Aviate. A phone UX that I love.

The app world is absolutely saturated. I seriously doubt anyone can tell the difference between Candy, Sugar, Angry, Crushing, Flapping, Silly, Pigs, Birds or whatever double barrel terms are used to make up app names in the top ten.

App developers for business and lifestyle apps have followed the trend of slightly old world names, especially around the concept of flying/movement. So when I first heard the name Aviate, I glossed over a bit, and I would have continued to gloss over if it hadn’t been for the news at the start of the year that Yahoo had bought them. I, like many, have felt that Yahoo have regained some relevance with Marissa Mayer at the helm.

I did pay attention though, and I’m glad I did.

The concept of Aviate isn’t new, but it sounded well executed. It’s firmly in the realm of Facebook Home, the so-called apperating system that launched in early 2013 and quickly slid into ‘meh’-oblivion. I personally still hold out real hope for the concept – an app that overrides the OS with a personalised layer driven by the brand that you choose. So Facebook’s concept was that it would re-interpret your phone to suit your Facebook feed/you. And Aviate reworks the device user experience (UX) around its concept – which is to change the apps and settings on your home screen (or within as few swipes and taps as possible) to suit what you are doing at the time.

They call these Spaces – so the Work space puts your email, etc front and centre. They have some default Spaces: Home (that also becomes “Night Time”, “Morning” depending on time of day), Work, Going Somewhere (travel/maps), Listening (putting your audio and songs up for gym sessions etc).

The idea is that the Space that you see when you look at the phone will suit your needs at the moment – the app determines where you are from your location services, or (in the case of the Listening space) if you plug in earphones.

You can customise these Collections to make the Space more useful by quickly dragging apps in and out or reorganising to make them more “you”. You can also be prompted to add apps based on the popularity from the Aviate user base. I haven’t encountered anything I’d add yet, but I can see where this is going.  You also have a permanent collection of favourite apps that can anchor the home screen.

Visually, each Space is dominated by a framed photo/image, and then by the collections and settings established for the space (the above mentioned bits). These are all organised into small white frames on a clean light gray background. The Space itself is colour blocked at the top of the screen – it’s all very contemporary-minimal, even to the use of Gotham Light for the font. There’s an argument to be made whether this is too generic – Gotham is so de rigeur in web and dev design these days that it’s as ubiquitous as Helvetica. However, I like the usage – Gotham is intensely clean, and favours the block framing of the UX – which in turn allows the colourful apps to be seen cleanly. Phone UX doesn’t need to be design-branded. It needs to take a step back while I live my life through the apps themselves (hear that, Apple?).

This is one space where Aviate really nails it. The visual identity and UX of Aviate is top notch. The home screen and structure are much more contemporary than the menu and systems of my Samsung Galaxy S4. I hate the default UX of most devices – they’re only elegant when there’s very few apps, and are not designed for efficiency. They’re only designed to display how much I’ve downloaded. Full screen image backgrounds bore me, and the framed inspiration of the Aviate UX is a real plus in my eyes.

A quick swipe left accesses a hamburger menu of the other Spaces, including the geolocation (powered by Foursquare) Nearby space, which is a cool touch, and looks like it could compete nicely with the suggestions in something like Google Now. A swipe right from the home screen gets the various collections, and a second swipe right gets the whole list of all apps on the device by alphabet. Aviate is still in open beta, so there are some limitations around how far this goes. I’m not sure how much this will develop when final – for example, I’d love to be able to customise the settings per space more effectively (eg the type of Wifi, Bluetooth settings per space).

DOES IT WORK?

Kind of. Almost. Very closely. The concept is ALMOST fully executed. I found that it doesn’t effectively shift between the spaces I need. I’m writing this at home, where I’ve been for almost 24 hours, and my device still is on the Work space. This happened because my wifi switches off when I leave the office – so the location services through the network provider isn’t sufficient to change this – odd.

Similarly, it doesn’t always detect I’m on the go and switch to the Go Somewhere space. Last week I searched for a location nearby, and when I went to look at it, the cafe took over my home screen for the next few days, no matter where I was. This fixed itself a couple of days ago…odd…

These all feel like very beta problems, but unfortunately defeat the concept and make Aviate currently feel like a very good skin rather than a life changer.

So while we’re talking beta, I’m going do the tester thing and name a few things that would take Aviate to the next level:

  • better location services, or even merging with Google Now’s location services awesomeness. One of the amazing things about Google’s location services is that they are merging your browsing data with the separate Google Now. I’ve had a few occasions where a location I have searched in Chrome has then showed up in Google Now. FANTASTIC. If Aviate could use that kind of functionality to suggest an app, or space based on my other behaviour – WOW. Considering the Yahoo ownership, is this too much of an ask?
  • take over the lock screen – I despise the lock screen of the Samsung. It’s a throwback of design to early touchscreens. If my current Space was immediate visible in some way on the lock screen, that would once again take Aviate to the next level.
  • more spaces and collections, and better ways to customise spaces – something not available yet.
  • I find the concept of the Favourite apps self defeating. While everyone has apps they use all the time (no matter where they are), these should  be tied to the Space and Collection, rather than anchoring the Home Screen – I find that I don’t use the Space’s default collection because I have the Email app in too many places for examples. This is partly user error (me needing to filter better), but I think Aviate can be more forceful in making people use the Space…

Like I said, very beta type list.

Is Aviate a good product – it’s a FANTASTIC concept wrapped in a good product that is a small step from being GREAT. Even if the above list were never dealt with I’d use this permanently – but the more the Aviate team can improve this, the more I will be recommending it to everyone.

Who am I kidding, I already do. Good on them.

My only concern – and something I dearly hope is not going to happen, is that they will introduce a subscription, advertising or payment model. I would hate to subscribe to Aviate because it’s a product that feels so natural that it should already be on my device.

Aviate is only available on the Android platform. Head to getaviate.com first. Give them some web traffic 🙂

– C.L.S.

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