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Google Street-View on iPhone: a lesson in UX design

Today I finally discovered that the iPhone has StreetView.

That means it’s only taken me THREE YEARS to find this secret feature that Google has worked very hard to make sure no-one ever uses.

The best bit? The top two Google results for “iPhone Streetview” were both incorrect, and useless – but claimed to “solve” the problem (one of them was a Yahoo answer, the other a blog).

Eventually, courtesy of this amusingly-titled (yet poor in terms of Google hits) blog post, I found the solution:

  1. There MUST be a pin on screen – either because:
    1. you did a search for a place, and Google has found it and created a pin
    2. you tapped the curled paper in bottom right, then pressed the “drop a pin” button (incidentally: instead of letting you “drop a pin”, that button arbitrarily sticks a non-moveable pin in the center of the (now-hidden) screen. Terrible UX and GUI design. Google’s designers: what were you thinking?)
  2. The popup that’s attached to the pin has a standard button, and a standard icon – BUT THAT ICON IS NOT AN ICON
    1. …it’s an invisible button…

When we’re building iPhone apps for clients, this comes up typically once on every project: if you want to do custom user-interfaces, do NOT make them look like Apple standard interfaces. Apple has trained 200 million (total number of i* devices) to expect that (in this case: ) “a map-popup has exactly one button”. You are fighting against the work of one of the richest companies on the planet, a company famous for its marketing, interface-design, and visual-obsessions.

Worse is if you then go and break all the standards on what a “button” should look like, so that (in Google’s case), they:

  1. Put something in the place that is reserved for a non-clickable icon
  2. Used an icon-image instead of a button-image
  3. Provided no other ways of triggering the feature…even though this is usually NOT the place the user would want to click to get that feature

I laughed out loud when I discovered this – 3 years it’s taken me to get this to work, and me a professional iPhone developer too! How long is it taking the average “normal” user? If nothing else had convinced me Google is fundamentally f***ed by their refusal to design for anything other than “engineers who are exactly like us (and the rest of you plebs don’t matter)”, this would have nailed it for me.

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