Smartphones need a warning label

“Like 99% of the value that people actually get out of Facebook, if you put distraction aside, probably requires 20 minutes on Sunday.”

Perhaps as a byproduct of my age and the realization that time is not infinite, I’ve often thought about what value I get from certain activities. I still waste too much time on task avoidance, but with the exception of checking Twitter for Island related news, I spend far less time than ever before one (anti-)social media. My guilty pleasure is looking at puppy videos on Instagram in the evening, which has the positive effect of ending the day with a smile or laugh.

There’s a rarefied number of activities to invest time in that are really important and return a lot of value—the amount of value [in these activities] is way higher than, say, the little bit of value you get by seeing a funny Tweet or writing a comment on a friend’s Facebook post. Spreading your time and attention over these low value things takes your time and attention away from the things that are disproportionately higher value.

If you want to maximize the amount of value you feel in your life, the mathematics are clear: You want to put as much of your time and effort as possible into the small number of things to give you these huge rewards. When you think about it that way, fear of missing out looks like, just mathematically speaking, a really bad strategy.

I’ve ordered his book Digital Minimalism to gain more insights into the techno-exhaustion that plagues our always-on, digitally caffeinated culture.

Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes. See also Cal Newport: Why you should quit social media

Holding phone technique

I used to take a lot of photos of people using their mobile devices in order to document how they used them and in what context. The above is a former colleague using a “2 thumb technique” to scroll through a long list of WeChat messages.

One reason not to choose Public Mobile

I gave both my kids accounts with Public Mobile when they arrived in PEI for a combination of reasons: the price came slightly under any family plan offered by other providers, they supported their older iPhones, and I saw the lack of interaction with store personnel as a big positive. The fact that their website, with it’s wireframe aesthetic, seemed more task focused as compared to the others Campbell alphabet soup approach, worked in their favour too.

But, my son hasn’t had any data in what would appear to be over a month. We utilize all the features of the iOS platform, including the blue bubbles of iMessage, location sharing and etc. When these features never worked for him I figured he had just turned something off, and I didn’t have time to investigate further. It nows seems this is something with Public Mobile.

I’ve never had a network problem, at least in the past 10 years, that a simple restart wouldn’t fix. The problem seems a bit deeper this time and after spending 40 minutes on the community website looking for answers, the required course of action, I am left with the same unresolved problem.

This “You’re the boss when it comes to your account” philosophy sounds nice if the service works as advertised, but if you loathe troubleshooting mundane problems such as this, or don’t have time to waste it might be worth investigating someone else.

Mobile phone use in Taiwanese children

The Journal of the Formosan Medical Association graciously had released the following under Open Access.

The overall prevalence of MP use for Taiwanese children aged 11–15 years was estimated at 63.2% (95% CI = 61.1–65.3%). The prevalence showed a small sex difference, but presented evident age and geographic variations. The prevalence increased steadily from 45% for 11-year-old children to 71.7% for children aged 15 years. Children living in the Central area showed the highest prevalence (69.3%), whereas those from the South area had the lowest prevalence at 58.3%. We also noted that children who attended private schools had a higher prevalence of MP use than public school students.

Some 71.1% of guardians reported that the main reason for their children to use MPs was because of safety considerations. However, 27.6% admitted that peer pressure was the main reason for their children to own MPs. Forty-five percent of children used MPs for calling or receiving every day, 30.7% talked >2 days/week, and 18.9% used MPs 1–2 days/week. More than half (45%) of children had used MPs for calling or receiving daily, 34.8% reported daily MP use of 21–40 minutes, and 4.4% of children used MPs for at least 1 hour every day. During weekdays, children often (41.7%) talked on MPs in the evening. The MP use pattern during the weekend was somewhat different; children often used their MPs for calling or receiving in the afternoon (33.3%), and then in the evening (24.6%). Of the children studied, 9.8% frequently used MPs for calling or receiving after 10:00 PM, a time of lights out for many families during weekdays, and the corresponding figure for the weekend was 6.7%
From Mobile phone use and health symptoms in children in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association
Volume 114, Issue 7, July 2015, Pages 598-604

Chunghwa Telecom vs. Rogers Data Plan

“All you can eat data for 699”

I got the above ad in my emailbox last week and with an impending move to Canada, comparisons ensued.

The offer from ChungHwa is par for the course in Taiwan, all you can use data, a countrywide wifi network, plus a free Android tablet for 699NT$ ($30CAN). Voice calling is available for a fee in the plan but few would use such a service as many prefer to using apps to for voice. This offer uses Chunghwa’s 4G network which would might be the slower of their networks offered here, but comparable to what you would find in Canada.

Rogers has a confusing array of plans so I recorded those which seems to be the most comparable.

The above is the current offer(s) from Rogers. All of the Rogers plans focus on complex rules in order to gain more revenue from fees, which are already the highest I have ever seen anywhere. No simple flat rate pricing. With Rogers you get 100mb for $10 CAN, which would should cover those who check email once a month, and $20/2 Gig afterwards. I assume like parking lot swindles, they charge you for the full amount even if only slightly over. You pay for a tablet or device separately. The second plan gives you 5 Gigs for $60, with a similar over use fee. Particularly amusing is their framing of the light and heavy plans.

When I move to Canada this summer I am expecting a 3 fold increase in fees on my mobile plan. The plan itself will be on a slower network with severe data caps. I’m going to miss the freedom that mobile plans in Asia provide.

Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?
Quick or smart? by Seth Godin

What The Screen Time Experts Do With Their Own Kids

For the kids, since they started school, the rule is “no media on weekdays.” They unplug at family dinner and before bed. They have a family movie night on Fridays, which is an example of the principle Radesky touts in her research, of “joint media engagement,” or simply sharing screen time.

On weekends, they allow the kids cartoons, apps and games like Minecraft. But more than just limiting time, says Radesky, “I try to help my older son be aware of the way he reacts to video games or how to interpret information we find online.” For example, she tries to explain how he is being manipulated by games that ask him to make purchases while playing.

The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, and when we bend our neck to text or check Facebook, the gravitational pull on our head and the stress on our neck increases to as much as 60 pounds of pressure. That common position, pervasive among everyone from paupers to presidents, leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. “Text neck” is becoming a medical issue that countless people suffer from, and the way we hang our heads has other health risks, too, according to a report published last year in The Spine Journal.

Posture has been proven to affect mood, behavior and memory, and frequent slouching can make us depressed, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The way we stand affects everything from the amount of energy we have to bone and muscle development, and even the amount of oxygen our lungs can take in. Body language, perceptions of weakness versus power — it’s all real.

Keep Your Head Up: How Smartphone Addiction Kills Manners and Moods

A Sociology of the Smartphone

For many of us, they are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking. We use them to meet people, to communicate, to entertain ourselves, and to find our way around. We buy and sell things with them. We rely on them to document the places we go, the things we do and the company we keep; we count on them to fill the dead spaces, the still moments and silences that used to occupy so much of our lives.

For all its ubiquity, though, the smartphone is not a simple thing. We use it so often that we don’t see it clearly; it appeared in our lives so suddenly and totally that the scale and force of the changes it has occasioned have largely receded from conscious awareness. In order to truly take the measure of these changes, we need to take a step or two back, to the very last historical moment in which we negotiated the world without smartphone in hand.

It’s been transformative in many ways, but issues of overuse have gradually created the impression that the smartphone is creating more problems than it is solving. Just look at any dinner table at a restaurant in Taiwan as an example.

One of the more interesting stories coming from the experiences using the new Apple Watch LTE is the freedom of not having a phone with you, with all it’s attention sucking habits. People feel free. With the limited interaction afforded by the Apple Watch, Apple has recreated the basic flip phone of the past, but as jewelry on your wrist.

If there was a gold rush it may be over. One in ten thousand mobile apps are considered a financial success.

Consumers are increasingly turning to recommendation engines, friends, social networking or advertising to discover mobile applications rather than sorting through the thousands of mobile apps available. As a consequence, Gartner, Inc. predicts that through 2018, less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers.

“The vast number of mobile apps may imply that mobile is a new revenue stream that will bring riches to many,” said Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “However, our analysis shows that most mobile applications are not generating profits and that many mobile apps are not designed to generate revenue, but rather are used to build brand recognition and product awareness or are just for fun. Application designers who do not recognize this may find profits elusive.”
Gartner: Less Than 0.01 Percent of Consumer Mobile Apps Will Be Considered a Financial Success …

A key differentiator might be a solid UX strategy.

Of course, teen behavior is a product, at least in part, of parental attitudes. As a father myself, I recognized a number of widespread smartphone- and social media-oriented habits that I have internalized myself and inadvertently presented to my kids as acceptable behavior. These include, of course, an addictive propensity to check one’s smartphones, often at the expense of remaining present in real world situations; the habit of sleeping with a phone by one’s bedside or even with the phone in bed; and the reflex of looking at the phone before literally any other function upon waking up in the morning. These have all become normalized over the past decade, and it’s pretty clear they’re not doing much good for anybody.
Are Smartphones, Social Media—and Designers—Ruining Teenagers?

6 points on mobile UX

Some key points from 15 Mobile UX Facts & Insights (2017), that are relevant to what I am working on lately.

  1. Cellphones are ubiquitous. A Pew Research report suggests that 95% of Americans own a cellphone; around 77% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, which is up from 68% from last year’s report. Smartphone ownership rate is highest in South Korea (88%) and lowest in Ethiopia (4%). This rate also varies by age, with 97-98% of millennials (18-34) owning a smartphone.
  2. Mobile applications are predominantly used for killing time, but a large percentage of online shopping now happen on mobile phones. Mobile commerce is expected to reach 45% of the e-commerce market or $284 billion by 2020.
  3. People use their phones around 80 times each day; 69% of digital time is spent on mobile, versus 31% on desktop.
  4. Mobile delays are worse than standing in line and are considered more stressful than watching horror movies!
  5. On average around 27 apps are used per month and around 6-10 are used in a week.  People spend, on average, about 40 hours a month on their mobile apps. Women spend, on average,about 42 hours a month, whereas men spend 39 hours a month. App usage also varies by age. Smartphone users, ages 18-24, access around 25 apps per month. 25-49 year olds access 28 apps, 50-60 year olds access 25 apps, and 65+ access an average of 21 apps per month.
  6. Though portrait orientation is slightly more preferred to landscape (60% versus 40%), users noted that how they hold their devices depends both on the device size and on the activity, such as watching videos, playing games, reading, or web browsing. This may be changing.

We are addicted to our phones not because we rely on them, but to the extent that we recruit them to a harmful project of self-avoidance. They do not mean to hurt us. But we may – and probably do – use them to injure ourselves. Addiction sounds horrible. But it is a hard name for a normal inclination: a habit of running away from the joys and terrors of self-knowledge.
How to Live More Wisely Around Our Phones

Luke Wroblewski on mobile design

Inform your mobile site design decisions with global data on mobile behavior, trends, and best practices. Hear real-world case studies on how companies are creating faster, better mobile experiences.

Get detailed “how to’s” for updating existing designs and evolving antiquated processes. Walk away with practical implementation methods for improving your mobile designs right now.

Luke Wroblewski

Words on screens are not substitutes for words on paper

The differences between page and screen go beyond the simple tactile pleasures of good paper stock. To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single “page” of information at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones. We quickly develop a mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its argument or story were a voyage unfolding through space. If you’ve ever picked up a book that you read long ago and discovered that your hands were able to locate a particular passage quickly, you’ve experienced this phenomenon. When we hold a physical publication in our hands, we also hold its contents in our mind.

The spatial memories seem to translate into more immersive reading and stronger comprehension. A recent experiment conducted with young readers in Norway found that, with both expository and narrative works, people who read from a printed page understand a text better than those who read the same material on a screen. The findings are consistent with a series of other studies on the process of reading. “We know from empirical and theoretical research that having a good spatial mental representation of the physical layout of the text supports reading comprehension,” wrote the Norwegian researchers1. They suggested that the ability of print readers to “see as well as tactilely feel the spatial extension and physical dimensions” of an entire text likely played a role in their superior comprehension.

Paper Versus Pixel. The science of reading shows that print and digital experiences are complementary.

China now has 1.104 B mobile users

Statistics released December 23rd by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) say that as of the end of November 2012, there were 1.104 billion mobile phone users in that country, an increase of nearly 118 million people during the first eleven months of 2012 (tech crunch).

This would mean that about 82% of China’s population currently uses a mobile phone (though as commenters noted below, many of these mobile phones could have dual sim cards, which was not taken into account in the MIIT’s report). The number of 3G phone users reached 220 million, or about 20% of mobile phone users. Broadband Internet service users increased by 24.03 million in the first 11 months of the year, while the number of mobile Internet users increased by 111 million to 750 million. From January to November 2012, mobile communications revenue in China totaled 724.53 billion yuan (or about $116.26 billion US dollars), an increase of 11% over the same period last year.

Full report on techcrunch.

Not Science Fiction: The dream of the medical tricorder


Along with teleportation, speech-driven computers and hand-held wireless communicators that flip open, the medical tricorder was one of many imaginary future technologies featured in “Star Trek”. Ever since, researchers have dreamed of developing a hand-held medical scanner that can take readings from a patient and then diagnose various conditions. Now, nearly five decades after “Star Trek” made its debut in 1966, the dream is finally edging closer to reality.

…[AliveCor] has developed an iPhone case with two electrodes that can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG). Dr Topol recently used a prototype to assess a fellow passenger on an aircraft who was suffering from chest pain. He concluded the passenger was having a heart attack, and the plane was diverted. Other firms are also developing medical add-ons for smartphones. MobiSante, based in Redmond, Washington, has devised a smartphone-based ultrasound system that was granted FDA clearance in early 2011. A hand-held ultrasonic probe plugs into a smartphone, which generates and displays an image. It costs $7,500, a fraction of the price of a conventional ultrasound.

Medical technology: The hand-held diagnostic devices seen on “Star Trek” are inspiring a host of medical add-ons for smartphones

Rise Alarm Clock

Rise is a "delightfully simple and unique" alarm clock, now available for your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. Shows promise. I prefer UI’s like this to the more heavy handed skeumorpic style seen in most of Apple’s offerings.

‘Magic’ Phone Booth Lets Children Talk With Santa

Brazilian telecom company Oi sets up a phone line to the ‘North Pole’ for the holidays. PSFK reports.

In Rio de Janeiro, Oi set up a ‘magic’ pay phone that allows children to call and speak with Santa Claus. As the children were talking, retired actors on the other end of the line could see them on a video monitor, allowing for real-life conversations as opposed to an automated script.
The holiday magic didn’t stop there. While the children were talking with ‘Santa,’ small gifts would appear on the step behind them. It even began to ‘snow’ as the building opposite the pay phone was lit-up into a winter wonderland using projection mapping. For the icing on the cake, there were passing ‘elves’ and children’s choir that would emerge to sing holiday carols.

Read more.