Monday, December 21, 2009

The Adoption of the iPhone

As part of a longer post, Max Marmer comments on a discussion he had about the adoption of the iPhone:
…we were discussing how the iPhone achieved widespread cultural adoption so fast with technology so far ahead of what was previously available (normally a sticking point for products ahead of their time) and how our projects could succeed by similarly speeding up cultural adoption.
I don't mean to pick on Max- this was just the spark that made me put this into writing- but I think that there is a general misconception that the adoption curve is related to how advanced the technology is. It’s really about the user interface and how the user interacts with the device- advanced technology just has a bad reputation for having poor user interfaces. Think of anything in science fiction that tries to portray high technology- it seems foreign, with a ton of buttons and switches that you need advanced training to operate. Design and ease-of-use is often an afterthought in high-tech devices. The iPhone is an exception- it's high-tech, but it’s also very easy to use. As roughly classified in the Jobsian chart below, both high tech and low tech devices can be designed well or designed poorly.

Steve Jobs makes this point on usability: "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like, people think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” I think that two fundamental aspects of design are:
  1. the device does what the user expects it to do when they interact with it- when you press a button with a music note on it, you open up your music
  2. it's easy for the user to find what to do to make it do what they want- there's a music note right there when you turn it on and you just tap your finger on it
The BlackBerry and the answering machine violate #2 more than they do #1- they are logically designed-  if you turn the scroll wheel to the mail icon and press in, it does in fact open mail- it does eventually do what you want if you can figure out how to make it do that. The Newton was the opposite- it was easy to figure out how to input text- you just wrote on it- but because of the handwriting recognition technology it often interpreted what you had written as something that wasn't even close to what you would have expected. People are impatient- if they can't figure out how to make something work within a few seconds, they'll make a judgment on it and write it off- they won't take the time to figure it out. Only over time will people practice and eventually figure it out if they're stuck with the device.

I gave my iPod touch to my 3-year-old cousin to play around with, and after I demonstrated how to tap an icon without trying to poke your finger through the screen (like she’d been trying unsuccessfully before) and how to swipe left, right, up and down, she figured out how to use it- making what she wanted to happen, happen. She swiped through the home screens, tapped the icons that looked interesting, scrolled up and down through albums and started music playing, then found the back button to get back to the music, then figured out how to use the home button to get back to the home screen. She tried different apps (Remote wasn’t very exciting) and then found the Photos app and swiped through the different photos. She knew when to spell out her name and poke random letters on the keyboard, because the keyboard only came up when it was appropriate. In a few minutes, she knew her way around it. It’s super-high tech, but it’s also very, very easy to use. Now if she could only read or knew what an email was, then she could actually do something with it.

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