As the founder Tapity, a tiny Apple Design Award winning app company, I am constantly searching the App Store for app design inspiration. In my search, I’ve noticed that some apps are ugly, some apps are pretty, but some apps are in a category of their own: they think different. This post highlights some amazing apps that broke new ground in interface design. These apps cause us to think of our phones in a whole new way and open our minds to the endless interface possibilities that are available to us with touch and the plethora of sensors that come equipped on every iPhone sold.
Clear shocked us with a nearly buttonless, fully gesture-based interface. Despite some usability and accessibility issues, Clear’s directly-manipulatable, minimal interface inspires us to explore how gestures can supplement or replace buttons to create a more satisfying experience.
Path’s user interface innovations include a unique and engaging sign-up experience, some gesture navigation shortcuts, a neat fly-out menu to quickly add content, and a timestamp that fades in only when you scroll to keep the main interface as minimal as possible.
Sparrow borrows some tricks from other apps (pull to refresh, sidebar navigation, and others) and applies and extends them in a way that puts the default Mail app to shame.
Tracking your weight is tedious but Weightbot makes it fun. Weightbot was one of the first apps that showed us that even utilitarian apps could be infused with personality in a way that creates an extremely enjoyable user experience. The interface is counter-intuitive by design since fiddling around with the beeping and clicking interface is half the fun.
Despite it’s faults, we have to hand it to the Facebook app for introducing a clever navigation paradigm that is now used in numerous apps: slide-out navigation. Apple’s default tab-based navigation is great when users switch tabs a lot but a lot of apps don’t require frequent switching between the app’s main screens. As such an app, Facebook decided to tuck the main navigation away in a sidebar, accessed easily via a button or swipe.
One of Apple’s lesser known apps, Cards, makes creating and sending physical postcards to loved ones an intuitive and curiously fun experience. The content is the interface. Nothing stands between you and the card you are creating. Tap the placeholder text or images and the app zooms in, allowing you to edit them directly. Tap the “outside” tab and the card folds to show the outside. There’s no “recipient” screen; you choose the recipient on the front of the envelope, just like in the real world. Cards takes “What You See Is What You Get” to a whole new level.
Some times its not the big things that inspire, it’s all the little things put together. An exercise in minimalism and polish, Reeder 3 exemplifies that. Shawn Blanc’s excellent review of the new version shows just how much care went into refining all the little details and interactions that make this version such a delight to use.
There are numerous other examples. Tweetie (now Twitter) gave us pull-to-refresh, RedLaser made the iPhone a product scanner, Starwalk made it a interactive telescope, Ocarina transformed it into an instrument, and Classics made us think twice about what an eBook really could be.
Though these interfaces are inspiring, mislead “innovation” can easily turn into a usability quagmire. If you are going to break user interface conventions in the name of innovation, be sure to understand why those conventions exist and always engage in a healthy dose of usability testing to make sure your innovations are clicking with real people. That said, get inspired; we have only scratched the surface of the kind of interfaces we can build for mobile.