When More is Less

I've been using OS X Lion, the new Apple Mac operating system for a couple of days and I have relearned an important lesson about application design: when designing applications, more is often less.

Overall I have found the refinements in the OS X Lion user experience delightful. The new mission control, dashboard and trackpad swipe features are magic. Spotlight, the OS X search capability, seems fast and more accurate; I think full screen iPhoto is wonderful. I look forward to learning more about versions. In all of these areas of improvement, Apple has refined the user experience while leaving the core feature set basically the same: Spotlight is still a search utility, iPhoto hasn’t changed and the Spaces ability to utilize multiple virtual screens has been vastly simplified with the new swipe capabilities.

Unfortunately, in one area I believe they reached a bit too far, added too many features and made the user experience too complex. For the past couple of months I have been using the Sparrow email client. On the company's web site at www.sparrowmailapp.com they state "Sparrow is a minimalist mail application designed to keep things simple and efficient." I find Sparrow the fastest and most efficient way to manage my multiple email accounts on my MacBook Pro. With Sparrow's “minimalist” approach there are times I wish for an additional feature, however since my productivity is so much greater with Sparrow I stick with it.

Then three days ago, after installing OS X Lion, I gave mail.app, the built-in OS X email client another try. Many of the "industry experts" raved about the enhancements to mail. Here is what I found: Mail.app is a feature-rich email environment with full support for threaded conversations, an iPad style user interface and improved search. While this is all very nice, Sparrow is still more effective for me. Let me explain.

I use multiple Gmail accounts and an Apple me.com account for my email. Mail.app maps each Gmail label to a folder. When I want to move an email from the inbox to a folder in mail.app the move command lists all of my folders for all of my accounts. While this is extremely powerful—allowing users to move a message from one account into any folder on any other account—I have a lot of folders, and for my purposes, rarely need to cross-file emails. The unintended side effect is that it is very hard to find the correct folder when the move command displays a list of all of my folders across all email accounts.

Sparrow on the other hand takes a different approach. First and possibly most important, it is more well-integrated with Gmail in that it understands that Gmail labels are not just folders. When I am reading a message, from the unified inbox, it gives me the option to either label a message, or label and archive a message. The labels presented are the labels local to the specific Gmail account. Sparrow’s approach is more limited than mail.app’s, but this is in fact exactly what I want to do 99 percent of the time. It makes the task of labeling and archiving an email much easier.

In a second example, Sparrow has a wonderful “quick reply” feature. When using quick reply instead of opening a new message window Sparrow scrolls the message down and presents a small entry panel at the top of the current message. This panel does not include address information or signatures, just a place to write a short reply. The feature makes a quick reply feel similar to replying to a text message. If you need access to headers and signatures with one click the quick reply opens into a traditional reply window.

It makes sense that Apple would want to improve their mail client or introduce one that is more dynamic and feature-rich. Simplicity and ease-of-use, however, is what attracts people to their products. If anything gets added to a product, it should be value; if anything gets removed, it should be complexity. At the end of the day, in this case as in many others, more is often less.


CLEC SIP Application Warehouse White Paper

We are very excited to announce the availability of our partnership program between the telephone carrier community and Ifbyphone. To better understand this initiative lets look together at the evolution of the world wide web and how SIP signaling is following a similar evolution.

When the first generally available web browser, Mosaic, was released by the University of Illinois, it supported the use of the HTTP protocol to access HTML formatted information. Before long millions of users where browsing the web everyday. But it wasn't until some very creative technologist realized that HTTP could be used to communicate server to server, that the web we know today developed.

The new Ifbyphone CLEC support provides the equivalent evolution of SIP. SIP was initially released as a telephone signaling protocol for voice communications. It has involved into a signaling and setup protocol for voice and video. The Ifbyphone carrier services take SIP to the next level, supporting SIP as a protocol for accessing the industry's first SIP application warehouse. With this new capability any CLEC or ILEC with SIP support in their softswitch can resell all of the Ifbyphone automated telephone applications. These applications range from a simple parallel find me similar to Google Voice, to complete Voice Broadcast and IVR solutions. Ifbyphone IVR solutions support text-to-speech, speech recognition, DTMF decoding, call recording, and recorded audio playback. All Ifbyphone applications are configured from a very easy to use customer portal with excellent reseller services.

Our white paper describes in more detail our view of the evolving cloud telephony space and its applicability to the CLEC/ILEC community.

Download Ifbyphone's White Paper: Cloud Telephony For Carriers & Service Providers

Google Floats all Boats

Over the past week and a half, Google Voice has prompted an exciting increase in the volume of discussions about Voice 2.0 and the evolution of telephony from a facility based to an Internet based service. This evolution will free millions of businesses from the limited features provided by their local telephone company.

For some background on the impact of Google Voice I recommend reading the excellent posts from Andy Abramson, Wired.com, Gigaom, and Jon Arnold.

Once you have caught up on the industries first reactions think about the following. We are experiencing a dramatic revolution in telecommunications driven by the disaggregation of telecommunications transport from telecommunications features or applications. In the pre-voice 2.0 days, just a few of years ago, a business would call “the telephone company” and lease a telephone line with a set of features. These features might include call waiting, three way calling, voice mail, etc. While you were able to select a long distance carrier that was different from the telephony company providing you with dial tone, to gain access to additional features you had to install a key system or PBX in your business.

Unfortunately the installation of an in house telephone system often locked your business into a fix or very slowly improving set of features. Try upgrading your traditional TDM or POTS based small business key system. It often can’t be done.

Now that many alternatives exist for telephone transport, that is to say, dial tone, a business is no longer limited to the features provided by their dial-tone provider. You might choose to purchase your business lines from AT&T and then use your Google Voice telephone number as your public facing number. When a customer calls, Google will ring both your cell phone and your AT&T landline. In essence you now have three telephone companies. AT&T for outbound calls from your desk, your cell phone carrier for out bound calls from your cell and Google for inbound calls.

This works well since advanced features such as enhanced voice mail and find me are triggered based on an inbound call. The introduction of the trusted and innovative Google brand into the telecommunications landscape will hasten the acceptance of using multiple telephone providers for your business communications needs.

However, Google Voice is just the beginning. Once a business tastes the benefits of enhanced telephone applications they rapidly want more. That’s where companies like Ifbyphone come in. Google has demonstrated proficiency in deploying applications such as search and email where customer service and a consultative relationship are not required. Businesses requiring and willing to pay for a more direct partnership will find the Google approach unacceptable for critical business telephone services. Put more simply, businesses want the ability to pick up their telephone and talk to someone about their telephone application needs.

Additionally, Google Voice is currently limited to a very narrow range of telephone applications. Since Google applications are built for extremely large user communities they leave a wide berth of opportunity for innovative and more narrowly focused organizations.

At Ifbyphone we provide a complete suite of hosted telephone application services focused on the needs of small to medium sized business. We support these services with real people who spend thousands of hours a week consulting with new and existing customers.

While our entry-level services include unified telephone number support and overlap with Google Voice they extend into sophisticated sales, marketing and service delivery solutions. The power of Ifbyphone derives from our instant on-demand IVR services that are available to any web site initiated, in bound or outbound scheduled telephone call. Our customers see our services as toll free and local telephone number call routing, call queuing, interactive voice response, click to call and voice broadcasting.

In conclusion, I believe Google Voice will rapidly become the wave that floats all of the Voice 2.0 boats. While Google does the heavy lifting of educating businesses about the power of utilizing multiple telephone solution vendors for your business, Ifbyphone will focus on the delivery of innovation IVR based solutions that begin where the Google Voice technologies end.