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Fitting ITSM into a devops world

IT Service Management (ITSM) has been around for long time. I remember when I started at Peregrine Systems learning that their original code base had been developed for the mainframe and that their data structure was pre-relational database.

It’s amazing to think that relational databases were actually invented after ITSM. Given this, we could consider ITSM to be Gen X. And while ITSM and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) have been updated over the years, do they stack up against Gen Z approaches like devops? This was the question that I posed recently to the #CIOChat.

Can CIOs shape their ITSM and devops implementations?

CIOs claim they can shape their ITSM and devops. Former CIO Mike Kail, for example, suggested that “CIOs absolutely should own and be influencing both.” Former CIO Isaac Sacolick agreed but said, “I don’t like saying the CIO owns it. ITSM is a responsibility and devops is a culture with a set of practices. CIOs should guide the outcomes from each.”

[ Career roadmap: How to become an enterprise architect ]

Sacolick went on to say, “the CIO should be setting the values and principles and their teams should respond with which practices, instrumented at what proficiency, and with what KPIs best fit. This applies to both ITSM and DevOps.” CIO David Seidl said he would phrase it as “be responsible, but it’s good to engage the experts to have ownership.”

Can these approaches be made congruent with each other?

Like Sacolick, Kail suggested, “ITSM is a framework and devops is a cultural approach. The core tenets of devops include culture, automation and measurement.” Kail says that “sharing can help modernize ITSM frameworks, policies and approaches.”

Charlie Betz, principal Forrester analyst for ITSM and devops said, “I prefer continuous delivery, lean product development, and organization and culture focus.” In terms of the relationship between devops and ITSM, Betz provided the below working concept which he suggests is not completely baked.

digital product management Charlie Betz, principal Forrester analyst

Digital product management: Understanding the relationship between devops and ITSM.



Former CIO Tim McBreen added that he prefers to “look at evolution of the various frameworks as input to the hybrid approach that works for each particular business. Certain organizations need more things out of ITSM, and others need more things out of devops. I prefer to evolve a working hybrid of all the frameworks.”

[ Related: ITIL 4: ITSM gets agile]

“ITSM and devops can coexist. There are, however, ITSM practices that devops can change significantly and for the better,”  Sacolick added, coming back to the original question. For example, he suggested that “IT change management is still very important, but with devops, there is less need for a change advisory board (CAB). There are ITSM practices that devops can change for the better.”

Enterprise architect Dan Collins concluded this discussion by saying that “ITIL and ITSM are not something that can be made congruent with devops, but I am a firm believer that devops principles can be applied to just about any IT problem and the result might not be better, but if it isn’t it should be clear why, which begs a new approach.”

How to change ITSM to become more customer centric

CIOs believe this is a function of people. “Customer centricity always starts with people,” Sacolick said. “Who are your customers and what do they need and value? Process and technology always follow.”

[ Related: How to combine project management and collaboration ]

Kail agreed and said, “customers are people, so in order to be customer centric, your people need to understand how to relate to, be empathic with, properly communicate with, and generally understand people. With this, processes and technology can help augment.”

Unfortunately, many organizations start with ITIL processes and then technology instead of people. For this reason, McBreen said, “our customers just want value and a great experience. They don’t care what process, methodology and approach you use. I make sure that nobody in IT uses ITIL/ITSM, devops, or any other process name or terms with the user. That’s another reason why I build a hybrid.”

Healthcare CIO Michael Archuleta applies McBreen’s thinking to the businesses customers. “My new CEO is the patient Value is no longer the differentiator for the customer when doing business with your organization. It’s now about the experience.”

How should ITSM change to better support devops?

“Especially for companies doing a lot of application development ITSM should be instrumented as disciplined practices under a devops cultural transformation,” Sacolick says.

Betz agrees and suggests “at the end of the day, it’s all just work. I continue to believe that unified work management would materially benefit practitioners across both development and operations. The segregation of task management equals overburden.”

Adding devops to your service management

It’s clear that you can and should teach an old dog a new trick after all. Devops principles can be applied to service management to make it better. It’s time for CIOs to show leadership and responsibility and bring these approaches together to drive a better IT for business stakeholders and even end customers.

Learn more about Insider Pro.

 

IT Service Management (ITSM) has been around for long time. I remember when I started at Peregrine Systems learning that their original code base had been developed for the mainframe and that their data structure was pre-relational database.

It’s amazing to think that relational databases were actually invented after ITSM. Given this, we could consider ITSM to be Gen X. And while ITSM and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) have been updated over the years, do they stack up against Gen Z approaches like devops? This was the question that I posed recently to the #CIOChat.

Can CIOs shape their ITSM and devops implementations?

CIOs claim they can shape their ITSM and devops. Former CIO Mike Kail, for example, suggested that “CIOs absolutely should own and be influencing both.” Former CIO Isaac Sacolick agreed but said, “I don’t like saying the CIO owns it. ITSM is a responsibility and devops is a culture with a set of practices. CIOs should guide the outcomes from each.”

[ Career roadmap: How to become an enterprise architect ]

Sacolick went on to say, “the CIO should be setting the values and principles and their teams should respond with which practices, instrumented at what proficiency, and with what KPIs best fit. This applies to both ITSM and DevOps.” CIO David Seidl said he would phrase it as “be responsible, but it’s good to engage the experts to have ownership.”

Can these approaches be made congruent with each other?

Like Sacolick, Kail suggested, “ITSM is a framework and devops is a cultural approach. The core tenets of devops include culture, automation and measurement.” Kail says that “sharing can help modernize ITSM frameworks, policies and approaches.”

Charlie Betz, principal Forrester analyst for ITSM and devops said, “I prefer continuous delivery, lean product development, and organization and culture focus.” In terms of the relationship between devops and ITSM, Betz provided the below working concept which he suggests is not completely baked.

digital product management Charlie Betz, principal Forrester analyst

Digital product management: Understanding the relationship between devops and ITSM.

Former CIO Tim McBreen added that he prefers to “look at evolution of the various frameworks as input to the hybrid approach that works for each particular business. Certain organizations need more things out of ITSM, and others need more things out of devops. I prefer to evolve a working hybrid of all the frameworks.”

[ Related: ITIL 4: ITSM gets agile]

“ITSM and devops can coexist. There are, however, ITSM practices that devops can change significantly and for the better,”  Sacolick added, coming back to the original question. For example, he suggested that “IT change management is still very important, but with devops, there is less need for a change advisory board (CAB). There are ITSM practices that devops can change for the better.”

Enterprise architect Dan Collins concluded this discussion by saying that “ITIL and ITSM are not something that can be made congruent with devops, but I am a firm believer that devops principles can be applied to just about any IT problem and the result might not be better, but if it isn’t it should be clear why, which begs a new approach.”

How to change ITSM to become more customer centric

CIOs believe this is a function of people. “Customer centricity always starts with people,” Sacolick said. “Who are your customers and what do they need and value? Process and technology always follow.”

[ Related: How to combine project management and collaboration ]

Kail agreed and said, “customers are people, so in order to be customer centric, your people need to understand how to relate to, be empathic with, properly communicate with, and generally understand people. With this, processes and technology can help augment.”

Unfortunately, many organizations start with ITIL processes and then technology instead of people. For this reason, McBreen said, “our customers just want value and a great experience. They don’t care what process, methodology and approach you use. I make sure that nobody in IT uses ITIL/ITSM, devops, or any other process name or terms with the user. That’s another reason why I build a hybrid.”

Healthcare CIO Michael Archuleta applies McBreen’s thinking to the businesses customers. “My new CEO is the patient Value is no longer the differentiator for the customer when doing business with your organization. It’s now about the experience.”

How should ITSM change to better support devops?

“Especially for companies doing a lot of application development ITSM should be instrumented as disciplined practices under a devops cultural transformation,” Sacolick says.

Betz agrees and suggests “at the end of the day, it’s all just work. I continue to believe that unified work management would materially benefit practitioners across both development and operations. The segregation of task management equals overburden.”

Adding devops to your service management

It’s clear that you can and should teach an old dog a new trick after all. Devops principles can be applied to service management to make it better. It’s time for CIOs to show leadership and responsibility and bring these approaches together to drive a better IT for business stakeholders and even end customers.



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8 of the Top WP Multipurpose Themes That You Can Use

More than a few multipurpose WordPress themes have become big sellers in recent years, and for a reason.

Actually, for several reasons.

One reason is they serve as excellent toolkits for web designers who have large and varied clienteles.

The best multipurpose themes, like those presented here, are popular for other reasons as well.

  • They are uniformly responsive, SEO friendly, and flexible.
  • Most are either reasonably, or very easy to work with.
  • Most offer a host of design materials and options, including inspirational demos or concepts.

Unless you have a project for which only a specialty theme could provide what you need, any one of the following multipurpose themes should serve you well.

 

1. BeTheme – Responsive Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme

In the multipurpose WordPress theme world, BeTheme is an all-star. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but this, the biggest of all WordPress themes with its 40+ core features, including 500+ pre-built websites, brings plenty of quality tools to the table.

BeTheme is in fact one of the top 3 WordPress themes in use today.

  • Be’s 500+ pre-built websites are customizable, responsive, and cover the entire range of industry sectors, key business niches, and all the popular website types and styles.
  • The other core features, including the Muffin Builder, Admin Panel, Layout Generator, shortcodes, and grid, header, footer, and other design options give Be’s users all the flexibility they need.
  • Since key UX features are incorporated into each pre-built website, using one not only helps get the website-building process off to a fast start, but often makes it possible to have a website up and running in as little as 4 hours.

Click on the banner to visit BeTheme and make it a point to check out a few of the pre-built websites.

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2. Total WordPress Theme

Sometimes a website building tool offers something extra; something new and different you can’t quite put your finger on – like a “wonderous” design experience.

You can have a wonderous experience when you take advantage of Total’s case, using a building-block approach to create a website

  • Total’s 90+ drag and drop customizable website-building elements make the design process as smooth and easy as can be.
  • 500+ styling options and 40+ pre-made demos provide all the design flexibility you’re ever apt to need.
  • With respect to editing, the Visual Composer editor and Total’s Theme Customizer give you both frontend and backend editing capability.

Total is also developer friendly. Click on the banner to find out more about the wonderous design experience that could be yours.

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3. Avada Theme

When you’re trying to decide on which multipurpose theme to use and you’re having trouble doing so because they are looking too much alike, you can always use sales as a tiebreaker.

Avada is the all-time best selling theme on the market. That says a lot of course, but there are a host of other good reasons for choosing this WordPress theme.

Like:

  • 40+ one-click portable demos to get your website-building project up to speed;
  • total access to all the popular WordPress plugins;
  • a Core Fusion toolbox featuring $200 worth of website-building tools;
  • easy access to a wide range of page and design options.

Avada is 100% responsive, optimized for speed, and WooCommerce compatible.

Click on the banner to learn more.

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4. Kalium

Ease of use can be an important factor in selecting a multipurpose theme. Kalium is exceptionally easy to use for novices and experts alike. It has the best rating that we ever seen from all the premium themes.

  • Kalium is compatible with all the popular WordPress plugins.
  • Elementor, WPBakery Page Builder, WooCommerce, and Slider Revolution, Layer Slider, Advanced Custom Fields PRO, WooCommerce Product Filter and other premium plugins come with the package for free.
  • Kalium is 100% responsive and SEO friendly.
  • Kalium is ideal for building blog and portfolio websites, it has 35,000 customers and offers first-class customer support.

Visit the site to find out more.

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5. TheGem – Creative Multi-Purpose High-Performance WordPress Theme

This multipurpose theme, the Swiss Army knife of web design tools, is ideal for web designers looking to build eCommerce or business websites, or magazine, blogging, and portfolio sites.

Key features include:

  • Highly customizable and performant WordPress theme, perfect for professionals and beginners
  • 400+ beautiful pre-built websites and templates for any purpose and niche.
  • TheGem Blocks: a selection of more than 300 section templates that can make website building a simple, straightforward process.
  • a unique collection of WooCommerce templates accompanied by the WPBakery page builder.

Click on the banner to find out more.

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6. Uncode – Creative Multiuse WordPress Theme

Uncode is the pixel-perfect solution for agencies, businesses, bloggers, and creative types in need of creating an attention-getting portfolio site.

  • The user-built website showcase demonstrates that if you can think of it, you can build it.
  • Uncode’s 70 pixel-perfect concepts are not only useable, but inspirational as well.
  • A powerful Frontend Editor together with more than 400+ Wireframes can serve to streamline website design workflows.

Click on the banner to see for yourself everything Uncode has to offer.

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7. Movedo Premium WordPress Theme

Ease of use can be a strong selling point. That happens to be the case with most premium multipurpose themes. Movedo takes things a step further. Movedo makes website-building fun. Try incorporating these cool design elements in your website and see for yourself.

  • Unique animations
  • Dynamic parallax effects
  • Sophisticated scrolling

Click on the banner to learn more about Movedo and why it rocks!

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8. Hongo – Modern & Multipurpose WooCommerce WordPress Theme

Hongo was developed with businesses, bloggers and WooCommerce stores in mind. This theme utilizes WPBakery custom shortcodes and WordPress’s Customizer to give you all the flexibility and customizability you’ll ever be likely to need.

Hongo’s features include:

  • 11 ready one-click importable store demos;
  • a cool selection of 250 templates;
  • 200+ creative elements;
  • detailed online documentation.

Hongo has a number of other helpful features as well. Click on the banner to learn more about this premier multipurpose theme.

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Multipurpose WordPress themes give users what they need in terms of tools and flexibility to create websites of any style and use. The only problem you’ll likely encounter trying to zero in on a multipurpose theme that will fully address your unique or special needs is when you’ve reviewed so many they begin to look alike.

Since it can take valuable time to find what’s right for you given the huge number of multipurpose themes on the market, we hope to make your search easier by bringing this selection of premium multipurpose themes to your attention.

 

[– This is a sponsored post on behalf of BAW Media –]



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Will Apple’s AR glasses revolutionize accessibility tech?

Heard about the optician who got a job at the Apple Store? Not yet, but it looks like you might hear something along those lines as the latest leak claims the company’s long-expected AR spectacles will support prescription lenses.

A new approach to eye care

One of the bigger problems about the idea of AR glasses has always been that in order to use them, one must be able to look through them safely.

That’s more difficult than it sounds, given that around half the world’s population probably uses some form of vision correction; you don’t want people suffering accidents just because they were wearing their digital specs.

To get a sense of the numbers, the Vision Council claims approximately 164 million U.S. adults wear eyeglasses. This has been a problem for device makers, who have either sold one-size-fits-all glasses that don’t actually work for half the people, or had to think about creating overlays you wear with existing glasses.

Neither alternative seems to have made any sense to Apple.The latest set of Jon Prosser claims suggest the company has decided to offer its AR glasses as a basic frame, with the prescription lenses costing more.

Apple is looking to charge around $499 for the frames, Prosser posits. It’s not especially surprising that these prices put the company’s offering at the high-end of the frames industry.

The majority of consumers (50.9%) pay between $100-$150 for frames, says the Vision Council, though Apple’s frames will be connected systems that work in conjunction with your iPhone to provide you with AR experiences during your daily life.

It is worth thinking about whether Apple will work with the 43,000 existing U.S. opticians to bring its product to market – or will begin offering its own eye examinations in store.

Health provision at the Apple core

We know digital health is an important sector for Apple, one in which it believes a combination of advanced sensor technology and smart software can make a difference.

We also know that behavior modification can be an important adjunct to public health response – whether that’s staying indoors to prevent accidental contagion or choosing to walk a little more in order to close the rings in the Activity app.

Worldwide, 650 million adults are obese, according to 2016 WHO data, and it’s possible that technology may help create the environment required to get people to manage this aspect of health more effectively. Apple CEO Tim Cook told shareholders earlier this year, “The big idea is to empower people to own their health.”

That same logic may apply to opthalmology. Think of it this way: if your glasses are already calibrated to your eye, then they may also become smart enough to monitor what your eyes do.

Are your eyes showing reactions consistent with further erosion in sight? Then perhaps your spectacles will let you know.

Similarly, these systems may eventually become smart enough to detect things like early onset diabetes. I don’t expect that in Apple Glass v.1, of course (unless the sensors already exist) – but the opportunity to develop technologies to transform ophthalmological eye condition monitoring seems too sweet a spot to miss.

What about the platform opportunity?

Apple will also be looking to make its Glass product into a new platform.

That’s going to mean developer tools, APIs and functionality that seems, at least at first, likely to be defined by augmented information about where you are and where you are going.

Let’s examine how this might work. Think about how Apple Glass may provide people with very limited vision with contextualized information about the places they happen to be.

Used with the built-in LiDAR camera, these systems could provide turn-by-turn walking instructions that may give people with vision problems more independence than before.

I imagine it might work like this:

“Turn left in five, four, three paces and move to the right of the sidewalk. A person is walking toward you, they are wearing a blue mask and matching shoes while talking on their phone. They will pass by you in three, two, one. The sidewalk is now clear and you will reach the coffee shop in five, three, one pace. You have arrived. The door is on your right. Move your hand six inches to the left to find the door handle.”

If Apple chooses to move in that direction, it could utterly transform people’s perception of the world around them. Imagine wearing glasses that would read you your book, or translate one.

A similar logic means these devices could help deliver augmented education experiences, technical product support and field service advice within highly personalized one-to-one experiences.

Apple’s Glasses may be decidedly exciting in terms of AR experiences, but their most exciting potential may turn out to be that they deliver a revolution in accessibility for many. And usher in those voice-first experiences people are beginning to talk about.

We’ll see, of course, but Prosser seems to think we may find out more concerning Apple’s AR glasses plans later this year or early in 2021.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Thanks to Covid-19, Website Accessibility Has Never Been More Important

The first global pandemic of the digital era is upon us. We’re living in unprecedented and uncomfortable times.

For our senior citizens, these past several weeks have been particularly discomforting. According to the CDC, men and women over the age of 65 are significantly more likely to develop complications from COVID-19. As we seek to restrict the spread of coronavirus, it’s critical that we protect one another, especially our elders, and adhere to current directives to practice and enforce social distancing. Isolating ourselves in a bid to stop the spread of disease is incredibly important as we aim to protect seniors, in particular.

As more of us stay home under quarantine (can’t say I would have ever imagined writing those words), it’s only natural that we will become even more reliant on our connection to the digital world.

In one form or another, just about all of us have come to rely on countless digital services. Consider, for instance, the many services that seniors typically rely on. There’s email. There’s medical resources — information as well as online appointments with a doctor. There are shopping websites, particularly for food. Certainly, we are all trying to keep pace with the unceasing wealth of information pouring in day after day surrounding this rapidly evolving global event. So there’s also this basic need for news, which is more heightened than ever. The list goes on and on. From paying our bills to ordering our groceries and staying on top of 24/7 news cycles, unimpeded access to web has never felt so urgent.

But the fact is, for many of the individuals who are most at risk, fully engaging with your website and applications can be difficult or, even, impossible. The prevalence of disabilities and impairments impacting one’s use of a computer or mobile device increases with age, so our seniors are more likely to face obstacles when websites are not coded with website accessibility in mind. This is a demographic that represents 16-percent of the United States population, including seniors.

The needs of our aging population overlap, in many ways, with the needs of our population with disabilities. Seniors often have impairments that make using online and web-based technology difficult. These are just a few of the digital access barriers that are impacting tens of millions of people around the world:

  • Vision: Contrast sensitivity can be reduced, color perception can be difficult, and focus can be hard, making web pages particularly difficult to read when text is not crisp, clear and large. Someone with cataracts, macular degeneration or any other impairment causing low vision may not be able to fully engage and interact with a website if it isn’t created to support zooming or provide options to enlarge text.
  • Motor control and dexterity: Using a mouse can be difficult, painful or even simply impossible for some users. Clicking that mouse or pressing that button, especially on small call-to-action buttons, can be similarly challenging. If you have developed severe tremors that have made it impossible to use a mouse to navigate, a website will only be usable if measures have been taken to support visual focus and keyboard navigation.
  • Cognitive function: The modern web is dynamic, interactive and ever-changing. For example, fast moving carousels that rapidly transition from one block of information to the next can be too overwhelming for those requiring more time to read and process information. Controls are needed to pause highly interactive features and functions.
  • Hearing: As we get older, our hearing gets weaker. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that, for seniors, multimedia content such as videos, podcasts, and other formats can present barriers if captioning and transcripts aren’t provided.

In this moment and for all the reasons mentioned above, it has never been more crucial that our websites and online shopping experiences be accessible. Designing for accessibility means making sure that all users, including those who are ageing and those with disabilities, can access your site and move across it with ease. Looking beyond COVID-19, this is an ever-growing demographic. The number of seniors will drastically increase in the coming decades. If your website isn’t accessible, the time to take action is now.

Luckily, if you’re ready to design your website with the accessibility of an ageing population in mind, you’re not on your own. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) take into account this wide overlap between users with disabilities and older adults. This informative guidance lays out a clear checklist that web designers should follow and website administrators should keep in mind to ensure that everyone, regardless of their year of birth, can navigate your website across every tab and every corner.

As we look to accommodate senior citizens and also build a web that is equipped for our future selves, here are some key steps you can take to ensure an optimal and accessible user experience for all your users:

 

Readability

  • Use relative font-sizes and ensure text containers resize.
  • Use legible fonts. When in doubt, use sans serif fonts such as Arial, Open Sans, Helvetica or similar.
  • Consider color blindness and consistently use a high level of contrast between text foreground colors and background color. Ensure a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
  • Make sure links are clearly marked. Using color, alone, is insufficient, whereas underlining helps identify links.
  • Avoid overuse of symbols, acronyms, and iconography. Use text instead.

 

Function

  • Create enough space between clickable elements such as buttons and links.
  • Test your site as a keyboard user; make sure focusable elements receive focus and that focus is clearly identified; provide skip navigation links to enable greater keyboard navigation efficiency.
  • Make sure link or button purpose is properly conveyed. Users shouldn’t have to guess where they will be taken to next.
  • Provide controls to pause auto-rotating carousels or animated content. Users may need more time to read, understand, and interact.
  • Make sure forms are properly labelled; avoid using placeholder text that disappears on focus.
  • Ensure proper error handling and make sure any alert notifications and modal interfaces are keyboard accessible.

 

Organization

  • Make sure navigation is consistent, easy to follow, and predictable across the site.
  • Take the time to integrate breadcrumbs, so users can better track their location within the context of your navigation hierarchy.
  • Avoid distracting content, excessive amounts of information and use plain-spoken language.

 

Multimedia

  • Older viewers may experience a decline in both auditory and visual perception. Be sure to make your videos accessible with captions.
  • Provide transcripts for audio-only content.

This challenging time we are all living through is particularly – and unjustly – amplified for our senior citizens and the millions of individuals with disabilities relying on an equal digital playing field. Equal access online still isn’t a guarantee. Together, we can work to eradicate every barrier to digital access.

 

Featured image via Pexels.



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The Pixel phone’s Motion Sense mystery

This time nearly a year ago, I was genuinely excited.

The month was June of 2019. Rumors were flying fast about Google’s then-still-under-wraps Pixel 4 phone, and an especially juicy one had just made its way to the surface.

The Pixel 4 would feature a wild new kind of radar system, the grapeline informed us — a system we’d been hearing about from Google for years but that had remained a lab-based experiment up until that point. It was called Project Soli, and Goog almighty, did it sound promising.

Project Soli got its start as a part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division and had been the subject of several awe-inspiring demos over the years. The Pixel 4, though, would mark the first time we’d see it in an actual user-facing product — and the first time we mere tech-toting mortals would have the chance to experience its magical-seeming wares.

It should have been spectacular. And it should have been just the beginning.

But here we are today, nearly seven months to the day from the Pixel 4’s debut — and the phone’s flashy radar system, now known as Motion Sense, hasn’t even come close to meeting its potential. What’s more, a fresh set of rumors suggests Google could be giving up on the effort entirely with its Pixel phones and going Soli-free with this year’s Pixel 5 flagship.

If so, it’d be a classic Google about-face — yet another one of the company’s many moments of having some inspired idea, breathlessly convincing us of its value, and then losing interest and moving on instead of nourishing the notion and allowing it to develop. And with Motion Sense in particular, that’d be a damn shame to see — because this system really had the potential to turn into something special.

We’ll get into why as well as the question of what might’ve happened along the way in a moment. First, we need to rewind for a second to refresh ourselves on what Google’s crazy-sounding radar system was supposed to accomplish — and then come back to what it’s actually done so far. Because boy howdy, is there quite the contrast between those two things.

The Project Soli promise

So first: what Google’s Pixel-based Soli radar was supposed to be capable of doing for us. At its core, the Soli radar was designed to track the tiniest of hand movements — “micromotions” or “twitches,” as they were lovingly called during development. The system was then trained to “extract specific gesture information” from the radar signal at a “high frame rate,” in the words of its engineers.

What that ultimately meant was that the chip could, in theory, sense precisely and reliably how you were moving your hand at any given moment and then perform an action on your device that was mapped to that specific movement. And it wouldn’t require any complicated mime-on-mescaline-like actions to make that happen.

It’s one of those things you kind of have to see to appreciate. And this early Soli video, created long before the Pixel 4 came into the equation, does a dynamite job of demonstrating it:

It was in part because of Soli’s unusual ability to detect those fine hand movements — an effect of its radar-based nature as opposed to the more ordinary camera-driven methods most gesture-recognizing systems rely on — that I was so optimistic about what it could do for us in a Pixel phone. But even that wasn’t the entire story.

According to earlier Soli demos, the nature of the radar technology meant the system could detect hand movements from as far as 49 feet away — meaning you could be a full tractor-trailer’s length from your device and still fire off a hand gesture to control it. And since it’s all radar-based, you wouldn’t even have to position your hand in any direct line-of-sight path in order for your commands to be detected. You wouldn’t even have to have any line-of-sight at all, in fact; the folks from Google’s ATAP group had noted that the Soli radar could detect hand movements even through fabrics, with no visible path between your hand and the gadget.

That’s some seriously sci-fi-level stuff, right? I mean, just imagine all the productivity-oriented possibilities (again, in theory): You could wave your hand left or right in the air to control a presentation playing from your phone and move on to the next slide — or you could lift your hand up or down to scroll through a document or web page. With a twist of your fingers, you could adjust your device’s media volume. And all of that could happen even from across a large conference room and even if your phone were tucked away inside a bag.

Heck, with the right kind of smart-hardware integrations — integrations most of us hoped would arrive eventually — you could adjust something like the level of light in a room with an associated gesture (and, if you really want to impress your fellow nerds, an enthusiastic “Lumos!” incantation for good measure). And productivity-oriented purposes aside, you could control all sorts of facets of your phone while driving, running, working out, working outside, or doing anything else where your hands aren’t readily available.

So. Much. Potential. And as Google emphasized repeatedly when Motion Sense was first being shown off with the Pixel 4, the phone’s earliest capabilities were “just the start” — “just as Pixels get better over time,” the company emphasized, “Motion Sense [would] evolve as well.” Google wanted to give us all time to get used to this new manner of interacting with our devices, the thinking went, and would expand the system’s unique “language” and the capabilities around it as time moved on.

And yet, here we are.

The Motion Sense mystery

This week officially marks seven months into the Pixel 4’s life — and we’ve got basically the same set of limited Motion Sense features we saw when the phone arrived last October: You can skip songs and silence an alarm, stop a timer, or quiet an incoming call ring by waving your hand over the phone. Google made one trivial addition to that list in February, allowing you to pause music by making a tapping gesture above the device’s display, but that’s all the progress there’s been so far.

Perhaps most disappointingly, all of those gestures work only when you perform ’em within a few inches of the phone’s screen, with your hand directly above it. They’re mildly useful on occasion — like if you’re working out or have your hands dirty with something, for instance, and want to adjust audio playback without having to mess with your phone — but it’s more mild added convenience than anything transformative. And as someone who’s owned a Pixel 4 since the start, I’m still baffled by how often it takes multiple tries to get the gestures to work properly (and that’s to say nothing of the moments when I activate a Motion Sense gesture inadvertently, which is consistently infuriating).

The system’s ability to enhance the Pixel’s face unlock mechanism by detecting when you’re reaching for your device and then proactively activating the display is a genuinely nice touch, but it’s a relatively subtle enhancement over the gyroscope-driven “Lift to check phone” feature built into Android — and it’s still far from addressing the vast promise this technology presented us with at the get-go or justifying its complication-adding presence in Google’s flagship phone.

So what in the world happened? How did we go from awe-inspiring, potential-filled innovation to a limited set of so-so gestures, next to no ongoing development, and now the possible phasing out of Motion Sense entirely — and thus presumably also the end of any real ongoing, focused development for the system on the phone front?

The obvious explanation is the typical one: Google lost interest, changed priorities, and decided to cut its losses and move on — an all-too-familiar tale for those of us who watch this company closely. Today’s strategic focus is tomorrow’s abandoned plan. It happens all the freakin’ time.

But it’s possible there may be more to this — provided, of course, that the Pixel radar pivot is actually happening. Earlier this year, remember, we saw signs that the upcoming Pixel 5 flagship could use a more midrange-level processor instead of the top-of-the-line chip most 2020 Android flagships are packing. That’s especially significant because that top-of-the-line chip requires the presence of 5G, which makes the phones using it exceptionally expensive and with little added benefit for most of us.

Google going with a more cost-effective chip for the Pixel 5 could eliminate the premature 5G-fixation so many other device-makers are now exhibiting. And that, in turn, could pave the way for Google to lower the Pixel 5’s price from the line’s current $800 starting point to, say, somewhere in the ballpark of $600 or $700 — a notion reinforced by an apparent survey making the rounds right now to gauge perception of a $699 Pixel phone.

Combined with recent reports of particularly disappointing Pixel 4 sales, it’s entirely possible Google decided going for a lower-priced phone was its best chance at helping the Pixel achieve more mainstream success — something I think makes an awful lot of sense. And it’s quite conceivable that a fancy radar-gesture system simply wouldn’t fit into a more value-minded scenario.

So if that proves to be the case, then an absence of Motion Sense in a Pixel 5 could actually be sensible. But regardless, what we saw with the feature at the start of the Pixel 4’s life was supposed to have been just the beginning. Google even hinted that the technology could make its way to other types of devices — something I optimistically hoped would serve as a missing piece of the puzzle that really showed off the value of Google’s homegrown hardware effort.

And who knows? Maybe some of that development will still happen on a less unified, more piecemeal level. (Just last week, word broke about an apparent Google patent filing involving Motion-Sense-reminiscent gestures on a smartwatch, but it seems to use an “optical sensor” of some sort instead of the Soli-like radar system. It was also filed all the way back in January of 2019. And patent filings in general tend to fly fast and frequently in the tech world and often have no direct connection to a company’s actual active road map.)

But knowing Google, it’s hard not to wonder if this could be the end — the end of an exciting and promising technological journey that never truly progressed past its beginning. Google’s willingness to constantly reassess its products and pivot away from once-prominent plans can sometimes be an asset. But that same lack of commitment and willingness to stick with something long enough to see it through can also be a liability. And most frustrating of all is the realization that, if things end up playing out as expected here, we’ll likely never know what could have been. 

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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