Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Steve Job's Simplicity

The past couple of days I decided to read Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda. Ken walks the reader through his experiences at Apple. He is known for developing Safari, the Mail Composer and notably the iPhone/iPad keyboard and gestures.

One excerpt that comes into mind was when Ken was assigned with  creating the first keyboard for the iPhone. Remember this is the first iPhone where the screen was 3.5" much smaller than the iPhones that are available today. Around this time, almost all phones had physical button keys and touch screen keyboard was very new. There wasn't any similar reference Ken could get inspiration from for creating a keyboard on the iPhone. Along with figuring out how to make individual keys tappable onto the small retail space was a daunting task. Ultimately, Ken along with Bas (another Apple colleague) came up with 2 keyboard designs.

The first keyboard layout had numerical keys at the top. The second had missing numerical keys and other extra keys, but that allowed each individual keys to be much bigger. Ken decided that there would be an option for users to switch between the two keys to allow users to choose their preference.

When demoing to Steve Jobs, he immediately knew to remove one of the two keyboards. This decision had cascading effects toward great simplicity. One of the hard decisions was confusion around which keyboard to show in different situations. "For example, should the software remember that you used the bigger-keys keyboard in the Notes app and the more-keys key-board in Mail, and should these keyboard choices be stored in some situations but no others? These questions became moot, and that's good, because they don't necessarily have easy answers. Steve figured that the best way to answer difficult questions like these was to avoid the need to ask them."

Steve Jobs was one of the few early champions on emphasizing how important user experience was. Today, almost all companies follow suit and talk about the experience we want to give to users. This excerpt stood out to me. There are often times in my career experience where we emphasize how important user experience is, creating multiple screens for a wholesome experience, but wound up introducing more complexity.

In the example above, one could argue that having multiple keyboard layout for the user to choose is a better user experience because empowers the user to choose their own preference. The engineers could have gone back to the drawing board and solved the complex problem by having individual apps remember what keyboard layout it used last, but that would .have costed more development time as well. Sometimes decisions aren't always so black and white. That's what made Steve Jobs remarkable, he was able to make tough decisions simpler.

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