Topic: User interfaces
This issue has been covered in various places over the past couple of weeks, but this is the first bit of real criticism I’ve seen of Apple’s approach here, and I thought it was worth diving into briefly. In iOS 11, the Control Center users reach by sliding up from the bottom of the screen on most iPhones has what appear to be on/off toggles for Bluetooth and WiFi, but in reality these toggles don’t actually turn those radios all the way off. Rather, they leave both radios in a more limited mode in which they still operate in certain ways and in fact will reactivate each morning at 5am. This is a change Apple hasn’t communicated proactively to users in any way, and represents a fairly big shift from how things have worked in the past.
The EFF piece linked below suggests this presents security risks given past Bluetooth vulnerabilities, though it doesn’t actually suggest any specific vulnerabilities Apple might be exposing users to in iOS, which like most mobile operating systems handles Bluetooth pairing requests pretty carefully. Apple’s reasoning for the change is sound – leaving these radios in this in-between state enables key Apple functions like Handoff of activity between devices, the Instant Hotspot feature, and others – but the implementation of the change feels un-Apple-like, in that it’s unintuitive and overrides user preferences in a couple of different ways. Apple could have made similar changes in a more transparent and user-friendly way, and avoided some of the criticism it’s now getting.
When the Samsung Galaxy S8 devices were preparing to launch, some were caught off guard by the fact that the English language version of its Bixby voice interface wouldn’t be available when it went on sale. Later, Bixby was released as a limited public beta in the US, and today it’s going to be available as an update to all US owners of the devices, roughly three months after the devices went on sale. At launch, Samsung faced a conundrum: ship a version that wasn’t ready and risk people’s first experiences with Bixby putting them off for life, or delay one of the headline features of the phone for several months, and in the end it plumped for the latter. That was smart, and there seems to have been little backlash about the delay from users (perhaps suggesting they mostly don’t care about it). Reviews based on the early beta release suggested there were some big issues and bugs, but the Journal piece linked here is more positive about it. The big issue remains Samsung’s framing of Bixby as an interface rather than an assistant, after years of smartphone users being trained to see the two as essentially synonymous. But Bixby is definitely not a broad assistant: it can’t answer questions about the world (or in many cases your slice of it), but is very good at controlling device functions and settings, at least within Samsung’s own apps. My brief testing suggests Bixby still pretty glitchy, even in the setup process. The list of third party apps offering Bixby integration hasn’t got much longer since my testing of the device at Samsung’s launch event, and that will be another key challenge here: an assistant that only works for some apps but not others ends up not being very assistive: consistency is the key, something that other assistants have demonstrated through their inconsistency too. If users do adopt Bixby for the things it can do, it’s likely they’ll do so alongside the Google Assistant, which can handle most of the rest, but I could also see many users giving up on Bixby and using just Google’s tool as the one voice interface most likely to help them get things done on their phone. Relatedly, there are reports today that Samsung won’t in fact be making a Bixby voice speaker, something it was reported to be working on earlier, and which I had said made little sense in the context of Bixby as an interface rather than an assistant.
There are too many ways to Google on Android – The Verge (Jan 30, 2017)
I’ve tagged this post against three different narratives, because this little mini-review taps into several broad threads. Firstly, this is about Google and parent Alphabet’s tendency to allow lots of people to work on the same thing in different parts of the company in different ways, which results in a confusing user experience because there are many ways to do the same thing (see especially messaging). Secondly, there’s the fact that on Android Google’s own messy set of services is often duplicated (or worse) with competing services and apps from OEMs and/or carriers. And lastly there’s the fact that even on Google’s own hardware, the Pixel, which is supposed to represent the epitome of Android at its best, this confusion still reigns. I was half-tempted to tag this post against the Google is Ahead in AI narrative too, because though Google does fantastically well at the back-end AI piece, it often falls short on the user interfaces and experiences that present the functionality to the user. The point is, the situation described in this article is far from ideal, but it grows out of several cultural quirks at Google/Alphabet combined with several of the downsides of the approach Google has always taken with Android, and a solution doesn’t seem imminent.
via The Verge
Roku Mobile App Relaunched With New Program Guide – Variety (Jan 17, 2017)
Discovery has been one of the biggest challenges in TV in the present era. There’s simply so much to watch, and so many ways to watch it, that the old interactive programming guide for live, linear programming simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Netflix has been a master of recommendations for ages now (and famously sponsored a big prize to improve its engine even further), but a variety of others have been working on this too, with Roku the latest. Interestingly, in contrast to Apple’s approach, this feature lives in the mobile app and not the main on-screen user interface, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it arrives there too sometime soon. Of course, the quality of the guide can only ever be as good as the partners that choose to participate – Netflix is a big holdout for the Apple TV app, and as far as I can tell it’s absent from the new Roku feature too.
It’s always seemed almost a point of pride with Snapchat that its user interface is unintuitive and hard to navigate, so it’s a bit surprising to see it engage in such a significant redesign of its app. But this may well make the app less intimidating to new users who’ve been put off by the previous arcane user interface, which may be an indication that Snap wants to broaden the appeal of its app beyond its current target market.