Design is not just what it looks like. It’s how it works.

Design. Is Apple losing focus on one of it’s most essential unique strengths?

For a big test we did for Belgian Cowboys recently some members on the editorial team including myself switched from iOS to Android for a while. Not just to see if we liked it or not but also to find out if that switch was so hard as we expected it to be. “What about all those apps I bought? Why start all over again? Will it be as easy to use as what I’m used to now?” A whole series of questions which I presume most of us will recognize come to mind when thinking of such a switch.

Since this article isn’t about that switch I can tell you quickly that that test went really well. I’m currently switching between the HTC One and the HTC One Mini for another test and I don’t miss my iPhone for a second. Actually I find it better on many levels. That made me wonder about a few things.

How come for instance that I find the notifications in Android really useful whereas I don’t even look at them on my iPhone? The set-up is kind of the same so why is that? Looking at both from a basic UI design point of view they are very similar indeed. It’s a drop down menu you pull from the top of your screen with several notifications pointing to apps that need your attention for whatever reason. On Android I will open that screen and either swipe the notifications away or take action. On iPhone I open that view once every month or so to delete these notifications, app by app.

Another example is the on-screen keyboard. On Android I’m using Swype, probably the most productive add-on for a touch screen devices in a long time. Whenever I need to use my iPhone or iPad again I cannot help but be annoyed by the fact that I have to type in the ‘traditional’ way. And that’s not even mentioning the re-design of iOS7.

So how come that on many levels the Android platform is outperforming iOS, whether it’s thanks to core Android development or because of the opportunity to personalise it with technology created by its eco-system? I’m thinking that Apple has actually forgot about the essence of design, a vision it shared openly and that many are taking as an example.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

When you think of that and the examples I mentioned before (and there are more) you can only come to the conclusion that the focus of Apple lately was on design as in ‘what it looks like’ and that Google has taken the lead on design as in ‘how it works’. In the last 12-18 months, Google and its eco-system have upgraded the better user experience, Apple has overhauled look & feel. And that’s a pity. Not just because it makes the iPhone a less interesting device but it’s a sign of Apple forgetting about it’s own very essence.

My 2 cents.

Watch out Instagram?

I must admit, I’m a fan of Instagram since day 1. I love the simplicity, how it deals with cross-posting but most importantly I love the way it makes me feel I’m actually not half as bad as a photographer.

So when I read that Mobli one-upped Instragram (and Color) I’m all ears (and yes I know those headlines are kind of a trap). Downloaded Mobli right away. Created a profile, took a picture, posted it… and will never do it again.

The point that Business Insider seems to miss is that it’s not about community channels based around tags or location. Nor is it about improving search for content or richer interaction. What makes Instagram so cool is that it creates ‘an illusion of creativity’ as Edward Boches so rightfully wrote:

“It strikes me that the real reason Instagram has taken off is that it provides us with the illusion of creativity. The brilliance of Instagram is that it lets us snap a most ordinary photograph and instantly “art it up” with one of 15 filters. It gives us the sense that we are better photographers than we actually are. We don’t have to do anything other than point our iPhone at the most mundane of subjects. Early Bird, Hefe, Sutor, Toaster and their fellow filters do the rest. We think that we are creating, expressing, being clever. But as Douglas Rushkoff might remind us, we’re simply being programmed. Told by this app what constitutes an image.  Just as we’ve been told by Facebook what defines an online profile, a digital friend, or an endorsement. Just as we’ve been told by Tumblr the new format for a blog post.”

The fact that it’s easy to share cross-channel and that it’s doing all of this in the simplest way, focusing well on it’s core make it superb at what it does. But what made people love it in the first place was that it made you feel good about your photography, made you feel like your photography is also worth looking at, worth sharing. It makes me feel better about myself basically.  And that’s a whole different ballgame.

Launching a unique duo iPhone app

Yesterday we launched a new iPhone app for Nutricia.  In a new approach to support moms even more we’ve created with Nutricia this new app that helps to get dads more involved in addition of moms tracking their pregnancy.

Another pregnancy iPhone app you say? That’s what we though as well and therefore we’ve taken the new approach to involve dads because ‘Baby Connection’ works best when you use it as a couple. There’s a mum version and a dad version – and everything each parent adds is automatically synced with their partners’ phones. The app can also transform the two iPhones into one big screen. More about that in the video below:

To launch Baby Connection, we came up with an idea to make men pregnant… well kinda. You can see what we did below:

Using digital to make print come to life

I didn’t have time last Friday to post it when this campaign was launched, so I’m bringing it to you know. Our client AXA launched their new iPhone app which helps you out when you have a car accident, making sure you deal with it in the right way. Since this is the first app to deliver such a service in Belgium, we wanted to find an innovative way to promote it as well. Here’s what the team created:

Rethinking the mobile web

When we think about mobile today, we think about the iPhone. And if you’re lucky we think about Android as well. But as this presentations shows (once more) that is only a small percentage of the mobile market. Wouldn’t we want all (or at least most) mobile users to be able to experience ‘our offering’.

This presentation is a good eye-opener on the question we should all ask ourselves? Shouldn’t we make the mobile web more inclusive? And how would we go about to do that?

My issue with the iPad

It’s not about the lack of Flash support. Although you visit less sites in their mobile version (if available) on the iPad thus the lack of Flash support is a bigger pain than on the iPhone, I knew what I was getting into when I bought one. Nor is it the lack of multi-tasking capabilities, I’m sure once iOS4 arrives on the iPad we will have that (kinda) sorted out. And also the fact that there are only few really good iPad apps is an issue (for now). There may as well be several thousand apps available (250.000 if you count all iPhone apps), we all know most of them are rubbish.

My issue is with the OS. It still is a big phone, without the phone functionalities then… probably to avoid situations like this to happen. Now a mobile phone typically is a very personal piece of technology. You don’t just hand to someone else to toy with it, it’s yours and personal. And that’s where the problem lies, for me the iPad isn’t personal. Not like the iPhone (or any other mobile phone for that matter). My wife and I both have our own mobiles but it’s rather unlikely that I we will get a second iPad, we both use it. But since it’s built on a mobile OS, it’s not really built for multiple users. There’s no need for that on a phone but it means that on the iPad there’s a primary user next to other people that can also use it. But not in the same way.

Still don’t see the problem? I really enjoy Flipboard, so does my wife. But it’s logged in with my Twitter/Facebook accounts so she cannot really enjoy that part. I could add her email account(s) to the iPad but then those would be visible to both of us, that’s not really what you want. And we try and beat each other on playing Mahjong but since there’s only one high score, it impossible to tell (remember) who it was from. It would enable me to personalize the iPad for the kids when they use it as well. With us, the iPad is typically lying around in the living room for anyone in the family to use when they feel like it. But since I’m the primary user (and the geek – yes, that too) it’s mainly setup towards my needs. I find that a missed opportunity.

It would be great to see the iOS for iPad change in a way you can have a user login upfront, similar to what we are used to on our PCs/Macs. Or the possibility to switch between users, all to get a more personal experience on a multi-user/shared device. I’m afraid that is not going to happen (soon) so maybe in that case it’s worth asking the developers of Flipboard, Reeder, Mahjong, … to implement the possibility to switch between users in the app itself. Less ideal, but it would still solve my issue with the iPad.

Le Web ‘09

Have to admit, I’m kinda sad. Today and tomorrow the best web/tech conference in Europe is on in Paris… and for the first time in 4 years it’ll be without me. Since I had a good part in the sponsorship of the conference by Microsoft, the fact that I’m not even going this year makes the difference even bigger.

The first time I went to Le Web was in 2006. The conference just changed name from Les Blogs to Le Web 3 and MSN UK had been a sponsor for the first 2 edition of Les Blogs with Windows Live Spaces. With Le Web 3 we decided to sponsor from the EMEA budget and link it to Windows Live in general and not just Spaces… it wasn’t just about blogging anymore so that made sense. If you were there in 2006 you might remember that little piece of network cable in your welcome bag with which you could win a smartphone at our booth, it worked rather well I’ll tell ya :)

leweb3
© Peter Forret

That was where I met Hugh MacLeod for instance (where he did this interview), our paths would cross quite often again… especially in Paris.

In 2007 we were back, this time with shared sponsorship from the European and the French team of Microsoft. This was the year that Le Web became big, like really big. It was a always a good conference, but in 2007 it changed into big. Hans Rosling, Philippe Starck, Yossi Vardi, … just look at some of the videos I selected back then and see for yourself. Made a lot of good new contacts that year, unfortunately our presence (Microsoft’s I mean) wasn’t really good that year.

Last year Microsoft BizSpark took over the lead in the sponsorship, just like it’s the case this year. And I made sure we had the Blue Monster in Paris, with Hugh as our guest. Good fun, I’ll tell you that much.

hughinparis
© Dennis Howlett

Good thing about Le Web though is that the event is broadcasted Live, check out this page from tomorrow morning to follow the livestream from the main stage (via Ustream). Or check out the Le Web iPhone app.

And let’s hope I can make it back to Paris next year. Greetings to all my friends in Paris and good luck to Loic and Geraldine for what will be most certainly another great conference ;)

WordPress 2 for iPhone

Trying out the new WordPress 2 app in the iPhone. IT beats me why this is a new app and not an upgrade to the v1 of which I had already but anyway the app looks handy and a good step up from the first version. Two things I still miss are the lack of access to your stats such as you can see at http://m.wordpress.com and … there is no more second point since inserting link just now takes away the comment I wanted to make related to the lack of an easy way to add links :)

Looks nice, now hit publish.

My mobile life

Sometimes I think I live on mobile. If there’s a device I really couldn’t miss it’s my mobile phone. Ask my wife, if on occasion I don’t take my mobile phone with me, she’ll wonder how it’s possible I forgot it. It’s just too odd for me to be without. According to my mom, it’ll grow on my ears one day. Whatever ;)

Anyway, it’s true that mobile is important for me, ever since I got my first mobile phone some 10 years ago. Every year I hope that mobile will really breakthrough, but unfortunately also this year won’t be the year of mobile, just like 2007, 2006 nor 2005 were the year of mobile. It’s that one prediction that I wish it were through, but you know it won’t be.

It’s not even in our hands. I think the devices are there, thinking of the N95, the iPhone and some Windows Mobile devices that are all capable of doing amazing things for such a small device. The iPhone has the interface to love, my HTC is less slick but comes with 3G, built in GPS and all the power of Office and Exchange on mobile. Or the N95 with it’s superb camera. And now I’m not mentioning a ton of other great features these phones have.

Apart from all that greatness, I’ve been a very active user of the mobile web for the last 6 years or so as well. First on WAP on my old Nokia 6310i for instance, later on Vodafone Live with a Sharp GX30. Back then I was still working on Kinepolis‘ new media strategy and we invested in this back then already. Today Kinepolis is still one of the very few Belgian companies with a decent mobile site, for which you got to give them credit. But even outside Belgium, there aren’t many mobile specific sites, which already resulted in a shout-out more than a year ago.

The mobile sites I currently use are: BBC, Bloglines, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, Dopplr, Facebook, Google Reader, Live Search, Kinepolis, MSN, Twitter, Technorati, Wapedia, Flickr, Yahoo and WordPress. I don’t really know many more that are of use to me, or that aren’t in a walled garden like Vodafone Live.

I also use client versions like Live Messenger (which you can download for all kinds of devices), the Live Search client as well as the Google Maps client, Yahoo!Go, … as well as apps that run in the Java environment on mobile like Gmail and Opera Mini. On the N95 I also tried the Widsets, but whatever the phone, the browse services still top them all.

Today, with the iPhone’s browsing capabilities, or other mobile browsers that enable better viewing of ‘normal websites’ on mobile we will probably skip the further development of mobile specific sites. With Skyfire for instance (see announcement) or Deepfish I expect to see more ‘regular’ browsing in the future.

Still, the problem remains, now even more than ever I guess. We will have access to every site we want, with great browsers but at what cost? There’s a good explanation why I use so much mobile: I can use it obviously but more important is that I don’t have to pay for it. The day I have to pay for it, I’ll cut back for sure, need or no need. How much I love the Wifi on these phones, that’s not truly mobile for me. It’s when in a taxi, or before checking in a plane, while waiting on someone, … that I love to use all my catching up. Not only in my sofa at home for instance.

So unless operators change their models on data costs, mobile will never really breakthrough and that’s sad. And yes you can discuss devices etc aren’t ready yet either, allow me to say they’re well ahead of the game when you compare them to operator attitudes. And I’m afraid they won’t change that soon either. There’s too much money to be made with TXT messages to allow you to use IM on mobile instead for instance. What’s your take?

PS: Also check out the upcoming FF for Mobile now we’re at it ;)

PPS: And Twitter, for god’s sake, at least add a replies tab to m.twitter.com will ya!