Instant Magic

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up for a coffee with Andrew Parker.  After a wide-ranging and enjoyable discussion about app ecosystems and tech policy, we talked a bit about speed.  This post (which I’ll keep short, in its own spirit) is about why speed is so important, awesome, and magical.

I wrote recently about reinventing the home row, and specifically about Brewster and Cue, two apps that I think have a lot of potential.  As it happens, in both cases, my primary frustration is that they’re not fast enough.  In both cases, what I want is “instant magic” — fire it up, get straight to what I want to do, and bam!

Speed is important everywhere, but it’s extra extra important in apps that I fire up often, and for short periods of time.  In the case of Brewster, it’s to find someone — quickly — and contact them.  In the case of Cue, it’s to find out what’s next in my day.  In the case of Foursquare, it’s to quickly check in wherever I am.  In all of these cases, I’m just hopping into the app for a second, to do one quick thing, and hopping out.  Many times a day.  When this happens quickly, my heart is warmed with web awesome.  When I find myself waiting for these apps to launch or load data, my blood pressure rises and I curse technology’s crushing grip on my life.

In talking about this with Andrew, he pointed me to CloudMagic, an app that creates a search index across your cloud services, like Gmail, Google Docs, and Twitter.  CloudMagic’s slogan is “Find stuff in a second” and the first testimonial, from TechCrunch, is “It’s really, really, really fast”.  And boy, is it.

Within seconds of installing CloudMagic, I was flying through it — popping it open, searching for something, finding it, and hopping off to the thing I was looking for. Warm happiness filled my body instantly.  After using the app for 1 minute, I moved it to the home screen on my phone.  After installing the browser button, it’s first in my list.

Greplin, the precursor to Cue, provided the exact same functionality as CloudMagic (across many more services, in fact), but much less quickly.  I would check it every once in a while, just to explore what it could find, but it didn’t jump into my life immediately the way CloudMagic did.  The difference — the magic — is speed.

Thinking about other places where speed has made a difference for me, the one that stands out is Quicksilver for mac.  It’s another “launcher” app – and I having used it for years now, I can’t bring myself to use a computer that doesn’t have it.  I can’t imagine living without it.

Launcher apps, like Quicksilver, CloudMagic, and Brewster, have the potential to use speed to takes this workflow:

Thought -> Find the thing -> Do it

and (in the best case) remove the second step.  They have the ability to bring me from Thought -> Do instantly, and that’s a great feeling.

Speed is the killer feature, the thing that makes it magic.