Thoughts

WWDC 2011 is tomorrow, and we already know that iOS 5 will be the subject of the Stevenote. Here are my predictions, along with probabilities. And, if anyone wants to make a bet in the few remaining hours, I auto-accept your wager.

Revamped Notifications (99%)

The current iOS notifications system is horribly broken. Everyone has their favorite fail story, and here’s mine….

Occasionally, our iPad will completely drain its battery. When power is restored, the date resets to January 1, 1970. Not a big problem, so far. But, as soon as I change the date to the present, I get a upcoming calendar alert for every appointment between 1970 and today. Hundreds of them, with no “ignore all” option. I have to sit there like an idiot and press “OK” about 1200 times before I can even use the iPad. In case you’re wondering, this takes about 40 minutes (if you’re committed) or about 3 hours (if you’re easily distracted).

Clearly this needs to change, with the minimum required features being:

  1. Grouped notifications (i.e. all 1200 appointment reminders could be cleared in a single action)
  2. Non-modal notifications (i.e the notification doesn’t interrupt everyone on the device until it is cleared)

There’s so much real estate at the top bar of iOS (in particular on an iPad), that it makes the most sense to place notifications up there, a la Android. But I can’t imagine Cupertino so obviously copping to Android superiority, so I expect the notifications to appear on the lock screen instead.

Active Icons (92%) or Widgets (2%)

A lot of people are predicting a widget framework like Android, but I think that’s a longshot. Apple’s entire iOS aesthetic is built around the 4 rows of icons. (Consider how folders were introduced in iOS 4 without breaking that aesthetic.)

However, I think Apple will introduce an API for apps to update their icons. (There is already an API to provide a notification count; this “ActiveIcon” API would be architecturally similar.) The built-in Calendar app already does this, helpfully displaying the current date. Contrast this to the built-in Weather app, which still reports a balmy 75 degrees even for the 11 iPhone-wielding scientists on Antarctica. Clearly, the Weather app should display the actual weather. Expect Apple to use this API for a light refresh to the built-in weather and stocks apps.

I also think there’s a small but not insignificant chance (call it 15%) that Apple will release an API for “UI-less” apps – an app that has no user interface except the icon. When you tap the icon, something happens that doesn’t require any additional user input, such as:

  • Tap to call a specific contact
  • Tap to play a sound (“sad trombone” FTW)
  • Tap to toggle a system setting (Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi would be the big wins here)

These “appitos” would be available on the iTunes App Store and could be deleted and rearranged with a long-press, just like regular Apps. (Apple would never call them “appitos”, but wouldn’t that be cute?)

Lock Screen API (95%)

Lock screen replacements are a dime-a-dozen on the Android and Cydia markets, and for good reason: the standard lock screen squanders all 960×640 pixels with no useful information except the time. (In fairness, the stock Android lock screen doesn’t do any better.)

Apple will NOT enable third-party lock screens like Android and Cydia. Instead, there will be an API that allows Apps to register content for display on the iOS lock screen.

Since the lock screen is such prime real estate, every app will want to shove content there, whether it belongs or not. I suspect Apple will have given a lot of thought to quality control of the lock screen. At a minimum, Apple will:

  1. Have a stringent set of criteria for what can and cannot be displayed, which will be enforced through the iTunes application process.
  2. Require user opt-in, like they currently do for notifications. (“iFart 3000 would like to use the lock screen, would you like to allow it?”)

I expect to be completely blown away by how elegant, beautiful, and intuitive the new lock screen is. This is the kind of thing that Apple excels at.

Expose for apps (50%)

People have lots of apps. A few years ago, only the top, top power users had hundreds of apps, maybe 0.1% of users, and Apple could safely ignore their needs. But in 2011, the percentage of users with 100+ apps has grown to 8%. (Source: my completely unscientific survey at a family reunion over Memorial Day.)

Folders are nice, but they take a long time to setup, and people are lazy. Plus, adding two levels makes it harder for people to remember where their apps are, because it the extra dimension violates the phenomenal spatial memory that homo sapiens have evolved over the last 100,000 years.

My 4-year-old and 2-year-old kids each have an iPod Touch with 8 screens of apps, and they know EXACTLY what page each app is on. But they still need to swipe up to 7 times to get to that page.

An expose interface would “zoom up” to show 9 pages on the screen, and then you could directly jump to any desired page. So you could go to page 9 by clicking on the bottom-right tile. (For those with more than 9 pages, it would probably make most sense to scroll through multiple “pages of pages”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the wizards of Cupertino came up with an even more elegant solution.)

Expose would be summoned either through a multitouch gesture on the home screen (80%), or by triple clicking the home button (10%) or by swiping UP on the home screen (25%) or by doing-some-other-thing-that-seems-really-obvious-in-hindsight-but-was-really-hard-to-come-up-with-initially.

Place your bets.

Seriously. Anyone who wants to make a bet on one of these, tweet me (@portman_wills) with your wager. I hereby automatically accept any tweeted wager under $20. (Tweets are binding contracts in Delaware.)

The team at Join the Company have returned from TechCrunch Disrupt where we were demoing PlayPass in the Startup Alley. It was an excellent event for us and we met a lot of interesting people who showed lots of enthusiasm for what we were doing and provided some excellent feedback on everything from user interface to business model.

All the startups were filmed briefly by TechCrunch whilst at the event and below is Peter’s quick introduction to PlayPass:

What if McDonald’s ran Settlers of Catan promotions instead of Monopoly?… College Humor attempts to find out in this video: Settlers of Catan: McDonald’s Edition.

Sebastian Deterding has posted another of his excellent presentations about the potential pitfalls of gamification. Some of the slides may be missing something without the commentary but there are still a lot of good points that come across even in this format.

Whether this kind of thinking makes much of an impact on the games=points=marketing wave (bandwagon?) is difficult to say, but at the moment it seems that the simple logic of “games have points, people spend a lot of time playing games, therefore people will spend time on anything with points” is winning out over the more subtle and less “punchy” discussions around games, fun and intrinsic versus extrinsic reward systems.

Make sure you take a look through the presentation itself anyway: There Be Dragons: Ten Potential Pitfalls of Gamification

The term “gamification” is increasingly becoming used to mean a set of mechanics specifically intended to create viral growth and repeat usage patterns and increasingly disconnected from the idea of games as fun. The Gamification Wiki continues this trend by adding its list of game mechanics to those already out there from the likes of Scvngr.

They read somewhat like a dark side of the force version of Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design lenses, but it has to be said that having these mechanics being compiled in one place is actually fairly useful. For example, the Appointment Dynamic which is a staple of Facebook games:

Appointment Dynamics are game dynamics in which at a predetermined times/place a user must log-in or participate in game, for positive effect.

and on behavioural momentum:

Behavioral Momentum is the tendency of players to keep doing what they have been doing.

2011 looks like it could be the year of the recipeification of gamification.

The Escapist has a good video called Choice and Conflict. The core points appears to be the distinction between “meaningful choice” and “mathematical calculation” in gameplay. i.e. If I have perfect information about all variables in a situation, then any choice the game asks me to make is a matter of calculation. If, however, there is incomplete information, or in some other circumstances where there is a trade-off with an indistinct outcome, then the choice becomes more meaningful. I’d recommend watching the video.

From the article Endowed Progress Effect and Game Quests, describing a test where one set of users were given an empty loyalty card requiring eight stamps to complete, versus a card requiring ten stamps to complete but with two already marked:

…34% of people who got a 10-stamp card with 2 freebies ended up coming back enough to redeem the cards, compared to 19% of customers who started with an unstamped card requiring only 8 stamps.

It seems that starting a person off on a task means they’re much more likely to complete it than if they have to start it from the beginning. If there’s anything waiting to be added to the standard gamification checklist of “points/leaderboards/badges” then this must be it.

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