Consistency, consistency, consistency

iPhone 4 vs. Android Nexus One

When someone starts writing it's not unusual for them to want to creative, to be un-boring, so when they have a character talk, that character "intimates", "whispers", "suggests", "exclaims" and otherwise enjoys every imaginable bit of literary variance the author can throw at them.

More seasoned writers tend to just stick with "said". When a character talks, it's "said", "said", "said". Over an over again. Page after page. Turtleneck after jeans. "Said", "said", "said". It's used so often it just disappears, the mechanics disappear, the author disappears, and all that's left is the character.

Apple's iOS has a pretty consistent user interface. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it's more consistent than its competitors. Occasional page curl in Maps aside, the basic ways you move around the iPhone are the same, Apple app after Apple app. (And anything that's not tends to get hidden away so power users can "discover it" and mainstream users can live their lives never having to be bothers by its existence).

iOS is so consistent, so single minded it being consistent, that when it isn't -- especially when 3rd party apps aren't -- it causes problems. Upper left had corner is a virtual back button. Tap and you go back. Tap and you go back. Tap and you... are suddenly editing your account? That's the type of exception that proves the rule. You're so used to doing something, it's so instinctive to do certain things, that when they don't happen you notice, and you get annoyed.

Beyond the UI it applies to Apple's platform as well. From 2007 to 2009 every iPhone and iPod touch -- 6 devices not counting re-issues -- not only ran pretty much the same OS but had pretty much the same specs, the same screens, the same types of chips. When newer, better technology was thrown in -- GPS, 3G, faster chips, more RAM, iOS abstracted them through API like CoreLocation so they remained broadly consistent. In 2010 Apple added the iPad which admittedly muddied the consistency waters, but they made sure it could run iPhone apps either 1x or 2x in double fuzzy chunky mode. iPhone 4 quadrupled the resolution but kept the same size so old apps "just worked" with 4 pixels instead of 1 if they had to, and the new gyroscope got hooked up to the old accelerometer and CoreMotion was born.

When speaking of the iPhone and the iPad, Apple SVP of design -- and again, how many hardware/software companies have an executive level designer? -- said he did everything possible to get the device itself out of the user's way. It's just a screen. Apple's software designers have done a little of the same. But maintaining consistency to such a a consistent degree, a significant part of the OS gets out of the user's way as well and only the content is left.

Say what you want about the iOS home screen being a boring old app launcher, but it's always a boring old app launcher, swipe after swipe, page after page. It's not a card view one moment, app launcher the next, wave in between. It's not a bank of widgets arrayed like Hong Kong street signs surrounded by empty spaces and the occasional app in between -- if they've been liberated from the drawer.

iOS consistency is so prevalent it becomes easy to overlook, but just spend a few days with another platform and it you start to realize it almost immediately. Incredible variations in hardware and UI skins are great for varieties sake but usability takes a huge hit.

Just for fun I passed around a few non-iPhone devices to co-workers, all smart techies. It took them a while to do even basic things like turn them on, unlock them, find Wi-Fi and add the password (note: never have two buttons for Wi-Fi one on top of the other where the first one turns it on and off, they'll hit that one every time while looking for the settings hidden in plain sight beneath it.) I watched in particularly horrible fascination as a friend of my went to Digg's mobile site, tapped a link, and had the device activate the link below it. He repeated and it did it again. About 4 out of 5 times when he hit pretty much the same spot -- a link -- it would trigger the one below. And yes, only 4 out of 5 times, just to be inconsistent about the inconsistency. Finding the phone to place a call? Woz wasn't wrong. It was comedic at times.

In stark contrast I've mention numerous time how I've given iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads to children as young as one and half and they've been able to unlock them and launch the apps they wanted to launch. At two and half they could use it well.

That's the power of a fairly consistent platform running fairly consistent consistent software.

It's what Apple has been doing for years, for decades -- making software and focusing on human interface (they've even got guidelines). It's why feature checklists might not be the best way to measure advances in the smartphone space (though every June Apple takes as good a jump down checklist street as anyone.)

Microsoft is reportedly laying down the consistency law for partners with the upcoming Windows Phone 7, and rumor has it Google might try to divest itself of all those Android UI skins with version 3.0.

Sure, "power users" might get bored but we complain about everything anyway. People who just want to use their device won't even notice -- they'll be too busy using their device. Just like readers are too busy enjoying their novel and don't give a second though to "said", "said", said."

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Consistency, consistency, consistency

49 Comments

I couldn't agree more with you. Apple is definitely first when it comes to consistency and I think RIM with its BlackBerry product line is a close second. Every BlackBerry has pretty much the same interface, even if you compare a BlackBerry with an older OS to one with a newer one, it is pretty much the same. This is good for consistency, but bad for moving forward in RIM's case because their OS is so outdated.
However, Apple has a good OS on their hands and the little additions they have made have not taken away from the simplicity of the core OS. I recently switched from a BlackBerry Bold 9000 to an iPhone 3GS and I haven't looked back since. Though I'm a technical person, I enjoy simplicity.

While I appreciate Apple's consistency, I don't like the fact they have yet to implement some of the most basic things many have had for years. For example, mark all as read in the email client.

Very nice and very true. I just swapped from blackberry and aside from missing the LED light I am very happy. Very quick to learn.

True, people aré never satisfied because it's not the same people complaining. I think constanci is the key of windows, it have kept compatibility with every aspect and look the result

Consistency is fine to a point.
If iPhone is for toddlers (literally) then I can see Android consistently positioning itself as the leading app phone for adults (helped along by Steve Jobs consistently mentioning the porn).
That's just how marketing works consistently on the human psyche.
Of course, by consistently positioning itself as the app phone for toddlers and normal people with consistently average technical ability, Apple will maintain a consistent user base. This will consistently help the bottom line (though Jobs is consistent in managing above the line).
They'll always be sheep and always be shepherds - that's a consistent human condition, consistently looking for consistent leadership - because true leaders are brand disloyal and actually pretty inconsistent at times.

I couldn't agree more, Rene. When handing a non-iPhone to send an SMS or place a call, I've been mocked by phrases like 'you can use that fancy iPhone but you can't even send a text on mine?' It's the ease of use that has had me using Apple products since my dad carried in our first Macintosh in 1991 when I was just two years old, and according to him, I used that pretty well too.

Rene, Rene, Rene full defense mode buddy! So we have now have to diss the other platforms for us to fill good about our reception prob that Apple is not admitting too. I like my phone. But i know people who wouldn't mind something different and maybe a new challenge. Just give it up Rene. Apple is getting some really bad press right and it just makes me fill sorry for you that you are trying so hard to make us feel better. It's ok buddy! We just want our reception fixed and a few other issues and for Apple to own up to it. Just take a chill pill buddy you're trying a tiny bit too hard!

It is 2010..... Most people know how to use Windows and OS 10 which is 100X harder to use than these Android devices. It really isn't much harder to use either. I think this whole difficulty thing that people are clinging on to is slowly withering away. 160,000 devices sold a day. They aren't all nerds.

The part pertaining to consistency is very true. But I don't mean to be skeptical...but let me be skeptical.
Are you telling me, your technologically literate friends found it hard to either A) press menu then settings or B) open an app drawer and press the settings icon? Seriously?
You also say they couldn't power it on? When most devices have a power symbol on the button or in the same spot as their iDevice.
Then what does a faulty/non-calibrated screen (links spiel) have to do with consistency?
I'm not being skeptical because this is a comparison, but just because it doesn't seem right. I've dealt with every phone from Nokia to Android to iPhone. When I pick up a phone,I can tell what to do after one/two clicks.
Lastly, why is it that you praise the lowest common denominator approach. Yes, I understand that you never want anything too complicated, but to have the highest praise of your device be that a one year old can use it? To basically state that any other phone with more than one functional button will confuse your users? Is that really something to be proud of? Its just amazing that we champion not using your brain in this country, whether its something as trivial as a phone or as important as education.
But eh...I guess dumb is the new cool. Well...its kind of always been like that huh. -shrugs

That’s the power of a fairly consistent platform running fairly consistent consistent software.

True. The iPhone (by itself) is very consistent.
But what is still very inconsistent are the different icons between iPhone, Mac, and MobileMe.
Why is Mac's Address Book icon a book, while iPhone's Contact icon is a binder with a head silhouette, while MobileMe's Contact is a square with an "@" symbol?
Why isn't Mac's iPhoto's icon similar to iPhone's Photo app? They had two matching "Sunflower" icons between MobileMe's Gallery app and iPhone Photos... but before they could unite the Mac's, they went and designed yet a different MobileMe icon.
Not to mention iPhone's purple iTunes icon, and Mac's "double-note CD" icon.
Maybe Apple feels that since these are technically "different" apps, they should have different icons. But if that's the case, then why is iPhone's "iMovie" icon identical to the Mac's when they're not identical apps? And why are the iPhone's Calendar app and MobileMe's Calendar app identical when they are different apps, while the Mac's iCal is completely different? Why are the iPhone and MobileMe's Mail "envelope" icons identical, while Mac's Mail is a postage stamp?
If I wanted users (especially those new to Mac) to have the easiest, most consistent experience possible, I'd make the icons more consistent with perhaps very minor differences to separate them from each other.
Just thought it weird.

The smugness is unbelievable. That somehow apple users have some higher level of understanding than people who don't have iphones. I think apple for the most part makes really good products (I can't wait to get an Ipad), but the arrogance that people like Rene have towards people who don't exclusively buy apple products is why Apple gets all the hate to begin with.

I agree that consistency is important, and my OS of choice (android) does have a bit to go in that regard. But at the same time, Android is relatively consistent. Back will take me back, if I long press on something it will give me additional options, etc.
I think the biggest issue is that iOS is so consistent that people coming from the platform expect all other platforms to behave in the same way. This is true of other platforms, but not to the same degree as it seems to be with apple users.
If someone hands me a new phone and tells me to check it out, I spend some time looking at the menu layout, the hard/soft keys ect. But if I hand my Droid to a long time iphone user, they'll just start pressing the upper left hand corner of the screen to go back and complain when it doesn't do what they want.
So while the consistency is GREAT for the initial adoption of the platform, it can also hinder users if even the slightest thing is out of wack, even on another OS.

I think this article really puts out there the ideals and perspective Apple has for their products. To merge simplicity with advanced technology takes a great deal of attention and care. We all know that Apple makes a lot of money by they spend the time making a product of quality. I would like to compare Apples products to James Bond 007. They are put together well and are stylish but you never see what's makes the item great you just know it works well.

@Menno
Don't relay that to Rene. Clearly, since his tech expert buddies couldn't figure out how to turn on a phone...then every other phone is just impossible.
Never mind that the way you power on every iPhone and Android device has been used since Nokia's first cellphone. Or the fact the way you get to settings on iPhone is inherently the sane as getting to settings on any android phone....

Consistency is also akin to a lack of innovation. Believe it or not I feel the iphone's success will continue because of a lack of innovation. Android will not meet it's lofty expectations because it will move too quickly for people to keep up. By people I mean real people. Additionally, developers often are not treated as people but more like machines who spit out apps. Developers have lives and time constraints just like anyone else. Keeping up with constant changes in software and hardware is unbelievably time consuming and often just not worth it. They'll have lots of phones in every carrier, but you know what so will the iPhone in at the most two or three years. At that time this battle of rapid versus graded innovation will be more accurately determined.
On a practical note I'm glad I'm not an android user and enthusiast. My budget just will not allow it.

Yes, I agree with this artilce somewhat. However, that doesn't mean that 'simple' has to be 'stale'. I've had my iPhone 3GS now since November '09; and I'm already tired of the interface. To me, it's just an app launcher (now that I've gotten over the "coolnes" of the phone). I know it's been beaten to death, but Apple really needs to go back to the drawing board. The interface needs to be changed, not just slightly updated. When I look at the Android UI, it looks "cool" but its also intuitive and much more functional. Now imagine that kind of functionality coupled with Apple's hardware and easy-to-use software. That would be a SMARTPHONE! So when is Apple gonna wake up and smell the coffee huh? Cuz the iPhone Smartphone is looking more and more like a STUPIDPHONE.

@Bryan
Your budget will not allow?
Are you serious?
I had my G1 until the Nexus One came out.
Which was a HUGE jump in technological difference. And well over a year of ownership.
A new iPhone comes out exactly every year...
So how exactly is it that your budget can't keep up with Android, but it can with iPhone?
If you learn to pick correctly, you never have to worry about buying another.
And to the normal consumer....they'll be happy with what they have. They're not interested in the spec war (which h is what most new Android phones are bringing...bigger specs)

My perspective seems different than most of the tech folks. The primary reason that I moved to the Mac and the iPhone a few years back is because I hate having to be an expert for my gear to work well. I hate having to do maintenace and download extra stuff just to get it working the way that the manufacturer promised. I know that this might sound dumb to some of you, but I love that the iPhone is so consistent across the whole OS that my kids ages 2, 5 and 6 can easily find their way around. By contrast, though I can use my sister's Droid, I find myself constantly annoyed by the inconsistent design of different pages within the OS, the changes from page to page and app to app in what the "soft" keys do at the bottom. In short, it is annoyingly un-user friendly. I've met a few tech oriented folks who really love their Android devices, but I also know of 4 different folks who agree that they are powerful, but feel frustrated using them and regret the purchase.
I do agree with a lot of folks that it is time for a notifications system update, but that wouldn't really change the consistency.

Notsaying iPhone users are better or smarter. Just the UI is so much easier to learn. I used windows mobile from the compaq pocket pc era through the Samsung epix. Horrible uis. Used to be an iPhone hater, never used one but used to hate em. Played with my dads 6 months before the 3GS n loved it. Got a 3GS. Played with a droid incredible and I consider myself a geeky person but it was a lot harder to use. Didn't take me long to learn more about it than my friend but it isn't as easy as people think. Not saying I couldn't find the power button but apple makes everything simple but powerful. Android might get that in 3.0 to do the same thing, form consistency.

@Bryan
Specs are only as good as the software that can utilize them and well practical use. 8mp defeats the purpose of a digital camera.

I find this article to be a little off. Just yesterday you were complaining about the double and triple press of the home button. Changes are not equal to consistency. Furthermore I work with a lot of people with droids who are far from power users. None of them have any trouble operating their phones. The fact that they can change their homescreens and use widgets is welcome to each of them. They can utilize each screen to best fit their needs so that they don't have to open and close apps to use them. It actually takes steps out of the operation of the device and makes it more simple to use contrary to what you say. Apple treats us as we're incapable of using a device more complicated than tap, waits, tap again.

I think theres alot of dumbass fandroid users that come here to hate on every post. Im very happy with the complexity and depth of my windows pc, it has served my power user needs for a long time now. But i sure am glad my iphone4 is simple and easy. I dont want the time consumption of having a power user mini pc phone. I just want to use it, quickly, and get back to using my PC.

I prefer webOS. It's very simple to use and actually a bit more intuitive once you break the the iOS mentality but leaves the options to be made more complex for "power users" unlike iOS which pretty much just stays simple regardless of what a "power user" might want to do with it.
I've only had basic interactions with Android. At the time it felt like iOS but I didn't really do anything outside of some in-store test driving on a DRIOD last year. I've used a multimedia (MM) touchscreen phone, iOS, and webOS. The MM phone and iOS felt close to the same with the obvious exception of being able to download extra apps and multi-touch for iOS. WebOS feels the best, simple, quick, and intuitive. I find myself missing some of the simple gestures and conveniences that webOS has that aren't in iOS when I have to use an iOS device now even with ignoring "power user" customization of webOS.

Good thoughtful post, Rene. I'd like to see more like the above, as well as more how-tos and tips. The rumors and squabbling, not so much.

@Stephennn Bc he is trying to feel good about himself with the whole PR collapse by Apple, the way we are getting bashed by the media and prob people from other blog sites.

Why do some people think that you have to do things the hard way to prove that you're smart? Just because you CAN do things in a more complex, harder to figure out way, doesn't mean you HAVE to.
Making things more complex just to prove that you can figure it out seems like a sign of "lack of intelligence" more than anything else.

@Keith:

Why do some people think that you have to do things the hard way to prove that you’re smart? Just because you CAN do things in a more complex, harder to figure out way, doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

Just what the heck are you saying ?
Turning on an android phone is exactly the same as turning on an iphone. Its SO MUCH THE SAME that Apple is suing HTC becuase the horizontal slider swipe at the bottom of the screen is so close.
How could it POSSIBLY be harder or more complex?

I have an Android phone for now .... Yes Widgets are cool, but not as great as they are made out to be.
I've been a long time Mac user and have put off getting an iPhone for 4 years now. That was until I ordered my iPhone 4 last week.
I do have to agree that the iPhone is easier, not why I am getting it, but it does help. Consistency is the main reason I am fed up with Android after a few months, my phone is now obsolete and left in the dust.

You typically know what you're getting in iOS apps but they aren't consistent. Tell me, across every app, where to get to the settings? Inside the global Settings? Button on the UI? How about going back from one screen to another? Back button on the UI? Swipe?
Exactly.
Point taken but consistency isn't not the strong suit across iOS apps.
@icebike
Ummm...my Android phone doesn't swipe across...it swipes down. ;-)

That is another annoying thing about iOS apps, finding their settings, especially before "multi-tasking" when to change the app's settings required you to leave the app and go to the OS's Settings window. Another nice little CONSISTENCY on webOS apps is to access their settings you tap the upper left where the app name is displayed. It's the same in every webOS app.

I feel the same way as post number 13. I visit this site daily but Rene has made me sour to everything he posts. One word for what he writes and does - Fanboy.
I stood in line in 2007 to get the 1st gen iPhone and I'd never look back at that decision and say, hey I shouldn't have spent $599 plus tax. It's a great phone, my 3GS was great and now so is my 4. It's not up to you Rene to defend apple or justify your iPhone 4 purchase. I upgraded from 3GS and that thing still has years left to go, the 4 is just a better all around phone.
You recently tweeted about how you aren't going to post any more ways that people are recking their iPhone 4's. Take note to yourself and stop posting stuff like this. It sounds like your in kindergarten.
PS Please don't delete this post like you do others, Rene. What happened to your excellent journalism from years past?

Well, another smart thought from Rene. I'm some kind of geek who enjoys reading stuff in tech-websites, and believe me, I read a lot from really cool sites. But this is the very first time that I found myself looking for an especific author. You rule, Ritchie! Thank you for sharing your always great point of view with us.

So much fanboyism in this article, but the thing that really drives me bananas is the idea that it's somehow wonderful for the consumer not to be able to have widgets. Oversimplifying the interface might make it more "usable", but it makes it less useful.

Its really sad to come to this site sometimes and see articles like this. Rene you seem to be so focused on the competition all the time, that you don't even get to enjoy your own phone. When i go to other specific phone blogs, its really uncommon for me to see the authors go the levels this site does in attempting to degrade the competition. Its sad and quite laughable indeed.

@mike: It's hard to use your own phone when you can't hold it in a natural way without losing all your reception. ;)
But seriously, Rene is just in panic mode because Apple is getting bad press which happens to be completely justified.
Personally, I'd just get a case and forget about it, but I wouldn't pretend it's not a legitimate issue.

@mike: He's just being consistent with what Apple is doing. Only thing I got from his garbled rambling was that consistent use of an iPhone causes brain damage.

"Personally, I’d just get a case and forget about it, but I wouldn’t pretend it’s not a legitimate issue."
@Derp I agree. I have the phone and realize this was a real issue. Then, my case arrived and I have moved along. I moved to an iPhone from a bold 9700, and frequented crackberry. When RIM messes up the bloggers report just that not defend them to the death

Well, I agree that the iOS and all Apple apps are easy to use and consistent and that many 3rd party apps break these rules and make things complicated. But that's exactly why I love the concept of Android with its four buttons. Using these buttons for going back, switching to the home screen, searching and hitting the app menu is very consistent. Of course, there are always some apps that don't use these buttons as intended, but the huge majority does, while most iOS games and also many other iOS apps all have their own concept.
Sometimes I wish there was a phone that has all the advantages of Android and iOS combined, but at the moment I'm pretty satisfied with my Android while I'm very often disappointed by the limitations of my iPod Touch... I think it's better to search some minutes for some advanced settings and find them (Android) than to search for them and then realize after some minutes that they simply don't exist (iOS)...

As some others have said, consistency is good to some degree, but you need to move on to truly innovate. I'm sure Apple will take its time to go in a new direction and when ready spring something out on a future handheld, and when they do, there will be changes. Let's not mistake flexibility offered by Android or WebOS as not being powerful or intuitive. Their consistency is the ability to be flexible and pull more out at a different level. They offer multiple ways to go about doing something, which in my opinion allows for much greater consistency and natural growth according to how I want to progress.
The articles take comes across as extremely defensive. You love your iPhone. Congrats, but you don't need to try to bring your choice up by trying to bring other choices down. This is a major issue many have with Apple users' perceived personas.

Yep, sure, we should have kept the console, at least it was a consistent user experience. Come on, I have had an iPhone 3g and I have now an iPad, and the only thing I can think about is getting rid of my iStuffs and get some real progress in UI terms. Let's see what Android has to offer...