Users: What to Expect from iOS 7
By now you’ve heard a lot about iOS 7’s new look, new features, and perhaps you’ve heard some things about what’s under the hood. But what will it be like to use a device with iOS 7? After all, most of the time you spend on iOS is in apps downloaded from the App Store, not the built-in ones.
Marco Arment wrote a spot-on post on Tuesday about what iOS 7 means for developers. And he’s right: those who are nimble enough to embrace iOS 7 with their apps early will stand out in the App Store. But not just because an updated, iOS 7-like styling will feel more natural to use — Apple has opened iOS way up, providing developers with enormous opportunities to make their apps better for users.
Without explaining how (I can’t — NDA), here are some of the things you can expect as an iOS user, in the months after iOS 7 is released, from apps by devs that take Apple’s advice and use the new APIs.
Apps updated for iOS 7 will seem to be always up-to-date and fresh. When you get a push notification on your lock screen and swipe it, the new content will be ready — no waiting for it to download. Social networking apps will always have the newest messages ready to read. Podcast apps will download new episodes so they’re always ready to play. News apps will always show the latest articles when you open them.
The result: your iPhone will feel fast. Responsive. Productive.
Expect iOS 7-optimised apps to be much more animated. There will be some apps that overdo it, but the ones that get it right will feel more responsive to your touch, more real, more intuitive. You’ll feel more comfortable and confident to navigate through each app, because on a subconscious level, the app feels more physical.
You will get a sense of space — the feeling that your iPhone screen is a window on a larger canvas of content. Each app is an art museum, and you walk from room to room as you navigate through each screen.
Your iPhone will feel alive.
Content will be bigger, clearer, and easier to find. When you want to know something, iOS 7-style apps will just tell you, clearly and simply. And while you won’t necessarily notice this consciously, everything will be much, much easier to read.
This will be a more gradual change, but expect apps to be better-tested, have fewer bugs and crashes, and update more frequently. 1 Developers who take full advantage of the tools will be more likely to have tested their app thoroughly the same device that you’re carrying.
Apps will be better at staying in-sync across multiple devices. Whether they use iCloud or their own cloud-based service, your data will be pushed to other devices more reliably, and when something does go wrong, you’ll get better support from the app’s author.
This one’s hard to explain, but you can expect to see apps that integrate more tightly with businesses and services in the real world. When you walk into a store, tour a museum, or attend an event in a stadium, apps will participate in the experience of being there.
I’m excited about the possibilities and the opportunity to build stuff for iOS 7, but I’m even more excited about using the new breed of apps that we’ll start to see in a few months. Not every app will take advantage of this stuff, so it’ll be a great time to start looking for new apps that do — because those are the apps that, over time, will earn their place on your home screen.
Which, by the way, will happen tranparently in the background, so it won’t be annoying. ↩
How I Enhanced iOS 7’s 3D Parallax Effect and became Irresistible to Women
As you’ve heard by now, iOS 7 has a fancy 3D parallax effect, that make it look like the home screen icons, among other things, are floating above the wallpaper. It uses the iPhone’s sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope, presumably) to detect the movement of the device, and move the deeper layers relative to the higher layers.
Of course, it’s not actually a 3D screen, so this is all an optical illusion. One by which, unfortunately, our highly evolved stereoscopic vision is not easily fooled. The effect looks cool, but your brain still knows it’s looking at a flat screen.
This is not the case when you see the effect in videos, because your brain already knows it’s looking at a flat screen, but the image is of a 3D scene, phone and all. So you just unconsciously re-translate the effect and it looks like the icons really are floating — on TV.
If you want to get the full impact of the effect on your real device, try shutting one eye. It works because your brain realises it’s only getting signal from one eye, so it switches inferring 3D space from that one visual signal — same as when you saw it on the video.
As a bonus, you will look quite silly winking at your phone as you rotate it around, saying, “Oooooooh!!”
It’s a New Apple, Same as Before
I was lucky enough to be in the room when Apple delivered its WWDC 2013 keynote. This is my second WWDC, so I have some basis for comparison, and there’s no doubt that Apple had us nerds whipped into a frenzy. The buzz in that room was unbelievable.
Apple delivered a very clear, very strong message:
- Well actually, Apple is kicking arse and taking names in the marketplace.
- But while that’s nice, it’s not really the point.
- The real point is, our stuff is really, really good.
- Apple is still innovating, leaving the past behind, moving forward.
- And how.
Over the past two years, it seemed that everything had changed. Steve Jobs departed. Several high-level execs left. Scott Forstall ousted. From the outside, it appeared as though this must, inevitably, change the company to its core. But on Monday, we saw that Apple has shed its skin, but the snake is still the same snake. It looked different for a while, but it still moves and hunts the same as it always has.
And they’ve always been this way. Contininous, repeated reinvention of itself is Apple’s most fundamental nature. Working hard to perfect a thing, and then throwing it away in order to move forward. Never stuck. Never complacent. Never afraid to rethink, different.
Once a man has children, for the rest of his life, his attitude is, ‘To hell with the world, I can make my own people.’
— Jerry Seinfeld on fatherhood
New York Day
Fantastic example of how to make a great time lapse video by Samuel Orr.
Samuel has a kickstarter campaign to make a 20-minute film to be called “New York Year”. Just forty bucks will get you a Blu-ray, two DVDs, and some more goodies. (Presumably we’ll have to wait a year for it to arrive — can’t wait.)
Via Jason Kottke
Welcome to the World
夢和 (Yuna) Elizabeth Hains was born on Tuesday, 12th February 2013, at 8:02pm in Tokyo. Mother and baby are both healthy and happy.
I am so grateful for the many kind messages of congratulations and well-wishes we’ve received. We are over the moon.
Welcome to the world, Yuna.
Tim Cook apologises for iOS 6 Maps
Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly apologised for the clusterfuck that is iOS 6 Maps.
For one reason or another, this Maps issue has become important to me, and though my ranting on multiple Twitter accounts has annoyed friends and attracted undesirable and unsolicited sympathisers, I feel compelled by my geography and my love for the near-perfection of Apple products to protest1.
While we still don’t really know the reasons behind this change — whether they are Apple’s fault, Google’s fault, or both — the bottom line is that loyal iPhone customers have lost important functionality and access to useful data. Any explanation of how this came to pass is an irrelevant excuse. As an Apple customer, who paid for a product that contained important features that have since been taken away, I have no sympathy whatsoever, and nor should I, for the cause of this failure.
To our customers,
At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.
When you’ve done wrong, the first thing to do is admit it and apologise. It took Apple more than a week to do so, but this is typical Apple MO, and there is some logic to that policy. So I’m very happy that Tim Cook, the-buck-stops-here CEO, has issued this personal apology. What other company does this? (Serious question.)
We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.
Translation: “Our hands were tied.”
There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.
Cook trots out the popular mantra that by simply having iOS 6 Maps in the wild, map data is magically pouring into Apple’s databases. I really want to know: exactly how does that happen? Yes, it’s possible for users to report faulty data via the Maps app, but there must be an infinitesimal percentage of users actually doing that. Yes, POI searches are pouring in, and while I agree that will help Apple prioritise the verification of data, that is not actual map data itself. I admit to being naïve about this technology, but I call bullshit. Please contact me if you know the real answer.
While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.
So, if the number of users getting lost by using iOS 6 maps is meant to improve the database, why recommend that customers switch to alternative apps?2 Perhaps this is simply to quell the ire of those of us that find iOS 6 Maps insultingly unusable. If that is a small enough percentage, then I guess Apple kills two birds with one stone — (partially) satisfy the worst concerns of nerds like us, and also continue to gather data (however the hell that works) to improve Maps.
Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.
As expected, sigh, there appears to be not even the slightest hint that transit directions will return to iOS Maps. Anything’s possible with Apple’s built-in apps, I suppose, but having made developers scramble to fill the new hot gap in the market, closing that gap with built-in functionality in, say, iOS 7 would surely be met with more protests.
One last thing that I want to be clear about: I will applaud loudly if Apple is able to fix the many problems in Maps, including transit directions, in the near-term. As I’ve said before, the new Maps app itself is great. The problem comes down to (a) removing transit directions, and (b) having crappy data on the server side. Until then, I will do my best to look at the mapping and transit solutions that do exist in a post-iOS 6 world, and I’ll not stand idly by while this problem gets swept under the carpet.
I have changed the bio of my iOS 6 Maps accounts to read “protest account”, rather than “parody account”. I dropped out of character some time ago, and am now mostly using the accounts to gather and disseminate information about iOS 6 Maps, rather than simply making jokes. I’m sorry if this has spoiled the fun. (If I think of / find a good joke, though, I suppose I’ll post/retweet it in-character.) ↩
Bonus thinky bit: Why sign “Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO”? Wouldn’t it be less awkward to sign as “Tim Cook, CEO, Apple Inc.”? Weird. UPDATE: Andrew Lowe was kind enough to dig up an example of Steve Jobs being billed as “Apple’s CEO”. ↩
While waiting in the tiny SoftBank shop in Ochanomizu for my number to be called, I noticed across the room they had a single demo unit of iPhone 5 on display. From that distance, I could see much less of it than I’d seen already. I hesitated, wondering if I would enjoy this experience more if the first iPhone 5 I touched and saw up-close was mine.
I was holding ticket number 34. “28-ban no okyakusama!” Fuck it. I’m going to go over and touch this thing right now. Looking at it over there is killing me.
The metal casing is hard and sharp. The black model’s looks like hard plastic, but when you touch it, there is no mistaking it. If anything, it feels more metallic and precise than the iPhone 4S’s steel band. The display model was attached to an enormous sprung cable, so it was impossible to get a sense for its weight, or even to hold it.
Then I turned on the screen. Holy shit.
I… I’m having trouble explaining this. If you haven’t seen an iPhone 5 screen, get thee to an Apple store. If you know someone who has it, ask them to show you.
Its hard to appreciate the depth of the pixels without a 3D image that you can move around, but the iPhone 4 pixels are appreciably deeper in the display and thus further away from the surface than they are in the iPhone 5.
The iPhone 4’s pixels, as Gruber repeatedly and correctly pointed out, always looked to me like they were painted on the glass, rather than sitting under it. It didn’t seem possible for the pixels to get closer to the surface. But they have, and it’s noticeable. The psychological effect this has is to increase the sensation that you’re actually touching the UI elements presented by the software. And with the über-responsive UI that has now only gotten better with iPhone 5’s internals, that illusion is even more emphatic. This is right in line with Apple’s never-ending quest to have the hardware get out of the way, and let the software do its thing.
This impressive feat was achieved by integrating the touch sensors into the display panel itself, making the whole thing thinner. But that’s not the only improvement. Apart from the obvious increase in height (1,136 vs 960 on iPhone 4/4S), Phil Schiller mentioned briefly in his section of the announcement event that the colour saturation had improved, bringing the full sRGB colour profile to the iPhone for the first time.
Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, at DisplayMate1:
The display on the iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the display on the iPhone 4. Apple has uncharacteristically understated how much better the display is on the iPhone 5 – something that could be an important factor for those considering whether to upgrade. […]
The iPhone 4 has a 64 percent Color Gamut, but the new iPad pulled way ahead and has a virtually perfect 99 percent of the Standard Color Gamut. The iPhone 5 has an almost identical Color Gamut to the new iPad and the Viewing Tests confirm its excellent color accuracy. […]
Screen Reflectance on the iPhone 5 has decreased substantially – the iPhone 4 has 52 percent brighter reflections than the iPhone 5.
It really is the most stunning display I’ve seen on any device, anywhere. Honestly, it looks better than print, to my eyes.
For the technically inclined, the DisplayMate article is well worth the read. (Although, What is The Deal with the random Capitalisation?) Soneira fairly compares the iPhone 5 display to the Samsung Galaxy S III, and even throws in a prediction for the rumoured Apple TV set. ↩
We’re on a road to nowhere
Yours truly, being a dickhead on Twitter as @fake_iOS6maps1:
Look, we left out transit directions because only losers take public transport. All iPhone owners drive BMWs, everyone knows that.
I started the parody account(s) out of frustration with what I saw as a huge step backwards for iOS. Initially, I thought Apple would give the US — and especially the San Francisco area — competitively good coverage, and leave the rest of the world out in the cold with crappy maps. And I wanted to rage against that. I wanted to be the snarky voice of non-US iOS users2, and I thought I may as well have a bit of fun with it.
Most of the things I wanted to say have been said — I just have a few more thoughts on iOS 6 Maps, which wouldn’t make sense in the @fake_iOS6maps feed.
Apple is playing a long game
Apple has never been afraid of sacrificing the present for the sake of something better in the future. (Remember Flash?) We applaud them for this, even when at first it seems like a stupid move. I have no doubt that Apple sees the new Maps as a difficult first step to something much better in the future.
But this time, that first step seems shockingly premature and arrogant, even for Apple. I find it hard to accept that they didn’t know how bad their map data is; developers around the world have had access to it for months, and have been filing bug reports. We don’t know why they rushed this out, but clearly they haven’t committed Google-level resources and time to this technology.
Apple was much quicker than usual to release a statement about the Maps debacle:
We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get.
We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.
Parsing this statement, Apple is saying two things:
- They’re going to gradually fix it on the server side.
- Transit directions are permanently removed from Maps.
The first one, I can understand. We’ve had a grand old time poking fun at the inaccuracies, but at least it’s possible to improve continuously. No need to release a new OS version.
With a constant stream of examples flowing in, I’ve noticed a recurring pattern of slightly-transposed-in-one-direction errors. That might indicate that Apple is having problems with the integration of multiple data sets from multiple suppliers.
I have serious concerns about Apple’s suppliers, however. There are several subway stations in Tokyo whose English names seem to have been entered manually by a non-Japanese unfamiliar with the area. For example, 三田 (Mita) shows as “Sanda”3, and 赤羽橋 (Akabanebashi) shows as “Akabahashi”. This could not have been done by an automated algorithm. Someone, who knows enough Japanese to know the alternate readings for those kanji characters, was paid money to string them together randomly without checking if they are correct. In other words, they just made up names. Apple is so new to this, they don’t know when their partners are swindling them with made-up data.
While writing this post, Federico Viticci linked to a post by Mike Dobson of TeleMapics4, who rates Apple’s geospatial data partners thus:
My overall view of the companies that it (Apple) has assembled to create its application is that they are, as a whole, rated “C-grade” suppliers. […]
Worse, Dobson thinks Apple has some big, hard lessons to learn about running a mapping service, and they’ve gone about it the wrong way to begin with.
Unfortunately for Apple, they need to take a step back and re-engineer their approach to data fusion and mapping in general.
I’m sure the Apple Maps team would have loved another year or two to do the immense amount of leg work required to get Google-quality data. Something seems to have forced their hand. Either way, as long as data keeps pouring into their servers, the business listings and coordinate data will improve over time5. (But just hurry the fuck up, okay?)
The second one, the removal of transit directions, is the bee in my bonnet.
Maps without transit are no maps at all
I don’t know about where you live, but here in Tokyo, public transport is by far the primary means of getting around. Tokyo is way too big to walk or ride, and parking is so unbelievably expensive that even after 12 years here I have never owned a car. There are at least 30 railway operators, and countless bus operators. The whole city is built around public transport, and wouldn’t function without it.
Despite the complexity of so many competing transit companies, iOS 5 Maps worked perfectly. Even when a route required walking to a train station, catching a train, getting off the train, walking to a different train station, and catching another train. The walking directions were included in the route plan, right down to the expected walking time between the two stations mid-route.
Of course it’s possible for a 3rd-party app to accomplish this, but you’d basically have to be Google.
Maybe you think Tokyo is an edge case, but with the largest urban population in the world — and a relatively affluent one at that — an appreciable fraction of the world’s iOS users live here. If anything, Tokyo should be a best-case scenario — a potential market of 37 million people for your 3rd-party transit app — and yet it’s been 3 months since the APIs were announced and we have nothing but a giant bag of suck. I shudder to think how this will work out for people living in small cities, so I did a little survey:
- Chicago, USA: 7 free, 14 paid
- San Diego, USA: 5 free, 5 paid
- St Louis, USA: 3 free, 8 paid
- Los Angeles, USA: 2 free, 9 paid
- Vorarlberg, Austria: 2 free, 5 paid
- Sydney, Australia: 2 free, 4 paid
- Beijing, China: 1 free, 1 paid
- Orlando, USA: 1 free, 1 paid
- Berlin, Germany: 1 free, 0 paid
- Auckland, NZ: 0 free, 4 paid
- Brisbane, Australia: 0 free, 2 paid
- Christchurch, NZ: 0 free, 1 paid
- Canberra, Australia: 0 free, 1 paid
- Taipei, Taiwan: 0 free, 0 paid
- Kelowna, Canada: 0 free, 0 paid
- Melbourne, Australia: 0 free, 0 paid
- Hokkaido, Japan: 0 free, 0 paid
- Boulder, USA: 0 free, 0 paid
- Mumbai, India: 0 free, 0 paid
- Philippines: 0 free, 0 paid
- Belo Horizonte, Brazil: 0 free, 0 paid
- Constanta, Romania: 0 free, 0 paid
- Porto Alegre, Brazil: 0 free, 0 paid
- Buenos Aires, Argentina: 0 free, 0 paid
- Frankfurt, Germany: 0 free, 0 paid
- Hamburg, Germany: 0 free, 0 paid
Many people reported that the “free” transit apps were actually freemium or trial apps, requiring the user to make an in-app purchase or subscription to access useful functionality. Also, it’s not clear how many of these apps actually provide directions for public transport, as the Maps app lists apps for driving and cycling routes as well. Where it was clear, I’ve counted only public transport apps. (Should’ve specified that in the survey. Whoops.)
Grim. But let’s imagine the best-case scenario: every city and town with public transport somehow gets apps for their local transit operators, including walking directions.
To get from A to B with iOS 5 maps:
- Search for the location (and actually find it).
- Tap Directions. Tap the transit button. Tap Route.
- Tap the clock icon. Choose the route/line you prefer to take.
- Follow the combination of walking and public transport directions.
- Arrive at the destination.
To get from A to B with iOS 6 maps:
- Search for the location. Nope, try again. Nope, try this. OK that’s it.
- Tap the directions arrow button. Tap the transit button. Tap Route.
- Find an app in the transit apps list that doesn’t look too spammy. Tap it.
- Look at the screenshots, read the reviews. Repeat from step 3 until you find one you like.
- Tap Buy. Potentially pay money for something that was built-in and free before.
- Type your App Store password.
- Tap Open. Get kicked out of Maps to the app you just bought.
- Look at the directions. Decide you don’t want to go by that company’s line.
- Repeat from step 3 until you find a line you want to use.
- Now you need walking directions to the station…
The requirement to leave the Maps app for transit directions kills the user experience. The user’s context is lost: their viewing position, zoom level, search string, rotation, tilt, view mode (satellite/standard/hybrid), POI search result pins, dropped pins, etc.
And lest we forget the non-nerd iOS user — the “WTF I just wanted train directions and the Maps app crashed!” factor. You know who suffers worst from this Maps clusterfuck? Us, the tech-savvy family member / friend who told them they should get Apple stuff. It’s embarrassing.
Solution: Better APIs
I am not blind to the opportunity Apple is giving us to make and sell transit apps to a now-very-hungry audience. Even if Google releases their own mapping app on the App Store, restoring the functionality of the original, the vast majority of iOS users won’t know it exists. And with no good default option on the iPhone, a 3rd-party developer is on a level playing field with Google, at least in terms of making a better app.
Now that Apple has opened this door, they can’t close it. I don’t see them announcing built-in transit directions functionality in iOS 7. So the only way I can see to restore the original user experience is to allow apps to write transit route data back into the Maps app. (Imagine, in step #7 above, instead of being kicked out of Maps, the map screen comes back, but with the transit app’s route overlaid.)
It’s a shame, because there is a lot to like in the new app, which is spoiled by bad data. The vector-based graphics are insanely fast, sharp, and low-bandwidth. The ability to rotate while keeping labels the right way up is helpful. The content:chrome ratio is higher (especially on iPhone 5). Combined with compass mode, the tilting really helps with walking directions.
If we had this app, with Google’s data, we’d really have something.
I started this out as @iOS6maps, but it was suspended by Twitter. At first I thought it was for not following the guidelines for parody accounts, but after @fake_iOS6maps was also suspended, I contacted them, and they told me it was for posting too many @mentions. They un-suspended both accounts. Let it be known that Twitter support people are friendly and smell pleasant. ↩
As it turned out, many users in the US are having huge problems, too. If anything, this bodes well, since Apple is more likely to respond to its angry US customers. Don’t shit where you eat. ↩
UPDATE: While writing this post, Mita has been fixed. Hooray for The Cloud! Everything’s better with a Cloud. Cloud! ↩
Seriously, read the whole post. Among other expert insights, Dobson makes a fascinating comparison between the early days of Google and what Apple’s going through now. ↩
Keep in mind, though, that it took Google seven fucking years to get Google-quality data. This shit is hard. Apple is the richest company in the world, but there’s got to be diminishing returns on investments in data collection. Money is not always a substitute for time. ↩