It’s Time for a Change

To write that the 2013 WWDC keynote was monumental would be an understatement. From the changing of the OS X big cat naming convention to the complete redesign of iOS with iOS 7, it was a significant day for Cupertino.

What surprised me most compared to last year, is that while OS X Mountain Lion was all about unifying Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms (e.g., bringing Reminders and Notes to the Mac), iOS 7 widens the gap considerably. iOS 7 is indeed the “fertile ground” as Marco Arment writes. It’s again a brave new world for designers and developers.

Meanwhile, from a design standpoint, OS X Mavericks will seem out of place and maybe even old or outdated relative to its iOS 7 counterpart. Arguably, it could have been better for Apple to introduce its new design language across iOS and OS X at the same time. OS X Mavericks is an extremely solid update but from tabs on the Finder to tags, it’s an iterative update and not the paradigm shift iOS 7 is. Looking at the developer preview of Xcode 5, however, it’s clear OS X will see a similar overhaul in the not so distant future.

It’s hard to not compare iOS 7’s buttonless, typography-driven interface to what Microsoft introduced with Metro two years ago (see Chris Millr’s observations). Similarly, Google’s iOS apps in particular have been much flatter over the last year. Apple often is a tastemaker and leader in driving design trends but iOS 7 seems more like the first iPod than the first iPhone: it’s an Apple-take on an existing trend, not an Apple innovation. That’s not a dig on Apple, it’s more a compliment to Microsoft and Google.

I’d like to believe that what we’ve seen and experienced in iOS 7 will be different than what consumers install on their iOS devices later this year. That’s not because of the bugs expected in beta software but rather that iOS 7 does not look or feel worthy of Apple quite yet. To that end, I found Frank Chimero’s words comforting when he wrote that iOS, “lacks nuance, but has courage” and that he’s hopeful for its future. I’m not confident that iOS 7 itself will have that nuance because once Apple unveils something, they usually only iterate on it after it goes to the market. That could mean the nuance returns in iOS 8 and I’m certain that Apple would be fine with that.

The analysts have stated that Apple has lost its ability to innovate. Anecdotally, I hear comments from friends and family that the iPhone is no longer new or cool, with regular questions about whether to buy an iPhone or a Samsung device. So, whether your initial reactions to iOS 7 are of love, hate, or indifference, iOS 7 is exactly what Apple needs right now. It’s exactly what iOS designers and developers need right now. And it’s exactly the kind of change only Apple is insightful and bold enough to both recognize and make. It’s time for a change.

Reactions to Google I/O 2013

Unlike in 2012, this year’s Google I/O was not a distinctively Android-focused event and that’s telling: Google has realized that the key to mobile does not rest with Android itself. Google does not win mobile by competing against Apple and iOS. It wins by being Google, focusing on servicing its customers across platforms.

While there were some significant product announcements such as Google+ Hangouts—which launched on Chrome, Android, and iOS simultaneously—I’m going to highlight the interesting Android developments that caught my eye. For further details, check out Google’s wrap-up of the Android announcements on their blog.

Google Play Services

The big three here were new location services, Google+ sign-in across devices, and improvements to Google Cloud Messaging. Having worked on applications that heavily rely on location, I’m pretty excited about the low battery consumption aspect, along with the new activity monitoring that can detect movement type (e.g., walking versus running).

Making Google+ immediately more relevant as an identity provider, is the automatic sign-in to an app that’s been downloaded across your Android devices. This update is something that is extremely difficult to execute if you’re Facebook or Apple, without having to rely on one another.

On the Google Cloud Messaging side, there are some goodies for developers like upstream messaging and persistent connections. As a consumer, however, I’m looking forward to the fact that notifications are now synced across devices. Dismiss a notification on one device and that’s respected across your Android devices.

Google Play Developer Console

Thankfully, we’ve found a great localization partner in Applingua and they’ve helped us localize about a half-dozen iOS and Android apps. I believe that has definitely increased our success, which is why it’s surprising that more developers don’t take the time to localize their apps. That’s likely going to change with how easy Google’s making it to localize apps by submitting the strings file through their developer console to approved localization vendors.

I am initially concerned with this approach providing the right context to the translators, as a strings file alone won’t do that. We always give a build to Applingua and even when doing that, we sometimes have to tweak strings after a release. Provided that there is some level of interaction or quality checks involved, it’s a great addition.

Another welcomed update is the ability to do alpha and beta distribution via the console. I don’t love, however, that this seems wrapped up in Google+ itself by sharing with specific people or Circles. Hopefully it won’t be. In any case, we’ll still be using Hockey for the foreseeable future since it’s a one-stop shop for doing distribution across platforms.

One strategy mobile game developers have done for the last few years, is to initially launch an app in Canada to see how it performs, make revisions, and then tackle the U.S. market. With Google’s new “staged” rollouts, that might be a thing of the past on Android. Along with referral tracking, optimization to do’s, and the new revenue reports coming to the console, Google is finally bringing its algorithmic DNA to mobile app developers.

Android Studio

If you have spent any time around developers, you know they regularly complain about all and any IDEs. Thus it wasn’t surprising that my Android team members were immediately skeptical at this announcement. But within 10 seconds (literally) of Android Studio being demoed, they became very interested in it.

The verdict is still out obviously but Android Studio appears promising. Having an IDE specifically focused on Android is going to reinforce Android as a platform and at least in theory, reduce the learning curve and speed the development of Android apps. It’s a smart move by Google and the Android team.

Listacular for Dropbox

ListacularWhile I have a to do app on my iPhone, I usually also have an app that lets me quickly jot down ideas, points I need to discuss with my team, and similar items that really aren’t task-driven. Historically, I’ve been using Drafts for this purpose but I’ve wanted something that was more structured yet still lightweight. Listacular may be that app.

What I like about Listacular thus far, aside from its clean design, is that it’s not overly focused on being a task manager. In particular, each entry on a list can actually just be a note or a bullet—instead of a to do—without the need to “complete” it. To accomplish that, there’s a very clever formatting toolbar to define item types, create headers to separate items, and control indentation.

I’m giving Listacular a chance in my dock. If it sounds interesting to you, check out Christine Chan’s full review on AppAdvice.

Sonar Identifies App Store Algorithm Changes

Anyone with success across app stores knows that having a strong launch is just the starting point. For an app to have staying power, high search visibility is key. That’s a major reason why the “card-based” search results of the App Store in iOS 6 had iOS developers very concerned.

Historically, there’s been little more than anecdotes to highlight less visible changes, when it comes to shifts in the ranking algorithms themselves. That’s why MobileDevHQ’s Sonar caught my eye last week,

Sonar is a fascinating and incredibly valuable look into each of the app stores’ algorithms. Sonar allows you to see large-scale algorithm changes to an app store’s search algorithm. As an app marketer, you can use this data to find out when an algorithm has changed and how it might impact your app.

I’ve been bouncing between SearchMan and AppStoreRankings but Sonar is prompting me to give MobileDevHQ another look.