Why do so few tech companies make integrated products?

The primary answer is simple: the companies who make these products have different divisions, with different management and (more often than not) different priorities. These divisions simply do not talk to each other, and when they do it is usually once a year, when the management teams get together. And even then, integration is one of those "soft" priorities that wouldn't show an immediate boost to the company's bottom line.

Additionally, many companies don't "own" a full ecosystem of products, and are therefore more interested in thier products working with the primary operating systems than with their own, other products.

About the only company that really pays attention to this is, frankly, Apple… And it was and still is a priority of management that their products Just Work. Microsoft and Sony tries, but, well… They're Microsoft and Sony. Nuff said.

See question on Quora

Why are our "smart devices" so dumb?

There are some practical reasons, and some pragmatic ones.

A "thinking" device is a device that is consuming power to think (to run the processor), and hardware and software designers have to keep a core user need in mind: battery life. The more the device "thinks" the lower the battery life. So devices are designed to be instant awake "on demand" computers that respond to user input. Siri, for example, probably uses a significant amount of processing power, and I'd wager if it was on all the time it would cut the "uptime" considerably.

Additionally you look at how people work with computers and computing devices, and the key idea of user control and freedom comes to play. Do you want to be "told" what to do by your phone, or to "tell" your phone what to do? Most users want to be/stay in control… And the idea of a "thing" telling them what to do just won't be appealing. This type of interaction has to be very carefully and well designed to work.

An area where this does "work" is with GPS, where the device "tells" the user what to do… But even then, there are limits. The user is still "in control" and the GPS is supporting the user's travel, not commanding. If a GPS comes off as "nagging" when informing the user of a traffic problem then the user will be… Well, I've tested of a similar solution, and it didn't work very well. Basically, the "tone of voice" is important in this and many other contexts. Get it wrong and you'll quickly get an angry user.

Some pragmatic reasons why devices are dumb… Well, we are still limited by old models and paradigms. We have desktop computers that are capable of millions of calculations per minute and we aren't doing anything innovative or new with that capacity. No one has come forward and invented an intelligent "butler" that used the innate information we all host on our own computing devices to, well, make suggestions. To help.

"I know you like Mythbusters, so I taped the new episode for you."

"There's a new Peter Gabriel album coming out. I downloaded the details and some samples and sent it to your iPad."

"You're electricity bill was due last week, would you like me to pay it for you?"

A smart assistant, who suggests but never takes control away from the user. All of these things are possible NOW, but no one has taken the next step to leverage the different systems and computing power together.

It's coming, though. Someday.

And if anyone wants to hire me to help design such a system you know where to find me…

See question on Quora

Little Moments: How technology connects us more, not less

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, published a blog posting a while back that claimed that technology was making us more self-involved and narcissistic, that the end result of this self-centeredness would be a culture of sociopaths who are more attached to their devices and their gear than to people.

Poppycock. Balderdash. He’s completely wrong.

(That last sentence was included for those of you who don’t know what “poppycock” and “balderdash means. Kids these days…)

Technology that services our interests, and is personal and easy to use (such as the car that Adams cites in his article)? Well, that’s fantastic. It’s what my job as a User Experience Architect is: To make complicated technology approachable, usable and helpful. If, as a result of that, technology becomes desirable as well – so much the better. It certainly doesn’t make me a “sociopath creator”, which Scott Adams claims that technology is doing.

Technology, especially in the social networking space, allows us to engage communicate and connect with people we would have never met, old friends no longer physically close, and kindred spirits with like interests. Yes, there is an ego-centric aspect to a lot of technology (which I wrote about here) but it’s about sharing as much as self-promotion. “The cloud” has connected us all in ways unimagined before. It provides us with “little moments”, small touchpoints to people throughout the day. Moments that make our lives richer and happier.

The social networks and the “cloud” has broken down barriers and opened up opportunities that we would not have had otherwise. One example: I adore the classic TV show Twin Peaks. It’s right up my alley: quirky, dark, well-written, and often very funny (basically, it’s me if I was a television program). A few weeks ago I noticed that the show’s co-creator, writer extrordonaire Mark Frost, had started using Twitter (look him up under the twitter handle @mfrost11). I responded to one of his tweets, we started a conversation, and now we are “talking” almost every day. We found out we had a lot of common interests, including the show “The Prisoner,” another favorite of mine (my obsession with Patrick McGoohan’s masterpiece is reflected here). We exchanged many bon mots, and the esteemed Mr Frost even responded favorably to my writing, which.. well, there’s not a cooler thing in the world to me. Except maybe taking Mark out for drinks (which we hope to do at some point). Without technology this connection would have never happened, and I appreciate it even more because of it.

So, in closing, I like Dilbert, but Scott Adams needs to stop being so curmudgeonly. In this and several of his recent opinion pieces, he’s come off as Grandpa Simpson, yelling at clouds. The cloud doesn’t care, Scott. And it’s making the world a better, more connected place.