Tapestry: What About?

On Mastodon, Alex Chaffee points out some of Tapestry’s shortcomings. These are all valid concerns and I’ll deal them individually here (rather than with a long toot thread).


Building for iOS first is a strategic choice. There is a lot of work to do here, and many new concepts that need to be designed and developed, so we’re picking our battles carefully.

Personally, I’d prefer to do a macOS client first, but iOS is a choice that makes the product available to as many folks as possible.

We also get asked a lot about supporting Android and that’s something, like macOS, that we will look at after we have a strong footing with this new concept.

But what about the web?

Another platform we get asked about frequently: can Tapestry be a web app? We covered this in a FAQ, but I’d like to add a little more detail here.

The only way a web app could be done is if there’s a server to marshal requests to the various services. Since we want the privacy and independence of a device-only design, that option is off the table.

If you’re working in a single browser window as a web app, you put all of your code into a single secure JavaScript context. That’s not a problem, but any code you pull in will need things to communicate with all of the services, and in most cases that will leak private authentication data like OAuth/JWT keys and tokens. All it takes is one malicious plug-in to make your life hell.

The root of the problem is that Tapestry’s fundamental design is different than a web browser. The easiest way to think about: it’s an app that asks a bunch of browser tabs if they have anything new to show. Each tab is secure and none of them know what the others are doing. The results that each tab provides are aggregated and displayed to the user.

This design is wholly different from the web we’ve known, but is just as flexible and adaptable. Building a new thing for the community of the open web is what excites me most about this project. Giving folks tools to be creative is what the web has always been about.

Closed source

Right now, the core of Tapestry is closed source. We have put some components up on GitHub and are also fully documenting an open API to that proprietary core. Teaching is a part of that openness.

Again, we are in the very early days of this project and have no idea where things will head. It’s like if you had asked me in 2006 if a shithead would be running the show in 2024.

I think it’s important to think about how Netscape Navigator was a proprietary product until Mozilla happened. Establishing a new idea is a first step; letting it flourish is another.

All I can say at this point is that I’m fully committed to letting this idea flourish.


There is no such thing as a proper web scraper for authenticated content. It’s a cat-and-mouse game where the scrapee wins in the end. We have every reason to believe that Facebook or Instagram will go to great lengths to protect “their” data.

On the other hand, if you want to get standardized information from a page, such as OpenGraph, that’s already something we’re doing.


The prototype I built (named Muxer) was able to post to Mastodon and Micro.blog. But it’s a harder problem than you first think.

The issue is that each service has a different set of capabilities. On Bluesky, you can’t post video. On Mastodon, you can post polls. With RSS, you can’t post at all. Size limits and file formats differ wildly (including between Mastodon instances).

You quickly end up in a situation where a user interface gets confusing. For example, you have a video ready to post on Mastodon and decide that you’d also like to send it to Bluesky. As soon as you do that, the post button gets disabled and it’s hard to explain to a user why that happened.

It’s also not clear in my mind if cross-posting between services is a good thing or not. Once you have an app that can display information from many different sources, it quickly gets annoying to see duplicates.

As we learn more about this product, and what people want from it, we’ll have a better idea of how to handle posting.

And more…

I’m always happy to talk about Tapestry and explain the thought processes behind it. If you have questions or concerns not covered here, please feel free to reach out on Mastodon.

And, of course, everyone at the Iconfactory would love your support for Project Tapestry.

The Timer in watchOS 10

The new visual appearance and functionality of watchOS 10 is a welcome change. There was clearly a lot of design and engineering effort put into this new interface and the improvements are tangible for most apps.

Unfortunately, the app that I use the most on the Apple Watch has lost much of its usability, both in functionality and accessibility.

I’m talking about the Timer app.

The team designing watchOS clearly knows what it’s doing. Using the infinitely large corners of the Apple Watch display to leverage Fitt’s Law shows remarkable insight. The new gestures, while unfamiliar at first, feel like they will be as transformative as when phones no longer had Home buttons.

The only explanation I can find for the Timer’s design regressions is an unfamiliarity with some use cases. In the following critique, I’ll focus on how the watch is used in the kitchen and how older customers struggle with the new layout. Suggestions will be kept to a minimum: the effort here is to be descriptive, not prescriptive.


The Timer has been my favorite app since it debuted in the first version of watchOS. It was basic: you could only set one timer and you had to do it manually (there were no presets).

Why was this interface so useful to me? Because I spend a lot of time cooking.

My watch became the perfect timer. It went with me wherever I was making a meal. No more situations where you set a reminder in the kitchen and don’t hear it go off because you are outside at the barbecue.

The next version of the Timer added presets for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, and 30 minutes along with settings for 1 or 2 hours. This, to me, was the pinnacle of its design on watchOS. Why?

Those time settings, placed in a neat grid, provided all the functionality I needed. I only used the first six timers, but I used them often.

But more importantly, the navigation of that magic grid could be done without hands. Any cook can tell you that there are times where uncooked food on your hands is either dangerous or messy. Dressing a chicken, gutting a fish, or making meatballs are all times where you will not want to touch an Apple Watch.

Instead, you will navigate with your nose.

That’s right, a capacitive screen works with any part of your body. I can easily start a new timer or cancel a ringing timer just by holding it up to my face. And when you’re cooking, you do that often.

Which leads to the next interation of the watchOS Timer. The addition of Recents made getting to the 1/3/5/10/15/30 settings more challenging because scrolling with your nose is significantly more difficult. Thankfully, once you positioned the magic grid on the device, going into and out of timers could be done quickly and easily.

And the efficency of selecting a timer is very important when you are setting a dozen of them every hour. How can that happen?

Cooking Times

So now let’s look at some of the specific things that cooks need from the Timer app. To give you an idea of the basic challenge, you can ask this simple question:

How long does it take to carmelize an onion?

The correct answer is: “I have no idea”. There are too many factors involved:

  • How much water content is in the onion?
  • How large is the onion?
  • What’s the ambient temperature in the kitchen?
  • What kind of pan are you using?
  • What’s your current elevation?

What you do know is that it will take about 15 minutes for the onion to soften up at a medium heat. And then you check it. And probably lower the heat and set a timer for 10 minutes. And check it again. And then probably do a 3 or 5 minute timer on low heat a couple times. And when that’s done, you go with one minute and do your best to not burn them. This is how you end up setting a dozen timers in an hour.

All cooks have this inherent knowledge: when a recipe says “15 minutes” you know that means “check it at 10 minutes” and go from there. I don’t even trust times on frozen pizzas: are you absolutely sure that your oven temperature is 425º F?

This is exactly why the magic grid in the Timer app is so important. It has all the common checkpoints a cook needs. It’s also why Recents are a non-feature while cooking: after you’ve done your 5 minute checkpoint and go back to Recents you need a timer for one minute but 5, 30, 15, and 3 are the most recent.

Another aspect to cooking is that you’re typically in a hurry and juggling multiple tasks. Setting a timer manually is much quicker and safer than relying on Siri. A kitchen also tends to be a noisy place, with multiple conversations and background music. If Siri doesn’t understand what you’ve said, you’re going to end up with burnt onions. 

Growing Older

The challenges of growing older are numerous, but the one that I struggle with the most is vision. My eyes suck.

If you’re a young designer, you have no idea what’s coming. I didn’t.

It’s common for aging eyes to be affected by presbyopia. The focal difficulties associated with this disease means you have to concentrate more to read small text. That is exacerbated when the text contains repeated symbols. The contrast of the text against a background is also important.

In short, symbols like “01:00” and “10:00” increase cognitive load because they can’t be read at a glance.

Also of note: your health is a much bigger concern as you grow older. You are reminded of your mortality every day when you struggle to put on your socks. The Apple Watch’s health monitoring features become essential as you enter this stage of your life. I’m confident that Apple has a lot of aging users for this device.

It’s likely that the problems faced by a large portion of the customer base aren’t known by a young design team. I’m hoping this essay will help with that.

The Comparison

Now that we’ve covered some of the specific needs of old farts and people who like to cook, let’s look at how changes in watchOS 10 affect both functionality and usability for these groups.

As we discuss these changes, I’ll be referring to the image below which shows how things looked before (left) and after (right) the new watchOS version:

The interface for picking a timer on watchOS 9 (left) and watchOS 10 (right)


The root of the problem on watchOS 10 is that setting a timer is now done in a modal presentation (with a close button in the upper-left corner).

This means that no position is maintained between uses: the Recents are always at the top and have the ordering problem noted above. The magic 1/3/5/10/15/30 grid is only accessible by scrolling.

The new UI is impossible to use hands-free. Cooks who want to set or change a timer while deboning a chicken are out of luck.

This problem could be remedied if the last position in the modal view was maintained as in previous versions of watchOS. If maintaining the scroll position is not possible, an affordance to remove or collapse Recents would help by putting the magic 1/3/5/10/15/30 grid at the top of the view.

Additionally, the All Timers list begins with a big plus button. This breaks the muscle memory associated with 1 minute being in the top-left position – it’s now in the top-right.

In my experience, adding a timer is a rare occurance. I’ve done it twice in the 8 years I have owned an Apple Watch. Both were for laundry: one for a washing cycle and another for a drying cycle.

Putting the big plus button at the end of the list, and closer to Edit, feels like a better solution that makes the list more readable and familiar.


When you compare the screenshots of the previous and current versions you can easily see that watchOS 10 is more consistent. The list is also shorter because favorites have been folded into All Timers. These are both good things.

But the consistency works against me and my failing eyesight. Everything looks the same and it’s difficult to know where I am within the list. (Remember that you only seeing four of the circles on the watch face: there are points while scrolling where you can’t know if you’re in Recents or All Timers.)

As noted above, differentiating between “01:00” and “10:00” takes more effort. Not only is the text smaller, but there’s a lot of extra noise that affects readability. The text in watchOS 9 used “1 MIN” and “10 MIN”, with the numbers presented in an accent color to emphasize the minutes. It was much more readable.

The need for leading and trailing zeros to maintain consistency also leads to a situation where timers that are longer than 59 minutes get smaller text that’s harder to read. Luckily, the need for a 10 hour timer in my life is unlikely, so I don’t have to deal with reading a tiny “10:00:00” and “01:00:00”.

The leading and trailing zeros made some sense in watchOS 9’s Favorites and Recents list where each button’s label aligned well with its siblings. But with the grid layout in watchOS 10, the need for zero padding is not necessary and just feels like visual noise.

(Note that users with VoiceOver hear “one minute”, not “zero one colon zero zero” or “one minute zero seconds”. Visual noise for normal eyesight should be reduced just as it is with the spoken audio.)

My first thought was that these changes on watchOS were an effort to get consistency across platforms, especially with the addition of multiple timers in iOS 17. This does not appear to be the case:

A screenshot showing the layout of timer elements on iOS 17
The Clock app on iOS 17 showing how timers are formatted in various contexts.

I have also wondered why seconds are shown as a part of the standard format on watchOS. I’m sure there are people that set timers for 12 minutes and 34 seconds, but they are certainly the outliers. When was the last time you had a pizza that needed 11:45 in the oven or a load of laundry that took 45:11?

People think in minutes, so minimize their cognitive load by focusing on that unit of time. By doing this, you could improve accessibility for everyone by using BIGGER NUMBERS on a small screen.

(Seconds could be handled in a way similar to the new Modular Ultra watch face. Dimming the trailing seconds would allow someone to know that “1:23” is one minute and 23 seconds and not one hour and 23 minutes. Again, minutes are the thing that’s most important to people.)

In summary, this is a rare case where less consistency would make for a better and more accessible user interface.

One final accessibility problem in the new Timer app is when one completes. Here is what you see, both with and without accessibility features turned on:

A comparison of the finished timer on watchOS 10 - the text is slightly larger in the image on the right.
Bold text in the default size (left) and with increased contrast and size (right)

The image on the left has bold text turned on with the default text size. On the right, you see what happens when you make the text size larger and increase the contrast.

The timer length on this screen is not accessible and cannot be improved with accessibility settings. The dim text on a bright orange background is incredibly hard for me to read. I think the information hierarchy is the root of the problem.

“Done” is not the most important thing on this screen when you have a timer that completes: the length of what just finished is most significant. People will know what a bright orange screen and ringing means. They may not know which timer fired, and that can only be determined by reading “1 MIN” in dimmed out text at a much smaller size.

While counting, the current state of the timer belongs in large white text. When the count is complete, the length of the timer that finished has that same level of importance. This significance increases when you have multiple timers.

(Confusing timers with similar lengths is an easy thing to do: I nearly screwed up two COVID tests at a time when they were in extremely short supply. This happened because I didn’t notice the “5 MIN” and “15 MIN” text.)

At least the timer text in the screenshots above is not “01:00”. Please don’t make this consistent, too.


I’m honestly not looking forward to the next year with the Timer app. It’s going to be an irritation dozens of times every day.

My only hope is the other great improvements in watchOS 10, especially with workouts and activity tracking, will make up for it. 🤞

If you need to get in touch with me about any of this, there’s FB13212554. If you’re a developer who feels similarly about these regressions, please dupe this feedback (it’s a copy of this blog post). Otherwise, you can send your comments to Apple directly.

Lame, Until it Isn’t

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And as we approach WWDC 2022, there’s a lot of smoke around AR and VR. In some ways, this is going to be a huge inflection point, in other ways, it’s probably going to be a letdown.

Remember when the iPod was announced? Some folks called it lame because it didn’t meet their expectations.

The same thing will be true of anything Apple wants us to put on our face. It’s going to less impressive technically than any of the currently shipping products. And that’s good, because you don’t make fundamental changes by tweaking existing technologies. A Nomad audio player was a tweak. An Oculus headset is a tweak.

Everything we’ve seen to date with VR has been an attempt to bring information to a 3D world. Headsets are just a means to project that 3D environment so our eyes can see it.

I think Apple’s approach with AR will be completely different: they will bring 3D to an information world.

We all have the greatest source of information humankind has ever known in our pocket or purse. Much of that information relates to the world around us: weather, transportation, shopping, dining, etc. Relating that data to our physical space will be a powerful tool.

All the AR examples we’ve seen on Apple’s devices hint at this direction. They take the information on our phone and place it at derived 3D coordinates. Where people get tripped up in these demos is where the results are shown: on a standard screen.

I don’t think that’s Apple’s final goal, because any current screen technology will block your view of the real world. It’s also why I think 3D headsets will remain a niche technology: people have innate need to see what’s going on around them.

Our current  screens also use a lot of power. And that means batteries. And that means weight. Not what I want on my face, for sure.

Apple knows this and that’s why I think a new display system is the thing they’re taking time to get right. We may or may not see this new display at WWDC. I can remember a time when all we had for an iPad was a simulator.

The changes caused by a new display will be incremental. There will certainly be technical limitations in the product that are imposed by size and weight: Apple will improve on those things as components allow.

Other changes will happen because no one, including Apple, really knows how this display will be used by normal folks (we, I should note, are not normal folks). The first Apple Watch tried to do a lot of things: iteration got rid of things no one used, and improved the things everyone wanted.

It’s likely that a first iteration will also be a “satellite device” where the iPhone does the heavy lifting. Much like the original iPod relied on a Mac. The realityOS could be nothing more than widgets for a new display on your face.

That will feel lame until you realize something else: after two decades, the basic form factor and functionality of that first iPod is now an essential part of our lives and we call it an iPhone. Don’t underestimate Apple’s ability to iterate.

Consistency Sin

This past summer we narrowly avoided a major user interface regression on Apple devices. The story ended well, but I think it’s important to look back on the situation and ask a simple question:

Why did this happen in the first place?

My answer is something I call “consistency sin”. Understanding the cause lets us avoid similar situations in the future.

Your first reaction to this nomenclature may be, “Isn’t consistency a good thing in user interfaces?”

Absolutely! Colors, fonts, and other assets should be similar within an app. Combined they help give the user a sense of place and act as a guide through an interface. And in many, cases these similarities should be maintained across platforms. There’s no sin there.

But you can get into trouble when this consistency starts to affect the user experience.

Design is not how it looks, it’s how it works.

Steve Jobs said a lot of smart things, but I use this advice most often.

The roots of consistency sin take hold when folks disregard the inherent differences between platforms. A greater importance is placed on making sure things match visually: how a person uses that design takes a back seat.

Platform controls and interface elements can differ at a fundamental level. The mouse is optimized for indirect interaction while a screen is optimized for direct interaction.

For the most part, developers are shielded from these details through the use of standard components that conform to the Human Interface Guidelines.

Enter Safari

Higher level interactions are driven by the type and quantity of information the user is working with.

To use Safari as an example, I can have hundreds of tabs open while I work on my Mac; on iOS it’s usually less than a dozen. Safari on iOS is also a full screen experience, while multiple windows and interactions with other applications are common on macOS.

Safari’s new tab design on iOS works great for me: swiping between tabs of fullscreen content is a better interaction for a limited number of pages. The grid of pages as a fallback for selection also works well for managing what I want to keep around.

The consistency sin in Safari was to come up with a good design for iOS and assume that it would also work well on iPadOS and macOS. It practice, these new tabs were difficult to use in a different work environment.

Luckily the folks working on Safari did the smartest thing possible: they listened to feedback and fixed the issues before shipping. That’s an important thing for a product that every Apple customer uses every day on every device.

It’s one thing to make a mistake, it’s a wholly different thing to deny that anything’s wrong. So let’s take a look at another example.

Notifications, Too

Notifications also suffer from consistency sin.

I look at my iPhone Lock Screen dozens of times each day, and sometimes just to just view a reminder or some other short notification. It’s quick, simple, and minimizes distractions.

On my Mac I see the Lock Screen only once or twice per day for just a few seconds as I enter a password. That means notifications occur while I’m actively working.

Again, consistency sin looks for a single solution that ignores my needs. On macOS I don’t want a minimal solution that is suitable for a mobile device. I want options that let me quickly dismiss or defer an item that’s interrupting my work. (And I certainly don’t want to hunt around in the window for a hidden control that lets me access a function.)

Placement is also an issue: on iOS controls tend toward the bottom of the screen (for reachability). The opposite is true on macOS where they tend  toward the top of the screen so they’re closer to the menu bar and window controls. Consistency sin says that notifications should always be at the top of the screen.

With iOS, there’s a nice visual and functional separation between app interactions in the lower half of the screen and notifications in the upper half. On the Mac, notifications are just another thing fighting for real estate at the top of the screen.

We’ve Only Just Begun

The bad news is that we’re likely to have more consistency sin in our future, thanks to Electron and other cross platform frameworks.

While development teams try to attain feature parity, experience parity will suffer. Everyone who’s used an iOS app and immediately thought “this is a web page” will know what that means.

There is a long history of user interface frameworks that make work easier for a product team. Every time, these solutions end up being a least common denominator that makes it more difficult for customers. Don’t be surprised when they complain: as they did for Safari, and as they do for Notifications.

If you’re a designer or developer, it’s your job to push back on the notion of consistency when it begins to affect a user’s experience. Remember design is how it works, and work is not the same on every device. 

Triode and Internet Radio

Today, the Iconfactory is happy to introduce a product that’s made with three different apps: Triode. Simply put, it’s the best way to enjoy all of your favorite Internet radio stations, wherever you go.

So why did I make these apps?

A Brief History of Internet Radio

Before I can answer this question, it helps to know a bit about where I live. Laguna Beach is surrounded on three sides by a coastal range that blocks any broadcast from the Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas. A signal’s only clear shot is from the Pacific Ocean, where there are no radio towers.

I moved to Laguna in the mid-1990’s — as you probably know, that was a time when the Internet was starting to take off.

Progressive and independent radio stations immediately saw the Internet as way to extend their reach: WXYC was the first station to broadcast a stream in 1994. Many others soon followed.

I saw it as a way to overcome the physical limitations of where I lived. And in the process, I discovered a lot of interesting sounds from all over the world.

In short, Internet radio is nothing new and I’ve been listening to it since the late 1990’s.

Old Meets New

What is new are the array of devices we can use to listen to radio streams. In the beginning, my only option was a desktop computer, but now I also carry a powerful device in my pocket and have another one attached to my TV.

These devices also have advanced capabilities like multi-room audio with AirPlay 2, a CarPlay interface while driving, automation with Siri shortcuts, and iCloud data syncing. They’re also highly accessible thanks to VoiceOver.

Yet many radio stations provide free apps that are cross-platform and can’t take advantage of the features that Apple provides its developers. In fact, many of these apps are basically a view that use the same JavaScript-based player on the station’s website.

I saw an opportunity to do something better.

Always With Me

Early in 2018, Triode got its start on tvOS as a way to listen to music while relaxing on the couch. I loved that so much, I then wanted it while working on my Mac. Then, while out and about with my iPhone and AirPods. A simple idea was blossoming.

The challenge quickly became creating a unified experience across three different devices and input mechanisms. Building a user interface that worked natively with a TV remote, a mouse, and your finger was a challenge!

Overcoming this hurdle had a real benefit: it’s pretty awesome to find a great station on your Mac while you work, and have it automatically show up on your iPhone during a commute, or on your TV as you relax in the evening.

Early in the development process it became apparent that great artwork was an important part of the experience. Seeing a beautiful new album cover has always been essential part of discovering an artist or track. It became a central element of our unification effort.

This effort also helped refine my thoughts on the future of interaction on Apple’s platforms. And, as it turns out, SwiftUI.

A Place of Discovery

With the help of my colleagues, the user interface and interaction started shaping up. The task then became how to introduce folks to Internet radio.

Most existing players have another flaw: they promote quantity over quality. It sounds impressive to tout tens of thousands of stations — until you realize that a lot of them aren’t very good. Clearly, some curation was needed.

Over the years, I had accumulated a collection of favorite stations. This formed the core of the “Our Picks” in Triode.

While thinking about how to extend this group of stations, it became clear that they all had one thing in common: they were independent and listener-supported.

These stations have have long been a place to discover new music. They’re often associated with a college or university that has a student body looking for the latest and greatest. The lack of commercial pressures also provides an environment where new acts can get their first bread and established artists can do something unexpected.

Every major artist used to be someone you had never heard of, and Internet radio played a major part in that transformation.

That spirit guided our curation of “Our Picks”, while “Find a Station” provides quick access to thousands of stations from around the world. Both will become “Your Favorites” and automatically get synced to all your devices.

Privacy First Design

Last, but certainly not least, Triode was designed with your privacy in mind.

Unfortunately, today’s Internet is full of trackers. If you’re using a web-based stream or app, its likely that your listening habits and other metrics are being collected.

In Triode, the only information provided to broadcasters is your IP address. And since we don’t display any ads in the app, that’s one less thing for marketeers to know about you.

And More

The Triode website has more details and this review at MacStories goes into great detail about how the app looks and works on the different platforms.

It’s been a blast making these apps — I hope you enjoy them!