Jan 14

No dreams possible on the Dreamliner !

K63965 03 lg

Boeing 787 (photo credit: Boeing)

I flew the Dreamliner (Boeing 787) for the first time recently.  It was a Qatar Airways flight between Bangalore and Doha.  I was looking forward to the experience having heard and read so much about the aircraft.

I thought the environment was definitely comfortable.  The windows were nice.  The seats were good considering that it was just a 4 hour flight.  Qatar Airways uses the same 3-3-3 configuration for both 777 and 787.  777 being a wider plane translates into slightly wider seats which are definitely needed on the long distances over which the 777s operate.

Qatar Airways AVOD system as phenomenal.  Ultra modern/futuristic and entertainment selection was not bad either.

But the sound – it was the loudest I remember a modern day aircraft to be. Ever!  There was a lot of vibration as the engines started up after pushback. I have never experienced so much vibration as engines were started on any Boeing or Airbus aircraft.  The vibration was felt for a good 15 seconds or so and went away as engines revved up.

Then it was loud throughout. The engines were loud throughout the cruise speeds, the whirring of hydraulics and the whine of the flaps was exceptionally loud during take off and landing.  I wish I had an app to measure the decibel levels in the plane but by golly they were loud.

Hard to dream on the dreamliner….

Jan 14

American’s new lie flat seat

American Airlines B777-300 ER in new livery (courtesy AA)

American Airlines B777-300 ER in new livery (courtesy AA)

I got an opportunity to try the new lie flat seats in business American Airlines introduced recently.  I flew on the new 777-300 ER from DFW to LHR and here are my views on design of the seat and the business class section.  I will leave out any commentary on the food and service.

Business class configuration B777-300 (Courtesy AA)

Business class configuration B777-300 (Courtesy AA)

The Good

  1. Simple controls and easy to operate
  2. Good access to electrical outlets
  3. Should accommodate most adults in the flat position – people as tall as 6’4” should have no problem
  4. Very private.  The seats angle away from each other and create carve out a nice private space.
  5. All seats have aisle access so no need to leap over sleeping travelers
  6. The toilets and the faucets are really nice, faucets are easy to use and are upscale compared to the typical AA toilets. Boutique hotel-esque.
  7. Corny patriotic mood lighting (red and blue) at night but it grows on you and is actually nice and pleasant
Mood lighting (photo credit - The points Guy)

Mood lighting (photo credit – The points Guy)

The bad

  1. Terrible location for headset socket.  It is inside a small compartment that has a door, with no direct view since it is angled away from the seat.  You will actually have to use the mirror on the compartment door to plug the headset jack.  Incredibly poor design!
  2. American Airlines takes away the Bose headsets an hour before arrival – ostensibly to take inventory and lock things up before they land.  There has to be a better solution to this problem that has existed forever with American Airlines.
  3. If you are traveling with someone or with family, the private nature of the seats will make it hard to have a conversation.  The two seats in the middle may be a little better.

In all, a great update to American’s business class product.  I enjoyed it and welcome the changes American Airlines is making.

Jan 14

Stop redesigning !

There are certain things that are fine as they are and should not change !  No redesign necessary!

Like, showers in hotels.  

3039181 HiRes

Every hotel has a different configuration of knobs and levers.  The new trend is to hide key buttons/levers in an attempt to be minimalistic (sic!).  Getting the water to the right temperature, right pressure and flowing from the right orifice in the wall is not for the faint hearted.  Thinking that a nice long shower will wake you up?  Think again, you better be wide awake before you get into the shower to be able to operate it and sometimes you need to take your reading glasses into the shower to read the instructions and labels and warnings!

Traveling is fun.. discover new places, peoples, culture, food and such… how to operate the shower should not be one of those things.  I have a system now –

  1. First identify how to start the flow of water – push, pull, turn, lift, slide, whatever it takes.  Start with best guess of which knob and work your way through others.  Make sure you are outside the tub/shower area/splash zone before you do this – remember the water temperature, water pressure and where the water will actually exit the wall are all unknowns.  Pray that your arms are long and flexible enough to do this by going around beautiful obstacles like elegant glass doors.
  2. Next figure out how to increase/decrease the water pressure.  Here again, go through the following in a disciplined way  pull, push, lift, turn, etc.  In many cases, step 5 needs to be perfumed in conjunction with this step
  3. Next figure out which direction to go to increase/decrease the water temperature.  Do not rely on the markings since the fittings may have moved since the original installation.  This may take a while since sometimes the pipes are cold, people!  it takes a while for hot water to start flowing.  Depending on the country “C” does not always mean cold.  Do not fall for the blue is cold and red is hot trick when instead of words you see colors.
  4. Next start the discovery of what it will take to redirect water to the spout/shower head/hand shower.  Here again, do not approach with preconceived ideas.  The magic trigger can be on the spout or the shower head, can be a pull, push or slide, can be a button or in some cases a completely different fitting that seems out of place – don’t be fooled.  In other words have your coffee and be ready
  5. You are almost there – it is very likely that there are additional controls directly on the fitting from which water is flowing.  For e.g. shower heads can be turned to change the way water flows – gentle rain to swedish massage to a bee sting setting. Be tall enough (how tall? cannot say, required height will vary) and use both hands for this operation for it is very likely that while you attempt to change the type of flow the entire head will move and change the direction of water.  This may not be a good thing if you are not expecting to wash your hair that morning.  
  6. If you want to use the tub – you are on your own to find how to plug/unplug the drain.  I don’t use tubs in hotels. 

I wonder if there is a keep showers simple petition I can sign on change.org.

There are other bloody well leave alone issues

Like climate control, lights and mirrors in rental cars

Like overuse of icons instead of text (see a friend’s rant here)

Like where to plug the damn head phone in (I was recently on American’s new 777 with lie flat, every seat has aisle access plane and it took me a long time to figure out where the damn Bose headset plugs into.  And when I figured it out, I had to do plug it in by feel alone since I could not get my head in the right position to see the socket orientation to plug the head phone jack into)

Like the secret hidden maneouver to throw the car into reverse in manual transmission cars

Like secret gestures and swipes to activate/deactivate features in apps

whats your peeve?

There must be certain areas – public by definition – where the number of users are large that necessarily need a design code.  The design keeps things simple and consistent to support users with diverse backgrounds – language, physical characteristics, gender, countries.  This code will apply to things areas like public transportation for example.

I am sure there is a such a thing, I just haven’t been able to enter the right magic phrase into google to direct me to what i am looking for.  If you know what this area is called, please let me know.


Jan 14

6 Interesting App I used last year

I like apps.

I am constantly downloading apps both paid and free.  I try to use them, learn from them and appreciate the creativity and evolution of user experience design.  This post is to share some interesting apps I have used in the past year that I really liked and stood out for me.

1. Uber

I absolutely love this app.  Used it extensively in NYC to get from the Airport to Manhattan and back.  Also used it for trips within the city.  The cars were always clean and drivers always courteous.  This app makes using taxis pleasurable again.

The app is very well designed.  It uses all of the information it already has or knows from your smart phone and requires little input from you.  Using GPS you set the pick up location.  Based on the location of the driver who will pick you up, gives you an estimate, tracks the driver’s progress and texts when the driver shows up. So that you are not confused, the app gives you the name of the drive along with a picture, the license plate of the car along with the make and model, and a way to directly contact the driver. When you reach your destination, you get out and walk away – no cash, receipts, tipping etc.

Download and read more by clicking here.


2. Drync

Never forget the name of the wine you enjoyed ever.  The app allows  you to capture the label of the wine, add your notes and save it for future reference.  The app will scan the label and allow you to buy the wine and have it delivered to your door whenever you are ready.  It will also recommend wines based on your ratings.

You can read more and download from here.


 3.  Slice

An app that tracks your packages, price drops and recalls automatically.  For someone like me, who buys a lot on the internet, this app grabs relevant information from your email (like amazon confirmations, invoices, etc) and then tracks them.  All information is in one place, easy to find and easy to track.   Also serves as a nice catalog of all the crap you bought over time.

Read more and download from here.


 4. Simplenote

I really like simple (no frills) text editing apps.  On my mac i extensively use Sublime Text.  I start almost anything I do by creating a list that eventually will be scaffolding using which I complete the task.  I use lists as outlines for documents, to capture all my thoughts on a topic, to-dos, packing, etc etc.  Using a list that simultaneously synchronizes across all my devices is important to me.  In addition, there are lists that I want to collaborate with others.

I needed something that was simple, available and synchronized across my devices and also allowed for simultaneous edits but multiple people.  Simplenote was THE solution.  All this and it also keeps versions of changes so that you can roll back to see a previous version.  I love the simplicity of how collaboration is implemented.  You simply add the email address of the person as a tag.  Thats it!

Simplenote also supports markdowns which makes formatting a breeze which still maintaining a simple text layout.  Simplenote is available only on Mac but is available on iOS and Android.

You can get more information from here.


5. Mem:o

Mem:o takes simple numerical lists and makes them visually interesting.  You can use it to track almost anything and it will present the information in a nice visually interesting way.  You can use it to track the number of miles you run every day or the number of times in the day you facebooked, or the calories you are eating, or the number of hours you worked for a client, and so on.

This app also has a number of new and interesting user interaction paradigm.  It will be interesting to see how this app will evolve and how many of the ideas will get adopted across the app space.  This is an iPad only app.

You can get more details here.


6.  Mindfulness

There is growing evidence that is linking meditation to physical and mental health.  I have dabbled with meditation on and off and could never establish any routine.  I resolved to try to make meditation a permanent part of my day in 2014.  I turned to the app world to help me realize the benefits of meditation.  I was surprised by the number of apps out there.  This app was one of the simplest ones out there.  There were apps with fantastic sound libraries, detailed graphs and analysis, etc.  I was looking for simple and this app fit the bill.

I have used his app a few times and each time it has really helped me through the process.  I introduced my mom to this app and it clearly helped her get back into meditation.  She has been through a lot in the past 3 years and was having a lot of trouble trying to meditate.  She just could not do it.  This app has helped to center her again and get her going.  Now to see if I can do better in 2014 than all the previous years.

Read more and download from here.


There are a number of apps I used and it is hard to just list 6.  These were different and each solved a very specific need for me.

Please comment with your favorite apps and I will be sure to try them out.