Crafstman Software Development

The other day I was listing to Build and Analyze episode #95 This Unicorn Doesn’t Support NFC. Toward the end of the episode Marco Arment demonstrates how his application, Instapaper, uses voice assist to help others may have some visual impairment. He also went on to showed how a few other applications in the category deployed or attempted to deploy a similar. I was very impressed by the demo but did not think about it to much initially.

Since then Marco has released two updates to the popular Instapaper. The first update was for iOS 6 compatitbilty but it included some other features as well.

I consider Marco to be a craftsman developer. His product is great, he is meticulous about the features he adds and why and he is always moving the product forward. In the last 2 releases (4.2.5 and 4.2.6) Marco has taken time to add features for what I can only imagine is a very small percentage of his user base. Marco has added fonts to aid the accessibility of customers with little or low vision.

The first version 4.2.5 added the Open-Dyslexic font to assist reading for people with Dyslecia. 4.2.6 added FS Me which has been used in the past to assist people with learning disabilities. I actually love this font and it seems to make things very sharp and easier to read for a long time.

So why did he add these new fonts? Did he have a plea from the community of visually impaired to add these? Does 70% of install user base need these? Is he getting pressure from his competitors to be feature competitive?

I speculate that none of these are true. I imagine he decided it was the right thing to do and it would assist some small portion of his user base. He took a craftsman approach to taking something really really good and making it even a little better. Instantly I think of the back of the cabinet approach Steve Jobs father spoke of –

“the back of the cabinet should look as good as the rest of it”.

Nice work

The subtlty of Search

If you are interested in little UI/UX details I recommend you head over to Little Big Details to check out some of their postings. One that I really liked was regarding the search utility found on Designspiration.

 Designspiration Designspiration

When you go to the search page you are presented with a white screen. There really is only one visual que and that is a large blinking cursor. Once you start typing the search begins and gets more accurate the more you type.

 Search Search

Its very minimal and subtle. I was pleasantly surprised after I migrated my site to SquareSpace version 6 and there is something very similar.

 Search from ThoughtfulDesign Search from ThoughtfulDesign

Nice touch !

iGoogle to be discontinued

Google has some nice tools.  They just don’t always work for me.  I think it boils down to a trust issue.  I am not crazy about being the product.  One of the few Google services I do like and enjoy is iGoogle.  It is my web browser home page and allows me a snapshot of news services, stock information (things I track not necessarily own) and some headlines from a few blogs.  I know there is the bug push for all things Google+ but I suspect that the reason it is being deprecated is that there is no ad revenue being generated.  One of the few services that has not gone this way.  Returning from vacation Monday I opened up my home page to see this notice on the top of the screen.

I know there are others out services that will provide a similar “dashboard” functionality so I will begin to investigate those now.  If you know of a service that you like I would love to hear about it.

Feature bloat vs. graphics bloat

Apple’s release of the new 15″ Retina MacBook Pro by many has been called a thing of beauty. I have yet to see one and I am sure it will make my eyes envious. I am sure Mac application developers will be working quite hard in the coming days and weeks to improve the images in their applications to take advantage of the absurd [1] amount pixels.

This got me thinking about size in general of overall applications.

When the Retina iPhone was released developers were quickly forced to update their applications to this new format to make them look decent. The apps did grow in size purely from the digital assets alone but it seemed insignificant overall. The same thing was true of the new iPad (3rd generation). This caused for much larger applications to the point that some who were comfortably running on a 16 gig models ran out of space. I think this was compounded with the release of the new textbooks that were created in iBooks Author. Another example was in newstand and other magazine applications. Previous magazine downloads were approximately 200–300 megabyte range. After receiving retina graphics treatments some grew to a gigabyte or more.

The same will be true of the applications for the MacBook Pro. I suspect size will not be quiet the issue but it is telling the direction we are going. Applications are growing much larger to provide a better reading experience and take advantage of these amazing displays without functionality changing that much.

I was thinking about this because I remember watching versions of popular applications like Microsoft Word, grow and grow in size. In this case it was not because they were making them beautiful, easier to read on screen or better for the user but because they were attempting to throw everything including the kitchen sink into these applications. In my opinion this resulted in a lot of bloated applications. But, in this instance it was all code based – functionality. After using Word for years (before switching to Byword exclusively), there are still a zillion things I do not know how to do with the application. You learn what you need to know and all the rest becomes noise. Somewhere down the line you may need to look up another function and learn how to use it for a particular document but that “new” thing usually does not become part of your application vocabulary.

The choice is clear for me. If my applications are getting larger make them better looking. Make them more useable. Take advantage of the technology. Do one thing well. Don’t grow your application by adding feature after feature into it. If it has to grow make it be as beautiful on screen as it can be so that I enjoy working in it even longer.

  1. I mean absurdly amazing !  ↩

The turd is dead

Dave Caolo at 52Tiger linked to this piece form the NY Times today.  A few things crossed my mind:

  1. What took so long? (6 years)

  2. Who is the marketing genius that thought brown was a good color? and does he still have a job?

  3. Does anyone know someone who has one?

  4. What took so long to kill it?

Microsoft kills the Zune:

The New York Times:

“Microsoft spokeswoman, Melissa Stewart, confirmed [at E3] that the Zune brand is going away so Microsoft can use the better-known Xbox brand for its entertainment services, including its online video service.”

It was a bad idea to make the Zune brown (it resembled a turd), but even worse to “chase Apple,” as former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach explained at a Northwest Entrepreneur Network in May:

“We just weren’t brave enough, honestly, and we ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing.”

Users who’ve created playlists will find them intact in the new Xbox Music Service.

(Via 52 Tiger)

Inconsistent Experience

Advertising is a part of our everyday life. TV, newspapers, magazines and websites all have some type of advertising. For the most part I am ok with it as long is it is not over the top and intrusive. Fortunately there are several apps that help you read articles without ads like Instapaper.

I use a Reeder on my Mac to subscribe to a number of blogs. Some RSS feeds have ads within them. Its not my favorite thing but it is certainly something that does not bother me.

Recently I was going through some feeds and came across an article from Cult of Mac that really interested me. Cult of Mac does not have ads within their feeds which makes it even better.

I clicked on the preview in Reeder and the full page came up.The few normal static ads are there and I was expecting them.  So far so good.

Wanting more information I clicked on the link that allows you top open the full page in Safari.

This is where I got shocked. When I opened the page I was greeted with a video ad that is in the middle of the page. During the 30 seconds that ad is playing you can not scroll on the page, read the page at all or bounce out of the ad altogether (there is no option to skip this ad). I found this to be a horrible and jarring experience. If you go directly to the website you do not see the video at all so why it was forced for users coming from RSS Readers makes no sense at all and puts a bad taste in my mouth.  If you are going to advertise, you should try and do it in the most thoughtful and consistent manner possible.  This fails.

Turning a negative into a positive

I received an email from This Week on TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) that contained links to a few new videos. One of the ones that caught my attention right away was Renny Gleasons 4 minute talk about 404 pages. Renny is a Global Digital Strategies Director for Wieden+Kennedy

Click below to see Renny Gleason talk about the story of the 404 page. The take away is that you can take a negative experience into a positive brand building one.


Reading on the iPhone

I have said it before I am a big reader now. There are many reasons I love the iPad. I can write, surf the web but reading if a key feature of its use. This can come in the form of RSS feeds through Reeder or more commonly books purchased through iBooks ( the Amazons Kindle app is nice to but I prefer iBooks). Reading on the current iPad with the Retina display is fantastic.

I love the iPhone as well. It is the probably my second favorite Apple device ever after my MacBook Air. It is a personal computing device in my pocket. But I have relegated it to email, texts, music, podcasts etc. I have never thought of it as a reading device.

I just finished “Insanely Simple” by Ken Segall. I purchased the book on my iPad through the iBookstore. I quickly got engaged in the book on my iPad. for me it was one of those books I could not put down. but whipping the iPad out at the Drs.. office or while sitting in the coffee shop did not always work. But I was really hooked on this book. So I turned on iBook synching and I had a few books download to my iPhone.

The first time I opened the book it immediately went to the last page I had booked marked on the iPad. I figured what the hell I had a few minutes so I thought I would give it a shot. As soon as I started reading the header and footer of the book disappeared giving a larger viewing area. [1]

iPhone Bookmark iPhone Full Screen

I started reading and found I really enjoyed it. I was completely surprised. The retina display makes the text look gorgeous and the reading experience was very nice. I found over the course of reading this book I was finding myself using this method more and more. The other night I went to bed and forgot my iPad but had my iPhone on the bedside table so I picked it up and continued reading. Reading on the iPhone is certainly not for everyone. I don’t think the current magazine subscriptions would lend themselves well to the small screen but I think it is perfectly acceptable for a book and I recommend everyone give this a try at least once.

  1. larger is a relative term here.  ↩

This Is All Your App Is: A Collection of Tiny Details

Jeff Atwood at Coding Horrors wrote a really good post comparing the details of his automatic cat feeders to the little details in your software. Below is my favorite line. Its a good read and lots to think about.

This Is All Your App Is: A Collection of Tiny Details:

This is all your app is: a collection of tiny details.

This is still one of my favorite quotes about software. It’s something we internalized heavily when building Stack Overflow. Getting the details right is the difference between something that delights, and something customers tolerate.

(Via Shawn Blanc)