Levels of granularity

One thing I’ve noticed among many time-oriented apps is that they will count seconds. Is it particularly helpful for you to know that you spend 3 minutes and 18 seconds reading a book or washing your right toe? (That you spend three minutes washing your toe is appalling enough; the eighteen seconds in addition are merely grace notes.)

In general, approximations are good enough. (You listen to MP3s instead of CDs, CDs instead of LPs, LPs instead of a live band; you examine 800×600 JPEGs instead of camera RAW files; you wear Zara knock-offs instead of Michael Kors.)


Kan-Do, like many timer apps, has a seconds indicator. In an earlier incarnation, I toyed with showing only minutes until there were less than sixty seconds remaining. But for a timer, that seemed too extreme: the movement of the seconds digits/hand is what gives us a sense that time is moving, and lends an urgency to whatever we’re doing. (Or wishing would finish.)

But in the statistics, we show only minutes, not seconds. You’re not going to make decisions on based on seconds.

I did consider reducing the granularity of timing to units of five minutes: I think — without mustering much evidence to support this — that we can make decisions about something that takes ten minutes or five, but the sensation of difference between seven and five is perhaps too fine for most sensibilities. But that seemed a bit too radical, even for me.

Then one day, a reviewer wrote on the App Store that they found the numbers to be distracting, and they’d really like a graphical timer. I’d never found that to be a problem, mostly because I just lock the screen while I work. (My thinking is, I suppose, that I want to try to engage with whatever I’m doing, so I try to minimize distractions.)

Neverthless, I could see why someone would want to watch time go by. But what is a graphical timer supposed to look like?

One problem with the App Store is that when people make requests, it’s pretty hard to follow up with them to make sure you’ve understood their problem.

I soldiered on. I started with the simplest of all: an ever-shrinking line. I hated it. No.

Then it occurred to me to do an image search for “graphic timer.”


“Uh, so which one?” Clearly not the ones with digits. And an hourglass seemed hokey. And tickmarks? No. The tickmarks didn’t serve any purpose.

I settled on an ever-shrinking arc, with the total duration contained by the circle, unchanging.


What I didn’t expect was to like it and make it my own default. I liked the gentle pulsing of the arc, and how the stroke of the arc closely matched the strokes of the typography.

So thanks, 3-star reviewer! I was unhappy with your review, but it was helpful. I still don’t understand some of the other things you’re asking for, but you can always e-mail us.