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Joen Asmussen
Works at Automattic
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Wrangling design, usability and data
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  • Automattic
    Design wrangler, 2010 - present
  • Noscope
    Self-employed, 2007 - 2010
  • Titoonic
    Project lead, 2002 - 2007
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Design wrangler at Automattic.
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I believe in gravity, the moon landing, and well-mixed White Russians.
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Copenhagen - Hørsholm - Nykøbing Falster - Hellebæk - Ljungby, Sverige - Lagan, Sverige
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Joen Asmussen

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There's a weird thing with the Fitbit Alta and notifications. Since I received the new gadget, I obviously enabled everything I could. Officially it supports text, phone and calendar notifications.

Only text and phone notifications worked. When in Bluetooth range of course, but that's fine. The latter, calendar notifications, did not work. Quite simply, there was no button to enable it. After a brief stint with support, which was very helpful and friendly, it seems there's a bug in the Android app which will be fixed in an upcoming version.

In debugging it myself, however, I was curious about the details. There's not much room on the screen to show notifications in the first place, but still it's Android, and Fitbit asks for "Notification access", which technically should let the Fitbit app read any notification, and send that. Yet there are distinct buttons for Text and Phone notifications (with the button for Calendar alerts presumably coming in the next update). Are they arbitrarily limiting notifications to three types?

It seems so, yes. In my debugging session I even installed older versions of the Fitbit app (thanks, +apkmirror), and in doing so I found one version (2.15.1), which featured a button simply called "App Notifications". And sure enough, you could check off notifications for every single Android app you wished to receive notifications from. As it should be, arguably.

It didn't work for my Alta, though — presumably the firmware on my device requires a newer version of the app. But it's still an interesting archeological find, I think.

I could say that Fitbit was designed primarily with iPhones in mind. The notification access is more limited on iOS. And I suppose it's cleaner, from a marketing point of view, to only support the same three types of notifications that the iPhone does. But it's still a bummer that +Fitbit arbitrarily limited the Android app in this way.

All that aside, I still love the thing. 
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Joen Asmussen

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Chrome and Android won't merge, but the rumours that they are, were still accurate. That seems to be the most on point take-away after reading this Ars Technica post.

The gist is simple: with split-screen windowed mode coming to Android N, the leap to free-form windows isn't great. But why would you build freeform windows into Android? Full control over window position and size is arguably a productivity feature, and productivity, to me, says 11''+ devices with keyboards, which so far has been Chrome OS territory.

So the vibe I'm getting is that Chrome OS and Android aren't merging — Google is just porting over features from Chrome OS, that are required for a good desktop operating system. Which begs the question: when will we see the Chrome OS auto-updater appear in Android? That's what I wanted the most from a merger. That, and Chrome extensions, I suppose.

When will we see this? My bet is Android O, because everything takes longer to build than we think it does. However the docs have this to say:

Manufacturers of larger devices can choose to enable freeform mode, in which the user can freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.

I want to believe that means N. And I want to believe it's what Hiroshi was referring to here: https://twitter.com/lockheimer/status/708737376466526208
Remember those "Desktop Android" rumors? Android N has a hidden multi-window mode.
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Joen Asmussen

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A 33 year old tape recorder may be a better music device for my daughter, than any recent invention.

That is to say, maybe, perhaps you can help me. My 4yo daughter is getting really into music, and I'd love for her to be able to put on some tunes herself. But I can't think of a solution that really makes sense. While some MP3 playing device would certainly make the most sense, they all come with downsides: you have to know how to turn them on, and start the music playing. Which is easy when you're an adult. Hey, maybe she can learn it.

But then I stumbled on this Fisher-Price tape recorder in the attic. It's from 1983. There was still a tape in it. I replaced the batteries and pressed play, and it worked perfectly fine.

The thing that's so wonderful about this device is how simple it is. You tap one button, and it plays music. No need to turn it on first. No need to launch a music app. No need to pick an album, or playlist, or single track. Just, play.

Is there a modern day equivalent to this sturdy old Fisher-Price? 
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Imre Vogelezang (Personal)'s profile photoJeremy Herve (jeherve)'s profile photoJoen Asmussen's profile photo
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+Jeremy Herve This is all good advice! Thanks!
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Joen Asmussen

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On Hangouts possibly removing the SMS sending feature. The rumors have been ongoing for a while now, and usually where there's smoke there's a fire. I think this'll probably happen in some way or other. But I'm not sure it's going to happen through a simple Hangouts divorce. I think there's more going on here. Let's talk a bit about the ingredients.

SMS is a horribly obsolete technology. At $0.20 per SMS, that comes to $383,000 per gigabyte. In a world where you can often video-call anyone on the planet for cheap or free, that's bonkers. SMS exists in part because it's such a good deal for carriers, in part because it's still the most bulletproof cross-platform way to send text. For this reason, it made sense to me to merge SMS into Hangouts — treat it like the subset of more modern technologies that it is.

The problem with SMS in Hangouts has been the actual implementation. The UI isn't great, and "merged" conversations hasn't worked out in a seamless manner.

As many issues as Apple have had with "iMessage", it seems like they had the right idea. A rethink down this path, is probably what Google should consider in whatever future efforts they have.

Hangouts used to be the name for the video communication service that launched with Google Plus. When it launched, it was an amazing feat — suddenly making video calls was an everyday feature. It was easier to setup than Skype, and in many ways it worked better too.

However it seems that it just hasn't improved materially since then, except for making it less plugin dependant. While video hangouts are still excellent, the company I work for has ditched it entirely in favor of zoom.us, a paid service, for only two reasons: it features a slightly better UI, and it doesn't drain your battery or get your fans spinning.

So video hangouts, arguably the biggest reason for the existance of the merged Hangouts app in the first place, is losing momentum.

What's left? The messaging service powered by Google Talk is left. It always worked reasonably well, no beef here. But it still requires the recipient is using Hangouts. And like mentioned before, if you send a message hoping the recipient is on Hangouts, you can't be completely sure they received it or not — and there's no SMS fallback.

It feels to me like all of Googles communication services are in need of a reboot altogether. I don't know whether this will mean separate apps — the tech is probably cleaner that way — or another new merged effort. What it boils down to is that we need to be able to text, voice and video communicate to as many people as possible, with as little effort as possible. It's a tall order, but perhaps merging Hangouts, SMS and Google Talk is not the solution.

It really is true, 2016 is going to be an interesting year. 
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+Mark Dodsworth I noticed that. It's annoying me quite a bit — I'd really rather have a single app as the hub of my communication, than multiple. I even tried the Messenger app to get a feel for where things are going, and though it's nice it's just a super fragmented experience. 
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Joen Asmussen

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The Fitbit Alta first impressions are good. It's a solid piece of hardware, and on first glance, the software feels solid as well. It's a great fitness tracker, with excellent nudges to move, exercise, stand up, even eat and sleep better.

It's obviously not a smartwatch, and I'm not going to wear the Moto 360 and Alta both, so not having wrist-access to actionable notifications has taken some getting used to. I thought I'd miss the notifications most, but what I've actually missed was the phone being mute, replaced by buzzes on the wrist. And of course podcast controls.

The Alta is supposed to support basic Android notifications. Specifically text, phone and calendar notifications. Text and phone notifications I got to work, calendar I did not — there seems to be a bug in the Android app surrounding this. More on that in a separate piece.

The notifications are fine. They aren't synced/cached on the device, so it's only when your watch is in actual bluetooth range of the phone that you'll actually get them. They'll also be forgotten after a minute, so if you feel the wristbuzz and don't look for a minute, there won't be any notifications. This sounds bad when coming from a smartwatch, but with the mindset of "this is a fitness tracker", it's actually pretty cool.

The screen itself is not a touch screen. You tap it twice to wake it up, once to cycle through the clock/steps/calorie/activity views. This takes some getting used to, as the taps required are rather strong. Seems like there's a little accelerometer inside that registers the taps, rather than anything related to pressure or capacitative touches.

Oh, and apparently I'm not an expert on sleeping. 
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Joen Asmussen

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I got a Fitbit Alta today. Everyone at Automattic gets one (https://automattic.com/work-with-us/). Incidentally that means I've shelved my Moto 360, which I've otherwise worn virtually every day for a year.

Over the coming days and weeks it's going to be interesting to see which parts I miss about the 360, and which parts I don't. 
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Joen Asmussen

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Chrome merged tabs are no more. That is to say, the feature to show Chrome tabs merged with apps in the overview switcher on Android is gone from the latest Chrome dev build. Why did Google do this?

I know a lot of people will miss this. I thought it was fun, but I won't miss it terribly, I think the built-in switcher has its niceties as well. What I'm more interested in, is what led to the decision to deprecate this feature.

When it initially launched a while back, I remember there being a fair bit of hubbub surrounding it: Google was sending a signal that web-apps were first-class citizens on Android. A good web-app was as valuable as a native app was.

Whether this was mostly outsider pundit speculation, I'm wondering if this — valuing web-apps — changed inside Google. Lately we've seen Android growing up and into laptop space, and few if any new Google web-apps. Take Reminders, the Android Wear killer app in my opinion, doesn't have a web-app at all. Sure, you can create reminders in Inbox, you can attach reminders to Keep notes, and you can soon see reminders in Google Calendar. But there's no interface for editing existing reminders.

Has Google really started to de-emphasize the web? Maybe.

Or maybe they just realized the actual experience of using merged tabs was confusing. Perhaps it even conflicted with the upcoming multi-tasking features in Android. I suppose we'll see at Google I/O where their focus has been the past year. 
Google made a lot of changes to the Android UI in Lollipop, many of them successful. Chrome merged tabs was not one of those features. After first making t... by Ryan Whitwam in Applications, News
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Joen Asmussen

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Story of my life:
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Joen Asmussen

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The eighties are back. Though this album was made in 2015, nothing about it feels recent, down to and including its release on cassette. Listening to this album takes me decades back to a time when I built model airplanes. It's pretty amazing.

It's also so incredible sugary that were it any more sweet I'd dip it in my coffee. Duett may be an acquired taste, but if you have a musical sweet tooth, give their latest album Borderline a listen.

https://m.soundcloud.com/duettmusic/sets/duett-borderline
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Joen Asmussen

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My Star Wars re-watch completes for the time being, with Return of the Jedi. I like this movie a lot — like Empire it feels expansive with locations, battles and moments in general. And until we learned that there would be a sequel trilogy, it served as a very fitting end to the entire story.

Perhaps more so than the previous installments, this film shows just how important John Williams score is. I doubt the importance of the music can be overstated, it feels almost as if the movie could be far worse than it is, and still work based solely on how good the music is. Were I grumpier, I could point to the prequels as an example of this. One moment that specifically reminded me of the power of Williams score was the piece that plays when Vader finally goads Luke into fighting him, by discovering that he has a sister. It resonates on an emotional level unlike many other musical scores do.

It also reminds me I'd love to see Lando Calrissian return, even if in a cameo!

Another thing I noticed was the special edition tweaks — specifically the inserted song and dance number in Jabba's palace. Pretty terrible. It reminded me that Empire Strikes Back, despite the rephrased speech the emperor gives, is probably the film that "took the least damage" from the tweaks. Just another reason why Empire is still my favorite.

Perhaps I'll watch the de-specialized editions next. 
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Joen Asmussen

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Since watching The Force Awakens (no spoilers), I've resumed my Star Wars rewatch with The Empire Strikes Back, and it didn't take a long time to be reminded why this is my favorite.

Despite having seen this a million times, this film just hits all the marks: battles, locations, ideas and human moments. Despite spanning pretty widely on those levels, as soon as Leia and Han leave Hoth on the Millennium Falcon a very personal story starts, which feels remarkably relaxed considering the the amount of story in this film.

A nice little moment is when the Falcon latches on to a Star Destroyer (since the hyperdrive is broken), and Han explains they'll detach and float away when the Star Destroyers let go of their trash prior to Hyperspace. It's a long conversation, with music only at the end. It doesn't feel hurried or oversaturated — it just plays out, nicely and slowly. It's feels like a film from a better time, which in some ways it is. 
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Remix OS is an Android fork created for a tiny device called "Remix Mini", which is a $70 device that puts Android on any screen. On the heels of a Chrome OS/Android merger rumor, I find this intriguing. It looks fully baked, and visually resembles an amalgam of Android, Chrome OS and Windows 10.

To me it shows that the patterns are there for a fully responsive OS that works on multiple viewports. More importantly, it shows that it's possible to bring Android to the desktop in a way that makes sense. Imagine this on the Pixel C.

2016 is going to be an interesting year. 
Last year at CES, we mocked a company called Jide for creating a blatant Microsoft Surface clone. Well, this year they've come back with something new — and they've also returned much richer. See,...
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