Copying design: Form and function

Posted by: on Sep 1, 2012 | No Comments

It seems a lot of people conflate form and function. This is happening with recent Apple designs being ripped off by Samsung and other manufacturers.

People typically cite prior art such as previous generation laptops or phones and say Apple copied those.

You will find however that in most (but likely not all) cases this is a class error. Often they think that the functional elements of a design (flip open screen, integral keyboard, touch screen, or home button) represent the total design aesthetic.

Trade dress disputes are about form. People who say Apple just built on phones or laptops of the past are often missing the nuance of design. Angles. Texture. Finish. Materials. Weight. Volume. Proportions. These add up together to create an end result – the design.

I think iAd may die

Posted by: on Aug 23, 2012 | No Comments

I don’t normally care about Apple’s iAd.

Last night however, I was musing about how I intensely dislike the advertising industry and by extrapolation all businesses that are primarily ad-revenue based (Google, Facebook etc).

Witness what Twitter is doing to its user base and partners for just the most recent exposition of the direct conflict with user interests that advertising presents. Or Google’s recent addition of advertising images to the top of image search results.

As for iAd, I thought it was a pretty good idea when they introduced it. As good as advertising can get. Big budget, high quality ads for premium brands. Perfect Apple bedfellows.

My first few days with iPad

Posted by: on Apr 28, 2010 | 2 Comments

There have been lots of iPad reviews, so I’ll try not to go over the same old stuff. Suffice to say it is very good, but I’m still learning how to use it – i.e. how it fits into my life. Will I really do diagrams on it, will I read e-books for long periods, will I write code?(?!).

A quick summary after 2 days intermittent use.

  • It is a little too heavy at first. I suspect my arms will get used to it, or I will learn to hold it the right way – we never thought people would write essays with their thumbs on mobile phones. This is no doubt related to battery weight. I’d rather have the battery life – but a few 100g less would stop this being something people mention. Hardback books are heavy.
  • The photos app is an instant winner. All they need now is selection of which you want to order prints for and ordering prints direct from iPad using iTunes account. Oh, and they do need wireless smart syncing of photos from MobileMe, Flickr etc. So you can publish from your other Mac/PCs and the ipad syncs them over the wire in the background.
  • Typing is much much better than I thought it would be. With practice I can be as fast or faster than on a regular Apple keyboard I’m sure. I just need to get used to the slightly differently layout and tactile differences. So much so I could consider writing code on it. There are already some HTML editors for iPad.
  • It would be really nice to set an App to be used as the lock screen, not a wallpaper. Eg set Weather HD or Guardian Eyewitness, Calendar month view, or the built in picture frame app – to come up when you press the lock button.
  • I actually like some of the iPhone apps at 2x zoom. Most iPad native apps seem to be taking the fonts a little too small, and losing the benefits of larger font clarity / greater distance from the eyes that iPad screen should be affording you.
  • Some apps definitely need further optimisation. E.g. Omnigraffle is not a bad first stab but there is no justification I can see for the UI being so laggy when dragging a single rectangle around the screen on a trivial diagram. Calculating the guides cannot be that intensive! Art authority is nice but the image quality of the marble UI backgrounds is really nasty, and the UI is rather sluggish with no indication it is busy at times.
  • A little gripping surface around the edges would make you less scared when carrying it without a case. The front surface is very slippery, the back isn’t.
  • I find it hard to find apps in home screen – they are too far apart and with an image background, it is hard for icons to stand out visually – I often have to resort to using search to find apps! This is reason enough to not have the option to set custom wallpaper… or at least it should be default reduce the intensity of wallpapers by 50%
  • I miss the magazine rack metaphor from NewsRack for iPad. Seems much better fit for iPad than iPhone, I hope it comes back
  • The lameness of many apps is more obvious on iPad than on iPhone. You’re more happy to “make do” on iPhone but the bar is being set higher on iPad by very good UIs e.g. Penultimate, Elements, Weather HD, Virtuoso HD piano. Omnigraffle is a good first stab but feels too awkward still.
  • iBooks better become like iPod app and allow third party PDFs/ePub files to install easily w/o buying from iBooks store. All other e-book readers I can find seem completely lacking the Apple polish – slow, unintuitive touch interactions etc.
  • Smaller text sizes on webpages will be much more readable when they eventually upgrade the display to higher dpi. It might be a year or two though…

I can’t vouch for Pages, Numbers, Keynote or iBooks yet – they aren’t available in the UK app store (which you can only access from iTunes currently anyway).

Data sync on iPhone, iPod, iPad – the missing link?

Posted by: on Feb 7, 2010 | No Comments

Users and particularly developers of Palm’s old line of PalmOS devices will keenly remember that Palm were the only people to get syncing right at the time.

Aside from all the basics, they allowed 3rd party applications on the device AND the desktop to talk to each other directly to sync custom data. I’ve bitched about this before.

As an avid Mac, iPhone, MobileMe and soon to be iPad user, I have to wonder what is happening with this at Apple. My real-world gripe is this:

I was just about to open OmniFocus on my iPhone specifically so that it would sync with the latest data on my MacBook Pro, which is set to sync via MobileMe (using a pretty ugly file based solution). Why am I even doing this? Why isn’t this data synced (a) when I dock my iPhone to sync all the other iTunes stuff, and (b) why can’t it automatically sync wirelessly

Well part (b) is easier to answer, although it is a three-fold answer. First, there’s no background app support to allow automatic sync of the OmniFocus app on the phone. That should be addressed by the Push API functionality except that OmniFocus doesn’t support Push API (server cost to them to do so) and even if they did support Push, iPhone SDK Push is not able to automatically pass the data to the application to force it to sync – the user must acknowledge the event and run the app on the phone manually. It’s a pile of suck, surprisingly, with a real feel of “disconnected device”.

Part (a) is more tricky to answer. It must be trivial for Apple to add this kind of support for direct-to-app syncing. They already have/had Sync APIs for OS X for a long time. Lack of support for this apparently makes no sense.

In conclusion I am very surprised that Apple has not updated the OS X Sync APIs so that:

  • Third party apps can sync any data they like to/from the iPhone/iPod/iPad with iTunes as the conduit (that was the concept’s name in PalmOS if I recall)
  • The transport for sync is completely hidden from the applications such that sync will happen transparently via Dock, Wifi (direct between devices on local Wifi network), and via MobileMe cloud if the device is not on the same Wifi network.

This is not rocket science after all. And yet we still have to know / think about what networks our devices are connected to, manually make sure we run them frequently etc. It is pretty lame, Mr. Jobs.

My Apple tablet predictions – for what its worth

Posted by: on Jan 20, 2010 | No Comments

Might as well join in the fun eh.

Ironically, I think that there will not be that much hardware “frill” with the Apple tablet. I think that actually this is really all about software and the masses of computer users who are not “power users”.

Follow the logic:

Net books are very popular.

The iPhone and the new breed of beyond-smart phones is incredibly popular.

What is the common thread here? Both devices are very portable and offer most of the basic computing that people need day to day. What is it that most people – which I’m afraid guys means non-geeks, the truly massive market beyond geekdom – need?

  1. Email
  2. Web

That’s it. That’s what most people who are not raving geeks need. In fact some geeks may need only that. After all there isn’t much you can’t do with web apps now (e.g. bespin). Google OS/Chrome stuff has been geared to this from the get-go, its not a novel idea.

Functionally, most people also need to be able to write/edit documents that can be read by MS Word – not that they need MS Word, they just need to write out .doc files. This can be done via web apps or via lightweight local apps.

However Apple would not do something like this unless it also offered uniquely integrated stuff.

So on the back of this I reckon the tablet will:

  • Not be that revolutionary hardware wise – eg physically this probably is like a giant iphone
  • To include some web-hosted (with local offline usage) iWork for Pages (= docs & spreadsheets writing. maybe keynote too)
  • Full access to all your iTunes audio and video media and photos (cloud or not) – I would be surprised if this is 100% cloud done at this stage, what with the awful 3G coverage and slow speeds to sync photos and videos. Access to this done “ipod style”, which is a killer recipe as the market has shown
  • A first class large-form factor email app, geared to multitouch
  • And as suspected the delivery of formerly-print media, possibly opening up iTunes marketplace to any author who wants to prepare and sell content. Who knows perhaps you will even be able to create new textual/mixed content on the iPad and sell it via iTunes. This content provision is probably the one really new thing that helps make such a pad a really attractive proposition.

In a nutshell, a beautiful portable computer that is most definitely NOT a laptop because a great deal of people will never see themselves as the laptop carrying kind. However they are likely to part with cash for something that is much smaller than that but a true lifestyle accessory that “just works”. Obviously it will support custom apps and app store too – which has already shown on iPhone that a lot of people just want little stuff that makes life easier.

Several programmers including myself have wondered “Why do I need something like that?”. The answer is if you have an iPhone and laptop, you don’t. The big market win here is not people like us, its everyone else in the real world! Laptops are complete overkill for a lot of people and the netbook market has sort of shown that. They’re not so much winning against laptops as a result of price, they’re winning on form factor and simplicity. If people really needed high-end laptop features, they’d still buy a laptop instead of a netbook.

I’m pretty sure netbooks aren’t aimed at programmers either – although I am confident some masochists code Perl on them and swear that its the best calculator computer they’ve ever had. The tablet on the other hand, is squarely aimed at attacking the netbook and light-use laptop market.

Let’s see what Wednesday brings!