Everything Missing From iOS 9 Part 2 (or What I Want From iOS 10)

This post continues my list of  iOS 10 features I want to see. Click here for the first part. Other parts will be posted leading up to WWDC 2016.

Location

This could be seen as a continuation of the Maps topic but I want more location features. If Apple is so concerned with their customers, allow more people to define when they are in their car than just those that buy into CarPlay. I own an Automatic OBD2 Bluetooth device and it would be great if the iPhone understood that when I am in very close proximity of the adapter, I am driving in my car.

Triggering specific actions for travel as if you would for an iBeacon would save time: open my Plex Music and start my favorite playlist, automatically open Maps if I have an appointment in my calendar, set my favorite stations when I’m driving my car but set my wife’s favorite stations when she is, allow notification via text/iMessage or third party app when I arrive at a location or if I’m running behind, allow that notification if I arrive at a travel hub such as a train station or airport, if I arrive at a train station and have an appointment scheduled then send me to the URL I’ve defined for a train schedule, etc. Proactive Siri seems like the right tool for this but would it be able to handle location triggers without killing your battery?

I also work in two locations for the same company, alternating between sites on an irregular schedule. Both should be defined as “Work” but for most software that only means one single address. Allow more flexibility since even in the above example, a family can have more than one car. Maybe I also have a vacation home or visit my parents home, places that I would stay at more than a couple of days at a time and could use some automation triggers other than an alarm clock and reminders.

Improving safety between locations is also within the power of handset manufacturers. There has to be a way to strongly suggest that customers driving in cars stop texting. Shocking photos like those posted on cigarette packs in other countries in dialog boxes would be too strong, but making the phone’s use annoying at certain speeds would be a real life saver; obviously the logic behind that would be a hard problem given that it would also annoy commuters. For instance a bus or train car full of people could be within a box defined by beacons as being passengers but a car would be required to beacon so that you have to correctly identify as passenger or driver under penalty of law. Here is a beautiful example of tech used to enumerate objects within a vehicle using Bluetooth.

Siri Eyes Free is a step in the right direction but a physical button still needs to be located on the steering wheel. Studies show that anything requiring interaction with something physical in the car takes seconds away from the average driver, seconds that can be disastrous at high speeds. Muscle memory cannot always be counted on since every vehicle still insists on unique layouts of wipers and turn signals and paddles. A voice activated system is still the best solution not only because being conversational is more subconscious but because it is also something a passenger can participate in as a copilot rather than always have the driver putting lives at risk. Our handheld friends are great devices that we are all obviously addicted to, but we have to smarten up and let ourselves be guided in this case.

Contacts

Another long standing omission is not allowing contact groups to be managed from iOS. The great app Interact came about to help with that missing feature although there have been many apps that have attempted to fix this over the years. Right now you really only have the Favorites group (for allowing calls through from Do Not Disturb) or the VIP group  (for those special people in your email inbox) unless you go into iCloud.com or your Mac to manage contacts. That seems like a crippling speed bump to anyone’s workflow if they never sync their mobile device, are mobile-only, or just don’t have a Mac. That sounds like a corner case but it really is a majority of iPhone users.

Contact duplicates are also a pain. Somehow between all the different mail systems I use (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Exchange, Hotmail) I end up with duplicate contacts that I occasionally review and Link. This is a total waste of time now that my contacts number in the thousands after 20 years in IT. I would love for something like LinkedIn to come along and intelligently manage my contact updates but the fear of them spamming everyone in my address book again still lingers. Improve on the idea of LinkedIn by bilaterally recommending a contact based on sets that others I may know: you have a sales person in your contacts but not the technical engineer that works with him. Just don’t turn it into a giant cold call sheet like LinkedIn has become lately.

With circles of friendship or defined relationships you can start allowing certain groups of people access to your free/busy time (and your calendar details if you so choose), contact sharing, media sharing. Wouldn’t it be great if this linked into Facebook permissions somehow? That would be a great place to start since it’s a mature permissions standard. Otherwise if there is no further development for Find My Friends, it has to be one of the dumbest wastes of time Apple has ever made.

iCloud photos gallery

Apple may not realize this, but I do have friends that have Android devices. I would like to share photos with these non-Apple people, despite their judgement in choice of mobile devices. Currently Flickr and Facebook fill this role for me but they are separate from where I take my photos. Experiments like Facebook’s Moments really show that we are still struggling to figure out how and where we want this to be controlled in a manner simple enough for most to understand. Sharing from iOS 9 into these services is great but it is only a one way flow, and there is no real management going on. Something like this should hook into other social media where we save photos, to aggregate our media: Flickr, Google Photos, Facebook, Twitter, etc to aggregate our images into one view and work with some of the mature controls such as Facebook’s friend permissions for family and acquaintances. This leads us right to more collaborative album sharing where photos taken by people at the same event can be grouped to provide even more dimension. Find My Friends could hook into this to become more useful by managing contacts in a role sense and give some security to where we allow this all to flow. Is that too much for the average user to understand? The confusion surrounding Facebook’s permissions may suggest that is sometimes the case. This can be solved by “interviewing” the user with a sharing wizard and settings some rules managed by some AI: I have kids so do not show photos with kids to anyone outside my immediate family or my closet circle of friends; these are photos at my office, it’s ok to share with coworkers; these are pictures of forms that have health data picked up by OCR so share with nobody.

Additionally, Apple should see that sharing with Android users is another avenue for connecting to Android users to bring them into the Apple fold. Just as Google Photos is available on the iPhone, an iCloud Photos app on other platforms is not a bad idea.

(continued in Part 3)


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VR Is the Surprise Technology of 2016

  
SXSW 2016 was one of the biggest tech events of the year. It brought some real focus to the VR/AR efforts being put forth by companies like Sony and Oculus along with some new small surprise players. This year the push to VR/AR is harder than ever. One of the biggest surprise announcements in the social networking world at SXSW is the move of Robert Scoble from Rackspace into the VR space with UploadVR. This is an important indicator because it reflects a shift from mobile entertainment to virtual entertainment.

The shift in the tech industry is worth noting because we have been in a post-PC world since the smartphone revolution of 2007, where most of the computing is being done on our pocket devices and tablets, disconnecting us from the need to be at a static, unmovable, power-sucking workstation. The VR world, in the sense of providing the most realism, requires more horsepower than even the most powerful mobile device can bring to bear for rendering reality. While devices like the iPad Pro are able to edit audio and video streams, this is not enough to drive 360 degree world content. Since dipping into “the Matrix” of VR is something one doesn’t take sitting down for a bite at Panera or standing on a bus, this is not the inconvenience you might first imagine. Nobody “does VR” with the same rapid attention shift we do for quick YouTube videos – it is done for a longer term basis to change the realities we experience. This may also mean a shift back from short staccato burst Vine style entertainment back to the traditional longer involved experiences we see with TV and movie viewing. The difference is the interactive possibilities that will let us participate in some of our entertainment.

I certainly don’t expect VR to turn my job into the “It’s UNIX!” moment from Jurassic Park (plz no) but I think VR is certainly the future of entertainment. Things like 3DTV and curved displays only hinted at what is already going on with VR which will be driving the release of new even higher resolution phone displays coming into the market. I think VR will soon get us to the point of obviating large screen TVs and tablets for the average buyer the way smaller phone and tablet displays took over TV and movies. Nobody will need an 80″ or even a 12″ screen when a 6″ smartphone just inches from your face will fill your field of view and simulate 20′ displays. It hints at the logical extension of this being a future interface that is quite the opposite of the large screen trend; the screen inside the helmet as the only visible interface you will ever need that connects with a tiny headless Wifi/LTE capable black box which your low power Bluetooth devices like a fitness monitoring smart watch and headphones also connect to. It hints at screen resolutions greater than 4K to keep you from seeing the pixels at that close a range. With browsers like Andy Martin’s VRambling Cardboard based web browser, VR makers try to make your long hours of web browsing inside of a visor. This is a further opportunity for advertisers and other accessory segments of the entertainment market to keep you immersed longer if they can avoid making their content take you out of the VR experience. Although I mention the ubiquity of small screens, the screens in your mobile device do not have the power to fully render true realism. For that we need compute intensive resources like Oculus Rift and dedicated workstations. This classic cost/quality/performance decision will be a painful trade off for VR users.

While the Sony PS4 and Oculus promise to be powerful experiences, they are equally and prohibitively expensive considering all the gear required. I am impressed with the HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR headsets but they are still overly costly for someone who wants to dip their toe in VR for the first time. There are still ways for the more frugal of us to experience VR:
Step 1: Buy cheap VR headset here or here
Step 2: Enable DLNA in your streaming software (My choice is Plex)
Step 3: Get Google Cardboard compatible SBS VR DLNA player app from your App Store
Step 4: Wow

For now we only had an old Google Cardboard headset in the house because one of the kids sprung for it at Engadget Expand a little over a year ago where they began to push VR. A “VR Box 2″ headset with a tiny handheld Bluetooth controller the size of a clicker is available for $20 (free shipping) which we will be waiting a few weeks for. It can accommodate smartphones 3.5″ to 6” Since I have a Plex server at home for streaming my home movies, I downloaded the @mgatelabs Mobile VR Station app as my Google Cardboard app of choice because it does DLNA. Everyone at home that I showed it to was immediately wow’d by how immersive and close to reality it all was to watch a movie. Mobile VR Station has an extension that you can use to demo HTML5 content such as the reference video Big Buck Bunny from Youtube. Just amazing. While I don’t care much for basketball, the free Big East court side VR seats are really smart way to promote the sport and this is the perfect time of the year to market that. The content out there is exploding with VR possibilities.

There are a few quality VR apps freely available such as the Discovery channel VR, Roller coasters, and travel tours. As someone who can spend hours in a small section of Museum of Natural History, the idea of VR museum tours is exciting. It not only spreads the arts further but let’s you experience something you might not even be geographically close to ever visiting. You should also pay attention for things like @funnyordie’s Interrogation which I really think will be the type of hypnotizing entertainment we will experience as the norm in a few years. The more boring world of real estate VR tours have been around for quite some time, though the 3D they used in the past was gimmicky spherical rerenderings of regular 2D photos. I want real 3D walk-throughout of environments where you actually experience being in that space. I feel the pinnacle of this will be a social VR player where you watch movies or perform other activities “in a room” synced with friends, whether or not actually in same room, and walking through their real or realistically rendered home. Having read Ready Player One last year (too bad the movie isn’t coming out til 2018), I think the book was very prescient about what we will see in VR the next few years with respect to interactions and avatars. It will be way beyond the Sims/Mii level avatars of vTime and provide you with the option to skin avatars with commercially available characters. For those that are uncomfortable or incompatible with the bodies they have been naturally provided, it offers real game changing possibilities. Think of what Facebook or Tinder could do with that!

If you are interested in generating your own 360-degree VR environments today, look at Splash announced by Robert Scoble the day before their app released. While I was very impressed with its ability to generate and share Google Cardboard and Facebook 360 video experiences as easily as someone can Snapchat, the content produced by Splash looks very jerky and improperly stitched. Artists expecting to producing captivating 360 VR content will need orders of magnitude more talent to keep people immersed. For instance, Penny Arcade’s @cwgabriel used Tiltbrush in the latest strip – that level of interactivity can keep users working for extended periods. It speaks volumes on how fast this is all already moving and quickly blooming into a visual revolution. It has truly come a long way from the blocky geometry days of VMRL.

Google would be wise to get a Google Cardboard mode into their Youtube app right away. The early adopters in these early days are going to set the standards and they could leverage Cardboard as the de facto API to cement the foothold in as many areas as possible. This is a nascent era of the tech, a small window of opportunity that won’t come again, and soon mobile vendors won’t have a choice but to API integrate it.

Only real complaint with mobile phone VR is it becomes a dedicated single purpose device, so proper handling of notifications becomes important. Notifications can take you out of the VR experience the same way they can pull you out of other things you experience on a daily basis: work and entertainment. Systems like BigScreen hope to keep you in VR spaces even longer and will need to handle notifications as part of your perceived environment.

We are going to see the gaming space rapidly expand in VR too. Can you imagine Mario Cart in 360 degree? (Look behind you!) Sadly, I haven’t kept up with gaming the past few years and get motion sick pretty quickly. VR gaming will only exacerbate that for me; I even got vertigo with the Cirque demo in Samsung Gear VR because I looked behind myself too quickly, not expecting the edge of the stage to be there. Adaptive systems like IonVR promise to fix that for me. Update: this is what Sony has planned for PlayStation VR which is pretty ambitious: http://youtu.be/0vrUNZR9iro

This is the year to bet big on VR, especially given the mystery surrounding Apple’s rumored VR efforts. I anxiously await the 2016 March Apple event next week to see if anything will be announced given Apple’s history of providing premium hardware with surprisingly new enhancements and shifts in the technology. I am excited for what will eventually come to iOS when all this matures. This will be a great year for these new unexpected technology experiences. By this time next year the VR landscape will be like wildfire. It seems like so much more than a fad this time. I predict every video app will have some Google Cardboard support even if it does not enhance the content to appear 3D, and we will all have personal video headset rigs to enhance our experiences.

Social Center: The loss of Sharing in iOS

One of the most disappointing things in iOS 7 was the disappearance of the Facebook and Twitter fields in the Notification Center that graced the Notification Center since iOS5 and 6.

Oddly enough its removal was advertise as if it were a feature:
In iOS7 we don’t have the notification center sharing panes.

Mac OS X has had sharing in its Notification Center since Mountain Lion in 2012. It has been thought that iOS and Mac were becoming more alike in features, so the loss of this convenient interface was jarring to me . Many hoped that with iOS 8 this oversight would have been corrected, but not so.

A “Social Center ” could have been made as another pane in the notification center that only shows when the phone is unlocked. It could have taken the place of the redundantly awful Missed pane in Notification Center we had in iOS 7. There were lots of ways this could have been done securely and still left us with the ability to quickly post quickly to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Maybe those tweets and posts weren’t the best quality because they were too easy to post? Maybe the extra steps to get to the apps is a deterrent that prevents low quality posts? I’m not sure if any of this affects social networking quality, but it should still have been my choice.

IOS already has the capability to choose whether certain notifications and widgets will show on the lock screen. I would have loved to have seen anything with OAuth capability to display an input there, either a photo button for Instagram or a text field for LinkedIn, etc. A Social Center pane would also have been a very convenient way to advertise the Apple brand on social networks.

The one bright spot is that Apple introduced Notification Center widgets in iOS 8 and thus left the door open to developers to recreate this convenient sharing feature. An app called TapToShare seems to have brought this back! http://www.redmondpie.com/how-to-add-facebook-twitter-share-widget-in-ios-8-notification-center/ Try it out and see if it brings back quick convenient social sharing to your iPhone or if Apple needs to put it back in.

Checkin to Everything

The idea behind social networking is to let your friends know what you’re doing in a way that spurs a conversation. Foursquare covers the “where”, but there aren’t a lot of apps that cover the rest of the things we do, the who, what and why. For everything else that Foursquare cannot check you in for, there is GetGlue. It integrates with the same social nets, but let’s people know exactly what you are doing when you’re at a location. Whether you’re listening to music, or watching a movie, a show, a game, or even a conversation, GetGlue has you covered. They have a huge database of albums, movies, tv shows, video games, sports teams and topics. And while you’re at it, you might as well check in to Foursquare with it!

News Curation

News curation

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The coming of social networks has brought a tidal wave of information we have never experienced as a species. In that sense, every day is a new milestone. Along with that growing information overload, comes the need to slow the unrelenting firehose of data. The obvious way to deal with it is to limit ourselves as to what we read on a daily basis, but without the discipline to trim the feeds and possibly miss out on a tidbit of news, no one will do it on their own. The whole reason the Internet has exploded the way it has is due to the addictive nature of information. We want to know more than everyone else, but we also dont want to be a know-it-all. Hence the rise of news curation.

We do it in a primitive form on a daily basis when we talk at the water cooler or retweet/reply. Only the things that move us enough to comment are what we’re really interested on, but we scour the news, read newspapers, scour social nets and browse sites in search of something that piques our interest. Between nightly news (if it bleeds, it leads) and the inane celebrity gossip rags, we come across a lot of data that isn’t worth repeating, either because it was a waste of our time to see it, or it’s a waste of time to someone who would t be interested. Either way, there is a lot of wasted time.

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Citation services such as Summify, Strawberryj.am, Feedly, and Genieo are hoping to trim that down so that you can get back to reading only what really motivated you. Even Google is throwing their hat into the ring with Propeller to fight Flipboard. Each has their own method for summarizing what you want to see. Genieo has an app that watches my browsing habits but doesn’t touch Google Reader. Summify has an app, it only looks at my social networks, but not things I may be browsing for. Feedly has an app and a web page but only looks at Google Reader and ignores the rest of your social networks. And until they find a way to hook these into Safari or another mobile browser, they won’t be 100% complete.

My ideal news curation service:
will be available as an app and a web page with a small application available on Linux, Windows, or Mac,
will consist of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Reader feeds,
will have Instapaper integration to store links for safe keeping until you are ready to read the latest juicy tidbit about new software about to be released or the rash on your friend’s cat.

That covers all my streams and allows for oddball cases where something does not have a presence on one of the mainstream social networks. Summify comes closest to that for me, but I back it up with Genieo’s constant updating along with some sweet StrawberryJ.am to make it complete.

Lastly, if you’re someone who commutes in a car and don’t relish the idea of having a roadside memorial in your honor for texting while piloting a ton of metal, there is an app called Voice Brief that links to many of these social nets and reads them off to you, including latest email.

Do you follow a news curation service, and if so, what do you use?

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Running In Social Circles

We all know that high school never ends and this is no less true for social media, where we still run in pretty much the same cliques we used to. As we grow older, we make new IRL friends at different jobs, for different interests, and for different events, forming even more cliques. Because of the prevalence of social networks across the globe, it is now easier to communicate with masses of people all at once. We each get a soapbox to voice our opinion into a virtual room, empty or not. Often our voices will not agree with every other voice in our circles. There lies the problem.

Privacy concerns come up once you start to gather enough groups of friends. There are things that would be appropriate to say to one group that may not be with another. There are sensitive topics that should not be shared for fear of bias and persecution. And then there are things that should just not be said online to begin with. Ex-coworkers from may not want to hear you complain about how your job there sucked, for example.

Social networks have long provided the means to manage friends, but have wrestled with the fact that while people beg for privacy controls, they just aren’t inclined to ever use them. Few of us want to spend a couple of hours sorting through our list of friends to sort them into groups. I happen to be compulsive enough to have done that a while ago, although I rarely, if ever, filter my posts to only appear to certain lists. But every once in a while I have to do a sweep through my friend lists because I know I’m absent minded enough to forget to assign one or two friends to a group.

Google+ has recently appeared, highlighting the desire people had for ease of managing friends and filtering outgoing content. Those that have jumped into it right away have begun adding friends into what Google calls Circles with an easy drag and drop interface. The iPhone interface does not carry this same easy management. While it would not make or break Google+, a bad app implementation can keep it from growing further. On iOS5, the app just crashes immediately, so I have not been able to test it. 10 million users in two weeks is very impressive, but at some point the growth plateaus. The question is when will it happen and what will cause it. Google appears in front of almost every online user’s eyes at least once a day so it immediately has a much higher potential user base than Facebook could ever dream of. Still, it takes a long time to gather friends and reorganize them into lists. You will have people who refuse to move onto Yet Another Social Network, especially one that isn’t on every billboard and TV ad. Facebook has already established itself as the social backbone of the Internet and trying to make another is akin to making another global DNS infrastructure and getting everyone to use both. I have always considered Facebook to be for communicating with real life friends and Twitter for my geek interests. It seems as if something that could marry the two would be a hit if it could communicate with both. Without an API at the time of this writing, Google+ is missing a lot of the apps that make it fun to use a social network.

Facebook Friend Lists and Google+ Circles share many of the same features. Both allow you to filter posts by groups, both allow friends in more than one list. What neither allows is sub-lists, which would allow me to hypothetically divide people into something like Workplace-Runners and Workplace-Geeks so that I could post topics about running to one and geeky topics to another. Chances are, however, that if I talk to runners or geeks at work, I’ll talk to them somewhere else. Having just Workplace, Runners, and Geek lists with overlap capability meets this same need, without the mass confusion that sub-lists would bring. I tend to break my friend lists up according to how someone came into my life. I know people from grade school, high school, various jobs, tech contacts on Twitter, groups of friends, and family. All my lists are broken up that way and quite a few of those circles overlap in real life. Because of the way Facebook Chat displays, I only ever have a person in one list.

While such a big deal has been made of Google+ Circles, I’m still puzzled at how those same people didn’t make an effort to use Facebook Friend Lists and found it easier to complain that Facebook gave no privacy. These lists are actually all the same and carry no different weight in one social network than another, or even in the same social network. Yet in life we inherently share different things with different group by default. Circles could be though of as falling into something like this…

Friends
Family
Classmates
CoWorkers
Acquaintances
Have met
Seriously Dating
Engaged
Married
Living together
Domestic Partner

You can immediately see that someone from the workplace might be someone who has permission to give you a professional recommendation. This is something that LinkedIn naturally handles, but which does not exist for Facebook. There is a lot of room for Facebook to take over in this area. BranchOut seems to be making a play at this space and Monster has recently taken a stab at it.  It remains to be seen whether this area can explode on social networks outside of LinkedIn.

There is another group we’re not thinking about in all this. Out of my 300+ friends, there still remains 6 billion+ other people who may look at my profile and want an idea as to who I am. Special care must be taken with this very large group, because these are the strangers, in some cases enemies, which we have chosen no to let into our life. These may be people who have permission to see your resume, where workplace people do not. Someone who is job hunting may not want their coworkers or bosses to know they are seeking other employment. There are countless reasons to filter your content. Another reason for maintaining circles is that people often drift in and out of different circles in your life. Someone who gets dropped from “In A Relationship With” should be filtered from certain content when that change is made.

The fragmentation of the social networking scene is already taking its toll. Google+ has now come on the scene and although I got an invitation early on, along with the ability to send out invites, I have not yet fully configured the service for my needs. First of all, the task of manually moving 500+ people into appropriate Circles is a deterrent. Then there is the fact that this is another location to check in with after Facebook and Twitter, which I already can’t keep up with. I know there are a lot of people who feel the same and Google+ page view numbers are already beginning to drop. While it has taken longer to happen than I expected, it is inevitable, since Google+ serves a very geek niche. Without games and other inane uses for a social network API, the average user was bound to get bored quickly. And with that, Google’s aspirations to quickly reach a billion users will evaporate.

After enough social networks are out there, each requiring you set up friend lists, dividing friends into groups needs to be automated. Individuals’ profiles should help define their place in various social circles. All this batch processing of contacts can take hours to weeks for an existing account, so a more manageable form would be to have users assign a contact their circle at the time of creation. Plaxo requests that you place a new contact into a group of Family, Friend, Coworker, or Other group. This spreads out the load of managing this task over the lifetime of the service. Another system that does this is Hollrback, which granularly let’s you define groups that have access to certain contact attributes and add the contact to one of those groups before the data is exposed. An AI should be able to take users profiles, check their relations to others in your friends and place them in appropriate circles.  This is already done when social networks suggest friends you may know.  They just aren’t telling you where they think you know them from.

In all of the growth in social, it’s most surprising that Google has been so far behind and made so many blunders in attempting to get to where everyone else just kind of fell into the game.  Google has plenty of algorithms for processing all sorts of data, but they just can’t seem to get people right.  My hopes are pinned on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ continuing to be front runners that compete and innovate to the benefit of society.