The Zen Bank. It exists.

Last year, Matt Mullenweg (of WordPress fame) thought out loud about a bank he’d love to set up. Matt’s bank would focus on safety, ‘Google-like’ simplicity, ‘white-glove’ customer service – and be usable with the tools of today.

… At the very beginning… make it invite-only, which will create a buzz and also allow you to give amazing white-glove service to the initial customers, who will in turn tell their friends… There would be only one style of checks and debit cards and they’d need a distinctive design so if you saw one you’d say, “What’s that?” which would then start the whole conversation again about how SafeBank is different.

Also,

… old-time vintage design aesthetic combined with a Google-like simplicity and attention to speed. All logins would be two-factor, with the default being it’d SMS you a one-time code to log in… a big part of the website would be the blog… few cool saving or home tips each week, it would cover at least one financial industry story a day.

Today, Alex Payne (of Twitter fame) made it known there is just such a bank. And that he’s joining it.

BankSimple is an easy, intuitive, and social bank for people who appreciate simple online services. Unlike other banks, we don’t trap you with confusing products nor do we charge any hidden fees. No overdraft fees. We use sophisticated analytics to help you better manage your finances by providing you a individualized service, catered to your needs and goals.

About the smartphone category called iPhone-like

From an email exchange with a friend asking about the Nexus One (the ‘Google phone’) launch.

Thoughts about the Nexus One’s prospects

Does it have better hardware, a better screen, better battery life, better price, more freedom, better apps, better multitasking, better camera than the iPhone? Yes. Is it the iPhone? No.

People who’ll buy the Nexus One say they want to buy something like the iPhone that isn’t the iPhone, and they’re lying even though they don’t know it. They want the iPhone because it’s the iPhone. And nothing else. When you create in your mind a category called iPhone-like, there’s only one member that’s ever going to be a full, incontrovertible member of that category.

These buyers are going to be disappointed even though they won’t know quite why. They’ll blame it on the phone instead of their own expectations, and demand won’t spike the way it did for the iPhone.

Would I buy it?

I don’t like the iPhone, but I like this current crop of Android devices even less. If, in a (thankfully) fictional dystopian universe I had to choose only between the iPhone and the Nexus, I’d take Apple’s baby (and lament long and hard about the lack of alternatives).

Reason #3: form factor wise no Android device has nailed the iPhone. This is HTC and Motorola and Samsung, not Apple we’re talking about. So there. These firms are known for specs, not sex.

Reason #2: I will not buy a phone with a trackball. Ever. Would you buy a Skoda that featured a manually-operated crank to start the engine? Heck, even Blackberrys have moved on.

Reason #1: Polish. I posit that no one has been able to nail the touchscreen experience other than Apple. Not Palm, Not Android. Not (shudder) RIM and most certainly not Microsoft. Since 2007, for instance, Android phones have been underpowered and have had user experience (UX) issues where the phone hasn’t been able to keep up with text or touch input. Now three years later,

Some animations are very smooth, some are janky as hell. The Nexus One has a faster processor than the iPhone 3GS and has twice the RAM, and yet it still cannot have as fluid a UI as the iPhone OS. This is great proof that your software is key—throwing raw power at things won’t necessarily make them better.

And it doesn’t even have to run Android. Every touchscreen phone apart from iPhone suffers from this.

I think it’s worth demonstrating how Apple nails the experience with an example.

In Mobile Safari, the iPhone browser, if you scroll (swipe) too fast, instead of text you’ll see a chequered pattern – the processor can’t render the text fast enough – but the scrolling experience itself is smooth as ever. Once you stop scrolling, text will eventually appear. On any other mobile browser, the scrolling itself will stutter as the processor tries to render everything.

When you’re using a device all day every day as essentially an extension of your body and mind, stuff like this matters more than features.

I’d pick the iPhone. As, sadly, will folks who upgrade from the Nexus One eventually.

Update (10 Jan 2010): Another example of polish in design:

Other issues that I can’t live with day to day? How do I copy text from non-editable field like an email, webpage, or SMS, or even a 3rd party application? Oh, I can’t. Say what you want about the iPhone not having copy and paste for two years — a joke — it’s the single best implementation on the planet for a smartphone and Google’s approach is almost as bad as RIM’s with the Storm-series.

(From Boy Genius Report, via John Gruber)

About my Android prediction

My comment on a Google Reader shared item in Jan 2009:

“As I said months and months ago – “jiska koi nahin uska Android”. No product line to convince MS to license you WinMo? There’s Android. No cash to pay for licenses? There’s Android. Want to convince market and customers that you have something up your sleeve? There’s Android”.

WIRED Magazine today takes stock of Android today and its future “explosive growth”.

The manufacturers of the 12 Android devices on the market are Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG, Dell, Huawei and Acer. Except for the first three, none of the manufacturers had a product line with a mainstream mobile OS – they’ve hitched their smartphone fortune to Android. The case with Moto, HTC and Samsung is more dramatic – they’re all developing a strong Android product line (Moto in particular) in spite of their Windows Mobile backgrounds. I cannot find one smartphone manufacturer that is betting on Windows Mobilee, and I strongly suspect that most of Android’s growth will come at WinMo’s expense.

But my comment was to point out that a commitment to Android implies a lack of coherent strategy for manufacturers. That certainly seems true with Moto, HTC, Samsung and LG. In my opinion, Moto has suffered from terrible hardware design. HTC and Samsung have tried without success to hide Windows Mobile’s ugliness under their customizations. LG’s proprietary OS strategy means few, if any, third-party apps.

For the rest, Android *is* their first strategy. That’s brave. But it’s also evidence that Android’s features are exactly what smartphone users want today – touch-screen support, strong integration with Google’s applications, a capable browser and support for other installable applications. This is also true of Mac OS X on iPhone, but what if you want another phone? Android’s looking like a very, very attractive alternative.

Your search history is all they need

… apparently, to track you down.

In 2006, the New York Times tracked down a woman in Georgia using only her search history. AOL, as part of a research project, had placed online a 3-month search history for 650,000 users without user names or any other identifiable information – or so they thought:

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from ”numb fingers” to ”60 single men” to ”dog that urinates on everything.”

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for ”landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and ”homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”

It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. ”Those are my searches,” she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.

William Safire

William Safire, the former Nixon speechwriter famous for providing Vice President Spiro Agnew with gems such as ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history’, died yesterday. I looked forward to his NYT column “On Language“, links to whose posts I shared on several occasions with friends over email.

If you must read anything by Safire, let it be his last Op-Ed column “How to Read a Column” for the NYT in 2005, full of self-directed jibes:

7. Watch for repayment of favors. Stewart Alsop jocularly advised a novice columnist: “Never compromise your journalistic integrity – except for a revealing anecdote.” Example: a Nixon speechwriter told columnists that the president, at Camp David, boasted “I just shot 120,” to which Henry Kissinger said brightly “Your golf game is improving, Mr. President,” causing Nixon to growl “I was bowling, Henry.” After columnists gobbled that up, the manipulative writer collected in the coin of friendlier treatment.