My experiences with Slack

Lately I’ve been surveying the competitive landscape when it comes to social networking within organisations. One of the darlings that caught my eye was Slack.

The other night this breakup letter to Slack caught my eye which prompted me to write my own experiences.

Before starting on the Slack journey I did some investigation such as reading comparisons against Yammer and HipChat, various reviews, watching their own videos, etc.

What I can say is that the Slack story and interface is great – it’s fun, it’s fresh, it looks like it’s going to be great!

What I can also say is that Slack is noise, pure noise. Apart from breaking things up into channels and teams – it is just a never-ending unstructured mess of conversation tidbits. It’s like standing in a crowded bar and trying to have a conversation in a group of people, and like in that scenario people start their own conversations across the group or to the side. It’s supposed to be live but it’s not, and you can’t tell if someone has actually left – which might leave you hanging mid-conversation.

Slack really reminds me of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which I used quite a lot in the 90’s in my nerd heyday. So I find it quite humorous that the young hip people of today are now using a technology that the young hip people of my day frowned upon as too nerdy.

My two main gripes with my own experience with Slack is that I can’t respond to email notifications and have them appear as part of the conversation thread (the email bounces), and that conversations aren’t actually structured as conversations or threads – they are just an ever-flowing stream of text mixed in with other conversations in the same group (or as we called it on IRC “channel”).

While it certainly moves you away from email – I don’t believe it actually offers any more meaningful interaction and in fact probably increases the amount of noise in your life.

Me and my iPhone: a marriage made in hell

A few months ago I switched to an iPhone as my Lumia 930 broke and I was getting a bit fed up with waiting for Windows 10 Mobile. One of the big reasons was I had a number of people telling me how good the Microsoft apps were on iOS and Android.

Before getting too far into this let’s clear up a few things:

  • I refuse to give myself to Google and use one of their devices
  • I am Microsoft-biased
  • Before I had a Windows Phone I had an iPhone, up until recently had an iPod in my car, and have had several iPads (my kids still have one)

Now you know where we stand: I don’t like Google, have a Microsoft bias, and am open to Apple. However, after 3 months of iPhone usage I am ready to switch back to Windows as a mobile device.

While I am Microsoft-biased there are a number of things they did far better than anyone else, and it’s just unfortunate that most people don’t know of them.

One thing I do need to preface is that I am a large consumer of information and a serial multitasker. I like information to be presented to me in bite sized chunks so I can make a decision as to whether I need to act on it. I like to see what I need to see in front of me.

I’ll try to keep this short and sharp and focus on my biggest whinges. J

iOS 9 still looks like Windows 3.1

Back in 2012 I wrote a piece about how iOS reminded me of Windows 3.1 which attracted some negative comments from Apple fans.

One of my friends welcomed me back to iPhone recently – my immediate response was: “yep, 4 years gone and not much has changed”. The reality is since iOS v1 not much has changed from the User Interface (UI) perspective. The icons can be put into groups and have changed their design slightly but apart from that the interface is still a collection of icons and groups. The most I can get any insight is the fact that a number shows up on an app indicating how many notifications I have within that app.

Seriously – this operating system has been on the market for 8 years, can Apple please try to evolve it?

I REALLY miss the live tiles on a Windows Phone where I could at a glance see in depth into multiple apps without actually having to go into them to see more information. I find with iOS I am continually switching apps. It is frustrating and annoying.

The Lock Screen

I am flabbergasted at how little access I have to put information on the lock screen. Searching high and low for apps I could not find anything that could put my calendar on the lock screen. I’m fully aware that I can simply drag my finger down from the top of the screen to see my calendar but that’s not really “at a glance” – it requires interaction.

Even Android allows you to customise the lock screen to show calendar appointments, weather, and whatever other information you want.

How is this still not a thing on iOS?

The App Gap

After 3 months of having access to a world full of apps – I found that I don’t care, and that it wasn’t worth it. Most apps I installed I have hardly used. Yes, the native social apps are better, yes there are banking apps, yes there are apps that don’t exist on Windows, yes the same apps that exist on Windows are actually better on iOS.

My phone serves a handful of functions: phone and messaging, business use, social, and information consumption. Some of these are baked into the OS, most require an app.

What I have found is that for most of the apps I use the websites are mobile friendly and almost as feature rich as the app. The other apps I have installed simply don’t get used other than maybe once or twice, if at all – which means I could survive without them.

Siri

Why does Siri only work with Apple apps? I can’t tell Siri to do anything outside of Apple apps, retrieving information or opening other apps. Why is there no SDK or API from Apple for this?

I like the fact that Siri is at least available in Australia (a point of frustration with Microsoft where Cortana is only available if you set your device to the US region or install a preview version of Windows Phone), but what I can do with her is extremely limiting.

Seriously – have a look at how many apps leverage Cortana. It is mind blowing what you can get your phone and apps to do just by talking to them.

 

My key takeaway is that the Windows mobile operating system is truly built for the business user, and this is why it hasn’t had such mass market appeal. The consumer appeal and functionality simply isn’t there, and that’s mainly due to the fact that the operating system is built for intelligent handling of information and actions – something not everyone is comfortable with at this point. While Microsoft has made efforts to deliver apps and features to iOS and Android first in order to ensure greater market reach and uptake I find that for a person like me who consumes so much information on a daily basis the Windows experience is simply better suited. There are a number of Microsoft apps on iOS that drew me in originally but I could live without them.

I find iOS simplistic and cumbersome. It is designed for a simpler time when apps were all the rage, but we’ve surpassed that. Nowadays services and integration are key, and while Apple is working hard to catch up in that space it is an area already dominated by Google and Microsoft.

As someone who uses Windows 10 as their daily operating system and Office 365 as my business platform I find the overall experience no better on iOS than it was on Windows Phone. In my first few weeks I was amazed with my iPhone as everything “just worked”. That rapidly wore off as I found that apps still crash and the OS still has bugs. With the release of Windows 10 Mobile I think there will be more of a compelling reason for people to go back and stay there as it will offer a broader ecosystem with richer interactions and integrations.

I know I can’t wait to get back there. I just hope Cortana will forgive me.