When your phone rings in some unfortunate situation, you want to silence the ringer as soon as humanly possible. Problem is, it's usually tough to reach - it'll take a few more rings to get it out of your pocket, or backpack, or whatever, and press that little button. Thankfully, an Android app called Shake2MuteCall aims to make it a little easier: just smack or shake your phone, and it'll shut up. It uses the phone's accelerometer to detect intentional motion while ringing - and lets the user set the sensitivity, which is sure to prevent frustration. It seems similar to - but even better than - the HTC HD2's ability to silence when the phone is physically picked up. Things just keep getting better, huh?
There are certain product categories that just can't be kept for a long time - they wear out from normal use, and need to be replaced. But eco-friendly product group Full Circle aims to meet this problem halfway - and a good example is their "Laid Back" Dish Brush. The bristle part that will wear out can still be replaced - but the handle is designed to last for years, made of stylish, durable (and sustainable) bamboo. Waste is reduced, the user experience is improved - and life is good!
On this blog that's ostensibly about buttons, I'd be remiss if I didn't cover Sony's love letter to them: YayButtons.com. See, the upcoming gesture-based gaming systems from Sony and Microsoft differ in an important way: Sony's Playstation Move uses controllers (with buttons), while Microsoft's Kinect uses only your body (which, belly excepted, has no buttons). So, with this fun little site, Sony is really trying to... wait for it... push buttons on us. They make good points, though: buttons are a great way to control a gaming experience, and Kinect may be a blunt tool without them. How do you zoom your sniper rifle? How do you change between a practice golf swing and the real thing? And as Sony points out, how do you prevent your jerk friend from shouting "pause" during your game? Buttons, that's how!
My father-in-law, a golf fanatic who's in the market for a power-assist golf pushcart, pointed out this little gem of usability design: the PowaKaddy, despite its unfortunate name, has an ingenious control system. Instead of pressing buttons to command it to go forward, go backward, and stop, the handle slides along the bar as shown by the red arrow. To move the cart forward, push the handle forward; to move it backward, pull it; and to stop, well, just stop. It means that the user isn't really "controlling" the cart as much as the cart is "following" the user - like intelligent cruise control that keeps a constant distance from the car in front of you. It must give the experience a whole new feeling, too - instead of commanding the cart, the cart is giving you what you need without you having to ask. That's one smart cart - and, if well-engineered, a very usable design.
Something fun to finish up the week: designer Matt Braun noticed the spontaneous symphonies that can happen when using a beer bottle as an instrument, and decided to help. The idea: Tuned Pale Ale, which features markings on the label showing the right liquid level for each note. So, split a six-pack with some friends, choose your notes, and start making sweet (drunken) music!
USB flash drives - aka thumbdrives, aka flash keys - have been getting smaller, but mostly toward the goal of "portability." LaCie's new MosKeyto has a whole different use in mind: just leave it plugged in. Like wireless dongles for the latest mice and keyboards, the drive is so tiny that it's not at risk of being damaged while plugged in. There are plenty of advantages to be enjoyed with this usage model: Windows 7 can use it as extra RAM to speed itself up, it'll never get lost by falling out of a pocket, and it's one step easier to give someone a file because the drive is always ready for a drag-and-drop. I just might have to get one...
If you only enjoy an occasional bottle of wine, it could be tricky to remember when you opened that unfinished bottle, and therefore whether it's still good. Designer George Lee has an answer in a tasteful, fully mechanical stainless steel bottle stopper: just spin the rings to show the opening date, and you're good to go. There's something about the purity and simplicity of this design - and the refreshing lack of electronics of any kind - that really appeals to me. It's a tool, to be used - and usably delightful.