While many other companies offer the same service, Instagram has something the others did not: an awesome user interface.
UI is the way people interact with their electronic devices, which now involves the use of touchscreens and intuitive functionality.
He takes UI one step further and calls it natural user interface, or NUI, pronounced “newy.”
In the previous generation of apps, engineers could use a photo to recreate a design in its entirety. Now, apps aren’t based on visuals alone – it’s becoming more about the feel.
“It’s not linear, it’s acceleration based,” Mr. Flick says while demonstrating an app where users can swipe, zoom and rotate images. “These motions have a feeling to them, you have to get it just right.”
Getting it right is what he hopes to do with his newest venture, called Freakin’ Awesome Apps, which creates apps from scratch or using client-submitted designs. Using Adobe After Effects, a motion-based design program, designers and “user experience specialists” can create entire apps instead of engineers trying to recreate the vision.
These new apps don’t use any infrastructure from the platforms that support them, so each version of the app, whether for Android, Apple or other device, can be exactly the same.
Most companies have multiple competitors operating in the same space.
“Just having the functionality these days is table stakes,” says Peter O’Blenis, chief operating officer at Flick Software and co-founder of Freakin’ Awesome Apps. “Everyone’s got the functionality. It’s how you interact with it that makes it stand out.”
If users are choosing between multiple apps offering the same thing, they’ll pick the one with the best UI, adds Mr. Flick.
“If it isn’t intuitive and fun, then you’ve missed it,” he says.
Jason Clarke is the co-founder of local company Crank Software (one of OBJ’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2012), which provides a tool suite allowing designers and engineers to create rich user interfaces.
“It can pretty much destroy a product’s market presence if people can’t pick it up and feel good about it,” he says.
Cellphone and computer companies aren’t the only ones lapping up this new technology – the market is expanding into the health-care and automotive sectors as people become accustomed to high-level experiences that look and feel good. People enjoy picking up something new and intuitively knowing how to use it, Mr. Clarke says.
THE FUTURE OF UI
Technology succeeds when it “disappears” - that is, when it becomes invisible to the user. In the future, that could mean images beamed onto the backs of eyeglasses. Photo recognition could instantly identify how many calories are in a meal.
Mr. Flick predicts this shift will happen in around 20 years, the same length of time that the era preceding NUI lasted. That was the age of graphical user interface, or GUI, the interaction of humans and technology using images rather than text commands. And yes, it’s commonly pronounced “gooey.”
Crank Software’s Mr. Clarke says that developers are only beginning to understand the capabilities of 3D technology, which will have a large role to play in the decades to come.
Additionally, the increased importance of designers and user experience specialists, paired with the decreased role of traditional engineers in app design, will keep technology companies competitive, he says.
SIDEBAR: YOU i Labs growth
YOU i Labs has doubled in size each year since it was founded in 2008, except for this year when it doubled within eight months. Its revenues jumped by 500 per cent in 2012, partly because of a deal with a Japanese giant that released a new product this September. YOU i Labs, which provided the user interface for the product, is unable to discuss the specifics because of a non-disclosure agreement.
The company’s growth was also augmented by a contract with local telecom firm Mitel to provide the user interface for its video conferencing tool, UC360 Collaboration Point.
Mr. Flick has founded more than half a dozen companies in the past 18 years and is an adviser and executive to nearly twice that number of software firms.
With the launch of Freakin’ Awesome Apps, he adds another to the list.
“You come across an idea and you just can’t stop thinking about it and it keeps you up at night,” he says. “You know no one else can do it as well.”
YOU i Labs and its affiliated companies have 30 employees working out of its Kanata office.