Usefulness + Speed = Users

As a frontend developer I’ve long argued the magic formula for a good website is:

Usefulness + Speed = Users

This is based on the fact that the best websites on the internet are pretty spartan in appearance. When you look at many of the successful ones (Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Facebook), they’ve all taken the approach of simplicity on the frontend. They keep the user interface as minimal as possible, and they keep the technology and code as minimal as possible.

An interesting quote from CNet:

The same effect happened with Google Maps. When the company trimmed the 120KB page size down by about 30 percent, the company started getting about 30 percent more map requests. “It was almost proportional. If you make a product faster, you get that back in terms of increased usage,” she said.

Emphasis mine.

Just goes to show that faster things become more than useful to users. They become a convenience. Users don’t really care how it looks or they would have switched from boring Google a long time ago. They just find it so convenient and quick they can’t stop using it.

I suspect this is why digital clocks are so popular.

Roman Numeral Analog Clock

Most people find an analog clock to be “classy”, in particular when there are roman numerals. But when you come down to being practical, they aren’t as quick to read for most people since we rarely deal with roman numerals. The solution used to be using Arabic numbers to increase usability and speed:

Arabic Numeral Analog Clock

This is better, but not perfect. Still slow to read, and your estimating the minutes. These days, we have the technology to produce low cost digital time readouts with Arabic numbers. These are more accurate since they show the minutes, and maybe even seconds, and can be read at a glance with almost no effort.

Arabic Digital Clock

Despite hardly looking fancy, this is what you see in most train stations, airports, etc. The older clocks are still around, but mostly for aesthetic purposes. People are willing to sacrifice looks for convenience. That’s why they walk around with digital watches rather than the more classy ones. Both can be found for cheap, but one can easily be read (even with poor vision, and in the dark).

Simplicity always rules. Unless your a nerd with a binary clock (which is cool).

I suspect this rule also holds true for software. If it’s faster, people are more inclined to use it. People moved from IE 6 to Firefox because it’s faster. Given that Firefox 3 is even faster… I’m hoping this trend will be proven yet again with an improved adoption rate.

Another upcoming test of this principle will be the Apple’s 3G iPhone. Will the average number of minutes browsing the web increase with the additional speed of a 3G network? Will faster performance make people use the device more? I suspect so. I also think it will increase adoption as many people were turned off on the idea of spending that much for EDGE. For 3G, that’s a different story.

It’s really pretty interesting stuff. People often associate usability with user interface design, and never performance. But that data really does seem to point to performance being one of the easiest ways to make a product more usable.

Images: Grand Central Terminal clock © 2004 Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Clock in Kings Cross, LCD Clock Grey via Wikipedia

iPhone SDK & Enterprise Offering

Apple announced it’s Enterprise offering as well as the long awaited SDK for the iPhone today. A few thoughts:

Enterprise Offering

Pretty impressive, at least the way it sounds. I have a feeling they are dead serious on this one. Exchange support, and the administrative stuff will be very big wins. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the line ends up splitting so there’s an enterprise line of iPhones with a more business set of features, and a “personal” line. That will help them compete more on both sides by being able to focus more. Software likely will be identical among them.

The one thing I can’t figure out is cost. I have a strong feeling a price drop for the current EDGE based iPhones will come in June, as the new 3G models are revealed. It’s still a hard pitch for enterprises to buy iPhones when Blackberry’s are getting cheaper and cheaper. Not to mention they can shop for prices among wireless providers. Because of this, I think there’s a price drop in the works to bring the iPhone to where it can really compete.

SDK

I can has SDK? Still can’t download it. Apple’s on Akamai, but their developer stuff is generally not. That really sucks. I’ve been trying all afternoon.

I wonder if the $99 one time fee (setup fee) applies to open source projects? I’d hope they provide an avenue for them to signup at no charge. Especially considering Apple’s involvement in open source.

Other Thoughts

Still no Apple SSH client? I really hope terminal.app is available for download when this thing actually ships.

More when I actually get my hands on some SDK bits.

No Flash For The iPhone

Via TechCrunch I noticed that there won’t be flash player for the iPhone anytime soon. I’m not surprised. I said this before.

Apple doesn’t want the iPhone to get the reputation of having poor battery life. Apple is said to have avoided 3G thus far because of power consumption reasons, instead opting for a lower powered EDGE chip. When Apple moves to 3G later this year, they will want to at a minimum keep the same battery life. Having Flash on the iPhone will mean a likely drop in battery life. Something they don’t want.

I suspect in 12-18 months when H.264/AAC is a more common encoding scheme, I think we’ll see a Flash component for QuickTime that can take advantage of the hardware on the iPhone. Right now there’s too much vc6 stuff out there.

Apple doesn’t want anything released to drain battery life or it will be accused of misleading consumers about average battery life. Keeping the CPU idle will help keep that time up.

I suspect the SDK will have some limitations on CPU cycles an app built can consume before it’s throttled in some way. For the exact same purpose. That’s fine for most things, most users won’t notice, but for video, any slowdown or bottleneck becomes very visible.