Ap­ple’s soft­ware heads talk about the new iPhone models

The Sunday Guardian - - Tech­no­logic - DAVID PHE­LAN

The Ap­ple iPhone X is fly­ing off the shelves. Two weeks be­fore Ap­ple’s flag­ship hand­set went on sale, I sat down to a rare on-the-record ses­sion with se­nior Ap­ple ex­ecs to hear about how the phone came about, why no Home But­ton is bet­ter and why there’s no Dark Mode.

There were two Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives in the room: Craig Fed­erighi, SVP of Soft­ware En­gi­neer­ing and Alan Dye, VP of User In­ter­face De­sign.

Ap­ple has pre­sented the iPhone X as the fu­ture. So I be­gin by ask­ing how they came to de­cide that this was the fu­ture they wanted.

A long time com­ing

The process, Dye says, is, “Very it­er­a­tive; we’re very much pro­to­type- it- and­make-it to ex­plore it. A lot of great things came to­gether —the dis­play and the de­sign of the hard­ware re­ally al­lowed us to think about this new fluid ges­tu­ral UI. Mul­ti­touch on the iPhone has been around for 10 years, peo­ple have got re­ally com­fort­able with it, so we felt that this could be a re­ally good time for change.”

But the move to­wards an all-screen de­vice has been the plan all along.

As Fed­erighi com­ments, “There was a kind of in­evitabil­ity about it. If you think about the first iPhone and how it distin­guished it­self from ev­ery­thing that had come be­fore, it was a de­vice that was dom­i­nated by the screen and dom­i­nated by multi-touch. Back then you would have looked at that first iPhone and said, my God, this thing is nearly all screen.”

He’s right, com­pared to what was avail­able then, the big screen on the first iPhone was cer­tainly a game-changer.

“Our feel­ing was we were work­ing to­ward a model where the screen be­came the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. Tak­ing that into con­sid­er­a­tion and think­ing about how the Home But­ton has been such a beloved and suc­cess­ful el­e­ment of the iPhone ex­pe­ri­ence and think­ing, how do you some­thing even bet­ter than the Home But­ton. That was the crazy chal­lenge we had to take on. But we knew it was com­ing and we were happy to ar­rive at some­thing that we re­ally feel is bet­ter than the Home But­ton.”

And UX de­sign isn’t just about our con­scious re­sponse.

Fed­erighi again: “I think we’ve achieved a level of spa­tial co­her­ence to this de­sign that ends up feel­ing nat­u­ral at an in­tu­itive level that is be­low your in­tel­lec­tual un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­face. You find when you swipe up the cover sheet to an app and then you swipe that back to the Home Screen… it all just makes sense and feels nat­u­ral. And we were able to achieve this in part be­cause we had the per­for­mance in the hard­ware and with the touch sys­tem, to re­ally just make it that fluid and co­her­ent. I think it comes to­gether re­ally well.”

The de­sign of the phone was ob­vi­ously one of the big­gest chal­lenges of the iPhone X, rep­re­sent­ing, as Dye says, “re­ally, the big­gest op­por­tu­nity we’ve had,” and as Fed­erighi adds, “There was a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and it was thrilling when we came upon the de­sign. There was a mo­ment when the hard­ware pro­to­types came in and the soft­ware was fi­nally func­tion­ing to spec and we were all car­ry­ing it and you just would see smiles on ev­ery­one walk­ing around be­cause it all came to­gether in the way that we had hoped.”

But, in my ex­pe­ri­ence with the iPhone X, there was ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to be done.

“It is the big­gest ad­just­ment in the ex­pe­ri­ence but I think it comes pretty quickly,” Fed­erighi says. “Once you use it for a short time you re­alise like this is this is the way you wish you could al­ways use the phone. It’s a won­der­ful in­ter­face. And we think it’s a great path to the fu­ture.”

Los­ing Touch ID

An all-over screen and Face ID means there’s no Home But­ton on the iPhone X and as a re­sult you swipe up to go to the Home screen. But some peo­ple feel that means it’s slower than Touch ID. Fed­erighi isn’t so sure.

“We made the lock im­age stand out here in terms of giv­ing you com­fort to knew whether it was locked but peo­ple some­times think they have to wait for that lock to un­lock be­fore they can start us­ing the de­vice. Just raise it and swipe away. And if you go faster, then the de­vice will just un­lock. And that’s re­ally one of the things that’s been es­pe­cially great, the over­all flu­id­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence and the speed. So, don’t wait for the lock. Just swipe away.”

Per­haps this means the lack of a Home But­ton, far from be­ing a prob­lem as it may ap­pear to peo­ple who haven’t used the iPhone X, was an ad­van­tage, even. Teams in tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are no­to­ri­ously seg­mented and don’t talk to each other, I note, but Dye says that’s not the case here.

“We think about the de­sign team as a whole. So, you know we were re­ally close with Jony on hard­ware and soft­ware, all pretty much as one stu­dio. And I think that’s one of the great things about things I love the very most about work­ing at Ap­ple is we as­sem­bled a team of folks who think about hard­ware de­sign and UI de­sign and ty­pog­ra­phy and in­ter­ac­tion and mo­tion and hap­tics and all those peo­ple pretty much re­side in the same place. We think of it as one de­sign stu­dio.”

Nat­u­rally, once you’re used to Face ID, you still want to know whether you’re us­ing some­thing faster or slower than be­fore. Dye again: “You know, if we didn’t have this greatly im­proved re­fresh rate [in the iPhone X hard­ware], then there’s no way we could achieve the pre­ci­sion that we set as our goal for this ges­ture. We’ve worked to get ev­ery mil­lisec­ond of la­tency out of this be­cause oth­er­wise we just wouldn’t be happy with it. And that’s some­thing that was made pos­si­ble be­cause of all the ad­vance­ments in the dis­play.”

Fed­erighi ex­pands on the speed of Face ID and sug­gests the new ges­ture in­ter­face is bet­ter than Touch ID, be­cause your thumb or fin­ger is bet­ter placed on the screen.

“With Touch ID you plant your fin­ger on the Touch ID sen­sor which is a ges­ture of sorts and then click it awake. In this case you just swipe and it’s very fast. And then my thumb is now in a po­si­tion where it’s ready to use the phone in­stead of planted down at the bot­tom on the sen­sor. So, in terms of be­ing ready to get us­ing your phone I think it’s quicker.” THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

Alan Dye, VP of User In­ter­face De­sign En­gi­neer­ing, Ap­ple.

Craig Fed­erighi, SVP, Soft­ware En­gi­neer­ing, Ap­ple.

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