Podcast App Menu

I’m working on my own home-grown podcast playing app for the iPhone as a way of learning Objective-C, the Cocoa frameworks, UIKit, etc. It’s been months of reading and toying with code in my spare time, but I have a little bare bones app that I use every day now to suit my needs. It’s a long way off from being released to the general public, but it’s always exciting when I can check off the next feature I want to add or trick I want to pull. That’s the joy of programming.

It’s been rumored for a long time that Apple was going to come out with its own podcast playing app, and that finally happened this week. Podcasts are leaving iTunes and moving to this app. Podcasts can be subscribed to from the app and downloaded straight to it. (Stay away from doing that in 3G land, though. That data hit could get ugly.)

I mention all of this now because the Apple Podcast app has the main menu that I wanted to implement in my app. And rather than being dismayed that they beat me to it, it’s been a big confidence boost to know that I was thinking along the same lines as Apple.

Here’s a scrap of paper I originally outlined my idea with:

My Podcast App Menu Sketch

What you see to the left is my drawing of the screen. It’s a series of icons, shown two across, for as many tiers as necessary. It’s labelled “Podcast Choice” at the top. Here’s what I wrote along the right side:

  • “Large Targets”: This is important to me. There are far too many apps that use such small controls that I accidentally hit the wrong control. Podcast apps are the worst for that. The Apple HIG specifies something like a 44 pixel square tap zone, but I think there are a lot of developers who don’t go much larger than that. Bad.

  • “Important: No icon get cut off on screen 1”: This is in direct opposition to what I wrote later in the notes. Let’s skip to that one:

  • “How to indicate more choices below? Show tops of next row of icons?” This is the right way to go. If there are six icons perfectly centered on the first screen, the user doesn’t have a visual clue to continue scrolling in any direction to see more. You need to cut off the last row of icons so the user knows to scroll down for more. It’s more intuitive that way.

Here’s what the Apple podcast main menu looks like:

Apple's Podcast.app main menu

Notice the last row there? Yup, it leads you to scroll down. And Apple is doing the same pair of icons all the way down technique that I was thinking about. It’s nothing new. The Windows Metro interface is built on it, and that influenced me. So did Marco Arment’s Instapaper app, which has a menu for choosing articles that looks like this, too. And I know we’re going to see a lot more of it in the future now that Apple is using it.

Again, I’m just happy that some of the details I was sweating were some of the same details Apple was thinking about. I’m not claiming to be a revolutionary here or anything. It’s just a nice feeling to have.

  • “White space between?” My drawing had gutters between all the icons. So does Apple’s.

  • “Name on tile (color)?” Apple does not have a podcast name on the title. It is solely up to the app to have their name on the tile. And, more often than not in the cases you see on my screen, the podcast producers have their network name along the bottom. I had thought of doing some kind of semi-transparent overlay over the bottom quarter of the tile with the podcast name on it. Still might.

  • “If odd # tiles, leave last spot plain white? Or put something in?” Apple goes for a blank spot, which I think I likely would have done, too. You can’t put a feature button down there because then you’d lose the feature every time you have an even number of podcasts. You could drop an ad in there, I guess, if you were so persuaded. I have no ad model planning for my app.

  • “How to indicate button press? Grey out on Tap Down? Change border color?” I still don’t know about this, but Apple doesn’t indicate anything. You tap, and the app switches to the next page.

I haven’t done much with the main menu screen at all, yet. I have a much more basic implementation right now, and I think that whenever I do release this thing into the wild, I’ll stick closer to that than a completely graphical tile-based navigation. But that will only be due to my own slowness as a learning programmer, rather than any strongly-held belief about app design.

More to come in the future. . .

WWDC 2012 Predictions

Tomorrow is the big Tim Cook keynote at WWDC. So it’s time for the last minute predictions:

I think everything rumored to be coming out of Apple will come out. I just don’t think it’ll happen miraculously all on the same day tomorrow. For starters, rumors of a refreshed hardware line seem off to me. Coordinating the shipments and handling of one new batch of computers is tricky enough, I’m sure. Doing it for four or five lines at the same time would be madness. Where in the Apple Store back rooms would they stock all of those machines? Maybe they can announce them tomorrow for future shipments.

I’d expect to see something along the lines of what we saw a few years back. It was in January/February, and Apple released a new something every week for five or six straight weeks. Maybe that’s what they’ll do here, too. Don’t fill the press’ heads with too much news tomorrow. Give them one piece and let the rest roll out as the news cycle slows down and Apple can steal a headline or three.

This is a developers’ conference, so I’ll go big and say the Mac Pro will get a refresh. After that, perhaps one laptop that will have a retina display screen. Everything else waits.

Along those lines, while the prospect of an App Store for the Apple TV is the most exciting thing to be rumored, I don’t see it happening. The Apple TV 3 is short on space to store those apps. You can’t load one up with lots of applications, when there’s only 8GB of space on there, most of which would still be used to make temporary storage of video streams more seamless. You need new hardware — possibly including a new remote — to make an Apple TV App Store work.

Either that, or we will get one, but people will be ticked off that Apple will be limiting it. Either Apple won’t grant developers access to the videos the box streams, or access would be limited strictly to those multimedia elements. No Angry Birds for you. (How would you play that, anyway?)

How awkward would it be if Apple held a special event in the future to announce an Apple TV SDK/App Store? Once the invitations went out, everyone would assume it’s for the much-hyped “Apple TV” all-in-one package. That’s why Apple wouldn’t hold such an event. They’d just open up a new page on the developer website and let people download the framework and go nuts. Maybe they’d run a press release, but the whole thing would come with zero warning.

Will we see a Siri API? That would be a big deal. Handling voice recognition and the discipline of parsing language like that would be daunting. It would require a lot of training of the devs. Again, though, Apple could limit access to Siri in such a way that simplifies things for developers, but ultimately disappointing the loudmouths who’d be ticked off that they’re access there isn’t unfettered. Fuller access will come someday, but maybe not just yet. Apple still needs to work on the Siri servers and their slowness.

Or I could be completely wrong and Apple could announce all of this stuff at the same time and blow San Francisco off the map with the explosion of happiness at Moscone West.

That would be cool, but I’m trying hard not to let rumors disappoint me for the realities of Apple.

We’ll see new Maps, though. I’m sure of that. Facebook integration? Yes, but it’ll be limited to posting on your own wall with text or a photo. Basically, it’s the tweetification of Facebook. And I bet we’ll see a firm release date for Mountain Lion. From the scuttlebutt I’ve read, the beta tests have been going fairly well lately. The only big question is when iOS 6 will be released. Will it be tied to the next iPhone, which I’m sure we won’t see tomorrow? Or will it be released for all current models first over the summer, ahead of a fall phone release?

I can’t wait for the videos from WWDC to hit the Dev Center. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the ride tomorrow. By the time I wake up on Monday, the Wall Street Journal will likely spoil all the announcements, anyway. And maybe I’ll be wrong and we’ll be awash in a sea of awesome news and golden unicorns.