iPhone Interactive Widgets Hide In Plain Sight

Redesigned Widgets came to iOS 14, but for all their benefits, they still lack perhaps the best part about a widget – interactive functionality. Currently, Widgets provide glanceable information, which is nice, but it would be better if a few basic functions were available directly on a Widget. Such utility is already proven as interactive “widgets” do, in fact, exist currently on iPhone.

The best example for an interactive widget would be the Music app using playback buttons. Coincidentally, the app already has 3 different sizes of interactive ”widgets” in iOS; they’re just not part of the widget library. All three “widgets” have basic playback buttons and are, actually, Controls.

The first example is the Now Playing Control ”widget” in Control Center. While using the Music app, it features an interactive play/pause button and forward and backward buttons, which change to seconds-skip buttons when using the Podcasts app. A fourth button reveals an audio output button.

The small Now Playing Control in Control Center on iOS resembles a 2×2 widget.
The Batteries and Music Widget bear striking resemblance to the Radios and Now Playing Controls.

The small Now Playing Control next to the Radios Control resembles a 2×2 Widget, which is clearly evident when compared with the 2×2 Music Widget next to the Batteries Widget.

The 2×2 Music Widget can obviously incorporate playback controls. Of course with a bigger widget, more controls could be utilized. A simple example of this is, again, the Now Playing Control in Control Center. Tap and Hold the Control to reveal a larger 4×6 Control with interactive sliders and buttons.

The 4×6 Now Playing Control looks very nice – love those interactive buttons.

A good example of an interactive 4×4 Music Widget is the 4×4 Now Playing Control found on the Notification Panel.

The 4×4 Now Playing Control in the Notification Panel has tappable buttons – very useful!

These interactive controls easily demonstrate how Apple could implement useful buttons on the next versions of Widgets, and I hope they do. Not only is adding controls to widgets feasible, their current implementation suggests that Apple may intend to eventually tailor these features for future Widget iterations.

Bringing controls to Widgets, on both iPhone and iPad, will make Apple’s future mobile devices more functional and more friendly. I encourage Apple to make it happen.

Big Guns Of Big Tech

Franklin Foer wrote a book called, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. I read it last week and want to share a few thoughts about it. If you use Facebook, Google, or Amazon (ok, so like everybody), then you might wanna read this.


World Without Mind is written like a long argument with lots of details. I found it to be a fairly quick and easy read. And I found it on Apple Books for only $5!

As I read, I sometimes thought, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t buy this eBook from Amazon.” But then I posted stuff about it on Goodreads, which Amazon owns, so now they still know what I was reading and can use that data in threatening ways. If you don’t see the connection or are unsure how this is a big deal, then you should read World Without Mind.

But maybe buy the paperback or borrow it from the library. Foer says returning to paper, going analog, is one of the ways in which to defang the threats the digital overlords of Big Tech.


“Big Tech” refers to the massive monopolistic money making machines we know as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Apple and Twitter are not talked about much in the book. The main thing the first three have in common is their advertisement based revenue.

The whole book is somewhat similar to Neil Postman’s, Amusing Ourselves To Death. But where Postman’s work is about the technology of Television and how it threatens literacy and critical thinking, Foer’s work is about the technology of the Internet and how it threatens literacy, democracy, privacy, journalistic integrity, and even liberty.

Really, though, it’s less the internet and more the few companies who act as portals or gatekeepers of the internet. For many, like AOL in the 90’s, Facebook itself is the internet. So the free and open web is threatened by Big Tech as they have grown so big, they practically are the web’s walled gardens, making a closed and curated internet.

But the curation does not have the users’ best interest in mind. It is to tailor content that’s marketable, sensational, addictive, and attention grabbing, not to enrich our lives but to enrich big tech’s pocketbooks. It’s capitalism without conscience yet not without consequence.


World Without Mind is written kinda like a personal polemic, and it hammers home the threat of Big Tech against journalism in particular. There’s a few things in there about blogging too!

But you’ve probably heard of the popularity and ubiquity of 4 or 5 big tech companies that run or ruin our lives: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft. There have been many articles written about their big size and control and dangers. Something they have in common is the commodity of our personal data.

Here’s a few articles for example:

Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us

I Cut The ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell.


For what it’s worth, I’m not good at reviewing books. But I hope the few things I shared about World Without Mind piqued your interest. If you follow technology at all, then you’ll likely find this book intriguing. So I recommend you pick it up today for your next read!


Of the big tech companies, which one do you use or rely on the most? Facebook, Amazon, Google? Leave me a comment. Or send me some eMail. Thanks for your time!

Push Button Paradigm

Touchscreens are cool; thanks, iPhone! All glass; no real buttons to push. But I got a new device that helped me rethink touch interaction. Like The Matrix, it’s all about control.


Gaming

Thanks to Animal Crossing: New Leaf being re-released last month, I had to get a Nintendo 2DS XL hand-held game system. This device has a touch-screen like a smartphone. But it also has real buttons right next to it like any good game controller.

As I walked through my new game-town, Phunland, and met my new neighbors (Stinky, likes to work out), I pushed my way around, through trees, literally by pushing a button. Not a touch-screen.

The analog control stick on the 2DS is like the home button on older iPhones (that Apple killed not long ago – boo, hiss). Except it’s better!

It’s concave; your thumb gently nestles into it like a cat in an undersized box. And it’s coated in a warm rubber-like material, so your thumb smoothly connects with it. No slippery glass here. Plus it moves gracefully in any direction you want.

The 2DS has many other buttons also. You can make selections and control gameplay with either the touchscreen “buttons,” the physical buttons, or both!

Playing Animal Crossing with both buttons and touchscreen controls, and after having played many games on my smartphone and tablet, I was able to directly compare the interaction and gameplay, kind of just noticing by accident. (Although I am a geek, so…)

One big reason I think gaming on the 2DS XL is better than on a smartphone is due to the physical buttons, or more specifically, the tactile response interaction model (TRIM).

The wha?


Buttons Are Better

Let’s recall, we live in a real physical world. We grow up learning to interact with it literally by a “hands-on” approach. (Infants go one step further: “mouth-on” approach.) We learn our world through playing. We interact with it through our hands and fingers.

Interacting with my digital game on-screen through analog physical buttons makes my experience more real. And the closer to real interaction, the better the gameplay.

But how is it more real if I am not directly touching game objects on the glass display? Good question.


Sensory Stimulation

The tactile response of using fingers to push buttons, which move and depress and have actual shapes and materials, provides far greater sensory feedback to the brain than a flat, monolith glass plane that’s both a display and the controls.

This superior sensory feedback makes the interaction between me and the game more connective, more addictive, and more enjoyable.

When playing a game on my smartphone, I note that I can affect gameplay; I tap the screen, then stuff happens; it’s cause and effect. But playing on my 2DS, I don’t just affect gameplay, I interact with it. It’s on a whole other level. It’s deeper. I feel it.

I even develop muscle memory. It’s the brain plus eye-hand coordination on a specific physical button layout. Fingers return to certain places. The hands’ grip makes the mind grasp the game, not just watch it like a movie. All this interaction makes a more compelling and fulfilling gameplay experience. Even in a “casual” game like Animal Crossing.


Life-like Control

Remember the Wii and its compelling interaction model? Motion controls. You played by holding physical button-festooned controllers that mimicked the real-world objects represented in the game. The Wii-mote often was the handle of a sword or tennis racket. You could even put it inside a steering wheel for racing games.

Wii games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band had life-like musical instruments as controllers for in-game instruments. Contrast that with Apple’s Garageband app on the iPad. It’s an awesome app, but is tapping tiny on-screen drums as satisfying and interactive as using drumsticks on physical drums? I don’t think so. Just ask Animal from the Muppets!

Keyboarding

For you and many others, the keyboard for typing is very familiar and comfortable. And you’re likely aware of the physical versus touchscreen debate.

When the iPhone debuted, the interwebs were tangled in flame-wars of Blackberry keyboards versus iPhone glass. Spoiler alert: iPhone won the war.

Or did it? There are hard-core typists and writers out there who accept smartphones without real letter keys, but they will never give up their mechanical clackity-clack clicking keyboards.

Why do you think cool gadgets like the Freewrite Traveler exist? Because people like pushing buttons.

I am able to type on my smartphone and even on my iPad’s glass keyboard; they work well enough. But a real keyboard is much better.

You and I are normal to prefer a physical keyboard with real concave buttons to push down into a recessed cavity, then feeling the key pop back up just to do it all over again.

Some of you are old enough to remember entire school classes where it was:

k, k, k, space, d,d,d, space, j, j, j, space…

You could feel those keys mash down. You could even hear loud clanks and clacking sounds. Typing was kind of visceral in your mind because it was so tactile and aural.


Touch Point

The point is simple. Despite being dominated by glass touchscreens, you and I still love to press real buttons.

We’re real physical beings. We’re made for real physical feedback, the tactile response. And one that’s more than a mere tap on a glass plane with almost zero sensory gratification. Yes, simple is good, effortless is good, but tactile is good, too. And it feels better.

It took me months to get over my iPhone 7’s fake home button that does not actually depress down. I maxed out the haptic vibrating feedback and still had difficulty getting used to a button I can’t actually push!

We want buttons with shape, material, and movement that give us physical interaction. It makes experiencing our world more real and thus our reality more tangible.


Don’t you like pressing buttons? Would you touch the subject? Touch-type your comments below or message me. Thanks!

Thoughts On Social Media

Some of my thoughts lately have dwelled on Social Media like Facebook. I often re-think my personal use of it, and I also ponder general ideas about the pros and cons of social networks in our culture. These kinds of thoughts are also prevalent in the news and other publications, which fuel my thoughts more.

I deleted several of my social media accounts before for various reasons. And then I’ve rejoined for other reasons. But I’m not contemplating quitting again. I think I may just be reconsidering how much I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you know, just keeping it in check.

Besides social media, I recently deleted a couple apps from my devices: Apple News and Flickr. The apps and services are very good. But I simply found that I have not used them in a long time. I’m too busy enjoying other things like WordPress and Twitter.

Limited Attention Span

My puny 3 pound human brain can only handle so much input and output; it is not a multi-tasking computer like some mistakenly seem to believe. Much of my brain’s processing power is spent at work doing my job of Civil and Structural design. Then it’s managing a daily work/home/life schedule, keeping it all in balance.

Anyways, as I do periodically, I scale back the number of apps on my smartphone and tablet. I step back. I re-evaluate. Re-assess the situation. Slow down. Regroup. Stuff like that. I just get tired from it all, even the enjoyable bits.

So, of course, moderation is good here. Technology in general enables us with so many options for productivity and creativity. One must choose to use tech tools wisely.

And I think most of this is common sense. But it’s easy, and subtle, for common sense to get overlooked because we’re so easily distracted by all the whiz-bang coolness of apps and social media.

Yeah, I know this is nothing new. The thing that is new, however, is how it seems social media problems have become more pronounced and written about in our culture. I’ll point to one article in particular from Cal Newport about Social Media Reform here.

Let me also point out Cal’s new book due to arrive in February called, “Digital Minimalism.” I’ve already pre-ordered my Kindle version!

Minimalism is a good final point on my current thoughts on Social Media. I don’t want to delete altogether but minimize use or exposure, and thereby mitigate any negative effects. I hope the net results will be positive!

What are your thoughts on Social Media? Thanks.

-Jason

Why I Quit Facebook

I quit Facebook. I chose the nuke from orbit option: deletion instead of deactivation. The recent Cambridge Analytica data exploit was the catalyst for my decision. But I had been wary of Facebook before and was already detaching from it.

Over my 9 years of friending, liking, and sharing, Facebook has been a mixed bag. I’ve enjoyed the positive things about it, but the negatives finally weighed enough for me to quit.

I still do social media–follow me on Twitter–but now I do less of it. Of course, I also deleted my Instagram account since it’s owned by Facebook. Now I plan to focus more on my blog…and my offline life.

So why did I quit Facebook? Of my many reasons, I’ll try to summarize only a few. Crack knuckles…begin!


Facebook neither protects your data nor respects your privacy

Facebook’s privacy mistakes and data sharing concerns have surfaced repeatedly throughout the years. It’s made me leary before. And now, the latest and greatest example is the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Altogether, it’s made me no longer trust Facebook.

Facebook is too addictive and manipulative

Facebook’s ability to keep our attention has been a growing concern over time; the pot seems to have boiled over. Tristan Harris and his site humanetech explain best, and my experience is like that of many. I’ve mindlessly scrolled the newsfeed and habitually checked for red circled notifications too much. I’ve written about it before: The End of Newsfeed Distraction and The Matrix of Social Media.

Facebook kills the open and indy web

Facebook’s ubiquity and utility make it a one-stop-shop; it tries to be everything to everyone. And under the pretense of privacy and security, it’s closed off–less so these days–from the rest of the internet. So most people stay on Facebook instead of visiting other websites and blogs. People once “surfed the web;” now they “scroll their feed.”

Facebook is too big and influential

Facebook has 2.2 billion members–more than the largest country in the world. This suggests great power requiring great responsibility. But I think for any one person, like founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, it is too much. The inherent risks are too great. And although being an influential and powerful agency, Facebook has been unregulated by any government and has proven unable or unwilling to regulate itself to any sufficient degree. Zuckerberg himself has shown reluctance to his assumed responsibilities.


Those are some of my reasons why I gained freedom from Facebook. Overall, I’m not totally against social media. It has pros and cons, and it affects people in different ways. But I think it would be good to re-evaluate the place of Facebook in your life and choose what’s best. Maybe you delete it or use it less. Or you could be good as is.

Have you thought about quitting Facebook before? What are some pros and cons of social media for you? Do you prefer Twitter over Facebook? Or Pinterest versus Instagram??

Let me know in the comments; I’d be glad to hear your input!