Random Thoughts Technology

Some Quick Thoughts on Apple News

I know the tech world is currently busy covering Apple News+, but I’ve recently just been trying out plain old Apple News recently for the first time. Here’s some random thoughts.

  • I actually think it’s a decently designed app. It does nothing outstanding, but it displays stories and their texts simply. It does its job.
  • The main thing I’m not a fan of design wise is the time when posted text (e.g. ‘4h ago’, see screenshot) below each article. As long as it was published today I don’t care about the time published. And I don’t like how it’s placed at the bottom of each story block, as it can look a little stranded if the headline is a short one.
  • You really need to train it. If News was made by Google or Amazon you’d launch the app for the first time and it would would be eerily good at showing you stories of interest. But this is Apple so it takes some time to set it up to get good results. You have to be very proactive in blocking websites and disliking certain stories.
  • The typeface on the Mac version is too small and I don’t think there’s a way to enlarge it.
  • I never visit the human curated ‘Spotlight’ section. Nothing has ever caught my eye in there.
  • Overall I’ve found a lot of the negatives aren’t to do with Apple News itself and are instead due to the websites that are within it. Online journalism now is too short, too wrong and too clickbaity. And there just isn’t enough good articles published each to day to fill out the ‘columns’ of the Apple News app. But maybe the new higher-quality paid stuff in News+ will help with that problem.

The Newsletter Popup Plague

If you’re an iPhone user the popup on below will almost certainly have gotten in your way many times. It isn’t a spam or malicious popup, but it is just as annoying.

Thankfully a year or so ago it became so common and such a menace that considerate iOS developers started to remove it from their apps and it is much less prevalent today.

But now there is a new plague. This time on the web (particularly shops and blogs). It’s the ‘subscribe to our newsletter’ popup and it’s depressingly rampant. You’re slapped in the face with it the moment you visit way too many sites now.

Both these popups are the product of a few things I believe…


The web, like most things, has fashions and trends. The newsletter popup has been around for a long time, but it appears in 2016 to be very much in fashion and to have reached a mass scale. Which leads me onto my next point.

Morally okay

When something is so ubiquitous it is less likely to be examined morally. When all your fellow online shops have fashionable newsletter popups of course you want to implement one too. Whereas if you were one of the first you would need to look at wether this is good for your users and examine its pros and cons. But at some point enough people are doing it that the general census becomes ‘this is fine’ and you no longer have to debate it.

Easy to use ‘plugins’

In the case of iOS, two open source projects called Appirater and iRate allowed developers an easy way to implement ‘rate this app’ popups. On the web WordPress has many popup newsletter plugins and store CMS’s like Shopify have plenty too. Or you can just use MailChimp and a snippet of code to accomplish it.

It works

People aren’t utterly stupid. If these popups didn’t increase newsletter signups they wouldn’t have them.

So newsletter popups are fashionable, morally okay (in their minds), easy to implement, and work. But fashions die, morally I consider it wrong, easy doesn’t mean right, and a 0.50% increase in newsletter signups isn’t worth plaguing your users. So please, let this trend die.

Below are some popup examples I’ve come across organically in just the past few days…


Angelpoise Lamp Switches Switch

I recently needed a new lamp. So I went to a store to pick up my favourite, the Anglepoise 1227. But to my horror I discovered that the model has been changed slightly, but significantly.

Previously the one/off switch was on the top of the lampshade:
Top of old Anglepoise 1227

It’s now been changed to a mid-cable switch:
Bottom of new Anglepoise 1227

That switch makes zero sense in every circumstance (and particularly on a balanced-arm lamp where you’re constantly moving the arm around). I’ve had to use those switches too often for too long now, and I still cannot see a single benefit. Imagine, you get your lamp out of the box, place it on the table top and then for time immemorial you have to bend over, squeeze your arm through the small gap between the table and the wall, and then run your fingers through the cable to find the switch.

Is there a single scenario where that is a better choice of switch? Placed on my desk, I’d have to get my arm over 4 feet of wood every time I wanted to turn it off/on. On my bed side table, I’d have to dislocate my shoulder to reach it. It’s insanity.

The only reason I can see why it’s so popular is due to low cost for the manufacturer. Or am I missing a benefit or reason? Please email me. I genuinely want to know why this switch exists so prominently.


Not Using Flickr for My Mobile Uploads

Flickr has had its ups and downs over the years, but I’ve always been a fan. Since 2006 I’ve used Flickr to store ALL my photos as I’ve always thought it will be one of the few services still around in many years time. Everything I take is uploaded and tagged, because the big problem I’ve found with iPhone photos is they either end up deleted or stored in a big folder on Dropbox. So if I wanted to find a picture of my Dog in the snow I’d have to sift through thousands of photos. Instead I just go to Flickr and search “buster AND snow” and I find it instantly.

Anyway, Flickr is currently enjoying a bit of renaissance due to its new iPhone app and the fact that Instagram has announced its less than favourable new privacy policy. Lots of people on my Twitter stream are now sharing photos from their iPhone with Flickr. However, there’s two BIG reasons why I won’t be doing the same.

First: whenever you go to a Flickr photo page for the first time Flickr tries to shove their new iPhone app down your throat. A fullscreen banner pops up which you have to get rid of before you can see the photo.

Second: their mobile layout is terrible. I’m here to see a photograph right? So what do they do? They make the photo tiny!

So basically, they force you to make an unnecessary tap (which is a big deal in the fast paced, on the move, Twitter world) and don’t display the content properly.


Landing Pages

Sky and Virgin ‘provides fixed and mobile telephone, television and broadband internet’. So why is both their homepages some sort of weird 1990’s Yahoo!/Lycos landing page? If they want to change the homepage of their elderly customers computers to get a couple of pennies in advertising money, that’s fine. But why make it the main page of their domain?! Surely 99% of people going to their domain are either new customers looking into buying services, or current customers logging into their account?!

Sky homepage

Virgin Media homepage


Negative Instapaper

For me, reading is like walking. I know it’s really good for me, and I never regret doing it, but I just often struggle to find the motivation to start. I need my hand held and awesome tools to help me out. For walking it’s RunKeeper and for reading it’s Instapaper.

Instapaper is a truly great app and is the original and still the best ‘read later’ service out there.

However, there’s one thing that bugs me about the app. And that’s the way it handles read articles.

When you’re done reading that awesome New Yorker article that you’ve been putting off for weeks because it’s so long, you’re happy. You’ve doubtless enjoyed it, but are now ready to stop seeing its title and its endless page-indicating circles haunting you when you open up the app. So what do you do?

Well this is where I got confused the first time I used Instapaper. I’d heard Instapaper was basiclly a to-do list for stuff to read so I presumed once you’ve read something you’re meant to tick it off the list. But there didn’t appear to be an option for this. There was a ‘trash’ button, but I didn’t want to delete it. I stumbled around the App for a little while trying to work it out. Eventually I dropped the isssue and moved on. But after reading a bunch more articles, and with my Instapaper account clogged up I decided just to delete them. But when I did tap the trash icon I was suprisingly presented with two options:

The Top of Instapaper

This was kinda baffling. I didn’t understand what ‘Move to Archive’ meant. Is that normal procedue for a read article? These two options were so negative I presumed they weren’t the route you’re supposed to take. I thought I just couldn’t find the the ‘You’re awesome for reading that article, click here if you’re done with it’ button.

In the end I just assumed ‘Move to Archive’ was what I should be pressing and continued happily using the app to this day.

However, everytime I tap that trash icon and am presented with those two options – the ‘Delete’ one standing out in bright red – it feels like such a cop out. It’s so negative.

Marco Arment, Instapaper’s creator, says he doesn’t like to blatantly copy a competitors feature, even if it’s better. He prefers to come up with a new, smarter way of doing it. I can respect that, and I respect Marco greatly, but please, dear God, just rip off the way Read It Later handles it.

With their app, once you’ve read an article you just simply tap the ‘tick’ icon. It’s then swiftly gone, and your back at the main article list screen ready and roaring to read another article.

(Also, a tick is such a positive little fella. It reminds me of doing well in school and the ticks yogurt companies put on their pots telling me all the good stuff that is in it.)

And of course tapping the tick is quicker. It’s one tap, not two.

Read It Later
Toolbar of Read It Later

Toolbar of Instapaper


Hovering and Hogging

I know almost nothing about UI and ‘usability’. However, I know when something is stupid. And these hovering bars that follow you as you scroll (highlighted in red) are stupid. They are not just over-sized and ugly, but are actually giving me zero useful information and permanently taking up a sizeable chunk of the page. Do I really care that there’s ‘about 2,230,000 results’? Or am I ever likely to think ‘Crap, am I reading the politics section of the Guardian? Oh, I’m at the ‘In Pictures’ section, right. That hovering bar is handy’? No I’m not. So leave my limited pixel space for actual content.

And, this is Google and the Guardian doing this. Sort it out guys.

Google Image search bar

Guardian iPad app bar

Gmail gets it right though, displaying actual useful tools that I’m likely to use when scrolling:
Gmail scrolling bar