Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

Minimal GPS for a Motorbike

June 30, 2018

As a motorcyclist I often need a GPS to help get somewhere. I don’t want or need a dedicated unit because (a) they’re expensive and (b) Google Maps, Waze, or Here on my phone are rock solid and why would I want to pay for something that doesn’t do as good a job. Yes, I know they need phone coverage for live traffic routing, and apart from Here they don’t have a good download/off-line solution, but its rare that I have no coverage with my riding (YMMV of course).

What I don’t like though is clunky phone mounts that leave my expensive pocket computer at the mercy of the weather, stone chips, and taking a tumble if I don’t get it properly secured. And to be honest, while the mapping apps have great UX for a car driver or pedestrian, as a motorcyclist I really want a very focussed, minimalistic UI so minimize distraction.

I think my ideal solution would be a small waterproof/shockproof device, that has versatile mounting options (to cater for everything from pushbikes, to scooters, to Cruisers, Tourers, or Street Bikes), can be powered from the bike and/or contain a rechargeable battery, that supports Bluetooth (4.x/LE) to be driven from the phone and has an eInk display with a photocell and backlight for automatically providing good visibility in any lighting condition.

The display would show just the basics of what I need to navigate – the turn I’m coming up to (and how far away it is, and ideally an indication of what comes after that if it’s going to be in close proximity), what lane I need to be in (especially helpful for roundabouts or complex junctions) and not much else. Speed limit reminders, clock, time to destination, and other notifications would be handy but optional (my bike has a clock so I’d be happy to have the screen real estate optimized to not show that, but as my previous bike didn’t have one I would have liked it, so let the rider decide).

While I’m not a fan of notifications about text messages, emails, snapchats etc I can see the benefit of a non-obtrusive icon to allow filtered notifications (eg let me know my family is trying to get hold of me).

Sadly I think we’re stuck with a catch-22. Without a hardware device to display this information there’s no incentive for Google, Apple, or Here to add support for a minimal external display to their Maps apps, and without the APIs or support in the apps to pipe minimal directions and graphics then it’s hard to see anyone going to the expense of creating the device.

As we slowly get to a future where HUD displays become more of a reality for motorcyclists (I always wanted to try Google Glass in that scenario) having this minimal UX available to project in that limited space would be a great way for a mapping provider to win hearts and minds of a sizable community…

Update: Looks like there’s a possible solution in the Beeline Moto … pledged for one of these so maybe it’ll answer my need (though not sure if the single arrow display is too minimal)

Calendars still need too much thought

June 27, 2018

Scheduling a meeting is a pain. Finding free spots on people’s calendars can be difficult especially with a distributed team that might span a couple of timezones. Another wrinkle is being able to combine work and personal calendars to avoid needing to try and keep things like dentist appointments in sync across both. I’ve yet to find a calendaring app that deals particularly well with these sorts of real-world problems.

Having the ability to “share, but not co-mingle” work and personal calendars would be great. By default personal appointments would be private but visible to the owner, and editing in either the work or private calendar would sync (across systems and domains – don’t expect people to do everything in just Google or Exchange). Only personal appointment specifically marked as ‘blocking’ would show as unavailable during work hours (but when viewing a calendar request I’d see any work or personal appointments that might conflict).

I have an added level of complexity for scheduling though. I travel quite a lot, and often in very different timezones so scheduling a meeting (or letting other people book my time) can be complicated. It shouldn’t be, computers really should be able to help us with things like this.

If my travel plans are available, there is a way to find out when I’m on flights (and Outlook does a pretty good job of understanding the reservation emails and blocking out my calendar) so it knows where I’ll be… why not adjust my ‘work hours’ to local time and make that availability visible to people trying to schedule appointments to avoid the need for me to reply and try and reschedule (often multiple people).

Calendaring is such a fundamental part of everyones lives, it seems strange that despite lots of pretty UI changes and the ability to import holidays the capabilities haven’t really improved that much since the tools I was using in 1999 to todays systems.

Could Skype be the one communications client to rule them all?

June 23, 2014

Google has Google Voice (soon to be part of Hangouts, expanding their footprint for the ailing – or morphing – Google+ by forcing users to switch), Facebook has their Messenger client, there’s Viber and Line in the Voice space and WhatsApp and SnapChat delivering text and image messaging. The iPhone has Visual Voicemail and iMessage. Where is Microsoft fit in all of this? (more…)

Why I uninstalled Facebook – and your app might be next

January 14, 2014

For all it’s pretentious narcissism Facebook provides a level of utility. It also needs to build a business to pay for those servers, engineers and lavish parties. But there comes a point when building an empire that is minting billionaires on the back of a business model that’s predicated on crossing the line into creepy just becomes wrong.

If I use the web experience it gets what I explicitly chose to tell it – what I add to my profile, and post to my wall or message my friends. And I’m comfortable with that. It’s a trade-off – I give them some information, they serve me some ads and I get some value.

On my phone though it’s a different story: (more…)

Keeping a-head in the clouds

November 19, 2013

One of the great things about developing on today’s cloud platforms is elastic computing. You never know what the peaks are going to look like, but you don’t want to pay for hardware you’ll only use once in a blue moon. So you opt for a dynamically adaptive scalable solution.

If you’re read any of my posts about jsErrLog (or “jsErrLog posts” if it’s still down) you’ll know that’s what I did for that service. As I’m offering it for free to anyone with a reasonable load I needed something as cost effective as possible (ie free!). When I built it I looked at Windows Azure, Amazon’s EC2, a few smaller options, Virtual Private Servers and finally settled on Google AppEngine – in common with the others it offered a number of options for programming languages and data storage but the big bonus was a no-nonsense the free tier.

Sometimes however things don’t go quite as planned…


Mobile Browsers getting better

December 14, 2011

After struggling for years with sub-par browsers on small screen devices Apple did a good job raising the bar with Safari on the iPhone and now iPad. Google for some reason stumbled a little out of the gate with the browser on Android – rather than take their existing and proven Chrome they delivered an older and less capable core and it looks like only now with the 4.x generation devices that they’re finally starting to improve things (though that doesn’t help the 80-90% of their existing user base who will never get an upgrade to the latest goodness)

With the initial release of Windows Phone 7 it seemed like Microsoft had fallen into the trap of not treating mobile browsing as a first class experience and they shipped an IE7-like browser. That changed however with the release of v7.5 “Mango” which brought the full capabilities of IE9 (arguably the most standard adherent HTML5 browser) to the platform.

With people paying more attention to the mobile browser evolution and digging into capabilities (such as this review from Sencha) and arguing that the mobile web is not going away any time soon it would be great to see how the "Mango" with IE9 stacks up in these tests against the other two… Would be great to see Sencha or similar run their tests against all three? So far playing around with IE9 in Mango, it seems to do a really good job in most situations but I’ve not drilled down to quite the level of detail that they have yet.

CR-48: Unstable isotope or something more lasting

December 23, 2010

Hot on the heels of the very successful Android mobile phone operating system from Google comes ChromeOS. The bastard off-spring of an operating system and a browser it’s certainly something different, and given that it’s less than a year old and the hardware it’s running on really is bare bones it’s still quite hard to pin down if it’s going to be just a failed experiment like Wave or something more compelling that makes Apple and Microsoft push their primary operating systems even further.

ChromeOS is essentially the Chromium browser (the fully Open Source version of Google’s Chrome browser) running on a heavily customized and optimized Linux shell – Google hope that very few people will ever see what’s behind the browser windows.

The first most of the world has seen is ChromeOS running on the Pilot program laptop – the CR-48 (an unstable isotope of Chromium, and possible a joke at Apple’s expense – the iPad internal codename was K48). It’s an interesting mix of hardware in a shell that’s reminiscent of a contemporary MacBook. The bad are the VGA connector (rather than DVI or HDMI) and a truly horrible trackpad. The good are the built-in 3G wireless (the pilot program comes with 2 years of free Verizon data, only 100MB/mo but not to be sneezed at)., great battery life and the keyboard.

It’s tough to asses ChromeOS independently of the hardware it’s running on, but the performance of this strange piece of hardware is very good. Startup to usable (eg being able to send an email) is about 10 seconds. Shutdown to sleep is virtually instant. The keyboard is a little strange, with the Caps Lock key replaced with a “search” button, and where you expect to find the function keys some dedicated, browser centric buttons – back, forward, refresh, full screen, next window; and then brightness and volume controls. With the unusual layout the only thing I noticed was no quick key combinations to get to start/end of a line or top/bottom of a document (or page up/down) but I’m sure that could be a simple tweak.

With only a single USB connection it’s a little disappointing that the built in Bluetooth capabilities are not exposed in the OS – no way to pair a headset or a mouse. I was able to use a USB mouse with the laptop, but my USB headset wasn’t recognized. The video camera is what you’d expect on a fairly low-end laptop.

But… we don’t really care about the hardware. Is ChromeOS going to be a game changer, or just an interesting but ultimately doomed experiment?

After a few days with it, I still can’t tell for sure. There are some things it does really well. And there are some things that drive me insane and have me reaching for my Windows 7 powered MacBook Pro.

The good is, quite simply, the web. It’s a great browsing experience, with nothing to distract you. Multiple tabs, and multiple windows and quick and easy to find your way around.

The bad is… well, ironically, the web. Because ChromeOS is essentially an OS with a Browser for the GUI and no native apps as such you are limited to what you can do in a browser.

Normally while writing this I would have had

  • a couple of tabs running. Well, that worked fine.
  • music – usually VLC tuned to a station. That’s a problem. No VLC (or any standalone music player). I found the Chrome Radio Player extension which does stream… but only on Windows, Mac or Linux and only if you have installed VLC or Windows Media Player. Luckily I found a Pandora extension
  • something to manipulate images. Well, kinda. No MS Paint here. You have to find the image you want on the web, and manipulate it in the cloud. There’s no local storage for you to save your artwork away to upload to the blog later.
  • An IM client. Digsby by choice. It lets me chat on MSN, GTalk, Facebook Chat, as well as keep up with Twitter and Facebook. So far I’ve not found a good IM equivalent (eBuddy has promise but not a patch on Digsby). Chromed Bird is a nice extension for Twitter though.
  • Email notifications to interrupt me. Luckily there are lots of Gmail notifiers, and I found one that talks to Exchange, but doesn’t seem to like staying logged in. Close but not quite perfect.
  • An app to write this post in. Windows Live Writer or even Outlook. At least Posterous has a web interface so I could write this.

At the end of the day the frustration comes from the lack of real utility apps – no IM, no music player; the lack of local storage and the reliance on the cloud for everything – you can’t even log in without a web connection, and what happens if you want to draft an email on a plane or at a retreat with no Wifi or Verizon coverage?

I think that ChromeOS certain will move the bar in terms of battery life and performance, and for many people it will be a useful web-centric environment for checking Facebook and webmail, but in order for it to make a real dent there needs to be a lot of work solving the problems that “real” OSes have made appear simple… an app framework that goes beyond bookmarks to web pages and some extensions that, so far, are a little rough round the edges. Oh, and fixing the app store so it’s clear if apps work on ChromeOS or only really work in Chrome running on a real operating system.