What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

ux review of chrome for iOS

Google services have been a long time coming for iOS users. While most people's immediate response to that is to say "of course, they have android" I think it's weird for google to neglect 400 million customers of their services just because they want to promote another mobile platform. Android already has a majority market share after all.

Oddly enough, Chrome became the first really native iOS app by google. Odd because Apple is severely restricting apps that compete with iOS native functionality, and the browser could be said to be more important for iOS than the actual phone app...

Chrome launched with a slew of welcome mobile optimizations for a browser that apple has since copied to their own app, safari. Syncing not only accounts, but history, tabs and even sessions didn't exist on iOS before chrome. But for all it's glory, such as less browser chrome and actually useful tabs, Chrome also has a number of weaknesses.

Tab refresh

When I switch between tabs in chrome, something goes terribly wrong. For all the fast loading and fast tab switching goes straight out the window as I am forced to wait for a page refresh. This might sound like it makes sense as first, most pages need to be refreshed before I can see any new content after all? But I often switch between apps, while reading, looking something up or for any other reason. The several clicks and wait that safari makes me do to access my other tab is bad enough. Forcing me to wait for a full refresh, and especially on a mobile network, just breaks the experience. Why would I keep waiting? F this. I'll be on Facebook.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the same way, but I haven't gotten any word from google on whether they are working on this or not.

The dark UI

Google has always had a light, cheerful, design aesthetic. It might not fit everyone but its google. With recent android generations they've stepped back from this to offer a darkes, softer, design. Chrome fits perfectly into this. Except of course, that its on iOS where nothing is dark.

Not only does the app look like android rather than google, but it doesn't fit into its environment at all. It's I'd just a plain bad design decision. With the reasons why painfully obvious.

Summery

Just a few days ago Google released new, native, apps for gmail and YouTube on iOS. Both of these apps show a lot of promise, especially for design. So I'm hopeful that google will get around to fixing these issues with chrome soon.

Though I still wonder why google feels its services are worth more to customers on android? Int google all about the services? Why deny iOS users google now? I'm a google ecosystem user since 2007, nothing so far has made me change my mind. I'm also an apple device user since years back. Apple allows me to use google services, why won't google?

The awesome new Google Mobile site - Google Mobile goes Local

When I roam around a city (which rarely happens I promise think) I often find myself wishing there was a good way to search for local services (coffee shops, bars, restaurants). This unicorn has never appeared though. Local seemed to be impossible with current tech.

Then I was on the subway this morning. And a tweet lead me to Google Mobile, below the search bar I found something odd...

Google Mobile Start page

It said log in. And it asked for my location (sorry about the Swedish btw, I'm in Sweden so Google assumes I prefer the deprecated language over English).

Now I've used Google Places before and I was not impressed. There simply isn't enough aggregated data in Stockholm for it to work. Well that's what I thought.

I logged in and pressed the icon marked "Cafe's". Lo and behold! Google quickly returned Coffee shops close to my location, on a map even!

Google Mobile Local Results

Now this is impressive. But what is a lot more impressive is what happened next. I scroll down the list and instead of just finding aggregated information, which I come to expect from Google, I'm shown an impressive interface of detailed information and functions for each location.

Google Mobile Location results list 1Google Mobile Location results list 2

Not only can I call the location directly from the app, I can also find reviews directly. But this is the most impressive part: the item on top of the list is shown on the map (which stays at the top as you scroll) and an overlay button appears letting me find Directions to the location...

This post is quite probably the worst I've ever written, and that is because I'm completely blown away by the UX of this SERP.

Google has really understood what I want out of a local search and given me the tools I need to use the information they present me with. A level of user experience I've never seen from Google and would only expect from the very best Apple products.

Google, I salute you. Keep this up!

 

Google+ review: Why Google+ will fail

Google+ is the new social network launched by Google. Despite having a track record of broken dreams and train wrecks in the social space, Google has actually managed to put together a quite compelling product. A lot of the tech industry is claiming it really is a Facebook killer.

Here's why it's not

Google+ is basically a clone of Facebook. So much of the service is nearly identical that it would be silly to claim otherwise. Now this might be because Google is lazy, or it might be that Facebook has found a good way to view social information. I'm more inclined to the latter.

But similarity won't get new users, they'll understand Google+ easier (an important argument) but they won't stay for that. So what stands out?

Circles, Sparks, Huddles and Hangouts

Circles are central to the Google+ experience. To share or follow anyone you have to assign them to a circle or group. The idea is that if all your friends are in groups from the start, having more control of what you share to whom is a lot simpler.

Google Plus Circles

That's a great idea. Sadly it's really annoying and adds work for the users. Every time you post something you have to choose which circles to share with. The ones you shared with last are offered as a default. I'll bet that most people will add most if not all their circles and then never change. The reason for this is that we don't share if sharing is to much work. That's why social networking took off in the first place, they made it easier to share stuff we liked. Google+ is making it harder than on Facebook. Not a compelling argument for most people.

Sparks

Sparks are topics of interest that you can follow and get all the new information on right inside Google+. This is a great idea. Having content in the social network, ready to be shared.

Google+ Sparks

There is a problem. It's basically just a Google search. So there's very little filtration of content and hardly ever anything new. Google+ is still a beta so this could evolve to a killer feature. But for Google to invent a new type of search just for content in Google+... I don't think that'll happen.

Huddles

Huddles are group messaging. Yeah. Another one... And for some reason it only works on mobile devices, they don't show up in the web interface. So basically a bit less useable than Facebook chat.

Google+ Huddle

Hangout

Hangouts are amazing. Hangouts are video chatroom that you can start at any time and than jump in and out of and just talk to people. Amazing tech.

Google+ Hangout

But a stupid idea. Why? I don't understand why companies keep dragging the video-calling, video-chatting ideas out every time they get more tech. The trend in general is moving from voice to text because it is less intrusive.

Intrusive is basically the definition of having friends looking at you while you work.

"But chat roulette was a hit!?"  I hear you desperately cry. Yes it was. Because it's for fun it was quick to just spend a half hour jumping in and out of conversations or charades with dicks random people. But do you want to do that with just your friends? Probably not.

It is however an even simpler way to have video conferencing, which inside Google must seem like the thing everyone wants to do. I've never met someone who would like that. But I'm sure those people will be thrilled. I'll use it to have drinking nights with my buddies in the UK no doubt.

Summing up

So far Google+ looks like a great, clean, new social network. With absolutely nothing to make it more useable than Facebook.

The only reason people loves this product is because it says Google right there on the logo.

But we should give it the benefit of a doubt, it's still just a beta, it might be missing features or showing us features that are far from finished.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be on it. It's just that I don't use it at all.

Real time search - the problem

Both Google and Microsoft's new search service Bing has partnered with Twitter to provide real-time search results for queries. This is great news for finding valuable information but it also creates new problems to overcome; filtering out the irrelevant data. Search today is based on relevance through counting the number of links to and from a site. This relevance also weights the linked sites. This is the basic idea behind Google's PageRank system. But its fundamentally flawed, namely the older the site the more information and weight it can get. Google has of course tried to minimize this affect but it's still visible when searching for certain topics.  Google "next apple event" for an example. The search result is completely useless.

Twitter however has the opposite problem. Without a system like PageRank to value the posts a lot of relevance comes from time. The latest posts are the most relevant. But this also means that topics that aren't current might not yield any relevant information available. So the time problem is reversed from Google's PageRank time problem.

So how will we solve this? Well, I don't have a definitive answer of course. But I've more and more come to believe in crowd sourcing as a means to get accurate data. Perhaps relevance can be calculated not from the content itself but from how we interact with it. If users can be filtered out from bots (usage patterns for bots are really hard to mask over time since the cloud could potentially remember ever mouse move they make) relevance could be weighted from number of users who actually read or view the content.

No doubt Google has teams working on this. And no doubt they will eventually buy some small startup doing it a lot smarter than they are. It's an interesting problem nevertheless.

Google releasing Chrome OS for netbooks

My first thought: "Google OS, great! Go google! Wait, haven't googles products got steadily less and less stable and good as the company has expanded? oh well..." Then I realize this is another OS on an already shattered market (PC/laptop). Of course it's based upon Linux but it doesn't support a lot of heavy features. Basically it's made to boot an Internet browser and nothing else.  This is, of course, Google's stratagem and has been from the start. And I see their point, web apps are steadily taking over functions I used desktop apps for earlier.

But there is a long way to go, web apps are just not responsive enough for smaller tasks, I use notepad, and Things. Programs that are snappy. I haven't seen anything web based that comes close to them in responsiveness.

Maybe HTML 5 can speed things along.

Anyone having problems with chrome?

I'm having some problems with google chrome:

  • Some javascript web applications freeze for a second or two now and again.
  • CSS color updates (for backgrounds) are really slow in some web applications (www.rememberthemilk.com)
  • I can't use blogger, it tells me that javascript in my browser has been disabled... LoL! :)

Anyone else having problems? Sure this is a beta, but with regards to their launch information that stated that they had better QA then any other browser application it's really weird that these simple problems should trickle through. Or are they extremely advanced problems with simple symptoms?

Google chrome

Everyone is discussing it but I still have to mention the fact.Google has just released Google Chrome, a web browser with some interesting features. For example each tab in the very streamlined interface is a seperate process, quite similar to having several browser windows up at the same time. The effect is that you can free up memory without having to restart the entire application as well as one crashing tab will not crash the rest of the program.

It's built on apples webkit and is extemely fast. It also has a completely new virtual machine for javascript which should speed up web applications a bunch. Though I haven't seen that at all so far.

A good friend of mine said this morning: "Google is taking over the world. They'll launch an OS soon". My reply was that he'd already missed it. Google doesn't need an OS, they've already created one through the web using cloud computing. Soon everyone will have a linux based netbook, the only common ground will be the web. And guess who will rule supreme with their new browser fastest on the net? :)

There are a lot of worse rulers mind you...

Knols and articles

Google has justed started a new service called Knol. Knols are basically articles that can be edited by the author or everyone depending on what setting the author chose. I've read that knol is supposed to be a competitor to Wikipedia but I don't see how google intends to compete with the amount of content already on wikipedia.

One good things though is that Knol will allow me to write the articles I've been promising for you online through drafts and invite reviewers to check them before I post them on this blog. Which will push me to finalize the articles a lot sooner.

But the post about difficulty level is still coming, probably this Wednesday. I'm also glad to announce that a lengthier article about the decline of creativity in MMOG design is coming. And soon, because I can't stop thinking about it.