Apple User Experience, part II

Last year I’ve presented my mother an iPad and shared my mixed experiences with it. It turned out, that most of the time, my mother has used it as a YouTube client: my parents don’t have Russian TV subscription in the cable network, so that she was watching Russian content present on YouTube.

This year, I’ve decided to improve her experience, and make her possible to watch YouTube on their (older) Sony TV set. Well, technically, she already can do it, because they have an XBOX, and this year, a YouTube app is appeared there. But this would mean my mother has to manipulate the XBOX controller (which has twenty times more buttons than iPad) or use Kinect, which is too hard for her. So I bought an Apple TV. Using a Apple TV remote control didn’t seem to me much easier than using XBOX controller, so that the actual reason was the AirPlay.

Unfortunately, it has turned out that iPad1 doesn’t support AirPlay (I didn’t check, but the Internet has this opinion). Which is very suboptimal. DLNA is a relatively straightforward and simple protocol that can be supported by almost any hardware, even by cheap standalone harddrives or DSL modems slash routers. But no, Apple absolutely had to invent an own proprietary AirPlay protocol having less functionality and incompatible with many things. For example, with this poor iPad1. Therefore, I’ve also bought some new iPad. I have no idea what exactly it is, because Apple doesn’t have an easy to grasp versioning scheme for iPads. It is not iPad Mini for sure, but I have no idea if it is iPad 2, 3 or 4, and frankly speaking, I don’t care. All I wanted it to be is iPad1 with AirPlay support.

Well, and because I’ve bought this newer iPad, I’ve also bought this magnetic cover thing. Because, well, it made me feel less foolish paying a ton of money just to gain AirPlay support. Now, my mother now can also turn on iPad display by opening the cover. She smiled when she saw this first time, and this has at least partially compensated the 500 euros I’ve paid for the iPad.

In a sense, this has worked out good for Apple, they have earned 700-something euro on me. But I hated this customer experience, and this means, I would dis-loyally turn my back on them, as soon as there will be a possibility to do so.

Especially considering the fact that the Apple TV doesn’t have a HDMI cable included. This was an almost shocking discovery, and luckily, I’ve opened the package beforehand. Otherwise, imagine, my mother would cut-open her Christmas gift, and find out a black box, and a power cable, so that you can turn it on, and the only outcome of this present is a white LED on this box. My mother certainly wouldn’t be able to appreciate it.

So, I bought some HDMI cable beforehand, and connected the Apple TV to my parents’ TV set. As usual, all devices were immediately ready to be used (in this case, the Apple TV remote control already had the batteries inserted, and the iPad came fully charged), which is a very positive thing and should definitely be copied by all manufacturers, unless Apple has already patented this.

I’ve first started with the Apple TV. I switched the user interface to Russian, and proceeded with the usual settings, including setting the time zone to Germany. When it has finished, it has shown a couple of tiles. I remember seeing Movies, Music, Podcasts, Flickr, YouTube and WSJ. The latter was actually an early warning sign. What the hell a magazine in English is doing in the Apple TV bought in Germany and switched over to the Russian languange? But I’ve missed it, and went straight to the YouTube. Then I selected the Search navigation element, and the Apple TV has displayed an on-screen keyboard. The user interface itself (i.e. for example the buttons “delete”, “clear” and “apply”) was still all Russian, but the keyboard had only displayed latin set of characters. This has immediately rendered YouTube unusable, because of course you need to use cyrillic characters when searching for titles on YouTube. I then went to the Movies section. Some Hollywood movies appeared in selection (none German movie and none Russian movie). My sister has spotted some Twilight movie, so I have selected it, and a movie detail page appeared. What I saw next was simply shocking. The movie description as well as other additional information, was all in English. I’ve started a movie trailer, and it buffered quickly and started to play smoothly, but the audio track was also in English.

People. Apple TV is a disaster. It is the best example of how to do internationalization and localization. NOT.

Well, you might say that Apple TV is targeted only to the well-educated German audience, who have no problem (or eventually even prefer) to consume content in English. But I tell you, I’ve bought this device in Saturn, and there were two shelves fully stocked with them. There were like really tons of them, definitely more than for example any single Android phone model. So, it doesn’t seem to be perceived as a niche product.

So, I put the remote control far away and said: “So, mother, forget what you’ve just seen, you don’t need to learn it. I’ll show you now how you’re going to use your new devices.”

I took her iPad and went through the initial setup procedure. It is funny, while Windows is asking less and less questions from version to version, Apple is asking more and more. The first iPad didn’t try to upsell me iCloud, for example. And I’m pretty sure that this initial setup couldn’t be done by my mother alone. How is she supposed to answer the question about iCloud, properly? How is she supposed to be able to remember and enter properly her Apple ID and corresponding password?

Why the hell does she need any ID or password at all? I remember the times when the phones weren’t smart, you didn’t need to know or understand the concept of a password. You’ve just turned on your phone, and could start using all its functions. I’m sure, for tablets, it is possible to create a totally password-less experience, and I believe this would be very important for my mother. This whole Internet dirty hack concept of IDs and corresponding passwords, she cannot grasp it.

When her health insurance sent her a snail-mail letter stating that they are re-launching their web site so that my mother has to re-set her password, it has ruined her day, and she was very upset and worried. She believed, her future health insurance coverage depended on proper understanding and acting on this letter, and she didn’t even know what this letter mean!

Anyway. I’ve finished the initial setup and as always, removed the English keyboard (that is a known plague that both Microsoft and Apple share: when you install a German OS and select Russian as your language, you’ll get three keyboards installed automatically: English, German and Russian. Again, who the hell needs the English keyboard here in Germany?).

And then, I handed it over to my mother telling her, so, now, everything it JUST like your first iPad. No need to learn something new. Now, just start YouTube and search for some sample video clip. Just like you always did, mother.

Yes, you’ve guessed it.

She didn’t find the YouTube app. Because there was no pre-installed YouTube app!

This is how easy your device can loose all trust of users that its previous version managed to gain beforehand. Just do not pre-install an app that 99,9999% of users would install and use anyways.

I’ve installed the app, and handed it over to my mother again. She has found out some video clip, and started the playback, and now I wanted to turn on the AirPlay. Up until this point, I didn’t know how to turn on AirPlay.

This is what happened:

1) I’ve first looked for some button resembling AirPlay.
2) I’ve first found the “share” button, tapped on it, but didn’t find any AirPlay option.
3) I have then tapped on the video itself, and have found there a new icon.
4) And then I’ve told to my mother: “So, mother, now you’re gonna tap on this icon, and this will bring your video to the TV”. And tapped on the icon.
5) Apple TV has immediately shown a loading sequence, and two seconds later, the video was playing on the TV set!

This was, like, an epiphany. Especially by contrast with the previous UX disaster.

Generally, there are three positive things about AirPlay:

  • You don’t need to pair devices, which is better than Bluetooth. I suppose, you still can limit access to your Apple TV, but by default, any device in the local network can stream to it. This is the proper way to do.
  • AirPlay is not an app by itself, it just a mode that can be present in several different apps. You just look for the known AirPlay icon, and tap on it, and it works similarly everywhere. This is better than how DLNA was implemented in Android 2.x, where you have to use the iMediaShare app, or whatnot. I’m not sure about the 4.x versions of Android though; I saw some very similar DLNA-based functionality built-in, but I didn’t have the opportunity to test it yet. Martin T., if you’re reading it, I’m waiting for a SW version with DMP ;)
  • Apple TV is quite remarkably tuned specifically for AirPlay; player startup and buffering time together are below two seconds. For comparison, you need to wait much longer, when Apple TV is starting the Flickr app.

Next day, I wanted to bring some web page on the TV screen. I launched Safari and searched for an AirPlay icon. Nothing there. How can that be, I thought. So I’ve googled. It turns out, there is another mode of AirPlay where it is just mirroring the screen onto TV. In Internet, they write this “just mirroring”, as if it was something clear and easy to understand, but actually, what the hell is different? Why I as user have to differentiate between “send that video to TV” and “sent that screen to TV”? I expected AirPlay, while proprietary, to be at least so smart and advanced as the Microsoft’s RDP, so that it could determine, what parts of the screen are playing video, and handle this situation differently. But OK, this is suboptimal, and I thought I have to live with it. I still didn’t know how to turn on this AirPlay mirroring mode. What I’ve found was “hillarious”. You have to double-press the hardware button! Then a stripe of previously run apps will appear. Now that’s nice, and Android had this feature since ages, with one exception: Android app are actually running in background. But so far, this has nothing to do with AirPlay. Now, wait for it, you have to swipe with your finger from left to right over the app icons. Then an AirPlay button will appear, so that you can tap it. Whew! Two absolutely un-intuitive actions for a simple task.

And this is what I can see quite often in Apple products. This is like ejecting the disk by dragging it into the waste bin. Or performing some special magic by holding some known keys while the Mac is booting. Quite often in this cases, when their UX designers had a tradeoff between making the UI more crowded, and making the operation impossible to find, they would choose the latter. When I’ve seen an iPod first time, I’ve spent 5 minutes trying to understand how to use it, and I’ve failed. I didn’t watch any videos beforehand so that it didn’t occured to me that you can let your finger follow the sensor wheel, and that this movement could mean something meaningful in terms of interaction. I suppose the first iPod versions had a physical wheel, so that one could understand it better, but I’ve missed them too. Therefore, my sentiments about the AirPlay mirroring function might also be skewed: who knows, perhaps in the world of Apple fans, double-pressing on the single button has always been used to perform cool and meaningful operations…

I might report on our further experiences, when my mother actually uses her new iPad.

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