Archive for April 2017

Traveling without Tech

In February and March I was in Mexico City for two weeks. I was then in Ireland for ten days in April. In both instances, I realized that I have become completely dependent on the ability to access voice and data networks anywhere and at any time. Why the revelation? Because I didn’t have access to the local mobile phone network in both places. All of a sudden, I didn’t have access to Google Maps on demand. I couldn’t communicate instantly with other people to meet up or change plans. If I saw something interesting, I couldn’t just call up Wikipedia or a web site to find out more. When I didn’t remember to check Yelp beforehand, I had to just guess at the quality of restaurants. It was as if I was suddenly transported to a digital version of the Middle Ages.

It also became apparent how both useful and unhealthy it was to live constantly connected. There was no doubt about the convenience of calling up information wherever I might be. On the other hand, constant checking to see if a place had open Wi-Fi no matter where I was or why I was there can’t be good psychologically or socially. There I was, looking out over the Cliffs of Mohar in western Ireland, one of the great natural wonders of the world, looking for an open Wi-Fi network. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to put away the stupid phone and just enjoy the moment. The fact that I was almost craving email was certainly not a good sign.

This is what we have become in less than fifteen years. We may not be physically jacked in like a protagonist in a Cyberpunk novel but we are psychologically addicted to constant connectivity. We are losing the skills to schedule events, meetup, or navigate a city without a networked device. In the future, losing connectivity will be like losing electricity; We will lack the ability to survive without a network.

It just shows that there is a dark side to the marvelous devices we have created – our reliance on them. Maybe this is what should frighten us the most about AI. We may become so dependent on software, devices, and networks that won’t be able to function without them.

This is why people hate Microsoft.

Microsoft has announced that it has a new task management app called To-Do. It is in many ways just like Microsoft’s other talk manager, Wunderlist. With a few small exceptions that aren’t really all that small. Besides the unimaginative name, To-Do also doesn’t (yet?) support subtasks or smart lists even though Wunderlist already does. Instead, you have to manually add tasks to the My Day list.

Despite being a native Microsoft product, the ecosystem is still a bit thin. One wouldn’t expect there to be Dropbox, IFTTT,  or Zapier integration just yet – though Wunderlist has these. It is not, however, too much to expect at least integration with Microsoft’s own Office 365 ecosystem. At present there is no OneDrive or Flow or similar connections to other Microsoft products.

To-Do does support integration with the Outlook task manager because… it really should. Unlike Wunderlist, it doesn’t place tasks on your Outlook calendar so you can see them on the Outlook mobile app. That’s kind of silly. The app also has a convenient import tool that will bring Wunderlist and Todoist tasks into To-Do. Wunderlist makes sense – it’s a Microsoft product after all – but why Todoist and only Todoist. While Todoist is a perfectly serviceable task list program, there are many others out their that work as well and have more market share. Google Tasks comes to mind.

So why bother with To-Do at all? Because Microsoft just announced they will demise Wunderlist that’s why. The great but similar product will go away in favor of the native Microsoft product with fewer features and more limited ecosystem. And this is why people sometimes hate Microsoft. They take a perfectly wonderful product, lobotomize it, and make that the standard product.

This makes no sense. Not one bit of sense. To-Do looks enough like Wunderlist that it’s safe to assume there some Wunderlist DNA in there. Why not just rebrand the great product that Microsoft spent good money on and keep adding features, especially features attractive to small businesses? Why indeed…

Over the past few years, Microsoft has regained the confidence of the market, both consumers and professionals. That have some outstanding product offerings (Office 365 and Azure being two of them) and have shown they can be as innovative as any SoMa startup.

And then they do stupid stuff like this.

My only hope is that they realize how this looks and make a concerted effort to add back the great features that made Wunderlist a wonder before that app’s end of life. Otherwise, the haters will have a reason to hate.