mobile apps for eleven years. For those that are counting, that is pre-smartphone and pre-iPhone days. We launched a mobile coupon service in 2005, writing apps in Java, BREW, Symbian, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile. Since every phone was different in configuration, screen size, memory, and keypad, we typically had to write a different app for each phone. This required us to have the actual phone because emulators just were not sufficient for ensuring a good user experience on the phone. We ended up with around 200-300 phones and the phone room was a favorite place to take visitors. We also hoped for a future where mobile development would be simpler.

Flash forward to today - Facebook recently revealed their amazing mobile testing facility in Prineville, OR. Despite having only two major platforms to support, they have found that physical devices are the only way to ensure speed and responsiveness. Given the combination of devices and OS versions, they have around 2000 physical devices powered and connected at any given time. 

So much for getting simpler.