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Learning from Apple
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As I started thinking about the user interface (UI) for the App Cubby applications and reading various books about UI design, I developed this grand vision of revolutionizing the touch screen interface until I realized that the iPhone had already done just that. Apple has some of the best UI engineers in the world. Studying how Apple solved various UI challenges in their own applications is the absolute best place for any iPhone developer to start planning a UI. In an attempt to create a distinct look, many iPhone developers consciously choose to ignore the UI conventions established by Apple in the iPhone s default applications (Phone, Messages Mail, Maps, Photos, etc.). There are definitely some interesting and innovative UI implementations that don t conform to Apple s UI conventions, but for
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CHAPTER 3: App Cubby
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most developers, sticking to Apple s published iPhone Human Interface Guidelines will take you a long way in making a more user friendly application. Speaking of the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines, I think that every iPhone developer should read that document cover to cover (multiple times even). My copy is the digital equivalent of a well-worn book, complete with highlights and notes all over the PDF. After a couple times reading through the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines, it really sank in that the default applications created by Apple are some of the most frequently used on the iPhone and therefore the most familiar to the average iPhone user. Breaking from Apple s UI conventions forces the user to relearn certain actions and creates a bit of cognitive dissonance as the user switches among various applications with contradictory UI implementation. Apple s applications are not completely consistent, but they do contain certain patterns and methodologies that, if implemented, make it easier and more natural for users to quickly and effectively grasp the functionality of any application. Let s look at data entry for a minute. Since I was planning to build a series of data management applications, I spent quite a bit of time studying how Apple addressed the challenge of entering lots of data into an iPhone application. The Calendar application provides a great example of Apple s hierarchical data entry paradigm. The first level is what I ll call the main view (see Figure 1-1). This view aggregates multiple entries into a bird s eye view and allows the user to quickly scan a lot of information and easily find the information of interest.
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Figure 1-1. The main view
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Tapping on a summary row (i.e., the Farmer s Market row in Figure 1-1) in the main view takes you to the detail view (see Figure 1-2). Here, all the relevant data is displayed in detail.
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CHAPTER 1: App Cubby
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Figure 1-2. The detail view
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Tapping the Edit button in the top-right corner (or creating a new record from the main view) takes you to the data entry overview in the Edit screen, shown in Figure 1-3.
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Figure 1-3. The data entry overview
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In Figure 1-3, all available fields are presented in a grouped table view. Tapping a field takes you to a data entry view, which is shown in Figure 1-4.
CHAPTER 3: App Cubby
Figure 1-4. The data entry view
This is where the magic happens: a keyboard, keypad, picker, or list pops up, and the user actually enters data. In an attempt to streamline data entry, I ve seen a lot of developers skip the view shown in Figure 1-4 in favor of allowing the keyboard to pop up over a long list of fields. Figure 1-5 shows what that shortcut might look like in Gas Cubby.
Figure 1-5. An alternative, streamlined data entry screen
CHAPTER 1: App Cubby
At first glance, this shortcut might seem more efficient than Apple s approach, but in my experience, it causes quite a few accidental taps. While attempting to scroll, users can quite easily accidentally activate a field or tap a button. Combining the data entry overview and the data entry view in a single view takes focus away from the task of actually entering data and makes the user cognizant of the need to tap and swipe carefully. Focus is the beauty of Apple s data entry paradigm. Because the keyboard takes up so much space on the screen, it s best to have data entry focused on a single field or small group of fields that fit above the keyboard. Even the Mail application (see Figure 1-6) doesn t hide data entry fields. The Mail data entry view does scroll, and you can access additional data entry fields by tapping on the Cc/Bcc, From row. Even so, when you first create a new mail message, every immediately editable field is contained within the view. None are hidden behind the keyboard.
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