On Digital and Analog

Just the other day, Jasper and I were discussing buying Amiibos, those character figurines with NFC chips built-in that give little unique boosts in select Nintendo games.

“I don’t want to end up with a bunch of plastic figurines at home.” He was vehemently against them for both lifestyle and economic reasons.

“Why not?” I asked: “even though you want to build a library?” A library, full of real, tangible books made of tree pulp.

If you know anything about me, you know I mostly prefer electronic books over paper. Yet I didn’t find the idea of owning a shelf of plastic figures conflicting. But why is that?

The conversation got me curious: what are the real differences between a digital display and analog book? And in general, how do we psychologically perceive the ownership and consumption of intangible digital goods as opposed to tangible analog goods?

The Battle of E-Books vs Paper Books

When Borders declared bankruptcy in 2011 after e-book sales soared 1,260% between 2008 and 2010, the industry genuinely feared the digital apocalypse. 6 years later, the mere vitality of paper books in 2017 would probably come as a puzzling surprise to the digital advocates at the advent of digital book revolution. Why didn’t paper books go the way of CDs and vinyl?

In a Scientific American journal titled The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, Ferris Jabr writes:

…evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.

I was intrigued by the studies the article quoted. What exactly is missing in e-books? Are we losing inherent signals in e-books that aid our learning and understanding, or can we just write it off as a case of nostalgia? I bugged a friend of mine to pull out the research papers from some psychology database and took a deep dive into them myself.
Continue reading “On Digital and Analog”

Apple Clips: a new sticking point?

Apple quietly announced a video camera app today with a characteristically generic name: Clips. What does this mean?

Clips seems to be a bridge between the iOS platform and video-based social media apps. You shoot once with Clips and publish to third party apps (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). You can annotate videos, put stickers on them, like what you can do on Snapchat. Also thrown in there are a few unique features like smart recipient suggestions based on facial recognition and live text-to-speech captions with custom styles.


This seems to address the social butterfly’s problem of having to shoot and post multiple times across different apps.

Since 2008, the iPhone has been sitting at the center of Apple’s ecosystem. Apple’s strategy has always been to foster an ecosystem that is frictionless within, difficult to replicate, and disruptive to get out. A big part of that strategy is to continuously add iOS-exclusive sticking points to keep its users happy. One of iPhone users’ hard-to-part features is iMessage. But over the past few years it failed to capture the absolute explosion of casual video communication in the media space. iMessage is slowly becoming detached from where high-bandwidth digital communication is headed, which poses a direct concern to the stick point of iOS ecosystems. 

I think Clips comes at an interesting time because while iMessage is missing out, Snapchat-esque media are getting a huge tail wind from major social platforms who adopted this format. Clips could become another sticking point between iOS and third party apps if I could use it to shoot once and post hip videos and pictures to multiple social media. That’d be a major advantage of iOS as a platform vs other competitors. And as much as people laugh about it, this appeals directly to emerging Millenials and Gen Z power users.

At the same time, it feels like a big experiment on a new communication format for Apple. If young users receive the app well, Apple might add it to iMessage as a built-in feature, further validating the trend of video-first communication that Snapchat and other companies are betting on.

Will Nintendo Switch Revive the Dying Handheld Market?

When Nintendo Switch was first revealed in October 2016, there were mostly two crowds that reacted. One group had been following the rumors for years and scoffed at the Switch’s graphics power and hardware capability. Another group absolutely adored the puppy-ear resemblance and hailed the system as an innovation in the physical multiplay space.

Both crowds are right, and the reason is because they aren’t the same user demographic. One sees the Switch as an Xbox-PlayStation status quo contender that has some portable gimmicks. The other group sees the console as a console-class handheld that supports TV output. With a product poised to be both a living room and handheld console, Nintendo is targeting an extremely lucrative and strong market as well as an anemic and declining segment at the same time. This dying category, of course, is the handheld market — the once glorious group of culture icons that has been experiencing a steady YoY decline of sales in the past decade.

Fundamentally, I see the Nintendo Switch as a handheld console, so I want to share some of my thoughts on why I think its primary market is handheld and how it might fare in the handheld market. Continue reading “Will Nintendo Switch Revive the Dying Handheld Market?”

The notification system is broken, how can we fix it?

What is the problem?

Notifications are treated equally by default, but not all notifications are created equal. The OS assumes that each app takes responsibility in determining when we should divert our attention to it, but that’s right in a conflict of interest with the OS’s goal to ensure a wholesome and zen-like user experience. A flashlight app developer thinks you need to drop your conversation with a friend and look at a new promotional in-app purchase that allows you to adjust flashlight brightness. The same notification alert and style also reminds you that an important crash has happened on your host server.

They are simply not the same. Not every app on your phone is worthy of your attention. And even for those apps that are important, not every event within the app deserves it.

The current paradigm of information organization centers around the medium via which they are transferred. Everything goes in and out of apps. Want to share a web page with your best friend? Pick a messaging app first in the sharing dialog. You really care about this one friend and her snaps, but don’t really want to see all other Snapchat notifications? Too bad.

The flaw in this organization framework is that new information is not organized by where they come from or how useful they are, but rather who delivered them. If my mom sends me a message asking me when I will come home for Thanksgiving, I don’t care if it comes through iMessage, Messenger, WeChat, Line, or Email, I want to hear an alert sound and respond to it. But if Verizon sends me a new promotional blurb, whether via text, email, or call, I don’t want to be distracted by it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how our operating systems work today. Continue reading “The notification system is broken, how can we fix it?”

No one is writing about the Apple TV app — the real star of the show

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this week’s most important announcements are. Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the three towering tech giants dropped a series of gadgets that are well positioned to change the future of PC. There is a clear trend among them: each is designed for a special subset of professionals, which is reflective of the industry as a whole: traditional PC’s are fading from average households and becoming specialized professional tools.

But among these innovative pushes for PC’s to become the trucks of computers is Apple’s TV app. The one app that unifies all your television experience by aggregating all the content every tvOS app offers into one interface. This, out of everything released on October 27th, is probably the most strategically important product announcement. Continue reading “No one is writing about the Apple TV app — the real star of the show”