Sun is an impressive weather web app for the iPhone created by Jakob Henner. I don’t normally cover web apps on MacStories, but Sun almost feels like a native app and sports a clean and elegant interface reminiscent of the latest trends in UI design. I discovered it thanks to a tweet by Beautiful Pixels’ Preshit.
Sun has a 3D interface that lets you swipe between locations that you can add in a sidebar on the right. There are sound effects for when you open the sidebar or succesfully add a new location. You can even switch between Fahrenheit/Celsius and 9 different color schemes. Like a native app, Sun will request access to your location to display local weather without having to enter that one manually.
Another nice thing about Sun is how it dynamically changes its webclip icon depending on the latest weather information it fetched. As explained by the developer (and others on Twitter), this is possible by “drawing” the icon every time shortly after the app is launched.
There are some aspects of Sun that reveal its web origins. Animations are slower than what you’d expect from a native app; there are some random refreshes of the entire page; text selection can get funny in the sidebar.
Following the Cosmic Panda experimental design launched in July, it appears YouTube is now testing an updated mobile layout that borrows some of the color schemes and interface elements of this summer’s refresh for desktop web browsers. The new mobile layout can be enabled at m.youtube.com/new_visual_design, and I’ve noticed this by opening the YouTube website from my iPhone (running the latest iOS 5 beta, but it works on iOS 4 too) earlier today. A quick Google and Twitter search seems to confirm that the new mobile layout is a recent change that, similarly to Cosmic Panda, is opt-in and needs to be manually activated.
Once enabled, the new design brings a much darker color palette that presents videos against dark toolbars and buttons — I assume this should make videos a little easier on the eye, but the effect is sort of ruined by Safari’s blue address bar. Unlike the standard mobile layout, launched last year, when saving this new design to the iPhone’s Home screen you won’t get a Retina-ready icon or full-screen web app. This, again, should be related to the experimental nature of the design.
The new mobile layout brings updated buttons and a new toolbar to toggle HQ on videos, give them a thumbs up/down, and share them. The HQ toggle comes with a neat fading animation and the video thumbnail has new loading and Play controls, too. (more…)
Reuters reports on the Financial Times’ web app’s performances, noting that the HTML5-optimized version of FT.com has now 700,000 users, proving it to be “more popular” than the newspaper’s iOS app. Financial Times made headlines when it couldn’t agree with Apple on iTunes’ subscription rules for publishers — which require companies to give a 30% revenue cut to Apple, and make sharing of subscriber data opt-in. It was previously reported that 50% of iTunes subscribers opted to share their personal information; however, the Financial Times wanted more control over its mobile application, and decided to develop an HTML5 version instead. The iOS app was then pulled from the App Store.
People who are using the app are spending much more time with the content,” he said. “They are consuming about three times as many pages through the app as they are through the desktop in an average visit.”
The FT’s Web-based mobile app accounts for 15 percent of FT.com subscriptions and 20 percent of total FT.com page views from mobile users, Grimshaw said.
After launching the new web app on June 7, the Financial Times reported after three weeks they achieved 200,000 downloads, with 100,000 in the first week alone. In spite of its web app nature, the iOS-optimized FT app recommends users to “add it to their home screens”, requesting access to increased database size for local cache.
Apple has been doing a number of things to address the issues with subscriptions and delivery of content on iOS devices. They first launched iTunes app subscriptions in February, making it easier for users to subscribe to newspapers and magazine with their existing iTunes accounts. Then at WWDC the company announced Newsstand, a new unified virtual shelf on iOS devices for content a user is subscribed to. Adobe has already announced its publishing tools will be updated to take advantage of iOS 5′s Newsstand. The Financial Times is not the only publisher to find an alternative route out of Apple’s App Store, as Amazon released a web-based version of its Kindle reader with direct integration with the Kindle Store.
Both the Financial Times and Amazon couldn’t comply with Apple’s subscription rules, even after Apple slightly modified them to open up to more publishers in June.
In the past months, Google has released a series of updates to improve the overall experience of the Gmail mobile web app, which works on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, as well as other smartphones and tablets. Google made the mobile web app more accessible and usable with notifications, undo bar, Retina graphics and “pull to refresh”, and today they’ve announced another update that brings Preferences and multiple sign-in to the service when viewed from mobile devices.
Multiple sign-in has been around in the Gmail desktop website for quite some time, and it’s a useful shortcut to quickly switch between multiple Google accounts (and thus Gmail inboxes or Google+ profiles). Starting today, a new sign-in button will appear at the bottom of the iOS web app, allowing you to jump to another account, which will automatically load its Gmail inbox. The feature is already live in Mobile Safari (tested on an iPhone 4 running the latest iOS 5 beta).
Furthermore, Google is now allowing users to set Preferences directly from the mobile web app. The company is highlighting the possibility to create a mobile-only signature, so your friends will associate typos to a smartphone’s keyboard. Also, the Preferences come with vacation auto-responder settings, and a few more options.
We know that autocorrect and other mobile spell-checks can be frustrating as you are typing on the go. Let your friends know that you are responding via your mobile phone so that they understand why you might have sent a message that you are meeting for “monitors” and not “mojitos”. It’s an easy way to make them understand why your message might be short or have a few typos. To create a mobile signature, from the menu view, press the new settings icon, choose your signature, and then check the box that tells us you want to activate it. If you ever want to disable the mobile signature, you can uncheck the box and we will use your desktop signature instead.
Google notes that each Gmail account can have a separate bookmark. On iOS devices, you can save a Gmail shortcut to the Home screen by tapping on the Action icon in Mobile Safari, and then Add to Home Screen (Gmail’s webclip icon has been optimized for the Retina Display as well).
Announced with a tweet a few minutes ago, Google has rolled out an iOS-optimized (iOS 4 or later is required) web app for Google Music, the company’s invite-only cloud locker that allows users to upload music to Google’s servers. The web app can display music libraries and play songs from an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad running iOS, with a dark interface that’s also been optimized for the iPad’s larger screen with tabs for Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists and Genres.
The web app has a search function for large libraries, lacks any upload feature on iOS devices, and because it acts as a standard audio source on iOS from Mobile Safari, it can run in the background and be controlled from the multitasking tray. The app supports swipes to switch between album and artists, and overall it looks like a very slick experiment from the Music Beta design team. The Next Web has the first details and screenshots:
The app looks pretty great and feels much snazzier than your average Google app. Hopefully this is a sign of good design to come. Functionally it is a pure ‘player’, with no ability to upload any music or browse any catalogs of music, much like the rest of the Google Music service at the moment.
If you’ve been invited to Google Music, you can check out the new web app from your iOS device at music.google.com. Google Music Beta was first launched in May with no iPhone-optimized interface.
Amazon wasn’t the only content provider to launch an iPad web app today, with VUDU also bringing its video-on-demand service to the iPad via a web app. VUDU, which is owned by Walmart and claims to be “a leading subscription-free, video-on-demand movie service” chose to optimise the site for the iPad and now streams videos in h.264 – although unfortunately the videos are only in standard definition due to licensing restrictions (some Disney films are also missing from the catalogue).
VUDU, a leading subscription-free, video-on-demand movie service and wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart stores, has optimized the navigation experience of VUDU.com to enable millions of iPad owners to rent or buy entertainment content and then stream it easily through any iPad browser.
Edward Lichty, General Manager of VUDU, said of the iPad launch that it “plays into that vision as we’re committed to offering the VUDU experience on as many devices as possible so customers can shop for and access their favorite movies and TV shows however they want, whenever they want”. What this means in part is that any movie rented or purchased on the iPad VUDU website is also viewable on any other device that supports VUDU – which Walmart claims is more than 300 consumer electronic devices. According to Engadget, you can watch VUDU on the iPhone through this same web app despite the UI not yet being optimized for it – but don’t be disappointed if this doesn’t work well or if VUDU stops this soon.
Just head to the VUDU website on your iPad and follow the prompts to start using the VUDU iPad interface.
Over the past six months there has been a (fairly) quiet tussle between Apple and various publishers and other content suppliers over the issue of In-App Purchases and Subscriptions. At the beginning of the year Apple had demanded that by July, all content available within an app must be available for purchase within the app through In-App Purchasing, for the same price as it was available on the publishers website (say the Kindle online store) and that the app did not link to the website for purchases but used the In-App Purchase system. Apple reversed their policy in May, removing the first two restrictions — but still denied publishers from including a ‘Buy’ link that went to a website and then finally late last month various publishers began to abide by these rules, including the Wall Street Journal, Kobo and the Kindle apps.
This obviously isn’t the best situation for consumers and as many have noted, including Dan Frommer of SplatF, it has made purchasing Kindle books more difficult for the user – despite the premise of In-App Purchases aiming to simplify purchases. Consequently, Amazon today released the Kindle Cloud Reader, a web app for Chrome, Safari and the iPad – with support for other browsers and devices promised soon.
The desktop version of the Kindle Cloud Reader is nice, but it is the iPad version that is most intriguing and impressive. It is a web app but it does an excellent job at masquerading as a native app — particularly features such as offline support and menus that hide/reappear when you tap the screen. It starts from when you first load the Kindle Cloud Reader and it asks permission to reserve 50 MB on your device so that it can store all the necessary elements of the ‘app’ and your books to ensure that when you have no 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity, everything continues to work. To really see how well it does at pretending to be a native app, try it yourself or jump the break for more screenshot’s of the Kindle Cloud Reader — pinning it to the Home Screen as a web app (which it dutifully suggests you do) in particular just amplifies the native app feel by removing the browser chrome.
What Amazon has done by creating this web app reminds me of the Financial Times, which also created a web app for delivering their content to users and subscribers after they also felt Apple’s terms were too restrictive and negative. Unlike the Financial Times, Amazon has not removed their iOS app from the App Store — it remains, albeit hampered by the lack of easy access to the Kindle Store. On the Kindle Cloud Reader however, the Kindle Store works great with a link in the top-right corner and it is made better by the fact that the store has also received an iPad-enhanced design and works much better whilst also looking great.
You can access the Kindle Cloud Reader now, simply by logging in to your Amazon account – all your purchased books will already be there.
Last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company was preparing for an “awesome” launch this week. A formal announcement is expected today at a media event at Facebook HQ, but several blogs in the past few days have claimed Facebook is set unveil a partnership with communication giant Skype (recently acquired by Microsoft) to bring video chats to the social network, an interesting possibility at the light of Google’s new Plus foray into the social sphere, which among other things features a Hangout functionality to start group video chats with multiple contacts at once. TechCrunch, however, seems to believe that Project Spartan, an HTML5-based development and distribution platform that’s being built with Mobile Safari for iOS in mind, won’t be part of the announcements today, which may or may not also include the long-awaited official iPad app, supposedly nearing a public release. (more…)
Two days ago Google launched Google+, the company’s latest effort to get into the social networking space and build a platform to share content and connect people. For those who missed the coverage (you can find some detailed reports here and here), here’s the gist of Plus: it’s a social network connected to your Google account that looks a lot like Facebook but it’s got a cleaner design and a set of different “apps” tied together by the Plus brand. What does it mean for consumers? It means that whilst Circles, Huddle, Hangouts and Sparks could be seen as separate services and concepts, they’re in fact sections of the entire Google+ website. Yesterday, Google started allowing people to send invites to other users, which resulted in a massive explosion of invite requests on Twitter and thousands of new sign-ups. After a few hours, Google was forced to close invites due to “insane demand” and promise more coming in the next few weeks as the service scales to accomodate new users and more content.
Google+ has a strong mobile counterpart, too. As the service aims at empowering Google users to share and connect at any time from anywhere, Google built native apps for Android and iOS devices to let users enjoy the Google+ experience on the go, and upload media such as photos and videos shot with their phones. Furthermore, the mobile apps get access to Huddle, a group messaging feature built into Google+ that some are already eyeing as Google’s response to iMessage, only it works on both iOS and Android. However, the official iPhone app is not available yet, and Google says it’s “coming soon”. In the meantime though, users can try a mobile optimized web app, which relies on Google’s recent mobile UI changes to lay out a unified interface to access Google+ and switch between various Google services.
Last night, I signed up for Google+ and played around with the website. Today, I decided to take a look at the mobile web app which, surprisingly enough, might just be the nicest thing Google has ever done on iOS’ Mobile Safari. (more…)