Keys-by-TEARN mobile platform
Diary of a passionate, tech Dad
from TEARN i.e. teach to learn

Jun 18, 2010

The Science of iPhone Cool

The iPhone, iPod, and iPad product lines have propelled Apple toward becoming the most valuable company on Earth. Currently, Apple is number two, behind Exxon Mobile, having just past Microsoft as the most valuable technology company.

Apple has gained the cool image - that is unmatched among large corporations. How did they gain that image?

How can a developer extend the science to improve the app product?

Cool Marketing and Packaging

Apple's advertising has always been dead on.
  • The right actors and actresses to match the image of younger, affluent consumers.
  • The right music to match the image.
  • The right storyline.
  • And the packaging appeals - a quality that other consumer electronics companies seem to fail to emulate.
Apple is not the only company to spend heavily for advertising. Spending a ton does not even begin to explain the huge leverage of Apple's cool image that gains far more value than can be explained by the money spent.

Chicken and the Egg

Behind the marketing, it's the Apple products. Unlike the chicken and egg conundrum, the iPhone product comes before the image. Without the product, the cool image can't be sustained.

Is it just the box that appeals?

Can a box of semiconductors evoke such emotions?

Is there some science behind the iPhone?

What's Different?

The iPhone dumped the keyboard on the mobile phone, making room for a larger touch interface.

Touch is not new. Why did Apple succeed when others failed?

Apple's notorious attention to details differentiates them from competition. The touch implementation is one of the most important components of their execution. Their touch is a magic formula that is as closely guarded as the Coke formula for coca-cola.

Each touch needs to distinguish among:
  • Tap - to select a link or option.
  • Double-tap - to zoom or unzoom the page.
  • Pan - when the page slides following the finger movement.
  • Flick - where the page flows, and bounces off the top and bottom.
  • Hold - to enable additional options for users.
  • Multiple finger actions that enable more choice.
Much of these methods, timings, and exact interactions are trade-secrets, if not patent protected. There is a mathematical science behind the iPhone cool. It's the touch-and-feel.

Apple has gotten it right. Users love the feel, how it makes them look when they use the iPhone in public, and the intuitive flow from task to task.

To realize how Apple has changed the world.
  • The mousewheel uses a downward motion to scroll down.
  • The iPhone uses the pan up to scroll down.
People seem to prefer the iPhone model - a huge change in habit in a short period of time. When switching between iPhone and desktop, I find myself pushing the mouse pointer on web pages - absolutely amazing how habits have changed so quickly.

Is the Advantage Sustainable?

Google Android, Microsoft, RIM and Nokia fear patent infringement. They have tried to develop their own, different secret-forumla. Many others have tried with camera and GPS interfaces, but one touch shows that they don't have the full magic .

Palm/HP, with x-Apple employees leading the way, most closely emulates the iPhone touch-and-feel. Palm hopes that their own substantial base of mobile device patents can be leveraged to avoid problems when competing with Apple.

When users are comfortable with a particular feeling, it's hard to change the pattern. Only Apple seems to be able to change habits without the users feeling the pain.

Extending the Advantage

As app developers, we seek to extend the model and continue the innovation streak. But, the secret formula limits change.
  • If you extend the method, you need to match the exact touch-and-feel as deployed by Apple. Legal issues aside, if you don't get it exactly right, users would object that the app does not feel exactly right.
  • If you don't extend the model, then apps look very similar among 200,000 apps.
Our Keys has extended the iPhone touch-and-feel as follows:
  • By restricting the width of the page to the width of the viewport, left and right scroll is no longer needed. Thus, we can control left and right touch motions while retaining Apple's exact feel for up and down movement.
  • A left or right flick transitions to the next object or page.
  • With simple objects, like pure text or photos, a page-turning or flow model works well for the transition - since the next and previous object can be prepared prior to display.
  • With complex objects that include multiple components for each page, our boomerang transition allows preparation of the complex page during the animation, thus showing the results on completion.
  • The flow-selector activates on tap. We then emulate the bounce of the iPhone flick as closely as possible.
  • Pan from the flow selector to avoid the 1/10th second delay that is built into the iPhone formula for tap.
As we master multi-touch management, there may be more opportunities to innovate - without disrupting the iPhone's core touch-and-feel.

Message to Developers

Over 40-years in computing, I've developed numerous methods that have become public services, including spreadsheets and clairvoyant search.

Developers are welcome to deploy flick left, flick right, boomerang-like transitions, and flow selectors in their apps. Please acknowledge this blog and the Keys platform as your source for the idea by linking this post. Fair use copyright requires attribution. Thank you.


Do users appreciate this level of detail?

Try Keys and provide us your feedback.

It certainly matters for Apple, Palm, and Android.

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