Storehouse

Even as tablets get ever more popular, it still strikes me that we’re not fully tapping their inherent, unique potential to get people making things. To some extent, the early indictment that they are primarily consumption devices is more true than I thought would be the case four years after their debut.

We tried to change this perception with Mixel, but we didn’t make nearly as much progress as I had hoped. That’s why I was so excited when my friend Mark Kawano started a company with the express purpose of transforming the iPad into an intuitive, powerful, emotionally immersive storytelling platform. Today, Storehouse debuts in the App Store and it’s beautiful.

Storehouse

Storehouse bills itself as “The easiest way to way to create, share, and discover beautiful stories.” It lets you pull in your images from everywhere and arrange them into superbly elegant narratives — all within one of the most amazingly supple editing environments ever built on iOS (and that’s saying something). It’s a total joy to use.

Full disclosure: aside from being a friend of Mark’s, I’m also an advisor to Storehouse Media Inc. But that shouldn’t stop you from downloading it and deciding for yourself, because Storehouse is completely free.

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Unbearably Light Icons

Love it or hate it, the wispy, thread-like aesthetic of iOS 7’s icon language is here to stay, at least for a while. Designers of stock icons are embracing it too, and if the sheer volume of new icons they’re turning out is any indication, this visual vernacular is probably not the most laborious style to work within.

Morphix Design Studio’s long-standing Picons catalog has just released a Picons Thin set, which includes five hundred icons for just US$49. That’s less than 11¢ each!

Picons Thin

Not to be outdone, Vincent Le Moign’s new Streamline Icons pack comes with one thousand, six-hundred and forty icons for US$67 — but they’re on sale at a “launch price” of US$47 until this evening.

Which one is the better set? I’m not sure there’s a value judgment to be made between them. You can buy both and cover all of your icon needs for less than a hundred dollars, which is a ridiculous bargain. Let’s take stock: we live in a time when designers’ tools have become almost unreasonably plentiful and inexpensive.

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Offline Magazine

Among the many things I’ve been working on for the past six months is spending a bit of time helping entrepreneurs Tom Smith and Brad Flaugher realize their very canny vision for mobile publishing. It’s called Offline Magazine, and it debuts today in the App Store.

Each month, Offline delivers five essays about culture, comedy or design, curated as a proper issue (I wrote one of the pieces in the debut edition). The Offline app itself is beautifully designed (not by me, but by Trevor Baum) and purpose-built for mobile reading. That last bit is incredibly important; this is a reading experience expressly designed to complement reading habits on phones and tablets, not demand new, unnatural ones.

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Requiem for a Back Button

iOS 6’s Back ButtonI’m working up to writing at greater length about iOS 7 because, well, blogging. In the meantime, I thought I’d make one specific point. The thing that bothers me most about the new operating system is the completely revised back button, which is now less of a button and more of a left-facing arrow that looks a bit like a compressed bracket, plus a text label. I’m not going to critique it extensively right now, except to say that my least favorite thing about it is that it’s not the old back button.

If you ask me, that back button, the one that has been with us since the iPhone debuted, was the best back button design of all time. Most back buttons, like the ones in desktop browsers, are just an arrow-shaped icon with a text label above or below that says only “Back.” If you want to know where they’ll take you, you usually have to click and hold on the button to reveal a list of the screens you previously viewed.

The pre-iOS 7 back button consolidated these things into a single button shape that tapers into an arrowhead on the left side, and it housed a text description of where the button would lead you. It basically did three jobs with a single element. First, it visually signaled the way back, so that even if you didn’t read the descriptor text, you would still recognize the button’s function instantly. Second, if you did read what it said, it gave you the title of the previous view, without forcing you to tap and hold or take some secondary action to reveal that information. And finally, unlike the new back button in iOS 7, it was explicit about what you could tap and where; the target area was clearly demarcated by the button shape, and managed to do so without crowding the title of the view to its right (by contrast iOS 7’s new back button text often seems to run right into the title of the screen).

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Hoping Apple Puts Family First

I’m not sure what Apple will announce at its 2013 WWDC Keynote later today, but I suspect the thing at the top of my list is probably not at the top of theirs: significantly more robust multi-user account support throughout iOS.

This is a need that has been sorely felt for some time. To describe it in more detail, I’d break it down into two parts.

First: allow more than one user to login to an iOS device — if not iPhones, which are admittedly intensely personal, then iPads, which are heavily shared devices. Two years ago I called iPads “post-personal computers,” because I saw that they were being readily passed around within households. Since then, I’ve only come to see more of that kind of real world usage. Adding support for those use cases strikes me as not only necessary, but also an opportunity for Apple to gain a meaningful competitive edge over other mobile platforms, which still think in terms of user accounts and not in terms of real usage patterns.

The second part is: allow users to combine their Apple IDs. This is something that I also happened to write about two years ago in a post titled “Multiple User Account Disorder,” and the situation remains unimproved. The gist of it is that people inadvertently create multiple Apple IDs all the time, then find themselves needing to combine them — but Apple has no facility to make that happen, even if you call tech support and elevate your predicament to the highest-ranking and most sympathetic support supervisor you can find. Fixing this problem will relieve untold confusion for many, many users, especially those who are less adept at negotiating the technicalities of having multiple accounts.

I complain that these two elements have not budged much in two years, but that’s not entirely true. In the second half of last year, Apple shipped a modest update to its Apple TV software, which ostensibly runs on iOS, that allows a family to add more than one Apple ID to that device. It’s a bit kludgy, because it requires that users trudge back to the Apple TV’s settings each time they want to switch to a different ID, but I’m hoping it’s a start.

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Magic and Mobile Apps

Apple long ago abandoned its original “Magical and Revolutionary” tagline for the iPad, probably out of some embarrassment at how the word ‘magical’ made so many of us groan. But the more I use, build and learn about touch-based software, the more I think magic is really a key component of this stuff, even if it’s not exclusive to the iPad.

I thought about this recently when a co-worker introduced me to Moves, an iPhone app that tracks the number of steps you take, with the aim of getting you to be more physically active from day to day. Once downloaded, you use Moves by doing… well, almost nothing. The app does everything for you, recording and parsing out your steps by mapping where you’ve traveled over the course of the day, how far and how fast, all with no user intervention required. All you have to do is the walking part, and the app quite literally does the rest, generating a complete, metered itinerary for all the walking and (most of) the places you visited in a given day.

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Photo Permissions on iOS

Any time an iOS app wants to give you access to your own photos, it must first ask you for permission to do so. This is understandable, because you don’t want just any app you download to be able to have its way with your photo library. But the way that the operating system asks for permission is problematic.

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Get on the Bjango Wagon

Marc Edwards over at Bjango is an extremely knowledgable and talented app designer and developer. If you make apps and you’re not reading his blog, you’re missing out on a great education. Last year he wrote a phenomenally helpful article on “pixel-perfect vector nudging” in Photoshop that was probably the single most useful tip I read anywhere in 2011. These articles are free, but I’d pay real money for them, just as I paid for his excellent Skala Preview, a Mac OS X desktop application and iOS app that lets you send real-time previews of your Photoshop work to your iPad or iPhone. It’s simple, elegant and awesome. This morning he also updated his shockingly comprehensive iOS Photoshop Actions and Workflows to version 1.2, with some minor tweaks and support for Photoshop CS6 (already!). In short, Marc is making incredible contributions to the field; give him a bit of your attention and, if Skala Preview strikes your fancy, a bit of your money. You’ll be well rewarded.

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The New New iPad

I didn’t talk about hardware at all in my iPad wish list from earlier in the week because none of my complaints about the iPad 2’s form factor seemed as pressing as the changes I’d like to see in the software. Now that the third iteration of the device is here (announced just today), with a high definition Retina Display, a much improved camera, and 4G LTE connectivity.

That’s all fine and good, and to be sure I will buy one if only out of professional duty. But there’s one major hardware change that I now realize that I do really long for: a reduced bezel.

Across all its models, the iPad bezel has had to strike a tricky balance between providing a grabbable area for the user’s hands, housing the innards of the device, and aesthetically framing the screen. The original iPad’s bezel was thick but excusable, as that version was something entirely new. Its successor was essentially unchanged, but Apple did a beautiful job reducing the depth of the device itself in that model.

Following that trend, I fully expected that in its third revision Apple’s designers would turn their attention to the bezel, minimizing it or at least reducing its width by twenty percent or so. Obviously that didn’t happen, probably due to the demands of the Retina Display and battery.

The reason I’m focused on this is that, to be frank, I find the iPad to be harder to hold than it should be. The screen size itself is great, but the added girth of the bezel always seems superfluous and even cumbersome when using the device on a crowded subway. I don’t want a smaller screen though; If I could keep the existing screen size but just pull in the overall width and height of the device by a few centimeters, it would be a meaningful improvement. Next model, I guess.

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iOS Wish List

By most accounts, it’s almost a sure bet that Apple is set to debut the third iteration of the iPad tomorrow. Presumably, there’s a new version of iOS in the works too, though if the past is any guide such a thing would probably not be announced at the same time. Still, software features are what I’m really interested in; a Retina display would be a nice addition on the hardware side, but most of the improvements I’d like to see in the iPad would be software-based — and I’m not talking about Siri. Here’s a wish list of what I’d like to see.

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