Given my negative initial reaction after the Apple Watch introduction and having had some time to reflect on it, here’s a follow-up:
I’m still no fan of the Apple Watch. It introduces a few interesting new concepts and ideas that I’m genuinely curious and mildly excited about, but there are a few things about the Apple Watch that seem completely off-putting to me.
To begin with Apple Watch doesn’t seem particularly useful, at least if we go by the demos Apple showed during the keynote (Ben Thompson had some good thoughts on this). There are a few legitimately compelling use cases for the Apple Watch, such as its fitness tracking capabilities, haptic wayfinding guidance, Apple Pay, maybe even the Digital Touch messaging. However, watching Kevin Lynch mess around for minutes with a boring watchface before showing off what seemed like a bunch of glorified screensavers wasn’t compelling at all.
Then there’s battery life. While there isn’t any official word regarding its battery life, early comments suggest that we shouldn’t expect much more than one day, in line with common expectations and what other comparable smartwatches offer. Now I find it barely acceptable that I have to charge my iPhone every night, and my iPhone is the single most important and useful electronics device in my life. If my iPhone wasn’t so useful, it would probably spend a lot of time in a drawer with depleted batteries. As I said, I doubt that Apple Watch will be even remotely as useful as an iPhone, so it would probably spend a lot of time in a drawer with depleted batteries.
Lastly, the Apple Watch seems hard to use and I have some serious doubts about its usability. There are a few truly baffling interface design decisions, like this screen:
There are 50 tiny icons on this screen, without labels, some of them less than 2 millimeters in size. How you’re supposed to comprehend and interact with this screen, I have no idea.
Before demonstrating the watch, Tim Cook emphasized that they didn’t simply scale down the iPhone UI and strap it to a wrist, joking that certain interactions such as pinch-to-zoom wouldn’t work on a watch given its tiny screen size. Maybe you remember the slide:
Then, a few minutes later, we could observe Kevin Lynch, doing a lot of this:
Touching, tapping and swiping a whole lot on that tiny screen.
Apple’s solution to the touchscreen problem is the Crown, a small dial that you can rotate and push like a button. It’s very reminiscent of the iPod clickwheel. Unfortunately, unlike the iPod where all navigation was accomplished through the clickwheel and a small number of buttons, the Crown on the Apple Watch seems limited to zoom interactions, which seems to me rather unambitious and underutilized. The iPod provided a simple, intuitive interface for navigating thousands of items across deep menu structures. By comparison, the Apple Watch user interface seems obtuse and cumbersome. Sure, it probably looks a lot sleeker and sexier than the iPod’s simple list interface, but I highly doubt it will work better.
Maybe the final product will prove a masterful piece of interaction design, but until its release color me skeptical.
When the specs for the Rift were announced, I realized, Oh, my God. These were the same specs we had at Disney in 1995. The only thing is, this unit costs $300, and ours cost $300,000. So it was 1,000 times cheaper.
We had it all wrong! Information doesn’t want to be free, it wants to be a commodity. It wants to be packaged into apps that differ only in terms of interface and pricing models. It wants to be rented. It wants to reveal nothing too personal, because we broadcast it to Facebook and we should probably turn on a private session so our boss doesn’t see that we listen to Anaconda on repeat and think we’re high at work.
The ideal e-ink Kindle would have hardware page-turn buttons and a touch screen, and the Voyage is the first one to promise that, but instead of buttons, they’ve added “pressure-based page turn sensors with haptic feedback.”
You know what else is a pressure-based sensor with haptic feedback? A button.
Buttons are getting rarer and rarer. I miss them.
Tony Zhou explores the different ways that texting and the internet are displayed in film in this video:
Casey Johnston wrote about the topic for Ars Technica back in February, and Michele Tepper wrote about the texting in Sherlock back in 2011.
And then, fittingly, the teaser trailer for Men, Women & Children was just released, in which people rely solely on electronic means of communication:
I’m really looking forward to the movie after the trailer.
We don’t make “high fidelity mock ups” or “high fidelity wireframes”. We’re making a Thing, not pictures of a Thing.
One of the problems with high fidelity wireframes is that they’re very easy to send around to stakeholders who respond with comments like “Move this up a bit”, or “Make that more blue”. The problem with that is they’re commenting on the picture of the Thing rather than the Thing itself.
Some time ago I came across two interesting articles describing the experience of using the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. One of them is by Ian Betteridge, a tech journalist, the other by Lukas Mathis, a software designer and developer.
Reading and comparing these two articles reveals some interesting common ground between both authors: Both of them like the new Windows 8 Metro interface, native Metro applications, split-screen multitasking, the sharing menu and the pen support. They both dislike the old Windows desktop UI, which barely works with a touchscreen, and all the cruft that comes with legacy Windows, like shaky drivers, DLL hell and ad-ridden software. In the end, both reach opposing conclusions. Lukas Mathis writes:
In the end, I really, really like Metro, but don’t love Windows as a whole. It’s flawed. But even so, I like my Surface a lot more than I ever liked any of my iPads.
Ian Betteridge concludes:
The tablet experience isn’t anything like a modern tablet, missing out on the portability, ergonomic factors, and flexibility of use. It also comes with the high maintenance costs of a traditional PC. [...]
If you’re an old-school Windows diehard who kind of liked the idea of Tablet PCs in 2003, but couldn’t find one powerful enough, you’ll like the concept of Surface Pro – although you’ll probably hate Windows 8’s interface. For everyone else, you’d either be better off buying a cheaper Windows laptop or an iPad Air.
It’s quite illuminating how two people can like (and dislike) the same things, yet ultimately reach completely different conclusions. Different people, different needs.
A little while ago, Brent Simmons wrote about standard UI controls and their advantages in comparison to custom UI controls. This is in large part due to iOS 7, which leveled the UI design playing field last year: Where previously iOS user interfaces were expected to feature lavish graphical details such as photorealistic textures, lighting and shadows, iOS 7’s streamlined appearance reduces the necessity of a dedicated photoshop artist in UI design.
User interfaces adopting iOS 7’s new, minimal appearance look modern and fresh, whereas iOS 6 apps look dated and old fashioned in comparison. This begs one question: How long will it take until iOS 7’s appearance starts to look dated and old fashioned? Greg Cox speculates that just as standard controls and the default look & feel of iOS 7 are a useful differentiator right now, history is bound to repeat itself once the novelty of iOS 7 wears off and designers have to find new ways to differentiate:
So at some point in the cycle custom controls start to become valuable again. Apps that use them effectively will stand out and will be hard to copy. Consider the discussions about TweetBot’s famously custom UI, or the raving about Loren Brichter’s beautifully simple Letterpress design. In the latter half of the life of the original iOS design it became positively passé to rely on standard controls for your app.
Which reminds me of a theory recently put forth by Joel Unger:
Design ecosystems mimic biological ecosystems: Whenever a new trend takes hold or an old one reemerges in the world of design, patterns emulate competitive systems in nature. Resource-intensive adaptations often achieve substantial competitive advantages.
For his 3000th column at The Motley Fool, Morgan Housel shared some of the biggest lessons he learned writing about investing and the economy. I find them applicable way beyond financial and economic matters. This one’s probably my favorite, but there are plenty good ones:
I’ve learned that “do nothing” is the best advice for almost everyone almost all the time.
Took me a long time to figure this out myself.
Alan Kay says that Xerox PARC bought its way into the future by paying lots of money for each computer. Today, you can almost buy your way into the future of mobile computers by paying small amounts of money for lots of computers.
Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.
But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.
I’m also reminded of a video I came across some time ago, visualizing the inner workings of 15 different sorting algorithms:
“Her pitch was pretty genius. She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.” Tinder had fewer than 5,000 users before Wolfe made her trip, Munoz says; when she returned, there were some 15,000.
Yahoo is working on a way-finding algorithm for determining the most beautiful routes between two points (rather than the shortest or fastest). From the abstract:
Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy.
Working is hard, but thinking about working is pretty fun. The result is the software industry.
Doomed to Repeat It by Paul Ford.
A Better Place is a positivity filter bubble. It uses terrible sentiment analysis to strip out negative Twitter posts from your timeline; hopefully leaving you with a few morsels that make your day tolerable.
A pleasant response to those Facebook mood experiments.