Video Games and Usability

Came across an interesting link and quote from Isenberg’s newsletter: an article by Peter Seebach entitled “Everything I need to know about usability, I learned at the arcade“. An excerpt:

Video games demonstrate several important lessons about streamlining repetitive tasks. One of the first is the use of rational defaults. Video games try very hard to get the defaults right. In many turn-based war games, a unit can either attack or rest at the end of its turn. What’s the default? To attack if there’s an enemy unit nearby — otherwise, it will rest. The default is almost always right. Many games simply favor a most-recently used strategy for guessing at defaults. This simple strategy is often a gigantic improvement over the user interfaces of productivity software.

A lot of productivity software is nowhere near the level of reliability that you’ll find with video games. Productivity software manuals are full of warnings to save your work frequently, because crashes can destroy your work in progress. Video games offer saving as a convenience to the user, who may want to go do something else for a while. Crashes are considered unacceptable in a video game; for some reason, though, with most productivity software, they’re simply a part of the experience.

Many video games are designed so that the user doesn’t need to be taught how to play; the designers assume that the user will never read the manual.

Most games allow at least some level of user control over the interface. Most productivity software doesn’t.

Seebach’s action item: “Play a video game for a while. Does the interface appear to make an effort to conform to your usage patterns? Compare it with the productivity software you use. Is the video game easier?”

Telecom’s Business Model Change

David Isenberg is the architect of the Stupid Network theory, writes in his SMART Letter, that the telecom crisis was caused by three factors:
1) Overcapacity
2) Bad debt, directly driven by technological advances
3) A wholesale change of business models more profound than the shift from horse and buggy to the jet age

About the business model change, he says:

The telephone company business model used to be based on vertical integration. The network was a voice network. The wires were voice wires. The switches were voice switches. You can say the same for cable TV. The cable system was specialized for broadcasting video entertainment. These were special-purpose networks.

The Internet, in sharp contrast, is a general-purpose network. It will carry anything. The Internet does not care whether it is carrying voice or video or financial data or email or pictures.

The Internet pushes the decision “What to carry,” to its edges. It pushes the decision “How to use the network,” right into the lap of the end user. This is a direct consequence of the Internet’s architecture.

The Internet’s job is internetworking. That is, the Internet is a network of networks — the Internet Protocol is designed to span the various component networks and to ignore the network specific details. The Internet Protocol ignores even those network-specific details that add value to a given component network.

So if the owner of a component network that forms a piece of the Internet tries to add value to his or her particular network, that value may be useful for a network-specific application — such as telephony or TV — but it is irrelevant for Internet-level connectivity. The only place you can add value in an Internet world is at the edges.

This means that in an Internet world, a network owner has no special advantage in adding value to their network, say, over somebody who owns a few servers at the edge and buys connectivity.

This single fact makes the telephone-company business model obsolete. It also makes the Internet the huge success, the integral part of our lives that it is today.

Think about all the killer applications of the last decade — email, instant messaging, web browsing, streaming audio, ecommerce, Internet telephony — you don’t have to be a network owner to host these apps. Indeed not a single one was brought to market by a telephone company or a cable company.

The Internet became the success it is today — and the threat that it is to existing telcos — because it is a Stupid Network, an end-to-end network.

To subscribe to Isenberg’s newsletter, click here. Recommended.

Sony Playstation 3 Plans

Playstation 3 is likely to be 1000x more powerful than PS2. Writes Red Herring:

The soul of Sony’s new machine is a cell-computing chip. These chips enable a distributed style of computing (known as cell computing) that performs computing tasks in much the same way a cell phone network routes calls from base station to base station. Due for release in 2005, the PlayStation 3 will thus be able to use its broadband Internet connection to reach across the Internet and draw additional computing power from idle processors. And if still more horsepower is needed, the PlayStation 3 can use a home network to enlist support from other available machines to tackle big computing jobs. Pieces of a computing task–for example, creating realistic 3D graphics that simulate entire worlds–will be distributed among available processors to harness their combined power.

Buoyed by so much processing power, consumers will be able to interact with these worlds without worrying about hackers, viruses, or lost connections. Instead of using a mouse or game controller, players might wave their hands in front of a Web cam, showing what they want to do through gestures. They might play games without ever putting a disc into the console machine, downloading games from the Internet instead. They could tap into vast networks of movies and music, or they could record shows on the PlayStation 3 hard drive, which, by 2005, might hold 12,800 hours of music or 2,000 hours of video. And, starting with buying games from Sony, consumers will also be able to use the PlayStation 3 to engage in all sorts of e-commerce, through either a Sony ISP or a potential ally like AOL Time Warner.

Sony’s plan to build a box that could be the nexus of home entertainment was revealed in a speech by Shinichi Okamoto, senior vice president of research and development at Sony’s game division, at the Game Developers Conference in March. Mr. Okamoto said that Sony’s next box will make good on the unfulfilled promise of the PlayStation 2–that the PlayStation 3 will be a broadband-enabled computing machine. As such, it will compete not only with game consoles from Nintendo and Microsoft, but also with PCs from the likes of Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard, and with TV set-top boxes from Motorola and Philips.

The next few years will see a lot of action on the home front. That is now the Next Frontier.

Google’s Success

Newsfactor writes about Google’s The Wonderful Wizards and explains its success:

Google has distinguished itself mainly by adhering to an uncomplicated philosophy: Users come to the site with specific purposes in mind, so the site must work to meet their goals.

“It’s the one thing that we always say companies should do, which is focus on serving user goals,” Forrester Research analyst Harley Manning told NewsFactor. “It seems like such a simple insight, but it’s not one that has been executed by very many sites.”

Something to keep in mind.

I wrote about Google in yesterday’s Tech Talk.

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Wireless: Magic in the Air

There was a time in India not so long ago when one had to wait months for a wired telephone. In the New Connected India, all it takes is a few minutes to get a cellphone and start talking. From a no phone state, Indians have leapfrogged into a land where lack of a signal is seen with askance. Five years of GSM have given India one of the worlds best cellular networks. Today, when Indians travel within the country or even globally, they truly have one number to reach me anytime, anywhere.

In many parts of the world, new telephone connections are being equally split between wired lines and wireless lines. Obviously, once people discover the joys of a phone in their pocket, few want to be tethered to the wireline connection. With rising penetrations, cellular phone prices and connectivity charges have dropped. Today, in India, new phones cost less than USD 100 (Rs 5,000) and airtime costs 3-5 cents (Rs 1.50-2.50) per minute. In particular, airtime charges have fallen more than 90% in the past five years. Wirefree has become the lifestyle and lifeline for the new generation.

Mobile handsets are now coming with additional features to entice users to keep on upgrading smart phones with integrated PDA (calendar, address book, to-do lists), MP3 players, camera phones, colour screens are making their way into the market. The other track being taken is to add high-speed data capabilities through next-generation cellular networks (2.5G and 3G).

So far, however, the big winner has been something which involves tapping out messages on a micro-keypad: SMS, or Short Message Service. Text messaging, even with its inherent limitations with data entry and the 160-character limit, has become extremely popular, showing once again that what people will pay for is interaction: people want to communicate with others, everytime and from everywhere. Next stop: multimedia messaging service (MMS).

Convergence and Dis-Integration

Communications is where the action is, right down to the chip-level. Read what Craig Barrett, Intel’s CEO, says in an interview with Tim Forenski in Financial Times (June 6, 2002):

“We are in two businesses which are in the process of converging. Having been through the computer wars, you know what is going to happen, you know what the end point is going to be”, he says. The communications equipment market, he argues, has relied on proprietary technologies and custom chips instead of off-the-shelf parts. Now, the capital crunch suffered by the telecoms sector means there is an opportunity for equipment makers that can offer cheaper hardware by using industry-standard components such as those from Intel.

The two businesses Barrett is talking about are the microprocessors and communications chips businesses. They are converging. Kevin Werbach picks up the story. In an article in The Feature (July 8, 2002), he describes how “communications is going to be free”, as it gets integrated on the same chips as computing by companies like Intel. Think of every chip with a built-in radio. Writes Werbach:

Integrating radios into chips is more than just an engineering accomplishment. It has profound consequences for the devices and services that make use of those chips. The most obvious advantage is price. When the addition of wireless communications to a device adds negligible cost to the device, there’s no reason not to do so.

Another advantage of building RF capabilities into CPUs is that wireless devices will have newfound smarts, because they will be able to take advantage of the computational power of the microprocessor. They will be able to sense and adapt to whatever wireless networks are within range.

Tomorrow: Wireless (continued)