Happy new year everyone!
Early last year I hinted about an app I was working on. Since then, I've gone through several ideas for this project, some panned out better than others. I've never been satisfied enough with what I've produced overall to push through to the end, until recently. So just like everyone else, I've been working on a podcast app for iOS.
It's been an interesting journey. This past fall, when Marco Arment announced his next project was a podcast app, my initial reaction was "I'm so screwed". How could I possibly compete with him in terms of successfully launching an iOS product (something I have yet to do), marketing the app, or scaling it should it ever become popular.
I quickly realized the single thing stopping me from releasing my creation was, well, me.
It was at that moment I had a sudden awakening. It occurred to me that the world doesn't need "my version of yet another generic podcasting app". Instead of cramming all the feature ideas I had, I decided to focus on one only and this one idea would drastically change the nature of the app I was building.
And while I'd love to show everyone what the app looks like today, I thought it would be fun to share the progression of my podcast app over the past year and a half.
I first started messing around with some ideas back in June of 2012. After writing down a few goals for the app and features I wanted to include, I fired open Photoshop and went to work.
This was my first attempt at designing a podcast app. This was a year and a half ago and since then many apps that I was comparing my design and features against have changed dramatically. However I'll point out a few ideas I was thinking at the time (it's been a while since I've looked at these so my recall on decisions may be fuzzy):
- These were unfinished, and as such the icons I used in the top tab bar weren't the icons I was planning on using. For this design I was trying out the idea of having the tab bar on the top, which would allow me to utilize the mini-player located at the bottom without conflict. Ultimately I don't think it worked well and I doubt I would have continued with the tabs at the top. There are a few other unfinished design errors, such as the tab indicator being in the same place for all the views.
- Much of the design looks similar to existing podcast apps, specifically the text layout for each episode, something I remember to be frustrated with, but didn't fix for this.
- The mini-player at the bottom is something I really fell in love with. I liked the idea of having something at the bottom of the screen that would allow me to jump to the "now playing view" or at a glance check out my progress while navigating elsewhere in the app.
- For whatever reason I added textures and shadows all over the place. This was before iOS 7 came out and "flat design" was cool, but fear not, I came to my senses.
- On my second iteration I focused on improving a few UI issues, the most apparent being the tab bar, which now sits at the bottom. The "now-playing" view has been swapped out in favor of a tab icon displaying the album art for what's playing (not something I was a fan of).
- I've started to mess around with proper icons in the tab bar, but they are still incomplete and inaccurate.
- The playlist view is where I think it gets interesting. One of the features I wanted to implement was some sort of social functionality into the app to aid in discoverability. At the top of this view is another tab bar with "Activity" incorrectly highlighted. This would enable the user to check out what episodes their friends or people they follow had listened to. I did not complete the activity view unfortunately for this version.
After struggling to design what I wanted to create in the prior versions, I decided to take a different approach.
- Gone are the textures! While a few shadows remain, it's not nearly as shadow-y as the previous versions. The background has a light grey gradient, and feels a bit more like iOS 7 (this was before I knew what iOS 7 would look like).
- The playlist view has a two-way scroll, where the user can scroll up and down to view different playlists and side-to-side for each episode. I found this to be interesting but not practical if the user has a long list of content.
- I also toyed with the idea of displaying download progress over the album art which is another thing I didn't end up liking.
- The show view is starting to look more interesting this time around. I wanted to keep things simple and removed the show description (since it was being truncated anyway) and removed the border around the cells.
I didn't get very far with either of these layouts before I started my next iteration.
After liking the direction I took with version 0.3, I decided to take it further. Here I start realizing some of the social features I had imagined in both the show and episode views. I felt this was a step in the right direction, especially with a cleaner UI. This design was also created before anyone outside Apple knew what iOS 7 would look like.
- Instead of a "sandwich" button or a tab bar, I opted for page-scrolling between the different views. Each page would be ordered logically based upon what a user would typically want to see, starting with "Unfinished" episodes, then "Latest Episodes", "Shows" and finally "Catalog".
- The social aspect shown display people whom you follow or are friends with on social networks. The plan was to keep this opt-in as it isn't essential to the app's functionality, but does aid with show discoverability.
- The "now playing" bar at the bottom is back, allowing you to pause/play and view progress at a glance. Tapping this bar would activate the full player.
Here I attempt to further refine some of the design elements from the previous iteration and even implement a few views in iOS itself (see videos below).
I began to feel like this design was really coming together, but I felt it could use an outsider's take.
After consulting with my good friend Josh Collie on my designs, we worked together to create this next series of layouts. The work here was created by Josh and is based upon my ideas and designs.
Although similar to my original designs, I thought this direction had simplified many of the design elements I had used previously, while bringing attention to key features. Gone are the social attributes as I was going to drop them for now and include them in a later update.
Josh and I worked for several more months on these designs, further refining them until I decided to change the direction of the project. I'm still actively working on a podcast app, but I felt that what this variation delivered wasn't "special" or different enough from what was already available, or what would eventually be available.
I hope you've found this an interesting look into what's been keeping me busy. I've never released an iOS app before and I'm very excited to share this project with the world when I'm ready to release it.