Category Archives: Apple

A lovely piece of UI design

One of the ways you can tell that a piece of UI design really works is when you start trying to use it in other apps. A great example of this: Mr. Reader’s navigation buttons:

Those up, down and close buttons at the side aren’t there all the time. In fact, you have to slide your finger in from the edge of the screen to show it, and it’s your finger is positioned automatically over the “down” button. You have to hold and slide up or down to use one of the other buttons: if you lift your finger, the buttons disappear.

The nice thing is that you can do this from any part of the screen edge, so it doesn’t matter where your finger starts. I usually use my thumb, as I’m holding the iPad in portrait orientation.

It’s a lovely user interface device: hidden, yet easy to find and simple to understand. And it’s one of the things that makes Mr. Reader my favourite news reader on the iPad.

One product or fifty?

One on One: Jim Wicks, Design Chief at Motorola Mobility – bits.blogs.nytimes.com:

If another company is only making two products and four products, and they’re putting all their resources into that, and you’re making 50, you can imagine the challenges you have. Do you feel like you have the best talent, the best testing, when you’re doing 50 products that cover smartphones, tablets and accessories, which are all in their own right highly complex products

I wonder which “other company” he could be referring to?

Still getting it wrong about the iPad

Dick Pountain for PC Pro:

Apple is currently having a rather good war, having ruthlessly preserved a proprietary grip on its own hardware ecosystem, and exploited this to make users pay for apps and content through online stores. Its carpet bombing of Adobe Flash – by excluding it from the iPad – is a tactical victory, damming off one whole stream of free content from the internet.

Because there are no free apps on the App Store, and no way to get content on to the iPad other than to buy it from Apple’s stores. These CDs I’ve bought? No way can I rip them and put them on an iPad. That DVD? No chance of ever getting a digital copy from it on to the iPad.

9to5Mac: Smaller iPad to Start at $329

9to5Mac: Smaller iPad to Start at $329:

Apple’s entry price for its upcoming smaller iPad is between the base model of the new, fifth-generation iPod touch ($299) and the currently shipping WiFi-only 16GB iPad 2 ($399). According to our sources, the base model of the smaller iPad will likely be priced at a minimum of $329 in the United States. 

(Via Daring Fireball)

If that’s correct (and Gurman has good sources), it’s high. That’s not to say they won’t sell by the barrow-load, but not getting under $300 is painful.

Also worth noting: that price would translate in the UK to between £249-£279, making it quite a bit more expensive than the competing Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire.

How did Apple miss the issues with Maps, when developers were reporting them?

Developers: We warned Apple about iOS maps quality | Apple – CNET News:

“‘I posted at least one doomsayer rant after each (developer) beta, and I wasn’t alone,’ a developer with three iOS apps in the App Store told CNET. ‘The mood amongst the developers seemed to be that the maps were so shockingly bad that reporting individual problems was futile. What was needed wasn’t so much an interface for reporting a single point as incorrect, but for selecting an entire region and saying ‘all of this — it’s wrong.””

Maybe Apple thought they were just kidding?

Did Apple and Google really spend more on patents than R&D? Yes – but it’s not all it seems

There’s been a meme doing the rounds based on the New York Times’ story on “the iEconomy” which claims that in 2011, both Google and Apple spent more on patent protection than R&D. This, on the face of it, looks like a savage indictment of the whole parent system – legal nonsense taking priority over real research.

There was something, though, that didn’t quite add up for me. Call it an old journalist’s nose for something fishy, but… it just didn’t smell right.

The paragraph this claim was made in is this:

In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.

Aha. There’s the bit which set off my journo-sense.

As that paragraph notes, there were several unusually large patent portfolio deals in 2011. Apple, for example, contributed $2.6 billion towards the purchase of Nortel’s patent portfolio, in a consortium deal which also included Microsoft, RIM, Sony and EMC. That deal – worth a total of $4.5 billion – was a one-off. Portfolios like that rarely come on the market.

Likewise, Google spent $12.5 billion buying Motorola Mobility, a deal which Larry Page described as being about “strengthening Google’s patent portfolio” (Google actually accounted the patents as $5.5 billion of the purchase). Again, that’s a one-off: there aren’t many Motorola’s around and available for purchase. Likewise, the deal which saw Google buy over 1,000 patents from IBM.

So yes, Google and Apple did spend more on patents in 2011 than R&D. But that’s very likely to be a one-off, simply because 2011 was an unusual year which saw several highly-desirable patent portfolios come on the market. What the NYT didn’t say is that Apple also increased its R&D spending in 2011 by 33%, and that Google’s R&D spending continues to trend upwards massively, with the company spending a whopping 12% of all its revenue in R&D last year.

Read the NYT piece, and you would think that the technology market has shifted from being about research and development of new products to being about acquisition of patents. Given that this is based on a single year, when some very big patent portfolios came on the market in one-off deals that aren’t likely to be repeated in the future, that’s a long way from the truth.

Why comfort and familiarity are features

Techpinions – It’s Good to be Back on the iPhone:

Often I heard the battle cry from the Android community complaining that the iPhone 5 was just not innovative enough and lacked many of the cutting edge features common on Android smartphones. Many with that sentiment miss an important perspective, one that I truly didn’t fully grasp before using Android for a length of time. This perspective is that comfort and familiarity are actually features. And I would argue that for many consumers comfort and familiarity are just as valuable as a cutting edge spec is to others.

Newness for newness’ sake isn’t innovative – it’s destructive to value, because it places the user in unfamiliar territory. And when you force users to make a big leap by learning large changes to the user interface in one go, inevitably some of them will look at the new interface you’re trying to adopt and wonder why, if they’re going to have to relearn a load of stuff anyway, they shouldn’t just jump to another platform.

What I find interesting, too, is that its the same people who are currently slamming Microsoft for abandoning (effectively) the Windows 7 interface with Metro who are also slamming Apple for not abandoning the familiar, well-worn app launcher interface on iOS.

One more thing about iOS 6 Maps

I'm pretty tempted never to write anything about the iOS maps app again, but there's already starting to be a backlash against the backlash, so ill write one more thing.

I've seen a few comments out there to the effect that actually people should remember this is the first release, that mapping is hard, that it's not their fault Google wouldn't give them maps, and therefore Apple should be cut some slack. To my mind, this is nonsense. It's effectively grading Apple on a curve, giving them a pass to create something sub-standard because doing good maps is really tough.

But, as John Gruber puts it:

Anil is right about the bottom line though: the maps experience in iOS 6 is a downgrade. Users shouldn't (and won't) give a rip about behind the scenes negotiations.

And that's the thing: as an Apple customer and user, I don't care about the issues behind the scenes. Maps is now a poorer experience than it was a few days ago, and I want Apple to fix it fast because that's what I expect from them. As a tech writer, of course, I do care, because he behind-the-scenes machinations are where the real story is. But right now, it should be the customers who matter.

iOS 6 Maps is a mess

In common with everyone else, I spent Wednesday night attempting to DDoS Apple’s servers by hammering them with update requests for all my iOS devices, plus all the applications, plus the odd Mac system update too. iOS 6 is, by and large, brilliant. I love shared Photo Streams. iMessage finally works how I expected it would. Panoramas are great.

But there’s one little problem: Maps. In short, it’s the most half-cooked piece of software that Apple has released in my memory, which goes back far longer than I’d care to admit. Worse than Ping? I think so: Ping was, after all, easy to ignore. Maps, on the other hand, is one of the core features of any mobile phone, and Apple has completely fluffed it.

Putting it bluntly, the maps on iOS are now so second rate that they’re a key advantage for Android, and one that I would expect Google to exploit as ruthlessly as possible. If you live in a major US city, I’m sure Apple’s maps are OK. You now get turn-by-turn navigation, which is great, and while Flyover looks like a novelty at first, it’s actually a pretty smart way of orienting yourself.

Outside the US, though, things are a little different. In London, the satellite images are decent enough, but weirdly the names of places are often slightly archaic. Step outside the M25, and the satellite images become blurry, pixellated, useless nonsense. The place names get worse (calling Daventry “Leamington” won’t win many friends in the Midlands). Businesses placed on the map seem to have been drawn from out of date data, in some cases fifteen years out of date.

Weirdly, it even incorporates trap streets that Google got rid of years ago. Search for Woodland Way in Canterbury. See Newark Street at the end? Doesn’t exist. If the satellite images were any good, you could see it going through two houses.

iOS Maps looks like what it is: something cobbled together fast from multiple sources of variable quality. And the problem is that for a core part of a mobile operating system, that’s nowhere near good enough.