Google Play Pass vs Apple Arcade – which has the best chance of victory?

Android Police reports Google is looking into a Netflix-style app/games bundle priced at five bucks per month. This is probably good-ish for users, but a questionable draw for devs. When Amazon’s done similar things in the past, I’ve not heard positive things from app/game creators regarding income. Most have said such deals turned into a time-sink – little extra income, but a big increase in support requirements.

Naturally, there will be comparisons with Apple Arcade. I’m hopeful but cautious about Apple’s offering. After all, the company’s recent history with gaming has been poor. Game Center was left to rot, and then Apple killed it entirely. This left us without a centralised system for social gaming on the platform, and a massive increase in games asking people to sign into Facebook for high scores and the like. MFi and controller strategy has been repeatedly and unnecessarily botched. Even now, there’s no way to get a dynamically updated list on the App Store of games that support controllers. And then there’s the thorny issue of pricing, with many devs switching from c. 2012’s THE APP STORE IS AMAZING to leaving the platform entirely.

However, there are signs Apple is beginning to get gaming – at least to some degree. iOS 13 will support Xbox One and PS4 controllers out of the box. Apple Arcade isn’t just a case of Apple creating a gated gaming service – it’s throwing millions of dollars of funding at the thing as well. The App Store, too, now has its Games tab and games editorial in the Today tab, both of which help people discover great new and existing titles. Google doesn’t come close with most of this stuff – it is the BBC Micro to Apple’s ZX Spectrum.

That all said, success for these new subscription services will likely boil down to something a lot simpler – in fact, just two things:

  1. Are people willing to pay?
  2. Does enough high-quality fare exist on the platform?

For Google Play, answers to both of those are, sadly, mostly no. Android has a decent selection of games, but lacks many of iOS’s top-tier titles; and once you move past customisation and emulators, the app landscape on Android is dreadful. On iOS, I’ve of late found good new apps harder to find, but the ecosystem is still very strong. Games-wise, though, it’s frequently great – and that’s before Apple Arcade’s arrival.

That said, I remain unsure how many people will shell out ten bucks a month in the long term for games. (Frankly, you’d have to be a massive idiot to pass on the prospect of dozens of high-quality mobile titles on day one. But on month two…?) But it feels like Apple has a better shot at this than Google – unless Google puts some serious effort into ramping up the quality and discoverability of the content on its mobile store.

August 2, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Trying to explain reduce motion to designers who don’t have a vestibular disorder

With my recent griping about Apple and reduce motion, I should note many other companies/designers fail this test. The web remains rife with such issues, as does the app and gaming ecosystem.

In part, I can understand why. Vestibular issues are weird. I never used to have one, and now I do. I’ve no idea where it came from. It also makes little logical sense to people. They think I’m lying that I get triggered by animations because I also write about videogames. But here’s the thing: I’m fine with racing games, just as I’m fine with roller-coasters. Whatever’s going on in my head manifests when 1) too much of my focus is taken over by a screen, and; 2) whatever’s happening on the screen is outside of my control.

So I can play Super Duper Racing Games VI, but an abrupt full-screen slide transition in an otherwise static puzzle game on the iPad might make me woozy for hours. This is why iOS 7’s transitions were a problem for many people – they couldn’t be ‘prepared’ for. That sounds weird, I know, and I recognise it’s tricky for designers to test against. You can have a crack at dealing with visual impairment by using your app or website with your eyes closed. Vestibular issues? Nope. So you need to fallback on testing and rules.

The first of those is pretty simple: find some people who have such issues, and ask them if your app/website causes problems, and for suggestions on how to fix it. On iOS, this might simply mean adding a preference to toggle some animations, such as parallax backgrounds. Regarding rules, ask yourself: do I really need this animation? Do I really need that full-window slide transition? In book and comic apps, can I offer an option to turn off transitions entirely? Have I checked transitions elsewhere within our apps?

The last of those is where Apple fails. The company’s accessibility people have been broadly impressive when it comes to being reactive to comments and requests I’ve made. But it seems there’s no systematic checking of triggers throughout the operating system. That might sound like I’m asking for too much, but if you have reduce motion baked in at system level, use it! It’s absurd to create something that can make millions of people’s lives better, and then pepper the OS and first-party apps with slide animations.

In a sense, I’m fortunate. After I figured out I have this issue (back in the Mac OS X Lion era, where I felt sick for days), I can usually recover from being blasted within minutes; if not, it takes a few hours. I’ve heard from people who can be knocked out for days.

So as web/app designers, ask yourself: what can I do to improve my work for people with vestibular disorders? And then think widely: what can I do to make my content accessible to everyone? That should be the goal of computing, not saying “well, just don’t use that”.

October 16, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Design, Opinions

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Reduce Motion doesn’t reduce motion in the macOS Mojave App Store

Accessibility rants on this blog are like busses. One doesn’t show up for ages, and now two are belching fumes into your face.

So, anyway, I just opened the App Store app on macOS Mojave, and I had the audacity to click on something that was featured and looked quite interesting. WHOOSH went the full-window slide transition. BLORCH went my innards. Through squinting eyes I then did a bit more testing. Clicking Done made the window zoom downwards again. And then I clicked a standard list item. WHOOSH went the full-window slide transition, but, excitingly, in a different direction this time (horizontally). GAH went my brain, asking me to JUST SODDING STOP WITH THIS STUPID EXPERIMENT ALREADY.

But, come on, Apple – what is going on here? This kind of thing is not a surprise. I and others have been writing about motion triggers on iOS and macOS for years now. I thought you’d finally got it right when you added Reduce Motion to macOS. But no. Because someone at the Apple interface team is apparently addicted to swoopy whooshy animations, and because apparently no-one thinks to actually test them against accessibility controls, it seems people who have vestibular disorders get to play a fun game of Russian roulette with their wellbeing every time Apple releases a new app.

Sorry, but this is not good enough. Apple is often rightly lauded for its accessibility stance; but as I’ve said before that means accessibility for all, not just the cool stuff that gets the headlines.

(And in case anyone’s wondering, yes I have already emailed accessibility at apple dot com about these issues.)

(Oh, and anyone who dislikes transitions of this type, probably don’t bother with News nor Stocks for macOS either.)

October 15, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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In macOS Mojave, Reduce transparency has broken logic and terrible design

I have motion issues, which I’ve written about on this blog before. I got sick from Mac OS X Lion and iOS 7, due to the animations Apple welded to them. Fortunately, the iOS team recognised the problems fairly quickly; the macOS team… less so, although the Mac did eventually get a Reduce motion control in the Display section of Accessibility.

Even so, I’ve long believed the Mac team doesn’t fully understand visual/balance accessibility issues, and isn’t good with details, and that opinion is rather upheld with Reduce transparency.

The standard macOS interface has quite a few semi-transparent elements, which like frosted glass provide a glimpse of what’s beneath them. At Apple events, execs go giddy about how pretty this is. In use, these elements vary from being distracting to outright dangerous. For example, if you have a motion-sickness issue and an animating web page is sitting behind a semi-transparent element, it can take a while before you realise it’s affecting you, by which time it’s too late and you’re already dizzy.

“Fine”, says Apple, grumpily, “so just turn on Reduce transparency”. Only it’s not that simple. Because when you do, Apple designers get in a strop and hurl logic out of the window. What you’d expect to happen is for macOS to remove the semi-transparent bits. So instead of Finder sidebars or the macOS app switcher showing what’s beneath them, they’d just have a neutral solid background. Nope. Instead, in its infinite wisdom, Apple’s decided those components should instead be coloured by your Desktop background.

This makes no logical sense. Why should the colour of an interface component be influenced by elements that may be several layers beneath them? Also, this decision can make interface elements less accessible, because you end up with an inconsistent interface (colours shifting as you move a window around the screen) and can impact on legibility (such as when moving a Finder window to the right on the default background, whereupon the sidebar goes a weird brown colour).

In tech circles, there’s the phrase ‘dogfooding’. This refers to ‘eating your own dog food’ – in other words, testing your own products in real-world usage. It feels like although Apple is happy to add accessibility controls to macOS, and regularly enthuses about such things relating to people who are blind, its internal teams need to down a whole lot more dog food regarding visual/balance elements. Apple prides itself on sweating the details when it comes to hardware; it needs to do the same with its system software too.


Update: 512 Pixels has created a gallery to illustrate the problem.

October 15, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Design, Opinions, Technology

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Apple’s App Store Preview needs to steal some ideas from Google Play

Apple just refreshed iTunes Preview for apps. Now called App Store Preview, the result is awful. In fact, it’s arguably worse than it was before, with tiny screenshots, absurdly small grey-on-white pricing, and body copy that on my iMac looks like ants have crawled across the display. Perhaps apps are now only for the young, and anyone fortunate enough to have 20/20 vision when blazing into their 40s and beyond.

Worse, though, is that App Store Preview remains a joke compared to Google Play. Look at the pages for Lara Croft GO on Apple’s effort and Google’s. Arguably, Apple’s looks better from an at-a-glance graphic design standpoint, with its white space and minimalism. But it’s very much form over function. Google’s page beats Apple’s in every important area of usability:

  • The typography is larger, making it more legible
  • There’s wish-list functionality, so you can save things you like for later
  • Pricing is within a bold, clear button, not hidden as grey-on-white tiny text
  • You can buy apps and games online, right from your web browser
  • Also, those games with ads (Lara Croft GO isn’t one, but Threes! Free is) have, in bold text, ‘Contains ads’

The point about purchasing is perhaps the most important. If I read an article about new Android apps and games and end up on Google Play, I can click a price button, pay for the item, and send it to my Android device, ready for when I next use the thing. With Apple, I can, what, email a link to myself like it’s 2003? It’s absurd that with such a joined-up ecosystem in so many ways, Apple lacks joined-up thinking when it comes to its store.

It’s 2018. Apple has Apple Pay. If I’m sent to An App Store Preview page after reading an article about an amazing new iOS app, I should be able to buy it there and then, and send it to my iOS devices. Likewise, if I’m on my iPhone, I should be able to buy and send an iPad-only app to my iPad (or vice-versa). I shouldn’t have to remember it later, by sending myself an email or note. Or perhaps Apple’s going to this year follow up Apple Pencil with Apple Pen – an actual (and – if Jony Ive has anything to do with it – “carefully engineered, extraordinary, painstakingly designed”) pen, with which you can scrawl the names of apps and games you like the look of across your hands, arms and forehead. After all, it doesn’t look like Apple wants to help you in any other way.

For anyone hankering after an iOS apps wish-list, I wrote for TapSmart about how to use Reminders and Notes for that task. Neither is an ideal solution, but both are better than what Apple offers itself – which is nothing whatsoever.

January 19, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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