The HP Sprout is a Windows PC with a built-in projector that basically draws a second screen on a large touchpad/graphics tablet combo. Oh, and it also has a built-in 3D scanner.

It’s crazy enough that I want one, just to see how I would use it. Via Ars Technica.

Khoi Vinh:

I’m not entirely sure it’s in the best interest of the iPad to be tied so closely to the iPhone. Ultimately, a more aggressive branching of the iPad’s operating system away from the iPhone’s operating system may be necessary. Doing so may be the only way that Apple starts to answer the critical questions at the heart of the line: “What, exactly, is unique about the iPad? What can it do better than any other device? And why can’t customers live without it?”

Wherefore art thou iPad?

Dr. Drang suggests some reasons why the iPad isn’t selling better:

Finally, there’s the big problem: storage. How does someone on a iPad access all of the photos and music and video and other files that are part of the modern digital life that Apple wants us to lead? None of us can be post-PC until all of our stuff is where we can get at it without a PC. That there’s been no clean, obvious, and reliable solution to this problem is definitely Apple’s fault, and it’s kept the iPad from being a complete PC replacement.

Here’s another reason:

Apple’s behavior severely limits the types of apps that are available on iOS. Whether it is due to actual restrictions, or just due to fear on the part of developers, there are a lot of «safe» apps on iOS, but very few apps that try to break the mold of what people expect from their devices. You get a lot of games, podcast clients, todo lists, camera apps, text editors, things like these — but not a lot of stuff that colors outside of these lines.

None of these app types work substantially better on larger screens. In fact, there are very few apps on iOS that you really need an iPad for if you want to get the most out of them. There’s Microsoft Office,1 and iMovie — but even for these apps, it’s not entirely clear to me that most people wouldn’t be perfectly happy running them on an iPhone, particularly on a 6 or 6 Plus. There are some niche apps (audio apps, for example), but they are just that — niche apps.

Hence, there is very little reason to own an iPad if you already own an iPhone. Unfortunately, the primary target audience of iPads — people who are inside Apple’s ecosystem — probably do already own an iPhone.

In short, if you have an iPhone, and you want a second, more powerful device, why would it be an iPad? There’s almost nothing you can do on an iPad that you can’t do on an iPhone. It’s just as restricted as the iPhone, and as a result, can’t differentiate itself from the iPhone. But at the same time, the iPad is less portable, and lacks the phone features of the iPhone.

While a lot of people might be okay with their phones running only a limited set of app types, the same does not seem to be true when it comes to other kinds of devices.

The iPad isn’t selling better because Apple’s own rules prevent it from being the truly compelling device that it could be.

Addendum

Ben Thompson:

The problem is that must-have apps are exactly what the iPad needs to become indispensable. (…) I can’t help but reminisce about what might have been had Apple harnessed the incredible developer enthusiasm for the iPad in 2010-2012. More than any other iOS device the iPad needed help to make it indispensable to everyone, but Apple famously doesn’t like depending on anyone. And now no one cares.


  1. I think I know only two people who own and use iPads regularly. Both of them use their iPads to run Word. back

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Yosemite's Visual Design

Khoi Vinh:

My biggest complaint, personally, is that this fresh coat of paint does a poor job on visual contrast. Interface elements are often so light in color and/or so close to one another in color that they “bleed” into each other all the time. The effect is a blown-out look, as if a novice photographer stepped up the exposure on her camera well beyond advisability. In previous versions of OS X, it was common to use dark, sometimes hard edges to help delineate where one piece of UI ends and another one begins. Apple’s designers have seemingly restricted themselves from employing that very basic technique throughout Yosemite, or at least have sought to dial back its use significantly.

Some UI elements, particularly windows, feel washed out and vague. The problem is particularly egregious on non-retina displays, but it also exists on retina displays. Yosemite needs a lot more contrast in some areas.

In other areas, there’s too much contrast. One problem I have is that it is difficult to see where the focus is, since there’s so much saturated blue in the UI. Look at this screenshot, with all of its competing blue areas. Where’s the focus?

Screenshot showing Yosemite's General System Settings

It’s in the search field, but there’s a lot of blue to go through until you find the one you’re looking for.

While not perfect by a long shot, the difference between a normal UI element and an active one was more obvious in earlier versions of OS X.

Screenshot showing Mavericks' General System Settings

Translucency

I do want to push back a bit on one particular bit of criticism: the translucency. I’ve seen a number of people complain about Yosemite’s inconsistent application of translucency. You see through some windows sometimes, but not always, and some windows behind other windows are not taken into account when drawing the translucent areas.

I think these complaints are missing the point.

This is not about the physics of light. It’s not about how windows are stacked. It’s not even really about translucency. This is about personalization.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Apple is running an ad showing how people personalize their Macs.

Screenshot of a MacBook with a sticker

Personalization is important. All the way back to early Macs, Apple allowed users to personalize their computers. Here’s a screenshot of System 7’s Color control panel that allowed you to change the color of your windows.

Screenshot of System 7's Color control panel with a setting allowing users to change the window tint color

Yep, changing the color of your windows was a thing Apple allowed you to do back then. Meanwhile, today’s Mac don’t allow you to customize a whole lot of their user interface. You can change the desktop background, but that’s about it. And changing the desktop background is uniquely pointless, since you’re always covering it up with windows. You never actually see it!

Apple’s translucency fixes that. This is not about seeing through your windows. This is about personalizing your computer. Yosemite’s translucency allows you to see a bit of the color of your desktop background, for the first time giving the desktop background an actual point.

Here’s a screenshot from Apple’s website that shows how translucency allows the calendar app to take on a bit of the color from the desktop:

Screenshot of Yosemite's Calendar app, with a red background showing through the sidebar

This is not there so you can see what’s behind the window. This is there so the calendar looks like your calendar, not just like any calendar. You like red? Cool, use a red desktop background, and your Mac’s user interface takes on a red hue.1


All in all, this feels a bit like what happened to Windows 8, but on a smaller scale. It’s a step in the right direction, but it has lots of poorly executed, poorly thought through details. Still, between the two, it’s hard to deny that Windows 8 is the more daring, more interesting take on what a modern desktop operating system should be.

Yosemite’s Finder is still the same basic Finder Apple shipped in the first Mac. The world has changed around the Mac, but the Mac has remained the same.

Perhaps now that Apple has rethought the visual design of OS X, it’s time to also rethink its functionality on a more basic level.


  1. I think the blurring is strong enough that this doesn’t really cause any readability issues, by the way. Apple really got it right on their first try this time, unlike some earlier attempts at incorporating transparency into OS X. back

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Ross Floate:

The internet security world has for years had white-hat hackers—people whose job it is to test code for security flaws. It’s time for designers to adopt the idea. Next time you’re working on a long-term project, appoint a designated white-hat jerk; someone whose job it is to keep thinking about how a person or group with a bit of time on their hands might try to bend and twist your system for a few laughs.

Via Daring Fireball.

Laura Franz:

Text already looks smaller on hand-held devices than on larger devices. This is fine because people tend to hold small devices closer when reading. Current popular wisdom is to preserve the measure by further reducing the font sizes for held-held devices. In practice, retaining a comfortable font size as much as possible better preserves readability. The result will be a less-than-ideal measure but a more comfortable reading experience.

Continuum

I like Windows 8, but one of the things I do not like is how Metro and the desktop interoperate (or don’t interoperate). After the backlash against Windows 8, I was afraid that Microsoft would backtrack from its Metro design language, but this concept video from Microsoft makes a lot of sense to me, and seems to mesh well with how I use my Surface.

When used as a tablet, every app behaves as a tablet app. When used with a keyboard and mouse, every app behaves like a desktop app. No more arbitrary distinction between Metro apps and desktop apps.

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How to fix your Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 has become one of my favorite devices. I use it all the time. It’s perfect for the tasks I used to use my iPad for — reading magazines and comic books (the screen size is effectively the same size as a typical comic book), web browsing, playing games. It’s fantastic for taking notes during meetings. It’s a great drawing tablet. And it’s a really good small laptop.

There’s one thing that drives me crazy, though. At least once a day, I accidentally brush against the Windows button, which immediately hides the current application and dumps me into the Start screen.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need the Windows button at all. If you swipe in from the right screen edge, you get a Windows button on your screen, right next to the capacitive button. The capacitive button is completely redundant.

It’s possible to disable the button, but that also disables the power button, which means that, yes, you won’t accidentally brush against the Windows button anymore — but you also won’t be able to turn your Surface on anymore. So not really a great solution.

Here’s the only solution I’ve been able to figure out that disables the ducking Windows button, and nothing else.

Step 1: Buy a thin sheet of foam rubber and double-sided adhesive tape.

Step 2: Cut out a small square of foam rubber, and apply the tape.

Step 3: Stick it on that damned Windows button.

Step 4: Complain to Microsoft and tell them that you want a setting that allows you to turn the button off without also making it impossible to turn the Surface on. Also, put a real button into the next hardware revision. I’ll buy it just for that alone.

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Managing Phone Photos

Michael Tsai:

It’s always been necessary to prune the locally stored photos now and then; otherwise they will consume all the space on your phone. Now, there is seemingly no way to see, from the phone, which photos I should be pruning. And there’s still no way to delete a large number of photos without individually tapping them.

(…)

I find it bizarre that there is no way to tell (a) which photos are only stored on the device, (b) which photos were taken with this device, or (c) which photos are on Apple’s server.

While this is incredibly annoying to people who know what they’re doing and want to have the ability to manage photos manually, a lot of iPhone owners — perhaps most of them — do not manually manage the photos on their phones, and would not do so if they had the option. Which is one of the reasons why I think it’s absurd for Apple to still sell a 16GB phone. The people most likely to buy it are probably precisely the ones least likely to understand that they need to manually manages the pictures they take so they won’t fill the limited space on their device.1

I understand why it makes sense for Apple to sell a 16GB phone. They need an entry-level model that gets people into the store so that they can upsell them to a higher-margin model. «Starting at $199» is a great argument.

The problem with this approach is that a lot of people who buy the 16GB model probably shouldn’t.2 When people ask me which phone to buy, I always tell them to buy the largest phone they can. I’ve seen too many people who simply stopped taking pictures with their phones after half a year or a year, because their 16GB phone ran out of space.

A 16GB iPhone has about 12 Gigabytes of usable space. The iPhone 6 has a 8MP camera; that should translate to between 2 MB and 4 MB per picture. If you do nothing else with your phone — install no games,3 record no movies, do nothing at all — your phone will be full after you’ve taken about 4000 pictures. If you take a few pictures of your cat every day,4 eventually end up with a phone that effectively stops working, and don’t know how to solve that problem, this is a terrible user experience.


Addendum: Cloud storage of data will eventually solve this, but not yet. To really be accepted by normal people, it probably needs to be completely transparent. That means unlimited online storage capacity at zero cost (i.e. subsidized by the purchase of the device), and it means constant, good data connections. As of right now, neither exist. Telling people that they will be able to take all the pictures they want, and use the pictures they took in their original quality, just as soon as they subscribe to Apple’s photo storage service, pay a monthly fee, and wait for their phone to have better reception? I doubt that another subscription service is a viable solution. Online storage will solve this, but not yet.

Question: how many of the hundreds of millions of iPhone users have subscribed to iTunes match?

Another aspect of this: Apple is now changing its software to deal with storage issues. For example, the Messages app can delete old messages automatically. However, I don’t see this as a good thing. I see this as Apple’s bad hardware decisions making their software worse. How many people will accidentally lose a message they still wanted to have, because of this feature?


  1. The most casual users need the most high-end computersback

  2. By the way, it’s not just people who don’t know how to manage their phones who would be happier with a bigger one. There’s a reason why my phone has 160 GB of storage — ten times what the entry-level iPhone offers. We’re living in an era where storage space is cheap enough that running out of space simply shouldn’t be an issue anymore for normal people, ever. Every second people spend manually deleting photos off their phones is a second wasted needlessly. back

  3. Which, by the way, will also need a lot more room on newer iPhones, because they need higher-res assets. back

  4. Here you goback

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More Things I've Written

Recently, I’ve been writing a bunch of documents on usability for Appway, the company I work for. A lot of it is generally applicable, and might be of interest to readers of this website.

By the way, we’re looking for UX designers and frontend programmers in Zürich or Chiasso. Here are the job ads (if you apply, feel free to mention me as a reference on your cover letter).

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