I've backed 27 projects on Kickstarter since joining the service in November of 2010. One of those 27 was unsuccessful (and grossly unsuccessful that that, only reaching 2% of its goal), and five are currently in progress, though they've all met their goals so they will succeed. I love Kickstarter. Unfortunately, the level of quality of the funded products has been hit or miss. A few have been real winners, but most have been so-so and a few were downright terrible.
Let's start with the good stuff
The TikTok+LunaTik Multi-Touch Watch Kits project was my first on Kickstarter and it was amazing. The build-quality of these watch bands was top-notch. The guys at MINIMAL know their way around building a solid product, and the LunaTik was especially nice. Based on the success of this project, it's not surprising I backed the MINIMAL crew again when their LunaTik Touch Pen project launched. I haven't received that product yet, but I'm hoping it will impress me the way the watch bands did.
The Manual, by Andy McMillan, is a gorgeous, independently-produced design journal. The first volume was beautiful. I've since gone on to order the second volume, and plan to do so with the rest of the series.
The Oona is a simple mount for your iPhone 4/S that uses suction cups to hold it to a variety of surfaces. Works exactly as described, and is well made. I just never use it because I never have reason to.
The Cosmonaut is a “wide-grip” stylus that looks a lot like a dry-erase marker. I loved the idea and the size of this stylus, but it didn't work out as well as I had hoped. My first Cosmonaut wouldn't work unless I pressed very hard–a manufacturing defect–and the stylus itself is very heavy and fatigues my hand after even a few minutes of use, especially if I'm lying in bed.
GoPano micro, a 360° video recording device, is a very cool idea, marred by some hardware and software issues. The hardware works decently, but the video captured is usually pretty blurry and distorted. The ability to pan around 360° in a video is definitely amazing, but it requires proprietary software and Adobe Flash players to do so, which means it's hard to share the contents with anyone.
Red Pop, which was eventually renamed POPA, is an attachment for your iPhone that gives you a big red shutter button for taking photos. Only it requires you use the POPA photo app, which is terrible (and crash-prone). And you can't use it with a case. And it's hard to get it onto and off of the phone.
Dark Sky, an iOS app, predicts precipitation. You give it your location, and it can tell you if it might start raining in the next hour. Cool idea, but this app provides you with nothing else, not even the current temperature. Which means if you want to use Dark Sky as your weather app, you'll need another app to tell you, you know, the weather. It's a great idea and the app looks nice, but it focuses on one tiny fragment of the bigger picture and that makes it hard to justify keeping it on my home screen.
LUMI Mask, the “sleep mask that wakes you up” is a neat idea–you wear the mask when you go to sleep and set an alarm which will slowly brighten LED lights inside the mask to wake you up gradually. Unfortunately, the product is broken, poorly designed and even more poorly manufactured. Everything about the LUMI Mask I received screamed cheap–the packaging was a plastic bag, the printed materials looked like they came from a home printer, and the mask itself was poorly manufactured and cheap looking. It wasn't comfortable. And the worst part is that didn't work at described. Setting the alarm was a pain and then you did, sometimes it just wouldn't go off. If you were lucky and it did go off, instead of slowly brightening the LEDs, they'd simply go from off to full blast, which is quite a terrible way to be awoken. Insanely bright light two millimeters from your eyeballs when you're deep does not make for a pleasant morning. LUMI claims they're working on a new version of the mask, but I'm not hopeful.
iPen is absolutely terrible. It doesn't work at all, it's poorly made, and the company behind it, Cregle, seems sketchy as hell. Of course, when you back a project, you don't know how poorly it can go. iPen's project is the worst I've experienced on Kickstarter.
Hope for the future
Many of the projects I've backed haven't been finished or shipped yet, so I'm unsure of the outcome.
Urbio Vertical Garden was funded in May of 2011. Still haven't see this product arrive at my doorstep. I've been looking forward to hanging pathetic little succulents on the wall of my office since back when we lived in New Jersey.
Hidden Radio & Bluetooth Speaker, funded in January, still in production. This little speaker looks amazing. Based on how poorly the Jambox performs for me, I have a feeling this won't wow me, but I'm holding out hope.
The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero is a book about design. I'm excited to read it when it's ready. Frank's a good writer and I sort of like design. Sort of. (Alright, I love it.)
Geode from iCache is a dream I've had for years, potentially fulfilled at long last. If this thing works as well as they depict it, goodbye wallet.
Kickstarter can't guarantee the projects you back will produce products with a level of quality/usefulness you wish for, but the ability to help individuals or small companies design, build and release products they never could have without support keeps me coming back for more.
Not every product will be terrific, but every time I hit that “Back this Project” button I'm filled with a little hope.
Thank you for purchasing the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, and helping to make it the most popular Android based tablet since its launch in December 2011.
You pathetic sucker.
We greatly appreciate feedback about our products from you, and we take this feedback very seriously. The response to the Transformer Prime generally has been overwhelmingly positive, but we understand that, in certain situations, the GPS functionality has not met some users’ expectations.
Of the 112 people who bought an ASUS Transformer Prime, 110 sent us an email saying GPS on this device “sucks balls” and “doesn't work at all, pretty much” and “seriously, why did I buy this and am I really surprised?” But otherwise, emails we received were pretty positive. One guy wrote, “I accidentally ordered this in a drunken haze.”
Although the Transformer Prime is not a professional GPS device, as part of our unwavering commitment to customers we are offering all Transformer Prime owners a free external GPS extension kit, called a dongle, which may help improve signal reception and optimize the user experience.
We'd love to be able to write “will definitely improve signal reception” but legal has informed us lying isn't a good idea at this point.
We are pleased to announce this offer as part of our commitment to customer service, but it does not replace, alter or amend any existing warranties you may have.
We can't even guarantee this awful dongle will work. In fact, we so thoroughly believe in it won't we're not even going to add to your warranty. We're throwing you a life saver here, jerk, why do you keep focusing on the fact that it's on fire? JUST GRAB IT.
ASUS prides itself on delivering an unrivalled user experience, and we offer our sincere apologies for any inconvenience that our customers may have encountered.
Recently, I posted a job listing for an iOS Developer position at Karbon. We've received some great applications so far, and it has been a lot of fun to read résumés and look at the amazing work folks in this field are doing.
Yesterday, my business line rang, and on the other end of the line someone asked if I was still hiring for the iOS Developer position. I confirmed we were. “Great! I have a great applicant and I would love to discuss his qualifications with you.” Ugh, I thought. Recruiter. I made it clear we weren't accepting applications from recruiters, which I had to say several times because of the arguments coming from the other end of the line, and then I hung up. Before I did, I said, “If the guy you're talking about feels he'd be a good fit for the job, tell him to apply directly.” This did not go over well.
I'm not a heartless bastard
I know it can be hard to find work, and I know why people turn to these firms. In fact, I've done it myself in the past. In 2003, after being hounded by several recruiters because of a résumé I posted on Monster.com, I decided to give it a shot and see what they could do for me. I learned enough in the two weeks I spent with various firms to know I would never want to deal with recruitment agencies again for finding work or for finding employees.
The most offensive thing recruitment firms tend to do is lie. They ask job-seekers for plain-text versions of their résumés and then they modify them to fit the necessary skill-set for jobs they'd like you to go after. They usually claim they need plain-text versions for email convenience, but I was once accidentally Ccd on an email a recruiter sent on my behalf to a design agency, and they had modified most aspects of the document, including programming languages I knew and various bullet points for recent positions. They even changed dates on certain job entries to make it look like I had worked longer at places I hadn't.
I assumed this was something unique to this one recruitment firm, so I stopped working with that particular company. But, shortly after, I was asked an odd question about some of my experience in an interview and realized another firm had done the same thing. The better a recruiter can make your résumé look for a job, the more likely they are to get paid.
And that's another thing: Recruiters often tell you to ask for more money than the position is offering. I would frequently hear something along the lines of “the position pays $65k, but I think we can get you $80k, so don't worry about it.” At first, this sounds terrific–more money!–but then you realize the recruiter only wants you to get a higher salary so his/her cut, which is usually at least 30% of your first year's salary. If you accept that $65k/year job, your recruiter's firm is going to make a cool $19,500 off the deal. Is the 20-30 hours they spent helping you find a job really worth that much? Considering most recruiters found me via hanging out on Monster.com, and most of the jobs they found me where also available there, I'd say no.
I want to talk to you, not someone else
When you deal with recruiters, you put a middle-man between yourself and the hirer, and the middle-man is purely concerned with getting as much cash out of the deal as they can. They're not on your side–they don't care about what you want to do or what you're interested in–they just want you hired ASAP. This is not conducive to long-term happiness.
These days, between Monster.com and similar services and various job boards, if you want to find job listings it's pretty easy. When you apply directly, you're able to truly represent yourself and make a fair amount of money that goes directly to you. You win, and the employer wins.
Apple clearly intends for you to always be available for iMessages—case in point, Messages on the Mac will continue to receive messages even when it’s not open, displaying an unread count on its Dock icon.
Which inevitably leads to the bad thing about Messages:
That also means that we get the same message on multiple devices—for me, up to four or five—at the same time, along with a cavalcade of alert sounds.
Which, of course, leads to hope Apple might one day solve this:
Figuring out which device we’re using at any given time is a challenging problem for Apple to solve, but in the meantime, the least it can do is give us an option to avoid being deluged with pop-up alerts and chimes on every device.
And the realization that Messages is not really suited for being part of iChat:
So why not two separate apps? Keep iChat the way it is, for instant messaging, and have a new FaceTime-iMessage combo. Call it FaceMessage—I don’t know, I’m not some sort of nameologist.
All of which causes me to state, for the record, I agree. The current implementation of Messages on OS X is a mess of convenience and insanity, which creates a fun situation where it's so much easier to message a friend with an iPhone or iPad when I'm at my computer that I use Messages rather than grabbing my iOS device but then become instantly annoyed when they reply and I hear a message alert sound from every single room in my apartment.
I'm not sure Apple can solve this. How could they properly detect I'm using Messages on my Mac and therefore don't want my iOS devices to chime? And what about the cases where I send a message from my Mac but the person doesn't respond for 15 minutes, by which time I'm in my car (and want my iPhone to chime)? If they simply add a toggle in Messages for Mac that allows me to say, “Hey, I'm on this guy, don't bug my sleeping iPhone”, does that mean if I forget to toggle it back when I walk away I'll never know my Aunt Mary is messaging me with an emergency?
I'm not a scientist, but this sounds like an insurmountable challenge to me. For now, I think if we want Messages on our computers, we're going to have to put up with the alert sound jam session.
I've been using this thing since Friday morning. I should say, right off the bat, that everything in me wants to return it purely based on the way it looks.
It's a hideous beast, a giant black plastic monster, ruining my pleasant and clean modern setup. It has a cord (yuck) and a built-in USB hub (yuck, but at least useful). It is roughly twice the length of my Apple Wireless Keyboard, and about three times thicker all told, which makes for just this giant, giant keyboard. It has a number pad, which I've gotten used to not having, separate arrow and home/end/pgup/pgdown buttons, all these things I left behind a few years back when I went with Apple's Bluetooth keyboard and Apple laptops. This big hunk of plastic is really cramping my style.
And the click-clack–I'm nearly deaf over here. It's very loud. My wife says she can't hear it from the living room or when she's in bed, but she's kind of hard of hearing anyway and my office is off a very long hallway… if our bedroom where one wall away, there's no chance she could sleep with me typing on this bastard. Every sentence I write is a cacophony of plastic, metal and god knows what else yelling out. It sounds like I'm bashing in the brains of an army of plastic midgets.
I'll tell you this, friends: It's hideous and it's loud and it's heavy and it's huge… but I love typing on it. I love the feeling of rattling off a long paragraph of text uninterrupted while the air is filled with insanely loud clacking and I love the way the keys feel as I strike them. If I can just control my gag reflex each morning when I walk into the office and see the thing, everything will work out just fine.
We can't have nice things. We can't have small design companies who make kick-ass products, we can't have new ideas or features or applications. We can't have any of these things because Facebook is an internet juggernaut, slowly rolling over everyone and everything.
I complained a few years ago about Facebook steamrolling check-in apps when they released their “Places” product, which was basically a simple version of what other apps like Foursquare and Gowalla were already doing really well (I'm aware of the irony that Facebook later acquired Gowalla):
And, most recently, Facebook launched Places, competing with Foursquare and Gowalla (my favorite). Places launched and 20 minutes later nearly everyone in my Facebook friends list had already checked in. It’s not that Facebook’s Places feature is bad, it’s just that it’s boring. It’s nothing special. They didn’t do it better than anyone else.
That’s the problem with Facebook. They are slowly destroying independent web applications with boring versions that immediately win due to Facebook’s population (which at this point is the 3rd largest country on earth). There’s no demand for excellence.
I've come to realize I was wrong when I wrote that last bit. There very much is a demand for excellence inside Facebook, and it was ridiculous of me to declare otherwise. Facebook is constantly revising their UI/UX and for the most part, they're doing a terrific job. Their design sensibilities are minimalistic, but that doesn't make them any less excellent. The problem is that while they do an excellent job of hitting their desired goals with design and products, they don't set their goals high enough to begin with.
When Facebook launched Places, they simply implemented the bare minimum feature set to compete in the marketplace, and included the requisite friend tagging functionality all Facebook products have. This is fine and functional, but if you're going to compete with existing, excellent products, why only match their current features? Why not make your product even better? Why lean on the “we have more users so we automatically win” excuse?
When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs said:
Now, software on mobile phones is like baby software. It’s not so powerful. And today, we’re going to show you a software breakthrough. Software that’s at least 5 years ahead of what’s on any other phone.
Apple could have released a mobile operating system on par with Nokia's Symbian or RIM's Blackberry OS, but they didn't. They went far above and beyond to create a product wholly unique and new, one that was significantly better than the competition's. I wish for this to be Facebook's goal when they release a new product. It rarely seems to be.
Hey, it's a business!
Facebook wants to grow their user count and increase page views and the amount of time you spend on the site. They eventually want to be the only site you visit on the internet. Open Facebook to get your mail, your instant messaging, your news, your music, your video chat, your photos, your videos, your games. This makes perfect sense–Facebook is a business after all–the more users they have and the more time is spent on the site, the more money they make.
But is Facebook being this large beneficial for users in the long run? Do we want to spend all of our time on one site run by one large group of designers and developers with one design direction and one central objectives checklist? Do we want every product or service we enjoy using to be swallowed up by this mega-corporation and folded into their already exhaustive feature set? Are we okay with the inevitable process of removing unique details from these products as they get rebranded and modified to fit into the Facebook aesthetic? Do we want to constantly worry an application we love could be destroyed at any moment because Facebook decides it wants to control that particular market and leverages its billion users? The answer for me, to all of those questions, is no.
But why sell Instagram?
I think we all know the real answer: Instagram couldn't make any money. They had 27 million users and they still weren't making a dime. It doesn't sound like they had any real strategies for doing so, either. In fact, just before their acquisition, Instagram closed another $50M in funding.
A two year old company with nearly 30 million users on multiple mobile platforms still not making a dime and continuing to take millions of dollars in funding? Yeah, selling to Facebook was probably a good call. In the end, though, I think there's a high likelihood users lose in this deal.
Just a quick note: If you're the type of person who would rather follow a Twitter account than an RSS feed to get notified every time I post something to this site, you should follow @gmurrayfeed. Of course, the RSS feed is available as well.
And while we're at it, you should follow my personal account on Twitter (@garrettmurray) where I complain about the weather on a regular basis (not really, but kind of).
It took me about two weeks to feel completely comfortable with the “natural” scrolling system in OS X 10.7 Lion. When I first installed the developer beta, I changed the default setting back to the old way (scroll down, go down). But when Lion was released to the public, and everyone decided to switch, I figured it was a good idea to get on board. After all, if this is what Apple was going to consider normal moving forward, it would be in my best interest not to fight it. It was a tough first week–nearly ten years of muscle memory is hard to overcome, but I eventually got the swing of it. And of course, I immediately installed scroll reversers on every non-Lion machine I used. As any ex-smoker will tell you, quitting only works if you do it the whole way.
I was recently asked why I thought Apple made this change. Was it really the better way to scroll, or did they just decide it should be the better way. I don't know the answer. But I do know there are a lot of people using iPhones and iPads (myself included), and the way we interact with those devices makes a hell of a lot of sense. When you want to see more of a view, you push it up the screen revealing more below. It's intrinsic, much like moving a newspaper vertically in your hand to read a story on the bottom of the page. On a computer with a non-touch display, this way of scrolling isn't quite as logical. Your hands are manipulating an object not directly tied to the screen–the level of disconnect requires some thought. When you rotate your scroll wheel up, which direction should the content move? In the 90s, when scroll wheels first came to market, up was clearly the correct answer. The scroll wheel is an extension of the screen's focus, but it is not the screen or content itself. If you had told someone in 1995 that scrolling up on the wheel would move the content down, they would have thought you were nuts.
Perhaps wheels themselves make this conundrum much trickier. The jump from old-style scrolling to “natural” scrolling felt less painful because I use a Magic Mouse and a Magic Trackpad, both of which are touch-based surfaces without moving scroll parts. When you want to scroll on the Magic Mouse, you swipe on the surface of the mouse. While I'm still not touching the actual screen, the gesture is far closer to synonymous. It doesn't take much of a logic leap to imagine my fingers are swiping the screen itself, which makes the “natural” scrolling feel exactly like it does on iOS.
Long-term, I think Apple made the right decision. As all television and movies have shown us, in the future, at some point, our computers will use a combination of voice control and touch, and not a lot of mice. Have you ever seen a sci-fi show or movie that takes place more than 10 years from the present where people are using computer mice? It's ridiculous. Moving a cursor around the screen with a small chunk of plastic made sense in 1984, but the closer we get to 2020, the less necessary it feels for average people–just look at how many people use an iPad as their primary machine.
If you will, allow me a few final thoughts on the subject:
There are a few strange things that come from using “natural” scrolling on the Mac, and most are related to applications that assume scrolling directions go the old way. The biggest issue I face on a regular basis in in Google Maps, where scrolling up zooms in and down zooms out. Only with “natural” scrolling enabled, the actions are backward. If you flick up on your Magic Mouse, Maps will zoom out. For some reason, my brain wants this to work the opposite. But if you abstract what's happening, it actually makes more sense–flicking up (toward the screen) pushes the map back (zooms out) and flicking down (toward you) pulls the map in (zooms in). Or at least in theory this makes sense. But I've been trying to tell my brain for months and it still doesn't take. I always start by accidentally zooming out and then zooming in.
And what about the scrollbars? Lion hides them by default, but when they appear, they feel backward to me. I flick up on my mouse to scroll down, but when I grab a scroll bar, I need to move it down to scroll down. If we're going to change scrolling to act like iOS, where we assume our scrolling is the equivalent of grabbing the content view and pulling it up the screen, then why on earth do the scrollbars act the exact opposite? Shouldn't actually grabbing the view, by clicking on it and holding it, work the same way as swiping? I would expect to grab the scrollbar and drag it up to scroll down, just as I use my finger on iOS to drag the view. Perhaps instead of thinking of the scrollbar as a scrubber, we should think of it as a scroll indicator (much like on iOS), and the entire invisible scroll track area as a space in which the user can use the mouse to directly grab and move the view. This way, you can move your mouse to the right 2% of the view, click and hold, and pull that view around much like in iOS. Want to scroll down with the mouse? Move it over there, drag up in that space. This feels like it would make a hell of a lot more sense to me, but when I tried to explain this all to my dry cleaner he seemed pretty nonplussed.