The smartest ATM in the world

As a traveller I get to use ATMs of different banks in different countries a lot. As a geek I like to pay attention to small details and especially usability. The most common problem with ATMs is that they give you money before returning your card, thus opening a door for forgetting your card in the ATM. Some ATMs try to solve this problem by beeping after you get your money thus reminding you about the card. The solution which makes no sense whatsoever, when it would be much more logical just to return card first. Another problem worth mentioning is an over-confusing user interface requiring unnecessary user actions. Why do you need to answer mundane questions all over again every time when you are about to get cash. It is like most installers in the Windows world, making you press buttons with no purpose. Anyway, In Singapore I had a pleasure to use a Citibank ATM, which blew my mind in terms of usability. The money withdraw process goes something like this.

  1. You insert your card. First, it greets you by your name. Now this is a small, but very nice detail. I bet it is technically trivial to extract information about your name from your card, but how many ATMs actually bother to do that.
  2. It checks the card and then asks you to remove the card to continue. This way there is absolutely no way ATM would snatch your card. Simple and effective.
  3. You select withdrawal amount
  4. You enter PIN code as the last step.
  5. You get your cash.

There you go, no tedious questions, nor unnecessary actions. There are only two steps which require your action: withdrawal amount and PIN code. As minimal as it can get. Compare with most ATMs where you at least four-five steps for the same procedure. Well done, Citibank.

In Nokia Ovi Suite days I was responsible for implementing UI of the software. Even that we had a comprehensible specification describing all parts of the UI, there were many open issues and just things that could not be specified. I got into a habit of thinking things through and how UI would be used by end-user instead of how it should be implemented from a technical point of view. At that time I had an epiphany that most of user interfaces we had to deal with on a daily basis are simply implemented without any thought on how it would be used. The result is often an over-complex UI with unnecessary information overload and too many parts requiring user attention. To see something like this Citibank ATM is always a pleasure. Something that is not simply copied making same mistakes all over again, but seeing a thought and effort behind the end result.

Singapore – The Bladerunner City™ 3/3

Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore – the great Asian triad of Bladerunneresque cities: vibrant, cosmopolitan, futuristic and slightly dystopic. Very Western on one hand, but on the other hand they all have a clear Chinese influence. I had my doubts about visiting Singapore, but after Shanghai and Singapore it felt logical to crown the Bladerunner tour with it and Sven Väth’s gig at Zouk was a decisive factor. In the end I am glad I visited Singapore, as it is one of the most remarkable cities I have visited to date.

Singapore is certainly the most organized and tidy city out of the three. Tidy not only when it comes to cleanliness of the streets, but also architecture and the general condition of infrastructure. Hong Kong is not a dirty city by any means, but in comparison with Singapore it indeed feels a little bit filthy, which is something locals like to bring to attention when they talk about Hong Kong. Singaporeans do not like drawing parallels between Singapore and Hong Kong, even though the cities are obviously very similar. Might there be rivalry between two cities? As for architecture, Singapore might not be not as futuristic as in Shanghai, but still it has this modern trendy outlook. Unlike in many cities I have visited, where fancy buildings are limited to a designated area, Singapore features a whole range of interesting residential and corporate buildings. There are dull faceless block of flats in the outskirts of the city, but within the walkable distance from the city centre it is eye-candy as far as the eye can see. You do not need to spend money here to keep yourself entertained, just walking around the city and gazing at surroundings is a pleasure in itself. The city skyline makes an impression, but the prize here goes to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Singapore is a truly cosmopolitan city. While Shanghai made an impression of a very international city after Beijing and Hong Kong felt extremely international after the mainland China, Singapore leaves both cities far behind in terms of multiculturalism. In fact most of Singapore’s residents are foreigners. Singapore’s dystopia manifests itself in tight regulations, such as heavy fines for littering, incorrect parking and such. There is no freedom of press here too. It is all a little bit totalitarian, although it does not feel that way. It is more like Huxley’s Brave New World utopia with great food, quality entertainment and hardcore shopping. Also it rained almost the whole time I was there resulting in one extra point for the Bladerunner connection. Shanghai gave me a food poisoning, Hong Kong retaliated with bed bugs and Singapore costed me one Haglöfs shoe, which just mysteriously disappeared upon my arrival. It is not easy sometimes.

Singapore was the southernmost destination of my journey and a logical to point to make a U-turn. From now on I will head roughly toward north-west. Back home towards the summer if everything goes according to the plan.

PS: And one last thing, most people have no clue when I mention the Bladerunner connection (some people do not even have any idea what Bladerunner is). I met this British girl, who was first to mention the Bladerunner thing regarding Singapore, which made me speechless. As it turned out she made a high-school project on the movie. I think I am in love.

The grandeur of Singapore

One of the most stunning things I’ve seen in Singapore is this patch of empty land right in the heart of the city and believe me there are many wondrous things around here. It is just a lawn with few scattered trees, they did not even bother to create a park. The sign says “This site is for casual community and recreational use”. Simple as that. I can only imagine how insanely expensive land is in Singapore, so leaving an empty space like that right in the middle of Singapore is truly amazing. Subtle, yet very effective. I have no clue about the reasoning behind this site, but maybe just because they can?

The power of asking

Today at Borders in Singapore, when paying for an origami book.

Cashier: “Do you have a Borders membership card?”
Me: “No, but can I have a 10% discount anyway?”
“No” and after a few seconds in a hush voice “Ok, I’ll give it to you anyway”
“Thanks”

A few moments later I noticed a package of chewing gum on the cashier’s desk

“Isn’t chewing gum banned in Singapore?”
“Yes, but I use it anyway. Want some?”
“Yeah, sure”

Communication is good.

First impressions of Singapore

I solved the Taman Negara vs Singapore dilemma by visiting both. It is my second day in Singapore and so far I am enjoying it very much. Some random first impressions

  • Arrival card has “DEATH TO DRUG SMUGGLERS” in big red bold letters and one of questions is whether you have been to Africa and South America in the last week. The border control guy scrupulously inspected my passport for dodgy stamps and made a comment that the passport was new. These people are dead serious.
  • Singapore is very clean and tidy, but far from sterile as some guidebook make you believe. Garbage bins are everywhere unlike in many Asian cities, where you may spend hours searching for a garbage bin.
  • It has been very rainy here. Not such a big deal though, as hot temperature makes a light rain even pleasant.
  • It is expensive. Though food can be very cheap, which leads to absurd situations where you pay about the same for a chocolate bar from 7-11 or a MRT ride as for a tasty rice+veggies+fish+curry meal from a self-service Chinese/Indian restaraunt.
  • Botanical Garden and National Orchid Garden  are awesome. I am not an orchid enthusiast, but geez these orchids are a pure eye-candy. If you get one day in Singapore and wonder what to visit, go to Botanical Garden.
  • Singapore is full of fine architecture and fancy buildings. Even residential areas are very pleasant to look at. Me likey.
  • Globalization is a curious thing. It is weird to see Ikea Trofe mugs, red on yellow stop buttons and buses and Veolia trucks so far away from home.