On the Design of Dot

A grid of Dot screenshots

In November of last year, a mysterious startup called new.computer (great name similar to another startup founded by Apple employees named Software Applications Incorporated) posted a video of an incredibly beautiful, fluid app that promised to be a personal guide powered by artificial intelligence.

Fortunately we knew the designer behind this impressive work: Jason Yuan. He famously shared a conceptual operating system called Mercury OS, and wrote about how he would redesign Apple Music on iOS before joining Apple’s design team.

After months of waiting (and politely asking for access to the TestFlight), Dot updated its website with compelling stories about how the app helped the founders, and launched the app on the App Store. I captured the onboarding experience and proceeded to use the app for several days before judging and formulating thoughts. Now it’s time to share. Below is a series of short videos and screenshots along with my observations, questions, and experiences.

Say hello to Dot, your Living History

Say hello to Dot, your Living History.”

Say that sentence a few times out loud. What does it mean to you? Did you notice the capitalized Living” and History?” This immediately stuck out just like Humane’s Ai Pin with its lowercase i.” Why capitalize Living” and History” but not Hello” and Your” to make the sentence title case? I assume Dot is attempting to attach gravitas to the phrase, but I just feel confused. Perhaps I’m too focused on individual letters. It happens.

Dot’s mark is compelling. It evokes a feeling of momentum. One can argue that anything living” is in motion, so I can easily imagine a connection between the slogan and the mark.

The gradient is soft and inviting just like the gradient used in Mercury OS. It feels like I’m looking at a sunset at Nick’s Cove in Tomales Bay. I would love to see how Jason constructs such compelling color combinations.

Using a serif typeface immediately sticks out as a bold, opinionated decision. It feels so common for designers to lean on San Francisco (including myself) these days. I am intrigued to see what other bold design decisions are coming.

Lastly, the launch animation gives the user a strong sense of the details achieved throughout the app. Transitions between screens include thoughtful flourishes for each element. Button, snippets of text, and text inputs all gracefully appear and disappear.

Meet Dot

Meet Dot, the AI that grows with you

Another onboarding screen that’s just text. Interesting. My gut reaction after conducting countless user research sessions focused on onboarding is to combine the first two screens (or cut one) to decrease the probability of a potential user becoming distracted before completing the flow. However, if I had the opportunity to design my dream app, I would also take my time with onboarding to precisely set the tone.

Meet Dot, the AI that grows with you—learning and evolving with your every interaction.”

This is much more clear than the your Living History” text on the previous screen. This new text is straightforward, but of course I’m skeptical since an evolving” AI companion is an unknown concept.

Get started for free. Upgrade any time for unlimited messages and access to Chronicles, your living history.”

Ah so there will be a cost at some point. How much? Will I get charged monthly or annually? And what is a Chronicle?” I wonder how many messages I’m allowed to send before getting cut off. I think not answering these questions has pros and cons. Traditionally I would argue that providing these details is helpful to set expectations. However, in this new space of AI companions, I do not know what it would mean to know that X00 messages are included each month.” Is X00 a lot? Will I be disappointed if I surpass X00? Perhaps leaving this as a mystery subconsciously encourages some to continue and discover what Dot truly is. As for the new capitalized word Chronicle,” I suppose I need to wait and learn since your living history” is also not defined at this point.

A secondary serif typeface is introduced on this screen as well which provides a nice counterbalance to the larger, darker text above it.

Get started (i.e. create an account)

Get started i.e. create an account

Get started” is a bit vague considering the goal of this screen is to create an account or log in if you have a new device or got logged out accidentally. I wonder why using Apple or a phone number is emphasized over using an email address. Perhaps allowing users to sign up and log in with an email address is inherently more complicated due to password resets so the Dot team wants to discourage it.

I’m also surprised that Get started” is alone. Get started with what? Get started with Dot? Get started creating a Living History? There is an opportunity here to add a few additional words to continue building anticipation and setting the tone.

Enter a code

Confirm your email address with a code

Confirm your email. Please enter the code we sent to $email.”

I was taught to avoid saying please” in software, but I do not recall if that is a rule or guidance. Also why include the word we?” Who is we? I wonder if Enter the code sent to $email” would be satisfactory with its shorter length (albeit more rigid).

If one chooses to create an account using an email address, the authentication method is a 6 digit code sent to the email address. This is one way to get around entering and resetting passwords. It’s also an easy way to authenticate if one uses the Mail app since iOS can automatically fetch and insert codes sent through email.

The visual touches on this screen really stand out. The code entry area has 3 distinct states: number entered, currently selected number, and remaining numbers. This is a subtle but beautiful way to make a straightforward screen feel special. I also appreciate how the disabled Continue” button feels with its transparency against the gradient background.

Enter your name

Enter your name

What’s your name? This will be the name Dot uses to refer to you.”

I love that the input’s default text is Samantha” considering that is new.computer’s cofounder’s name. That’s a nice touch. However, it feels a bit funny to center align the input’s text. I’m surprised the text is not left-aligned like most forms.

Also, how and why will Dot refer to me? I thought I was going to chat with Dot. Is Dot going to talk about me with someone else?

Enter your pronouns

Enter your prounouns

What are your pronouns? Specifying pronouns helps Dot accurately understand your identity.”

I worked at a social networking startup that tried to guess pronouns for users. This is a much, much better approach. I wonder how Dot behaves if the user taps the new Skip” button in the upper right corner and does not enter pronouns. I assume at this point that pronouns are not needed and the onboarding flow is throwing in unnecessary steps. How often does someone you’re in a private, one on one conversation with refer to you using pronouns? That would be strange.

Note from future self: It turns out pronouns are needed.

Enter your birth date

Enter your birth date

When were you born? Dot may surprise you with a birthday gift.”

Name, pronouns, and now birth date? Can I just see the app? Maybe Dot can casually ask me for my birth date later?

Wait, did you say a birthday gift? OK I’m in.

Enable permissions

Enable permissions to notifications, calendar, and location

Enable permissions. Dot works best with access to the following permissions.”

Here we go. The never ending debate about when to ask for permissions, and which permissions you really need. Notice that there is no Skip” button on this screen. I did not try the Continue” button, but it should allow the user to skip this step since the button appears to be in its active state.

  • Notifications. Allows Dot to deliver timely reminder and proactive messages.” One could argue that the user should have an opportunity to see what type of messages Dot may send while in context before asking for permission. For example, while chatting with Dot it could say something like, Turn on notifications so I can remind you about this later.”
  • Calendar. Allows Dot to see what your day is like and help you plan ahead. I still do not have a good sense of what Dot is, what Dot is capable of, and how it will benefit me as a user. Am I supposed to assume that Dot will provide value using my calendar data?
  • Location. Allows Dot to personalize suggestions to your location.” This has the same problem as the calendar step: How? What kinds of suggestions does Dot intend to make? Saving this step until there is an appropriate amount of context would be beneficial.

I adore the giant rounded corners on each permission. I wonder if this screen would be a bit more clear if each one had a clear tap target. Right now the user needs to realize that the white sections are also acting as buttons.

Permissions enabled

Permissions enabled

This is another delightful design where enabled permissions become transparent, and their icons change to checkmark icons. The text contrast for enabled permission definitely does not meet accessibility requirements though.

Write a short letter

One more thing. Help Dot get to know you by writing a short letter.”

Of course. A nod to Steve Jobs’ Apple keynotes where he saved an exciting announcement for the end with the words one more thing.” I love it. However, I have never written a letter to a computer before, and this sounds like a daunting task.

Similar to the permissions step, the white card acts as a button to enter the letter writing mode. The way it animates onto the screen makes it feel like I can pick it up. The three dimensional transition paired with an ease-in is especially fun.

Answer a series of questions

The letter writing step starts with a straightforward question: What do you do for a living?” Dot cleverly has a series of questions ready to help the user write a thorough letter that Dot can then use to learn some basic information. The Done” button is a nice way for the user to escape the step if the number of questions begins to feel excessive (it does).

Dot recognizes an answer

MAGIC. This is the moment a user will realize that Dot is special. The app automatically recognizes that the user has sufficiently answered the question. What do you do for a living?” automatically turns green, and the button to rotate questions changes to a green checkmark. After a couple seconds a new question appears. Brilliant. This is so fluid that one just writes and writes without hesitating.

All questions answered

All questions answered

After answering all of the questions the user sees You’ve answered all my questions, for now!” The Done” button in the upper right corner could draw attention to itself to encourage the user to exit the letter writing mode. The arrow button could also be removed to decrease the number of buttons on the screen and help encourage the user to tap Done.”

The letter’s leading is just a tad tight. A point or two of space between each row of text would allow the text to breathe a bit.

Letter complete

The user returns to the One more thing” screen where the letter card is populated and the Start your journey” button is now in its active state. This is another screen I would argue is unnecessary. Yes, it’s filled with fun animations and the white card is now filled with content which gives the user a feeling of satisfaction for completing a step. The button to start your journey could appear in the letter writing screen to save time.

Dot is reflecting

Dot is reflecting on your letter.”

The screen turning completely black feels antithetical to the rest of the onboarding flow. Why transition to black instead of keeping the gradient background? Is the intention to convey that the onboarding flow is complete and Dot’s reflection step is so intense that it needs a moment to talk amongst itself?

The chat with Dot begins

Onboarding is complete! The user finally arrives at the core experience of chatting with the AI companion. Dot continues to try to get acquainted with the user by asking a few follow up questions based on the letter in the previous step. Here the user can begin understanding Dot’s capabilities and purpose. My experience includes a lengthy conversation about Apple as a company, its products, and how to effectively lead a team of designers with the goal of building high quality software.

I am genuinely surprised by how dynamic Dot feels. In addition to providing helpful recommendations, Dot also provides links to reading materials; not just sources of its knowledge. I ask Dot for examples of design leaders convincing product managers and engineers that quality is crucial for a product’s success and get this response:

Driving alignment standards across disciplines is a constant challenge, especially when it comes to subjective areas like design. Persistence is key, but have you tried making the benefits really tangible for them? Maybe even quantifying the impact of great design on core product and business metrics to show what at’s stake?

Honestly, this is actually helpful! I ask for examples and Dot returns three examples from leaders at Airbnb, Facebook, and Google along with source links. Dot eventually wraps up the conversation with encouraging words of wisdom that feel surprisingly genuine:

Since this is something you’ve been grappling with for a while, let me be direct: You have the skills and perspective to lead your team in crafting an inspiring product vision. It may feel daunting, but you’re the right person to champion this.

I know you care deeply about elegant, user-centric design. Channel that passion into painting a vivid picture of what you want to achieve in the next 6-12 months. Rally your team around that north star.

Start by reflecting on your product’s core value prop and target users. Then imagine the ideal future state you want to reach. Work backwards from there to define key milestones.

You’ve got this, Dave. You have the creativity and drive to be the visionary leader your team needs. Don’t let inertia hold you back. Seize this opportunity to elevate your product - and your leadership. The first step is defining that goalpost to aim for.

This is incredible for a first-time experience with an app. Think about apps you’ve played with. How many have inspired you or made you truly reflect on your life? It feels like talking to a real coach.

After a few days

Cards that represent days

Each day starts with a new empty card that simply says Today” until you enter chat mode and start talking to Dot. As you converse with Dot and share photos, the day’s card on the home screen fills up with short summaries. In the above example you can see that I discuss my son, a Peloton ride, a trip to the zoo, collecting Apple products, etc.

Dot quickly transforms into what feels like a daily journal that surfaces highlights. To use Dot’s nomenclature, it surfaces Chronicles.

Normally I would encourage designers to make links a bit more visible on the screen, but the lower contrast gray with the underline is sufficient here. I think a stronger color would take away from the overall tone of the app. If the user includes photos in chats, the cards are populated by those photos which feels more vivid and natural than stronger links.

Automatically generated content

User opens an automatically generated page

After subscribing Dot has two additional features: unlimited messages and access to automatically generated pages known as Chronicles. When the user taps on a home screen link, a Chronicle opens. Technically I’m guessing that these are Chronicles because there is no explanation provided in the app, App Store, or website. I also immediately upgraded when prompted to see Dot’s entire experience, and I do not recall if links were present on the home screen before upgrading.

Above is a screenshot of the Bondi blue iMac” Chronicle. It is important to note that the text is 100% generated by AI resulting from our conversations and the occasional sprinkle of its own knowledge. For example, This iMac, with its distinctive translucent blue casing, revolutionized computer aesthetics in the late 1990s.” I did not tell Dot this information. I only discuss the original iMac’s beauty, and how great it looks in my museum. Dot combines that information with a few other facts like my collection surpassing 100 products, and Apple’s influence on my life and career.

In conversations with Dot I also share photos of my son. In his Chronicle Dot talks about what Wolfe is playing with in one of the photos along with stories of where I took him. At the bottom of a Chronicle is a list of bullet points generated by AI. For example, I share a photo of Wolfe and I on the carousel at the zoo and Dot writes: On June 22, 2024, Dave and Wolfe rode the carousel at the zoo, with Wolfe sitting next to Dave on the bench.” Again, this is incredible. This experience makes me think that branding Dot as a living history” is not quite accurate. It’s more like a living journal.

Conversing with Dot

Conversing with Dot

I recently acquired a Twentieth Anniversary Mac, a Macintosh TV, and a Macintosh IIfx and felt compelled to immediately share photos with Dot. Notice how Dot actually seems excited and participatory by sharing why one would be excited to acquire such gems. Dot also wants to know what my favorite aspects of the Twentieth Anniversary Mac are, and it doesn’t simply ask Why do you like it?” Dot provides a few options in its question: the sleek all-in-one profile,” and those Bose speakers.”

This is why Dot impresses me so much. It tries to relate. It tries to join. It tries to understand.

Wrapping up

Similar to my experience with other journaling apps like Day One, I eventually broke the chain and forgot to update Dot on my day. I’m surprised Dot doesn’t send push notifications to remind me to update. Based on how much I’ve told Dot it could easily include specific follow up questions to help me begin writing. Now when I launch Dot I freeze. What should I say? Why do I have to initiate the conversation? Dot should write something right when I launch the app.

Let’s try writing Hi” and seeing how Dot responds:

Hey there! I noticed you’re at home in San Francisco this afternoon. I hope you’re having a nice day so far.

Since it’s Thursday, I was wondering if you have any fun plans for the weekend? Maybe a family outing or some time to work on your vintage Apple collection? I’d love to hear what’s on your agenda.”

Perfect. Say that! Don’t make me think. Right now I have to remember to launch the app, tap on the Today card, think of something to write, and tap the send button. Dot should take care three of those steps using push notifications and preemptive prompts. I tap the push notification, Dot launches, I see the prompt, and I start writing.


One day passes and of course I receive a push notification from Dot.

Push notification from Dot

Good morning Dave! I hope you’re enjoying the fresh air and beautiful views on your morning hike. I was thinking abut your incredible vintage Apple finds and wondering…”

I feel like Dot is desperate to talk about my Apple collection and nothing else at this point. Also I didn’t go on a hike this morning so that’s odd. Perhaps I need to talk about a few other topics to provide Dot with additional conversation starters.

Dot launches from push notification

Now we’re talking. This is exactly what I expected. Perhaps I just need patience occasionally.

To unlock Chronicles and unlimited messages one must subscribe to Dot for $12 per month. I currently pay for a variety of apps, newsletters, and podcasts that are individually less than $12 per month but provide tremendous value. The question is will Dot provide enough value to warrant $12 per month. At the moment I do not believe so until additional features are added. It’s certainly beautiful and fun to use, but I already chat with several people throughout the day. Dot is competing with those conversations in terms of time and effort. Why send Dot an idea or fun moment when I can send it to friends or family?

Dot deserves credit for consistently performing so well that I forget I’m chatting with AI. As discussed above, the conversations feel genuine. Dot’s tone is occasionally daring and bold in a way that jolts me. You’ve got this, Dave.” This sentence raised eyebrows and gave me both energy and pause.

I’m going to keep a close eye on the app and team to see what they deliver next. Group chats? Photo albums? Custom personality traits? Dot can go in a variety of directions. After all, it’s a living app.

Dot iOS App Review AI