How Apple Iterates to Create Better Product Experiences

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Apple is notorious for creating great products with whimsically awesome interface design—ones that have certainly turned this old PC fanatic into an Apple fanboy. More than the finesse of the physical products or the sparkling chrome, it's refined and iterated design decisions that create great experiences for consumers.

As I was taking another mouthwatering look at the new unibody laptops, I was reminded of just how important those design decisions can be for how things work. The new unibody MacBook Pros come with fresh hotness all around, and the one design decision we all have been applauding at the ZURB office is the new laptop lids.

Push to Open is So Last Year

One of the biggest gripes we all have about the previous generation of MacBook Pros—the ones we use here—has been the lid latch. Here's a look at the culprit:

We all know it, but let's get this off all our chests—almost all laptop lid latches suck. There are those obnoxious sliders, tiny buttons, and clasping plastic contraptions that almost always break. Design decisions like these just make for bad experiences. You have to position your finger nail just right or you risk broken nails, pinched fingers, and frustrations abound. And when people are frustrated with their computers, bad things happen.

Aesthetics Don't Always Mean Great Interactions

The old MacBook Pro (MBP) lid latch was designed to compliment the general aesthetic of a great looking product. The short and wide design amplifies the perceived slimness of the machine, which is really cool, but not that functional. After continued use, the latch looses its "oomph," meaning you have to push harder, often with only a finger nail because your finger tip is too big.

When to comes down to it, the lid latch is just a bad experience for most users—even worse on some laptops, too! So where is the great interaction design? It's on the new unibody MBPs where Apple has rolled out an entirely new laptop latch.

Laptops Are Meant to be Opened

Apple has taken all the other great design decisions about the last generation of MBPs and made them that much better with this new unibody design. By far the one that stands out the most is the new lid latch.

And you know why it's so great? I'll tell you:

  1. First, there's no tiny button that requires a finger nail to open.
  2. Second, it maintains the magnetic clamp style from the last generation—and with just the right amount of magnetism.
  3. Third, the design affordance (the interaction we expect from just looking at the latch) is much greater—just lift.
  4. Fourth, it's just one motion. No push, then lift to open. Just open it.
  5. And finally, it's still effortless to open. You can lift the lid with one finger and not worry about the rest of the laptop lifting with it.

Design is How It Works

While maintaining the ease of use of the previous generation of laptops, Apple has managed to increase the design affordance and the durability of a single element to make a better experience for their consumers.

Remember: design isn't just how stuff looks. Design is how it works. Consumers rely on great design decisions to make products worth buying and using. Acknowledging that in your work (hardware, software, online, etc) will almost always take it from good to great for everyone involved.

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It has 6 comments.

Roger Katz (ZURB) says

I'm an Apple Fan Boy myself but I've found a few disapointments with the new Unibody MacBook that relate to the new design: 1.) The sharp edges don't feel great on the wrists 2.) That wonderfully simple to open lid tends to open in my bag, powering on my MacBook and making it mighty hot (like cooking hot) Keep an eye on the next revision. I'm betting these things will get fixed. The old MacBook Pro was comfy and the latch was true (even if it was a tough to open gracefully).

Mark (ZURB) says

Thanks for the input, Roger. I haven't heard anything about the lid not staying closed—Matt at the office here has a unibody MBP and I've yet to hear him complain about it.

It's interesting you mention the tried and true latch of MacBooks past. Sure the interaction wasn't as simple or obvious, but it just worked. Iteration on design interactions like this require a focus on improving things and not taking them a step back.

I hope you can find a way to hold that baby together until the next round! Perhaps make a visit to an Apple store to have them look at the magnet?

Jonathan Hung (ZURB) says

I'd like to see Apple's numbers regarding the measurements of a prototypical "designer". My guess is he/she is tall, slender, wears scarves and sits in cafes all day.

Mark, on the other hand, is huge guy. He probably has fairly big hands which could bring down Santa Cruz wildlife if they weren't being used to yield a computer mouse.

Tiny Apple laptop latch: no good.

He also uses the most obscenely large monitor I've ever seen.

Chris Cavallucci (ZURB) says

If we practice iterative interaction design, we can see how users respond to changes in the designs and the user experience. It's fun to modify and improve upon something without the user noticing the subtle differences in designs. We hear the user say, "I dunno, it just works" after they interact with the redesigned artifact, and we realize we've made an improvement. We measure and study user performance on tasks (often in terms of speed and accuracy). Then we think about what might work better in the next iteration. I've found that prototyping multiple interaction designs helps me communicate and test with users to find better solutions. I wonder how many design iterations Jonathan Ive and team went through to build the latest laptop.

The improvement on the laptop's latch is one of the many improvements Apple makes with each release of a product. These collective improvements in the user experience, in terms of product design and customer services, allow Apple to gain market share and customer loyalty. Subsequently, the company's performance and valuation go up.

james gibbon (ZURB) says

Didn't Apple get rid of the latch 10 years ago with the first generation clamshell ibook? I remember the "hey aren't latches awful" presentation at the keynote as well. Then they quietly re-introduced it just as lousy as it was before with the second gen ibooks. I'm sure the reason was cost, but Apple can also kill the things you love!

Mark (ZURB) says

@Chris: Absolutely true. Without iteration, and of course testing those iterations, we don't know how users will respond. Seeing it in action and making design changes based on that is key.

@James: I'm not sure—ten years ago I was a Windows user and hated Macs. Either way, I'm guessing they saw the error of their ways with the new unibody MacBooks and went to the simple lift lid.