App.Net has to be the most underrated and misunderstood service on the internet right now. Amazing things are going to be born out of it, but yet everyone just passes it off as a paid also-ran.
That isn't to say that there isn't something wrong with App.Net, because there is. It has nothing to do with being a paid service, or only having a small amount of users. It all comes down to marketing. From day one, App.Net has been marketed the wrong way. Which has been a real disservice to the service itself.
They say we judge a person within 10 seconds of first seeing them. The same principle applies to apps, websites, and services. Unfortunately, this is just a part of human nature. The ambitions of Dalton Caldwell are commendable. He has created something that is beneficial and I would say is actually needed on the internet at this point in its lifetime. The problem is, he has told the story in all the wrong ways.
Going back to day one, Dalton put out a blog post about his dismay of what Twitter had become. He was upset over the fact that Twitter wanted to become a media company, that the good old days of a free-for-all API were no more. To which matches my own sentiments. I completely disagree with the direction that Twitter wants to take itself.
This post garnered a lot of positive discussion so Dalton next posted his proposal for App.Net. After a round of crowd funding, the service had it's finances in order and development began.
The problem starts right from that very first blog post. Dalton used the problems over at Twitter to frame the whole discussion. This has left a lingering concept of what people think Dalton wants App.Net to be.
To show that the App.Net API was viable, the first client produced was Alpha by App.Net itself. Alpha is the raw stream of posts from people you follow. In essence, it is Twitter. There really isn't any other way to put it. This would have been fine down the road, but like everything else up until this point, Alpha continued to frame App.Net as nothing more than a paid clone of Twitter.
This message problem continues today. The App.Net website was redesigned to give a better sense of what the service is and how it is beneficial. The website also tries to promote apps that use the API. The problem here is there is a mixed message, is the website trying to talk to users or developers? It's trying to do both. It would really be better to have separate websites for users and developers.
The first marketing message on the site is for users. It's telling them that App.Net is a social network, which users interpret as being just like Twitter or Facebook. Where in reality, App.Net is solely a Social API. App.Net should only facilitates 3rd party social networks and social apps.
Users shouldn't be inferring that there is a 1st party social network that considers itself The App.Net Social Network. It would be much better to promote other social networks that are born from App.Net. This way users aren't gravitating towards App.Net itself, but the experiences that App.Net facilitates.
The website also doesn't give me any indication, at a glance, of what apps using the API can do. It only tells me that I need to use the service and a lot of apps to discover what I can actually do with App.Net. In a world where people leave a website if it doesn't load in 5 seconds, this isn't good enough. Users should be told up front of the unique things that you can do with App.Net apps.
The Core Values are below the fold of the website. All seven of them are fantastic but I don't think average users really care about this part of the service. They all use Facebook and Google without caring that their personal data gets sold all the time. I would distill these seven down in to one. One easy message that any user can digest and understand and value.
Names are things that humanity highly values at a subconscious level. We put so much importance in to names. So it's somewhat sad that App.Net itself has no name. App.Net is just a URL that was being used for an entirely different service before the App.Net API existed. Mind you, it's an awesome URL but it's not a name. It sounds strange to say "My app is built on top of the App.Net API" because we don't say "My app is built on top of the Facebook.com API" we just say "My app uses the Facebook API."
I understand why Dalton doesn't want to name the service. He has said to the effect that App.Net is something that sits in the background. The problem there is that you have multiple apps using the API and it is designed to share data between them. It would be nice for a way to uniquely identify the service/API with a unique name and logo.
It actually took me quite a while to understand what App.Net is trying to be. When the crowd funding round began my opinion was in exact alignment with I have $50. "Nobody wants to pay for Twitter!"
I had to listen to a podcast that Dalton was a guest on and also the actual App.Net podcast before I understood what App.Net really is. As a prospective user, I shouldn't have to go to such lengths to find the real message of what the service is. The website should tell me this up front. "Hey! We have a social API and some really cool apps are being made on top of it! Check them out!"
I am not the only one who has gone through this process. The new Free Tier really helps, but there is still the issue of no real benefit explanation up front. It just shouldn't be this hard to get it.
Compare the sign up pages of Facebook and Twitter. Right there Facebook tells me I am going to get four things if I join and these are the benefits of those four things. Twitter tells me its' single benefit, find out what's happening. On both sites, the message is clear. As a user, I will get these things if I sign up.
First up, here is what should not be promoted on the homepage anymore. Any app that only shows a users raw stream. This continues to fester the idea of App.Net being a paid Twitter.
Start promoting heavily unique experiences. Each one different from the other. Apps like: Patter, an IRC client using the group messaging section of the API; App.Net File Manager, a web-based file manager using the file section of the API; Vidcast, a group jukebox for YouTube videos; and Project Amy, a text/group messaging app that integrates in to Messages on OS X that also uses the group messaging section of the API.
Just those four show how versatile App.Net can be. These are the kind of apps that make you say, "Yes, I will pay you $36/year!"
I truly believe if the message was changed, everyone would stop having the discussion if App.Net is worth it or not. We could start discussing the cool apps being made with App.Net. Because that would be an infinitely more enjoyable topic.
iMore recently posted an article of what iOS would look like if skeuomorphism (read textures) was removed. In the absence of these textures, it was suggested an aluminium theme should be adopted. Similar to the one that iOS 6 Maps uses.
The issue at hand is that Apple has been so heavy handed with textures and real world objects. Book shelves, leather, real-to-real tape decks, notepads, etc. To Apple's credit, these are all finely detailed in their respective apps (Especially the Podcasts app. The amount of detail in the workings of that tape deck is astounding).
People however, now feel this is all too much. They feel it is tacky, tasteless, and childish. They want all of this ripped out in favour of something OS X-like or Metro-like.
In the article, Rene did something nobody else has really done before when it comes to this debate. He posted mockups of what apps would look like if they were re-skinned. His base was the iOS 6 Maps app.
The Maps theme is alright. It is the same silver as the default iPad theme. Unfortunately it looks bland as a default. If you wanted to go all silver, I'd try the iPhoto theme. It has more warmth to it.
Applying this aluminium theme to Find My Friends, iBooks, and Game Center is hit and miss for me. Find My Friends works okay because it has no analogue. iBooks and Game Center however look like they had the life sucked out of them. They are a shell of what they once were. This is not the way to solve this problem.
Now say it with me, "Textures are not bad. Textures are not evil. We should not be ashamed to use textures." Textures make an app friendly. They make an app recognizable. They help to brand an app. These are all commendable things and shouldn't be forgotten just because of the latest fad.
I hear you say, “Consistency!” Yes, consistency is important. We get this trait in app design from desktops. But thematic consistency is not as important on a touch screen OS. Touch screen apps are (currently) no-distraction experiences. Only one app takes up the screen at a time. This means you are focused on just a single app.
Desktop apps on the other hand run windowed. The reason why you want thematic consistency there is so no app sticks out like a sore thumb distracting you. But due to the nature of the no-distraction experience on iOS, this issue just never arises.
Where consistency comes in is with platform conventions. Your buttons should be in obvious places, you should follow patterns, your iconography should be consistent, etc. Being consistent with these areas of app design will make your app feel right at home. Using the default theme is nice, but not necessary.
I feel sorry for the Find My Friends app. It is constantly harassed and called names. It only wants to help you. So let's help it out.
To start off with, this is not what I think Apple should do. Apple have many talented designers and those of us outside of Apple do not know what the brief was for the app. This is only how I would design the app if it was my job to. Click the following mockups for a larger view.
It has been said by Sebastian de With (who was on the team who designed Find My Friends) that the reason the app uses such heavy chrome is because it is such a data heavy app, inferring there is no content. I disagree with this. There is plenty of content to be found.
iOS 6 includes gorgeous looking maps that should be put front and center. By doing this, I have eliminated most of the chrome. No need for fancy stitching or any other decorations to fill in the app. The map does all the filling in.
The other piece of content is our friends. They are the primary use case of the app. By moving the contacts list in to a horizontal scroller (like that found in the iOS 6 App Store) I have been able to make the best use of space and allow more of the map to be shown. As an added touch, the pins now show contact photos. This is to make it easier to see at glance where your friends are.
The app itself still includes texture. Instead of using heavy leather and stitching, I've gone for subtle cardboard. I chose cardboard because I wanted to evoke the colours of the original app. Colour was never the problem.
On the technical side of things, I consolidated the navigation. You get your own card now thats always first (You are at 0 millimetres away from your phone), so thats the Me tab gone. Requests also come in as new cards instead of being stacked in their own tab. Any options that were present for these tabs would be handled on detail views. I also renamed Temporary to Events. I felt it was a better fit.
This is the detail view for each card. On the iPad the cards would flip around. Again, like in the iOS 6 App Store. I added a Map View to the top of the card, like iOS 6 Maps, to give a visual of the address.
So that's my take on the app. I'm sure others would do it wildly differently. My goal with this was to show there is actual content when you think there is none. Don't hide it, bring it forward.
I hope this has shown you that textures aren't bad. They just need to be used in moderation. To remove them from iOS and go flat would just be responding to a fad. iOS would become a fashion victim.
It's a new year, so I thought I'd start with a new beginning. I've redesigned not only this site, but my identity from the ground up. The site is now fully responsive thanks to Bootstrap. Every image is also retina enabled, which I still think is very important for the future.
All the content from before is still here, except for the Little Snitch icon on the downloads page. I decided to retire that since Little Snitch now has an excellent icon of it own. I've added in a Portfolio page and a more detailed contact page.
As for my identity, I wanted something that was sharp, clean, and colourful. The mark itself represents precision and the colour set it creates work well to make an identity that works on all mediums. I'm really happy with how it turned out.