One week after WWDC, I’m still struggling to come up with talking points about how my experience with iOS 8 has changed how I use my phone. Frankly, the announcements this year were more exciting as a developer than as a user. Rather than just parroting some features that others have already covered better than I could, I’ll share some thoughts about the path that iOS 8 might be laying out for the future.
Given so many new updates for developers: extensions, widgets, full camera access, custom keyboards, continuity, iCloud Drive, HealthKit, and more, there is an overwhelming sense that the biggest changes we’ll see in iOS 8 are likely to come from third parties. It’s been hard to use my iPhone without imagining how current apps could take advantage of these new features, or what new categories of apps are possible for the first time.
One big rumor that we didn’t see addressed on stage was any mention of the oft-rumored iWatch. But after considering a number of the changes to iOS 8, I think the iWatch did make its mark on WWDC. The rumor of an Apple watch always seemed a little peculiar to me. What value could we really get out of a wrist device in a world where we already have an iPhone in our pocket?
An all new App Store, just for watch apps, seems unlikely, and a very limited environment for making valuable experiences. Notification Center widgets however are extending apps beyond the iOS fullscreen experience in a way that feels like a very nice fit for a notification driven device. Developers are being encouraged to fit their apps most critical information and functionality into much smaller constraints than they’re used to dealing with. This seems like an effort that could translate directly or indirectly to extending features to a watch.
On the surface, the tap-to-talk functionality of the Messages app seems like Apple admitting the value from transient messaging apps like Snapchat. However, it’s also a strikingly simple way to send a message from a device that has no keyboard for text input, a valuable feature to have on a watch.
Along with the push for continuity, carrying information and workflows between your connected devices, improvements to Siri, such as a hands-free way to engage with the assistant: “Hey, Siri,” and the potential of a wrist bound device to input valuable data to HealthKit, there is a compelling picture forming of what the rumored device could deliver in Apple’s forthcoming ecosystem. The rumored iWatch hasn’t been at the top of my wishlist, but I’m finally beginning to see some strong potential for what kind of features a wearable device could bring to the table.
I think we still have a lot to see from Apple this year.
It’s far from perfect. How blurs are executed by CSS filters solicited some tricks to make them completely fill the background, and a trained eye will see some bleed on the edges. If you were to try different border sizes, etc. You would likely want to fudge with the numbers a bit to get appropriate coverage for the blur effect.
Let me know if you use this somewhere, I’d love to see it in action.
Today a public beta of Reeder 2 for Mac was released.
It has been a few months since I switched to Unread on my iPhone. Unread explored some interesting new design ideas, but it’s become clear over the past few weeks that many of the interactions are slower and more cumbersome than the corresponding actions in Reeder.
The new Mac beta is beautiful, and it was just the nudge I needed to switch back to Reeder on iPhone. If you use RSS at all, Reeder gets my highest recommendation. Silvio Rizzi has great intuition for user interaction, and Reeder has spent more time on my home screen than any third party app besides Tweetbot.
I imagine this will be just as successful for them as the Kindle Fire.
Back in 1983 when Microsoft Word was first released, there was no public notion of the Internet, email, or clouds that weren’t made of water vapor. Files that weren’t on paper, were merely a cute abstraction.
Today, data on a server is the baseline for stored information. It’s the most reliable source. In a world where bank transactions, books, articles, wikis, Facebook and their ilk, mail, messages, and all varieties of media exist in RAM before they exist anywhere else, (precious few of which ever find it to paper), the notion of a word processor for creating documents destined for 8.5″ x 11″ sheets seems quaint and antiquated.
Yesterday heralded a new era for Microsoft, or maybe a hearkening back to its roots, when the software was more important than the platform. Some say it’s too little too late, that Microsoft was too slow to get their products on iOS, and they missed the adoption of the core users of the platform. That might be true.
More notably though, a word processor isn’t a strong fit for a tablet. You’re authoring content on a glass rectangle in your hands, and most audiences will likely consume it in a similar fashion. Why this middle-man of a format? Greeting cards, newsletters, invitations, letters, resumés, announcements, all have found better homes for themselves on the Internet. If we see sharp declines in the use of Microsoft Word or other word processors, it will have more to do with people moving on from a notion of paper documents than it does from a faulty deployment strategy.
You never would have read this post if it required anything as cumbersome as being printed on a piece of paper.
Over a few nights while my wife was reading, I built a Flappy Bird clone… maker.
Paste in some links to images hosted elsewhere, and get a link to your version of the game. It’s a fun, infuriating game. In that, it’s authentic to the Flappy Bird experience.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a game of any sort, and I’ve never made one for the web. This was an experiment of sorts, but it was definitely amusing. It works decently on most iOS devices, though I haven’t tested it in many browsers.
Anyways, check it out, share your creations, and let me know what you think by posting with the hashtag #buildabird.
3D graphics are intriguing. It was my favorite area of study at DigiPen, and a few recent videos are kind of mind blowing. I thought I’d share, in case you haven’t seen them.
Snow simulation, as seen in Frozen:
Stylizing animation by example:
No longer working with graphics on a day to day basis, it’s always amazing to come back around and see what’s being done every few years.
The report says that Apple will not continue the plastic-shelled body of the iPhone 5c, and will instead have two models with metal outer casings similar to the current iPhone 5s.
I’m sorry, but there’s no way that the 5c design is just a one off. It’s clearly part of a long term strategy. As to whether there will be one or more larger iPhones, the rumors are clearly gaining steam. But then again, where are our tvs and watches?
Recently, I did an email interview with Devir Kahan over at BitQuill. It just got posted, and he asked some great questions. I think it’s a fun read, go check it out!
Yesterday Nintendo announced a new lower priced 2D variant of their 3DS console, that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. John Gruber sees it as further proof that they are “not going to win this battle.” The vocal Nintendo community has stepped up again to challenge this assessment of the situation.
It’s presumptuous for any of us to suggest what Nintendo should do. They’ve been at this for a long time, and know very well how to maintain a profitable company. Nintendo isn’t seeing slumps because their hardware is getting worse. The original Nintendo DS and Wii were unusual and underpowered consoles by contemporary standards, and they were two of Nintendo’s biggest successes. What’s happening here is that Nintendo is falling victim to digital convergence. Go ask the big players in point and shoot cameras, GPS navigation, netbooks, and feature phones what happened to their markets. If they don’t all give you the same answer they’re lying, or potentially oblivious.
Nintendo pushed with the DS and even further with the Wii to make a console that included everyone. One that was accessible, fun, and social (like, real-life social, not Internet social). They succeeded just at a time when an “everyone” video game market was primed to be eroded by digital convergence. Today, not everyone wants to buy a specialized device for gaming, especially when they already have access to more games than they could ever want to play. The everyone market is now inaccessible to anyone who is making something as specialized as a video game console. If they want to keep trying to attract everyone, then they need to up the ante and make their own digital convergence device. Someone would need to be able to have their console instead of a smartphone. This is a very competitive space right now with a pretty established set of players. Nintendo might be able to break in with a strong enough effort, but it would draw too much focus away from making games, which is clearly their passion.
But I think Nintendo might be past seeing everyone as their potential market. They’re doubling down on core gamers. The people who never left them behind. The people who have always valued their games, and the care they put in making them. But leaving the bigger market behind will look like a step back. How can you compare the broad success of the original DS and Wii with the limited market they’re approaching today. Can Nintendo be successful with a market of tens of millions vs. the billions appeal of smartphones? Actually, it’s a far more addressable market, and one they’ve been serving for decades now.
I’m still waiting for a ‘Yep’ or ‘Nope’ from good ole Jimmy.
Update: And here it is.
In case you’ve been out-to-lunch today, Shawn Blanc released his book/interview combo Delight is in the Details. This just about sums up what you should get out of it:
My goal is that by the end of this book you will have an increased motivation to strive for excellence in your own work. Also, I hope you can walk away with the knowledge and language to help combat sub-par design and lead your clients, co-workers, and/ or your bosses down a path where they too are willing to take the time to sweat the details.
Great reading (and listening) for anyone who “creates” for a living or for fun. Go get it!
The people actually making these decisions everyday, that’re sorta running the world, are not really very much different than you. … And, once you realize that, you start to feel you have a responsibility to do something about it, because the world’s in pretty bad shape right now. And, I guess, one of the things that motivates a lot of people … is that we all sort of eat food that other people cook, and wear clothing that other people make, and speak a language that other people evolved, and use someone else’s mathematics, and we’re sorta taking from this giant pool constantly. And the most ecstatic thing in the whole world is to actually put something back into that pool.
Another year, another WWDC, another iOS beta to inadvisedly install on my only iPhone. If people were upset last year by a relatively moderate set of updates in iOS 6, they will need to find a new point of angst this year. Here’s where I discuss the publicly acknowledged features in iOS 7 and how they’ve affected my day-to-day with my phone over the past week.
It’s difficult to weigh many of these changes objectively. We’re currently used to a polished, time-tested iteration of iOS that has earned a great deal of love from users and developers. Any updates to our phone can be jarring, and many of them won’t show their true colors for many weeks yet. It also should go without saying that this is a very early beta, and the experience is bound to improve before release. It’s important to view the comments here with that perspective.
Apple is presenting iOS 7 as an update that furthers their efforts to make content the top priority. It’s important to remember this isn’t a new goal. Apple has always been in pursuit of elevating content above interface in iOS. Even from the 2007 iPhone keynote there was language lauding your email, music, contacts, and photos. Letting the phone, apps, and controls get out of your way when they aren’t necessary has been a constant aim.
Many new interface elements including status, navigation, tab, and tool bars have a default appearance of translucency that blurs the content behind, giving them an appearance like frosted glass. The translucency is intended to let content show through. It gives a sense that the content is the foundation of the app, and the controls are just a layer resting above. The blur is more of a technical necessity, it brings contrast between the controls and the content that would otherwise conflict visually. This is a beautiful effect, but one that seems to be making people nervous.
Navigation and tab bars in particular are a common point of customization for apps, and many find it worrisome that to hold with the translucent aesthetic, apps will need to give up their personality. However, standard controls have existed since the beginning of the App Store, and so have the tools to circumvent them. Apps can stray from the standard look and feel in whatever way they feel suits them, and many have in the past to great effect. It’s up to developers to determine what is suitable for their users, and I’m excited to see where people find it necessary to break the mold.
Parallax has been implemented in a few places to bring more dimensionality. Most notably, the home screen background, icons, and badges pan as you tilt the phone to give the illusion of depth. I’ve been warming up to the effect, but initially it felt gimmicky. One redeeming quality is that your background image is no longer doomed to have sections permanently covered by static icons. Tilting your phone lets you see behind them, and view more of your wallpaper.
Buttons don’t quite look like they used to. Instead of borders, bevels, and shadows, now color is the cue for items being tappable. This is one of the biggest visual changes, but the reasoning is clear. We all get it, it’s a touch screen OS, we can tap on things, and they don’t need to be polished like a glass capsule to get the point across. Color has been identifying links on the web for ages, and that makes this a pretty natural change. It’s not a naive implementation either. For instance, the navigation links in an app which may appear blue when they are active, automatically desaturate when a modal view appears indicating they can’t currently be selected. Again, many are worried how this will negatively affect the personality of apps, but I’m convinced developers will find other ways to add character.
On top of the gesture to bring down Notification Center, iOS 7 adds a gesture for Control Center, Spotlight, and a standard back button gesture by swiping in from the left edge of the screen. This is a clear win as it’s keyed against the back button in a navigation bar, and makes going back and forth significantly easier one-handed. This is especially true if your thumb has a hard time reaching that top-left corner on the 4-inch screen.
The new lock screen is much more understated. It has a crystal clear full-screen shot of your wallpaper, covered only by a few subtle indicators. It is far less heavy handed than the previous iterations, with no chrome or gloss. However, depending on your choice of wallpaper, it can become difficult to read the time. If your iPhone is your most frequently used clock, you’ll need to choose your wallpaper carefully. If you have any unread notifications, the entire background gets the new frosted glass treatment, and greatly improves text legibility. It’s nice to have some full Notification Center and Control Center access here, and you can conditionally control whether these show up when your phone is locked so this doesn’t become a privacy concern.
Great typography has been a mainstay of Apple products since the first Mac, and it has clearly been a big focus of iOS 7. Along with a general trend for lightness across the board, the system font has lost some weight as well. It seemed too light at first, but after a few days it really starts to give an impression of clarity. Additionally, kerning and ligatures have been enabled in standard text controls. There are also more options for users to select text size, weight, and contrast that work throughout the system, and any apps that wish to utilize them.
Apple’s apps have a completely new set of icons. They are slightly larger than before, and the corners on the rounded rect are a little more round. The grid behind the icons is a good concept, but as a whole, they seem to be missing a unity that used to exist in the shading, imagery, and yes, even the gloss of the old icons. It looks like the icon grid and a color palette were tossed to a dozen different designers and they were asked to recreate individual app icons behind closed doors without peer interaction. The result is an icon set that looks scattered, divided, leaderless. The sentiment is that surely some of these will change before the public release. We can only hope.
Messages has a very fluid feel, mostly due to the content bubbles sliding into position when scrolling. This is a little disconcerting, and I’ve even heard complaints of motion sickness from a few people after letting them try it out. Hopefully, this is an option if it makes it to the public release.
The ‘Edit’ button in the top right has been replaced with a ‘Contact’ button giving quick access to the contact from the current thread should you need to call or email them. Consequently, selecting one or more messages for deleting or sharing now requires a long tap on a message and selection of the ‘More…’ button, which is quite a bit more cumbersome.
The Mail app feels a lot nicer, though I’m not sure what to credit that with given the features and UI seem to have changed very little. One new feature I have noticed, when setting the recipient to someone from work, my ‘from’ address is automatically updated to my work account. This is a welcome change for someone who mixes this up on a weekly basis.
Now a pageable, 3 by 3 grid, this change makes folders look smaller at first despite the ability to hold far more apps. The smaller grid is nice in that it improves spatiality, giving the folder icon one-to-one correspondence with its appearance when opened. I still think “folders” are a strange concept in iOS given the lack of the rest of the desktop metaphor, but their value on the homescreen is hard to argue. I do wish they would open more quickly though.
Once the most glaringly bad example of skeuomorphism gone wrong in iOS, Game Center’s new look is still playful without the heavy handed approach of a Vegas game table. With very little changes in actual interface and features, it’s cool to see how much better of an impression the app leaves with just a visual overhaul. It’s as though they scraped layers of old chipped paint off a fine mahogany desk and replaced them with a nice clear varnish. The app itself, its features and functionality, show through right at the surface.
The big change here is the new ‘Today’ view which gives a summary of calendar events, reminders, weather, stocks and traffic info. It’s a more valuable slice of data than the weather and stocks widgets it’s replacing. Although, it can skew a little personal depending what you have in your calendar, and I imagine a fair number of people excluding it from their lock screen. There is also a new tab to toggle “all” notifications versus “missed” notifications, but as of yet, it’s unclear to me what differentiates the two.
The subject of approximately 2 million mockups, iOS finally has fast access to a long list of common settings and shortcuts on your phone: Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Orientation Lock, Music controls, AirDrop, AirPlay, flashlight, Clock, Calculator, and Camera. This will undeniably be the favorite addition to iOS 7 for many people. It’s one of the oldest remaining unaddressed complaints about iOS, and it’s very satisfying to have so many important options close at hand.
The new UI for app switching is another one we’ve seen in designer mockups, jailbreak hacks, and other mobile operating systems. Basically, the old multitasking tray has grown up. A screenshot of the last view seen from an app is displayed above the icon, and a upward swipe gesture quits an app without the need to enter jiggle mode.
This could be a valuable feature for you if, like me, your Wi-Fi is often stronger than your cellular signal. I tested a call to another iOS 7 tester and it worked as expected. Audio was surprisingly clear, far better than a regular FaceTime call with video. It was better even than a well-connected cellular call. Already having free mobile to mobile minutes, this won’t affect me too much, but it could definitely let some users lighten up their rate plan. Down the road, this feature could also enable more teenagers to get by with an iPod touch, and prevent their parents from adding them to an expensive contract. We just need an iPod with a built-in ear speaker.
Apple knows we don’t want to see a notification on 3 devices, any more than we want to have 3 people remind us to put a cover sheet on our TPS reports. Unfortunately, this feature has had no impact on me so far, because my phone is the only device that supports it presently. However, as someone within 3 feet of 4 Apple devices for hours a day, here’s to hoping Apple gets this right.
The smart search field is a great feature enabled by what appears to be a new or altered keyboard type. It has both a spacebar (more like a space button given its size) and a .com button. My assumption is that the separate keyboards is what kept this feature from happening sooner, though truth be told, it wasn’t in desktop Safari until recently either.
Safari is also sporting a new tab UI without the 9 tab limitation. It has a vertical scrolling set of page thumbnails that feels a lot like coverflow, but it does in fact make it quicker to scroll through tabs. Also, on top of the system wide back gesture being mapped to the back browser action, a swipe in from the right side is mapped to forward as well.
The new camera has quite a few changes. Square and panorama join photo and video as new modes. Switching between modes is a little difficult because they are small, but tapping on them is a easier than swiping. Live filters have been added for the photo/square modes, an obvious play into the trend of photo filters apps led mostly today by Instagram. But the filters are tasteful, and subtle when compared to what’s out there. Otherwise, the changes here aren’t too drastic functionally, and the Camera app is still the first place I go to take a photo I’m not immediately planning to share to Instagram.
The photos app has a new view that breaks down images into years, collections, and moments, utilizing location and time stamp information to group photos into logical sets. This has been a feature of iPhoto on Mac for quite sometime, and works surprisingly well to improve browsing your library. Any type of automatic organization that works may as well be magic, and this feels like magic. Similarly to the Calendar app allowing you to visually track a date as you drill from the yearly into the weekly view, the new photos view let’s you see the photo thumbnails animate smoothly from their spot in the yearly view, all the way down to the moment view. This goes a long way in reinforcing the theme of maintaining context that iOS 7 is trying to foster.
Your digital assistant has a little more power this time around, and while it’s not earth shattering, Siri keeps marching in the right direction. There’s a sense that in a few years we’ll wake up, and Siri will be able to answer just about anything we ask it. The biggest win here are tie-ins to device capabilities like “turn on bluetooth” or “increase brightness” that we saw during the keynote. It makes Siri feel more like the voice behind your phone, not just another feature.
Automatic updates are nice. As a compulsive updater, it’s one less thing to keep up with. It integrates well with the update tab, displaying clear information about updates and when they happened. The new ‘Near Me’ tab is a discovery tool that shows you popular apps near your current location. The few times I’ve checked, it hasn’t been populated with results yet. This could be a nice feature while traveling, but I don’t find that most of the apps I use are valuable to me because of my geographical location. That makes this merely another viewport for browsing the store. It will be interesting to see whether or not this data changes often, but I don’t think it will inform too many buying decisions for me.
Music and Video
Not much has changed here. There is no more ‘Purchased’ tab for these apps. Rather, any purchased content simply shows in your library with an iCloud icon indicating which items aren’t currently on your device. It looks like we still can’t stream items in iOS, despite having the ability on Apple TV. Perhaps cellular network performance is still an issue here, but that doesn’t explain why streaming isn’t available over Wi-Fi.
iTunes Radio makes a first appearance in the Music app. It is very much like Pandora. Letting you launch existing radio stations, or key new ones off of artists, genres, or songs. I haven’t heard any ads yet, although I haven’t spent too much time listening. Perhaps the ads are coming between now and the public launch. I would have preferred Apple to clone a subscription service like Rdio rather than Pandora, but I’m guessing they have some empirical evidence that Pandora is more popular or valuable. Either way, the experience is nice and I’ll probably give it some playtime.
In no way have I exhausted what’s coming in iOS 7. There are more unannounced features, and I haven’t scratched a few that I either have no access to or haven’t been fully baked yet in the beta. Among them are iOS in the Car, AirDrop, and iCloud Keychain. If opinions arise as I get some exposure to these features I’ll try my best to write about them.
1500 New APIs
There are new toys for developers too. Many of which are firmly in NDA territory, but also many of which are very exciting. I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised when we see the newest crop of apps coming around built with iOS 7 in mind.
While visually, there are some arguable choices being made with iOS 7, the first party apps are better off for the changes. The key takeaway here is that Apple isn’t slowing down. iOS is moving from a crawl to a walk, and yes the first few steps might be wobbly. But walking will take the platform to a more mature place where its impact can continue to grow.
There is a level of shock you work through when something you’re very familiar with undergoes such a significant change. The more time people spend with something the more resistant they often are to what comes next (just ask Facebook). But Apple is a company, more than any other, that constantly puts us in a place to leave something we loved behind to embrace something better.
Hot on the heels of a resurgence of the long-standing debate concerning the pronunciation of the GIF file format, Sky Balloon has put out a new app catering to just such an audience. We’re calling it a crowd-powered GIF directory, and to be impartial, we’ve hosted it under two names.
Pick your favorite:
Feel free to add, tag, and share gifs. We have some plans for browser extensions, iOS, and Mac apps. Please let us know what you think!
Update: We let the domains expire due to lack of interest, the site is now accessible at choose-gif.herokuapp.com for posterity.
The rumor mill has been churning again. But for a pleasant change of pace, we’re hearing about changes to Apple’s software instead of some leaked internal screen connector for a forthcoming iPhone 5S. If you are a feed subscriber, you’ve probably noticed there hasn’t been much writing happening here lately. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing about smart watches and Apple TV sets that seem imminent on odd numbered days, and anybody’s guess the rest of the time.
If you have an ear turned to the Apple news beat, it seems as though new hardware product launches are all anyone cares about. While actually, software is responsible for an overwhelming majority of our experience using Apple platforms. This fact has been deemphasized by the Apple community over the last few years as we rush to see the next new device for our pockets, and it’s about time software gets its share of the attention.
Honestly, what more can we expect out of Apple’s hardware in the short term? Are we really as excited about NFC chips and thumbprint technology as this guy (turn your speakers on) who almost lost his morning latte over the gyroscope? We’d all like to see improved battery life, but do we need a higher res camera? Photos already take up too much space on my phone. Does it really change your life if you can use your phone to pay for gas instead of your debit card?
Software is the real frontier on our new mobile platforms. Apple’s new hardware breakthroughs come on the order of decades, not years. Yes, I’m judging iPhone and iPad as a single line of innovation, because that’s how it really shakes out. Do the platforms serve different needs, yes, but they come from the same core ideas and design compromises. If you’re waiting for a watch to come change your life, you might as well buy Google Glass (is that supposed to be plural, I can never tell) and get it out of your system.
iPhone and iPad are becoming mature platforms, and as with the Macintosh we’re going to see the real advances come in the software. Feel free to keep linking to articles about some new leak from a parts vendor, and I will keep not clicking on them. My bet is on software to make the most meaningful developments to our technology for the next decade or two.
Two announcements in a short span of hours.
Sony announces the Playstation 4, a product with an established segment of consumer interest. However, they don’t show the product, details are scarce, and it’s not available for ages.
Google, announces a new high-res laptop with touchscreen, and in a departure from usual industry announcements, it’s available for order today! However, it’s an expensive machine with confusing hardware features, limited utility, and no reasonable expectation for a meaningful customer base.
Good tries though.
Our newest app just went live on the App Store. ColorView is a utility to let you quickly record colors using your iPhone camera.
Simple. Fun. There’s not much to say beyond that.
Unfortunately, you need to prepare to engage in some of the mess if you want to make a difference in the world. You have to let go of your control, become vulnerable to all sorts of circumstances that make you uncomfortable because you’re not sure what will happen next or what people will do to you or expect from you — yikes.
My awesome brother Ben, on getting messy and helping people.
Usage statistics are far from proportional to sales and activation statistics. iOS users use more WiFi, generate more web traffic, and even make Google more money than Android users. Even considering similar iOS and Android platform adoption.
Despite outperforming industry growth for more than 20 quarters, Macs still represent a tiny portion of the PC industry relative to the success of iOS. Yet anecdotally, easily more than half of the laptops I see being used “in the wild” are Macs. This would seem to suggest that Mac customers are using their computers far more than their Windows counterparts as well.
Apple is a leader in building devices that people use.
One of the coolest looking Kickstarter projects I’ve seen. Shaun Inman et al. are busting out six retro style games in six months. They’re definitely a capable team. Back ‘em up!
John Browett the new(ish) VP of Retail is out. Also, Scott Forstall will be out next year, and will be filling in as an advisor to Tim Cook in the meantime.
Let the speculation begin.
The developer of our dearly departed Tweetie is back with an awesome new game for iOS.
This is some crazy juggling like you’ve never seen before. (via Joshua Blankenship)
This is what Newsstand needs. Solid apps built by proven developers with good content.