The popularity of the iPhone has grown exponentially since the first release of the device in 2007. Once Apple opened the App Store to allow third party applications to be developed for the device, interest in the iPhone skyrocketed. The mobile application space is a thriving marketplace and everyone wants a piece of the action.
Many iPhone developers come from the Mac side of developing applications. These folks usually have years of experience developing for the Mac, so it’s no surprise that they can jump right into the iPhone SDK and develop iPhone apps with the tools provided in the SDK like it’s no big deal. Other folks need to have a visual analog reference before they start developing an application.
Some developers have an extremely hard time firing up Interface Builder and laying out an application graphically. These people tend to draw their ideas out on paper before getting close to firing up Xcode and Interface Builder. Sadly there hasn’t been very many good resources for those folks that prefer to draw their ideas first. You used to have to scribble ideas down on a napkin or a small notebook and usually the drawings aren’t very accurate or very clean looking.
This is where the UI Stencils come into play. The UI Stencils are for those creative individuals that prefer to use “analog” mediums to draw out their ideas first. The UI Stencil system provides you with a good resource to begin drawing out applications.
I will assume you have watched the unboxing, so I will skip the unpacking in the review.
First we’ll take a look at the stencil itself.
The overall design of the stencil is rather pleasing. The UI Stencil is made out of aluminum which has been laser cut to represent the various UI elements of the iPhone interface. The cutouts are so precise you get a straight line every time you draw with the stencil. However, I did find one flaw with the precision cuts. This could just be my review unit and not related to every stencil. The edges of the cutouts are rather sharp. I found myself getting little minor cuts when I handled the stencil, nothing to draw blood or really break the skin too much, but I thought it was something to note. I am sure the surface will wear down as you draw with it on a regular basis. No biggy.
The stencil features a two sided design. One side has pixel widths and icon samples of what the cutouts represent. On the flip side the stencil has illustrations of various actions that you can perform with the illustrated cutout. For instance, shake, slide, zoom, flip, and the like.
The illustrations and engravings are top notch, very clear to read and you can see the depth of some of the laser engravings. Very good stuff going on here. The icons do a great job of representing various actions you can perform with the iPhone. I found these illustrations to come in handy when mocking up an application on the UI Stencil Sketch Pad.
One thing I did noticed about the UI Stencil was the fact that sometimes it was rather hard to align certain elements due to the stencil being metal. Part of me would have liked to have a clear plastic stencil to align elements more accurately on the drawing surface. Something else I thought would be nice would be an etched ruler edge on one side of the stencil. Just marks with various measurements. To be truly honest the only downside that I see to the stencil is not being able to see through it. Retailing at $24.95 I say it’s a top quality piece of kit.
The pencil that comes included with the stencil is a pretty unique Zebra No.2 mechanical pencil. The pencil is made to look like a classic No.2 pencil that has been sharpened down to the comfortable size. I know I have always felt that a sharpened down pencil has it’s sweet spot. This size is definitely that sweet spot you would achieve from a traditional wooden pencil. Zebra nailed it with the size and form factor. The pencil uses 0.7mm lead and has a removable and replaceable eraser. The entire housing is made out of plastic the metal band that holds the eraser is made out of aluminum. I think it’s great UI Stencils include one of these little wonders with their stencil kit. Very pocketable and they aren’t extremely expensive so if you lose it, you can grab another one for pretty cheap.
The image above illustrates the thickness of the UI Stencils Sketch Pad. The thickness is the size of a number 2 pencil. This is very good if you’re planning on sticking the tablet in your portfolio, laptop sleeve, laptop bag, and the like. The sketch pad is 8.5 X 11 inches, it features iPhone silhouettes on both sides, grid lines, project name, screen, and date fields at the top portion. There are 50 sheets of the 70 lb paper on a cardboard backing. There’s up to 200 possible screens per sketch pad. There is no front cover to the sketch pad.
The silhouettes of the iPhone are not true size, they are larger, however the stencil kit fits perfectly on the sketch pad. I found the paper to be very easy to draw on, there were no hangs or unnecessary grain or anything of that nature. The silhouettes do not get in the way of your drawing, they are light enough to see and draw inside of. The pages of the UI Stencil sketch pad pull of quite easily so there’s no risk of ripping your project in half trying to get it off of the pad.
I do wish there was a front cover of some kind to help protect drawings that are on the top if you’re going mobile with the tablet. Not a big deal for most since the sketch pad will more than likely stay in the studio, but sometimes it is nice to change scenery.
• Precision cut with laser engravings.
• Comes with a pencil.
• Small footprint, will fit almost anywhere.
• Helpful suggestive illustrations.
• No ruler marks. Not a huge deal, but it would be nice in some instances.
• Sharp edges. This could just be my review unit. They will dull down over time.
• Non-transparent. I know you cannot have transparent aluminum, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a plastic model as well.
• Sketch pad doesn’t have a dust cover. Not extremely necessary, but it would be nice.
I am overall pleased with the design of both products. They are very functional and they do the job they are intended very well. When using these two products together I felt inspired to draw an application. I was actually just drawing a “fake” app for this review so I could illustrate how you would use this UI Stencil and Sketch Pad. However, the more time spent with the stencil and sketch pad, the more I became inspired to create an actual application. (picture 1) I kept coming up with more and more ideas as I went along. Rather surprised at my self I soon found out there is another side to me that does enjoy sketching my app ideas out before I sit down at the computer.
Granted I am just beginning to grasp the reins of iPhone development, I am positive the UI Stencil kit and Sketch Pad will serve purpose to every iPhone developer out there whether they are seasoned developers or newcomers. You should definitely try sketching your ideas out and see where it takes you. You might end up surprising yourself.
I have also found that the UI Stencil will fit nicely inside of a Moleskin notebook if you want to carry something a little more portable around. Maybe we’ll see a more portable package in the future.
I give the UI Stencil and UI Sketch Pad a 4 1/2 rating. Great buy, easy to carry, and very useful. The system should be an essential part of every developers arsenal.