In my last article, I wrote about how excited I was to see Palm developers moving over to develop for the iPhone. Specifically, I mentioned how pleased I was to see that Stevens Creek Software will be releasing HandyRandy . Well, it seems that I wasn’t the only one that took notice of Stevens Creek’s work.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball posted a link on his web site to Triplog/1040. For those of you not familiar with Gruber, he’s well known for his expertise regarding the Mac OS user interface. His opinion of TripLog was summed up nicely with “Check out the UI on this upcoming iPhone app from Palm OS developer Stevens Creek Software. This is not a joke. (Via Macworld.)”, but he also posted a photo on his Flickr page which generated a lot of heated discussion in the comments. This was the snowball that started rolling downhill.
Having come from the Palm OS world a little over a year ago, I wasn’t that surprised by the UI of TripLog and the other Stevens Creek applications because they reminded me of my Palm OS days. That being said, once I took a second look, it was clear that TripLog/1040 and Handy Randy don’t measure up to the standards of most Mac Software. Mac users are more accustomed to refined interfaces and elegant solutions to complex problems. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of applications out there that are rough around the edges, but for the most part Apple has made it easy for apps to look good. That approach to good design has followed to the iPhone, but if you’re not a Mac user some of the nuances may be a bit foreign to you and you might miss them.
Luckily for Steve Pratt, the designer behind TripLog, 37 Signals picked up the thread and used it as an opportunity for positive feedback in their article “Learning from ‘bad’ UI. I have to applaud 37 Signals for not only seeing the opportunity, but for acting on it and steering the conversation from a bash session to an actual discussion. The article also bore fruit with several redesign ideas from Raphael Campardou, Paul Walker and Paolo Passeri.
Will these have any effect on the TripLog app itself? They already have! Stevens Creek has posted a video showing how to use the application and in it I noticed that the UI is much improved. It’s not perfectly polished, but it’s very much improved. Unfortunately, MacWorld’s TripLog Review focused on the current version and thus Stevens Creek is still having to defend their application, which is a shame.
Stevens Creek makes excellent software and I suppose the take away here is that application design for iPhone has raised the bar from the days of Palm OS. Design options were limited in the Palm space so it was easier to focus on the functionality of the app over the look and feel. With the expanded palette of the iPhone developers are going have to focus more on the side of application development that often gets the least attention — the user interface. It definitely plays a key role in an application’s success and Mac users have a poor tolerance for bad UI.
My only hope is that this experience doesn’t scare away Stevens Creek, or any other Palm OS developers from developing for the iPhone. I think there is a world of opportunities for Palm OS developers to leverage their applications and broaden to a whole new market – both for the mobile and desktop space.
If you’re interested in iPhone UI design, here are a couple of other articles I ran across while this story evolved: