Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December 5th, 2011

“Why?”

Color launched its not-anticipated application update today, and it’s been receiving rave reviews on Twitter, where by “rave” I mean the opposite.

Sebastiaan de With:

Hey, this pivot of Color looks great. No audio, 30 seconds of live video.

Watch out, ‘live webcam’ popups, there’s a new player in town.

Neven Mrgan:

Color has pivoted again, and their new demo video is a pee joke. Great job, everyone, back-pats all around.

Craig Hockenberry:

Apps and websites that require Facebook make it a lot easier for me to decide if I should check them out.

When I previewed the new version of Color back in November, I wrote:

Color is now video, instead of photos. It now uses Facebook instead of trying to start its own social network. And it now broadcasts worldwide instead of sharing with people next to you. […] Color still hasn’t answered the question “why?”.

Still waiting on that.

That “Store” Button in iOS 5’s Music App

The Store button I'm complaining about

Apple has a really great grip on what makes for a superb user interface. It’s rare for them to mess up, especially in a way that mars usability. I feel that the “Store” button in iOS 5’s Music application[1] is an egregious example of one of these rare screw-ups. I see the problem as two-fold.

The first scope of issues with the button is its placement. It is located in a position of the UI that in almost every other instance means “return to the previous level” (the exceptions being Contacts and Calendar, which use it as the place for the refresh control). In Music, it also means this in just about every screen, until you get to a top-level screen — something that you’ve selected from the bottom toolbar. Artists, for instance.

There is no upper level from Artists. Albums are lower in the hierarchy; songs and playlists are lower still. Artists is what music in iTunes is sorted by, by default. Yet Music presents the Store button as the next level of hierarchy. In a way, this makes sense: music is sorted by artist, and music comes from the iTunes Store. But you weren’t thinking that, were you? That’s because it isn’t really the next level. There simply isn’t one, and shoehorning the Store into that position is awkward at best.

To be fair, iBooks does have a Store button, as does Newsstand. But the iBookstore is on the “back” of your shelf, whereas the Store button in Newsstand and Music sends the user to an entirely different application. It isn’t as big of an issue in Newsstand, because that’s presented on the home screen, akin to a folder. But Music is presented as its own app, and there isn’t another button in the “go back a level” position anywhere else on the iPhone that sends the user to a different application.

To be fair, the iTunes Store has a “Library” button that will send the user back to Music, but it’s on the other side of the toolbar. It’s in a logical place, if we use the “iTunes store is the next level of hierarchy after Artists” screwed-up brand of logic.

These problems would be excusable if the button had a point, but as far as I can figure out, it doesn’t. Music is where you go to listen to music; the purple iTunes icon is the one you tap on if you want to buy music. I mentioned iBooks before, which is similar in that it has a local library and the iBookstore. But that’s an anomaly because the store is integrated into the iBooks app (not to mention that the “Store” button is located on the opposite side). Its only point, so far as I can tell, is to capture stray taps.

I suppose I’m less irritated by the idea that the button is there, but that it sends me away from the application I was using. I think that’s the biggest error. It has a high potential to be accidentally activated, it momentarily confuses the user in the event of an accidental selection and generally impairs usability [2]. If Apple so desperately wants traffic to the iTunes Store from Music, they might consider placing the Store view on the “back” of the app. It would be dramatically less jarring. For now, it’s a dumb place for an unnecessary button in a way that creates user confusion.

  1. I’m using iOS 5 as a bit of a shorthand, as this only affects the iPhone and iPod touch. The Store button is also present in Videos, but that’s less of a concern because it has a flatter hierarchy. [↑]
  2. Yes, I filed a radar, number 10529892. Please duplicate it if you share my concern. [↑]

Incorrect

According to the report, Apple is testing two sets of seven drivers each targeting either dual-core or quad-core chips. Within each set, Apple is said to be testing four drivers targeting the current 960 x 640 display size, two targeting 1280 x 720 displays and one targeting 1440 x 800 displays.

Not only would those displays not fit the @2x paradigm established by the iPhone 4 display, and expected to carry over to the iPad 3, but neither of those other resolutions are at the same aspect ratio as each other, let alone the 3:2 ratio of all iPhone screens.

Update

Oliver Charavel pointed me to this curious patent, which describes persistent overlays distinct from the actual content. If anything about the MacRumors story is true, then I think the main UI will still write to a 640 x 960 area, and the surrounding border of pixels will contain these persistent overlays. The 800 x 1440 display mentioned above is interesting, because that works out to a ratio of 1.8. The current iPhone dimensions are a ratio of 1.94.

Why is Android Laggy?

I read Dianne Hackborn’s post yesterday which reflected on the oft-laggy Android UI. I left the post quite confused, and didn’t link to it because of that.

Andrew Munn’s post clears up a few of the problems I had with Hackborn’s original writeup. This is the epicentre of Android lag, though (emphasis his):

It’s not GC pauses. It’s not because Android runs bytecode and iOS runs native code. It’s because on iOS all UI rendering occurs in a dedicated UI thread with real-time priority. On the other hand, Android follows the traditional PC model of rendering occurring on the main thread with normal priority.

As has been noted since the first iPhone, iOS prioritises what needs to render now, always. Android likes to render everything. This becomes apparent when trying to move around large amounts of content on phones with less-than-amazing graphics and processing capabilities.

Munn also notes a number of other contributing factors, like garbage collection, rendering efficiency and a few others. Smart post.