19 July 2007

Be Microsoft

I love working on the Mac. I enjoy working in MacBU. These days, however, I'm not so thrilled about the vibe hanging around here at Microsoft as a whole.

We seem to have lost our self-confidence. There is a general and constant focus on "the other guys" these days. It's like everyone is continually contemplating competitive response, rather than acting for our customers. First it's open source software, then it's Linux, then it's Google, now it's Apple. Tomorrow it will be something or someone else. Least someone misunderstand, I'm all for looking out for the competition, but if all your focus is on how to respond to some perceived or real competitive threat, how will you ever be able to innovate, come up with something original or surprise and delight your customers? It's just paralyzing.

I wish folks would just realize that we are not going to be all things to all people. That's okay. We've got a job to do, and we have a very reasonable opportunity to do some very wonderful things. Let's stop worrying about the competition, or about what we can't do just yet. Can't we just focus on making our customers amazingly happy? Perhaps I'm too simplistic, but if we do just that, I really think everything else will work out.

I feel like we've lost our identity looking at and comparing ourselves with others. The insecurity and lack of confidence seems to be everywhere. You can see it in the way employees "defend their Microsoft position" rather than "just tell the story" because it's a good one.

It wasn't always like this.

What's totally ironic about this present situation is that this is exactly where Apple was, only a few years ago. In an interview at the "All Things Digital" Conference this year, Steve Jobs said this about that time at Apple:

[There was this belief that] for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose, and it was clear that you didn’t have to play that game because Apple wasn’t going to beat Microsoft. Apple didn’t have to beat Microsoft. Apple had to remember who Apple was because it had forgotten who Apple was. So for me it was pretty essential to break that paradigm.

There is space in this big old world for everyone, Apple, Google, free software and yes, even Microsoft. We don't have to be Apple to be successful. We don't have to be Google either. We just need to be Microsoft.

17 July 2007

Thoughts from Dad

I have a great friend in my Dad. He takes time to listen to me. He tries to help me. Our conversations are not so much about some grand conclusion as they are about exploration and discovery. Recently he sent me an email follow up to a conversation we were having. Here's what he wrote:

1. I am different. So I need to figure out how others think, because they don't think like I do.

2. Learning about change is not changing.

3. Most people agree that improvement and change is needed, until it means they have to change.

4. Getting someone to want to change is hard.

5. The power of the group, has something in it that facilitates change. (Carl Rogers)

6. Most leaders say, "You need to do this... You need to change... Good luck! See you later." Instead of, "You can change. I can help."

7. It's important to setup an environment that balances building the person and getting the job done.

Man, I love my Dad.

12 July 2007

Can it be? Yes it is...


Note: Many thanks to Andy Klepack for the Hi-Def image. Food and beverages not included. :-)

Sharing Music with the iPhone

There's a cool little feature I just discovered thanks to a friend at work. If you are on a phone call, and turn on your iPod music, everyone on the call can hear your music! Also, the volume controls for the phone call and the music are separate so you can have some nice background music to your call while still being able to hear soft voices loud and clear. I can't decide if this is a designed in feature or a happy side-effect of something else, but I think it's cool.

09 July 2007

iKnow iDeas

A fun parody of Apple. The product? Paper napkins.

The GM of MacBU wants to talk to You!

The general manager of the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft is Craig Eisler. He's been here now for just over 4 weeks. It's been fun to watch him step into his new role and if nothing else watch as everyone adjusts to a new dynamic leader. Craig seems to be just that, a high energy, leader. His transparent nature and naturally positive perspective on things has just instantiated itself on our official MacMojo blog. He's asking for suggestions on what you'd like to see different, feature requests, even topics that you'd like to see him personally address on the blog. Right now there are only 39 comments. Please, if you've ever wanted MacBU to do "X" differently, now is your chance. Get in there and leave a comment.

08 July 2007

Designing the Dreamliner

Today at 3:30 p.m. PDT, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will rollout for the world to see. You can view the live webcast at www.boeing.com or watch it on Satellite TV. (576 DirectTV or 9601 DishNetwork).

Boeing hired a design firm Teague, to help them from the very beginning to build the Dreamliner. John Barratt, the CEO of Teague, gave some perspective on what it was like to work on designing the Boeing 787. You can watch the 10 minute interview here.

First, notice the importance placed on empathy and ethnography in the beginning of the design. They had their team travel around the world 5 times in economy class before they started! Wow. I think it's this kind of experiential learning that's needed to really understand your customers. They went to this trouble to improve their empathy so they could understand what can't be observed and also did the ethnographic research to understand what can be observed. I think it was also this kind of experiential foundation that allowed them to deliver things like larger windows, better air purification, more humidity in the cabin, and more open space.

Second, notice how important the transition from the walk way to the airplane cabin is to him. The whole feeling that "You've made it! Sit down and relax! We'll take care of you." is really communicated subtly in the curved lines, high ceilings, the lighting and open areas. I love how they increased the size of the windows! Also, the windows don't have plastic shades, but look to be touch activated and have some kind of "fade shade" effect like glasses that automatically become darker when exposed to the sunlight. Nice.

Third, notice how they had some amazing breakthrough concepts at first, but then when 9/11 hit, they had to give up their prized designs and adjust to the market. Making a really fast plane gave way to making a very efficient one. I often think about design as the skill of choosing what not to do. I guess we'll see if they made the right choice. I think they did. But, it must have been just dreadfully difficult for the designers to give up their 1st design. My hat's off to them for this alone.

Lastly, notice what a big part prototyping was given in the process. You really don't know how it's going to feel until you can experience it, and they did that by putting the designers close to the engineers and mocking up the whole cabin where they could physically iterate on the experience. Very, very cool. As he said, "You've got to prototype it and validate it."

The 787 is a big bet for Boeing. I hope they do well, and not just because I'm cheering for the home team, but because we could all use a big old object lesson in the importance of designing experiences in the aviation industry. Hopefully the airline companies will someday pay this much attention to the whole flying experience.

05 July 2007

The Courage to Help

Let me begin by stating that I unabashedly love the United States of America. It is just wonderful to live in the United States of America. There are problems to be sure, but these are had everywhere. On the other hand, the blessings experienced here are only found elsewhere in relatively small pockets. When you go to live someplace else, you learn that not only do you trade old for new in food, scenery and culture, you also trade major problem sets. The old proverb about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, elucidates the ease with which human judgment can be prone to error.

I don't think I can be called a world traveler, but I have had some experience outside of the US. I lived for two years in the jungles and deserts of the northeastern Brazil. I've visited Ireland, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. There are real families, real life and all that that entails everywhere. I feel confident in saying that the privileges I often took for granted, no longer seem to me the normal and the natural affair of mankind. They are not. In so many ways we live today at the tip top of human existence.

Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. It was on this day that a group of brave men and women signed and fought for words like these:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Remembering on the Fourth of July that the extraordinary blessings I experience were not always so normal, is always very humbling for me. This year however I learned a bit more about that tempestuous and tenuous time of early America and I thought I'd share an insight I had.

Choosing to revolt against the King of Great Britain was with out a doubt insane. These 13 colonies had little money, a comparatively minuscule army, few weapons, little training and not much of a plan. What they did have was a belief that what they were doing was right. In their effort to show their faith, others were inspired by their cause and came to their aid. These others were Spain, the Netherlands and France. Men like General Lafayette, a French military officer, were moved to action. Said he of America:

The moment I heard of America I loved her; the moment I knew she was fighting for freedom I burnt with a desire of bleeding for her; and the moment I shall be able to serve her, at any time, or in any part of the world, will be the happiest of my life. - Marquis de Lafayette, Letter to Henry Laurens (then President of Congress), April 1777

With the help of the French, men like Lafayette and others, independence was ultimately achieved.

When a new nation forms, things are ever so fragile, chaos and fear so, so close at hand. I am thankful that a country far away, saw a distant tyranny so many years ago, and didn't choose to ignore it. I'm thankful that they had men, like Lafayette, who would be willing to sacrifice their lives for others to whom they had no reason to give anything. More specifically, this year, I'd like to thank the French who's sacrifice in large measure sustained a young and vulnerable nation. Their choice, so long ago, has made a way for my life, my liberty and my pursuit of happiness and I will be forever grateful.

Without the help of others, there likely would be no USA. Without those who were in a place to help actually choosing to help, the cause of freedom would have been snuffed out once again. For me, the lesson is this: even for causes with great ideals and great men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams leading the way, the US still needed help from others, or it would have all been some small footnote in some history book today. Back then we needed those with the courage to help, and we still need each other today. Really, it was a miracle that it all worked out.

03 July 2007

iPhone User Guide: The Anthropomorphic iPhone

Apple has posted their iPhone User's Guide for all those of you who can't get a hold of one, and all throughout are references to 'iPhone', not 'the iPhone.' One example follows:

To activate iPhone:

1 Download and install iTunes 7.3 (or later) from www.itunes.com.

2 Connect iPhone to a USB 2.0 port on your Mac or PC using the dock and cable that came with iPhone. (Don’t connect iPhone to the USB port on your keyboard—it does not have enough power.) iTunes opens automatically.

3 Follow the onscreen instructions in iTunes to activate iPhone and sync iPhone with your contacts, calendars, email accounts, and bookmarks on your computer.

Why would Apple do this? No one talks this way. What are they getting out of this grammatical detail? At lunch a few of us discussed it and the only thing we could come up with is that it anthropomorphizes the iPhone, and that some how makes it more, uh, human or something. I admit, it's kind of weak. Any other ideas?

iPhone Applications

When Apple announced that the "sweet" iPhone Software Development Kit was going to be AJAX and "Web 2.0 stuff", most developers scoffed. A few went to work, and now we are starting to see some web applications built specifically for the iPhone.

First up is a very nicely designed shopping list application named OneTrip. It was the first iPhone application released as far as I can tell. It's also my personal favorite.

Then 37Signals Ta Da List web app simply senses if you are hitting their website from an iPhone and adjusts to look like this:

OmniGroup is working on a version of their getting-things-done application OmniFocus for the iPhone and they have some screenshots online here.

Notice how these iPhone web apps follow or try to follow very closely the iPhone look and feel. This is a testament to how these developers really get the "build the experience" ethos. That said, even with all this focus on looking "iPhone-like" without the smooth transitions, it's really quite a different feel.

An attempt at a full list of all iPhone web apps can be found at iPhone Application List, but be prepared for some ugly looking iPhone apps. I think the delay in releaseing a "real" iPhone SDK may actually help cement the iPhone experience. With a solid customer expectation of what it means to be an "iPhone app" this could actually lead to an better user experiece with all 3rd party iPhone applications long term. Let's hope!

Apple's official documentation and guidelines for developing for the iPhone are located here: http://developer.apple.com/iphone/


You may have heard the saying, "It's the journey, not the destination." I like this saying, but I have never applied it to user interface design.

Normally, when prototyping or sketching up a UI design, I focus on the end states, the screenshot. Once you have that, you link screenshot to screenshot in a kind of storyboard that shows the process the user will follow to accomplish a task. Most of the time, these are just paper sketches. Sometimes I'll do some high fidelity screenshots, but normally the sketches are enough.

What's amazing to me about the iPhone experience is how much time Apple spent, not on the end states, but the transitions through and to the end states. I'm really starting to think that what makes you feel so great about the device is just as much the easy to use screens, but the ease and smoothness of "getting there." The "journey" through the iPhone interface is filled with great transitions from beautiful state to beautiful state. It really is just as much about the transitions as it is about the destination.

I started to think about other great experiences that I've had at restaurants, shopping, even a few websites and I realized that a very large part of what made them so enjoyable was really the way they managed the transitions. Every step of the way was cared for, curated really. I've always known the "out of box experience" was important, and the functional flow through the application critical, but designing the visual flow through each functional transition, this is a whole new idea.

Apple Form Factor Evolution: 1976 through 2007

Core 77, one of my favorite design blogs, links to Edwin Tofslie's visual time line of Apple products from 1976 to the present day. Very cool. Print this out, then put a mark by each device or accessory you've personally touched at least once. It's the perfect Mac User Group conversation piece. :-) Enjoy the walk down memory lane.

iPhone Envy

Admittedly, my sample is skewed, but I have yet to talk to anyone at work who doesn't want an iPhone. Even the skeptics, after playing with one in person have tried to purchase one. Tried and failed only because every store in the state of Washington is sold out right now. There's even been some talk about iPhones as our ship gifts for Office 2008, but I think that's just a vicious rumor. The universal reason for not getting one: finances. I'm not saying that Apple over priced the iPhone, but that the iPhone is so compelling that no one is saying they don't want one. Everyone does, just not everyone has figured out how to work it out financially just yet. Now that's impressive.

02 July 2007

The 1.0 that wasn't

From what I can gather, the biggest problems with the iPhone seem to be as follows, in order of severity:

  1. You can only use AT&T network

  2. The EDGE data network is slow

  3. The keyboard takes some time to learn

  4. Making a phone call can take more "taps" than with other phones

  5. No way to Cut, Copy or Paste

(I'm leaving off the list the fact that so many are having trouble activating their phones. I think this is AT&T's capacity planning problem, and I don't think we'll see this happen again.)

This is remarkable. The iPhone is NOT a simple device. It is a complex feature-laden phone, iPod and web device. And with all this functionality, the most folks can do to complain about it is reference something related to the items above.

This phone flies in the face of all those who think that 1.0 products must be either fully focused on one task to be done well, or those that consider 1.0 products something you should avoid by default until the next release, you know, the one with all the bugs worked out. The iPhone while complex and full of features, does have a simple interaction and experience. It is so compelling and just fun, that to miss out on this version while waiting for the "next rev" seems almost unbearable, once you've played with it. As others continue to market proudly their "alpha" and "beta" stickers, Apple shows us all, that you can deliver a 1.0 experience that really is complete.

What it means to be 1.0 will never be the same.

iPhone Activation and Sync

Before we knew the iPhone was real, the common wisdom was that in order for Apple to make the experience something of acceptable quality, they'd have to own or at least rent the cell network. Take a look at this iPhone activation and sync video. This is clearly an Apple experience, simple, clear and elegant. Apple is doing what it does best, and AT&T is doing what they do best. This is how every business partnership should be.

Doing activation and sync away from the store allows Apple to control the "out of box experience" which I think is key. You don't get an iPhone without your calendar, contacts, pictures, music and videos. If you did get a phone without all the above personalized data, the first time experience would be decidedly different. From a logistics and spontaneity perspective it also allows people to buy the iPhone quickly, cash and carry, and allow them to do the longer part of the process in the comfort of their own home. No pressure, everything at your own pace. This is designing an experience, not a phone.