“Mobile First” is a phrase that has been added to the buzzwords hall of fame in the recent years. It’s a paradigm shift and a phenomenon really. You need to be living mobile to understand how to get it right…

Ben Evans wrote a post about Mobile First that mostly resonated with me, although it left me feeling that it doesn’t even capture the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Mobile First really is about. As someone that has been doing mobile longer than mobile was really a thing in the mass market, it doesn’t get closer than this in terms of living the experience of Mobile First.

A discussion about the flexibility of the PC and the restricted environment of the mobile is fundamentally flawed and misses the forest for the trees. Life is inherently mobile. We don’t stay at one spot forever. And life is inherently complicated with many different dimensions — we have family, colleagues, friends, jobs, hobbies, routines and so on and we assume several roles in each of those dimensions. A device that ties you to a particular physical spot or is only observing your behavior when you are actively interacting with it is hardly the flexible one. One could argue that a device that is always with you, listens to you, knows your environment, knows the people around you and knows your hobbies and routines is inherently flexible. But in fact, it is more nuanced than that. When we argue about flexibility in favor of the PC, we are really talking about the flexibility provided to me, the user, when I actively decide to engage with that device. What we are discussing in the context of mobile is just how much scope there is for the device to understand all my needs and be flexible to those needs. Ben Evans concludes, based on the latter, that the mobile is the true Internet device and the truly flexible one. I’d broadly agree with that.

Now, all that doesn’t even begin to explain what Mobile First means. A Mobile First design studies the user and the system from the perspective of the mobile in entirety. Time and time again, I have seen terrible choices made in product, design and engineering when “Mobile First” hasn’t become part of your thought process in a deep rooted way.

If you are an engineer that hasn’t made a conscious effort to understand mobile-first architecture, you potentially make some of these blunders:

  • Protocol designs that show no consideration for how wireless interfaces work or what drains the battery (you send packets whenever you feel like it, in whatever sizes you feel like)
  • Battery optimization is an optimization (in computer science, you are taught not to optimize prematurely, so you postpone this)
  • You allow apps to do anything they please in the background
  • You don’t get what the big deal is with debates around push vs pull. You think it is a po-tay-to po-tah-to debate that is a waste of your time.
  • You don’t get why 20MB is a large footprint; you are almost dismissive of memory constraints.

As a web designer trying to bring your design to mobile, you may be:

  • Still thinking about ‘clicks’ and ‘buttons’
  • Still designing for relatively long sessions
  • Forgetting the relative sizes of a thumb and a cursor

As a product manager transitioning to a mobile product, it is crucial to spend some time immersing yourself in mobile. Without that:

  • You may be still thinking about the user as someone that *wants* to be using your product. When we use our PCs, we clearly intend to be using it. When we use our mobile devices, we may end that interaction abruptly any time.
  • You may overestimate your user’s patience or tolerance.
  • You may not realize that options are a terrible idea

The reality is that your average mobile user:

  • Is impatient
  • Wants to use the phone whenever she feels like it
  • Wants the battery to last all day
  • Has no particular intent when she turns the phone on

But the fact also remains that the same average mobile user:

  • Is willing to carry this device literally every where
  • Enjoys customized experiences
  • Considers this device as the most personal device she has ever had

It is a paradigm shift — Mobile First is a phenomenon. It is most certainly the most flexible computer made till date. It is certainly where the computer knows you better than you know yourself!

Those who have worked with me so far know me as a core technology person. From my days in networking, developing solutions for Internet mobility, security and multicast to my recent years in context aware computing, I have spanned several layers of the stack, but all within what would be considered technology.

Technology to Apps

Some 10 years ago, my focus may have fit squarely into the Technology Box. Even when I was working on peer-to-peer discovery solutions (way before IoT was a buzzword), my focus already spilled out of the Technology box into the Applications Box. If we didn’t build a vertical to demonstrate the technology, the value of the technology was only so much (no one wants middleware for sake of middleware!).

But in the last 6 or so years that I’ve been living and breathing context aware computing, things have dramatically been different.  I’ve been obsessing over both hardware and apps, one more visibly than the other.  My friends at Google would know me as a hybrid hardware-technologist – they’ve seen me champion the always-on aspect of context.  As I wrote earlier, I strongly believe that the next big revolution in context will involve hardware!

What about apps, you ask. My obsession over apps started about 10 years ago and progressively reached a high and has stayed there over the last 5 years. To really get into this, let’s talk about context. I also wrote earlier about the evading business case for context.  As I thought deeper and deeper about the technology around context and how all that comes together, the most disturbing question that lingered was “what is the killer app for context”?  Location was lucky to have (outdoor) navigation as the killer use case, but other forms of context aren’t as lucky.  Other than all the fundamental issues around bringing contextual personalization mainstream, context enthusiasts find it hard to grapple with the fact that there is no killer use case. Period.

So, does that mean context is useless and that we should stop working on it?  Of course not!  Assisting you with the right information at the right time, managing your notifications or allowing you to measure your fitness activity are all real things.  It is inconceivable that information will continue to grow at the pace it is growing, without a gate that is contextual!

Information-Filtered-Context

There is one key realization about context, which is really essential to parse – this is nearly impossible to bring to life at scale without being conceived, developed and introduced alongside applications.  This is because algorithms and user inputs need to stay side by side for the magic to come together.  And users don’t dwell in technology, they dwell in apps!

After working with this realization for a few years now, I’ve set out to bring personalization (via many things including context) to social commerce.  It is an area where behavior analysis and context have a clear place and are yet under utilized at the moment.  What we build in terms of personalization is yet to come, but the first step towards that is to bring the users together on a deeply engaging platform.  My partners and I are uncomfortably excited about what’s coming – more excited than anything we’ve done before! Stay tuned!

Google

Two weeks ago, I walked out of Google with mixed feelings and a heavy heart.  I was leaving behind a team I built and multiple projects I created – things that I was still extremely passionate about, and things that would come to life in a big way in the near future.  I left behind the opportunity to build one of the largest contextual platforms that history will likely see for many years to come.  It was no easy decision.  As I walk into my third week as an entrepreneur, I am still debating if I should let my Google Now just figure out on its own that it should change its notion of what my work is or actively go tell it that it shouldn’t really show me traffic to the Googleplex now!

As all good things go, my ~3 years at Google went by fast. It is the shortest job I’ve held so far and it’s probably the one that taught me the most.  Everything you hear is true – the people are brilliant, the environment is fast paced (Android, mind you, will give a startup a run for its money, in terms of pace!), the food is yum and the bikes are a nice touch!  This is what really makes it challenging to not be at Google once you’ve been at Google!

That said, I had to go pursue a dream.  One of building something from scratch and taking it through its entire lifecycle! When you build something and see that in the hands of hundreds of millions of users, it is a unique feeling – and Google can bring you that.  But, knowing that when you take your feature live, you will wake up to hundreds of millions of users using what you created is, well, also a bit of cheating.  You are riding on an established success that is hard to come by!  Google has its own challenges – not everything built at Google scores super high on user engagement – but, there is no denying that they have an unfair advantage when it comes to user adoption!

I had to embark on this journey to figure out how far I can build something from scratch that did not have that unfair advantage! With an amazing team, I’m setting out to build the next generation experience of styling with friends!  More about that in a few days – but for now, I’m going to let Google Now take its own course in figuring things out :)!

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Brian Chesky of Airbnb wrote a stimulating letter about culture to his employees, recounting the advice he received from Peter Thiel. This is old news, but lately I’ve been thinking about what makes the difference between a job and a passion and how one can transform employees from one side to the other. I reflected back to my own career transitions and keep coming back to one thing – culture.

One of the sound pieces of advice I got from a mentor, when I was considering taking up positions at a couple of startups, was to really evaluate a cultural fit. If I didn’t see it, that was the wrong place to be. Especially at a small company where everyone knows each other.

I see several people struggling with figuring out the right jobs. Middle management is roughly when this unsettling feeling comes to the forefront – not junior enough to escape the politics and not senior enough to have drank the coolaid or be in the game! But, it increasingly seems to happen even earlier than that.

It takes a lot of effort to find the right job. Amidst the myriad of things surrounding this – be it area of work or financial benefits – culture tends to fall through the cracks often. But, I believe that ultimately, the thing that makes or breaks a job is culture.

So, what exactly is culture and how do you look for a fit?

  • Listen to your gut, it doesn’t lie about misfits.  If something doesn’t seem right, it likely isn’t right!
  • Would you want to be a senior leader in that company some day? If you are already in that company, would you want your VP’s job or run that place someday?  If you find yourself saying no, that’s not a fit!
  • Do you share the core principles of the company? How the company hires, what fundamentals its executive team subscribes to, etc. – do you feel completely inline with those? It is worth taking some time to understand this.  Mozilla ex-CEO Brendan Elch’s resignation following his contributions to a gay marriage ban campaign may seem extreme, but this is about culture.
  • Would you unconditionally pitch to someone that they should be working at that place? Great validation for a fit!

If you catch yourself uncomfortable with any of these principles, you are in the wrong place! A place with a culture fit evokes respect for its leaders – the good employers also look for this fit to keep it together.

Occasionally, other things get in the way of working at a place, but if all else is good, you still must ask yourself whether you subscribe to the company’s philosophy and culture – this is job satisfaction at a completely different level!

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Whatsapp has successfully capitalized on the messaging market by changing some old habits around SMS and chat applications.  Slack now is attempting to do the same with email.  In a way, we could look at Facebook and say it is just one giant mailing list after all!  And yet, when we talk to the users, they find their experiences with Facebook or Whatsapp to be “different”.  One of my friends the other day argued that sending something on Whatsapp is a lot easier than sending something over SMS.  When we parse this step for step, it only saves steps when the messages are to a group, since Whatsapp has a persistent notion of groups. When pushed to explain, my friend was unable to really say why.  I’m sure all of us have found that sharing a photo to Facebook is a lot easier than sharing it over email.  Once again, quantifying this is hard.

I have recently become a Slack user and I find it significantly easier than email threads.  It’s still early days to draw conclusions on this, but so far, it seems to be simplifying my collaborations.  One could argue that conceptually, it is not really all that different from discussion boards or forums or even email threads at the core of it.

So, why are these new world apps doing so fantastically well on age old problems?  It is really important to understand the difference between creating products that have “differences” from existing products and creating those that are just…, well, “different“! In fact, you need the perception of being different!

In his book, “Hooked”, Nir Eyal states that one way of creating successful products and changing people’s old habits is by taking a problem, creating a solution and then taking away steps from it until you are left with just the bare minimum steps to solve the problem.  Let’s take the case of sharing a status over Facebook, for example.  You are able to write something and post it – there is no need to select a mailing list or a group to share stuff with, let alone handle the creation and management of such aspects.  A select few will whine about how they don’t want the entire world (which seems to be roughly equivalent to the set of friends we have on Facebook these days) to know about their status.  In reality though, algorithms and the users have been getting smarter at this – algorithms figure out how to bring you the key updates of relevance to you and the users are getting better at tuning out what they don’t really want to see.  It is really the same thing that Whatsapp has done with messaging.

The lesson here is very simple and yet hard to do – revolutionary products do not always need green field problems.  Revolution in products can simply be about taking an existing problem and approaching it from a user centric perspective.  Building products with incremental differences, especially in a field where some habits have been established, is not going to be useful.  However, showing that your product is different (in a simpler way!), even if it were only in a single (but important) dimension, could make all the difference!

Disclaimer: All thoughts are my own and does not reflect the views of my employer in any way. 

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Telegram saw 8M downloads the day Whatsapp was acquired by Facebook.  This is not new.  When Parse was acquired by Facebook, the blogs rushed to write about why this is great for their rivals. Stackmob accelerated its Parse migration pipeline and came out with it in just a weekend! There was outrage when Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo!.

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There are, of course, several reasons for such reactions and in each case, it is slightly different. Early adopters get so entrenched in their favorite platforms that there is a sense of ownership – when a drastic change occurs, it feels like their trust has been misplaced or that they have been betrayed.  But, beyond all this, there is another challenge here that we are seeing, such as in the case of the Whatsapp-Facebook situation – why should Facebook have all my data?  This alone causes a split market in terms of data ownership.

When Facebook published its recent upgrade to the Android app, it asked for permission to read SMS.  As much as I like to be on top of the world of mobile apps, I said no to the upgrade on my primary phone.  I had enough secondary devices on which I don’t use SMS to try out the new app!  To this day, my Facebook remains at v3.9 on my primary phone!  The thought of Facebook reading my text messages just did not sit well with me.  Of course, now I’m faced with the challenge of using or not using Whatsapp!  (Just to remove any ambiguity, I fully plan on continuing to use Whatsapp, unless Facebook decides to mess with it like LinkedIn did with Pulse!).

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Recently, a friend that I recommended SwiftKey to said that he did not agree to SwiftKey learning from his GMail – they had no business knowing the content of his emails!  My reasoning around the benefits of personalization that can shave off minutes in typing a single email did not manage to convince him.

So, what exactly is behind these strong feelings about who can or cannot read the various parts of our data?  Mostly, just personal principles.  For most people, when it comes down to it, as long as the data is “secure” and “private”, this means nothing and they only stand to benefit from all the personalization it can enable.  However, there are two problems – we don’t always believe it is in fact, “secure” and “private” and we have our biases in which companies we love and trust.

But the knee jerk reaction to these acquisitions tells a very interesting story.  In reality, we are faced with this particular challenge:

Do I want to give more of my data to the bigger companies that can aggregate various types of data to learn all kinds of crazy things about me? Or, do I want to give my data to a small startup that has no resources to even consider implementing security correctly? 

This is a very difficult conundrum, particularly because, “implementing security correctly” is a non-trivial task, that most developers are quite bad at by default.  When you are big, you have a responsibility to keep the data secure – way more so than we can imagine.  When you are small, there is no real upside to spending the time on security.  It slows down the development to think about it from an architectural perspective and get the pieces right. All the security holes in Snapchat and other small apps are testimony to this. Security gaps happen even in big companies, where this is taken seriously and experts are hired to ensure correctness. One can imagine why it is more or less just “winged” in the smaller ones. This is not a reflection of anything in particular – it is often just a lack of resources to focus on everything, when you are a startup.

I don’t particularly have an answer to this conundrum.  But, as a user, convenience trumps everything – which means that I will use an app from a small startup if it does the right things to make my life simpler.  That said, I generally have less issues with giving up my privacy to the bigger companies – the value that personalization can bring is huge and I’m looking forward to it!

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Bloomberg published an article about why Indians in senior leadership positions are sought after and I found it particularly interesting that it was written by a non-Indian.  Leonid Bershidsky observed that Indians possess a mix of empathy, humility, patience and an ability to dream that make us good candidates for these positions.  Throughout the article, he provides a number of examples that make this case.

I felt a momentary privilege reading this, especially given I had never thought of this angle of analysis before – but, it strikes me that despite the huge amount of influence culture has on people, it’s not a single culture that leads to successful leaders.  For all the examples cited in that article, I can think of counter examples of Indian senior leaders that do not exactly fit that mold.

Indian culture inherently brings empathy to the forefront – it takes tremendous amount of effort for us Indians to get past the point of ‘feeling’ the pain of friends and family, and sometimes, even acquaintances.  There is too much emotion involved in just about everything.  This is what leads to large, joint families that quarrel and make up on a regular basis as if that was their main goal in life.

Humility and patience go hand-in-hand to some extent – in a country of a billion+ people, you often must earn your respect and it takes time. As to the ability to dream, I’ll get to it a little later.

What is intriguing about this article is that while it makes some valid points, Indians are not fundamentally born leaders.  Historically, India continuously submitted to external occupants and leaders and the war for independence was fought with tremendous patience and empathy – taking us back to reinforcements of those qualities.  Assertive leadership was never an option and there were instances where this was not quite desirable.  Whether the India-Pakistan divide was a result of this rather ‘soft leadership’ will be an inconclusive debate forever!

Coming back to corporate careers and particularly corporate America – an Indian without the impacts of western (particularly, American) education and work culture is more likely to be a misfit than a successful leader.  Of course, we can debate this and point out exceptions (there always are!).  But the real point is that it is worldly exposure and wisdom that ultimately brings out the best in people.  Cultures are also passed down very powerfully – just like traits that get passed on across generations, corporate cultures also flow down the chain.  A micro managing leader at the top is likely to create a ladder of micro managers under him/her.

For all the pluses that Indian culture brings to leadership, I can think of several cons as well that come with it – say, being a bit too passive or shy, dwelling on ideas for too long before making bets, etc.  It is the exposure to western cultures that teaches us how to balance these against aggressiveness and making calculated big bets.

All credit goes to the internationalization and a confluence of several cultures – the more exposed we are, the more rounded we get and better leaders we become.  So, never stop exploring – that’s the only path to being a great leader!

As to whether Satya Nadella would do great things for Microsoft – I have my biases and I’ll let them be for now!

iRock-full

Ashton Applewhite, in her blog, This Chair Rocks, defines ‘Ageism’ and writes about how a discrimination against age is creeping into Corporate America and why that is all wrong.  Separately, Lynn Parramore wrote a post on “50 is the new 65“, talking about the discrimination that Americans increasingly face in later stages of life.

I’m going to refrain from debating whether or not they are actually right – and whether there actually is a discrimination that is plaguing our society right now.  However, I do believe that the older you get, the harder you have to work to convince a decision maker that you are the right choice.

Unconscious bias is innate in humans to begin with.  It starts from very early stages in every aspect of life.

  • An old battered toy vs a shiny new one – which one does a child pick?
  • Who do you assume can lift a heavy box – the man or the woman in the room?

The answers are obvious.  Based on things we learn, we unconsciously associate characteristics and desirability to different things. Unconscious bias is articulated in this exceptionally well narrated Washington Post story, Pearls Before Breakfast, about Joshua Bell’s performance on a subway, disguised as a street performer.  A world renowned musician whose concerts sold at $100 a seat, Joshua was performing at the metro station at L’ENFANT PLAZA in Washington D.C., indistinguishable to the passersby from a street musician.  Sure enough, he made $32.17 during the time he played at the metro!

When it comes to the workforce, what is it that we value and how does our unconscious bias associate these values with age?  Citing a few things:

  • Energy (advantage young)
  • Experience (advantage mature)
  • Motivation (slight advantage young)
  • Ability to learn new things (advantage young)
  • Compensation (advantage young)

There are, of course, many other important things, such as commitment, team skills, domain knowledge, etc., but, when all else is the same, it boils down to some critical factors that lean one way or the other.

This isn’t unlike other types of unconscious bias – such as, for e.g., the (perceived) bias against women in technology.  Women have to work extra hard to get recognized.  To be viewed as a leader, to be viewed as a strong technologist – we have to give a lot more.  Alternatively, we can work our way up starting from being a “note taker” – in other words, being of assistance to the real leaders and technologists – but, we will constantly find ourselves starting at the “note taker” level, as we work with different people.

But I digress.  The reality is, when we are dealing with a natural unconscious bias in the society – cultural or global – the larger population is not on the side of the disadvantaged, by default.  We have to be conscious and we have to work harder to earn our place.

All that said, capitalism actually makes this worse.  The idea that the profits can be unevenly distributed in fact, creates a further divide.  And yet, with this divide, is its incredible dual – the power of diversity – the fundamental value that allows us to really define who we are.

It’s not necessarily fun being on the disadvantaged side of any bias – but, it does make us a better person.  And when we conquer it, we have made an amazing impact for ourselves and we have done our part in slowly chipping away at the bias!

I love my Nexus 5, but I’m keeping my Moto X as my primary phone for now.  And I’m simply amazed at Samsung’s marketing genius… 

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Over the holidays, I had a chance to spend a fair bit of time with my new Nexus 5 and some Samsung S3s and S4s that belong to friends.  And of course, I still use my Moto X as my primary device (for some definition of primary device that involves having a cellular network enabled on it).  I had a chance to use various applications on all three of these devices and to debug some things I helped build as well.

After this round of experiments, I have a few salient observations:

  • The Nexus 5 is simply blazing.  It is the smoothest Android device I’ve ever laid hands on, no doubt – in fact, if you ignored a couple of minor things, it might even be the best device I’ve ever used, period (yes, yes, including that ‘i’ device!).
  • The Moto X is reasonably fast – not quite the same as the Nexus 5 – but, its contextual features still rock! Unlock near a trusted Bluetooth (while driving, for e.g.) and the active display notifications are still amazingly useful!
  • Samsung knows exactly what sells phones.

Perhaps that’s not a fair summary? Maybe. But, let’s take a closer look at what this all means.

Let’s first set some things straight.  What I did in no way constitutes an actual A/B test and should not be construed as such.  There are many such tests out there done by professional bloggers and testers – so, if you want the real nitty gritty of it, go read some of those.  What I did do, however, was a reasonable comparison of end user (plus some developer level) observations on these devices in as similar conditions as feasible (without going through Faraday cages and such!). These devices had fairly a similar number of apps downloaded on them, similar number running, similar settings enabled, on the same WiFi conditions and such.  The Nexus 5 and Moto X were on KitKat, while the Samsung devices were on JB.  Now, on to some key factors.

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Shown under mediocre network conditions, the Nexus 5 is > 3X better.. Even in great network conditions, it is consistently 1.5-2X better!

  • Responsiveness: The Nexus 5 blazes. The touch interface is a pleasure!  The Moto X is reasonable (unless you have a Nexus 5 next to you, you will likely not realize that it is not as fast as it should be!).  The Samsung – well, depends. A random S4 is reasonably good (read, comparable to the Moto X), while another random S4 is noticeably slow. When you go to the S3 – let’s not even go there, since the responsiveness (or lack thereof) will make you want to upgrade your phone immediately!
  • Speed: Even though related to responsiveness, specifically talking about WiFi speeds, the Nexus 5 blows everything out of the water.  We are talking about 2-3X higher download speeds and about 1.5-2X higher upload speeds, under exact same network conditions (measured to the same server while connected to the same access point, tested over multiple time periods).  Now, my Moto X starts looking like a last gen device :(! How much of this is Qualcomm vs Broadcom performance issues?  I can’t be certain, since the Nexus 5 and the S4 have Broadcom WiFi in them and have vastly different speeds.
  • Display: Give it to Samsung here – as any other Samsung high end phones, the S4 display is spectacular.  The Nexus 5 is fairly comparable – some say the Moto X has a better display, but I’d have to disagree with that.
  • Camera: The Nexus 5 pictures are good – really good HDR+ imagery, no doubt.  But, throw them all in low light conditions and you wish you had an iPhone!
  • Developer Issues: As a developer, the Samsung devices seem to be a nightmare. From not handling PNGs to having crashes at the kernel level, it is exhausting to deal with these devices. The Nexus 5 and the Moto X shine here – but I have to say that from an app developer’s perspective, testing on these devices is never going to be enough, as things may always break down on a Samsung device somewhere and that’s just the kind of thing that will need attention…

So, what did I dislike most about each of these devices?

  • Nexus 5: Nothing significant, but I thought the face unlock was lame. It takes as long as typing a PIN (and longer when it fails and you have to type the PIN anyway).  But, more than anything, I wish it had the little contextual enhancements that the Moto X has!
  • Moto X: The camera – every time I take a picture, I wish it were better! The speed can be better (now that I’ve used the Nexus 5, I can see the difference) – otherwise, it performs acceptably.
  • Samsung S4: Almost everything. The unintuitive UI (have you experienced the ‘Remove’ option on the Samsung UI when you try to remove an app?), the terrible memory management, the innumerable inconsistent code paths that seem to cause crashes where other devices do fine, the Samsung bloatware that cannot be removed… you get it.

Clearly, I’m not buying a Samsung device.  But then, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the most popular Android phone on the market. One thing that became quite clear to me is this – Samsung knows what it takes to sell a device.  Vibrant displays, top of the line processor speeds, cameras with big numbers of Megapixels and overall feature-packed software puts them at the top of the charts.  A truly amazing performance? Well, who cares really! The marketing prowess is surely something to be admired.

For me personally, the Moto X still does it.  I’ll continue to use the Nexus 5 quite a bit over WiFi – but to switch out of Verizon and actually make it my primary device, it’s gonna take a bit more!

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For lazy procrastinators like me, there is online shopping and same day delivery.  Sometimes I wish I could get help picking things – and that’s exactly why I’m excited about Vue – an app that is coming soon to address the shoppers dilemma and bridge this gap! 

I’m a last minute shopper.  Well, I do everything at the last minute – more or less.  My to-do list is forever overflowing and there is a constant need to prioritize the top most bleeding needs.  I’m sure many moms with a full time job can relate to this. This year, I’ve exceeded my own expectations (of procrastination, just to be clear of what we are talking about here)!  Not only have I not shopped at all yet, I have not even made a list yet (gasp!).  The rest of the days leading up to Christmas look daunting to me.

About a couple of years ago, I signed up for Amazon Prime.  And I haven’t looked back.  I have been an online shopper much prior to that, but becoming a Prime member took it to another level.  I have not yet shopped for groceries online (I know I’m not an early adopter there), but only because it is difficult to find some of the Indian groceries for reasonable prices online that I could try out.  But, I’d do anything to avoid having to go to the store.  Occasionally I miss being able to feel fabric and look at variety – but, I have such little time that I’d rather do something else with my time than be in a store.

Online shopping is great, but then I struggle with choices.  I keep looking at images from various angles and wondering if a piece of clothing is going to look good.  3D models and high quality images have certainly made the experience quite good, but I still miss being able to ask a human what they think about a product.  I visited H&M the day before thanksgiving (the new start of Black Friday) and as I rushed to pick up some pants in the 10 minutes I had, I got tips from a fellow shopper on some amazing deals on cool sweaters. As I picked it up and thought about it, she also helped me decide what colors looked best!  So, that’s the real insight I miss out on by shopping online!

But, the app world has seen some efforts to the rescue on this front in recent times – apps like Polar allow users to solicit opinions from other users. It has been moderately useful, although I think something with a more dedicated approach to helping people shop would serve better.  On that note, some friends have been working towards an Android app called Vue – that is designed to solve the shopper’s dilemma in exactly this dimension.  I’ve been previewing it and I’m very excited about it!  When I combine online shopping with a way to share opinions, I’d be set for a while!  Until I desperately want perfection in that augmented reality means of virtually trying things on…

Now, off to my to-do list so I don’t make Santa look bad to my kids!