Not very long ago, the world of mobile communication lingered around a few liner screens, capable of showing a limited amount of clarity, pixels and interaction. And somewhere along the line, a slow assuring Boom! brought in a new paradigm of Smart Phones. These phones changed mobile usage for ever. Here are some thoughts of the creep that happened, what it has left us with, and what it can lead to!
All around us, from touch screen printers, to accelerometer technology in aircraft, most of the smart phone features already existed. It took a master chef to gather these ingredients from several sources and cook the wonderful recipe called iPhone!
Whatever the world says, this gadget changed the lives and mobile usage of several millions. A high standard of user experience well tailored with WOW! experiences beyond expectations created the exact Generation Jump that the world wanted just then. The timing could not have been better. An apt open market, easy internet facility, short-term stagnancy in mobile based feature offerings, willingness to spend – all these factors and more, contributed in unquestioned union to the iPhone’s acceptance and growth. Despite the very little learning curve that the device had, the sheer experience that one had, easily drove them beyond all Learning Curve theories that predictions had warned. A touch screen, on a small gadget was a scare for usability experts, citing reduced Tactile feedback and other such qualms. However, to cut a long story short, nothing ever succeeded better!
Adding to this, as a note worth mention, is Apple’s forecast of future threats and requirements. Lets throw a few thoughts on this before venturing into the iDroid context. Device-ware, Revenue-Model (Sales), Revenue-Model (Service), Ware-control, Consistent-Experience, Constant-Growth-Revenue, are some of these aspects. None ever thought so much for any device release. Even when the internet was made public, no one had thought of control aspects like managing virus threats or firewalls. All these were considered as stages of development. But the ‘i’ really thougth thru all these aspects. Lets discuss these in a little detail.
Device-Ware – Wanting to have a gadget capable of offering the world in your fingertips would also require a huge list of applications that could cater to a world mass, all life styles and interests. No organization has a developer mass this big; big enough to make several thousands of applications to suit all demands. So what does Apple do? They turn the world’s developers into an unassigned and unsigned employee list. They get the world to develop apps for the ‘i’! A simple understanding and revenue sharing model (which we discuss later), now has developers in every nuke and corner of several thousand cities across the globe! They all make iOS Apps for the iPhone and iPad. Just imagine what the ‘i’UX would be if not for them! Not that they are not rewarded, or supported; but a simple what if! I am extremely curious to know what was Apple’s Plan B if this were not what it were now!
Revenue-Model (Sales) is fairly simplistic. It is ensuring sales despite high cost. And as has been done in several instances of history, a simple tie-up with a service provider ensures Apple get their money up front, or atleast guaranteed, while the service provider takes the baton fighting rough waters of verification and monthly bill collection for years! Simple, yet tempting and superficially beneficial enough for a large corporation like AT&T to opt for. In the months that came by, several iPhones were pirated and used with Jailbreaks that Apple could really have avoided. How very difficult was it for Apple to introduce online verification into a phone that always requires an internet connection for several of its updates. Apple itself had the SIM-verification-jailbreak technology which is even now sold in countries where a jailbreak is required. This is a simple sticker strip that is introduced with the SIM card, to fool the Who-are-you scanner! Anyways, it was not for Apple to lose, and like several other companies the world over, they too wanted to have enough of the grey market, from an aspiration perspective. This strategy involves converting aspirants into genuine buyers, by allowing a grey sale, getting them hooked on, curtailing service, and ensuring a sale somewhere. After all, every paid app downloaded meant revenue for Apple. When every jailbreak ensures all apps to be reloaded, why would Apple say No to this revenue stream.
Revenue-Model (Service) is a constant stream of income from all raised brow users! … and the several lakh applications that are available in the iTunes App Store guarantees that. The rare connector system of apple accessories also ensure lesser duplicates to be used from what is available in the market. What Apple did not contemplate was the other accessories that several other vendors started making for the ‘i’ devices. There is no royalty that can be promised to Apple. Instead, Apple only sees a probability of selling these in their App Store at an profit-sharing revenue basis. However, the on-going sales is itself a progressive demand-supply wheel that keeps churning revenues. The explicit brand based limelight that Steve’s concern always gets, is another topic of its own.
Ware-control is the most important aspect of the ‘i’ concept. It is this single thought that drives success like no other. It is this unmatched and less noticed identity created by Apple, that will always have others wondering whats missing. More on this later, at an appropriate point when Android comes into the picture.
Consistent-Experience is very much related to Ware-control. Apple experience can remain its forever-WOW only when it has the right Feature-Handshake with Ware-Control. More on this too later.
Constant-Growth-Revenue – is simply obtained when newer faster and better versions keep coming once every while to fill up the top part of a slimy sale pyramid. When the high priced beauty like the 3Gs is sold to the cream of society at rates that make a country’s inflation seem like a shadow, this essentially drives a hunger for the less lucky at lower levels of the pyramid. As affordability rises, and as costs compromise, the lower levels start becoming proud owners. This is when the camera in improved, memory in increased, process speed accelerates and out comes the 4G…. Then its 4Gs, and some time later, the 5G. A constant innovation that has nothing to do with upgrades, retain high sales to high society. The new revenue permits more growth, and the fish keeps eating a tail that keeps growing!
Then comes the developer mass, who cannot make anything for the iProducts without a Mac. So Mac sales are ensured. Mas usage is also ensured, which makes reports on usage based enhancements always show as a success. I mean, how does it really matter to Apple, otherwise, if iSoftware for iProducts was made on a PC? This is a clear plan to sell and propagate Mac usage. A Million hopefuls read stories of a handful who soaked their foreheads in hundred dollar bills, with that one cracking iPhone app…. and ventured into developing products for iUsers, hoping to make their astrology predictions come true. They bought or sought Macs, like how Apple wanted, and soon enough, there is a high priced great hardware product all around us, mostly unused except when a brainwave for a iApp comes to light. These hopefuls also pay anything from 99 to 299 USD to acquire a license to make apps for iProducts. This number should itself be staggering. And why such control exists is something that few will understand, and maybe more, when this blog has ended.
20 percent of a 100 million creating 10 Billion downloads, and being excessively charged into additional revenue stream is also considered acceptable to an otherwise highly adaptable mass of the human race. How much would one question a false 1 USD billing on a credit card requirement, which is a must for iUsers to access the App Store?
Enter the Android.
When everyone sees everyone else talk, do and play as an iUser, there seems be a fathomless pit for everyone to do something similar. Some say coping is the best form of flattery, while I feel that allowing someone else to grow so greatly is very hard to digest by any other human, manager & spouse included! The enormous success of the iPlatform and iProducts and the letter i itself sends other creative minds looking for similar pies to eat. And out comes Google with the Android. Until then, I always thought of Google to be the best in usability and UX. Maybe they hired the wrong guys, or did not hire the right guys, but a goof up of magnanimous stature happened – one that will make aliens laugh at us in future.
The Android platform was a free platform developed and driven by Google to possibly overtake Apple’s iOS and the flagship that the iProducts had. There were several manufacturers waiting for an opportunity such; something that would make them stand up to Apple, and it did not matter if it was with crutches even! A semi-liquid shoes, with a promise of growing into a knighty armor was thrown openly, along with a set of free crutches, as a just-in-case. When the Android platform was introduced, it spread in three directions. The first targeted the hungry mobile manufacturers to use this free and powerful platform to best use cheaper hardware into much better experience. Based on its architecture, it is undoubtedly the most happening stuff around. With more than 200,000 mobile installations on several types of mobile devices, it will overtake any and all types of OS in years to come. This is pretty much sure, as of data today. But how well the world adapts and seems happy with it, remains a big question. A very big question, with letters as big as an elephant’s head!
Here is where we will see Apple’s approach to a model of Consistent Experience which is closely and inherently linked to its Ware-Control methodology.
Apple created an environment where there is a strict guideline to the experience quotient that has to be built into every app that can go into the iPhone, iPad or the iPod. These iApps and their developers will have to read this model of consistency and standard based charter, and use them in the apps that are developed. These dev guys who keep seeing a green dollar light flash once every 0.13 seconds, will follow, and Apple knows it. Actually, there is no other way. They have invested dollars for a iApp Developer license, on a Mac, time and very importantly on a great maybe-idea. Now they will follow a process, which Apple has set, and which will ensure the Consistent Experience that only iProducts and iApps can deliver. All back buttons, all time selectors, all toggles and all such phonegets are consistent across all iApps, with a huge does-not-matter tag on where it came from, or who. If you would randomly pick an app from the retail – related segment and another from a children – alphabet – related list, a whole lot of interaction design is so very …. consistent! There is no new learning curve or the slightest doubt for an already iProduct user to download and use this iApp. Although the generic use of the application differs greatly between one another, the usage and applicability of these ideas dont! They are extremely similar in all apps that the Apple Store offers. This is the first part of Ware-Control.
In the next stage, all apps require a mandatory authorization from Apple, before it is available on the iStore for iProduct iUsers to iDownload! Here, these apps are tested in various angles ranging from memory utility, processor load, performance analysis, relation to other apps, bandwidth consumption, and other fire-tests. This is the in-house Apple seal that guarantees all apps available on the store to work best on your ‘i’. In cases where the app fails or retards performance in hardware, software or experience aspects, suggestions are made to the iDeveloper to make required amends and re-submit. Genuine advise on how the performance, UI and other aspects can be improved, is marked in the reply, for the gook to consider. This stage of the Ware-Control definitively sets aside all competition that has ever been thought to exist.
We are talking about a Standardization Charter, which is a compulsive part of any UX (User eXperience) process. A charter thus, resolves queries on how cross-browser, cross-application and cross-feature usage of any task flow should be. It comprehensively covers the dos and donts, in a manner that is decisive of a result oriented welcoming experience. The User Interface and coding guide that Apple released to its developers is a much thought of document. It clearly states the different parts of a probable application, the limits set thereon, and the coding process to be followed. A singular entity masters all fellow identities in an entirety based and focused on an experience par compare. The Android guys completely missed this. I mean, more than completely!
When a challenge has to be faced; when a win to be registered; it is ever so common to bye pass required steps of the trade. Its like jumping a signal, literally! Unfortunately, the jump has a very dear fine, some thins that cannot be undone.
Android has no specification that truly controls the various screen sizes and processor speeds that several manufacturers make. It was a race for market hungry companies who compromised somewhere to attain something else. And not having this truly complete product vision brought forth a powerful platform easily accessible, easier to work on, and easiest to launch. And launches did happen, several hundred thousands of those, in a frenzy state of panic fight. These apps, although supposed to have built in features to resize et al, do no work in tandem with other apps on board. For a power user who has several apps on his Android instrument, faces the challenge of adapting to several changes between every app. There is no certification valid enough to ensure proper working mechanisms like the charter Apple has. Upgrades thru the Android market is never smoothly operational. An absence of a proper feedback mechanism removes chances of suggesting apps to rise up their standard. The free platform gives scope and freedom to any app developer to make something that needs least testing, quick to deliver, and fast to use. The processor and a lighter frame work ensures the Android app to work fast and well, sans what a smart phone should actually have. Somewhere the smartness of how apps work in terms of the WOW factor stands compromised. Additional access to memory and other parts of the phone throw open more and more options for developers to get creative. And all this comes with lesser control than the iOS. The exact control that definitions declare as an advantage when removed; the exact control that lacks in a conversation between two lost money driven souls; the control that should exist when dealing with a disorder of a magnitude that can otherwise not be channeled.
Android will simply grow, and grow, for its basic advantage of freedom. Android gives everyone an opportunity to use a smart phone, based on affordability more than a smart choice. This demand will create the right programming of the user’s mind, to work in tandem to the newly created demand from mere proportions, not a demand from a want of higher experience. The several apps that the Android marketplace showcase are more or less re-makes of what was created for the iStore. The same concept and utility is made in Android. Now, following the leader is not the best, but seems like an opportunity for a new leader; a leader without the poise that ‘i’ provides.
Simplistically, every iApp works great in every iDevice; in contrast with how Android tries to balance several models with different screens, performance levels, memory constraints and the overall appeal. Versions of applications for different phone types are available, but some sort of an 80:20 principle decides which sent of phones the app works best for. This leaves another group of subsets of the lesser-wanted models and their users to always work on a compromised mode.
Apart from the handset agnostic anomaly, variation range in differentiated interaction design and screen flows is matter of factly a handicap for good usability. However, the challenge also seems to be the spice that a majority of users wanted. From more complicated screen locks, which several users themselves forget, to a complex learning curve in operation between several unchecked Android apps, the new found quarry has a lot of hot air that will soon dry.
Similar unchecked propositions have always existed around us, as samples from which we should have picked up. Traffic rules that dont consider pedestrians on highways, to outdated bye-laws that time never revised; these gaps is what renders an otherwise solution as incapable. The iThought thinks thru all these gaps which any semi-professional approach cannot match. However, Android will still overtake with sheer mass power. A History Repeats story from the Mac-PC archives!