Thursday, January 24, 2008

The MacBook Air...Yeah...

Unless you've had your head buried in the sand for the last two weeks, you've heard about Apple's new MacBook Air, the super-slim notebook that apparently looks really cool. Apparently there were some features left out in order to slim it down. Such as...

  • Normal port set, including Ethernet
  • An optical drive (unless you want to use RemoteDisc, which is still pretty useless)
  • A changeable battery
Now, I'm going to say that I'm not a huge Apple fan. I think that Steve Jobs is an all-around jerk, and their products are vastly overpriced, and not anywhere well-designed enough to warrant that cost. However, I am thinking about getting a Mac for my next laptop, so I can triple-boot, and code for all three major platforms. However, the Mac I'd want to get is currently out of my price range at $2500, so it might be a while before I act on that. In fact, my current laptop, a refurbished Averatec 2260, which cost me 8 hundo, is running great. Plus, it has an ethernet jack, in case I go to my dad's house. Oh, and a DVD burner, so I can watch movies I buy, or make backups of my data. And I forgot the SD-card reader, which is really helpful now that I have a Nokia n800 (which I LOVE, by the way.)

One thing I do find HILARIOUS though, is that the last time I used a laptop that required a usb-connected drive, it was in 1992-3, my mom's old IBM, whose model number I can't even remember, but boy was it a clunker. It is counter-intuitive, though, that to use the world's "most portable" laptop, you've got to schlock around another attachment. That might just be me, but I'm pretty sure that the industry started putting drives in laptops so that people didn't have to carry around all that extra crap.

To be fair, there are ways around some of these issues. I haven't seen anyone try it, but there are USB ethernet adapters, which could solve the wired internet problem. As far as the Remote Disc issue goes, that's Apple's problem. My guess is that the next version will fix the music/dvd reading issues. Didn't anyone learn anything from the early iPhone adopters? Apple has a habit of screwing over it's most loyal fans, good thing they like it.

However, I had an "aha" moment when thinking about the battery issue. Sure, you can't change the battery yourself, and if you run out, you're scoobied. Unless Apple has the same idea I had. The Mac power adapters are already pretty huge, though I'm guessing the Air's is smaller (I haven't seen it yet.) So, what should the Jobspire do? Slap an external battery into the power adapter! Charge the laptop's battery first, then the external battery, and if the laptop's battery is going to die, and the user doesn't have access to an AC outlet, they can still plug their power adapter in, and run off the battery power there.

In general, like all of Apple's products, the Air is ridiculously over-hyped. I'd feel bad about giving it more coverage, but I don't get enough traffic to feel guilty about that. It's a one-trick pony, and that trick gets pretty boring real quick when you can't play a DVD.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Hate Scrollbars

I have a big post I'm working on about the Microsoft Sync Framework, but I'm working on some UI mockups right now, and realized that I have something to rant about.

In general, I HATE scrollbars. I hate including them in my UI designs, because in my mind, they represent a failure to display all the necessary information in a neat, compact manner. Don't get me wrong, in many instances, they're perfectly acceptable, but with what I'm working on (rich interet applications,) if your user has to scroll, and it's not because of their content (and sometimes even if it is,) you've probably messed up somewhere. The extra effort a user has to exert by scrolling better be worth it, and in many cases, it isn't.

Prime example: Blogger. My browser is fullscreened, on a monitor with a resolution of 1280x1024. There's tons of whitespace to the right of and below the edit window. However, by the time I finish this line (* right there, actually,) I have not only a vertical scrollbar, but a horizontal one. Google has all sorts of Javascripty-Ajaxified coolness on this page. Why can't they resize the editing iframe? Or wrap properly. 

Part of it is the inability of developers to come up with interesting ways to display information. That inability is partially from the fear that users will reject what is new and strange. That's bull. When I first started using Office 2007, for about the first week I had a hard time adjusting to the "Ribbon" UI. Nowadays, I can do what I need to a lot faster, and Office 2003 does nothing but remind me that sometimes Microsoft products DO get better with newer versions. Good UI will keep it's users, even if it's initially a little bit different.

That's the end of my first real rant, I'm sure there'll be more to come.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Open Gaming

One of the things that's always bothered me about video games is that they're usually very restrictive. You have to have X platform, Y controller, give money to Z publisher. Personally, I look at the Xbox 360 and PC (in particular,) and say "why can't they play games together." I bought Team Fortress 2 for my PC, and can't play with people on XBox live. I know a solid bit of that is because Microsoft (and Sony, and Nintendo) want to make more money, but as the consumer, I feel shafted.

I had an idea the other day, along lines similar to this: make a game that everyone can play. Publish the game state data as an xml feed. Allow platform developers to make their own interfaces to the game, and have them send responses back to a server, which can be either dedicated, or one of the participants of the game. You'd have to worry about people cheating, but it my mind most of the actual processing would be on the server side. That way, even thin clients or browser-based interfaces would be able to play in the same game as a $4,000 PC, running a DirectX10-based interface with HDR and all the bells and whistles.

I don't know, this may just be a pipe dream, but I think that at the very least it's an interesting concept.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What I Learned About User Experience Over Winter Break

I know I've been bad. The holidays, projects I shouldn't be blogging about, and my shiny new Xbox 360 have been the major contributors to falling off my "one post a week" horse. Either way, I should be back on said horse, and riding back into the Wild Blogtier. Let's start rustling.

Since I'm still (technically) a student, many of my fond memories are from my younger years, where homework that took 1/2 an hour was epicly long, girls were icky, and corn dog night was just about equivalent with Christmas or losing a tooth. One of the other things I recalled was the ever-popular "What I Did On My ___ Vacation" essays. In my quest to find shiny things for my girlfriend's Christmas present, I learned a valuable lesson...about user experience.

I live in Philadelphia, and there's a section of Eighth Street called "Jeweler's Row." That section (if you haven't guessed already) has lots and lots of  jewelers on it. It's the logical destination for any hapless (see: male) potential jewelry buyer, since you can find pretty much anything you want there.

I looked into a couple of the smaller ones, since I try to support local businesses over large chains, but they all looked pretty shady. If I'm spending a significant amount of my cash on something that does nothing but look pretty, I tend to want to know I'm not being taken for a ride. So I went to a large chain store.

The salesman was attentive and friendly, and even offered me a cup of coffee when I came in. I told him what I wanted, and what my budget was, and he told me that what I wanted (garnets) were not in high supply (which was odd, considering that they're January's birthstone) so he could get some for me, and set them himself. That seemed fine to me, so I agreed to call a few days later to check on the progess.

I call, he's sick, call back on Monday.

I call again, still sick call on Tuesday.

I call again, he's still sick, call on Wednesday. It's the 18th, and I'm leaving on Friday to visit family. I ask if I can get anyone to help me. They say no, because it was his sale. I tell them to tell him not to bother, because I'm going somewhere else.

I try another large chain, but apparently they only had diamonds. So much for that.

Finally, at my wits' end, I try one of the hole-in-the-walls that was suggested to me by the salesperson ad the diamonds-only place. Lo and behold, I walk in there, tell them what I want, what I want to pay, and they say "okay, we'll have it for you on Thursday."

The lessons that I learned here go something like this:

1) Jerk the consumer around (even non-purposefully,) and they'll leave you.
2) If a customer's only contact is unavailable, and you won't provide another, you'll lose them.
3) If you can't provide what your customer wants, point them in a direction they can use. Then, they might come back to you when they need what you do provide.
4) Appearances are nice and all, but in the end, what matters is if you can deliver the goods or not.

And that is why I think the T-Rex was the coolest dinosaur ever.