It’s a Design Language World

Fellow Relay FM host Jason Snell wrote an interesting article comparing Google in the naughties to Microsoft in the 90s.

Open Google Docs for iOS and you’re whisked into a Material Design world. To create a new document, you must tap a large red circle at the bottom right corner of the screen. The options icon is three vertical dots, rather than the three horizontal dots favored by Apple. Menus display in Material Design style, white cards on a gray background.

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He argues that much like Microsoft was in the 90s, Google is now pushing a design language that is common across platforms and that in contrast Apple isn’t (as evidenced by Apple Music on Android). While I agree with some of what Jason is saying, I feel as if he’s so dangerously close to an epiphany. I’d argue that all the big companies now have their own design languages that they push across all their platforms, and that Google is the only one to actually give it a name.

Allow me to elaborate. Every time I head to iTunes Connect or I’m presented with web apps that look like iOS apps. We have iOS launcher style icons on blurred backgrounds, we have iOS style navigation, heck we even have pop-up boxes to notify you of events and errors. Everything about these ‘web apps’ screams iOS. So it would be easy for me to pen an article about how Apple doesn’t respect the web, or Windows. But they respect Android, right? Their music app changed 2 icons on the player screen! It turns out Apple actually have a huge sample size of 2 apps, which we can look at to see if they respect the Android platform. Here is the second one:

Fits right in on Android. Totally.

Fits right in on Android. Totally.

Yes readers there’s nothing the least bit iOS looking about that app. At all.

The truth is that Apple has a design language that they have chosen and they are applying it everywhere too. They haven’t named it ‘Apple Design’ or ‘TiLTOWB’ (Tiny Light Text On White Backgrounds) but it’s there, everywhere you look. Microsoft does the same, they have their ‘authentically digital’ design aesthetic that you see on Windows 10, Xbox, iOS and elsewhere.

So yes, Google is trying to apply Material Design to all platforms, but so is every other big tech company out there. Apple does it. Microsoft does it. Spotify does it. Facebook does it. As to whether they actually should, or each company should develop a unique aesthetic for each platform, well that’s another debate entirely.

Gold Bricks

“It’s no good to pump out gold bricks if you’re crushing the souls of tiny unicorns in the process” – Matías Duarte

If the above quote is not a great reason to listen to this week’s episode of Material, in which we interview Google’s Vice President of Design Matías Duarte, then I don’t know what is.

More Thoughts on Apple Music for Android

I had a few more thoughts after writing this post about Apple’s first Android app. The most interesting one was this: Apple Music on Android has the potential to be the best music app Apple has ever made. Bear with me here:

  • They won’t be burdened by any legacy implementation: they could literally build it from scratch, with all the lessons they’ve learnt to date.
  • They don’t have the burden of having to play your local music like the iOS app, it could be a dedicated app for Apple sourced music only.
  • They can update the app as often as they want, iterating on things fast, since unlike iOS it’s not tied to OS releases.
  • The team building it probably has far less oversight from the Print Designers that seem to run Apple’s User Interface division these days, so they can probably be a bit more experimental and try out some fun new interface paradigms.
  • Assuming they don’t clone their iOS app, they’d be free to rethink how things should be laid out to work best for their users.

I know this is just a dream. I know Apple probably has a tiny team working on this whose only goal is to clone the iOS feature set and get the job done. I doubt there’s a tonne of resources allocated to fancy animations or new interface ideas. It’s a shame really, at times like this I wish Apple were slightly more divisional. I wish that the division building the Apple Music service as a whole were focussed solely on making that an amazing experience on every device. I acknowledge though, that’s not how Apple rolls. The Android app will be, I suspect, a re-skinned version of the Beats Music app that preceded it.

Overall I’m conflicted by the commercial realities of the situation. In the long run is it better for Apple to make amazing apps on Android that entice people to look into their hardware, or is the sounder strategy to build a wall around their content and apps that will only run on their own devices? The optimist in me wishes the former were true, but the realist knows it’s the latter.

Apple’s First Android App

Remember back in June when Apple promised to bring their music app to Android in September? No? I do, because I was sitting in the keynote room at the time. My prevailing thought at the time was a simple one: “This is going to be fascinating. Will Apple try to clone their iOS app, or embrace Material Design, rise above pettiness and make something amazing?”. There’s two competing interests here of course, you don’t need to be clairvoyant to know that Apple hates Android. That said they clearly know that in order for their music service to be successful, they need to be on the biggest mobile platform in the world, Android. I love this kind of conundrum and I’m fascinated by the direction they’ll take.

I don’t know how much of an indication it gives you, but here’s their first ever Android app, released today:


Ummm. Ok. That’s not how Android app icons work.


Yeah. It’s a poor attempt at making an Android app look like an iOS app. If you’re being generous, you might think Apple did this to make you more comfortable about moving to iOS. You might even say they wanted it to look bad, because they want the amazing experience to be on iOS, not Android. Maybe. It’s certainly one way to look at it.

If this is the way they go with their music app though, you’ll know they let their arrogance and showmanship get in the way of the success of a great service. I sincerely hope they don’t, and that this app is just a fun little diversion before their music app ships. The date seems to have slipped to ‘Coming this Spring’ so we’ll have to wait a little longer, but I for one am fascinated by what they will do here.

Picture This

Have you ever wondered about how Google Photos emerged from Google+? What are the aims of the Google Photos team for the future? What are some core philosophies of the people driving the product?

We had the privilege of interviewing John Nack and Aravind Krishnaswamy from the Google Photos team this week on Material. If you don’t recognise those names, you really should. John is the Google Photos Product Manager and Aravind the Engineering Manager. Even more interestingly John used to be the Product Manager of Photoshop and Aravind a Senior Technologist also at Adobe. Everyone I’ve met that knows both of these guys said they were amazing to work with.

It’s really interesting to me that both have gravitated towards Google Photos and that Aravind found his way there from Google+. If you want to hear more about them, you really owe it to yourself to listen to this weeks episode.

One final thing that struck me: how they talk about being intimidated by joining Google. These two highly accomplished individuals are just as intimidated as you or I when they start a new job surrounded by people who seem smarter than they are. Food for thought.

How a 17 Year Old Russian Kid Stole My Minecraft Account

I bought Minecraft many years ago, back when it was still a beta. Last weekend I woke up to two interesting emails in my Inbox:

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 1.02.35 pm

I was reading this on my phone, so I leapt out of bed and to the laptop. There were two emails, one telling me my Mojang account password had been changed, followed by someone changing my email address to a ‘’ address. The email change message had a link in it to dispute the change, so I pressed it (after confirming that these emails were indeed from and that the link went to that domain). It went to an ‘Invalid Token’ page, so clearly that part of their system was broken. The other email did have a reset password link in it though, so I tapped that and changed my password. This logged me into my account, but whoever had taken it had added their own secret challenge questions, which I didn’t know the answers to.

“Awesome, I love a challenge” I thought to myself as I started researching what bands were popular in Russia and what people named their pets. After 30 minutes of trying that though, I was beginning to doubt my l33t hacking skillz. My next resort was to try and find a computer that I’d logged into the account with before, that should skip straight past those questions and into my account. I knew time was ticking, because like me the hacker would have gotten an email telling them the password had been reset. I could only think of one computer that I might have played on and still owned, and I’d loaned it to my Co-Founder Philip. So I sheepishly messaged him to see if he could try and log in for me. By the time he tried, it was too late, the hacker had already changed the password.

At this point, I knew I was defeated, so I emailed Mojang support for help. I quickly found out that their support people were about 2 weeks behind on emails though. Now I was annoyed. I didn’t even play Minecraft anymore, but someone had stolen MY account, MY identity and I pictured them laughing at me all the way from Russia. A small, ever present switch inside me flipped. I couldn’t be defeated that easily, so I swung into action. I had the hackers email account, so the first thing I did was email them telling them that they’d won this round, but I’d win the war. I didn’t expect a response, so I went back to trying to get into the hackers email account.

Naturally I was a bit surprised when 5 minutes later a direct response from my new nemesis turned up:

What are you talking about? And the fact that I have been your username and password from the minecraft?
So I bought this login and password on the site! This yours? I did not know, he said that an empty account given. So I bought it. Here skrinoshot purchase:

If this is your account Sorry = (
I do not know what to sell hacked accounts

Ha ha, please, pleading innocence, the oldest trick in the book! But there was an image attached:


There in plain text was my email address and password. I was shocked and also slightly embarrassed that I’d chosen such a short and easy to crack password. I was also a bit skeptical that he’d bought my account for $18USD when you can get one from Mojang themselves for $26USD. So we started to email back and forth. At first he kept pleading his innocence, but after chatting for a while he confessed that he knew he was buying someone’s account. He assumed that these were accounts people no longer needed and he’d be able to save $8USD. I keep saying ‘he’ because I also learnt that he was a 17 year old male living in Russia. At this point I think I went from being angry to intrigued. I wanted to find out more about him and the site he’d bought it off.

It was there that things got a bit strange, Alex, my sort of new Internet friend was starting to suspect that I was the suspicious type who didn’t believe his story, so he sent me the login for his personal email account. I laughed to myself “could this kid be that stupid?!”, but there it was. I signed in and saw his purchase confirmations as well as all the emails he’d received from Mojang as he changed the password, email address and added security questions. He’d also chosen a rather cool username for himself. Suddenly I was faced with a choice: I could easily reset everything back to me, and lock him out completely. He had after all knowingly bought someone else’s account and must have known there was some risk involved. But the dad part of me felt sorry for this kid. He clearly just wanted to play Minecraft and was doing whatever he could to get there. We kept emailing back and forth (30 emails in total) and he was clearly regretful that he was about to lose access to his new Minecraft account (my old one) and that there wasn’t much he could do. He also seemed to have learnt his lesson.

I went from being bewildered and angry, to curious, to finally being fascinated by this world of buying other people’s accounts online from sellers that were offering thousands of them at a time (site link, only for the brave). I had also learnt a lot about this 17 year old kid on the other side of the world and his apparent love for Minecraft and playing online. In the end, I changed everything back to being owned by me and locked him out. He was going to lose it all anyway when Mojang finally got around to answering my email, and he knew that. I had won. I’d gotten my account back!

It was a hollow victory though, unsatisfying and entirely unglamorous. Another switch flipped inside me, I went to Mojang’s site and bought the kid his own Minecraft account. It was probably the wrong thing to do, it probably makes me a gullible fool, but I’d like to believe that somewhere out there, a 17 year old kid is playing Minecraft. He’s happy, he’s building things with his friends and he has a lasting memory of a weird Westerner he met while stealing his account. A Westerner that even though he didn’t have to, bought him a replacement account that he enjoyed for many years. In truth he’s probably blowing stuff up while tea-bagging his crazy online friends and laughing at how stupid I am, but, let an old guy dream, ok?

I’m Not Crying…It’s Just Raining In My Eyes

The man behind one of Twitter’s best third-party Android clients has been hired by Twitter itself. Joaquim Vergès (no relation!), developer of Falcon Pro, tweeted today that he is going to work for the company…

The Verge – The developer of the best Android app for Twitter works for Twitter now

I know a lot of people might be optimistic about this. Arguably the developer of the best Twitter app on any platform, is heading to Twitter to work on their Android app. That’s good news right? Maybe. But I’m not optimistic.

I’ve seen some of the most talented engineers of our time disappear into the Twitter Vortex and be smashed to pieces on the rocks that are their insane overheads. A little birdie (badum-tsss) tells me that over 70 iOS Developers build just their iPhone app. A large chunk of those work solely on the tools and processes required to allow that many people to work on one app. I know some people use and like their iOS app, but that’s an insane amount of people to build something that to me is just not that great. As a reference point: Tweetbot, my iOS Twitter app of choice, has just two people working on it. Two. Falcon Pro, my favourite Android Twitter app, was one person. One. Both apps are, in my humble opinion, miles ahead of Twitter’s own apps.

Maybe Twitter will magically turn things around. Maybe they will slim down their teams and remove the crazy overheads they operate under. Maybe they’ll drop their obsession with A/B testing every tiny detail and just make a great app. Maybe a year from now I’ll be using their Android app and love it. Maybe Australia will win the FIFA World Cup in 2018 too! Stranger things have happened…