Monday, July 16, 2007

Yet another project

Wow. There's just not enough time before the school year starts. My goal was to finish LearnIt, iPhone Cream, and the site for my dad's company... I finished the first version of iPhone Cream but there are plenty of things I still need to do with it like finish the iPhone version (no small task). I've been working on LearnIt; recently I got pretty excited about it because I finally narrowed down exactly what the first version will be. I have made progress of the design of my dad's website but I haven't even touched the coding.

Now... Yet another project. My mom had a great idea for a web app and I've got to get the first version done before summers out. Yikes. I can't tell you much about it but the target users probably aren't those reading this blog... Sorry guys. But that doesn't mean it's not going to be cool. I'll post more about it as I get further along. In the mean time I'll tease you with a screenshot of one of the first mockups of the interface.

If I'm going to get this stuff done I'm going to have to be extremely focused.

iPhone Cream merging with PhoneLauncher

PhoneLauncher recently announced that they were closing down. Shortly afterwards, they announced they were "not dead yet!" Why all this confusion? It is altogether related to iPhone Cream and by means of inference, me. The two sites are merging. Pretty soon will be forwarding to the iPhone Cream server but in exchange, the site will be called PhoneLauncher (I explain why below).

1. The guys behind PhoneLauncher are great; they will be able to add a lot of content to the new site and help with moderation as well. They will also help with marketing the site. All of these are things that I have been and will not be able to do. Why? I just don't have the time. I need to use my time to develop the site, create awesome iPhone apps (a iPhone version of the site is coming soon), and work on my other projects (about that in my next post).

2. iPhone Cream isn't going to work out. No not the site, the name. Check this out. Thats scary. I don't want to get chased by Apple's legal team. So the new name is PhoneLauncher.

See the post on PhoneLauncher about the merge.

Friday, July 13, 2007

LearnIt rejuvenated!

Finally, I have a clear vision of what is going into LearnIt 1.0. This focus has rejuvenated LearnIt. Sadly, LearnIt may not end up being the name of the project. I really like the name LearnIt but the 1.0 product will not be as focused on learning than I originally thought. When 1.0 comes out it will be a great tool in general (not just for learning). I will of course use it for learning and researching on the internet but it can be used in lots of different ways. That is why I would like to name it something more general and something more related to its main focus... Sorry, can't tell you yet. I'll talk about it more once I get closer to 1.0 (hopefully sometime before school starts).

One note: this thing is going to be awesome for the iPhone. I will be making an iPhone specific version as soon as I can finish the Safari/Firefox/IE version.

Bust a name: great tool

Bust a Name is a great new tool for finding domain names. Now-a-days (especially with web companies) finding a domain name may affect what you are going to call your company. Bust a Name works better than anything I have tried to date. It not only lets you instantly check if a domain name is available but it allows you to give it a list of words and it combines them and mixes and matches them. It also has lots of options like pluralize, suffix, and the choice wether to display .com, .net, or .org domain names only. Way to go guys.

Web Design From Scratch

Quick post to acknowledge a site I have been getting a lot of great web design insight from: Web Design From Scratch authored almost completely by Ben Hunt. He has spent a lot of time to create a really awesome free resource for web designers of all levels of skill. Some of the articles in there are a must read for aspiring web designers and a good reminder to seasoned web designers as well.

Ben Hunt's CMS from scratch looks pretty interesting too.

Simple, focused, and professional

I have made quite a few website designs (for my personal consumption mainly) but never have I had to make a design that looks distinctly professional. So what do I do when I run into a client (my dad) who needs a website that will be seen by people he will be giving his business card to? How can I go from making cool, slick, fun websites to making a website that should just diffuse professionalism. One thing I'm not going to do is make it stuffy. I also want it to look pretty and be really easy to use. So here we go.

My first try shows just how hard this is going to be...

...There was just something that wasn't right. It looks nice but I don't think the visual message it conveys would be "professional". It also doesn't convey the "Creating places where people want to be" message very well.

The latest version certainly isn't perfect but I think it is a great improvement...

I am actually quite happy with this version. I started from the ground up and I think it turned out pretty good. I am sure there will be another version but I think I'll be using this as the base for the final site. I think it also accomplishes a goal that I have for the home page of almost every brochure site I make: make the home page a portal to the other parts of the site. Focus on the three or less main things that the site is about giving people a taste of each section. This allows users to easily find exactly where they want to go.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Digg and iPhone filtering interfaces

One of the first iPhone applications was a Digg interface developed by David Cann. I really enjoyed using the app. Yesterday Digg released an official iPhone version of Digg. The two versions of Digg on the iPhone give opportunity to discuss an iPhone specific design decision.

When you open up David Cann's version of Digg (we'll call it "Canned Digg") you are presented a list of the Digg topics. Press a topic to see all the latest and greatest stories under that topic. The official Digg (we'll call it DIGG) uses a different approach. When you open up DIGG you are presented a list of the stories from all topics. But on the top there is a header that allows you to either log in (to Digg stories) or choose a specific topic.

What approach is best for the iPhone? This is something I've had to think about making my iPhone apps. Is it better to show users the topics and then drill down until you get to the content (much like the typical iPod interface) or is it better to show the general content and let the user narrow down from there. At this point I am in favor of the latter approach. Especially over a slow EDGE connection, users are going to want value on the first page of the site. With only one filter though, I think both versions work pretty well. But the DIGG approach begins to make a lot more sense when you have more than one kind of filter. Say Digg decided to allow users to filter based on their top level sections (News, Videos, and Podcasts), their topics, their sub-topics, and their "Popular Stories" and "Upcoming" sections. That would be a lot of screens to go through before getting to valuable content. Using the Canned Digg approach to such a problem would not only be slower but it would be frustrating for the user because the user is forced to filter to a certain level that he may not want to filter to. For example, say a user wanted to look at the latest podcasts; using a Canned Digg approach he would have to go to podcasts->topic:all->popular stories. The user may not even know what the difference between "popular stories" and "upcoming stories" is but he would have to make a choice any way. This could be frustrating. This approach makes users think. We, as developers, do not want to make users think. They are not "thinkers", they are "users. All they should need to do is "use".

The downside to using the DIGG approach is that if one was to be looking for something very specific, it would take longer than the Canned Digg approach because he would have to first open the "filters", press the first filter, select the item, press the next filter, press the item, etc.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on these two approaches to iPhone filtering interfaces

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

See what EDGE is like at a Apple or ATT store

Worried about EDGE on the iPhone? Try it out at your local Apple or ATT store. Yes, the iPhones that you will use there will be on WIFI but here are some instructions on how to change that...

It is very simple. Press the home button to get to the home screen -> press the "settings" icon -> press the "Wi-Fi" setting -> drag the Wi-Fi slider from right to left to turn Wi-Fi off. Now that the iPhone is not using Wi-Fi you can go to Safari and see how fast your local EDGE is. I suggest you turn Wi-Fi back on before leaving the store because I don't know how thrilled the employees would be to see the demo iPhones using the slower EDGE internet access rather than Wi-Fi.

I have not actually tried this at an Apple or ATT store but this is something that I would have liked to know before getting an iPhone.

The iPhone

My mom got one. Finally, I get to use the iPhone for myself. I will try not to repeat a lot of the things the majority of reviewers have already said.

Safari and multitasking
First item of business: check out Safari. I was first shown the iPhone in the car on the way home from the airport (it was a surprise). The iPhone was on the EDGE network so I wasn't expecting much in regards to speed but it was much faster than I expected. I first loaded my very own iPhone Cream website. It took around 30 seconds to load but you can start using the page before it fully loads so it seems quicker., around the same time (and that's a pretty big site). Smaller sites like this blog took around ten seconds to fully load. It is not awesomely fast but it certainly is useable. Another thing that greatly alleviates the pain of EDGE is that you can do other things like listen to a song, load a site in another tab, or take a note while your waiting for your page to load. This brings me to another point: multitasking. It is great. I can not only have multiple websites running at the same time but I can check my email, listen to a song, watch a YouTube video all without losing the information in the other applications. For example, I could start a podcast, look at a website related to that podcast, see that there is something cool half way through the podcast, go back to the podcast and scrub to the half way point, then go to the notes application and start writing down some interesting info from the podcast; If I miss something I can go back to the podcast (that has been playing this whole time) and scrub backwards, go back to the notes application and write down the missing information. Awesome. There is only one downside to all of this: if you do too many things at once something may crash. But even this is graceful. If an application crashes you are simply transported to the home screen and all your other applications are not affected. Great.

Web Apps
Javascript is slow so a lot of those cool Scriptaculous animations you were planning aren't going to be smooth. This is a little disappointing but I am sure future iPhone's (or possibly software updates) will help solve this problem. Other than that (and a few other minor quibbles such as no support for position:static) I am extremely happy with Safari for the iPhone. Despite the limitations, I can see tons of awesome web app possibilities. Having a useable internet with you wherever you go is going to make possible some ideas that were nothing but dreams a few months ago. Myself? I'm going to definitely make a few apps. In fact, I'm working on one right now. I'm working on a iPhone version of iPhone Cream (see right for a screen of the "My Apps" section).

The first thing I did on the iPhone was to check out the web apps that iPhone Cream and other application lists have posted. The best web apps I have run across (as far as iPhone usability is concerned) are Ta-da List, the official Digg iPhone interface, and Hahlo (an interface for twitter).

Controlling my computer with the iPhone
It was hard to believe when I first tried it, but it really isn't very hard. I downloaded iPhone Remote (developed by the same guy who made Quicksilver) onto my computer, then pointed my iPhone to my ip address, to port 5010 and there I could access my entire hard drive plus some of the computers functions! I could view what my iSight was viewing, browse my files, open word, excel, PDF, html, quicktime, and photo files, and even control my desktop screen all on my iPhone (see picture below). Amazing! Now the trick is to get this to work via EDGE. I am still working on that. If I figure out how to do it I'll be sure to post a "for Dummies" version here.

Think of how useful this could eventually be. If I can get it to work with EDGE I can use it to keep all my documents, photos, and videos that are on my hard drive on hand wherever I am. I could also use it to keep an eye of my workspace while I'm gone (with the eyesight feature). If this is what developers can do with the iPhone within a few days of release, just imagine the kind of things we will be able to do a few months from now. It's exciting.

It took some getting used to but this thing grows on you (if not you, certainly me). After a few days of practice I have been able to type at speeds unimaginable (at least to me) on a mobile device. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration but the point is I am really happy with it. It is fun and fast. Now that I have migrated to typing with two thumbs, I can type whole paragraphs in very short amounts of time.

I'm happy. The iPhone met my expectations. The user interface is extremely user friendly. This is something that my grandma, or my 4 year old brother could use. In fact, I did let my little brother use it. Without any prompting from me he was asking me to pose for a picture he was taking, scrolling through photos, saying "oh. Weather!" and checking the weather. It just works. No explanation is needed. I hope to get a video of him using it and post it here. I hate to think of what it would be like to let him use a Windows Mobile device. Somebody should create a video showing either a extremely old or an extremely young person using first a Windows mobile (and trying to get around, see his/her favorite website, take pictures, etc.) and then show the same person using an iPhone. A lot of thought has gone into making it so that the user doesn't have to think. A lot of work has gone into making it "just work". I give it a big thumbs up.