I am a big fan of the mobile web strategy at ESPN. I have a home page icon that takes me straight to their mobile optimized site. It’s got a lot of stuff going on, but was clearly thought out for the medium on which it is being consumed.
I’ve grown very accustomed to using the site and haven’t bought a physical newspaper in maybe 2 months. The inspiration for this post was the relative calm I felt while taking in an entire page of NY Giants training camp updates. There was a main article as well as several smaller snippets and relavent info that filled the entire rectangular page. It was the first time i actively thought about the differences in the two methods of sports content consumption.
One is not necessarily better than the other, they are just distinct experiences with the content. It was the calmness I felt that led me to recognize the unease I tend to feel while reading some… most mobile web content. The following may be some of the factors that contributed to my sense of calm.
- It’s completely predictable. Every action and move has the risk of being so costly on a mobile experience. My stresses range from clicking a wayward link to wondering if the screen i am looking at will scroll or flip.
- It’s big… like bigger-than-an-iPad big.
- I don’t have to move my hands to see the whole article. my eyes and brain do all the work to move around the content.
- There are no buttons to grok. There was also no chrome to compete with the content. This is a definite improvement the mobile web can make.
- There’s contextual stuff – I read a whole page with a full article and relevant snippets without scrolling or changing pages.
- it’s black-and-white and low fidelity as far as print goes and i hardly really thought about that fact.
- it’s paper… i think it was a tree once or something
- the fonts show up properly
- i can completely predict what the page when do when i hold it. There was a definite lack of jumping around that articles do on the web as their elements come into the screen. The image suddenly pushing down the article as i am reading the first line and such.
- nothing is blinking…
- bonus thingm – There was zero load time or latency
There are several key interactions design innovations that solve for the constraints of mobile experiences with elegance. The physics of swiping is one. What is the first interaction shown on any demo? The elegant “you can swipe it” motion. Another key area for innovation is certain app’s usage of the z-layer – pretending this stuff is stacked in physical space.
I was motivated to post this by the truly slick implementation within the Nat Geo app above. I was more excited than any single person should be upon discovering the transition. In this case you tap the stats icon and ‘sjoop’ your main experience dances back and ‘bloop’ the stats appear with big beautiful numbers. And here is an instance where a “done” button makes an appearance and is warranted. Until i previewed my post just now, i couldn’t remember the interaction to close the stats. That may be due to the lack of thinking i had to do to find it.
The windows OS is slick, but it focuses on the “there’s more stuff over there” metaphor. I think that is more limiting than endless ‘cards’ (also a nod to the early days of WAP programming). The “there’s stuff in front of/behind here” along with the right transitions has emerged as a great way to distinguish menus from content like on the increasingly prevalent Facebook menu interaction.
The z-layer can be effective and efficient as it is in the app above or even the Twitter for iPad app. But it can go wrong quickly. It would be hard for me to explain what a wrong implementation is, but i would most recently refer someone to the Google+ iphone app. They use it to zoom stuff in and it seems gratuitous after a few swipes.
First iPad sharing of a link was slow going. About 30 minutes to do something that takes about 45 seconds on the pc with a plugin. I am sure there are quicker ways to create that post, but I have not unearthed them yet. I do plan on only using mobile devices to manage this blog from now on. Hopefully the process gets smoother. I do wonder whether my posting style will change at all or whether I will adapt to find ways to replicate it.
I don’t do too much fancy formatting but I do like to style text and i often like to accompany a post with an image that is generally a screengrab of some kind. Another thing to note is I am trying to post this from a train with a transfer and a tunnel.
A few things stood out in trying to create the last post…
- typing su-hucks on this device compared to the pc. We knew that already, but the amount of thinking I had to do to type the text was much greater than pc land.
- positioning the cursor is a royal pain. Fixing a mistake, especially in concert with autocorrect evoked several “gah!! Doh!!” moments. This pain is ratcheted up when trying to copy and paste stuff.
- getting the content was tough. Just trying to coordinate the copy paste of a title and the link was tough. Getting the picture was less painful than anticipated. I am sure I could edit the photos a bit too. That may actually prove smoother than the pc flow.
- I still don’t really know what the post looks like
- getting the article from flipboard to a format that yielded the URL was a chore.
- one slick feature was the ability to swipe to change apps.
This post is partly an experiment and partly a link I think is worth reading. Equal parts. I discovered the link in flipboard and am trying to post here as I would if I found it on my laptop. I found the article at 8:18 – so i will see how long the process takes. Of course i will have to factor in this blurb.
What it’ll take for tablets to replace PCs
Posted by Yasir Hossain on Apr 2, 2012
With features like LTE connectivity, ultra-high-resolution displays, and laptop-like processing power, tablets have made their way into tens of millions of homes, and they’ve done it seemingly overnight. But despite popularity that borders on ubiquity and specs that edge them ever closer to desktops, it’s a rare house where a tablet has replaced a full-fledged computer. Why is that? Why haven’t more people scrapped their PCs for the sleeker, cheaper tablets?…
Is the mobile device doomed to be a consumption device forever? One would think if we were going to see some complex trading applications, spreadsheet managers, design tools, coding tools, or publishing/crm tools they would have emerged by now. I am trying to explore the viability of the mobile device for complex interactions before I make up my mind on the matter.
I am largely considering the smartphone in this excercize, but I plan to extend the exploration to tablet devices (and by that I mean the iPad… I chuckle to myself when people mention the ‘tablet market’. Will likely shift someday, but… c’mon.)
Content consumption has largely been nailed on mobile devices:
Well, it began with the swipe-able list. What a beautiful sight to see. It seemed to be the first thing anyone would pull out in any mobile demo. That smooth scroll followed by the subtle bounce was a breathtaking pattern for its time.
We got a little inundated with fancy scrolling lists and people started making the content pull more weight as a navigation element. I am sure that content consumption will evolve, but content consumption is well in hand with the introduction of apps like Flipboard, or Feedly. The content is the “button” and the hero of the experience in these apps.
One of the more elegant video apps is the browser version of Youtube. It is fast loading and has some fancy features. Given the growth of video on mobile, I think that is pretty good to go as well. One area for improvement might be the “associated” content that is always available on larger screens. This leads me to some of the factors leading to the current perception (and evident current reality) that mobile devices are for consumption.
Commonly attributed barriers to complexity on mobile devices
1. Screen size… more specifically, complex applications tend to need a viewable area and a place for buttons and doo dads…. Although, tvs are pretty big and they are about as clunky as a mobile phone… so maybe this barrier is more resolution exacerbated by the other barriers.
2. Hitspots… phat fingers make it tough to manipulate objects on the screen in finite ways.
3. Inputs… Typing is a pain in the butt on mobile devices and complex apps tend to require that. But the issue is not just the interaction and glass screens, it is also the modality and screen real estate for the keyboard. I have the claw hand that is required for combining keystrokes as I become more of an advanced user on my design tools on the desktop.
4. Bite-sized Engagement… If I have a few moments before a train arrives, i am probably going to fling a few angry birds, and not edit a spreadsheet.
Not so commonly discussed barriers
1. Ability/talent… The phat finger issue can be overcome by a select few who are talented enough to make some seriously complex stuff with a tiny screen and some rudimentary tools. I am mostly thinking of the art that some people can create with one of the iPhone drawing tools.
2. Lack of fun… Complex applications tend to be related to work and what is the fun of that? Unless it is a source of expression like the aforementioned barrier, I am going to the fun app first.
3. Bandwidth… My blog post just autosaved itself and I am pretty sure it will again in a couple of moments because my wifi connection will most likely be available here at home. When I go through the train tunnel and my spreadsheet disappears I may cry.
4. Modality… A desktop experience allows us to switch modes very easily (I’ve checked my email and performed at least three google searches while writing this. That experience would be quite disruptive on a mobile device. They also require a relationship between tools and the canvas that is pretty well established on a desktop experience, but not quite possible on a tiny screen.
5. Some desktop patterns still suck… We haven’t exactly nailed complex interaction patterns on software applications and we are a long way from unlocking the full potential of web-based apps. This doesn’t help when it comes to creating mobile versions of these tools.
6. Lack of interaction innovation… This is a slippery slope, because it might be a futile effort, but hopefully this exercise will help me answer that.
Where is the complexity today?
For starters – games, to do lists, email, and music creation tools. Gaming is a category that may hold some of the keys to unlocking richer interactions and applications on mobile devices because it balances the fun aspect with the complexity. I’ve been playing Fifa soccer (football?) on the iPhone and the interactions are pretty complex. Though once the game is on there is really only a couple of inputs at any one time.
Some common desktop tools that are far from successful in a mobile environment are trading applications, spreadsheet managers, design tools, coding tools, or publishing/crm tools. These are some of the tools I will be exploring in the subsequent posts.
is the mobile device doomed to be a consumption device? I am not convinced that is the case yet. Should we just leave the complex stuff to the desktop? I think at best the mobile devices will be a strong companion to those complex desktop experiences, but where the hand off occurs is what I plan to explore further.
Holy heck. It just dawned on me. The presentation i’ve wanted to pull together for years has just found me. I am not an orator by nature, but i work very hard to hold my own. One of the things that holds me back at times is wondering if I truly have something to say. I have realistic expectations about the power of my words, but I never want to crank out a presentation that doesn’t add some value to the conversation at large.
So, what’s the big epiphany?
For many years I have been saying that what I do is “not about making order out of chaos, it is about finding the order within it.” After giving a presentation last week to a group of students I finally made that point the thread that tied my presentation together. It was a passable draft, but the key was – that was the first time I had made that mantra the focal point of my discussion.
With that statement in mind I have been doing a lot of looking into (read – ‘performing google searches regarding’) people who are comfortable with chaos, and or ‘finding the order within it’. The resources range from self-help books to Navy SEAL culture – that one is really quite fascinating.
User Experience has virtually nothing in common with the job of a Navy Seal for sure. The interesting point was how they promote a culture the thrives on chaos and pushes through no matter what obstacle gets in their way. So often I feel like projects aim to create order out of chaos and plan every detail. The most successful projects I’ve worked on have been with teams who could adapt and roll with the punches.
Every deliverable we create is in an effort to find that order and to communicate with others that we can see it. somewhere amid the myriad choices and options, there is a digital experience, product, or solution that will be successful.
I am postulating that unique experiences are created by those who are comfortable with chaos and who are able to stand back and let the solutions emerge. This could either go really well, or become a Malcolm Gladwell knock-off.
So… That’s it. That’s my perspective to share… i am going to work on that now. i’ll keep both of you posted.
Collecting resources (just a collection at this point):
- Twitter looks chaotic: but don’t be afraid By Gaby Hinsliff guardian.co.uk
- Be creative amid chaos By David Allen11 May 09
- The 2007 Giants: Comfortable in Chaos By David Finkelstein (Contributor) on May 15, 2009
- Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS By Jeff Cannon, Jon Cannon
- Getting comfortable with chaos 30th May 09 by Ben Malbon & Heidi Hackemer
- “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
- 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School [Hardcover]Matthew Frederick “Properly gaining control of the design process tends to feel like one is losing control of the design process”