The blurred lines between the iPad and Mac

When Apple unveiled their sneak peak project to run iOS apps on the Mac, one of the main sources of excitement was how this might affect hardware in the future. People are hypothesising that touch on the Mac is inevitable, mouse pointer support on the iPad isn’t far behind, and that one day iOS may run on a device with a laptop form factor, but is that really the case?

No
No

Those shouting out that one day touch will be added to the Mac because it now runs iOS apps should reconsider the fact that the entire Mac user interface has been designed and refined over decades to work with a mouse pointer. Additionally that when porting an iOS app to the Mac, it’s UI elements are converted into native macOS UI elements, directly opposing any intention of touch input.

If there’s anything Apple is good at, it’s that their software always comes with a narrative arc spanning years, and cutting touch out of iOS apps on the Mac is a pretty clear sign of their direction on this.

The other reason not to add touch to the Mac: we already have a pretty great hardware for touch input; it’s called iPad.

One of my favourite analogies about Apple products is by Phil Schiller where he explains that the job of the iPhone is to be so good that it challenges why you need an iPad, and that iPad is there to challenge why you need a Mac. 

Once Apple’s ‘iOS apps on the Mac’ project is ready for primetime and apps are able to interchange between using UIKit and AppKit, could we not be in a future where any app can run on macOS or iOS, and adapt to each interface as necessary? Powerful Mac apps could be able to run natively on iOS; the home of the touch interface, whilst also running natively on macOS; the home of the keyboard and pointer interface. We could stop calling it iOS apps on the Mac, and Mac apps made for iOS, and just call them ‘apps’; for once these two frameworks are interchangeable, that’s all they should be. 

Granted, iOS may need to gain new UI features to achieve parity with what the Mac version of an app can offer such as the menubar and windowing. This may even result in part of iOS’s aesthetic becoming more like macOS, such as the use of window shadows and titlebars, but these aren’t unreasonable or unfeasible to design and adapt into a touch based paradigm, nor does it mean that these two interfaces are merging.

So, when developing an app on these interchangeable frameworks, it is the job of the iPad to be the epitome of what can be done with a touch only interface. Evolve the iPad any further by adding keyboards and pointers and you end up with the Mac’s interface.

And of course, it is the job of the Mac to be the epitome of a keyboard and pointer interface. Add touch and you end up with an iPad. 

These two interaction paradigms need to coexist. To blend them together would dilute the strength of each experience. 

But why should they coexist? So that the user can choose which paradigm they prefer. The Mac is the iPad with a keyboard and pointer that we want, and the iPad is the Mac with touch that we want. The line between touch and pointer is very much not blurred. The hardware for the future of computing is already here, and now it’s up to the software.


This section is for all of the those ‘what about…’ points:

…the fact that using an iPad is a vastly different experience. iOS and macOS are such different beasts. 

Right now they are, however macOS has learnt from iOS over the years, and no doubt will continue to do so. The system will continue to be simplified, locked down like iOS, adopt terminology, cues, and usability wins to ultimately make macOS feel like the grown up, ‘pro’ version of iOS people are craving today. Ultimately, you want to be able to switch between iPads and Macs and understand that they are part of the same computing family, yet one of them is designed to be touched, and the other, clicked.

 

…the iPad with Smart Keyboard. Does that not contradict these two well-defined hardware groups and interaction paradigms? 

Not really, in my eyes the Smart Keyboard for iPad just is a tool to allow for quicker typing, not a paradigm shifter. Its destiny isn’t to become the bottom half of a MacBook where there is also a trackpad. If there becomes a time where that does happen, you really would want to switch the interface to that of an OS that is designed for pointers. macOS perhaps. 

 

…some kind of hybrid OS, where UI elements change size based on whether there is touch input or not

Look at your iPad. Now look at your Mac. Those interfaces look different for a reason; they are making the most of the space available based on how you interact with them. A hybrid UI is jargon for a compromised UI; a game of tradeoffs to decide which features to sacrifice to make touch work, and where usability should suffer so that pointers make sense. 

I’m 100% supportive of a hybrid OS that could literally switch between iOS and macOS interfaces as the hardware changes. For example, if you did attach an iPad to the base of a MacBook, it could indeed switch from running iOS to macOS, and you know what, with these interchangeable frameworks, that might just be possible (and I would love it).

…a future where there is no iOS and macOS, but one ‘Apple OS’

Feasible, and the advantages are plain to see. iOS and macOS do already share a lot of underlying code, and as iOS’s capabilities expand, the risk of reimplementing what macOS already has, grows. So, share the base system, but still let UIKit and AppKit do their thing to deliver the right interface for the hardware.

I suppose this could also be called a hybrid OS, however the key difference here is that there isn’t a hybrid interface. Here, the interface is still unique to whether there is a touchscreen or pointer.

Life and Planet Earth II

Watching David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, I couldn’t help but think that observing the animal world shows how life can have such little meaning. We’re all on this planet trying to survive, for most animals, it is the purpose of their day, and if they don’t, they die.

We as humans face the same challenges, if we don’t find food, we can no longer be on this planet, like some twisted version of The Hunger Games where we are all playing. However, we have made the quest for survival easier, more convenient, comfortable. That’s because we developed this way; to be able to think, change the status quo, but is there a destiny greater than enduring nearly a century on this planet? Everything else we are doing, for what purpose? To entertain our overly developed minds to endure earth? What if it wasn’t meant to be this way? That Earth was meant to be an animal kingdom, to fight for food, or die.

That got a bit deep and cynical, I suppose what makes us different as humans, is that we can make more of life than what animals can; it isn’t just a fight for survival, but a series of experiences, emotions, hopes, and dreams. As designers, we more than most, have a unique view of the world and how society responds to what life is. We create what we think people want to experience in the limited timeframe that is life on Earth.

Image credit: BBC

Technology is making us do life wrong

Somewhere, somehow, all the unpredictability of life has started to escape me.

-Lauren Rabaino, The Verge

An article by The Verge clicked with some thoughts that were at the back of my mind. I enjoy technology, I like reading about it and playing with it, however when it comes to my day-to-day life, I don’t really want to see it. Sure, I’ll use it because it isn’t something that can be easily escaped and it’s damn convenient, but I don’t want to spend all day looking at it.

Not only is this quite plainly unhealthy, you miss what’s happening. If you’re doing something else such as eating whilst looking at a screen, chances are you’re not paying attention to that other thing – missing out on other experiences. For example, everyday on my commute back, I’m staring aimlessly into my laptop screen, reading articles like this one linked to The Verge, whilst not once have I looked outside of my train carriage window to see where I actually am, and what’s around me. That’s bad.

It used to be fairly easy to look away, outside of work you didn’t necessarily feel the need to use a computer, however now seeking the information and data that technology can provide is engrained into our lives and we have the ability to discover everything without even needing to move.

Apparently, we have now reached a stage so dependant on technology that we actually need to use it to help us get lost. People have actually made apps to take you somewhere unplanned. Here’s an idea that you can have for free, leave your tech at home and just go and explore somewhere.

These raw thoughts are edging on crux of The Verge’s article; that sometimes technology takes the fun out of life. Perhaps we should look around and enjoy the world around us instead of staring down into our phone screens. Perhaps, also, we should take a step back from technology and try and find things on our own. If we keep our eyes open and remove the technology that’s obscuring our view , who knows what else we may see? Where’s the fun in seeing the world through a screen when we can actually live and experience it?

If you have no surprises in your life, you’re doing it wrong | The Verge.

Reflecting on a year of being President of 180 Degrees Consulting Birmingham

180 Degrees Consulting is a the world’s largest student led consultancy, operating in 62 branches across 28 countries, with the goal of improving the effectiveness of non-profits and social enterprises.

I was fortunate enough to have been President of the Birmingham branch of 180DC for the past 12 months.

The direct outcome of the work we undertook as an executive team led to substantial benefits for the organisations we worked with. It was so rewarding to see the teams present their recommendations to their clients, and to see the clients so engaged. In the first semester of the 2014 academic year we ran eight unique projects with over 40 consultants for clients, and each one couldn’t praise us enough.

Not only that, being President had its perks such as going to the European conference for 180 Degrees Consulting branch leaders in Berlin. This really helped open my eyes to the potential each branch has, and how we can be successful at driving the social impact of non-profit organisations.

 

Presenting
Presenting

Some of projects we took on included forming a strategy to overcome negative PR for an international charity, form partnerships for several local animal welfare organisations and establish a sustainable method of funding for a charity based in Birmingham that set up a bakery in Ifakara, Africa that provides free bread to the town.

I found it both hard work but also exhilarating to coordinate a whole executive team, and ensure that both consultants and clients are happy, but I’ve learnt so much about how to keep track of teams, how to deal with issues and ultimately that I can successfully drive an organisation to growth. It was a role that required a constant awareness and coordination of the ‘entire picture’, ensuring that all pieces of marketing, events planning, consultants and projects all came together at the right moment, but the satisfaction of pulling off an event that leaves clients so pleased they want to make a speech, students proud to share and discuss their work and that brings an entire team together is hugely fulfilling.

My thoughts on Apple Watch

Flawed. But still quite nice.

Apple’s grand vision for the Apple Watch, the reason why they think you need one is because they want to save you from the distraction that is your phone. The watch also makes your life easier by putting notifications on your wrist, allowing for you to interact with them or dismiss them, meaning you don’t have to pull your phone out of your pocket, saving you time.

It’s a great idea, if it worked.

message

Firstly addressing the goal of saving you from the distraction of your phone; real life testing by multiple review sites like The Verge and Wired showed that having notifications on your wrist proved even more distracting. At least with your phone, it stays in your pocket, relatively easy to ignore if you wanted to, but the watch, it’s on your wrist – there’s no ignoring a vibration from the Taptic Engine, or the notification tone, and its even easier to sneak a glance to check the notification out.

Secondly, it should make your life easier. So, that means it has to be quicker then the iPhone at performing some tasks, right? In theory yes, and with Apple’s own apps, that rings true. It does appear to be easy to ping off a quick reply to a text, listen to music, view navigation, but with third party apps it gets trickier. Apple hasn’t yet released the full Apple Watch SDK, meaning that apps running on the watch aren’t native; they are running on your iPhone and being sent over a wireless connection to the watch. This results in plenty of waiting to open apps and even view glances as you wait to retrieve data from the phone – so much so that it would be quicker to perform that task on your phone. Current apps are also limited to the kinds of interactions that they can use; tapping or ForceTouching the screen, or using the physical controls on the device. Swiping and animations within apps are not yet supported – both of which contribute significantly to the user experience.

So to reaching the same conclusion that many other reviews of the Apple Watch have, this is definitely a first generation product. Once Apple release the Watch SDK later this year so that third party apps can run natively; maybe the device will be more convenient and third party apps will have more appeal in use. Hopefully in the second generation product, Apple will find a way to make notifications less intrusive, although currently you can turn notifications off for specific apps, this isn’t really the solution we’re looking for here, the watch needs to know what’s important for you to see.

Forgetting about these issues for a moment, the Apple Watch does look to be a truly exquisite device. It can offer conveniences such as a quick glance at notifications, neat customisation of the watch face to create something beautiful, and is a very good health tracker – if you’re into that kind of thing.

apple2

It’s the level of thought that Apple has put into some of the implementation of the watch that gives me hope for its future with the way the display switches on if you rotate your wrist towards you, the different vibrate pattern depending on the notification – which actually feels like a tap, and the gorgeous graphics and attention to detail that makes it feel like a premium product. This is something no other smartwatch has done as successfully yet. So at worst, the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch on the market, at best, it can be a little demanding for attention and slow. I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple brings to the table in 2016.

apple_watch_guide-faces

Starting up

Welcome to the blog!

I’m setting this up as a place to share my views and thoughts on a variety of topics. Some (most) may be techy, others professional and some may even get a bit personal, who knows. I’m sure the content will evolve with time and hopefully will be something you enjoy to read.

I don’t even mind if no one sees this, or any subsequent posts, I just want a place to write down my thoughts.