Posts tagged ‘cellphones’


Musings on making friends with mobiles

20.04.2015

I see Google has messaged me in Webmaster Tools about some sites of ours that aren’t mobile-friendly.
   No surprises there, since some of our sites were hard-coded in HTML a long time ago, before people thought about using cellphones for internet access.
   The theory is that those that don’t comply will be downgraded in their search results.
   After my battle with them over malware in 2013, I know Google’s bot can fetch stale data, so for these guys to make a judgement about what is mobile-optimized and what is not is quite comical. Actually, I take any claim from Google these days with a grain of salt, since I have done since 2009 when I spent half a year fighting them to get a mate’s blog back. (The official line is that it takes two days. That blog would never have come back if a Google product manager did not personally intervene.)
   When you’re told one thing and the opposite happens, over and over again, you get a bit wary.
   To test my theory, I fed in some of our Wordpress-driven pages, and had varying results, some green-lighted, and some not—even though they should all be green-lighted. Unless, of course, the makers of Wordpress Mobile Pack and Jetpack aren’t that good.
   Caching could affect this outcome, as do the headers sent by each device, but it’s a worry either for Google or for Wordpress that there is an inconsistency.
   I admit we can do better on some of our company pages, as well as this very site, and that’s something we’ll work on. It’s fair enough, especially if Google has a policy of prioritizing mobile-friendly sites ahead of others. The reality is more people are accessing the ’net on them, so I get that.
   But I wonder if, long-term, this is that wise an idea.
   Every time we’ve done something friendly for smaller devices, either (a) the technology catches up, rendering the adaptation obsolete; or (b) a new technology is developed that can strip unwanted data to make the pages readable on a small device.
   Our Newton-optimized news pages in the late 1990s were useless ultimately, and a few years later, I remember a distributor of ours developed a pretty clever technology that could automatically shrink the pages.
   I realize responsive design now avoids both scenarios and a clean-sheet design should build in mobile-friendliness quite easily. Google evidently thinks that neither (a) nor (b) will recur, and that this is the way it’s going to be. Maybe they’re right this time (they ignored all the earlier times), and there isn’t any harm in making sure a single design works on different sizes.
   I have to admit as much as those old pages of ours look ugly on a modern screen, I prefer to keep them that way as a sort of online archive. The irony is that the way they were designed, they would actually suit a lot of cellphones, because they were designed for a 640-pixel-wide monitor and the columns are suitably narrow and the images well reduced in size. Google, of course, doesn’t see it that way, since the actual design isn’t responsive.
   Also, expecting these modern design techniques to be rolled out to older web pages is a tall order for a smaller company. And that’s a bit of a shame.
   It’s already hard finding historical data online now. Therefore, historical pages will be ranked more lowly if they are on an old-style web design. Again, if that’s how people are browsing the web, it’s fair: most of the time, we aren’t after historical information. We want the new stuff. But for those few times we want the old stuff, this policy decision does seem to say: never mind the quality, it’s going to get buried.
   I realize Google and its fans will argue that mobile-friendliness is only going to be one factor in their decision on search-engine ranking. That makes sense, too, as Google will be shooting itself in the foot if the quality of the results wasn’t up to snuff. At the end of the day, content should always rule the roost. As much as I use Duck Duck Go, I know more people are still finding us through Google.
   What will be fascinating, however, is whether this winds up prioritizing the well resourced, large company ahead of the smaller one. If it does, then those established voices are going to be louder. The rich melting pot that is the internet might start looking a bit dull, a bit more reflective of the same-again names, and a little less novel.
   Nevertheless, we’re up for the challenge, and we’ll do what we can to get some of our pages ship-shape. I just don’t want to see a repeat of that time we tailored our pages for Newtons and the early PDAs.

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Posted in business, internet, publishing, technology | No Comments »


A fresher Lucire (the web edition) for 2013

05.01.2013

When Lilith-Fynn Herrmann, Tania Naidu, Julia Chu, Tanya Sooksombatisatian and I redesigned Lucire in 2012, we went for a very clean look, taking a leaf from Miguel Kirjon’s work at Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand. I’m really proud of the results, and it makes you happy to work on the magazine—and just pick up the finished article and gaze at it.
   But the website—where it all began 15 years ago—was looking a bit dreary. After getting Autocade to 2,000 models, and updating various listings to reflect the 2013 model year, it was time we turned our attention to Lucire.
   Like all of these things, the mood has to hit you right, and we needed a quiet news day—of which there are plenty at this time of the year. We knew where things were with the web: because of improved screen resolutions, type had to be larger. There may be—and this is something we don’t have any research on yet—people who are familiar with on-screen reading that some of the rules about line length might apply less. And some of the successful publications have multiple sharing—in fact, there are so many links to like or Tweet or pin something on each page that you can be left wondering just which one you press.
   The last big overhaul of the Lucire look online was in 2009, and the updates have been relatively minor since then. But it was looking messy. We had to add icons for new things that were creeping up. One Facebook “like” button wasn’t enough: what about people who wanted to become Facebook fans? Surely we should capture them? Maybe we should put up a Pinterest link? That went up during 2012. We had 160-pixel-wide ads for years—so we kept them. The result was tolerable, and it served us reasonably well, but did people still browse Lucire for fun? Or was it just a site where you got the information you needed and left again? Bounce rates suggested the latter.
   While some of these things were noted subconsciously, we didn’t have a firm brief initially. We simply decided to do one page with a new look, to see how it would go. We had the print editions in mind. We knew we wanted clean—but we still had to eat, so advertising still had to take up some of the page. We also knew that the lead image should be 640 pixels wide, and that that would have to be reflected on the news pages.
   I’m glad to say we got lucky. The first page done—a redesign of Sarah MacKenzie’s BMW X1 first drive, which originally went up with the old look on January 1—worked. It had all the features we wanted, even if it meant abandoning some things we had had for a long time, such as the skyscraper ads. The callouts could go. In fact, we could remove the central column altogether. And the ‘Related articles’ could be moved to the bottom, where they used to be. And we stuck up plenty of sharing tools, even if good design says they introduce clutter, so we could capture users at the start and the end of an article—but we used different templates for each one. All the social networking pages we had could go to the top of the page in a row with ‘Follow us’.
   The trick was then to repeat the look on other pages.
   The ‘Volante’ index page is the only one so far to be brought into line with the new template, just to try some different layouts. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, though fashion ed. Sopheak Seng believes it’s clean enough. Practically, it is where it should be, but I want some visual drama in there. We’ll see—I think Sopheak might be right given the function of the index page, and it is heaps cleaner than how it used to look.
   The home page, of course, is the biggie, and I’m very proud to note that there’s been some great DIY there. While the slider and Tweets appear courtesy of programming that its authors have distributed freely, it’s a nice feeling to be able to say that they are on there because of in-house work, using Jquery (which we last used internally at JY&A Consulting’s website), and not a convenient WordPress plug-in. Time will tell whether it will prove to be more practical to manage but I think it already is.
   I’ve summarized in Lucire some of the features, but there were just sensible things like getting rid of the QR code (what’s it doing on the website, anyway?), the Digg link (yes, really), the Nokia Ovi link (not far from now, kids will be asking what Nokia was). We have removed three of the six news headlines and grouped the remaining ones in a more prominent fashion—which might mean people will need to scroll down to see them, so I can foresee them being moved up somehow. But, overall, the effect is, as Sopheak notes, so much closer to the print title.
   The slider has solved some problems with Google News picking up the wrong headline, too. I realize the big omission is not doing a proper mobile-optimized version but we need to do a bit more learning internally to deliver that properly. The news pages, which are on WordPress, have the default Jetpack skin. We have made some concessions to mobile devices and Sopheak tells me it is more browseable on his Samsung.
   And today, the look went on to all the news pages.
   I mentioned to him today that it was very 2002–3. That period, too, saw Lucire get a redesign, standardizing things, making the pages cleaner, and in line with a print style (although at that point, the print edition had not been launched—though when it did, we adapted some of the look from the site). That look lasted us into 2006, perhaps longer than it should have been, given that we had some internal issues in that period.
   It’s only natural that some clutter will be reintroduced as the years wear on—in Facebook’s case, it only takes a few months—but, for now, we’re hoping that bounce rate goes down, that the team, as a whole, feel far prouder of the work that appears online where it’s seen by more people, and that we have future-proofed a little.
   So what were the lessons? (a) You need to keep on top of developments, and, even if you’re not the richest company in the world, you need to have someone thinking about how you look to the public. If smaller companies can manage teams more effectively, then they need to ensure there’s strong loyalty—and that the feedback about things like the website are collated, either online or kept with one team member who champions the change. When a redesign happens, you’ll need to solve a lot of problems in one go. (b) There is no substitute for doing—and even getting it wrong on occasion. What we’ve done is to phase things in—just so we can learn from any bugs. (c) And after the job is done, take some time to enjoy it.
   There’s probably no surprise when I say that this site is next. I know, it has links to different blog readers. It looks very mid-2000s. Which is no surprise, considering when it was designed …

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Posted in design, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


The modern phone shifts how I consume technology—but only slightly

05.11.2012

This has been my year for acquiring new technology, beginning with a new external hard drive just after Christmas 2011, to a new desktop machine right after New Year. The keyboard, printer, scanner have all given way to replacements; while even the internet package and modem are new. TelstraClear then gave me a new freebie (since the NZPO days I’ve never paid for a phone) 華為 (Huawei) cell and while I could hardly be called a typical user—it’s the last mode of communication with me and I don’t always carry it—the first few days (since Thursday) with the gadget suggests how I might change the way I consume technology.
   First, the money. Because this device sucks up more bandwidth and because wifi in Wellington is still patchy (it might have been different if the mayoral race finished in a different order!), I’ve opted to pay NZ$15 for extra megabytes each month. I’m already paying roughly that but that was on an old 3G device. It’s not a powerful device, which means there are foreseeable memory issues, and while I’ve stuck an old 2 Gbyte Micro SD card inside it, that’s not going to accommodate much now that the photos are larger, and the videos I store need to be.
   The big screen needs to be protected: my Facebook feed had seen far too many complaints about broken Iphone screens, so I ordered a leather case on Ebay for under US$5. It sure beat one on Amazon for over US$30, plus shipping. Already this gadget is costing me and not gaining me much in efficiency. A new 32 Gbyte card will set me back another NZ$40 and I’m not convinced I need it yet for efficiency’s sake.
   Secondly, the division of tasks: I can foresee the desktop machine being for the heavy-duty work stuff, as it is for a lot of people, and portable devices being used for leisure. Nothing earth-shattering or pioneering about that prediction. The apps still aren’t there yet, and what is more likely going to happen is that these devices become walking CPUs that communicate with more traditional peripherals, but for now, it’s been useful as a camera and social media tool. Which means the PC is for everything else. It is proof, to me, that Microsoft made the right punt with Windows 8 as personal computing is shifting very rapidly this decade away from the desktop-bound model that started in the 1980s.
   I doubt I will go to email on the go—the way I archive for legal reasons means that I’ll continue to use a traditional client and I still don’t trust the cloud for email—which points, again, to portable meaning leisure. It’s a camera, social media updater, and video player. Since I almost never give out the number, since that would mean succumbing to the technology and losing control over how I manage telephony, it’s not going to make the jump into a work tool.
   It’s also not that reliable, which makes it largely a plaything. Just as I could crash Google Chrome in almost every session—earning it the dubious nickname of ‘the “Aw, snap” browser’—I can crash this one almost every hour. Since it’s Android, I assume the browser is made by Google. Plus everything is connected back to a Google account, and no matter how hard I try to maintain my privacy, Google will inevitably leak.
   Google forced me to open a Gmail even though I had an existing Google Plus account. I’ve since deleted the Gmail but it remains associated with Google Play and its apps. After opening that, I went browsing through the Dashboard to find out some disturbing things. Even though I never linked my YouTube account with my Google one, Google still managed to track that I had viewed about a dozen videos from a few months ago. It had the history in YouTube turned on as well as targeted advertising, which I had clearly opted out of (and made a big hoo-ha about it at the time because of Google’s deceptive conduct—it shows that that deception never ended despite my getting the NAI involved). And, naturally, when you visit the YouTube privacy page, you get a 404—which shows how much Google cares about privacy.
   I regularly turn off the apps and have a lot of the privacy locked down on the cell. But I don’t think the US and Australian governments have much to fear from China on these Huawei phones. Google is learning a lot, lot more about us than China ever could.
   The keyboard is inefficient, though the design of it is as good as it can be. I can’t think of a better way.
   Yet despite all this, there are plus sides. Mobile optimization for some sites is beautiful and the crash-prone browser renders things well. (A friend suggested Opera, and while I like the less graphics-intensive pages, it interprets pages with plenty of glitches, including spacing ones, which are less forgiving on a modern cell.) The Droid typeface family from Ascender Corp. has to be the number-one reason for making it appealing—my Iphone friends liked what they saw with the UI in general and felt it an improvement on what they have. And for those who are visually driven, rather than aurally, then the Huawei makes for a nice little device. I like the Tumblr app on it so some of my procrastination sites can be put on the gadget.
   End of story: I’m far too ingrained in my habits to become a regular cell user. I’ll still leave it lying about at home for the most part. But on the days when I expect a call from someone, or when I need to take a quick photo, I can see it being indispensable—with much more pleasant graphics built in. And if it becomes the plaything for social media, then I might have fewer distractions when I do my real job on the desktop. Being able to divide the tasks, to me, is a very good thing—because it helps put me in charge of the technology again.

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Posted in business, China, culture, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA, Wellington | 3 Comments »


Cellphone emails are gibberish

01.04.2011

Speaking of technological issues, for the last two months, people using those newfangled cellphones to write emails to me have been sending me gibberish.

Email via cellphone

   I haven’t changed my set-up, principally because Qualcomm hasn’t made a new version of Eudora for a while. So what has changed about cellphones (I don’t know what brand—they are all the same to me) this year that now prevent them from sending plain, old, common-garden emails? Is it yet another case where I’ve stumbled across something that hardly anyone else has?

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Posted in internet, technology | 4 Comments »


Retrograde steps for our cellphones

07.11.2010

Nokia 2730 ClassicLast week, our company’s Nokia 2730 Classics arrived as part of a contract with Telstra Clear, of whom we’ve been a customer since the 1980s. They are a reminder of how technology is regressing.
   Remember that scene in Life on Mars, where Sam Tyler, or Samuel Santos in La chica de ayer, tells Annie Cartwright, Annie Norris or Ana Valverde (depending on which version you saw) how LPs had been replaced by MP3s and digital music, and that the sound is ‘much, much worse’? That’s sort of how I feel with these new gadgets.

Left Not quite the same as ours—the display is different—but this is a publicity shot of the Nokia 2730 Classic. Below Life on Mars’s record shop scene in its various incarnations (from left to right, top to bottom): the UK original in Manchester; the unaired US pilot, set in Los Angeles; the US remake, set in New York; and the Spanish remake, set in Madrid.
Life on Mars music store scenes

   On the surface, the new phones aren’t much to look at. Compared with the 6275i phones that the 2730s are replacing, it’s clear that they are built to a price, cost-cutting for easy manufacture in China rather than Korea. There’s not much of an excuse here for design simplification: this is manufacturing simplification.
   I have reason to be cynical. I’m sure it’s part of a conspiracy to force us to get a nicer model. I remember buying a Microtek scanner for around $600 in the 1990s—probably around 1996—and it lasted me for years, till around 2002 when I ordered an upgrade. I looked at the specs for the latest scanners and thought, ‘Wow, here’s one with a higher resolution going for half the price.’ I brought it back and the scanning quality was total crap.
   I wrote to the distributor in Auckland and they informed me: the equivalent model to my old one is this other machine costing $600. The difference is that the half-price one has a plastic lens and my old one had a glass lens. So if I wanted one with comparable quality, I would need to pay twice as much for one with a glass lens. In other words, it would still cost me $600.
   I bought the glass one and they were as good as their word, although I had to put up with a smaller scanning area (but I got a faster speed). The resolution figure, it turned out, was meaningless, because the actual quality of the product was so poor.
   Technology didn’t really advance in six years. I still had to pay the same price for a machine with actually less capability on the primary function, which was scanning an area of x cm².
   This seems like a repeat. I have yet to try what it’s like as a phone, because the switchover’s not till the 8th, but for many features, it’s poorer. It has a better media player. The speaker for playing music and movies is better. The graphics move more nicely. Nokia supplies some free maps (which, incidentally, get deleted when you eject the memory card, though you can re-download them for free from its website).
   But (and there must be a but given the headline): the camera is worse (judge for yourself below) and the battery life is shorter. I might not be an initié when it comes to cellphones, but I know that people have been using them for telephony and photography for a lot longer than as MP3 and 3GP players. On at least two of the three major criteria on which a cellphone can be judged, the 2730 is worse than the mid-decade 6275i.
   Judge for yourself below. These are photographs (reduced) taken at Massey University’s Blow festival exhibition, currently on at its Wellington campus.

Nokia 6275i
Massey University Blow Festival 2010

Nokia 2730 Classic
Massey University Blow Festival 2010

Nokia 6275i
Massey University Blow Festival 2010

Nokia 2730 Classic
Massey University Blow Festival 2010

   And what is the point of that? Unless Nokia now tells me: if you want the quality of the old one, it’s this other model, which will cost you an extra $300.
   I know there are many exceptions to what I’ve just written. The Asus laptop I type this on is way fancier than one that cost twice as much with a fraction of the power in the mid-2000s. But just because one area of technology marches so rapidly doesn’t mean every area follows suit.

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Posted in business, design, general, New Zealand, technology | 2 Comments »


How easily they give up

21.10.2010

I love how ‘Capital Day’ is always fun in The Dominion Post: you can’t believe the mileage I got out of its story implying that I could fix Wellington’s weather earlier this year with a fluxcapacitor. I even think it got me a few votes from people who didn’t see the irony (or the impossibility).
   Today, the story is equally funny, but in a different way. The bit they didn’t tell you is that the newspaper could not reach me on a private number (how they got it, I do not know), and had been advised that its reporters should not call it again if they actually wanted to reach me.
   Apparently, someone called that very number and now it’s a story!
   I have an outgoing message saying something along the lines of: if you aren’t with my campaign, work with me, a close friend, related to me, or my girlfriend, then hang up and don’t leave me a voicemail or SMS. It asks the caller to call me on my actual telephone number, which everyone else on the planet seems capable of dialling and having a conversation with me.
   It’s also true that I take around eight weeks to reply to voicemail messages left on it, usually because I have to find out from Telstra what the mailbox number is. But when you’ve had (probably fewer than) 20 cellphone voicemails in your lifetime to date, the need to remember that number is not a priority.
   When I am in Wellington, I almost never carry a cell, hence the discouragement. (I made more exceptions during the campaign.)
   And why should I? I am either at my office (where I have a telephone), driving (where it is illegal to pick up a cellphone—and I don’t have hands-free for a gadget I hardly use) or in a meeting (where it is bad form to pick up a cellphone). I believe we are in charge of the technology, not the other way around.
   I wrote in 2005, partly in jest, ‘The only reason for a man owning a cellphone is saving money on a vasectomy. Shove a Nokia down your pants and have your testicles irradiated.’
   So when someone calls the private number and then fails to call my regular phone as I helpfully advise, or sends me an email, or just plain acts in a logical fashion, then that is funny.
   I mean, a journalist is meant to be tenacious, right? Fail on one method, try another.
   Not give up on a whimper and turn their own failure into a story.
   Though I don’t think that was the joke they were trying to get at.
   Oh, there is no g in Yan. Three letters. Pretty easy to remember. There are more digits on the Telstra mailbox.
   Now, what was the number for that again?

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Posted in humour, media, New Zealand | 2 Comments »