Alarm Mode != Silent

Your classical bedside alarm clock has three modes, typically set using a hardware switch:

  1. On
  2. Off
  3. Alarm

When it’s “on” it makes noise. When it’s “off” it makes no noise. And, when it’s in “alarm” mode it will make some noise at some predetermined time in the future, which can be set, but will otherwise make no noise until then.

The Apple iPhone, on the other hand, has just two modes, set using a hardware switch:

  1. [blank]
  2. [orange]

When the phone is in “[blank]” mode it makes noises. When it’s in “[orange]” mode, it will vibrate rather than ring, and will make some noise at some predetermined time in the future, but will otherwise make no noises until then.

I mention all of this mostly because an old guy in NY has been in the news this week after he interrupted an orchestra performance with an alarm, when he thought his phone was in “silent” mode.

This has kicked off a big debate about the design of the mute switch.

John Gruber thinks it works just the way it should, or at least, says that if it didn’t work that way it would cause even more problems – which is correct, I think.

Andy Ihnatko thinks that mute should mean mute (i.e. [orange] = “off” rather than [orange] = “alarm”)

Marco Arment argues…

The user told the iPhone to make noise by either scheduling an alarm or initiating an obviously noise-playing feature in an app. The user also told the iPhone to be silent with the switch on the side. The user has issued conflicting commands, and the iPhone can’t obey both.

Actually, that’s not correct. By selecting [orange] mode the user has put their phone in alarm mode, not silent mode, which, doesn’t actually exist, unless you turn the phone off completely. So, the phone is doing exactly what it was told to do.

I think that Apple could do a better job of describing the two modes that are set using this hardware switch.

The first thing they need to do is replace the icon.

Currently, when you switch into [orange] mode (i.e. “alarm” mode) , the following icon is displayed temporarily on the screen:

That’s confusing!

This is all a new user has to help them discover what this switch does.

Having said that, it’s not obvious what the correct icon would be – it’s actually pretty complex mode to describe in one small picture: “vibrate rather than ring, but otherwise make noises I’ve asked you to make”.

How would you solve this problem? Can you think of a better icon? Or is there a hardware solution?

Too clever

Jason from 37signals last week posted one of my favourite quotes about complexity, and specifically complex systems:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

John Gall, from his book Systematics

Here is another along the same lines:

“There are two ways of constructing software; one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. The first method is far more difficult.”

C. A. R. Hoare, the inventor of the Quicksort algorithm

And, why do we think complexity is desirable in the first place?

“People often misinterpret complexity as sophistication”

Niklaus Wirth, the father of Pascal

Are you trying to be too clever?

You’ve got (too much) mail

Here’s a simple idea:

Imagine if your email server got a little bit slower each time you checked for new messages during the day.

Just a few seconds longer each time would quickly add up, if you’re one of those people who live in their inbox all day.

By later in the day it would take a couple of minutes to actually see any new messages,  That would probably be enough to break the “Get New Mail” habit.

And knowing that you only have a few opportunities for a quick response time each day would force you to be a bit more conscious about when you want to do that.

What do you think?  Would you appreciate some tough love from your email server?  If that option were available, would you use it, or are you addicted to email on demand 24/7?

No news is good news

I’m spending next week offline.

No email. No RSS. No blogging.

It will be interesting to see how it goes.

I’ll let you know this time next Sunday.

In the meantime, here’s a good story from Sir Ken Robinson’s book “Out Of Our Minds“:

“A well known British journalist was reminiscing about his early days in radio news. He joined the BBC in the 1930s at a time when there was no regular news bulletin. In his first week, a bulletin was scheduled and he arrived at the studio to watch it being broadcast. The presenter sat at the microphone and waited until the time signal had finished. He then announced sombrely: ‘This is the BBC Home Service from London. There is no news’. The view of the times was that news would be broadcast if anything happened to warrant it.”

I didn’t realise it until now, but less is nostalgic.