Friday Flotsam

Seems like Friday has become my day to clean up all the open browser tabs I accumulate during the week, add some context and content and, ideally, get your thoughts. Here we go.

Mobile OS and the Back Feature

The Back button originated in the browser, and it has migrated over to native apps in very unpredictable ways. Frankly, as the web evolved from static pages to functional applications, back lost its focus.

Obviously, an app developer is constrained by the capabilities provided by a given SDK and influenced by personal design ideas and financial motivations.

The result is frustrating inconsistency between mobile OSes and between apps on the same OS. Here are two perspectives, one from John Gruber and one from Lukas Mathis.

This is one of many discussions that tends to degenerate into an Android vs. iOS holy war argument, but I’ll take my chances.

Whenever I use iOS, I encounter one of the pain points that Lukas mentions, i.e. each app implements UIWebView to embed its own WebKit instance to handle links. This is detrimental for a number of reasons, e.g. UIWebView doesn’t perform like Mobile Safari, browsing history and browser metadata are locked away in each app.

Android does a better job by surfacing back as an OS feature and by providing intents, allowing back to navigate to the app that originated the request, e.g. if I click through on a link in the Google Reader app, I’m sent to Chrome and returned to Reader when I choose back. Even so, the progression can get confusing because, again, the implementations aren’t always consistent.

The net is that users lose because of inconsistent implementations.

As a bonus, check out Guy Kawasaki’s thoughts on Android. They may surprise you.


Most mobile apps bore me, but today, I found an interesting one, Sitegeist.

Sitegeist is a mobile application that helps you to learn more about your surroundings in seconds. Drawing on publicly available information, the app presents solid data in a simple at-a-glance format to help you tap into the pulse of your location. From demographics about people and housing to the latest popular spots or weather, Sitegeist presents localized information visually so you can get back to enjoying the neighborhood. The application draws on free APIs such as the U.S. Census, Yelp! and others to showcase what’s possible with access to data.

Although Sitegeist is one of the many apps that I’ll probably only use once or twice, I like the information design and presentation. I can see Google adding this type of contextual data to Google Now, which gets better every day.

Anil Dash on the Web We Lost

Although Anil’s post is ultimately positive, it depressed me to read and remember how the intertubes were only a handful of years ago. He’s right that the pendulum will swing back, but like a pendulum, it will come back incrementally, meaning we will have lost some of the web’s freedom irrevocably.

we’re going to face a big challenge with re-educating a billion people about what the web means, akin to the years we spent as everyone moved off of AOL a decade ago, teaching them that there was so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know.

Waiting for Movable Type

Interesting insight from Ryan at 37 Signals about how Tablets are waiting for their Movable Type. I’d posit that mobile generally is waiting for that moment, i.e. the one where self-publishing to phones and tablets happens as easily as it does with a blog. Refer Anil’s point about what we’ve lost.

And Because I Can

Finally, here are Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design, easily said than done, unless of course, you are Dieter Rams.

As always, find the comments.



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