Apps

Instagram app icon gets a makeover

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A few years back, Google introduced a design aesthetic called Material Design – basically this meant a more clean and flat user interface on websites, computers and smartphones.

It was a huge departure from another design concept called skeuomorphism, where designs are made to look like real life objects.

Not sure what we’re talking about? Look at the app icons on your phone, there was a time when icons looked 3D, had bevels and drop shadows. Apple was a big proponent of skeuomorphism, and on the original iPhone the notes app icon resembled a notebook, the camera app icon resembled a camera lens.  

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When material design started taking root, apps were quick to follow the trend, looking flat and for the lack of a better word, basic. Except for one hold-out, Instagram’s app icon has stayed the same all these years.

For an obsessive compulsive like me, it was really annoying. I meticulously curate the apps that appear on my home screen, and the Instagram app stands out like a sore thumb. It’s one of my most frequently used apps but one I’d rather hide than give prominent placement to.

But that’s all changed today. Instagram has a new app icon, and it’s flat!

In a blog post announcing the update, Instagram says the new app icon is inspired by the original, “but with a simpler camera.” The rainbow that once adorned the old logo, “lives on in gradient form.”

According to a separate blog post on Medium, Instagram design head Ian Spalter said he asked everyone in the company to draw the Instagram icon from memory, giving them only 5 seconds. The elements from the original that had the most recall (rainbow, lens, and viewfinder) were incorporated into the new, modern design.

The new icon is essentially a camera still, but instead of the Polaroid which is what Instagram was originally about, the new camera outline represents the shift to smartphone photography – the way most people take photos today.

Spalter writes, “We wanted to create a look that would represent the community’s full range of expression — past, present, and future.”

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Instagram’s other apps Hyperlapse, Boomerang, and Layout also get similar app redesigns.

The redesign isn’t just skin deep. The Instagram app also gets a facelift, looking cleaner than ever. Now its mainly black and white, bringing “more focus on your photos and videos without changing how you navigate the app.”

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We checked, the Instagram update is available on both the iOS app store and Google Play.

Apps

What I learned about myself using Android Pie’s Digital Wellbeing Dashboard

Am I on my phone too much?

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When Android Pie was unveiled and released last week, I pretty much craved pie because everyone was talking about the delectable dessert. But, I was also very excited about one particular feature: The Digital Wellbeing Dashboard.

Image of me actually eating pie the day after the Android Pie unveiling

Announced earlier, this dashboard was supposed to be a ticket to a healthier lifestyle — well, at least in theory. In an effort to curb unhealthy phone user habits, a dashboard that tracks app usage is built in to Android’s newest operating system. Although not available to everyone as of writing, Pixel users (like yours truly) are able to try out the beta version of the dash. Since I’m a sucker for self-actualization and information that may potentially heal (and hurt) me, I tried it out for the last week or so and here’s what I learned.

I’m on my phone — a lot

No sh*t, Sherlock.

I know I’m always looking at these tiny screens but I didn’t realize I was literally living my life in front of it. A record day saw me looking at the screen for — get this — 11 hours and 55 minutes. That’s half a day! Legitimately, that’s the whole time I’m not sleeping. And take note, I review phones so this isn’t the only screen I look at in a day.

Given these numbers, I’m honestly unsure how I get anything else done in my life.

I get a ton of notifications

I mean sure, technology connects people, but I didn’t realize just how connected we are.

According to my data, I get around a minimum of 250 notifications per day and this number varies. At some point, there was a whopping 620 notifications. Let’s think about that for a minute; that means around 51 messages per hour in a 12-hour day. There are only 60 minutes per hour so that means almost a message for each freaking minute.

On average, Facebook Messenger tops the list for these notifications followed by Gmail and Telegram.

I check Instagram more than I should

Now, this is funny because as you just saw, Instagram isn’t on that list of top app notifiers. But, this might also be because I turned off IG notifications because they were distracting me (yay for being self-aware?). This health dashboard tells me that I unlocked my Instagram app most, with as many as 153 times in one day. This was, on average, followed by Facebook and Twitter.

The top three apps I spent time on are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, which just tells me that I’m ‘gram crazy and I’m on social media too much (which isn’t really news to anyone).

Grayscale is annoying and I hate it

Part of the dashboard is a feature aimed at curbing being on your phone before bed (which I do a lot 🙄). Wind Down allows you to set such times and then gives you an option to turn on Do Not Disturb and a Grayscale that makes browsing less desirable for people who should be sleeping and not looking at their phones.

The mess of an app IG becomes on grayscale

Reading tweets on grayscale is weird and browsing through Instagram is just plain wrong. I guess, in that way, this function is effective in getting me to stop being on my phone — until I turned it off the next day and never turned it on again.

I refuse to turn on the app timer as I justify social media use as work

Say what you want because it’s true. 😅

See, there’s a timer option on the dash that allows you to limit app usage time. Thing is, I’ve never turned it on. Why? Because I work on the internet and turning it on may amount to catastrophic consequences.

I will keep using this to justify my action of disallowing app time limits, so what’s your excuse?

It must be noted that, as mentioned earlier, I use more than one phone on a daily basis and am on social media on my laptop a lot, too. That being said, it’s worth pointing out that this still isn’t a complete picture of my daily phone and internet habits. Even though this data only shows a fraction of the grand picture, it already says a lot.

As with everything in life, the choice is in your hands (er, on your phone). Though I am ultimately left to decide what to do about my phone habits, knowing is always the first step.

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Apps

US FDA approves first contraceptive app

Can an app stop you from getting pregnant?

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I now truly believe that there’s an app for everything. 😱

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the very first app to be marketed as a method of contraception. Yes, ladies, you read that right. Not a period tracker, but an actual birth contraception method.

Natural Cycles is a phone application from a European startup. For EUR 65 per year, it works by using the fertility awareness method via basal body temperatures and menstrual cycle information to tell whether a woman is fertile or not. It then advises which days you should “abstain” or “use protection.”

According to the US FDA, “consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly.” They report that clinical studies have shown that the app has a “perfect use” failure rate of 1.8 percent (meaning 1.8 in 100 ladies get pregnant in spite of using the app correctly) and a “typical use” failure rate of 6.5 percent (which accounts for wrong app usage, etc).


To put in context, the US CDC pegs the typical use failure rate of birth control pills at nine percent and condoms at 18 percent. Interesting enough, this same information gives fertility awareness-based methods, the same method being used by Natural Cycles according to the FDA statement (though, in this case, unassisted by apps or algorithms), a typical use failure rate of 24 percent.

The FDA warns that “no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.”

The contraceptive app is not one without their share of controversies. Early last year, they were certified as the very first contraceptive app by the Europen Union. It has since been reported, however, that out of the 668 women who sought abortions from September to December 2017 at one of Stockholm’s biggest hospitals, 37 were relying on Natural Cycles as a contraceptive method.

Natural Cycles claims that they are “responding to each reported case,” and that “as [their] user base increases, so will the number of unplanned pregnancies coming from Natural Cycles users. This is an arithmetic truth applicable to all contraceptive methods.”

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Apps

Data-friendly Twitter Lite app is available for download in more countries

Installation size is just 3MB

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Twitter is among the most popular social networks for the last few years and also the most preferred platform for micro-blogging. From brands to celebrities, everyone prefers it thanks to its simple concept and global reach. The company has now rolled out a new lighter app specially made for developing markets where data networks are slow or bandwidth is expensive.

It’s available in more countries including India, Argentina, Ghana, Turkey, Ukraine, Yemen, and Zimbabwe, taking the total count to over 45 countries. The installation size is just 3MB and it’s optimized to work on 2G and 3G connections. The app was initially available on a trial run in the Philippines last year and since then has expanded to cover more regions. You can download the app from the Google Play Store right away.

Twitter Lite can send out push notifications as well as threaded tweets. Images and videos can be viewed on demand by tapping the “load” option. This ensures that data is consumed only when the user needs it. The app also features the Bookmark option that lets users save tweets for later.

Twitter Lite for Android

“While using the app on 2G or 3G, you’ll notice that content will load quickly on Twitter Lite. We want to make sure you can see what’s happening no matter what network you’re on,” the company said in a statement.

Since the majority of Twitter users belong to developed regions, Twitter is now focusing on developing regions in a bid to get more users on board. The platform reported a drop of one million monthly active users in the second quarter of 2018.

This isn’t the first time we are seeing companies roll out lighter apps for developing markets. Google has been releasing dedicated smaller apps for its services including YouTube, Gmail, Assistant and more. These apps are designed for devices with lower storage and RAM than your typical midrange or flagship, and are built to make better use of mobile data.

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