In the Details: Not Enough

Apple made a change to the Shift key in iOS 7 that, while subtle, was just enough to cause confusion. In the previous version, when the key was “depressed”, the icon had an outer glow effect.


This effect made it obvious that the button was enabled, because it was obviously different from every other button on the screen. In iOS 7, the only visual change is that the icon fills in.


While this certainly distinguishes the two states, it is not enough to tell you what state is represented. You don’t see the two states at the same time, as I’ve shown them here, so the comparison between them isn’t as important as their relationship to the rest of the buttons on the screen. And while the microphone and delete icons are outlines in iOS 7 (notice that they are filled in iOS 6), that is too subtle a cue. I have, many times, pressed the Shift key to enter a capital only to realize that it was already enabled.

Not Helpful

So, I was driving to a venue I’d never been to before, and I had asked Siri to plot a route for me, which she did very nicely, even though I thought for sure she wouldn’t understand the Italianish name of the restaurant. As I was driving, I was listening to a podcast, as usual. The podcast ended, so I turned on my iPhone to select a new one. Usually, I just play through all the episodes I haven’t listened to and wouldn’t have to select one while driving, but I was behind on Mac OS Ken, so I had specifically selected that podcast. After the iPhone scanned my thumbprint, it looked like this:

To select a different podcast, I needed to tap the Episodes “button” in the top-left corner. Yes, the one that is almost completely covered by the turn-by-turn directions. It was difficult to hit while driving, and tapping the directions takes you to the Maps app, which I did the first time I tried to hit it.

Come on, Apple. I expect better of you.

Road Test

When I started my car this morning, the Check Engine light came on. Usually, that would provoke a little curse, but this time, I got excited. I picked up my phone and saw a notification saying that my Check Engine light is on. Yes! Automatic was working as promised. So, I launched the app and tapped the little engine icon.

Okay, good enough for now. I pressed the Clear Engine Light button and the app stepped me through a short process in which I turned off the engine, turned on the power, and then restarted the engine. The light was off and hasn’t come back.

So far, I’ve found Automatic to be everything it promised to be. Hopefully, I won’t have the opportunity to test the emergency calling feature.


Following my 2-year contract cycle, I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to an iPhone 5s several days ago. I’ve always considered the iPhone to be the perfect size and have had no interest in the Android “phablets”. I want a phone that comfortably fits in the front pocket of my jeans. I was a little concerned that the extra length of the 5s would be a problem while sitting with it in my pocket, but I honestly haven’t really noticed a difference. There are two things, however, that I have noticed.

One is an inconvenience I was expecting. I have quite a collection of cables and peripherals with the old dock connector. The new phone, of course, only came with a single cable. I need to replace the speaker dock I use every morning to listen to podcasts while I’m shaving, showering, and so forth. I need a cable to carry with me in my bag so that I can leave one plugged into my iMac. I now run a cable from the phone’s headphone jack to my car’s Aux port, rather than plugging the phone into the port specifically for it. The dash controls no longer interface with it.

The other inconvenience I wasn’t expecting. All of the apps I have on my phone have to be signed into again. I tried to start playing Ender’s Game in my Audible app while I was driving home today, only to discover that the file wasn’t on my phone (apparently that wasn’t included in the backup from my old phone), and it wouldn’t let me download it until I signed in. I couldn’t do that while I was driving. Every time I launch one of my apps for the first time on the new phone, I have to go through the onerous sign-in process. Thank goodness for 1password! I wouldn’t be able to log into anything without it, but it’s still a tedious process.

  1. Switch out to the springboard.
  2. Launch 1password.
  3. Enter password.
  4. Search for login.
  5. Copy password and make mental note of user name.
  6. Switch back to app.
  7. Paste the password.

I know, they’re trivial, first-world problems. I love the the fingerprint scanner, but I’m impatient for it to work with everything.

In the Details: Flashlight

I received my Automatic Link today and just got it set up. I was impressed with the Automatic iPhone app, which made the process a snap. I especially liked one little microinteraction in particular.

You see the flashlight button? It turns on the iPhone’s light so that you can use it to find the port under the dashboard where you have to plug in the Link. That was a brilliant inclusion.


On page 41 of Microinteractions, Dan presents the iOS Speak Selection setting screen as a whimsical example of labeling, playing off the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare.

I had never actually seen this screen on my phone before, but looking at the enlarged screenshot in the book, it immediately struck me that the rabbit icon was wrong. After examining it for a few seconds, I realized that it was drawn as if the rabbit were trotting like a dog.

Perhaps the artist has never seen a live rabbit, but I can tell you that rabbits don’t run like dogs. They jump.

Photo by Ken Slade

Unfortunately, this icon is too obscure to take up the mantle of Clarus the dogcow. Besides, rabbits don’t have a sound to combine with “woof”.


I’ve been using TweetDeck, primarily on my iPhone, as my only Twitter client for a few years. Several months ago, we were informed that the iPhone version of TweetDeck would stop working. If memory serves, it was supposed to go belly up in March, and it was about that time that the Facebook integration stopped working. That didn’t bother me, so I continued using it until just last week when my custom feeds stopped working. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, TweetDeck would allow you to set up multiple feeds, including the standard timeline, mentions, and direct messages, but also allowing you to create custom feeds based on hash tags, keywords, and handles. It was very robust. I had one feed that listed any tweets referencing DesignAday, one that tracked tweets about IxDA, and I would set up feeds for each conference I was attending. I could easily swipe between them, and it would indicate which tweets I hadn’t read.

I’ve now been using TweetBot for about a week. It is a well-designed app—no doubt about it. There are many little details that make it a pleasure to use. However, I don’t find it to be nearly as convenient. It allows me to save searches and access them, but search feeds are treated as second class citizens. I have to first navigate to the search screen and then select the search stream I want to see, rather than listing them at the same level as my timeline. I could live with that, but it doesn’t retain any history of past viewings. Every time I view a search stream, it displays the most recent tweet, leaving me to read through them in reverse-chronological order until I get to one I’ve seen before.

I also manage my church’s Twitter account, and TweetDeck allowed me to include that feed at the same level as all the others. I could just swipe over to it. In Tweetbot, I have to switch accounts to see it.

TweetDeck always seemed like the “Pro” Twitter client. No other client I’ve tried has provided close to the same level of utility and flexibility.

In the Details: Reading List

In Jared Spool’s recent podcast interview with Dan Saffer, they chatted a bit about hidden microinteractions. Jared referred to them as “socially contracted” features, because you usually learn of them by seeing someone else use them.

I’ve been using the Reading List feature in Safari heavily. My list is currently 139 items long. I just can’t keep up, but my point is that I add a lot of stuff to my reading list. Usually, I add articles that I receive links to in tweets, as I’m typically not able to read them at the time I’m checking my stream. I’ll also add articles cited in blog posts I’m reading. This all comes from my iPhone. Typically, the way I added items to the list was to tap the link, opening it in a web view within the Twitter app or RSS reader. Then I would tap the share/send/forward button and tell it to open the page in Safari. Finally, in Safari, I was able to add the page to my reading list.

Fairly recently, I accidentally held my finger on a link that I was going to take through that process. I was presented with a list of options, one of which was to add the link to my reading list. i was able to do it directly from within Tweetdeck. The next time I was perusing my subscriptions in NetNewsWire, I tried the tap-and-hold, and sure enough, the option was there too. That microinteraction is going to save me a lot of tapping and cut down on my data use.

In the Details: Parallax

Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.

In simpler words, parallax is a visual effect you experience when moving. Objects closer to you appear to move past more quickly than objects that are farther away. For example, when riding in a car, if you look out the side window, a tree by the side of the road will move through your field of vision much faster than a barn in the distance behind it. This effect is utilized within software to convey a sense of depth.

The most recent incarnation of the Foursquare iPhone App employs a parallax effect in which information on the screen scrolls on a plane above the map.

This GIFF doesn’t do it justice, of course, but a still image wouldn’t convey it at all. The effect is purely aesthetic, but it feels good. It’s an enjoyable microinteraction.