GOOD FEEL IS RARE. Feel is in the eye (and all other senses) of the beholder; one person’s meat is another’s poison. So much is ‘red hat’. But ‘Feel’ can mean the difference between remarkable and unremarkable.
Take the iPhone and the Nexus One. In terms of first impressions – visual engagement – the iPhone exudes class before you even touch it. It’s visually stimulating and inviting. Its smooth, shiny façade is dark and mysterious and runs right up to the edges: a smooth, shiny silver frame. It has an attractive symmetry and no clutter: just a small slit at the top and an indented spot at the bottom.
The Nexus sports a banal grey surround, a tiny trackball and buttons that already look worn through use. It all looks rather… meh.
To the touch the Nexus feels cheap. Its matt plastic casing has an odd, almost greasy feel to it. The first time you use the Nexus you have to remove a panel at the back to insert the battery. This act not only feels wrong and unnecessarily invasive, it makes the unit feel more vulnerable.
The iPhone is a solid, sealed unit (arguably a ‘Convenient’ Fail when it comes to changing the battery). It feels streamlined and evolved – an object worth holding and stroking even when you aren’t using it (as people seem to unconsciously do). It’s a good size and a pleasing shape. It has a good weight and balance appropriate for its form. The iPhone is such an even, refined object. It’s almost natural, like a pebble polished over geological time – or curiously unnatural, like an alien artefact from a past vision of the future.
The Nexus feels fake. Its trackball seems extraneous and in use it feels too loose and cheap and slightly gritty, like the ball’s rolling over dirt. It feels like someone’s used, abused and broken it before you.
Sliding between ‘pages’ on iPhone feels good enough to do without reason. It’s all in the details that are so easy to overlook. When you slowly, slightly slide the icons they move smoothly; there’s a slight acceleration, deceleration and momentum. If you let go, the icons snap back with a reassuring speed and, most importantly, a bounce when they hit the edge of the screen. Not only does all that feel good, it makes the icons feel like they exist. (This also reinforces an emotional attachment to the iPhone.)
The Nexus icons move with a disconcerting judder. They start and stop immediately and the whole thing feels uncomfortably jerky. It feels like it doesn’t matter how delicately you stroke the Nexus, the icons move at the same speed.
On the iPhone, however, the speed of the icon motion depends on the speed of stroke. This analogue quality again reinforces a sense of substance. (And the fact that the iPhone acknowledges how you use it in this way is an ‘Alive’ overlap.)
On the Nexus, if I attempt to pull, say, a list of contacts down when I’m already at the top, nothing happens. On the iPhone, there’s a bounce – a tactility sadly missed on the Nexus. To a strict ‘white hat’ wearer this is unnecessary; there’s no point in being so… playful. To those of a sensual disposition, this is essential.
None of these ‘Feel’ Wins make the iPhone any easier to use – any more convenient – but they do make it feel better to use and give it character (an ‘Alive’ overlap). Most of the time convenience is most important, but it’s easy to forgive and forget inconvenience if the feel is strong.
In terms of aural stimulation there’s little to hear. The iPhone’s few basic default sounds are as rounded as the device looks; the Nexus noises are more sparkly, prickly. The sound of the Nexus camera firing is scary, aggressive – so much so that I almost dropped the Nexus the first time I used it to take a picture. The fanfare reinforcing the Nexus shutting down is clipped, which feels clumsy.
Making something feel awesome – so good it’s used regardless of context and purpose – can take time. The something in question needs to be repeatedly used and refined and it can be challenging to identify where the feel might be improved, let alone how to improve it. Making something feel at least ‘not shit’ is a good place to start.
The senses need to be engaged in a consistent manner otherwise not only is feel undermined, the overall illusion is too. To the eyes, ears and touch, a battle tank should feel substantial, like it means business, like it’s capable of fulfilling its known role. (There’s overlap with ‘Drama’ and ‘Convenient’ here; the tank is dramatically enhanced to accentuate its presence and needs to be obviously a tank.) A tank that looks too pretty and fragile, that sounds like a clockwork mouse, that doesn’t handle like it has substance – it isn’t plausible – it isn’t a tank.
The aim is to create the illusion of substance from light. The virtual isn’t real but it needs to feel like it is. The better the feel, the better the connection to the intangible; the more you care and the more likely ‘like’ or indifference turns to love.