Friday, 21 December 2012


Among iOS developers, the day that you assuredly abide your app for Apple's approval can be a close one. Even if you've acutely followed the guidelines, able the cipher and anesthetized every acreage test, Apple can still adios your app for about any reason.

Not so with Spun [iTunes link]. At aboriginal glance, Spun appears to be a simple bounded news-and-information app with an clear user interface. Which it is. But it's aswell a advertise for how to architecture iOS apps that Apple will love.

It starts with the UI, but the Apple-friendly elements bell throughout Spun's aboveboard functionality, atypical use of area casework and even the aboriginal architecture process. How did Spun apprentice absolutely what Apple looks for in abundant iOS apps? Simple: from Apple.

"We worked with Apple for about five months on this, which was an amazing experience," says Scott Lindenbaum, the co-founder of Spun.
Spun was able to connect directly with Apple through a fortuitous chain of relationships. Lindenbaum's team has a partnership with A&E Television Networks, and when they brought an early version of the app to A&E's board, one of the members suggested they email a developer rep at Apple, but he couldn't promise the rep would respond.
"We email the guy, and he asks if we'll be in in California?" says Lindenbaum. "We flew to Cupertino, we brought it to him, and he said it could be disruptive in the media space."

That first 20-minute meeting turned into a five-month relationship that saw Spun launch in the iOS App Store at the end of November. Lindenbaum had designed iOS apps before (he also created Broadcastr), but thanks to input from that unnamed Apple engineer, he was able to take Spun to a new level of design. The app, which pushed out its latest update last week, embodies iOS design philosophy in several key ways:

1. The App Should Feel Like a Tangible Object

iOS App object
Image courtesy of Spun
Like many apps, Spun serves up news in a few vertical "feeds." But it does so in an extremely clever way: Each of the four feeds is one side of a rectangular tower the user can rotate with a swipe. It's a virtual shape, but it feels like a real object.
That's not a cute aspect Spun's creators added at the end -- from the start it was made with the idea that it could exist in the physical world. That came directly from the Apple engineer, and Lindenbaum took the idea as far as he could, going so far as to draw blueprints of how they could build the Spun app, physically (one of the original sketches is shown above; another appears below). "They were so psyched about that," Lindenbaum says.

2. Don't Quiz the User

When you launch Spun (see video above), the rectangle rises through the screen, rotating to show you all the stories before stopping on one of the feeds. Lindenbaum says this negates the need for any tutorial, because the startup, besides looking pretty, shows the user how the app works.
Also, you don't need to sign in, create any kind of account or set any preferences when you start it up for the first time. In short, the app doesn't quiz the user, which sometimes leads users to abandon apps before they even fully use them. "That was a big thing for them; [the app] just lets them in."

3. Details Matter

Spun details
Image courtesy of Spun
When you swipe your finger across Spun's rectangle, it rotates to another feed on the next "side." What you may not notice is the animation -- the "bounce" when the new feed falls into place -- varies slightly depending on how fast you do it. This level of detail might sometimes be overlooked, but Apple prizes it greatly. The whole experience should feel fluid and alive, responding to the user's every move.
"There are subtle cues that can tell our mind to touch something," says Lindenbaum. "If it has a texture, just a slight texture, you can tell, 'I'm going to grab that. That's a handle.' If it has a slight gradient, if it has a little bit of depth. It doesn't have to be wholly imitating a real-world object, but it has to give some indication that it's courting your ability to touch it."

4. Reward the User With Every Touch

Spun screens
Image courtesy of Spun
Once you've launched Spun, you can tap the screen anywhere to see new content. Only the simplest navigation exists on story pages, with icons for returning to the feed as well as saving and sharing stories. As Lindenbaum says, there's virtually no way for a user to do anything wrong, and every touch rewards them in some way.

"They said the UI has to be just as radical as the idea,"
"They said the UI has to be just as radical as the idea," says Lindenbaum. "And they actually said to us, 'It has to tickle the user's basal ganglia in five to 13 seconds.'" The basal ganglia is the area of the brain associated with experiencing pleasure.

5. Simplicity Is Strength

Spun simplicity
Image courtesy of Spun
There are thousands of news apps, but Spun stakes out its territory very clearly, aggregating stories from several sources to deliver articles abouts specific cities. It also incorporates location in a novel way, including a mini map at the top every article that can change on the fly, such as when the sushi-restaurant roundup you're reading shifts from one place to another two blocks away.
Lindenbaum sees the current app as just the beginning of a larger idea of indexing web content by location. The idea has obvious applications in mobile, and Spun is a very focused implementation of it. That focus -- giving users an easy way to find out more about cities they live in or are visiting -- turns a very big idea into a straightforward one, perfect for an app.
"We don't need a million features," Lindenbaum says. "The only thing we need to make easier is discovery. So right not [the content] is all stuck on the web somewhere. You're never going to go there. It has to be brought to you. So we create an an ability shift in terms of discovery, and we turn opening Spun into a habit by giving you positive reinforcement for every single thing you do."

6. Don't Sacrifice Quality for Time

Spun sketch
Image courtesy of Spun
One thing Lindenbaum discovered in his first meeting with Apple was that the company really does prize quality above all else. Spun has been an iOS Featured app in the App Store, but it had to make sacrifices to get there.
"We said, 'You're Apple -- you can take as much time as you want. But we're a startup. If we spend five months working on this we're going to be broke.' They said, 'Do you want to work with us or not?'" Being featured in the App Store is awarded as an accolade to people they think are doing exceptional work. It's not a paid thing. So we had to raise more money."
How do you like Spun, and its approach to app design? Share your thoughts in the comments.



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