A little more than a year ago, when the iPad was released, I decided that it was time to take a look at the world of comics. When I first thought about it, the concept seemed perfect: Entertaining fantasy or sci-fi stories, brought to me on my iPad through beautifully illustrated pictures. Unfortunately, after a brief market analysis, I found out that ‘beautiful’ isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when you look at typical run-of-the-mill comic. Most of them rather look like rough sketches, printed by an inkjet which is missing at least one color…
My rescue came at the very end of 2010, when the German artist Daniel Lieske published the first episode of his free digital graphic novel 'The Wormworld Saga'. Being read more than a quarter million times within the first four weeks, it became a huge success and proved, that Daniel obviously had hit a nerve. The comic looks a gazillion times better than your average superhero novel and was, from the get-go, designed to be read on a computer screen, rather than to be printed out on paper.
The next logical step for the series, besides working on chapter two, was to create a native iPad App for it. Since this is a rather costly endeavor, Daniel created a kickstarter campaign to fund it. Raising about twice as much money as required, the campaign turned out to be ‘huge success no. 2’ and eventually enabled the artist to quit his job and to dedicate all of his time to the Wormworld Saga. Naturally, the second result of this campaign was the iPad app which was just released this weekend and which brings me back to the topic of user interfaces.
To make it short, the app delivers on all fronts. It makes use of the same vibrant colors and beautiful art style as the comics. My favorite part is the main menu, in which you can skim through all available episodes (notice the glow around the selected ‘magazine’) and which instantly makes me want to collect ALL of them. Which I did… But it’s only one right now… What a petty…
The app enhances this existing comic by giving you the opportunity to hide the speech bubbles and, with the ‘pro’ version, to seamlessly switch between the preliminary sketches and the final artwork. And, as if this wasn’t enough, the paid version also comes with additional comments and articles, describing the process of creating the Wormworld Saga.
As you can probably tell, I am rather exited about the graphic novel as well as the app, especially since both of them are free! If you want to support Daniel Lieske, you can unlock the enhanced version of the first episode for $2.99 with an in-app purchase. I also recommend a look at his shop, where you can buy high quality prints of his work. Keep in mind that Daniel is doing this for a living now so show him some love!
Earlier this month, I was complaining about Lion’s address book, and I have to say, I rather enjoyed doing so. Fortunately, Apple also screwed up the iPad’s contacts app… It’s not as bad as under OS X but it’s a close call. So here is a quick overview about what’s wrong with it.
As I said in my last post, recreating real world objects in an iOS application is just fine and at first glance, the address book app looks pretty nice. That impression however changes quickly, if turn your iPad to portrait mode. A ‘real’ address book is not meant to be higher than wide (at least not when opened) and Apple couldn’t come up with anything better than filling the remaining space with BIG BLACK BARS. Doing so, they waste about 25% (or roughly 200.000 pixels) of the iPad’s precious screen estate.
Talking about wasted screen estate, as with the address book on OS X, there are a lot of white pixels beneath the contacts information (again, partially reserved for ‘notes’). As if wanting to somehow fill it, Apple placed the ‘Share Contact’ button literally ‘somewhere in it’. Just have a look at the image above, you’ll see what I mean. If someone could explain to me the purpose of this buttons location, please enlighten me.
Ok, Mac OS 10.7 aka Lion is all about introducing some ideas from iOS to your Mac and in most cases, this works rather well. ‘Natural’ scrolling alone is worth the $30 price tag, the new Mail is a blast and even if I don’t use it, I see that Launchpad makes sense for some groups of users. However, why the Address Book became what it is today, is totally beyond me. It now looks like the Address Book on the iPad (which is also flawed, but more about that on another day) which probably makes it more beautiful, but it certainly gets more awkward.
First of all, giving iOS apps a natural look makes perfect sense. You hold them in your hand and you touch them like a real object, so they can just as well look like one. On the Mac however, at least for now, you don’t do those things. As long as your OS X apps are running in separate windows (as opposed to fullscreen mode), I feel that those windows need a clearly defined border as well as a titlebar, which you can use to drag them around. Funny enough, the Address Book is one of the few apps that don’t even support fullscreen mode. I am not really familiar with the Mac version of Apple’s Human Interface Guideline (know as ‘the HIG’) but I am pretty sure that the Address Book violates some of the rules there.
Secondly, the Address Book wastes a loot of precious screen estate and I am not even talking about the book-like borders. See this big white space on the lower right corner? It’s meant to be filled with notes. Sorry Apple, but nobody adds notes to their contacts, let alone a whole CV. I rarely give credits to UI design made in Redmond, but in my view, Microsoft’s Outlook, which allows you to display your contacts as a list of business cards, provides you with a much more space- and time efficient view at your contacts.
When it was released earlier this year, Fantastical got his fair share of attention. Rightfully so because thanks to it’s clever design, Fantastical makes setting up appointments fun.
The app lives in your Mac’s menu bar. Being clicked on, it displays a neat calendar sheet as well as an overview over your upcoming appointments. While this is all nice, it wouldn’t justify an investment of 20 bucks. Fantastical really shines, when you look at the UI which is used for creating a new appointment: a textfield.
So let’s say you want to play basketball one the 5th of june at 12 o’clock. In most other calendars, you would search and select the 5th of june, type in ‘Basketball’ and select a time. This can be a little slow… In Fantastical, you just type in ‘Basketball on june 5 at 12’, hit Enter and you are done! The language recognition, which currently only supports English, is pretty good and gives you enough freedom to enter the appointments however you like (or that’s at least the case for me).
Now I hear you saying ‘Wait a minute, the calendar in Mac OS Lion does the same thing! For free!’. Well, while I suspect, that the Flexibit guys where pretty eager to release Fantastical before Lion (and thereby postponed some features, like editing and deleting appointments), there really is nothing in Lion’s calendar to be afraid of. First of all, the Mac’s native calendar isn’t opened (or at least in the foreground) all the time. Fantastical is always there and can even be mapped to a keyboard shortcut. Secondly and crucially, fantastical shows you which appointment it is about to create while you are typing. So, if it really misunderstands you, you can correct this mistake right away. Lion’s calendar doesn’t do that. If it misinterprets your writing, you have to remove the already created appointment first, which makes the whole process somehow more tedious.
Sure, we are talking about a matter of seconds here, but those a really annoying seconds, if you are used to Fantastical’s behaviour.
So, if you haven’t tested Fantastical yet, just download the demo from their homepage. If you are a student, you should also buy it right there since you will get a 20% discount. Everyone else can also use the AppStore to get a new shiny calendar for 19.99$ (15.99€).
Links: Fantastical (19.99$)
Let’s talk about one of my favorite subjects: food!
Until recently, the best recipe app for iOS was Epicurious and while it still is the most useful app, at least in my view, the most beautiful one is ‘Recipes - Jamie Oliver’. So, since this blog is all about UI, bad luck Epicurious…
So, why is this app that good? Two thing: First, as you would expect, it’s beautiful. With it’s dark wooden and chalkboard backgrounds, it look’s just like the kitchen you (or at least I) always wanted but just can’t afford.
As Apple’s contacts and calendar apps, it attempts to simulate real world objects inside the app. So, recipes are, for instance, ‘printed’ on little register cards and the shopping list’s background is a pice of torn out notepad paper. This might all sound very gimmicky but it just looks and feels right.
Secondly, the designers obviously spent some thoughts on usability. In portrait mode, the steps of a recipe are listed in a simple scrollview, so you can just skim over them. When you turn the device to landscape mode, the steps are magnified and displayed on the already mentioned register cards. This enhances the readability, which is just what you need while you are cooking. You can also double tap a card to view a photo which shows Jamie, performing the current step.
'Recipes - Jamie Oliver' also contains a handy shopping list, so once you decided on a recipe, just tap 'Add to shopping list' and you are good to go.
The app itself, including 13 recipes, is totally free, so there is really no excuse for not at least trying it. If you want more recipes, you can purchase them in packs of 10-12 for $1.99.
Links: Recipes - Jamie Oliver (iPhone, free)
Whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS, they “assimilate” a few existing apps. Yesterday, with the announcement of iOS5’s new features, the body count was especially high. For instance, todo lists, beside other apps, were seemingly rendered obsolete. So if you are looking for a free, great looking, cross platform todo list right now, you just have to wait until this fall and you are done, right?
Thank’s to wunderlist, you don’t. Wunderlist, released earlier this year, runs on iOS (both iPhone and iPad), Android, Mac, Windows and, as if this wasn’t enough, on you browser, so it’s safe to say that it runs every where. Syncing your todos is as free as the app itself but the most important thing is, that it all looks great.
Unlike it’s compatetors, like the heavy weighted and even heavier priced OmniFocus or Things, wunderlist is all about simplicity. There are no dependencies, no tags and no priorities (just “favourites”), just enter a new task or check a finished one and you are done. You have the option to set due dates, to create multiple todo lists and, most importantly, to change the apps background picture, but you can also safely ignore all of this and wunderlist makes it rather easy to do so.
I’m not saying that wunderlist right for everyone. If you are a heavy user (in terms of amount of usage, not body mass) you might want to try a more sophisticated solution and it seems as if wunderlist’s developers, 6wunderkinder, are currently working on such a product. But if you just want to set up a shopping list or remind your self of cleaning the kitchen, you should give wunderlist a shot. It’s free!
All of UiDid… well
While the official weather app was installed on the iPhone from day one, Apple still doesn’t bother to bring it to the iPad. Luckily, there are more than a few worthy substitutions and this article features my three favorites. They are all (currently) available for $0.99 (so just buy them all if you are unsure) and will work both on iPad and on iPhone/iPod touch.
This App is one of the early birds in the iPad’s AppStore and had it’s fair share of publicity, when the iPad was released. To be honest, it focuses more on the gorgeous ambient Videos than on the actual weather forecast, but who cares. Since the app’s release, the developers added quite a few new videos as well as a clock. They also released a free, ad sponsored version, so if you are unsure, try at least this one.
While also featuring beautiful, but a bit blurry ambient Videos, Weather+ is more about the numbers. If offers detailed and delightfully displayed information about cloud cover, pressure, visibility and more. If you don’t appreciate all this data, you can turn it off in the settings. And even if you don’t care for the weather at all, this app makes a great clock.
This app is build around a 3D globe which accurately displays the day and night cycle as well as the current cloud pattern. You can spin the earth around at will or set it to auto-spin, if you choose to put it on your nightstand. Oh, and it also displays your time and weather, but this is really a minor matter here.
Those apps would make perfect use of the iOS lock screen and I really wonder, why apple doesn’t allow them to use it. It surely would be more entertaining and useful than the static wallpaper. So let’s wait for next monday, maybe iOS 5 will bring some improvements.
Last time I looked, there where exactly 2.189 fantastillion clients for Twitter out there on iPhone. Selling them definately became harder when Twitter released it’s own (pretty great) client for free. But still, a whole bunch of clients hits the App Store every month and one of the more noteworthy is definately Tweetbot.
In order to stand out from the crowd, the guys from Tapbots focused on what they do best: UI. Many apps do modify one or two elements of Apples standard interface (like buttons or navigation bars) but as far as I know, only Tabbot apps have completely reskinned the native UI. Wheter you like the general idea of that or not is up to you but there is no denying that Tweetbot, with it’s playful colors and clear contours, looks great. Plus, since you are basicly looking at a beautified version of the standard UI, you will feel at home quickly.
What I really like about this app is it’s attention to detail. If there are new tweets, a label will appear in your timeline where you left of reading you, telling you how many new tweets came in. Like in Reeder, different actions are performed when you swipe over a tweet from left to right respectively from right to left. And a message box doesn’t just disappear from your screen, it looses grip and falls down. Awesome!
However, there are a also few things which bother me, first and foremost the lack of a landscape mode. Also, performing different actions depending on whether you tap a tweet a) once, b) twice or c) three times and for d) holding (!) isn’t a great idea, in my view. After all, we like iPhone apps for their simplicity and a triple-tap is everything but intuitive. What’s next? Octa-Taping?
Tweetbot also takes a different approach on how to handle more than five icons in the tab bar at the bottom of the screen. While e.g. the iPod app offers a “more” button, which both allows you to select more buttons and to reconfigure your tab bar, Tweetbot let’s you access additional buttons by holding down one of the last two buttons of the tab bar. Seems like good idea but there are two things I don’t like: First, when you press a button which is not located in your tab bar, it will replace a button that is. This means that your tab bar changes all the time. Secondly, you can only replace the latter two buttons. Why? I don’t know…
Still, Tweetbot is pretty great (or well…ish) and for $1.99 you should give it a try, if you are tired of the official twitter app.
Links: Tweetbot ($1.99)
If your shopping tours don’t lead you trough the city anymore but trough Amazon, eBay & Co, Delivery Status is the right widget for you. It keeps track of all your, well, tracking numbers and displays all the relevant information in one frame. There is not much more to it but this software is so beautifully laid out and colored that you might want your parcels not to arrive at all. Plus, you will start to buy paperbacks rather than kindle versions again…
If you really like it, there is also the equally gorgous iOS App Delivery Status touch for $4.99 which works on both iPad and iPhone. You may also create a free online account wich allows you to keep your widgets and apps in sync.
One more detail, I just noticed: When you enter a tracking number which is typical for one specific parcel service, Delivery Status will automatically select it for you. Nice!