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.

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

  1. adam

    @Dominic

    Ah, now that’s fascinating – I’d always assumed Google provided the app – or at least the app’s visual design, as well as the map-data. I suspect that’s a popular misconception – the app is heavily google-branded (e.g. the “google” logo on every screen; no “about” page).

    Makes my last paragraph look dumb of course :). Maybe there’s still some value to the point, though; what corporation Google’s size would allow a rival corp to build the app that is composed entirely of Google’s data, branded exclusively with Google’s logo – and yet is not controlled in any way by Google?

  2. Chris

    Well the control they have is through the terms of use of their API. Indeed, any iOS developer who uses the MapKit framework has to tacitly accept them and the documentation links you to a specific version of the Google Maps API terms that Apple have obviously negotiated with Google.

    As a stock app on the device, I’m not sure how many people would automatically conclude it’s “Google’s” app. Would interested to see if that really is a popular misconception, I’m not so sure.

    Still sloppy design on Apple’s part, even if they are technically using the MapCallout control as it was seemingly intended, it just so happens that very few developers ever do anything other than put a thumbnail on the leftCalloutAccessoryView. It’s a bloody inflexible control, would be far more preferable for them to fix it properly this properly by making a better one.

  3. Takezo

    Wow, this is new to me too. The street view actually seems to work pretty well now that I know about it!

    A tip for you in return — you can drop a pin arbitrarily on the map by pressing and holding for a couple seconds.

    I also had assumed that Google created and controlled the app.

  4. adam Post author

    “you can drop a pin arbitrarily on the map by pressing and holding for a couple seconds.”

    awesome! Thanks – that works so much better!

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