I was excited to read this book as Chapter 8 was written by our beloved Flash developer Keith Peters (Bit-101) and he writes about Falling Balls and Gravity Pods (games). Other chapters include insights into fonts on the iPhone, the UI behind Snow Reports (very well done in my opinion), there is information on Address Book integration, CoreLocation, and more. Fun stuff.
Overview & initial reactions:
I was pleased that each chapter wasn’t a monster of code blocks and pages in general. The scope of this book is about user interface considerations, so I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of code to begin with. But I’ve seen other books where writers copy & paste a lot of code into their chapters to fill them out (impressive, yes?), or to avoid from actually discussing concepts and functionality.
To be honest, I’ve been guilty of doing that myself once or twice in the past. The book has a decent amount of screenshots relating to what each author is talking about. We have the Human Interface Guidelines to help us, but these real-world experiences and considerations explained to us for our leisurely reading is wonderful. These aren’t merely conceptual writings, they are all applied to real-world iPhone applications.
The book isn’t very long (350 pages) split into ten chapters… and the breadth is decent enough that you could read it cover to cover or use it more as a reference to apply to applications that you’re currently involved with. What I mean is that you can skip chapters that don’t excite you now, but it’s good to know the information is there in case you need some insight later in the future.
Chapter One: App Cubby
I really like how David Barnard talks up learning from Apple in this chapter. He rightly states that Apple has some of the best UI engineers in the world and that Apple has solved many UI problems and showcased their solutions for us. This is important when planning your UI. Reading Apple’s iPhone Human Interface Guidelines is a must for anyone developing/designing for the platform.
Breaking from Apple’s UI conventions may leave users in a state of confusion if you don’t do it well. Apple’s applications are among the most used on the platform, and as such people have become very familiar with the way they work. They may expect other applications to follow suit. The chapter discusses some data entry considerations the author thought about when designing his application – and he took tips from Apple themselves. The chapters is rounded out in regards to tapping methodology and user testing.
In general this is an okay warm-up chapter for the book.
Chapter Two: Yet Another Google Reader
We’ve all made one or a dozen XML parsing applications… because the feeling of control over lots of data is empowering! At least that’s how I have always felt about parsing RSS, etc. So Joachim Bondo decided to make a Google Reader application for the iPhone since he was a heavy desktop user (so am I). Since the interactions are synced on Google’s servers, it makes reading on multiple devices/computers a pleasant experience.
He talks about the default presentation online (Safari) on the device and how it could be improved. He discusses improvements on the navigation to improve efficiency and the benefits of making such an application native.
This chapter doesn’t feel finished, we’re served up some illustrations of what he’s talking about for navigation but we never see an application interface. We’re told that by the time the book comes out that hopefully the application will be available in the AppStore. It’s a decent chapter pointing out the thinking involved, but we’re left out on a conclusion. “Time will tell.” That should never be in a tech book as far as I am concerned.
Chapter Three: Brightkite for the iPhone
Location-aware social networking. After four years at Apple, Dan Burcaw left Apple after feeling that the iPhone SDK would change the mobile space. He started up Double Encore. Dan talks about moving his Brightkite application from just web to mobile as well. The Core Location framework is discussed a bit. Designing for the first-time user, virtually infinite drill-downs, and best practices for Address Book integration. Covered.
I found this chapter easy to read, full of useful information, and littered with just enough screenshots to help shape the discussions.
Chapter Four: Outpost
Authored by David Kaneda from Morfunk. This chapter revolves around wireframing, designing complex structures, creating graphics within context, and working with a small team. One very small point that made me smile in all of it was mention of using HTML in a custom component. Things you’d struggle with can easily be handled with some CSS and some markup. I’ve done this in the past and it works a treat!
This is a slightly dry chapter but it’s worth a read. There are some decent discussion in regard to UI (take for instance custom and present checkboxes).
Chapter Five: TanZen and Zentomino
Authored by Craig Kemper from Little White Bear Studios. This guy has authored a couple fairly popular games and he walks us through the procedure. He tells you not to trust the Simulator when looking at the size of things which makes sense… the ppi on the iPhone and your monitor vary greatly. If you’re a developer this chapter is full of insight and you feel like you were in the room when Craig was developing TanZen. You learn about the successes and the start over moments, as well as learning how he set it all up. Then he shows how a second game was made without having to start from scratch.
I personally found this chapter to be a really good read. No code, but you learn about the underpinnings. You get a feel of what it was really like and how certain problems were solved.
Chapter Six: Flash of Genius: SAT Vocab
Authored by Tim Novikoff from Flash of Genius LLC. Someone with no prior development experience constructs an application and you are given insight into the challenges that came up during development of his SAT Vocab application. He was a development noob and he tells you about that up front. His take is that, “If this guy can do it, I can too!” It’s a very short chapter that resolves around “flash cards” and UI.
While a decent chapter, it feels like a throw-in. Perhaps that’s because of the simplicity of the application or the length of the chapter. The guy was a total noob, so to hear his story is interesting… I’m just not sure how much value it brings to the book as a whole. A little bit.
Chapter Seven: Postage
Authored by Chris Parrish and Brad Ellis from RogueSheep Inc. A chapter about focus, flow, Photoshop, Core Animation, etc. This chapter is a heavy-hitter in this book. Traditional ways of displaying tasks versus their custom tab bar is explained. Many aspects of UI design and user perception is covered to a great degree. You see early design concepts and learn why they were rejected.
I totally love this chapter. It covers UI design, graphic design, user considerations, nice touches in regards to hinting, etc. This is a star of the book, replete with wonderful and meaningful screenshots. Wonderful!
Chapter Eight: Falling Balls and Gravity Pods
Authored by Keith Peters from Infrared5. I’ve known Keith as a Flash developer for many years and his experiments in physics and components in this area have captivated those like me for a long time. The chapter as a backdrop serves up information about two games he ported over from Flash… but the chapter is not about porting. It’s mainly about non-standard UI and problems and solutions. You’ll see a bit of code in this chapter (in fact its the only chapter to include code) and see how ideas progressed into use of the Accelerometer, etc.
This is a good chapter for those getting the code munchies at this point in the book. It provides good insight into what Keith did to bring two popular games to the AppStore.
Chapter Nine: FontShuffle
Authored by Jürgen Siebert from FontShop AG. If you’re interested in fonts for screen design, the anatomy of letter forms, etc. then this chapter is for you. There are many subtle considerations when using text in your applications, mainly legibility and how the font meshes with your overall aesthetic. The FontShuffle application presents typography in interesting ways… even letting you preview your own text (as a served bitmap) in a font you choose.
A pretty interesting chapter, it would be cool if e-commerce was somehow in this application, but the application is mainly a font browser for those who are really interested in typography.
Chapter Ten: Snow Reports for the iPhone
Authored by Eddie Wilson from Eddit Inc. This is the other heavy hitter in this book in my opinion. We learn where the data came from, how an agreement was made that made the data free, having to learn Objective-C on the fly (I can relate to this), the design process (pretty in-depth), wireframes, skinning and the development process. This is one of the initially beautiful applications to come out for the iPhone and I have a copy of the app someplace myself. It was awesome to read all the details that went on behind the scenes to bring it to life.
Great chapter, great application. What a great chapter to finish the book with (on a high note).