Publishers should steal Pi foundation’s approach to digital magazines

If you’ve not read Wireframe, it’s a British fortnightly games magazine, largely aimed at people with an interest in creating games. I was fortunate enough to write for the debut issue (a fun overview of the explosions in arcade classic Defender), but am also very impressed by the user experience of the magazine itself.

This isn’t something addressed by a great deal of publishers – they either forget how magazines can work in the digital age, or they figure out ways to get more money from readers who prefer flexibility over a fixed format. By contrast, every single issue of Wireframe (and any other magazine from the Pi foundation) can be downloaded for free as a PDF.

It’s an interesting model – open and inclusive. If you genuinely can’t afford the mag, you can still read it. If you’re not sure about it, you can check out a couple of issues, after which you may well subscribe. (At least, if you believe it’s good to support media you love, lest it disappear.) And if you buy in stores or subscribe, you get the bonus of digital backups as a reward for your purchase.

I much prefer paper over digital. I can just about stomach comics on an iPad, but gloss over when it comes to magazines and prose books. But I also don’t want piles of paper magazines with the odd article I might want to refer to in future. Most publishers don’t care about this. It’s a weird stance.

Publishers should be trying to lock-in readers via subscriptions, and doing everything they can to keep them. Free digital back-ups (even if they aren’t ‘openly’ available) seem like a good bet. But mostly you see publishers trying to double dip – 30% off (or similar) if you buy both paper and digital subscriptions.

Technically, a paper mag and a digital mag are two separate items. I know purists who argue people shouldn’t rip media they own to digital, and would say you shouldn’t expect a free digital back-up of a paper magazine or comic that you buy. They’re right. However, we exist in a time where media is being shaken up. Major corporations are shifting to wider subscription models. You subscribe to all music, or all telly, or all comics. Gaming services like this are happening too. Want to keep your subscribers/buyers yourself? Then do better by them! Give them more!

Sure, you as a publisher or creator might be happier if I pay 50 quid for a year’s subscription and then 30 quid on top of that for some PDFs. But that just makes me feel like you’re squeezing me for every penny. But I’ll be more likely to stick around if you decide as a publisher to improve my user experience regardless.

So, to me, Wireframe and other Pi foundation mags are at the very top of the heap – the shining example. But print publishers needn’t go that far. They could still boost stickiness by locking PDFs/CBRs behind an account number, and give readers the best of both worlds – but not expect them to pay for the same content twice.

February 4, 2019. Read more in: Magazines, Opinions, Technology

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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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Beeping hell. Tech companies and movies, please stop with all the *beeping* beeping

I have an induction hob in my kitchen. The second seemingly a single drop of water ends up on its controls, the thing emits an ear-piercing beep. This means when I’m cleaning the thing, it helpfully deafens me until the point it’s dry again. Presumably, the ‘feature’ is designed to help should its owner be furiously tapping out angry blog posts while the spaghetti boils over. In reality, it’s just another example of a notification convention that’s becoming ubiquitous – and that someone needs to take out back and shoot.

Beeps are bloody everywhere. You turn on a piece of electronics. BEEP! You turn it off. BEEP! You change a setting. BEEP! On the telly and in movies, it’s become shorthand for “I just did something on a computer” – from Tony Stark working with cutting edge technology to a detective somehow transferring files from a computer to a USB stick by holding it limply near to a display. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

In both cases, it’s lazy. On the telly, better direction or an actual range of sound effects could get across the fact someone has performed an action much more easily without resorting to shrill beeps every single time. As for in the home, companies need to start providing options to turn these hideous noises off. Because the more of these things that assault my ears, I just want to throw the designers into the *beeping* sea.

May 29, 2018. Read more in: 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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