Clear Takes App Interface Design Into New Territory

Aulia Masna - 16 February 2012

Not talking about the shampoo. Clear is a brand new iPhone app from Impending and Realmac Software that breaks the mold as far as mobile application interface design is concerned. How it works is very much unlike any other application. It only employs the now familiar gestures and is completely free of interface chrome. It has no navigational buttons, toolbars, or icons. The app is made of colorful strips, text, and audio. Nothing more.

This app takes usability into a brand new territory. The iPhone's arrival in 2007 brought with it a single button environment in which applications take advantage of the freedom presented by the lack of hardwired physical input methods. Clear goes one step further and fully embraces the iPhone's gesture recognition doing away with icons and buttons.

In designing mobile apps, it's easy to rely on the expected input methods, the commonly used practices, the traditional navigational and operational tools, essentially taking the beaten path. Speaking of path, Path 2.0 introduced swirling discs as its navigational tools instead of the more common tab bars found in many apps such as Instagram, Tweetbot, Twitter, Foursquare, and others.

There was an early concern that other apps would quickly adopt the swirly discs of Path and overusing it but it doesn't seem to be the case or at least it's not that common yet, or the web would be awash with stories of apps being accused of copying Path's innovation.

Clear's deceptively intuitive interface represents a shift in interaction design and an expectation that could not have existed without the iPhone's introduction. In an interview with The Next Web, Impending's Phill Ryu said, "Buttons are about the most unsatisfying interaction you can have in a touchscreen device. Just think about it. At least when you’re using a mouse, you click a button, and you’re clicking a button. When you’re using a phone you are smudging glass, and there is absolutely zero feedback."

What Clear represents is an evolution in interface design. It may not be the best task or list app for the iPhone, and certainly not the fullest featured app (it doesn't even sync to anything, at least not yet), but it's the best designed, most straightforward, simplest to use, and cleanest looking among the existing selection of similar apps.

Clear can't be any more spartan than it already is. Consisting of only color strips and text, it works through taps, swipes, pinch zoom and slide gestures. The short tutorial that starts when you first run the app and the video that has been making the rounds over the past several days would be enough to get you familiar with the app. Clear costs US$0.99 during the launch period.

Speaking of mobile apps, if you're in or around Bandung this weekend and interested in iOS development, I'll be talking about the mobile apps business at the ID-Objective Conference on Saturday.


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