Posted on November 9, 2015|by: Jake Quartuccio| No Comments

We all have that friend who LOVES Apple. But it can be difficult to tell whether their love for Apple products is based on a fear of missing out (FOMO), or on a real technical superiority that’s exclusive to Apple.


Consider phones. Whether people love or hate their phones can be traced back to their past experience with phones, and to how those phones “behaved” while in their hands. Could differences in usability be the reason why your friend chooses iPhones over Androids?

The “Platform War” Experiment

We decided to put Apple to the test by comparing it against two other smartphone operating systems and studying what makes these products usable to their consumers. We compared iOS with Android (Samsung Galaxy) and Windows by having 17 participants (fellow MetroStar employees) complete a series of tasks on each device.

Tasks included:

  • Adding a contact
  • Making a call
  • Changing a ringtone
  • Texting a 5-second video to a friend after recording it with the phone

We then recorded:

  • The time that it took our participants to complete each of the four tasks
  • Their satisfaction with each phone
  • Their “ease of use” rating for each of the phones.

We also collected information about which phone they currently owned, details about their prior experience with the phones, and other demographic information. Two participants did not have enough data so we removed them from the study.

Prior experience really matters

Our data showed that prior experience with a smartphone platform predicts satisfaction with the platform (r = .57, p < .01).*/** In other words, people like familiar devices.

People also like devices that are easy to use, as indicated by the very high correlation (r = .83, p <.01) between the ease of use and satisfaction questions. The correlation between the two was so high that measuring one was essentially the same thing as measuring the other.

Additionally, prior experience predicts how long users will take to complete tasks (r = -.56, p < .01), i.e., if a participants already owned a particular phone, then they completed tasks quicker with that phone than when they were using a different phone. Not much of a surprise here, huh?

Why should you care?

However, these findings offered up two big takeaways for UX experts and product designers:

  1. Conforming to a user’s platform expectations is important to winning their satisfaction
  2. Modeling your interactions after what users already know allows them to rely on prior experience to more quickly navigate through a novel interaction

In addition, a designer can earn a user’s trust by building a good brand reputation. For example, the original iPhone was revolutionary not due to any particular feature, but because it tastefully simplified a variety of features. After establishing a reputation with this technology, Apple earned loyal followers who were willing to purchase their later products for a premium price.

Webpages like “,” “”, and “” are now living proof of the vast communities of loyal Apple followers. After building a good reputation around the iPhone, Apple’s user experience team set “rules” and expectations for smartphone interactions.

So, is iPhone the most user friendly smartphone?

At first glance, iOS appeared to have won our platform war; participants completed tasks significantly faster on iOS than on Android by 12.4 seconds per task (p < .01), and Windows by 11.3 seconds per tasks (p < .01).***

But if we accounted for prior experience,**** the differences in time on task became “non-significant” and there wasn’t a clear winner.

Note: the small sample size could have partly effected the change from significant to nonsignificant differences.

However, the shift illustrated that prior experience likely accounted for differences in time on task for each device.

Therefore, good smartphone usability likely includes conforming to users’ expectations set by devices like iOS or Android, rather than assuming that users have a “blank slate” mind when encountering different devices.

While it’s not 100% clear if your Apple-adoring friend bases his claims about Apple products on prior experience, there is a good chance that prior experience plays a role, in addition to other aspects like brand loyalty or appreciation of aesthetics.

Our data suggests that prior experience aids the acceptance of devices, and incorporating familiar interactions might establish rapport with smartphone users like your friend.

take home points

About the Author

Jake Quartuccio is a UX researcher at MetroStar and is working towards a PhD in psychology. His background includes statistical consulting, teaching college courses, and conducting human performance research for the military. When he’s outside the office, Jake spends his time running, rock climbing, and mountaineering. You can follow Jake @JakeQuartuccio on Twitter.

Every “r”, or correlation, indicates the strength of association between two variables. Correlations range from -1 to 1. Zero means that there is no relationship. A negative correlation means that when one value increases, the other decreases while a positive correlation means that when one value increases, we the other increases. The larger the magnitude of the correlation, the stronger the relationship.
** The “p” value for a correlation, in theory, indicates the probability of getting the data from our experiment given that the correlation is zero. In practice, we look for p-values less than .05 to accept a correlation as “significant” or “significantly different from zero”.
*** We accounted for the random intercepts with the lme4 package in R.
**** We conducted the statistical technique of “controlling” for prior experience.

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