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?

 

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What Exactly Apple Did with iOS 7?

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So the biggest announcement in tech industry is behind us. Yesterday in Apple’s WWDC 2013, the new iOS 7 was released to the public. My feeling towards it is a mixed bag. I liked the simplicity of the new design language, but not a big fan of the somewhat ‘childish’ app icon colors. I’m excited about the huge potential of iOS for cars (which deserve another blog), but not so keen on the Control Center. When all the excitement and disappointment quiet down, I tried to put all the pieces together and wonder what exactly Apple did on iOS 7?

Here is what I found out:

1. Stronger Design Rules

  •  Grid system:  As Jonny Ive put it ‘Developing a grid system allowed us to achieve a much more harmonious relationship between individual elements‘. A well designed and implemented grid system will hugely improve the inner relationship between scatter around UI elements, thus making them feel like part of a single piece. This is essential in ‘flat design’ that iOS is obviously influenced by.  Not that iOS 6 is designed without a grid system, it’s just that the previous ‘skeumorphism’ UI style give ample affordance and visual clue, thus a grid system’s importance is not as critical as a simplicity centered flat design.

ios7_grid_system

 

  • Redesigned color palette:  Anyone familiar the old iOS will find the new one way more colorful, to the extent of making some uncomfortable. These colors come from a re-designed palette that go well together. This actually reminds me of when iMac is first introduced to the market. The beautiful neon colors really capture a lot of attention. Some would say the new look of iOS is actually childish and will hurt its image of a professional device. I tend to disagree. There is nothing wrong about being colorful, being bold as long as it’s still well thought out and designed to please human eyes. iOS color has been dull for soooo long, and it’s time for a change.

ios-7-palette

 

  • Dynamic UI that get out-of-the-way when not needed:   Nothing can be said better than Apple’s own terms, and forgive my laziness of directly quoting them here: ‘The interface is purposely unobtrusive. Conspicuous ornamentation has been stripped away. Unnecessary bars and buttons have been removed. And in taking away design elements that don’t add value, suddenly there’s greater focus on what matters most: your content.‘ Also a ‘flat’ UI make doing this easier, since all the elements are mostly colorful geometric shapes, it won’t hurt the snappiness of the UI as badly as a ‘unwieldy’ heavy textured UI.

2. Industrial Design and UI Design Integration

This has been criticized all along. People complained about the minimalist industrial design of iPhone doesn’t match the ‘skeumorphism’ style UI. Now it seems with the iOS 7, they are start to come to the same direction: Simplicity. One good example is the layered effect iOS 7 trying to create with the use of translucency. It might look very subtle, but it means a lot. It makes your iPhone felt more legit and physical, more ‘real’. In heart, the new iOS 7 is still trying to be ‘real’, but it has evolved from ‘visual skeumorphism’ to ‘psychology skeumorphism’. After all, Apple is all about making technology human. Or put it in their own words:

“Technology should never get in the way of humanity”

ios7layer

3. More Mobile Friendly

  • Conserving Power: A big development iOS 7 bring to the table is to conserve power usage when the app is not in the foreground. No other company came close to how deep Apple dig to save the 1 minute of battery power.
  • Flat Design uses less CPU power, thus smoother: I bet the new iOS 7’s built-in UI image resource size is much smaller than iOS 6. To put it in layman’s terms: It has become leaner and faster. Exactly what mobile demands.

4. Character?

This is a vague feeling of mine. I can’t really put my finger to it. But the bold color, the subtle translucent layers, the smart UI that will hide themselves when I need to view my content, the smarter and more human-sounding Siri, etc. all give me a feeling that iOS 7 somehow come to life, has its own character, and evolved to be smarter and prettier. There’s a slice of humanity in it, no matter how thin it is. Maybe it’s just me day dreaming, or maybe this is also Apple’s vision?

BTW, the Apple official iOS 7 Design page is by itself a design lesson, I recommend going through it. It’s not just a sales pitch.

 

Xbox One: From Hardcore to Family Friendly and Why Gamers Complain

Xbox One: From Hardcore to Family Friendly and Why Gamers Complain

New XBOX ONE

I call myself a gamer usually. Though I don’t always have the time to actually sit down and turn up my Xbox 360. I played games enough and are still in the community to understand what’s in gamer’s mind. I’ve been trying to put my fingers on the new Xbox One release and why gamers, especially hardcore gamers, hate it. I think I can relate.

Some say they don’t understand where gamer’s rage come from. After all pricing stays the same and the product become better. But pricing always stays around the same or even less for newer products, or no one will buy them unless something unique justify the price increase. That’s people’s expectation now. The thing people complaining, especially the more hardcore gamer bunch, is the direction Xbox One is going. It’s going from a dedicated hard-core gaming console (by dedicating I mean dedicate on hardware, OS, integration, feature sets, etc.) to a generic ‘a-little-bit-of-everything’ set-top-box. I think gamers felt a bit like getting ‘cheated’. You have to understand those hardcore gamers, they take it very very seriously. When you are playing COD and you’re about to die if not jumping off a platform to avoid the incoming bullets, that one second delay because of Netflix or other features will be the difference between living and dying for them.

Yes there are casual gamers, but they don’t really care about Xbox or Playstation or Wii, hell they are happy enough with a Galaxy or iPhone even. (Which is totally fine, I’m a casual gamer now myself and liking it.)

I think gamers are upset because Microsoft uses its influence and success on Xbox which is popped up by gamers to pursue its other agendas and leaving gamers behind (or marginalized at least). And as we know it, more often than not, Microsoft’s new agenda won’t be welcomed with great success for some time now… So this feels like a ‘omen’ to gamers.

Will the shift on Xbox One get them more sales because of the shift to broader audiences? Maybe. But at what cost? The exodus of most of their core gamers customers?

I really don’t know whether this is a good thing for them or not.

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.

People Are Walking Away from Theaters and It’s OK

theatre-seats

Image Source: mamadrama.com

Less and less people go to theaters nowadays. Ticket price is hiking so do the gas price. More ‘long tail’ contents like PSY’s ‘Gungnam Style’ are pulling people’s attention here and there. What I observed is a role shift of the theater from ‘main-stream-cheap-no-brainer’ choice of weekend entertainment to upscale-expensive-optimized-experience once several months. Why? Because cheaper substitutes emerge, with Netflix, Hulu, etc. on the service side and smartphone, tablet, smart TV, LTE on the hardware side. And content is shifting from a mass market dominating ‘hit economy’ to a more commoditized ‘long tail economy’, leading by the prevalence of Youtube, Vimeo, and thousands of user created contents.

Old business case needs  retooling and new models need to be invented.

Forgive me if I’m being too dramatic on this, but like Charles Dickens put it:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.

Thoughts On Recent Attack on Apple from China State-Run Newspaper

apple-china-store-pudong

Recently, Apple got attacked by Chinese government owned media a lot. Here’s my perspectives:

Firstly, Chinese consumers pretty much know the governmental media’s true color and that their claim against Apple is all lying or twisted. The recent scandal ’820 Event’ speaks it all. (more details here: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/03/16/apple-weibo-china-cctv/)

Secondly, government itself also knows what they are saying is bullshit. A lot of government officers, their children, family members use iPhone and they won’t use it if the service is bad. They just has an agenda and a marching order.

Lastly, over time, Chinese netizens have already developed a habit of interpreting whatever government media claims reversely. If the media claim someone is bad, then that someone must be actually good! So all the ‘attacks’ in effect are good PR for Apple.
Read more at http://macdailynews.com/2013/03/26/china-slams-apples-empty-and-self-praising-response-to-warranty-complaints/#gWutMWgbWaC3ohvh.99

T-Mobile’s Recent ‘Un-carrier’ Move: Pretty PR to Cover ‘Cheap Prepaid’ Label?

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Recently, T-Mobile made a lot of noises on their ‘Un-carrier’ campaign. You can do the math yourself, but after some thorough calculations, the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is not so different from other domestic carrier’s offerings. Yes it’s cheaper, but not 1 and 10 cheaper, more of a 8 and 10 cheaper. But why would T-Mobile bother to make a big deal of this ‘un-carrier’ thing instead of promoting the ‘cheaper’ part of their new plans? In my opinion, it’s a smart and subtle PR play to promoting ‘cheap’ without damaging their image. The carefully planned campaign serves three purposes:

1. Hiding the ‘Cheap Prepaid’ Label

T-Mobile recently merged with MetroPCS, which is a sizable prepaid carrier. T-Mobile itself bet pretty heavily on prepaid too. Acquiring MetroPCS will definitely strengthen the prepaid part of their business, even pushing their entire business to that direction. BUT, and this is a big ‘but’, T-Mobile will NEVER allow themselves to be labeled as ‘cheap prepaid carrier’. Call it pride , call it denial, they want to remain their ‘top-tier’ image at all cost, even when their entire business is slipping deeper and deeper into the ‘prepaid’ zone. By demanding other top-tier carriers to ‘stop the bullshit’, they picture themselves as the savior, offering a way out of others’ ‘contract tyranny’. They are not being cheap, they are actually freeing the end users from the ‘2 years contract’ shackle and charge less doing so! All the public attention will be on whether the 2 years contact is a good thing or a rip-off, instead of whether T-Mobile is finally go ‘prepaid’. Smart move!

2. Severing ‘cheap’ label from ‘Prepaid Model’ and rebrand it as ‘Freedom for User’.

Everybody knows it, nobody wants to admit it. In US cellphone market, ‘prepaid’ equals ‘cheap’. It suggest inferior service, fewer choices on high-end smartphones, and bottom feeder ‘dirt-cheap’ handsets. The thing is, this is only the case within US market. In Europe where T-Mobile’s mother company is, and most of the Asian countries, prepaid model is the main stream, comes with the best quality service package and top-of-the-line smartphones.  If T-Mobile could change people’s perspective on prepaid and stop them from thinking ‘prepaid’ as the synonyms of ‘cheap’, it could fundamentally change how the carrier game is played in US market, and T-Mobile is the best positioned to play the new game. It’s a long shot, but it’s also a big shot.

3. ‘Financing you Phone’ avoid upfront big payment, yet leverage people’s purchasing habit.

For those people buying a new iPhone 5 and don’t want to pay the full price upfront, T-Mobile offered a 2 years financing plan that user can get the phone with $99 down payment a $20 monthly charge. It might sounds like the same ‘2 year contact’ with what other carriers is offering, but there is a big difference. The bank not the carrier  is offering the financing plan with credit check, which users in US has long developed trust with. People feel way more comfortable getting into a loan situation with banks than carriers. Comparing to a 20 years $1000/month home mortgage, a $20/month 2 year one is hardly a thing! By offering the financing plan, T-Mobile avoids the downside of big ‘day one investment’ for prepaid model, but still remains in safe distance with the ‘2 years contract’ model which they so fiercely claiming against.

Summary

I have to say this is very well-played by T-Mobile’s PR team. How well or how fast people could accept the ‘prepaid’ model as the new main stream remains to be seen, but it’s good to see one of the top-tier carriers making a strong first step to this direction.

Some thoughts on Google Keep

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

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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.

HTML 5 Development Cost Greater Than Native?

In the article from The Next Web: Accounting software startup Xero ditches HTML5 in favor of native iOS and Android apps

Our view is that HTML5 technologies can deliver as-good-as-native experiences…but the lesson from Fastbook is that it’s hard work – you don’t get those experiences out-of-the-box. And the lesson we’ve learnt over the last 12 months has been that the cost in time, effort and testing to bring an HTML5 application to a native level of performance seems to be far greater than if the application was built with native technologies from the get-go.

This surprises me a bit. One big reason for app developers to choose web app approach is because HTML5 is ‘cross-platform’, thus developers don’t have to deal with OS fragmentation and develop one version for each platform.

I guess this is due to immature of the ecosystem. By immature, it’s not just the technology itself, but also the developer talent pool as well as the tools and resources. We all know the ‘end-game’ for HTML5 is great, but to get there, there seems to be more hurdles than expected…

Eye-Tracking Smartphone UI: Yes and No

Came across this article ‘The Implications Of The Interface That Watches You” today. Eye-tracking as a new way of user interaction is intriguing, but after some thoughts, I think it’s very limiting:

eye-tracking

Image from: TechCrunch.com

1.  Eye movement is a’ subconscious’ behavior, hard to control.

When we move our hands, our brain needs to command it to do it and we’re aware of it. Eye movement is different. We do it unconsciously. We automatically blink when we read for a long time. We move our eye balls up and down when browsing the web without thinking about it. Now if an app or smartphone tracks our eye movements and makes the app responding to it, all these random moves will start to mess things up. User will grow nervous about their eye movements, adding HUGE pressure to the experience. A good app design should try as much as possible to NOT make user think. This is making user think MORE about something they never have to think about (eye movement) before. Totally wrong.

2. Dynamically changing UI screws location memory

The idea of changing the user interface based on people’s eye movement is even more absurd. Location memory is in the center part of user experience design. Human brains remember where things are and  it makes it easy for them to find it next time they want to use it. Dynamically changing where all the buttons and other UI elements are? User will become utterly confused as where things are.

3. Eye-tracking as data gathering tool is creepy but useful

So what is the better way of using eye-tracking technology? Simply put, using the data only. Quietly gathering eye movements data without messing around the UI, and then use the gathered data for better profile building, ads targeting etc. is actually a solid idea. Before, all the profile building technology stops at search and clicks. Google knows what website you clicks or searches, that’s how they build their targeting ads system that rakes in billions of ads dollars. But what if they can know which part of the screen get the most eye-balls? It’s definitely a step forward, both on precision and creepiness ironically.

Since camera has become so ubiquitous now, technologies like facial recognizing, eye tracking, gesture tracking will trickle down to our laptop and smartphones. Give or take, welcome to an era of new interactions.