Tag Archives: technologyinternet

How Evi spent a weekend in App Store limbo

Evi running on iOSThe mobile world got another reminder over the weekend that the whims of Apple’s App Store review process can make or break a mobile business. In a span of about 48 hours, Evi, a voice-recognition app that has a few things in common with Apple’s Siri, was headed for the App Store’s trash bin on Friday for being a little too similar to Siri before Apple abruptly reversed course.

TechCrunch first noted on Sunday that Evi had been flagged by Apple’s reviewers as “confusingly similar” to Siri, with True Knowledge, the company behind the app, having received notice late Friday that their app would be pulled from the App Store. True Knowledge had submitted a minor update to Evi that had languished in App Store review purgatory with no explanation for some time until Apple finally contacted the company about the update on Friday.

William Tunstall-Pedoe, CEO of True Knowledge, told TechCrunch that “I don’t think it takes too much of a leap of the imagination to realize that ‘confusingly similar’ is code for ‘competitive with’.” He went onto imply that Apple was worried about reviews of Evi–a natural language search engine that is a bit more sophisticated than Siri on certain queries–making the $199 iPhone 4S less compelling than the $99 iPhone 4, on which Siri is no longer allowed to run.

But after popular sentiment turned against Apple over the weekend, True Knowledge received a call from Apple reversing that ruling in the wee hours of Monday morning in Barcelona, where they were preparing for Mobile World Congress, sources familiar with the saga told GigaOM. Evi remains in the App Store, as noted earlier by The Verge, and Apple now plans to work with True Knowledge on creating a version of Evi that satisfies Apple’s concerns.

Sources familiar with the back-and-forth said that at this point Apple told True Knowledge it just wants the company to change the user interface of the app, rather than its basic functionality. And Apple also confirmed to the company that voice-driven search and voice-driven personal assistant features (setting up appointments and the like, planned for a future release of Evi) are fair game for outside developers within the iOS developer rules.

It’s unclear whether Apple really does mean that only cosmetic changes are necessary, or whether it’s just setting True Knowledge up with another series of hoops. Evi is similar to Siri in that it takes voice commands and returns search results, but Evi is actually the result of a True Knowledge “pivot” (read: now what are we going to do?) from a Web search company to a mobile-focused company. True Knowledge has curated hundreds of millions of facts and serves those up in response to queries, using (like Siri) Nuance’s technology to translate speech into machine-understandable queries.

Once you enter the mobile world, you find yourself having to play by Apple’s rules. Perhaps the most famous example was the showdown between Apple and Google over Google Voice, which Apple believed was confusingly similar enough to the main iPhone dialer as to restrict it from the App Store. A federal investigation led to its eventual approval and an acknowledgement from Apple that it needed to be more permissive when it came to potentially competitive apps.

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Will Apple dump the iPhone’s aging 30-pin connector?

Apple iPhone 4S 30-pin dock connectorFor a company as forward-thinking as Apple has been in the mobile world, it still depends on a relic of its pre-iOS days as the primary connection for charging iPhones and iPads. But now that Apple can update its iOS devices over wireless networks, the 30-pin connector may have run its course.

iMore.com reported Friday that Apple will likely get rid of the 30-pin connector in the next version of the iPhone in favor of something smaller that could help it accommodate 4G LTE radios, and it’s about time. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t think Apple will follow the lead of the rest of the smartphone market and embrace the micro USB standard for phone chargers, but it’s still a notable development.

The 30-pin dock connector has been the primary doorway into the iPod for years. It was the only way to install software updates on an iPhone or iPad until iOS 5 introduced over-the-air updates, and an easy target for those who believed Apple wasn’t living up to its “post-PC” words by requiring a physical connection to a computer for such an important task.

Eliminating the (relatively) bulky connector could make it easier for Apple to include 4G wireless connections in the next iPhone without having to make an iPhone as big as some of the Android models (like the Galaxy Nexus) that connect to 4G networks. It also means a legion of accessory makers will have to get on board with a new standard on which Apple will probably continue to charge royalties to use in their products. The success of an iPhone accessory maker like Square that bypassed the 30-pin connector altogether with its credit-card reader may have also prompted Apple to come up with a new connector that offers unique advantages.

But to take things a step further, is Apple also willing to embrace wireless charging with the next iPhone, along the lines of what Palm introduced for certain models of the Pre? That might force the company to make some tough decisions about the materials it uses in the iPhone, a notoriously sensitive subject. But wireless charging is a great idea for users, and it would also allow Apple to sell some sleek wireless charging stations at a tidy profit.

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Clear(ly), it’s time to say bye-bye to buttons

With its new iOS app, Clear, Realmac Software has taken the “less is more” axiom to its ultimate conclusion. The Clear app puts a new spin on the common to-do list by enriching it with a playful perception of depth, dynamic transitions and crisp audio feedback, all wrapped under a minimalistic visual language and shallow navigation.

Is this “less is more” approach revolutionary? Nope. Evolutionary? Absolutely.

As designers, we admire Clear’s UI, and we think it ties into some trends we’re watching here at Fjord (a digital service design agency). We’re betting that we will see more of this stripped down approach in the near future thanks to three big industry trends:

1.   A “mobile first” approach to features

The small-screen real estate of mobile devices has forced companies to scale down the bells and whistles and extraneous content afforded by the web, prioritizing features and services that make the most impact for the business and customer experience.

This also means that, in order to be successful, these types of applications are focused on a very narrow subset of features. In the case of Clear, not only did the company select the most rudimentary functions in a to-do list, it also followed through with a minimalistic form in the interface.

A simple interface requires paring down interactivity to its barest essence. It requires prioritizing features and focusing on the essentials needed for the desired outcome. The challenge is to know how much you need to create a viable and desirable product, how much can be stripped away, and how to prepare for scaling up the product and service. It will be interesting to see how these applications evolve and scale (or choose not to).

2. Thinking in 4-D and making the user a magician

User interface designers are beginning to realize there is no longer a need to hang on to representations of real life objects and drag them into the digital space. Digital is something else. It gives the user magical powers. It is no longer the user, a mouse and a complicated ballet of hand eye coordination. It is the user directly manipulating a screen or an object to access a magical, four-dimensional world (time, space, people, information) that exists invisibly almost anywhere the user goes. Clear’s focus on gestural UI bestows this sense of magic by escaping the traditional paradigm of check boxes and text inputs that normally exist with digital to-do lists.

3. Getting Agile with it

Both designers and mobile platforms are pushing toward cinematic user interface designs. While motion is nothing new in every day life, appropriately and meaningfully adopting it into consumer-facing applications poses a new set of challenges for designers who are more accustomed to formulating designs using static wireframes. A new prototyping and blended-discipline approach to software and product development such as the Agile method and the new Lean UX movement are making it easier and more acceptable than ever before to create and communicate dynamic, looks-like, feels-like prototypes. This has allowed for a cinematic approach to design that employs more dynamic movement. And much like a good movie, the most crucial bits are often found between those still frames.

It’s exciting to see Clear’s bold interface and the new capabilities it presents. But the Clear app is just a hint of the exponentially more thrilling interfaces we are likely to see in a coming wave of more complex products and services that will go far beyond the to-do list.

Alfred Lui and Aynne Valencia are service design leads at Fjord, a digital service design consultancy. Fjord has provided strategic direction and design for such brands as Nokia, Citibank, Foursquare and Yahoo. You can follow them on Twitter at @fjord.
Image courtesy of Realmac Software.

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Apple said to cut iAd pricing once again

Apple has once again cut prices on its iAd system for rich in-app advertising on iOS applications, according to a report, as ad buyers continue to balk at the up-front cost of participating in Apple’s vision of how mobile advertising should work.

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Apple CEO Cook: The iPhone now casts the halo over the iPad

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

It’s kind of amazing to consider how passé the iPod, the gadget that defined a decade of music, has become at Apple: the iPhone is the now the halo maker, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In comments before the financial community at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, Cook held forth on a number of mobile-related topics, including the debate over whether the iPad is a PC.

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Games for the weekend: Mini Motor Racing

Games for the Weekend is a weekly feature aimed at helping you avoid doing something constructive with your downtime. Each Friday we’ll be recommending a game for Mac, iPhone or iPad that we think is awesome enough to keep you busy until Monday, at least.

Mini Motor RacingMini Motor Racing and Mini Motor Racing HD ($0.99 iPhone, $1.99 iPad) are excellent top-down racing games from The Binary Mill.  A good racing game requires three main features to come together: vehicle control, a variety of challenging courses and a heart-thumping soundtrack. Mini Motor Racing excels at all three. But the real kicker is the game’s head-to-head multiplayer action.

Mini Motor Racing

Mini Motor Racing supports four styles of steering and an optional auto acceleration feature to accommodate your prefered style of gameplay. “Wheel” mode uses a virtual steering wheel on the left side of the screen very similar to the iconic d-pad. “Toggle” provides a left and right button on the left side of the screen, whereas “Tank” places the left and right on separately on either side. “Slider” allows the user to control the car by moving a slide bar to the left and right.

Mini Motor Racing

Each style of play will cater to different drivers. Some prefer the Wheel, but I found Tank mode to be the easiest to control.  The final control in all modes is a button that gives the car a boost of nitro during the race.  Thanks to the way that the car navigates the track, as well as careful camera placement, you will never find the controls getting in the way of the game regardless of your control scheme of choice.

Mini Motor Racing

The opening sequence and smooth 3-D transitions when navigating the game’s menu system attest to the development team’s attention to detail.  There are over twenty different courses to choose from, and variations in weather and time of day keep replay value high. All fourteen cars on offer are  customizable: You can select the color and style, as well as upgrade each as you collect money and customizations along the various tracks.  If you want to upgrade in a hurry, you can use in-app purchases ranging in price from $0.99 up to $14.99.

Mini Motor Racing

Even without multiplayer support, the game is worth buying. Being able to play with up to four racers over Wi-Fi or two over Bluetooth, the multiplayer mode just adds to the bargain.

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Nooka’s mystery dial watches get an iPhone app

Matthew Waldman’s Nooka watches are far from your standard time-keeping devices, with various dial designs that often use digital squares and circles turning on and off to mark the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. With a new app launched Thursday (via Om), Nooka brings its off-the-beaten path watch design to the iPhone.

The major benefits of the iPhone app are that you get to experience a variety of different dial designs in one place, and that it only costs $0.99 (or free for a more limited version), as opposed to the hundreds you’ll spend on an actual Nooka watch.

The Nooka app provides a basic local time clock, with three different faces to choose from, as well as a world clock, stopwatch and timer. For all of the above, you can choose the color of the clock’s background and time indicator elements using a simple color picker. The app works in both portrait and landscape orientation, which makes it a great candidate for a desk or bedside clock, although the presence of an alarm function would really help that, as would an interface tweak to hide the status bar when the clock is active.

 

Even though I’d like to see those features added in an update, the Nooka app is definitely cool as-is, and fans of good design and visually intuitive time-telling will not regret the $0.99 purchase price.

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