A good friend of mine told me that he was showing off his new iPhone to his dad over the weekend. Obviously, his dad loved it; but when he showed him how you can tilt the phone over and get the cover art for albums his dad said:
“How do I know to do that?”
It’s a good question, and it follows on quite neatly from my last post. It’s quite possible that someone could never find that feature. I knew about it because I -
- Watched the keynote when the iPhone was announced (no it’s not sad!)
- Have read about it in the news
- Have seen the adverts
- Have spent hours drooling over it on the Apple web site before deciding I needed one!
Most people will not have done any of those – so how are they supposed to know? Once you have discovered it, it’s the most natural way of doing this; but nowhere on the device itself does it tell you that this can be done! Nor is it a particularly intuitive feature – in the web browser it makes sense to rotate the device to get a better view of the information, but it’s not as instinctive to rotate a list of artist or song names.
Discovery vs. Direction
When designing new products we should strive to make things as usable as possible. However, this becomes harder as products become increasingly complex with more and more features. The iPhone has this doubly bad because it’s a new paradigm for interaction – you can’t assume that users will have any knowledge of how things are supposed to work through using similar devices. They need to be told about it somehow.
Apple do a great series of video tutorials, but the old computer in the corner with the videos on just isn’t as exciting as the new shiny toy in their hands! Other products come with a thick multi-language manual. If the videos on the computer in the corner are ignored the manual doesn’t stand a chance!
People are curious and like to experiment, they won’t put down their new toy to go read a manual. There is a certain joy in discovering new features which should never be removed, so we must hold a new user’s hand and encourage their experimentation. We need to just make sure we are there to help them when they get lost.
Now, I imagine that it is a rare case that someone would invest in an iPhone without being aware of its features (there are cheaper phones and contracts out there!) but making assumptions of knowledge on a brand new idea is never good. I would have added the following:
- When you turn on the iPhone for the 1st time, it should play a very short video introducing the key modes of interaction; pinch, touch, device rotation etc. and then encourage the user to try them out with each of the applications. It just sets the scene.
- Have the video tutorials pre-installed on the device within the iPod (so they can be easily removed using iTunes to reclaim the disk space). These could be referenced in the 1st boot video.
- Include help pages! I’m not sure if Apple see it as a failure if people need help with their products, but there really should be a consistent and obvious way to show help on a per application basis. It doesn’t even need to be detailed – just explain the basics and give pointers for more detailed information!
Having said that, there’s no doubting, of all the phones I have ever owned, the iPhone is certainly the one with the least need for instructions! But that isn’t a reason to not help out when someone gets lost!
NB. This post is my entry to the killer titles contest fun over at ProBlogger!