Gmail Notification Update for iOS Lacks Polish

I'm still waiting for that perfect iOS email client. For me, Gmail provides the service and since I also fully buy into Google's way for managing my correspondence (labels vs. folders) who better to provide a corresponding app experience that works the way I want to work than Google, right?

One would think.

Google just released an update to the Gmail app for iOS that adds notification support. This was a huge step forward and a welcome update. Some would argue that it's long overdue. Initial reactions seem pretty positive and I don't disagree.

But why does it have to be so darn ugly?

I always imagine that Google employs a single, itinerant designer who travels from project to project, providing input into products that get released to the public. If they end up being not as completely hideous as they could be, they still tend to be light-years away from beautiful. Maybe I'm being overly critical considering that I'm not a designer myself.

But that never stopped me from complaining before so here's my problem:


See it? (No. Not my typo...) Maybe this will help.

Is that such a big deal? Probably not. But the fact that Google doesn't seem to think it's a big deal is a big deal.

My issues with this are that there is no prominence for the subject or sender. The font used for Gmail's notifications is the same size for every piece of information making it more difficult to parse. I should, at a glance, be able to determine whether a particular piece of mail needs to be read now or ignored and possibly addressed later.

Making it even more difficult, the message body starts immediately after the subject with only a bullet to separate them. This was probably deemed necessary because an entire line is wasted by the app's proud declaration that each and every message notification is being provided by "Gmail!".

Oh! Sparrow! Where are you with your design sense and slick UIs. If only you had been the one to finally offer notifications. But you haven't even given us push email yet.

Back on topic...

It's actually not all bad. There's an iPad version of the Gmail app (unlike Sparrow *ahem!*), message searching works well and there are some neat features like being able to add a doodle from the email composition form.

If this were 2010 or even 2011, this would be a great start. Come on, guys... put the bow on this package already.

BONUS Comparison

Since I mentioned Sparrow (twice), I thought a comparison among what I consider to be the three main iOS email contenders might be of some interest.


The Inbox

Gmail and Sparrow both give you the option to select Unread emails only. Not so with Mail.

MailGmailSparrow

The Message

MailGmailSparrow


iOS 6 Podcast Changes aka Christmas In June

At the beginning of the week I told you about one of my wishes for changes being announced at WWDC. Basically as it relates to how iDevices manage podcasts. I came away disappointed.

Tonight, however, Clayton Morris tweeted something that got me excited enough to ask for more details. 


Brilliant! 

And here is the link to Peter Kafka's story from AllThingsD that Clayton posted.

A Windows Theme


I'm not really sure how much Windows themes are in demand so this may only be of interest to three of you.

I put together a Windows theme package made up of seven (7) of my high resolution (2560x1600) photos formatted for your desktop. Assuming your desktop is 16x10, of course.

Here is what you get...


Click here to grab it.

Have Lightsaber, Will Travel

Today Bioware opened up limited server transfers for players of Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) and the options are rather limited. I believe that this is by design and represents just the first step in a larger plan.
If you have a character on a low population server, you are allowed to buy a one-way ticket to a higher population server. And by "buy" I mean they give it to you. These transfers are free. 

Bioware takes several opportunities to remind us of a couple of things. First, that options may open up in the future (e.g. selectable destination servers) and that extra functionality may come at a cost. Personally, I'm perfectly fine with that and not particularly surprised.

I have been "lucky" enough to have created characters on not one, but two of the low population servers that we are being given the opportunity to leave. Since I'm guildless in all cases (someone adopt me, please) I thought I would walk through the steps and give those curious about the process a taste of what they can expect.

I will go light on exposition and let the pictures do most of the talking.

Starting out I logged into SWTOR and you can see that I have four characters total spread out among three servers.


Here is who I want to move. Darth Thom Macshadey of Hedarr Soongh.


Let's do this thing. Go to the "My SWTOR" section of the SWTOR site and log in. Once logged in, click on the "My Account" link.



On the left-hand side of the page, click the "Character Transfer" link.



You will be shown information about the transfer process as well as the requirements.



At the bottom of that page you will find a list of valid transfers. As you can see, I have two options available to me. I will click the "Pre-Select Servers" button next to the Hedarr Soongh option.



You will be asked to select a character. Once you do, the destination servers list will update itself. As you can see, we only have one option: the infamous Fatman server. With the destination selected, click the "Next" button all the way at the bottom of the page.



A check will be performed... we passed! Click that "Start Transfer" button.


Here is your notification that something has been started.


You will also get an email.


It really wasn't clear to me what I needed to do next. Would I get another notification. Would the page update itself when the transfer was complete? So I clicked the "View your character transfer history" link. Nope. Nothing yet....


Then I checked the transfer listing. Darth Thom must have left Hedarr Soongh because that option is no longer available to me.


Another check of my character transfer history showed me that everything was done. Elapsed time? Two minutes.


Heading back to SWTOR the server listing now shows that I have two characters on Fatman. That's odd.


Once logged in, we see only the one. Good ol' Darth Jkbgghxcttsofmr. Bioware changed my name. Again, not surprising.


Selecting the character and attempting to proceed to play brings up the rename dialog. Let's try to change it back to what it was.


Nope. No luck. This is likely going to cause some people a lot of angst.


I, however, just roll with the punches.


And I'm in. Holy smokes! 280 people on the Imperial Fleet? I've never seen so many people in one place!

You'll also notice the Legacy symbol in the toolbar is lit.


Since I had no characters on this server, I needed to create my legacy as if it were the first time. I'm not sure what would have happened if I had a legacy character on the destination server already.


And there we go. Darth Macshadey Caldera of Fatman.


For me the process was pretty painless. Your mileage may vary. No doubt for those of you who have much more invested in your characters, the chance that you will have to rename them might bother you. You may also have some additional baggage in the way of your legacy, guild affiliations and... well... actual baggage (inventory).

Hopefully this helped to satisfy your curiosity.

'Twas The Night Before WWDC...

Here on the eve of Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), the world waits with bated breath for what amounts to nerd Christmas. And just like Christmas, sometimes what we get is socks when we what really wanted was that hot new video game.

But I digress.

What I hope for is a real commitment to this post-PC nirvana we have been hearing about for a couple of years now. The iCloud marketing is pretty neat and while I will occasionally catch a glimpse of the possibilities, it seems to fall just a bit short.

For example, does it seem wrong to anyone else that the experience of managing podcasts is worse in the native iOS apps than in 3rd party alternatives? Why am I required to use iTunes to subscribe and also required to synch each of my devices to that "PC" in order to synch progress or load new episodes? Things get even worse if you have multiple devices and multiple PCs.

Whenever I have problems with my iPhones or iPads, one friend of mine loves to respond with "plug it into iTunes" even if that's obviously not the answer. (Yeah... he's a really funny guy.) The problem is that I don't want to plug it into iTunes. I don't want my PC involved at all if I can help it.

Fortunately there are alternatives to podcast management and the best ones use iCloud to provide the experience that Apple should. I will share my favorites with you in future posts.

For now I really just wanted to get in that one last wish to kill the iTunes requirement once and for all. I'm putting out the milk and cookies and getting ready to nestle myself in bed and if I dream of sugar-plums then all the better.

But I'm not hopeful. I just know I'm getting that three-pack of underwear instead.

Update - Evening of June 11, 2012

Yep. Socks and underwear. And an orange. Things that I needed and things that are good for me, but not really what I wanted. Oh well. My birthday is coming up....

Add Label-Based Pages to Blogger Blogs


A friend of mine asked me a question the other day regarding how to create pages within your Blogger blogs (can that be more awkwardly said?) that will gather posts tagged with a particular label. This is not at all difficult to accomplish.

Step 1: Label Your Posts

For the anal retentive, OCD folk like myself, this goes without saying. I probably go a little overboard in marking a post with single word descriptors of what each article is about. Here is what this post's label looks like:


I like to be as descriptive as possible because I may need that information some day. (Hey! You don't know. I just might!) At some point I might look at a breakdown of all my labels and realize that I've reached a critical mass of "how-to" posts and decide that I want to create a section of my blog that aggregates all of those articles by listing them on a single page.

Which brings us to...

Step 2: Create a Page


In your blog's settings select the Pages option for your blog. Click the "New page" button and then select "Web address".


You will then be presented with a simple form that asks for the name of the new page as well as its address.

The page title can be whatever makes sense to you. Let's just say that you want to create a "How-To" area for your blog and enter that as the title.

Now in the Web address field enter the URL for your blog and then append /search/label/<YourLabel>. So for the sake of our example we would entere "http://blog.thomasgehrke.com/search/label/How-To".

That's all there is to it!

Almost...

Gotcha #1: Capitalization

The case of the label you use to tag your posts needs to be what you enter in the Web address. I've been labeling posts with a capitalized "How-To" rather than "how-to". So "http://blog.thomasgehrke.com/search/label/How-To" works while "http://blog.thomasgehrke.com/search/label/how-to" does not.

Gotcha #2: Spaces And Other Characters


You may have elected to use labels that include spaces or other special characters. These characters need to be URL encoded. (Read more about URL encoding here.)

If I wanted a page that gathered up all of my New York posts, the Web address I would use is "http://blog.thomasgehrke.com/search/label/New%20York". Note that I replaced the space between "New" and "York" with a "%20".

Mounted Prints by Redbubble


I ordered a few of my New York prints from redbubble.com this past week and I was pretty pleased with the results. I got them "mounted" because they were headed to my work office where options for hanging things on the wall are limited. (The joys of working in a facility built in the 1950's.)

At any rate a mounted print from redbubble means...
Art needs to sit proudly on your wall, and when can’t bash huge nails in you need to consider the mounted print. Super tough, super light, incredibly professional.
  • Extremely light and easy to hang
  • High gloss finish
  • Optional border to include artists name
  • Archival quality Kodak Endura paper
  • Mounted on Gatorboard (a super tough 15mm rigid foam)
I was not disappointed.

There is also something to be said for being able to physically view a photo you've taken. It's one thing to edit and share things digitally, but quite another to hold a moment in your hands.

The prints I got were:

Needless to say, I will be working to bulk up my redbubble inventory. If you are interested in a print and don't see it in my portfolio there, hit me up (email, Twitter or Google+) and let me know what you want.