Co.Design

4 Design Details We Loved At Apple's Big Launch, And 1 We Really Hated

By now you’ve heard about the new MacBooks. But what about everything else Apple announced at WWDC?

Apple. The name has become synonymous with good design. But it’s also had a few missteps in recent years. Skeuomorphism is taking the place of clean interfaces. At today’s WWDC, Apple shared details of new MacBook Pros, the next OSX Mountain Lion, and iOS 6, all of which will be available by July. Here’s what we loved and what we hated.

Loved.

Apple Finally Drops Google Maps

Turn-by-turn directions
Crowd-sourced traffic data and smart route adjustments.
New maps based on airplane imagery.

Apple has finally ditched the sclerotic Google maps app that comes on every iPhone, in favor of its own mapping system which will be able to give you turn-by-turn directions. It was about time—Google’s application hasn’t improved one jot from a usability standpoint, ever since it was introduced.

What’s particularly exciting is that Apple’s maps will crowd-source the traffic data it detects from all the people using the app—and then use that information to calculate less-trafficked routes. While this idea has been around for quite sometime, it’s one that requires massive scale in order to work well. Apple has nothing if not massive scale. (That weird sound you just heard was Garmin, TomTom, and every other GPS maker screaming into a pillow.)

The maps, apparently, are powered by Flyover. This was probably the smallest surprise of Apple’s announcements today (given that the tech has been shown off in other incarnations before). That said, as part of Apple’s new 100% vector maps system, this powerful 3-D rendering feels like—is there a better word for it?—the future.

Quieter MacBooks


The new MacBook Pro will have the highest resolution display in the world. What goes unsaid, in that statement, is that a GPU is cranking hard and hot to drive all of those pixels all the time. Any manufacturer would add fans to keep things cool. But Apple? They’re using two asymmetrical fans to cool the system, with slightly different blades. They cut through the air at different frequencies, sounding quieter to the user. (Usually, fan blades are all symmetrical, meaning each one builds upon the noise created by the others.) Genius.

Airplay Mirroring, Without Cables


The problem of sharing your screen is an age-old one, especially when it comes to giving meetings. Apple is enabling Apple TV to stream desktops over Airplay. Because as nice as Apple TV’s YouTube integration may be, sometimes you just want to pull up exactly what you’ve got on the screen. Furthermore, it’s always nerve-wracking sharing your computer screen. It’s not just a machine for business; your computer is the center of your personal life, too. So OS X Mountain Lion will automatically disable message notifications—things like tweets and emails—when plugged into a projector.

Siri in Cars: Eyes Free


Siri hasn’t changed the world just yet, but Apple isn’t slowing down with voice (nor should they). But the best Siri announcement of the day was that it’s coming to cars, called Eyes Free. With a button press and voice commands, users can "Keep [their] hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road." We don’t know much about the feature yet, except that 12 major auto manufacturers have already signed up to support Eyes Free in the next year.

Quibbles.
Passbook


Keeping a wallet full of rewards cards is a pain in an era when we barely need wallets. But I do like my free lattes. Passbook is an iOS 6 app that rolls all your paper/plastic cards—from Starbucks rewards to United tickets—into one app that holds them all. The catch is that, from what we can tell, credit cards aren’t included. And it’s all scanner-based. What happened to the NFC revolution driven by Apple? This is an odd stopgap.

The Skeuomorphism Beats On


The felt Game Center app. iCloud Reminders with fake legal pads and, is that Comic Sans? And a paperclip attachment that’s making its way into all sorts of apps like the more deeply integrated Twitter. Do kids these days even know what a paperclip is? Do kids these days even know what paper is?

Concern.
The Notification Center


The idea is great in theory: One portal to filter all of my notifications from email, Twitter, iMessage, and Facebook. But in practice, this is the sort of "simple" solution that’s terrifies me. Just look at the above image, showing the scope of Notification Center. We have video from one person. An email from another. Even though Notification Center simplifies all of these windows into list form, it’s no conceptually easier to manage. Apple is making an assumption, that all notifications from all services are equal, at any time of the day. But the fact is, Facebook is of #1 importance to me on the weekend, while email and Twitter drive my workweek. Attenuating this noise for me would be a service. Funneling it into one big jar is not.

Fear.
The Lack Of A Unifying Theme


Between OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, we’ve seen dozen of new features at WWDC today. Many are great ideas that will scratch "Why can’t I do that?" itches for users. But the more features that were piled on, the less focus there seemed to be.

More clearly, each feature that Apple showed looked differently and worked differently. Some features were toggles. Others were invisible. Some information syncs in iCloud. Other pieces are local. Some components are driven by Siri. Others seem to not know she even exists.

We’re beginning to see fragmentation in Apple’s own feature set. If voice is the future of Apple and Siri is the future of voice, then OS X Mountain Lion shouldn’t just feature new voice-to-text capabilities, it should feature Siri.

If Twitter can be integrated into any action I take in any desktop app (thanks to a new API), why can’t the same be said for any service supported by Apple’s new Notification Center?

Without an umbrella—some unifying, central hub between the Apple OS and connected apps and services, and OS X to iOS—every new feature is just a new feature. And with enough "features," it sure begins to feel like bloat.

[A special thanks to gdgt and The Verge—you guys take the best liveblog photos in the industry.]

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24 Comments

  • Manas

    > Google’s application hasn’t improved one jot from a usability standpoint, ever since it was introduced.

    You know that the Maps app is written by Apple, not Google, right? They licensed the data, but wrote the app themselves. Any lack of updates is solely to be blamed on Apple.

  • Ian

    Just a note, fans for cars have been asymmetrical for decades . . . I'm surprised that they weren't in computers until now.

  • Design Rising

    Ever since the release of iOS, Apple's products have been converging upon a new post-PC paradigm of interaction. The iPad is the obvious "missing link" between the iPhone / iPod touch and the Mac, which had been explored with trackpad gestures and wireless technology. More subtly, Lion included many UI tweaks that more closely resemble those that we are used to seeing on mobile devices. Now, Mountain Lion's Notification Center and iCloud syncing, among other features, are continuing this movement.

    You are referring to inconsistencies in naming (Siri) and the failure to integrate more third-party services at a system level. These might be interpreted as a signal for larger fragmentation
    movement to follow, but the vast majority of Apple's products and services indicate that the opposite is true. Your observations are minor preferential gripes, not fragmentation.

  • $8290949

    Steve Jobs wanted to change the name of Siri but they would not allow it. They being Siri's back-end provider.

  • Simon Cohen

    Man, this ongoing rant that some folks [Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo most notably] are perpetuating against Apple's skeuomorphic design language has to stop. Since the very beginning of Mac OS, these choices have had a common goal: to help people forget that they are actually using a highly sophisticated piece of technology which would otherwise intimidate them. "Friendly" is the key here, and whether you can personally handle the aesthetics of friendly or not, most of the world finds it comforting. What I find especially amusing in these critiques of font choice, simulated objects and textures is a complete lack of suggested alternatives. Not everything can be presented in (gasp!) Helvetica. There, I said it. 

  • jonathanbaldwin

    Bear in mind, Siri is not voice dictation. Siri is an enquiry system and command hub. When you dictate a note on the iPad you're not using Siri. When you ask your iPhone to send an SMS, or find a restaurant, then you're using Siri.
    So the Mac's dictation system is also not Siri. If they ever let you command your mac to create a Tweet, or check the weather, that will employ a Mac-based version of Siri.Don't confuse dictation and Siri!

  • Rbs

    Keep in mind that Siri is a hierarchy of technologies, from voice recognition to artificial intelligence for understanding context. Dictation is thus a subset of what we think of as Siri. It in the conclusion phase of beta testing on Apple's premier product, the iPhone, and will roll out to capable products thereafter.

  • Sal

    I think Voice Dictation in the Mac is like how they brought Voice Dictation to the iPad and then now put it in Siri. 

    Its Evolutionary. They know where they are going and they want to take it slow.

  • jonathanbaldwin

    Notification Center works really well - anyone who uses Growl already will love it. It's far better than the alternative, i.e. nothing (or lots of bouncing icons in the dock).
    The paper clip is probably the one skeuomorphism I like in iOS.
    There's some fragmentation but it's understandable - different teams working on the OSes. But, it's clear that each iteration brings ideas together. Mountain Lion changes the name of iCal, iChat etc.
    No it's not Comic Sans and yes you can change it (it's Helvetica Neue on mine).
    Also, we need to remember that while some of the design choices offend we designer types, for most people they're wonderful. Game Center works for me, Calendar less so. Most people seem to like the things we hate so let's worry about other things.

  • Michiel Van Den Anker

    Isn't it a well known fact that Apple created the Google Maps App to begin with, so if it felt sclerotic that was partly Apple's fault? I am really happy that Apple is going to provide for more competition in the Maps space, but you made it sounds that the old app was Google's (in fact you wrote "Google's application"). As a developer I worked out that it was just a wrapper around the JavaScript version of Google Maps.

  • zschmiez

    Microsoft has had the "Bird's Eye" view for over 3 years ( I believe they license from Pictometry).  It looks great as used above, but is worthless in a dense city where oblique views are covered by tall structures (in terms of visual map reference).

    And Google (and I assume TomTom) have utilized cell signals for traffic since 2009;

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-3068... 

  • Rachael Donaldson

    Thank you for the succinct wrap up. A few things for a "normal person/user"--> without MobileMe I have no way of easily sharing downloadable pics and videos with family that's seamless. iCloud is not the answer, in fact Pages on the iPad still asks for a MobileMe log-in even if though iCloud tells you to look for iCloud enablement. Confusing. Not seamless. 

    As far as loyalty card storage, there are apps like that already, of course, but most scanners like grocery stores, clothing stores can't read the UPC off of the shiny iPhone screen so clerks end up typing everything in anyway. Feels like there needs to be a fix beyond just UI.

  • $8290949

    All the stores that I've gone to can read from the iPhone just fine. Maybe you should clean your screen.

  • Dale P

    Re: Tom Tom screaming into their pillows: they are the main provider of data for this new version of Maps - they are the only company whose logo gets prominent placement in the settings "sheet" that appears when you swipe the corner curl.

    AirPlay has always been cable free (the Air in the name), so your choice of subtitle was odd. I understand your meaning - that it enables cable-free screen sharing from the Mac.

    Additionally, that screen you post under notifications does not represent the notifications experience *at all*. They are small items that appear in the top right corner of the screen then disappear. You can swipe from the right and a vertical strip showing all unattended to notifications appears on the right of the screen.

  • Mark Wilson

    Fair point regarding Notification Center screen. I adjusted the copy to clarify that a bit. But windows or lists, it's still an overflowing pile of information.

  • kevinhbruce

    Nice commentary on the fragmentation of services. I would like to hope that they are working in that direction, but I cannot assume :/

  • atimoshenko

    Your screen grab of 'Notification Center' is actually not a screen grab of Notification Center – it's a screen grab used to demonstrate the (current) mess that Notification Center REPLACES.

    This is a screen grab of Notification Center:
    http://images.apple.com/osx/wh...