Few people, I’m sure, have complained about the design of the company’s ubiquitous +1 buttons. Today, however, Google is launching a new design for the +1 button. In order to provide a consistent design across its properties, the new buttons will look similar to the new red and white Google+ icon. As usual, Google is now rolling this new design out to its Google+ Platform Preview Group for testing and will likely roll it out to the public within the next few days.
Even though it’s not clear how successful Google+ actually is, there can be little doubt that the +1 buttons have quickly become widespread across the web.
If you are currently using a +1 button on your site, you won’t have to do anything to your setup. The new design will automatically appear on your site once Google flips the switch.
Google is also making this change on Google+ itself, where the reaction to this change so far has been somewhat mixed.
If the popularity of Google's Chrome browser has shown anything, it's that competition in the browser market is a very good thing for consumers. To counter Chrome's seemingly unstoppable march towards dominance in the browser market, Mozilla has set itself an ambitious roadmap for Firefox in 2012. As part of this roadmap, Firefox will introduce a new look, a Chrome-like new tab page and a dedicated Windows 8 Metro version.
A "Web-Wide People-Centric Identity System" and "A Complete Web Apps Ecosystem"
In a statement attached to the roadmap, the Firefox team lays out some of its overall strategies for approaching the future of Firefox. Most importantly, Mozilla acknowledges that "the Web is more than just the desktop browser." Because of this, the group plans to introduce a "web-wide people-centric identity system, a complete web apps ecosystem, and a no-compromises mobile browser" in 2012. Mozilla, of course, has long been working on prototypes for its identity system and announced plans for an app store-like experience for web apps (again, something Chrome already offers) more than a year ago now. Until now, though, none of these have actually arrived as full-grown products and we've only seen prototypes so far.
New Features for Firefox in 2012
Overall, 2012 promises to be an interesting year for Firefox and one that promises to introduce a number of highly anticipated and useful features.
Here are some of the highlights from the roadmap:[list]
Add-ons Sync: Firefox Sync makes it easy to move between computers and devices. In addition to syncing passwords, bookmarks, and history between Firefox installs, users are going to be able to sync add-ons.
Firefox Hotfix: There are small issues that can occasionally affect Firefox users after a release. Correcting those small issues should not require a full Firefox update. With a new hotfix system, Mozilla can patch minor issues in Firefox without requiring a browser restart.
Proof of concept for Firefox in Windows 8 Metro: In order to deliver a compelling Firefox for Windows 8 Metro experience, we need to understand what's possible. A technology proof of concept is the first step. This is not a Alpha or a Beta, but should demonstrate the feasibility of Firefox in Windows 8 Metro. (Timing here is dependent on when Microsoft releases their Windows 8 consumer preview and developer documentation.)
Firefox Home Tab additions: Firefox's start page, AKA Firefox Home Tab, is where users start their browsing session and where they land when they've closed their last tab. In addition to easy search, Firefox Home will become a launch point for managing all of your Firefox data
Silent Update: The Firefox update process will be moved to the background and Windows admin passwords and/or UAC prompts will be removed. Also, users with the rare incompatible extension will have a gentler upgrade process.
Firefox Focus/Reader Mode: Despite the rise of multi-media on the Web, reading is still the most common web activity. We will make reading long-form content a wonderful experience with a user-activated re-formatting and re-styling of the page that puts focus on the content rather than ads and navigation.
Late last year, Google announced a new design for the navigation menu that sits at the top of virtually every Google product. A gray Google Bar with a drop-down menu hidden in the Google logo (the Google Menu) was supposed to replace the black bar, but that update never quite arrived. A few people saw the gray Google Bar now and then, but it was never rolled out consistently. Now we know why. Google just announced that it has gone back to the drawing board after it realized that "there were some elements of the new bar that we could improve."
Gone is the drop-down menu – which, when I had access to the gray bar for a while was indeed a user interface nightmare. Instead, Google is keeping the black navigation bar and is basically keeping the current design in place. What it will roll out to all users, though, is the unified search box and the Google+ sharing and notifications feature.
When Google announced the new design, there was no indication that this would be a very slow rollout and even when I asked Google about an update a few weeks ago, the company told me that it planned to roll the Google bar and menu out to all users "in the coming weeks." In a sense, I guess, that was true – though it's quite different Google bar the company is rolling out now.
Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution, has been experimenting with a number of interface designs lately. Today, the project's founder Mark Shuttleworth announced that the next major version of Ubuntu, 12.04 LTS, will feature a replacement for the menu bar. This "Head-Up Display" (HUD) is more akin to well-known Mac utilities like QuickSilver and Alfred. The idea here is to eventually replace the global menu in Ubuntu's Unity interface – which is similar to the menu bar at the top of the screen in OS X – with a more keyboard driven "vocabulary UI" approach that can understand the user's intent without having to search through an application's menu system.
Ubuntu 12.04 will still feature traditional menus, but introduce the HUD as an alternative to the current design.
Shuttleworth notes that Ubuntu's user testing found that most users spend a lot of time navigating menus, either to learn about a program's functionality or to take an action. Menus, says Shuttleworth, serve two functions: "They act as a standard way to invoke commands which are too infrequently used to warrant a dedicated piece of UI real-estate, like a toolbar button, and they serve as a map of the app’s functionality, almost like a table of contents that one can scan to get a feel for ‘what the app does.’"
In order to improve on this concept, Ubuntu wants to create a system that allows users to express their intent. Current menu-driven systems, says Ubuntu, require users to read too much, even though they already know what they want to do. They are hard to use from the keyboard (unless you already know an application's shortcuts) and "force developers to make often arbitrary choices about the menu tree."
The HUD concept allows users to simply say what they want to do and then do it. Thanks to fuzzy matching and its ability to learn and then prioritize commands you regularly use, this approach should give advanced users an advantage over the menu system.
One problem this approach doesn't solve, though, is giving users an idea of a program's capabilities. At least with regular menus, you can figure out what an app can actually do by just browsing through the menu tree.
Ubuntu has been widely criticized for its move to the relatively non-standard Unity interface. This announcement today will surely have its critics as well, though I have to give Ubuntu some props for trying relatively radical new things – something more established mainstream companies like Apple and Microsoft can't really do at this point.
The design options include tools for creating CSS gradients (to make your buttons look better, for example) and the ability to create up to 26 unique “color swatches” within a single theme. The jQuery blog features a full run-down of the apps’ features.
Another nifty features of ThemeRoller is that it integrates with Adobe’s Kuler App Service. This provides even those developers with very little design sense with libraries of interesting color sets developed by the user community there.
Once finished, developers can then download their creations for use in their own project. You can also collaborate on designs by sharing a URL to your theme with your friends and coworkers.
Google today updated the stable version of Chrome and introduced its redesigned New Tab page to those mainstream users who are not using the more cutting-edge release channels Google offers for its browser. In addition, Google also launched a redesigned app store for Chrome, which now features large images instead of the small icons that previously dominated the homepage.
New New Tab Page
The new New Tab page doesn’t come as a surprise to those who have been using Google’s Beta, Dev or Canary builds over the last few weeks. Whenever you open a new tab now, Google will show you thumbnails of your most often visited sites. You can also navigate to your apps from there as well. It’s worth noting that the early release channels of Chrome also feature a bookmark tab on the New Tab pages (though it isn’t functional right now). The New Tab page also allows you to reopen tabs you recently closed.
Redesigned Chrome Web Store
As for the Chrome Web Store, the changes are quite dramatic. The earlier version was a jumble of icons, ratings and different categories (you can still see it if you visit the site with Internet Explorer, Opera or Firefox). This new version is basically one large wall of images. As you scroll over the images, the thumnails flip over and a description of the app appears.
Discoverability in app stores has long been a major problem for developers and it remains to be seen if this new version of the Chrome Web Store will make things easier for developers. At first glance, it would seem the new layout will reward those apps that have flashy logos and screenshots, as the homepages for the various categories look like they are curated by Google.
Over the last few weeks, Google has been slowly rolling out new designs for virtually all of its web-based products, including Google Search, Gmail, Good Docs and Maps. Today, Google News joined these products and the company’s news aggregation service now sports a new design as well. Besides the cleaner look with more whitespace and less clutter, Google also decided to stress the personalization feature by highlighting it more clearly at the top of the page.
In terms of features, nothing has changed with this new design. Google user experience designer Jasson Schrock did note in today’s announcement, though, that we will see more changes to the layout and design of the site in the coming months.
For the time being, this new design is only available for users in the U.S., but Google plans to bring this new look to international users in the coming months.
Microsoft today launched a new interface for Bing Maps, the company’s Google Maps competitor. The Bing team mostly focused on changing the layout of toolbar at the top of the screen, which now consolidates virtually all of the features that were, as Microsoft puts it, “scattered throughout the page.” Bing Maps now also has some country-specific features, including access to more detailed public transit maps and Ordnance Survey-style maps of London for users in the UK, for example. (more…)