Well, John Browett I saw coming. His tenure as the head of Apple retail has been very tumultuous and there have been a lot of complaints in the less-than-a-year that he headed it up. He didn’t get what made Apple retail stores unique, and didn’t really have experience running a luxury brand. He tried to turn Apple’s retail stores into a nickle-and-dime operation, when the real allure was in the upscale, laid back experience mixed with great service.
Scott Forstall is much bigger news. He’s been with Steve Jobs and his companies ever since he graduated from Stanford. He started with NeXT and came over when Apple purchased NeXT. He was instrumental in bringing the NeXT core and APIs over to Mac OS and was the person who wanted Apple to adapt OS X for iOS instead of using Linux.
Forstall was Jobs’s right-hand software man. But Steve is no longer with us, and changes are afoot.
The press release doesn’t say one positive thing about Forstall. He was pushed out. Word on the street is that it’s related to Siri and Apple’s new Maps app. Both weren’t overly polished and remain buggy to this day.
Maybe Forstall also left because the company has changed so much in the past five years. Apple is primarily the world’s largest mobile company. But being a mobile company is so much me than just a mobile operating system; it’s also doing Web services, hardware and integration in larger ecosystems.
So what does this mean for Apple?
Skeuomorphism is out at Apple — Jobs and Forstall were the big skeomorphism guys in Apple. Neither is around anymore. Expect to no longer see user interfaces that try to mimic real-world objects.
The Jony Ive-ing of Apple’s UI/UX — Apple says that Ive will, “provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design.” I’d expect to see the modern, clean lines of Ive’s design aesthetic being applied to iOS and OS X. The mobile OS that fits that description the best is Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro UI. I expect to see less embellishment, cleaner lines and less faux textures. I also expect to see Apple’s UIs complimenting Apple’s hardware even better. But Ive is a hardware guy, and user experience and user design is really about how something works, not how it looks. But since mobile device design is so much about the marriage between hardware and software, doesn’t it make sense for one guy and his team to head up both?
Silos being torn down — That seems to be the big message from today’s announcement. In addition to Ive handling hardware and software design, Senior Vice President, Mac Software Engineering Craig Federighi is now in charge of both iOS and OS X. Could this mean that they one day become one OS that works on both touchscreen and mouse and keyboard computing systems? Perhaps. In the short term, I think this means we’ll be seeing iOS and OS X sharing even more technology and looking more similar (which has been the big push with Lion and Mountain Lion). Did it really make sense for two different people to control Apple’s operating systems? It makes sense for one person to have the ultimate say over both and to have both teams work together.
iOS will see some big changes — Forstall lead the team that created the best mobile OS in the world. He has laid the foundation for a very successful future for iOS and Apple. But some people feel that iOS has become conservative. iOS has clung to the successful SpringBoard home screen focused on apps since the original iPhone, while competitors have begun integrating more information and services into home screens. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and 8 in particular offer home screens that are more flexible and powerful. A lot of people really like the simplicity of SpringBoard, but it was a design for much less powerful devices. It was the original design. The iPhone 5 is many times me powerful than the original iPhone. I think it’s likely we’ll see bigger changes in the jump from iOS 6 to 7 than we saw from iOS 5 to 6. This doesn’t mean that SpringBoard is going away, but iOS 6 was a very iterative change over iOS 5, and this space is so young that there are big gains to still be made.
Google just wants the talented Sparrow team; it doesn’t really want the wonderful iPhone and Mac App that the company has created. Google has never really cared that much about putting out really strong products on anything other than Android.
I have some hope for this acquisition. The Sparrow team has clearly been thinking hard about how to make email more efficient, particularly on mobile platforms. The knowledge and design that went into Sparrow could be brought over to Gmail.com and mobile Gmail clients.
The best case scenario is that Sparrow gets renamed Gmail and that the Sparrow experience gets brought to more platforms. Worst case scenario would be Google just using the new team to help make Gmail.com better, while continuing to ignore native desktop and mobile experiences, particularly on iOS.
Google has put more thought and care into the Android Gmail experience than the iOS one and doesn’t have an app on any other mobile platform. I’d hate for them to acquire the best iOS Gmail client and then just kill it and go back to delivering a sub-par Gmail experience for iOS users.
Our sources also noted that Google isn’t ruling out native Gmail clients for platforms beyond iOS and Android, and emphasized that Google wants to bring polish, “beauty,” and ease of use to all of its Gmail experiences across platforms (a suggestion that a native client for Mac and PC might be in the offing). Sparrow, apparently, is a way to get there.
I’m all for that. I’ve been a Gmail user for seven years, and while the underlying service and engineering keep getting better, the user interface has stagnated and is too keyboard focused. Sparrow for iOS really brought a big touch focus and had a lot of great gestures and UI flourishes that made tearing through email really fast.
Every Gmail experience from the website to native apps could benefit from the work that Sparrow has done. The Gmail team’s engineering work combined with the Sparrow team’s UI/UX work could be a beautiful thing. It’s an incredible marriage of tech and art.
I hope, however, this doesn’t mean the end of high quality native Gmail experiences. While gmail.com does provide a good email solution that works across platforms (and that is better than Outlook, Apple’s Mail app and Thunderbird), it’s not nearly as good as a really forward thinking native app like Sparrow.
Sparrow came about because Google neglected the desktop experience and the iOS experience. I hope they don’t take this new talent and continue down that path. Google needs to take native app experiences more seriously.
The Web is great, but it’s not the end all, be all, especially something like mobile email. Sparrow’s legacy deserves more than just the Web. Sparrow should be about making gmail.com better and making more and better native apps.
Sparrow, you will be missed. Hopefully this will not have all been in vain.
in every user interface study we’ve ever done […], [we found] it’s pretty easy to learn how to use these things ‘til you hit the file system and then the learning curve goes vertical. So you ask yourself, why is the file system the face of the OS? Wouldn’t it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?
Now, e-mail, there’s always been a better way to find stuff. You don’t keep your e-mail on your file system, right? The app manages it. And that was the breakthrough, as an example, in iTunes. You don’t keep your music in the file system, that would be crazy. You keep it in this app that knows about music and knows how to find things in lots of different ways. Same with photos: we’ve got an app that knows all about photos. And these apps manage their own file storage. […]
And eventually, the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it.
What Steve is describing is how iOS works, and how people will be able to use OS X Mountain Lion. For power users, the file system is great, but for your average computer users, it just makes everything more complicated. You would be surprised with how many people don’t really know how to manage a file system.
And if you don’t know how to use and manage a file system, you’re not getting the most out of your computer, you’re misplacing files and you are probably unhappy frequently with your computer. Or you become one of those people who stores everything on the desktop, because, hey, that’s at least one spot that you know how to reach. Of course, your desktop then becomes so cluttered that it’s useless for storing files.
There are limitations to the iOS model (how do multiple apps access and work with the same file?), but it is a system that works very well for novice users. An iPad is much easier to pick up and use than a Mac or PC, and a large part of that is how much easier it is to manage files.
Rands in Repose has a post comparing learning how to play the popular game Portal to learning how to use Photoshop.
One of them requires no manual and the other a lifetime to master (or a lifetime of looking up how to do things again):
The plethora of online Photoshop tutorials demonstrate its power and its flexibility, but I believe they also demonstrate its poor design. Think about it like this: what if each time you plunked down in front of World of Warcraft, you had to spend an hour trying to remember, wait, how do I play this?
Great design makes learning frictionless. The brilliance of the iPhone and iPad is how little time you spend learning. Designers’ livelihood is based on how quickly and cleverly they can introduce to and teach a user how a particular tool works in a particular universe. In one universe, you sport a handheld Portal gun that cleverly allows you to interrupt physics. In a slightly different universe, you have this tool called a cloning stamp that empowers you to sample and copy any part of a photo.
Computers and software aren’t new. There should be a certain amount of intuitiveness and discoverability to software. If experienced computer users constantly find themselves frustrated with your software, the issue probably lies with you.
However, sometimes non-discoverable gestures and commands make us more productive. I don’t think the mark of great design is always how little time it takes to learn how to use something. Some things inherently take time to master and learn.
Anyone who knows how to drive a manual transmission can tell you that driving an automatic is certainly easier to do and more discoverable. Any idiot can figure out to put the transmission into the D for drive position.
A manual transmission offers a much higher level of control over a car. It gives the driver more feedback, and is more pleasurable to use. But the learning curve is much steeper.
I would never say, however, that driving an automatic transmission is a superior experience. It’s simply the easier route. The thing is, eventually you figure out how to drive a manual transmission really well and you start to do things that you simply can’t do with an automatic transmission.
Computers aren’t cars, however, and there has to be a balance between being able to pick up a piece of software and quickly use it and being able to do powerful things with it. Simple hotkeys like control-c and control-v aren’t discoverable, but they are invaluable to those of us who work with text for a living.
I could not imagine using a windowing operating system without hotkeys, which make us more productive and faster, while putting less strain on our bodies. The beauty of a modern windowing OS such as Windows 7 or OS X Lion is that there are multiple ways to get tasks done.
Anyone can move a mouse around, click on things and fumble there way through a computer. Others learn the hotkeys and install programs like Alfred that help get even more done with the keyboard.
The iPad has taken ease-of-use and discoverability to a whole new level. An iPad makes using a Mac feel like using an IBM PC from the 1980s. The big challenge for the iPad and other tablets is find ways to mix in power-user features that help make experienced computer users more productive.
The iPad supports gestures like the four-finger swipe to go between apps that is faster than the standard switching model. There is also the hand-close swipe to get back to the homescreen. I would expect to see more of these gestures that help power users move around faster. This video of a proposed way to highlight and select text on an iPad is the perfect example of a feature that shouldn’t replace the default text selection behavior but would really aid power users.
Getting back to the post in question, I find Photoshop too much for my needs. The program has too many features, costs too much money and feels too bloated to me (I can’t stand how long it takes to load compared to newer graphics editing programs). I’m perfectly happy using Pixelmator for my graphic design needs. It’s much cheaper, runs much faster and is easy to use for the tasks that I need to accomplish.
The biggest knock on Pixelmator and similar apps is that they try too much to be like Photoshop. The more they distance themselves from Photoshop and find ways to make graphic design easier, the better. If people want a Photoshop experience, they’ll for the real thing.
The tension between discoverability and powers users is not going away any time soon. With easier to use and more-locked down devices, that tension is only growing.
I no longer have email push email notifications turned on my phone.
Nor do I don’t have have my phone pull emails at set intervals. Why? Productivity and stress reduction.
The biggest problem with having your phone push email every time a new message comes in is that you feel compelled to check it. Making email work for us isn’t about checking email; it’s about processing email. Much of the email that I receive can’t be quickly processed on a mobile phone.
If I can’t process the email, what good does it do to check it and have it sitting on my mind? When we allow email to fester on our minds, it causes needless stress. We think about the contents of that email and a job we have to do, but we aren’t actually working on doing that job, so it steals our attention, even as we try to relax after a long workday.
Everything in our lives suffers from stolen attention. So why have email pushed to you when you don’t intend on actually processing those emails once and for all?
Many of us read and email but don’t act on that email, leaving us less apt to process the email later. We have only served to acquire that brief satisfaction of checking an email, only to allow stress and lost attention overtake us during all the moments we don’t process that email.
People use the unread designation that emails have as a sort of productivity heuristic. If the email hasn’t been opened and read, it should be acted on. Once opened and read, it doesn’t need to be acted on. But that’s a lie.
This isn’t to say that push notifications don’t have their place. Rather, for most people, the decision to use push notifications should be done on a case by case, project by project, job by job basis. This week, push notifications come in handy, due to the nature of the work I’ll be doing.
I’m at The Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. I’m expected to responsive to email constantly and help run the event. It makes sense to use push or pull notifications this week.
I’ll be much less focused on producing something original and more focused on helping keep this science fair running well. This is a push email kind of week.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to email. When I’m back in the office next week, I don’t want my phone buzzing with email constantly. I’ll be back focused on Web work, social media and writing. Those activities are best done with some level of concentration.
In many situations, checking email is a good way to not get work done. I’m not checking email as I write this post, and I don’t have an email application open or push notifications on. I want to focus on writing this post, and at 9:30 on a Saturday night, there is no chance that I’ll receive an urgent email (usually I don’t write blog posts on Saturday nights, but I’m working this weekend and all of next week, and this is what I’m doing for some down time).
Part of making email work as part of a modern, usable workflow is taming it. Unless you’re a traffic manager or some other office job that has you managing the flow of projects or doing constant deals, you don’t need email open all the time.
I can’t get lost in programming if I’m being notified about emails. I can’t think clearly enough to write while I’m being bombarded by email. Multitasking is overrated, and constantly being connected to email is even more overrated.
Imagine if your email inbox was actually the mail you received in the post office. All day long there would be a knock at the door and a new letter. You’re sitting down to dive into a long work session and all of the sudden a new letter shows up. You check it and then try to go back to work again.
And then another letter shows up.
When Sparrow came out for the iPhone, I thought it was a great app that a had a fatal flaw — it doesn’t support push or pulling of email. Now I realize that as part of my workflow, this is an asset. I check Sparrow only when I have time to process email.
I do, however wish that Sparrow supported push emails, because there are times like this week that I do need to able to receive emails in real time. I hope Sparrow does eventually support push email, because it’s a feature that when used properl can come in handy.
But for most of the time, I’d have push turned off. Ideally checking email when I’m bored neither cures my boredom, nor makes me actually tackle my email.
In the end, what we really need are easier ways to turn push notifications on and off. There isn’t a global way to turn push notifications on and off in iOS. We’re left with a laborious process where we have to turn on and off notifications on a per app basis. This makes it very unlikely that people will actually turn push notifications off when they’re trying to focus.
Push notifications have a purpose. We cannot deny that. But we need better control on when they are interrupting us or not.
This is an issue that is still being worked out in mobile OSes, and something that has to be addressed. It also has to be easy to do, because this cannot just be the domain of power users.
Daniel Hooper made the above demo to show how text editing could be made much faster and more efficient on the iPad.
The iPad is a good device for writing text (I start a lot of the posts that appear here on the iPad), but it’s not great for editing text. It’s much slower than a standard keyboard and mouse setup for editing text, especially for the rearranging of text, as Hooper points out:
Tapping directly on text to move the cursor works well for small portions of text, but we don’t just write short portions of text anymore! When performing lots of edits in larger documents the direct interaction metaphor falls apart for cursor control. Even short portions of text can be painful to edit when you need to move the cursor to a precise location. Would you ever want to write a document on your computer without using the arrow keys? This is the reality iPad users face because they do not have the equivalent of arrow keys. There is a better way.
I think it would be difficult to write a long paper or article on the iPad because text selection is so slow to do, and a large part of writing is figuring out where the pieces fit.
That’s a shame because I do like to use my iPad to edit and proofread longer posts that I start on my computer, and I know the editing process could be even better. There is just something about editing writing on a separate device in a different atmosphere. I might do the bulk of my writing at my desk in my office, but I really like to sit back and relax on the couch with the iPad for editing.
The above prototype shows how Apple could make editing text much faster. I think Apple’s current setup should stay, but they should add something similar to what this video is showing for power users. Apple”s current text editing capabilities are very obvious, which is important, but they are too slow for power users.
Offering provisions for both power users and regular users is what Apple has been doing for years with OS X. It’s about time we started seeing the same with iOS.
Should iTunes be split into smaller, discrete applications that focus on specific tasks? iTunes being bloated and slow is not a new meme, but there has been a lot of discussion recently about breaking iTunes up into separate applications for different tasks.
It’s important to note that iTunes began just as a music jukebox app. All it did was play music files, and it was very good at that. It was also a very good companion to early iPods, but as iTunes aged and took on more tasks, it became a poor application for most uses.
By making iTunes into several small apps, Apple could deliver more features and granularity without overloading users. Imagine iTunes with more features and granularity. That sounds like a terrible proposition.
Doesn’t iTunes already do too much?
iTunes has the paradoxical distinction of both doing too much and too little. It does too much because it handles too many discrete function. But it also does too little because it often doesn’t delve that deeply into what each discrete function can too. iTunes is a music jukebox application that also plays movies; iTunes is also movie management software that has almost no movie management controls.
iTunes is a bloated piece of software that does a lot (Apple bills it as an application that has “Everything in one place,” which is sadly too accurate). Adding more features to it — even features that make a lot of sense — comes with the cost of making the application needlessly more complex and slow. As long as iTunes is one giant application — almost an operating system for digital media — Apple will hesitate in adding too many features for a specific area of the application.
Take the iTunes Store; it exists as one section of a big application. Giving it more features and granularity would only increase the feeling that iTunes is overloaded (and would make the application even slower to load). But, there are a lot of features missing from the store that would make it easier to shop and find interesting content.
There is no way to search for movies by rating — either customer ratings or Rotten Tomatoes ratings. I’d love to have the ability to find out the highest rated movies by genre, decade and overall. Or how about seeing reviewers and users lists of which movies to check out? But if that functionality was added in today, it would make iTunes seem even more complex.
Without features like this, it’s difficult to discover great movies. The only thing that the iTunes Store is good at is showing what is popular right now. It’s not good at showing me historically popular movies or highly rated movies (or music or TV shows).
This is what happens when one app tries to do the job of three-to-four applications. What does purchasing movies have anything to do with making music playlists? What do music playlists have to do with syncing content between my Mac and my iPad?
iTunes tries to do too many things. When I plug in my iPhone to sync files, it launches iTunes, which then triggers automatic downloads of video files that I may have available for download. When I’m trying to sync my device, I don’t need video files from TV shows that I purchased on my Apple TV to automatically start downloading.
Because iTunes does so many things, it feels slow. It takes several seconds for the app to launch and for me to finally be able to do something. If I just want to listen to music, why am I being greeted with the iTunes store or my movie collection?
Whenever I open iTunes it opens to the last section of the application that I had open. Considering that iTunes does so many different things, this can greatly impede my ability to do what I want to do. If the last thing I had open for the iTunes Store, the application has to load, than the store and then I can finally do what I want to do in the application. If all I want to do is listen to music, having the iTunes store load first makes no sense. But when you have an application that does so much, how do you even decide what should be the first thing that people see when they start the program up? If an application ever has a big identity crisis where it can’t decide what makes the most sense to start with each and every time, that application has become too bloated and is trying to do too many things.
An application like that lacks focus.
When I open up Sparrow, I’m shown my inbox. When I open up Twitter for OS X, I’m shown my Twitter feed. With Safari, I get my homepage. With iTunes, I get whatever I had open the last time I closed the app.
There are a bunch of ways that it could be broken into separate, discrete apps. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to how to do it, but the right answer is surely to separate iTunes into distinct apps.
Syncing should have always been a separate app for iOS devices. iTunes not only handles syncing of my music files but it also handles syncing of movies, TV shows, applications, photos, contacts, preferences, etc. This makes no sense. Apple is moving away from iTunes as a syncing platform towards iCloud, and eventually anything but iCloud syncing could be eliminated, but that won’t happen for years.
iCloud is not, nor is much of the world’s Internet infrastructure, in the right place to only allow cloud-based syncing and backups. Thus, the syncing portion of iTunes should be an entirely separate application. Something lightweight, easy to use and with plenty of granularity.
And something that I only see and load when I’m trying to sync.
After separating syncing into a new app, there are several routes to go. Apple could simply break up the rest of iTunes into two applications: One for playing media files and one for purchasing media files. All of the sudden the store area of the app would be gone from iTunes (iTunes Store, iTunes Match and Ping), as well as Genius and the Devices section. This has significantly pared down the left-hand navigation column, while also removing a lot of code and bloat from the application.
Where Ping, iTunes’s built in social network, fits in is anyone’s guess. It speaks to how hopelessly lost iTunes is as an application that it also comes with a social network. You can’t search for movies in the iTunes Store by best rated, but you can share the latest song you purchased in a ghost town of a social network.
The other major option would be to split iTunes up into separate audio and video applications. iTunes is a pretty good music player. Yes, it is missing some functions that more dedicated music playing applications have, but it’s pretty good for playing music and this is where iTunes is at its best. iTunes, however, does the bare minimum for storing and playing video files.
iTunes doesn’t have a good way for people to store large video collections in different ways. Nor does iTunes really work for any video management and playback for files not purchased in the iTunes store (imagine if iTunes only handled audio files that were purchased through the iTunes Store). iTunes functions as the most bare minimum video storage software that you can think of, but there is no reason that it isn’t more full featured like the music portion of iTunes.
For instance, why doesn’t iTunes show all of the TV shows and movies that I have available to stream through iCloud? With movies and TV shows in the cloud, the idea of locally storing video files on my Mac is going away. Rather, I’d like to have a good interface to see all the movies that I have purchased and am storing in the cloud.
Because I’m much more apt to buy movies and TV shows now that I don’t have to handle local storage, I could really use a way to categorize my video content and make playlists. One day when I have a 100 or so movies from iTunes in the cloud, I’d greatly appreciate the ability to sort and categorize movies the way that makes sense to me.
From this audio/video split two different directions can be taken: the store functions can be kept on each app or the store function could be its own app. The biggest question is how much does being able to purchase music from the same app as you listen to it help consumers buy and enjoy music?
From a usability perspective, it’s very convenient to purchase music from the same app that you listen to it in. The iOS App store, however, seems to suggest that people understand the difference between an app for buying something and an app (or OS) for using something. Users are downloading a lot more apps than songs these days.
Seeing how successful downloading and running apps on the iPhone and iPad are makes me realize that average users clearly understand how to use two separate apps that work together. Because of this, I’d recommend that the iTunes Store become its own application, no matter how the rest of iTunes is split up.
This leaves us with two good options for splitting up iTunes:
iTunes (for music and video management and playback), iTunes Store and iOS Sync application.
iTunes (for music playback and management only. Back to its roots), iTunes Store, iOS Sync and a much more robust video application (for file management and playback).
Both of these options are much stronger than what we have today. These apps would be small, lean apps that could support additional features that iTunes couldn’t dream of adding it its bloated state. This is the kind of win-win that a company that focuses on usability and focus should do.
These apps could finally have UIs that make sense for each distinct function that iTunes tries to do. Why exactly would you use the same general UI concepts for music management software as you would for a store to purchase movies?
iOS and the Mac App store have proven that people enjoy using smaller discrete apps (I prefer using Instapaper to Safari’s built in Reading List because I get a lot more features with Instapaper without adding bloat and complexity to Safari itself). Perhaps the reason that Apple made iTunes do so many things was that in the past the average computer user didn’t buy and install a lot of new applications. Before the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store, it was a hassle for a non-geek to get new software.
Now it’s easier for me to purchase a new application on my Mac than it is for me to make coffee in the morning. I’m talking about real software from big-name companies and great upstarts. And keeping all of my applications up to date? Dead simple.
Apple itself has shown that users will embrace smaller, more focused applications. It’s time for Apple to focus iTunes.
Not only did subscriptions increase, but single issue sales also skyrocketed with a 142 percent increase when compared with the eight weeks prior to Newsstand’s launch. Both represent increases as measured across all nine of Condé Nast’s digital titles available on the iOS platform.
Newsstand makes it much easier for non-techies to subscribe to and manage their magazine and newspaper subscriptions. A geek already knew how to do this, including how to group news apps together. Many people don’t grasp how to group apps together.
But Newsstand is bigger than usability. It puts news content front and center on every iOS device. Geeks knew that they could buy and consume news content on iPads and iPhones. Many regular users did not. Now everyone knows, and everyone can see how easy it is to subscribe to and consume news content on iOS.