Fin on a Big(ger) Screen

Bringing Fin to the big screen was easier than I thought it would be. Certainly easier than developing for Mac, and probably even easier than Apple Watch in many ways.

I still think the Apple TV app market is going to be a tough place to make a whole lot of money short term, but I do find myself thinking quite a bit about the long term potential of this new platform.

In any case, I figured it was worth the effort just to wrap my head around a new device. Three weeks of spare hours here and there to get myself familiar with the HIG, the UI challenges, etc. was well worth the effort, as far as I’m concerned. And now I get to see if any of my users find the TV app useful, or if I pick up any new attention as a result of being there.

How often do people need a giant countdown clock in their living rooms? I don’t know. But as with all of the iOS devices, I tend to try and see the possibilities for professionals and prosumers. And there’s where I think an app like Fin can be rather beneficial.

Music and video studios, live events, classrooms — there are all sorts of places where having a big screen showing the time remaining in a session would be very helpful. In fact, I think there are all sorts of possibilities to provide other benefits in those environments as well. And those are the places I want to spend more time thinking about, rather than the living room, which is likely to be crowded and dominated by giant names like HBO and Netflix for a long time.

How much does a basic HD TV go for these days? A couple hundred bucks? Add an Apple TV at another $150, and you have a pretty cheap solution for all sorts of things in professional environments. The question is, will people start picking up Apple TVs for these purposes, or do the apps need to be there first? Time will tell.

Meanwhile I think the UI for Fin translates well to the big screen and remote. The app isn’t quite fully featured yet, but it does the main job of keeping you on schedule quite well. I plan to enhance it as users start giving me some feedback.

If you’re a Fin user and you have a new Apple TV, the app should show up in your purchased tab. If you buy it on your TV, you’ll get the iOS version as well. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Saving a few Milliseconds Does Not Excuse a Crap User Experience

Twitter is a horrible place to try and have a spirited debate.

I read this article by Craig Mod yesterday, arguing that faster Touch ID had actually annoyed him more than it helped. And I largely agreed that there was a big problem with the lock screen situation, though I didn’t think his proposed solutions were ideal.

Then I read Dr. Drang’s reasonable, well constructed rebuttal. (Note to tech nerds: Acknowledging that the other person has a point and showing some empathy is helpful if you want to win someone over, rather than just be “right”.) And then I read a few others agreeing with Drang that faster Touch ID’s gains outweigh the drawbacks. But no one seemed to be selling me on what those gains actually were. I wasn’t convinced that having my Touch ID authenticate in a millisecond instead of a half second was worth rendering my lock screen utterly useless without clumsy workarounds.

So I went to Twitter and proclaimed that I think, for me, faster Touch ID was actually a net loss, and hoped someone would help me understand the other side better.

Instead, I got a few people agreeing with me, a few offering empathy, and a whole lot of people telling me “I’m holding it wrong.”[1] I’m still, in fact, getting more and more people telling me to use my thumb nail, use the sleep/wake button, etc. Missing the point entirely. [2]

So, given that almost no one seems to want to do it, here’s the argument I wanted someone to make to me about the benefits of faster Touch ID:

Hey, Joe. Aren’t you the guy who said that thinner laptops are what made Apple Watch possible? Maybe faster Touch ID is going to be part of some new product, and making it function as fast as possible is critical to it working effectively. You have no idea what the future holds for Apple, nor why having a super-fast Touch ID might play into much more exciting products in the future, so just consider that these things come in stages, and it will all be made clear eventually.

Besides, faster is always better. Touch ID is about much more than the lock screen. Faster authentication in 1Password, the App Store, and so on, are better, if only by a small margin. Every millisecond counts when you’re on the move. And those milliseconds add up as you use your phone all day.

Drang came close to making these points when he said: “I’ll bet the time you’ve saved overwhelms the time you’ve lost. And I’ll bet Apple studied iPhone usage enough to know that would be the case long before the improved Touch ID was released.”

For most users, he’d probably win that bet. But for me, he’d lose.

Still, simply saying, “That sucks for you, but it’s probably a net win for a lot of other people” would be preferable to endless tips about using my thumbnail. At least then I would be forced to look back at what’s really frustrating me about this lock screen situation, which isn’t actually Touch ID.

Faster Touch ID is obviously a good thing.

No. The problem isn’t that authentication happens quickly, but that it’s now impossible to read my notifications without some crappy workaround to how I’ve been unlocking my phone for several years. Essentially, lock screen notifications, which were a part of my daily workflow, now disappear too fast to read them, and I’m reminded of this almost every time I unlock my phone, which is several hundred times a day.

Imagine you launch your favorite Twitter client, and every time the app launches, it shows a screen with your latest activity (mentions, DMs, maybe some stats) but then the screen immediately disappears and shows you the regular timeline. That’s a bug, right? No one is going to argue with me that it wouldn’t be buggy behavior to have such a useful screen disappear a millisecond after it appears. You wouldn’t argue that I should launch the app differently, or that if I swipe down from the top of the screen that the view would reappear, and that makes it okay. You’d wonder why the screen shows up at all if I’m not supposed to be able to read it. You’d call it a bug.

Well, the lock screen in iOS has this bug.

If the true goal of faster Touch ID is to get you authorized and on your way much faster, then why show the lock screen at all? If by the time I’ve clicked on the home button, Touch ID has already scanned my print and decided I’m good to go, why not skip the lock screen (and the slow animation of icons onto the screen[3]) and just show me my home screen immediately?

Remember, the original point of the lock screen was to prevent other users from accessing your phone, or to prevent you from accidentally activating your phone while it’s in your pocket. There’s no good reason from a User Experience standpoint why the rightful owner needs to see this screen in order to accomplish that goal. The limitations of the technology in 2007 necessitated that the lock screen exist in earlier models as a technical limitation. And while that limitation still persisted, they added notifications to the screen to make that screen more useful, as long as it had to be there, anyway. But super-fast Touch ID makes this screen unnecessary, at least when it’s you that is using your phone.

So get rid of it.

Such a simple, elegant, solution. If authorized, skip the lock animations altogether. If not authorized, show the lock screen as it is. I might still be upset you took away my lock screen notifications, but at least you’re not flashing them in front of my face like an asshole.[4]

  1. For those unfamiliar, this is a reference to the classic Steve Jobs misquote during the Antennagate kerfuffle. What Jobs actually had said was “then don’t hold it that way.” But the point is, blame the user, not the product. People kept telling me that I should unlock my phone in some other convoluted way, rather than just press the home button that was sitting right there under my thumb, the way I had been doing since the first iPhone.  ↩

  2. Two more came in as I was writing this.  ↩

  3. You know what’s a lot slower than the old Touch ID? That stupid animation of icons from the lock screen to the home screen.  ↩

  4. The way to placate people who still really want their lock screen notifications would be to add a settings switch to simply slow down Touch ID on the lock screen only. Still, if you turn that switch off, the lock screen should not appear at all.  ↩

Extras, Indeed

While everyone else in the community is still losing its mind over the battery bump, I thought I’d offer a change of pace and criticize something a little more concerning about Apple’s recent endeavors. It didn’t take much effort to find something less controversial, at least.

Let’s take, for instance, the experience of watching iTunes Extras material on an iPad.

iTunes Extras are like DVD bonus features for the movies you buy on iTunes. Some movies only offer an alternate commentary track. Others get quite elaborate, with tons of deleted scenes, interviews, mini-features, the whole nine yards. I’m a big fan of the concept. I am a huge nerd, after all.

A few years ago, you could only watch this bonus stuff on your Mac, which was stupid. Then in 2014 Apple gave iOS the ability to view them again, which was welcome news indeed. Why would I want to watch several hours of video content on my Mac instead of my TV or iPad? Seemed like a no brainer, so I was glad Apple was going to correct this silly omission.

So what’s the problem, Joe? Apple gave you what you wanted, right?

I’ll just make a bulleted list, to keep it simple:

  • iTunes Extras are streaming only. Can’t download them to the iPad. So, no broadband Internet connection at the time you want to watch, no Extras. You can forget about queuing those 90 hours of Hobbit Appendices for your flight to New Zealand, even though you ponied up the extra cash for a 128GB iPad.[1]
  • Where do I find the Extras? There’s no Extras button on the main movie launch screen. First hit play on the movie, then, if you happen to have an Internet connection, and you happen to notice before the controls fade away, there will be a button for Bonus Features on the bottom of the screen below the playback controls. It’s as if Apple is afraid you might actually want to watch this stuff.
  • Enter the Extras, use the menu system, hit play on one of videos. About two minutes in, it’ll pause, as the connection struggles to keep up. This will happen several times while you’re watching no matter how good your broadband is. All part of the experience.
  • Pause the Extra, put the iPad to sleep. You’ve now lost your place. You’ll have to start the entire process over and guess where you were in the video you were watching, if you can remember which one you were watching, that is.
  • Tap on a notification to jump to another app really quickly. You’ve now lost your place. See above.
  • This one is my favorite: Rotate the iPad so that you change orientation.[2] You guessed it, you’ve now lost your place. The video will switch over to the main feature movie and play that. Because that makes perfect sense.
  • Pause the Extra and hit the home button. It’s okay. You can say it. You’ve lost your place yet again. Only it gets even more interesting. Now, the audio of the main movie feature will begin to play, in the background. Ironically it’ll start where you left off the last time you watched the actual movie, just as an extra kick in the nuts. Open up the video app, and sure enough, the main feature movie is now playing. Hit pause, go do whatever you wanted to do, then come back and start all over again.
  • Try scrubbing through the Extra you were watching, and the experience makes the old AppleTV scrubbing seem fluid by comparison. Slide to 8:42, the playhead will jump to 6:23 for no reason. Try to push it back to 8:42, it’ll jump to 11:47. Push it back again, let it jump to 5:50. At this point you’ll just watch it again from the beginning until you get back to where you left off.

I suppose all of this is better than having no ability to watch the Extras at all on mobile, but not by much. After all, if you have a perfect Internet connection, and you want to watch the Extras all in one shot without pausing or getting interrupted for any reason, then it’s just peachy, as long as you don’t mind the occasional pause for the connection to catch up. I’m sure this is how it was tested before being approved for release.

These are not hard bugs to find. They have been present for a while. Either no one is watching iTunes Extras content on their iPads except me, or Apple considers it a super low priority. Which is fine. But it is an embarrassment. Much more so than an ugly iPhone case, at any rate.

  1. I went back to 64GB on my iPad Air 2 for this reason alone. Unfortunately, with the Pro, the only option, if you want the broadband necessary to watch iTunes Extras, is to also get 128GB of storage that you won’t be able to use to store those Extras.  ↩

  2. This is something that happens unintentionally sometimes, like, you know, if you happen to be watching in bed and forgot to lock orientation as you change positions. That’s only happened to me about six thousand times so far, so it’s no big deal.  ↩

Headphone Port

While it’s a bit early to call the death of the headphone jack just yet, we sense that Apple’s interest in thinner, sleeker designs means that the 3.5mm connection is likely living on borrowed time at this point.

via PC magazine

Here’s my prediction:

  1. Apple will indeed drop the standard headphone port on the iPhone 7. Or 8. Or at some point. Guaranteed to happen eventually.
  2. There will be an immediate uproar from the tech community when this phone is announced (despite the discussions we’ll be having over the next few weeks already, thanks to this rumor), with special emphasis on Apple’s “obsession with thin”. Much gnashing of teeth will ensue. Hundreds of hours of podcasts and tens of thousands of words will be committed to the outrage.
  3. A $19.99 headphone jack to Lightning connector will be immediately available, solving the short-term issue in an albeit clunky way. Beats headphones, meanwhile, will be the first to come with the Lightning adapter standard.
  4. People will survive.
  5. Apple will sell more of the iPhone 7 (8, 9, or whatever) than they have of any previous model.
  6. There will be some awkward years with headphone manufacturers offering free adapters, then offering two models of their headphones. Amazon will begin to sell the reverse Lightning to 3.5mm audio jacks. Bluetooth headphones will get better.
  7. Moving forward, whenever Apple releases any new product that packs incredible power into a teeny tiny package for good reason (like the Watch, or the Pencil), the tech community will continue to fail to see the connection between Apple’s insistence on always driving things thinner and lighter everywhere and those new products. They will assume that Apple could just as easily make those teeny products alone in a vacuum, rather than making miniturization a core value of the company and continually shrinking everything they design in small increments over the course of many, many years.

x2y version 4

It was all the way back at WWDC 2014 that my friend Hans vershooten suggested what eventually became the marquis feature of x2y 4.0: Percentages.

x2y has always been able to calculate x or y dimensions for you automatically. It would be nice, Hans suggested, if it could also tell you the percentage difference between the original image and the new one. So if you want, for instance, a rectangle that’s exactly 245% of the original, x2y should be able to calculate both the x and y dimensions for that.

And now it does. (Sorry it took so long, Hans.)

Other new features in this update include 3DTouch shortcuts on the home screen, for devices such as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You can jump straight to a particular aspect ratio with one gesture. To customize which aspects end up in the shortcuts, simply put them at the top of your customizable common aspects list.

Also new in this update, two new color themes. I have fun changing up the look of x2y on occasion, so I wanted to add a few more options. Also, all themes are now unlocked by default, so no more hunting around looking for ways to get all the themes to unlock.

I’m a bit surprised that years after this app was first released, I still find myself using x2y several times a week. This was my first app, and I never imagined that I could take it so far. Once again, I can say with confidence that I’ve spent more time thinking about aspect ratio calculators than anyone else on iOS.

x2y an invaluable tool for any designer or developer who needs to resize images often, particularly in code. You can download it on the App Store here.