Ok, so perhaps it’s not quite as exciting as a “State of the Union“, but after I wrote my first draft, it was just about as long…so I broke this up into two parts. By now, Informant 5.01 has been released and I thought it might be a good time for me to pause development for a few minutes and address some of the feedback we’ve been getting.
If you’ve been hanging around our recent blog entries, or on our Facebook page or Twitter, you’ve no doubt seen (or participated in) a whole lot of feedback on Informant 5…much of it very passionate…and if we’re honest, not all of it is positive. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people really love some of the changes we’ve made…but my focus right now is on all of you who having been offering some “constructive feedback”.
Here’s the thing I want to say up front: regardless of the positive/negative nature of some of the feedback, I love the passion. What that tells me is that even if we don’t always get it just right, you guys actually care about what we’re doing. If we were making an app that no one cared about – our message boards would have been a lot quieter…so whether you love or hate the direction we took in I5, we’re grateful for you guys.
I’d like to offer a little back story to the thinking behind some of our I5 decisions and then give you a little inside scoop on how we’re processing this feedback and where we’re going. There are two things that have garnered the most attention in I5: The new View Picker/Home Screen and the new Date/Time Picker. So let’s talk about it. In this post, I’m going to address the View Picker. Check “Part 2” if you’re interested in hearing more about the Date/Time Picker.
Pick a view…any view
In I5, we replaced the “sliding tab bar” with a new “view picker” button, we call this the SmartBar. Here are the top concerns we’ve heard with this new design:
- It now takes 2 taps to change to any view
- Each view change takes you through the “Informant Home” screen, so simple view changes now “feel” like heavy operations
- The view buttons are no longer customizable (you can no longer hide the views you don’t use)
- It’s harder to see where I want to go because there are no more text labels on the view icons
Personally – I can’t really argue with any of that. So you might be wondering…why replace the tab bar in the first place? Well, it was a series of things actually…
- In I5, we modernized a ton of our codebase. Informant 1.0 was originally released on iOS 2. Apple has done a TON of changes since then…which means the way you “should” do certain things in iOS 10 is often different than how you did them in past OS releases. We kept up with a lot of these changes, but over the years, some of these changes would have required more structural changes which built up until we addressed them in I5.
- We have a lot of views (6 calendar views, Focus View, Tasks, Notes, Contacts, Search and Settings). Apple’s built-in tab bar wasn’t sufficient for what we needed, so years ago, we built our custom “sliding” tab bar.
- To get slightly more technical – in our app, we use “container view controllers” to handle the master/detail view layout that you see in virtually all views.
- Container view controllers don’t always play nicely with Custom Tab Bars (especially during rotation) and we kept chasing down miscellaneous issues with them. Some of those issues could be solved by using private Apple APIs, but that’s a no-no in App Store land.
So at this point, we were in a position of constantly chasing down a lot of little glitches, or perhaps rethinking how we change views in the first place. And let’s face it – for all its positives, the sliding tab bar design did have a few problems:
- Because we have 6 calendar views, we put those into a menu on the tab bar…but that menu was a little finicky (small tap target, and you often had to tap a few times to get it). So while changing between calendar and non-calendar views were often 1 tap, changing calendar views was at least 3 taps away (with a small tap-target)
- Quick Entry was hidden behind a gesture that many people didn’t know about and it was sometimes hard to get to even if you did (specifically, if the active view vertically scrolled)
- The sliding tab bar was unique – so not everyone thought to “swipe” the tab bar…which led to support questions asking how you get into settings and such.
This all gave us the opportunity to rethink if the tab bar was the “best” solution (especially given the calendar view menu problem). Thus, the I5 view picker was born – no more special calendar menu, all views are brought to the same level. And, we could make Quick Entry & Search always be 1 tap away.
Admittedly, we were on some dangerous ground here. We had to redesign a fundamental part of our UX to address “hidden” problems that many people would only encounter “randomly”. And even the more visible problems I listed above, our more experienced users weren’t really affected by those (and had learned to “live with” the calendar menu).
So, as it is sometimes with radical changes – two steps forward, one step back (though, I freely admit – some of you might beg to differ about the specifics of how many steps were forward and how many were back ;-))
So now the real question – how do we reconcile the reality that led us to the new View Picker with the reality of the feedback we’ve been getting? Well, we’ve been talking about that a lot. Please know that all of these thoughts are a work in progress, but I’d like to peel back the curtain a little and loop you guys in on some of our current thought processes about what we need to change:
- Add the ability to turn off (hide) view buttons you don’t use (similar to our tab bar setting in PI4)
- Add the option to show icon/text like we had on the tab bar
- Stop going “through” the Informant Home screen for each view transition. Potentially what this might look like is tapping the “view picker” button, which will slide up the different view buttons (like it does now) and the search/quick entry drops down from the top – BUT we no longer take over the entire center screen (you stay on your current view). While this doesn’t entirely solve two-taps, it will certainly feel much faster.
- For iPhone, add a setting that lets you force-touch the view button to immediately take you to your “favorite” view…so for me, as an example, force-touching the view picker would give me 1 touch access to my Focus View.
- Toy with the idea of “tap-swipe-release” to change views instead of tap-tap. This idea isn’t fully fleshed out, but we want to play with the feasibility of tap-swiping to the view button you want, then when you release, it switches.
- On iPad – we have the space…we should be able to put more view buttons at the top-level of the view like we had in PI4. Again, details for this are still being fleshed out a little.
These items (and others) are likely going to be divided into a few different upcoming releases. We’d like to get some immediate improvements out to you guys as soon as possible and take time to fully think through the more involved changes.
We may not always nail it perfectly the first time. Heck – even Apple gave us watchOS 1.0 and Microsoft gave us Windows 8, so it happens to the best of us. But the good news is, as the lead developer on this project (and someone who fully relies and lives on Informant daily), you can rest assured that I’m highly motivated to get it right.