No App is an Island

There’s a certain level of self-centeredness that goes into app development. This is natural, most apps solve a problem or fill a need, they usually have a single purpose or focus. This is normally good.

What’s not good is how often app developers appear to forget (or simply don’t care) about the greater user experience. Third party software is an interesting phenomena.

In the case of the iPhone, Apple takes great care to ensure that the user experience for the whole phone is pleasant. App developers also want their app to be a pleasant experience and keep users coming back to their app. They want their interface to be friendly and usable. Similarly, the user is looking for a “thing” that solves a “problem” that they have. Whether this problem is a better way to check email, a more fun way to connect with friends, or simply a way to pass time, they also want to have a pleasant experience.

It seems like everyone should be on the same page here. What’s the problem?

The problems is that when you’re focusing on a single aspect of the system, an individual app, its easy to loose sight of the other apps around it.

What do I mean by this?

If an app pops up a message asking the user to rate it, this in and of itself is an innocuous event. Yet, we know that Apple has sold over 500 Million iPhones and the App Store has sold over 50 Billion apps. The math is easy, that’s an average of 100 apps per user. So take an innocuous event and multiply it by 100. Not so innocuous anymore.

When thinking about what their app does, developers would be wise to think about what the users other apps will also do.

This extends beyond rating messages, though that’s one of the bigger ones. This extends to account creation and every other notification that an app might want to send out.

How many apps continue to give me notifications about features they have that I neither want or need? Answer: Too many.

Unfortunately, big picture thinking is often invisible to the end user, its easier to notice when things don’t work than noticing when they work well. Yet, it’s arguably this type of understanding which makes good apps truly great.


Further reading: Apple Can’t Ban “Rate This App” Dialogs

Help I Can’t Export From Final Cut X!

Everything plays fine, but when I go to export the options are all greyed out! What do I do!?!?

I’m guessing that one of the clips you are using (or one of the clips in your “event” [aka, "bin" for people in the industry]) has a little tiny camera icon in the bottom left hand corner of the thumbnail image. This is called a “Camera Clip.” At least, that’s what the error messages call these clips. (The clip in the picture here is offline, which is a separate problem, but it’s the only picture I have that contains the little camera icon in the corner.)

Apple does not talk about these. Larry Jordan has not encountered them.* I don’t know why they appear. I could not make one appear if I wanted to. But I know how to fix them.

What I can assertion is that a “camera clip” is a clip that is not properly imported into Final Cut X. The footage is still being linked to, it still plays back fine, but something about the footage is wrong. (Maybe it’s just not in ProRes yet. I don’t know.)

The most common fix I have found is that you need to “Reimport footage from camera.” which you can find in the File -> Import Menu.

Select the camera clips from your event/bin and choose the option from the drop down. (If you select an event and not a clip, it doesn’t seem to work. Make sure you select a clip before you choose reimport.)

Final Cut Pro X will begin the process of grabbing all the footage that it needs and performing the correct processes on it.

If anyone has information on why or how this happens, please let me know!


* In an email exchange last year with Larry Jordan he had this to say about my issue: “This behavior sounds like you either imported the clip from the camera without first copying the files to the hard disk – OR – you imported the files without copying them to the Event folder.” Since FCPX handles all of the importing and the clips were online and played fine, I’m not sure how this could actually happen, but it’s the most likely explanation I have heard so far, even if I can’t replicate it.

Your Phone is the Account

I don’t know what app developers are drinking these days, but I wish they would stop.

There’s a clear indication that most app developers come from a web background. Before you use a website you have to sign up for an account. This makes sense, because you could be anyone, anywhere, using any computer. You need a means to identify you, I get it.

When I’m using my phone though, there’s a 99.99% chance that I’m the person use my phone and a 0.01% chance that I’ve just been mugged. Part of this is Apple’s fault, because the first “apps” for iPhone had to be “web-apps” which is a fancy way of saying “useless.”

But that’s not the case anymore. People can program amazing and incredible applications that run on the little device in my pocket, but heaven forbid I actually have access to any of these features before creating a username and password! We really need to be sensitive about the shared phone situation where different users are using the same app on the same phone and need to log out after every use. /sarcasm

Recently I downloaded a free app called “Frontback.” It’s a camera app that takes a picture with both cameras  iPhone at the same time. It’s a fantastic concept… and it won’t let me use anything until I either create an account or log-in to facebook. Excuse me? You’re going to take a picture with my phone and put the resulting jpeg image in a a folder on my phone called “camera roll.” Which part of this process needs my email and a password?

“But Phil” you say in your condescending tone that implies I’m a little slow, “if you want access to the apps cloud services, you’ll need an account.”

No. No I don’t. I need to know if I’m this app is worth using and if it is, there are a dozen different more elegant ways to create a system that doesn’t involve me creating an account for an app on my phone.

There’s no excuse for this. There’s a 86% chance I’m only going to use the app once, creating a username and password is a barrier to entry. Even if I like the app, I have no good way to easily save this password into LastPass for future reference which means I’m probably going to have it reset if I ever re-download this app in the future. So why not tie the app to my phone? Why not tie it to my Apple account? Why not have a special identifier on my phone be synced to my iCloud account?

Let me use the app before I have to put all the work into creating an account. It’s bad enough I have to buy apps without having a trial, but now I have to also give out my email and come up with a password. Runkeeper let me try out the app before I created an account, why couldn’t Runtastic do the same thing?

A phone is the most personal computer you will ever use. It’s in your freaking pocket, it doesn’t get much more personal than that! Why are we basing our app design on the most anonymous and distributed system we have ever designed? This doesn’t make sense!


Addendum: I hope my position on creating unnecessary accounts is clear and mostly concise. But I wouldn’t doing my due diligence is I didn’t point out a few things I discovered while researching/writing this little rant.

Frontback has this to say in their FAQ:

Do I need an account to use Frontback?

Yes. Since we are a community based app, we ask that you create an account with us. After doing so, you’ll be able to join our community in viewing and sharing Frontbacks.

Which is fine, but there is no indication of this in the App Store, which feels a little “bait-and-switchy” to me. That said, the order in which they list the app’s features probably should have been a giveaway.

App Features

  • Explore and instantly connect with the Frontback community
  • Capture your best moments using both front and back cameras.

Thanks for clearing that up Frontback. Maybe next time put your app in the “Social Networks” category and not in the “Photo and Video” category.

If Buzzfeed tried to write a book

(It would look something like this…)

Jeff opened his garage door and you won’t believe what he saw!

His car.

He walked up to his Toyota Avalon which had 15 undocumented features that make this car awesome.

Jeff put the car in reverse and slowly backed out down the drive way. He thought back to the movie he saw last night. The one he had to watch twice, because it had 73 inside jokes he missed the first time through. He had also missed about half of the 24 references he didn’t know that he didn’t see.

As he pulled onto the street his thoughts slowly changed to work mode. There were a dozen signs he was in a dead end job, but also 82 reasons a bad job is better than unemployment.

The car stereo was hooked up to Jeff’s MP3 player, which was loaded with 15 unknown artists whose music will blow your mind.

Jeff only lived five minutes from work, but he still passed 13 product billboards every twenty-something hates to be reminded of.

Traffic was light, one of the 17 signs you live in a small midwestern town. Jeff was just glad he didn’t have to put up with 8 annoyances only New Yorkers will understand.

Jeff parked his car in the lot and went in to work. It was just another boring slow news day.


** Please don’t judge my writing ability based off this post. It was meant to be horrible in a way that only Buzzfeed can be horrible. If you’re from Buzzfeed, I’m sorry for making fun of you, but you’re really kinda asking for it because you are practically making fun of yourself by now and yes, while I may have some good ideas for your site I don’t really have any ambition to work for you so thanks in advance for not asking. :-) **

Portal Sign 2

A few years ago when I made my first Portal sign, I made a lot of mental notes about improving the project. I never really planned to do it again, but I knew what I would do differently if I did.

Well, a couple weeks ago I found a fluorescent light fixture at a thrift store for $5 and I knew it was time to try again.

BacklightThe light was about 13 inches across and 26 inches tall. I figured I would make the sign to match those dimensions.

The light came with an ugly rounded plastic diffuser, which I discarded, and I had to supply my own power cable, but for $5, you can’t beat this type of deal.

I “had to” play some Portal… for “research” and actually to get some screenshots. Unlike my last sign, I wanted to base this one completely off an actual in game sign. I decided to go with Chamber 14. Continue reading

Social Networks and Email

Social Network, (noun). A service designed to email you updates about things you and your friends do on the social network.

It’s crazy to me why social networks think I need to be emailed about activity that takes place on the social network. The whole reason I signed up for the social network is so that I had a place to go to see that activity, if/when I wanted to see it. Not because I wanted to fill my inbox with notifications about things that happened on social networks.

My “favorite” message from this week was a notification from Twitter telling me about my activity on Twitter this week: I posted a single tweet.

“People really liked this photo.” (5 views.)

Now, I will admit, sometimes email notifications can be useful, like if someone sends you a message that you might need to respond to. Maybe you want to have control over what photos you are tagged in and would like to be notified about that.

But why on earth do I need to be emailed about my own activity?

“Also send me emails when: I subscribe to new channels.” – YouTube notification settings.

I’m not advocating that these options need to go away. By all means, if you want to offer email notifications for your social network, you’re free to add them. It’s (apparently) trivial to do, and I’m all for giving people options and control. I am, however, advocating that these not all be ON by default.

Signing up for any website these days tends to be an open invitation to your inbox. Social networks inundate users with email reminders, no doubt causing the overloaded users to even further disregard their already full inboxes for longer periods of time.

If you need to email your users to remind them they signed up for your service… you’re doing it wrong.

In the past two months I have even begun to receive emails from companies trying to remind me that I unsubscribed from their email notifications… I kid you not.

Ford, asking me to verify my email (multiple times), though I didn’t give it to them.Microsoft, asking me to re-subscribe:

Finally, I decided to take a quick look at some of the social networks I subscribe to, just to get an idea of their notification settings.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but Facebook (currently) has 39 different notifications which can come to you via email. Google+ has 32, Twitter has 21, and LinkedIn has 18. I have none of these boxes checked, but I’m pretty sure they still send me email anyway.

Here’s my full list:

I can’t help but wonder how many people simply mark these emails as spam, possibly the easiest and most inefficient way to make sure you never have to see them again. The geek inside me cringes to think of the wasted internet traffic, the spam filters learning from bad data sets, and countless hard drives at Google filled with nothing but messages from Facebook.

Ultimately, this is nothing but a cranky geek lamenting the difficulties of maintaining Inbox Zero. But, like many annoyed and irritated people before me, I have a dream. A dream that some day we can put this petty promotional pestering behind us. We aren’t going to create a utopia based on email notifications. Believe me, that timeline does not end well.

So maybe this is a plea to all future endeavors. When the current regime of networks crumbles under their overloaded SMTP servers to make way for new and glorious methods of sharing and collaborating, maybe… just maybe email notifications won’t be on by default.