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July 24 2012

Apps Rush: The Unilever Series, Bing Get MeThere, SoFit, Goldstar Savings Bank, Jurassic Park Builder and more

What's new on the app stores on Tuesday 24 July 2012

A selection of 13 new and notable apps for you today:

The Unilever Series at Tate Modern

London's Tate Modern has launched an official app for its 13-year "Unilever Series' of installations, "from Olafur Eliasson's sun to Ai Weiwei's carpet of sunflower seeds". That means more than 250 photos and 12 videos, as well as articles by curators and artists, and some of the early sketches for each exhibit.
iPad

Bing Get MeThere

Microsoft has launched a London travel app for iPhone using its Bing brand, promising "true door-to-door directions using Bing maps and live tube updates". Favourite journeys can also be set up for quick access.
iPhone

SoFit

SoFit is the latest social fitness app (hence the name, presumably), which awards points every time you exercise. It promises real-life rewards for this: "exclusive products from your favorite brands; downloads like music, videos and games; as well as fundraise for the causes you care about".
Android

Goldstar Savings Bank

This iPad app wants to teach children about financial basics, without making it dry and boring. A tall order, but Goldstar Savings Bank may just have nailed it: the idea being it's an app for children to record their savings and earn money for household chores, in order to buy rewards.
iPad

Jurassic Park Builder

The latest family-friendly brand to spawn its own freemium game is Jurassic Park, with this new iOS game from Ludia. It follows the Smurfs' Village / FarmVille template with players building their own parks, buying virtual bucks through in-app purchases to fund it. $99.99 IAP in a game that's likely to appeal to children? Hmm. The game is US-only for now.
iPhone / iPad

Assistant

Assistant is the latest Siri-like voice recognition app for a non-iOS platform. In this case: Windows Phone. It's a "virtual buddy for your smartphone that uses natural language technology" to answer questions, search for information and launch apps, hooking into Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Evernote and other services.
Windows Phone

The Icky Mr Fox

UK studio Ickypen has launched a children's book app that sees Icky Mr Fox trying to ruin the afternoon tea of Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole, with "tippy-tappy objects" that speak their name when touched. Unusually, it's available on Android and BlackBerry PlayBook as well as iPad.
Android / iPad / BlackBerry PlayBook

Around The Clock

Swedish developer Wombi Apps has a characterful new iOS app for children all about clocks. It includes a mini-game for each hour of the day, from teeth-brushing and biking home from pre-school to hammering nails and slicing butter. The idea being to familiarise children with the clock, rather than overtly teach them how to read it.
iPhone / iPad

X-Ray for Android

Android owners concerned about nasty malward have a number of apps to choose from, as security companies pile onto the platform to capitalise on reports of Android viruses. X-Ray for Android is the latest, promising to scan for vulnerabilities and "keep your carrier honest".
Android

5K To Marathon Runmeter GPS

Completed the programme set by a "couch to 5k" app? Time to step up, perhaps: this app focuses on going beyond 5k races to "give you feedback and motivation to go farther, be healthier, and live longer".
iPhone

Party Wave

Cartoon-surfing game Party Wave looks fun on iOS, getting you to position a bunch of surfers to ride a big wave in top-down view, before switching to a side-on perspective to guide them through it. The game is also notable, though, for being the first from Japanese developer Mistwalker – founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
iPhone / iPad

Cardagram Postcard

French digital-to-physical postcards app Cardagram has launched in the UK. Like established rival Touchnote, it turns iPhone photos into real postcards to be sent worldwide – usually charging £1.99, although it's £0.99 in a launch offer. One nice touch: it can pull in photos from Instagram and Facebook.
iPhone

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Yes, Marie Antoinette re-imagined as a cartoon "ant queen" in a story-app for children. No, I have no idea how they handle the guillotine part. But yes, the app sees Marie baking and decorating a cake, setting up a castle room and wander through underground ant tunnels. More Historables apps are following from developer Base Camp Films: stand by for Teddy Bear Roosevelt and Lionardo Da Vinci...
iPad


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October 06 2011

Why do some people really hate Apple | Charles Arthur

Few companies inspire such strong emotions, but is it Apple's profile, design or technology that pushes those buttons?

You don't have to go far on the web or even everyday life to find people happy to say it: they hate Steve Jobs and all he stood for, and those who buy things from Apple – the "sheeple", in an oft-used phrase – are simply buying stuff for no reason than its marketing, or advertising. Apple, they say, is a giant con trick.

Why do they care? Because, says Don Norman, an expert in how we react emotionally to design, buying or using products that engage our emotions strongly will inevitably alienate those who don't share those emotions – and just as strongly. Norman, formerly vice-president of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple, is co-founder of the Nielsen/Norman Group, which studies usability. He's also an author of books including Emotional Design and his latest, called Living With Complexity.

Apple, he says, excels at generating strong positive emotional reactions from those who use its products. The iPhone was a classic example with its revolutionary touchscreen control – which wasn't the first, but was the best: "Touch is a very important sense; a lot of human emotion is built around touching objects, other people, touching things," says Norman. "I think that we've lost something really big when we went to the abstraction of a computer with a mouse and a keyboard, it wasn't real, and the telephone was the same, it was this bunch of menus and people got lost in the menus and buttons to push and it felt like a piece of technology.

"Whereas the iPhone felt like a piece of delight. It really is neat to go from one page to the other not by pushing a button but by swiping your hand across the page." He adds: "The correct word is intimacy; it is more intimate. Think of it not as a swipe, think of it as a caress."

But just as physics sees an equal and opposite reaction to every action, so strong emotions engender adverse emotions in response. Take this comment by Aaron Holesgrove of OzTechNews about the iPad: "Actually, the iPad succeeds because it enables you to read websites whilst sitting on the toilet and play casual games in bed. It's a toy. You can't eliminate complexity when there was never any complexity in the first place – Apple went and threw a 10in screen on the iPod Touch and iPhone and called them the iPad and iPad 3G, respectively." Critics say Apple's products don't have as many features; their technical specifications aren't comparable to the leading-edge ones; they're more expensive. In short, you're being ripped off. And what's more, Apple is exploiting workers in China who build the products.

By contrast, ask someone about other comparable products out there – Amazon's new Kindle Fire, RIM's PlayBook, HP's TouchPad – and you'll get indifference, even if the prices are the same, or they're made in the same Chinese factories as Apple uses.

Norman says that the reaction – both the love and the hate – comes from Apple's designs. "This is important. It's something that I have trouble convincing companies of: great design will really convert people, but it will also put off other people. So you have to be willing to offend people; to make things that you know a lot of people are going to hate."

Apple's focus on design, which is principally expressed through the objects it sells – the iPods, iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, iPads – drives those extreme reactions, he says. (And it's notable that nobody ever complained about Pixar's products – even though Jobs was chief executive there too.)

Part of why people like the devices so much is that they can personalise them: "The iPhone, being your mobile phone, is part of you, like the iPod is but even more so, because you're carrying everything around, not just your music but also your contacts and the ability to contact people – because people have observed that mobile phones are a very personal item."

By contrast, other companies that try to cater for and please everyone are guaranteed to fall short – and so won't excite emotion. "Many people try to make a product that everybody will love; Microsoft is a good example," he explains. "If you make a product that everybody loves – you do all your market surveys, and when people don't like something about it you change it – you end up with a bland product that everybody will accept but nobody truly loves."

Apple isn't like that, he says. "Apple says 'We're not going to even worry about it. We're going to make something that we ourselves love. We just assume that anything that we really love, lots and lots of people will love. And if other people really dislike it and hate it, so what. Tough on them.'"

But what about the criticism of the lack of specifications? When the iPod was still a hot seller, before the iPhone, I asked Phil Schiller, then as now Apple's head of marketing, about the lack of extras such as FM tuners and voice recorders – which rivals did offer, even though their products made no headway in the market.

Schiller put it simply: extras like FM radio were "a technology in search of a customer". He explained: "We're very careful about the technologies we bring to our products. Just because there's a new technology doesn't mean you should put it in your product. Just because our competitors have put it in their product – because they need something to compete with us, because they're losing on everything else – doesn't mean we should put it in the product.

"We should put new features in a product because it makes sense for our customers to have that feature, and because a significant percentage of our customers will want that feature. Otherwise, not. Remember, all these features cost money, space and most importantly power, and power is a really big deal."

At Apple, the executives' view is that "a lot of product suffer from featureitis": that it's easier to try to sell a checklist than selling a better product that does what customers really need to do. As one explained it to me: "We try to be very careful not to get caught up in a 'list of features war'; we try to focus just on what makes a great product for the customers, what do they really want to do, and focus on that like no one else. If we think some features aren't that great, and don't really work that well, and involve trade-offs that customers won't want, we just don't do it. We don't just have a checklist on the side of a box."

It may be significant that the strongest criticism of Apple tends to come from those most engaged with the nuts and bolts of technology. Apple's staff have probably got used to having their products called toys by now. As long as they keep selling, though, they'll keep ignoring the critics in favour of the fans – which will, of course, inflame emotions on both sides even more.


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


August 25 2011

Steve Jobs: iDesigned your life

iMacs, iPods, iPads – the Apple CEO took us from beige plastic to sophisticated and desirable design in every sphere of our lives

"The Macintosh turned out so well", Steve Jobs – who resigned as CEO of Apple last night – once told the New York Times, "because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians who also happened to be excellent computer scientists." And the people who bought the first Apple Mac computers were often architects, designers and journalists. One way or another, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, creators of the Apple Macintosh computers in the 1970s, came up with a line of products that – though clunky at first – had great appeal, and continue to excite those engaged in design and the media; those who were best placed to sow the Apple seed.

The very first Apple computer to go on sale in 1976, in a wooden casing, had a lashed-together look that hinted strongly at its roots in a Californian garage. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it might have come from an old Buck Rogers comic book. When Apple II emerged a year later, boasting colour graphics and a plastic case, these revolutionary computers – compact, easy to understand and use, and entertaining – began to sell in larger numbers.

But the real revolution in easy-to-use desktop computer design was the Macintosh 128K, launched in January 1984. It featured a mouse, a separate keyboard and a tiny screen with graphic commands that even an exhausted Fleet Street journalist could adapt to. And yet despite their ingenuity, and the revolutionary impact they had on millions of working lives, no one could call early Apple products things of beauty. We used them to produce early issues of Blueprint magazine, a monthly devoted to architecture, fashion and design, yet they seemed lacklustre compared to many of the gleaming 80s designs we published. But everyone was fascinated by Jobs and Wozniak, these awkward ambassadors for a new era in design and media.

One of Jobs's greatest contributions to design was the promotion of Jonathan Ive, the brilliant young British designer, to senior vice president of industrial design at Apple Inc in 1998. Jobs had been away from Apple for some years – creating Pixar and thus Toy Story in the interim – yet when he came back, he teamed up with Ive to create a range of hugely appealing products. The first was the colourful iMac of 1998, a bold attempt to break away from the dull world of beige and grey plastic computer cases. With its oddball marriage of boiled sweet colours and transparent plastics, the iMac was certainly eye-catching, and it also sold – two million in the first 12 months.

But Jobs and Ive really got into their stride in 2001 with the iPod MP3 player, a small, minimalist design that evoked the work of the legendary German designer Dieter Rams, who had done so much since the 1950s to make Braun products, from record players to electric shavers, sell in prodigious quantities worldwide. The iPhone (2007) and iPad three years later have seen the Jobs-Ive design partnership come to fruition. These lightweight yet well-made, jewel-like objects, with their crystal-clear screens, finally imbued the design of computers and digital gizmos with a seductive quality. Once seen and touched, sales were made. Packaging and advertising were all of a piece with these sleek new products, as are the latest Apple showrooms – as much clubs as shops for Apple customers.

The minimalist quality – that has worked so well aesthetically and commercially in recent years – is what Jobs had been seeking all along. An unostentatious man, he has worked over four decades to fuse the complexities of computer operations with an ease of use and finally a gracefulness and beauty that must have seemed not so much out of the question or improbable in the mid-1970s, but irrelevant. What mattered then was to make new technology work for everyone, and like the first steam locomotives, aircraft, typewriters or telephones, Jobs's first designs seem archaic today. His contribution to both technology and design has been enormous. Amazing, really, how quickly those artless wooden and glum plastic boxes have become – with a little help from friends and colleagues – objects of modern desire.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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