Get Logo App

Picture of me programming

I recently created an Android app, called Get Logo, that downloads an image from the web. My goal was really to get my feet wet with making requests for remote objects.

Get Logo is composed of a single activity that presents a form. Upon submission, the app instantiates a HTTPConnection object, and makes a get requests for the desired image. The request is created in the background using an AsyncTask. When the image has been returned I update the main activity with returned image view.

And that’s all it is. My next project will be a bit more substantial. I plan on deploying it to the Play Store. I’ll also share some of my design artifacts throughout the design & development process.

Back to Basics: Android App Development

A little over a year ago I designed a cross-platform mobile experience for an enterprise level client. To design that experience, I did what any technically minded experience designer would do; I downloaded all of the relevant SDK’s and tinkered with the various UI builders. That brief introduction helped me achieve my design goals.

This year my goal is to start building mobile apps for Android. Why Android? Android is written in Java. Java is the first programming language I learned. Continuing with a familiar programming language allows me to sidestep the overhead associated with learning a new language (which is not my goal). It’s also free.

I’ll post a few screens from a simple app I have been working on for the past week. Stay tuned.

Smartphone Downgrade & Communication Questions

I have been an Android user since December 2009. Since then I have owned the Droid Eris, Droid Bionic and the Droid Razr M. I got the Razr M few weeks ago and it’s a great phone.  Prior to the Razr M, though, I was (it feels really weird and confessional saying this) a Blackberry user.

Why? I lost the Bionic while out with colleagues 7 months ago. Somehow I left my phone in a cab and didn’t realize till the next morning. Rather than paying full price for a phone or buying one second hand, I suspended my service for a month. At the end of the my month long non-smartphone experiment a friend let me borrow her old Blackberry.

The Blackberry and I never got along. Trying to send my first text message was frustrating. Launching the texting app and selecting a recipient were straightforward tasks, but sending the message was frustrating. I tried pressing the “Return” button on the keyboard. Nothing. I tried pressing the trackball. Nothing. I couldn’t figure it out. At that point, I seriously considered downgrading to my old flip phone and forfeiting my unlimited data.

But I held off. It turns out the menu button drives the Blackberry experience. All the actions or tasks one is likely to do are hidden within the system menu. Since this was my first Blackberry device I knew none of this. A former Blackberry user saw what was going on and taught me how to send a text message. It was bad.

There were some benefits, though. My overall mobile usage patterns changed. I stopped texting because it was frustrating. Browsing the web on the device was crappy, so didn’t do that. I had no interested in applications, so, I didn’t download any. I didn’t setup my email accounts either. The phone was simply a phone.

I then began thinking about my experience with the phone and, by extension, communication. I became fascinated with a question: what is the fundamental essence of modern communication? From a quantitative perspective, Claude Shannon presented the “How” of communication pretty effectively.

Shannon’s explanation was so well argued and fundamental that his theory pretty much informs the qualitative perspective as well. But, there’s something to be said about the following observation: I used communication tools less and I ended up feeling more connected with others.

There’s a certain qualitative experience (or consciousness) that defies formulaic representation. Formulaic representation enables powerful devices to encode, transfer, and replicate a the contents of a communication.

It is important to understand that process, the systems that enable communication, and the limitations or problems of those systems. Jaron Lanier, Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkel, and slow web folks have attempted to address these issues.

Here are my two cents: it’s not clear what all of this communicating we do actually means. Does it mean anything or, more fundamentally, should it? I think it should. Lastly, if you believe we attach value to our communications then what governs that value? Narcissism? Sentimentality? I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.

New York Times: Election 2012 App for Android

After reviewing the Pulse new aggregation app, I reviewed the New York Times’s 2012 Election app. The review was done on an Android device that ran Gingerbread 2.3.4. The device also had a qHD display (960×540).

What was interesting about this application is how the paywall was implemented. I would be curious to find out how many people subscribed (I eventually did) vs. casual users. Anyway, here’s the review that was done May of 2012.

 

A Visual & Heuristic Review of Pulse for Android

I have long been interested in digital news experiences. I was a Teaching Assistant for a computational journalism class. My masters thesis focuses with news. So, from time to time I like to keep myself informed of how mobile new services are evolving. To that end, I did a review of the Pulse Android application in April of 2012.

 

Mobile Security: A Survey of Authentication Policies

I put this presentation together in April of 2012. The discussion of two (or multi) factor authentication is helpful and still relevant.

Microsoft Surface & Android

If you ask most people today about tablet’s, the first thing they’re likely to think about is the iPad. While Microsoft’s recently announced surface tablet has generated a lot of buzz on tech websites, they’re going to have to introduce it to customers in a few months.

So there’s going to be a big marketing push around the Surface, and the main goal will be to differentiate it from the iPad. At this point, all we have to understand how the Surface will be marketed are images and a commercial. Take a look at the commercial:

Here are some observations: where the iPad is smooth, the Surface seems to be more industrial (e.g. sharp corners), where the iPad is a simple tool with 100,000s of apps, the Surface is a machine. Now, what’s interesting about all of this is that, well, its been done before.

When Android was being introduced to consumers via the DROID campaign in 2008, the Moto Droid used the same industrial imagery to compete with the iPhone. Take a look at the following Android commercials:

Motorola’s goal then, is the same as Microsoft’s – to differentiate themselves from Apple. The Droid campaign was largely successful because it was the only real competitor to the iPhone. In the tablet space, Apple is on top and, while there have been worthy Android tablets, Android has not replicated its success with smartphones with tablets.

Perhaps Microsoft, by recycling some of the concepts of from the DROID campaign, can be more successful in the tablet space. Or, maybe Google will launch their tablet at I/O 2012 and Android will continue its conquest of all things mobile. This is going to be an interesting Fall.

Firefox (Beta) for Android

Firefox for Android Beta Headline

In the ever expanding mobile web world, Mozilla has released a Beta version of Firefox’s native Android app. Sidestepping all of the improvements that are technical, there are a few UI changes that are worth pointing out.

Desktop browsers typically present tabs in a literal way below or above the address bar. Beyond your the visual affordance, this approach is effective partly due to there being enough room on the screen. On mobile, though, display size is rather limited, and the literal approach is a poor choice for mobile.This is why mobile Safari for the iPhone and the default Android browser (as of 2.3.4) provide a way to open new pages and forego tabs altogether.

I like how tabs are handled on Firefox for mobile. The number of open tabs is represented numerically to the right of the location bar.

Tapping on the number of open tabs opens a tab drawer, which, in addition to listing the number of open tabs, resembles the recents panel in ICS. This tab drawer also behaves, and this I’m sure is by design, much like the notifications drawer used in Android. So, this approach is consistent with general platform patterns.


Sure, the hit areas within the tab drawer are a little wonky, but the app is in beta. I don’t mind much.

Improving Instagram

With all of the Instagram news lately, it’s hard not to think about it. It’s not clear what sort of impact Facebook’s acquisition will have, I’m hopeful that much will not change. If anything were to change, I hope it’s some of the experience design.

I think the Android app is good. Sure, the app is a direct port of the iOS version, and it doesn’t make use of the latest ICS Android design patterns. All that is obvious. In order to get a little deeper into the structure of the app I conducted a practical  task analysis of the image capture & upload process.

Here it is:

Instagram Task Analysis by Amha Mogus
The green boxes represent an action, such as taking a picture or hitting the upload button that a person needs to take in order move forward. Basically, someone can take a picture and upload it in 3 button presses (4 if you apply a filter). That’s very quick, simple, and that is why this app is a huge success.

For the most part this flow is solid. The notable exception is re-taking a picture, which has more to do with the navigation patterns employed. There also seems to be an opportunity to improve or optimize the image capture & upload process.

For devices that have larger screen sizes (e.g. 4.3, qHD) a lot of screen real estate goes unused while taking a picture. One way to utilize that underused space would be to incorporate some of the image editing functions. Perhaps the screen can display a list of most used filters and allow one to upload the image from that screen and avoid edit screen altogether.

Here’s an example:

Instagram Wireframe by Amha Mogus

The screen on the left, image capture, relies primarily on the action bar design pattern. The next screen, edit photo, also uses the action bar. These sketches leverage contextual cues better than what’s in production, and organize functionality in a more logical fashion. Also, you can upload an image directly after having taken it.

Hopefully this is the sort of stuff we’ll see from the acquisition. More soon.

On Instagram for Android

Instagram has finally made it to the world of Android. I like the app so far and I understand why its been wildly popular. The app has two main strengths, and there’s real potential for this app be something more empowering than a simple utility.

Let’s start with the image processing software: it works really well. My Droid Bionic has a lousy camera. It produces blurry images with more frequency than I’m comfortable with. Instagrams’ image stabilization software compensates for the hardware’s shortcomings, and their filters make standard images “pop” with some level of style.

The second and more important point is how easy the entire process is. You take a picture, do something to it and upload it somewhere. That process has been designed for efficiency, and, especially the the second step (e.g. doing something to the image), simplicity.

Most people may not be familiar with editing images on their smart phones. To accommodate these folks, the Instagram app removes complexity of, say, a Photoshop app and provides a simple set of filters. Once a filter has been selected, the filter is applied to the image currently in view. When your satisfied with the way your image looks, you hit upload, select a few social networks to share it to and you’re done. Its all very simple.

It is tempting to consider the argument that this simplified process will eventually limit the ultimate expressiveness of the individual. To some extent I agree with this idea. However, the simplification provides a great starting point for someone new to photography. The more curious users may venture further into the broader world of photography. As such, the simplified process empowers people at some level, and this empowerment should be leveraged in the future.

One way to do that would be create an “Instagram Pro” app that provides more robust image editing tools. Doing so, will further empower people who use Instagram. A potential consequence would be a cognitive shift in how users think about Instagram.

Currently people think about Instagram in following way, “Instagram lets me easily create cool pictures.” I believe it can and should one day be, “Instagram teaches me how to make pictures, and that’s cool.” It becomes a different and more rewarding experience. Let’s hope this is one of the ideas floating around at Instagram HQ when they’re discussing how to make their business profitable.