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I recently spoke at Handsets World in Berlin about what specifically Apple has done to make using the iPhone a good user experience. The take away is that there is no secret magic to it. It is simple demonstrable, understandable principles and when a companies tries but fails to create good products, the primary reason is often organizational. It is not because the company does not have the right "rock star" design talent. It is because the organization has layers of management above the designers who has other priorities than creating great products and who wouldn't know a great product it it jumped up and bit them in the behind. Managerial talents are most often political and financial and they have the "yes, but" veto. Design priorities has to be driven from the top dog, or it will have limited effect.
According to some comments afterwards, I managed to annoy most of the audience who were high ranked people from the leading handset manufacturers and operators. Well, that wasn't my original intention, he-he, but I'm happy that the talk stirred some controversy and discussion.
The panel discussion afterwards was about "Achieving End User Delight" and one of the panelists, Sofia Svanteson from Ocean Observations had a great comment. She said said something along the lines of "Dead icons must die". Instead of static icons just symbolizing a function or some content, icons should reflect the content it represents. This jives with "using the content itself as the interface" something I have written about before.
IIRC she used the Sony Ericsson Xperia as an example. The Xperia home screen has "panels" that are live(?) miniatures of web pages, the calendar, music player, etc. The panels are user configurable.
She also used iPhone home screen icons as example. The icon for the Weather widget displays the actual weather for the default city, the Calendar icon shows today's date, etc. (Interestingly, the icon for the Clock does not show the time. The reality of power consumption. A constantly ticking clock would probably drain battery.)
Should the Stock widget icon show the stock price? Should the Maps icon show your position? Should the Notes icon show your lates notes?