Dear Apple: It’s Time to Add More Humanity to Your Human Interface Guidelines

apple_four32cAt Apple’s hilariously overproduced Apple Special Event yesterday, the company announced its long-awaited update to Apple TV, alongside the most advanced iPhone and iPad yet—because for some reason Apple is choosing not to launch new products that are less advanced than its existing lineup figure. Apple TV, that surprisingly simple, near-ubiquitous home media appliance, now has Siri integration. But is this enhancement too little too late or do we simply expect more?

The company that arguably created our modern understanding (and appreciation) of user experience and product design is now in the position of having to play catch up. Companies like Amazon, Google and even FitBit are taking Apple’s pioneering approach to iOS Human User Interface and are expanding those principles beyond the visual.

Until now, Apple has rested on pretty—pretty interfaces, pretty design (iTunes excluded, what was Apple thinking?). Back in the day when the decidedly unpretty IBM was lurking around, we really wanted pretty. But good visual design has become commoditized. Companies that once relied solely or primarily on superior technology, like Google, have become design innovators. So Apple needs to step up its game. To continue its domination, it’s time Apple started creating user experiences that advance its legacy of innovation beyond the visual and deliver products and experiences in context of our bodies and our environments.

The Smarter Home

It appears the latest Apple TV is trying to be the new Amazon Fire TV with voice activation and gaming features. OK, we suppose those are features worth striving for, but maybe just like Amazon Echo strategy, this is Apple’s first step toward the realization of the Smart Home. Amazon has done an excellent job in creating an interactive home appliance with a simple and beautifully executed voice-activated interface. There is no attached screen on Amazon Echo, yet, but it’s not needed. As you walk through your home, you simply ask Alexa (that’s Amazon for Siri) for news, weather, and traffic updates as you make coffee and get ready for work. This type of audio interface makes complete sense for the home. It’s perhaps not quite as personal, you’re not looking at and tapping on your wrist (more about that later). But the interface is still open to the entire family (save for maybe your pets, yet) and is perfectly aligned with a home environment. Well done, Amazon.

At this point, Amazon and Apple have not really codified a new Verbal or Audio User Experience taxonomy. They’re relying on natural language processing to hopefully get users the results they want, which may only go so far with their current technologies. Echo seems to do a better job at this than Siri. If Apple took a page from its own playbook and updated the Human User Interface Guidelines with a Verbal chapter, that might just bridge its current technology gap.

Wanted: Less Watch, More Apple

For generations, the entertainment industry has been priming us for wrist communicators with the likes of Dick Tracy and Star Trek. Pop culture has even inspired cell phones, and the market is virtually untapped—a free range for tech giants like Apple to stake its billion dollar claim. So why is it, after nearly 70 years of being prepped for this Next Big Thing, when we are presented with a smartwatch created by a historically revolutionary company, the overwhelming response is a resounding “Meh??

Apple’s last great innovation was the iPhone. They leapt over their competition by adding a high resolution touchscreen, which did not require a stylus or keyboard, and introduced multiple dimensional navigation, which has become a standard for smartphones. But the same tactics don’t resonate for the Apple Watch. For Apple’s most intimate product, the screen takes you away from your actual environment and into the near-field world of dials, spins, and taps. Just tweaking the successful iPhone interface principles for a smaller screen doesn’t take into account the difference in user perspective. In creating Apple Watch, Apple was in the position to create something entirely unique: a non-graphic user interface based on gestures, sounds, or vibrations that intimately connected us to each other by not forcing us look at a screen.

A fully fleshed out haptics interface could’ve made the difference. In the Apple Watch there are some minimal tactile sensations on the wrist. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough to create a new modality that makes sense on a person’s body. If Apple wearables are really going to take off, they must take a cue from Fitbit and minimize the visual interface while expanding the tactile responses.

To the Future

The personal computing revolution started by taking a room full of computing power, scaling it down and putting it on a person-sized device for a human to use with a keyboard and mouse (thanks again, Apple). But as our information infrastructure expands to every aspect of our lives, interfaces should respond accordingly and, most importantly, in context. An interaction on a user’s wrist is different from an interaction in her car. An experience in her home is different from one in the office. Apple has the brainpower and resources to define how these appropriate and specific user experiences will work in context to over everyday environments, where we are and who we are with. We’re looking forward to iOS Human User Interface Guidelines from Apple that bring in more humanity and moves beyond just pretty visual interfaces.


Photo: Terry Johnston


FOUR32C is an interactive agency, New York. We’re curious digital natives who bring creativity and intelligence to the world’s most beloved brands. We create thoughtful, compelling interactive experiences by starting every project with questions. Our process leads to evocative digital products designed with a purpose for every pixel.