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?

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

Why native apps wont go away

With the release of the iPhone even Apple itself claimed that Apps we're not important because the web would take over. Since then I hear this same argument regurgitated from time to time. Web apps are the future. Native apps will never be flexible enough. Well, this argument is correct. But most of the people using it are really wrong and they don't always understand the argument itself.

Web applications will, for the foreseeable future, be the most cutting edge and flexible way to develop functionality. They will surpass anything native clients do very soon. This is because cloud computing will make computing a lot more flexible and less reliant on hardware.

But these web apps will only be functionality. User interfaces in the web will lag behind tremendously. With HTML 5 and faster browsers UI's will become more responsive and more complex. But user interfaces online, just like native app user interfaces, must be disconnected from the functions themselves so that errors or problems do not interfere with the users experience of the application. In other words, if your Internet connection times out the user interface can't just stop. That would be similar to a Windows 95 blue screen and user would never be able to rely on the applications.

The solution, which is commonly used today, is to separate the user interface from the functions and simply run them asynchronously with user interfaces providing feedback while waiting for the servers to respond. No matter the issue with functions the user interface can keep users in the loop and provide them with the feeling of control.

Why is this different from native apps? It's not. Native apps on devices such as the iPhone are quite often just interfaces for online services. And as such they are not different from online user interfaces. This is why native apps will not go away. native interfaces will continue to be much more responsive for years to come, providing the user the sense of control we all want from our apps.

What is a user interface?

A lot of people I talk to are confused about design. Not least when they hear about abstract design such as web design, UX design, game design etc. I can't blame them. As designers we really tag ourselves with the word most appropriate for the task at hand. Even though our main work is always to solve problems by design. But let's make things easier For most designers working with abstract design the term user interface is crucial. But exactly what is a UI? Sure, it's the thing the user interacts with. But where does it start and where does it end?

User Interface Interface is a proxy layer between a human being and a function.

But what does that mean? For a pair of scissors, the scissors themselves are the user interface between a human hand and the function of cutting.

A computer has two layers of user interfaces between the human and most functions. The keyboard/mouse or physical UI, and the graphical or text based abstract UI.

But what if the user interface is a part of the function? The iPhone for instance doesn't really have a physical UI. There is nothing physical to interact with (excepting the home button, volume and mute controls but lets not digress from the example). But it does have a graphical abstract UI.

Why is this definition important? Because now we can all say user interface and know what we're referring to. No more wordplay to guess what the other person is talking about.

UI is important, learn to know what good or bad

UI is the second most important part of any application or service.The service or function is more important, but it's not important at all if users can't use it.

How to know whats good or bad? Thankfully, our old friend Cognitive Psychology provides us with the key. Just record a user using your UI (or use it yourself and make notes).

  • Every time they try to do something that requires testing or a moments thought counts as negative.
  • Every time they do something that doesn't require thought and was intended counts as a positive.

Every negative counts twice, that's how humans perceive negative impact.

The higher the score, the better it is.

Of course, this is only generally true, performing 200 actions to change a song on your MP3 player is not a good UI. Even if every step was intuitive.

The iPad - short and simple

The most over hyped machine ever has been unveiled and a torrent of fanboyism and hatred has echoed over the blogosphere. So now should be a good time to talk about what the iPad really is.

It's just a larger iPod touch!

Yes. Yes that's exactly what it is. Well ok not exactly, it's a lot faster. But basically just a large iPhone without the phone. Not sure why people are complaining about this though since I've heard tens or possibly hundreds say they wanted a larger iPhone when it was first launched.

Why isn't it wide screen? Because it's a doubled iPod touch screen, this way apps will work with very little fuss and developers don't have put too much effort into designing specific apps for the iPad and iPhone.

So, will it be awesome? Probably yes, your iPhone is pretty awesome right? Imagine not having to squint at the screen to surf and you're there already. Also we know Apple will release a software update for the device before launch. It probably won't mean too much but we're likely to see at least one more feature that we'll like. Just because Apple likes to push positive.

So it will sell a billions units? Apples track record says yes. But they have failed before. and all tablets so far have died a gruesome death. Mind you, smart phones weren't exactly a super hot market before the iPhone launched. They certainly didn't cause the amount of hype and development that Apple created in the marketplace.

That's it. The iPad. We haven't seen all it can do, but this is what it is. A larger iPhone, just like millions of users have been clamoring for.

Just because it doesn't cure cancer and live up to the pre unveiling hype doesn't mean it won't be awesome. It's to early to tell if the iPad will be a hit or a miss. But regardless it will push general computing further towards touch UI. Which is really the innovation Apple is bringing to the table. Not a new UI. But a new use for their most successful one.