In a presentation at the recent Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries (#emtacl10) conference in Norway, Ida Aalen challenged librarians with her talk I’ve got Google, why do I need you? – A student’s expectations of academic libraries (SlideShare | PDF). Aalen is a media & communications graduate student at the Norwegian University of Sci&Tech, the site of the conference. Several of her slides were good, but the one I liked most is the one at left “I gave up this …,” a screenshot of an overly complicated library catalog interface that she contrasts with Google.

Aalen’s slide especially caught my attention because it resonates so strongly with my recent article and graphic that makes the same contrast between the simple interfaces of Apple and Google and the busy interfaces of library catalogs.

Seeing the similarity of Aalen’s ideas and my article, I’ve changed the second slide in the sequence at left, to highlight the contrast between the simple Google interface and complicated library interfaces. The top part of the graphic (I gave up this) is pretty much the same as Aalen’s. But in the slide following (For Google), she had an advanced Google Scholar search screen. I think substituting the simple Google search home screen as I’ve done captures the spirit of her presentation (and certainly its title!).

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As detailed in the Apple launch announcements for the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, Steve Jobs described both as being “magical and revolutionary.” He makes this claim for the iPhone, he says, primarily for two reasons — multitouch and mobile Internet use. Notably, he doesn’t state any specific revolutionary features of the iPad.

I would suggest that history will judge the iPhone as a more revolutionary device than the iPad, for the reasons given by Jobs — multitouch and mobile web browsing — and also for other reasons not mentioned by him. The most interesting of these is that the iPhone has shown the practical appeal of reading on a handheld mobile web device. For anyone who’s had the experience of reading on an iPhone, this seems commonplace by now, but for the non-iPhone using world, as for everyone before the iPhone, it comes as a surprise that sustained reading on such a small screen could be appealing. But there it is, a runaway success.

The success of the iPhone for eReading stands out especially because it seems to have been completely unforeseen by Steve Jobs at the time the iPhone was launched, and still apparently little-noticed for some time even after it was launched — Jobs, of course, made his famous observation that “people don’t read anymore” a year after the iPhone launch, as the iPhone was in fact becoming a popular eReading device. Something apparently changed Steve’s mind, between early 2008, when he made that statement, and the iPad’s birth two years later — The iPad launch announcement, in contrast to the one for the iPhone, mentions eBook reading prominently, and the iPad has been seen widely by commentators as an excellent eReading device.

I suspect that one of the most significant parts of the iPhone story, as seen by future historians, is that its unexpected success as an eReader turned the fertile mind of Steve Jobs to reading. Where Jobs and Apple will go with this idea is an open, and fascinating, question. With the iPad, Apple seems set to continue on the road to becoming a media company, with iBooks being an important part of the App Store. And it all might have started on the iPhone.

This discussion sheds new light on the frequently stated reaction to the iPad that it’s “nothing but a large iPod Touch” — Indeed, Yes — If you accept the idea that it’s the iPhone/iTouch that’s truly the revolutionary device, then, of course, it’s natural that the next deviceful step for Apple is to apply the same innovative ideas to a larger device — The iPad.

Acknowledgements – Discussions of the ideas in this article with my son Brian Rumsey have been invaluable. Thanks, Brian, for helping me to clarify my thoughts :-)

Other articles on eReading and mobile devices:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Starting even before it was launched, the iPad has been widely viewed as a savior for traditional publishing, and especially for magazines, with its rich multitouch interface and its potential for the seamless mixing of text and pictures. So it’s not surprisinig that magazines have been in the lead in touting the iPad, as in Newsweek’s “What’s so great about the iPad?” cover story at left.

One simple, easy-to-overlook, reason for the iPad-magazine connection is the iPad display screen’s 4:3 aspect ratio (the ratio of the width of the image to its height). Many popular magazines (like Newsweek) have this same 4:3 aspect ratio, making them an excellent fit for the iPad.

The 4:3 aspect ratio is not a new one for computer displays — it was common before 2003, when it was mostly replaced by a 16:9 ratio — but what is new on the iPad is that it’s seen as being used primarily in portrait mode — like magazines & books — instead of the usual landscape orientation of computer displays.

Do the Math: The actual size of the iPad display screen is 7.75″ x 5.83″. The actual size of Newsweek is 10.5″ x 7.9.”

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Holly Hibner’s tweet about John Blyberg‘s talk at the recent Computers in Libraries (#CIL2010) was one of the mostly highly retweeted posts of the conference. Blyberg’s metaphor captures the thought that I’ve had swimming around in my head for long — What’s the use of making an elegant, user-friendly library web site when the centerpiece of the whole library info-ecosystem — the catalog — is hopelessly difficult to navigate? I blogged about this in October when I found a great graphic (part of which is below left) that points to the striking contrast between the simple, inviting user interfaces of dotcoms like Google and Apple, and the much more complicated interfaces of libraries.

With the small screen of mobile devices the trimmed-down, mobilized library website makes the old, non-mobilized library catalog seem even more ghetto-like, using Blyberg’s phrase, so that it’s questionable to even link to the catalog from the mobile library site. With the constraints of mobile design, we have no choice but to take up the opportunity and simplify. Several libraries have now mobilized their catalogs, among them the clean, simple design from UNC below. Scroll down for links to a series of articles I’ve written on mobile design and libraries.

Flickr set has graphic above & the full version in other article, that shows the context of the library catalog caricature.

Articles on mobile design and libraries:

Holly Hibner’s tweet:

hhibner: Your web site is great, but when people click on the catalog link, “Boom! They’re in the ghetto!” John Blyberg #cil2010

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Hardin MD Gallery pages’ simple design makes them intrinsically mobile-friendly. They work especially well on an iPhone because they fit well on the screen, as described below. To go to Hardin MD Mobile click logo:

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss and illustrate why Hardin MD Galleries are especially usable on an iPhone. I’ll also discuss the process of mobilizing Hardin MD, describe which galleries are most usable on a mobile device now, and talk some about future development.

We’ve been pleased to realize that Hardin MD galleries work especially well on an iPhone because most images  have a similar aspect-ratio to the iPhone — 1:1.5 — which is relatively unusual for a computer screen, though very common in photography (4″x6″ snapshots).

We didn’t plan it that way, but it happens that most of the images in Hardin MD are about 720 x 480 pixels (the same 1:1.5 aspect ratio as the iPhone), in landscape orientation. So, as shown in the screenshots at left, Hardin MD images fit nicely on the iPhone screen in landscape view.

Most of the individual disease/condition galleries in HMD are fairly usable on a mobile device as they are, although the navigational thumbnail images for some are rather poor. The weakest aspect of mobile-usability is the broad-grouping super-gallery thumbnail directories — Thumbnails work well for individual galleries of pictures on a particular disease condition, but they don’t work so well for super-galleries, which have several different diseases. So we’ll be making scrolling-list menus, which work well on an iPhone, for the broad topic groups, as we work on improving the mobile navigation of the individual galleries within each group. For now, the first broad-group menu is public-domain, free-to-copy galleries.

Other super-galleries, for which we’ll make mobile menus in the future are:

Besides working to improve the mobile-accessibility of super-galleries, we’ll also be trying out a second type of mobile access for individual galleries, by putting pictures in a WordPress blog — WordPress (with a wide array of smart plugins) does a wonderful job in displaying pictures on blog pages, especially because it’s so smart in handling portrait and landscape orientation. The nice fit of Hardin MD images on an iPhone screen, described above for existing galleries, also works well in a WordPress blog. Our first one is here >> Measles pictures from CDC

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Here’s a quick on-the-fly way to optimize Safari web browser pages that are not created with mobile optimization in mind — A quick “tap-tap” with a finger on a column of text (often the middle of three columns) will zoom the text in that column to fit the iPhone screen. This is especially useful on news and blog sites, as in the first example below. In the library realm, it works nicely on LibGuides pages, in the second example. It works in landscape as well as portrait view, and with pictures, as shown in the third example (Hardin MD) below.

The first example is from the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Dermatology LibGuide page from Hardin Library, University of Iowa:

A page from the Hardin MD Gallery, showing the utility of double-tapping for pictures. Note that the size of the picture decreases to fit on the screen, instead of expanding, as in the text columns in the previous examples.

A good 1-min video demo of double-tapping at Todd Ogasawara’s MobileViews blog is here.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

This fun giant-size image for Choosing Cereal made the rounds of Twitter a couple of months ago, and I thought then that it would be a good demo of Seadragon, the interesting infinite-zooming viewer that was Microsoft’s first iPhone app. I’ve dragged my feet until now, but with the attention that Seadragon has gotten in recent articles, here it is …

The original cereal image site that was linked on Twitter is here. I’ve uploaded this at the Seadragon site, which makes it into a deep-zoomable image. It works fine on a desktop, but it’s especially cool on an iPhone/iTouch — Try it HERE. (The Seadragon iPhone app isn’t needed for this but it’s worth looking at because it has several good demos — Download it here). The image below shows only the top of the Choosing Cereal file — The Seadragon zoomable version has the whole thing.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In December 2006, Luke Wroblewski blogged a good discussion about The Complexity of Simplicity in user-interface design. Interestingly (in light of his recent articles discussed below), in the 2006 article he doesn’t mention MOBILE design. What makes this especially interesting is that the iPhone, with its game-changing elegant mobile interface, exploded on the scene just a month after Wroblewski’s article, in Jan, 2007. So … Jump forward to an excerpt from Wroblewski’s Nov 2009 article Mobile First, in which he first proposed the idea that all web pages should be designed first for a small screen, before considering their appearance on a large screen:

Mobile forces you to focus – Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn’t room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize. So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today’s desktop-accessed Web sites.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The link in the quote above goes to Wroblewski’s Aug 2009 article Mobile App User Experience, which has the image at left, a great “picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words” view of the words in the quote — Cut the crap and give the user the important part, what they’re looking for! Taken together, I think, the quote and the picture tell the story of what’s been happening in the world of interface design since the introduction of the iPhone –Though I’m sure this is something of an oversimplification, I think that the simple user interface that seemed so hard to attain on a large screen has now become easier with the forced constraint of the small screen.

Wroblewski’s ideas resonate with what I’ve been writing about simple mobile design for library sites. Although he’s not talking specifically about libraries, his ideas are certainly right on-target for us in libraries. The AP News example he chooses for the picture especially catches my attention, as I’ve been watching news sites to see how they’re adjusting to the mobile upheaval — I think they carry lessons for libraries, as we go through the same thing.

Note in the picture here that we in libraries have an advantage over news sources and other dotcom sites — We don’t have the extra baggage of advertising — This in itself would seem to make mobile friendly design a Great Opportunity for Libraries. The obstacle for libraries seems to be the longstanding culture of overly complicated design for our resources, especially OPACs. The good news here is that with mobile design there really is no alternative to simple design — As Wroblewski says, the size of the screen just doesn’t allow extra fluff. The constraints of mobile design, I think, level the field — This makes it easier for us in libraries to create sites as simple and easy to use as the big dotcoms. As I’ve written, there are encouraging signs that we’re doing this.

Less is more …

I better wrap this article up — It’s turning into a classic case of controlled serendipity … Just as I thought I was about finished, the “less is more” thought came into my mind, as a pithy epigram of mobile user design. Alas, I Googled, and found this, another striking quote, from Darja Isaksson (www.inuse.se), maybe I’ll expand more later, but for now, a good way to end:

So … Does the iPhone live up to its hype? [article title] … boldface added by me …
The results? Stunning. The iPhone has introduced a new interaction paradigm to the world, in an uncompromising way that proves that “less is more” when it comes to true user experience.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Sarah Houghton-Jan reports in an article a few days ago that a new PEW report shows the growing tendency of people to get news from the Web. She suggests that librarians should jump on this, and offer our skills in filtering, teaching finding-skills, and creating tutorials. I like Sarah’s idea, and take it a step further — As Sarah mentions, one of the findings of the PEW report is that mobile devices are providing a growing portion of online news, so I suggest that an area of news curation that especially needs librarians’ skills is mobile news — I’ve been watching for news sources that have mobile apps or mobile-friendly sites, and I find that they vary a lot in coverage and quality — They’re in great need of the curatorial skills of librarians!

Sites that I like (with screenshots below) are: New York TimesAP-News, The Guardian, The (London) Times, and Reuters. I especially look for good pictures. The best of the sites listed here for pictures is AP-News — Note that the bottom left screenshot below is a report of the recent earthquake in Chile, with an AP-News gallery.

For news-related pictures, I’ve found that the best sites are not traditional news sites, like the ones listed here, but other, blog-like sites — As I discussed in an earlier article on Haiti earthquake coverage, great pictures for that (and for the Chile earthquake as well as other news subjects) are at The Big Picture/Boston.com and the Hyderabad News WordPress site.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The list below has all the mobile library catalogs that I’m able to find now. The link for each library goes to the mobile version of the catalog, if it’s linkable — Some (e.g. NCSU) apparently don’t have a direct link, in which case the link is to a more general page that has a link. I’ve taken screenshots on my iPod Touch of the search, list of retrievals, and complete record screens, for all catalogs on the list, that I’ve put in a Flickr set (tag for each library linked on the list). Pictures for five representative samples are below the list (indicated by an asterisk*). The combined screen Flickr pictures for all libraries, in the same format as the samples below, are here. (Catalogs added after this article first published, as labelled, have No Flickr pictures, for now.)

Boulder [Flickr]
Brig Young [Flickr]
California St Univ [No Flickr]
Curtin U (AU) [No Flickr]
Duke Univ [Flickr]
Iowa City* [Flickr]
Jönköping U (SE) [No Flickr]
LINCCweb [Flickr]
Miami Univ [Flickr]
MS State [Flickr]
NCSU* [Flickr]
Orange Co [Flickr]
Oreg State [Flickr]
Oxford [Flickr]
Stark Co [Flickr]
Texas Chr U* [Flickr]
Tri-College* [Flickr]
U Amsterdam [No Flickr]
U Brit Col [Flickr]
U Gent (BE) [No Flickr]
U Minnesota [No Flickr]
U No Carol [Flickr]
U Rochester [Flickr]
U Virginia* [Flickr]
UCoL (NZ) [No Flickr]

The screenshots for each catalog are color coded — Red is the beginning search screen, yellow is the list of retrievals, and green is the complete record. The Flickr set has separate, larger screenshots for each screen, and the color is maintained in those to make it easier to pick out different screen types.

Iowa City Publ Lib [Flickr] is one of four AIRPAC mobile catalogs from Innovative Interfaces (Boulder, ICPL, Orange Co, & Stark Co tagged together in Flickr set), all of which have similar look & feel.

NCSU [Flickr] is one of the first mobile catalogs, and still an excellent design.

Texas Christian (TCU) [Flickr] is notable because it has only a list of brief records for retrievals, with no links to a more complete record for each one.

Tri-College [Flickr] is interesting because it has a brief “drop down” complete record, that opens while keeping the context of the list of other retrieved items.

I chose Univ Virginia [Flickr] because I like its pleasing, simple design.

If you know of other mobile catalogs, send them in, via comment or email.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey