New Next Gen Macbook Pro


“It’s without doubt the best computer we’ve ever built!”

If you’re an Apple fan then you’re probably feeling pretty excited right now. WWDC was held yesterday (you can watch it here) and Apple have finally launched the next generation of Macbook Pros. Thankfully they’ve met and exceeded most people’s expectations, with the new Macbook Pro showing off an incredibly slim casing, superb retina display, high performance and attention to little details such as the lowering the noise of the fan (yes seriously!). I don’t know of any company that would value the user experience to such detail.

New Macbook Pro Overview:

new macbook pro spec
It’s very impressive and I’m already reaching for my purse. The question is whether to wait until July which is when Mountain Lion is released. There’s a free upgrade for anyone purchasing the Pro if you buy now, or like my other half plans to do, you could wait until next month which also gives Apple some time to solve any issues there may be with the new hardware design.

I’m not as impressed with iOS 6. It may surprise you to know that I’ve never owned an Apple mobile, despite my love of all things Apple (well, except iTunes which needs a complete redesign). For most people, their mobile is an extension of themselves, of their own personality. I find the iPhone form factor to be quite masculine. It feels expensive and high quality but I just can’t connect with it. There is one thing that keeps pulling me to Android and that is Widgets. As far as user experience is concerned they enable a shorter, more efficient and effective interaction. I can simply turn on my backlight and I instantly know the weather, the latest news, read a note to myself (usefulness), and I can see a photo of my other half with the cats (emotional attachment, love). It all adds up to a nice experience. iOS may have better usability and apps than Android, but I personally believe they need to add more fun, emotion, usefulness and wow factors into their mobile desktop to have increased emotional appeal.

Getting back to the new Macbook Pro, here are a few quotes from WWDC relating to User Experience that I wholeheartedly agree with.

“To create something that’s genuinely new, you have to start again and I think with great intent you disconnect from the past.”

“If you never change anything then what you can engineer is kind of incremental. But when you’re willing to change things then you kind of open up a whole new world of design.”

Google concept augmented reality glasses “Project Glass’

Augmented reality is already making waves in the mobile app arena but it seems Google are the ones determined to take the eyewear market by storm. It’s something I first looked at years ago whilst at university. Back then it was very much thought of as a useful tool rather than a fun tool (isn’t that always the way with universities?). Information would be overlaid onto real life objects to make them more useful and interactive. For example, when walking down the street, the road you need to take to get to your destination may appear to be a shade of green.

Another project involved being able to see what an item of clothing would look like on you by simply holding up a card to a mirror. An image of the item was then superimposed onto the body via the mirror. It looked pretty rubbish at the time to be honest but that was many years ago now and I know this technology is still being tested. I’m betting this would appeal to males in particular – anything to avoid the changing room hey guys!

The concept glasses video by Google is quite different to this. The information appears to be much more distracting, requiring attention and user focus. I can’t imagine being able to walk down the street and successfully read a text message without tripping over something. My point is that although this is very much a concept, there is a great deal of user interaction, human factors and ergonomics issues that will need to play a major role within the design to ensure the glasses are not just fun and useful but also safe. Google have announced public tests of the glasses are commencing.

The big question is what are Apple going to do? 

I hope we don’t have to wait too long as this is technology I need want right now!

New iPod Shuffle Usability


This weekend I managed to check out the new iPod shuffle in all its glory. I couldn’t believe how small it was! It seemed smaller than I expected. Almost too small. Very plain and simple, in just two colours; black and silver (disappointing for me as I prefer colourful iPods). What roused my interest was that the hardware contains just ONE button!!! It has three switch positions to either turn off, loop or shuffle tracks. All your other functions are accessed via a ‘+’, ‘-‘ and centre press on the headphone controls. Yep just THREE buttons! 

Of course it is lovely for the user to be given such a small array of buttons. It simplifies the experience, gives them less choice so less confusion (normally). I wish remote controls would take this approach more often!

The one thing that I found quite odd was the high positioning of the controls on the headphones wire. They are very high up. So high that you can’t look at them unless you take the headphones out of your ears. So you are really relying on your sense of touch to find and press the 3 controls. I didn’t think this was too difficult but it wasn’t as easy as I would expect, considering this is the only way to control the device. I felt these buttons could have benefited from some added tactile definition. Positioning the controls lower down the wire would have been ideal and meant less movement required by the user’s arm to change tracks, which would be most welcomed when exercising.

I did consider whether they would have been better placing skip tracks on the volume keys. So that, for example, short press changes volume and long press changes tracks. But I remember conducting a study in the past where users were very split on what short press and long press would do. It was very easy for them to confuse the functionality of volume and skipping tracks when placed on the same key. So I fully believe Apple have made the right choice to place these differing functions on separate keys.

So this is one iPod where I’m afraid you will need to read the instructions as the functionality is very hidden. I suspect quite a few people will at first try changing tracks by using the + and – buttons. Navigating track lists sounds tricky. In fact, I’ve just read it twice and have forgotten how to do it already. But to be honest, I think although skipping tracks by double and triple clicking is completely new and requires some cognitive effort and learning, it is actually surprisingly easy to remember. It also helps that fast forwarding and rewinding require the same number of clicks as skipping tracks – you just have to remember to hold down on the last click. In essence they are the same actions. 

Apple are renowned for their ease of use so this new Shuffle will receive a lot of attention and no doubt some negative press surrounding the fact that learning is required to use this product. But we must remember that more buttons do require more hardware space, and if buttons are important to you, go and buy the other Shuffle version. If a small size and sleek look is important then Apple are offering this compact version with the trade-off that it will require actually reading the instruction manual on this occasion. But as the manual is a page long, hey it’s no big deal really. Personally when I’m at the gym I like buttons so I’m sticking with my current Shuffle 🙂 But thanks Apple for giving us the choice!