“It takes courage to rob a bank too.”

John Gruber responds to Marco Arment’s view that it took Apple courage to embrace the “notch” on the iPhone X:

Marco Arment:

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.

That’s courage.

It is. But as I wrote when Phil Schiller used the word to explain why they removed the headphone jack last year, that took courage too. It takes courage to rob a bank too. The objection people had to calling the removal of the headphone jack “courage” is based on the notion that courage is always noble. You can despise the notch and/or think it’s the stupidest thing Apple has ever done, but still acknowledge that it took courage to embrace it.

My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.

Gruber is on point with regard to things that take courage to do, but he’s off on wanting Apple to embrace the notch sometimes.

Apple isn’t embracing the notch sometimes. That’s not Apple’s modus operandi. When they make a decision on something, they go all in. Gruber wants iPhone X to wear concealer and fake eyelashes when it goes out in public and iPhone X is all, “Oh no, child! This is how I look! Love me the way I am!”

I’ll say it again. I’ll keep saying it until I’m dead: look long-term. No one has an iPhone X yet. Everyone who has an opinion has either never used an iPhone X (like me) or only used it for a brief period of time (as Gruber himself openly admits).

Humans are reactionary animals and reacting to the short-term is the default for us in life, investing, planning, everything.

It’s possible I’m wrong, but let’s regroup in a year.

We’ll really know for certain if Apple made the right move if Samsung apes the notch on their next Galaxy phone.

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Interface

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Remapping Samsung’s Shitty Features, Denied

Sammobile has a headline that caught my eye: ‘Samsung has a legitimate reason to block Bixby button remapping, whether we like it or not’

This headline is interesting because it highlights a big difference between iOS and Android users: Android users expect to be able to make hacks around crappy features like Samsung’s Bixby and the dedicated Bixby button.

I wrote about how half-baked Bixby was when it debuted a few months ago.

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Interface

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The iPhone X Notch Will Be Forgotten

Over at The Verge, Vlad Savov examines the ‘notch’ at the top of the new iPhone X:

Draw me an iPhone.

The lines may be squiggly, the rounded corners imperfect, but almost everyone you pose this challenge to will present you with the shape of a rectangle containing another rectangle sat atop a circle. The iPhone’s silhouette is the most iconic outline in all of modern technology, recognized by even diehard Android fanboys and featured on the side of “Made for iPhone” accessory boxes around the world. It’s a brand and a logo in its own right.

Now, after 10 years of the home button and big bezels, Apple is giving us something new. The notch. The monobrow. The annoying black protrusion getting in the way of your photos and videos. However you choose to see the black cutout housing sensors at the top of the new iPhone X, you will most definitely see it. And Apple wants it that way.

Like most humans on planet Earth, I had a knee-jerk, negative reaction to the notch/unibrow at the top of the iPhone X the other day.

But as I’ve sat with my thoughts and let them marinate, I’ve gathered a more holistic view on the unibrow. I agree with what former Windows Division President, Steven Sinofsky, said on Twitter:

We’re all going to be ok, people. The reason why I think we’ll be ok is because it dawned on me that the majority of apps I use daily on my iPhone, I use in portrait mode. I check email in portrait mode. I browse the web in portrait mode. I read books in portrait mode. I play music in portrait mode. I use Maps and Waze in my car with my iPhone mounted in portrait mode. Instagram is portrait-only.

Youtube is the only app I use in landscape mode.

I’m willing to bet this is the case for most iPhone users (I have no data on this, just a guess). Video is the most obvious and most nasty exception, but I noticed in a demo yesterday that as is the case now, you double-tap a video you’re watch to toggle between a letter-boxed, scaled down video, and one that fills the entire screen. When a video is viewed uncropped in letterbox mode, the notch goes away.

Games are the other case where the notch would be most annoying. I wonder if game creators will factor this into updates of their games and work around it.

I respect that Apple doesn’t shy away from the unibrow. They don’t try to downplay it. Even in the iconography for iPhone X they depict the unibrow. They could have easily advised designers and developers to hide it by blacking out the whole horizontal space at the top of the screen but they didn’t.

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Interface

iPhone X Has a Unibrow

Yesterday was Apple’s Keynote where they unveiled the ‘all screen’ iPhone X.

They also posted an instructional video on how to design for the iPhone X, and it’s unibrow.

I would love to know what level of rage Jony Ive is feeling about this:

I understand the unibrow is there because it houses all the of the fancy facial recognition sensors and phone speaker. I also understand having an edge-to-edge screen has become table stakes, but that indent is like a huge itch I can’t scratch.

I’m sure there are dozens of physical prototypes Apple designers created where there isn’t a unibrow and I’m curious how and why this version of the iPhone X beat out the others.

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Interface, Product

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SkypeSnapSlackWhatsInsta

Skype’s Snapchat-inspired makeover puts the camera a swipe away, adds stories:

“If social networks have given you the stage on which to perform your life, the new Skype gives you the additional equivalent of the local coffeehouse or corner pub, where you meet people on a daily basis to deepen your relationships,” explains Amritansh Raghav, Corporate Vice President of Skype, about the new design’s focus on enhancing users’ real social connections. “We call that set of interactions your personal network,” he says.

Barf.

The tech world is out of ideas, just aping what the other guys are doing.

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Interface, Technology

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No Speaky to Bixby

Samsung says Bixby voice assistant won’t ship with Galaxy S8:

One of the key signature features of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its Bixby voice assistant, won’t work out of the box, when the device goes on sale later this month. Other parts of Bixby, including its visual search and reminder abilities, will ship at launch, a Samsung representative told Axios in a statement.

Samsung really doesn’t like being reliant on Android to power all their mobile devices. Tizen is the most obvious example of this. TouchWiz is another. Bixby is the latest example.

What I want to know is if Samsung is truly invested in Bixby for the long-term?

Siri was very beta and had many problems when it first launched. Today it has much fewer, although it has a ways to go. Apple’s great at having the balls to ship 1.0 versions of products and then iterate year after year. Remember when everyone was bitching about the shitty colors, icons, and hard-to-read Helvetica Light in iOS 7? If you compare iOS 7 to iOS 10 you can see a lot has changed in four years.

Even if Samsung does decide to stick with Bixby, they have yet to prove they can ship top-quality software experiences on par with iOS and Android.

If Samsung is dreaming of overcoming Apple, they have some work ahead of them.

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Car Companies Are Still Struggling with Interface Design

Headline from The Verge:

The 2017 BMW 5 Series emphasizes design over intuitive software

First off, shame on whoever the editor is for creating that headline. They’re conflating design with the superfluous. Design isn’t how it looks, it’s how it works.

How many times do we have to go over this?

If you do eventually get your phone connected over Bluetooth, you have a few options for controlling iDrive. The most novel way is with those gesture controls. I was excited to try them because, as I’ve learned after playing around with many gadgets, it’s often a gimmicky and faulty feature. I hoped that BMW had figured out the magic solution to making it an essential form of interaction. Spoiler: the company hasn’t. The gesture controls didn’t always function, and beyond that, I never wanted to rotate my finger in a circle to adjust the volume level or stick two fingers out to end a call. I tried to make the controls part of my driving experience and ended up never using them, although they were still a fun party trick that entertained my passengers. Buttons and knobs have a 100 percent success rate — why would I want to struggle to change the volume with a twirl of my finger when I could just turn the volume knob?

BMW’s voice commands also weren’t foolproof. The system registered people who have a full name in my phone book, like The Verge’s photographer Amelia Krales, but not addresses like 550 West 25th Street, or simple words like “mom.” Why is it always so hard to call my mom?

Incumbents always laugh at the idea of a newbie coming into their industry and stealing away market share, but the car industry is a great example of an industry ripe for disruption. This happened to the fixed-keyboard smartphones with the iPhone, it’s happening now to the watch world with the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure we can say it’s happening to the auto industry yet (Ford sold 2.5 million cars in 2016, Tesla moved 80K).

It frustrates me when I read about BMW creating it’s own (currently inferior) voice command system, when a lot of us already use Siri or ‘Ok, Google’. It’s bad enough we have redundant AI efforts happening at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple, but now auto makers are joining in. I understand not wanting to let the tech companies eat your lunch, but something has to give. Let us plug our phones into our cars, our lives are on those devices.

Mercedes-Benz is another company continuing to make cumbersome user interfaces. I recently drove a fully-loaded 2016 E Class sedan and for such a classy, well-engineered, and fun-to-drive car, the on-screen graphics and menus lack the visual sophistication you expect from a Mercedes (fonts are clunky, drop shadows are heavy-handed, background swooshes and texture are dated, animations are stiff), and are also confusing to navigate.

Spark

Blanchard Joins Readdle to Work on Popular Email Client ‘Spark’:

Readdle has hired former Apple Mail engineering manager Terry Blanchard in a position that will focus on creating the “future of email” for Readdle’s popular email client “Spark,” working with an entirely new team of his choosing in Silicon Valley. Blanchard’s new role, per his LinkedIn page, is vice president of engineering for Readdle.

I decided to start testing Spark as my main email client on iPhone and desktop a few months ago and so far I love it.

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Interface, Product

Google’s Slackalike

Google Hangouts is getting a major overhaul to take on Slack:

If you know anything about Google’s messaging strategy in the last few years, you know that it’s been a bit of a mess. Allo, the consumer app, launched without the cross-platform features users expect. Text messaging on mobile is mired in inter-carrier warfare. And Hangouts has become a punchline.

On two of those fronts, Google has been making progress. And today, in a bit of a surprise, Google has signaled that it finally decided Hangouts is supposed to be: a business communication tool to complement its consumer apps. We’re now getting a glimpse of what that means — and if the early demo I saw is any indication, it might be time to stop making fun of Hangouts.

That’s because Hangouts is turning into a group chat system that looks a hell of a lot like Slack. Like Microsoft, Google is launching a Slackalike — and like Microsoft, it’s betting that deep integration with the rest of its office suite is going to be catnip for IT managers and cost-conscious CFOs.

I’ve used Slack at different companies and projects over the last three years and I’ve never understood what all the hype was about. To me it was just the newest kid on the messaging block. Then about two weeks ago I started a new job and the company I work for uses Hipchat. I immediately became aware of how inferior Hipchat is to Slack. There is zero delight, personality, and thoughtfulness to it. Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone.

For all the great thinking that went into the design and usability of Slack, I’ve always found it to be where people waste a lot of time sharing links, videos, animated GIFs, and chatting about things unrelated to their work.

If I ran a company, I’d be willing to try offsetting time wasted on Slack by eliminating email.

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Interface, Product

Dammit, Apple. You’re Supposed to Be the Ones With Good UI Design.

The grand appeal of using an e-reader is the ability to own a large library of books without adding to the colossal weight of one’s possessions. Ever since I moved away from print books I’ve been able to remove hundreds of pounds of clutter from my apartment and from my life. Storing books digitally has improved my quality of life. That being said, the various e-readers that are out there have an obligation to provide a good user experience, and they do that through design.

In the past I’ve taken Amazon to task for user interface design that I felt was subpar. Since it’s introduction, Kindle for the iPad has gone through numerous updates to its UI, and while still not perfect, it provides a fine balance of text and whitespace. The only reason I don’t use the app regularly is because Kindle doesn’t have continuous scrolling. Enter iBooks, the e-reader app from Apple.

Apple prides itself on the quality of its design. One can see it from the look and feel of Apple’s signature hardware, to the way fonts render in OSX, and everything in between. Which makes this so inexplicable:

ios10ibooks

That is a screenshot of a page in iBooks, with continuous scroll turned on, after an update to iOS 10. The margins to the right and left are too small, leaving the text crowded to the edge of the screen. When using one of the new model iPad Pros, the text is less than an inch from the edge of the device. The width of the text also interferes with the eye’s ability to flow from one line to the next. What happened to all that whitespace that designers value so much? It used to be there. This is a screenshot of the same text taken in iBooks from an iPad running iOS 9:

ios9ibooks

The second screenshot shows a much better use of margins. I know there are charlatans out there who prefer text to be much closer to the edge, but they’re wrong. Luckily, a solution that satisfies most users should not be that difficult for Apple to implement. The Kindle app already has a margin selector in the same menu where a user adjusts fonts and background colors. The settings in iBooks does not. As of right now, the experience in iBooks on the iPad has been degraded by the decision to close the margins. Were Apple to add a margin selector, it would be a vast improvement to the app.

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Interface Details

In 2015, Moleskine released a calendar app for iOS (yes, the company that makes notebooks and journals).

The app is called Timepage. I’ve been using it since it came out and it’s really good. As with all great design, it’s beautiful, but design is about how it works, not how it looks, and it works great. It much easier to use than Apple’s native Calendar app for iOS.

I’m not going to give a full breakdown of the app, I just want to highlight one detail I love. When you have no appointments on a day, instead of showing you nothing, it displays a historic event:

If you’re the kind of person searching for great calendar apps try it out, it’s $2.99 and if that’s too expensive for you, how about you skip your over-sugared and over-priced Starbucks latte.

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Interface

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