Category Archives: User experience


So 36 hours or so after I installed Yosemite I confess to being impressed with the latest version of OS X and a little bit smitten.

I’ve installed it on a 2007 iMac and a late-2010 Macbook Pro.

After the initial install I immediately regretted it. The MBP ran like a dog every time I opened a program, whether it was Word, Mail, Chrome or Disk Utility. However, I found that once I cycled through the programs performance improved.

Naturally, permissions were repaired and Macs restarted. Several times.

Now a day and half later, it seems, like a friend of mine commented on Twitter, that it is just like Snow Leopard. An under-the-hood upgrade. Except with a whole new lick of paint.

Both old Macs are ticking along nicely.

And they look good, too. I was put off a little by the initial look and feel of Yosemite but it’s grown on me quickly. I like the bold colours of icons.

But the main thing is the performance.

Many reviews will rave about Handoff and the other headline features in Yosemite but these are the three things that have made me happy.

1.  The green ‘maximise’ button finally does something coherent. It maximises the window to full screen. How it has taken Apple so long to make this leap into the obvious I have no idea. I no longer suffer bafflement and embarrassment trying to explain to people how it worked. Or how it didn’t.

2. I love the black menu bar and dock option. Partially because it looks cool and partly because it’s there as an option. Mac OS X was always so prescriptive in how it wanted to be seen. It’s refreshing to have options and it feels a bit cheeky, too.

3.  I’m using Safari again. I switched to Chrome some nine months ago. I’ve tentatively switched back again. Chrome is a very fine browser indeed and links well with my Google apps (naturally) but returning to Safari has let me take advantage of the browser across multiple devices. And I’m always surprised at how useful iCloud tabs are.


Nope, still not sold on Siri

I’ve given Siri the benefit of the doubt in the last month since I’ve owned a 5S but I’m largely underwhelmed.

Yes, it’s clever and when it works, it works fine. Most of the time it works well in what you might call ‘test conditions’. In other words, I’m sat down in a room with wifi and relative peace and quiet, speaking slowly and clearly into it.

Most of the time this isn’t the scenario.

Off wifi and relying on 3G it normally posts a pregnant pause before apologising and telling me it can’t do or understand whatever it was I asked it to do.

It’s unusable when there’s any sort of significant ambient noise. Asking it to call my wife while I’m on the bike is never successful.

As I wrote in a recent post, there are compelling reasons I haven’t bought into Siri. Here’s another: reliability.

It doesn’t work well enough and consistently enough for me to rely on it.

Here’s’ an analogy: MobileMe’s iDisk worked perhaps 80-90% of the time when I wanted it to back up files. However, most of the time I emailed a file to my Gmail as well, just in case.

If Siri even worked to anywhere near this level I might use Siri more but it doesn’t. I’d estimate that about half the time it fails to do whatever I ask it, either because of lack of connectivity or because it doesn’t understand what I’ve asked it to do.

What I’d ideally want is something on the same level of consistency as Dropbox. Something that never lets me down. Something I can trust. Otherwise, what’s the point? The alternatives get the

At the end of the day, it’s just too beta.

Breathless iWatch and iTV update!

I like to speculate about future Apple products as much as the next wholly uninformed person but I was knocked over by the scarcity of facts in this Telegraph article.

Apple’s long-awaited plan to release ultra-high definition televisions in 2014 has been put on hold as the company turns its focus to wearable devices such as the iWatch, experts have said.

Apple hasn’t announced plans to release an ultra-high-definition TV at any time or for that matter any plans to develop watches, other than a Tim Cook reference as to how interesting a space the wrist was.

Apple have decide to postpone the ‘iTV’ beyond its rumoured 2014 release as consumers do not replace TVs often enough, and because the company wants to make certain it can offer something well beyond a traditional television.

You’d have thought Apple would have thought of the product renewal cycle long before it embarked on its (not-so-secret) R&D programme. If you’re going to revolutionise a product space, do your research.

“To offer truly unique product differentiation that would allow Apple to capture market share from existing smart TV brands, they would need to either deliver some exclusive source of content that the other brands cannot, such as a la carte pay-TV channels, or proprietary content not available on other devices.

“Neither of these is easy to achieve, and our sources indicate this is one of the principle reasons for the delay in the project.”

So a project that may or may not exist and has no release date is now behind schedule.


“Before he died in 2011, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his biographer he had “finally cracked” how to build a television…

Page 554 of the Jobs biography (at least on the Kindle version).  Still, the iTV is last year’s speculation. We’re back on the iWatch.

“It was reported earlier this year that Apple now has up to 50 employees working on developing the iWatch. The FT claimed that Apple “has embarked on a hiring spree to tackle design problems” with the product.

It was speculated earlier this year that Apple has some people working on a project that may or may not exist and that it has a problem designing the product, which again may not exist.

Tech writing at its very best.




Apple ‘oversells’ Siri

Interesting find via the Guardian. A poll of Americans has found that Apple has oversold Siri.

The research asked 2,000 iOS 7 users what they thought about Siri’s capabilities and specifically whether they thought the voice recognition software had been “oversold” by Apple.

Putting aside the fact that asking users a loaded, negative question is likely to skew the response and that 54 per cent said “no” the resulting 46 per cent of ‘oversold’ users is still a lot.

From personal experience I have to side with the Siri-sceptics. I’ll accept that many people find it useful and use it on a regular basis, I’m just not one of them. John Malkovich and Martin Scorsese may find it a delight but not me.

The three reasons I don’t use it are:


Telling my phone/tablet to do things just seems a stupid thing to do when the existing user interface supports the swift creation of messages, finding contacts and searching for stuff on the internet.


By accuracy I mean both the results and (more commonly) in getting Siri to recognise what it is I’ve asked it to do – by which point I could have just typed or swiped whatever it was I want to do anyway.


I find it difficult to think of things I want to say to it. I can quickly start a text message, find a contact or search for something after more than five years of smartphone use. It just takes that little longer to make the cognitive shift to thinking about how to verbalise what muscle memory knows to do instinctively – by which point I’ve wasted time again.

(Plus I suspect there’s the British thing of not wanting to embarrass yourself in the public place by braying commands into a mobile phone.)

I should qualify that I don’t have Siri on my iPhone 4 just on my iPad. When I upgrade to an iPhone 5S, I may give it another go. Sure, I played with it a fair bit on my iPad when I first got it but never use it now.

Actually that’s not true, I frequently tell Siri is to *** off when I press the home key down for too long by accident.

Is the iPad Air “good enough”?

The new iPads look great. I’m particularly impressed by the hop, skip and jump the iPad mini has done with its A7 processor.

Yet I’m still surprised by the fundamental lack of understanding some writers have about Apple’s strategy.

This from an otherwise good article for the Telegraph on competitors issuing cheaper devices on similar ecosystem models (underline by me, not the author):

“There’s no guarantee that such an approach will succeed in the long-term – but Apple must be wary that consumers will deem cheaper rivals good enough. If market share continues to fall, even if Apple continues to make enormous profits, shareholders may yet demand cuts in prices to sustain Apple’s dominance.”

If Apple has considered that consumers would or have considered cheaper rivals “good enough” then the Mac would be dead on its arse.

I don’t think Apple gives a damn about people who think that something cheaper is good enough. Someone who says: “That’ll do,” isn’t the target audience.

The “good enough” ethos doesn’t come across in the company’s product or marketing strategy, it doesn’t come across in the way its CEO describes Apple’s mission to deliver great user experience.

PC World: where tablets go to die

mockup-863469_1280I’ve had a fairly ambivalent relationship with Apple Stores over the years. Less so with PC World. As part of the Dixons stable its weary user experience makes Apple’s decision to hire and then fire John Browett all the more bizarre.

I spend more time than I’d like to in PC World trying out new Android kit. The number one problem I have with PC World is that they don’t seem particularly interested in selling you anything.

This isn’t to do with the mostly pleasant staff, it’s to do with the way they lay their wares out. No more is this shoddy, half-arsed approach to retail evidenced than in the the way tablets are displayed.

Let’s head back to the Apple Store for a second. Each iPad is wiped regularly (I guess each day) to clear all the data input by customers (e.g. Photobooth images or test Word documents) and reinstated with a pristine set of images, videos and apps.

When you pick up an iPad in an Apple Store you can do two things. Continue reading

The cheaper iPhone

A plastic iPhone 5 costing roughly half the price of the standard Apple smartphone is due to launch soon, it has been claimed.

Source: Telegraph

Remarkable if true. According to the Isaccson biography, Jobs shied away from plastic on the iPhone because it was easily scratched. Plus, it’s naturally going to feel cheaper given that the materials aren’t up to the same standard of the iPhone 5 or 4S.

Apple could clearly manufacture this kind of device if it wanted to and needed to. Do either apply?

The people most obsessed with Apple gaining market share are the press, analysts, bloggers and pretty much everyone else and not Apple itself. The obsession with getting the biggest market share isn’t something that Apple has ever seemed to be very concerned about. Especially if it compromises its self-avowed commitment to quality and superior user experience. Continue reading

Making people happy is important – just ask Apple

Usability dominates everything. These days everything is user-centred, you can’t afford not to be.

This post was prompted by the realisation that despite this being a blog about Apple and other tech companies I tended to select ‘User Experience’ from the categories list for a large number of posts.

At my bricks-and-mortar workplace we were recently given a talk by a fairly heavy hitter from the UK corporate world.

She had been a ‘CEO’*/MD at a number of major retail companies and had more recently gone to work in the public sector in a non-executive advisory capacity.

One of the team asked her what was the most important thing to get right in a product and her instant answer was to make the user experience as compelling and simple as possible.

As a product and publishing type who has spent the best part of 10 years banging on at senior management that the user should always come first it was a real life fist-pump moment.

Whenever Tim Cook or Steve Jobs talk/ed about Apple’s values the user experience was always central.

Apple is certainly not the only company to put usability, the end-to-end experience and customer delight at the forefront of design and marketing – I’d add Nintendo to the list – but it’s certainly one of the main modern proponents. It’s one of the company’s marketing axioms.

When I started my current role over 10 years ago I had to fight tooth and nail to get the funding for a usability review of the website.

The review demonstrated that users couldn’t even find the button that let them start the transaction that was the entire raison d’être of the site or make sense of the ‘guidance’. A huge revision of the site, its user journeys and its content took place as a result.


* I put CEO in inverted commas as the job title is barely used in the UK but seemed to make most sense to an international audience.

Thank you, Mr Forstall

Ever since Apple announced the iOS software boss Scott Forstall was leaving the company there has been a tsunami of articles explaining why Tim Cook had no choice other than to show him the door:

    Lack of social/corporate graces with other executives
    Lack of humility
    Lack of a sense of place within the company (note Om Malik’s observation – he forgot he was Steve’s guy and not Steve)

Yet, Forstall was responsible for the hugely successful rise of the iPhone, iPad and the iPod thing nobody can ever bother to mention. Continue reading

Thoughts on the iPad mini

I like this from John Gruber’s review of the iPad mini:

The iPad Mini is not a device you need to spend a lot of time with to understand. My snap reaction from a week ago remains unchanged after a week of daily use.

I don’t (yet) own an iPad mini but I’ve spent a good few hours playing with one. It’s not a revolutionary device, but it is a smaller form factor of an existing revolutionary device.

The smaller iPad makes a whole lot of sense. The ability to hold it one hand is genuinely a big UX boon. Likewise, the weight is a refreshing change from the larger iPad. I still love the larger iPad. It’s my main computer now.

There’s been a lot of talk about the mini being the true realisation of the iPad. I can see why this is the case. It’s neat, convenient, portable and feels far more durable than its larger cousin. An iPad is essentially a large piece of glass, making the glass smaller gives you more confidence that it isn’t going to shatter if you don’t carry it around reverently on a velvet cushion. Continue reading