Is Apple’s Ecosystem A Bust?

I recently read Don Norman’s post on LinkedIn critiquing Apple’s UX. He talks about a lot of the things that have irritated me about Apple products for awhile now. For a long time now holding up Apple products on a pedestal as a paragon of great design have been the norm, especially in the design community.

I used to work at a large design consultancy where I would constantly hear things like “Let’s look at how Apple does it.” And I almost cried out of happiness when they got rid of the wet floor in their designs. Client didn’t like the design? Ok! Let’s add the wet floor to it. Ugh.

I’m not bashing Apple. I have a MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad. In a lot of ways Apple products are great. But I’ve also had Android phones and use a lot of Google’s services. They have their issues as well. I’m not a fan of their visual design and a lot of the interactions are more complex than they need to be. But there are things they do a better job with – discoverability, a mostly consistent ecosystem, and an easy way to back out of something.

Don Norman writes “Apple has gotten carried away by the slick, minimalist appearance of their products at the expense of ease of use, understandability, and the ability to do complex operations without ever looking at the manual.

Today, the products are beautiful, but for many of us, confusing. The fonts are pleasant to the eye, but difficult to read. The principle of “discoverability” has been lost. The only way to know what to do in many situations is to have memorized the action. The screens offer no assistance in remembering whether one should swipe left or right, up or down, one finger or two. Or three. One tap or two. I frequently have to “re-read the manual,” which means going back to the control panel to review the multiple finger swipes — which are not even the same for all devices: the magic mouse is different from the trackpad which is different from the iPad.”

I experience these kind of problems frequently. Gestures and interactions aren’t consistent from product to product. Often in an app you’ll dig yourself into a hole because there’s no obvious way to traverse back up the hierarchy. It may not be the prettiest or best approach, but at least with most Android products there are back buttons and menus hidden behind a hard key so the interface doesn’t get cluttered and the user has an “escape” button if they get lost.

The thing that irritates me the most is the ecosystem and it’s inconsistencies. The industrial design of the products do definitely make them feel like a family, but the UX doesn’t. I know Apple has a lot of rockstar designers, so I assume they must be considering this in their designs, but I think the ecosystem is not necessarily broken, but it could be a lot better.

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