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.

 

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.

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?

t-mobile-mytouch-4g-commercial.jpg

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.

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!

 

 

 

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.

Mailbox App’s Reservation System UI: Progress Indicator At Its Best

As a fan of GTD(Getting Things Done), a sufferer of email-overload and a User Interface enthusiast, when my friend Drew Wilken informed me of this new ’email killer app’, I dropped everything on my hands and hit the ‘App Store’ icon on my iPhone5, and downloaded the highly hyped app. I gotta have it! One minute and 37 seconds later, I hit a cold hard wall looks like this:

mailbox waiting step 1

Am I furious about this, you ask? For a second, yes, but when I look closer, my feeling toward the app quietly changed. Let me tell you what happened.

  • Two sides of the same coin

When I first launched the app, I was greeted with a big welcome screen tell me I can’t use the app just yet. I need to wait in line for the system to gradually rollout. And my position is displayed on screen with huge blue numbers: ‘757,962’. What? There are  hundreds thousands of people before me? What a disappointment! Wait a second, what’s the smaller gray text beneath? ‘8268 behind me? Hmm… That feels better…’

mailbox app startup step 2

I believe a lot of people share the similar feelings when getting in line for Mailbox’s developer Orchestra to slowly roll out the app. To ease the pain of waiting, the progress indicator in the waiting screen is carefully and cleverly designed. By showing both the people ahead of you and the people behind you, the design gives you a feel of where you are, but also a feel of how much you have progressed (though the smaller gray ‘People behind you’ number). Pain is more bearable when you know you’re not the only one that’s suffering.

  • Joy of the flipping numbers

Another intriguing detail is when you leave the app for a while and come back, the two numbers will get updated accordingly, with a cool animation of flipping numbers you’ll usually see in a count-down clock. It really creates a feeling of ‘boost on progress’, which is kinda addicting. I found myself come back and check the app every 30 minutes or so just to see the numbers flipping. (‘I ascend!’) After the initial update, the number will still flip when it gets a new update, but much slower, leave people in the real waiting.

  • Designed outlets for impatience 

People get bored quickly when staring at slow turning numbers. Soon they want to do something to change the situation, or check something for distraction. This is where the well designed three ‘impatience outlets’ come into play. Beneath the numbers, three icons are displayed:

mailbox waiting step 3

‘About’ will tell you what the app is about, why you need to wait.

‘Status’ links to an article on developer’s blog explaining in more details how the rollout is handled and how long should user expect to wait.

If you’re still unsatisfied, there’s the third icon ‘Discuss’ which will lead you to the Mailbox app’s Twitter accounts. You can vent or check other people’s vent (or success cheer). Spread the word while add to the hype. (Maybe this is why the app is so hyped)

  • Yes. I dare to hope.

Now you see why I’m not furious at all. Actually I had more hope and confidence in the new app. If the designers in Orchestra would put so much thoughts into a simple waiting page to smooth out the launching process, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine the standard they’ll hold for the actual app. Now I’m really intrigued to see the app’s user experience. I’ll write another blog when my waiting is over. Stay tuned.

What’s your experience with the waiting or the app itself? Leave a comment and let me know!

Edit: It seems good design tends to go viral. Hot calendar app Tempo also assume the similar reservation system and even UI after an initial crush by demand. Here:

Photo Feb 19, 3 34 02 PM

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.