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.

The New Twitter interface reeks of WebOS

Twitter.com has released a new interface based on two panes; one for the real time stream for tweets and one for the selected tweet, it's options and dialogue. [youtube rIpD7hfffQo]

This design is really closely related to the official Twitter iPad app:

But what gets me most is that both these designs are so very closely related to the Palm HP WebOS:

[youtube XgwUs6h57PE]

Jump into the video and really check out the WebOS cards interface model. How different is it from Twitter panes model?

Samsung Galaxy Tab preview

Before I start, I haven't touched the Galaxy tab myself yet. But from the video's available from IFA and other preview hands ons I have a question that might break the product: It looks great. It sounds great. The specs are great. It runs the speedy Android 2.2 Froyo.

So why does it lag? Why isn't scrolling silky smooth? Why does the interface have load times without transitions?

Boiled down to one question: Since the device seems to be more than a match for Apple's iPad, why does it lag up the user experience?

[youtube m447vlifXDY]

iPhone 4 bumper case review

The iPhone 4 is an amazing looking product. And it feels even better. I can best describe it as sleek, it's thinness and glossy glass body makes it smooth to touch and to get out of a pocket.

The bumper takes all that away. With a thick rubber edge that sticks to your hand, your pocket, the table, everything really. With plastic sides making the bumper pretty useless for protecting the phone from dropping it on the sides.

I don't know. I can't figure out what it's for.

Basically, don't go near this thing. It really sucks.

The future of UX is play

In case you didn't know; UX week is a conference in San Fransisco that, if your into UX, you wish you were at. It has great speakers on great subjects and sounds like heaven for all us UX designers spread across the planet. Nicole Lazzaro has a presentation scheduled on the future of UX where she argues that design focusing on increasing positive emotions rather than minimizing negative experience is the future of UX development. A field where game design is leading the way.

I for one am really happy someone is bringing this up at a large conference. I studied game design for this very reason and I'm still having a hard time selling the idea to my colleagues, the notion that games are basically toys is still deeply ingrained in western culture and it's now starting to hold us back from creating better experiences.

For anyone interested in learning from game design I recommend you start with legendary designer Raph Koster's excellent book A Theory of Fun.

UX Perception is key

As in all things the truth is very rarely important. The perception something is much more important. In UX design this boils down to what the user feels and thinks about what they are using.

(Talking about the Gamecube controller) the greatest videogame controller ever designed, mainly because it had a really big button on it. - the RexBox blog

Simplicity was created, not by actually removing buttons, but by showing the user a primary button. Subsequently most design focused on that big green button. How we perceive an object, function or service is a lot more important than how that object, function or service actually works. Most companies get this wrong again and again.

What design is

"Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn't what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that." - Steve Jobs 1996

Most people I've talked to seem to have this conception that design is somehow visual only. Preferably graphical for the game & web business. This is a preconception we really need to change if we're ever to get mandate to properly design.

And yes, this is the last Jobs quote in a while I promise.

The desktop metaphor is being replaced

"The desktop metaphor was invented because ... you had to manage your own storage" - Steve Jobs, 1996

He was right.

The desktop metaphor was great because you had all your files and needed to be able to navigate and store them. Today with standards for different types of data this metaphor is becoming obsolete. Most things can and are stored on the web.

Stored in accounts, used and read by apps that handle those file types.

How much more intuitive will general computing be when people no longer need to handle the management and storage of files?

The definition of Bad Design

Stupid sign hides stupid design I took this picture of a door in my office. It has two handles. The top large green one is for emergencies only, and people have apparently been using it. To solve the problem, a large sign has been taped to the handle bearing the legend:

"Do not use this door handle unless it's emergency situation"

Problem solved. Anyone can see that there's something wrong here. But let's boil it down:

The handle problem

If the handle is not to be used, placing it above the normal handle, making it larger and green is probably a bad idea. In fact, it's the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do according to various studies on cognitive processes, visual recognition and psychology. Of course, this design is made for emergencies only and for such is pretty good.

The normal handle below the emergancy handle requires the user to touch a button on the wall first in order to open the door. The additional step of course makes it less useable, but the really interesting design choice here is WHY THE F why in the world one of the handles require a button on the wall and the other does not... The result is the same so there is no difference to the user. Couldn't the second handle also be used by just, you know, pushing it? And while we're at it, why not just have one handle from the start? It would be much more cost effective.

The sign problem

The sign is another great feat of design. First of all it obscures the handle. Rendering it useless in an emergency situation. But since the sign is well fastened and laminated with hard plastic you wouldn't be able to use it even if you knew where it was.

Smart people were involved in every step of this process. But noone looked at the overall intended function, nor the users intended use. Not one. This is why you need designers.

New iTunes Redesign

iTunes is long overdue an overhaul. The old program has become so bogged down with features one can't help but wonder when Apple will update it. They might follow their mobile strategy and split into several parts or go for the completely cloud based streaming version a la Spotify.And they might announce it this Monday at WWDC. This is why I thought I'd redesign it while it is still a huge challenge.

My design is based on a rethinking of what iTunes manages, namely media. But lot's of different forms of media. In this design of iTunes every media item is considered to be a media bit no matter if it's a song, an album, an app or a book.

As you can see this design is radically different from the current version of iTunes. I've followed Apples recent reductionist standard in design and tried to eliminate everything unnecessary while retaining the purpose of the program.

There are three main areas of interest in this design:

  • The top navigation bar which holds filters, search and player controls. Allowing users to easily find what they're looking for.
  • The media view which allows users to browse through media, partly for fun and partly for aimless just looking. It also gives a great overview of what types of media and with modal boxes for more information can give users details if they want.
  • The bottom devices dock. This is where media is divided to the available devices as well as start and stop the currently playing list. I'll explain a bit more about devices below.

The start screen shows you the available devices as well as your favorite and most recently used media bits, this way the user instantly has an overview of where they left off last time.

I've considered devices to be anything that has media in it. From left to right:

  • The currently playing list displaying the artwork for the currently playing media with a simple play/paus control for the queue. Users access the queue by clicking this icon or just drag and drop media to it to add it to the queue.
  • The computer library. WIth home sharing different computers can share with all devices over a home network, I've just eliminated the extra fuss by reducing it as far as I've been able.
  • Peripherals, in this case my iPhone. Used in the same way as computers, playlists and the queue. Drag and drop or click to view contents.
  • Playlists, drag and drop media to and from and click to view.

A lot of people use playlists as a way to traverse their media libraries. I have actively made this harder as playlists are a lot more harder to search through as media libraries grow. Instead I've focused on search and filtering to allow easy browsing of the library. I have however thought this to be a perfect place for Apples famous horizontal scrollbars should the number of devices increase.

Filters are used to group media bits making it easier to find what you're looking for in a large library, seach is however crucial since most people tend to grow really large media libraries. Click a filter and all media is displayed as stacks or bits, click one suck stack or bit to see it's contents and either filter further or search the stack.

The currently playing queue acts as both a queue for media and as the main media player. It's a simple principle to learn and as all devices work in the same way the user needs never get confused or irritated at features appearing and disappearing depending on context.

Media bits can be freely moved between devices, making sharing and syncing simple and easy to understand.

Each media bit has detailed information available only if the user wants so know more.

The player controls have been moved aside leaving only the large play and pause button on the icon for the currently playing list/device. I'd love to get some more work done on this project in the future but I think Apple might beat me to it. And I'm excited by the thought of comparing my work with that of Jonathan Ive's team!

There are a few weak points in this design so far, namely the lack of the iTunes store and the lack of a way to arrange Apps on devices. While I've thought about solutions for these and believe that this design can accomodate them I haven't had the time to sketch it out yet.

Hope you like my work, and if you're reading this Mr Jobs; yes, I'd love to come work for you. ;)

See higher quality versions of this design at Flickr

Why can't my Mac run iPhone apps?

When the iPhone opened the app store to third party developers and basically anyone who could afford the $99 SDK we we're all amazed at the enormous success. Thousands upon thousands of great apps have been launched transforming the mobile marketplace forever as it can now compete with laptops on the go. So, I ask, why the hell can't I run my apps on my mac?! I know that the iPhone OS, while based on OS X technology, isn't the same operating system. But as a consumer I don't care. Sure, most apps are just boiled down versions of larger applications for Mac or the web. But some of them are not, games especially are available only on the iPhone in that form.

Well I want to use some of them on my Mac! And it shouldn't be that hard, the SDK for developing apps can already emulate apps directly in OS X. But I want to run them from iTunes or, better yet, directly from my dock. I already own them and they're already stored on my Mac from constant syncing.

Please Apple, let me run my Apps on my Mac as well.

If you agree with this, retweet as far as you can!

New design wrecks havoc just like new tech

As you've probably noticed my blog is moved and redesigned (not final yet) because I needed to speed up my site updates. Sadly my domain host is restricting me from completing the change faster but it will be done in a couple of weeks. Which is ironically very similar to the Moore's Wall phenomena that Raph Koster has previously talked about. Moore's Wall is basically states that because new, better and faster technology is usually thought to be the same as visual improvement (graphical in games) developers are implicitly forced to focus harder on visual representation then on interactivity or function. As technology improves this will become more and more work until development is so expensive that taking chances is never profitable.

Sound familiar? It's basically the current state of the games industry. Not until technological innovation has matured so far that new technology is not leaps and bounds faster or better then the previous tech or when the leaps between tech grow longer can we really focus on creating better gameplay.

Anyway, it's a great read and the basic idea is perforating my day to day life so check it out.

The power of novalty

There are almost always discussions about the latest hardship in any business. For the past year most of these discussions have focused on the gameplay vs. graphics battle that's happening in the marketplace. Do we really need to keep turning up the graphics? Or can we find a sweet spot and just stay complacent?

Who knows.

But I want to talk about another problem: In Hollywood action movies were for year dictated by showing novelty. It was basically what they did, if the audience had seen it before it wasn't good enough. This arms race of action finally lead to freaky movies like Total Recall where the main aim for the movie was to show weird stuff and kill a lot of people. Why or how didn't really enter into it. Fortunately Hollywood has matured since then and action movies are less about novelty today.

Why am I ranting about this? Action games are doing the same thing today.

We really need to learn from our (according to Microsoft) smaller brother, Hollywood, and stop doing the same mistakes. But to do that we need publishers to spend some cash on smaller games that might not sell well. They need to spend money on innovative products. Sony did a great job with Little Big Planet but when will we see Microsoft, EA and Acti-Blizz doing the same?

(I'm not going to mention Nintendo, their doing demos and still hindering third party developers. That's not innovation, that's arrogant Japanese.)

For a quick education about what I mean check out this clip of Postal, how often do you hunt strangers with a badger in a sling?