Apple’s recent design changes betray a big design shift in the works

Jony Ive

When Jony Ive took over the role of leadership for Apple’s Human Interface in October of last year, many speculated that the style of Apple’s design language across iOS and Mac OS X would also shift towards a flatter, more clean style. This speculation was fueled mainly by Ive’s feelings towards skeuomorphism and his minimalist design aesthetic.

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WSJ profiles app developer responsible for inventing/popularizing pull-to-refresh and other GUI innovations

Loren-Brichter
pull-to-refreshThe Wall Street Journal published a piece last night that profiled influential app developer Loren Brichter of Atebits and Tweetie fame. The 28-year-old developer is the man behind several apps that were first to implement or help popularize well-known gestures and UI features that have since become design standards for many popular apps and developers. Perhaps the best example is “pull-to-refresh”—a feature that Brichter built into his Tweetie app before selling to Twitter:

Mr. Brichter got his start in the mobile industry while at Apple from 2006 to 2007 as part of a five-person group working out early kinks in technology that made the iPhone’s graphics hardware and software communicate… In 2008, Mr. Brichter built Tweetie to have a better way to use Twitter and eventually included the “pull-to-refresh” feature. After selling the app to Twitter for what he says was “single digit millions” in 2010, he stayed on at Twitter working remotely on the company’s apps for about a year and a half. He left to keep experimenting.

Other features Brichter helped to popularize include the slide-out panels that we see in apps such as Facebook and a feature described as “cell swipe” that’s popular in Twitter apps for revealing lists of hidden functions by swiping. WSJ was quick to point out that Brichter has filed for a patent on at least the “pull-to-refresh” gesture (now owned by Twitter), but Brichter explained that he allows most developers to implement the features freely: Read more

Apple researching universal remote that customizes UIs intelligently

This is not the first time we have received hints that Apple is working on an innovative universal remote control for controlling TV and video content. In January, we told you that Apple was researching a touchscreen remote with adaptable user interfaces. The invention would essentially allow button layouts stored in the cloud or in a device (such as a TV) to be wirelessly and seamlessly beamed to the controller’s UI. The concept would alleviate the “table full of remotes” scenario Steve Jobs described at D8.

Today, a new patent application published by the United States Patent & Trademark Office and detailed by PatentlyApple gives us even more insight into what Apple’s universal remote concept could become. In the newly discovered patent application, Apple details a remote that is capable of displaying customized controls for various devices by simply taking a picture of the device. Apple would send the picture to iCloud, analyze it, and beam a UI or button layout to the remote that works for your TV. PatentlyApple explained:

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Fluent is a Sparrow-like UI for Gmail making the ‘future of email’

Fluent is a web-based workflow stream that works with existing Gmail accounts to bring a Sparrow-like user interface to email.

Users can stream email threads and replies, preview aggregated attachments in a tab, quickly reply or compose inline, archive messages, and even add a to-do list with the new design concept that claims to run on any web browser.

Sparrow is a great success as a Mac-only application, and now Fluent hopes to balance the playing field and snag users whom are in dire need of a new Gmail look and functionality. Fluent’s website specifically praises its workflow ability, multiple accounts options, and “blazing” fast search-as-you-type filter.

The streaming email UI is the work of three former Googlers who quit the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company. BusinessInsider said Cameron Adams, Dhanji Prasanna, and Jochen Bekmann left because designers were “less valuable” than engineers at Google, and they felt disconnected from Google’s culture while operating from across the world in Sydney, Australia…

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Apple researching universal touchscreen remote with adaptable user interface for future TVs

A patent application published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office earlier today reveals Apple is flirting with the idea of a universal touchscreen controller capable of controlling multiple devices including a “television, a video tape player, a video disk player, a stereo, a home control system, or a computer system.” The patent application is titled “Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control” and was filed Sept. 30, 2011.

The patent application’s background covers many of the issues with current controllers for televisions and the devices mentioned above. It noted current universal remotes are “complex to operate” and unable to adapt to incorporate every command or control functionality supported by a device or future device. It also mentions the fact that users are often “confronted with multiple” remotes, which is the classic “table full of remotes” scenario described by Steve Jobs when talking about the Apple TV at D8. The patent application explained:

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Apple exploring 3D iOS interface with motion sensing gestures

The United States Patent & Trademark Office published an Apple patent application today (via PatentlyApple) detailing new 3D GUI concepts and touch-free, motion sensing gestures that would allow you to simply wave your hand over a device equipped with proximity sensors. This follows a patent application published in July that explores similar 3D gestures and user-interfaces, and another in September detailing 3D display and imaging technology that could lead to Kinect-like gestures on future Apple products.

The image to the right (larger version is below) shows a 3D UI environment consisting of two sidewalls, a back wall, a floor, and a ceiling. As you can see, 2D objects are posted to the back and sidewalls, while 3D objects rest on the floor of the environment. The patent mentions a “snap to” feature that appears to allow objects to move from one surface to another by changing the orientation of the 3D environment. In other words, the user’s perspective of the UI, which PatentlyApple said could be imagined as the “view from an imaginary camera viewfinder,” would change when rotation of the device is detected by its gyro sensor or accelerometer:

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