We’re all hyper-retailers now

squarecouch

It feels like something big just happened with the launch of Square, the personal credit-card swiping system that’s integrated with iPhone and iPad. Suddenly, anybody can be a retailer that takes plastic.

Sure, you could sell your stuff previously on eBay, Etsy or any number of online marketplaces using the insufferable PayPal, but when it came to the real world, unless you had a merchant account with a credit card company, it was a cash-only experience.

That just changed with a little white cube with a magnetic strip reader that plugs into the iPhone or iPad. After a painless sign-up process, your iPhone now accepts VISA.

squarescreenMicro-retailers will no doubt rejoice, but I’m thinking the interesting action just might occur in the private sphere. Did I loan you $20 last week? You can pay me back with plastic now. Do you have a side-business walking dogs? No need to collect (and worry about) checks from the customers — just swipe their card.

There’s a great commercial for the product here, with You Look Nice Today‘s Adam Lisagor playing it about as straight as I imagine he can. And as long as you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can sign up for free and the company will mail you a scanner-dongle, just as soon as they get through the backlog.

Brilliant.

The Angry Birds fans are angry, and empowered

angrybirdIt’s still surprising in this inter-connected age that a company can get caught thinking they can pull one over on people. And yet, they do.

Case in point: The wildly-popular Angry Birds iPhone game just got upgraded to an iPad “HD” edition, and the price jumped 500%.

Which, at a mere five dollars, would still be a bargain, if it weren’t for the fact that, as many have noted on its iTunes page, it’s just an upsizing of the iPhone app, with no new features or functionality. As ttrygve says:

It also didn’t move or resize the buttons at all, they’re still laid out as though for an iPhone, meaning they’re not at all conveniently placed… I feel ripped off, though I still heartily recommend the iPhone version.

In about 30 seconds I went from, “Hello new purchase for the iPad!” to feeling like I dodged a bullet, thanks to my new anonymous friends.

TMI, automated

facebookprivacyGiven that I’ve always treated my Facebook account as if it were 100% public, the ever-creeping publicness of Facebook hasn’t concerned me much.

But if you think — or worse, act as if — Facebook is still the same private walled-garden you joined in 2006, you’d be well-advised to spend a few minutes with this excellent infographic from All Facebook which shows the steady march toward a much more open Facebook.

NYT on iPad: Almost as good as…paper?

nytipadsuckAt first, I tried to enjoy its simplicity, but the NYT “Editor’s Choice” app is starting to get really ridiculous. Witness this article that’s nothing more than a collection of links that — are you ready for it? — don’t link.

(Failure highlighted in yellow for your reading pleasure.)

The only explanation: the focus group was infiltrated by radical newsroom curmudgeons.

No wonder Steve hates it.

(UPDATE: Apparently this particular “Editor’s Choice” is just shovelware, badly done. The original page makes a whole lot more sense with the links intact.)

Is it easy for a new user to get lost on iPad?

ipadmessJakob Nielsen* and crew have churned out a quick usability study of the Apple iPad. And while it’s far, far too early (and the number of test subjects too small) to be making any hard and fast recommendations or rules (and Nielsen stipulates as much), the report reminded me of something that struck me this weekend watching a new iPad user (and non-iPhone user) try to acclimate herself to the device.

It’s odd that a company (Apple) known for its rigid user-interface standards has bet the farm on what is literally and figuratively a tabula rasa, where anything and everything goes. The only constant is that the hardware button takes you to one of the home screens. That’s it. Every single user-interface decision beyond that is open to the interpretation of the individual app designer. Certain conventions are emerging already (such as the sidebar/popover internal navigation scheme seen most prominently in Mail), but every app can be, and often is, a UI adventure.

To exacerbate the problem, once they do figure out how something works, users can’t transfer their skills from one app to the next. Each application has a completely different UI for similar features.In different apps, touching a picture could produce any of the following 5 results:

  • Nothing happens
  • Enlarging the picture
  • Hyperlinking to a more detailed page about that item
  • Flipping the image to reveal additional pictures in the same place (metaphorically, these new pictures are “on the back side” of the original picture)
  • Popping up a set of navigation choices

Nielsen has always been something of a design puritan, so I don’t find myself agreeing with everything he’s selling here. But this report asks some excellent questions.

The appeal of iPad is how the interface essentially disappears, allowing the user to interact directly with the elements on/behind the glass. But that invisibility also presents challenges to designers to understand that a user may be able to hold only so many interface schemes in his long-term memory.

* The first time I’ve ever typed Jakob Nielsen’s name twice in the same day, I think.

(Traffic photo from flickr user UweBKK. Creative Commons.)

Middlebury College rewards inquiring minds

A colleague sent me a link to Middlebury College’s web site recently, and I was really impressed.

It’s very simple – just a name, a search box, some navigation and a horizontally-scrolling series of colored bars:

middlebury

But hidden inside those colored bars is a candbox-like invitation to sample stories about the institution that’s kind of irresistible. The folks at Middlebury answered the same question we all do — “How do we show the breadth of ours schools and universities in a limited space?” — in an innovative fashion. Yes, as Jakob Nielsen would say, it’s Mystery Meat, but in this case, the mystery is compelling enough to be part of the charm.

It’s not perfect — I wish whoever is preparing the photos and screengrabs would take more care that they not lose their vitality in the downsizing — but overall, it’s a site feature that works hard to tell the story of Middlebury. And that’s really all we can ask of our sites.