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Rob Tannen Talks iOS 7 – Design, Usability, and Function

Rob Tannen Talks iOS 7 – Design, Usability, and Function

Since Android has taken dominance in the Smartphone market, Apple has been hard pressed to present something remarkable and game changing to the public. After years of minor and incremental changes to iOS, Apple decided to add and remove some elements in order to make iOS more intuitive and user friendly. Whether you use an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or not, is seems everyone has an opinion of the latest version of iOS, iOS 7. Some really enjoy the new fluid GUI, while others state that it makes them nauseous and introduced unnecessary changes. Opinions aside, what I really want to know is if the new changes in iOS 7 do anything to make iDevices better from a usability stand point.

To find an objective and informed answer, I reached out to Rob Tannen, Director of Usability Research & Design with Intuitive Company. Rob, who you may have seen on Bloomberg TV, has nearly two decades of experience regarding usability and design. His research, opinions and proposals have been implemented in a wide array of interface work, ranging from mobile apps all the way to helping make aircraft cockpit displays more instinctual and usable.

Rob has been kind enough to take a moment away from his busy work schedule and answer a few questions for us regarding iOS and its usability. Scroll down to see what he has to say.

Apple’s new iOS7 is a refresher of the UI we’ve been used to for seven years, first of all, do you consider this an improvement? What makes it better or worse from a user experience standpoint?

iOS7 is an improvement over previous versions, albeit incremental. Aesthetic changes aside, it’s not very different from iOS6 which is a good thing as it maintains and builds on the learned experience of its enormous user base. In comparison, Windows disrupted its user base with the launch of a new desktop experience in Windows 8, largely to negative feedback. OS7 demonstrates Apple’s slow progression from an app-based UI to a task-based UI – emphasis on slow. For example, the Control Center consolidates shortcuts to highly accessed features from anywhere – a convenience that should have been implemented several OS generations ago. Many of the benefits are to mundane tasks (e.g. switching off Wi-Fi, updating Apps) that don’t stand out, but I expect users to appreciate these small improvements through repetitive use over time.

Android phones utilize widgets to improve usability and provide instant access to information – do you feel that preventing widgets is a hindrance or benefit to iOS?

As a fan of the Windows Phone 8 dynamic tiles my initial reaction is that it is a hindrance, but this needs to be viewed in the context of the overall interface framework. Implementing widgets is a slippery slope in losing consistency within an interface (e.g. layout, dimensionality, etc.). Historically, Apple has held great control over its product and interface designs, thereby achieving consistency/learnability.

What are 3 ways you feel Apple could improve usability with iOS?
  1. Siri: The underlying technology of Siri needs work. It is still too slow and unreliable.
  2. Power on: If my phone is already off, don’t power on my phone when I plug it in. I turned it off and plugged it in so I can go to bed. It’s a pet peeve of mine.
  3. iTunes app: Although not a part of iOS per se, iTunes remains an application with ongoing usability challenges. Apple is great at designing usable operating systems, but not necessarily the applications that live within them.

If you were in charge of the iOS interface, what is the first thing you’d change, and what aspects would you firmly keep in place?

Short of giving away my best ideas for free, I would continue to allow the mobile iOS to be optimized for its hardware devices (another failure of Windows 8) and to live independently on the desktop environment (e.g. Wi-Fi syncing).

I would focus changes in two areas:
  • Moving beyond apps as silos of functionality; for example it’s still a clunky process to move among multiple apps when attempting to complete a task or copying data from one app to another.
  • Develop more user-centric intelligence features – these devices are with us virtually 24/7 but have limited capabilities to predict our actions and exceed our expectations.

Is there such a thing as having too much data displayed at once?

Of course, but that is highly dependent on the particular user and their task. One might say that any data that you don’t want is “too much data”. In my two decades of user interface design the balance between data presentation has oscillated between depth and breadth.

Out of iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, which do you think has the best usability?

My best experience was a short-lived stint with Windows Phone 8. It’s configurable, dynamic tiles provides the best solution to the enduring user interfere design challenge – fitting un-lamented information within limited space. Tiles provide real-time information in a scrolling list that does not require navigating across views or toggling layers. Unfortunately, the tiles require a larger screen size compared to more traditional icon-based phone desktops, resulting in a larger, bulkier device. In the end, the physical ergonomics of the phone undermined the usability of the interface – Windows Phone 8, ironically, is best suited for a tablet.