Sunday, July 17, 2011

An alternate approach to notifications in iOS

In iOS 5, a list of notifications can be viewed from within any app by swiping down from the top of the screen. This makes the swipe-down-from-the-top-of-the-screen gesture a system-wide gesture.

I agree with Guy English that system-wide gestures are not desirable: the beauty of the iPhone/iPad is that it becomes the app that is running. Having system-wide gestures means that those gestures are not available to the app that is running (or the app needs to have preference settings to determine if the app or the system will respond to those gestures, and that is not desirable either).

For example, if I am playing a game like Fruit Ninja or Cut the Rope, I might want my swipe-down to cut a fruit or a rope, not bring down the list of notifications.

I believe the solution is to bring up the notification list when the user double-presses the home button. Currently this brings up the app-switcher, but if you notice, the app-switcher is just a row of icons at the bottom of the screen:

The space above it shows the springboard or the app that was running. But showing that is of no use. We consciously double-pressed the home-button in order to pause what we were doing and do something else.

I think that wasted space can be put to great use by showing the notification-list in that space when the home button is double-pressed. The notification-list and the app-switcher can be animated onto the screen from different directions and with different speeds so that the users are aware that there are two separate entities being shown.

This alternate approach won't interfere with the gestures available to the app and it won't be copying Android!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Front Row Remote: The Good, The Bad, And The...

These are some thoughts on Apple's Front Row remote. Please note that this is mainly about the remote rather than Front Row. My only experience with Front Row is the 5 minutes I spent playing with it at an Apple store. But that is sufficient for this post since it is mainly about first impressions and ease of learning/use.

The Good

It is small, white, cute, looks like an iPod, and has only 6 buttons!

The Bad

It has one too many buttons! :-) And one too few click wheels.

The main drawback of the Front Row remote is that its interface is similar to that of the iPod shuffle rather than being identical to that of the click wheel based iPods. The iPod shuffle interface is good enough for a device that does not hold many songs, but lousy for a device that has many songs. The best interface for a device with many songs is click wheel interface. Since a computer running Front Row will most likely have as many or more songs than the higher capacity iPods, the best interface for the Front Row remote is the click wheel interface.

The second drawback of the Front Row remote is a result of the layout of the main options in Front Row. The options in the main-level where you choose Photos, Video, DVD, or Music are arranged in a circular fashion. But the options in the iPod are arranged in a linear fashion. This difference in the arrangement of the options makes it difficult to determine what buttons to press for the main level options in Front Row. While playing with Front Row in the Apple store, I fumbled with the remote and could not predict confidently the result of pressing the various buttons on the remote. I don't own an iPod shuffle and so I am not familiar with the button layout. But even if I had owned an iPod shuffle, I don't think I would have been able to predict what would happen because (1) the iPod shuffle does not have a screen, and (2) even if the iPod shuffle had a screen, the options would not have been presented in a circular fashion in it.

I think Front Row is gorgeous, don't get me wrong. I just think that Apple could have done a better job on the usability if they had chosen a linear arrangement for the options. They did this for the subsequent levels and they are gorgeous too (though they don't have the same wow-factor as the main-level). For example, the dock-magnification effect could have been used with a linear vertical arrangement in the main-level. And if they wanted something that was not used before, I am sure they could have figured out something new for a linear arrangement that had the desired wow-factor. I am not willing to assume that they could not have done better than the sub-levels. The main level has only four options whereas sub-levels tend to have many many more. So there is more freedom in the main-level compared to the sub-levels.

Due to these two drawbacks, it is not easy to carry over your iPod navigation knowledge and skills to Front Row. They result in a learning curve (however small it may be) where none would have been necessary (at least for (non-shuffle) iPod users).

So why did Apple not release a click-wheel based Remote? Was it to save money or was it just an oversight? I hope it is not the former. Steve Jobs said Apple's first goal is to make great products and their second goal is to make enough money to keep making great products. I hope that is still the case and this is just an oversight that will get rectified soon.

And The...

Ugly? I can't think of anything ugly about the remote. By Apple standards, I think the "bad" above qualifies as "ugly", but lets not be harsh :-).

What I really want to talk about in this section is the myth that the Front Row remote has far less buttons than competing entertainment center PC remotes because Front Row does not support viewing and recording of live-TV. Many people said this when Front Row was introduced. And I recently read in the Wall Street Journal that the VP in charge of Windows Media Center presented the same reasoning to Bill Gates. I call this reasoning a myth because it is not true.

First, as I described in my previous post, I think Apple should not make a DVR. I don't believe a TV tuner and DVR are required to fill the gaps in Front Row. Equivalent functionality can be achieved using a video-on-demand strategy (assuming Apple is able to provide all the content currently available from the cable and satellite TV companies). A video-on-demand strategy would not require extra buttons in the Front Row remote. It is already capable of showing the on-demand movie trailers with the existing set of buttons (though there have been reports of performance issues and it not being truly on-demand; but these issues don't invalidate what I am saying).

Second, even if Apple decided to go the TV tuner and DVR route, they still would not need more buttons in the Front Row remote. The reason Apple has been able to reduce the number of buttons is because they have in essence moved the remaining buttons to the screen. The actual physical remote just contains buttons (and a hopefully a click-wheel in the near future) to help navigate and select the on-screen buttons. So a TV tuner and a DVR can be easily controlled using this approach.

Now this approach would be cumbersome if every option involved going through multiple levels of on-screen menus and buttons. But luckily that is not the case for the most used functions. The current Front Row remote has physical buttons for "next", "previous", and "play/pause" (and even a click-wheel based remote would have these physical buttons). So once users select the TV option (from the main-level in Front Row), they will be able to use the "next" and "previous" button to flip through channels (or there could be a preference setting to use these "next" and "previous" buttons to flip through user-programmed favorite channels). For changing audio volume, the current Front Row remote has "+" and "-" buttons. And in the case of a click wheel remote, it would be the same as controlling the volume on an iPod: you would have to rotate the wheel while watching TV.

As for DVR functionality, an important feature is the ability to pause and resume live-TV. Even on a TiVo remote, the pause button is given more prominence than all other buttons by making it "centrally" located, larger in size, and different in color. The "play/pause" button already exists physically on the Front Row remote and is similarly more prominent than the other buttons (it won't be on a click wheel remote, but I would gladly trade that loss in usability for the other benefits). And for recording live-TV, I think a click wheel remote would be better than the current Front Row remote. The record functionality can be assigned to the center button in the click wheel interface (with or without it resulting in further on-screen buttons for confirmation).

So what do you think? Do you agree, or am I missing something?

UPDATE (9:30 PM, Jan 10, 2006):

I just realized earlier today that with a click-wheel remote, a circular arrangement for the options in the main level will not be confusing. I am guessing that users would intuitively realize that they should rotate the click-wheel to cycle through the options. Whether this is really the case can be easily determined from usability studies. One more thing I forgot to mention about the current implementation of the circular arrangement is that it is not immediately obvious that the option at the bottom is the selected option.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Apple Should Not Make a DVR

I think that the DVR concept is a kludge. It does not make sense for people to record a show in their home when the recording is already available at the source. It is like saving a web page in your browser as a screenshot instead of directly downloading and saving the content. The DVR concept was great and the only available (digital) solution, but I think its time is up.

Video-on-demand is the right solution. And if it is combined with RSS (like podcasts are), then subscribing to a "videocast" would be equivalent to TiVo's very nice "season-pass" feature: you automatically get all episodes of a show every time one is available.

Comcast already provides video-on-demand, and other cable providers probably do as well. I have read that the phone companies want to get into this business as well. But obviously I would prefer an Apple solution. The Mac mini is very quite and very small, making it an ideal candidate for an Apple set-top box. It would be great if the Mac mini gets a built-in iPod dock. There are rumors around both of these. Hopefully the video providers allow their video to be synced to the iPod.

I hope Apple supports a subscription model as well as a buy-and-own model. Some shows/movies I like to watch only once and some I like to keep. And last but not the least, I hope that the subscription model is not more expensive than Comcast (which already is more expensive than Dish or DirecTV in my area).

UPDATE (2:00 PM, Jan 3, 2006):

From the first 4 comments below, it appears that I was not clear.

I am not talking about Apple just providing a device that you can connect to the current sources (cable/satellite TV providers). I am talking about an end-to-end Apple solution wherein Apple provides the device and the content, like their current end-to-end music solution.

Then Apple becomes the "source" and those who dump their current cable/satellite provider and switch to Apple would not require a DVR. That is why I wrote that I am hoping Apple would price this no more than Comcast.

And if this happens, then "switch"ing to Apple will have to be clarified: are you switching computing platforms or are you switching your cable/satellite TV service :-).

UPDATE (12:07 PM, Jan 5, 2006):

I am obviously assuming that Apple has access to the same content that the cable/satellite TV providers currently have. Else no one is going to switch away from their current provider. As for how Apple will deliver the content, I am assuming it will be over the internet (and/or over a WiMax network in the future).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Intel Logo on Apple Computers

A big concern on the minds of design-conscious Mac lovers is whether Apple will put the Intel logo on the Intel-based Apple computers. Intel has replaced their "Intel-Inside" logo with a new logo, but the question still remains.

Personally, I would not want any such logos on Apple computers. But if there is no escaping it, then I would find it acceptable only if the logo is on the bottom of the computer and only if it is etched into the case and only if the logo is small. i.e. like the rest of the markings that Apple is "forced" to put on the case.

Would you find this acceptable? Or would you prefer a sticker so that you can remove it? I never tried removing the sticker on my wintel laptop at work; I wonder if it leaves a stain.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Virtual Desktops instead of Dashboard

Apple announced a new feature called Dashboard when they previewed Tiger this week at WWDC2004. There is controversy about this feature being a rip-off of Konfabulator, but that is not the topic of my post.

This post is about my wish for a more generic and flexible Dashboard implementation.

The Dashboard allows you to view and interact with a set of gadgets/widgets arranged in a fashion that you see fit. It uses Expose to bring the gadgets/widgets into view and take them out of view without affecting the other applications and windows that are already open on the desktop. It also has its own custom menu to add/remove the gadgets/widgets to the Dashboard.

What I don't like about Dashboard is the restriction that only gadgets/widgets can be shown in the Dashboard. Regular applications cannot be added to the Dashboard, and gadgets/widgets cannot be run on the desktop. I think this distinction between gadgets/widgets and regular applications is unnecessary from a user standpoint and it leads to unnecessary duplication like the separate menu in the Dashboard.

I would like to see this artificial distinction disappear. I would like the ability to run gadgets/widgets on the desktop like any other application, and I would like to be able to run regular applications in the Dashboard. Finally, I would like to have more than one "Dashboard", each having its own combination of applications and gadgets/widgets.

In other words, I would like to see Virtual Desktops instead of Dashboard. I know there are third-party implementations of Virtual Desktops for Mac 0S X, but I would like to see an implementation from Apple that is tightly and cleanly integrated with Expose.

Hopefully Apple transforms Dashboard into Virtual Desktops before Tiger is released. And hopefully it does not lead to controversies about Apple ripping off existing third-party Virtual Desktop implementations :-).