Facebook, the Skinner Box

Found a great talk by Cory Doctorow today via Netzpolitik, where he discusses a psychological mechanism Facebook uses to get users to frequently return to the site and to disclose more and more personal information.

The psychological reward or kick apparently created when receiving attention from peers as a result of posting something personal ties right in with observations made by game design expert Jesse Schell, who researched the game mechanics of popular games that use psychological tricks to keep players to return again and again as well as to spend money. If you have a few more minutes to spare, you should definitely watch his very insightful talk about what makes the success of some these games as well as how game mechanics could be used to make people exhibit certain behavior in non-gaming contexts: Continue reading


iPad 2 reality check

Somewhat buried under today’s news about the major earthquake in Japan was Apple’s retail launch of the iPad 2 in the US. I skipped the long lines and all the hype and went to an Apple store in Los Angeles about an hour before it closed. Deliberately understocked for additional marketing effect (“look, we sold them all in one day”) or not, all iPads were sold out and this easily decided the question of whether or not to purchase a device within the first minute that I had entered the store.

Although Apple has improved the iPad’s software compared to last year at launch, here are my reasons as to why I still wouldn’t have bought an iPad today even if I could have:

  • Weight: Still much too heavy for my taste and it felt uncomfortable to hold in one hand for more than 5 minutes in a way that my fingers wouldn’t cover the screen.
  • “Multitasking”: No change compared to last year and apps still need to be closed to switch to another app. Even my Nokia N8 cellphone can do better than that.
  • Walled garden: All roads still lead to Cupertino, from first forced activation using iTunes on Windows or Mac, to apps and music and video. As I solely run Ubuntu Linux on my PCs at home, getting the device activated would already have been impossible, let alone moving photos and music on or off the device. This remains a major drawback for me.
  • Garage Band: The arrival of this application on the iPad alone made me go to the Apple store and take a look but sadly Garage Band felt much less expressive than Apple’s promotional videos made me expect. I also found that the force detection when tapping the screen did not seem to be that sophisticated and tones were either loud or very low volume without any in-betweens. In hindsight, from the few minutes I spent in the store with it, the application feels a bit more like a gimmick than a serious music application. Maybe Apple will release new instruments and make other improvements later on.

All in all, I guess I need to check back again in 6-10 months or so for the iPad 3, to see if Apple can convince me to spend my money on their products. In the meantime, I’ll probably give other tablet manufacturers a chance.

Turn left in 700m

My previous post pointing out unclear on-screen navigation instructions in KDE’s Marble application was criticized for not providing a better proposal on what an improved screen could look like. I’d like to follow up with this now.

In the first screenshot, I have added notes with recommendations as to how specific elements of the navigation instructions could be improved. In the second image, I have put together a mock-up of what I think an improved screen could look like.

Feel free to suggest further improvements in the comments below.


Right, right, or left?

Compared to Ubuntu’s usability advances, I sometimes wonder if the people working on KDE’s desktop and application suite shouldn’t implement some kind of mandatory usability testing process before any applications under their brand name are allowed to ship releases. I am writing this as I came across this screenshot advertising the availability of turn-by-turn navigation in KDE’s Marble application (which is similar to Google Earth):

Marble Turn-by-turn navigation

Marble Turn-by-turn navigation promotional screenshot

If you had just one instant to check which direction to turn to – a realistic assumption when driving a car – into which direction would you make your turn?

Slightly right, sharp right, or sharp left?

I cannot even imagine what the designer of this notification must have thought to justify that three arrows pointing in different directions were a good idea in this screen. For the next release, they should definitely use one single arrow only – pointing in the correct direction of course.

Getting rid of scrollbars (almost)

With every new release, the team behind Canonical’s increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution appears to be stepping up the pace of becoming an innovator on the Linux user interface front.

The team observed that in the light of a rising number of tablets and other computing devices where indirect mouse cursor interaction is replaced by direct touch interaction, scrollbars in their traditional form should be removed from screens. Instead, this screen real estate should be freed up for displaying the actual content a user is interested in, aiding orientation and readability on the small screens typically found on touch interaction devices. However, on desktop computers equipped with a mouse and large screen, scrollbars need to continue to have their place given that countless legacy applications will not be compatible with other forms of direct interaction scrolling such as dragging screen content up and down.

In this context, I believe the team at Canonical has found an innovative approach to unify both scrolling concepts as shown in the video below. I am looking forward to using the final design when I upgrade my desktop’s Ubuntu installation to release 11 when it comes out end of April.

OGRE 3D 1.7 Beginner’s Guide: book review & giveaway

Ogre 3D 1.7 - Beginner's Guide

After announcing Cutexture, Packt Publishing asked me to review their new book “Ogre 3D 1.7 Beginner’s Guide” by Felix Kerger which I would now like to review in this post. The book is structured into nine chapters, aiming to cover everything from installing Ogre, managing 3D scenes, models, materials and animations to an overview of third party Ogre extensions. It is targeted at 3D programming novices who have already got some C++ development experience and who are keen on creating a 3D application or game. Continue reading

Cutexture: A Framework for Qt User Interfaces in Ogre3D

Today, I’d like to write about the results of a development effort which I undertook together with former co-worker Kevin Lang in our spare-time. Our goal was to create a small but fine PC game but unfortunately it never saw the light of the day. We therefore decided to release the game-independent source code of these efforts to the public as we believe we developed a novel approach to integrating Qt User Interfaces into the Ogre3D development framework.

In a nutshell, this new framework called “Cutexture” should provide developers with the following benefits over off-the-shelf User Interface solutions available for Ogre3D:

  • The full range of Qt’s widgets can be used in Ogre3D, including the Webkit webbrowser component, enabling completely new ways of integrating Web content into 3D environments.
  • Powerful: Qt is one of the most powerful User Interface toolkits currently available.
  • Ease of development: Qt’s .ui files are supported for rapid User Interface development with Qt Designer.
  • Reliable: Using the proven Qt framework, widgets are rendered into a texture instead of relying on unstable overlay techniques provided by desktop environments.
  • Flexible: Possibility to extend Cutexture to use Qt widgets as textures on arbitrary Ogre objects.
  • Open Source: Cutexture is available under the “MIT license”, thereby providing full source code access to the framework while allowing the development of proprietary (closed source) applications.


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In-Flight Entertainment systems – Which one is easiest to use?

To the occasion of my move from the Mobile devices sector into the aerospace industry as of next month, I decided to revisit In-flight entertainment systems (IFE) one more time (even if my new job will not be related to IFEs).

There seem to be vast differences among airlines and plane models as to the quality of IFE systems offered. In particular, while some are quite responsive, intuitive and easy to use, others are slow, buggy, or confusing. I’ve compiled a few examples of IFE systems below but I’d like to hear from you, which IFE system of which airline you feel is the easiest to use?

Please leave a comment below (if possible, link to a photo or video so everyone can see why it is your favorite).

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