iPad at the CUC

The iPad at the CUC event on Wednesday evening was a little more formal than we’ve been used to in Liverpool over the past few months.  Sponsored by Vision & Media and organised by Pixel-Lab, the format was drinks, presentations in the theatre, panel, then more (free – yay!) drinks / informal discussion.  This worked quite well, largely due to the quality of the speakers, but I and a few others felt that the panel session could have gone on longer, as it was cut short just as many people were beginning to put their hands up.  Attendance was fairly low, and from the sounds of it the reasons were twofold – it wasn’t very well publicised, and there was another event on that evening.  However, this didn’t detract from the presentations or the opportunities for discussion after the main section.

Dave Verwer

Dave Verwer presenting on interface design

The first presentation was from Dave Verwer of Shiny Development, who gave an in-depth talk on user interface design on the iPad.  He reaffirmed many of my own beliefs about how Apple’s own apps perform a secondary function for developers in terms of giving them subtle cues on what direction they should take their own apps (and it appears there is plenty of explicit documentation too).

The best example given was the Notes application, where leather, stitching and paper elements coexist with purely digital concepts like search boxes in order to give the feeling of an almost magical notebook.  He went on to suggest that these style elements can be overused, pointing to iBooks and its poor discoverability.  I’ve also seen this at work in apps like Adobe Ideas, which is a pleasant enough experience to use, but often I don’t know how to use it.  Its watch-then-do tutorials seem out of place on a device where function should always be obvious.

Neilson was cited with his recent roundup of usability issues, which I thought when I first read it was prematurely harsh on the platform given it is less than two months old.  The figure of 5 different actions for a tap from 30 apps was quite telling though – developers need to think harder about consistency – but I do think it’ll work itself out without much of a fuss.

This presentation ended with me genuinely wanting to know more about user interface design on the iPad, and fortunately there are several links on Dave’s blog post which I will be sure to read shortly.

Katie Lips

Katie Lips presenting thoughts on future usage

Next up was Katie Lips of Kisky, Little World Gifts and many other madcap ventures.  With typical deadpan aplomb she gave a talk on near future trends in iPad usage, as collectively decided upon by her and her friends.  Her dark demeanour belies a thoughtful and rigourous research approach, and whilst I’m not sure whether Manbags were meant to be a serious idea, I must confess I have myself been wondering how to carry my iPad around recently, and have been temporarily using something very similar.

Other interesting areas included:

  • Changing how we interact in the living room space (no longer a family with a focal device, rather solo with an iPad, yet occasionally passing it about)
  • The idea that the music industry will be able to add value by making better use of metadata
  • The tablet form being the ideal device in situations where people are standing up, e.g. healthcare

I agree wholeheartedly with one of her suggestions that the iPad will make us more willing to pay, and to pay more.  After the event a group of us discussed this further.  It’s well known that iPhone owners are kinda cheapskates when it comes to the App Store, but there is something about the quality of content, polish and design on the iPad which lowers the psychological barriers to monetisation, and I don’t think it’s something that non-owners yet understand just by having a quick go on one.

The third speaker of the night was Hayden Scott-Baron, a chap whom I wasn’t previously familiar with who runs a games startup called Starfruit Games.  His presentation focused quite a lot on the nature of interaction between user and device, and I found it very interesting because he clearly has an artistic background and talks about the world in very different ways to how my harsh scientific training forces me to.

Highlights included:

  • A discussion of ‘double sized’ or quickly rewritten iPhone games – “People don’t have big hands!”
  • Consideration of where people might use their iPads – “You can’t expect a person waiting for a bus to just tilt their iPad left and right”, “The person might get jumped upon by their cat”
  • A look at tower defense type games like Zombies Vs. Plants, which often get rather busy, and what a larger area for multitouch means – “Almost as though you were typing or playing an instrument”
  • How to encourage sharing amongst users by playing to the interface’s strengths, e.g. ‘Hidden Object’ genre games to make use of the clear 9 inch screen, and pass it around – “The interface is not obfuscated!”
  • Consideration of what a player wants – “[Global] high score boards show you how punitive a player you are”

Anyway Hayden’s presentation was a lot of fun, and I quote him directly only to demonstrate some of the expressiveness and good humour that went into its delivery.

Last to speak was Guy Dickenson, a man noteworthy both for his extensive knowledge of the printed word and his deep booming voice.  As I have his presentation notes here I’ll condense them down to the main points for you, but it’s worth mentioning that he did his entire presentation on a jailbroken iPad using the VGA adapter.  It needs to be jailbroken because, astonishingly, Apple don’t let you just feed video out all the time, only when you’re running a Keynote (Apple’s Powerpoint) presentation!  Ironically, it was later pointed out to me that Steve Jobs regularly does full streaming presentations, so does that mean that he runs a jailbroken iPad?

Guy talked about reading books – not something I usually do much of outside of the many weighty tomes I’ve gone through during my 9 years of study with the Open University.  He’s right though, the iPad is a perfect reading device, because of where you use it, how long you use it for at a time and the fact that the single tasking aspect means it literally ‘becomes’ the book.

We learnt that there are 3 types of book on the iPad.  Magazines as Apps, Books as Apps, and Book Apps.

  • Magazines as Apps are rather in a state of flux as publishers figure out the best interfaces, delivery methods and payment models to use – for instance the Wired app, rewritten by Adobe to work within the new App Store rules, doesn’t let you copy-paste because each page (aside from the interactive bits) is now just a png.
  • Books as Apps (my first thought was the Alice In Wonderland app, but Phaidon Design Classics is a good example too) at their best are ‘augmented books’, and hold a lot of potential.  As well as non-book design elements, there could be built in support, or they could even be updated over time.
  • Book Apps are apps which hold a load of books, like iBooks and Kindle. Guy doesn’t feel either lives up to its potential yet, because he envisages with all these types of app a much more interactive experience – text in and out – which allows (shared) annotation and bookmarking, tweeting of passages of text and vastly improved typography.

These were only some of the areas touched upon during the presentation – check out his notes for more, plus some useful linked resources.

iPad at the CUC panel session

iPad at the CUC panel session

So that’s a synopsis of the main event, after which we had some Q&A with the speakers plus additional panellists John McKerrell, Don McAllister and an ex-playstation lady who’s name I can’t quite remember at the moment (please tweet me if you know).  I don’t want to dwell on the session though – it was interesting, but not long enough.  We then adjorned to the bar, had many free drinks and further discussions about the iPad, and things started to break up by about 10:30-11.

All in all an interesting niche event, and quite bold of the organisers to put it on to be honest.  I’ve really benefitted from it and had many ideas from a consumer and maybe even developer perspective (one of these days).