There is already a slew of streaming services available today, but none of them have actually done any innovation in the field of “how to consume” content. Magine is the first one to crack the concept that will transition the world from the old to the new. It’s really a very banal concept if you think of it. It’s just perfectly regular TV where all passed shows are recorded for you to watch anytime. Of course, the technology required to realize the concept is a great feat, but the outcome seems perfectly obvious. And that’s the beauty of it. For the mass market it’s really hard to just rethink the way you watch TV. You’re so used to just switching on the TV to see what’s on. Regular streaming services have a very high cognitive load to get started where you have to think of what to watch, which means that for the most common use case you’re already on the lookout to watch a specific show, which isn’t all that often. Magine combines old TV programming with streaming perfectly. Regular TV watchers will have a super easy time to transition. Just switch on the TV and it’s exactly as before. Install it at my parents’ house and they need not bother about the difference. But maybe they’re curious, and I tell them that the program they just switched on which has been on for 10 minutes, they can, with the press of a button, watch it from the beginning instead. They will slowly and at their own pace start learning that TV isn’t a linear experience anymore. I tell them they can search for any program they like and watch it, they’ll soon learn that too. Before you know it, they’ll let go of the old concept of TV completely. When that has happened, for the masses, then I think the Magine way of doing TV will have obsoleted itself, and I suspect that Magine will transform itself to adapt to the new world order. And I suspect, that thanks to them, that isn’t all that far into the future.
Used the Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7 for two weeks, these are my opinions:
- Love the interface approach. Very fresh and clean with a lightweight feel to it. Very well tuned animations.
- While I love the all flat GUI it doesn’t come without some significant drawbacks. Since whitespace and greater size hierarchies are used used instead of graphics to separate and group interface objects, much less data fits comfortably on the screen, which means more scrolling. Also, you can feel that there is more load on the brain when scanning interfaces.
- The app interface guidelines for WP7/Metro UI are very constricting, making apps very similar, which I thought would have the plus side that every app would be better, but in practice that’s not the case. You need to be very skilled to port an app to WP7 from another platform keeping with the guidelines and at the same time make a great, usable app.
- The lack of great apps is a big problem. You can’t even find a proper RSS reader atm. And the apps that do exist all feel rushed, as they probably are.
- The Lumia 800 industrial design is world class. Feels much better in hand than any iPhone, especially the hard-edged iPhone 4. Not as solid built though since it’s plastic, but the upside of it being much lighter I think makes up for it.
- Screen is too low quality. Grahics display jaggy and somewhat oversaturated. Even the 2007 iPhone beats it.
- Worse battery life than the iPhone, which is already bad.
To summarize, Microsoft/Nokia are truthfully about 4 years behind Apple and maybe 3 years behind Android here, both in actual time and in the product and ecosystem they’re sitting on. So what would it take to level the playing field for me here so I would make WP7 my phone of choice:
- Not being made by Microsoft. MS comes with way to much negative baggage for me to consider moving back to an MS ecosystem without overshooting competition by a mile, and even then I’d think twice about it. I was a Windows user just a couple of years ago and every time I go back there now I seriously wonder if people are insane to voluntarily use their products. That being said, WP7 doesn’t at all feel like an MS product, so if they would have split the WP7 division to its own company with it’s own name (which it must have been like in practice anyhow to be able to create this kind of product), that would have done it for me. A commitment that this won’t go all Office Ribbon and shit.
- Having released it 4 years ago. It feels at about the same completeness as an iPhone 3G, Maybe an S even (which is a compliment), but would’ve had to been launched on par with the App Store to compete ecosystem-wise with iOS.
Then it would be a viable alternative with as great a development potential as the iPhone, and surpassing Android, that now is doing a pretty decent job catching up. Then it would be a clear cut choice of the UI design philosophy, and I would’ve had a hard time deciding between the two. Right now it’s just a very ambitious and interesting indie project from the worlds least indie company.
One of the downloaded apps I’m using most on my iPhone these days is the Spotify app. It’s probably the most amazing app ever that means I’ll never ever have to think about not having the right music with me wherever I go. It’s truly changed the way music interacts with my life. But having used it as much as I have, I’m still not used to the way the app works, and it annoys me. At first I just thought it was because it worked differently from the native iPod/Music app, but I’m now realizing that something is awry.
It has to do with how you get between the two most frequently visited views in the app: the Now playing-view and the song list/playlist-view. When you start playing a song the designers have chosen to pop up the Now playing view from below. It makes a lot of sense, since it’s conveys that it’s a separate view that is on top of the rest of the app, and hides everything below, including the tab bar. To get out of the view, there’s a Hide-button at the right side of the nav bar, as per standard on popup views. All fine as far as iOS UI standard goes.
The problem is, that wherever you are in an iPhone app and want to get out of the current view, your finger automatically flies to the top-left of the screen, where the back-button usually resides. And here instead there’s an info button, that fades the song cover to show extended info and some settings. So when quickly pressing what I though was back, I get something else, which takes a couple of moments to register, after which I can rethink my current location and realize I have to press to the right to get back. This might all sound a bit trivial, but every time this happens, my brain hurts. And most of all, the flow of the UI is repeatedly interrupted.
The misstep here here is using the popup view for such a central point of the app. All the main navigation in your app should happen left or right taking you up or down in the app hierarchy, so you get the best possible sense of where you are in the app, and can always get back to where you were at the top left. The popup view is good, but it’s meant to be used for special interactions that require your full attention while the popup is active and are closed when that interaction is completed (i.e. posting a tweet, viewing a notification, or changing a setting). The problem arises when using it to pop up a view that is the most passive screen in the app, where you leave it to come back later, and making it even worse, almost always with the purpose of going back in the app to change songs, only to be confused as to how you should get out.
The iPhone’s native Music app solves this in a better way, by having the app only flow in a left and right direction, where pressing the always present Now playing-button moves in the screen from the right, and therefore, getting back is just a top-left back-button press away, as imprinted in your motorical memory.
So how should Spotify fix it? Two options:
- Move the popup’s Hide-button to the left side of the nav bar. Would half-solve the problem. If you opened up the popup and wanted to close it immediately, you wouldn’t expect to do so on the left side. But if you go back to the app after a period of inactivity, you’d get what you were expecting by pressing the button to the left. But using the popup that way would also go against popup view guidelines, and it would indicate kind of a canceling action, which it is not. (This seems to be the way Rdio does it, but I haven’t tested it personally.)
- Copy the way the native music app does it. I know, as a designer, this is never a fun way to do it. You want to be original, you want to find something better. But having tried a bunch of music and podcast players, it’s evident that for now, Apple’s solution, although not perfect, is the best.
Do you agree? Have you seen any better solutions, or have one yourself? Please give me a shout out on Twitter, or join in in the comments and have Spotify take notice.
There’s been a lot of bashing on so called skeumorphism in UI design lately, and particularly on why Apple is going down this road, especially since their hardware could be seen as the anti-thesis of this design inclination. While there have been posts written in Apple’s defense, what surprises me is that no one has realized that these two design philosophies for hardware and software align perfectly.
Apple’s hardware is designed the way it is for a lot of reasons, but mostly, as Ive has continually said, to be as unintrusive as possible. It’s designed to get out of the way completely and make way for the software. When an app is launched, the device effectively becomes the app. That’s why iOS devices are built only with clean self-effacing straight lines, that’s why there’s a war on hardware buttons, that’s why they don’t come in other colors than black and white. As Gruber has pointed out, Apple has built it’s iOS devices to be the perfect app consoles. Apple has created this perfect blank app canvas so the apps themselves can stand out and make impact. The clean hardware design creates extra leg-room for creative expressive design, not the other way around. And Apple is using that extra leg-room to its full extent. I see this as a perfectly coherent strategy.
Do I like this strategy? Well, that’s another question which I think many others have already elaborated on plenty.
I’ve long said that the hardware buttons on Android phones were/are a really bad idea. Thought I’d elaborate on why, since it’s been pissing me off lately:
Exhibit A: if I get a mention on Twitter and open up the Android Twitter app to check it out, I’m (naturally) sent directly to the tweet mentioning me. Ok, so I want to get back to the main timeline, what do I press? The answer is: you can’t. Pressing the back-button, which is the only real candidate for this action, will take you wherever you where before seeing this screen, which in this case was the home screen, exiting the app. Hmm, so how do I get to the main timeline? I have to open Twitter again, showing the same tweet I saw before and now press the back button, and it will take me to the main timeline. So pressing the exact same button on exactly the same screen will take me to two completely different places? That’s swell.
The argument here is of course that Twitter is doing it wrong, that the back button should always bring you back one step inside the app, but that this inconsistency can even present itself in the OS shows a big conceptual faux pas when it comes to the Android UI.
The problem is, that Android hasn’t decided what that it wants the back button to do. Do you want it to take you back to the previous screen, wherever that was, or take you back one step inside the app? Right now it’s a convoluted combination of the two, and most of the time, which one will occur is a guess and can’t be known before pressing the button.
This is perhaps a more apparently bad idea than the back button. The menu-button is pressed to get a contextual menu with options to perform certain actions on whatever screen you’re currently at. This is great because you can easily perform many actions on a screen without using up any screen real-estate for buttons, but it’s less great because you have no clue which actions you can perform before pressing the contextual button. Many apps get this and put buttons for the most prominent actions on the screen in plain view, but that also demotes the menu-button actions and makes you forget you could find more actions there, especially since very many apps don’t put anything under the contextual menu at all. On the iPhone, where contextual menus have to be opened with a button on the screen you instantly see the menu, you don’t have to check if there is one. The Android way just makes you miss a lot of stuff you can do in apps.
The sad thing is about all this is that having made the decision to use these buttons from the start, Google has locked itself in a mess of a UI-model. All Android apps would have to be redesigned should they want to change it around and fix this. In short, they’re stuck with a UI that sucks and they can’t fix it because they didn’t think it through thoroughly before the first launch.
PS. And don’t get me started on them moving these buttons around with every launched phone…
Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Agree? Then you should probably follow me on twitter.
There’s been quite a lot of interesting news in the past days that together paint the picture of a not so pleasant future for the web and digital economy. Let me explain what I’m talking about:
In july 2008 Apple launched the App Store with an interesting new business model: “We provide a curated exclusive market for our troves of iDevice users to buy apps in the easiest possible way, and we give developers 70% of the profits”. At first, it sounded like a great deal. Make an app, Apple markets and sells it, if it doesn’t sell, no fee (just the $99 a year dev license), if it does, you get 70%, Apple gets 30%. And a lot of developers made, and are still making, a lot of money. In the small sequestered economy of things this is the perfect business model. Everyone is happy.
The success and popularity of the Apple 70/30 model has since led to it becoming the industry wide standard, used now by well known services such as Amazon Kindle, Blackberry App World, Windows Marketplace, and also Apple’s Mac App Store. Apple has made people use to the concept, so now others can adopt it. What’s worrying me about this is the most recent company that has announced it will adopt this revenue split model: Facebook. Facebook taking 30% cut whenever users purchase anything with Facebook Credits and is, effective this July, making Facebook Credits mandatory for all Facebook games. Facebook gaming is huge, as you know, but when it becomes a worldly concern is when you think about Facebook’s next probable move, as Jason Kincaid from TechCrunch writes:
…but it’s very likely that Facebook will eventually begin allowing third-party websites to offer a ‘Pay With Facebook’ option, and that may include everything from digital content to physical goods. The more credit cards Facebook has in its system, the more appealing this option will become, and the more publishers and retailers will be willing to pay that 30% fee.
With the App economy becoming bigger and bigger, which includes Apple just having extended their 70/30 model to apply to everything that ever flows through an app (subscriptions, e-books, movies, etc), and Facebook being 600m users strong and basically beeing “the internet” for a lot of people in the world, what we’re seeing here is essentially a new 30% VAT on every transaction made on the web. That is a crazy development.
One could argue that this will never happen. That the Apple model will fail before it growing too big a concern, that disgruntled developers or publishers on other platforms could take their wares elsewhere if they want, and that merchants wouldn’t need to use Facebook Credits. But the problem here is that the users/customers are doing the deciding, not the merchant, developers or publishers. And if selling your wares elsewhere is the equivalent of putting your hot dog stand in the middle of the woods instead of right outside Rose Bowl before a big game, where are you going to be?
Update: As I was writing this, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler published a great post on the Apple 70/30 model that’s well worth a read.
Update 2: Jason Kincaid seems to agree with me.