Snow Leopard - user experience lies in the details

by Alexander Baxevanis on 28 August 2009

Today is the official release day for “Snow Leopard (also known as Mac OS X 10.6), the next iteration of Apple’s operating system. There’s been little fanfare about this release – perhaps because it has few major new features, but many small “under the hood” improvements. However, I’ll be more than happy to fork out the £25 that Apple is charging for this upgrade, because I’ve always thought that user experience lies in the details.

Some of those “details” include:

  • Space savings: Apple claim they’ve managed to trim Mac OS X by 7GB for an average installation – giving some breathing space to those who (like myself) are reaching the limits of a small laptop hard disk
  • Easier to select and copy text from PDF files – if you’ve ever tried to copy text out of a PDF file only to find out that it comes jumbled up with parts of the text in the wrong order, you know what I mean.
  • Larger file icons that can show a detailed preview of a file before you even open it
  • Last but not least, a suite of improvements to the built-in accessibility features

People looking at a complete system can easily think that “it doesn’t do anything special” and “it’s easy to build this from scratch”. Benjamin Pollack has written about the design of Stack Overflow, an online community for developers:

… most visitors seem to agree that the user experience is smooth, from start to finish. They feel that they’re interacting with a polished product. Even if I didn’t know better, I would guess that very little of what actually makes StackOverflow a continuing success has to do with [the technical details] … There is a tremendous amount of spit and polish that goes into making a major website highly usable.

Fortunately, people are taking note. Ubuntu, the open-source Linux-based operating system, is an interesting example. We recently blogged about their One Hundred Paper Cuts project, aiming to find and fix 100 minor problems that degrade the overall user experience.

When was the last time you looked into the details of your product or service and tried to streamline things instead of focusing all your resources on building grand new features?

Photo credit: whybesubtle via Flickr / Creative commons

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