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The Ugly Duckling of Apple Design

January 28, 2012

When the iPad came, I made a deal with a friend who lived on Manhattan to buy one and have it FedExed to Stockholm. By some miracle, it made it through customs unscathed and delivery was fast and silky smooth. I had an iPad in my hand five days after they were first available in the US. This basically made me King of the Nerds in sweden. I was one of maybe five people in the country who had one.

I faintly remember my friend asking, on a shaky mobile connection straight from the noisy line outside the Apple store, wether I wanted a case for my iPad as well. I said sure, go ahead, whatever. The fact that i was close to owning an iPad made me dizzy with gadget-lust. What did the case matter?

I remember the unboxing moment. Oh, my. And the iPad itself. Such a slab of utter Appleness. Solidly designed, with a finish and quality that other manufacturers only dream of. No compromises. None whatsoever. But the case? Surprisingly meh. Matte black, with a coarse feel. Ugly protruding edges. The Apple logo on it did not feel proper. Something as ugly as this should not carry that logo. I put the case aside and went back to the glorious feel of the iPad itself.

It did not take me long to realize that I needed that cover. The iPad, while a marvel in build quality and engineering, was to heavy, too slick, too delicate to be by itself in my tote, chafing against lesser gadgets, marring its pristine aluminum and glass expanses. I had to slip it into that ugly cover. It felt like it resisted me, like it didn’t want to wear those ugly clothes. But in it went.

Two years have passed. I still have my iPad, and I still love it. I use it every day, and i carry it with me everywhere I go. My love for this device has progressed into that kind of love you’ll find in a long married couple. The burning passion may be gone, but it is replaced with a feeling of stability and loyalty. I may not love every aspect of the iPad with a passion, but I know we’re gonna stay together.

However, I’ve come to realize that in these two years, what really blows me away, what still commands my respect for Apple and the care in design that they represent, is not the iPad itself, but the ugly, black case it came with.

The plain black Apple iPad case is, simply put, genius. It is an understated, underappreciated, underestimated product that quietly does a job i could not function without. No flair, only function. And what function! Somewhere in Cupertino is a gang of designers who really know what they’re doing. I hope that their company gives them the credit they’re due. To me, they’re unsung heroes.

What is it i love about this case? It is all function. There is no way to make a case that would not diminish the beauty of the iPad, so they went ahead and took function all the way.

The material of the case. It’s made from some sort of matte black suede-like plastic. The material does not try to look swank or imitate leather or an antique book. It looks and feels cheap. But that material, while ugly, does not wear. And its matte finish makes it stick to basically any surface without sliding.

The seams of the case stick out and look insanely shoddy at first look. It looks like something a fifth-grader would make in arts and crafts. I remember wondering why you would make a tablet computer and fanfare its dimensions and then ship it with a case that had protruding edges. First time i dropped my iPad on the floor I knew why. Those protruding edges were in fact an ultra-compact and efficient shock absorber, left there for that very reason.

The lid of the case is weighted with a plate of stiff, heavy plastic inside it. The heft and rigidity of the lid is like a key to a whole range of secondary functions the case has. It enables you to lock the lid in different configurations depending on wether you want to view your iPad in a keyboard or monitor configuration. It locks into the back of the case with a flap that is as simple as it is indestructible.

Oh yeah, and as you learn the balance of the lid, you can do a bitchin’ wrist-flip karate move to open or close the lid. Very cool, or at least to me and my fellow nerds.

I could go on about this case, but overall it encompasses much of what makes me a true Apple fanboy. It is made with an attention to detail and a devotion to the user experience mostly no other companies have. Most competitors, if not all, would have made a case that looked flattering but ultimately did not do its job as well. Having used the iPad – in it’s ugly duckling case – for two years, I am grateful for that team of unsung design heroes in Cupertino who made my user experience even better, even if I didn’t realize it at first.

Creating apps with Demibooks Composer – a review

December 7, 2011

Demibooks Composer is an app for the iPad which you can use to create animated books. It’s currently free.

I wanted to create an iPad version of my animated Christmas story which was created in Flash. I was interested to see if Demibooks was a good enough tool to create a real application for the app store.

Demibooks composer works like a desktop application. You can add pages, import images, music and sound effects, and within the application itself, on the iPad, create simple scripts, scale and position assets, and create animations using series of images. I found it quite easy to get into using Demibooks Composer. However, it does have some issues.

First of all, creating content on the iPad takes some getting used to. You will find the screen feels quite small if you are used to working in a desktop environment. As you work with the software, however, you get used to the small size and workflow gets better. Choosing, selecting, moving and positioning images and animations can be hard to do with a degree of exactness. Luckily, there is an undo/redo function that will save you when you mess things up.

A great thing is that you can preview your work directly in the composer application. Composer then simulates what the finished app will look like with only a small icon in the upper right corner to signify it is a preview. The preview has some small problems with playback and stability. This is because Composer is running the entire authoring tool at the same time its running the preview. The finished app doesnt have that so it works smoothly. But working on a first generation iPad I had some crashes and bugs.

The guys at Demibooks tells me these issues will get better in a coming version of the software. But as the end result worked so well, it doesnt really matter.

The animating and scripting tools feel a bit 1.0. But this is because it really is. Version two, which is on the way, has many new features and tools. In this version of Composer, you can’t ease animations, which makes them a bit clunky. You can set the volume of a track lower, but you can’t fade it out. You can create looping backgrounds with advanced scripts, you can’t just set it to loop.

All these limitations aside, Composer is a game changing tool. If you’re looking to create any sort of book with animations there is really no reason why you shouldnt use Demibooks Composer to do it. It has most everything you could need creating an interactive book, including a physics engine, draggable assets, spinners, and 16 channels of audio. And that is only in the first version.

The book you create you can export through dropbox or iTunes as a complete file. This file can be used for backup or shared with someone else who has Composer on their iPad.  This means a team of people can work on the same book, which is a great feature.

When your book is done, you send your file to Demibooks using a service they call Printshop. They charge you a sum of money to compile the file into a finished app that you submit to Apple in the usual way using your own Apple Developer account. I used their DIY plan which is 499USD for a book. They generate a preview build which you can test on your iPad so you’ll see exactly what your app will look like and how it will behave. Since  preview playback has some performance issues, this is an important feature.

All through the creation process, the staff at Demibooks have been attentive and extremely helpful on their support forums. 

All in all, I am very happy with Demibooks Composer. I think this is a great tool that can be used for all sorts of applications, not just animated childrens books. The possibilities are endless. For me as a designer, I have been dreaming of a tool that will let me create content for this platform in the same way as Flash used to do. I never thought it would come in the form of an app that you actually run on your iPad.

It took me about three weeks to put together my Christmas story, and about one week to get it reviewed and approved by Apple. If you are interested, go take a look at it. I hope it will get you into a holiday mood.

What an Überlancer is and why you need one.

September 19, 2011

These last few weeks it occurred to me that although I had an excellent idea about what I do and what my skills are, that information was really not accessible to the general public, unless they felt like digging deep on this blog and my woefully un-updated flash website. And so i turned my eyes on an old pet project of mine, creating a portfolio site at http://uberlancer net.

Well, here it is, now, in all its glory. I used the excellent behance prosite as a basis for the site. It contains a selection of work, old, new, private and for clients, made at Ogilvy and at Grey, with just one common denominator – it is work I am especially proud of. Please take a look at it and tell me what you think.

The fine art of self-promotion

April 11, 2011

Took the opportunity to update my Curriculum Vitae, which was beginning to look a bit long in the tooth. So here it is, in all its glory and splendor, five pages of exquisitely crafted self promotion. Take a moment to peruse it, and let me know if you feel I’ve left anything out.

Oh, and if you’ve come here by clicking the link to this blog from within the CV, then you are now in an infinite loop. I am so sorry about that. Good luck.

My new Curriculum Vitae.

A sad film about a sad car

March 30, 2011

A sad film, about a sad car. Abandoned underneath an overpass outside Stockholm, a Ford Transit Mark 1 stands waiting to be towed. It used to be a chariot of summer, with wood paneling interiors, carpeted floors, a bed, moon ports, custom rims and a skylight. Now it is an utter ruin, but it is plain to see that somebody once loved this car. I wanted to document it one last time, to the sound of Beach Boys, before it is living only in someones memory.

Made with a Canon T2i / 550D and a Sigma 30mm lens. Sorry about the shaky video, spur of the moment kind of thing.

2011 – Year Of The Colleague

March 1, 2011

2010 was the year of app design. I spent the year really getting my feet wet in the area of app design, user interface design, and overall app marketing strategy. I learned valuable lessons about the intricacies of the interaction with the app programmer. I marveled at the geekiness of Apples Interface Builder. I gasped at the anarchy that is Android development. I met and worked with a bunch of talented programmers. Some of them i dressed up and had them act scientists for me. Some of them wore leather coats and could simulate the movement of a meatball across a plate of pasta in no time. In 2010 I’ve accomplished a number of things I wanted to do:

  • Designed applications for businesses, ad agencies, products in iOS for iPhone and iPad. Thoroughly gotten to know the Apple ecosystem for app development.
  • Designed and produced a branded Android application, working on all existing Android platforms, for a top international brand.
  • Designed, created and published my own app and put it up for sale on the app store. The app will be a testbed for trying different type of app marketing and measuring their effect.
  • Practiced application marketing using film and social media, taking part in and becoming a finalist in the World’s Best App Competition.
  • Fostering corporate culture by finally buying a Force FX Lightsaber to use in my future office. I went overboard and threw in a Darth Vader helmet with voice changer as well. They’re sitting unpacked in my apartment, now, because i need a new office filled with new colleagues. This is why I am declaring this year to be

2011 – Year Of The Colleague

To be frank: I want to work with, and close to, people like myself. Being a lone wolf Überlancer is an excellent way to make a living, but if you’re  a group, you can accomplish so much more. I want to work with cross media, cross competence creatives, who want to do great things but like me believe that only when you’re having fun, when you’re inspired, can you do your best work. Companies like Big Spaceship and IDEO and Pixar. None of which have an office in Stockholm. And having experienced two recessions while working at Grey and Ogilvy, I’ve seen firsthand that being an employee at someone else’s company may be fun in the short run, but in the end, you’re just an expendable asset like anybody else. You don’t see very many 65-year old Art Directors accepting a golden watch from a grateful employer.

So the plan is still to try and create something of my own. Maybe together with another company. Maybe as an employee, but with a stake. I need to feel that my work goes towards building something I have a part of.

First order of business is finding a new office. Digital Labs, whom I’ve been sharing office space with, are moving on, and I’ve decided I’m not going to move with them. Last time I looked for an office, I wanted it to be a tower. This time, I want it to be roomy enough to swing a lightsaber.

So you finally got yourself an iPad, huh?

December 8, 2010

Well hey! Welcome to the party! Ahhh, i remember that sweet unboxing day. What was it, close to a year, now? Good times. And now of course, young’un, you’ll be wanting to ask me, a grizzled iPad veteran, what to put on your shiny new iPad. Well, gather round, you feisty little whippersnappers, and granddad here will tell you the must-have apps for the iPad.

Pulse News Reader is the single most iPad of all iPad apps. When Steve declared that the iPad was magical, this is what he meant. A news reader that moves like a prop from a sci-fi movie, but really, totally, absolutely works. The best way to surf news sites/blogs/twitter feeds bare none. Get it, or i will hunt you down and kick your ass.

Twitter on iPad is excellent. Here is an example of a user interface design developed to fully take advantage of a multitouch touchscreen. Once you go Twitter on iPad, you never go back.

Flipboard is kind of cool. It displays your twitter feed or facebook feed like a magazine you can flip through. As a new owner of an iPad, you’ll get a lot of “-Hmpf. What is that big thing good for anyhow?” This app shuts them right up. Especially if they are on Facebook.

iBooks is a given, and reading books on the iPad is actually really enjoyable in anything other than direct sunlight. But the iBookstore is way expensive and the selection is not what it should be. So the Kindle app is something that you need to have as well.

The thing i love my iPad most for is using it as a drawing pad. It is absolutely killer for sketches, storyboards, illustrations. I never go to a meeting without it. Brushes is the original drawing program for iPhone / iPad. It is a joy to use, and it is geared more for the sketch/casual artist. If you are more hardcore, and want to use many more tools, brushes, and layers, Sketchbook Pro is for you. A new contender is the Muji Notebook app, which is really only for sketches, but includes on-the-fly text input and graph paper with automatic rulers.

Minimal Folio is a dead simple presentation tool, but i find it works really well for on-the-fly presentations.

Comic Zeal 4 is a comic reader that can handle most every kind of comic format out there. The iPad and comics are a marriage made in heaven. I have read so many comics since i installed this app it’s not even funny. Or yes, it is.

Games: There are of course a lot of games out there, many of which are also avaliable on the iPhone. Some of them take advantage of the iPad, some are simply higher resolution copies. A few exceptions:

Osmos HD is a beautiful game, there is really nothing like it.

No, Human is a gravity/puzzle game that has style up the kazoo.

Words with friends HD is scrabble on the iPad. The ‘With friends’ style, which means that you play an online game without time restraints, is really cool.

If you have kids, there are lots and lots of games made for them. However, the iPad is a bit to big and heavy for a kid to hold by themselves, so the games need parental supervision. I haven’t really found any favorites, but mScribble is an extremely fun synthesizer that works extremely well to play together with kids in the 2-4 year range. It’s an iPhone app, but it works like a charm on the iPad.

Finally, when it comes to video, the app that you want is VLC, just like on any other platform.

The most important app i have saved for last. Through genius design, space-age technology and divine presentation, the Sympathetic Ear app is a reason to buy an iPad in itself. Or at least it will be, when you press the ‘like’ button next to it on the voting page.