Part II: Designing Behavior and Form in Java

Encoding QR Code in Java Part II: Designing Behavior and Form
Part II: Designing Behavior and Form
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Designing Smart Products
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In addition to being considerate, helpful products and people must also be smart. Thanks to science fiction writers and futurists, there is some confusion about what it means for an interactive product to be smart. Some naive observers think that smart software is actually capable of behaving intelligently. While this would certainly be nice, the fact of the matter is that our silicon-enabled tools are still a ways away from delivering on that dream. A more useful understanding of the term (if you re trying to ship a product this decade) is that these products are capable of working hard even when conditions are difficult and even when users aren t busy. Regardless of our dreams of thinking computers, there is a much greater and more immediate opportunity to get our computers to work harder. The remainder of this chapter discusses some of the most important ways that software can work a bit harder to serve humans better.
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Putting the idle cycles to work
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Because every instruction in every application must pass single-file through the CPU, we tend to optimize our code for this needle s eye. Programmers work hard to keep the number of instructions to a minimum, ensuring snappy performance for users. What we often forget, however, is that as soon as the CPU has hurriedly finished all its work, it waits idle, doing nothing, until the user issues another command. We invest enormous efforts in reducing the computer s reaction time, but we invest little or no effort in putting it to work proactively when it is not busy reacting to the user. Our software commands the CPU as though it were in the army, alternately telling it to hurry up and wait. The hurry up part is great, but the waiting needs to stop. In our current computing systems, users need to remember too many things, such as the names they give to files and the precise location of those files in the file system. If a user wants to find that spreadsheet with the quarterly projections on it again, he must either remember its name or go browsing. Meanwhile, the processor just sits there, wasting billions of cycles. Most current software also takes no notice of context. When a user is struggling with a particularly difficult spreadsheet on a tight deadline, for example, the application offers precisely as much help as it offers when he is noodling with numbers in his spare time. Software can no longer, in good conscience, waste so much idle time while users work. It is time for our computers to begin to shoulder more of the burden of work in our day-to-day activities.
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12: Designing Good Behavior
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Most users in normal situations can t do anything in less than a few seconds. That is enough time for a typical desktop computer to execute at least a billion instructions. Almost without fail, those interim cycles are dedicated to idling. The processor does nothing except wait. The argument against putting those cycles to work has always been: We can t make assumptions; those assumptions might be wrong. Our computers today are so powerful that, although the argument is still true, it is frequently irrelevant. Simply put, it doesn t matter if the application s assumptions are wrong; it has enough spare power to make several assumptions and discard the results of the bad ones when the user finally makes his choice. With Windows and Mac OS X s preemptive, threaded multitasking and multicore, multichip computers, you can perform extra work in the background without significantly affecting the performance most users see. The application can launch a search for a file, and if the user begins typing, merely abandon it until the next hiatus. Eventually, the user stops to think, and the application will have time to scan the whole disk. The user won t even notice. This is precisely the kind of behavior that makes Mac OS X s Spotlight search capabilities vastly superior to that in those windows. Search results are almost instantaneous because the operating system takes advantage of downtime to index the hard drive. Every time an application puts up a modal dialog box, it goes into an idle waiting state, doing no work while the user struggles with the dialog. This should never happen. It would not be hard for the dialog box to hunt around and find ways to help. What did the user do last time The application could, for example, offer the previous choice as a suggestion for this time. We need a new, more proactive way of thinking about how software can help people reach their goals and complete their tasks.
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