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.
This is my current setup (although my office has some new toys). It’s a Mac Mini hooked up to dual 22-inch monitors, Bluetooth Apple keyboard and mouse, external hard drive, Harman-Kardon Soundsticks and more.
I’ll be starting a Master’s program in Human-Computer Interaction this fall at the University of Maryland College Park. I’ll have more to come on that later, but I wanted to discuss the computer setup that I plan on using for graduate school, and I hope that you’ll share your academic computer setups as well.
Times have changed since I was last embarking on college in 2002. I went off to college with a PowerMac rocking OS X Jaguar (10.2). My computer had originally shipped with 10.1, and OS X was a much rawer OS back then, but it was still a big step up over Mac OS 9 and Windows (OS X has always been stable and beautiful). But you’ll notice that I had a PowerMac, a beast of a computer, large and heavy by even desktop standards.
There weren’t a lot of good laptop options in the spring of 2002 when I purchased my PowerMac (I bought it early so I could use it on my senior project, which involved myself and four friends building a new website for our township). At the time I made my decision I had felt that the PowerBooks and iBooks were not powerful enough for the work I would be doing: desktop publishing, movie editing, Web design, 3D animation, to name a few of the things that I did in college. It was a tough decision to go between power/expandability and portability. Today, laptops are incredibly powerful, and desktops are reserved for either the really low end of computing or the really high end that needs a lot of power.
In my last two day jobs, I’ve been given laptops. It’s becoming rare to even see desktops in the enterprise.
This time, I’ll be going with a laptop. Portability is paramount. When I was in college, no one brought a computer to class. Today, computers are in the classroom all the time — for note taking, for doing assignments, for communicating, etc. Just six years ago almost everyone took notes by hand.
I’ll also be working full time and continuing to edit the Interchange Project. I’ll be doing work from a variety of locations — home, work, campus, coffee shops, libraries, etc. — and need something light, something that can be carried around for a half mile walk and not break my back after lugging it around .all day. Battery life has also improved considerably, making laptops truly portable, where they once required a power outlet always nearby.
I’ll be going with a 13-inch Macbook Air. The ultrabook class of computers, of which the Macbook Air was the original, is probably the best computer choice for most people entering college today. The Macbook Air and its peers are very lightweight — easy to take to class and around campus — while also being very capable. I’m waiting for the new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel before I buy my machine, and I’m hoping that the new Macbook Airs will support 8 GBs of ram. If you are in the market for a laptop of any kind, wait until Intel’s new processors launch over the next few months.
The 13-inch Air has the perfect balance between power and portability. At under 3 pounds, it’s not just portable in the sense that you can throw it in your car and take it somewhere, but rather it’s portable in the sense that you can take public transportation and walk around campus or town a lot with it. It’s light enough that it can pretty much go anywhere with you.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago wifi was not ubiquitous. The big thing when I was in college was adding ethernet jacks all over the library and into classrooms. Yes, a mere 10 years ago, ubiquitous ethernet jacks, not wifi, was considered the best way to allow students to access the Internet when they weren’t in their dorm rooms. I don’t know if those ethernet jacks are still around, but had my school, and others, had strong wifi networks, I might have been tempted to go with a laptop, however underpowered it was.
Today, wifi is everywhere. I have 3G on my phone that I can use to create a wifi network for my laptop to get on. The value of a portable computer goes up exponentially when you can connect to the Internet away from a desktop ethernet jack.
Below is the full setup that I hope to be rocking:
This will be the core of my hardware configuration for the next several years.
Macbook Air — 13-inch model, because from what I’ve read and seen from other people, the 11-inch model is a great portable machine, but the screen can be too limiting for getting serious work done. I don’t want to do a two-machine setup. I want one machine that can handle all of my work. The biggest decision for me will be how big of a hard drive do I go with. Do I go with the standard 128 GB SSD (could be bumped up) and use an external drive to store music, photos, videos and other hard drive clogging files or do I go with the 256 GB SSD and try to fit as much of my stuff on it as possible? SSDS are blazing fast, but they are expensive. Even 256 GB won’t be enough long term. I’ll most likely be going with whatever the standard amount of hard drive space on the 13-inch Macbook Air is at the time that I buy my computer and then I’ll get a good, fast 1 TB external hard drive.
27-inch Thunderbolt display — The 13-inch Air has a big enough screen that it can be used as a primary display for getting work done. However, there are times when having more screen real estate really comes in handy. The 27-inch Thunderbolt display from Apple really makes the perfect partner for the Macbook Air, because it functions as a dock for Thunderbolt-equipped Apple laptops. The Thunderbolt display has USB, Thunderbolt and ethernet ports. You can dock in your laptop and have the display give you an external mouse and keyboard, several external hard drives and even a wired Internet connection for fast file transfers on your internal network. It also packs a pretty decent 2.1 sound setup and the ability to power and charge your laptop. It’s a great way to transform a very portable laptop into a full-featured desktop with minimal clutter. Thanks to Thunderbolt, external hard drives can be as fast as internal ones.
iPad — I’ll be using the iPad a lot for reading and doing research, and the new screen really makes it a compelling option for textbooks. I’ve used textbooks before on the original iPad, but the screen was a bit tiring to look at. Using a non-Retina Display iPad for reading books is a less than ideal experience. The new iPad, on the other hand, really offers a great book reading experience, complete with note taking, highlighting and dictionary look up. Any textbooks that I can get in ebook form will be run on the iPad. I’d rather not have to deal with lugging around textbooks that are as heavy as my laptop. It’s also great to have all of my textbooks with me at all times. On a Saturday, I could take my iPad with me to a coffee shop and do some pleasure reading. After a little bit, I can then open up a textbook and get some school work done.
iPhone — I currently have an iPhone 4. I’ll be using that until an LTE phone really catches my attention. What I like about the iPhone is that it has a great screen, much like the iPad. As someone who suffers from eyestrain, the quality of my computing screens matters greatly and helps to reduce and even eliminate eyestrain. The original iPhone really bothered my eyes after long use and most smartphones do too. I won’t get rid of my iPhone for an inferior screen. I hope the next iPhone maintains its strong batter life while also adding LTE, because I really want LTE for the hotspot function. There are times when wifi is far too slow to get work done, but 3G can be painful to use. Having the ability to use LTE with my laptop and iPad would be big.
External hard drives — I currently have one for hourly Time Machine backups. I’ll most likely add a second one as extra storage for my computer. I don’t need my photos, music and videos with me wherever I go, but a big external hard drive can give me a lot of extra space for not a lot of money.
External mouse and keyboard — When sitting at a desk, an external mouse and keyboard is much more ergonomic than what laptops offers. For long sessions at my desk, I really like having a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard (I prefer as few wires as possible). I highly recommend the same for everyone else. Find a keyboard and mouse/external trackpad that is really comfortable and set up your laptop like a desktop when you are using it from your main workstation. Your laptop should also be on something to raise the top of the screen up to eye level.
I use a lot of different software, and I’m always trying new software. Below is some of the key software that I’ll be using to maintain my professional, personal and academic lives.
Dropbox — The best backup and syncing solution I’ve found yet. I’m writing this post in Byword on my Mac. It is being backed up and synced to Dropbox as we speak. I’m going to pick up my dog from doggie camp in a little bit. If I have a few minutes to burn while I’m waiting for her to come out, I can edit this post on my iPhone, and it will sync back to my Mac. I cannot recommend Dropbox any higher. It’s a must have.
Alfred — I don’t know how people use computers without task launchers like Alfred. By simply holding down control and then hitting spacebar, I can use Alfred to launch Safari by just typing in “Sa” or find a file or do a simple math calculation. Mice do make computing easier, but they are slow and cause RSI. The more you can do with the keyboard with less effort, the more efficient you’ll be with a computer and the easier you’ll be your body. Alfred makes computing fun and fast.
Byword — I do a lot of writing. I’m always looking for ways to make writing more pleasurable and efficient. What I really like about Byword is it lacks chrome, unlike word processors such as Word and Pages; it’s just you and your words. Byword is a text editor, not a modern word processor, and its intent is for writing words, not producing documents to print. It’s an important distinction, but most of the writing I do is for Web consumption. If I need more formatting, I can copy and paste this text into a Pages document, which I prefer over Word. Byword also syncs between OS X and iOS. I started this post on my Mac and edited it on my iPad. It’s hard to go back to using a text editor that doesn’t sync between my computer, tablet and smartphone.
Pages — Even though I really like Byword (and TextEdit and Google Docs and other programs), I still use Pages. It read Word files pretty well, and it’s a good program to use when I need to track changes or do a bit with layout. Pages would be a lot more useful if it synced with the iOS versions, which are quite good. Ironically, lots of third party text programs sync with iCloud between OS X and iOS, but Apple’s own program does not. With OS X Mountain Lion, this will be changing. When this changes, Pages may become a much more interesting and important program.
Sparrow — The best desktop email program I have ever found. Lightweight, great UI and fun to use. I highly recommend it.
Reeder — The best RSS app I have ever seen. I have to keep up with a lot of news sources. This is a must have, and it works on both OS X and iOS.
Coda — This is what I use for Web design. It’s a great program for writing HTML, CSS, PHP and other languages. It also has a built in FTP program. Other programs may be stronger for development, but I really like this program for Web design work.
Pixelmator — Photoshop does way too much and costs way too much. This is the image editing and design program for the rest of us. It also starts up way faster and is much less bloated than Photoshop.
Omnifocus — The best GTD (Getting Things Done) task management program I have found. It helps you stay organized and on top of projects, which is kind of a big deal both professionally and academically. This also syncs very well with its iOS brothers. In fact, the iPad version is the best version. If you are always with your iPad and iPhone, the Mac version of Omnifocus isn’t really necessary.
Omnioutliner — The iPad version is how I take notes in meetings, and it’s fantastic. The OS X version is a favorite of college students everywhere for taking notes. I used it in undergrad to make outlines of textbooks. It doesn’t support syncing yet, but Omni Group promising that the next version of Omnioutliner for OS X will sync with the iOS version. That’s a big deal, because if it doesn’t happen soon, I may have to use something else for note taking. I may take notes in class on my Mac, but I’ll most likely read them over on my iPad.
Numbers– I prefer Numbers to Excel because it’s A) less convoluted to use and B) makes much nicer looking charts. I’m not a spreadsheet jockey, so I have this luxury. You may not. For grad school I may have to bite the bullet and get a Office license, particularly for Excel and perhaps Word. Mostly for compatibility, but there may be data sets that I need Excel for.
TextExpander — I’ve recently added this program to my arsenal. It allows me to make little character strings and then have my Mac automatically expand them into a longer strings or several sentences. For instance, I have one snippet called — “msig” that automatically ads my signature to any program. My main signature, which is what “msig” stands for, is four lines long. This is a big time saver. I also have snippets for frequently used computer code. There is also an iOS version that allows snippets to work with some — but not all — iOS apps. It would be nice if TextExpander could work with all iOS apps, but that is beyond their control.
TextEdit — Despite having several fuller-featured text editors on my Mac, I still like to use TextEdit for taking quick notes or as a scratch sheet of paper. The program launches incredibly fast. It’s instantaneous. Combined with my use of Alfred for quick launching of apps using the keyboard, I can have a blank TextEdit document up in a second or two.
GarageBand — This is what I use to edit our podcast. I may one day switch to Logic Pro, but for the time being our recording and editing setup is Audio Hijack Pro and GarageBand.
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.
The response from customers has been incredible. It solves a lot of problems that customers were having and made their lives much easier. And so I see it as a fundamental shift, recognizing that people had numerous devices, and they wanted the bulk of their content in the cloud, and easily accessible from all of the devices. I think we’re seeing the response from that, and with 85 million customers in just three months, It is just not a product. It is a strategy for the next decade.
Apple’s Digital Hub strategy placed the Mac at the center of user’s digital lives with iTunes as a way to organize and purchase digital files that could then be transferred to iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. Now Apple is positioning the cloud as a user’s digital hub, freeing people from needing a central computer to store and organize digital music and movie files, apps, e-books, etc.
Users can now use iPhones and iPads without needing to even own a Mac or PC. This is important, because Apple can’t make the iPad into a post-PC device if it still requires a PC for backup and syncing (which it did before iCloud). iCloud is what will allow Apple’s current non-PC devices and future ones to exist without needing a locally-managed digital hub.
I recently pre-ordered Game of Thrones on iTunes. What really has me excited is that the episode files can exist solely in iCloud, and I can stream them to my Apple TV whenever I feel like it. I no longer have to worry about storing and organizing files locally (and video files take up a tremendous amount of storage, never mind backups). I can even bring my Apple TV to friends’ and relatives’ houses and stream my purchased TV shows there as well.
There are two big use cases that people want shared data for. First, families have been sharing minutes for years, so why not data? By allowing familes to share data, more people will get smartphones. A lot of people are reluctant to dabble in using data for $30 a month (Verizon’s monthly charge for 2 GB of 3G data and the only data plan they offer on smartphones). 2 GB of 3G data is more than the vast majority of people need on their smartphones, especially first-time smartphone owners. AT&T says that 65 percent of their smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data a month.
The second use case is for sharing data between multiple devices. Instead of purchasing a data plan for each device — say a smartphone, tablet and mobile wifi device — users could purchase one pool of data and use it across all of their devices. I used to have a data plan on my iPad, but I got tired of managing two different data accounts — one for my iPad and another for my iPhone. It was getting really expensive, and I would often use up the data on my iPad and have plenty of data remaining on my iPhone. Now the iPhone offers the ability to tether data from the iPhone to the iPad, and I do use that from time to time, but it’s a great way to drain your phone’s battery and not as good of solution as sharing a pool of data between my iPhone and iPad.
If I could buy a giant pool of wireless data and use it across a bunch of devices, I would. Instead, I have cut down on my data usage because it was getting too expensive and too difficult to manage several different accounts with the same company, all while I was having too much data on one device and not enough on another.
Brian Williams asked Annie Leibovitz what camera she recommends for people. She responded by saying that the iPhone is the snapshot camera of today. The beauty of an iPhone, or a similar smartphone with a good camera, is that it’s always with you.
Lots of people have small point-and-shoot cameras that fit in their pockets, but they still don’t bring them out that often. People tend to bring their cameras out for events that they know they want to capture. The thing is, you never know when a great moment will arise.
That’s why the iPhone is so compelling. The iPhone 4S in particular has a really good camera that takes some pretty good photos and video. The ability to share photos on the spot just takes smartphones to an even better level.
Square is helping small businesses accept credit cards without complicated and expensive point-of-sale systems. Now the Salvation Army is hoping these little credit card readers that go in the top of iPhones can help raise more money during the holidays:
The Salvation Army is the latest company to use the mobile Square credit card reader, and plans to use it at storefronts in several cities, including San Francisco and New York. While everyone’s favorite holiday bell ringers have tried credit card terminals in the past with little success, the Salvation Army is hoping the tiny, portable card readers will make it easier for shoppers to quickly swipe and donate.
Being able for people to pay with their smartphones or a credit card would make this much more attractive. Making it easy and cheap to accept credit card donations is a good idea. But what if a donation didn’t even require a credit card?
One new feature, called AssistiveTouch, is Apple’s accessibility team at its most creative. When you turn on this feature in Settings->General->Accessibility, a new, white circle appears at the bottom of the screen. It stays there all the time.
When you tap it, you get a floating on-screen palette. Its buttons trigger motions and gestures on the iPhone screen without requiring hand or multiple-finger movement. All you have to be able to do is tap with a single finger — even a stylus you’re holding in your teeth or fist.
For example, you can tap the Home on-screen button instead of pressing the physical Home button.
If you tap Device, you get a sub-palette of six functions that would otherwise require you to grasp the phone or push its tiny physical buttons. There’s Rotate Screen (tap this instead of turning the phone 90 degrees), Lock Screen (tap instead of pressing the Sleep switch), Volume Up and Volume Down (tap instead of pressing the volume keys), Shake (does the same as shaking the phone to undo typing), and Mute/Unmute (tap instead of flipping the small Mute switch on the side).
If you tap Gestures, you get a peculiar palette that depicts a hand holding up two, three, four, or five fingers. When you tap the three-finger icon, for example, you get three blue circles on the screen. They move together. Drag one of them, and the phone thinks you’re dragging three fingers on its surface. Using this technique, you can operate apps that require multiple fingers dragging on the screen.
I wrote a piece awhile ago about accessibility and usability features in the iPhone and iPad and how news apps were not making good use of these features. Despite being a touchscreen based phone, the iPhone is surprisingly usable for the blind and people with other disabilities. In fact, it’s often the phone of choice for people with disabilities. It’s great to see a company think of usability beyond just what it means for the able-bodied.