Instagram testing monochrome design; discussing the tab bar

Casey Newton, The Verge: The result is a design that feels more modern, but also perhaps less distinctive than the current version of the app. I have a lot of thoughts on this matter. (I questioned a co-worker — our resident UI/UX guy — on this subject and pretty soon a lot of people chimed in. The discussion ended, through a sequence of hops, on me telling our UI/UX-guy about 4chan…story for another day.) If you haven’t already, you should click through to The Verge’s post and look at the new design. Pay close attention to the feature image — Instagram’s current design — and then the redesign. First, this makes Instagram look so much like Safari when it was redesigned for iOS 7. Especially, the top part of the Explore tab. Good design is widely thought of as one that recedes to make way for the content (I like to put it thus: good design is invisible). The new Instagram design embodies that philosophy. You look at Instagram now (let’s consider the Home feed), and while you scroll through pictures, you’re constantly aware that you’re in the Instagram app. Such is the prominence of the Instagram logo, the blue bar up top, the blue usernames and the pronounced bottom tab-bar controller. It’s a constant reminder — ‘You’re in Instagram’, whether you realise it or not. The new design makes pictures stand out. ‘You’re in Instagram, viewing pictures’ isn’t the focus. Instead, it’s ‘You’re viewing this picture; you’re seeing it in Instagram’[1]. My second thought is a form of meta debate. Until now Instagram has, mostly, paved its own way with its design. Times when it’s conformed to Apple’s guidelines seem like by-products — ‘Create your own design and embellish it with your platform vendor’s guidelines’, not the other way around. An example would be the swipe-to-go-back gesture when viewing a picture through the Explore tab. This is what led to the Instagram design becoming iconic and, as I said, quite prominent . So which way should a company, just starting out, head towards? A neutral design that sticks close to the platform’s (or an existing norm’s) ways and be familiar, safe, intergral to the platform/norm and as a result focus on the content of your app, or pave its own way with its design, be bold, take risks and have the ‘I can glance over your shoulder and know you’re using [said app]’ notion going for you. (A good contrast here would be Tweetbot for iOS. Tweetbot is an excellent design, end to end. But it’s an excellent design for iOS. A relatively unfamiliar user couldn’t glance over and know it’s Tweetbot the way they would Facebook or Instagram. Also, put Tweetbot as-is on an Android phone and it’ll look way out of place. Instagram is essentially the same on both platforms.) My last point isn’t particularly to do with Instagram. For some context, here’s John Gruber’s thoughts on the redesign: I’ve been using Instagram since the day it shipped, and I’m still thrown off by the way the camera tab always looks selected because it has a blue background Open Tweetbot and notice the way the tab bar — the bar at the bottom — works. (If you don’t own Tweetbot, fire up the Music app…and buy Tweetbot). Of the 4/5 tabs, the one that is selected is highlighted. The others are grey in colour while the selected tab embodies the app’s primary colour: pink-ish for Apple Music and blue for Tweetbot. But aren’t the other tabs actually the actionable icons? They’re the buttons you can tap on to perform an action — switching views. And aren’t buttons usually the app’s primary color? Per tradition, it’s all the other tabs — apart from the one you’ve selected — that should be blue (let’s assume that’s the primary color, for convenience) since they’re actionable. Apple’s tab bar controller breaks that tradition and I see why — It’s less of a distraction; it’s a ‘Here’s where you are’ approach instead of ‘Here’s where you can go’. This traditional click-based method stood out to me a few days ago while designing our app and I’ve been able to understand the tab-bar controller better since. I wanted to bring some attention towards it since I find it fascinating. 1. I’m purposely being verbose. ↩

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Cortana on Windows 10 won’t let you google anymore

Russell Brandom, The Verge: Microsoft is closing off one of the easiest ways to Google search in Windows 10. The company has announced in a blog post that starting today, it will block the ability to perform third-party searches through the Cortana digital assistant, as part of an effort to maintain an “integrated search experience.” The move comes in response to a number of recent workarounds, which used browser extensions or even registry edits to establish Google as the default engine for Cortana searches instead of Bing. […] While Microsoft’s reaction is surprising, it’s not entirely unprecedented. Both Siri and Android’s voice search feature lock users into obscured default search engines […] Why is this surprising? Googling through Contrana was a workaround anyway, implying Microsoft most probably didn’t intend on users swaying away from Bing searches. Let me draw a parallel: Siri let’s you identify songs playing in your vicinity. It uses Shazam for identification and then presents you an iTunes link to buy that song. It’s as if Siri should’ve instead let you buy the song through Shazam or —  considering how Bing and Google search are pit against one another — Google Play Music.

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Motorola chief Rick Osterloh re-hired by Google

Recode’s report is titled ‘Google is building a new hardware division under former Motorola chief Rick Osterloh‘. I thought to myself, aren’t they always? I bet they’ll shut it down in a year or two. Snarkiness aside, I’ve long considered Motorola the sanest among Android OEMs — ostensibly putting in more thought in their phones than its Android peers. Rick’s re-hire isn’t surprising either, given Google’s relationship with Motorola. The relevant snippet from Recode’s report reads: Here it is now. Osterloh will now oversee Google’s Nexus devices. His new hardware division also includes a suite of products called the “living room,” demonstrating Google’s priority on owning that space. […] For the well-regarded Osterloh, it is a return to Google employment, though it is a far broader role than his past ones.

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Apple files a patent that allows recipients to view a sender’s autocorrected words

Nick Statt, The Verge: The patent, which can be found here, describes a system for showing recipients highlighted words that were altered by autocorrect. The system wouldn’t show the person what you originally typed, but it could alleviate having to ask follow-up questions for clarification if the word is similar enough to a more obvious alternative, like “being” to “bring” or “order” to “offer.” In the patent’s literature (specifically, page 50), Apple refers to this technology being applicable to ‘devices, methods and graphical user interfaces’. The patent’s showcase images (mirrored in The Verge’s article) show an iPhone screen with a terribly skewed keyboard. The moment I saw this, my brain was drawn towards the idea that this technology might be developed with the Watch in mind. The Watch relies solely on speech-to-text for text input. Such a ‘crippled’ method seemingly benefits more than an iPhone that gives you a keyboard you type on — one where you can undo or change your keystrokes with relative ease. Of course it could trickle down to or begin development from the iPhone, before the Watch.

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Indian government exempts Apple from 30% local-sourcing

Economic Times: A government panel has recommended exempting Apple from mandatory local sourcing norms, a move which would pave the way for Apple to open single-brand retail stores in the country. […] “The committee has found that the company’s products are cutting edge technology and state-of-the-art. It has recommended to exempt them from the local sourcing norms,” sources said. […] Apple has no wholly-owned store in India and sells its products through distributors such as Redington and Ingram Micro. It’s past 1 am here in New Delhi, India as I type this; I was just about to go to bed. The importance of this news for Apple and (more so?) for Indian Apple customers can’t be overstated. I had to write about it. Indian laws require a company to source 30% of its parts/raw materials locally. This helps safeguard interests of the country’s vendors. Since Apple manufactures only in China, they import their products into India and has heavy import-taxes levied against them. That’s the reason why, last year, the iPhones 6S commanded the highest price in India when compared worldwide. (Props to you if you can spot the irony.) Be it money or influence or ‘that the company’s products are cutting edge technology and state-of-the-art’, there’s no denying that the Indian government is pulling a sort of one-off (in this category) for Apple. Anecdotally, and through off-handed articles there’s a lot of demand for iPhones in India — despite the hiked prices. Few weeks ago, a report surfaced that leaders of India’s Android brands were appalled at Apple’s plan to sell used iPhones in India out of fear of losing sales to Apple. Additionally, India doesn’t have a proper iBooks Store or support for Apple Maps. I’m sure an ease in distribution, reduced iPhone prices, an actual Apple Store, higher iPhone sales (and so the snowball goes…) should help on those fronts too. Tim Cook said on the quarterly earnings call: […] in India our iPhone sales were up 56% from a year ago. […] I sort of view India is where China was maybe 7-10 years ago, from that point of view. And I think there’s a really great opportunity there. The wheels are in motion. Further read: With China weakening, Apple turns to India — Reuters

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iPhone SE demand exceeds expectations

Juli Clover, MacRumors (via. John Gruber): Apple hasn’t divulged sales numbers for the recently released iPhone SE, but during today’s second quarter earnings call, company executives said that demand for the device was “very strong” and higher than expected. I sort of saw this coming. Let me reiterate: Most of the components in the SE are quite old (in ‘smartphone years’, that is). A shortage in supply — as was reported about two weeks ago — almost definitely had to be due to demand that wasn’t accounted for. Tim Cook said in the earnings call: iPhone SE is the most powerful 4-inch phone ever and it’s a great option for customers all over the world for customers who want a compact phone with advanced features and a great price without compromising performance. Again, the SE isn’t a ‘great option’ for the stated criteria, it’s the only option.

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Apple reveals Q2 results

‘Aha!’, spurts Jim looking up from the screen in front of him. ‘iPhone sales have finally slumped’, his cheeks puffed. ‘How do you feel now?’ ‘I’m not surprised — or even worried’, you reply with an air of nonchalance. ‘Why is that?’ You set aside your sandwich–the mayonnaise is pasty anyway. ‘Apple predicted a drop in sales. Some say sales this quarter were being compared against an unusually skewed number. I’d be bothered if iPhone sales slump next year too. Besides, they’re earning more from their existing users than before. Folks are flocking over from Android too. I think they’ll do just fine.’ Jim considers this a moment. Unsure, he says ‘I don’t think so. I think iPhones have seen their heyday.’ ‘I think this sandwich is an abomination… We have our differences, count this as one. Tell you what Jim, old chap, why don’t we revisit this next year?’ You return to your sandwich. It’s still the soggy mess it was before Jim interjected. The tea should help wash it down though. You should have it while it’s still warm.

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Material Design coming to Chrome OS

Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge: There are sharper edges, tweaked colors, altered animations, and so on. You’d definitely notice it if they just popped up on you one day, but you’ll still feel totally at home. Alongside the design changes, Chrome OS is also getting a slightly altered design meant for use on touchscreen Chromebooks. It’s called Chrome OS’ “hybrid mode,” and it basically just means that the screen layout is sized to work with either your finger or a mouse. Here’s a screenshot by Google, summarising th re-design. A few observations: The icons for maximise, and close are visually centred but the one for minimise looks like an underscore (instead of a dash). It should’ve been centred but I’m sure the touchable space around the three are the same. The lack of visual alignment throws me off. The maximise icon looks like the one Google uses for opening its multi-tasking pane on Android. The icon for opening a new tab has a smaller visual canvas than the currently open tabs. It’s the sudden decrease in height that really makes an apparent, in-your-face, difference. The current difference in height between a new tab and opened tabs in Chrome (at least on OS X) is subtler, the rounder edges help offset the difference. (Here’s a side-by-side comparison.) I’m assuming the smaller, sharper icon ties in with Material Design’s playful ‘everything appears from somewhere’ philosophy. The smaller ‘New tab’ icon would — say — bounce and stretch into a new tab. Material Design works for touch screens — larger elements, actions causing animations and ripples all over the place. Like it or not, it’s hard to make the case against Material Design working better for direct manipulation (touch screens) than a pointer-based environment (traditional desktop). Now Google’s created an altered design for touch-screens? Does Chrome OS look different on a laptop with and without a touchscreen? The report says Chrome for OS X will adhere to Material Design. Should be a treat… (Something I realised while putting together the side-by-side comparison: A new tab in Chrome is titled ‘New Tab’ and displays your tabs below the Google search bar. In Safari, it’s called ‘Favourites’ and presents your favourite and most-visited websites. The first thing on Chrome that catches my eye is ‘Google’, with Safari it’s a collection of my websites. Also, Chrome has two search bars that essentially do the same thing. The only difference being, the one below ‘Google’ houses the search-by-voice option.) Previously: Google decides to follow Apple’s Tab Bar Controller

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‘It still has just one port’

The MacBook was updated a few days ago with better internals and a rose-gold finish. Almost every tech-outlet (the ones not focused solely on Apple) is complaining about   Apple not adding another USB-C port. The idea being: it’s easier to charge and connect simultaneously. If you’re expecting Apple to add another USB-C port, you don’t understand the MacBook. The MacBook wants to reinvent the notebook. Apple wants to make everything on the MacBook, wireless. The only reason there’s even a single USB-C port, I conjecture, is because Apple couldn’t obtain suitable wireless charging for the MacBook. You don’t even have to look too far to see the signs that Apple isn’t going to put in more USB-C ports. Tim Cook, announcing the MacBook: The definition of portability has changed in the last several years, led by iPhone and iPad. So we challenged ourselves to take everything that we had learned in designing iPhone and iPad and do something incredibly ambitious and bold. We challenged ourselves to reinvent the notebook. Later, Phil Schiller: How do you connect to the world? This is our vision for the future of the notebook. And the only intelligent vision for the future of the notebook is one without wires. And: Now of course there is a time when it’s really convenient to plugin a cable, that’s when you want to charge quickly. So we do have a port on here for power and the team decided if we’re gonna have a port on it, let’s make it the most versatile […] The MacBook can connect to accessories because it had to have a port for charging. (The fact that Schiller said ‘charge quickly‘ is probably indicative of the fact that wireless charging just isn’t quick enough yet.) The port facilitates charging, connectivity is an add-on. Tim alluded to the MacBook drawing inspirations from the iPad and iPhone. They’re both portable machines with one port (the entire piece is discounting headphone jacks). Wanting two lightning ports on your iPhone seems absurd. (Besides, Apple leaves the thoughtless removing-adding-removing of ports to others.) The other problem people have with the MacBook is more understandable — the FaceTime camera is still 480p. While I can’t remember the last time I used the FaceTime camera on my MacBook Pro, I agree — it’s bothersome . Also, you can argue over Rose Gold’s importance and how it’s shabby and not your thing but if you’ve seen coverage of the new MacBook around the Internet, you would’ve noticed Rose Gold MacBooks everywhere. Sure it’s to distinguish the new MacBook from the old but isn’t that what a lot of people pride themselves in? I like Rose Gold a lot but Space Grey/Black is my favourite colour across Apple’s products. The only ‘still ?‘ I see in the MacBook–and something that has probably gone unseen–is the MacBook logo staring at you! Apple removed it from the MacBook Pro. They should remove it from the MacBook too. It’s annoying.

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Taylor Swift in Apple Music’s next ad

It’s hard to conceive that this ad comes from folks related to those who made the Cookie Monster ad. Titled ‘Taylor mic drop‘ (expressive; sounds like a programmer naming a variable — taylorMicDrop ) the ad has Taylor Swift applying make up, singing for the majority of the video, and then dropping the ‘mic’–her lipstick. If you really want to be entertained by this ad, I suggest you think of it as a fashionable mic drop, done right .

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Design language behind the WWDC 2016 marketing

You’ve likely heard by now that Apple is holding this year’s WWDC at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. It’s a big venue; Apple held last year’s iPhone 6S event there. I wanted to quickly chime in about the inspiration for this year’s WWDC marketing. Have a look at the registration page. It immediately struck a chord with me. I’ve seen it multiple times on Zev Eisenberg’s blog for Swift syntax (suggestively named). Turns out, it’s one of Xcode’s default themes called ‘Dusk’. (Screenshot here.) …this obviously entails Xcode for iPad!

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Apple updates the MacBook; minor upgrade for the MacBook Air

BusinessWire: The updated MacBook features sixth-generation dual-core Intel Core M processors up to 1.3 GHz, with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1 GHz, and faster 1866 MHz memory. New Intel HD Graphics 515 deliver up to 25 percent faster graphics performance, and faster PCIe-based flash storage […] Apple also today made 8GB of memory standard across all configurations of the 13-inch MacBook Air. So why announce mildly-important product updates right after you announce WWDC 2016? I wonder what WWDC has in store this year that Apple didn’t announce–at least the MacBook refresh–at WWDC.

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Apple, Reebok and Trapper Keeper shared fonts in the 80s

Jason Kottke: Just learned/realized that the old logos for Reebok, Apple, and Trapper Keeper all use the same typeface, Motter Tektura. Typography is so instrumental to good design. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a make-or-break factor for everyone but it definitely starts one’s subconscious along a path of like/dislike. (Somehow related but a bizarre segue: I’ve always thought stairs have a similar effect on people. If you run a shop that makes customers climb a few steps, you don’t want your stairs to be the reason for the customer’s foul mood when they enter. You want to make your customers glide over those steps, not have them realise they’re putting in effort. I’ve noted shallow, long steps–more in number due to decreased height–are less tiring than block-shaped ones.)1 I bet you didn’t anticipate reading about steps on an Apple blog, this morning. ↩︎

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Apple reportedly running a car lab in Germany

Tim Hardwick, MacRumors: Apple is operating a secret vehicle research and development lab in the heart of Berlin, claims a report published in a German news outlet this morning. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (also known as F.A.Z.), Apple’s clandestine facility employs between 15 and 20 “top class” men and women from the German automotive industry, with backgrounds in engineering, software, hardware, and sales. They’re really just Tesla employees banished to the Apple graveyard, I’m sure. Further: The article goes on to repeat previous speculation surrounding Apple’s rumored vehicle research, noting that the company’s first car will be electric, but also ventures to claim that it will lack self-driving capabilities because the required technology is still in development. Increasingly, I have an inclination that Apple’s car will almost definitely be an electric car that isn’t fully self-driving. Self-driving cars just aren’t at the stage where they fit into Apple’s ‘just works’ philosophy. Chris Urmson, project director for Google’s self-driving car program, conceded: How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you see maybe it’s three years, maybe it’s thirty years. And I am here to tell you that honestly, it’s a bit of both Google’s self-driving car doesn’t process its surroundings in real time to form a map that can be navigated through. Instead, the map is hard-coded to boot. The obvious drawback, then, is that such a car can only work on previously mapped pathways. I doubt Apple is going to want to sell a fully self-driving car that iss limited this way. Additionally, I have some musings over the time between Apple’s car announcement and release. With theWatch, 7 months elapsed between announcement and release. One would assume a longer gap when Apple announces its car; not owing to relative size but the complexity and variables involved. (Keeping some time between announcement and release also gives Apple the advantage of testing — conceptually or otherwise — without worrying about leaks.)

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Apple exploring paid-search for the App Store

Adam Satariano and Alex Webb, Bloomberg (via. John Gruber): […] Apple is considering paid search, a Google-like model in which companies would pay to have their app shown at the top of search results based on what a customer is seeking. For instance, a game developer could pay to have its program shown when somebody looks for “football game,” “word puzzle” or “blackjack.” Paid search, which Google turned into a multibillion-dollar business, would give Apple a new way to make money from the App Store. John adds: The one and only thing Apple should do with App Store search is make it more accurate. […] It’s downright embarrassing that App Store search is still so bad. Google web search is better for searching Apple’s App Store than the App Store’s built-in search. That’s the problem Apple needs to address. I have a bone to pick with the search folk at Apple. They almost never spell-check. It’s curious: Search the App Store for ‘Facebool’ and the top two results are the Facebook app and their Messenger app. Search ‘Fantasticak’ and you have nothing. Apple Music is worse since song names aren’t always spelt the right way. John mentions Google offering better search for App Store apps than the App Store. I tried looking for Ulysses, the app where I’m typing this, on DuckDuckGo 1 by misspelling it as ‘Ulyseas app’ ( ‘app’ added to avoid ambiguity with Ulysses the novel) and the first result is Ulysses’ website, second is the iTunes link. Searching for ‘Ulyseas’ on the App Store returns squat2 . Even DuckDuckGo is better at searching App Store apps than the App Store. (Here’s the screenshots for convenience: DuckDuckGo, App Store) Apple ran a video at WWDC last year called The App Effect. In it, Apple tries to deliver the message that the App Store is a platform that gives big companies and one-man-shows a level playing field. Case in point, the video at 1 minute, 46 seconds has Instagram’s CEO saying ‘You know it’s a testament that two guys in a room working on an idea can launch an app and instantly have hundreds and millions of people very quickly’. I really hope Apple sees value in fixing the App Store before thinking of ways to squeeze more money out of it. 1. I support DuckDuckGo completely and it’s the default search engine on my iPhone but Google’s search is unparalleled. Hence I picked an ‘inferior’ search engine to make my point.↩ 2.  Not the first ‘s’-word I was going to go with. Hint: the word rhymes with ‘search-hit’↩

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