ACM Applications Review

I am member of Association for Computing Machinery. It’s organization providing (among other) access to magazines, news, books, and courses. Access is provided by web pages and through PDFs one can download, but there are also mobile applications. Here I describe 3 of them.

  • CACM providing access to the monthly Communications of the ACM
  • TechNews providing computer-science related news three times a week
  • interactions providing access to interactions, bimonthly magazine for SIGCHI members

All are published under Google Play account Assoc. Computing Machinery but, as can be seen from their identifiers, were made by different companies.

All of them require providing ACM web account login and password to access content CACM login screen.

TechNews

It provides access to news three times a week. There are usually 10 summaries with links to original articles. I find TechNews useful to keep myself up to date with trends in computer science. ACM sends TechNews as an email to its members, and provides

I do not use TechNews application very often. It shows the recent list of titles of mentioned articles TechNews with list of news and one can click on title and go to short text. TechNews with text of one article This workflow is not very well-suiting for me. When I read TechNews from email I scroll and skim over all news. In application I would have to go over all the news, which takes more time than using email.

TechNews application could be more useful to browse archive. Unfortunately design here is rather bad. TechNews screen to choose date of news There are news every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, except for when there is some holiday in the USA (ACM is located in New York). Unfortunately there is no way of knowing which day of the week we’ve chosen and whether there was newsletter sent on selected day without trying to fetch news – and failing. So after few tries I got discouraged. I do not use ability to bookmark interesting news – to do so I would need to interact with application more often.

Also, UI feels like it’s an iOS application. It might be OK on iOS, but on Android it feels alien and repulsive.

Writing this I realized that I might as well uninstall this application; I’ve started it maybe 3 times in the last year.

CACM

This is mobile version of magazine Communications of the ACM, the flagship publication of organization. It might be preferred way of reading CACM in electronic way. While I download PDFs with interesting articles, I do not like reading on the screen; I already spend too much time in front of computer. That’s why I also do not visit http://cacm.acm.org/.

Application does not display cover of the current issues so sometimes I have problems with getting to know which issue to read.

The first problem I had was with entering passwords. CACM has artificial limit on password length. It accepts only 15 characters, while ACM web account allows for 26 characters. Such lack of following policy is not very nice when trying to access content on mobile device.

The very first screen we see after logging in is not encouraging. CACM screen with list of articles in current issue It’s list of articles from the current issue, but it doesn’t feel like it’s magazine. It’s quite similar to the list of snippets from TechNews. Also many articles are just short pieces linking to web pages CACM short article linking to web page which means that I would need to be always online to use it. As a Luddite I disconnect my phone from the network when I’m not using it. Another problem with following the links is that (just like TechNews) application seems to be coming from iOS and not using Android technologies. Instead of using Application Chooser when following links, it opens its own embedded browser. CACM embedded browser displaying longer version of article It means that I do not have access to my saved passwords, and I cannot save bookmarks.

Embedded browser fails when trying to render HTML. CACM embedded browser displaying web page It seems to have problems with displaying pages and zooming. CACM web browser with page scrolled to the right It is not scrolled page – it was displayed like this, with half of content cut. I was able to scroll right, but not left.

Articles are presented as web pages. Instead of providing images or
tables in the text, or after clicking, they are located at the bottom so
one needs to scroll there, look at them, and scroll back – manually.
Locating tables outside of main text makes sense in paper magazine, but
not in special application, where user is able to click, but have not
have many clues for one’s location in the text.

interactions

I use it most often from all the applications I describe. It feels like the real magazine interactions with covers of available issues as one can see covers of magazines. It also offers ability to download issues for offline reading – downloaded ones are marked with the green triangle. It also offers two modes of reading: like magazine where pages are shown exactly like on paper, and web-page like. I find the latter nice while the former unusable – but maybe it would look better on large tablets.

I like yellow marking of active elements; after displaying new page application highlights elements which will respond to click with yellow. It shows to the user that presented content is interactive, that it’s not just scanned paper magazine.

There are problems though. Even though application caches issues for offline reading, images for the non-magazine layout sometimes go missing. They are displayed on the magazine layout interactions displaying page in printed layout and when online interactions displaying page in web layout, with images but are missing when one is offline. interactions displaying page in web layout, without images . It makes offline mode less usable.

There are other problems with offline mode. When applications sits for few hours in background in offline mode it requires refreshing credentials. interactions requiring logging in It does not check that device is offline and there is no possibility to connect to the server. But hitting Back few times goes to the main screen and one is able to use application again, without need to login. Sometimes application ignores its cached content and behaves as it was started for the first time. interactions requiring download of content In such a case one needs to connect – and after that application can again access downloaded data without any problems.

Application has problems with displaying pages in magazine layout; sometimes instead of displaying pages it display space between pages. interactions displaying hole between pages

Again, just like CACM, interactions uses embedded browser instead of letting user pick one. This is especially funny when there is a link to YouTube, Vimeo or other video site. Embedded browser cannot cope with YouTube movies, so it’s is more frustrating than when reading paper magazine, where it’s natural that we cannot see the movie interactions displaying YouTube page in embedded browser.

Summary

It’s good that companies and organizations are providing mobile applications. But applications should provide more than web pages. For now TechNews is just like mobile page, but in its own sandbox.

Applications should also integrate with the platform. Both CACM and interactions behave like there were written for iOS and then ported to Android without taking platform specificity into consideration. Using non-standards icons for sharing content and embedding browser instead of using system one brings feeling that something is wrong.

Applications also should feel like they are really part of company. Although CACM and interactions both are supposed to present magazines, they are completely different. They differ in how they present content, how they allow for browsing for archival issues, whether they allow for offline access. Lessons from interactions were not incorporated into CACM.

Applications also should integrate with environment. Both applications provide content from Digital Library and require logging. But when one saves bookmark or article there is no integration with Digital Library personal bookshelves.

Basically it looks like each application is its own serfdom. They are written by different companies (which can be seen from their IDs) and there is no knowledge transfer between them. There is no one person, committee or group in ACM responsible for mobile content. Described applications are published under account Assoc. for Computing Machinery. Recently there appeared application allowing for access to Digital Library (thus duplicating part of functionality of two described applications) from separate account Association for Computing Machinery. I find it strange, confusing, and meaning that nobody at ACM is able to deal with this mess.