Fixing the iMessage notification explosion

Lots of talk today about the Messages beta for OS X, and how to deal with the swarm of notifications that can occur if you use the same account on two or three different devices, like an iPhone, iPad and Mac. Most of the solutions talk about adding more IM-like features to iMessage, but there may be a more elegant solution.

If you used Macs in the dark pre-iPhone days, you may remember a mostly abandoned Mac app called Salling Clicker. It was a remote control program that connected with some dumbphones over Bluetooth, allowing you to do a limited array of stuff that we largely take for granted now, like controlling iTunes or advancing slides in Keynote. One still unique feature used the strength of the Bluetooth connection to tell when you were away from your Mac. If it saw that you were no longer nearby, it could pause iTunes, lock the computer, and most importantly, set your iChat status to away. When you came back into range, it would wake up the screen and resume playing music.

Apple could leverage the extensive location and context information their modern devices have to prioritize and reroute notifications based on the devices’ proximity to all the other devices. They could assume that, if my iPhone is in my pocket most of the time, and it has an extremely strong Bluetooth connection to my Mac, I probably want notifications to appear on the Mac. If the phone is plugged in, I’m less likely to be near it, so notifications might first appear on my Mac or iPad, depending on what the last device I used was. Ideally, notifications would shortly appear everywhere if they haven’t been looked at on the first device Apple decided to send them to.

There are certainly privacy concerns with Apple constantly monitoring the state of my devices down to which one I last used, but I already let them know where the devices are for iCloud, which is a far bigger deal than anything else. Other location- or context-specific settings, like “If I’m at home, don’t bother me with a password to unlock my phone,” could also make Apple’s devices even more pleasant to use with no extra effort from the user. If it could work reliably, it would be far preferable to having to actively remember to set your status to route notifications – very It Just Works.

Excellent Gabe Newell interview on the PA Report

A few choice bits:

Recently I was in a meeting and there’s a company that had a third party DRM solution and we showed them look, this is what happens, at this point in your life cycle your DRM got hacked, right? Now let’s look at the data, did your sales change at all? No, your sales didn’t change one bit. Right? So here’s before and after, here’s where you have DRM that annoys your customers and causing huge numbers of support calls and in theory you would think that you would see a huge drop off in sales after that got hacked, and instead there was absolutely no difference in sales before or after. You know, and then we tell them you actually probably lost a whole bunch of sales as near as we can tell, here’s how much money you lost by bundling that with your product

So I use a tablet a ton, so if I could pick one magic wand I would have us all sit down and design a new, more gaming friendly tablet hardware interface and then build some content that really was designed at the same time as the hardware. So if I could pick one thing that would be it. Because I’m really frustrated as a tablet user with how mediocre the gaming inputs are.

Link: Penny Arcade Report

The worst of both worlds

Stephen Totilo, for Kotaku:

I’ve heard from one reliable industry source that Microsoft intends to incorporate some sort of anti-used game system as part of their so-called Xbox 720.

Wired’s Chris Kohler reacts:

What we are possibly looking at now is an interim period in which the disc as a delivery method is still around but it becomes more like a PC game, which are sold with one-time-use keys that grant one owner a license to play the game on his machine.

I’m sure Microsoft loves this idea but for consumers, it’s the worst of both worlds! We give up the ability to rent, lend or resell our games, but with none of the advantages of digital distribution. Physical games sold by middlemen retailers are still more expensive and less convenient to use than their digital counterparts.

Kohler observed some time ago that used sales and trade-ins and new game purchasing is more symbiotic than publishers might like to admit, and hypothesizes that Microsoft will come up with a way to split used revenue with Gamestop:

GameStop sold used copies of [Batman: Arkham Asylum] along with new Catwoman download codes, which is presumably purchased in bulk from the publisher. Thus, the publisher gets its cut of the used game sales, which is all it’s really after. I would not be surprised to see a similar deal, wherein GameStop pays the publisher to get a new code for each used game it sells. If you’re wondering where all that money would come from, you need look no further than your own wallet. GameStop will simply pay customers less for each game disc that they trade in.

Again, great for Microsoft, great for publishers, great for Gamestop, utter bullshit for consumers. The trend of requiring what amounts to serial numbers to access multiplayer or other game content is already making it more difficult try out new games. Consider the customer experience for buying a copy of Battlefield 3 on release day. I have to drive to a store somewhere, ask for my preordered copy of the game, tell the cashier repeatedly that no, I don’t want a strategy guide or magazine subscription, and drive home. But I’m not done! I then have to key in a 25 character code on a video game controller to access the multiplayer mode, which in this case, is pretty much the reason anyone buys the game.

Instead, consider Square Enix’s Chaos Rings for iOS. This is not one of Square’s top efforts, but it does have production values are roughly on par with the 3DS or PSP. Despite being a rather expensive iPhone game, it costs roughly a quarter of any comparable PSP or 3DS game. Buying it on release day is easy – I pull out the pocket computer I have with me at all times, tapped App Store, searched for it, and then tapped Buy Now.

Cutting the advantages that come with physical needs to come alongside new advantages for consumers, but what Totilo and Kohler outline here makes it the barrier for entry to console gaming higher and prop up a consumer-hostile business model that is doomed to failure.

“depraved indifference to the consequences of one’s actions”

Boing Boing‘s Cory Doctorow on Consumerist:

Even though a substantial portion of my living comes from the entertainment industry, I don’t think that any amount of “piracy” justifies this kind of depraved indifference to the consequences of one’s actions. Big Content haven’t just declared war on Boing Boing and Reddit and the rest of the “fun” Internet: they’ve declared war on every person who uses the net to publicize police brutality, every oppressed person in the Arab Spring who used the net to organize protests and publicize the blood spilled by their oppressors, every abused kid who used the net to reveal her father as a brutalizer of children, every gay kid who used the net to discover that life is worth living despite the torment she’s experiencing, every grassroots political campaigner who uses the net to make her community a better place — as well as the scientists who collaborate online, the rescue workers who coordinate online, the makers who trade tips online, the people with rare diseases who support each other online, and the independent creators who use the Internet to earn their livings.

“An interest in preserving the status quo”

The Harvard Business Review:

SOPA and PIPA are prime examples of big companies trying to do everything they can to stop new competitors from innovating. They’re also examples of how lobbying in the United States has become one of the most effective ways of limiting this sort of competition.

But one characteristic is the same across all of SOPA’s supporters — they all have an interest in preserving the status quo.

If by “the status quo,” they mean “the status quo of 1995.” They can’t put this genie back in the bottle, even with something as drastic as SOPA.