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?

 

What Exactly Apple Did with iOS 7?

icon-ios7

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.

 

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.

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

Apple Adopting Flat Design? Yes, Please !

 

apple logo 2

There’s report that Apple’s legendary design master Jonathan Ive is leading Apple’s iOS user interface toward another direction: ‘flat design’.

This is really long time coming!  It’s about time we get some fresh air on iOS UI. And Apple shouldn’t let Microsoft steal all the thunder with Metro UI. I just can’t wait to see Apple’s interpretation of flat design!

 

 

 

UICraft: What Apple Map UI Done Right

A lot of people hate Apple Map. Bad directions, corrupted map data, police warnings, you name it. Yet most of the criticizes are pointing toward the back-end map data, not to the map user interface and user experience. Actually, no one seems to have talked about it. After a closer look, I found that Apple Map UI did one thing or two right:

1. Less clutter

The overall Apple Map layout is designed to avoid ‘cognitive overload’ as much as possible. Road names only get displayed when it helps the navigation, instead of throw all the names across the map.

Apple Map:

Photo-Mar-12-9-16-45-AM.png

‘I-75’ is displayed because that’s the road on which the car was currently driving. ‘Akers Rd’ is displayed because it offers a reference point of where the car is at the moment.

There is no clutter here. The user can know where they are at a glance (Driving on I-75 near ‘Akers Rd’’.) . Minimum ‘eye-off-the-road’ time. Good for safety.

Waze and Google Maps:

Google_maps_nav1.png

Google Map

waze-map-navigation.jpg
Waze Navigation App

Road names are everywhere and random.  The user needs good eyesight and extra time to figure out which road he is driving on and where exactly he is on that road. More ‘eye-off-the-road’ time. Bad for safety.

2. Clear information hierarchy with relevant information

The single most important part of a map navigation UI is the ‘Navigation Panel’ where all the navigation information is displayed. The most critical navigation questions we ask ourselves are:

  • ‘What should I do on the next Turn?’ (Left, right, exit highway, etc.)
  • ‘How far till I have to turn?’ (A number in miles or feet.)
  • ‘Which sign should I look at?’ (The road or exit sign.)

Apple Map:

navigating-panel-1

As we can see from above screenshot, the information is very clearly spelled out. User is able to get direction within 2-3 seconds.

Google Map:

nav panel google

All the information is on there, but they are all with same visual weight. User will have to read through the entire sentence to get what they need. They can’t skim, thus more time-consuming (5+ seconds).

3. Subtle color coding is intuitive

Apple Map:

Photo Mar 12, 9 19 17 AM

Light Blue:  Current route, Car Indicator (round badge), Next Turning Point

Green: Other reference road names.

Very easy to filter useful information. Blue = useful. Green: reference only.

Google and Waze Map:

waze map navigationGoogle_maps_nav1

No color coding on road or road names at all.

4. Lock-Screen peace of mind

Another thoughtful thing about Apple Map design is how navigation works with handset’s lock screen. When using the smartphone as GPS, battery life is always a concern. (You can’t expect people to always has a car charger around). When driving straight on a highway with the next turn is 100 miles away, there is no reason to keep the smartphone screen on all the time. But locking the screen risks missing the important exit (yes there’s always voice prompt, but we are driving at 70mph after all).

Photo Mar 12, 9 18 50 AM

How Apple Map solves this problem is quite smart. When navigation is on, if you lock your iPhone, the navigation screen will get on the lock screen. So if you want to check how far you’re to the next exit, just push Home or Power key to turn the screen on, don’t even need to unlock the screen. Better yet, when you’re approaching the next turn, the lock screen will automatically lit up until you successfully make the next turn.

Summary:

Adding all these together, I found Apple Map still holds its high standard when it comes to user interface and user experience design. The map data may be screwed up, but the design is still killer.

Fujitsu’s Senior Smartphone Debut : A Falling Leaf, A Coming Fall

stylistic_s01_front_frFujitsu recently launched its first Android based smartphone with France Telecom. I know there’s nothing ‘exciting’ to blog about, but there’re some serious implications from it, just like people can tell the fall is coming from the falling of a leaf. 

1. Accessibility to a whole new level.

Every UI/UX designer should take accessibility into consideration these days, but in most cases people do it just to conform to regulation requirements. It has never be in the center of the design stage before. But by choosing to release its first smartphone as a senior oriented phone with unique features and user interface, Fujitsu made a serous commitment to accessibility, from regulation abiding level to business sell point level. There are cold numeric business calculation behind it yes, but it’s still heart warming to see seniors are targeted and well thought out designs are making their use of smartphone much easier. Seniors want a piece in the mobile trend also!

2. Android OEMs start to tap into niche market already

This is something where iOS ecosystem is lagging behind actually. Don’t get me wrong. iPhone is still very popular and I’d even say it’s still main stream and leading the innovation. But on niche markets, they are not making much progress. Reason? Simple. Because Apple is but ONE company and they release but ONE phone per year. This is a pretty hard limitation. Yet for Android, there is always your ambitious ‘new comers’ want to do something different to strike from different angle, thus the senior demographic targeting Fujitsu. If you ask an elderly which phone he will use, a dedicated designed senior phone or iPhone with some accessibility enhancements. I don’t think the answer will be too hard to guess.

3. Flexible UI Themes for iOS to close the gap

Yet hope is not all lost for iOS ecosystem. When Steve Jobs first release the iPhone, one notion he brought up in his keynote about why traditional handset OEMs did wrong is hard keyboard. He claimed that what hardware can do on one thing, software can do equally well on the same thing with one hundreds different ways. And that leads to the rise of mutli-touch technology and touch screen becoming the ‘de facto’ choice for phones just because it’s so flexible.

Along the same line, the user interface potential for iOS to evolve and become more flexible to address more niche markets are huge. For example, by introducing different user interface design tweaks as different ‘themes’, your iPhone can actually look and feel like a senior phone, or enterprise phone, or kid phone. At the center, it’s still iOS, but on the user experience level, it can be optimized for different purposes.  This has been the strength point for Android from the very beginning, ability to tweak the interface, and iOS do need to play catch up.

A good start of this would be introducing ‘Dashboard’ of Mac OS into iOS. Put all the relevant information and widgets on top, so the ‘update hungry’ users can quench their thirsty in one glance. I’ll try to write a separate blog on this in the future. 

All in all, a move to make dedicated device for older guys is always welcomed, and I had a feeling that we’ll see more of these kinds of dedicated devices in the future.

Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet: What They Got Right on Hardware Design

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Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet: What They Got Right on Hardware Design

The gadget repair blog iFixit claimed today that Microsoft’s new tablet Surface Pro is even harder to repair than Apple’s iPad.  I’m not surprised at all. The entire ‘Surface’ tablet initiative is an attempt from the software giant to go vertical, go mobile and go relevant after all. Apple has been practicing the ‘vertical model’ artfully for years, and with great success. Tighter integration between software and hardware offers more streamlined products, which is extremely essential in the mobile era. Microsoft got it right when designing the Surface tablet’s hardware in several fronts:

1. They design the device to be a mobile device, not a portable version of a desktop counterparts. (cough..netbook…cough)

They seems to adopting ‘Mobile First’ motto in hardware design. That’s why they cram every components together tightly to make it as slim as possible. (which they had to, Apple has set the bar so high now with iPad and iPad Mini) This also lead to why it’s so hard to repair, because it’s not designed to be so like desktop/laptop PC did.

2. Go high quality, high-end, instead of cheap

When Microsoft first announced the price for Surface tablet, everyone was hit with surprise. It’s even more expensive than iPad. Crazy? Reality. Because the materials and components they use on the tablet are good quality ones, not cheap plastics. This at least enables them to compete with Apple on hardware, which is a very prevalent strategy adopted by most Android OEMs. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Windows is not designed to be ‘lean’ and ‘streamlined’, they are designed to be ‘everything for everyone’, thus requires more hardware power to run smoothly, or at least not to sluggish.

I don’t really believe Microsoft want to move into hardware and compete head-on with their loyal OEM partners. I think what they really trying to do is like Google making Nexus: Set the yardstick and standard, so OEMs can follow. And showcase what the ‘best practice’ can do. OEMs not moving as fast as Microsoft has expected is another reason too.

3. Make it harder to repair instead of easier. 

The normal life span of a desktop/laptop PC is around 2 to 4 years. For mobile device, the number is much smaller. We’re talking about 9-18 months. Mobile device is designed to be disposable in the first place. This is actually a positive drive on the sales for mobile device since people will upgrade their device every year or so, buying new models. Making the device less ‘repairable’ will in effect encourage people to replace it with newer model instead of repairing it. (And R&R is a cost on Microsoft side too, which isn’t what the company used to handle as a software company)

Now it seems the hardware is pretty competitive already. The Windows 8 OS, on the other hand, seems to still has a long way to go on user interface and user experience. Early reports of Surface Pro sold out in Microsoft Stores and Best Buy could be an encouraging sign, but no one can say for sure before the actual sales number released.

What do you think of Surface Pro’s design? Will it gain any traction on the market? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

 

Skeuomorphism vs Flat Design II : Evolution

Skeuomorphism as a design approach is under a lot of heat now. Mostly triggered by Apple’s contribution to it in its iOS and OS X design, as well as some ‘infamous’ apps (‘Contacts’ for iPad for one) that get things wrong. People embraces the benefit of familiarity it brings to the design, but doesn’t like it when it gets in the way or being fake. Some blame skeuomorphism for the disparity between iOS hardware and software, suggesting a total overhaul of iOS UI is necessary and cheered when Jony Ive took the position of both UI and Industrial Design lead in Apple. Yet we still see Dribble’s ‘Popular’ page flooded with tons of skeuomorphism works. Where are the future heading? To know better, we need to look back and find out where are we from.

 

1. Day One

tumblr_md5a9hLBqm1r2v2xso1_400We’ve come a long way on user interface design. 30 years ago, when MS-DOS is first released, we have but the green characters and the blinking cursor on-screen to play with. User experience is out of the question, people were still getting excited about the simple fact that PC can help them do tasks they would have done it manually before. Functionality, is the key world for this era. ‘GUI’ is not in any nerd’s dictionary just yet.

2. GUI – Skeuomorphism’s first début

Then came the GUI (Graphic User Interface), first developed by Xerox, get applied by Apple to its Macintosh computer, then Microsoft follow suit and released Windows.

Everything changed.

A new page on user interface design opened. As enthusiastic as using the command line was to nerds, it’s still more comfortable to see all the graphics. With the great success of Windows operation system, computer for the first time belongs to the rest of us, and GUI helps a lot in making it happen. It makes it possible for the normal people to be able to use a computer. Skeuomorphism is the hero in the time, for a curious yet not quite computer literate average user, being able to see a ‘calculator’ with the shape and function similar to its real world counterpart, people felt more comfortable using it.

290px-Windows_3.11_workspace

Calculator program for Windows 3.1

3. Before iPhone

GUI keeps developing over time, more and more people starts to use computers, more and more designers as well as developers put their efforts into making more useful and beautiful software. Windows as a platform won the PC war and dominated the market. Apple holding their ground with its uniqueness in design and extremely polished and user-friendly products, waiting. A lot of innovations happened at the time with Google leading search and Facebook leading social network. Both of their product featuring a ‘flat’ design and their engineering focused culture. Beautiful design are hard to find, people are like in the dark, waiting for something emerge from the horizon like the first light.

Google

Google’s ‘Flat’ Search Page

4. Post-iPhone Era

Then came the iPhone in 1997. The multi-touch design totally changed the landscape of user interface. ‘Mobile First’ became a lot of companies motto, big or small. This is a wave bigger than PC. Solid hardware performance, big screen with multi-touch UI and state-of-the-art OS put together, iPhone forever changed how people get information, communicate with each other and entertain themselves. Apple’s many years expertise on design and user experience finally get noticed by the main stream. People started to talk about how beautiful Apple’s UI looks, how smooth the interaction feels and how intuitive all though multi-touch gestures are. The prevalence of iOS drive up people’s expectation on user experience. Products can no longer stop at ‘it works’, they need to be ‘it JUST works’, and at the same time ‘looks stunningly beautiful’ to even compete. Good designers became very popular in the job market, most of them doing their dream job. Things just can’t be better for them.

iPhone-Evolution

iPhone Evolution

5. Overshoot

on-off switchThen like always, things overshot. More designers began to churn out ‘beautiful’, ‘realistic’ designs. Some with deliberations, some don’t. When heavily application of textures, shadows, gradient appears on every website, every mobile apps, every corner of people’s mobile phone screens, people quickly get aesthetic fatigue. All the weakness of skeuomorphism emerged. Too many gradients makes the interface look ‘tacky’, heavy textures competing attention with the content user want to see, design look like a real world object but functions totally differently, all these add to the ‘sin’ of skeuomorphism. Even skeuomorphism itself is not bad, the mis-application of it definitely ruined the day. People starts to pursue a clean, simple, no distraction experience. This is where we are now.

Future?

We’ll know better of what future is after we know better of the history. Now we’ve ‘relived’ the entire ‘Skeuomorphism Saga’, I think the answer become quite clear for us. The future will not be all skeuomorphism, or plain out flat design, or anything in between. Those are trends. Trends tend to come and go with new technologies, new business models. But the simple yet timeless design principles will always stay with us. As long as we follow the traditional wisdom of design, adapt it with new context, we’ll always come up with great designs. We’ll experience the same old hard-working, the contemplating, the tough decision-making. We’ll also embrace the joy of creating, the deep satisfaction of knowing we finally get things right.

This is a blessing to our designers. This is a curse to our designers.

‘Less is More’: Netflix Gets It

‘Less is More’: Netflix Gets It

netflix_less_is_more

This is the first time I came across Netflix’s ‘HR Deck’. Turns out it’s actually pretty famous and well spread. Today, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg called the deck ‘the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.’ For those of you haven’t read it, here’s the original copy.

There are many facets of their HR strategy that are worthy of a deep dive. To me, the most intriguing part is their focus on keeping their ‘corporate policy’ as simple as possible. Actually their policies for Expensing, Entertainment,Gifts and Travel is five words: “Act in Netflix’s Best Interests.’ Stunningly simple, right? But what’s not simple is, to achieve this, they need to hire high performance, self-motivated employees. They also need to align them with corporate visions to motivate them, and pay top notch salaries to keep them. What will sound really hard is, in an ever changing tech industry, they need to remain successful and get through all kinds of disruption changes coming their way (like the big change on switching from DVD mailing centric model to an online streaming based strategy).

That comes to the point of this blog: Less is more. They hire less people, but with better performance and more dedication; apply less policy, but rely on more self-discipline and good judgement; less fake promotion (promotion just to keep people from leaving, not due to bigger job), more power and fulfillment on position.

With less, they are trying to achieve more. Does anyone did this before? Yes, Apple! Apple is claimed to be the ‘biggest startup company in the world’. Apple apply similar HR philosophy, flat corporate structure and remain nimble and fast no matter how big the company is.

Can Netflix repeat Apple’s success? Very likely. Because for this model to work, there is one critical condition:

Must be in an industry that value creativity exponentially instead of linearly. 

Only in a creative industry, high caliber talents with creativity are able to generate value many times more than traditional industry. In short, creativity and talent need to scale exponentially on value generation. Only in this case, hiring a smaller group of highly talented people will trump hiring a bigger group of mediocre people. Case in points, movie, music industry.

Is Netflix in the ‘right’ industry? Yes. They are in the media consuming industry, which is undergone a disruptive change from Internet and mobile. Digital media is the future, and the old empire of cable TV is crumbling. People need creative solutions to the new problem of media consuming in digital and mobile age. Need proof? Look no further at the expectation level of new Apple iTV.

So it seems Netflix gets it and are working on getting through some hurdles. We’ll see how things develop in TV and media consuming market and how well Netflix lives up to its own words.

Will Netflix become the next Apple? What do you think?