They Murdered the Experience: iPhone purchase and activation

One of the first things that gave me joy about iPhone 1.0 was the purchase, activation and setup experience.

If you’ve ever bought a cell phone, you’ve probably experienced pain going through all the many confusing options (in store or over the phone) for plans, dealing with upselling for warranties and accessories, answering all the questions and waiting for computer problems, credit checks, etc. Then onto quirks activating and setting up. Nothing about the process seems considerate of the customer, their time and frustration. Before iPhone 1.0, this was true across all the carriers and handsets out there.

iPhone 1.0 and AT&T changed all that, simplifying plans and choices, allowing you to purchase a phone with a credit card in seconds (like buying groceries), and providing for activation at your home computer with just a few simple questions.

I’d often evangelized this part of the experience as setting iPhone apart, as a brilliant move by Apple, and as something that would hopefully have an impact on the industry as a whole.

Unfortunately, it seems that in solving a business problem, AT&T and Apple have dropped that focus on the customer and their experience and taken us back to the days before iPhone 1.0. I can only hope that they will consider this a mistake, learn from it, and find a way to put the experience first again while addressing the business problems. They still have it in them to change the industry.

I’d love to hear from Apple or AT&T how they went about deciding this way to do things, retreating so far from the brave stand they took with 1.0.

Experience: the essential competitive advantage

I camped on the street last night in front of 1 Stockton, the San Francisco Apple Store.  I’ll be here until 8am tomorrow.

Reporters ask “why?”
It’s a great question.  And it occurs to me that every business should be answering this question, too.
What would make anyone want to camp in line for a new product release?
What would make someone do that in my industry or for one of my products?
What do people in line say?
What do those who pass by say?
How do they feel after the line is done and they’re buying and using the product and service?
(I’ve had some great conversations with the homeless about what a one-man tent costs, or where they sleep and how they live.  What’s it like to talk to people you don’t think of as part of your market, or you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with?)
Of course, the answers must extend beyond marketing, to every aspect of the product, how it is sold, delivered and serviced.
I may be preaching to the choir, but only dinosaurs will keep competing primarily on price, features, or ad dollars. Others have gone on at length about some of the reasons (Seth Godin, for example).
Watching an Apple Store for 24 hours, and talking to people about it is a great example of how all the little details are accounted for, from the security guard who says goodnight to the friendly staff who all greet you with a smile, to the window cleaner who spends 90 minutes here each morning at 6am and the free internet I’m using to type this on a store computer while charging my old iPhone.
I’m not a fan of Apple in particular.  I’m a fan of anyone who understands the power of good design (understood in the broad sense) and delivers a fantastic end-to-end experience.
If you aren’t asking these questions for your business, it’s just a matter of time until someone comes along and eats your lunch by delivering a dramatically improved experience. And they’ll do it without using any special magic, just by paying attention and asking different questions.
If your organization operates in silos with no way to account for the experience a user has throughout the process, expect the same.  Saying “we’re customer focused” doesn’t make it so.  What do your customers say?
The answers you come up with today may be less important than continuing to ask the questions, to be curious, and to be out there talking to people and watching them.
So come join me in line, start asking the questions, looking, and listening, and lets talk about some of the answers.
(I’ve written several posts about the iPhone and User Experience that you might find interesting, perha

Focus on the User: Social Design and MySpace Redesign

Adaptive Path’s June 17 newsletter has great background on their MySpace redesign (first stage launched yesterday), as well as pointers to other interesting thoughts on design.

The full newsletter should be up on their website soon, but until then, here are a few highlights from the email version:

MySpace had traditionally felt that this link between Tom and the users provided a deep internal understanding of users and their needs. But MySpace recognized that the need [for]… some in depth research… [and] insight into its users, their preferences, and the how and why behind their migrating between MySpace and its competitors.

With a charge to gain a fresh perspective on the user base, my colleagues Todd Wilkens and Jason Li engaged in an 8 week cross-country anthropological study of MySpace users. Escaping the tech- and networking-centric communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, they traveled from Sacramento to Philadelphia, conducting one on one interviews with dozens of existing MySpace users about their lives online and off, how they used the network, what it meant to them. The results were anonymized and transformed into a set of personas. It was not entirely surprising that these personas communicated a more deeply nuanced set of behaviors and priorities than the self-selecting users who voiced their opinions to Tom. The personas would serve the redesign efforts to come by introducing the MySpace team to a different perspective on their users, and shedding new light on how best to meet their needs.

With the research completed and socialized within the MySpace product team, Adaptive Path found its roll expanding. My team and I were asked to assist in the redesign of the product, from navigation to page structure, as part of an effort to improve the overall user experience.

A series of prioritization exercises with MySpace stakeholders, concerning feature set and user behavior, allowed us to trim down the global navigation from an undifferentiated mass to a succinct tool for way-finding and discovery. When discussions about the non-logged in home page revealed a need for better opportunities to share space between advertising and feature promotion, the “wide-screen” element was created; a multi-use advertising and editorial programming space that can change based on user preference. Neither of these elements would be what they are without the active participation of the MySpace team in the redesign process.

Sometimes, you have to design from the gut… the best UX designers I know operate from a perspective of determining what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s ugly. Providing people with a straightforward means to connect and share with one another? Good. Presenting frustrating tools for user search when I’m looking for someone I know in real life? Bad. Repeatedly telling users they’ve got to “log in before you do that!”? Ugly.

Adaptive Path looks to have done fantastic work in understanding the problems of the old MySpace design. As I’ve mentioned before, their process is a model to follow.

They get it that this has to be all about the users. Kudos.

Based on the story in WebMonkey, they also seem to have done a great job working internally with MySpace:

Most importantly, Freitas says, these changes were more about the design process than the usability enhancements.

“You can see the way a team operates internally based on the way their product works when it comes out,” he says. “MySpace is pretty democratic, but they hadn’t ever streamlined their collaboration between tech, content and presentation.”

He says the Adaptive Path team pushed MySpace to become more inclusive as an organization. They brought all of the various stakeholders, from ad sales and technology to visual design, into the process of designing the user experience.

“It’s not just a UI change, it’s an organizational change,” he says. “It was a true ‘teach a man to fish’ situation.”

Yet the blasting of the homepage takeover and the obtrusiveness of other advertising still dominates the experience of visiting MySpace, however much easier the navigation just got. It remains to be seen how this might be addressed as the redesign continues.

Has MySpace already gone too far down an evil path to monitize their site? Is it too late to back up and create meaningful change?

The BBC’s take, MySpace clears up as users jump ship , is interesting since in their market:

MySpace is still the largest social network in the important US market with a 73% share compared with just 15% for Facebook and 1% for Bebo.

The internet research company Nielsen Online reckons that 4.7m Brits used the site in April, down 31% on last year.

Facebook, which only overtook MySpace as the UK’s largest social network in September 2007, now has 10m active British members.

Detractors such as the Washington Post say MySpace’s New Look Seems the Same Old Mess (complaining primarily about the weight of advertising still left after the redesign), while it gets a tentative Thumbs Up from PC World and others.

The LA Times stayed focused on the story of the ad money:

“It does seem a bit like rearranging the deck chairs to me, not necessarily on the Titanic,” said Rob Norman, chief executive of advertising buyer GroupM Interaction Worldwide. “I don’t see how this is game-changing.”

Norman said MySpace’s challenge was not figuring out how to “gussy up” the site so it’s attractive to traditional advertisers, but rather, to extract value from the networks that connect people who use MySpace.

Google would not be in the position it is in today if it didn’t start by knowing to focus on the user and all else will follow. It looks like MySpace is still trying to learn that lesson and live that philosophy. I wish Adoptive Path the best of luck in teaching it to them!

Social Design
Oh yeah, I mentioned other links. Thanks, too, Adaptive Path, for the pointer to Bokardo. I enjoyed several posts and felt compelled to add a couple of comments there on social design (a fantastic picture catalyzed a thought I’d long had bouncing in the back of my head), and the growing importance of design (where the iPhone is a perpetual example).

Apps are the new Singles: Betting on AppStore Revenue

Steve Jobs still hasn’t announced the App Store for Mac.

Referring to the iPhone App Store, analyst Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray estimates that Apple’s App Store could emerge as $1.2B business by 2009. Is that too low? Focusing on revenue per user, his most aggressive estimate looks conservative to me.

Look out, because the App is the new Single.

The apps that have already been shown (and those yet to be developed) are cool. People will want to try many of them before settling on the ones they continue to use. Good thing it will be easy to discover, purchase and install them. $15 in average app revenue per phone seems paltry, even if 70% of iPhone apps are free.

I think analysts missed it with their first estimates for iTunes revenues, too. They had to keeping upping them for years.

It wasn’t obvious from what was happening at the time in the digital music marketplace how ready the public was to buy from a store (and for a device) that got all the pieces right. You needed to talk to consumers in depth to look past business as usual and understand their unmet needs.

iTunes and iPod are literally the text book example of how user experience as strategy changed an industry in ways the number crunching business analysts couldn’t predict.

In the same way, there are thousands of fantastic uses for mobile technology which no one has been able to discover, develop and sell because the platform for it hasn’t been there. From the developer side, there are too many crippling limitations to development and barriers to sales. For consumers, the devices aren’t easy to use to start with, but finding, paying for and installing is a nightmare on more levels than Dante could describe.

iPhone and its AppStore are game changing because they directly address the total user experience for new mobile applications. This is a bigger change for mobile applications than iTunes was for music.

I remember the days when you bought (or copied) stacks of applications for your computer. There are many reasons we don’t still do that. So we don’t think of wanting to buy lots of small applications. Just as we didn’t used to think of buying lots of music as single songs. App Store might make you think differently. You’ll buy lots of these new singles.

I’m be willing to bet on a significantly higher figure for App Store per user average revenue in 2009. Any takers?

San Jose Mercury News ran a great article by John Bourdreau today about the iPhone economy as Application developers swarm to iPhone with many good quotes and stats.

In response to Forbes IPhone Apps Appeal, which raises many issues about usability, security and quality:

Not every release has to be a hit. User ratings and reviews like in iTunes will make it easier to discover the best apps that enhance the iPhone experience, and avoid those that need improvement. The ease with which they can be found, purchased and installed will make it painless to try several and discard any that you don’t automatically hum along with.

The best will become hits, driven by ratings, blog posts, status messages and more — no payola required (though it still has a leveraging effect to make hits even bigger).

This is a dramatic change. For the first time mobile has a viable ecosystem for new applications.

I predict that more revolution will come to the mobile industry (and to how mobile technology impacts people’s lives) through the App Store than came from the introduction of the iPhone itself.

In response to Apps First to Market will win?:
I think apps will work more like music singles. First to market in a given genre will not be an overwhelming advantage. In fact, releases will be inspired by each other and build on each other. There will be no stigma to having a new favorite next week. Ratings from other listeners, as well as what your friends are listening to, reviewers are writing about, etc., will help you decide what to tune in to.

iPhone Apps Store Growing Twice as Fast as iTunes Music

New iPhone Monday: Winning Combination

One of the great things about new product announcements is that we get to play “second guess the Product Manager” on feature lists.

Fortunately, Apple design is typically more concerned with overall user experience than narrow focus on a feature list, but let that not stop us from enjoying our game.

Current set of tradeoffs in the iPhone contributed to its phenomenal success, and any new version should strike a similar balance. Development resources are limited. An extra chip adds to the price and decreases battery life. A software feature adds interface complexity or affects another desirable feature.

So it’s just not an option to make a list of “all the things missing” and add those to the product. Still, it’s nice to have a wishlist, and this is Monday Morning Quarterbacking, afterall. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things I’ve wanted over the last year of using an iPhone. What would you add?

  • cut and paste
  • search (the contents of my iPhone)
  • SMS Forwarding
  • instant messaging
  • 3G
  • GPS
  • MMS
  • video capture
  • stereo Bluetooth
  • bookmark something to browse on my desktop when I next sync (it’s flash or too long or otherwise desirable to have there)
  • allow allocating more memory to store text messages or email
  • make it easier to send things to my desktop via Bluetooth (like a URL or photo)
  • wireless sync’ing

Some I just don’t get. I often want to forward an SMS, and it seems like that would be a fairly trivial feature to add, and something long available on other handsets.

Others, like cut and paste, solve many problems, but certainly present interesting interface challenges. It may have been a reasonable strategy to intentionally introduce the simplest iPhone first and then to introduce new gestures with future releases.

Many of them, while folks say they want them and the geeks clamor for them, I wonder if they’re really worth the costs. GPS, for example.

The location feature using triangulation with cell towers offers something that is good enough for many uses, but without the expense, size and battery issues GPS might add. If I had to choose between 3G support and GPS support, you can guess which one I’d take. Do you need to break out GPS into separate devices and pricepoints targetted to different markets? Or does it need to be available on all devices to grow the market for location-based applications?

Other features, you need one or the other, but can live without both. My biggest problem with no MMS support is when someone sends me a photo from their phone. I get a text message like this, created by AT&T but delivered from the sender:

I sent you a multimedia message. You can view my message w/in the next 7 days via the web at using MSG ID pn0otzx Password jans8move

If I had cut and paste, it wouldn’t be so painful, but as it is now, I have to write down the ID and password before browsing to the link, or try to remember to do it when I next sit down at my computer.

Or, how much do I really need to be able to search the contents of my email if I can only store 200 messages on my phone? Instead, I browse to Gmail online and search there. But I’d love to use the memory on my phone for messages rather than music, and if I could do that, search would become incredibly useful (it’d be nice if it searched my text and IMs as well).

Aside from design and engineering tradeoffs, how do you get the best information about the market in regards to features? How do you find out from users and potential customers about their wishlist items and what mix and what experience are going to sell the most upgrades and new phones?

If you go to existing iPhone users like me, you get a great list of new features that I think might make my life easier. The problem is, I already bought one of these. Are any of those new features ones that would have gotten someone new to buy one? For that matter, how much am I willing to pay to upgrade for my desired features?

After we’ve talked about the features in isolation, you may pick the mixes that you’ll have me try out in mockups and prototypes to get a better sense for how they all work together. Each combination requires so much investment in design work that you can’t try them all.

I’d love to know how Apple has worked over the last year to solve these problems, or even to hear more about the research and design that went into the original release.

I think one of the reasons that so few companies do a good job of designing an overall user experience is that it is so much more difficult than the business task of picking features. Apple keeps showing the business win for going to that extra effort, and I look forward to seeing their latest effort on Monday.

Are Adoptive Marketing and User Experience as Strategy the same?

In “Viral Marketing is bullsh*t. Adoptive Marketing isn’t.” blog Go Big Always explains why viral marketing is otherwise manipulative, shallow, and correspondingly ineffective. Contrast that with making sure the product itself is designed to create an emotional connection and a high adoption rate.

Is this the same, or different, from User Experience as Strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments….

(See entries from earlier in May: Join the 8% Who Get It (or what do books on Experience Design, Advertising, and Social Media have in common?) and Thunder vs. iPhone: Experience not Features)

Thunder vs. iPhone: Experience not Features

The Wall Street Journal Reports that RIM is launching a new touch-screen BlackBerry, Thunder, in the third quarter, to be sold exclusively by Verizon, “answering the challenge posed by the popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPhone.”

They go on to say, “The iPhone’s sophisticated touch-screen was one feature that made Apple’s device a big hit.”

There is no list of features that made the iPhone a big hit.

The experience of buying, activating, and using iPhone made it a hit.

How easy it was to show the experience of using it made it a big hit.

Isn’t that the same thing that has already made the BlackBerry a hit in its target market? Show a roadwarrior in need of a workhorse how you scroll through emails with the thumbwheel, then do the same to select and dial a contact from the phonebook. Enter a quick email from the keyboard. You’ve just made a sale.

BlackBerry has less penetration to other markets not only because the features they use are different (in fact, many are the same), but the whole context is different. Who they are, what they use it for, when and where they use it. I haven’t seen the Thunder, but hopefully for RIM they’ll develop the kind of understanding and insight they brought to the roadwarrior, creating experiences for a new market, not just adding features for it.

Interviewed when the iPhone came out, I told Reuters that it wasn’t about the features. In fact, I was surprised in the first few hours with several “missing” features I might have expected, but these surprises didn’t meaningfully diminish my experience. They’d carefully selected features to leave out (or leave for later) as much as features to leave in.

[UPDATE 6/18: Wired ran a great article about Japanese market handsets competing on feature lists: “The manufacturers, who realize the absurdity of piling on features that don’t work well…. The average person only uses 5 to 10 percent of the functions available on their handsets. “]

Before iPhone, you had to do things the phone company’s way and the device’s way. It was all about learning how to deal calls to their support, calls to select plans, learning how to navigate the maze of device features. Even to me it seemed like a constant chore of dealing in arcane lore, and I like tech stuff.

The iPhone “felt like a living sculpture in my hands” because the whole experience was about the system fitting me instead of me finding a way to work with the system. The pieces fit together in a seamless whole. Every part was beautiful, from the box it came in to the physical device to the icons on the screen. My actions and the flowing animation and movement on screen at every step blended together as one and looked pretty.

I said elsewhere, “The iPhone really points out how unpleasant other interfaces are, how ugly and unwieldy. The iPhone responds immediately with rich and beautiful feedback to everything you ask it to do, making it beautiful to look at and a beautiful experience to use it….. When other companies are forced to bring as much attention to design to their devices, and pulling together as many features seamlessly, hopefully the bar will keep being raised for all.”

I didn’t have to struggle with the phone company or the device. For once, I could smile most every time I reached in my pocket.