Paper & Pencil
This was the only reviewed app that had some sort of hardware component to it. Actually, Paper is the app while Pencil is a separate stylus that has some cool synergy with the app. The artistic feel of the app was the stand out for me. I had a chance to try it out when the Pencil and iPad was being passed around, and it certainly felt premium and fitting of the Apple brand.
For the reader’s benefit, I will start off with a brief recap of the app’s function. Paper is a combination of a note-taking app (text) and a sketching app (freehand). Pencil is a stylus with a pressure sensitive tip that allows for more realistic brush strokes, with a cool “eraser” at the back. Paper is a free app, so the profit maker is on the Pencil which costs a hefty $60.
The presenting group started off by talking about the niche market that this app targets, which are artists. Then, they compared this to the Apple Pencil, a more accurate stylus that comes at a higher cost. I guess this is still justifiable the more expensive one can target the professional artists, while this can target the casual artists. However, I do feel that they might actually be trying to target even non-artists. I am using a Note 5 currently, and frequently use the stylus for note-taking (for this seminar too, heh). The tiny Samsung stylus is definitely awkward to write with, and I can see people forking out $60 for a more comfortable digital writing experience. Considering that Apple users have already paid over $600 (?) for the iPad, I guess 10% more for a peripheral is reasonable.
The group also mentioned that Paper and Pencil’s team comprised of 50% developers and 50% artists. I actually feel that this really shines through in their UI/UX. I played around with the drawing feature, and the way that the brushes and colour choosing tools are placed is nicely spaced out and pretty intuitive to use. There is this swirling circle where you can turn around to choose the gradient of your colour (e.g. if blue is the selected colour, turn it clockwise for a darker blue and anti-clockwise for a lighter blue). This is certainly much better than the rectangle drop down of a rainbow spectrum you get with most other apps.
The artists’ contributions actually extends beyond the UI/UX. The group also shared a cool feature (iirc it was called Mix!). If you are familiar with Reddit’s /r/writingprompts, then this is actually the drawing version of it! So the app (and maybe users?) will provide a small starting prompt of a drawing, which artists can then use as a seed for their creative mind to come up with different interpretations of the initial picture. I think this is actually a pretty cool way to get their users to have a reason to draw, as well as a casual platform to share their work and get reviews.
The last point brought up was actually a pretty cool feature that I believe my Note 5 (and any stylus compatible device really) is also capable off but rarely do apps take advantage of. Having both a stylus and your finger as two separate ways of inputs actually allows for interesting features like the blend function the group showed. Paper reads the stylus as a pencil stroke, while it reads your finger as a smudging action. This is something that will be hard to reproduce with a single-input device (still possible, but arguably a different user experience). This actually reminded me that my “Write on PDF” app actually differentiates between stylus (for taking notes) and finger (for scrolling). There are probably more ways to leverage on this concept for a smoother user experience.
My own original thoughts are kind of already mixed in above, but I would like to bring up an additional point. It is partly a re-raise of a point by one of the TA’s which I feel the group neglected to answer. He mentioned something about the technical difficulty of the hardware implementation, whereby the Pencil’s ergonomics and pressure sensitive tip would be different for different users (e.g. left/right-handed). My take would be that this might be solvable with software, by letting users sort of calibrate their actions at the start. I vaguely recall that my old Note 3 required a stylus calibration (albeit just for accuracy) before the initial usage, though I can’t seem to find this feature on my current Note 5 anymore… I guess we can borrow this idea and make it work for the pressure sensitivity too.
Finally, I would like to end off with a feedback on this 20 sec/slide style of presentation. No doubt it saves time and made the presentations more focused. But experiencing it for the first time made me feel a little lost at times. Perhaps it was the lack of transitional slides or words which made it hard to have an overall view of the presentation flow. #rant
Thanks for reading! Apologies to the presenting group if I misinterpreted some of your points… I might have filled in the gaps (when I was lost) with my own imagination. =/