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.

Who will mind the appstore? Carriers, OEMs, or software platforms?

Posted on | February 15, 2010 | No Comments

Will Apple’s popular iTunes app store get some real competition? It looks that way.

“A group of mobile phone operators launched Monday an alliance to build a single platform for the hugely popular applications that allow users to play games and read news on their handsets.”

Mobile firms unite to offer single apps platform

What will the future bring? There are a few choices:

1) Carriers (e.g. AT&T)
2) Mobile platforms (e.g. Google, RIM and Apple)
3) Device makers (e.g. LG, Motorola, etc)

This will probably depend on how successful the carrier stores are with consumers, the ease-of-development of carrier platforms, and economics (developers will go where the dollars are eventually).

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…

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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