OPLIN 4cast #348: Goodbye, Skeuomorphs

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

skeuomorphsBack in June, Apple announced that it was going to start avoiding skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism is not some contagious disease; it’s a design principle that, when applied to computers, makes the computer interface look like things from the real world. From its beginning, Apple (and Steve Jobs in particular) thought skeuomorphs were important to make people comfortable with technology, and so the earliest Apple computers had a screen that looked like a “desktop.” The fact that Apple is now moving away from skeuomorphism in the design of its mobile apps is a pretty strong indicator that we have come to the point where people don’t feel as much need for the computer “world” to look like the real world. So – no more pine bookcases in the iBooks app.

  • Why Apple ditched its skeuomorphic design for iOS7 (The Guardian/Steve Rose) “Look closely, and skeuomorphism is all over Apple and other user interfaces – the little shadows cast by windows, the highlights on virtual buttons designed to make them look shiny, like real buttons. Originally this was to help us neanderthals make sense of the dazzling new technology before us, as in: ‘Oh, I get it. That looks like a button, so I’m meant to push it.’”
  • What is skeuomorphism? (BBC News/Sam Judah) “The envelope is the de-facto symbol for email and SMS messages. It offers a nice distinction between read and unread – they become opened and unopened envelopes. […] You cut and paste on Microsoft programs like Word and Outlook using scissors and a clipboard. The ‘show desktop’ icon on Windows XP looks like a leather-bound desk blotter. Not just an old-world item, but something that hasn’t been on the typical desk for a long, long time.”
  • The head of Android design: Small screens are pushing a new wave in design (Quartz/Christopher Mims) “On the other end of the spectrum, at least in theory, is Windows Phone and Google’s Android operating system, which operate on the principle that most people already know how computers work and we don’t need to coddle them with flourishes that make interfaces resemble objects, like physical calendars, which most of us don’t even own any longer.”
  • After skeuomorphism (TechCrunch/John Biggs) “Whereas Solitaire taught users to point to a single item on their desktop, these new buttons train users to use all their senses, to intuitively control an environment with the cues that are so infinitesimal that only someone from a future generation could grasp them. We are that future generation. That’s right. We made it. We’re in the future.”

Steve Jobs quote:
“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” (Fortune magazine, 24 January 2000)

OPLIN 4Cast #289: Lessons from Apple

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Most public libraries do great customer service. When asked about their local libraries, the vast majority of people praise them, much more than any other government service. It helps that libraries (generally) are not trying to trade their services for immediate payment, though, of course, people do pay for libraries eventually through their taxes. But how would people feel about public libraries if they charged premium prices for their services? That’s one of the interesting things about Apple – they do charge premium prices, yet people still flock to their stores. It’s worth looking at some of the things they do to keep their customers happy, and maybe check to make sure your library is doing these things, too.

  • 6 reasons Apple is so successful (Time/Tim Bajarin)  “Notice that when you go into an Apple store and are greeted by one of the sales staff, you’re not asked, ‘How can I help you?’ Instead they ask, ‘What would you like to do today?’ They go right to the heart of any technology user’s question, a question that’s always related to what they want to do with the technology the user is interested in. And once you explain your needs, they take care of it on the spot in most cases.”
  • Ex-VP using Apple experience to remake Penney (ifoAppleStore.com)  “[Former Apple retail chief Ron] Johnson showed a diagram of a typical Apple store, identifying the ‘Red Zone’ of products at the front of the store, and the ‘Family Room’ of services at the rear. He said the Red Zone is ‘where the excitement is,’ while the Family Room is where ‘owners gather to learn more.’ He explained that, ‘The magic of the store that makes everyone want to come is all the stuff you get beyond the transaction, ’cause at Apple, the relationship doesn’t end when you buy. That’s where it begins.’”
  • Setting the stage (27gen/Bob Adams)  “According to Apple designer Jonathan Ive, ‘We are absolutely consumed by trying to develop a solution that is very simple because as physical beings we understand clarity.’ Though he was speaking about product design, this philosophy extends to the design of the Apple Store experience as well. In Apple’s world, anything that detracts from the user’s experience is eliminated.”
  • Apple Store’s secret sauce: 5 steps of service (Forbes/Carmine Gallo)  “How a person feels when they end a transaction significantly impacts how they perceive the brand and whether they are likely to recommend the brand to others. For example, a creative teaching a workshop might say, ‘I really like the presentation you’ve started with Apple Keynote. Please drop in again when you’re close to being finished and we’ll give you more tips on how to refine it.’ Even after a purchase, it’s not uncommon for a specialist to give a customer a business card should they have more questions. Above all, give your customer a reason to return.”

Sales fact:
The average Apple Store has sales per square foot of $6,116 per year according to Retail Sails, while the average mall store sells only $350 per square foot.

OPLIN 4Cast #268: Thunderbolt is coming

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Be warned, this post is a little heavier on technical jargon than our usual posts because it’s about an emerging technology, called Thunderbolt, that you may want to know about next time you buy new computers for your library. Thunderbolt has been available commercially in some Apple products for about a year now, and at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a few devices from other companies began to appear. Thunderbolt is a connection technology, like USB, but unlike USB it can (eventually) use fiber optic connections and can supposedly support real throughput speeds of 10 Gbps, about 20 times the theoretical top speed of USB 2.0. At that speed, you could copy a high-definition movie in about 30 seconds. It can also support more than one connection at a time. Thunderbolt is currently still pretty expensive and is used mostly for high speed transfers between computers and data storage devices, or between computers and high-definition monitors. But as is the case with all new technology, the price will come down, and you may someday have patrons asking if your library computers can connect with their Thunderbolt mobile storage devices.

  • Ultrabooks will be zapped by Thunderbolt in 2Q12 (Tom’s Hardware/Kevin Parrish)  “So what’s the big deal with Thunderbolt? We’ve covered every aspect of this tech for quite a while, but for the uninitiated, it allows multiple connections via one port, supporting both PCI-Express data transmissions and DisplayPort image/video transmissions. This will likely open the door to incredible upgrade options without having to purchase a new ultrabook or laptop. Paying the extra price for Thunderbolt will undoubtedly be worth the money in the long run.”
  • Is 2012 the year of Thunderbolt? CES analysis (Popular Mechanics/Kyle VanHemert)  “For now, Thunderbolt largely remains the province of audio/visual professionals – those who need to move serious amounts of data on and off their machines every day, and for whom latency is a serious concern. Is 2012 the year of Thunderbolt? Not quite.”
  • Thunderbolt: Ahead of its time or wave of the future? (Premiumbeat.com/Ashley Kennedy)  “Thunderbolt’s technology currently relies on additional processing chips that must be on an Intel motherboard, and building in these additional hardware designs (instead of just a software upgrade) will take time for manufacturers to totally redesign and retool their products. And that sort of hump could certainly prevent both manufacturers and users from making the jump right away.”
  • Will 2012 be Thunderbolt’s year? Devices arrive in force at CES (ArsTechnica/Chris Foresman)  “One vendor told Ars that supply of Thunderbolt controllers has been constrained somewhat as Apple was typically first in line to get them, with certain storage vendors then getting access, and others in line after that. We know that next-generation Thunderbolt controllers should be available around the second quarter of this year when Ivy Bridge launches, and that Intel plans an ‘official’ launch of general Thunderbolt availability then.”

Cable fact:
Currently available Thunderbolt cables cost about $50, mostly because they are “active” cables that have a silicon chip embedded in the end of the cable to boost performance.

OPLIN 4Cast #254: Paying for content

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Newspaper and magazine publishers share a common problem with libraries: how do you convince people (or government officials and administrators in the case of libraries) that they should expect to pay for good information? There is a common perception that the “free” information you get from a Google search – never mind the ads – is good enough, and that there is no need to spend money on any other source of information. But now we may have an unintentional ally in Apple. The Newsstand feature in iOS 5, the latest operating software for iPhones and iPads, automatically collects apps that access subscription-based content, like magazines and newspapers, and there is some evidence that this easy way to buy news is leading to increased willingness to pay for information.

  • Study: tablet users love to read the news, still reluctant to pay for it (SiliconFilter/Frederic Lardinois)  “It’s worth noting, though, that this data was gathered before the launch of iOS5. Some early data suggests that the Newsstand feature Apple built into its new operating system could boost sales for news-related apps. It remains to be seen if this is a real trend or just driven by curiosity as users try out this new feature, though.”
  • Condé Nast digital subs soar 268% after iPad gets Newsstand (Electronista/staff)  “Other publishers have seen their own spikes after the iOS 5 update. While some owners have complained that Newsstand isn’t removable from the home screens and only checks once a day, the exposure is much stronger than on Android or other platforms where magazines are either folded into the main bookstore or are still available only as regular apps.”
  • Apple’s Newsstand is already booming for some magazine publishers (paidContent/Robert Andrews)  “Consumer magazine publisher Future says free container apps for its titles were downloaded two million times in three days and reports ‘consumer spending well in excess of normal monthly revenues’. ‘Future has sold more digital editions in the past four days through Apple’s Newsstand than in a normal month,’ says UK CEO Mark Wood.”
  • Apple’s Newsstand a huge success for digital publishers (Wired/Christina Bonnington)  “Numerous publishers are reporting subscription surges for their newspaper and magazine apps. PixelMags reported a 1,150 percent growth increase in the first week after Newsstand and iOS 5 debuted on Oct. 12. It’s now sold over four million digital magazines.”

Revenue fact:
Apple still collects 30% of subscription revenue from publishers that offer digital content through Apple, which has lead a collective of major French newspapers to refuse to sell through Newsstand.

OPLIN 4Cast #232: The iPad at one

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

It may be hard to believe, but the iPad is only just a little over one year old. During that brief time period, it has had a deep impact on the way many people compute, has spawned a number of competitors, and has been extensively covered by technology news outlets. It may be slightly wrong to call the iPad a computer, since it is not really designed for crunching numbers. Some call it a “media consumption platform,” since iPads are used so frequently to read/view news and information articles from the web. For that reason, the iPad has led to some interesting revelations for the news and magazine publishing industries—and libraries—in just one short year.

  • iPad usability: Year One (Alertbox/Jakob Nielsen)  “The most common uses reported by our participants were playing games, checking email and social networking sites, watching videos/movies, and reading news. People also browsed the Web and performed some shopping-related research. But most users felt that it was easier to shop on their desktop computers. Some also worried about the security of e-commerce purchases on the iPad. A common characteristic of all this iPad use is that it’s heavily dominated by media consumption, except for the small amount of production involved in responding to emails.”
  • Readers are more likely to skim over articles on an iPad than in a newspaper (Miratech white paper)  “The average time taken to read an article on each medium is very similar. A user takes an average of 1 minute 11 seconds to read an article on paper, compared with 1 minute 13 seconds on an iPad. Thus the length of time for reading an article on paper or iPad is very close. A more detailed analysis shows that the eyes linger longer on the paper version (275 ms on paper versus 231 ms on the iPad). This means that people concentrate more when reading an actual newspaper.”
  • The surprising reason publishers are finally saying Yes to Apple (Mixed Media/Jeff Bercovici)  “As things stand, if you buy a subscription to The New Yorker or Popular Science in the iTunes store, you will get a little dialogue box asking if it’s all right if Apple shares some of your personal information with the publisher. Initially, publishers were worried, reasonably enough, that users would overwhelmingly say no. But they don’t. In fact, about 50 percent opt in.”
  • The boundless library: explore the New York Public Library collections on your iPad (ReadWriteWeb/Audrey Watters)  “The app was designed in conjunction with Potion and it’s a joy to scroll through. While it does tout the ability to ‘explore the stacks,’ the app certainly recognizes the library mission here isn’t about ‘dead books.’ Rather the information is accessible and beautifully presented, taking full advantage of the touchscreen technology and the rotation of the tablet—the horizontal view lets you explore the collection visually, while the vertical view lets you read essays and thumb through imagery.”

Sales fact:
In the one year following its launch in April 2010, Apple sold over 19 million iPads.

OPLIN 4Cast #212: Changes coming for tablet periodicals

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

newspaper over tablet computerThere’s a battle shaping up over the business of selling digital newspapers and magazines to users of tablet devices, like the iPad. While Apple has been selling single issues of magazines and newspapers through iTunes for some time now, those sales are beginning to decline. That leaves an opportunity for competitors (i.e., Google) to think about rival services, and how to “do it right” when it comes to selling periodicals for tablets. And that also leaves room for publishers to try to negotiate a change to the current online periodicals business model to one that is more akin to the current printed periodicals business model, namely selling subscriptions instead of issues and gathering personal information about buyers.

  • Google Digital Newsstand aims to muscle in on Apple (Wall Street Journal/Russell Adams and Jessica E. Vascellaro)  “The remaining rivalries could speed up the migration of periodicals to tablets, providing publishers with more ways to sell their titles and more control over the sales. A similar battle between Google, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble has already begun to reshape the burgeoning market for digital books, helping publishers win more flexibility in pricing their titles. While many media companies have rushed to build apps for iPads and Android tablets, they say their current inability to sell standard subscriptions through iTunes, a shortage of data about app buyers and tough business terms are keeping them from investing more in the effort.”
  • What those low iPad magazine sales numbers really mean (The Next Web/Alex Wilhelm)  “Ask anyone in online sales: limiting the number of steps is the key to higher conversion rates. Therefore, to truly juice digital sales, all we need to see is an industry wide 20% price cut (from current levels), and a new method of sales. Fortunately, Apple is likely working on the second bit, with their much fabled ‘iNewsstand’ that will make it much simpler to actually pick up a magazine. It will also encourage browsing, something that will boost drive by sales.”
  • Who is more willing to trick users, Apple or Google? (TechCrunch/MG Siegler)  “So what the publishers seem to be demanding is that Apple opts users into sharing information without telling them. Or, to put it another way, ‘make it opt-out or we opt-out’. Classy. Of course few customers would opt-in to sharing such data. Because who the hell wants to be marketed to relentlessly just because they signed up for a magazine subscription? No one. Except that’s the way the magazine subscription model currently works. Not because it’s a good model, but because in the days before technology started destroying print, people were naive enough not to realize what was going on. Obviously, the publishers would like to transition that happiness in slavery to the tablet space.”
  • Rupert Murdoch’s “Daily” iPad newspaper set for January launch (All Things D/Peter Kafka)  “It will come out daily, it will sell for 99 cents a week, it will use lots of video and it will have cool multimedia bells and whistles, including some kind of 3-D effect that lots of people are very excited about. And Apple CEO Steve Jobs may or may not participate in a launch event. Most important for other media companies: The Daily is supposed to use a new “push” subscription feature from Apple, where iTunes automatically bills customers on a weekly or monthly basis, and a new edition shows up on customers’ iPads every morning.”

Revenue fact:
Apple typically keeps 30% of the sales of apps through the iTunes store, including single issues of periodicals, and passes the rest to the publisher.

OPLIN 4Cast #139: Apple, Microsoft Office, Newspapers, Twitter

Friday, July 17th, 2009

1. Whaaa?  Something free form Microsoft?

2. What’s up with printed newspapers these days?  Some are launching new sites, some are standing their ground.

3. Twitter has been in the news lately.

4. Apple news

OPLIN 4Cast#127: Obama’s tech presence, Federal use of technology, New Google services, Boxee

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

1. The tech-savvy president ever just took office.  From obvious Blackberry, GMail, Twitter use, to a brand new whitehouse.gov site, the presidential team appears to rely on technology as a central part of President Obama’s pledge to make his administration the most transparent and accountable in American history.

2. Other federal agencies making good use of technology:

3. Some cool new Google services are just around the corner.  Take a look!

4. Boxee is a free, open source application that makes a media center of your Mac (and soon, Linux and Windows) machines.