Monday, July 18, 2011

PlayBook screen capture: what's right and what's not

If you don't know about it, you can capture a screen shot on the PlayBook by pressing the volume up and down buttons at the same time.  It's a very cool feature, and it lets you grab snapshots from games, websites, apps, etc, and it stores the pictures along with your photos.

You get a very nice little camera shutter click sound when you do it, giving you positive feedback that you got the shot you want.  So far so good.

Here's the problem.  If you try this when BlackBerry Bridge is enabled, it doesn't work.  This does make  sense.  For security reasons, the PlayBook won't let you capture screen shots from email, contacts, attached docs or pdfs when you're connected to your BlackBerry.  That keeps your enterprise content safe.  The problem isn't that the screen shot doesn't work with Bridge.  What's broken is the absolute lack of feedback to the user when the feature is disabled.

I was using my PlayBook to pay a parking ticket online.  I tried to capture the official government receipt, just in case I had to prove that I'd just paid it.  I don't do screenshots terribly often, but I have done it before.  I clicked the volume up and down buttons and nothing happened.  Nothing at all, no sound, no anything.  I switched to the picture app, and no picture.  Hmmm.  I went back to the browser and tried again.  No sound, no picture.

Oh crap!  I'd dropped the PlayBook last week on the ground, and didn't notice any damage, but I must have broken the volume buttons!  I looked for physical damage, but didn't see any.  I clicked the buttons independently.  Volume up.  Worked.  Volume down.  Worked.  Hmmmmm.

At this point, I figured I misremembered the keystroke.  So I tried all other combinations--volume up + play, volume down + play, volume up + volume down + play.  None worked.

Maybe it's a synchronization thing?  I tried pressing them very quickly at the same time, to be sure that they were being simultaneously pressed.  Nope.  Tried this 10-12 times.  Nothing.  A bigger Hmmmm.

Finally I resorted to the internet.  Went back to the browser, and looked for "broken screenshot playbook" and several other terms.  I finally found the missing link--BRIDGE!  It was not at all obvious that this was related--I was doing nothing with Bridge, it just happened to be connected.

So let me provide some humble advice for the next PlayBook firmware update.


It's a design decision to disable the screen snapshot when Bridge is connected.  But when you press the buttons play a small raspberry, or a thunk, or something other than the camera shutter sound.  That way the user will at least know that the PlayBook is refusing to do what you ask, and not that you're going insane or that your PlayBook is broken.  You might not know if the PB memory is full, the  disk is exhausted or something else, but at least you'll know something is wrong.

Better yet, try playing a small wav file that says "Disabled due to BlackBerry Bridge".  Unfortunately that would need to be localized in each language, and it takes a little more flash space to store the message.  But you then would immediately explain to the user what the problem is, and how to fix it.  And leave your customers a lot less frustrated.

In today's marketplace, where Apple is the golden boy and RIM is everyone's favourite punching bag, it pays to make everything BlackBerry as perfect as possible.

Friday, July 15, 2011

RIM and the power of metaphor

I've been reading a lot about what analysts think of RIM these days.  I can't help it--I've a vested interest in the unfolding drama.  As a result, I'm also becoming even more keenly aware of the power of the word.

We all know one of the primary uses of language is a persuasive one.  Nowhere is this more apparent than today's media.  Blogs are going to be biased--that's part of their charm.  But articles in respected journals seem to have followed suit.  News used to be a lot less "flavourful", communicating the story without the bias of the reporter.  But media today doesn't seem to like it dry--everywhere are sprinkled metaphors that reveal the disposition of the author.  And if they aren't woven into the story themselves, the quotes that are chosen reveal enough of the preferred slant.

Here's two examples I grabbed from one article and analyst, who I'll leave unnamed.  I don't have the text in front of me, so I'm going to paraphrase.

I haven't seen a Phoenix rise from the ashes often; it happens, but it's rare.
The first thing I thought when I read this is that RIM isn't exactly yet a smouldering wreckage, but it sure makes it seem that way.  You imagine RIM as this vast wasteland, the fallout of a nuclear bomb, the post apocalyptic smoking ruin of a once burgeoning enterprise.  The view from over my cube wall is not quite so grim, thankfully to say.  The second thing I thought was that the metaphor is 100% incorrect.  Isn't it the definition of a Phoenix to rise from the ashes?

A soufflé doesn't rise twice.
Again, very doomsday.  Makes you think of a sad little pastry, sagging and over-browned in the oven.  The deflated soufflé almost makes it seem that it's impossible for RIM to do anything but collapse and burn.  Of course, it oversimplifies to the point of absurdity.  That burning, sagging mess is just a mix of flour and eggs.  Not an international company with tens of thousands of employees and billions in revenue.  The soufflé isn't full of talented people working tirelessly to build innovative products and restore lustre and fortunes.

I was trying to think of a cute way to combine these two metaphors into one, but I couldn't come up with anything witty.  But I do think the predictions of RIM's demise are slightly premature.