sambeau.com

A Letter To Evernote

Skitch ruined me. I am a ruined man.
★☆☆☆☆

I was a happy normal person who had thought he'd found the ideal annotations app: Skitch. I'd never really used Evernote so wasn't interested in the online syncing stuff but the UI for annotation looked superb. I would have happily paid £10 and given a 5-star rating had that been it.

But no. This is an online world and this is a fancy new auto-syncing dooh-dah. Nice UI or not you have to sync and you have to rate and its not enough to use an app you have to spread the word. Nag nag nag. Sign up for an account. Nag nag nag. Put your password in. Nag nag nag rate this app. Nag nag nag. Viral. Nag. Social. Nag. Bang head repeatedly against Facebook Wall. Nag. Like.

Still…

The app is great. I mean REALLY great. It annotates like it's the future and I'm annotating like I'm Tom Cruise solving future crime. Whoosh whoosh whoosh bing! Annotations everywhere. Arrows and shaded text and I'm stamping: stamp stamp stamp. This is it. This is how annotation should always have been. I'm a blur of red text with fat white borders and subtle shadows. I am arrowing like a painted caveman brushed in ochre at a bison stampede. Arrow arrow arrow. Pew pew pew.

So I'm annotating and I am arrowing and I'm syncing and I think I'm saving because I'm hitting ⌘S every 30 seconds. ⌘S. ⌘S. ⌘S. ⌘S.

Cool. This is how it should always have been. I am an astronaut. I am a big wave surfer. THIS is annotation! Woooooo!

Then it happens. Boom! No more sync space. Bah. Ok. I can live without sync for the moment. I'm busy with all this annotating and there is more stamping and plenty more arrowing to be done. £3 a month. Hmm. That's a lot being as I can just save. ⌘S. ⌘S. ⌘S.

But the nagging continues. Every damn time. Nag nag nag. No more sync. Nag nag nag. No more sync.

Ah. I can log out. That'll stop the nagging. And so what If I can't sync — I can still save. ⌘S. ⌘S. ⌘S.

Cool. I'll log out and that'll stop the nagging and I can get on with the annotating cos these 20 files aren't going to arrow themselves.

Boom! Some files won't be synced. Never mind I'll sync later once I sign up for Evernote. Never fear ⌘S. ⌘S. ⌘S.

Boom!

All gone. All my files. Gone. All my lovely red text with a fat white borders subtle shadows and lovely arrows. Gone. Forever.
But what about save? There was no save. There was only sync. And when the sync ran out there was no sync.

And there it is. And here we are…
…So. Many. Questions.

Stepan? Phil? Engberg? Ken? Philip? Alex? Seth? Mark?

Is this really your strategy for bringing people onboard the Evernote 'Platform'?
Reel them in, nag them till they're sick of you and then throw their work away because they chose not to pay for sync at that very moment. I was busy, not stingy. I was in the zone. I was arrowing like a boss. My credit card was in my coat. Really? Because I didn't jump to do it then and there and on-the-double-dibble you threw my work away? REALLY?

I am angry. Angry and upset. And full of bile.

You took a very happy customer, one that was all pink and love-hearty and stamping with gusto and going to sign up for your online service just-in-mo so I can sync all those arrows to my iPad—and you turned him into what I am now.

Angry, upset and full of bile.

I may cool down in an hour or two. I may cool down once I've slept on it. But right now you have turned me into one of those ranting morons with bile foaming at their mouths who leaves a one star review and a turgid pile of doggerel in lieu of a good punch in your chops.

You have turned me into a thing I hate: a YouTube commenter, a one-star reviewer.

And I hate your unpunched chops even more for that.

❤Moo!

Some companies do something special. They give you less and they charge you more for it and you are grateful for it. Apple Inc. is without doubt the most famous of these.

Dear Reader, I hear grinding teeth. Please, let me finish my dissertation: I am not finished.

'Quality' is a difficult word to define. 'Value-for-money' is just as hard. If you take an Apple product and write a table of features compared to a competitor product it will look like a loser. It seems stupid to do it if you care about quality rather than features, but… magazines, websites and intelligent people continue to do it.

I (and I hope you, Dear Reader) will usually choose the Apple product. The big question is: why should we?

In the golden days of cathode ray tubes and infrared, I would always try to buy (and advise to buy) a Philips. If you have ever held a Philips remote control in your hand you will understand this. It was 'quieter'. It had less buttons. Every button did something.

Every button did something! Imagine: No button was redundant! You, as an average user would get use out of all the buttons. Even better, the buttons you used the most were directly beneath your fingers and thumb. This was not (and is still not) the case for their rivals.

Did the Philips TV cost more? Well, yes! But not that much more and there were more expensive machines that had worse design.

Dear Young Reader, I do not jest when I say that, in those bad-old days the number of buttons on the remote was a selling point, just as the number of keys on a keyboard was. It was a number on the table of features.

When I got my first Apple remote I lay it beside my old Philips remote and I laughed. This was a remote that had more functionality than the Philips remote. It did more. But it had a fraction of the buttons.

So, if you compare an old Philips remote to a new Apple remote in one of those old feature lists it will lose. Horribly. It only has three (or six) buttons (depending on how you count them). But, the Apple remote has more functionality, because it has been designed with the attention that the box it talks to has been designed with. Neither was designed to a feature list.

Fast forward a few years and you will find me with my third 3G phone. It is the second phone to promise video calls and internet. It takes great photographs but the Orange branded UI is a dog's breakfast. The 'internet' is WAP not HTML and goes through an Orange portal not a normal search engine. It is slow and pretty much unusable. I can read the BBC headlines if the planets align above me, but not much more. It also claims to have tethering but when I try to use it with my Powerbook all I get is horrible ghosts of web pages that have been fed through a filter that makes everything look as bad as it does on the phone. I would also have had to pawn my trousers to use it regularly. I soon give up.

With each 3G phone me and my pal Matt upgraded to (Nokias and Sony-Ericssons) we sat in the pub and tried to make a connecting video call. We never, ever succeeded. Not even a whiff. It was the only reason we had bought them. Well, that and the huge feature list that we had poured over.

Most of the features on the big long list were unusable: video calls, email, internet, MP3 player. The only things that worked well were bluetooth and the camera - and that was more than partly down to the quality of the Mac software for both.

Fast forward to now. I no longer look at feature lists. I look for those companies that offer less but charge a little more and are honest about it. This is not because I am stupid (but I have been called stupid on many occasions). I look for companies that make promises that they will keep.

This essay was never supposed to be about Apple, Philips, Nokia or Sony-Ericsson. It could have been about the iPhone or Nintendo Wii but it is not.

It was supposed to be about a small company called Moo.

Moo are to business cards as Apple are to tech. Moo are to stickers as Philips were to remotes. Moo give you less for your money – physically less.

You can get loads more cards if you order from a 'real' printer. But you have to speak print-shop and know about bleeds, spot colours, card-stock, dpi, the whole ugly shebang.

Try to order from your local printer and you probably won't be given a price until the end of an ordeal. The cards will be wrong, they'll take ages to come, the card will be too thin, there'll be a misprint, some of them will be smudged and you will get 10 times as many as you wanted.

Most importantly, you won't really like them. You'll fling them about as if they are disposable. You'll give them to people with a face that says "Meh".

Moo's cards are smaller. You get less. They cost more. and they… err… come in a cute box.

But, Moo give you something far more valuable.

No, not the box. Not a stupidly easy process, not a lovely company to work with, not a quality that you can feel, not stupidly small runs and fantastically beautiful cards every time. No, not the fact that you don't have to talk print-shop talk, not that you can use Flickr photos if you have them, not that you can do it all by internet. No not that you'll know the price before you order, can pay be credit card and you'll know when they'll arrive, nor the fact that you will really have to try hard to make an ugly card.

All of these reasons are true, but they're not the fundamental reason to use Moo to make your business cards.

You should use Moo because Moo will make you a card that you can hand to people with a smile on your face and body language that says, "I spent 10 pence on this card. Giving it to you means something to me".

That, Dear Reader, is worth far more than 10p.

(Here's my card by the way…)

Seven Sins

Forgive me, Dear Reader, for I have sinned.

My first sin was a splash screen. Apple apps don't do splash screens, they just present a screen grab of the last time you used it. So, you and I stab frantically at the glass until the app loads for real and things sometimes get accidentally deleted. An Apple-style screen done by a third-party developer is usually even worse. This is because Apple apps tend to launch very quickly. But third-part developer want to impress and impressing means loading lots of images. We are guilty here: our app, sadly, doesn't launch very quickly. We chose to have a splash screen because we felt it was probably more honest. It also gives us something to try to optimise away.

My second sin was gestures. Yes, Dear Reader, we added a non-standard gesture: a swipe-up to open a menu at the bottom of the screen. It feels natural-enough when you do it and I'm sure you will see it appear in other apps. But, the blame will always land here with me (Or more rightly: Bert). Worse than that, the swipe up does something different on the home screen! This should be a sin in itself. (But it isn't.)

My third sin was help buttons. A good app should be so simple and self-explanatory that help should not be needed. But, partly because of my second sin, some sort of help was needed. I bit the bullet and tried to make the help as fun as possible. I also included a setting to get rid of it. Thus I also killed a UI fairy (every user setting does so).

My fourth sin was a wizard. Yes. A wizard. No self respecting Mac or iPhone programmer would consider a wizard. Wizards are for Microsoft! Wizards are Clippy! Oh the shame! Was I talked into it by Bert? Was I weak? Well, yes and no. I do think we need one, so that is clearly a failure on my part. But, I have conveniently convinced myself that what we have here is in fact not a wizard at all: it's just the normal setup process; it's where you create your profile. Every web app has such a thing as does any app that talks with the internet. Am I deluded? Most certainly.

My fifth sin was audio. Why would an iPhone app need audio? It doesn't. Clearly. But it was a bit of fun and it adds to the experience in places. I like it. But many people won't, so there is a setting to turn it off (and another UI fairy needlessly dies).

My sixth sin was a feedback option. Surely anyone who likes the app can manage to leave feedback without an option in the App itself. Indeed. But, a quick and easy way to send us an email might be handy, especially if our app is buggy. So we have a feedback option and I injected some humour into the usually dry affair. I will resist any notion of those Twitter, Facebook and Digg icons that appear on people websites and, more recently, in other people's apps… yuk!… unless Bert convinces me.

My seventh sin is a disclaimer. Dear Reader, I hate disclaimers. I hate what they stand for; I hate that they might have purpose, or worse: power over people. Disclaimers represent a sector of modern society that ruins modern life for the rest of us. "Ptoo!", I say. But, Dave wanted one ; so I wrote one. Then I buried it deep in the settings.

Are we drinking or pouring?

Dear Reader, I was rubbish.

Good design is all about opinion and on this matter I held both no opinion and too much opinion. Even worse, I was in favour of both opinions.

The internet records that: Bill Cosby, when asked "Is the glass half full, or half empty?" said "It depends on whether you are drinking or pouring".

This is indeed my dilemma: are we drinking or pouring?

In Payday, the lights that go around your daily budget are an indication of how close you are to payday. Every light represents a day. But should they count up or count down? Should a light come on or go out?

Both arguments are clear and make perfect sense.

It should be a countdown! Each light represents one more day to get through. Each light represents your money. No one counts up to payday, everybody counts down!

No! It should be a count-up! Each day nearer to Payday gets a light. The brighter the screen the closer you are to payday. This mirrors clocks, wait cursors and (of course) the Countdown quiz show's clock.

What do do?

"Put a preference", in suggested Bert. "No way!" I said sniffily, "every preference we add will kill a UI fairy. I do not want to be responsible for elficide".

So I made an arbitrary decision.

What swung it in favour of the count-up was the thought that on payday you would get no lights at all. Every light lit up seemed like a far more satisfying experience.

Every Payday is a little Birthday after all.

Aniconism

Our first icon was a rounded rectangle. It was green and a bit stripy and had a dollar sign in the middle. It looked OK. Professional and… well… OK.

Dear Reader, I am a snob.

I judge every app in the first second I see it. I judge it before I have tried it, before I read its name, before I visit its website.

I used to have an RSS feed of every new and updated iPhone app that I would check on a daily basis. I would scroll through the feed clicking on any icon that looked worthy and it was clear that, although there wasn't a one-to-one relationship, there certainly was a clear correlation between the quality of an icon and the quality of its app.

This was life before the flood.

Before long I had to check the feed twice a day and then every hour and soon after I gave up. It wasn't exactly that there were too many apps – there were just too many hideous icons.

Reader, I will not even look at a an iPhone app with an ugly icon.

During development I looked at our icon every day. It wasn't a bad icon, it was just a bit 'Meh'. It looked like every other icon. It was certainly an icon that I would have clicked on had it appeared in that feed, but it just wasn't the icon I wanted to be seen out-and-about with. I wanted an icon I could put on my t-shirt. I wanted an icon that I could see emblazoned on the wall in my local Apple store. I wanted an icon that people would instantly recognise.

Our second icon was a beautiful flower. It looks lovely and I love it. But you might, rightfully hate it.

You see, Dear Reader, our second icon isn't a rounded rectangle.

Thus, our icon is controversial. People as snobbish as I will judge it immediately and accuse it of being inconsistent. They may think it flawed.

You, Dear Reader, may be one of these people and if you are, you are entitled to your opinion.

I, however, am looking forward to affording myself a t-shirt.