From Abner Li, 9to5Google:
What could have been starts with Google Now, a proactive feed that showed the weather, upcoming calendar events, birthdays, commute and travel information, package alerts, movies/concerts you might like, nearby events/places/restaurants, news updates, and much more, including information from third-party apps.
All this was displayed via a powerful card metaphor that showed just the relevant pieces of information. Users had one feed accessible to the left of the main Android homescreen or quickly launched by swiping up from the home button to keep track of their day and see what was next.
You didn’t have to jump into different apps to see upcoming flight details, check email to see when a package was arriving, or open a multitude of first and third-party apps to see your information. In those applications, you’re subjected to different layouts and have to learn different behaviors to access what is fundamentally your information.
Google Now was the high water mark of the “smart assistant” craze that started in the early teens. Since then, we’ve seen both smart home speakers and smart watches move toward more of a “question and answer” approach where you query your device for information or you’re pushed information about your tastes in a “feed” of some kind. I have a number of smart speakers in my house (and I’ve tried Siri, Google and Alexa) but I’ll be honest – I almost never use them becuase they’re a pain in the ass to use and they’re not very smart. At this point I bet 90% of my commands are comprised of adjusting volume, turning on/off a few lights and setting timers. Not exactly an intelligent assitant.
What I wish we saw more of was the Google Now approach – proactive data, notifications and reminders about things going on in your world. The watch is a great place for this because the interruptions can be unobtrusive, customizable and almost always with you. Apple has a Siri watch face that tries to accomplish what Google Now was going for but it feels like a ghost town – no real updates have been made in a long time.
I’m hopeful that increaesd competition in the watch field with Google giving their strategy a reboot will allow for more experimentation and pressure to make both platforms better digital assitants than some speaker could ever be.
From Parker Ortolani at 9to5Mac:
Apple’s newest Safari design in iOS 15 has been controversial, to say the least. It’s a complete overhaul of one of the iPhone’s most popular apps that follows entirely different design philosophies. Countless folks, including myself, have tried to come up with ways to “fix” the new design and make it more familiar and comfortable to use. This is my latest try. What I wanted to do was to follow the same principles and aim for the same goal. A mobile browser that’s easy to use in one hand and one that makes switching between sites on the fly a breeze.
This is very nicely done. This approach accomplishes a lot of what Apple says they’re trying to do with the new Safari on iOS but handles it in a manner that allows users to actually have an discoverable, enhanced experience.
From Federico Viticci at MacStories:
Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.
In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.
As always, a great overview from Viticci. The thing that stuck out to me the most is his detailed breakdown of Safari on iOS and iPadOS. I’m still looking for a review that speaks in glowing terms about the UX tradeoffs made for these releases. As Federico says in the article:
So I have to ask: is it worth sacrificing everything else in the name of an address bar at the bottom?
I’ve been a Firefox user on the desktop for a while now, but have used Safari on iOS up to now. I’ve tried out Safari 15 on my Mac (you can download the Safari Technology Preview to check it our for yourself), and I can’t get into the changes on the nav bar. It’s a constant hunt to find the tabs you want because they’re always moving around and many of the things I use from the toolbar are now hidden behind an extra click. The past couple of years Apple has been on a quest to banish as much UI behind 3 dot menus, and it makes using their software more difficult to use. This seems to be in service of better aesthics over user experience. The idea of “elevating the content” is all well and good, but not if the rest of the UX suffers as a result. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition.
This release might push me to using a 3rd party browser on all of my devices. It looks that bad. I really hope they see the feedback and learn from it, becuase it’s overwhelmingly bad. I was really excited about the idea of true browser extensions on iOS/iPadOS but I’m not sure it’s worth the tradeoffs.
From Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:
Some of Apple’s Weather app for iPad is particularly not very Apple-y, but this is definitely Apple’s Weather app for iPad. It launches every time you tap the Weather widget, and that’s just how widgets work. It also mentions data vendors and controlling your data. Apple is all about empowering you to own your data and preventing companies from profiting from your information.
It’s hilarious to me that Apple still doesn’t have a weather app for the iPad, but instead just sends you to a website. And a shitty one like Weather.com at that. Took me a few sentences to see what Zac was getting at, but definitely worth the read.
From Paul Mayne, founder and CEO of Day One:
When a small software company is acquired by a larger company, the original team is often swallowed up by the larger company. That’s not the case here. I’ll be remaining at the helm of Day One, leading the same passionate team that has been responsible for the development and design behind the app today.
I can’t say that I’m super excited about this. I hope Paul is right but if nothing is changing, what’s the point of the acquisition?
It’s that time again! Thought I’d throw a quick list together of the top things I wish Apple would do in next software versions at this year’s WWDC. Kind of a grab bag, but thought I’d put a flag in the ground now.
- Make entire play history available in Apple Music, not just library tracks. I want to leverage Last.fm or PlayTally but it can be a challenge to get an inclusive list of all of the songs I’ve played across the devices I use.
- Allow users to have more control over blocking images in email. For example, people in my contacts should be exempt.
- Allow 3rd party rendering engines. I want to see Chrome and Firefox push Apple to make Safari better.
- Allow content blockers to work across any webview.
- Improve notifications by adding a notification history, easier actions and smarter prioritization. Clearing a notification should clear the badge.
- Find a way to “fix” spam texts and calls. It’s become really bad in the past year and I feel like Apple isn’t even trying here.
- Always on Lock Screen like the Google Pixel phones. This should be possible, right?
- Allow widgets to do some simple actions like play/pause of audio.
- Allow apps to integrate with control center. Could you imagine all of the amazing Shortcuts and app actions you could see there if Apple provided an API for it?
- “Tracker blocker” API similar to content blockers. We should have something like little snitch for iOS.
- Better tab persistence on iPadOS. So much RAM, and tabs just feel flimsy.
- Better multitasking on iPadOS. Video + other apps is a mess and so is the current “buddy system” of multiple iPadOS apps.
- External monitor support on iPadOS. Like, REAL external support.
- Make use of the “status bar” on iPadOS. Notification icons? Menubar options?
- Global keyboard shortcuts – preferably user-configurable. I’d love to wire up Shortcuts to keyboard commands.
- More control over widgets – I want to use them in the Lock Screen, all over the place in iPadOS, etc.
- Make a better Lock Screen that rolls in notification updates as well as possibly widgets. See above.
- Siri should handle commands without an internet connection when possible (timers, audio playback, etc). This is so obnoxious when in low-connectivity areas.
- More robust Shortcuts actions for media playback at home. I’d love a shortcut that could adjust my home speakers volume to a set level and play a playlist on all of the speakers.
- Timers set on one HomePod should be controllable from any HomePod as well as notify all HomePods if the timer isn’t turned off at the source.
- Have some standards around Catalyst apps that make them feel like Mac apps. Keyboard shortcuts, basic Mac conventions. I might as well use an Electron app if the current crop of apps is the best we can expect.
- Allow users to allow any trigger to start any Shortcut. No more notifications or prompts for “power users”.
- Siri needs “continued conversations” on all platforms like Alexa and Assistant.
- Similarly, Siri needs to be able to combine commands “turn on the lights AND set a timer for 30 minutes”.
- Allow users to hide the tabs for Apple services they aren’t interested in. I don’t begrudge them for pushing the stuff but if I don’t want it, they should respect that and allow me to hide the tabs.
- PIP for all tvOS apps.
- A fully liberated from iOS Apple Watch (even if some functions wouldn’t work as well).
- A redesigned Home app that’s a bit more useful. Better automations, easier to navigate and more information dense.
- Overall, can we move away from 3-dot menus for everything?
- Key repeat settings for iPadOS. I hate how long it takes to backspace through things.
From Dieter Bohn at The Verge:
Something keeps coming up at the Epic v. Apple trial as a potential alternative for getting Fortnite on the iPhone: web apps. It’s an intriguing idea, as web apps are able to do surprisingly complex things: just look at a Chromebook or even game streaming services on the iPhone. But potential is far from reality, because the ability for web apps to look, feel, and perform as well as native apps on iOS is severely limited.
Another good breakdown of the issues Apple is trying to have both ways. They’re keeping a tight grip on their App Store and saying that Web Apps are a path forward if you don’t like it, but then they’re making it difficult for folks to actually ship web apps that are truly compelling. In the “best case” scenario for customers and developers, I think a ruling that includes forces Apple to change some of their rules to allow 3rd party browsers could change things greatly. Add to that some of the suggestions I made a while back, and I think a lot of this would go away. A “worst case” scenario is a confusing hellscape of competing app stores, browser ballots and even possibly no default apps on first load. Lets hope cooler heads prevail.
From The Infrequently Noted blog:
Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.
The author makes a lot of good points about where Webkit lags behind other browsers, and what its strengths are. The main thrust of the argument is that Apple won’t let other browsers onto iOS without being a branded interface wrapping around WebKit and that is harmful to users and the overall Open Web as there is no choice. Further, it puts a dent into Apple’s argument that people can always make a web app if they don’t want to participate in the App Store because the tech isn’t there to fully replace what many native apps do today.
Any time a tech company like Apple is insulated from competition, consumers suffer. iOS needs to open up their app store to alternative browsers as it will force Apple to compete more than they do right now. To their credit, they’ve done the bare minimum recently and allowed a non-Safari browser to be set as default, but they need to go the additional step and allow browsers to use their own engines. Not only would this be a win for the open web, but it would also increase competition and likely force Apple to invest more in their browser engine. There’s a lot they can differentiate on, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of web technologies advancing. I also want WebKit to be the best rendering engine out there because they focus on performance and security over chasing every single API, as that’s an area they can really hang their hat on. I personally feel like Safari on both the Mac and iOS has gotten worse in the past few years from a UX perspective (I’ll save that for another post) but better from a performance perspective. However, it would appear that WebKit as a standards-supporting platform has gotten worse. I hope they can find a good balance between the two.
This assessment can be true and it can also be true that the author is looking at the situation through Google-colored glasses. Google wants to push the web as much as possible because the web is more likely to have ads than an app would, so a more robust, “app-like” web means more opportunities for them to track and target you.