Can marketing copy count as user assistance?
A lot has been written about the “lack” of Apple product documentation. The iPad was been released without a manual of any kind. The argument used by many is that the product is so intuitive that it doesn’t need any. But is that true? Many think so, but perhaps the large market in magazines, books, blogs and websites devoted to tips and tricks suggests otherwise. A recent Twitter stream started at this year’s Technical Communication UK Conference centerd on this debate. The example of the iPad was used to see if people saw it as an intuitive product. There is no doubt it is a beautifully designed product. Maybe it is easy to use as well, but does that make it intuitive?
In the blue corner…
Cast your mind back to the last time you bought a phone that came with a manual. Did you open the box, cast aside the manual and plunge straight into working out how to work the phone? I certainly did! In my case, it was a Blackberry. When I got it home I was able to do every basic task (and most intermediate and advanced tasks) without reading the manual. The iPhone, iPad or iPod is a different beast. It has a very simple interface that people love. My wife would not put herself in the “tech savvy” pigeon hole. Yet she was perfectly capable of opening her iPhone, add her contacts, make calls, download applications and send me a text to tell me how pleased she was with it, all without assistance.
In the red corner…
Those that argue that a product is intuitive need to consider the following. By the time I had got my sweaty hands on my Blackberry I’d done a lot of research on the internet, watched adverts, asked friends questions who had the phone and been given a product demonstration in the shop. In short, it was already a fairly familiar product. I didn’t have to read anything else. I am also very familiar with phone technology. If I’d just time travelled from the 1950s and was presented with it, would I know what to do? I’m not sure. Apple must have done some usability testing but is that enough on its own?
And the winner is…
Where Apple has been very clever, is the way it uses other forms of user assistance. Their products may not have manuals but they do have some excellent advertising, marketing material and other materials. Remember those adverts for the iPhone 4
? It was in effect the user guide. Other companies have adopted similar strategies. It works on one level, but consider this. Down the line my wife decided to delete one of the applications from her phone. The trouble was she couldn’t figure out how to do it. She called her Support Desk Consultant (i.e. me) but as this was the first time I had to do this, I couldn’t figure it out either. The excuse for a user guide that came with the phone was no use so I resorted to Google. Buried among the search results I found what I needed. Was the product intuitive? Not in this instance.
In summary, Apple targeted their audience. In the same way Microsoft targeted PC users in the 1980s, Apple came up with a strategy to make their phone easy enough for the average phone user to use without resorting to a manual. A slick user interface certainly helps, but on its own it is never enough. There has to be some other form of collateral to inform the users. Whether this is a TV advert, YouTube video or a user’s blog it all forms part of a strategy to deliver the user assistance required.