A few weeks go, it was brought to my attention again, through a conversation with my grandmother, that editing contacts or other items such as mail messages seem to be an odd practice at first and not intuitive. Even in the previous iOS 6 interface, this button always appeared to be an odd concept. Odd in the sense that new users, the thousands I’ve worked with, have a difficult time distinguishing what its purpose is. It may sound obvious to a common computer user, because the edit menu is where we go to cut, copy, and paste such as in word processing. However, many newborn users of iOS, even after reading the edit button, exploring for options, reading a manual, etc., do not know what the word means on a mobile device or why they should edit in the first place.
Aside from our love of writing down our thoughts for the masses to read and enjoy, there is one thing the team here at CE: The Magazine can say we unanimously enjoy — and possibly couldn’t survive without — the read-it-later app Pocket. In the latest installment of our interview series “Five Minutes With…” we had the opportunity to chat with the Lead Platform Developer for Pocket, Steve Streza, the man leading one of the best development teams around today. We asked Steve a few questions about growing up with technology, what drove him to become a software developer, and where he sees himself ten years from now.
I’ve been testing Press since its release a few weeks ago, in hopes of writing a full review. I didn’t write a review because I didn’t see the point: Press is the best news reader for Android, and it’s a strong contender for Reeder’s design crown. The interface is minimalist without being stark, and the designers put in just enough features to give power users what they need without overpowering more casual news junkies. It works great on tablets, more than can be said for most Android apps, and syncs with Google Reader.
Facebook just released version 5.0 of its iOS app, and they have finally made the change everyone has been begging for — the social networking giant has gone native. Before today, Facebook’s application ran on HTML 5. HTML is portable, so much of the same code can be used on different platforms, but it is notoriously slow when used to power an entire application interface. Viewing and sharing photos, for example, sucked so much that Facebook built its own camera app and purchased Instagram. The News Feed in the old app would often crash, and navigation was a pain. Thankfully, all of that changed today. Facebook promises the new native app is twice as fast at starting up, scrolling through the News Feed, and loading pictures. And boy does it deliver.
The photos experience is now on par with Facebook’s blazing Camera app. Photos render smoothly, just a tad slower than on Instagram, and expand instantly when you tap on them. Swiping up or down on an expanded photo dismisses it with a bouncy flourish; a little obnoxious, but much better than it used to be.
It’s hard to overstate just how nice the News Feed feels in Facebook 5.0. Scrolling is finally smooth enough to match or best the rest of iOS, and there’s a new banner that appears at the top, alerting you when a friend makes a new post. Tapping on the banner pulls you to the top of the News Feed so you can check it out. It’s a nice touch, and a lot more useful than you might imagine. If you think smooth scrolling and a banner aren’t that big of a deal, let me put it this way: Facebook for iOS feels so good that I uninstalled the Facebook app on my Android phone.
Once you use native Facebook on the iPhone, you won’t settle for less.
One of the strangest things about the launch of the iOS 6 beta was the absence of native podcast playback. Traditionally a marquee Apple feature, the bundled Music application lost the podcast tab it had sported since its launch. Yesterday, Apple cleared up the confusion with the release of a stand alone podcast application for iOS.
The application, as you would expect, is fairly easy to use. Upon first launching Podcasts Apple automatically imports podcasts you already listen to, a nice touch more podcast apps should include. There’s a catalog button in the top left corner you can tap on to import and search for new podcasts, and a toggle to switch between audio and video feeds. The bottom of the application switches between synced feeds and Top Stations, an Apple curated list of the most popular shows. The list can be broken down by genre, and is fairly handy tool for finding new content.
Like much of iOS 6, Podcasts sports a refined interface that moves away from the somewhat dated grey and blue of iPhones past. The majority of the application is stately black, none of that nasty stiched leather or fake pool table stuff here, and dominated by large podcast art work. It’s a suprisingly refined look, and a breath of fresh air after grappling with the creeping skeumorphism of recent Apple software updates. The few graphical metaphors that draw upon physical objects, like the controls for playback speed, seem inspired by meatspace, not copied from it. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be the difference between binary beauty and pixel induced nausea. The most annoying part of the interface was the catalog—it’s just a mirror of the old iTunes podcast section, and opening it served as a jarring reminder that the rest of iOS 5 doesn’t look this good.
Podcasts probably isn’t going to offer power users much they don’t already have in existing applications, like the ever wonderful Instacast. Aside from top stations, there’s nothing in Podcasts that hasn’t already been implemented in other podcatchers. In fact, moving to Podcasts could mean sacrificing valuable functionality and content. You lose the ability to import RSS or Atom feeds, which means you can only consume syndicated content Apple approves. If your tastes are a little more…. adventurous than Cupertino cares for you may not find Podcasts is for you.
Just as interesting as the app itself is the questions it raises. Up until now, podcasts have been an integral part of the iPhone and iPad operating system. Hell, without Apple integrating podcasts with iTunes and the iPod web syndicated audio and video may never have exploded in popularity like it has (sorry Zune fans, thems the breaks). But, Apple decided not to announce Podcasts on stage at WWDC with the rest of iOS 6, even though the app was launching later the same month. It’s no longer even clear that podcasts will be included in iOS. It could be that, like other Apple applications, Podcasts will simply be left in the App Store to sink or swim on its own. But that would cut core functionality from a mature operating system with millions of customers, something Apple would almost never want to do. But Apple continuing to install Podcasts by default raises its own set of questions— if Podcasts is being left in the OS, why the early release and late announcement? If Podcasts is part of the operating system, why not announce and launch it with the operating system? It’s not as if current podcast integration is broken, and users who need more robust functionality have been happy to buy third party programs. It’s weird, and a little confusing—hopefully we’ll see some clarification in the next few weeks.
Editor’s Note: Technical problems made it difficult to import the screenshots we took. All images are courtesy of ArsTechnica.