Design is not just what it looks like. It’s how it works.

Design. Is Apple losing focus on one of it’s most essential unique strengths?

For a big test we did for Belgian Cowboys recently some members on the editorial team including myself switched from iOS to Android for a while. Not just to see if we liked it or not but also to find out if that switch was so hard as we expected it to be. “What about all those apps I bought? Why start all over again? Will it be as easy to use as what I’m used to now?” A whole series of questions which I presume most of us will recognize come to mind when thinking of such a switch.

Since this article isn’t about that switch I can tell you quickly that that test went really well. I’m currently switching between the HTC One and the HTC One Mini for another test and I don’t miss my iPhone for a second. Actually I find it better on many levels. That made me wonder about a few things.

How come for instance that I find the notifications in Android really useful whereas I don’t even look at them on my iPhone? The set-up is kind of the same so why is that? Looking at both from a basic UI design point of view they are very similar indeed. It’s a drop down menu you pull from the top of your screen with several notifications pointing to apps that need your attention for whatever reason. On Android I will open that screen and either swipe the notifications away or take action. On iPhone I open that view once every month or so to delete these notifications, app by app.

Another example is the on-screen keyboard. On Android I’m using Swype, probably the most productive add-on for a touch screen devices in a long time. Whenever I need to use my iPhone or iPad again I cannot help but be annoyed by the fact that I have to type in the ‘traditional’ way. And that’s not even mentioning the re-design of iOS7.

So how come that on many levels the Android platform is outperforming iOS, whether it’s thanks to core Android development or because of the opportunity to personalise it with technology created by its eco-system? I’m thinking that Apple has actually forgot about the essence of design, a vision it shared openly and that many are taking as an example.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

When you think of that and the examples I mentioned before (and there are more) you can only come to the conclusion that the focus of Apple lately was on design as in ‘what it looks like’ and that Google has taken the lead on design as in ‘how it works’. In the last 12-18 months, Google and its eco-system have upgraded the better user experience, Apple has overhauled look & feel. And that’s a pity. Not just because it makes the iPhone a less interesting device but it’s a sign of Apple forgetting about it’s own very essence.

My 2 cents.

Is your smartphone becoming too smart for its own good?

The feature phone. A ‘new’ name for something that exists for a long time already just so we can differentiate it from the more recent forms or versions, as so called retronym. Because that’s what it is, for people my age we used to refer to the feature phone just as a mobile or cell phone. That’s until the smartphone came along and before we all started using that.

It wasn’t just a phone with a contact list that was stored on your SIM card (and limited to a certain number of people), the smartphone was also a camera and would have a browser to surf the internet etc. And the smartphone only got smarter and smarter over time. Today you can have a phone that is a very good alternative to a lot of digital cameras, it’s packed full with apps that can do the most amazing things like track your running, sync all your documents over the cloud, recognize music, program your DVR, and a whole more.

And it doesn’t look like we have reached the end of all smartphone smartness. The new iPhone has a fingerprint scanner, another step in the process of our phone becoming a key. A key to our data of course, but also a key to our house or our car? It’s only a matter of time. With the right apps and add-ons your smartphone is also becoming a payment device and since it can also already hold your tickets, vouchers, loyalty cards it will replace your wallet. It is also becoming a health appliance, you can use it to geo-locate people or items, etc etc. And of course let’s not forget the camera, a pretty damn good camera these days.

What’s more, it’ll drive most of the content and functionality of your smartwatch, of your smart (Google) glasses, … the smartphone is replacing so many things and powering just as many other things that it is becoming incredibly powerful.

Awesome. And at the same time a problem. Since the battery life of the phone hasn’t evolved as much as the feature set and actually is getting worse with every OS update, the all-in-one promise of the smartphone is a dream. Just like most of you I am using my iPhone for quite simple tasks – calling, email, agenda, todo, a bit of social and the camera. And I cannot make it last a full day. And if I’m at an event at which I do more photography than usual than I’m out of power before 5PM and I cannot make any calls anymore.

So the idea of using the smartphone to its full power is unreal today. And since everything is in there at some point you will lock yourself out of your house and you don’t have the ability to call anyone for help. Nor can you pay anyone to fix your problem. Am I exaggerating? Probably. But the problem is there. How much I love the idea of using the iPhone for all the things mentioned before, the device needs to change drastically before I actually will lock all these things into this one single device.

Your thoughts?

Rethinking the mobile web

When we think about mobile today, we think about the iPhone. And if you’re lucky we think about Android as well. But as this presentations shows (once more) that is only a small percentage of the mobile market. Wouldn’t we want all (or at least most) mobile users to be able to experience ‘our offering’.

This presentation is a good eye-opener on the question we should all ask ourselves? Shouldn’t we make the mobile web more inclusive? And how would we go about to do that?