29 June 2007

Rubber Edges

I spent some time today playing with the iPhone and there's one interaction I just love. It's that when you scroll to the edge of the web page, the iPhone allows you to drag/scroll as far as you like past the edge. It just lets you stretch right past the edge into the "grayness", but when you do let go it pulls back to the end/edge of the data being displayed. It's like the iPhone is saying, "You're in control, but there's no more data over there. Honest, but if you want to go there, sure, you can. But I'm telling you there's nothing there. See, I told you, nothing there. It really is the end." This is very clever. It gives you both a sense of control, but also a sense of boundary. It's like the difference between a corral with split pole fences and one with electric fences. Both define the boundary, but with one, finding the edge is much more unpleasant.

26 June 2007

iPhone. A Guided Tour.

This week Apple has released a 20 minute guided tour of the iPhone that shows in great detail the new user interface. You can download the high quality version here.

Apparently there are millions of people excited, even hysterical, about the iPhone's release this Friday. I must be out of the core news/media channels, but I haven't felt the fervor as much as it seems others have. That said, I'm very interested in a phone that "just works" and the iPhone has every indication of being just that. If this post adds to your hype pain, I'm sorry.

While the demos and ads for the iPhone thus far have been persuasive, they really didn't show all the details about the actual user interaction with the iPhone. Not so with this guided tour. If you are on the fence about the iPhone, this 20 minute tour will at the very least, make you want to visit the store and try it out.

Some of the things that caught my attention from a user experience perspective follow:

Everything moves very fast and fluid. Seriously, I'm so used to delays, even on my Mac, this responsiveness really makes you feel in control.

They actually show someone typing on the keyboard with their thumbs, but mention that you shouldn't try it for a week and until you've learned to "trust the intelligence of the keyboard." Personally, I have a hard time believing any touch screen keyboard can be better than something with real tactile response. That said, I tend to see small devices as mostly read only for me. I don't plan on doing major data entry on my phone. Add an appointment, respond to simple text message, type quick answer to an email, add a new phone number to my contact list, sure, but if I end up "living on my phone" I think I've got bigger problems than even a tactile keyboard will solve.

I cannot for the life of me figure out how you are supposed to tell the keyboard to "auto-complete" with the word suggested. I think it's hitting the spacebar, but I can't tell if that's just for spelling corrections or for auto-compelete as well.

It seems like the double tap is taking the "get me more info about this item" that the double click has represented on the Mac for so long. What is interesting is that they are adding to this gesture the sense of "I'm done now, get me out of here." For example in Safari a double tap both zooms in and zooms out. But this behavior is not consistent. In the Google Maps application, to zoom out, you need to tap once with two fingers. So, no zooming out while driving. ;-)

When browsing the web, it sure seems like the zooming is based on CSS devisions. I wonder what kind of problems this will cause on sites with poor or none existent CSS devisions?

It looks like a triple tap is what "activates" a link in the web browser. I think that's a good solution, but I wonder how many times folks will drag, flick or zoom before they actually figure out how to click a link? Activating a link or phone number in an email or SMS message only takes one tap. While not consistent, given the context, I think it will work. In my mind, this shows how weak consistency is, compared to the power of context.

The exterior buttons on the side of the phone actually look hard to press. And there's a button specifically to silence the phone's ringing. That button is one of 4 buttons on the unit. Way to go Apple for elevating that general need to silence a ring tone in a quiet meeting.

You can turn off the phone which looks to be quite painless. I wonder how long it takes to boot up?

The "drag your finger from left to right" seems to be the "authorize this action" or "serious stuff happens when you do this" gesture. You use it to unlock the phone, to confirm a shutdown and to initiate a deletion.

It looks like 5 buttons at the bottom of the screen is a theme in these iPhone applications. Kind of like a toolbar, but one that can never have more than 5 items. It's a constraint really based on the constant size of people's fingers. Apple still let's you "customize your toolbar buttons" at least in the iPod app. The upper portion of the screen is where "confirmation buttons" are located, like "Done", "Clear", "Save", " etc.

Sheets always come from either the bottom or side of the screen, never from the top of the screen. That area seems to be a sacred status area.

Dragging is done by touching a "drag handle" button that let's the iPhone know you are trying drag, not gesture. When you drag, the item increases in size so you you can see around your finger. Nice.

Sometimes you can drag and other times you can "flick" or "throw" things, like when scrolling a web page. I wonder as a designer, how you decide when you can do what? Also, how does the Safari app decided between a "flick" and a quick short drag? There must have been some fun iteration around that algorithm.

Big buttons actually look nice and not "too big and bulky", but not all buttons are huge. Like the audio scroll control in the voice mail application. I wonder how Apple decided when to make a button "finger size" and when to make it small?

The landscape orientation is like "full screen" mode on a Mac.

Airplane mode is awesome. I wish my Mac had that kind of mode as well, not just for airplanes, but for when I just want to be "off the grid" and focus for a bit. Call it QuietRoom: a place where distractions go away.

It looks like when someone calls, you might see a full screen photo of the person who is calling, not just a small thumbnail. If that's so, that's very cool.

Clicking some buttons, but not all, causes a "glow" response. It seems to be how smaller buttons register the click. I think it's a great effect and it looks like you can mostly see it around your finger, which I think is the whole idea behind the effect.

The ring tones seem really high quality and distinctive. Depending on how cool they are, Apple might even get some extra marketing out of "well known" iPhone ring tones. When folks hear a ring, they'll know that person has an iPhone, so even if Apple never sells ring tones, I hope they spent a lot of time working on them, because it could very well pay great dividends. Especially if for some reason they don't allow using a portion of an iTunes song as a ring tone.

All very interesting stuff, for me at least. :-)

What I really appreciate about Apple is their example of taking some domain that people largely view as "solved" and allow changes to occur by introducing new methods, ideas, or products or simply altering existing ones in new ways. Say, for example, how a human interacts with a small computer. Clicking and pointing with a device was "the way it was done," and "using a keyboard" before that. With the iPhone, Apple has said in essence, "No, there is a way to communicate with a computer that removes even the pointing or input device!" They remove the mouse and the stylus and take direct manipulation and human computer interaction to a whole new level. It's really amazing to watch. Allowing for changes to occur in any business is extremely hard, much harder than you might think. Seth Godin said it succinctly in his post on Reasons and excuses:

  • Most organizations need a good reason to do something new.

  • All they need is a flimsy excuse to not do something for the first time.

  • And they often need a lawsuit to stop doing something they're used to.

If there's a space in your area of expertise that people generally view as "solved" or "commodity" or "not interesting any more" look again. The very fact that folks consider that area devoid of innovative potential is probably your greatest indication that there's something more lurking under the surface.

12 June 2007

iPhone requires iTunes account?

I just got the second email from Apple after signing up with them for breaking iPhone updates via email. I read the mail a little bitterly, since I felt the least they could have done was to send me an email when they had the ship date nailed down. Well, the tone of the email was mostly, "Here are things you can do to get ready for your iPhone...", but it ended with this:

To set up your iPhone, you'll need an account with Apple's iTunes Store. If you already have an iTunes account, make sure you know your account name and password. If you don't have an account, you should set one up now to save time later. To set up an account, launch iTunes, select the iTunes Store, and click the Sign In button in the upper right corner of iTunes. Sign in and you're ready to go.

My first thought was sure, you'd need one if you wanted to use protected iTunes content, but on second thought, I wondered, could this be something more? Could it be that you'll need an iTunes account for other iPhone features to actually work, like maybe purchasing music from the store over WiFi? Could this be how ring tones are purchased? Could this be the mechanism for adding Apple applications and features to your iPhone? Maybe some integration with a new and improved .Mac service, like real time sync? Maybe to make up for the forever lost hidden features in Leopard, there will be some "sweet" hidden features in the iPhone? Nah, never mind.

Forward Looking Font Display

Yesterday, Apple released their own Safari 3.0 web browser for Windows XP and Windows Vista. Amid the security and performance comparisons, folks are also noticing that Apple has also ported their own sub-pixel display technology to Windows. Joel Spolsky summarizes the differences sucintly:

Apple generally believes that the goal of the algorithm should be to preserve the design of the typeface as much as possible, even at the cost of a little bit of blurriness.

Microsoft generally believes that the shape of each letter should be hammered into pixel boundaries to prevent blur and improve readability, even at the cost of not being true to the typeface.

I think Apple's method will turn out better when we all have resolution independence along with hi-resolution displays. The real question is will the current font display fuzziness in Safari turn off the current unwashed masses, so that even when hi-res displays become standard, it's too late. If that happens, Safari will follow a great Apple tradition: high technology ahead of its time.