Thoughts on Status Board

I know I’m a hardcore nerd when I get giddy with anticipation over the release of an app.

Yet that’s what happened when I saw this tweet from Panic announcing their new iPad app, Status Board. Having long been a fan of their other software -- Transmit and Coda 2 on the Mac, Diet Coda on iOS -- I was instantly excited for the new app. Stellar reviews from Federico Viticci and Chris Gonzales gave me more reason for excitement, so I had no qualms paying my $10 for it.

I’ve been playing with Status Board off and on since its release, and it’s damn impressive. As I said, I’ve been a fan of Panic’s work for awhile now, and Status Board doesn’t disappoint. It’s extremely well done, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for it.

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FIRST, SOME CONTEXT


If there’s one thing I can appreciate about Android, software-wise, it’s the widgets. This is especially true on a tablet, where the larger screen lends itself well to showing little chunks of pertinent information. By contrast, I’ve always felt that iOS on the iPad is lacking in this area, particularly on the Lock screen. For all the praise Apple received for reworking iOS to fit a 9.7-inch space, the Lock screens feels like nothing more than the iPhone’s Lock screen made bigger. As such, there’s a lot of wasted space, space that could be better utilized by adding little chunks of pertinent information. In other words, widgets.

Once I first launched Status Board and saw the interface, my mind immediately thought of widgets. Take this with a grain of salt, though, because what Status Board offers aren’t widgets in the same vein as, say, what’s found on Android. The big difference is that Status Board’s “widgets” aren’t actionable; they’re just static blocks of information that you can’t interact with -- e.g., tapping a mail message doesn’t let you read or reply to it. I don’t mean to imply negativity here; the point is to simply describe what is, from what I’ve read, a deliberate design decision by Panic. If anything, this bit of context is meant to show that the concept behind Status Board is something that I wish Apple would consider elaborating on in future versions of iOS for iPad.

ON DESIGN & USABILITY


As I mentioned, I’m a huge fan of Panic’s other work, and Status Board perpetuates their reputation for high-quality, polished software. The app is gorgeous and easy to use. (The setup guide is especially great.) I must admit that sometimes I open Status Board just to admire its craftsmanship.

There are a couple little things about the interface that I enjoy very much. For one, the “dock” icons on the bottom “bounce” when you tap the Settings button in the top left corner. Tap an icon, and it bounces again, this time with a boop or bleep. But here’s the really cool thing: tap any of the other icons, and they bounce to a different tune. Secondly, I’m able to tap random icons and create a sort of crude jingle, all the while watching them on command jump into the digital air. I very much enjoy the playful design here; it reminds me of Ollie the Bird of Twitterrific fame emerging from his egg and flapping his wings as your timeline refreshes. Implementation details such as these seem trivial, but in my mind, they make the user experience that much better. Kudos to the Panic team for indulging in some joyous user interface design.

In terms of usability, Status Board is pretty straightforward and simple to get going. During the setup process, the app will ask you for permission to access your mail, calendar, and Twitter information. When in Edit mode, tapping on one of the spaces on the board will bring up a popover menu of options related to that space. For instance, tapping the clock will bring up a menu allowing you to set your location, as well as choose between an analog or digital display. In addition, spaces are also easy to remove by tapping the red Remove button. I had my Status Board up and running within a few minutes, with no problems whatsoever.

REALITY CHECK


For as much as I love the concept and design of Status Board, the fact is that I have no legitimate use case for this app. As John Siracusa so eloquently stated on last week’s episode of the Accidental Tech Podcast, Status Board is a niche app that’s really meant for business environments. I don’t need to have my email messages or my Twitter feed constantly running. Likewise, I don’t need to build tables and graphs which show this site’s traffic at all times. But I’m among the lot of people whom Siracusa coined “curious nerds”. Pragmatism notwithstanding, people like me are going to buy Status Board because (a) we know and like Panic; and (b) we’re nerds, so we like to experience this stuff, even if we don’t require a need for such a product.

Beyond the Do I truly need this? sentiment, the real problem with Status Board at this point, at least for me, is the Lock screen. Of course, this is no fault of Panic’s, but that I can’t view my board without always having the app open, frankly, sucks. Maybe Apple will open up access to the Lock screen in the future, but as it stands right now, Status Board isn’t all that useful to me. (Yes, because Status Board requires iOS 5, I could use my out-of-commission iPad 1 for it, but non-Retina grossness. Ew.) Another issue is that I don’t own an HDTV, so paying the $10 in-app purchase to hook it up to a television is out.

Overall, these circumstances are quite disappointing, because Status Board is so thoughtful and well done, it doesn’t deserve to be treated like a novelty. For better or worse, though, that’s what Status Board is to me right now.

INTO THE FUTURE: POTENTIAL


Despite not having use for Status Board currently doesn’t mean it’s forever useless to me. I’m sure the day when come in the not-too-distant future when I’ll find a valid reason to use the app, beyond just superficially gawking at its niceness. Maybe Gaug.es will write a scraper that’ll allow me to view real-time traffic here, or maybe MLB.com will see Status Board and want to create a sort of ticker, who knows. Point being that, again, Status Board is not in want of uses or potential uses. Right now, however, the app doesn’t provide me with a lot of value.

All this said, Federico Viticci has culled together a list of links to various scripts and stuff that allow Status Board to shine as Panic intended. I’m definitely going to keep my eye on this, because I’m very interested to see what the developer community comes up with for the app. As I said, there’s always hope for the future in terms of what Status Board can do for me.

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Chris Gonzales sums up my feelings about Status Board well. From his review:

If they could somehow get this information onto the iPad’s lock screen, that would make it much more useful for me. But as a separate app, I probably won’t spend much time in it except to ogle the pretty graphics from time to time.

Do I regret spending $10 on it? No. Is it an app worth your time? Absolutely, if only to ponder the possibilities. I say get it.