go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

June, 2007

  • go ahead, mac my day

    iPhone UX issues and inconsistencies


    I've noticed a few iPhone UX inconsistencies and issues in my cursory poking at the device.

    Widgets everywhere: Upon playing with the iPhone, it's pretty clear that most of the apps are actually widgets. My first thought is that you can consider all of the 12 icons on the upper part of the screen to be widgets. Stocks, weather, clock, calculator, and notes are the most obviously widget-y of them, since they're already familiar to OS X dashboard users. Only the four apps in the lower part of the screen (phone, mail, Safari, iPod) are real apps. I wonder if Apple will allow developers to create iPhone widgets before they'll allow developers to create real apps.

    Yahoo! everywhere: The iPhone is getting a lot of data from Yahoo! instead of other sources. The OS X weather widget gets its data from AccuWeather, and the stock widget gets its from Quote.com. This is a great opportunity for Yahoo! to try to rebuild its mindshare in the face of the Google juggernaut.  Okay, so strictly speaking, this isn't an issue.  It's just interesting to note the difference between them.

    iPhone widgets aren't identical to their OS X counterparts: While many of the widgets are ones that are already on OS X, there are a few differences in them. The only difference between the OS X calculator widget and the iPhone calculator widget is that the iPhone one doesn't have an orange border. The iPhone weather widget is vertically-oriented instead of horizontally-oriented. The iPhone stock widget is virtually identical, but here's a couple of minor differences in how you enter additional stocks.

    Reordering in widgets: The clock is the most fully-featured of the widgets, and it's the one that introduces the UX inconsistency. In the clock, enter the edit mode, and add your cities. The resulting city tiles have a little grab-handle on the right side, which you can use to drag them around. However, the other widgets just don't have that. The only way to get the items in those widgets in the right order is to enter them in the correct order from the beginning.  

    How much information is there?: Apps with more than one screen of information have scrollbars, but they only become visible when you're scrolling the screen. In some apps, it's obvious that you have more below the fold. But in some apps, such as the clock widget, it's easy to glance at the screen and not realise that there's more below it. One easy way to solve this without having to show the scrollbars is to not make the tiles fit perfectly on the screen. Instead, show me half of one of the tiles that's off-screen. Then I know there's more below (or above).

    Stop with the stock apps: What is it about new gadgets that make people think that the one app that I simply must have is something to keep track of my stocks? Yes, I do own some individual stocks, but I'm not a day trader. I pay very little attention to what my stocks are doing on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis. I'm vaguely annoyed that I have to have this stock widget on my iPhone screen all the time, even though I'm never going to open it after I've set up my stocks in it the first time.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    iPhone acquired


    For all of my wibbling yesterday, and my GM's hypnotism today, there really wasn't a question as to whether I'd buy an iPhone. I couldn't queue up today, so I was vaguely concerned that I wouldn't be able to get one. Turns out that I didn't need to be concerned. I walked up to the Palo Alto Apple Store at 7pm, and had my shiny new iPhone by 7:05. It took significantly longer to activate the phone than it did to actually acquire it in the first place. I just did a completely non-random sample of the iPhone availability page (California, New York, and Washington), and none of the Apple Stores are sold out. I wonder if the people who queued up overnight (or longer ... ), or who paid people to queue up overnight, feel like they wasted their time/money.

    I'll soon find out how well the iPhone handles being synched with multiple computers. My work laptop is the keeper of my contacts and calendar, but I don't have any music at all on it. I don't want to have to transfer a subset of my music collection to the work laptop. It'll either sync with my server at home or the Mac Mini in my office. The former has my complete music collection, the latter has a very small subset of it (enough to be serviceable in the office, but nowhere near the couple hundred gigs that I've got at home).

    I'm seeing some Safari screen-painting issues on Edge. I used this blog as my testbed for it on Edge, and clicked on a comments thread for an earlier post. Doing so jumps you into the post right down to the comments. Safari paints that properly, but if I scroll up, I just see white. I did get the whole page when I let the screen go to sleep and wake back up. Hmmm.

    This geekgirl is sleepy (I've been up since 5:30), so it's time to stop now. I'll continue playing tomorrow.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    a new career low


    I've reached a new low in my career. My boyfriend has convinced my new GM to try to hypnotise me so that I'll buy an iPhone.

    It's hard enough living in a geek household, but it's entirely not fair that he had to pull my big boss in on it. And given that it's review season 'round here, how does this factor into it? Eeeep.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    queue with Woz for your iPhone


    According to the Los Angeles Times, Woz is going to queue for the iPhone just like the rest of us.

    Hmmm, there are only two San José Apple stores, so figuring out which one he's at can't be too hard. I wonder if anyone will notice if I take off to go queue up with Woz ... ;)

    Edit, 3:19pm PDT: Woz is waiting at the Valley Fair Apple Store, according to pictures posted in Engadget's iPhone multi-city line blog.

  • go ahead, mac my day



    Okay, I admit it. I'm wibbling about the iPhone. On one hand, it's new and shiny and cool and waaaaaaaant. On the other hand, there are some limitations to v1 that I'm not sure I like. EDGE is one of them, uncertainty about Exchange support is another.

    Craig, our new all-knowing and all-powerful GM, stopped by my office to chat. At the MacBU-California all-hands meeting yesterday, he made it pretty clear that he's going to have an iPhone in his hands as soon as humanly possible. (We reminded him that we have a bunch of summer interns here, so we can send them out to the various stores and have them wait in line to ensure that he gets one.) Today, when I expressed my reservations about it, he whipped out his current smartphone and went on about how EDGE is pretty good for most things and he's pretty pleased with it.

    So it turns out that the new GM is an enabler. I'm hoping this bodes well for my future hardware requests, that he won't mind when I try to upgrade my laptop every time Apple releases a new one. Hmmm, maybe I can convince him that an iPhone is a business purchase, I need to fully understand its UX so that I'm ready if Apple does release a full SDK.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    article review - 'Understanding Memory Triggers for Task Tracking'


    Article title: Understanding Memory Triggers for Task Tracking'
    Authors: AJ Bernheim Brush, Brian R. Meyers, Desney S. Tan, Mary Czerwinski
    Publication: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Computer-Human Interaction
    Year of publication: 2007

    In this CHI '07 short paper, the authors discuss a field study aimed at understanding how participants use memory triggers to write their status reports. The authors originally developed and deployed software to monitor the users' computer activities and thus assist in the status report activity, but found that it was not as widely used as they had hoped. Thus, they conducted a field study with eight participants (four at two companies, one of which is our esteemed employer) to better understand the underlying activity that they want to support.

    The field study had four research questions:

    1. what processes and tools do people use to track their work?
    2. how much information do they provide about the duration of their individual tasks?
    3. how do they decide what information to include in the status report?
    4. how long do people spend on tracking their work and writing their status report?

    In the course of the field study, the authors discovered that the participants fell across a continuum for their processes. Some participants kept a running tally of their tasks, while others relied on triggers (such as email, calendar events, tasks, and notes). Many participants wanted high-level triggers instead of detailed information. Participants cared about tracking time only when they needed to do it for an external reason, such as time reporting for a client. The content of their reports was selected based on their perception of their audience and their level of interest in the information provided. Interestingly, participants tended to think that they spent less time on the task of writing their status reports than they actually did.

    While the findings in this study aren't big or earth-shattering, this is useful when considering how to better enable users to write their status reports. I found it interesting that the functions typically associated with a PIM are the ones that are most useful when tracking time.

    Related links:
    ACM Digital Library page for this paper
    Microsoft Research page for this paper
    AJ Brush's website
    Brian Meyers' website
    Desney Tan
    Mary Czerwinski's website

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    this just in: geeks prefer black


    Geek t-shirts are pretty much universally black. It turns out that geek laptops are also black. For every white MacBook I saw at WWDC last week, I saw at least 20 black MacBooks. I found myself wondering if I'd trade in my MBP if it came in black. Apple, you guys might be missing a marketing opportunity there ...

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    20 years of PowerPoint


    Today's Wall Street Journal features an article titled PowerPoint turns 20 as its creators ponder a dark side to success. I did a quick poll of the PowerPoint:Mac team here today, and between us, we've got boxed copies of all versions of PowerPoint:Mac. The lead program manager has version 1, I've got version 2, and one of the developers down the hall has everything from version 3 on. Being a geek, I've got versions 1 through 4 installed on one of my machines at home.

    For the California edition of the MacBU tenth anniversary party, I brought in a still-functional PowerBook 180, installed version 1, and re-did the old Columbus example presentation as if I were trying to convince Microsoft to continue funding PowerPoint. Okay, so that probably only amused me. Of course, it's nothing like David Byrne's PowerPoint presentations, but I was running on old software and hardware.

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    the iPhone user experience revisited


    Last week, after Steve Jobs announced that the current development path for the iPhone is to develop web apps, I was asked by a young Mac-head why web apps aren't good enough. I see that the Cult of Mac blog is singing the same song, pointing out the crop of apps that have appeared on the iPhone application list. Of course, some of the iPhone apps are a bit on the lame side -- why exactly do I want a t-shirt search engine on my iPhone? And how exactly can PhoneDango claim to give you 'the look and feel that you're used to on iPhone'?

    The lameness of some of the pre-launch iPhone apps aside, it's not that web apps aren't good enough. You can do some great things on the web (Pandora, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, ...). The problem is that you're limited to the web metaphor for navigation: links, forward, back, etc. With a touch screen, the iPhone's interface is ripe for innovation. App developers just don't have access to the full power of the interface if they are limited to developing web apps.

    Should Apple decide to make an iPhone SDK available in the future, one of the first games that we'll see on it is Breakout, which we can view as a nice little nod to the early part of Woz's career. Take a look at the interaction for Breakout. You've got a little paddle at the bottom of the screen, and you move it around to keep the ball in play. This is an absolutely perfect game for a touch screen, and will work well on such a small screen. Will this game even be possible as a web app? I did a quick search and only found Java apps, which the iPhone doesn't support at this time.

    The iPhone interface promises to make some fundamental changes to the user experience. Some of them are quite subtle (how you scroll, for example). Some of these changes aren't subtle, and that's where application developers should come in. We Mac lovers have a lot of innovative apps available to us. Just think of the innovation that we would see if we let Mac developers loose on something like the iPhone.

    And that's why I want an iPhone SDK. There's a lot of opportunity in the iPhone, and I want developers to be able to fully take advantage of it. This doesn't preclude some great web apps specifically developed for use on the iPhone; full apps and web apps should complement each other.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    book review - 'The Inmates Are Running the Asylum'


    Book title: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
    Author: Alan Cooper
    ISBN: 0672326140

    Cooper's argument in this book is simple: you have to know your users, and you have to understand what they're trying to accomplish with your software. The method that he puts forth for achieving this understanding is personas, richly-described archetypical users.

    The book is easy to read and understand. He begins with a detailed description of the problem with software design as carried about by programmers who can only imagine themselves as the users of their software. This results in software that makes really difficult things possible but doesn't bother to make easy or common things quick and easy.

    After making the argument that programmers shouldn't design interfaces and making the case both for usability and interaction design, he lays out the personas concept. Cooper's guidelines for creating personas and using them are well-written and well-thought-out. However, his examples of applying them to some of his own customers are rather repetitive, and sometimes come across as somewhat whiny.

    Now that it's time for me to revisit the Office:Mac personas and determine what needs to be tweaked for our next version, I decided that I should revisit the book that first advanced the idea. It has stood up well to the test of time (something that not many computer books can do). I highly recommend it, both to usability and design professionals, as well as programmers.

    Related links:
    Amazon's page about this book
    author's website

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