Who needs apps?

Moving towards a context driven and more user friendly mobile world.

iPhone iOS 9

Siri – Proactive Assistant in iOS 9 organises data for the user

After wearing the Apple Watch for a month, watching both the Google I/O and Apple WWDC conferences I think it is clearer than ever that we are moving away from what could be called a traditional mobile app interface to a newsfeed style one and this is a natural evolution for mobile device UI design.

Paul Adams has written far more eloquently and in depth about this than I, you can read his post on the Intercom blog here. (Seriously good read).

Here is my home screen.

iOS_1

 

Here is the second page on my home screen.

iOS_2

 

It is a bit of a mess. Now granted I know I have more apps than most but this multi app interface is not uncommon and is certainly not as user friendly as it once was. When Apple introduced the iPhone it was a revolution in mobile UI thanks to the touch screen input and app layout, but now it is beginning to feel tired, cumbersome and confusing no matter how pretty the tech companies try and make it. I have myself and witnessed others lose apps within custom folders just like when you put something aside for safe keeping and then can never remember where that was…! Frustrating when you are looking for that one piece of information.

We’ve been trained to download apps, whether free or paid for, and to keep downloading apps even if we already have an app that does the job of the new app. Apps apps apps! What we really want is a certain piece of functionality or data presented to us as soon as we pick up and look at the device. Creating a frictionless tech experience for the user is always on the minds of the engineers as clearly visible at both I/O and WWDC this year. I’d love to be out for a walk, look at my phone and see instantly information about my surroundings and presented with apps that I may want to use in that moment based on what the device knows about me.

The Apple Watch has certainly begun to alter my expectations. I now expect my phone to switch on when I look at it, clicking a button or tapping the screen to unlock it now feels like an unnecessary step. I don’t want to see lots of apps on the screen, just bite sized pieces of relevant information (glances have become more useful than I initially anticipated), and finally I’d love my device to do certain pieces of activity behind the scenes with little to no input from me. The activity tracking in watchOS for the fitness minded is truly fantastic. I am looking forward to playing with Pebble’s new Time UI as I think that could be a real reflection of things to come and I am not surprised to see Apple introduce a similar experience in watchOS 2 with Time Travel.

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language and understand the context

Both Google Now on Tap and Apple’s Siri Proactive Assistant are definitely drives to this exciting new mobile future. I (sadly) don’t think we’ll see a drastic UI change any time soon, this feed of information similar to the Facebook Newsfeed will likely stay hidden behind a swipe to the notifications stream for I believe at least the next two to three iterations, perhaps we’ll see more use of the lock-screen however.

In the long run I think this could be the big threat to Facebook and explains why they have made so many moves to try and create the elusive Facebook phone. If I can just look at my phone and get presented with information that I want at that moment, including news and updates from friends, then why would I open a social networking app? But then again why will I be looking at my phone when I’ll be embedded in a new VR driven future?

Now I should clarify as I wrap up this post I’m not really talking about removing the downloading of apps (people will always want to and should customise their mobile experience) but more a change to the UI and the idea of using apps in the way that we currently do. There will always be a future for having to open fully fledged applications, think games or enterprise based activities, but the current experience of opening and closing and opening and closing and opening (you get the idea) is one that I believe will go away in the not too distant future.

If you want some further reading try the following:

Wired.com – It’s Official: Everyone Has The Same Plan For Tech’s Future

Quartz – The future of iOS: apps you can enjoy without ever opening them

Smart Watch Hype Check

AplWatch-Hero-Tumble-PRINT

I read a couple of posts today that got me excited again about smart watches. They contained one simple idea: mobile apps could disappear.

Think about it for a second…with your phone safely stored in your pocket or bag or purse, notifications on your watch could take on a whole new dimension. At the flick of your finger or a press on a UI button you could instantly take an action within a mobile game, utility, music service, productivity app, location service, social network…the list goes on! No more having to take out your phone, just look at your wrist and take instant action within a notification.

M.G. Siegler puts it better than me:

On the Watch, the push notification will be far more important than with the phone. With the phone, they mainly serve to get you back into the app. Yes, it’s slightly more convenient to use rich actions in the notification, but they’re limited. The app is just a click away. Why not just open it?

With the Watch, getting to the app means pulling out your phone, unlocking it, and waitng for the app to load. Apple Watch allows you a way to seamlessly do this, but it will be so much faster and better not to have to pull out your phone.

So notifications are about to get elevated, big time. And developers will have to be both smart and cautious about how they wield such power. Spam someone’s wrist and your app is as good as deleted.

Or, create a new kind of app that early adopters can’t live without. An app that may actually disappear.

Now that is exciting. However this leads me nicely onto…

The Rude Watch

I really really really want a smart watch.

This feels like the next awesome gadget that I “need” in my life. But there is a very obvious social problem with them which leads off of the points above about notifications; when someone is talking to you looking at your watch is considered extremely rude. Perhaps even ruder than looking at your phone when you are mid conversation. The implication that you want to know what the time is as you have something better to do is a social no no that has existed for a very long time. So when my watch buzzes or pings me a notification from an app, lets say Clash of Clans, and I look at it to see that AngryNeeson52 has attacked me, any friends or family are going to think I am being incredibly rude.

This is a problem and a similar seemingly small issue that Google Glass had which eventually caused serious problems for that device. People outside of the crowd that love a new device think what you are wearing is intrusive and rude. This little issue could well be the thing that forces me to hold off buying a smart watch for a year or two as people iron out these social issues. Developers you really need to make sure you don’t spam people’s wrists with notifications.

Lets not get started on the battery life. £400+ for a blank screen on your wrist after a long journey doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.

However despite these issues I’m still excited to see how quickly they develop after Apple releases their watch.

10 Years Ago My Job Didn’t Exist

FB_World_Map

Today Facebook is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.

In 2004, as dramatised by The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum and Chris Hughes launched TheFacebook.com and even they didn’t realise what they were about to accomplish. The following year Reddit and YouTube went live followed by Twitter in 2006 with the iPhone being unveiled to the world in 2007.

Continue reading

Living With Nike+ FuelBand

Nike-Fuel-Featured

Almost two months ago a friend of mine gave me a Nike FuelBand as he hadn’t been particularly impressed with it. Given the opportunity to get a piece of tech I’d often thought about buying, for free, meant I jumped at the chance. At the time when I showed off the Nike FuelBand on various social networks I had a number of friends ask for my review, and so after spending some quality time with the device and attached services, here it is.

Continue reading

1 Billion Friend Requests Later

On November 24th 2006 I signed up to Facebook, I remember my initial reaction quite vividly, “so when am I going to use this”. Apparently irony really does know no bounds as my current job relies heavily on Facebook’s existence and the innovation that the company has brought to our world.

Mark Zuckerberg confirmed on October 4th 2012 what many had suspected for a while, that Facebook had reached the 1 Billion active user mark. Which is such a mind blowing number I don’t think anyone can really compute in their head just what that means.

Continue reading