Amazon Dash Button

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch:

Amazon has new hardware called the Dash Button that allows one-press ordering of products you’re likely to want to replace on a regular basis. The Dash Button comes in a number of different branded versions based on what it’s coded to order, and includes an adhesive backing and hook holster to let you stick it where it’s most convenient.

In the TechCrunch article, there’s a photo of a Tide Dash Button stuck to a washing machine. I can only imagine what little kids will do with that button: “Honey, why did you order 30 boxes of Tide?!?”

UI Happy

Joel Spolsky:

UI is important because it affects the feelings, the emotions, and the mood of your users. If the UI is wrong and the user feels like they can’t control your software, they literally won’t be happy and they’ll blame it on your software. If the UI is smart and things work the way the user expected them to work, they will be cheerful as they manage to accomplish small goals.

What are our expectations when it comes to how a smartwatch UI should work? Whatever they are they don’t seem to be the way users expect them to work when it comes to the Apple Watch UI. Pretty are these new Apple Watches, but by the looks of some initial hands-on impressions the UI might make more than a few users unhappy, at first at least.

I think Apple jumped the gun a bit. Let me explain. When the iPhone was announced in early 2007, the world had been very unhappy with the bumbling Windows Mobile 6.5 UI. Microsoft simply shrunk the desktop version of Windows menus and all to fit a tiny screen. The UI made no one happy and everyone suffered. There was Palm, but it was only a little better. iPhone OS changed all of that, instantly. The iPhone’s UI worked the way users expected it to work, and iPhone users were happier than they have ever been using a smartphone. The Apple Watch, unfortunately, isn’t coming at a time when smartwatch users are unhappy and fed up with smartwatch UIs. We are just starting to get a feel for them; just figuring out what to expect of them. Apple does not solve much with the Apple Watch; it is too early.

Do I think the Apple Watch will sell well? Yes. Do I think Apple Watch owners and those around them will swoon at its beauty? Yes. Do I think Apple Watch owners will be happy using them? Not at first.

#TheDress

On February 25, 2015 Tumblr user swiked posted a photo of a dress and asked for help to identify its colors. Was it white and gold or black and blue? As of now, 16 days later, there are 3.4 million votes on BuzzFeed with a 68/32 #WhiteandGold/#BlueandBlack split. What happened?

A lot of things happened, I think, but at the core of #TheDress is color and how we perceive color. I read a lot of different scientific articles about color, light, vision, etc. and here is my summary of what I learned.

COLOR IS NOT A DISCREET THING, and depends on light. Color also depends on how it was captured, and the visual system observing it. Other things color is dependent on are: the lens, the image sensor, the color space used when the image was captured, the compression algorithm, and the display. It doesn’t stop there because the display itself has many variables: light source, color space, brightness, contrast ratio, viewing angle, wide viewing angle liquid crystal technology, etc.

LIGHT MAKES COLOR. Let’s start with the notion that color is not a discreet thing. Let’s also assume we are where we are (but we could theoretically be somewhere else): on earth, with the sun as our natural source of light. Light from the sun passes through the atmosphere of the earth and reaches the surface of the earth. This light from the sun has many wavelengths, from 10-6 nanometer gamma rays to 100 meter radio waves. The portion of wavelengths that work with our human visual system — called visible light — is tiny and from about 400 nm to 700 nm. Here’s a short list matching wavelengths to color:

  • ~475 nm: blue
  • ~510 nm: green
  • ~570 nm: yellow
  • ~650 nm: red

The mixture of visible light is called white light. We see color when an object absorbs some wavelengths and reflects other wavelengths. For instance, a white car is white because when the sun’s light hits the car it absorbs no color and reflects all of them back. Change the light to something else and the white car will no longer be white. Change the human visual system and the white car is no longer white. The white color on the car is not discreet and wholly depends on the light reflecting off of it and the visual system observing it. To get a taste of what I’m talking about hop on over to Explain xkcd, where you can clearly see the color of the dress as dramatically different colors depending on the light that’s hitting it.

THE IMPERFECT CAMERA. How was this photo captured? Probably on a smartphone. Let’s get into the nitty gritty a bit. The camera hardware subsystem is composed largely of a set of lenses and an image sensor. Anyone who knows anything about photography knows the lens quality makes a significant difference in the quality of the image. I’m sure you’ve heard of this rule of thumb: “Get a decent camera body, but get the best lens you can afford.” That’s what I recommend to anyone wanting to get a lens-replaceable camera; lens quality is important. A poor quality lens can make photos blurry, add chromatic aberrations, noise, and vignetting to name some of the more common defects. Unfortunately with rare exceptions most smartphones have lenses that are mediocre at best. Remember light is what makes color; a lot of light makes better color, and vice versa.

Then there’s the image sensor. I have to guess smartphone product managers are too swayed by marketing folks who incorrectly believe more pixels on the image sensor will sell more smartphones. How else can I explain why every year the megapixel count on smartphones image sensors grow. I understand we need a certain number of pixels on the sensor, but after a certain number — I’d say about eight megapixels — cramming more photosensors will not enhance photo quality; it will actually do the opposite. At about the eight megapixel mark what helps improve photo quality is making each of those pixels or photosensors larger and more sensitive to light (back illuminated sensor). After light goes through the lens, hits the image sensor, photo information is processed by an algorithm. Some smartphones can save this information unprocessed in RAW format, but most photos are the result of this information being compressed; JPEG being the most popular. JPEG is a lossy compression algorithm, which means there is information that is lost due to the compression.

Combine these variables (lens, image sensor, algorithm, compression) and it should be apparent there is ample potential for imperfections to trickle into photos. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and few others have camera subsystems that can capture high quality photos. But even with the best smartphone the same color can be perceived differently.

THE IMPERFECT DISPLAY. Ah, the display. So many companies make so many crappy displays. Even good displays are not calibrated, and the end result is inaccurate colors. There are two main display technologies today: LCD and OLED. A display using LCD technology features an always-on backlight and uses liquid crystals to control how much light goes through each pixel. (There is one exception: the direct-lit RGB LED array backlight.) Unlike LCD, black on an OLED display emits no light, resulting in blacks that are as deep as black holes and whites almost as pure as white light from the sun. Accurate colors are a challenge for both display technologies. Remember the early days of Samsung’s Galaxy phones with OLED displays? The blown-out over-saturated colors? Pure yuck; it actually provokes in me a biological reaction similar to the feeling I get when I’m about to throw up. I continue to see these cruddy displays on even the newest Samsung smartphones. Thankfully you can set the display option on a Galaxy Note 4 to Basic, which transforms the display from gut-wrenching to the most accurate mobile display on the planet. The best type of LCD is IPS, but compared to OLED the colors on even the best IPS LCDs are slightly washed out.

You don’t even get a choice of OLED when it comes to laptops and monitors; IPS LCD is your only option if you want some semblance of color accuracy, for now. Most laptops and monitors do not come with an easy way to calibrate colors. Thankfully higher-end laptops have slowly shifted away from affordable, but terrible TN-based LCDs to IPS LCDs. Same goes for monitors. When it comes to displays there’s a lot to be worked on. I reached out to Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate, and asked him what is going on with #TheDress:

All of the differences reported are caused by variations in the display calibration and color accuracy of the TV or display it is being viewed on. The ambient lighting for both the display and the photo play a major effect – especially since the photo is strongly backlit. I’ve analyzed all of these issues with a spectroradiometer in my Display Technology article series. It turns out that the real dress is actually deep blue and black, but any dynamic picture processing or increase in the display’s black level setting would produce the light blue and brown/gold image and account for the wide differences reported. The strong backlighting accentuates any display dynamic processing and calibration shifts. The source photo is of poor quality and also to blame.

Soneira points out, in addition to non-calibrated displays with poor color accuracy, an important consideration most of us have not considered: ambient lighting. The color of light hitting the dress changes the color, but the light in your room also affects the colors you see on your display. Do you want to experience what-you-see-on-your-display-is-what-you-see-in-real-life or get pretty close to it? I do. Like a good lens for high quality photos, I recommend spending most of your computing budget on a good display, and calibrate it if possible. In my opinion best monitor you can get your hands on today in terms of color accuracy are the HP Dreamcolor professional displays. The smartphone with the best color accuracy is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in Basic mode. This is not my opinion, but test proven by Soneira. I also asked Martin Fishman, COO and EVP Worldwide Sales and Marketing at Portrait Displays what he thought was going on. Fishman stressed the importance of display calibration and encouraged everyone to ask this question: “Can you trust what you’re looking at on your display?” This is probably the most important question you should ask yourself when buying anything with a display.

The last factor is the bio-psychology of the human visual system, but that topic was way too vast for me, so I will conclude here. There were many factors that influenced our perception of the colors of #TheDress: light, capturing and processing light, and displaying light. All of these factors must have played a role in almost 70%, according to BuzzFeed’s survey, getting the colors wrong. The dress is in fact the Lace Bodycon Dress, in Royal Blue (#BlueandBlack).

The Apple Watch Interface Is Complicated, Confusing

Nilay Patel:

What matters today is the software, what it can do, and how it works. And it turns out it’s actually pretty complicated.

First things first: it is really confusing to have both the Digital Crown and the communications button next to each other on the side. As I tried to navigate the Watch interface, I found myself pressing one or both several times, without knowing which one would take me to the home screen, back out of an app, or launch a feature. Coming from the traditional iOS paradigm of a single home button that always takes you home, it’s a notable difference.

[…]

That feeling of not knowing exactly where you are or what’s going to happen is pretty disorienting for an Apple product […]

I have been a long time iPhone user, but despite many years of getting used to the ins and outs of iOS the Settings app is still complicated and confusing.

Recently I jumped over the fence to Android and found the back button to be refreshing: it is always there and always does the same thing. iOS apps on the other hand require you to get used to different buttons and button locations or gestures to go back.

I don’t find it surprising that the user interface and experience of the Apple Watch is complicated and confusing, because instead of becoming simpler, more intuitive and more elegant iOS has become more complicated and more confusing over the years. I don’t mean to bash only iOS; Android has always been more complicated and more confusing, but I do like the back button.

Not only is the user interface and experience confusing, just look at the pricing of the Apple Watch. I’ve never seen such a mess of prices when it comes to Apple products, and making a purchase decision will be complicated enough that more than before would-be consumers will walk away needing more time to figure out what it is they really want and how much it is they really want to pay.