Tagged: ios

Opinion: iOS notification center still sucks

Screenshot of iOS Notification CenterI was overjoyed when Apple said they had completely reworked the notification center in iOS 7. Then I updated my phone and actually used it… the joy quickly faded.

It’s now been months and I can officially say, the iOS notification center still sucks. I waited to write this, hoping that I was just overreacting and/or the 7.1 update would address these issues. They haven’t. Here is why I can’t stand it:

Missing features

I love upgrades, but please don’t take away useful features from an earlier version. Why are the Twitter and Facebook shortcuts gone? I used to tweet or post messages all the time from the handy little buttons at the top of my notification screen in iOS 6. It was a huge blow to my workflow to lose shortcuts. Maybe the notification center isn’t the right place for actions like that, but couldn’t they at least be moved to a more appropriate section (perhaps the new control center tray)?

Less useful features

I’m not sure if this is better or worse: taking a feature and making it less useful. I’m leaning towards worse. The “Today” tab is great in concept, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. In previous versions of iOS, there was a handy weather widget which quickly told you the weather conditions at a glance. Important info like temperature and an icon showing if it was sunny or snowing were easy to read. Now, iOS 7’s notification center replaces this widget with a line or two written about the weather today. It’s not necessarily the current temperature (sometimes it is, but not always, why is that?) and it certainly isn’t as easy to process at a glance.

Same old problems

While made slightly bigger, the clear buttons are still a pain to use. Why must I clear all notifications for an app? I’d love to just swipe one or two things away or maybe the first tap of the clear button shows clear buttons next to each item, allowing you to tap single notifications or all of them. In fact, why isn’t there a master clear button. After your phone has been off for a while (say during a movie) you end up with a ton of notifications from various apps. It’s a little tedious to tap twice for each application’s notifications. I’d like to see one option at the top to “Clear All.” Options are good, and the notification center is lacking them.

On the home screen, a swipe of a notification will bring you to that notification’s app, but once you’ve pulled down the notification center, swiping moves you between the tabs at the top. Why does the act of swiping a notification change behaviors? It just seems strange to change that on something so closely related.

Wish list

So what would I add? I’d love to see widgets. I’m certain Apple will never allow home screen widgets (at least third-party ones), but why can’t they open up the API for a few notification center widgets. Then we could get a more useful weather widget back, or perhaps a quick Foursquare check-in. The Today tab has a lot of potential and I’d like to see where that could lead with some third-party integration. The larger screen real estate on iPads could open this up to even more innovations. Please unlock it, just a little, and let developers show us what’s possible, Apple.

This one is more notification related in general, not just for the notification center. I want custom alert tones that can be assigned on a per app basis. Some apps use custom alerts but you can’t customize it yourself. Again, Apple, options are good, please let us have some. One of the few things I miss from my old Android phone was the ability to change the sounds of each app’s alerts. Then I knew if it was a new email, a text or just some dumb game trying to get me to play. It’s useful for discerning if it’s worth checking your phone.

I’m pretty sure I remember hearing something about the Mac notification center integrating with the iOS notification center. This seems to have never really come about. It would be useful, however it would HAVE to synch cleared and read notifications across devices. There’s nothing worse than having to clear hundreds of notifications, except having to do that on two or three devices.

What’s your experience with the iOS notification center? What would you like to see added or removed? Sound off in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar: Peek

Peek calendar app iconPeek Calendar by Square Mountains might be the most original calendar app I’ve found for iOS. It wasn’t originally on my radar when I started my quest, but it was a welcome surprise. Peek’s design and interactions make it pleasing to the eye and easy to use (after you get over the slight learning curve). There aren’t many buttons, but swipes, taps and long-presses let you navigate through your events with ease.

It makes more sense when you see it in action, so here’s their promo video.

Supported calendars

Peek works with your local calendars. If you’re using a calendar in the built-in app, Peek should be able to handle it. There’s not a lot of settings to the app, and I didn’t come across any way to add calendars or other services within the app.

It’s worth noting when I first installed Peek it did not recognize my calendars. I had to delete and re-install the app. After doing so, everything was in place. I imagine this is a bug, and may have already been fixed.

Views

Right away you’ll notice Peek is quite different from a standard calendar app. The standard view uses bold colors to display a list of days. The left side of each day displays the day of the week and date, while the middle will say “today” and “tomorrow” followed by the day of the week for the rest of the days. Tapping on a day will expand out (with a nice folding effect) a list of your events. Tapping an event expands it giving more details and allowing you to edit it. It’s a very clean, very simple and fairly intuitive way to see your calendar’s information.

There’s a second view, a month view, which can be accessed by pulling down from the top (above today). It’s again very simple in design, but gives you a somewhat familiar-looking month view. A nice touch here is a sort of bar graph on each day. The more events on a particular day, the taller the bar. Tapping a day will unfold the related events.

As I mentioned, the interface is extremely clean and minimalistic. If you’ve ever used Clear, think of this as the calendar counterpart. The simplicity is refreshing aesthetically, but it also doesn’t offer you a lot of flexibility for viewing your calendar like some other apps. I’d like to see a way to view a list of upcoming events without having to tap each day.

Adding events

Screenshots of Peek CalendarTo add an event, you hold down on the day your event is to take place. It then unfolds options (title, time, location, alerts, ability to make it recurring). Like everything else in the app it’s simple and pretty.

I like the time selector. You hold on the time and a slick slide menu fades in, letting you scroll to the right hour and minute of your event.

I do wish the location field would auto-populate with some database (maybe Foursquare or Google?). Perhaps then you could easily link that place and make it open your favorite navigation app for directions. This isn’t huge, but something I’m seeing in a lot of other apps that I’ve started to really find useful.

Conclusion

I like the look and feel of Peek. I applaud the restraint in their interface design, but I think Peek might be too simple for me. The quick swipes, presses and taps make for a quick and fun way to interact with your calendar, but the lack of view options make it fall short of what I’m really looking for. Peek Calendar by Square Mountains is available in the App Store for $1.99. If you’re looking for something very simple, with a great design, Peek is for you. What do you think? Have you given Peek a try? Let me know in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Sunrise

Sunrise Calendar App IconIn case you missed it, I’m trying to find a better iOS calendar app. Next up, is Sunrise Calendar by Sunrise Atelier, Inc.

I first discovered Sunrise when I heard a designer from Foursquare (one of my favorite apps) had left for a new project. Sunrise was the new project. In the beginning Sunrise only offered integration with Google calendars, so I initially wrote it off as not for me.

Fast forward a few months and they updated the app to work with iCloud calendars. I decided it was time to take another look. I’m glad I did. The app has a great look. It’s simple, but not overly simple like the built-in calendar. If you’ve tried Sunrise in the past, but not recently, give it another go.

Supported calendars

It integrates with plenty of services, such as Facebook, Google, iCloud, LinkedIn and Foursquare. This is a unique feature, as it will automatically pull your Facebook and LinkedIn events right into your calendar. A nice Facebook tie-in will even let you RSVP to events right in Sunrise. The Foursquare integration is pretty cool too. it will add your check-ins, so if you can’t remember where you were yesterday for lunch, you can go back a day on your calendar and find out. It’s all easy to set up and covers more than I was even looking for.

Views

There’s two main views in Sunrise. The default view shows two weeks of a “month” view on top, with a list of your upcoming events below. If you swipe down on the two weeks, it turns into a full month. Each day can be tapped to jump to that day in the list view. There’s a handy button in the bottom left of the screen that jumps you back to the current day and time.

The list part of this view is clean and has a colored dot denoting which calendar it came from. In the case of Foursquare check-ins, those dots become larger and include the icon of the venue type. Birthdays have a present icon and if your event’s name is something like “party” or “meeting” other icons are automatically put in place. It’s kind of a nice little touch. If they’re looking for new features, I’d love to be able to add those icons to events manually when they don’t detect one (or rarely, choose the wrong one). In addition to your events, Sunrise also adds in weather forecasts into the list. A simple icon (sunny, cloudy, rain, etc) and the expected temperature for the morning and evening are added to each day. It’s another small detail that makes Sunrise stand out.

Tapping the three lines button at the top of the screen will take you to view two. This is a more standard “week” look. This can be nice if you’re looking to see how your time actually lines up throughout a day. For some reason this only works in portrait mode, meaning you only see three days at a time. I think it’d be a nice addition to add a landscape mode with a full week (or at least five days). Overall, I hardly use this view. It doesn’t offer much the default view can’t.

Adding events

Sunrise calendar app screenshots for adding events

The event add screen is pretty standard. You can add a location that is auto completed by Google’s database. That makes it easy to set the place you actually want, which later means easily getting directions with the Google Maps integration.

There’s not natural language adding, but since you can use your iCloud calendars, Siri is still an option. Sunrise does have some autofill options when you’re adding an event. If you start typing “call” or “breakfast” they’ll show up. A time-saver, but not as great as other options.

Conclusion

Overall Sunrise is one of the prettiest calendar apps. It has a great look and feel, and is easy to use. The small details like automatic icons and integration with so many services are major pluses. If there’s one thing really lacking it’s an innovative way to add events. Maybe that’s not a deal breaker, as the rest of it is so nice. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the best part of this app yet… it’s FREE. Yes, this good-looking, easy-to-use app won’t cost you a penny. I feel almost guilty using a such a quality app for nothing. My recommendation? Give this one a try. It won’t cost you anything and it’s a big step up from the standard iOS calendar.

Have you tried Sunrise? What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Calendars 5

Calendars 5 iconEarly calendar apps from Readdle didn’t really wow me. When they released Calendars 5, I finally found something special. I’ve been using it off and on for a few months now and I’m definitely a fan. Here’s an intro video from Readdle.

Supported calendars

Calendars 5 easily plugs into your existing iCloud. When you start the app for the first time it asks for access to your calendars, contacts and to-do lists. It was extremely easy to set up. For those of you using Google Calendars, it can easily connect with those too.

Views

Calendars 5 screens

This is where Calendars 5 really stands out from other calendar apps. The app boasts views for tasks, list, day, week and month.

The list view has a continuous list of chronological events. You can easily scroll through your upcoming events with this view.

The day view focuses in on one day, displaying all hours of said day with events displayed over top. At the bottom of the screen you can easily select another day.

The week view, which displays the current day at the top and the next six days underneath, is a little different from a traditional week view. Instead of being a week-long version of the day view like most other apps, Calendars 5 displays each day’s events as colored blocks (the colors relating to the corresponding calendar). I find this view to be my favorite. It really gives you a good idea of your upcoming week. If you flip your phone into landscape mode, you will get the traditional “hourly” week view, which can also be helpful and is really nice that they included it.

Month view is pretty standard. It’s a traditional calendar view with color highlighted text of your events on each day’s square.

The only problem with the views is that it’s two taps to switch between them. I’d prefer they bar containing them was always present so I don’t have to tap an extra time. I know that’s picky, but all those taps add up over time.

Adding events

Adding events couldn’t be easier. You can type something like “Meet Jim at Starbucks” which brings up a listing of nearby Starbucks, which you can select from and it will auto-fill the location field. If you continue typing “…Saturday at noon” the date and time will be filled in. It’s very similar to the experience of Fantastical for Mac or how you would speak to Siri to add an event.

If you want to directly edit an event the information is displayed below and can be tapped to change. I really like the user interface used for changing times. When you tap the time, a custom keyboard pops up with common hours displayed with common “fractions” (:00, :15, :30, etc.) below. There’s also a date tab that brings up a mini-calendar view to set the right date. You can set the right time and date faster than using a traditional keyboard, and I really appreciate that.

After an event is created, you can add an alarm, change calendars, make it recurring, invite people and a description with another simple tap.

Auto-complete is a big theme in Calendars 5. It’s a useful and time-saving feature. This app really shines in the adding events category.

Conclusion

Basically Calendars 5 is great. I love the unique week view. It’s probably my favorite view of any app I’ve tried so far. Adding events is super easy (and with auto-complete, pretty fast). I highly recommend Calendars 5. It is truly a useful, well-designed, easy-to-use calendar replacement though. As a bonus, the app is universal and will work on iPhones as well as iPads. That might make the $6.99 price tag a little easier to swallow. That’s the downside. It’s a bit pricey (by App Store standards). Despite price, it’s still a great option, especially for power users.

Have you tried Calendars 5? What did you think? Sound off in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: part one

iPhone screenshot of calendar appsI’m not a big fan of the standard iOS calendar app. I’m glad they simplified the user interface in iOS 7, but it’s almost too simple now. It may be even a bit harder to see and use over earlier versions. I’ve been on a quest over the last couple months of testing new calendar options.

The criteria

There are a few things an app needs to do well for me to make the switch full-time. First, it needs to integrate with iCloud calendars. I’m already set up on them, and I don’t plan on re-creating my workflow (again, since I already did that a few years ago with the switch from Android and Google calendars). I currently have a number of iCloud calendars and I am subscribed to a handful of other standard iCal feeds. The setup works pretty well for me and allows easy synching between my phone, my iPad and my laptop. My new app will need to easily plug into these calendars. Integrating Facebook is a major plus, but not a necessity.

It’s also important for me to have multiple views. Sometimes I have a day with six events and the next might have only one. I’d like an easy way to see my busy days versus my free time. Sometimes it’s important to see a whole month at a time, but often a good week view is preferred. I need to be able to drill into a day too. Just having colors on a day doesn’t tell me what’s actually happening that day. Basically, I need options. No one view will work all the time.

Next, I’m looking for something with a simple way to add events. It needs to be easy to do on the go and maybe most importantly, it needs to work quickly. I hate being slowed down as an app catches up with me. On my laptop I use Fantastical. It’s amazing; very quick, responsive and always in my menu bar ready to work. I know iOS is used differently, so I won’t find the same thing. I’m just looking to find something that’s fast and easy to use. Converting plain English like Fantastical on the Mac does would be a good start.

So now what?

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write-up some reviews of various calendar apps. To start, I’m going to take a look at Calendars 5, Fantastical 2 and Sunrise. What do you use? Tell me why you like it, and maybe I’ll add it to my review list.

Happy iOS 7 day!

Screen shots of Apple's iOS 7.The highly anticipated update to iOS is finally here. While initially iOS 7 left me with a few concerns, I’ve found it to be an improvement and for the most part, very satisfying. I’ll go into more detail after I’ve used it day-to-day for a longer period.

So what do you need to do to get updated? I recommend a manual backup of your phone (even if you normally backup through iCloud). It’s easy and doesn’t take to long. Open iTunes, plug-in your phone, select it in the upper right corner and look for the “Back up Now” button. It’ll do it’s thing and in a few minutes you can eject your phone and upgrade to iOS 7 without fear.

So now you’re rocking the fancy new iOS 7, but besides the eye candy, what’s new? Wired wrote a great little article detail many of the changes in iOS 7. It’s worth a read.

iOS 7 is great and all, but the real treat today (and for the next few weeks) will be all the great UI updates to your favorite third-party apps. Wanting to stay relevant and not look out-of-place, many app developers have worked hard on getting their apps to reflect the new style in iOS 7. TapFame set up a page detailing some of the before and after screen shots. I find some of these third-party updates even more exciting than iOS 7 itself.

Have you installed iOS 7 yet? What’s your favorite feature? How about third-party apps, who’s done the best job translating their app into the new iOS 7 design language?

iOS 7 gets flatter, more transparent

iOS 7 logoUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Apple was overhauling iOS. The rumors had been swirling for months saying that Jonny Ive had led the design team in a new, flatter, minimalistic and all around, exact opposite of the current iOS. Gone would be the leather stitching, cloth textures and strange skeuomorphic experiences.

Well, the rumors were pretty dead on. iOS 7 will be a completely new beast (visually at least). During the big keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference yesterday, Apple took the wraps off the new iOS. It’s definitely flat, definitely not skeuomorphic and the textures are kept to a minimum. Transparency and sense of depth are design themes. The standard Apple apps have all been rethought. The interface seems to do a much better job of getting out of the way and let you see the content. Safari, for example, has its navigation “chrome” disappear so the Web page you’re viewing can take over your screen.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 10.26.26 AM

Overall, I’m impressed. They’ve gone into a bold new direction. Sure a lot of the ideas are borrowed from jailbreak hacks or other operating systems, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great. Many of the cries for a sleeker interface and easier to use quick functions have been answered. Swiping up from the bottom gives you access to switch on and off wifi, bluetooth, do not disturb, screen brightness, etc. It’s simple, not ground breaking, but it’s what they needed. Notifications, multi-tasking, app switching and much more have all been overhauled. The type alone is worth upgrading. It’s big, beautiful and used to communicate effectively. This truly is a big update for iOS and I cannot wait to install it.

iOS-screenshots

At this point, it’s probably important to note I haven’t used this hands on yet. That said, my biggest criticism right now has to be the icons. I’m all for flatter, less glossy icons. That really works in some cases. In others, I just don’t get it (in the case of Game Center, what are those bubbles for?) or I just feel uneasy about them (I’m looking at you Safari, perhaps it’s the stark white square you sit in?). Maybe in my hand they’ll look better, or at the very least I’ll get used to them.

The second thing that worries me is the transparency. It’s cool in the screnshots they provide but how will it actually react with your own photos as backgrounds? How will it work in the sunlight? I hesitate to critique it too much without using it, so my final judgement on transparency will have to wait.

I won’t ramble on too much more, but I will add you should definitely check out the iOS 7 teaser page at Apple’s site. There is a lot of change coming to an iDevice near you this fall. I, for one, am chomping at the bit to start playing with this new design direction. It might not be perfect, but it’s a step in a new direction and that was much needed. What do you think?

Design Find: iOS 7 Concepts

I’m always intrigued by exciting new interface designs, and these iOS 7 concepts by Mohamed Kerroudj are no exception. Kerroudj shows what a dramatic overhaul of the iOS interface could look like. It’s beautifully minmal, but also adds a lot of new functionality. I’m sure Apple will never implement quite this much change (at least all in one OS update), but there are still some great concepts.

I particularly like being able to perform simple functions and manage notifications right on the lock screen. The overall feel is much cleaner and more fresh. It still feels very Apple-like (maybe even more so), while giving iOS that update we’ve all been clamoring for. I hope Apple takes note and incorporates something similar.

Take a look at the videos below, and let me know what your favorite parts are in the comments. Have you seen some great concept videos or images? Share a link, I’d love to see them.


Opinion: How to improve iOS

I know, I know, just what the world needs, another article on how to make the iPhone (and other iOS devices) better. Well, it’s true there’s no shortage of user dreams for iOS, but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw my two cents in. Here are a few ways how Apple could improve iOS to keep it current and improve the overall user experience.

Screenshot of iOS notification with delete button mocked up.Swipe to clear notifications: Have you ever not paid attention to your phone for a while? On occasion, I’ll leave it sit in my pocket on a long drive or while I’m in a meeting. Afterwards, I’m overwhelmed with the number of notifications on screen. Usually I’ll try to delete them, but Apple tiny little “x” doesn’t like my man-sized fingers. Furthermore, I don’t always want to delete all of the notifications from an app. Wouldn’t it be nice if Apple added support to “swipe” across a particular notification and a delete button popped up (think of the experience in Mail; see mock up at right)? I’d like to see this functionality in both the notification center and the lock screen.

Set your own default apps: A few years ago Apple apps were top notch. Now they’ve seemingly remained stagnant, and there is a wealth of better designed, easier to use and all around more enjoyable third party apps. It’s time Apple opens up a little and lets users set their own default apps. I’m in love with Mailbox and already use it as my main mail app. Wouldn’t it be great if iOS knew and respected that? I hate being in another app and trying to share something via email only to get Apple Mail app. Same goes for browsers, maps, etc. You can still ship your stuff, Apple, but let me choose what to use.

Siri API: Oh, Siri… I had such hope for you. Siri in theory is a really useful assistant. But in practice, she leaves a lot to be desired. Turn by turn directions are finally there, and you can look up movie showtimes, but I want more. Obviously setting your own default apps would take use a step closer to usefulness but I want a full-fledged API. I want developers to have access to Siri so she can do wonderful things. “Siri, check me into Starbucks”

iWatch: So this isn’t so much an iOS request as it is a new product, but I see them closely related. I want a watch that will make Siri useful (talking to my wrist is better than talking to my phone, which if in my hand, I can easily type on). I want the ability to easily glance at my watch to see who’s calling or texting or emailing, maybe even let me use canned responses right on the device. The Pebble is a start, but I think only Apple can make it a truly seamless experience.

Better app management: I literally have a dozen pages of apps on my phone. Needless to say, I’m not even sure what’s on there beyond the first couple pages. I’ve tried to organize, but it’s a daunting task, and it should be so much easier. For starters, don’t make my apps slide to the upper left corner. I want to place apps in specific spots and have them stay there. Sometimes I might want a gap between apps, it’s no big deal, just let me do it! I’d also like to see the ability to move more than one app at a time. I think there are jailbreak tweaks to do these things, but I shouldn’t have to do that. It should be easy and standard.

Alert sounds: The thing I miss most about Android is being able to customize every single little sound my phone makes. I customized apps to have alerts that let me know what was happening and whether or not it was worth pulling my phone out of my pocket. To some extent you can customize sounds on your iPhone, but it’s very limited. I hear the same ding for most apps, and it’d be nice to know if a game wants my attention or if it’s something more important. It seems this is left up to individual developers to add their own sounds right now, but I want to take it further, let me set the sound. I want to do custom sounds, so I know exactly what I’m being pinged for, and it’s not the same default sound that everyone else in the room has.

Web app notifications: Sometimes a native app isn’t the answer. One of the downsides to a Web app, however, is the inability to send users notifications. With modern browsers like Chrome and Safari allowing Web apps to take advantage of desktop notifications, why shouldn’t your phone or tablet? Hopefully this would cut down on some of those “native” apps that just wrap up a website. I saw a good mock up of this recently but I cannot seem to re-find it.

There are plenty of other ideas I didn’t add, but the above are some of my biggest desires. What would you like to see added in iOS 7? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Pebble E-Paper Watch

A while back the Pebble made a splash in the tech world. I was impressed by it and its capabilities. I set the link aside to further investigate later. Every once in a while I’d see it tweeted about or mentioned on a tech site and then earlier this week I finally sat down and watched all the video and read through all the descriptions. I then decided I had to have one.


A little background… Not long ago my first generation iPod nano was replaced (via recall) with a current generation nano. I thought it was really cool and immediately got a watchband case for it. I wore it around a few days and while it looked cool it wasn’t practical. I had to keep turning on the screen to see the time and why would I use it for music when I’m already carrying around my iPhone? I stopped wearing it. I wondered why it couldn’t communicate with my iPhone, why caller ID and emails couldn’t be transmitted to my wrist. The technology is all there, it’s just not implemented. Enter the Pebble.

This isn’t the first watch to link to your phone with bluetooth but it’s the most well thought out one I’ve seen. It looks nice, it has loads of customization and it works with both iOS and Android. Out of the box it will have many useful features like music controls and caller ID. There’s going to be an online store for additional apps to download to your watch via your phone. They’re making it easy for developers to access their SDK and by including both iOS and Android devices, I think lots of developers will hop on board.

The Pebble seems like the watch I’ve been waiting for. A few days ago I made the decision to pledge support on Pebble’s Kickstarter page. I was about to plop down the cash for my “pre-order” (They ship in September by the way) but realized if I got 5 friends together we could each save a bit of money and have our choice of colors. I started campaigning among my circle of friends and had just about everyone ready to go. Yesterday I found out they are all sold out. EVERY level of support is gone. I’m really upset with myself for not acting sooner. I’m still really looking forward to the Pebble and I hope it’s extremely successful. I’m not looking forward to paying full retail (estimated to be $150+) because I missed out on the Kickstarter project. I guess” you snooze you lose” really holds true here.