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?

When technology gets out of the way

I’m a sucker for sport generally and live sport especially – see previous posts here on Olympics, Football World Cup & European Championships and even previous Rugby World Cup events.

If they keep score I’ll probably watch it, and might even get up in the middle of the night to make sure I can influence the outcome.

Indeed one of the all-time top posts on this blog is Just tell them it’s sport – although that appears to have more to do with the fact that it contains the words “shower naked with a group of men” and “dress up in lycra” which are apparently both popular Google search terms!

The big downside of watching these big events live on TV is having to deal with adverts, which I otherwise mostly manage to avoid.

Here in NZ we haven’t quite descended to the depths of US sports coverage, where networks have the ability to call time-outs during the game if they are not getting enough stoppages. But, we are slowly getting closer.

The latest slippage is the insertion of a 90 second ad break between the anthems/hakas and the start of the game. It’s an annoying intrusion after all the ceremony is completed and everybody is ready to get going. Even more so at the ground, where all of the players are left standing in position waiting for the referee to get the signal from their TV overlords so they can start the match.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the ads themselves weren’t so terrible.

For example, this horrible “advertisement” for a Panasonic television, which is featuring here during the Rugby World Cup:

The first 20 seconds are a long list of irrelevant and intimidating technical jargon.

The last 10 seconds are even worse, portraying their target customer as a freak who is more than a few biscuits short of a full packet.

The number of people who care if their television has a “built in high definition SD card viewer for media playback and program recording” is infinitesimally small.

Rather than trying to impress with the advanced componetry they should focus on what the technology allows real people to do – surely the manufacturer can think of something more inspiring than barking at your dog over Skype?

The benchmark in this area continues to be set by Apple. The repeated message in the iPad adverts is “it’s going to change the way we do things everyday” – in other words: it’s not what the software/hardware does, it’s what the user does.

So, I’m agitated that Panasonic have chosen to intrude into an event I’m excited about watching and having been force fed their marketing I’m left with the impression that the Viera is a complicated overspec’d piece of technology that only propeller heads and nutbags will love.

Nice job!

Previous Rugby & World Cup Posts:

  • Are the All Blacks winning more than ever? July 2007 – yes!
  • Dark Days October 2007 – thoughts following our exit from the previous World Cup in 2007, in which I pin the blame on all of us (see also: Whatever makes you nervous) and also predict a NZ vs Australia final in 2011 based on historical patterns – before the draw was even made.
  • Re-invigorating the All Blacks December 2007 – more is less and variety is the spice of life.
  • Third Largest? September 2008 – yes, it’s exciting to have it here, but let’s not get carried away!
  • Rugby World Cup 2011 December 2008 – after the draw was made, in which I predict the semi-finalists and finalists three years out (not actually looking too bad at this point, with the exception of under-estimating Australia)
  • 31-December December 2008 – further proof that Richie McCaw is exceptional.

I <3 EFT-POS

Here is an idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with card scanners on both sides of the slot, so it doesn’t matter which way you swipe your card.

I’m always interested to see the lengths that the people who make the terminals and the retailers who use them go to in order to try and educate people how to use them successfully.  The little pictorial representations of the magnetic strip, or the line of numbers are my favourite.  But they are worse than useless – perhaps it’s just me, but I seem to swipe the wrong way around 100% of the time, when pure chance would suggest better odds than that.

I’m not an expert, but I’m guessing that my solution would add a trivial amount to the cost of a terminal and would eliminate the problem completely.

While I’m at it, here is another idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with account buttons for “Cheque” and “Savings” but no “Credit” option – especially for those retailers that don’t accept credit card payments.

Not accepting credit card payments is pretty common, and yet the state of the art solution for these users is a bit of sellotape and a piece of cardboard saying “No Credit!!!”

Seriously, is this a 3M conspiracy?

For good measure, a third idea:

An EFT-POS terminal which doesn’t take twice as long to process Chip & PIN card transactions

If your bank has not already upgraded you to a Chip & PIN capable card, and you have any say in the matter, then I encourage you to resist as long as you can.  At least until they can explain a benefit that accrues to you rather than to them (if there is such a benefit, I’m not aware of it).

Here is how a typical Chip & PIN transactions goes, in my experience:

  1. You hand the card to the checkout person (let’s call her Sherl).
  2. Sherl swipes the card in the normal fashion.
  3. The terminal says something like “Please insert card”.
  4. Sherl looks confused and tries to find the correct place to insert said card, or says something along the lines of “oh, you’ve got one of those fancy new cards, have you!” and much hilarity ensues.
  5. Eventually she finds the slot and you enter your PIN number.
  6. Sherl removes the card and hands it back to you, at which point the transaction is declined because the card was removed too early.
  7. You explain that you need to leave the card in until it tells you to remove it, and after a bit of confusion you repeat steps 1 thru 5 again.
  8. Minutes pass.  Meanwhile everybody behind you in the queue starts to get restless.
  9. Finally the transaction is approved. Sherl can remove your card from the terminal and you can get on with your day.

Please, in the very least the terminal should display an obvious message telling operators they need to leave the card in place, or (even better) build in some tolerance so that if it is removed too early it can be re-inserted without having to start the whole dance over.

I was interested to notice our closest supermarket have disabled the Chip & PIN feature on their terminals – so if you try to insert your card in the slot it just tells you to swipe in the traditional fashion.  I guess they have discovered that the additional faffing around is not a price worth paying in order to get the benefits of additional security?  Either way, it ironically adds yet another failed step, as I’m just getting in the habit of inserting rather than swiping and now they’ve introduced an element of doubt because I don’t know which stores support it and which don’t.  Look out for more sellotape soon, I predict.

Last but not least, while we’re on the topic, an idea for the banks:

Why not load my cheque account details onto my credit card, so I don’t have to carry two separate bits of plastic around with me?

Back in the last century I was a customer of BankDirect and they did exactly that – a combined VISA & EFT-POS, which came in any colour you like as long as that’s black (I liked).  So, it’s obviously not a limitation of technology, just one of inclination and motivation.

I realise that criticising EFT-POS is almost unpatriotic in New Zealand – we’ve had it here since the 80s, before just about anybody else in the whole world, don’t you know!

There have been over 8 billion transactions processed through the system.  Per capita we use EFT-POS twice as much as anywhere else.  According to the Reserve Bank 60% of transactions use this system, and the volume and value of these transactions are reported as general indicators of activity in the economy.

For each of individually, having a detailed record of your purchases makes it much easier to keep track of your spending, if you’re so inclined.

I’m a huge fan of EFT-POS, to the point of being mocked about it on occasion.  I love not having to carry cash.  Three years living in London nearly got me back in the habit, but I quickly reverted once back in NZ.  Recently I’ve even scanned my other cards (drivers license etc) onto my phone and ditched my wallet altogether for a funky leather iPhone case which has a pouch for my EFT-POS cards.

So, given all of this, it’s pretty disappointing to see how little innovation there has been.  And, depressing that the “improvements” that are coming actually make it much worse.

What do you think?  Is there anything we can do?

PS thanks to all of the people who replied when I tweeted some of these ideas earlier in the year – you made this post much better than it would have been otherwise:

Google: Fade or Brain Fade?

Last week Google made another interesting small tweak to their home page.

When you first load the page all that is displayed is the logo, the text box and the two buttons:

In other words, nothing but the absolute necessary for the visitor who just wants to search.  The text box has the focus, so you can simply type away.  (I’ll leave the reader to consider where the “I’m feeling luckly” button fits in all of this minimalism).

If you move your mouse then all of the other links are revealed, with a subtle fade-in:

I can’t decide if this is clever or too clever.

What do you think?

Notes on just working

I receive a PowerPoint slide deck via email.

I double-click to open it and get this error message:

PowerPoint Error

That’s a bit confusing.  It was just a couple of days ago that I was rudely interrupted by Microsoft AutoUpdate.  I had stopped whatever it was I was trying to do at the time to wait for the update to download and install (I’ve learnt from previous experience that it doesn’t like running in the background, and insists on constantly grabbing the focus, so I just waited while it did its thing).

Anyway … what to do?

I click “Yes”, and end up on a Mac Office 2008 support page headed:

I can’t open an Office document after I install Office 2008 SP2 Update

Looks promising.

“This is a known issue with Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) that prevents some Open XML Format files from opening.”

In other words, the problem is because I have the most up-to-date version.

<sigh>

They promise a fix at some point in the future, but that’s not much use to me right now.

There are however eleven different possible solutions listed.

The first two start “Save your Excel workbook…”.  So, clearly this is not just a problem with PowerPoint, but you would think they could have at least had a custom error page for the specific application I was using.

The third “solution” is: “Save your PowerPoint presentation, such as .pptx, .pptm, or .potx, by using 2007 Microsoft Office Suite Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows.”

All well and good, but it’s not my file and I don’t run Windows.

The fifth solution is: “Save your document to .doc, .xls, or .ppt format by using Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

(the fourth, in case you’re counting, is another Excel only solution)

And so on…

My second favourite recommend solution, further down the list is: “Use the AppleTime Machine to roll back to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

But the best, by some distance, is this one: “Remove Office manually, reinstall Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac from the original installation media, and then upgrade to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update. Do not upgrade to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) from Microsoft AutoUpdate.”

I kid you not!

At the bottom of the page is a customer survey:

Microsoft Support Survey

I click “No” and then try to open the file in Keynote.

It just works … first time.

What’s in it for me?

I’ve been interested to watch the response to the new Trade Me design, which was launched this past week.

There has been a pretty caustic reaction on the message boards, with some long time members getting a bit worked up.

It’s amusing, from the outside at least, to see everybody asking for the old design back, forgetting that they hated that design too when it was first launched.

This is not the first time that Trade Me has changed the design of the site.

In fact, it has only ever changed.

There was a good article in Slate earlier this year about the controversial Facebook re-design, which I think is relevant:

“How can I be so sure that you’ll learn to like the re-design? Because you did the last two times Facebook did it. In 2006, Facebook added the original news feed to its site.  People hated it. They said the feed cluttered their home pages and violated their privacy. [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] responded with a blog post titled, ‘Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.’ Facebook tweaked the feed a bit, but the redesign stuck. Zuckerberg’s instinct was right on. In time, the news feed became Facebook’s signature feature, the part of the site that everyone checked first. Last summer, Facebook redesigned its front page to give more weight to the news feed. Again, millions protested. But once more, people learned to love the new site—stats show members started using Facebook more often.”

That’s an important lesson: watch what people do and react to that, rather than paying too much attention to what they say they are going to do.

The numbers will quickly tell you if you’ve got it right or messed up!

I remember when Nigel was working on a tab re-design, to accommodate a new “Sell” tab. I was quite fond of the existing design and thought it looked better with only four tabs. But, luckily he didn’t listen to me, because that change turned out to be one of the single most successful design changes ever made to the site (and blindingly obvious in hindsight).

So, with my past track record in mind, there are three things about this latest design that I think are noteworthy…

Does mark-up make a difference?

Trade Me have called the new design a “clean and modern layout”.

Maybe tabs that actually look like tabs are now classical? I’m not sure?

Is fixed-width the new black? On the surface at least, it’s a bit ironic to move to a fixed-width design in response to larger screen sizes.  On the other hand, I’m sure that working with a fixed size canvas will make it significantly easier to make design changes to the body of pages in the future.

I wonder if most of the cleaning and modernising they are talking about has actually occurred under the covers.

The HTML that makes up the new home page has changed significantly.

The <table> tags and one square pixel spacer images of yesterday have been replaced by CSS and some shiny new semantic mark-up.

Although, there is still one remaining <table> tag (for old times sake?):

<table id="PagingFooter" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="3" border="0" width="100%">
<tr><td colspan="3" align="center">
<h1 id="MoreLink"><a href="/listings-feature.htm">More homepage features...</a></h1>
</td></tr>
</table>

I’d be interested to understand what has motivated this change.

No doubt there was a lot of cludgy old mark-up to clean-up, and it’s great to see this happening.  But when I see new HTML like this, I can’t help but wonder if the inmates are running the asylum:

<div class="Widget Corner TL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner TR"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BR"><!-- ie --></div>

Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but how is that an improvement?

On dancing chickens etc…

The first thing that many people would have noticed in the new design is the larger and now animated adverts dancing about in the header, sidebar and even in the body of the home page.

I’d be lying if I tried to defend these. The dancing chicken that filled this space on the first day wasn’t a great start, and the fact that there were some early bugs which meant that ads were in some cases overlapping with other content only made it worse.

Up until now Trade Me has been one of the few sites of any scale that refused to host animated adverts. There was a simple reason for this, as explained by Sam a few years ago when he said: “Users don’t like them, so we don’t have them”.

For similar reasons the ads used in the old design were smaller than the industry standard dimensions and had strict size requirements in order to ensure they were fast loading.

MG from Trade Me had this to say on an IAB forum just over a year ago:

“The best results we are seeing from flash placements within Trade Me are those with input fields for valid consumer benefit (mortgage calculator, airline departure/arrival locations, etc). Practical usage wins out over gratuitous animation. Movement doesn’t not [sic] necessarily lead to increased click-thoughs but can be relevant for brand positioning. A case of working out what you’re trying to achieve and developing a suitable ad & placement schedule to deliver to your objectives.

That said, from the industry results I’ve been party to, Trade Me’s [click thru rate] from Tab & Tower static gifs have out-performed their flash equivalents (from other publishers) on a [cost per impression] basis every time. But I don’t get to see the full campaign results from too many advertisers … is anyone prepared to present any campaign results that dispute this claim?”

I don’t think that users like slow and distracting ads any more now than they did back then, so it would seem brave to reverse that position.

It would be interesting to see the impact on what people actually do in response to these. Do they click on these annoying ads more? Does it change at all the way they engage with the site?

This is my newly formed general theory about animated or otherwise intrusive ads: the annoying-ness of the advertising on any given website is inversely proportional to revenue growth.

Perhaps the first derivative is the explanation in this case?

Something for everybody

They say a change is as good as a holiday. But there is also nothing worse than hearing about how great somebody else’s holiday was!

It seems to me that the biggest mis-step with this change is that all of the obvious benefits are internal.  There really isn’t anything in it at all for all of the people who use the site.

In fact, some small features have been removed, such as the ability to customise the sidebar links and the ability to search within a single region (actually you can still do this, it’s just one click further away).

I’m a fan of removing under-used features, to avoid a bloated application. But, in the absence of anything new to compensate, the vocal minority who did use those features which have been dropped will naturally be annoyed.

It’s a shame that there weren’t some new features included in this release, as a bit of Fire & Motion.

Fact vs Opinion

The team at Trade Me has changed a lot since the last major re-design in 2006.  I have a lot of respect for all of them, and I think it’s good to see them start to stamp their own personality on the site.

Will any of these changes make a material difference? I’m not sure. They will take a while to get used to, and hence give people something else to think about, other than using the site, until they do.  But, I’m sure most will manage and life will go on.

I’m sure that the team will be listening to all of the feedback, and keeping a close eye on the numbers.

The rest of us can but watch and throw stones from the sidelines :-)

What do you think of the changes? Are they growing on you yet?

Visualise your audience

I love the buzz of a big crowd.  It’s exciting to soak up the atmosphere created when lots of people are all in the same space at the same time.

If you’re lucky enough to be the band, or sports team or speaker who is the focus of the crowds attention, then that is quite powerful.

(Or terrifying, I suppose, depending on their mood!)

If you design or develop software it’s much harder to get feedback like this.

But, it’s still useful to think of crowds to help you visualise the audience of people who are using what you’re building.

This was the idea behind the photo I use in the header this site.

Another from the same shoot is below, for those of you reading via my feed:

Idealog Stadium

These come from a 2006 article about Trade Me in Idealog, and were taken at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on a wet and wild day (hence the slightly damp windswept look and the Icebreaker jacket).

The stadium seats about 35,000 people when it’s full.  At the time there were about that many people online at once every evening on Trade Me.

(As I type there are over 80,000 online, showing how much it has continued to grow since then!)

When you think of that many people all in one space together, and the noise and activity they generate, it changes the way you think about the people using your site.

One of the things that software developers do all the time is dismiss a percentage of their audience as unimportant for one reason or another, without thinking of them as a distinct group of people.

If you don’t think you need to worry about people stuck using IE6 (for whatever reason) or a dial-up connection, or people who struggle to read small fonts, or people who are colour blind (or completely blind), or people who don’t know how to use a command line, or people who are still nervous (paranoid or otherwise) about entering their credit card details into a website, or people who want help from a real person, or people who use Firefox on a Mac … because on a percentage basis they are not that many … calculate just how big that group is (take your unique visitor count and multiply by the percentage, however small), and then imagine standing up in front of that group and telling them to their face that they don’t matter to you.

If you don’t think it’s a big deal for your site to be broken or off line while you make changes … think of all of the people who happen to be visiting at that point and imagine what it would feel like to have them all in the room with you while you flick the switch.  No matter how small the number it would probably feel like a lot of people.  And, you might be motivated to get the site back up more quickly if they were all standing behind you impatiently looking over your shoulder.

You can use the same technique to help put other numbers in perspective.

It’s amazing the difference it makes when you start thinking of your metrics as real people.

For example…

  • 2 people = your mum and dad!
  • 5 people = a car full
  • 15 people = a rugby team
  • 30 people = a school class
  • 100 people = a bus full
  • 120 people = a parliament full of MPs (actually 122, to be precise)
  • 380 people = all of the passengers on an Air NZ 747-400
  • 550 people = the audience at Webstock earlier this year
  • 1,500 people = capacity of the Aotea Centre in Auckland
  • 2,500 people = all of the students at Auckland Grammar school
  • 6,000 people = capacity of the TSB Arena in Wellington
  • 10,000 people = population of Gore :-)
  • 12,000 people = capacity of the Vector Arena in Auckland
  • 18,000 people = all of the students at Otago University
  • 20,000 people = population of Levin
  • 25,000 people = the crowd at Augusta National each day this week
  • 35,000 people = capacity of Westpac Stadium in Wellington
  • 60,000 people = capacity of Eden Park in Auckland, post-renovations
  • 100,000 people = capacity of MCG in Australia (also, incidentally, approx. the number of people who voted for NZ First at the last election)
  • 250,000 people = capacity of St Peter’s Square in Rome
  • 475,000 people = population of greater Wellington region
  • Etc, etc.

Help me out with some more examples…

Two Small Email Improvements

On the surface email seems like a mature application, without any obvious ways to make it better.

At least that’s what everybody thought until Gmail came along, with a bunch of excellent innovations: threaded conversations, automated archiving and labels rather than a folder structure, etc, etc.

So, what would you do to improve email even further?

Here are two simple ideas that would make email much better for me:

1. Hide until

This would simply allow me to “hide” a selected message until some date in the future.  Then on that date the message would re-appear in my inbox.

I try and keep my inbox empty.  In practice, that means at any given time my inbox contains a handful of messages which need a response.  It would be nicer, where I’m waiting on somebody else, or need to respond, but not straight away, to be able to get that message out of the list temporarily.

This seems like it would be pretty easy to implement.

2. Auto-scan for forgotten attachments

This would scan each message when I click “send” and if the body of the message includes the words “see attached” or something similar and there is nothing attached, it would stop and confirm that I didn’t forget to actually attach the document.

If I had a dollar for each time I had to follow-up with a “doh – actually attached this time” message …

Likewise this doesn’t seem that hard (famous last words, those!)

What do you think?

Would those be useful to you too?

Perhaps they already exist?

What other little ideas do you have for improving email and some of the other tools you use everyday?

Related:

Where do I find Google?

Google has published their list of the top search terms for the year:

Top 10 searches on google.co.nz in 2008

  1. games
  2. bebo
  3. youtube
  4. trade me
  5. lyrics
  6. google
  7. map
  8. hotmail
  9. tv
  10. weather

Half of these are site specific brand names (in bold) – meaning that rather than using Google the person doing the search could have simple added .com or .co.nz to the term and entered the URL directly into their browser and found the site they were looking for directly.

(the same trick would actually also work with most of the other terms too, but it’s not so obvious that people searching for these things were after the corresponding .com)

The one that will really surprise many web developers, I suspect, is “Google” itself – the sixth most popular search this year.  

How do you explain that?  What’s the mental model those users have of the web and of search engines specifically?

Most technology people will, I suspect, find it difficult to understand the sort of person who does this sort of search, but that’s exactly what we need to do if we’re going to build products these people will like to use and will tell their friends about.

Now Hiring: Web Designer

Interested? Check out the job description.

Credit, where credit is due

I was quick to complain about Contact Energy when I found their online billing frustrating.

How about something more positive …

Here is an email I got recently from Telecom:

The best thing about this? 

I don’t have to visit the website because the email contains all of the information I’m most likely interested in – the amount I owe and the date that the payment is due. 

As long as that looks right, I’ll delete the email and move on.  If not, the most prominent link takes me straight to the online bill, rather than dumping me in a maze of a marketing site.

The email is also signed by a real person, which is nice.

If I wanted to be really picky:

  • They could use fewer words – i.e. the first sentence only needs to say “Your latest online bill has arrived”. 
  • The URL for the link to the bill could be more human-readable – interestingly the link they provide direct to the bill at the bottom of the message is much nicer, so why not use that I wonder?
  • They could include the standard text that appears on the bill to explain that a direct debit is setup for this payment.

But, those are all small things. 

This is a much nicer user experience.  Full credit!

And, what’s really interesting about this … I’m now much more likely to be receptive to appropriate marketing messages that might be included in the future in this sort of email, or on the associated web site.

Thou shall not

Earlier this week I found myself in the Koru lounge at Wellington airport waiting for a delayed flight.

I was using the time to arrange an upcoming trip, and was quite surprised to see this brick wall when I tried to access TripIt.com:

Koru Club Fail
 

The “Your organisation…” is a bit misleading. I was just using the free wifi point.

If anybody from Air NZ is reading … what?

I realise it’s been a few years since I worked in a big corporate, so I might just be unaccustomed to being treated like a little kid by an IT department, but seriously what are you trying to prohibit here. You don’t want me to visit travel related websites while I’m in the Koru lounge?

What’s worse, you actually allow me to do it, but you want to make me feel naughty in the process? As it was I just clicked the “Use Quota” button and it let me straight through. What other sites you don’t think are acceptable, I wonder?

Quite weird.

By the way, speaking of Air NZ and TripIt…

Has anybody else run into problems with the new format e-tickets emails that Air NZ have introduced recently? I’m using Mail.app on OS X and am having a problem with the attachments:

The item in the inbox has 9 attachments, but the message itself has only 6. The 3 that are missing are the PDFs with the booking details.

When I forward to TripIt it is no longer able to automatically add the booking as it has in the past.

When I look at the same message through gmail.com it has all 9 attachments and works fine when I forward to TripIt, so it would seem to be a Mail.app problem.

Is this just me, or have others seen this too?

UPDATE (13-Oct): 

Kim from AirNZ added this comment.  Good news!

“Air NZ recently updated the design of its e-tickets, at the same time upgrading the system which generates the email and attached documents. The PDF and calendar appointment missing from the email when viewed in the Apple Mail client is a teething problem which is being actively closed down. We hope to have a fix in place later in the week.”

Find the link…

I’ve signed up to receive our power bill via email.

So, I get an email telling me our latest bill is now available online.

Here is the page I’m redirected to.

It’s not the bill.  

It’s a landing page full of noise.  

See how long it takes you to find the link to the bill.

(click for larger size)

There are actually two links.  Neither of them exactly jump out at you.  

I never even noticed the link in the top-right until I took this screen shot.  This is not especially surprising as this position is so often used for advertising that people will just block it out.

It’s reasonable to assume that the link would be somewhere in the body of the page, but as you scan that area everything which looks vaguely like a link says “Find out more >”.  More about what, exactly?  

Why don’t they link directly to the bill, I wonder?  

Or even better simply include the important information (e.g. total amount owed and due date?) in the email itself and let me avoid this hassle altogether.

Is online billing about making things easier for customers or creating opportunities for the marketing department?

Mobile Banking [Guest Post]

This is a guest post by Jay Nielson from Kiwibank. Enjoy!

To coincide with the launch of the iPhone in New Zealand, we at Kiwibank decided to launch a new Mobile Internet Banking system. We knew from the start that we wanted to support many different devices, but unfortunately, we were stuck with a full timeline of just three weeks. We had this time to design, build, test and implement essentially a new Internet banking platform and we had one developer and one tester to do it.

My name is Jay Nielson and I was that developer and I’m hoping that this guest post that Rowan has allowed me to write will give a bit of insight into how we approached this project, some issues we came across, some of the tricks we found and lessons we learnt especially for developing for the iPhone.

We launched the first version of the site in July with basic support for the iPhone. Of course, we wanted full support for many devices, but the iPhone was going to bring the publicity that a basic site may not be able to. Behind the scenes we set up the architecture of the site to be able to dish out completely different code depending on the device.  We were able to include different style sheets as necessary and, of course, different images.

For example in the latest version, the login page is designed to fit the device if you’re browsing on an iPhone but is stripped down if you’re browsing on a simple Sony Ericsson phone.

iPhone Login Page

Mobile Phone Login Page

We knew from the start that there were other mobile sites out there but the difference between us and them is that we never meant to have just a single version of the site.

We had the basic design used on some of our other websites from our design company (Springload in Wellington) to use as a base. Because our current site is written in classic ASP (and I know that site inside out) I decided that the limited amount of time we had meant that the site was going to be built with the older technology, with a rewrite at a later stage.

I developed it with a very rudimentary controller/presenter system where I bought all the page logic out from the presenters and left them to render the page as they needed. This was the way I managed to easily add new device support – with the page logic separated out (and most of the presentation data bundled into classes) adding new device support was easy. As for detecting the different devices we found plenty of information on the net about which phones use which user agent strings, it was just a matter of finding the common attributes and taking them out. In all there are about 20 checks to determine the 6 different devices (iPhone, Browser, Windows Mobile, Mobile, PalmOS and Blackberry)

We decided to include the 90% most used features of our Java mobile application:

  • View Accounts;
  • View Transactions; and
  • Transfer funds.

We restricted funds movement to only within your own accounts, which allowed us to defer implementing the KeepSafe security used on our other sites.

The trick with all of this is getting the site working as a web page but looking like an iPhone application that people are familiar with. This meant big buttons, simple layout, uncluttered and to the point. Our friends at Springload helped immensely at this stage.

The biggest issue we had with the iPhone (apart from being able to only test on a Mac) was the fixed width.  Browsing the web on the iPhone is pretty simple. The device can render the page using Safari and you simply zoom in and out with a pinch motion with your fingers. Now, there are META tags you can add to the heading of the page to restrict the zoom levels and while they are pretty straight forward, but the device would never seem to return the text back to the font size it was to begin with after you rotate it to landscape mode. A bit of research was needed and we found the following code seemed to overcome it:

<meta name="viewport" content="user-scalable=no" />

<meta name="viewport" content="initial-scale=1.0" />

<meta name="viewport" content="maximum-scale=0.6667;" />

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width" />

<meta name="format-detection" content="telephone=no" />

The first four lines dictates that with width and zoom levels are to be static while the final one stops our accounts numbers being turned into phone numbers for auto dialing!

iPhone Accounts Page – with option to rotate to widescreen for more detail

With the iPhone version of the site working it was release time. We got it live the day before launch and have received positive reviews. As far as marketing it went, we decided to keep it a little low key and went more for word of mouth with a single press release rather than full page newspaper ads. It worked well. As far as our estimates are concerned, we had about 10% of the iPhone sold in New Zealand logging in and the only limiting factor was that no one could buy any more – we’re still waiting for our three to arrive!

Something else we tried which we haven’t done much before is to be quite open about it. We posted on blogs, answering questions people had and set up email addresses for feedback. We knew this was going to be an iterative process and took steps early on to get the feedback from customers that we needed.

With the launch a success we looked to the future. We had given out an email address for people to post their ideas about the site and the number one requested feature was support for Windows Mobile, so of course that was a priority in the new release. There were a few layout issues as well we needed to fix, but we also decided to try out hand at multiple language support.

A little addition that I wanted to sneak in was changing the page layout to display more information if the iPhone is rotated to landscape. There are a few issues at this stage, but the concept works perfectly. On Rowan’s post about us, the comments got into renaming accounts. I added that functionality in as well after the discussions there.

The latest version of the site, launched this week, now has the extra features we wanted including support for multiple languages, starting with English (the default), Russian (as the tester’s wife could speak Russian and it was a perfect way to test international character sets) and my favourite, Swedish Chef Bork Bork language, for a bit of fun (Bork! Bork! Bork!). All the language strings needed to be taken out and are stored in a database which is then cached in the session for the customer when they first log in (or change their language). I created a C# GUI front end to that database to allow us to update/add new string values without a full release of the code. In reality, we could release Arabic tomorrow without any updates to production. The language strings are per device and per language. So for mobile, if needed, we can summarise a lot more text as it has a smaller screen real estate.

Login Page – Russian

Login Page – Swedish Chef!!

The new version of the site works on the iPhone, Windows Mobile devices and mobile phones with sufficient browsers.

To top it off we have even been nominated for three TUANZ awards, including innovation of the year so wish us luck on the 28th.

We’re always looking for new ideas and feedback and would love to hear it. You can email us at mobile.ideas@kiwibank.co.nz

From Rowan:

Given that most of their competitors measure their progress in months or even quarters, I think it’s great to see a bank turning something like this around in just three weeks.  And also to iterate quickly – already they have released a second version which incorporates a lot of the feedback they’ve received following the launch.

Plus can you imagine any other bank launching a Swedish Chef version of their site?  It’s fantastic!

What do you think?  If you’re a Kiwibank customer, how do you find this application?  If not, would a good mobile app be enough to make you switch?

I’m interested in your comments.

Also, if you’re interested in writing a guest post here about something you’re working on please feel free to get in touch.  My email address is on the right hand sidebar.