How to make the iPhone better
I don't often love gadgets, but this one - the iPhone - has changed my life. Mostly for the better. I love that this device helps me keep better track of my schedule and calendar, access email and texts, and gets me online easily. But, remember, design can always be made better.
I am not a fan of swiping to multiple pages in search of an app or a folder. I created folders so that all the apps would fit on the home page. The look is more industrial - this is, after all, a machine. A hand-held phenomenal machine. It seems more honest to let it look industrial and serious. And more useful and efficient.
• I can access every app from one page - no more swiping along multiple pages to access an app.
• Along the bottom row, I placed the 4 apps that provide connections to others: phone calls, text messages, email letters, and Facebook updates and messages. Update: I rarely access Facebook any more so I moved the icon to the Fun Stuff folder and moved the Safari icon to that spot on the bottom row.
• The top row - I placed the camera app in the upper right - to minimize taps to access it and to remind me that the camera lens is positioned in that corner on the back. The rest of the row contains apps I use frequently. Update: I placed the Maps icon where Safari used to be.
• The middle 3 rows contain the app folders. If a folder had less than 9 apps in it, there would be blank voids in the folder window. To fill those voids, I added photos of my dogs.
• With the additional busyness, its even more important to create a black background to minimize the visual noise. Below are 2 bad examples and 1 good - my ios7 5s phone.
A better wallpaper for the iPhone & iPad
Wallpaper is the background screen that shows up when you turn on the iPhone/iPad and when you make a phone call. It has no useful function, no practical purpose. It is simply a backdrop for other functions.
Designers who follow trends without intelligent assessment and consideration of the user place images behind text. Often, poor design results when the decision maker doesn't adequately consider the needs and wants of the end user - the reader, viewer, consumer. Too often, designers make decisions based on their own biases and preferences and not based on research of the psychological characteristics of the user. Text over an image is one example. If you want the reader to understand the text, don't dilute it with an image and if you want the viewer to see the image, don't hide it behind type.
This logic applies to print ads and to the wallpaper on an iPhone. The wallpaper is visible behind the home page of icons and the page of functions used for making phone calls.
Below are 3 columns of iPhone screens. On the left is the default globe image, the middle is a user photo, and the right is a black screen. Notice how much easier it is to see and use the phone functions when the screen is black. Especially when making phone calls while driving or during boring meetings or other situations where time and concentration on performing the task is limited. We rarely view the home screen anyway - as soon as we slide to unlock, the image is gone. The iPhone is a marvel of function and productivity. The all-black wallpaper enhances the efficiency of function.
How to make a better wallpaper
1. Go in a dark room or closet, cover the camera lens, and shoot a picture.
2. Access the Photos page.
3. Tap the black image.
4. Tap the button in the bottom left corner.
5. Tap Use as wallpaper; tap Set Wallpaper.
My home screens
iOS7: lots of good, a little bad
The visually flatter screens and icons with less depth and detail are very nice - they state that this is now a respectable medium that has grown up and is able to stand on its own. Mimicking former media (notebook, calendar, watch, etc) was probly necessary at first to help the user make the transition and to more easily adopt the new methods of accessing information. But, not anymore.
The new look and operations are more functional and utilitarian. iPad: I have the most-used app icons accessible on the home screen and towards the bottom, where my thumbs can reach easily. I forfeited the JRW banner logo - the convenience of opening fewer folders is worth it. The background screen is just grey. Without demanding focus away from the icons, grey provides a better contrast to both the light and dark apps. I placed just 4 icons on the bottom band to align with the 4 columns above. The new look is more technical and utilitarian.
A little good: For those people who insist on putting crap on their home screen behind the app icons, ios7 will blur the image when the focus should be on the icons. Note: the focus should always be on the icons - that's the purpose of the screen. If you want to see or show a photo, open up photos and show the image without crap obscuring it.
Below: A little bad: A folder only holds 9 apps. The new OS has additional folders, but you have to swipe. Notice how much unused space there is on the screen. A folder could hold 20 apps (16 on the phone). Why just 9? The previous system held 16 apps. Having only 9 means swiping to the next screen instead of being able to see up to 16 apps in a category on the screen at once. The new pad home screen groups only 4 across even though the home band at the bottom contains 6. The home screen could hold 36 apps or folders rather than 26.
The worst from ios7
1. The Apple Calendar app no longer has a List option that can be updated and edited - the user must return to a different view. The blogs are full of comments disliking this one, so I think Apple will fix this.
2. The cute animations, screens that zoom home, and the moving boxes in messages. It is disappointing that creating cute - completely useless - gimmicks were how the coders spent their time, rather than on building more efficient functions and visuals.. After the ios7 user gets used to the animations, they are no longer cute or cool, just annoying.
3. Inability to remove apps (stocks, newsstand, etc. This didn't make sense with the first iPhone in 2007, and it still doesn't.
4. Camera burst. The user should be able to turn off that feature.
Apple has moved its phone past an initial wow to an efficient useful tool. The cutesy gimmicks are no longer appropriate for such a sophisticated device.
I asked an Apple Store 'Genius' how many people had a folder labeled Unused - he showed me his and we agreed it would be almost all iPhone users. I asked, "Why design an OS that results in a folder labeled 'Unused'." He spouted some corporate bullshit, but didn't disagree when I commented that it was a poor system design to force a product user to have useless and unwanted apps on his/her phone.
A few app observations
Minimiza spacint to minimize scrolling:
Redesign iCal column spacing to gain more usable area
The screen layout for iCal, the calendar function on the iPhone, wastes valuable space. The user wants and needs the maximum amount of space for the display of information. In the middle image below are grey columns showing the wasted space - about 25% of the allotted screen space. Redesigning the screen can gain enough space to display 9 additional characters. This is beneficial because it minimizes the need for the user to tap and select the item to read the rest of the info. Users want and need the allotted space to display the maximum amount of information.
The existing format allows 17 numerical characters in one line. The proposed format allows 26 characters.
How to improve the iCal display screen
1. Decrease the spacing between the time numbers and the AM or PM.
2. Delete the M after the A & P. The M is useless info - it serves no function since both the AM & PM have an M. It doesn't help distinguish morning or afternoon - the A & P do that. The M wastes valuable space.
3. Decrease the spacing between the A/P and the list of tasks and events. The purpose of spacing here is to provide a visual pause and a separation between elements to enhance comprehension. However, those objectives are accomplished by setting the A & P in a smaller point size, in grey, and in ALL CAPS. That's enough to create a clear separation. Additional spacing is not necessary.
4. Allow the task/event info to be set all the way to the right of the screen. There is no need for a margin along the right side.
Why is the Calendar on the new iPhone so spaced out?
Why not tighten it up and allow more weeks to show. There seems to still be ample room for a finger tap on a specific date.
The calendar function is worse - there is no easy link to the list format. It is hidden in the search symbol. Once there, there is no way to add a new event - you have to go back to the previous screen to find the + symbol for 'add an event'.
There is also still a lot of wasted space on the screen - notice the columns of white space between the times and the events. There is no need for the M in AM & PM. That M provides no additional clarity.
The mail program includes new outline symbols, except for the solid VIP star. Notice how awkward it is in the column of symbols. It would have been so easy to use an outline star so it would match the others in the set.
Lesson: Consistency within a set or series often aids association inclusion, communication, and comprehension.
The phone screen (below) uses an outline star - why not be consistent and match that. Maybe it's just an oversight and will be updated soon.
At least, you can now edit the mailbox list and turn off the VIP box so it doesn't show.
Message screen: Nice features. The flatness motif works well here - no light glare at the top of the message box and no outlines. Downside: the low contrast of white type on light blue is not as good as the previous black type on light blue. But, increasing contrast and setting text in bold makes this issue much better.
Weather: Much worse than the previous. Very poor contrast - white type on light blue. Fortunately, I never use the Apple weather app (it sits - with stocks, reminders, voice memos, and others - in a folder labeled Unused). I use Weather Channel and Wunderground, each of which has better screen visuals.
See more on App design.
What do we do with old iPods and how can we sneak alcohol into stadiums and arenas that don't sell beer or allow it to be brought in? Put the two together. I removed all the inner hardware from an old iPod, sealed the holes (except for the earbud input which I use as the opening to the flask) and ended up with a hard-to-detect flask that holds about a jigger (oops, sorry, I mean the j-word). March 2009
Several years later, I noticed products on Kickstarter (left) and Fancy (right) for flasks made from iPhones:
A few other suggestions
Design the back to be less slippery
The case is too slick - it can easily slip out of one's hand. There are numerous cases and add-ons available - suggesting this is a common problem that needs to be addressed. To make my phone easier to hold, I have tried numerous options - rubber decals, cases, bands around the phone, plastic stick-ons, and the solution now in use - I just sanded the case. Yep, I sanded my iPhone. It gives the metal case some 'teeth' that make it easier to hold and grip, although it drives the Apple Store employees nuts when they see it.
Update: That phone broke and I promised not to sand the new one, so I bought a case at Staples. Months later, I took it off (I enjoyed the slim uncased phone) and simply put some duct tape on the back.
Design a hardware solution to minimize tangled earbud cords
When I mention this to the staff at an Apple Store, they respond, "Yeah, I hate that." or "Isn't that frustrating?" These are Apple employees disgusted with the products they sell. The earbud cords look cool in the ads but not so cool when on a subway car or on the street trying to untangle them. There are third-party products available but that shows the design flaw of the iPhone - when other companies market products to address weaknesses in the Apple product.
Train 'Geniuses' better
Many of us have examples of Apple 'Geniuses' not being so. Of course, human error is to be expected, especially with innovative technology. But, there is pressure on Apple to be at the forefront and convey that they are the trend-setters (they even presumptuously named their helpers Geniuses). Here are two examples , of several, that I have experienced recently.
• At the 14th Street store in Manhattan in June, 2008, I mentioned to an orange-shirted concierge that I enjoyed the book, iWoz.
"Woz? What is that?"
"Steve Wozniak" (one of 2 founders of Apple and the engineering brains behind early Apple computers)
"Who is that?"
• On Sunday evening and Monday morning, June 29 & 30, 2008, my iPhone slowly died, finally freezing up for good about 10am. I took it to the Apple Store in SoHo, Manhattan. An Apple 'Genius' who checked with others in the back, returned and said, yep - it's dead. This happened exactly 1 year and 10 hours after I bought it - 10 hours after the warranty expired. The bad news: it would cost $199 to repair the phone (it would cost $199 to get a brand new phone that is faster and better - but, I'd have to wait until July 11). So, I took the phone home and did a 'Restore' to erase and install new software. Nope, didn't help. So, I made an appointment to go back to an Apple Store 'Genius Bar' for a last shot before giving up. But I went to a different store. Previously, I was at the SoHo store because its the easiest to get to from my apartment. This time, I went to the newest store - on 14th Street in the Meatpacking District.
The Genius assigned to me seemed to be new and naive. The Genius next to him even bitched at him for asking him too many questions. Jeez, I felt sorry for the guy. But, it showed me that I might need to persist with this one. He told me that when he did a restore it would wipe everything off the phone, including the layout of the home page. To the left is the photo of the home page that we shot from the store computer and emailed to me so I could rebuild the home page later. He tried to do what he could with the phone and then said, Sorry, its dead, out of warranty, and there's nothing else I can do (he didn't offer the repair option like the SoHo store did). I pushed him to explain further - it was out of warranty by just a matter of hours. So, he went to his supervisor, Roger - Lead Mac Genius. Roger pulled up my record, looked up from the monitor and said, "We'll give you a new phone." I was glabberfasted. I didn't want to ask what had changed, or why I would now get a new phone; I just said, "Thanks". I have a theory that Roger pulled up my record and saw that I have bought (total to date):
4 iPhones, starting with the day it first came out - June 29, 2007
4 desktop computers: iMac, eMac, early Macs
5 laptop computers: MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, first gen laptop
2 iPads, starting with the first generation
1 iPad Mini, first generation
9 iPods, starting with the first generation
11 accessories: cables, earbuds, docks, cases, hard drive, flash drives, laptop bag
2,924 items on iTunes (some free downloads)
Roger may have thought, Damn, this guy has spent a lot of money with us. Let's keep him happy.
And they did. When I got home (after a celebratory slice of pizza in the Village) I synced and restored the phone. It was seamless, quick, and everything was in place just as it was on the busted phone - even the layout of the home page.
At least 3 different times at both Apple Stores, I almost accepted their prognosis that I was out of luck, but something kept me pursuing the matter. I'm sure glad I did as I ended up with a working phone.
Lessons learned and hereby shared
• Buy an iPhone.
• 'Genius' is sometimes just a title, not a descriptor.
• Push for explanations. Don't feel stupid - just ask for clarification until you better understand.
• Get a second opinion. Go to a different Genius if dissatisfied with the first.
• Supervisors have more knowledge and authority to make things right.
• Be nice. Persist.
iPhone, just didn't seem like an appropriate name for a product that is a mini-computer, music player, map machine, camera, email checker, and web browser. I assigned a graphic design class to develop a better name. They conducted research and talked with friends about some options. Factors considered were spelling, pronunciation, graphic adaptability, clarity of meaning, and legal availability. Some suggestions: iCon since the product would be icon-driven, iCom or iComm since it will be a tremendous communication tool, iPhone since we have already redefined the word phone to include cameras and texting, and several others that I can't remember - but they were good ones.
Note: the 'i' stood for Internet when the original iMac was introduced as a truly user-friendly model for those who were still a bit afraid to use a computer. It was very simple to set up and operate. The prefix of the i became so connected to Apple Computer that they adopted it as a prefix for a variety of products, no longer representing 'Internet' but serving as an icon for Apple. This project was completed before the iPhone came out and now that it has become the new standard for such devices, the name is irrelevant. We have accepted the name, as inappropriate as it might be, and put it into our collective vernacular.
My first computer
Back in the 1980s, I was facing the daunting task of writing a doctoral dissertation. I had been using an electric typewriter for my grad school papers, cutting and pasting with scissors and tape and retyping the page. It was time to get a better machine - one that could save my work and allow easier manipulation of text. I perused the options and settled on the Atari 800 in 1983 - during the very time period that Steve Jobs and Jef Raskin were developing the Macintosh computer. The Atari 800 was highly rated in reviews. You could add memory boards to boost the capacity to 58K ram! A variety of cartridges were available for games, and productivity functions. I explored options for designing layouts and manipulating and placing text, none of which was in the manuals. I was asked to present some of the layout and text formatting tips to the Computing Science department at the University of North Texas. It was so early in the chronology of desktop publishing that guidelines hadn't yet been established for graphic design.
The Atari computer served me well through graduate school, but upon graduation in 1987, I upgraded to Apple products.
The first pocket gadgets
The Palm Pilot PDA truly enhanced my life and it got me hooked on pocket computers.
I avoided getting a cell phone because I didn't want another gadget in my pocket. Someone told me about a Sprint phone that had a Palm PDA integrated into it. Great. I got it, loved, it, and wore it out.
Apple products I have owned
Desktops: eMac, iMac,
Laptops: Macbook Pro , MacBook Air
iPads: May 2010, March 2012, Mini: Oct 2013
iPods: 2001, 2003, 2004, Shuffle 2006/7, Classics: 2007
iPhones: 2007, 2009, 2011
5s: 2013, 6: 2014