The Smart Tool With Stupid Features

Why doesn’t my iPhone know when I want it to be quiet?

Let me ask you something I find that I often ask myself: why doesn’t my amazing iPhone automatically turn off my alarm when I don’t have work?

And I don’t mean on the weekends — I mean on days off, or holidays, where I don’t have work, but it’s a day of the week where I normally would be working otherwise. These things are marked on my calendar, on my phone, as days off — so why doesn’t the alarm know this? The data is right there just waiting to be used.

I find these sorts of things to be impossibly frustrating. These seem so simple and logical, and yet you can’t do them.

I can’t start a Twitter or Slack DM from my contacts app. Why?

Again, these are not technically impossible, they just haven’t been done. The integrations aren’t there, APIs not available. They’ve probably been thought about, explored, tested, but never released.

And that’s extremely frustrating because everything seems to be in place to make something really good into something transforming, but it hasn’t happened. Why?

My iPhone is with me almost every waking moment of everyday, and yet it doesn’t know when it should be silent and when it should be loud. Really?

Doesn’t it seem stupid that at 3am, my phone could detect that my home is dead silent and instead of blaring an urgent phone call at full volume — because that’s where I accidentally left the setting — the phone says “hey I know, let’s turn down the volume since it might give this person a heart attack… Let’s make this thoughtful instead of dumb.

Yes, there are manual overrides to consider, but I am asking for learning. We have thermostats that can learn our patterns, why aren’t these ‘smart’ phones attempting to do the same?

Why doesn’t the screen turn on when I pull my phone out of my pocket? Have I ever once not turned on the screen when I pull my phone out of my pocket? No.

Or why doesn’t my phone say: “hey you know what, I see that you have an appointment labeled as ‘meeting’, so I’m going to set the ringer to a low volume since you didn’t mute it, but don’t worry I’ll increase the volume linearly as it rings so you don’t miss any calls if you wanted the ringer on.”

Some of this is to blame on Apple/Google/Microsoft whoever, but I don’t think all of it. There’s a very clear problem: user intention cannot be learned or known. My phone will never know if I purposely left my ringer on or not. It could ask, sure, but what if I don’t answer when the phone asks, then what does it do? Guess? That seems ripe for frustration.

To the Watch

This is where I think a watch presents a good opportunity. If we can all agree and acknowledge that the phone — at this point — can’t intuit very well the intentions of the user, then I think we have to rely on some system of prompts.

I always thought Google Glass could be good at this, but instead let’s focus on the Apple Watch. What if a meeting time rolls around and your phone notices that your volume is crazy loud and an embarrassing ringtone is set — it could tap your wrist and just ask if it should DND your phone, or mute it at the very least. It could decide to re-route all notifications to your wrist, insuring you still get notified, but others aren’t aware that you are.

Looking at your watch is unobtrusive, and fast. It would also make sense if I could tap the watch with some sort of Konami code to get my phone to head into DND mode. Yes, I could do this on my phone, but as a user of the Knock app I can assure you that you look like a fool frantically tapping at your thigh. And the minute you pull out your phone is the minute you’ve lost seamlessness.

This could be more annoying than not, I don’t know, but I think we have some pretty smart tools sitting in our pockets with relatively stupid and powerless features. I hope the Apple Watch helps with that. I hope that my phone becomes smart enough to know that alerting the watch at times when my phone knows I am likely to be busy is just a thing the watch does. ((For that matter I hope the watch also knows when I am wearing it.))

If we can make that leap, we can get closer to stupid stuff not happening. Like every fucking device you own ringing while you are on a Skype call.

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