Welcome to the world of ‘Touchless’ Smartphones!

Imagine interacting with your smartphone without even touching it. Imagine waving your hand or pointing your finger to perform tasks on your smartphone. Better still, imagine interacting with you smartphone using your eyes! If only you could change the music by waving your hand or feet or view photos by pointing at your smartphone. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could wave your hand over the smartphone to check the time? Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

I was wondering if touchscreens on smartphones will eventually become ‘gesture-screens’ and whether all user interaction will be devoid of the ‘Touch’.  Is gesture-based user interaction the future for smartphones and tablets?

Actually, the future is already here! Gesture-based user-interaction was implemented in the Samsung Galaxy S5. There’s a lot more you can do with gestures than with just touch. You can use your eyes, head, hands, feet or any part of your body to navigate through your smartphone or tablet.

Let’s look at a few cool features of the Samsung Galaxy S5’s gesture-based user-interaction.

Air View

The Air view feature gives you a ‘Preview’ of the particular UI element by just hovering your finger over it. You must turn Air view on before previewing using gestures. Go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Air view. Switch Air view On.

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This feature allows you to preview photos, events, speed dial numbers, text messages etc.

Here are a few live examples of how Air view looks like on the Samsung Galaxy S5:

Previewing photos through Air view:

Air_View_Photo

In the above photo, I am ‘Air viewing’ a particular photo in my album. Instead of navigating through all the photos, I just need to hover my finger on all photos one at a time for a quick preview. This feature is very useful and saves a lot of time in finding the right photo to upload or share.

Previewing text messages through Air view:

Air_View_Text

In the above image, I just hovered on a text message to view the message. I don’t really need to click and view the message. This is a convenient way to navigate through all text messages.

Air browse

Imaging being able to navigate through photos or music by just swiping your palm over the phone without even touching it! Air browse lets you do just that.

You must turn Air browse on before being able to browse using gestures. Go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Air browse. Switch Air browse On.

Air_Browse_On

This feature lets you change music even when the screen is locked. Just wave your hand on the screen and you can change tracks right away.

Air wake up

Generally, once a smartphone goes into sleep mode, the only way to wake it up is to click the power or home button (depending on the model of the smartphone). Samsung Galaxy S5 provides an awesome feature where you can hover your palm on the proximity sensor and it automatically wakes up the device.

You must turn Air wake up on before being able to wake up your smartphone using gestures. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Dexterity and interaction > Air wake up. Switch Air wake up On.

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This feature is useful if your hands are wet or you don’t want to touch the phone at night but you want to quickly check the time. This is also a quick way to check updates within the widgets on your home screen.

Smart Scroll

Imaging being able to scroll through a web page by tilting the device or your head. Smart scroll does just that.

You must turn Smart scroll on before being able to scroll using gestures. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Dexterity and interaction > Smart Scroll. Switch Smart scroll On. You can either choose to navigate by tilting the device or tilting your head.

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Smart Pause

I’m sure this has happened to you – you look away from the movie you are watching on your smartphone, and you miss the action! If only there was a way to pause the movie on your smartphone every time you looked away. Smart pause lets you do just that.

Samsung Galaxy S5 has a feature where the video pauses automatically when you look away! To enable Smart pause, go to Settings > Motion and Gestures > Mute/Pause. Switch Mute/Pause On. Select the Smart Pause check box.

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These amazing features make me wonder whether Is it really the end of the ‘Touch’. It’ll be interesting to see how gesture-based user-interaction improves over the coming years. With cut-throat competition amongst smartphone companies, new ways of user-interaction will become unique selling features. It will be interesting to see who wins in the end. At the moment, I see only one winner – and it is you, the user. Because you can now use your smartphone without touching it!

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Samsung or Google (Android). 

Is Your Printer ‘Cloud Ready’?

As the world goes mobile with smartphones and tablets, there’s still one thing that has not changed much in the recent times – the printer.

Setting up a printer to work with multiple devices usually involves installing multiple drivers on the devices. You may need to print from any one, or a combination of the following devices:

  • Windows computer
  • Mac computer
  • Linux computer
  • iOS devices
  • Android devices
  • Windows mobile devices
  • Blackberry devices

And when dealing with these devices, not only do you need different printer drivers for different operating systems, you also need to keep updating the drivers to the latest version.

When managing the apps or drivers for the your devices, you may face the following problems:

  • Drivers not updated on the device
  • Drivers not supported (for example, for Windows XP)
  • Drivers not available (for example, for Linux devices)

When you want to print an important file, you may run into many problems which can be very frustrating. Not to mention the fact that your computer needs to be physically connected to your printer, or at least to your network. In a ‘Mobile World’, this may not be true anymore.

Thinking about these issues, I thought about the characteristics of my ideal printer:

  • Never needs updates – I don’t want to waste my time updating my drivers.
  • Is OS agnostic – the driver must work on all operating systems.
  • Is device agnostic – the driver must work on all devices.
  • Is printer agnostic – I don’t want to upgrade the driver even when I upgrade the printer.
  • Is network agnostic – the driver must work across networks or even over the Internet.
  • Is secure – the driver must be secure over the network or the Internet.
  • Is self-fixing – the bugs in the driver must be fixed automatically by the printer manufacturer.

I was wondering if there could be a driver that fulfills my stringent criteria. And then, I found my ideal printing solution – Google Cloud PrintGoogle Cloud Print lets me print from multiple devices and even print over the Internet!

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All you need to make it work is a Cloud Ready Printer, an Internet connection, and a Google (Gmail) account.

How do I connect my printer to Google Cloud Print?

Make sure your printer is ‘Cloud Ready’. Most network or Wi-Fi printers are Cloud Ready these days. For example, the Samsung SCX 3405FW. Here are a few simple steps to connect your printer to Google Cloud Print:

1) Connect the Cloud Ready printer to your router over Wi-Fi or via ethernet.

2) Logon to your printer through a browser. The URL will be something like http://192.168.x.x. Once you enter the user name and password to logon to the printer, you will be presented with a dashboard to configure the printer settings. (Check the printer’s user guide for its user name and password.)

3) Go to the Google Cloud Print option. (Check the printer’s user guide for the exact location of the Google Cloud Print setting.)

4) Enter your Google (Gmail) user name and password. This step authorizes your printer to receive print jobs from Google Cloud Print.

5) After configuring your printer to receive print jobs from Google Cloud Print, your Google email will be displayed as the registered email.

GCP_Printer_Dashboard

How do I print a document using Google Cloud Print?

Once your computer is connected to Google Cloud Print, download the Cloud Print app on your mobile device. You can then print any file from any device over the Internet or local network. Here are a few steps to print any file on an Android device:

1) Open Cloud Print. Click Local > Files to access files available locally on your phone.

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2) Select any file and confirm the print action.

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3) Modify the Page Setup and print the file.

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The file is immediately printed over the Internet!

If you have multiple devices, with multiple operating systems, you need not worry anymore. Google Cloud Print automatically manages the drivers for all devices. All you need is a Cloud Ready printer connected to the Internet.

With Google Cloud Print, you never have to update the printer drivers. Even if you change your printer, you never have to reinstall the drivers. The only thing you need to do is ‘authorize’ your printer to accept print jobs from Google Cloud Print.

Is Cloud Printing useful for business?

Google Cloud Print could be a game changer for IT departments in small business. With Google Cloud Print, small businesses could avoid having a computer at various warehouse locations and just schedule a print job over the cloud.

Consider a hypothetical small business selling cosmetics to a small customer base across a distributed geographic location:

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  • The mobile sales teams in various shopping malls (or the branch office) accept orders and send the print jobs to the cloud ready warehouse printers.
  • The warehouse employee creates a package and pastes the shipping label on the package.
  • Since warehouses do not have computers, there is no computer maintenance required.
  • Google Cloud Print not only saves money for small businesses, but also reduces the hassle of managing computers in multiple locations.

It’s really cool isn’t it? It’s time you upgraded to a printer that supports Google Cloud Print. Because, printer drivers could soon become extinct. It would be interesting to see how Google Cloud Print evolves in future. I would’t be surprised if Google adds multiple features like Cloud Scan or Cloud Fax considering the fact that most Cloud Ready Printers are Multi-function printers (printer, scanner, fax, and copier). 

The next time you want to print an important document, don’t wait till you get home. You could print remotely when you are on your way home in your car or on the train. Better still, you could print from halfway across the world, and your printer will still finish the job right away like a humble minion.

Mobile Payments: Leave your wallet at home!

How many times have you rushed to work only to realize that you have forgotten your wallet at home? Well, the only option then is to borrow money from your co-workers (for lunch or the odd coffee) and this can be quite embarrassing! And now think about the one thing you never leave home without these days? You guessed it right – your mobile device. People are glued to their smartphones throughout the day and sometimes, even in bed.

The mobile world presents a great opportunity for any seller to accept payments using your mobile phone. If your mobile phone was also your wallet, you would never have to carry your “real” wallet.

Just out of a curiosity to see how such a concept would work, I decided to install a mobile payment app on my Android phone.

Setting up Mobile Payments

Before paying using my smartphone, I had to enable NFC, download the mobile payment app, register my credit card, and configure the app itself.

Following are the step-by-step procedures:

1. Enable NFC: First, I enabled the Near Field Communication (NFC) feature on my Android phone. NFC allows smartphones to communicate with other devices in the vicinity. The communication is encrypted. Smartphones that do not have NFC cannot be used for mobile payments (for example, the iPhone). As soon I enabled NFC, a N sign appeared on the top of the screen.

NFC

2. Download the Mobile Payments App: I downloaded the CIBC mobile payments app. You can download the mobile payments app for your credit card/bank.
3. Call the bank to activate: There was a manual process involved with CIBC. I had to make a phone call to CIBC to activate mobile payments for my credit card.
4. Receive notification from CIBC Mobile Payments: Once I received the notification, I knew the activation was successful.
5. Set a password: This step is optional. For security reasons, it is better to set a password – just in case your mobile phone is lost or stolen.

Passcode

The configuration was complete and the app said ‘Congratulations!‘.

Config_Done

Making a Mobile Payment 

Once the setup was complete, I tried to figure out how I could make a payment. Surprisingly, making a payment was extremely simple.

1. Launch the Mobile Payment app (CIBC) on your smartphone. Enter your password if you have set one.

Launch_app

2. Tap the credit card to activate Pay Mode for 30 seconds.

Pay_Mode

3. Tap your phone on the payment terminal. You can also move your smartphone within 10 centimeters of the payment terminal. The payment is processed.

Security Features in Mobile Payments

The mobile payments app has many security features:

  • Call the bank to add your credit card. This ensures someone else is not activating your card.
  • Password on the mobile payments app. This is in addition to the password on your phone.
  • Pay Mode deactivated in 30 seconds. This ensures that your credit card information is not read from your phone when you don’t want it to be read. You are always in control.
  • Communication between the smartphone and the terminal is always encrypted.

Advantages of Mobile Payments

  • You don’t need to carry your wallet.
  • Reduce credit card theft. Since you are not swiping your credit card anywhere, it cannot be read by hackers.
  • Any terminal that accepts VISA payWave® or MasterCard PayPass™ will also support NFC transactions.

Disadvantages of Mobile Payments

  • There aren’t many touch-to-pay terminals at the moment.
  • Not all credit card companies offer mobile payments.
  • Not all mobile carriers offer mobile payments.
  • You need a separate SIM card to enable mobile payments (provided by the carrier).
  • If smartphones are lost or stolen, the credit card details can be extracted by a smart hacker.

The smartphone industry is growing at an alarming pace. Up until yesterday, your smartphone was your computer, camera, and maybe even your bathroom mirror. Today, smartphones are credit cards and mobile payment terminals. You can now forget your wallet at home and you don’t need to borrow lunch money from your co-workers!

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Rogers, Samsung, CIBC, or Google (Android). We do not endorse the security, usability, and reliability of mobile payments. 

 

Simplicity. Stability. A Technological Marvel!

I was looking for an operating system that is extremely stable, required less processing power, worked on low memory, never crashed, and was very easy to use. Having used Mac OS X, Windows 7, and iOS, my expectations were extremely high. I was thrilled to discover an operating system that was simpler, better, faster, and more stable than the other operating systems I had used.

Around four years ago, I stumbled upon Ubuntu. Ubuntu changed the way I looked at operating systems. Ubuntu combines the power, stability, and security of a Linux operating system with the ease of use of Mac OS X, Windows 7, and iOS.

Ubuntu can easily revolutionize home computing, or even small business computing. Here’s why:

Simplicity

Ubuntu is extremely easy to use. A user, with absolutely no knowledge of computers, can easily start using Ubuntu. For home computing, all you need is a stable system, an excellent browser, and Office programs. Ubuntu provides all that – and more. A few years ago, I was impressed with the Apple App store that made installation very simple. Ubuntu goes farther than iOS in ease of App installation.

Stability

Firstly, Ubuntu worked smoothly on my old laptop with just 128 MB RAM and a 133MHz Celeron processor. Secondly, Ubuntu never crashed and never corrupted the installed programs. Finally, Ubuntu was inert to viruses, malware, spyware, botnets, and ransom-ware. My computer worked perfectly for many years. In fact, this is my third computer running Ubuntu.

Here’s a quick tour of Ubuntu for Netbook.

Ubuntu Desktop:

The ubuntu desktop is very clean to look at. The icons on the left give ready access to various frequently used programs. The top menu bar allows you to access advanced configuration options and various tools.

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Menu for Communication

The menu allows you to chat or launch an email program. You can use ALT + TAB to navigate between programs (just like Windows).

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Menu for Connections:

The menu allows you to connect to Wireless or Ethernet with additional connection options.

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Menu for Exploring the Computer:

The explorer menu helps you navigate the computer or the network right from the Desktop.

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Open Office: Writer

Open Office is an open source (free) program that is very similar to Microsoft Office. This program is very useful to the home user or small business. Open Office works pretty well and is extremely stable.

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Dashboard:

The dashboard allows you to navigate to other programs on the computer. Just move the mouse over the Dashboard icon, and additional options appear.

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Installing Applications:

This feature beats any know operating system – even iOS. Ubuntu displays the programs Most Frequently Used, Installed, and Apps Available for Download. Unlike Windows, you don’t have to open a browser, search the Internet, download and then install the applications. Most available applications are readily displayed and can be installed directly from list!

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The Cloud: Ubuntu One

Ubuntu is futuristic. Ubuntu provides a cloud to store your files.

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Ubuntu is an amazing operating system that can help home and small business in the following ways:

– Save money on software licensing
– Use existing hardware instead of upgrading
– Security (a UNIX core is very secure)
– Stability (a very stable operating system)
– Install Free (Open Source) programs like Open Office
– Simplicity and ease of use (easier than Windows or Mac OS X!)
– All drivers available (printer, webcam, and other drivers work fine)

Is it time to abandon Windows and Mac OS X?

(If you want to try Ubuntu without going through the trouble of installing it first, you can do so at the live Ubuntu demo: http://www.ubuntu.com/tour/en/)

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps – a user’s perspective

When Apple decided to abandon Google Maps and create its own, users expected Apple to create the next generation mapping product. However, when Apple launched its maps with iOS 6, there were reports of multiple errors in Apple Maps. Collapsed bridges, wrong names, and non-existent landmarks were a few errors blown out of proportion by the media.

Do Apple Maps really suck? Are the maps unreliable? As an iOS 6 user, would I get lost without Google Maps?

The only way to answer these questions is for me to compare both maps using a user-centric approach. I decided to analyze the route from place A to place B using both maps. For my test, I chose two well-known landmarks in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, that is starting from the Metropolis at Metrotown Mall to the Waterfront Skytrain Station.

Apple Maps: Here is the route displayed by Apple Maps:

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The map view looked alright to me. However, to be more accurate, I looked at the list view:

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What I liked about the Apple Maps (list view) was that Nelson St, Hazel St, and Miller Ave were displayed. Depending upon where exactly the user was, one of the streets would be visible within 100-150 meters. Apple maps took me through the Dunsmuir viaduct and finally Cambie St, Pender St, and Seymour St directly into Downtown Core. As a person who lives here, the route looked alright to me.

Google Maps: Here is the route displayed by Google Maps:

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Let us see the Google Maps route using the list view:

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Apple Maps seemed to be taking a slightly different route, but at first glance, neither route is glaringly incorrect. Google Maps was taking another route via Main St and Hastings St to Seymour St and finally to Downtown Core. In the Google Maps route, the first step struck me as strange. Google Maps tells the user ‘Head Northeast’. How is the user supposed to know what Northeast is? Unless the user is holding a compass, it is not user-friendly to say head in a particular direction.

Both routes are correct. However, here are the differences:

Apple Maps:

  • Specifies each street right from the start to the end. Does not say head ‘in a particular direction’.
  • Gives turn-by-turn navigation via large, unmistakeable labels on the map.

Google Maps:

  • Says head Northeast at the start of the route. Pointing users in a direction rather than towards a street, in my opinion, is not user-friendly.
  • Provides street-view, showing users exactly where they need to go.

Aside from the above differences both Apple and Google maps seem to be quite accurate. Considering the fact that Apple Maps is just the first version and the error-reporting is crowd-sourced, I am sure the accuracy of the maps will improve as users use them more and more.

As for the errors like collapsed bridges and non-existent landmarks, Apple has no option but to fix them as soon as possible.

(Edited by Prarthna Sri)

 

 

Auditing in a touch-screen world!

Every time I inspected a home before renting it out, or even before buying it, I wish I had a quick checklist of repairs or cleaning required. In the absence of a checklist, there was no perfect way to record the defects in a house. Not having a checklist would lead to problems later – if both parties do not agree to defects. For example, you may have to pay for the stain on the carpet that was not your fault.

I found this amazing app called iAuditor. The iAuditor has a few built-in checklist that can be filled out using an iPad or an iPhone. The UI is a very simple and intuitive:

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I started a new Audit. The App has a few built-in checklists (you can also create your own customized checklist):

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I decided to try out the Accommodation Inspection Checklist:

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The checklist has the following options: Yes, No and Not Applicable. Selecting No gives an option to directly add photographic evidence of non-compliance by clicking the Camera icon.
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There is also an option to add additional comments. An interesting feature of the App is the option for both parties to add signatures directly from the iPad!

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Once both parties have signed on the Audit checklist, the App gives an option to directly export to PDF. This is how an exported PDF looks:

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As a Technical Writer, I am extremely impressed by the perfectly formatted PDF output. I can imagine hundreds of good uses for this App in business. The following uses come to my mind:

– Safety Inspection
– Regulatory Compliance
– Manufacturing
– Pharmaceuticals
– Construction
– Real Estate

In addition to the above business uses, this App can be used in personal situations as well.

The next time you check out a home for rent, make sure to carry your iPad or iPhone. Using the iAuditor App, carefully track the defects that need to be fixed. If not, don’t be surprised if you are dinged for a stain on the carpet that existed before you moved in!

Milk, Diapers, and an iPad

During my recent visit to the Apple store, I saw Apple experts demonstrating an iPad to a group of kids and their parents. I increasingly see kids holding iPads instead of toys. An iPad is expensive, and fragile. I was curious see how a 2-year old could use an iPad. Most importantly, I was also curious to see if an iPad App was simple to use for a kid.

I downloaded Crayola Paint and Create – a free App for the iPad. I was interested in studying the features, user interface, user interaction, and the overall user experience. This is how the App looks:

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The main elements were Coloring Pages, Fun Activities and Free Draw. I decided to use Coloring pages and color a drawing:

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I clicked the Crayola icon at the bottom of the screen to display various types of crayons with different colors. You can see the following icons on the right: Pause (to pause the movements like snow falling or pause other interactive elements), Undo, Redo, New, Settings, Share (to share via email or on Facebook), Help, and Exit.

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This is how a partially colored coloring page looks:

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I could easily use different colors and fill different parts of the page with solid colors. This is how a fully colored page looks:

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The app is configured to use a finger by default. There is also a setting to use an iMarker instead of a finger (an iMarker is like a pencil that can be used with the iPad). Obviously, the Help and Settings are a little complicated for kids since they may not be able to read. Apart from Help, Settings, and Share, the other options were extremely easy to use.

What is Apple’s strategy to promote iPads for kids by launching a Kids Corner in the Apple store? What is the value proposition for parents to purchase such and expensive device for their kids? Here’s what I think:

Get an Apple user for life – That’s right. Catching them young will ensure they are Apple users for life! Kids will never choose an Android device or another tablet if they are introduced to the iPad at the age of 2. Apple’s strategy of catching users at a very young age will lead to huge revenue for years to come.

Reduce cost per user – The cheapest iPad costs approximately 400$. If a family of four – two parents and two kids use an iPad, the cost of buying an iPad is divided by 4. Although families do not use terms like Cost per User to decide whether to buy an iPad, they definitely calculate it sub-consciously.

Tap a new market segment – Kids are a huge market segment – not just for games, but also in the field of education. Tapping this market segment leads to a huge revenue for Apple.

Use kids to market the iPad and Apps – I was amazed to see how Apple was using kids to market the iPad. With the Share option, kids could share their coloring pages with their friends (the parents might share it for them). Other kids looking at these colorful pages would want to do the same. Not only is Social Media being introduced at a very young age, the iPad is being marketed via Word of Mouth (the most powerful way to influence prospective buyers).

Save money for families and schools – Families and schools can save money on paper, crayons, and other consumables required on a daily basis.

A safer option – Kids (at home or in Pre-K) eat crayons that may be harmful for their health. Since the crayons on an iPad are electronic, it is very safe for kids.

Save the environment – Reducing the usage of paper obviously save trees.

Crayola Paint and Create gave me great insights to Apple’s strategy. I could also envision the future – where most of the interaction happens through touch screens instead of keyboards. It also helped me realize that language will never be a barrier for user interaction since expressive icons are a great way to communicate with the user. Intelligence, knowledge, skills, language, and education will never be a barrier for users in the world of touch screens.

Hello kids, welcome to the iWorld!