Interface Design Blog: the good, the bad, and the utterly unusable...

Playdate with iPad

Posted on | April 8, 2010 | No Comments

I finally made it over to the Apple Store today to play with the iPad.  While handling it, like most other devices that come out of Apple, is pure pleasure, I still won’t buy it.  Here is why:

1) I don’t spend a lot of time traveling on planes and trains
2) I don’t have young children
3) I am not much into games
4) I already have a small laptop and an iPhone.

If you don’t see yourself in any of the use cases listed above, then you are better off saving your hard-earned $500.

San Francisco Apple store has 2 large tables with 10 iPads on each. Most people start by checking the utility/productivity features (Address Book, Email) and then quickly move onto video, books, movies and games.  Especially movies and games.

Frankly, I am a bit puzzled by this device.  It’s not a replacement for a laptop, nor for your iPhone or even your iPod (too big to drag around).  It’s sort of… in between.  The problem is, unless you are sitting on a plane, you probably don’t need an in-between solution.  It lacks important features like a camera, for example.  It’s not very good for doing a lot of typing (better than on iPhone but still awkward and not nearly as good as using a physical keyboard).  It doesn’t tilt up.  The list goes on.

It didn’t help that I got stuck while using a keyboard on iPad.  iPhone conveniently highlights the main action button once you start typing. As a normal lazy person who doesn’t want to think much, I now learned to trust iPhone to let me know what I need to tap to enter the text or prompt the most likely next action.  iPad doesn’t highlight the most likely to tap button – and it took me a few hits on ‘delete’ button (back arrow with x), the closest and brightest one, before I found “Go”.  Hmmm…

iPad keyboard

"Go" button on iPad is hard to find

That said, I do think that this device will be a  hit with preschoolers and elementary-middle school children.  It makes sense to them. It can make reading interactive, it can make education more fun.  “Poking” the screen and using gestures is natural for kids, and for that, if I was a parent, I would have gotten an iPad.

I am already being asked to re-design existing apps for iPad, and I encourage my clients to really think whether their iPhone apps will get any use on an iPad.  Upon some reflection, the answer is often ‘No’, or ‘Not yet’ for utility, productivity, and many lifestyle apps.

What’s new HTML5 video players tells us about the mobile app market

Posted on | February 20, 2010 | No Comments

Vimeo, the popular video web site, recently launched an HTML5 video player as an option to the normal flash-based video player. You can try the player by clicking the “Switch to HTML5 player” link on this page.

This is good news for mobile device users who can’t run flash (e.g. iPhone/iPad) but bad news for Adobe, who must wish sites would hold off of HTML5 adoption until Flash were better supported on mobile devices.

Yet another interesting turn of events in what is becoming quite a battle between Apple and Adobe, the maker of Flash. Apple recently began openly panning Flash to journalists, and also announced that Flash would not be supported on the iPad platform.

Additionally, Google has been de-prioritizing fixes for it’s broken Google Gears browser plug-in for the Mac platform because it would be a better investment to simply support HTML5’s offline data storage functionality. The worst part of this for Adobe is that it actually makes sense — why support a proprietary local storage mechanism when there is a rising open-source standard which accomplishes the same goal in a more scalable manner?

What’s the big picture? We’re seeing a steady move toward a world which combines native apps with rich mobile web implementations. HTML5 is gaining traction. So it’s worth considering carefully if your mobile project is best accomplished using a native app, or via a rich mobile web app.

We’ll be posting an article on how to make this kind of decision next week.

ADDENDUM: Google has now officially announced they will be supporting HTML5 client data storage instead of Gears.

Updates from the MobileWorld conference in Barcelona

Posted on | February 17, 2010 | No Comments

The largest mobile-focused conference in the world is being held now in Barcelona, Spain: MobileWorld.

Tech Industry Catches It’s Breath – NY Times
“It’s like with evolution, where you have a mutation and then a great explosion of diversity,” said Scott A. McGregor, the chief executive of Broadcom, which makes chips that go into a wide range of consumer electronics. “Then, you have a period where you see which creatures can survive the big change.”

Facebook announces mobile strategy and announces Facebook Zero mobile-web interface.

The quick summary is that Facebook is providing a mobile-web interface to it’s web site that works across most phones and languages, will support SMS for messaging, and will continue to expand their presence in the mobile app space through new applications and also developer services (a la Connect). It sounds like mobile is a core element of their strategy, which makes sense if the goal is global user adoption.

Opera Demos Its iPhone Web Browser, It’s Damn Fast & Will Be Submitted To Apple
“Opera demonstrated yesterday in Barcelona an iPhone version of its mobile web browser, Opera Mini, and it’s damn fast. How fast? Well, about five times faster than your current safari mobile on a 3GS. The trick resides in the way it processes websites.”

That’s great, but as many have noted it is not likely that Apple will allow this to be released on the iTunes app store. Additionally, I’m not sure how I feel about how it works. All Opera browser internet requests would be routed through Opera, who would act as a proxy to retrieve the content and send it to the browser in an optimized format. Regardless, this is a pretty interesting technology.

Skype in a Struggle to Be Heard on Mobile Phones
“Most operators and network equipment makers still perceive Skype and other Internet phone call providers to be potential freeloaders, stealing their customers while they invest billions of dollars to build out and upgrade mobile networks.” (Skype announced a partnership with Verizon in the US at the conference)

Google CEO Eric Schmidt at MWC Puts Mobile First
“”Here, right now, we understand the new rule is ‘mobile first’ in everything. Perhaps the phrase should be ‘mobile first’ simply because it’s time to be proud of what we have built together. Our job is to make mobile be the answer to everything.”

What is the meta-story?

  1. We’re seeing the largest internet businesses move aggressively into the mobile space
  2. The mobile-web will be at least as important as mobile apps, and the large web properties are converting their sites to work accordingly
  3. There is a shake-up in progress of the smartphone value chain. The role of the platform, OEM, carrier, and application developers is shifting, and this is resulting in questions about which apps will be allowed on each platform (skype, opera, etc). It also creates tension between the carriers, oems, and platforms all of which would like a bigger piece of the pie at the end of the day.

There is still one more day to go in the conference — we’ll see what else develops.

Commentary on comscore’s feb 2010 mobile subscriber statistics

Posted on | February 9, 2010 | No Comments

Comscore reported February December mobile device and usage market trends today.

There are some interesting bits of data in there which are worth taking note of:

  1. Android is gaining market share *fast.* It has gained marketshare more quickly than the iPhone lately, though it still represents a relatively small market. This is good news not just for Google, but also for developers and publishers.
  2. There are vast differences between the most popular mobile phones, the most popular smartphones, and the mobile phones most used to access the web and mobile applications. I wish this report included a by-device breakdown of usage, because I suspect there are huge gaps between how RIM, Android, and iPhone devices are used today. eMarketer did publish some statistics about smartphone usage patterns showing that Palm, RIM, and Windows smartphone users don’t use apps as much as Android and iPhone users.
  3. Microsoft continues to suffer mobile OS marketshare losses, declining from 19% to 18% in only one month. Expect a major market entry by them shortly. They will not simply ignore the mobile phone/application/web market, it’s too big an opportunity.
  4. There were no surprise entries in the list from LG, Samsung, etc in the smartphone category. Expect these manufacturers to fight hard to gain smartphone marketshare in the US throughout 2010.

A question:

If RIM has the highest penetration of the smartphone market, why isn’t there more buzz from developers about this platform? What does RIM need to do to be more successful in creating a developer community? Or is it a device which is popular mainly with the enterprise crowd, not consumers?

Something to think about in planning your own mobile initiatives.

Doors open on the new Amazon Kindle app developer program

Posted on | February 5, 2010 | No Comments

Amazon announced today the opening of the Kindle development program. You can sign up here.

“The Kindle Store provides you wide exposure to make your active content discoverable and accessible to a very large community of enthusiasts. We’re looking forward to seeing some great innovation!”

Like iPhone apps, there will be a store where consumers can purchase Kindle applications. There are estimated to be 3 million Kindles in use, makes this a big enough market to lure developers to this new mobile app platform.

The Kindle device is quite different from the iPhone/iPad/Android smartphone platforms, which limits the kinds of applications possible. Games, which require rapid screen update rates, won’t work well on the slow but efficient eInk screen. Lack of a touchscreen (or capable pointing device) or application switching also limits the possibilities quite a lot.

If Amazon is to be successful in this initiative, it seems critical that future Kindles receive upgraded hardware (color touchscreen), and also an upgraded OS with task switching, improved UI, and a more robust API and SDK. That’s going to require very deep level of investment by Amazon. Do they have the drive to compete in this competition long term? Do they have a choice if the book market goes digital?

Is Apple launching a local advertising network for iPhone? Probably.

Posted on | February 5, 2010 | No Comments

Apple today notified developers of iPhone applications that it is prohibited to use the iPhone’s location information for local advertising. Location data can only be used for “beneficial information” starting now.

This is significant for reasons beyond the usual “Apple is a control freak that hurts developers” discussion. Location based advertising increasingly appears to be the most effective and fastest growing form of advertising on the mobile web. BIA Kelsey, an analyst firm, studied mobile use in late 2009 and noted the following:

“…searches for local products or services now exceed out-of-market searches by a wide margin…

  • 18.5 percent searched the Internet for local products or services
  • 15.9 percent obtained information about movies or other entertainment
  • 13.3 percent obtained information about restaurants or bars
  • 11.1 percent searched the Internet for products or services outside their local area
  • 4 percent purchased a physical item that needed to be shipped (e.g., a book)
  • 3 percent used a coupon from their mobile phone”

Additionally, Apple acquired the mobile advertising company Quattro Wireless only a few weeks ago.

It is increasingly clear that Apple is not merely trying to control developers for the sake of controlling their platform. They have a specific interest in capturing the fast growing local advertising market before Google obtains the same dominance there they have on web advertising. This isn’t the only gem in the mobile web ecosystem, but it’s definitely one that is worth owning.

What next? It seems clear that we’ll see a local advertising solution from Apple in the near future. Ok, that’s a smart move through it’s frustrating to see the developer community get the short end of the stick here… again. This is almost definitely reduce the level of innovation by developers to create smart solutions to local advertising problems.

It’s also likely we will see a wave of buyouts of mobile advertising platforms by carriers and the other mobile handset OEMs this year in a last ditch attempt to preserve their position in the mobile market value chain. No carrier wants to be just a commodity data pipe. And no handset manufacturer wants to get left in the dust.

While carriers certainly don’t want to get too close to Google, they may have no choice in the matter given their alternatives could be reduced to cowing to Apple by the end of 2010. It’s going to be a dynamic year for the mobile market…

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