chris.millr.org

Ramblings on Metro and the future of Windows Phone

I think what a lot of people loved about Metro was that it was a defensible design language. It combined rules, structure, typography and physics in a cohesive way that you could follow. I was a huge Mac guy, and Metro blew me away. So much so that I abandoned popular mobile platforms for Windows Phone. Overnight I became a Windows Phone fan boy.

I think what’s happening with Windows 10 is probably a needed step, but it’s not quite hitting the mark. Microsoft is right in thinking that most people found Windows Phone confusing, but they seem to be missing the reasons why. They also seem to be lacking the unified design model. As a person that wants Microsoft to succeed, that makes me sad.

Windows Phone didn’t fail because pivot navigation models were a bad idea. It didn’t fail because menu items were tucked in an app bar instead of a hamburger. If anything, App Bars were ahead of the times. App Bars are so 4+ inch screen friendly. Every time I have to move my thumb to the top of a screen on my iPhone (yup, I had to give up on WP) I want to punch a wall. The same can be said about going “back” in the app stack.

As Windows Phone users, we have all been there before; you want to show someone something on your phone and you hand it to them. POOF, that cute photo of your dog is gone. They accidentally hit hardware back or search. If a person’s very first interaction with the phone is this, how likely do you think they will want to try that phone as their own? From a UX standpoint, these are the things that helped sink Windows Phone.

But I don’t think these are what sunk Windows Phone, and it seems MS is hell bent on trying to solve the wrong problems. I do think Microsoft is in a tough spot. Sit and do nothing and your platform doesn’t grow. Change things and lose your most loyal fanbase.

Moving to a unified development model (again) is a great step in the right direction. In fact, it’s probably the one of the only things they can do at this point. They tried to build a better platform and devs didn’t show up. They tried to pay devs and they didn’t stick around. Now they are coming at devs with another pitch of Universal apps. But this time the apps also work on desktop, for real this time. But what else can they do? That helps entice devs, but what about users?

If Apple has proven anything, it’s that mindshare happens in the US. Sex appeal happens in the US. Apple has also proven that if you go after the 80% person, you are far more likely to move product. Say what you want about the 1530, the 1020, and even the Icon, but they were all niche devices. Going after niche markets doesn’t seem like the brightest idea when you are struggling to find market share. That’s why devices like the 920 and even 900 did so well… they were more of a 80% device. If you want a great every day phone that can fit in your pocket, you’re kind of screwed if you want Windows Phone.

One week with iPhone

I’ve had my iPhone for a week. I’ll start with the bad and get into the good…

The bad

  • I hate iOS as an OS. As an App launcher, it is OK.
  • Not having Cortana or “My Day” with a button press is beyond frustrating. The “Today” screen gets close, but not without apps putting ads in it. ESPN does this.
  • Google Maps interface is not intuitive. But I have finally gotten used to it.
  • So many 1st party apps are bad on iOS. Maps, Mail, Podcasts, Calendar.
  • iOS has spam apps you cannot remove… Apple Watch, iBooks.
  • Lots of iOS doesn’t have a consistent interaction model. Sometimes you swipe to get to content, sometimes swipe means going back.
  • Notifications suck. If you don’t turn on lock screen notifications for mail, you don’t really get push notifications. That red dot is disgusting, too.

The good

  • If you want to do something on mobile, chances are, you can do it on iOS.
  • Let me repeat that, you can do anything you want on iOS. Every mobile site has been tested on an iPhone. If a product has an app, it works on iOS. This is what it was like to be a Windows user in the late 90s.
  • The camera is wonderful. They are doing some clever things with HDR and white balance to give you really good looking pictures. If you get into the detail, the photos fall down a bit compared to a Lumia, but in 90% of use cases, the camera produces better photos than my Icon did. Especially without tweaking.
  • FaceTime Audio is amazing. FaceTime in general is amazing.
  • iMessage is amazing.
  • ApplePay is revolutionary. I live in a market that was a test case for ISIS / SoftCard. This means the majority of the places I go support contact-less payments. I now feel like a savage every time I pull out a debit card now. Over two years after MS promised contact-less payments, I now have them… on my iPhone.
  • Gapless playback of audio.
  • Did I mention apps?

 

Goodbye Windows Phone, I will miss you.

When I moved to Windows Phone in 2010, I was in love. We’ve had our share of ups and downs for the last five years. Maybe this comes as a shock coming from a Windows Phone developer, but it’s time to move on. I’m done being left behind the major break throughs that are happening on mobile. No amazing OS update, camera improvement, or universal binary is going to fix the problems Windows Phone has. I’ve spent the better part of two years hoping these things were not the case. It’s time to give up that fight.

I have moved back to iOS after a hiatus of 6 years. The camera is worse, notifications are worse, Siri is worse, but I no longer feel disconnected from the rest of the world. I finally had to separate my OS preference from the mindshare, marketshare, and ecosystem the rest of the world has. Every mobile experience that is available, I now have access to. Every accessory, tool, app that is released will now work on my phone. I do not have to sit on the sidelines any more. After sitting on the sidelines for years, this idea is refreshing.

What this means for my Windows Phone apps, I don’t quite know yet. Part of me wants to release the source to a dev that wants to take over. Cask is far enough along that someone could finish it fairly quickly. Tapped’s source code is terrible, but could easily be maintained.

Potential

I think Apple Watch has the potential to be a life changing product.

Potential. It’s a funny word. If you place too much emphasis, you are always living in the future. If you don’t place enough emphasis, you’re stuck in a world of, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”

When the iPad came out, there were two camps, the “It’s just a bigger iPhone? What’s the big deal” camp and the, “Holy shit, it’s a bigger iPhone!” camp. The first group saw the current limitations of iOS and scoffed. The second group, embraced the limitations. The iPad was a computer that could solve a lot of complexity problems. I was someone who bought in.

As time went on with my iPad, I found I was reaching for my laptop more and more. I stopped trying to find excuses to get things done on the smaller device and I started using the right tool for the right job. In most cases, that was my laptop. I think for a lot of people, the iPad is fantastic at consumption, but when emails that are more than a few sentences, or documents need to be made, it falls on its face. It’s just not great a creating the type of content most people want to create. As time has gone on, the limitations of the iPad have never quite been addressed. Getting real work done still feels like a chore. In essence, the reduced capability has limited it’s potential. Corporations cannot buy iPads for anything more than sales tools or niche devices.

As I look at the Apple Watch, I see it going either the way of the iPad, or the way of the iPhone. The main goal of the watch should be to reduce our dependence on our phones. We shouldn’t have to pull our phones out of our pockets as much as we do today. A flick of the wrist and I see an email from Rackspace… ignore.  Or I see a call from Sarah… answer. The Watch should essentially be what we all wanted the iPad to be… reducing our dependence on larger, more complex devices. If Apple can solve this problem, they will have a hit. I’m not so sure they can, though. People fucking love their phones.

Apple really needs to think about how they can solve all the mundane experiences on a Watch better than they can on an iPhone. They set that goal for the iPad vs. laptops and they never quite answered the challenge.

I think Ben Thompson nails the potential:

For all of the changes that have been wrought by technology, a huge amount of our daily existence really hasn’t changed in a very long time. Consider keys: in my bag I have several pieces of metal, hopefully unique, that unlock doors or start up machines that run on controlled explosions. It’s positively barbaric! Money has improved a bit – cash is certainly a very old concept, although credit cards are more modern – but the idea that we physically hand someone access to a huge amount of money (i.e. our credit cards) without even thinking about it is odd. We operate lights with switches, print disposable tickets for everything from airplanes to concerts, and pack identification from a whole host of authorities, including the government and workplace.

It’s increasingly plausible to envision a future where all of these examples and a whole host of others in our physical environment are fundamentally transformed by software: locks that only unlock for me, payment systems that keep my money under my control, and in general an adaptation to my presence whether that be at home, at the concert hall, or at work.

He outlines a few use cases that are particularly well suited for something like a watch. The question is whether or not solving these problems on a smartphone are “good enough” for many. Just like smartphones are the new “good enough” computing devices for third world countries. Apple has a challenge in front of them, but luckily there is a whole lot of potential.

Windows Phone 8.1 Keyboard is jacked

Ever since Windows Phone 8.1 was released, I have had nothing but problems with the keyboard. Windows Phone corrects words that it does not need to correct. For example, if you type “Home” you get “Him” or if you type “Really” you get “Realm”. The worst part? It’s inconsistent. Sometimes it doesn’t try to auto-correct and gives you the correct word. To say this is maddening is an understatement.

I wanted to blame it on not having a recent firmware, so I waited until Verizon released Denim for my Lumia Icon. Even after the firmware I still had the same problem. My last hope was to wipe my phone and any learned keyboard habits. I wiped my phone last week, and guess what happened? Nothing. I still have the same problem.

Below are two examples. I created these videos by projecting my screen to a PC and recorded the PC. So everything you see is direct on device input. Not a VM or emulator.

I’m posting this in an effort to get someone at Microsoft to see this problem. If you want your platform to grow, fix some of the basic issues and stop worrying about how your settings screen is organized.*

 

Home -> Him

Really -> Realm

 

*What you are doing on Windows 10 Mobile with settings and hamburger menus is atrocious. – A long time Windows Phone user and developer.

Happy 2nd Anniversary

I met a girl in 2010. I knew who she was and I was nervous as hell. Even with the little I knew about her, I had a huge crush on her. After the night we met, I was fortunate enough to become friends with her. A few months later, she found an ad for Hugo and told me to go get him. When a pretty girl tells you she found the perfect dog for you, you just do what she says.

Throughout the years, I remained nervous and tried to drop subtle hints that I was interested in her. If you know Sarah, you know that subtle doesn’t work with her. It took me two years and living in another state for me to get out the words, “I like you.”

When I think about the first “date” we went on, I still chuckle. A long date may last a few hours. Our first date lasted an entire week. As I drove back to Colorado, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to be with her for the rest of my life. My crush of two years turned into love within a heartbeat.

When I moved back to Utah, the plan was for me to find a place and date. Both Sarah and I couldn’t make that happen. We wanted the rest of our lives start as soon as possible. We got engaged in November.

February 20th, 2013 was the best day of my life. Sarah and I were married in Mexico surrounded by nothing but our love for each other. I couldn’t imagine that day being any better.

Here we are four years after meeting and two years after being married. I couldn’t fathom my life turning out any better. I couldn’t imagine a life without her. She’s improved my life in every way possible. I have two funny little dogs, an adorable daughter, a career and life I could have only dreamed of. Here’s to many more years, stories, joy, and laughter…

Remembering Jeff – An open source memorial theme for WordPress

I lost a brother in law a few weeks ago. It has been one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve experienced in my life.

Instead of contributing money to an old school newspaper for an obituary, the family and I built a memorial website where people could pay their respects.

I am open sourcing this theme for anyone that should find a need. The last thing you should have to think about is coding something up to remember a loved one. Hopefully this saves someone a little bit of time during the grieving process.

Features

  • SASS styles
  • Boostrap
  • Single page design with 404 redirect.
  • Commenting

Requirements

  • WordPress
  • Compass / gulp / grunt

Get it on github. See the site we built with it here.

2014 in review

This is my lackadaisical list of my 2014 highlights. Nothing is really in order except for how I thought about them.

  1. Our beautiful baby girl arrived in October.
  2. After nearly a year of being at SCHAWEL+COLES, I got a once in a lifetime opportunity to work at Fusion-io.
  3. My team launched an entirely new site for Fusion.
  4. Fusion-io was acquired by SanDisk, and I’m now a senior web developer building out the new SanDisk.com and other web properties.
  5. I’m helping lead our single-sign on initiative for all SanDisk web properties.
  6. I started a blog on Adobe Experience Manager over at experiencemanaged.com. I write about something I don’t know much about.
  7. I went to CA a bunch of times for work and play.
  8. I saw the Giants play the White Sox.
  9. I spent a lot of time at Adobe.
  10. We very nearly moved to CA in March, but the news of a baby changed everything.
  11. I bought a Surface Pro 3 for my birthday. I don’t know what I did without it.
  12. Sarah and I didn’t get to travel as much due to Francis being in Sarah’s belly.
  13. I re-released Tapped, my beer app for Windows Phone.
  14. I began work on Cask, a podcast app for Windows Phone.
  15. I started learning Java. Really, I learned a ton of new nerd stuff this year.
  16. I decided to start a podcast.
  17. I brewed two beers.
  18. One beer was named 10/12/14. The day Francis was born and the years the Giants have won the World Series. It has received universal praise by people whose opinion I respect tremendously.
  19. The other beer was called Rosie’s Red. Named after one of the greatest dogs, ever. It turned out great, but I only shared it with Rosie.
  20. My blog grew in readership to over 2500 unique sessions.
  21. The homepage was most popular, with my post on RestSharp was second. This should change quite a bit in 2015.
  22. 1989 was my favorite album of the year. More on this later.
  23. I can’t remember any movies blowing me away in 2014. All were OK.
  24. Did you hear? The Giants won the World Series… again.

Accept return and set page focus in Windows Phone 8.1

Just what it says on the tin. Windows Phone 8.1 changed a few things.

Important: In order for focus to work, the page’s IsTabStop property must be set to true.

Windows Phone 8

    private void beerTextBox_KeyDown(object sender, KeyEventArgs e)
        {
            if (e.Key == Key.Enter)
            {
                if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(term.Text))
                {
                    MessageBox.Show("Please enter a search term.");
                }
                else
                {
                    StartSearch();
                    this.Focus();
                }
                
            }
        }

Windows Phone 8.1

    private async void term_KeyDown(object sender, KeyRoutedEventArgs e)
        {
            if (e.Key == Windows.System.VirtualKey.Enter)
            {
                if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(term.Text))
                {
                    MessageDialog msgbox = new MessageDialog("Please enter a search term.");
                    await msgbox.ShowAsync();
                }
                else
                {
                    StartSearch();
                    this.Focus(Windows.UI.Xaml.FocusState.Programmatic);
                }
            }
        }

Podcasting for the masses

I have all of the feels when it comes to a few things. My wife, my daughter, my dogs, beer, coffee, and… podcasting. Podcasts have gotten me through a lot of tough times. I owe podcasting for a lot. I’m only now starting to give back.*

A lot of people are weighing in on podcasting right now. The mainstream success of Serial has a bit to do with it. But I think podcasting has gotten over its sophomore slump. To be fair, I think this happened in 2011 when audio quality went up and cheesy sound effects dropped.  The world has been missing a good radio replacement and I think podcasts fit perfectly. They are like a DVR for radio, but with way more diversity than you would ever get broadcasted live. I love that. In short, podcasts are what I always wanted radio to be.

Rather than drone on about my thoughts on podcasts, I’m going to link to some recent articles. These people are in the thick of the current podcasting movement. They’re (truly) independent and spend copious amounts of time making sure their podcasts are as great as something like This American Life.

Why podcasts are suddenly back

Podcasts swirling, whirling, and moving

Easy Listening


*My podcast Universal Bits is in development. My podcast app, Cask, is nearing release.