Designing in-app purchases that work

With the rise of mobile, more and more people are looking at in-app purchases to monetize their products and services. But, as usual, there are design aspects to think about. I this article I intend to explain two of the most important things to think about when designing for in-app purchases: Relevance, and Access.

In-app purchases are really nothing new. It's just the name for how to buy extras in apps. We've been buying extras for decades already: "cheaper rims with the car", "buy two jumbo sized bags of spam for the price of one!" and the list goes on.

What is different this time around is that these extras are virtual. You're more or less buying the use of a few more lines of code. This makes the value proposition for the customer very different from the real world extras we're used to. Which makes relevance and access more important than they would be for fuzzy dice.

Relevance

Relevance is the most important aspect for an in-app purchase. If the extra on sale isn't relevant, why would you care? But if the fuzzy dice at the car dealership are exactly what your wardrobe needs, perfect!

Take Punch Quest for example. Punch quest is one of the most popular games to hit the AppStore in late 2012. But despite having millions of downloads and tons of active players, Punch Quest didn't make much money. It's was a free app, and great game, but the in-app purchases lacked relevance.

The extras you could buy for Punch Quest were... Odd. They either didn't have impact on gameplay, being visual gimmicks, or they did but had strange, nondescript, names. I even bought some to support the developer, and I still have no idea how what I bought impacts the game. Without relevance, your in-app purchase is doomed to fail.

Compare that to Analytiks, my favorite iOS web statistics app. While popular, it's nowhere near as popular as Punch Quest. Yet it's much more successful. The in-app purchases in Analytiks are very relevant. Analytiks shows you a screen for every site in your google analytics account. Just swipe for the next site. But it's limited to 8 sites. After 8 sites instead you find a screen offering another access to neither 8 sites for a small sum. Brilliant. Instant purchase when needed. If you don't want to pay extra, you still have full control of which 8 sites are shown.

Access

The other important aspect for in-app purchases is access, which loosely translates to "ease of use". Ever found a business that seemed to not want to take your money? They had poor access.

Punch Quest has in-app purchases, but they are not a part of the actual game. You can play for hours without having any idea there is anything to buy in the app. Worse, when you navigate through the menu structure it's still hard to find.

The customer first needs to want upgrades for the game, most of which are quite hard to understand if you haven't played extensively. Then the customer has to run out of coins collected in the game with which to buy upgrades. Then, finally, they need to find a small call to action hidden in the navigation bar. Not very accessible even for advanced users. Terrible for casual players looking for an advantage in the game.

Analytiks does it right. In the main app, after your sites, you are presented with the upgrade where the content ends. The screen is uncluttered and has only one message and call to action, the cta is clearly labeled with the price. Making it a simple few clicks to make the purchase, there is no lack of information, not ambiguity, about the product that makes the customer want to think it over.

 

Summary

If people are already using your product or service. Chances are they might be open to extras or upgrades.But by making them relevant to the use case, and making them accessible for the user, they become useful extensions to the app. Which are much more likely to sell.

  • Relevant:
  • expands the product
  • solves specific problems
  • not removing artificial limitations in the product
  • Access:
  • clear and understandable purchase information
  • presented well for the use case
  • not a "bolted on" design or user flow

How to design rules that work

Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don't work. As a former game designer, I've studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I've learnt so far about creating rules that work.

Rules always create side effects

All rules are limitations on an individuals actions (a rule says you can't design text a certain way). But since people are surprisingly intelligent, they always find ways around rules (the rule creates a counter culture and suddenly hipster typographical posters abound!). We smile at this behaviour in kids, always looking for ways to get around bedtimes, but we fail to see that every human does this. It's so ingrained in the human condition it even has a name in both game design and economics: emergent behaviour.

Emergent behaviour means the behaviour that arrives as an unforeseen consequence to a situation. Cheating at games is an emergent behaviour. Rebellion is an extreme emergent behaviour.

Rules always - without exception - create these unforeseen behaviours because rules are *fractal*. Meaning that rules can never cover every single situation or twist in the language. There will always be new situations the rule should apply to.

- Did you brush your teeth? - Yes. - Did you brush them with the toothbrush? - Yes. - Did you put toothpaste on the toothbrush? - Yes. - Before you brushed your teeth? - No...

When I create rules I try to take emergent behaviour into account, where and how is it likely to happen?, How will the rule affect situations that are slightly different from the normal situation? How often does your management or project manager take emergent behaviour into account when creating rules? If the answer is never, the rules are probably not working.

Family rules

The softest touch works, while hard rules fail

Surprisingly, the rules that do work aren't the simple and direct ones. In fact the simpler and more direct the rule is, the more emergent behaviour it creates.

Let me explain how by giving an example. If you set a rule for yourself that you must turn left at every intersection you'll soon find yourself in conflict with the rule. You might quite quickly arrive at the workaround that the rule doesn't say how many times to turn left, and from then on you'll be turning left several times to turn right. I bet you're thinking of other rules you're breaking in this way?

But if the rule says you can only turn left at intersections it is much more open to interpretation, and oddly individuals are more inclined to follow it. Maybe I'll turn right somewhere that's not an intersection? Or maybe taking a route around the block will be interesting? The more open version of the rule makes the rule more interesting and less annoying.

What's happening is that activating individuals minds, asking people to judge for themselves, is making them more inclined to work with the system instead of around it. Asking individuals to just follow a rule is more likely to make them bored, frustrated,  and opposed to the rule. No matter how normal and simple the rule might seem.

This is why companies like to talk about corporate culture. A culture is simple a set of rules that are not defined, instead the individuals in a culture make it up or pass it along as they go. Culture is a very soft set of social rules, and a great way to lead a group of people in the same direction. It is also very hard to create, because it is soft and made up by the individuals in the culture. And as soon as someone puts pen to paper, the culture is dead. The air of cooperation will be replaced by bored people following the rules.

(Creating cultures is also a part of designing games, and deconstructing culture is essential to economics, so I'll probably revisit culture in a later post.)

Rules limit what people think

The absolutely worst part of a rule is when it's followed. Beware of people following hard rules, it never amounts to any good.

If a hard rule is enforced, or socially frowned upon to break, it swiftly becomes a dogma. A rule that is set so hard in individuals minds that they can not break it. Not only are they unable to break the rule, they might even be unable to think about breaking the rule.

We see this happening at all times, all around us. Ever wonder why senior citizens are more often against change? It's because they have lived with an unquestioned rule for so long, it has become impossible for them to see a world without the rule. The same thing happen with middle managers, unable to alter a rule themselves, and unable to see the effects of them, they stay with rules long after the intended purpose has become irrelevant.

The really worrying part comes from cognitive psychology. Studies seem to indicate that living with the same thoughts for to long actually create rigid structures in your physical brain. Yes, I'm serious. The brain is a huge network of neurons, always making new connections. But living with the same connections, thoughts, for long enough might physically inhibit new connections being made. That's right, hard rules might actually be shutting down small parts of our brains!

No wonder change comes so slowly right? (For more on the subject, google "Neuro plasticity")

rules

Creating rules that work

From my years in games and economics I've learned a lot of ways not to make rules. But at times we need them, no matter how hard they may be to create. If we're aware of the pitfalls and careful, we can create rules that work.

Here's a list of rules that I follow when creating rules (rule-ception?):

  • Communicate the outcome of your rule, not the limitations (the rule itself).
  • Think up situations that might warp the rules, and take it to extremes.
  • Think about how the rule will affect things when it's purpose is no longer relevant.
  • Remember that rules are used by at least two groups of people: individuals, and groups.
  • Never punish rule breaking. If you must punish, punish for outcomes.
  • Try to be vague. Trust people to interpret rules intelligently.

What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

How the Apple iTV will work

Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple's plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.

Go to market problem

When asked what he thought about set top boxes a few years ago Steve Jobs famously replied that there was no good go to market strategy.

The TV market is very different from Apple's usual markets in that consumers tend to buy new TVs close to 10 years apart. While Apple prefers to update their products every year.

"What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV."

The Apple iTV though, won't need to be updated every year. I believe Apple will release basically a huge monitor with some inputs and a decoding chip. The chip will easily be able to push 1080p or maybe even higher quality video in crisp quality. But in itself that is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV.

User interface

Apple has always been famous for their interfaces. From the mouse to the click-wheel to the touch screen, Apple has always tried to create intuitive and immersive user interfaces. For the Apple iTV they have just released a UI that seems perfect for a TV set. Siri.

Using natural language to control your TV could be spectacular. Of course they'll probably throw in an Apple remote just to make everyone comfortable. But I will bet we will all be telling our TVs to turn on and off in the near future. And all iOS devices would also control the iTV, of course.

Content

Think of all your content from your Mac, your iOS device and your iTunes account seamlessly streamed through iCloud. The Apple iTV hardly even needs any local storage.

Some exclusive deals with production companies are sure to come. But if we look in the Apple media library they already have a really good offering. What they lack is real time programming. Most real time broadcasting is already available for iOS devices however. Which brings us to apps.

Apps

The Apple iTV doesn't need apps. Don't get me wrong, I want apps. But here's the magic sauce in my prediction. Apple won't make the iTV a stand alone device. The market doesn't update their TVs often enough for that. Instead the iTV will be an insanely great screen on which to project your content. From iOS devices. From iCloud. From Mac. Where you find AirPlay, you'll be able to push content to your iTV.

Real Racing2 Party Play

Want to play a game? Use your iPad or iPhone for controls and they'll sync the games graphics onto your iTV screen.

Want to see a movie? Start it on any device and just click AirPlay to show it on your iTV.

Want to listen to music? You get the point.

This might sound underwhelming. Apple's announcements often seem so at first glance. But then you realize what a profound change in the way you use technology it offers. Think about having a monitor at home that can play all your digital content. No matter what it is. Playing a game on your Mac? Watching a movie on your iPad? How about doing both side by side. Since the devices steam it to the iTV, it can handle anything you throw at it. Why not let your kids play games while you watch the news? Someone walks in with some photos to show? Put them up there with everything else.

"The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates."

The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates. Siri will get smarter through iCloud. More and more content will be available through iTunes. And every time you buy a new phone or tablet the iTV get's a major bump in features and power.

All wireless. All simple. A perfect Apple strategy. Or is it?

An example of interactive UI design, the future of web design

HTML5 is a name we give the next level of web technology, it's just simpler to remember. All the web is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and with HTML5 new and better ways of using these languages are being made available everywhere.

The revolution started with the iPhone.

With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn't intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple's standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn't feel quick enough.

Web technology is getting better

However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.

One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.

It looks great. It's fun to use and it's a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn't work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn't made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It's that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.

UX trend predictions of 2012 B:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. You can find my first post on the subject here. Another example from a 2011 app is the amazing full screen representation in Wren.

Wren app for Mac

 

White space apps

When I first saw Wren I was amazed. It was focused and minimalist. Therefore I was shocked to see the full-screen button in the top right corner of the app, "Wouldn't that completely wreck the experience" was my knee-jerk reaction. Then I tried it and another trend was obvious, apps that scale without bloating their feature sets, or White space apps.

Why are White space apps different? Mobile.

The mobile revolution has some interaction and UI designers scratching their heads or pulling their hair trying to fit all the usual information. The current computing paradigm has relied on massive amounts of text and information tags for a long long time. Even programs that have really tried to rid themselves of rarely used functions or unnecessary amounts of help information have sometimes been stuck in contextual help hell due to the modus operandi of desktop interface design.

No more. Mobile has rid us of all these things. And some designers are provocative enough to realize that less really is more and simply scale their apps without adding more information or complexity.

Is this good or bad?

Only time will tell. But the dominance of mobile design today tells us a lot about what people like. I think it is less about the iPhone being a must-have product and a lot more about really smart and beautiful apps that are just complex piles of engineering on other platforms.

Simple is better. And using white space to focus the users attention on a sparingly chosen set of functions beautifully designed makes this clear. I believe these minimal products will in the future continue to trump the feature behemoths of yesteryear.

Due for iPad

UX trend predictions of 2012 A:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I'll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.

Example from mobile webKit build

Related function Panels

You've seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:

Facebook iPhone app

Facebook iPhone app menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.

The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:

  • the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
  • the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by "stepping back".

Why is this different from a menu

But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are "behind" our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn't matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.

Is this good or bad

The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can't know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I'm hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Gmail appGmail app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path 2.0 appPath 2.0 app

Defining A Principle of Quality that works

Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don't think so. I think there's a common feature for all types of good quality.

Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality

In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology  have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you'll feel as if you've lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you'll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.

This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let's see how far that can bring us.

If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we'll have a  really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.

For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn't all that great from the start.

Getting the values right

But wait, let's back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We're talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?

Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no "real" value. Only subjective, or perceived,  value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.

The good part starts 12 minutes in.

So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.

So?

Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They're often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I'm talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.

Summing up

A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It's minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.

So how do we use this principle?

  • Don't show the user experiences that aren't finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don't release half baked.
  • Polish one feature instead of making two features.
  • Make sure other apps aren't making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
  • Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
  • Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is

The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!

Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts:

Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...

Nokia N9 slogan - Just Swipe, dumbass!

Nokia N9 marketing

All screen No home button Just swipe Nokia N9 No way to know how to use it without reading a manual or being taught how Just swipe, DUMBASS!

Nokia must really love being different. Or at least love patenting interaction models, so they can differentiate from iPhone.

To bad different isn't the same as good.

Twitter is the Twitter-killer

Twitter, the micro blogging service, has taken the world by storm. While there are only a few hundred million users compared to Facebook's massive near Billion, the service has become the place to share real time updates and is often used to gauge peoples reactions by news and analytic firms because the platform is open. But Twitter is about to face it's doom While Google struggle to reproduce the viral effect of micro blogging services Facebook's grab for the real time feed was hampered by the need to privacy. Twitter has already gained wide acceptance and was never intended for private information in the first place. But a series of ominous events are slowly hollowing out the foundations of Twitter.

Twitter is being killed by... Twitter has never been the most stable of tech startups. The service used to be plagued by downtime which became so frequent the Fail Whale error page became as famous as the service. The company itself is also changing management again, and again. Not a great trend this early in a one product company. The lack of leadership is clear to see.

Twitter UX Twitter (the company) is constantly changing and evolving it's product. Which is a great way to organically fit the needs of their users. But Twitter (the company) is doing this in a somewhat odd way. It started when Retweeting (passing on another users tweet as a sign of encouragement while marking it with their name and RT) was made a part of the product, after it's wide adoption by users, Twitter (the company) decided to implement it differently than the usual Retweets. This lead to better statistics, but also a fractured UX as apps now had to implement both ways to RT because users didn't like the new one. Eventually Twitter (the company) incorporated the old style Retweets but called the function Quote Tweet instead. And the problems were just getting started.

Twitter app insanity Twitter apps were almost a category on their own in the beginning of the Appstore. Twitter has become so important to mobile phone manufacturers they always showcase a twitter app with their new flagship phones. But Twitter wanted to control the experience, like Apple. Maybe a good idea. But really bad execution. They bought Atebits, the developers behind the most popular Twitter apps for iOS and Mac. Have you ever pulled down a list to refresh? Atebits invented that. So why was this a problem? Sounds great, right?

Tweetie and Twitter

After being purchased by Twitter (the company), the newly renamed Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone started being updated less frequently... Let me make that clear, having the developer of the apps work closer with the Twitter development team made them update the apps less often.

Then shit really hit the fan. Twitter (the company) redesigned all their interfaces to be similar across platforms. Starting with a roll out on iPad, then web then the rest, Twitter (the company) streamlined their interface development.. in theory. What really happened? The interfaces now looked the same, but they didn't work the same. In fact, certain features only exist on certain platforms even though the interfaces look the same. Which makes it really hard as a user to remember what you can do where.

Later on the developers behind Atebits have left Twitter (the company), possibly in raging despair. And Twitter (the service) is fracturing into a mess. Not just between interfaces but functions as well. For example with the roll out of the activity tab you can follow some of the things people are doing through Twitter, following, unfollowing, making lists and so on. These features, which btw totally contradict the extreme simplicity of the core product, are weirdly integrated into the web interface as the afterthought they are. And it's only available on the web.

Summery Twitter (the company) is destroying Twitter (the services) with some sort of odd design-by-committee culture.  No matter if you like or dislike these new features, the case is clear that teams behind Twitter (the service) definitely aren't working towards the same goal.

This is sad. Because I love Twitter (the service). And I don't like that it's being killed by Twitter (the company). Please RT this if you agree.

Update:

Apparently the sentiment is echoed by people leaving Twitter (the company).

Update 2:

In December 2011 Twitter updated their entire line of interfaces. The design changes were clearly aimed at making Twitter a lot more interesting for new users.

Twitter divided itself into different parts, seemingly with different uses:

Twitter areas of interest

Sounds great right? What could possibly be the problem!

Twitter didn't actually change. And Twitter (the service) does not actually have these different areas of interest. So any user checking them out will quickly get confounded. What is the difference between "Home" and "Me"? I have no idea. But to make this obvious, Twitter (the company) has removed Me and Tweet from the web interface which basically means they have these left: Home (My feed), Connect (replies, RTs and follows) and Discover (search damnit, it's just search!).

To make things better worse, the UI is even more fragmented. Twitter no longer has updated clients for iPad and Mac. Apparently the job previously done by one single guy is just to much for an organization of 300 or so.

But it get's even better worse. The UI of the web and iPhone version, while both being updated simultaneously for this new paradigm, still do not follow the same UI standards and are structured differently. Don't ask about Android. Twitter (the company) must really, really, hate Android.

Anyone want to build a Twitter killer, possibly built upon the API of Twitter to simplify the transfer of users? I'm available right now.

What to use the iPad for

When the iPad was announced a lot of people wondered what it was for. Why carry a giant iPod touch with you instead of a small laptop? When Apple later unveiled the updated MacBook Air a lot of people asked the same thing. But the iPad is still flying off the shelves and people love the machine.

But if you're still wondering why the iPad is good I did some snooping. Actually I've asked non-leading, weird, questions to every iPad user near me for close to two years just to understand the behavior. And I think I've solved it.

Why the iPad feels wrong for real work Some people will tell you the iPad does multitasking and that it works great. That's just not true. It does uni-tasking and great app switching.

The difference is it really forces you to focus on one thing at a time. I have no problem switching between apps to get stuff I need to send or reply to that email with facts from simplenote etc. But you can't have all that on the screen at the same time like you are used to.

This makes people believe it's hard to use for work. Simply because they have to relearn their entire workflow. The desktop experience simply doesn't translate to the tablet and it makes people feel less efficient.

using iPad for work

Why the iPad is awesomee The iPad actually makes you more effective. Not efficient. You won't be doing things at the same speed as you do on a desktop, and that might frustrate you. But it'll also force you to think about what is most important. Usually, in both my experience and my sneaky interviews, making the end result better.

The iPad really does almost everything a desktop computer does. So far I've found two things it doesn't do as well as a desktop:

  • Create graphics, the iPad simply cannot compete with Adobe Photoshop and a mouse.
  • Formatting text. Yes I'm serious. You can do it. But it takes forever.

The second thing the iPad doesn't to really do highlights the efficiency vs effectiveness problem. It doesn't format text well. But is that really what you should be doing? Yes a well formated document looks a lot more professional than a poorly formatted one. But the content is really the important thing, right? And seriously, you could've made a template for those visual documents years ago.

Don't worry though, there's probably an app for that.

 

The ending was intended as sarcasm and not rampant fanboyism. Though I probably am a rampant fanboy of Apple's take on design.

A new iOS notification design

Something I don't get about most current design is that designers adding features always add layers of complexity. Never add things unnecessarily.

This is my design for a new Notification system. The notification counter on top will ping in color and sound/vibration when new notifications drop in. The user can set which service does what in settings.

The entire notification list is under the spotlight window. If you use spotlight, it'll disappear until you remove your search.

 

UPDATE:

iOS5 has been unveiled and while I'm not shocked to find I wasn't spot on, I am a bit shocked by their adding another menu just for notifications. If you have no idea what I'm talking about check em out here.

New iOS notification system

Notifications on the iPhone and the iPad are broken. They distract us and get us away from our work flow or Angry Birds and if you, like me, get a lot of them they stack most annoyingly. Push notification on an iPhone

So why haven't Apple already solved this? We can't know that for sure, secretive as Apple is. But I'll bet it has something to do with the new iteration of OS X.

Lion In Lion Apple is bringing iOS features back to the Mac. Specifically, for notifications, applications are now encouraged to be full screen. Full screen apps can't use badges or jumping icons in the dock to notify users of what's going on.

Lion has to redesign notifications. And Lion has to make notifications work with full screen apps, exactly the same problem that Apple faces on the iPhone and iPad.

Unified notification system I believe the new notification system will be the same, or very similar, across all Apple platforms. It just makes to much sense not to, all their devices need new notifications and they face the same constraints... Except input. iOS handles touch,  OS X has a mouse/keyboard. Both of them handle gestures however.

Universal Gestures? In the new beta of iOS, 4.3, Apple has released a set of gestures to do multitasking making the feature a lot more powerful and easy to use.

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These gestures don't translate all that well to the iPhone (five fingers on a 3" screen?) but I dare say Apple can solve that. But I also notice there's one gesture missing: down. Right and left swipes change app, swipe up to show active apps, why not swipe down to show a notification app/menu?

Notification app/menu/dock Gathers all notifications, only needs to make a sound or visual cue for new notifications and users can come back to it at will. It would work on all Apple devices and could be accessed by gesture or from the icon.

Sounds pretty Apple-y to me. What are your thoughts?

Adding the Fun

I decided to start a new project that is closer to my heart than anything for the passed three years. A blog dedicated to explore gamification and game theory for products. Originally meant to be a short book I decided doing the research and most of the writing as a blog might help the project along. Who knows, it might actually be better for it.

You'll find it continuously updated over on Tumblr: Adding The Fun

AirPlay review: flawed feature

AirPlay, the amazing feature released by Apple in iOS4.2, allows you to stream audio and video to AirPlay enabled devices. While such devices are severely limited right now (only for iDevices and not even Macs) the feature works like magic and is a revolution we've been waiting for in sharing media in the real world.

So why flawed? Coming home today I switched my podcast over to my stereo as I entered my apartment. While making dinner I was smirking at some droll statement when I received a text. The sound was played on my stereo. Not my iPhone.

If AirPlay simply tranfers all audio (or video) from the system to another system the practicality evaporates quickly. With the decrepid notification system still on iOS will we be doomed to listen to beeps and pings until iOS5?!

Steve, please, don't let this continue.