Everyone’s favorite photo filtering and sharing app for iOS got a significant update on Friday afternoon. Version 2.1 of Instagram adds a new filter, a tool for easily enhancing low-lit photos and a redesigned navigation.
Sierra, the latest filter to join the Instagram family, is a white-bordered filter that adds a lightened, low-contrast vintage look to photos. As far as Instagram filters go, it’s pretty standard stuff, but it’s always nice to have new options. The more substantial addition to the app is a feature called Lux, which lets users automatically increase the brightness of photos and boost the contrast. The option is meant to offer a way to improve underexposed photos and make them more Instagrammable.
The visual overhaul of the navigation UI comes five months after the app’s camera was redesigned in version 2.0. This iteration appears to complete a larger redesign process was undertaken last year. The new version uses new icons and UI elements that feel like iOS-centric, which suggests an Android version may be up next.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed last year that building an Android version of Instagram is “a major priority” for the company, and the company is known to be working on such an app. It’s really not a matter of if, but when. Last week, rumors began swirling that Instagram for Android could be imminent. We reached out to Systrom, who declined to give any specifics about a timeline.
For Instagram, Android is the most logical next step for growth. Having stirred early buzz in the tech press and later named Apple’s iPhone app of the year for 2011, the service has done quite well, especially considering it only exists on iOS. It now boasts over 15 million users on Apple’s mobile operating system alone.
Launching an Android app will expose it to a massive number of potential new users. Android commands more than 46% of the smartphone market, according to Nielsen. If its success on iOS is any indication, the service can expect to see its user base flourish once the Android version drops.
The other top priority at the company’s headquarters is building out a Web version of the service. This one is a little less urgent, because they are so many third party Web UIs for Instagram, and probably not as much demand for an official one as there seems to be for an Android app.
There was a lot of speculation as to whether Apple would develop a web interface for its cloud services. All that speculation had been put to rest when Apple clarified that iCloud services would beÂ available on the web and today, iCloud.com is finally live albeit in beta. It is primarily meant for developers to test iCloud features with their apps.
The web apps available through iCloud.com are Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Find My iPhone and iWork. As you would expect from Apple, the iCloud interface looks fantastic, right from the login screen to the web apps themselves. Apple has, at the same time, made no compromise in terms of speed and responsiveness of the web interface. In fact launching webÂ apps like Contacts and Calendar (yes launching, because it is so familiar to the iOS Home Screen paradigm)Â take almost the same time as their native counterparts on iOS and OS X. The supported browsers are Chrome, Safari 4+, Firefox 4+, IE 8+, Opera and of course Mobile Safari.
iCloud.com borrows a lot of UI elements from iOS and OS X. Icons, alerts and the web apps themselves would look very familiar to iOS users making them feel at home while using the iCloud web interface. In the long run, this is what Apple wants to do, make theirÂ products feel the same throughout, be it on mobile devices, PCs or the web.
Since the service is currently in beta, it doesn’t offer a way to sign up for a free me.com account or use features like Photo Stream. According to MacRumors Apple has also cut off access to iCloud.com for non developers. So if you’re not a developer and can’t wait until the full fledged release of iCloud here is a videoÂ walkthroughÂ of all that is available through the web interface currently.
Apple has also unveiled pricing plans for iCloud, which you can find below stacked up against other major players in this space.
As you can see Apple’s pricing is more expensive than Amazon’s Cloud Drive and is also limited to 55GB storage. But even heavy users would find it difficult to go past the 55GB mark since Apple doesn’t countÂ purchased music, apps, iBooks, and Photo Stream towards the storage quota. Most users would in fact be content with the 5GB of free space Apple provides all its users.
iCloud andÂ iOS 5Â will beÂ released later this fall.
We can’t wait to try out iCloud in its full glory, what about you?
One of the main limitations on touchscreen interfaces these days is that all you can do is poke at them. We do all kinds of things with our hands, but when it comes to screens, we just poke at them all day. UIs are doing all right, since our phone OSes still mimic mouse-based desktop OSes to some extent, but Microsoft is looking to ways to integrate more natural hand gestures incorporating more than just a “click” derived from a fingertip.
Hrvoje Benko, a researcher at Microsoft, is working on methods of recognizing shapes formed by hands and equating those with spatially-consistent gestures. Putting the side of your hand down like a wall forms a straight line that could be used for a boundary, cropping, or “pushing” objects. Forming an O with your hand could automatically call up the magnification loupe, and so on. It’s a very natural extension of how you interact with a surface, since really, that’s how you interact with most surfaces. Right now “Rock and Rails” only includes support for three gestures: a fist, which holds things down, a straight hand, which sets a line to which UI elements can move perpendicular, and a “curved rail,” which sets a pivot point. But I’m sure you can imagine a few more.
Speaking of surfaces, the video shows the tech being demonstrated on a Surface, which uses a different detection method than your average smartphone or tablet — it can detect shapes far more easily. And the new Surface units, as we learned at CES, have thousands of pixel-sized cameras that can even detect patterns and text. So don’t expect this kind of special recognition to come to iPads any time soon, although it would be similarly unwise to underestimate developers who might want to make it happen.
The whole paper is being published later, so unfortunately this video is pretty much all there is right now, but if you head over to Hrvoje’s page, you can keep track of this and his other projects.
Mari Sheibley, the lead designer at Foursquare, has created a resource of inspirational mobile user interfaces for the benefit of the mobile design and development community. The website, available at Mobile-Patterns.com, offers dozens of screenshots of popular mobile applications showing how they implement various UI elements like comment boxes, splash screens, lists, sign-up flows and more.
Filling a Void in the Mobile Design World
We recently discovered this resource via Twitter, but Sheibley says she launched it back in mid-February. “I’m always looking at other apps for inspiration on how things look, but more importantly how things work and interact,” Sheibley told us. “There are a lot of great pattern resources for websites, such as patterntap.com, but I couldn’t find anything quite like this for mobile.”
Sheibley also noted that while there were a lot of different design-oriented blogs, they only touch on a few things and were hard to organize. And while design websites like dribbble and forrst are great for inspiration, she found them more useful for questions like “how do I make this button look really hot and 3D?” and less for questions like “how do other apps handle EDU for their first time users?” or “how do other apps handle notification systems?”
To fill this void, she launched Mobile-Patterns.com, a site dedicated to organizing screens of various mobile applications’ user interfaces. The site was created using the collection of screenshots she has taken over the years.
Much of what’s currently featured on the new website is related to what Sheibley works on and researches for Foursquare, she says, which explains the site’s focus on activity feeds, check-in screens, user profiles and other aspects of social applications.
Recent additions to the site include sections on Settings and Sign-up Flows, while a section featuring Venue and Place Detail Pages is forthcoming, she says.
Overall, the Mobile-Patterns website is great resource for mobile designers and developers looking for inspiration and ideas on how to craft the interfaces for their own mobile applications. To stay tuned regarding future updates to the website, you can follow Mari Sheibley here on Twitter.
This afternoon, we wrote a post about the popular RSS feed reader, Reeder, calling out rival MobileRSS for design theft. As we noted, the community was starting to rally around Reeder, as both Read It Later and Instapaper, two of the most popular bookmarking services which work with both apps, blocked MobileRSS from using their APIs as a show of support for Reeder. But MobileRSS had yet to respond. Now they have. And they’re going to do the right thing.
They’ve just sent the following statement to us:
We are submitting an update to MobileRSS immediately which will include modifications to the UI elements that most mimic Reeder. We respect the work that Reeder has done but are most concerned with serving users and improving MobileRSS for everyone. These improvements include ideas pioneered by Reeder, but we have current and upcoming features which are unique to our app not found in other RSS readers.
But to be clear, we’re taking immediate action to correct this and will remove the similarities to Reeder at once.
While that’s obviously not an explicit admission of any wrongdoing, or even an apology, the move to re-submit and the statement alone are a clear acknowledgment that so-closely mimicking the design of Reeder was not a good idea. The first part of the statement is a bit vague with the idea of “modifications” and talk of doing what’s best for their users, but the second paragraph directly states that “similarities” to Reeder will be removed at once.
I’ve reached out to Reeder developerÂ Silvio Rizzi for his reaction and will update when I hear back.
You can get TweetDeck, the popular realtime stream reader, as a desktop client, on your iPhone and iPad, or Android phone. But up until now, there was no Web browser version (unlike Seesmic, which is best known as a browser-based app). Today, TweetDeck released its first Web client as a Chrome app in the new Chrome Webstore.
“It’s definitely our best version of a desktop TweetDeck so far,” says CEO Iain Dodsworth. You can sign in with your existing TweetDeck account, and add different realtime streams in different columnsâ€”Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare checkins, Google Buzz. Soon it will support Gmail as well. ChromeDeck, as it was codenamed during development, borrows some UI elements from its most recent Android app. There are combined columns labeled Home (all timelines from various accounts), Me (all mentions and messages directed at you such as Twitter @replies), and Inbox (direct messages, and soon Facebook and Gmail messages).
The Chrome app is supposed to be faster, more stable, and less of a memory hog than the desktop AIR version. Once you “install” it onto your browser, it exists within its own tab. And it is always available for you, with any other apps you install, when you launch a new blank tab.
The first thing you notice if you are a regular TweetDeck user is that it is completely silent. That silence won’t last long, however. Dodsworth & Co. is working on “getting some TweetDeck sounds recorded and added to all the apps” in an effort to try to “create a social soundscape whereby you don’t even need to look at your screen and you have a sense of what’s going on.” Oh boy, my wife is going to love that. Bleep, Zoink, Boop.
Tomorrow, Google is hosting a Chrome event in San Francisco for the media. While they won’t say exactly what it’s about, it seems likely that both the Chrome Web Store and Chrome OS will make an appearance. But no shortage of bug reports in the open source code area make me wonder if the latter is sort of a rush-job.
Since they first unveiled Chrome OS to the world last year, Google has said that they wanted to release it this year. And despite some talk of delays, Google reiterated recently that they would indeed have something to show this year. But they would not say if such a product would be in beta form â€” even though there are many indications in the aforementioned bug reports that indicate that will be the case. And some of those bug reports are a little worrisome.
Further, a report from a few days ago in Engadget had the following to say about netbooks based on Chrome OS:
Again, we’ve heard that the Atom-powered laptop isn’t going to be a mass market device — there will only be around 65,000 units available to Google’s closest “friends and family” — and that the Cloud-based OS is still very much in a beta, non-consumer-friendly state.
So is Google simply rushing the product out there to technically meet their promised 2010 deadline? They had also originally named a number of OEM partners at the launch. But it would appear that this first iteration will be a Google-branded netbook produced by one of the partners (codenamed “Mario” perhaps?), while other units will have to wait until 2011.
Simply scan this page to find any number of bugs currently hampering Chrome OS leading up to tomorrow’s launch. Many are minor UI elements, but plenty are not-so-minor software/hardware problems as well, it seems. For example, check out this report by a Google employee two days ago:
I become mad with rage because the trackpad is so flaky. Sometimes it loses a click, ending a drag somewhere in the middle. Sometimes it decides that I clicked even though my fingers aren’t even close to the trackpad. Sometimes the mouse cursor jumps around randomly.
That’s not good. He continues to say that “The trackpad is way way better than it used to be, but it’s still very hard to use.” As of yesterday, Google had yet to address this issue.
It’s not clear from the report if it’s just one type of machine affected, but the latter quote would seem to suggest that it’s a wider issue. Further, while the report didn’t state the exact device in the correct place, it does note that it’s a “dev x86-mario” machine, likely the one we’re going to see tomorrow, running the latest build of Chrome OS.
And there’s more. According to this bug, as of today, sync isn’t working. This is a vital feature to the whole OS, obviously. Here’s an issue with the power button. Here’s a pretty big cellular/wifi switching issue. Here’s a system update bug. A battery calculation problem. The list goes on and on.
Now, obviously the open-source nature of Chrome OS gives people like me a huge peek into issues I wouldn’t normally see if say a Windows manufacturer or Apple was about to launch a machine. But some of these alongside the various reports of the system launching in early beta mode do have me concerned.
And it’s fine if Google only intends for these machines to go to “friends and family”, but presumably some members of the press are going to get their hands on them as well (we’ll be there tomorrow, for example). Certainly Google has to know that if the machines aren’t up to snuff, journalists are going to call that out.
But maybe Google is confident enough in the big-picture idea of Chrome OS. That is, an OS that is only the web browser, none of that other clutter. An OS that you can sign in to from anywhere and from any machine (with Chrome OS, of course) and have access to all of your stuff. Maybe they just mean tomorrow to be an early taste of what to expect from the OS. And if that’s the case, expect them to reiterate that over and over again. “This is just a test.”
Or perhaps they’ll just make some last minute executive decisions to kill of certain features that aren’t working yet. Clearly, that has already been going on behind the scenes as you can also see in the bug reports. But some of the hardware/software issues will definitely need to be resolved, not pushed.
A lot has changed in the past year since Google first gave us the rundown of Chrome OS. Netbook sales have cooled, the iPad has come into existence, and Android has exploded in popularity. Oh and the key architect of the entire Chrome OS project,Â Matthew Papakipos, left Google over the summer â€” for a job at Facebook.
At the time, Google said not to read into that too much, that they have a very deep bench of talent. That’s undoubtedly true, but given the current landscape, Chrome OS needs to be polished at launch, not tarnished.
Sencha, the Sequoia-funded company behind Ext JS, has hit a big milestone today: it’s releasing the 1.0 edition of its Sencha Touch framework. Sencha Touch allows developers to build web-based applications with the polished look of native iPhone apps, but with the benefit of being cross-platform (the same web apps will run on Android’s browser too).
Today’s 1.0 release brings with it some big news: the framework’s commercial license, which was previously $99, is now free (customers who already paid will receive refunds). This is a big change, and one that Sencha hopes will lead to a landgrab of developer mindshare.
So how will Sencha monetize? The company plans to sell its tools, like Sencha Animator, at a premium. It’ll also offer premium support plans.
Sencha Touch first launched in beta this summer, and has since added some key new features, including improved Android support (UI elements that had some quirks now work fine on both Android and iPhone) and a MVC pattern that should be familiar to anyone who has used Ruby on Rails.Â The beta was downloaded 160,000 times â€”Â you can see some of the applications developers have built so far on this App Contest site.
I’m veryÂ optimisticÂ on Sencha’s future (and that of similar web frameworks). Native applications may dominate much of the mobile smartphone and tablet experience these days, but the development challenges associated with maintaining apps on multiple platforms are substantial. Web apps solve that problem, and while they aren’t yet up to par with native experiences in most cases, they’ll get there eventually.