Yahoo! Weather Gets One Step Ahead by Working with Apple

It has been a month since I chose Yahoo! Weather app as my default weather app on my iPhone. I liked the UI style of the app, simple, information matter on the front and center and the pretty Flickr local scenery photos, all with good touch. After WWDC 2013, it turns out that this app fits right into the new iOS design. Is Yahoo!’s designers THAT good? Or they can see into the future?

The question became very obvious right after I delve myself into Apple’s ‘out-of-the-oven’ Mobile Human Interface Guideline (can be found here, need to have developer account to access):

Yahoo-Weather-before-afterr

Since iOS default weather app actually use Yahoo weather, I think designers in both companies must have talked before releasing their version of the weather app. Good for Yahoo! I’d say. And maybe in the future if we want to get a sneak peek into iOS changes, we could pay a bit more attention to Yahoo’s weather app?

 

UICraft: Why Facebook’s New ‘Stickers’ is Stupid Yet ‘Sticky’

Following Path’s step, Facebook recently introduced a sticker feature in their messaging experience. Stickers are a glorified version of ’emojis’ which user can send to their friend while chatting to express emotions. It usually comes with a package of different expressions/emotions. All Facebook’s current stickers are free to download, but the ‘Free’ tag could very quickly become ‘$0.99’ like most Path stickers do.

Facebook-Messenger-stickers

 

Image via: phandroid.com

Stickers are no new creation by Facebook at all. A bunch of Asian messaging apps and services have already embraced it for some time. This whole ‘cuteness’ thing might seem silly, yet before you shout ‘stupid and cheesy!’, let’s not forget all the ‘stupid’ videos that got millions visits on YouTube. There is something behind all these ‘stupid yet popular’ fads. Most of them share one treats: They play very well to your emotion. And emotion, my friend, is usually our weakness. That is what’s behind all these impulse purchasing, all these ‘my brain tries to say no but my body screams YES’ moments, all those ‘this is so stupid but I just can’t stop laughing’ videos.

This is also why some  apps are successful in creating attractive experience. Enter ‘Clear‘, the highly successful to-do app with flat and simple visual but powerful physics and interactions. By swiping the item right, user can mark complete the task. Swiping left is delete the task, pinch open to add an item and pinch close to fold the current task list. It might sound simple, yet it’s physics is so great that when you are doing all these simple operations, you feel like you are manipulate a real object, you are throwing the completed task away like throwing your empty can of Coke to the dump. It relates to your feelings and emotions.

I still remember when the first time Apple released iPhone and introduced multi-touch, people are instantly amazed by the interactions without rationally knows why. Like Steve Jobs once put it in his keynote when demonstrating a multi-touch feature :” I can play this all day!’. As human-beings, we are sophisticated, we use our brains, we developed science. But most of the times, we aren’t that smarter when it comes to our emotion. We fall in love, get hurt, heal through it, and do it again. That just how emotion works. It is sticky and always comes back. No wonder after Path first announced their Stickers and In-app shop, they said the first week it brings in more money than all the money the company has ever earned before. No wonder Facebook is following suit.

Some thoughts on Google Keep

Google announced the new note-taking service Google Keep today. 

Image

I gave the web version a try. The UI looks very minimalism, using it is easy too. There aren’t many features to begin with though. It looks like just a lite, new service Google want to put on their cloud. Google didn’t mention whether they have bigger vision on the service, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Some thoughts from a product design point of view:

1. Don’t have an ecosystem.  Take Evernote as an example, they have Chrome extension ‘Web Clipper’, Outlook plug-in, apps on all major mobile OS, PC/MAC software and a web-app. Making note taking available everywhere. Google Keep only have Android and web-app, kind of lacking still.

2. Multimedia support. Currently  it only supports text and photo.

3. Notes organization. I noticed that Keep lets you give a color to the note, and display the notes in ‘List’ view or ‘Grid’ view. Other than that, pretty much nothing. Maybe Google never really think about scaling? Or they want to position Google Keep as a lite note-taker instead of an information management tool?

3. Note sharing. Without sharing, Google Keep is likely to lose the biggest demographic of note taking: students. There are plenty of opportunities that Google could embedded Keep into their social media ecosystem. Share on G+ for one, follow friends/celebrities notes for another.

Obviously the service is still in its infancy. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. Hopefully it won’t be like Google Reader at least.

UICraft: Zite’s New Rating UI

Zite is a pretty awesome self-learning, self-evolving intelligent specie(app) in the app universe. He feeds you with content gathered from Internet and devour your rating (Like/Dislike) so he can evolve into a clone of your news taste.  The more rating you give him, the faster and stronger he’ll evolve, and you’ll be fed with better quality universe essence (selected content).

Well, enough of my ‘crappy’ Syfy analogy. Zite has always been my favorite news aggregator. The minimalism design and the personalized rating system make it perfect for my daily news consumption. The app got an upgrade lately and I found the rating UI also evolved a bit, and I love the changes.

Before:

Zite displays a ‘rating bar’ on the bottom of the screen, where user can ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ the content. The ‘liked’ content will be fed to the user more often, while the ‘disliked’ less. It’s a simple and effective user interface:

Photo Mar 14, 3 25 56 PM

User can touch the ‘thumbs up’ button to ‘like’ and ‘thumbs down’ button to ‘dislike’.

After:

The new UI looks the same, but adds another rating layer when you touch the ‘thumbs up’ button:

ZITE rating bar evolved

If you like the content on the page by touching the ‘thumbs up’ button, the rating bar will expand upwards and display multiple tags related to the page. You can further specify which tag represent the reason for your ‘like’, so Zite could know more precisely what part of the content you like and feed you more in the future.

 

Summary

Content rating system has become more and more important for all the content providers. Great content is no longer great enough for today’s indulged users.  As a content provider, you need to offer great personalized content. And to do that, you need to have a powerful and easy to use content rating system to learn your user’s taste. The system needs to powerful enough so it can efficiently pinpoint user’s like and dislikes, but not making the experience too complicated so user will get overwhelmed. That’s why ZITE’s new UI did such a great job. Simple and intuitive 2-steps UI that nailed the sweet point of the content for the user.

Maybe Netflix, YouTube and other content providers could all take one page or two from ZITE’s UI playbook.

Facebook News Feed Design Upgrade: Making Ads Count

Facebook recently released their new design of the ‘News Feed’. From the announcement, even though they didn’t mention a word about ads, I still smelt it. All of the design changes in a large part are to make Ads count. Here’s why:

1. Bigger photo = Bigger canvas for Ads

The new design comes with bigger photos and albums to offer a more engaging and immersive experience. While user contents become more immersive and prominent, so do embedded ads. (Facebook already embedded ads into user Timeline)

Bigger canvas means a LOT for advertisers in that it blurs the lines of a banner and a real ad page. Facebook should be able to charge a higher CPM rate if it proves to be more efficient.

2. Less clutter leads to more focus, on both user content and ads.

facebook-news-feed-update-march-7-2013jpg-d3f1ae554d07c445

Facebook’s current news feed feels cluttered. It easily triggers the ‘cognitive overload‘ issue and a lot of the users just back away from it, or totally ignore the blob of ads on the right side of the page. With the design changes, there are less contents in one page, but they will get more attention and focus. Coupled with more compelling photos, even boring ads that no one wanted to station their eyeballs before will get some love with the new design now. Less really is more.

3. Better content curating can also mean better ads targeting.

Another big part of the design is better curating. Facebook promised to offer the best ‘personalized newspaper’. Every ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ you make on Facebook will all being monitored and analysed to further ‘fine tune’ content to your taste. Your timeline will then become more relevant and personalized. This all sounds fantastic on the surface, but wait! Ads will become more relevant and personalized too! This is not necessarily a bad thing though. With better targeted ads (and hopefully higher CPM rate), Facebook could actually afford to not bombarding ads to their user, and offer less intrusive experience. 

Summary

Overall, I think designers in Facebook deserve some applause. They make the layout more streamlined, promoting ads without downgrading experience, and finally being consistent with their mobile experience. Like I pointed out in my another blog, done right, it could be a win-win to everybody. 

New Path 3.0, New Path to Monetization

Path today announced Path 3.0, featuring a much-anticipated private message functionality and a pretty little in-app ‘Shop’.

path shop

Also, Path’s CEO Dave Morin in an interview with The Next Web, revealed that a premium subscription service is coming. Path is really speeding up on further monetizing their 6 million subscriber base.

To keep it short, here’s a list of current and possible monetization venues for Path:

1. Stickers (Current)

path stickers

Crafted by celebrity designers, Path Shop now offers a variety of emoticon-like images called ‘Stickers’ that users can post on their private message with friends to express emotions. This isn’t a brand new idea, but it’s executed quite well. From the introduction of designers to add credibility, to the fine skeuomorphism style Shop UI design, the shopping experience is well polished and streamlined.

2. Filters for Photo and Videos(Current)

Photo Mar 07, 10 24 17 AM

Photo and Video filters have been Path’s major ‘in-app purchase’ for some time now. Integrating it into the Path 3.0’s new ‘Shop’ experience is natural and seamless. One thing worth noticing is the UI design for the filter. It’s clean and effortlessly shows the ‘before and after’ comparison using a realistic lens filter shape (with filtered part of the image inside) on top of a non-filtered photo, instantly demonstrating the difference it makes.

3. Theme (Potential)

Path’s UI has always been praised and well accepted as the yardstick of mobile app design. There are many users (me included) love to play with new apps just because we love the designs and polished themes. Being able to customize the app I love to the color and style I prefer has great value. What if Path unleashes their design power and develop 10 different themes that user can choose freely (after purchase of course)? This could involve some app infrastructure upgrade to support themes personalization but hey, when the money starts to roll in, it will be worth it, right?

Essentially, by doing this, Path can turn UI from infrastructure to digital goods, at the same time offering better user experience by enabling customization.

This is not a new idea either. Some Asian apps are already doing this, and Path seems to get some of their inspirations from Asian anyway.

Photo Mar 07, 10 00 14 AM

4. Premium Membership (Potential)

Path is already planning it, and supposed to launch it first half of this year. We don’t know about details of what’s in the premium package. But if I’m allowed to guess, it would be dedicated member filters, stickers and maybe even some cloud space for photos and videos. This would be interesting to watch.

5. Avatars (Potential)

Currently, Path lets you choose your photo and slap it in a simple circle as your avatar. The thing is, not all the people feels comfortable or wants to use their photos as avatars, some prefer their hobbies (golf ball anyone?), some may like a super hero character from his favorite comic. Being able to offer more avatar choices will definitely add value (and revenue also). Also this goes with Path’s private social network positioning well, imagine a cubic engineer chooses an Amazon warrior as his avatar, well I’d say it’s very private…

Amazon-GameArt

Summary

Path has always been my favorite social network app. Its polished design, smooth interaction and minimalism design all set them apart from the pack. It’s great to see them making steady progress on bring in more revenues also. What other ways can they monetize? Leave a comment and let me know!

Yahoo! Bans ‘Working from Home’ Not a Bad Thing

marissa-mayer-7882_270x338Yahoo recently announced that ‘Working From Home’ is no longer allowed for its several hundreds employees. Many people are outrageous. I read a lot of angry comments on all the big tech medias. Yet interestingly, when I was browsing Quora, I stumbled upon this question: What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no work from home policy? More interestingly, the top upvoted answer is from a current Yahoo employee, his answer, and I quote here, is:

 

 

 

I have been at Yahoo for four years and lets just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up and Marissa is doing just that. So I am glad that the change in policy was made.

Many people are misled by the various stories going around. If your child is sick it is ok to work from home for that day and my boss and others are ok with that.

The change primarily affects those who permanently work from home.

If we want to change, compete, and make a come back all hands have to be on deck, in meetings, contributing ideas, involved, etc.

People will use the argument that look at Google and how it allows employees to work from home. My question would be have you seen their P&L? They make boatloads of money.

We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don’t like it well too bad, the exit door is over there.

I think this answer very much said it all (no wonder it got 450+ upvote). Yes, WFH is a nice to have alternative and could boost creativity and offer some flexibility. But when you are fighting for your own survival, like Yahoo! right now, you need to do whatever it takes. Everyone needs to stick together and focused and work toward the same direction. Working from home, you’ll lose a lot of the peer pressure, the inspiration from others and the positive feedback loop. You’ll be less connected with your team, especially on the emotional level. And emotional support and moral matters A LOT in hard times.

I have to say it seems that good things are happening within the then Internet giant.  Will we see another Apple like ‘Steve Jobs’ style turn around?

Google’s New Chromebook Pixel: Talk About Advantages

There are many advantages for the new Pixel, but here are the obvious…

1. Retina Display
20130221_Chromebook_Pixel_011_610x310
It has a 2560 x 1700 LCD panel, and is likely the most hi-res device around. We are a generation spoiled by all the retina screens(smartphone, tablet, Macbook Pro etc.) around us. We all know that it’s a lot harder to switch back to low-res than the other way around. We just have to have it now.
2. Touch Screen.
touch-screen-tap
Supporting touch definitely is an advantage, though it depends on how well the OS user interface is designed, whether it has been enhanced, optimized or designed from ground up to support touch. From Verge’s review video, I saw he missed twice trying to switch tab on Chrome browser. But hey, you can touch to scroll the webpage now at least.
3. Cloud Storage
google-drive-logo
This lady came with 1 T storage space on Google Drive. Everybody loves more storage space. It’s a high-end ‘netbook’ (there isn’t such a thing until now, yay), so it’s suppose to be always connected (though with LTE version you’ll pay $1450). And having a 1T cloud drive you really don’t have to worry about storage space for a very long time. And we’ve all live in the tyranny of storage shortage for centuries. Live in scary, you will not.
4. Price
pixel pricing
This one seems a long shot, but bear with me. Imagine you have the extra dough to throw at this baby, when next time you walking into a Starbucks with it, everybody will be looking at you thinking: ‘This guy must be so cool that he is spending $1300 just to try new technology.’ It will become a status symbol. Pixel is the new Macbook Air!
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, they are just jealous!

Google Glasses UI Evolution : Makes Life Feel Like Playing a Game

Google’s first Project Glasses video stirred a lot of controversies because of its UI design gets in the way of people’s normal life. You really can’t use this gadgets in real life if the user interface is so prominent, in the middle of your view, and pop up all the time, like this:

Project-Glasses-1

It could even be dangerous when driving or biking. Yeah a map is good, but only if I can actually SEE the road!

Project-Glasses-2Today, Google releases another teaser of the highly anticipated gadget, called ‘How it Feels (through Glasses)’. This time, Google’s UI actually get a total re-haul. All the UI are only limited to the top right corner of your view, getting out-of-the-way.

google-glass Also there is a subtle transparency in it, which reminds me of ‘Iron Man’.

ironmanAnd since I play games a lot, I just can’t help but relate this to some of the game’s HUD (Heads-Up-Display) UI:

Starwar UIWatching the video, I totally felt like living other people’s life, first person viewpoint. This could be totally amazing. We already have Twitch.tv where gamers broadcast their gameplay for others to watch. How far are we before we can broadcast our real life using Google Glasses?

Project-Glasses-3

Tesla vs NYT: And the Winner is …

tesla-vs-nyt

Generally I think it’s a good thing that everyone could have their voices. People will listen to both sides of the story and make their own judgement. And usually the more you discuss and dig something, the closer it will be for the public to come to the truth.
I was reading most of the comments on this NYT vs Tesla drama from different websites. Some offer photos, some provide perspectives, I can compare all these and figure out the big picture easier than with only NYT’s article and Tesla’s blog. I felt empowered. That. Is the most important implication to me from this. The public is empowered eventually.

So in the era of media democratization, our readers are the biggest winner.