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Author Topic: Great functionality - now make it pretty to use  (Read 5089 times)
cpac
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« on: March 15, 2011, 12:06:56 pm »

Hello.  I'm an attorney and I've been using Billings Touch for the past year or so to track my time on my iPhone.  After getting a bit frustrated with some of Billings Touch's shortcomings (and the developer's lack of interest in improving it in the near term), I started looking for a replacement and found Time Master, which I've purchased and have been using for the last week or so.

You have built an app with excellent functionality!  But the interface is not as polished as it could be, and I'm hoping my suggestions could be of help in that regard.  If you'd like me to elaborate on any point, just let me know.

(1) There appears to be a bit of redundancy in the interface, making the screen feel crowded at times.  For example, in the Time Entries screen there are at least two redundancies:

--"Time Entries" is highlighted at the bottom AND I have a large black bar at the top reading "Time Entries";
--There is black button in the bottom left that says "Today" or "Yesterday" or whatever AND a grey bar at the bottom of the entries that reads "Filtered by Yesterday".

These redundancies take up precious screen real estate and make it harder to recognize the information I really care about.  As an example of how this could be cleaned up:  In the top black bar, eliminate "Time Entries" and replace it with buttons for the date and client/project/task filter.  I'd suggestion using icons rather than words (e.g. calendar with funnel on it for date filter) as they can be hidden better than

(2) When changing dates or filters throughout the app, Time Master put the rolling selector thing at the bottom half of the screen, and turns the top half into a grey stripped wasteland, which is quite disorienting.  It would be better if whatever it is we are editing remained visible in the top half of the screen.

(3) It would be helpful if I could change the start time of running time entries.  (E.g. if I forget to change it when I go to a meeting, but remember 5 minutes in - I should be able to push the start time back by five minutes right away rather than waiting until the meeting ends).

(4) I happen to think the column headings of "Date" "Client" and "Time" or "Total" are overly large, again taking up more screen real estate than necessary and distracting me from the relevant information below.

I'm sure I'll have additional comments as they come along, but those are most of them for now.  I think you've got an excellent product going, which could be made better if only it had a bit more polished interface.
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Adam
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« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2011, 03:12:48 pm »

Hello.  I'm an attorney and I've been using Billings Touch for the past year or so to track my time on my iPhone.  After getting a bit frustrated with some of Billings Touch's shortcomings (and the developer's lack of interest in improving it in the near term), I started looking for a replacement and found Time Master, which I've purchased and have been using for the last week or so.

You have built an app with excellent functionality!  But the interface is not as polished as it could be, and I'm hoping my suggestions could be of help in that regard.  If you'd like me to elaborate on any point, just let me know.

Sure, we're always happy to hear feedback from our users!

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(1) There appears to be a bit of redundancy in the interface, making the screen feel crowded at times.  For example, in the Time Entries screen there are at least two redundancies:

--"Time Entries" is highlighted at the bottom AND I have a large black bar at the top reading "Time Entries";

Yes, the Title bar is part of the iOS (iPhone Operating System) and must be there for the controls to work.  The Tab bar on the bottom is how you select which screen you want to be on.  It will highlight the screen that you are working on.  For example, if you go into Reports, the Reports will now be highlighted.  Again this is a necessary part of the iOS.

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--There is black button in the bottom left that says "Today" or "Yesterday" or whatever AND a grey bar at the bottom of the entries that reads "Filtered by Yesterday".

Those are the "Filters" and is the only way that you can activate/change the filters and know what they are set to.  Since we've had problems in the past with users not realizing that they were looking at "filtered" data (they thought that they "lost" records), we found it necessary to also display that line when you have filtered results.  If you are not filtering, that bar will not appear.

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These redundancies take up precious screen real estate and make it harder to recognize the information I really care about.  As an example of how this could be cleaned up:  In the top black bar, eliminate "Time Entries" and replace it with buttons for the date and client/project/task filter.  I'd suggestion using icons rather than words (e.g. calendar with funnel on it for date filter) as they can be hidden better than

That would be impossible as that is handled by the iOS and we are not going to re-write Apple's operating system from scratch.  That would be far too much work.  Sorry.

Quote
(2) When changing dates or filters throughout the app, Time Master put the rolling selector thing at the bottom half of the screen, and turns the top half into a grey stripped wasteland, which is quite disorienting.  It would be better if whatever it is we are editing remained visible in the top half of the screen.

We are limited in what we can "get away with" when developing for the iOS.  In some cases, such as this, this is really our only option for being able to display important information to the users.  We hope that after you get used to it, it will become second nature to you and you won't worry about it as much.  Sad

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(3) It would be helpful if I could change the start time of running time entries.  (E.g. if I forget to change it when I go to a meeting, but remember 5 minutes in - I should be able to push the start time back by five minutes right away rather than waiting until the meeting ends).

When we start a "timer" the timer is an item that is running on a separate process and in the background.  It has to take the time that was set in the entry and do the math on it after you stop the timer.  It would become a real mess if we then had to track that you changed the time from underneath the timer while it is running.  If you need to change the time, you will have to momentarily stop the timer, adjust the time and can then restart the timer.  There is just too much going on there to be able to change/track this information while it is running.

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(4) I happen to think the column headings of "Date" "Client" and "Time" or "Total" are overly large, again taking up more screen real estate than necessary and distracting me from the relevant information below.

We cannot change the size of Apple's iOS like that.  You are the first person to comment on the size of any of the text.  I wonder if you should consider an iPad instead of an iPhone for doing most of you entries?  You could use the iPad when it is convenient and use the iPhone when you don't have the iPad with you.  You could then use our optional Synchronization module to keep the two units in sync.  Just a thought?

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I'm sure I'll have additional comments as they come along, but those are most of them for now.  I think you've got an excellent product going, which could be made better if only it had a bit more polished interface.

We do appreciate the feedback.  I wish I could have been more positive with your suggestions, however when it comes to changing the tools that Apple provides for us, unless we want to try and re-write all the screens and make them custom, that is not going to happen.  That would be a tremendous amount of work to write a complete system from scratch, so unfortunately we are not going to go there with this.  Again, I hope that you will become used to the iOS interface and it won't be too much of a distraction in the future.  I do admit that we are trying to pack a LOT of information in a small space (iPhone screen), but we feel the power and flexibility of Time Master is the most important feature of the app.

Thanks!
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cpac
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Posts: 3


« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2011, 11:40:00 am »

Thanks for the reply Adam.  I certainly do not expect you all to re-write iOS or come up with all sorts of custom interface elements, and I hadn't realized how many of my comments would relate to fundamental iOS limitations.  I'm going to take another look at some of the apps I feel like have cleaner interfaces (e.g. Omnigroup's OmniFocus, or even the dreaded Billings Touch) to see if I can't come up with better suggestions for improvement.

Regarding (3) - I was definitely able to change the start time of running counters in Billings Touch without causing any problem at all.  Is your basic architecture just fundamentally different from theirs?  I would think you'd just record a start time, and the display, when active, would simply compute a running difference from that start time (i.e. why would it need to be running in the background rather than simply stopping when the timer isn't visible, and resuming the calculation of the difference only when the timer is made visible again?).  Since you have to be in a separate screen to change the start time anyway, I would think doing so wouldn't cause any problem at all as the timer would be hidden during the process.

Your suggestion of quickly stopping, adjusting and starting the timer again makes for a mess of sessions.

Again, I want to emphasize that I think you have a really good app, that just needs a bit more polish to become truly great.
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Adam
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Posts: 994



« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2011, 11:52:17 am »

#3.  My guess would be yes that our program is very likely to be very different from anyone else's.  Without trying to reverse engineer their app, I can't really say how they did anything.  To be honest with you I've never looked at the BT app.  I have looked a couple of the others.

Here is one issue.  Say you started a timer at 1 pm.  Now the time is 1:30 pm, you go in and change the start time to 2 pm.  Next you stop the timer.  Should you have a timer of -0.5 hours?  (2 pm - 1:30 pm).  No.  So that is why the Start time is "locked" out, so that we do not have to chase times that got changed from under the timer.

Yes, if you are doing Sessions, that would break it up into a different session.  We will take your suggestion under consideration.  Thanks.
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cpac
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Posts: 3


« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2011, 01:55:04 pm »

Here is one issue.  Say you started a timer at 1 pm.  Now the time is 1:30 pm, you go in and change the start time to 2 pm.  Next you stop the timer.  Should you have a timer of -0.5 hours?  (2 pm - 1:30 pm).  No.  So that is why the Start time is "locked" out, so that we do not have to chase times that got changed from under the timer.

In Billings Touch this results in the times turning red and if you try to save the change you are given an error message and asked to choose times such that the start time is before the end time (which, if the timer is running, is the time at which you started editing).  I would think that sort of fix wouldn't be too difficult to implement.

More broadly, I would suggest that you download and play around with Billings Touch.  It's free until/unless you want to email out invoices or sync with their desktop app.  Seeing as how it received 4.5 mice and a Best In Show from MacWorld, and is one of your more prominent competitors on the App store, I would think it would be worth your while to play around with at least the free version for a while.  If nothing else, you'll learn what to criticize about it to help win you some of their customers.
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Ernesto
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Posts: 83



« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2011, 03:08:20 pm »

cpac, thank you for your feedback. I just wanted to point out that the reason we don't currently allow modifying the start time for the timer while it's running has to do with sessions (the punch in-punch out) times. I just finished rewriting the bulk of that since it was a bit broken in our last release, and to make a long story short, there are some limitations as far as what your start date/time can be depending on the amount of sessions you have recorded in order to ensure that they all fall within a 24 hour period (which needs to be the case, otherwise they won't get reported). We also used to (well, still do until 4.1), save the session data independently of the time entry data, which made tracking changes on either incredibly difficult, and led to some really convoluted corner cases.
We've redesigned the way we do things as far as sessions is concerned for 4.1, and it's an architecture that would allow us to add something like real-time editing of the start time after some careful testing.

While sessions are not mandatory, I think the functionality to do that should be there for both session and non-session users.
So we'll add your request to your wish list, and hopefully we can add the functionality soon.

Thanks again for the feedback and using our product.

Ernesto.
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