FiveTimer 1.1, Features and Notes

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My iOS cube timer was released on the Apple App store the other day and I’m excited to see what people think of the new features. A lot of them are ones people requested directly.

  • Random state 2×2 scrambles.
    • This is embarrassing, the update notes of FiveTimer 1.0.6 featured “sub-optimal 2×2 scrambles” this was more or less false. I knew that sub-optimal scrambles were 11 moves in length, what I didn’t get was how those 11 moves were picked. The scrambler in FiveTimer uses random moves, and still does for 3×3-5×5 scrambles. The randomness and length of moves are often sufficient for those sizes, but for the 2×2 especially 11 in length are not. I knew I needed to change this in 1.1 and it now uses a random state generator, so it generates a random state and generates the moves to get to it.
  • Hold to Start option added.
    • Maybe this should’ve been in the initial release, having used a lot of online timers that just use a tap of the spacebar to start and stop I didn’t think it was as important. There were enough requests for me to add it in 1.1 as an option that you can toggle.
  • Auto Dim option added.
    • This was just as requested as “Hold to Start” there is now an option to prevent the device from going to sleep at all times.
  • Stop button occupies entire screen.
    • Not sure why I didn’t do this the first time either, it’s a very obvious addition. You can now tap anywhere on the screen to stop the timer.
  • 3×3 scrambles fit on 3 lines consistently, Startup image added, Better timing display function, Back end optimizations.
    • These are aesthetic changes and the result of code refactoring. The coder I was eight months ago was a little more impatient and sloppy which I’m sure is what I’ll say about myself today in another eight months or so.

I’m already thinking about features for 1.2 and will be taking requests for them too so if you have anything you want to see in an iOS timer send them my way here. (I’ll definitely be changing the icon, the more I look at it the more awkward it looks.) For people who have already purchased the app the update is free otherwise FiveTimer is still just 99ยข in the Apple App Store so check it out!

The Current, Unfortunate, Trends of Desktop OS’s

Recently unveiled was Microsoft’s next desktop operating system, Windows 8. One would think that it builds on strengths of Windows 7, those fancy window resizing corners, XP mode. All seamlessly mixed with the familiar Windows GUI elements. However the truth is almost the opposite, the Start menu in Windows 8 takes you to a Windows Phone Metro menu (Metro: the design language of the Windows Phones which evolved from the UI of the Zune HD). Now don’t get me wrong I really like Metro, jus that it’s on a desktop OS a place it wasn’t really designed for in the first place.

Microsoft is not the only one pushing UI and UX elements that are seen on mobile devices. Apple’s OSX 10.7 “Lion” does the same thing, only it takes UI elements from its mobile OS: iOS. A new feature “Launchpad” looks a lot like the home screen layout of an iPad, the scroll bars have no arrows, and most notable scrolling with two fingers are inverted! To scroll down, you drag up, and vice-versa, it’s one of the most unusual design decisions I have ever seen. (10.7 does a lot of other ridiculous stuff like auto-quit apps you’re not actively using, and by default hide what’s already running on the Dock but the rant for what 10.7 does wrong is for another post).

I can only hope that these little mobile features are small trends, only to phase out in the next of each of the releases. Here’s what it comes down to: the input device. One is a blunt tip that presses in a general area, the finger; the other is a finite point on the screen that clicks on 1 pixel at time, the mouse. Metro is so good for mobile devices because it gives those large click zones for the user to press, and they’re just the right size so that there’s almost no way the user could tap on the wrong thing. Now interact with this UI with a mouse and it becomes burdensome, imagine all your desktop icons with giant click-boxes around them, lets just say there’d be a lot more dragging the mouse around. The same goes for 10.7’s Launchpad, it’s one thing finding an app and pressing it on the iPad, it’s entirely different to actually click on it. The scrolling element in 10.7 is the same way, when you’re on an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, when you scroll you are essentially “touching” the content and “dragging” it, when you split up the components of that UI to a non-touch screen screen and separate trackpad, you no longer have that feeling of “touching” content, thus the gesture feels unnatural.

It only seems like these mobile elements are another abstraction of the system used to make the user forget they’re using a computer, to make the user experience feel natural. The little changes to these two giant operating systems do something else entirely different for me, I don’t feel like I’m using a computer, I feel like I’m using a phone. There’s a difference I do most of my work on a desktop or laptop computer, because it’s faster than doing it on a mobile OS, now that they’re moving some of these mobile elements to the desktop, my work and I are being slowed down.

It’s impossible to say if it was marketing geniuses or designers who decided to let mobile user experiences into the desktop user experience. A fictional quote “Hey people really like MobileOS they’ll I bet they’ll also like it on DesktopOS!” echos in my mind when I get baffeled about these new “advanced” features. If this is what Steve Jobs meant by the post-PC era, I am not looking forward to OSX 10.8 or Windows 9.