I’m sorry. This is yet another post1 on more UX/UI mess that keeps bothering me.
Starting with something I recently started using after 8+ years – Facebook. FB earned a reprieve from the tech press after its change of heart on native smartphone apps. But their Android app is still way below par for what is the primary user interface for vast proportion of their users.
I’m not a fan of app splash screens. They delay app usage without presenting any useful, or even pleasant, information or interface. To me, they imply either:
badly thought out app design requiring loading loads of data before the UI can even be shown, or
a pathetic branding attempt that spoils UX by unnecessarily delaying app access
Here’s some thoughts on how to (not) do splash screens in apps:
My pet favourite object of splash screen hatred is the MyFitnessPal app. It has not one, but 2-step splash screen. The first one shows a progress bar, which I assume shows the status of data stored locally on my device.
This is followed by another phase of splash screen madness under the Synchronising data title with a rotating symbol this time (so no indication of progress).
Only after the local data has been ‘loaded‘, and synchronised with the servers, is the user allowed to see the app UI. And despite this, the headline daily dairy numbers they show on landing screen is wrong most of the time. Specially if another app (Garmin Connect for me) has synced exercise calories with MyFitnessPal.
This feels so wrong. Why can’t they just show me the default landing page UI right away, letting me do what I do on most app uses – log food consumption – as quickly as possible. The changes can all be synced in the background.
The multiplicity of logos on the splash screen, as well as several other UI decisions in the app seem to convey that MyFitnessPal has a weak UI/X team being overridden frequently by a politically strong marketing/content team.
I recently switched my primary twitter app from Plume to Fenix. On UI and features, both have their pros & cons, but Plume’s usability had taken a massive dive recently with long delays and freezes. Fenix, on the other hand is as fast as they get. Probably, even faster than Twitter’s own app!
While Fenix is faster, prettier, and generally more pleasant to use than Plume, it also has a few serious drawbacks – especially for users like me, with multiple Twitter accounts.
After 3 weeks of using it, I’ve even come to like some of its drawbacks (no multi-account integrated timeline – allows focus), and been desperately hunting/craving/begging for others to be removed.
This post is a list of those nettlesome issues, and my suggestions on how to remove them.
1. Easy switching between accounts
Currently, switching between timelines on two accounts requires: an edge swipe and a slightly problematic tap1. While this is an improvement from the earlier edge swipe + 2 taps, it’s still not fast or efficient enough.
Suggested solution: Swipe on action bar to switch between accounts.
Swiping on the list of tweets currently switches between various columns – timeline, mentions, DMs, favourites, etc. Swiping on the action bar would switch between accounts in a similar manner. In fact, this UI pattern is already used by Chrome for Android – we can switch between adjacent browser tabs by swiping on location bar / action bar2.
2. Add ability to post same tweet from multiple accounts
The compose tweet function in Fenix is better than the timeline feature – user can start composing from either account and switch, with 2 simple taps, to another account. It also has the best integration of ‘drafts’ functionality that I’ve seen across any twitter app so far3.
However, it lacks a very important feature for multi-account users – ability to post the same tweet from multiple accounts in one go. Plume accomplishes this quite well (3rd screen in the image below), and it would be really great to see a similar functionality come to Fenix.
3. Better muting / filtering functionality
The changes requested so far are (mostly) UI tweaks that enhance experience for multi-users. The muting/filtering feature upgrade requests below, however, are highly relevant for all users. Also, of all the functionality in Fenix, this is one area where I feel it really needs to improve by quite a bit.
1) Apply new filters to both new tweets and the tweets already downloaded
The current implementation of muting in Fenix works by applying the set filters on new, incoming tweets. While this works for long-standing filters, it’s not very useful when you wake up in the morning to see your timeline full of tweets with a random, useless hashtag, say #ReplaceAMovieTitleWithGoat.
Now, even if add a new muting rule to filter out that #tag, it only prevents new tweets from being added to my timeline. I still need to hurdle past the 100s of unwanted tweets with that #tag already in.
Suggested solution: Every time the filter/mute list is updated, run the filter function on all the tweets in the current timeline. Just as it would be run on incoming tweets.
My hunch here is that the filter function is being run when the tweets arrive from Twitter’s backend to the app, and only the unfiltered ones are sent for storing locally to the content provider4. For filtering (and unfiltering) of already downloaded tweets to work, the code needs to be changed so that it stores all tweets, and filters them when the content resolver/adapter4 fetches them from content provider to populate the list.
2) Filter out tweets sent using specific apps
Twitter’s API provides, for every tweet, the source app used to post that tweet. Fenix uses this information in the detailed tweet display mode:
While this may be marginally useful from information perspective, it’s far more useful if the app could also provide a filter to mute tweets published using certain apps. Plume did an excellent job on this front, and prevented cluttering of timeline with automated tweets published using some very unsocial apps:
3) Create filters using regular expressions, or even clear text.
Creating simple word based filters is quite straightforward in Fenix. However, that’s all it supports. There is no support for defining filters as regular expression. Furthermore, due to a possible snafu in the app code, some text-based filters don’t work either.
As an example, I have been using ‘.@’ as a filter for a while on Plume. This filters out the tweets that begin with ‘.@twitterhandle …’, which I rarely find useful or entertaining, on Plume.
It also filters out an occasional valid tweet, which could be avoided if Plume supported regex filters, in which case the filter would have been: ^.@\S
Fenix, sadly doesn’t accept either. There’s no support for regular expressions in filters. And using ‘.@’ produces a confusing result – filtering out a lot of tweets, both those beginning with, and not beginning with, ‘.@’. My guess is that the text string provided by the user isn’t sanitised by the app before being added to the filter regex in the code.
4. Better image previews in timeline
Fenix currently offers 3 options for image previews in timeline – large (left screen below), small (middle screen), or none.
The large screen option looks beautiful! However, most images take up so much screen real estate that browsing through the list becomes a bit of a chore.
The small screen option makes the list quite nice and compact – perfect for quickly scrolling through. However, the size is so small that for most images, the preview doesn’t even offer much of a hint of the full image’s content. Result is user opening a lot more images in full view mode.
I really like Plume’s approach here:
full-column-width preview, cropped to a standard height.
Cropping by height ensures the image leaves space for more tweets, while the full-width preview gives a much better idea of the image’s content. It would be wonderful to have a similar middle-path image preview option in Fenix.
Trello, probably my favourite software out there, implemented an awesome new feature today – unlimited labels. Before today, users were restricted to the 6 system defined labels. We could rename them to what they meant for us, but couldn’t add new ones. This handicap was removed today.
Thanks for the unlimited labels, team Trello!
However, this upgrade also breaks a very useful keyboard ui pattern.
Earlier, I could press L (shortcut for label interface), followed by digits (codes) of all the labels I wanted added, and be done with labeling a card in one go.
Now, I need to press L, followed by label digit, followed by enter, for each label separately. Adding 3 labels to a card went from 5 key strokes to 9 strokes. Makes it harder, tiresome.
I understand the need to break the earlier pattern because of the possibility of double digit label numbers. These would make it impossible to decipher if L13 meant apply labels 1 & 3, or apply label 13.
My suggested alternative: reduce the number of custom labels from UNLIMITED to 26. Then you can use alphabets as codes for custom labels. Now L1C could mean apply labels 1 & C, while L13 would continue to mean apply label 1 & 3.
I hope 26+6 labels would be sufficient for most use cases though the teams at Trello would have better data to check the hypothesis.
Would love to hear views of Trello UX, design teams.