Feb 14

Whats the matter with all the new iOS apps?

in 2010 we gave my mom (completely computer illiterate) an iPad and my father in law (self thought savvy computer user) an Android tablet (the first Sony tablet).

Four years since, my mom is googling, youtube-ing, facetime-ing, emailing, photographing, shopping and cannot imagine her life without her iPad. My father in law returned his tablet to us last year very dissatisfied. He moved to Windows Surface Pro. He just could not figure out Android.

The simplicity and consistent behavior of iOS is one of the primary reasons for its adoption. Just three basic gestures to learn – swipe up/down, swipe left and right and pinch zoom and you were never lost in the navigation because of the single page app design and big bold navigation buttons that gave you the option of what is possible – Back, Next or cancel. It was impossible to get lost in the navigation tree.

Most apps today are no longer complying to the standards. Most apps just run in a container on the iOS but are really web apps. There is a competition to dream up the next user paradigm, the next cool UI. It is making the apps hard to use and will eventually hurt iOS because no longer will there be a difference between the app on iOS or Android.

Apps now need a manual on all the gestures that are needed. Not intuitive any more. Take the Facebook paper for instance, Swipe up does not scroll as you would have expected, it navigates you into the story and when you are in the story, swipe up will go further into the story by opening the video or the link in the story.

I recently started using two apps – Inside and Facebook Paper. Both do essentially the same thing. They help navigated stories – stories within a category and stories across categories. Each of them accomplishes this very differently – almost opposites.

Consider the problem as follows. Imagine a large table on which stories printed on paper are arranged in rows and columns. Stories that are of the same genre are arranged one below the other in a column. Each column then represents a genre. You start with the first story and decide if you want to read more stories in the same genre or move to another genre. The process repeats in each genre. This is essentially the navigation that both Paper and Inside are enabling.

The way to navigate in the Inside app is that you scroll through a genre (swipe up and down) and you switch genre by swiping left and right. Simple but you still need to read the instructions since it is not obvious that one can/should swipe right/left. But not a big departure from how you use other apps.

Facebook Paper on the other hand splits the screen into two. The top shows you a story in a bigger frame. The rest of the stories are arranged in film strip like fashion at the bottom of the screen. The gesture to navigate is swipe left and right. It matters where you swipe – if you swipe on the strip at the bottom you are navigating stories within the same genre. If you swipe on the big frame at the top you are swiping between genres. You select a story by touching the story. Once in the story you can swipe up and down. Swiping up and down means different things depending on the story. If the story is longer than the page up and down scrolls the page. If there is a link to another story then swipe up navigates into that linked story. You better remember where you are and the actions that got you there so that you are reverse your actions to uncoil back to where you want to be.

The animation and movement is cool but it makes Facebook Paper hard to use without first reading and committing the instructions to memory because there is nothing within the app to help you remember the gestures.

The navigation problem that both Inside and Facebook Paper deal with are the same ones that existed from the very beginning and one that almost all apps dealing with content face. Navigating within a context , navigating across to another context and drilling down to details of an item within a context.

Whats wrong with an overlay that shows navigation possibilities (back, next) and leave the gestures as they are? Why the fascination to dream up new ways to navigate and all by gestures alone? I am all for new ways of doing things but I believe it is the designers’ responsibility to know the difference between a better way and just a new way. Just to be different.

I am afraid to upgrade any of the apps on my mom’s iPad anymore. They may render one of the best things in her day useless.

Jan 14

6 Interesting App I used last year

I like apps.

I am constantly downloading apps both paid and free.  I try to use them, learn from them and appreciate the creativity and evolution of user experience design.  This post is to share some interesting apps I have used in the past year that I really liked and stood out for me.

1. Uber

I absolutely love this app.  Used it extensively in NYC to get from the Airport to Manhattan and back.  Also used it for trips within the city.  The cars were always clean and drivers always courteous.  This app makes using taxis pleasurable again.

The app is very well designed.  It uses all of the information it already has or knows from your smart phone and requires little input from you.  Using GPS you set the pick up location.  Based on the location of the driver who will pick you up, gives you an estimate, tracks the driver’s progress and texts when the driver shows up. So that you are not confused, the app gives you the name of the drive along with a picture, the license plate of the car along with the make and model, and a way to directly contact the driver. When you reach your destination, you get out and walk away – no cash, receipts, tipping etc.

Download and read more by clicking here.


2. Drync

Never forget the name of the wine you enjoyed ever.  The app allows  you to capture the label of the wine, add your notes and save it for future reference.  The app will scan the label and allow you to buy the wine and have it delivered to your door whenever you are ready.  It will also recommend wines based on your ratings.

You can read more and download from here.


 3.  Slice

An app that tracks your packages, price drops and recalls automatically.  For someone like me, who buys a lot on the internet, this app grabs relevant information from your email (like amazon confirmations, invoices, etc) and then tracks them.  All information is in one place, easy to find and easy to track.   Also serves as a nice catalog of all the crap you bought over time.

Read more and download from here.


 4. Simplenote

I really like simple (no frills) text editing apps.  On my mac i extensively use Sublime Text.  I start almost anything I do by creating a list that eventually will be scaffolding using which I complete the task.  I use lists as outlines for documents, to capture all my thoughts on a topic, to-dos, packing, etc etc.  Using a list that simultaneously synchronizes across all my devices is important to me.  In addition, there are lists that I want to collaborate with others.

I needed something that was simple, available and synchronized across my devices and also allowed for simultaneous edits but multiple people.  Simplenote was THE solution.  All this and it also keeps versions of changes so that you can roll back to see a previous version.  I love the simplicity of how collaboration is implemented.  You simply add the email address of the person as a tag.  Thats it!

Simplenote also supports markdowns which makes formatting a breeze which still maintaining a simple text layout.  Simplenote is available only on Mac but is available on iOS and Android.

You can get more information from here.


5. Mem:o

Mem:o takes simple numerical lists and makes them visually interesting.  You can use it to track almost anything and it will present the information in a nice visually interesting way.  You can use it to track the number of miles you run every day or the number of times in the day you facebooked, or the calories you are eating, or the number of hours you worked for a client, and so on.

This app also has a number of new and interesting user interaction paradigm.  It will be interesting to see how this app will evolve and how many of the ideas will get adopted across the app space.  This is an iPad only app.

You can get more details here.


6.  Mindfulness

There is growing evidence that is linking meditation to physical and mental health.  I have dabbled with meditation on and off and could never establish any routine.  I resolved to try to make meditation a permanent part of my day in 2014.  I turned to the app world to help me realize the benefits of meditation.  I was surprised by the number of apps out there.  This app was one of the simplest ones out there.  There were apps with fantastic sound libraries, detailed graphs and analysis, etc.  I was looking for simple and this app fit the bill.

I have used his app a few times and each time it has really helped me through the process.  I introduced my mom to this app and it clearly helped her get back into meditation.  She has been through a lot in the past 3 years and was having a lot of trouble trying to meditate.  She just could not do it.  This app has helped to center her again and get her going.  Now to see if I can do better in 2014 than all the previous years.

Read more and download from here.


There are a number of apps I used and it is hard to just list 6.  These were different and each solved a very specific need for me.

Please comment with your favorite apps and I will be sure to try them out.