Apple’s abysmal Mail toolbar design in iOS 13

A major differentiator since Apple’s earliest days has been interface design. Apple has long prided itself not only on creating more beautiful interfaces, but also much more usable ones. The aim has always been to make things more obvious, and also more efficient. So what happened in Mail for iOS 13?

The previous grab shows Mail in iOS 12 (left) and iOS 13 (right). On the left, you have immediate access to options that let you flag, file, archive/delete, reply, and start a new message. It’s not overly complicated, and it looks fine. Also: all these actions are fundamental to rapidly dealing with email. Now, you only get archive/delete and reply. Also, because someone in Apple’s design team – and also whoever signed this off – are apparently sociopaths,  these buttons are offset. Good luck reaching them comfortably with your thumb!

It’s not like things were perfect before. Previously, reply actually gave you options to reply, forward and – bafflingly – print. Now? Basically everything’s shoved under a reply button with an icon design stretched to breaking point. Really, it should be an ‘actions’ button; although if Apple has any sense, its next action will instead consign this disaster of an interface to history, and Mail will be made more readily usable once again.

September 27, 2019. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Super Mario Tour vs Apple Arcade: FIGHT!

Apple Arcade! But Apple doesn’t get gaming, right? So clearly it’s going to be a total disaster. What we need on iOS is a company with a proven track record in games, like Nintendo! They’ll show Apple how it’s done, such as with new super soaraway racer Super Mario Tour! I’m sure this is going to be EXCELLENT, and totally show up Apple Arcade for the rubbish that it really is! !!!! !!!11!11!!ONE1!!!

Oh. Well, lots of games want you to sign in. This is still OK! I mean, the fact you can’t do anything unless you sign up feels a bit like Mario has taken you hostage. But THIS IS ALL FINE.

And everyone loves notifications, right?

Off to a browser. This is already like a tour – OF APPS! How exciting!

And now a little minigame! How thoughtful. Oh, hang on. It’s one of those awful CAPTCHA things that often don’t work. I AM GOING TO CONVINCE MYSELF I AM STILL HAVING FUN.

Tap tap tap tap tap.

Congratulations! I’m ready to race!

Oh. Unless the internet connection goes squiffy, in which case Nintendo hates your face and decides you cannot do anything at all. Oops – sorry, I forgot: Nintendo can DO NO WRONG. Mario Kart Tour is SO FUN!

Internet back, it’s time to race in Mario Kart Tour. The tour apparently takes place somewhere with worse kart games. Because this one is… well… what you might expect from a company that clearly hates mobile and won’t release full experiences on it. FINISH! Yes, you probably should.

Still, I’m playing now, so at least nothing can ruin the momentu— oh. Well, fine. I mean, every game needs to randomly download a few hundred MB of data within a few minutes of you firing it up, right‽

*one cup later*

Well, I mean, it’s… fine? It’s not that exciting, but it looks nice. The mobile controls are… OK? Super Mario Tour is probably the fifth or sixth best kart racer I’ve ever played on mobile. BOX QUOTE!

Let’s hope it doesn’t do anything stupid, eh?

Uh-oh.

Fnar!

Uh-oh.

Yikes!

I… don’t even. A gold pass, which nets you ‘extra benefits’ and 200cc races. And a snap at the exact same price per month as Apple Arcade (with its 71 games and counting – dozens of which are really good).

You know, perhaps Apple is on to something here after all.

September 25, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Humour, Opinions, Technology

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Apple: it’s time to bin the Home indicator when we’re playing games

I wrote yesterday, with a perhaps uncharacteristic lack of snark and cynicism, about Apple’s latest event. Much of my disappointment was in other people being disappointed about Apple having apparently done something entirely different in these people’s dreams from reality. (Such is life.) But I was largely happy with what Apple showed. I will however make one exception – and it’s readily apparent in a big chunk of the Apple Arcade section of the keynote video. Once again, I’m talking about the dreaded Home indicator.

Said indicator is the strip that appears at the bottom of every iPhone and iPad that lacks a Home button. It more or less replaces a physical control with a virtual one, providing a place to swipe that switches apps or takes you back to the Home screen. Given that Apple was roundly – and rightly – criticised for a lack of affordances in the overly minimal iOS 7 overhaul, this indicator is a necessary and useful piece of interface design.

The snag is that it’s in certain cases abhorrent. Apple wisely has it fade out when you’re watching video, because it would otherwise wreck the immersive experience, much in the same way your telly wouldn’t be the same if someone scrawled across the bottom of the screen with a fat marker pen. But video isn’t the only immersive experience on iOS. In reading apps – especially with comics – the Home indicator is a distraction. And in games, the indicator is an eyesore – the worst of interface design.

Whatever you’re doing, the Home indicator remains, scything its way across the bottom of the display, often in a contrasting colour that makes it the most prominent thing that’s visible on the screen. (Check out the bright white stripe in Capcom’s game demo at around the eight-minute mark of the keynote video.) Some games fade the Home indicator, and a few have somehow figured out how to turn it off entirely; but it always springs back to life when you interact with the screen. In videogames – and this might come as a shock to Apple execs, who probably don’t play games that often – this tends to happen rather frequently.

The Home indicator should be on by default. I have no argument with that. But reading apps and games should be allowed to disable this interface component. And if that’s too much for Apple to stomach, users should be able to delve into Settings and turn it off themselves.

September 13, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Design, Opinions, Technology

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On being disappointed at the latest Apple keynote

I earlier saw a prominent tech pundit complain about Apple’s latest event. Said event was branded as “by innovation only”, but the pundit argued the updates were small, and even the new iPhone cameras didn’t do much more than those on rival devices.

My take is this: if you are disappointed with Apple keynotes – and especially if you are disappointed on a regular basis – you should perhaps take stock of why. If it’s because of a play on words that’s a traditional part of every Apple invite, and that as often relates to its ethos as a company as what’s going to be announced, more fool you. And if it’s because the vast majority of updates from Apple – and indeed all technology companies – are iterative, perhaps stop reading Apple rumour sites. They constantly argue Apple will revolutionise everything in tech, every few months, because that’s what gets eyes on pages. Reality has never agreed.

I’m actually quite happy with my predictions piece for Stuff on the event. I’ve long directed those columns away from the hyperbolic, instead being more concerned about what is likely to happen, and what that means for end users. I had a few misses this time – Apple Pencil for iPhone; Apple Watch sleep tracking; Apple TV update; the fact Apple did update an iPad – but was I disappointed? Not really.

The new iPhones look fantastic. The Apple Watch gets its most-requested feature (an always-on screen). Apple Arcade when demoed didn’t grab me, but the subsequent information from Apple’s press site did. I didn’t find the iPad announcement thrilling, but when I mentioned the price to my wife, her only response was: “That’s really good value”.

So perhaps it’s time to take a step back, reflect on the amazing devices – from Apple and others – we are fortunate enough to be able to use, and provide insight to readers in how they can improve their lives. Then we can stop griping about unfulfilled wishes based on outlandish rumours.

September 12, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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How Apple Arcade is set to upend iOS gaming forever

Apple yesterday revealed the final details about Apple Arcade. The subscription gaming service will arrive on iPhone on 19 September, and then roll out to other Apple devices over the following four weeks. It will cost a fiver a month – and supports Family Sharing.

This has all sorts of ramifications for iOS gaming – and the potential to upend everything on the platform. First, the obvious positive is Apple is now taking gaming seriously. I’m hoping cross-device sync will work well, the games will be mostly worth playing, and that Apple won’t just get bored in a year and shutter the whole thing. (Anyone remember game Center?) But right now, the outlook is good.

Apple has priced this service sensibly. It’ll work on Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV. Also, you’ll be able to use MFi, PS4 and Xbox One controllers with many titles, rather than having to grapple with the Siri Remote, or play complex console-style fare using touchscreen controls.

The question is where this leaves pretty much all other gaming on Apple platforms – particularly iOS. At launch, Apple Arcade will have dozens of titles, and over 100 will arrive within “the coming weeks”; Apple is planning to add more titles every month. So for the price of a single premium iOS game each month, you’ll get access to hundreds. Quite how premium games are going to compete – even in the short term – I’ve no idea.

But Apple Arcade will impact on free and freemium titles as well. Apple has stated Apple Arcade titles can have no advertising, and no in-app purchases. Once a player’s immersed in that system, the vast majority of free App Store titles are from a user experience perspective going to range from irritating (ads being periodically thrown in your face) to downright skeevy. Clearly, developers will have to up their game in this regard – or hope that people would rather pay nothing and put up with a terrible UX than venture towards a subscription.

It’s an interesting time for Apple and games, then, and one that is filled with much promise. But it does feel ironic that the one time Apple finally gets interested in games, it may make the rest of the iOS gaming ecosystem even less viable. Here’s hoping it has the opposite effect – acting as a halo that draws more gamers to Apple devices, and finds them venturing from the Arcade tab to the Games one, and exploring the many goodies found within.

September 11, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, News, Opinions, Technology

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