While reading an article partly about the iPhone user experience, a thought dawned on me about the virtual keyboard. Like many other people, I was afraid that the lack of tactile feedback would be disorienting and difficult to get accustomed to. And, like most people who have moved to the iPhone, I’ve found that it really isn’t. That got me thinking about the whole nature of “touch typing”.
Think back to high school (those of you who actually took typing classes). What was the “sales pitch” the teacher gave you about “touch typing”? Well, it made you more efficient by stopping you from having to repeatedly move your eyes from the keyboard to the screen (or, er, paper – at least when I was in high school).
Now think about the iPhone. Where’s the keyboard? Where’s the screen? Your eyes never have to move more than 3 inches to jump between the two. AND, with the large visual pop-up key feedback (the real stroke of genius), you can rely on your peripheral vision to ensure correct keypresses, and still never take your eyes off of the entered text. Apple simply took a negative limitation of a mobile device (limited room for both display and input), and turned it into a positive – the ability to support a virtual keyboard by replacing tactile feedback with peripheral visual feedback.
Turning limitations into advantages is a hallmark of both great marketing and great user experience design. Whenever you’re in the process of designing a transformative product like the iPhone, always be sure to ask yourself “What old rules no long apply?”
Remember the Commodore 64, the best selling computer of all time? Remember how cheap it was? $200 when its competitors were 5-10 times as expensive? Well, there’s a great story in this free Play Value podcast about the history of Commodore.
Apparently, founder Jack Tramiel was such a ruthless businessman, obsessed with vertical integration, he drove prices into the basement using this clever little trick:
Pure, unadulterated, evil business genius!
Peter Elkind of Fortune just wrote a scathing article about Steve Jobs in Fortune Magazine, but this post isn’t really about this. It’s about this included quote from former Apple CEO (and sacker of Steve Jobs), John Sculley:
“Apple was supposed to become a wonderful consumer products company. This was a lunatic plan. High tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product.”
This wasn’t just an offhand comment to the press. It’s committed for posterity in Sculley’s memoir: “Odyssey” (13 used copies are currently available for $0.01 if you’re looking for further inspiration.)
And this is why he really should have stuck with selling “sugared water”.
It has nothing to do with OS X. Well, not in the way most Apple fans think.I recently stumbled across two different, unrelated articles which point to the same conclusion. In order for comptuters to truly shine, the software MUST be tied to the hardware.The first article, “Has Vista Lost all Credibility?” talks about how product development and product marketing conflicts between Intel, Dell, and Microsoft led to a lot of the faults of Vista (and provides 158 pages of internal email evidence backing it up).The second article, “Why I Quit“, by former Linux kernel developer Con Kolivas, talks about how even with complete control over the software, the PC platform architecture has become so convoluted over the decades that machines that are technically 1,000 times faster, they’re 10 times slower in “doing stuff”, like playing audio or moving windows.This problem is only getting worse, and Vista has proven it once and for all. The open “Wintel” architecture used to matter, when people were regularly building and upgrading their own systems, but those days are long gone. With $250 PC’s at Wal-Mart, the average user is as likely to upgrade their own computers as they are their pocket calculator. PC’s are disposable commodities now, and people are fine with that.Apple knows this, which is why they developed the Macbook Air the way they did. You can’t even (officially) replace the battery in this thing. It’s a sealed, black box for the average user, and even though it comes at a premium price, people don’t care. They want the illusion that the computer is just a single thing that just does what you want, whether it’s powered by Intel, Motorola, or magical fairies.True innovation in computing (in this day and age) will only come from an integrated hardware and software platform. The Amiga was a quantum leap ahead of its contemporaries (as Con Kolivas points out) because of its hardware innovations. Apple is currently the only company following this path, and this is why Macs will become the defacto home computer within 20 years, regardless of how cool OS X is.