In the Details: in

I took a brief look at Health after updating to iOS 8. I’m afraid I’m unimpressed with what I saw. Apple seems to have foregone their typical level of care and intuitiveness. For example, after choosing to enter my height, I was presented with this screen:

image

Notice how it simply says Add Data, rather than reminding me what exactly I’m here to enter. The label for the field in which I’m to enter my height is cryptically labeled “in”. I saw it and thought, “in what?” Worse yet, I have to calculate my height, converting from a combination of feet and inches to just inches, in my head.

I also had to enter my birth date, even though I know that piece of information is available elsewhere. This just doesn’t feel like an Apple experience.

Photo Stream? More like Photo Ream

I’ve been using iCloud Photo Stream to share my photos with my family for quite awhile now. It was easy to share to since it is integrated with iPhoto, and my family members have been able to subscribe to it with their iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. They get notification when I post new photos. I thought it was working well, other than the fact that I couldn’t organize the shared photos by album—it’s just a straight stream.

While I was on vacation a few weeks back, my father mentioned that my photos seemed to be taking up a lot of space on his iPad. I said, “No, surely it isn’t storing all of the photos on there.” We didn’t have an internet connection, so it was easy to check. Sure enough, all of the photos were viewable, and the app said that there were several GBs worth. We hunted through all of the settings, but couldn’t find any way to limit the photos from the stream or delete them. The only option was to unsubscribe from the stream.

After I got home, I did some digging. I learned that to keep my photos from filling up all of my family’s devices, my only option is to manually delete old photos from my feed as I add new ones. This is completely unintuitive, undesirable, and quite frankly, irresponsible. How Apple’s team came up with such a crummy scheme for photo sharing, I couldn’t guess. This is Microsoft-level bad.

Knowing that Apple will be releasing an entirely new photo management app with Yosemite, I’m willing to wait and see what improvements they make to photo sharing. If they don’t significantly improve it, I’m going to find something else.

All Backed Up with No Place to Go

A coworker told me today that anyone can back up, but pros can restore. He was talking about enterprise databases, but the sentiment seems to apply to consumer-grade issues as well. The hard drive in my daughters’ iMac went bad. I got it replaced, and I now want to restore their system to the state it was in prior to the failure. This should be possible, as I’ve been running Time Machine, backing it up to my Time Capsule. The migration assistant connects to the Time Capsule just fine, but it can’t see the backup archive. So, here I sit at midnight, still trying to figure out how to fix it.

Apple rarely lets me down, which makes it all the more aggravating when they do.

[1] Blog Post(s) About Parenthetical Plurals

Recently, I’ve been specifying a UI for configuring recurring events. I have a number of pet peeves when it comes to copywriting, and in this design, I had the opportunity to address one of them: parenthetical plurals. Take this form from Apple’s Calendar application, for example:

The “s” is conditional based on the number the user enters into the field. But this isn’t print—the form could be dynamic. When the value in the field changes, the software could do a quick evaluation to determine if it is greater than 1, and if so, add the “s”.

I’ve included this behavior in my UI specification. I’ll be interested to see if I get any push-back from the developers. Given the complexity of the form, the implementation of this little bit seems trivial.

Knobs

Physical knobs are wonderful things. They can be large enough to grab with you whole hand, like a door knob, or small enough to twist between thumb and forefinger, like a radio dial. They can be textured and made with materials to improve friction. They can give tactile feedback as they are turned. They can snap into position or stop turning when they reach the end of their range. They can fit an infinite range of values into a tiny circle. They are intuitive controls that don’t even require the user to look at them as they are used.

However, knobs do not translate well to virtual UIs. All of the tactile qualities are gone, and the twisting motion that is so intuitive to those of us with opposable thumbs becomes an awkward test of hand-eye coordination in two dimensions.

And so, we find another case where Apple’s skeuomorphic designs, while visually beautiful, are less usable than they should be. The latest version of GarageBand has an impressive collection of simulated instruments, all of which provide controls for adjusting the sound. Here, for example, is the control panel for a Bass Synthesizer.

As you can see, they are all knobs. Beautifully rendered, yes, with animation that is smooth as butter, but the first time I tried to turn one, it did not behave as I expected. I grabbed the knob on one side and tried to rotate it clockwise by dragging my mouse in a circle, effectively tracing the knob with the cursor. The knob turned just a little bit, but then stopped and finally reversed directions and turning counterclockwise until I stopped moving. With a little bit of experimentation, I figured out that to turn a knob, you should move your mouse straight up and down. Up will turn it clockwise, and down will turn it counterclockwise. Moving the mouse left and right has no effect.

I wasn’t the only one to have this problem. I got to observe my lead guitarist as he used the software for the first time. He did exactly the same thing I did. He never got the up/down movement, instead discovering that he could control it by swiping up and down on his Magic Mouse (the same action you would make on a scroll wheel). This turns out to be the most elegant method of controlling them, and I’m sure it’s what Apple had in mind.

Apple went to great lengths to design these panels, customizing them for each type of instrument. There are many different styles for different types of keyboards.

Tech Synth

Electric Piano

Vintage Clav

Yes, that vintage clavichord has rocker switches and scratches in the finish. But how easy is it to tell whether the treble filter is on or off? Keyboards aren’t the only instruments that got special treatment. Here’s a bass guitar.

Even instruments that wouldn’t have controls on them have been given the treatment, such as this upright concert bass.

The sheen on the dark-stained wood grain of the knobs and the little notches in them are exquisitely crafted, but I can think of more informative ways to show the settings.

Yes, it’s true that a knob can fit more data in a smaller space. For example, this pan knob takes up much less space than the slider beside it.

It also gives a numeric readout while in use, which the previously mentioned controls do not. But it doesn’t seem like these panels are cramped for space.

Knobs are inherently physical controls. There are better widgets for use on screen.

Face Recognition

Back when iPhoto debuted face recognition, I was very impressed. Today, however, I find that it rarely recognizes people correctly, especially my family members, who are the ones that I have the most photos of. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because I have photos of them in so many different positions and expressions that iPhoto’s internal model of them has become too generic. Perhaps it’s because I have photos of my daughters tagged from when they were newborns to teenagers. Regardless, I have to type in their names an awful lot when I’m editing photos.

It gets really annoying when I have a series of photos of a group of people. It occurred to me that iPhoto should be able to recognize that several photos are very similar in their composition and then be able to infer names from one photo in the sequence to the others. This could be done based on color, shape, and position, in combination with the existing facial recognition. This would put some of the magic back in the feature and save me a significant amount of time.

In the Details: From where?

I pointed out Apple’s map integration with Calendar, allowing travel time to be specified and thus providing notification of an event when it is time to leave, back in March. Since then, I’ve been annoyed several times by a limitation that has been built into it.

Notice that the travel times listed are “from Home”. Apple has built in some kind of logic to determine where you will be when it is time to leave. I haven’t been able to determine all of the rules, but it seems to take into account the time of day and the day of the week. So, if you are creating an event on a Saturday, it is going to give you the distance from home, whereas an event scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon will give you the distance from work. It will also look at other scheduled events on the same day. If you are scheduling a late dinner with friends at a restaurant, and Calendar already knows that you have a rehearsal at your church scheduled earlier that evening, it will provide the travel time from the church.

That sounds fairly sophisticated, and I appreciate the automation, but when it makes incorrect assumptions, the only way to change its mind is to change the date or time of the event to trick it into thinking you will be somewhere else. To make matters worse, changing the time doesn’t immediately change the options in the Travel Time menu. You have to close the event and reopen it to reinitialize the menu with the new time.

As I said, I do like the automation, but there should be a way to specify the point of origin when a mistake is made. Furthermore, any time the contents of a menu depends on another value in a form, it should be updated every time that value is changed.

iFamily

Back in May of 2011, Apple sent out a survey. That isn’t something they do very often. And unlike most surveys, this one contained only one question: What is the one thing you would like Apple to improve upon and why?

My answer to that question was better support for a family unit. I wrote about it here. There were a lot of great announcements during the WWDC keynote yesterday, but the one that excited me the most was Family Sharing.

Family Sharing is a new way to bring harmony to your family’s digital life. Up to six people in your family can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks, and the App Store without sharing accounts. Pay for family purchases with the same credit card and approve kids’ spending right from a parent’s device. Easily share photos, a family calendar, and more to help keep everyone connected.

This is exactly what I’ve been wishing for. I’ve been somewhat successful in maintaining a single music library that we all share, but it is error prone and inconvenient for my wife and daughters. We’ve been able to share apps only because I’ve been able to set up the App Store on their devices using my account while everything else uses their own accounts, but again, it’s kludgy. Family Sharing is going to reduce the number of headaches I have to deal with in my role as family IT support. The ability to share calendars will be huge.

It would be very interesting to see the results of that survey. I wonder how many of yesterday’s announcements directly addressed the answers they received. I like the romantic notion that my answer contributed to this feature set in some small way. Thanks again, Apple.

In the Details: Keep On Reading

Safari’s reading list is a really handy feature that I use daily, more often to add new links, than to read the ones i’ve saved. In Mavericks, the reading list was given a new behavior. When you scroll to the end of the page you are viewing, a little banner scrolls up into view displaying the title of the next item in your list.

If you continue to scroll, you meet a little bit of resistance, but if you push on through, you scroll to the next article, which automatically snaps to the top of the window. This resembles the behavior of Reeder and similar RSS readers on mobile devices.

In the Details: Map Integration

Apple has been slowly integrating maps into all of its software. Calendar was recently made a bit smarter. If you enter a location for an event that is in your address book, it will go ahead and map it for you. Then, it will calculate the distance and offer you both driving and walking travel times.

To cap things off, you can select “when I need to leave” as an alert time. Oh, and since you’re going out, why not go ahead and show the local weather while they’re at it?