Friday, 9 March 2018

The great health data giveaway.

I’ve started running. To get over the shock, I've decided to do data-driven running, to quantify my improvements. But health gadget vendors aren't making it easy. 

Data-driven running is a great motivator. I'm in competition with me, and I know that I can beat me. Better yet, I don't feel bad losing to me. This competition is whole lot more healthy (in all senses) than with my wife (who can out-fit me every time).  

I measure time, pace, distance, heart rate. Trouble is, due to the product choices that I've made, I have 3 separate devices. Each device has its own service, and none integrate with another. My heart rate monitor is through my Jabra elite sport ear buds (incidentally, a great product because of the in-ear coaching) with the data viewable in its iPhone app. I also use the HRM in my Nokia smart watch since it is collated with my other personal metrics (weight, body composition, blood pressure, steps, sleep) via Nokia Health app to give a more comprehensive picture of me. Post-run analysis (if you don't post it, it didn't happen) is from the Strava app on the iPhone. Finally, the data is archived in the Apple health app. So that's 3 devices and 4 apps. 

The value is in combining this information, then analysing to show actionable trends. If my muscle percentage is decreasing, I should increase my weights intensity. If the training effect of my runs are decreasing, I should attack more hills. So it's extremely frustrating that my data is in 3 closed ecosystems. Why deny me the ability to get best of breed devices and apps to work together?  

There's a deeper point. This is my data, and it's very personal data about me. Vendors are very welcome to provide me the tools to measure and analyse myself, but don't act as if you own my data. You should provide me the tools to manage my data without prejudice. Exporting, importing, integrating, and safeguarding data should be at the core of what you do. You don't own my data, because you don't own me. 

Anyone want a nearly new smart watch?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Slowing pace of technology

My gadgets are lasting longer. But their value for money is actually increasing over time.

Last month, my iPhone 6 plus became 3 generations old, but I don’t yet feel the need to upgrade it. It’s only when it becomes 4 generations old with the release of the iPhone X that I’ll be tempted to upgrade. Rather than this being an example of catastrophically bad product management (who in their right minds makes their latest 8th gen product irrelevant in a matter of months?), I think this actually demonstrates impressive technological longevity.

It’s not just Apple being generous with my wallet; other companies are following the same model. I play games on my Xbox One, even though as of last month it was 3 generations old.

Whilst the rate of technology progress has not slowed, the rate of obsolescence has slowed, at least for these two devices. My phone runs iOS 11, and therefore continues to run all the apps (just don’t get me started on catastrophic battery performance). My Xbox One will run all the games that are released for Xbox One X, thanks to Microsoft’s Play Anywhere programme.

Hardware continues to follow Moore’s Law and improve, but I no longer need to buy new hardware to benefit from improvements. All my apps continue to be updated, and new functionality added, almost always for free. Longevity is assured by software. The rate of compelling improvements has not slowed, yet the cost has become cheaper.

This has always been a characteristic of other industries, such as TV. Every so often, there are jumps in technology with backwards incompatibility, such as the conversion from analogue to digital. But for the main part, traditional broadcasters are very much preoccupied with ensuring that no viewer is left behind.

This accounts for the slow pace of change in the industry. If you look at any EPG listing on any service, the number of SD channels far outnumber the HD channels. You can see repeats of 4:3 programming with ugly black bars on either side. Change is evolutionary because there is such a large consumer base to keep happy. Change is evolutionary because there are technology and content assets that need to be “sweated”. Value for money must be maintained for longer.

This is a lesson being learned and improved upon by Apple and Microsoft. Just as I’m not being forced to upgrade to a 4k TV otherwise my viewing will be cut off, I’m not being forced to upgrade to an iPhone X nor an Xbox One X. But if I do upgrade both X-devices, I can be confident that the devices will last longer, and due to better software, do more, as time progresses. Value for money will increase over time.  My wallet thanks you.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Simplicity lessons from Apple

I’ve just finished the immensely readable and idea-rich  Insanely Simple by Ken Segall. Ken, as the cover proclaims, coined the phrase iMac as part of his work for Apple in the agency Chiat/Day, and used his insights from working with Steve Jobs to distil its essence to one principle: simplicity.

Not being a tech titan with $120B in the bank myself, I was wondering on how to apply the principle to my own rather more limited sphere of interactions. This is what I’ve come up with, written in the form of advice to myself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Simplicity is universal.
Whereas complexity requires specialised technical knowledge and even language to convey, simplicity is understood by all. People prefer simplicity. Even professionals who tolerate complexity as a price of doing business, even encourage learning curves as a barrier to their profession, prefer simplicity.

Simplicity is effective.
Direct and unadorned communications is unambiguous and therefore efficient. But being blunt without empathy is brutal and nasty. Steve Jobs had a reputation for being a tyrant because of his communications style. However, being unambiguous and unyielding on what success looked like was a key to his success.

Even if tyranny isn’t your thing, you should still think about simple communications. Your ideas will only be heard if they land and are internalised by your recipients. Get your ideas out quickly, simply, without adornment. There’s a difference between leading people to a conclusion, and doing the thinking for them, and people usually resent the latter.

So focus your communications. Deliver ideas with honesty, sympathy and simplicity. Encourage a conversation in order to get to a decision. Connect.

Simplicity is hard.
Complexity is easy. Complexity naturally arises when lots of people try to work together. Before you know it, there are processes to help navigate the complexity. These navigation skills become essential in order to get things done, and having good ideas becomes secondary. Simplicity requires placing trust in a small team of smart people, and empowering them to make decisions.

Because complexity is easy, complex answers are often the first answers. Simple answers will require more thought, more effort, and more focus. Focus is not just concentrating on one thing, but also not doing all the other important things that need to get done.

Simplicity is more than good enough. Stick to your vision, and you’ll go from good to great.

Simplicity is ongoing.
A simple idea is not a goal. Making every idea simple doesn’t necessarily make turn them into good ideas. There are plenty of simple bad ideas out there (sharks with lasers?). It’s better to start from a good idea, apply the principles of simplicity, and end up with a great idea.

It will take ongoing investment of time and resource to continue to live with the problem, peel back layers of complexity, to get to an elegant simple solution. It will also bravery to trust that you’ll be given, or give yourself, the space to go from minimum viable to the best answer.

Getting to simple requires having enough good will in the bank to survive living with the problem for a while. If you’re not Apple with a devout fanbase willing to forgive every iPhone 8 as long as there’s an upcoming iPhone X, then you’re going to need to work hard investing in your network and relationships.

You’re going to also need to work hard investing in yourself. Simplicity needs to be authentic to your own personal values, so spend time understanding them. Having everything come from the same place will give the outcomes coherence.

So simplicity is more than a single attribute. You’ll have to hit everything with the simple stick, and keep doing it, to achieve simplicity. The end is worthwhile, because simplicity is powerful.