Thursday, June 13 2013
A few days ago we got to see iOS 7 for the first time. To say that the design world (among other worlds) was polarized would be an understatement. Currently, there are dozens of places you can read about what people think about the visual design, so I'm not going to do that. I want to talk about the more important change, and what I think the next generation of iOS (and the devices that run it) might actually be about.
When you more closely examine iOS 7, you realize that the design hours were spent on realigning the OS to feel as light and effortless as the hardware it runs on. iOS views are translucent, etherial and weightless. They glide from place to place and settle like sheets of paper on a desk. Some of the most interesting work was spent on the Home Screen. The background drifts slightly behind the app icons based on the subtle motion of the device in hand. And if you look closely, icon badges are on a plane forward of the icons; they drift opposite of the background, further deepening the illusion.
If you had been reading the rumors you may have caught on to the fact that we were going to see this simulated depth in the near future. If you were reading a lot of the rumors you may have caught another one around the same timeframe that was pretty strange. I generally don't get into rumor-mongering but this one was hard to resist. Back on May 28th a post on Macrumors claimed that Apple was doubling display resolution yet again. Rationally there's absolutely nothing to gain from increasing resolution. Retina Displays are already almost indistinguishable from paper. There's no value to gain in doubling resolution again, right?
Well, last time Apple upped the resolution they didn't double the resolution, they quadrupled it. Retina Displays contain four pixels in the place of one. So doubling resolution would mean that the screen would either get taller or wider, which doesn't make sense. Unless you eliminate the assumption that pixels have to be square. If you double the amount of pixels on the x-axis and squeeze them all into the same physical dimension something intriguing becomes a possibility, something that I've been excited about since I tapped the screen on the iPhone for the first time. Something that could change mobile computing again.
Based on the resolution rumor along with the newly revealed pillars of iOS 7, I think the next frontier that Apple might be venturing into with iOS hardware is fully realized 3D Retina Displays.
Stay with me.
3D works by serving images to each eye rendered from slightly different perspectives at about 48 frames per second (24 fps per eye.) Your brain does the rest of the work to fill in the gaps and create the illusion of motion and depth. On an iOS device splitting each pixel in half would allow for full-retina integrity and at least provide the framework for achieving 3D. Nintendo proved that you can ship glasses-less 3D in a mainstream consumer device (the Nintendo 3DS1) so there's already precedent.
And for people with accessibility issues that can't see 3D? Each set of two pixels can optionally display the same color and interpolation can be defeated in software. Go to a Gamestop and play with the depth slider on a 3DS for a real-world example.
Let's make the somewhat wild assumption that it is indeed possible. Why would Apple bother? The obvious reason is gaming, which is the single largest revenue generator in the App Store. Anyone who has played with a 3DS realizes the value immediately. It creates an opportunity for game developers that not only improves existing games but opens the platform up for spacial experiences never before possible on iOS. But I think there's more to it than that.
It comes back to user experience. It comes back to iOS 7. Imagine the Home Screen background pushed back into the chassis, appearing to touch the back of the iPhone. Imagine icons set back into space with badges held slightly ahead of them. Control & Notification Centers appearing flush with the face of the device when invoked. Frameless buttons appear forward of toolbars. Scrollviews that tuck beneath frosted glass panels. A system of layered views existing in a suspension instead of collapsed in a pane of glass. It's the kind of wonder that Apple loves to deliver.
As I stated above, I won't critique the visual design (I believe that it will evolve quite a bit over the next few months.) But I will pitch a justification for the main themes in it. To pull off convincing 3D the deep shadows had to go. So did fake highlights and gloss from artificial light sources. In order to illustrate depth they had to take directional light out of the equation. That's why everything is vivid and gradients don't correlate with noon-time sun. That's why shapes don't appear embossed and apps are full of white space instead of physical paradigms.
Apple had to go 'flat' to go deep. Eventually I think you'll be happy they did.
Thursday, May 02 2013
Yesterday, Nintendo started reminding Wii users that the Wii U isn't just a controller upgrade. It follows this statement from Satoru Iwata last week:
"Some have the misunderstanding that Wii U is just Wii with a pad for games, and others even consider Wii U GamePad as a peripheral device connectable to Wii," said Iwata. "We feel deeply responsible for not having tried hard enough to have consumers understand the product."
This does not sound good. When I first read Iwata's statement I thought it was a half-hearted attempt at excusing poor sales numbers, but the more I think about it the scarier it becomes. Nintendo followed the rules. They spent half a decade developing new hardware and software. They incremented their console identity with a new name just like the competition. So why are people mistaking the Wii U for a simple upgrade to the Wii? I think it's due to complacent brand and industrial design.
The PlayStation shipped in 1994. It's logo looked like this:
The successor to PlayStation, the PlayStation 2 shipped in 2000. It's logo looked like this:
And then came the PlayStation 3 in 2006. It's logo looked like this:
Notice a pattern? Brand incrementing with strong visual distinctions. Moving along, the original Xbox shipped in 2001. It's logo looked like this:
The successor to Xbox, the Xbox 360 shipped in 2005. It's logo looked like this:
Much the same story from Redmond. Incremental branding with vastly different designs. But here's where it heads downhill. The Wii shipped in 2005. It's logo looked like this:
The successor to Wii, the Wii U shipped in 2012. It's logo looked like...
...the first one. All different consoles. All the same generational name evolution. The difference? Nintendo didn't redesign the logo. Worse? They almost forgot to redesign the console.
For contrast, the Xbox had quite a wild physical transition between generations:
As did the PlayStation:
But the Wii U did not. It looks mostly like a rounded-over version of the Wii, further blurring the differences between the two. Also, it may be the first time I remember a console being backward-compatible with last generation's controllers. Nintendo may have thought that people would be glad that they could save some money and use their existing peripherals, but I think that backfired as well. As much as a disaster as the PlayStation 4 reveal was back in February, they made sure to show the one thing that might get people excited early on: a new controller.
It's very important to create visual separation between products, especially products with generational updates. From an outside perspective it looks like Nintendo added an optional peripheral and stapled a 'U' on to the identity. That's not good enough, and it may be that they're now suffering because of it, putting them one step closer to being a software-only operation.
Thursday, April 25 2013
I've been fascinated with the idea of native, media-specific social timelines for a good long while now. That's why I was thrilled to see Twitter #music launch earlier this week. I love the idea of listening to radio stations made out of the posts of the people you follow. So much so, that I shipped it in the official Tumblr iOS app three years ago (and you probably had no idea.)
Story time! The feature, which was shipped on the Tumblrette codebase is now two generations old, so it's probably safe to talk about. The feature was called Tumblr Play, and you could access it only if you knew the trick:
After that, a new, third tab would animate in. No wonder the app reviewers never found it. Here's what it looked like:
It was a fairly straight-forward implementation. I parsed and paginated the audio posts on your Dashboard and played them back sequentially and automatically. Tumblr served the audio files in an iOS-capable audio format on a private endpoint to eliminate any need to transcode (thank god.) You could swipe left or right to change tracks or use the transport controls. You could be flip over the page view and the posts were represented in a standard table (in case you wanted to see farther ahead or behind.) You could like and reblog right from the view and it ran in the background so you could use it like Pandora. All you needed was a Tumblr account. It wasn't perfect, but I loved it. Sure, you ended up with the occasional comedy skit in between an eclectic mix of pop and indie music, but that was awesome. That was Tumblr. It was a sonic representation of your Dashboard and it kind of kicked ass.
We talked about making it public, but ultimately, I think Tumblr was worried they could be sued by a music label (or three) for running a streaming platform without a license. I kept bringing it up for the next few years, but it never went anywhere. We moved ahead designing and developing a second generation of apps soon after Tumblr Play was implemented, but for a while I had an ad-hoc radio station unknowingly created by my friends and a parlor trick to show off at parties. Maybe one day they'll resurrect the idea if they feel that there's some value there (as Twitter seems to.) Until then it'll remain just another footnote in the history of Tumblr mobile. I suppose that's pretty cool, too.
Wednesday, April 24 2013
After using Euros all last weekend (more on that soon) which come in common sense denominations separated by color and size, this new $100 bill is a spectacularly poor showing (and ugly to boot.) Via Gawker.
Monday, April 22 2013
Mike Montiero, via The Pastry Box Project:
Do you think picking a fight with some racist cracker on Twitter improves the silence? Do you really? Think twice about it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. It’s your call. But I can tell you that in the last week I’ve probably deleted more tweets, after asking myself that question, than I’ve spiked in the entire preceding year.
I'd say I post 25% of what I type into Twitter. I edit, and edit and edit until I've either gotten to the core of what I want to say or figured out that it isn't worth saying. One of the more important lessons I've learned in the past few years is that reactionary communication is a dangerous, foolish habit. You don't have to publicly express your feelings about everything that happens in the world, whether it's in our shared one or your personal one. Silent contemplation can be a powerful thing.
Thursday, April 18 2013
I posted this on Twitter last night while I was playing around with the layout on this poor blog that rarely sees an update. It got a couple nods, but a few hours later I got a reply which suggested that the idea behind my tweet was a "blog worthy topic" itself. That got me thinking about a couple things:
- Yes, that is definitely a blog worthy topic.
- Why do I continually design structures that I have a hard time filling with content?
At Mobelux, I mostly design apps that get filled with other people's stuff. Apps like Elixr, which is populated with the drinks my friends are enjoying and Carousel, which houses the Instagram photos of the people that I follow. When you think about it, 'house' is a pertinent term when describing apps. It's a comfortable, versatile structure. A typical house holds furniture, keepsakes, appliances, even memories. It has rooms that serve distinct purposes. Places to plug things in and set things down. It's a place for belongings. Apps hold our belongings, too. Photos, conversations, videos. Memories. These keepsakes are just as valuable as the physical objects we carry with us from place to place.
That means that I, and many other people like me, are actually architects, engineers and carpenters. We design and build these places for people and their things. True, we use PSDs instead of blueprints, and keyboards in place of hammers, but the apps we make are homes all the same.
I spent quite a while designing and building this new place that you're currently visiting. Making sure it was responsive and retina-supported. That it was navigable and reasonable attractive. And then, as usual, I finished it and never filled it with things. I suppose it has to do with my home building disorder. But I think it's time for a change. The walls have been painted and the cover plates installed for months now.
I think it's about time I finally moved in.
Wednesday, September 05 2012
Arnold Kim on the new MacRumors Roundups feature:
Today we are introducing a new type of page here on MacRumors called "Roundups". ... While MacRumors has always been a great rumor resource, we've long felt that it's been too difficult for visitors to catch-up with the latest news on a particular product. Even amongst our daily readers, we find people often lose sight of the big picture after seeing rumor after rumor.
Very nicely done. This is a good enough rumor site feature that it could have been spun-off into its own website. Now when you're at a barbecue and your uncle's brother-in-law asks you when the new iPhone/iPad/iMac comes out you have a URL you can send him to.
Sunday, September 02 2012
Marco Arment on the rumored iPad mini:
I bet they could sell that for $249, and that would be a steal. The iPad 2 is still great by today’s standards, and in some ways, it’s actually better than the iPad 3.
I don't doubt that they could, but I doubt that they will. Apple has never worried about figuring out how to make devices more accessible to more people. Apple does worry about healthy margins. Plus, it would be priced too closely to the iPod touch (which starts at $199 now) and would do everything it does, except better1. If Apple ends up introducing an iPad mini at the Fall event, where they traditionally introduce iPods and other media-centric products, I think it would be positioned as the top-end media device above the iPod touch instead of being positioned as a cheap iPad. And it would probably need to start at $299 to make sense in the lineup, especially since we know that Google is selling the Nexus 7 at cost at both the $199 price point.
Wednesday, August 22 2012
Reboots can be fun. And frightening. And liberating. This website was is dire need one of one. There were technical reasons, and there were personal ones. I'll start with the technical ones.
- It wasn't responsive. If a site can't be viewed efficiently on a mobile device or it redirects to a neutered "mobile" layout then the design is a failure. I was using a (handsome) Tumblr theme and wasn't in control of the experience.
- It didn't support high-resolution screens. High-res screens are not a fad. We all have a responsibility to make the web look better on them. Again, I wasn't in control of the experience and so adding support would have been tough.
- It was hosted. Hosting means you aren't the owner of your own content, point blank. There's not anything particularly wrong with that for most people, but it was time for me to make a change. Kind of. Read on.
I've been on Tumblr since early 2008. In that time I've watched Tumblr grow from a toy that my friends had never heard of into a tool used by millions. I've ridden the proverbial bell curve of the thing. I was so enthralled in 2008 that I wrote a native iPhone app so I could check my Dashboard and blog from anywhere. It was eventually acquired by Tumblr and transitioned into the official client. Years later my company made a second-generation client for Tumblr under contract. I got to know some of the most talented developers and designers that I've ever met there. My professional career is intertwined with Tumblr in a way that I've been unable to shake until recently. I haven't said much on the matter, but Mobelux ended its relationship with Tumblr some months ago. It was mutual and we all knew it was time.
This reboot serves as personal separation as well. This isn't a declaration or an abandonment; I still intend to check my Dashboard and post to my account and I'm leaving all existing content there. But it's not where I'm going to write. For me, Tumblr will return to simpler days. When I was posting photos and links for fun. My new site will be a place to post long-form about tech, life, work and whatever else hits me. That kind of post doesn't do well on Tumblr traditionally. I'm pretty enthusiastic about changing things up.
To sum up, Tumblr is where I'll post things I like. My new site is where I'll post what I'm thinking. Follow/subscribe accordingly.
Tuesday, August 07 2012
The lesson: If the optimist says the glass is half full, and the pessimist says the glass is half empty, the physicist ducks.
‘What If’ is a new blog by Randall Munroe, the author of XKCD, that explores theoretical physics via simple questions like “what if a glass of water was, all of a sudden, literally half empty?” or “how much Force power can Yoda output?” and then plays out the scenarios in exhaustive detail (with XKCD humor injected, of course.) The result is my favorite new thing on the entire internet. Recommended.