In this article I highlight 3 tips to improve your web user experience with the WOW factor. Keep reading to find out it’s more than design.
“Never ask what sort of computer a guy drives. If he’s a Mac user, he’ll tell you. If not, why embarrass him? – Tom Clancy” : Guy Kawasaki
– “What the Plus”–
This article fits in with Tom Clancy’s quote.
My history with Apple Computers
I jumped ship a couple of years ago from Windows to Apple Computers. Most people who know my work in IT in our city of Canberra were surprised.
In late 80’s and 90’s I had a small amount of experience with Apple Computers at a couple of government agencies.
Prior to full time employment in Enterprise IT, I worked in the Facilities Maintenance Management environment. At the time I didn’t recall any Apple based software programs for managing Asset Maintenance Management, Condition Monitoring and Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning control systems. Windows PCs and Unix platforms were it.
When I moved into Enterprise IT in 1999, the desktops were Microsoft Windows based. The backend systems were mainframes IBM zOS and mid-range Unix systems.
So anything with a Apple was not a good fit. Apple seemed to work well in the Communications and Marketing departments, anywhere else, no one wanted to go there.
On a personal level outside of work, several years later, I found myself making short movies which required lots of video editing. At the time we used Sony Vegas for video editing, we attended Douglas Spotted Eagle’s training @eyewingsuit, and cut our teeth on Sony Vegas as our video editing platform.
Sony Vegas is still is an excellent tool. The challenge wasn’t Sony Vegas, it seemed like we were upgrading our PC’s to get the best results for Vegas to work; more memory and more CPU and more dollars. It never ended. It was time to re-evaluate my approach.
Am I a geek or a user?
When you’re in the thick of it, you have to sometimes step out and take the “General’s view”of the battle and re-assess your options.
The first question I asked was what kind of a user am I? Am I a geek or am I super user? At the time I saw myself as a super user not a geek.
The next question was what kind of user did I want to be? Did I want to spend my time tweaking hardware or did I want to be more of consumer creator of content?
My goal was that I wanted to become a creator of content.
So, why did I jump ship and buy a Mac?
Back around 2006, Microsoft started moving to Vista. At the same time I started using the Web heavily for research and personal development. The network at home required upgrades, Microsoft updates were coming down the wire at a regular pace and I couldn’t keep up. Microsoft was getting a bad wrap for Vista and more security vulnerabilities were being exposed. XP’s life as an operating system was being extended.
I had six Personal Computers at home I had to maintain, I decided not to get a Windows server as that would require further learning and administration just to administer the six PCs, so something had to be done as my productivity was going out the window. The concept of being a creator of content was becoming a distant thought, rather than reality.
Enter the thought of buying an Apple. The more I read about iMacs, the more I was warming to the idea that this platform could improve my productivity.
So the idea was floated and soon I took delivery of a 24′ iMac, specced with large CPU; that was in 2008.
Putting my foot in the water with my iMac
When I purchased the iMac and powered it up, the first thing I noticed was that it easily found my network and immediately gave me access to the Internet, that was impressive.
Being a partial believer, (having a camp in Windows and one in Apple) I also purchased VMWare Fusion to run Windows on the Mac to manage my Outlook mail accounts.
After a while I found that the majority of work I was doing was on the iMac, except for email where I would flip across to Microsoft Windows.
When it came to the virtual machine running Windows, I struggled with managing the memory effectively with VMFusion and realised the best way to deal with this was to eliminate the virtual machine altogether. That meant losing Outlook as my mail client and moving to Mac mail.
My Mac D Day
My Mac D Day was the Saturday I shutdown my Microsoft Outlook email client and started using Mac mail. As soon I transferred my email it was a sense of liberation. There was no more dependence on the Windows PC.
From that day I have removed all the Window’s PCs. My family quickly converted to MacBooks and Macbook Pros. It has been IT bliss in terms of usage and management.
Here’s what I’ve personally discovered since I purchased an iMac nearly five years ago
The purchase price of a Windows PC, plus the software, plus the service costs, plus my time fixing and configuring all the systems raised this question, “was a low price computer really a low price computer”?
No, there was always some more memory then there was adding another driver, then there was always another update.
What people won’t tell you is that it’s your time you’re cutting into when you go to fix your PC , so ask yourself the question, how much is your time worth?
If I calculate the value of my time as an IT Professional and the time I spent on fixing the issues, it didn’t take long to realise it was a false economy. As an example, a $250 video card upgrade now became around a $600 card by the time I had installed it, configured it and tested it.
Now the above example wouldn’t directly apply to the everyday consumer, unless of course they are a “tinkerer” but if they wanted to upgrade their PC they would have to pay someone to do that.
With the iMac everything was out of the box and didn’t require any additional hardware, it just worked.
The User Interface was consistent, this made it easier to use when flipping in and out of different applications.
Another wonderful feature was that it soon integrated with all my devices.
Within the 12 months I purchased an iPhone and a MobileMe account and all “my stuff” was synced. The same telephone book, notes, bookmarks and documents were in the same across all devices.
Within another 12 months I purchased a Macbook Pro and everything syncing across all three devices.
Now that iCloud has overtaken MobileMe, I am now leveraging the iCloud to improve my interoperability between devices, that means the same applications, the same contacts, calendars, bookmarks, the same documents. It helps when going from one device to another.
The gated community vs the open community
The gated community is probably more recognisable in the form of residential community where you have a perimeter wall and a one-way in and one way out, usually past a security guard.
A number of Tech Journalists have labeled Apple’s approach of joining everything together as a “gated community”. Others have also called it the “Apple Eco-System” eg. purchase an Apple device > connect to iCloud and use its service> purchase apps through the App Store and iTunes Store.
Undoubtably this model helped bring the iTunes store into being and the pitch the record companies bought into when music was made available on the iTunes Store.
If you just want to be a consumer and stick to the “Apple Eco-System” then you will find the concept of gated community straightforward.
The same experience, the same apps and music across all devices.
The other great thing the gated community model brings is that applications have to meet their strict requirements before being released into the community. On the Apple desktop computers, the OSX 10.8. Mountain Lion operating system has provided a greater level of security improvements on applications with the introduction of sandboxing.
People say why not try an Android Phone and a have a Mac?
Well, for me, I like the gated community approach where the gatekeeper (Mac) is going the extra mile to secure my working environment.
Unfortunately the Android community is open to abuse and security concerns with Applications in its market place. As this article dates there should be improvements, you would hope.
There are other instances of gated communities in the tech world, Google are certainly working towards that.
So summing up, the reasons I like the Apple experience are:
- The integrated experience of the same applications and services across all my devices
- The consistency of the User experience for all applications
- The consistent workflow in doing things
- Less configuration
- The approach to security
- My overall improvement in Productivity
I found that the Apple experience simplifies my life and my business allowing me to focus on getting work done rather than configuring computers and being a Systems Administrator. That’s my biggest win.
These days I prefer the consumer appliance approach to IT as opposed to the configuration approach.
As we move into the post PC era where PC become a thing of the past and most consumption is done on a mobile device such as Tablets, I prefer devices that need little or any configuration but rather customisation to my preferences.
The more I speak to friends, and colleagues, it seems that’s what they want as well.
Lastly, to bring the equilibrium to my story and a question you may ask me, is the Apple ecosystem perfect? No,of course not, however it’s pretty darn good and does make life easy. I’m happy to live with those minors for the majors.
Article – Why I jumped ship and changed to an Apple Mac – By Chris Mundy
Other Useful Articles – Six reasons to buy an iPad by Christopher Breen
A couple of years ago I embarked on a personal project of developing a commemorative website. The site would be dedicated to remembering my great Uncle who lost his life in the First World War. The project consumed a little more time than I expected.
It was the proverbial “itch that needed to be scratched”. To me personally, there were three distinct motives for creating the website:
- My family had all the knowledge of the story, we had his war medals, to my knowledge, none of the other relatives knew the story as intimately as I do.
- If done properly, other people could benefit from the story. They could participate with us in locating the missing medallion and scroll, they could start their own research into their own family’s military history.
- If it opened some doors for more opportunities for assisting people and work, well and good.
The story of ECPerkins 4503 came online officially in April 2012. The timing worked out to coincide with the remembrance of ANZAC day, the 25th April 1915 an important day in Australia’s and New Zealand’s military history.
What’s so unique about ecperkins.com.au?
The original research was done in the early 90’s where I had to go the Australia War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia and research their collections manually. However, now, the majority of the information is available online.
When I compiled ecperkins.com.au all the original information and resources had been digitised and made available online making access to information more dynamic and usable for a website. It would make the online experience enriching to reader. To me it was an opportunity waiting to happen.
As an example, here are some of the things I was able to do, to bring the story alive on the website:
- I found pictures around the time and place to most the events that occurred, such as, enlistment, the vessels that EC Perkins travelled on, the areas where he served.
- Combine that with our own family’s photographs and research
- Find the names and locations of the friends he most probably enlisted with
- Find correspondence between my Great Great Grandparents and the Department of Defence
- Find newspaper clippings remembering his life and service.
To further the interest, I have been able to hook up with some very special people who have provided information, photographs, and organisations that have granted me reuse of the information on the site.
People have been ever so helpful.
I hope you enjoy the site and story as I have bringing it together.
Visit ecperkins.com.au here.
Almost half Australians can’t read. This was the title of an article written by ABC news in 2008 on the status of Australians and their ability to read well.
One of the things about this article, regardless of past and current governments, education policies and programs, the fundamentals of teaching english and reading, is that many Australians still can’t read.
So if people have difficulties reading a street sign, a billboard, a flyer, or a newspaper, how do we expect people to read an online web page in a browser?
What about the button that says “accept” the terms and conditions.
As governments and business move to provide services on-line, there is a question that needs to be asked, “Will the users understand what they are being asked to do on-line”?
In 2006 I attended a presentation by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), Web Accessibility and Writing for the Web: Overview for Government. One of the guest speakers at the presentation was Dee Alexander, who at the time was a researcher and lecturer from Monash University on User Centred Design and Usability on Web.
Dee’s topic was titled, “Creating Quality Content: A goal-driven approach for the Web.” The talk focused on the importance of Web Content, and how writing for the Web is different from print media, how people interact with content online and how to write content that communicates clearly, is useful, usable and accessible.
Three points stuck out that raise concerns and potential challenges down the track for any online services being provided by organisations.
1. The Literacy Level of Users (How well can someone read)
The statement was made by Dee that 46% of Australians are below the line for literacy to cope with on-line content.
The ABS has a paper released in 1997 4228/0 Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Literacy Skills that supports this comment, more so into General Literacy levels.http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4228.0Main+Features11996?OpenDocument
How many online users fit into this group?
2. Lower Literacy Users exhibit very different reading behaviours than Higher-Literacy Users
“Lower Literacy users plough the text rather than scan it, and they miss page elements due to a narrower field of view.”
This research comes from Jakob Nielson the leading authority in Usability Design. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html
Nielson states in the same article…
- Higher-literacy users scan text, lower literacy users don’t scan text
- Lower-literacy users cant glance at lists they have to read each word carefully
- This means that they skip over large amounts of information, obviously it becomes all too complicated for the lower-literacy users.
- This means their visual concentration is lower
3. Scrolling can Cause Accessibility Problems
Jakob Nielson also stated in his Alertbox, March 14 2005 on Scrolling and Scrollbars:
- People with Motor skill impairments find scrolling difficult
- Low-literacy users can’t easily reacquire their position in the text after it moves.
- Elderly people have trouble getting to the right spot in scrolling menus and other small scrollable items.
So what’s the big problem?
Here are the three issues:
- The Literacy Level of Users,
- Lower Literacy Users exhibit very different reading behaviours than Higher-Literacy Users,
- Scrolling can cause accessibility problems,
Well, if people have problems reading, then they will have difficulties using and reading online content on web sites. Putting these three items together, becomes a recipe for disaster.
Picture a possible scenarios that could occur;
- A customer goes on-line to either join-up or change some details related to an online service
- On the web page, it is expected that the Customer reviews the legalities if they do not comply with this point, if they do not comply it states a penalty will be imposed for their non-compliance.
- The customer agrees by selecting the “I Accept” button, however due to the three points above does, the customer really doesn’t understand what they are accepting.
- Later on, the customer does not comply with points stated on Web page and comes in breach of the on-line agreement.
- After several letters of correspondence, several phone calls, a visit to the organisation, the customer attempts to clear up the matter. The Customer services officer explains why they were in breach of the agreement.
- The customer states, “I didn’t understand what was written on the Web page, it was too hard and long for me to understand, so I just clicked the ”I Accept” Button.
The question is, if they were a low-literacy user, did the customer really know what their obligations were when they signed up?
If the customer had submitted the form at a shopfront or a service centre environment, in most cases the Customer Services Officer would have spelt out clearly to the customer their obligations.
I’m not a legal person, however I wonder how the courts would respond to this situation?
I would suggest that this type of scenario be run across the legal team for advice, e.g., where does Organisation x stand if this type situation were to occur and it came to a legal challenge, and the customer didn’t know what they were signing up to?
No doubt the case can be made that the same thing could occur in a non-on-line environment with a person reading a form and filling it in at home and sending it through the mail.
I support organisational initiatives that provides customers with an environment to access services on-line, however they need to be sure that they get it right. How do they manage low-literacy users, are they considered when the screens are put together.
Usability is vital in the design and User Testing is vitally important for all on-line activities.
However the questions remains, do customers really understand all the on-line content they are reading and signing up to?
I am currently trying out Everlater. If you want to see (follow) my first trip go to http://www.everlater.com/thetoff/checking-out-south-east-asia
It allows you to record trip details, add photos, notes, show the map where you’ve been (going).
It allows you to update your Facebook profile informing your friends of what you are doing.
Check out Everlater today!