The Apple Experience

I haven’t been shy about telling anyone who will listen how much I enjoy my iPhone and iPad. They aren’t the first Apple products I’ve owned, but they are the two that have fundamentally changed what I expect from products going forward.

Like most people, I carried a number of bland, soap-shaped feature phones from Nokia, Samsung, and Sanyo. Each model had a few more features than the previous one that I seldom had the patience to fiddle with. Even something as simple as sending a text message was a pain.

In 2005, I purchased my first smartphone, the Palm Treo 600. I assumed I’d become a texting, emailing and web surfing maniac. But that never materialized because there wasn’t a single intuitive operation on that phone. Something as simple as input became an exercise in frustration. Do I press the keys on the tiny physical keyboard, or press the digits on the screen or, heaven forbid, retrieve the stylus from its cave and tap the screen with it?

It was a horrible little device that I eventually sold on eBay. If you bought my Treo and are reading this, I sincerely apologize. I should have never passed on that turd of a phone.

But things would get worse before they’d improve when I decided to purchase my first Windows Mobile phone. My review of this phone can be summed up with the following statement: I spent more time killing background processes than I did using the phone. I know new Windows Phones are a massive improvement, but the bad taste of that Windows Mobile phone still lingers.

But everything changed when I bought my first iPhone in 2008. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was buying a mini computer that happened to make calls. I began consuming all my RSS feeds from my phone. I could deposit checks, transfer money, and pay bills from my phone. I could watch movies on Netflix, play games, track scores and listen to my favorite podcasts.

I was addicted. It just worked. And not only did it work, but it was fun to use.

I don’t believe I’ve heard a single friend describe the underlying technical specs of his iPhone. Instead they focus on what they do with their phone. When I hear someone talking about screen size, processor speed, and memory allocation I know there is a good chance they own a phone running Android. Google is one release away from getting it right. Yep, sure they are.

In many ways, the iPhone has set the usability standard so high that poor usability now anger me when I encounter it. Here is the first screen I see when accessing the admin area of my cable modem/wireless gateway. This is actually one of the cleaner screens I could find. Many screens include buttons aligned across the top and sides of the page. But to save settings, I must scroll down a table until I locate the “Save” button which is located inside a small windows that’s inside a larger window. And even then, I’m not certain if I did it properly because there’s no feedback whatsoever.

This is the area users need to access to change the default password to their wireless router which has become a mainstream product. Geeks love to mock those who don’t change the admin password to their router. But I don’t see it that way. The failure isn’t with the users, but with the company who believes a product marketed to consumers can navigate pages of unintuitive settings with no explanation to be found.

I assume Motorola allowed only engineers to take part in usability tests for this product, if they were conducted at all. All I can come up with is that Motorola intentionally made these screens scary to anyone who isn’t an engineer because they assume the rest of us will muck with the settings which lead to support calls.

router

Now I understand that this screen represents a page from an area many users never see. But until the iPhone came along, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. But today it annoys me, and it drives me to search for products from companies that care about the user experience as much as Apple does.

A few companies do understand how to design products that are intuitive. Navigating around the settings of my Xbox and Nintendo Wii is a cinch. I know exactly where I am and what I’m doing on each screen. Dropbox, Flipboard and Reeder also come to mind as products where great care was taken to make sure every part of the product was easy to navigate and understand.

I hope that Apple’s success will influence more companies to focus on the user experience of their products, and not merely on the feature list and technical specs.

Maybe one day we’ll hear, “You’re such a Motorola fanboy.”

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