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 Vimeo.com’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.

iPad and ebooks

Posted on | February 2, 2010 | No Comments

Last week, just about anyone in the first world waited anxiously to see what kind of tablet computer Steve Jobs would unveil. Afterward, there has been a little controversy about the iPad.

But what’s the big picture here?

One thing to consider is that Apple has an amazing competency in the education market, and they may seek to capitalize on this market as a way to introduce the iPad to the mainstream.

Apple has already forged partnerships with several of the largest publishers including notable textbook publisher Macmillan. Kindle has so far failed to capture the education segment of the ebook market, and the current eInk based device is insufficient for many textbook uses (no color, small screen, etc). iPad, for all it’s shortcomings, *may* be a better device to satisfy the textbook market need.

This is a large market, and it is theoretically possible that Apple could incentivize iPad sales by offering not only educational discounts on iPad, but also discounted textbooks to students. A typical college student currently spends between $600 and $1,000/year on textbooks, which means there is enough “meat” here to offer large discounts. Imagine a $199 iPad including $99 in free textbooks. I can think of a few students who might jump at this chance.

What’s missing now is compelling ebook content. The large number of existing ebooks are not very interactive — they are little more than glorified text files. But the EPUB format, which iPad supports, is very sophisticated. Based on XML, full hypertext capabilities and rich media support is included (but not Flash ;). And iPad is actually a *great* platform for interactive books, given this content is created by the publishers. Something right out of Alan Kay’s “Dynabook” concept.

Now that would really be revolutionary.

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