Digital UX – Are Users Ready to Ditch the Grid?

The new Apple watch is still just a pretty slideshow based on Jony Ives’ secret sketchbook with only a handful of real-world prototypes briefly showcased to the press, but the design model for the watch’s UI made enough of an impression on developer Lucas Menge that he built a prototype for the iPhone using the same construct.

Most current UX best practices say users need grid layouts, left-right readability and other constructs carried over from the physical interfaces that so many of our digital ones have been built to mimic. Maybe, however, we are far-flung enough from the original inspiration for those designs now that our digital UI’s can have a design plan of their own, built for a world that is and will always be electronic. It seems like touchscreen technology has become sufficiently advanced to permit a more organic metaphor. At least, that’s how these gifs makes it seem:

I wouldn’t mind downloading an iPhone skin that worked this way just to try it. Maybe it’s more intuitive and usable than we think – maybe we have all just been programmed to fear the chaos of organic structures through a lifetime of computer-induced order.

Via Gizmodo: How the iPhone’s UI Would Look If It Acted Like the Apple Watch.

WPTouch theme live, iPhone visitors

I have only begun to appreciate the intricacies of phone-touch-screen web navigation in the last couple months of carrying one myself, and thus am perhaps a little late to this game. Still, it can be nice to wait long enough that a really elegant solution has time to come along.

That solution is WPTouch, a WordPress them from BraveNewCode that automagically makes my WordPress-powered blog slim, sleek and touch-able when viewed on my iPhone (and yours). So there you go, iPhone visitors – I am one of you now, I feel your pain, I have responded.

Download Squad: WPTouch makes WordPress blogs look better on touch mobile devices.

UK Folding Plug concept looks slim and sexy in your luggage

Where was this when I was packing a bag to London? Unfortunately it’s just a concept right now, but this slick idea folds the bulky UK power adapter into a slim three-prong wonder that packs better, and – with a modified power strip – could potentially reduce under-the-desk clutter. This is the kind of simple invention that you hope will get adopted by every electronics manufacturer post-haste, but which sadly will probably end up an obscure adapter in a few hundred British geeks’ toolboxes.


Courtesy of Engadget, who has a video of it in action: UK Folding Plug concept could flatten that bulky British adapter.

Amazon debuts frustration-free packaging

Like I needed another reason to spend money I don’t have on shiny things from that Amazon “recommended for Brian” page, they’ve announced “frustration-free” packaging on select products, with a hopefully-growing list of items sold in simple (and recyclable) cardboard containers. No more tearing open those evil blister packs with my teeth, or risking death and/or amputation by wrestling them apart with a kitchen knife, can opener, or pair of dull scissors. Something I’ve been dreaming of for years has finally arrived – hooray!

Amazon issued a press release today announcing the beginning of this effort, and have created an alternate storefront (at ) to browse items available this way. The list looked pretty short today but I’ll definitely be revisiting it.

As you can expect, this is a popular effort, both with frustrated consumers and the environmentally-aware media. In fact, the only ones who aren’t embracing the change are consumers who had previously invested in their own solution:
jaws of life

Welcome to 6.0

Is it a little scary that I’ve had 6 complete redesigns of this site? Someday I’ll dig them up for you in the internet archive – maybe for my 10th blogging anniversary. 😉 Anyway, welcome to the new fully-wordpress-integrated look. I’ve been using WordPress on the backend for over a year, since I took a weekend and migrated all my legacy posts and comments into it. The site’s been a little clunky since then, so I’m happy to present a more unified, consolidated experience now that I’m taking full advantage of the flexibility of this platform.

Some of the hot new features I’m excited about:

  • The Post Tags cloud on the left, showing the topics I talk about the most – bigger ones are more frequent.
  • Twitter integration – also on the left, my latest random thought (ie: tweet), thanks to the slick Twitter Tools plugin. As these are now linked with WordPress I’ll have the option for future integration, and the same one-liners are also becoming my Facebook status as of late, too. I love killing many birds with one stone… haha, a twitter pun.
  • Check out the Links tab up top for my tag cloud – like the Post Tags cloud but a collection of my bookmarks grouped by relative topic. There’s some good stuff in there.
  • In case you missed my post about the British Auto Show, check out the new photo gallery format in use there. I’m still working to migrate old photos into this but new galleries will be this way and somewhere I’ll come up with a list of all the galleries that’s easy to navigate.
  • And this is a gimme, but comments work properly now – you can log in and it will remember you next time, you can subscribe to a post and get RSS updates when someone replies to your comment – all the things everyone else using WordPress takes for granted that my visitors have been suffering without. So enjoy that, it’s been long overdue.

Feedback is welcome, as always, and thanks to the internet and all of you for listening to me for the last 8 years. 🙂

Napster goes legit (for real this time)

napster.pngI had long ago completely written off Napster as a company that wanted me to 1) rent my music instead of buy it, 2) download music in Windows Media format that wouldn’t play on an iPod, and 3) volunteer to lock my purchases in the Windows Media DRM fortress. Yet today, they joined the ranks of iTunes Plus, Amazon and even Sony BMG when they announced they’ll be selling DRM-free MP3 downloads starting in Q2 of this year. They didn’t specify the scope of this move but I think they understand the industry enough to know that their entire catalog will sell better as MP3’s that are compatible with the millions of iPods filling pockets, purses and fuzzy “iPod socks” around the world. What a damaging blow to Microsoft’s Zune business, however, as Windows-only download services like this are a significant sales channel where the lack of competition makes them actually competitive (sound like a familiar Microsoft strategy?).

I’m happy to see the music business waking up and smelling 2002, finally. We’ve all been saying “consumers want a better experience and more for their money, not the converse” and it’s taken this long for business models to start to change. Of all the brands that it seems should have seen this coming, it’s Napster, but at least they’re arriving to the party while it’s still a party. I’ve got a 60GB iPod that’s only half full; Napster, I’ll be making a download account on March 1.

“iTunes Plus” is official

As I had mentioned previously, today Apple announced that EMI’s full catalog is available via iTunes with no crippling DRM, in higher quality, for a slightly higher cost. A great step forward for the online music industry towards giving consumers what they want (to truly own what they buy, instead of renting it) while still compensating and promoting artists and labels. Props to them and to EMI for taking the plunge!


Apple iTunes goes DRM-free

Big news in the digital music world today, as Steve Jobs announced Apple is taking the first steps to a more open digital music industry. The entire EMI music catalog will be available on iTunes starting May 1 with no DRM – that means no burning, backing up or any other restrictions on the downloaded tracks. They’ll also be higher quality – 256k vs 128k AAC’s – as well as higher in price – $1.29 US vs $0.99.

Several things are great about this:

  • (1) Online music purchases finally give you the same rights as a consumer you’ve been enjoying with CD’s for years: make a copy for your car, take some tracks to work, use any player you want, and yes, make a mix for a friend. As the AAC format (when not locked by iTunes) is open-source and fairly universal, the only limits to where you can take your music are technological, not ideological, and as we all know the technological limits get wider every day.
  • (2) There’s an upgrade option for people with existing iTunes collections: pay the $0.30 difference and get the track in 256k, DRM-free. A less-consumer-oriented company would have asked you to repurchase tracks in the new format at full value (I’m looking at you, Sony) but that’s not how Steve Jobs rolls.
  • (3) Full albums in the new high-quality, no-restrictions format will be the same price as the album was before. Music companies are desperately trying to save the full-album-purchase idea in the face of single-track ala carte shopping, and those of us who still buy whole albums will benefit from that desperation.
  • (4) This will first put the pressure on the rest of Apple’s music company providers to follow suit. Then, it will put the pressure on other online sellers to jump on the bandwagon in the name of consumer choice (and, arguably, higher margins on track sales).

So, hang on to that iTunes gift certificate a little longer… or buy the tracks you’ve been wanting now and upgrade (and unlock) them in a month. Either way, chalk up one victory for the consumer, and one for Steve Jobs and Apple.

What will our bathrooms look like in 50 more years?

Two quick and unrelated things:

One: how nuts is this?
It’s a real product. I hope you’re being nice to your iPod, cause they are taking over the world and it’s only a matter of time until we’re all merely their puny human slaves.

Two: old stuff, unearthed! The Walt Disney Company opened a time capsule letter written by Walt himself in 1956 and locked away for the last 50 years. The Disney properties are supposedly full of time capsules with various opening dates, as Walt was all about this stuff. There’s a PDF download of the letter. It’s pretty cool what Walt thought we’d be doing in 2006, and funny how much he thought 50’s breakthroughs (like radar) would be HUGE by now. Save that away and read it again in 10 years, make Walt proud.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, Walt did not correctly predict the iPod’s hostile takeover of the human race. But i think Nostradamus did…