Why desktop apps are making a comeback

Well, they certainly still have a role to play, right tool and all…

Most software products need an interface. That interface can come in different forms, but usually boils down to either an installed program, or a browser-based web application. For the desktop (mobile is another issue entirely), web apps seemed to have the upper hand, but successful newcomers — like Slack — and old timers — like Skype — indicate that the issue is still unresolved.

As the founders of Front, an app helping companies manage grouped email addresses … we maintain both desktop apps for OS X, Windows, and a web application. People often ask us the reasoning behind this decision, so here is our answer. Read more

Office, messaging and verbs

What’s the right tool for the job? Benedict Evans looks for a way to think about this question for productivity applications beyond feature collections. He argues that the difference between messaging and applications is blurring, and that is because the job we are usually trying to accomplish with software is largely based on a communication need. Certainly true if inclusive of humans and other software but, as he says, the trade offs are difficult. Lotus Notes for example, was both successful and ultimately a failure because of these kinds of choices.

The challenge here is the trade off between breadth and flexibility on one hand and focus and single-purpose efficiency on the other. It’s easy to make everything flow together in a single UI if you have a narrow domain, but much harder if you’re trying to encompass lots of different tasks and types of data. Sometimes the right ‘unified UI’ is a dedicated app and sometimes it’s Windows, or a web browser, aggregating lots of different apps with different UIs. But mostly, it’s the email app itself that’s the universal connector, linking documents, data and ideas. That is, ‘Send’ is the universal verb that ties the others together. Read more

Why Web Pages Suck

Ben Thompson takes off on John Gruber’s complaint about fat slow websites, and basically argues that publishers don’t have a choice and, in effect, neither do advertisers. Ad exchanges and programmatic advertising work well enough (I know, except when they don’t) that advertisers can’t ignore them.

… if advertisers are only spending money — and a lot of it — on programmatic advertising, then it follows that the only way for publishers to make money is to use programmatic advertising.

… the price of efficiency for advertisers’ is the user experience of the reader. The problem for publishers, though, is that dollars and cents — which come from advertisers — are a far more scarce resource than are page views, leaving publishers with a binary choice: provide a great user experience and go out of business, or muddle along with all of the baggage that relying on advertising networks entails. Read more

News Sites Are Fatter and Slower Than Ever

Frédéric Filloux measures a few news sites and comes down hard on designers, but I think he means to include other decision makers as well.

An analysis of download times highlights how poorly designed news sites are. That’s more evidence of poor implementation of ads… and a strong case for ad blockers. Read more

Newsonomics: On end games and end times

Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?

Wonder why news organizations do some of the things they do? Ken Doctor describes the current challenges and choices publishers are faced with and how some are thinking about them. Read more

7 future web design trends

Jowita Ziobro provides a refreshing review of current design trends. Her first trend, “Gestures are the new clicks”:

We forget how hard scrolling webpages used to be. Most users would painstakingly move their mouse to the right edge of the screen, to use something ancient called a ‘scrollbar’… In 2015 it’s far easier to scroll than it is to click. On mobile, you can scroll wildly with your thumb. To click on a precise target is actually more difficult — the complete opposite of what we’re used to on the desktop… As a result, we should expect more and more websites to be built around scrolling first, and clicking second. And of course, that’s exactly what we’ve seen everywhere…

The post is a reminder that the way to look at planning and development of web and mobile applications is to focus on the ‘and’. Too much of the discussion is about the limitations of web or mobile or which should come first – a sometimes necessary short term choice but not a strategy for most. Jowita’s larger point is that from a design point of view web and mobile are converging. The post also suggests functional convergence, which I expand on in The convergence of web and mobile design. Jowita ends with:

Right now you see the best of mobile app design appearing in web design. With enough time, the difference between an app and a website might almost entirely disappear. Read more

Modern Design Tools: Adaptive Layouts

I’m sure there are exceptions, but design has almost always followed function in software development. That was never a great situation, but today’s reality of the constant additions of new form factors forces us to figure out how build function and design in a more parallel and earlier iterative environment. Responsive design is an important approach to dress up the past and get started with workable multichannel publishing, but its scale is limited. Josh Puckett has some great ideas and links to other discussions.

Since our tools shape our thinking, it’s critical that we have design tools that allow us to go beyond the static thinking that has encumbered us for so long. While it’s technically possible to design and optimize for various layouts and orientations today, it’s tedious and difficult, which means that we often don’t do it.

Design tools should have the same properties as the medium for which we are designing… Let’s take a look at how a modern design tool might work for designing an iPhone app. Read more

Google deep linking progress

Steven Levy comments on this year’s I/O event. He does a nice job of explaining deep linking / app indexing, and the much mentioned Google Now on Tap in the context of Google’s mobile and search challenges.

Google now says that it has expanded its app indexing program to Apple’s iOS platform. “App indexing” is the practice of Hoovering up the data that lives inside apps, the first step to making that information available by Google searching — it’s analogous to crawling the web. Google has been doing this since 2013 for Android apps, essentially creating an index that lives on a simulation of a giant Android phone. And I do mean giant: there are 50 billion deep links indexed so far. (Deep links are those which take you directly to relevant information inside an app, as opposed to leading you to the front door.)

I found the 50 billion indexed deep links surprising, especially since they are almost all from Android apps, and from only a little more than half of the developers asked to participate. There is a decent developer value proposition, but it will be interesting to see what Apple decides to do to keep control of its ecosystem. And then there are Facebook, Twitter, and others. Google would most likely be the biggest beneficiary of a deep linking standard if there ever is one. Read more

What is Code?

This is a fantastic piece. It is long, though the title may be too short. It is not just about code. It is also about coders and coder culture, code tribes, code conferences, coding languages, coding process, managing coders (well sort of), also funny, perhaps a little sad, and loaded with truthiness. Read more


Thanks to our hosting provider LuxSci for sponsoring this issue, and for 15 years of great customer service.


Short takes

Apple is making it much easier to access the web from apps and developers are interested. iOS 9 and Safari View Controller: The Future of Web Views via MacStories.net.

SEO people, time to get up-to-speed on App Indexing & The New Frontier of SEO: Apple Search + iOS App Indexing via Search Engine Land

For communicators obviously an increasingly important skill… Exploring the 7 Different Types of Data Stories via Mediashift

For execs… What Every Manager Should Know About Machine Learning via HBR.org

Not a huge sample but some interesting data… Comparing the ROI of Content Marketing and Native Advertising via HBR.org

The non-tracking option… The Rise of DuckDuckGo via Fast Company

You may be surprised. The rise of mobile and social news: Oxford Reuters Institute’s 2015 report via Journalist’s Resource

A few gems… How to Cheat at Creating Great Presentations for Tech & Marketing Audiences via moz.com

Getting beyond some of the hype… iOS 9 content blocking extensions are not a mobile advertising armageddon via baldurbjarnason.com


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