Apple TV 2.0 Review

Apple TV owners got a software update pushed to their boxes this week, and Gizmodo has a review of the software complete with screenshots and a description of the rental and purchase services now offered.

I was a bit disappointed by the update at first, but like my 6 year old son said on the second day, "I'm getting used to it." Gone is the simple, single panel with left/right hierarchical navigation. That has been replaced by a 2 panel columnar navigation--left side for parent and right for it's children. Once you select the child in the right panel, that screen is taken over by a full screen interface, e.g. Movies > My Movies > Full screen movie list. Once you adjust to that change, the interface is quite intuitive actually, but I would have preferred the option to use the older UI if I prefer.

The UI for navigating your media is much simpler than that for navigating available video rentals. They've taken to using the full screen to navigate movie rentals by the movie's poster image (with titles is smaller type) which is neat at first, but less eficient than quickly scrolling a list of titles. It might be simpler for young children, being able browse through images rather than skim titles, but it would have been nice to have the option of switching between the two.

Many of the technical issues in the first release have been dealt with as well. Synced and streamable media are now seamlessly navigable--you don't have to switch between sources. I also perceived there to be less buffering time when streaming video. They've also added access to Flickr photos.

On the service end, I, like many others, think the terms of service for video no demand are not so great. The prices are on par with DVD rental, but you have to watch the video within 30 days, and once you start, you only get to watch the video for 24 hours. This might make sense to most people, but not to parents with kids who rent a video and watch it repeatedly for a while before sending it back, e.g. to Netflix. It will be interesting to see if they're ever able to come up with a subscription model more like Netflix. That would certainly get a lot more interest in my opinion.

Overall, I think the user experience and convenience offered for people who have an interest in the Apple TV is a great improvement in this release. Check out more of the interface on the article at Engadget or the Apple TV Guided tour video below:

Or in Cali Lewis' review on

View screenshot on Flickr

Yahoo! NewsGlobe vs. Wii News Channel

Yahoo! launched the News Globe, which shows the top news stories of the day using a rotatable globe for navigation. The stories are depicted as red blocks stacked over geographic regions of the globe, with taller stacks indicating more stories. By default the interface will autoplay through the top stories, spinning the globe to get from story to story. Clicking a link to a news article jetisons you out of this otherworldly view of earth, and into text land on a separate page. It's a jarring experience.

This attempt at providing a way to visualize top published news activity is cute, but it's nowhere near as useful as the interface provided by the Wii. Check out the interaction with the Wii News Channel below:

There is something much more gratifying in the Wii News Channel experience, and I think the satisfaction I feel is due mostly to the fun of using the Wii remote to spin and navigate the globe. I have get a giddy feeling doing the same thing while I spin the globe in the Wii Weather Channel. But the other thing that makes the Wii experience much more useful is that the news stories are previewed seamlessly while the globe visualization persists. I never thought that reading the news on the TV would be a pleasurable experience, but the zoom and pan features for text is as interesting in the Wii as is the zoom feature on the iPhone.

Seems to me that the Yahoo! News Globe is an attempt to mimick the experience of news on the Wii, but it comes across feeling gimmicky and not very useful. The Wii News Channel makes reading news on a TV fluid. For reading news on a computer, I'll stick with organized lists of text, thanks.

View screenshot on Flickr

Rosenfeld Media - Mental Models

Rosenfeld Media publishes it’s first UX book, Mental Models by Indi Young. Congrats to Lou and Indi!

After two long years, Rosenfeld Media is a real, bona fide publisher. More importantly, as a loyal Bloug reader, you can purchase our first book, Mental Models: Aligning design strategy with human behavior, by Indi Young, with a 10% discount from the Rosenfeld Media site (use code BLOUG01MM). You’ll receive Indi’s excellent book, illustrated and beautifully printed in full color on high quality paper with a sewn binding.

But that’s not all! You’ll also receive a digital version, optimized for on-screen use. Now a searchable and readable version will go where your laptop goes.

Apple filing depicts Apple TV with iChat widget interface

AppleInsider discovers an August 2006 patent filing by Apple for features having to do with broadcast video sent over Apple TV. The patent discusses interesting ideas for widgets that overlay the screen to allow such display of information as data related to what is on, and interactions such as purchasing tickets to performances, and doing video chat.

View photo on Flickr

Apple's Safari 3.1 to support downloadable web fonts and more

Apple Insider reports that Apple will ship Safari 3.1 with downloadable web fonts, HTML5’s SQL storage application programming interface, and HTML5 video and audio tags. They provide the following description of these new features.

For example, CSS Transforms and CSS Animations will join web downloadable fonts in allowing Safari 3.1 and iPhone users to render web pages and web apps with enhanced design messages and real-time visual effects. By applying Transforms, developers can author trigger actions that scale, rotate, skew and translate HTML boxes in real time. Similarly, Animations offer a quicker route to AJAX-like effects, such as fading out an HTML element, or increasing the border of a box when hovered over.

HTML5’s SQL storage application programming interface (API), which is a client-side database storage programming interface that will allow a future array of web applications to store structured data locally on a user’s machine using SQL.

Also on tap for the new version of the Apple browser is support for video and audio tags as outlined in the draft specification of HTML5, which add native support for embedding video and audio content in web pages.

iPhone versus tPhone

Edward Tufte posted an essay and video with commentary about the iPhone. Tufte is complimentary, for the most part, about the interface being predominantly free of administrative debris, but makes suggestions for how the iPhone can make better use of its screen resolution. As expected, his argument calls for more data density when possible.

He notes that the iPhone has elegantly removed administrative clutter in many places, using the information as the interface. In reference to the iPhone's design of the weather widget, he says the following.

To clarify, add detail. Clutter and overload are not an attribute of information, they are failures of design. If the information is in chaos, don't start throwing out information. Instead fix the design. And that is exactly what the iPhone has done.

He makes the argument that the "chartoony" appearance of the stock market widget does this very thing—removes information that could be useful, given the resolution of the screen and the zoomable UI. His position on showing more data prompted some debate about the efficiency of more versus less in this specific context. There are many great responses by commenters that justify the clarity of the large type and the choice of only essential information in the iPhone, including the great retort by Chris Fahey.

You are neglecting the fact that iPhones are *mobile phones*, designed to be used primarily by people on the go, or by people who are otherwise occupied. The cartoony UI screens are designed to be usable by people who are walking, talking, riding on a train or bus, waiting in line, bored in meetings, and (unfortunately!) while driving.

Typical iPhone usage lends itself well to the information-thin designs you criticize precisely because it does not attempt to do more than deliver the most important information in a heartbeat. The “image resolution” style of information design you advocate is great for someone using an iPhone while sitting in a comfy chair with lots of time on their hands, or for someone who posesses no other information platform (i.e., no desktop or laptop computer). But for most users, they will use the iPhone to informally keep their finger on the pulse, and use their main computer to actually think about and analyze data.

Fahey's points touch exactly on the thing that Tufte is missing in his solution—discussion of iPhone users and the context in which they use these interfaces. You might find more data on a PDA or any other smartphone out there, but if you test those other data dense interfaces in real world scenarios against the iPhone, I would bet that the iPhone comes out on top in terms of efficiency and usability.

Engineer Unlocks Wii's Hidden Potential

CNET reports on Johnny Chung Lee’s interaction experiments with the Wii Remote. Lee, a Phd student at Carnegie Melon, does a quick demo of head tracking for VR displays and multi point interaction using the wii remote. His experiments describe with incredible clarity how the wii remote fundamentally works and how the remote might be exploited to do much more than point at single points on the screen and control them. He then proceeds to show us two things demonstrated in the videos below. Brilliant stuff.

How the remote can be used to visualize virtual reality displays by pointing the remote at a user with IR leds placed on their head.

How to get multi-touch interaction by using the remote’s camera coupled with an led array, and reflective tape attached to his fingers as sensors.

Overcoming Blank Canvas Phobia

Cameron Moll discusses the issue of staring at a blank canvas in Photoshop, and his approach to overcoming “blankcanvasphobia” and leaping into the design process.

  1. Familiarize yourself with how others have solved the same problem you’re solving.
  2. Draw from previous work.
  3. Sketch it out
  4. Begin with a grid
  5. Begin in grayscale
  6. Start with the “core.”
  7. If nothing sticks, come back later