Since Tallymander was made a Staff Favorite last month, I’ve noticed that there are more solutions to the tally problem in the App Store than when I began.
There are, of course, many ways to skin a cat. For me, Tallymander does the job best because I built it to my exact desires. Still, while many elements of design are subjective, there are good and bad ways to do things. Let’s look at some of the other approaches to the tally challenge.
A few things jump right out:
Inefficient use of space: The entire width of the iPhone’s screen is available to each tally cell, but the tally title is confined to a much more limited area. The title is the only element that the user can customize beyond the rails of your design — give it some room.
Unfriendly controls: A good, obvious rule is that the larger a control is, the easier it is to interact with. This is why, for example, the title bar of a window ends up being much larger than the controls to close it. You use the title bar more. It’s a puzzling choice, then, that Tally Max’s plus and minus buttons are the same size, since any given counter is likely to flow mostly in one direction. In Tallymander, the entire table view cell is the button. You’ve got a big, fat, 320 x 60 target to hit to accomplish your task.
Unmotivated interface: I have a neurotic obsession with LEDs. I have always loved them. That’s why they appear in pretty much every interface I’ve ever designed. Tallymander’s seven-segment counters exist because they’re readable and because I love how they look. I lovingly built each numerical glyph in Photoshop with the pen tool and spent hours tweaking the glows and highlights for each color. In Tally Max’s case, the counters are just flat output from a commonly available font. If the author didn’t want to bother motivating their appearance, why not use a simple text label, like Calculator does, and get a competitive edge from the ability to count beyond 9,999?
Tally Max makes other decisions I don’t agree with. Tallies are tied to calendar dates and they reset each day, with a record stored for previous days. It also organizes tallies into categories, which could be useful, but puzzlingly, you create new tallies from the Categories view instead of the Tally view. It’s weird and, ultimately, trying to do too much.
The one inarguably bad bit about Tally Max, though, is this note on its App Store page, screenshot taken 3/20/09:
That feels like a show-stopper. I would remove my app from sale until that business was resolved.
Clicker Tally Counter Plus
This app has a terrible name. I’m fortunate in having a girlfriend whose beauty is matched by an arresting, powerful wit and who comes up with terrific branding to replace my awful project codenames. I sympathize with the challenges involved here. At the same time, the name is very descriptive, so while it gets no points for imagination it will be easily found on the App Store.
The interface is simply gorgeous. I like the aesthetic a great deal, hearkening as it does to chunky, clicky analog gadgets of forgotten days. The font selection is tasteful and motivated to the overall look and feel of the interface. Bang up job.
For me, I sometimes find myself wanting to count multiple things at once. This app doesn’t address that need especially well, but it’s still the one I would pick if I had to choose something that wasn’t Tallymander.
Meh. The button lighting isn’t even consistent.
Game Keeper Plus
Game Keeper Plus touts itself as a score keeper, but can do other things:
Hmm, okay. I honestly can’t figure out how the hell this application works, though. Here’s another screenshot:
There’s a bit of backchat about the other apps that are built for keeping scores:
This sales copy explains everything, I think. In trying to do so much, it feels like the developer has overwhelmed himself and the user with… a whole lot of stuff. Admittedly, Tallymander wasn’t exactly built with scorekeeping in mind, but for basic game-related tasks I think it does pretty well thanks to a focused, easily-navigated user experience. When you try to do too much, you end up doing too much.
On the subject of doing too much, back to this app being positioned as a stat tracker for non-game related stuff:
That’s fine; I think everyone here, myself included, isn’t doing much more than building digital versions of the abacus. Still, with so much game-related terminology baked into the UI, it’s tough to create a pitch for this app’s versatility outside the scope of tracking scores. The user ends up having to build a mental translation table between the meaning of the game-related words and whatever custom use they’ve imagined for themselves.
I don’t know what the deal is with those eyewatering, heavily aliased pie charts, either.
Every problem space has a multitude of ways to approach its solution. This is a great example of that truth. Each of these apps brought different spins to the task of counting things, with varying levels of success. Gruber’s maxim about iPhone apps is proven once more: Figure out the absolute least you need to do to implement the idea, do just that, and then polish the hell out of the experience.
Except for Clicker Tally Counter Plus (say it five times fast), I think each of these apps could probably do with trimming some amount of functionality in favor of making cleaner, more easily navigated experiences. Remember that the iPhone screen is a cramped, tightly-packed place and that mobile users are hasty, impatient people. The less stuff your users have to navigate and the less time they spend having to consider their options, the happier they will be. Functionality and power is good, but it’s best if you can tuck it away until the last possible moment before the user actually needs it.
On that note, I wonder what I ought to trim from Tallymander.
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