Think Inside the Box

I saw this video today demo­ing a very inter­est­ing user man­u­al con­cept. Essen­tial­ly, the man­u­al wraps around a device with queues to manip­u­late the actu­al device, rather than some screen­shots or pho­tos. Basi­cal­ly the man­u­al is more of a phys­i­cal tem­plate (or jig, since I’m using tem­plate in the crafts­man sense).

Out of the box from Vit­a­mins on Vimeo.

How­ev­er, I can’t think of a worse device to apply this idea to than a touch­screen smartphone.

Let me explain: I’ve been using an Apple iPhone for about the past four years now1. As much as I ini­tial­ly opposed the idea, Apple was cor­rect in tak­ing things like the SIM card and phone bat­tery out of the hands of the user2. It’s a far supe­ri­or user expe­ri­ence to design those out of the expe­ri­ence all togeth­er, in my opin­ion. That being said, if you’re going to force your user into awk­ward set-up neces­si­ties, this is about as pain­less a way to do it as pos­si­ble. I can image some lay­ered gad­get pack­ag­ing where each sec­tion the user opens, they are pre­sent­ed with the next step in set­up or assem­bly (would work great for Ikea prod­ucts, too!).

Now, as for instruct­ing the user how to do any­thing on the phone: with a gen­er­ous sized touch screen, there’s sim­ply no rea­son why all of these instruc­tions can’t just present them­selves on the screen. My favorite apps on th the iPhone are those where the instruc­tions appear as modal dialogs point­ing to the most-used fea­tures. Add’l help can get includ­ed to, but the top two or three tools are called out as soon as the app launch­es, mak­ing any user almost instant­ly proficient.

So, as much as I like this con­cept, I’d much rather see all of this inside the box—er, phone—than in some bulky, phys­i­cal thing that isn’t going to be with you at all times.

In short: I think the man­u­al for a smart phone should sim­ply be one short sen­tence: Push the pow­er button.

Via Johne Cook, by way of Bill Swal­low & Ray Gal­lon

  1. Yes, this is the part where I start com­ing off as an Apple fan boy, but bear with me… it applies to any smart­phone or oth­er touch-screen device []
  2. Sure, you can still get to the SIM card on an iPhone, but com­pared to any oth­er phone, it holds vir­tu­al­ly no data beyond the user’s account cre­den­tials or phone num­ber. []

4 thoughts on “Think Inside the Box”

  1. I’ve been using an iPhone for years and I love it. BUT — I bought David Pogue’s miss­ing man­u­als because there are lots of “hid­den” fea­tures that you just have to either stum­ble onto or be told about.

    Good UX prac­tice says nev­er hide a fea­ture from the users, but it’s done all the time.

  2. It’s true that there are some buried fea­tures of the iPhone, even after sev­er­al OS revi­sions. How­ev­er, I do think there has to be some sac­ri­fices made on a rel­a­tive­ly small screen size (ver­sus, a tablet screen, for example).

    I’m all for expos­ing fea­tures to users, but they should only be exposed when they’re need­ed and hid­den oth­er­wise. That’s easy to say but tough to do, of course. I think iOS and Microsoft­’s Rib­bon are the best exam­ples of get­ting close to that goal, though.

  3. Screen size has noth­ing to do with it. Sure, you can’t put every­thing on the screen. That’s why there’s a man­u­al. Just that Apple does­n’t do one. Or, they do, but you have to know where to get it.

    As for Microsoft­’s Rib­bon — I rather like the rib­bon con­cept, but hate MS’ imple­men­ta­tion of it, though it’s bet­ter in Office 2010, espe­cial­ly since you can cus­tomize it.

    MS has con­sis­tent­ly tak­en a kind of “big broth­er­ly” atti­tude in its soft­ware, assum­ing it knows what I want more than I do, and insist­ing that I get that, and I resent it, even as MS has improved its over­all UX.

    Apple, on the oth­er hand, has had great UX from the start, but also hides stuff, and often neglects to give use­ful feed­back — like whether you modem is actu­al­ly send­ing and receiv­ing (MS removed this in Win 7, alas) or whether you disk is being accessed. These are very use­ful at spe­cif­ic times in the live of a com­put­er user.

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