Fast Company Stories May 23, 2014

The secret behind Apple’s design excellence is a simple one, says former senior designer & UX specialist

The secret behind Apple’s design excellence is a simple one, says former senior designer and user experience specialist Mark Kawano in an interview with Fast Company: it’s not just something left to the designers.

It’s actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.

Kawano says that everyone on the team caring about design was how Apple was able to create its core products in the early days of the iPhone with a team of around 100 designers.

For the most part, Apple didn’t employ specialist designers. Every designer could hold their own in both creating icons and new interfaces, for instance. And thanks to the fact that Apple hires design-centric engineers, the relatively skeleton design team could rely on engineers to begin the build process on a new app interface, rather than having to initiate their own mock-up first.

He also revealed that many of the small, thoughtful touches for which Apple is famous were things that individual designers and engineers came up purely as interesting experiments and then tucked away for years. He gave the example of the password box in OS X shaking if you didn’t enter it correctly.

Say we need a good way to give feedback for a password, and we don’t want to throw up this ugly dialog–then it’s about grabbing these interaction or animation concepts that have just been kind of built for fun experiments and seeing if there’s anything there, and then applying the right ones.

Fast Company Stories March 18, 2013

FastCompany today posted an in-depth look at the differences between Apple’s MapKit and Google’s recently launched Google Maps for iOS SDK from the perspective of developers. The lengthy piece gets insight from several iOS app developers with apps that rely on the SDKs and sheds some light on a few things that Apple is doing much better than Google despite a perception from users that Google Maps are superior:

“Google doesn’t currently charge for the Places API, but they do require a valid credit card for access–which gives you a quota of 100,000 daily requests. So you have to wonder if they plan to start charging sooner or later,” McKinlay explains. “That 100,000 limit perhaps sounds reasonable, but each user session can generate many requests–particularly when using the ‘autocomplete’ feature of Tube Tamer–and some types of requests count for 10 times the quota each, so it can get used up pretty quickly.”

While noting that Google wins out with location lookup services, 3D buildings, directions, geocoding, and better hybrid satellite imagery, the developers were also quick to point out downsides of the Google Maps SDK such as quotas for the Places API, an increased app size, and limitations with markers, gradient polylines, and overlays.

Developer of transportation app Tube Tamer, Bryce McKinlay, discussed some of the benefits of using Apple’s MapKit:

“Subjectively, the current version of the [Google] SDK does not perform as well as MapKit,” McKinlay says. “GMSMapView’s frame rate is capped at 30fps, which is lower than typical for iOS and results in a slight but noticeable ‘jitter’ effect when panning and zooming the map. Drawing of labels and POIs sometimes lags behind if you pan quickly, even on a fast device like the iPhone 5.”

“The fact that annotations in MapKit are UIViews also means that animation and other effects can be applied easily using Core Animation, which isn’t currently possible with the Google Maps SDK approach,” McKinlay says. He also points out that MapKit has some other handy features that Google’s SDK currently lacks, like “Follow user location” and “Follow with heading” modes. “MapKit provides a button that automatically moves the map to follow the user’s location, and rotates the map according to the compass heading. This is very helpful for pedestrian navigation. It is possible to implement this manually in Google’s SDK, but it adds extra development time/effort.”

It looks like some developers feel Google has some work to do with their Maps SDK for iOS. While Apple isn’t free of its own issues with MapKit, developers will definitely want to read Fast Company’s entire post before deciding which solution will be best for their app. The developers ultimately end up recommending MapKit over Google’s Maps SDK for the majority of developers.

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