The next step for Apple

With the launch of the iPhone Apple changed the world of computing forever. Since then Apple has fought a war against Samsung, Google and others over the dominance of the mobile market. But not a lot has really changed. Android comparison

 

Apple introduced the high pixel density display, Samsung launched larger displays. All the companies have introduced all sorts of bells and whistles to try to catch the interest of the consumer, but to little real effect. The basic model hasn't changed all that much from the original iPhone.

iphone comparison

Many people are thinking about and desperately trying to predict the next step. Google is launching Glass, a smartphone-like display that sits in the corner of your eye and is controlled by your voice. Most companies are working on watch-like devices based on the rumour that Apple is making one.

That got me thinking, this is an odd assumption. Why should reinventing the market require a new device? The iPhone was certainly not the first phone, nor smartphone. It was just radically smarter then the competition. Instead of launching a new type of device, what if Apple would drastically improve the devices they already have? What could they do?

The next generation: Real Touch

The central feature of the iPhone, and the iPad, is the screen. When Apple added the Retina screen the other companies scoffed and smirked claiming it would only decrease battery life. But after they got their hands on it, the entire market rapidly went with high pixel density displays.

What if Apple would add high density touch displays next? You can still use your finger as a primary pointing device. But also a stylus without lag or stutter. Maybe several people could draw and sketch together on an iPad.

The scoffs and smirks

Very few people will read this and go "wow! What an amazing and novel idea!". Most will remember the failed styluses of yester-year and think I've fallen off the wagon. But what if, just like with the retina screen, there would be no down side to these screens? What if they simple worked as magic paper?

Wacom

Wacom has the technology already. Now it is just a question of price and if Apple believes the market wants this. I say Apple, because even if Samsung and Microsoft could also do this I think their implementation of it would be lacking.

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

ux review of chrome for iOS

Google services have been a long time coming for iOS users. While most people's immediate response to that is to say "of course, they have android" I think it's weird for google to neglect 400 million customers of their services just because they want to promote another mobile platform. Android already has a majority market share after all.

Oddly enough, Chrome became the first really native iOS app by google. Odd because Apple is severely restricting apps that compete with iOS native functionality, and the browser could be said to be more important for iOS than the actual phone app...

Chrome launched with a slew of welcome mobile optimizations for a browser that apple has since copied to their own app, safari. Syncing not only accounts, but history, tabs and even sessions didn't exist on iOS before chrome. But for all it's glory, such as less browser chrome and actually useful tabs, Chrome also has a number of weaknesses.

Tab refresh

When I switch between tabs in chrome, something goes terribly wrong. For all the fast loading and fast tab switching goes straight out the window as I am forced to wait for a page refresh. This might sound like it makes sense as first, most pages need to be refreshed before I can see any new content after all? But I often switch between apps, while reading, looking something up or for any other reason. The several clicks and wait that safari makes me do to access my other tab is bad enough. Forcing me to wait for a full refresh, and especially on a mobile network, just breaks the experience. Why would I keep waiting? F this. I'll be on Facebook.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the same way, but I haven't gotten any word from google on whether they are working on this or not.

The dark UI

Google has always had a light, cheerful, design aesthetic. It might not fit everyone but its google. With recent android generations they've stepped back from this to offer a darkes, softer, design. Chrome fits perfectly into this. Except of course, that its on iOS where nothing is dark.

Not only does the app look like android rather than google, but it doesn't fit into its environment at all. It's I'd just a plain bad design decision. With the reasons why painfully obvious.

Summery

Just a few days ago Google released new, native, apps for gmail and YouTube on iOS. Both of these apps show a lot of promise, especially for design. So I'm hopeful that google will get around to fixing these issues with chrome soon.

Though I still wonder why google feels its services are worth more to customers on android? Int google all about the services? Why deny iOS users google now? I'm a google ecosystem user since 2007, nothing so far has made me change my mind. I'm also an apple device user since years back. Apple allows me to use google services, why won't google?

Why touch works

The reason touch works is often cited, it's because it's "intuitive". But there is little talk about what makes touch devices more intuitive. We're supposed to just believe that the finger is better. But discussing with my partner Sara this morning, I think I've understood why.

The mouse

As a tech savvy person it's easy to forget all the knowledge we take for granted for using our devices. I uncovered one this I had been taking for granted, short commands. A someone who spends most of his waking time in front of a computer I started memorizing short commands and gestures many years ago. But most people don't. For most people, short commands just don't feel all that necessary. Using the mouse to point and click the bold button is simple enough. To me, it's a huge waste of time.

The touch device

On touch devices however, this problem isn't there. Either you touch the bold icon, or you don't. The only short commands that are available are gestures which, while not always intuitive, always tend to work the same way. There are only about three gestures to learn on iOS for example. This is annoying to me, because my normal power-user habits need to change. But for the market at large, it's the same interaction but finally without a mouse to get in the way.

Intuitive

The touch panel is intuitive because what you see is what you get. But what we, the power users, tend to forget that it's more intuitive than we believe. Because all the hidden extras that we use on older devices just aren't there.

Touch devices are leveling the playing field. And that's why we feel we still need our old devices to get real work done.

Sharing locally has been solved, Chirp review

"Hey could you email me that picture you just took?"

While sharing online has taken the web by storm and has since become old news. Sharing digital information locally has always been a hassle away from out computers and high speed internet connections. Not any more.

Chirp

 

Say hello to Chirp

Chirp is the little mobile app that let's you share anything that has an URL or can be uploaded and given an url locally. All you need is the app. It's free. It's tiny, takes seconds to download and starts instantly and you're set. No, you don't need an account (though you can get one) no you don't need to connect it with facebook. You just start it. And now you're receiving anything being shared.

How does it share? This is the other brilliant part of this app. It sends the URL (everything is shared through their servers so an internet connection is needed, albeit not a fast one) through a short sound clip.

That's right, you hear a short blip-blop message as if R2-D2 really needs to pee, and there's the photo on your screen. It's cute. But i's also really smart. Since it shares through sound you can share messages with someone over the phone. I myself got a picture from the host of a Podcast I listen to. He just told me to open Chirp and I got to see what he was talking about.

Business model suggestion

Since I hate to see great services like this go away, usually because it's hard to figure out a business model. I thought I'd share a suggestion. Chirp, you listening? Great. Here's one way to monetize.

Providing the app for without an account is absolutely crucial to grow. If users need to jump through any hurdles at all Chirp will become another Bump. But without the first-mover-on-new-platform-hype. Keep it simple to share.

Instead charge for feature where a cost is tangible for the user: Access and Storage.

Access

Later access to the files. Keep the latest 3-5 shared things be available. Let the users purchase access to the rest. One advantage to this is that it's obvious to users. There's an understandable cost benefit. It's also just on the front end which makes it easy to implement (until you've got an open API).

Storage

In short: Huge. Ass. Files. Trying to share a 500MB HD movie clip? "Sorry this file is so large you need to pay 99 cents to cover the bandwidth costs". No problem.

Summing up

Chirp is awesome. Go get it.

And please Chirp, add support for all platforms. Open up an API and let developers go crazy with the free service. I'd love to Chirp stuff to my Mac or my friends PC / Android.

Why telecom companies are so far behind the times

To people in the tech industry, telecom operators seem helplessly behind the times. To most people however, telecom companies are their only real connection to tech. So why are they so far behind?

Telecom companies still don't sell most computers on the market. But they do sell the internet connections, the smartphones that are increasingly like computers, the minutes and text messages we plow through every day to communicate.

I used to work for one of the largest telecom companies in Sweden. I started my carrier there with the hope I would help them transition from the "minutes/texts" model to the content distribution model. Because eventually, all the services a telecom company offers today will be software only. Based on open internet technology. How do I know? Because it already happened. Delivering content could've been a profit model that outlasted the current model by decades. Then the iPhone launched.

At the telecom company I worked for there was no uproar. In fact, I remember walking around in stunned surprise because of the lack of reaction. They didn't get it. Or got it but didn't let it show. Needless to say, the iPhone took the content market out of our hands. The App Store was now the de facto content distribution system. Then Apple launched iMessages.

I came in at work wild eyed and excited. Apple's iMessages work by sending text messages through their notification system. Telecom operators usually charge per text message iMessages are not distinguishable from other notifications making them impossible to count and impossible to stop. Even if the telecom operators would like to stop iMessages they can't. Not without breaking the notifications on the iPhone, making millions of customers complain and even worse; the CEO's mail would stop working on the golf course. Now I knew there was only one way out, telecom operators would have to step back, and start charging for network bandwidth. A lot like the internet connections pre-broadband. But that isn't happening.

Telecom operators take in most of their profits from text messages. The rest from voice and contracts etc. They generally take in very little profit from charging for data. On the other hand most of a telecom operators costs, except building the network, come from counting and billing for minutes and texts. It's a hard and advanced process. Billing for data traffic is very easy. The future is clear, telecom operators will sell data plans and earn their profits form that. So why are telecom operators all over the world still bundling minutes and trying to block Skype?

I looked for answers at my company. I talked to everyone around me, no one cared very much. After weeks of this I started to realize that the middle managers didn't care but the executives understood. But were stalling. For what? The same reason the music industry doesn't embrace digital distribution.; the income model will change so drastically that the market will become instantly competitive and changing again. This is frightening.

Every manager and executive in the telecom industry today have basically made it their policy to stall for change. Until the market has evolved so far that they can not hold it back any longer telecom operators will continue to wish for the music industries dream: Not in my lifetime.

This is what they hope for. That the change will come after they quit. That the drop in profits during a turbulent shift will not be on their resume. That the scandal of firing hundreds of employees to pivot a large company does not land their name in the press.

This is why telecom operators are holding back progress, and trying to stifle products that run through their network. This, almost insane, way of doing business is helped by the fact that telecom operators are large enough to nudge law makers in their direction.

The next time you wonder why the network isn't faster, why video calls are still no where to be seen and why your iPhone doesn't do something amazing. Know that this is why. There are no technological hurdles to overcome. There is no law making it harder than it needs to be.

There is just a bunch of scared old men who have become scared of the inevitable. Who fear change.

A UX review of Clear, todo list manager of the future

Meet Clear, the todolist manager that does everything right.

Clear for iPhone from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

Intuitive interface

Clear has no interface. It just uses swipes pinches and touches in a list the same as you would on an image. While there is no such thing as intuitive, this is as close as I've ever seen.

But the best part about clear is it's use of color and sounds.

Use of color for information

Colors are used in the lists to show priority. The more saturated the color, the more important the task. Now the tasks are already in a list, so one could argue that adding colors to it is redundant. But this is not true. Any human scanning a list will see each item as equally important. Most of us tend to try and put the most important thing at the top of the list but every time we look at the list we still browse more than one item.

Making the list colored gives a subtle hint that you don't need to look at other tasks. This is the one.

It also gives the user a reason to order the list properly. While the app never tell the user they have to, just creating a rule that says the top is higher priority will make users want to use the rule. Think of it like a hidden keyboard shortcut. Once you learn it, if it's a valuable shortcut, you stick with it.

Sounds that make it fun

Audio feedback has been used to great effect in games for decades. Which is why I've always found it odd that it's had such little attention in software tool design. Until now.

Clear has a sound effect for every function.

New item? Pop.

Clear app: adding tasks

Finished item? Ping!

Clear app: completing tasks

Delete item? Swoosh

Clear app: deleting tasks

But I really mean sound effect. These aren't just midi notes annoyingly stacked to make an awful racket.  These are effects that sound great by themselves and stack neatly. What do I mean by stack? If you complete several tasks in a row, you don't just get an annoying amount of pings. You'd hate that. Instead you get a rising scale of pings that together seem to form a rising crescendo. Which incidentally is exactly like the normal sound design to gaining point in video games (remember picking up coins in Mario?)

UPDATE: The awesome sound design was done by Josh Mobley.

Getting out of the way

The reason the design of Clear is so impressive is that, while the UI reinforces the users positive emotions of using a todo list, it get's out of the way to let the users focus on thinking about tasks.

There's simply nothing else to think about. And you won't get those soothing sounds of completion if you don't complete some tasks.

Summary, or: is it awesome?

Clear is the best interface for getting things done I've seen so far. On any platform. It's also responsive like few apps on iOS.

It does gamification right by letting the user learn it's features intuitively and reinforcing the actual use of the product instead of showering them in useless badges.

Sadly however, it also really doesn't have a use. At least not for a todo-list power user such as myself. Enter a 100 tasks into Clear and you'll be looking at an infinite list with no overview. There's no search, there are no smart lists. But these features would not improve the product. In fact, I think including more features could destroy the product.

If you use lists often but don't have 1000 tasks in them. This app will make you smile on your way.

If you use really long lists, this app will be nice to play with but not useable.

Should you buy it? YES. If only to support good design.

 

 

As usual, the Verge has the best video first look:

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

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.