Hey Siri, OK Google, Is my train on time?

Emma and I were running late the other morning, the clock ticking nearer 7:41 and causing a bit of rush with the morning commute. We took separate cars since we were coming home at different times. As I drove towards the station, the question I really wanted to know was “is the train on time?”. If there were two people in the car, one person could look it up but that wasn’t the case.

With current voice activated features I would need to say something very descriptive like “is the 741 from Hackbridge station to City Thameslink on time?”*. This is not the language I speak, it’s computer-speak not human language. Thinking human would be answering a question I would ask to the person next to me in the car.
*Train times command not available yet but it would be something like this so the computer could interpret it more easily.

This is a perfect scenario for an Intelligent Personal Assistant and it already has access to the data points it needs to answer my question:

  • The current time
  • My location using GPS
  • Train times using the National Rail’s API

The data that is currently difficult for a Siri-like assistant to get is my habits like “which train do I normally take, from which station to my normal destination”. This is currently not available in intelligent personal assistants, to my knowledge. However, it could guess based on the frequency of a location I visit at a certain time of day or, less technically, it could be manually provided by me as a setting.

Intelligent personal assistants are becoming standard in mobile devices with the likes of Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Echo all competing for our voices. A recently added a feature activates the assistant by saying a phrase like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google”.

With this, combined with the knowledge of my daily routine, I expect “Hey Siri, is my train on time?” will not be far away. Apple, let me know when this is ready.

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BusCheckers’ skeumorphic design is very intuitive

I took the bus last week to basketball practice and while I was walking to the stop I wondered when the next bus was. I had a quick scan of the App Store and found BusChecker. I found it incredibly easy and intuitive to use.

Things I liked

  • Skeumorphic design made it intuitive to read e.g. digitally represented a physical bus stop sign
  • Buses that stop there are all listed on the sign
  • See bus arrival times in grid below which mimics the sign at an actual bus stop
  • Touch a bus number to filter arrival times for just that bus

Overall, very simple and easy to use. I’ll be using it again!

Sainsbury’s self-service checkout is aware but not helpful

I was buying a few things from a Sainsburys local at lunch time. I used the self service checkout stand and scanned my items in. I then “used the touch screen to complete my purchase” as the voice said out loud to me. I inserted my card but didn’t press the “debit/credit card” button. I got an error: “please press the card button”. Clearly the machine is aware that I’ve inserted my card because it’s giving me an error message. The question is, what does it need to give me an error? When it detects that I’ve inserted my card, it should jump to the card payment option automatically and allow me to enter my PIN. There are unneeded steps in this process.

Simplicity of Paris’ #5 Metro Train Map

When we were in Paris last week, it was nice to see such a simple and usable map onboard the #5 metro line. It tells you exactly what you need to know and gives good visibility and feedback to the user:

  1. The next stop blinks – in this case it’s “Richard-Lenoir”
  2. Illuminated dots indicate stations coming up
  3. Stations visited are disabled
  4. Closed stations are also disabled like “Oberkampf”
  5. Underneath,  a Circular “M” indicates which Metro lines you can change to or “RER” for other train services

Simple and effective.

More feedback while on the Tube

Although the London tube map is easy to read, it had something to learn in terms of feedback to the user. On the Paris Metro, I found the “blinking light” indicating the next stop an especially useful feature.

Feedback is about sending back information about what action has been done and what has been accomplished, allowing the person to continue with the activity. 

From Don Normans’ Design Principles

 

Affordance of Woodside Library’s Card Scanner

Affordance

At a very simple level, to afford means to give a clue (Norman, 1988). When the affordances of a physical object are perceptually obvious it is easy to know how to interact with it.

Don Normans’ Design Principles

The library card scanner in the San Mateo County Library in Woodside, CA where my parents have moved to, is a good example of Don Normans design principle of Affordance. It guides the user on how to operate the scanner by showing an image of the library card and exactly where to hold it so it scans.

Great idea!