“Technology is not supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to improve your life, not complicate it.” — Apple Computer, Inc.
Your iPhones Are Broken
Although computers were invented to help the US Army shoot cannons, personal computers (PCs) were invented to make life easier. This is especially true in the case of handheld PCs, which were originally called Personal Digital Assistants (contrary to popular belief, the digital assistant game didn’t start with Siri in 2011). Over the last 30 years or so, handheld PCs have largely succeeded in becoming our digital assistants, particularly in the last decade thanks to Steve Jobs et al.
Steve Jobs with his PDA (Image Source)
However, our digital assistants, a.k.a. smartphones, have recently started to become less and less helpful. As we said in Dimhaus Foundations:
Our devices feed us too much information, eat up too much of our time, and promote bad habits. The result is software using us as vehicles for its agenda rather than the other way around. Software tries to take over our lives instead of fitting into it elegantly.
The culprit? Surprisingly, apps. Smartphones’ success has been largely smartphone apps’ success, but too much of anything is bad, and apps are no exception. The design paradigm in which little rounded squares on our home screens represent independent pieces of software (the app paradigm) simply cannot handle a large number of apps.
For starters, apps are now impossible to find on our phones. Most of us typically use only a handful of apps, so many of our apps mostly serve no function other than crowding our home screens. Furthermore, since independent apps are poor collaborators, we have to open, close, and switch way too many apps just to accomplish simple tasks and stay informed. Worst of all, apps constantly compete against one another for every moment of our attention, so we spend all of our days (and nights) being hunted down by endless notifications, emails, and messages.
This is what we mean when we say, “Software tries to take over our lives”. There is nothing worse than an assistant that bothers you endlessly.
They Are Fixing the Wrong Thing
In retrospect, apps outgrowing the app paradigm seems inevitable. In fact, it’s a testament to how well Apple and Google have nurtured the mobile app ecosystem. I also have to point out that Apple and Google have been working their butts off trying to usher us beyond the app paradigm. Conversational OS assistants (e.g. Siri and Google Now/Assistant), rich notifications, and widgets (e.g. Today View and Google Now/App Feed) are all ways that help us interact with our apps without actually opening them.
The problem is, these improvements don’t solve the original problem of too many apps complicating our lives. These alternative modes of interaction only help the app paradigm handle a slightly larger number of apps. This can actually make the problem worse by filling our lives with even more apps — even more distractions that keep us from staying informed and productive.
In essence, smartphones are no longer great assistants because OS makers are focused on accommodating as many apps as possible, not on improving our devices’ personal assistance capabilities. Especially in the case of iOS, lucrative categories of third-party apps such as social networks, photo/video sharing apps, and games seem to be getting much more attention and support than even first-party productivity apps. This is a shame because built-in iOS apps and features used to be some of the most innovative and helpful everyday tools around.
Good for Business, Bad for Us
There are good business-driven reasons why an OS maker would prioritize third-party app ecosystems over built-in personal assistance capabilities. If you constrain the function of your product to personal assistance, you risk missing out on precious user segments. So instead, you simply build a neutral app hosting machine, and let the function(s) organically emerge from the third-party app market. More users have more reasons to use the product, and you make money twice by collecting commissions on the app store.
Still, leaving the function of a product undefined is lazy design, if not the antithesis of design because product design is precisely the act of defining the form and function of a product. And when you are lazy in design, users suffer. Making a device that passively hosts apps allows the most addicting or attention-hungry apps take over people’s lives.
We believe smartphones should primarily function as personal assistants, keeping us informed, helping us accomplish tasks, and letting us be to live life otherwise. This is not only the original purpose of handheld PCs, but what the form factor is good at and good for. Smartphones form such a tight cognitive loop with humans that both the opportunities and implications for impacting human behavior are as great as they can be. Smartphones as all-consuming distraction devices make people unhealthy and unhappy, but smartphones as helpful personal assistants allow people to accomplish more and live more fulfilling days.
So we took matters into our own hands, and created Hombase — an all-in-one productivity app that serves as your personal data assistant. We like to think of it as a mini operating system that helps you live a balanced life.
Hombase: Your Personal Data Assistant
Hombase organizes your schedule, fitness goals, budget, and more in one simple interface. With all of your personal data in one place, there is no need to flip back and forth between multiple apps. Hombase is designed to keep you informed without taking up too much of your attention. Hombase alerts you only when it can be helpful, like first thing in the morning to deliver your daily briefing.
We are beta testing Hombase for iOS! Learn more and gain access at hombaseapp.com.