iPhone app updates: startup vs corporate culture

I was updating iPhone apps the other day and noticed the difference in how app developers describe their updates. In almost any app developed by a startup or internet company, app updates often provide detailed descriptions of the updates made to their application, whether they're new features or just bug fixes. Example:

A couple other examples are Skype and Angry Birds.

But with E*Trade, a rigid, financial, East Coast company who I can only assume lives by a very strict code of corporate culture, they simply described their app update with "Maintenance release" (a very corporate term, by the way).

WOW! Thanks E*Trade! I can't wait to download your app update full of maintenance stuff!

The point is, people like to know what's going on with their devices. Even if you're just fixing stuff, let people know! If you're going to require a user to update your app, you should at least give them the courtesy of letting them know why they're going out of their way for you.

Lack of intellect in Facebook comments

Facebook recently announced hi-res image uploads on their blog. Sometimes, I enjoy reading through the comments more than the actual blog post itself. A lot of these posters use the comments as a way to get in touch with Facebook for customer support. However, some just don't make any sense whatsoever (a few because of a lack of understanding of the English language, even though some of those people use English as their primary language). Here is a selection of comments from recent hours that I found humorous.

Old news: AT&T sucks

I know that complaining about AT&T is like whining about rain in Seattle or sunshine in Orange County, but it's just one of those things you still feel like sharing anyway.

No reception on iPhone or iPad, and a Microcell that appears to be working regardless. Reming me again why I dropped $150 on the device that was supposed to help get me OFF the cell phone towers? Pointless, I tell you.




Why I'm not a fan of Qwiki (hint: the leadership)

In November 2009, Qwiki was looking for a designer, and I was interested. I had a discussion with Michael Szewczyk, the Director of Operations at Qwiki. I was then passed off to Doug Imbruce, their CEO. After a good, long phone chat, he sent me their logo and a wireframe for their homepage and asked me to put together an example homepage design.

When you're looking at job candidates for a designer, it's not out-of-the-ordinary for a company to ask a designer to submit a sample design for the target company. The purpose of this is to prove skills, demonstrate creativity, and show that you don't outsource your design work. In fact, this is exactly what Doug told me on the phone: We want to see a mockup to "verify that one can use a design program."

I agreed and spent a few hours on a sample mockup. Although the design was very "v1", it was enough to prove these points. I sent it over, and heard nothing back.

A week later, I saw the job description posted on another job board. At this point, I emailed Doug to follow up. I again heard nothing.

It's pretty clear that Doug looked at my design, didn't like it, and just didn't respond. Instead of using my mockup as proof that I knew how to "use a design program," he took the design at face-value and simply didn't like it.

After days of email discussions, a lengthy phone interview, and hours spent on a sample design, it is professional courtesy to respond to a candidate, either way. Instead, he ignored my design and didn't respond - not even a BS "thanks for applying (and spending hours on a design) but we're going with someone else" email.

It's stuff like this that separates people in the startup space. There are people who respond to every single email in their inbox, despite how busy they are, and then there are people like Doug Imbruce who lack the courtesy of a reply to someone who is doing free work for you.

It's a good reminder for anyone who ever does any hiring. When I start hiring people, I'll make sure I never pull a Doug Imbruce.

New Hulu bug won't let me watch episodes in the morning

I used to love Hulu. It was the place to find TV shows online for the last 3 years.

Recently, Hulu has been pulling boneheaded moves like restricting use of their iPhone/iPad apps to Hulu Plus subscribers, throwing in way too many ads in places they don't below (pre-roll AND an ad after a 30 second show intro), etc.

But Sunday morning, I was greeted with a message I've never seen before:

"Episode available on Hulu Sunday, Sept. 26"

Only problem was...it was Sunday, Sept. 26. And keep in mind that this episode was already placed in my Queue. I regularly watch Hulu as I crawl into bed in the wee hours of the morning after working all night, and have always been able to catch shows in the early hours. This screen seems to be new, preventing me from watching shows on the day they're supposed to be released, because I tried to watch them "too early".

In the past, Hulu's focus was on creating a great user experience. It's sad to see them shift away from caring about their users.

Want to beta test some themes?

I'm looking for a few loyal Posterous users who are interested in beta testing some new themes. It would require you installing the themes on your Posterous and then using them each for a day or two, checking through all of your pages and content to make sure everything looks just right. 

Think you're up for the challenge? Email me: hi@corywatilo.com - found my beta testers - thanks!

User experience follies from Google, a company who prides themselves on user experience

Apparently Google released a new version of Chrome within the last week. I just now picked it up, as I just restarted Chrome for the first time since like, ever. This version brought some changes to the interface, many of which have the loyal userbase of Chrome up in arms.

Google removed http:// from the query string

There are a few problems with this one.

The biggest issue: if I were to copy the above url from the address bar, what do you think it would copy? corywatilo.com? Nope. It would copy http://corywatilo.com/ - how does that make the copy/pasting experience consistent with what the user expects from what they see visually? It doesn't. I'll bet you the first time QA saw this change, they sent it back with a bug report attached.

Another issue: security. It is standard practice to SHOW "http" or "https" in the browser, and with good reason. Many large companies have launched campaigns recently, encouraging users to confirm they're on a secure website when making online purchases or dealing with finances by checking to make sure they're on a site with a prefix of https. Generally, a user confirms this by looking at the link in the address bar to see if they're on http or https. If the average person doesn't see http, they're probably going to tend to not notice that they're not on https.

And my last point is that it's just annoying, especially for developers. While this change doesn't break anything, it does make our job less easy by increasing the amount of uncertainty we have while developing, and more importantly, debugging problems. Without being able to explicitly see http, there's subconciously an increased risk that we're looking at the wrong url. At the very least, this should be a user configurable option. But it's not.

Google moved the Favorite icon

While this does make the favorite icon location consistent with Firefox's, it's a little interesting they'd move the icon this late in the game. It's not like Chrome was just released yesterday - the browser has been in development for four years.

Aside from that, it's actually a minor annoyance. With the way the interface used to be laid out, there was never a need for my mouse to move to the upper-right corner. Everything I needed was in the top left: Back, Refresh, Home, Favorite. Now that the favorite icon is in the top right, it's the odd man out. The mouse now has to make a special trip over there.

New Edit menu

Who at Google thought this was a good idea? Generally when you build an application on top of an existing operating system that you didn't develop, you try to make the experience seamless with that OS. You'll notice that all iPhone applications share the same type of buttons and inputs as those created by Apple. Likewise, all Windows programs have an Edit menu. It's just one of those things you don't mess with. Save reinventing the wheel for Chrome OS.

My inexpensive office security camera - better and cheaper than some professional systems

Despite the fact that the work I do is not top secret, nor do I have any enemies, I have always felt safer and better protected with the presence of security cameras. You just never know what you might pick up. Plus, I often work late at night and my office is next to a bar, and since my car sits outside, I like to be able to keep an eye on it at all times.

I've toyed around with semi-professional security systems (the kind that have dedicated DVRs and indoor/outdoor camera with LEDs for night vision), and basic wifi cameras for my house. Neither produce very high quality video. If you need to analyze somebody's face or try to read a license plate, you're pretty much screwed. The best you can get is a description of what someone is wearing or the model of a car.

When I went to set up my office cameras, a buddy of mine suggested using webcams. Typically we think of webcams as low-quality cameras that we use to talk to relatives or co-workers over Skype. But in reality, the quality of webcams have vastly improved in recent years. I've been using Microsoft's LifeCam, a 720p HD webcam for Skype, and am always being told how crisp and clear I look (and I'll take all the help I can get).

So I employed the same webcams for my security cameras, and they work great! The nice thing about these cameras in that they use a small footprint, and they are USB powered so you only need one cord running to it. Plus with USB extension cable with a built-in repeater for $10, you can safely wire a camera from a good distance from a computer. And image quality is great even at night. These Microsoft HD webcams used to run around $79. I just picked up another one on Amazon for $52.99.

I use a recording program from DeskShare called Security Monitor Pro that costs $90. This software allows me to start recording on motion detection. It takes video clips, still picture, and can even email me the media or publish to an ftp server. I record my cameras at 10fps, which allows me to see enough action so I don't miss anything, while not overloading my CPUs.

Then at the core of it all is a dedicated Acer Aspire. I picked up this $500 computer from Fry's. It's loaded with an Intel i3 at 3.06GHz with 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. It's amazing how inexpensive technology is these days. I previously had a lower-end Dell recording, but it only had a single core and it choked when I tried to view and record two near-HD streams.

So for as little as $700, I have a security system that is computer-based, and actually records higher quality video than typical dedicated prosumer security rigs.

Like I said, this is a little over the top for my needs, but it's nice to be able to see my surroundings. If you're looking to set up a basic security rig, I definitely recommend going this route. Like I said, I've toyed with lots of possibilities, and since this system records high quality video with great features that lets me see what's going on when I'm away from the office, there are really no downsides.