What does it mean when you hear “Why does this not have an Apple-like User Experience?”

I was in a discussion with the CEO of a small software company (enterprise software, they sell to large fortune 2000 corporations) about their new version.
They had been working on a new version for over 4-6 months (a long time in the Web 2.0 world for sure). Turns out they completely changed their user experience – what they thought was better for their customers based on input.

Customers consistently (even those that are “Windows only shops”) said – “Why is the User experience not like Apple”?.

Even if your customers have never used a Mac, they are possibly iPod or iPhone customers. They know someone or have some experience with someone who has a Mac. Here’s what I believe they mean when they want an “apple like User Experience”

1. User delight: There’s a certain glint in the eye when someone is using their iPhone or the new iPod Touch. Same when I saw several folks using their Apple Mac on the plane. Same when they were using the older iPods. They feel like they’re having fun, their “device” or the software in the device is “delighting” them. If software or the device makes the feel like its a chore (like accepting my Linkedin requests) then you can be assured its a matter of time before users give up.

2. Intuitive Navigation: Most people in enterprise software focus on “consistency” of the user experience. Like my friend Ashwani was telling me today – an enterprise software feels “antiseptic”. Menu’s on top, left or right navigation with standard tags etc. Apple products seem to know what are the 1-2 things I want to do when I am at any point of my product usage. The key difference is the fact that they dont try to make it consistent just for the sake of being consistent. My blackberry is also starting to feel like that BTW. Choose something (like a name) and there are only 1-2 things I want to do – like look up address or call someone. If I am on the address, the menu choice is Map on Google maps. Very intuitive.

3. Simplicity: I dont have to expound this any more than say even if your product does only 3 things but does those three things well, the simplicity of Google search will beat the cluttered search experience of Yahoo.

4. Pleasing color scheme: Colors matter. Dont let anyone tell you otherwise Brushed steel or grey is Apple standard, with lots of simple black and white. But the software color patterns are fairly pleasing on the eye in my Safari browser. Very bright, seems like a “well lit place”.

5. Never make them feel like an idiot”. Even after using my Mac for a long time I dont think I have explored over 20 keystrokes and most important items I’d like to do. But I dont feel like an idiot not knowing the 100 other things I can do, since these are good enough to get back. My Vista experience on the other hand (move back to XP) was horrible. The new Microsoft 2007 suite is an absolute nightmare to learn (PowerPoint & Excel especially). Things that were simple to do in previous versions are very difficult to find.

That’s ultimately what makes the Apple user experience a great one: Simple & pleasing to use, Intuitive and delightful to interact with.