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.
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)
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!
Ok, let’s kick it off with Alfred. There are quite a few Mac app launchers out there (e.g. Launchbar or qsb), but Alfred is my favorite by far. It’s super fast, allows you not only to launch your apps but also to control iTunes, to search the web, contacts, calendar etc. and to create your own powerful search rules. But this post is not only about Alfred…
… it’s also about Alfred’s homepage. This site made me want to buy the pro version of Alfred, called the “Powerpack”, even before I tested the app. It’s clearly arranged, not overloaded, features fancy scrolling and the most beautiful purple wallpaper.
The one thing that I did find a little inconvenient is that the Powerpack page is for some reason not included in the big scrolling front-page, but hey, one can not have everything.
If you haven’t tried out Alfred yet, you really should give it a shot. The (already great) basic version is totally free and while the app is in beta, the Powerpack costs only £12.
Links: Alfred App