When I upgraded my iPad to iOS 4.2, I suddenly lost all sound. I freaked out, thinking I’d have to take it into the Apple Store to get fixed, or worse, reinstall the operating system and lose all my apps.
So of course I asked the Twitterverse for help, as I tend to do. Turns out that in 4.2, the iPad’s screen orientation lock switch (on the upper right side above the volume buttons) was repurposed to function as a mute button. The screen orientation lock was moved to the multitasking bar — now requiring the user to double-tap the home button, swipe to the right, and tap the icon to lock/unlock.
The Unofficial Apple Weblog even reported that Steve Jobs had no intention of reversing the change.
Despite their fantastic products that people love to use, Apple gets a bad rap for not doing any user research or usability testing. Their success seems to go against everything that product designers and user experience folks like me try to evangelize. Like 37 Signals, Apple says they are their users, and as a result can afford to stick with evaluating the effectiveness of their designs internally. But really, there’s more to the story.
The other day, Josh Porter tweeted a link to a blog post by Bradford Cross that quotes an email exchange with someone on the inside of Apple, who explains the company’s UX position in further detail. While they don’t externally test products prior to launch, this crucial point is made about how they respond to user feedback on products that have already been released:
However the thing that we pay very close attention to is user feedback after a product is released. And not the day of, knee jerk reactions, but long term. For example, I have personally gone over Applecare call data looking for trends and patterns and reviewed warrantee return information. Even requested certain units get debugged by my team so we can correctly find field issues and put processes in place so we never see it again.
Case in point: Apple heard the outcries against moving the iPad’s screen orientation lock, and in response plans to release a new feature in iOS 4.3 that allows you choose the switch’s function — mute or screen orientation lock — in the Settings. (Thanks to @ElliotRonen for letting me know)
I’ve been racking my brain to come up with other high profile examples of changes that Apple has made to product design in response to user protest, but have yet to think of one. Can you remember any?
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