Both are consumer technology companies offering products and services, but when you break it down further it is like comparing apples to oranges. Sprint is a telecommunications company while Apple, until a few years ago, was a computer company that now offers hand-held electrical devices and services which crossover into music, telecommunications, and publishing.
Their website strategies are distinct. Apple focuses its interactive identity by having an all-inclusive site with one look and feel. Sprint takes off the blinders with several domains and look and feels (Sprint.com, Palm Pre, Digital Lounge, Sprint Businesses, etc.).
We’ll compare and contrast on 4 aspects: homepage, aesthetics, flow, and consistency. You’ll see quotes from Dmitry Fadeyev of Usability Post, who wrote an article for Webdesigner Depot on Apple vs. Microsoft.
The home page is the first impression that hopefully impresses the visitor enough to keep on browsing. You’ve got a few seconds to convince them of this; otherwise, the visitor will leave.
Apple’s homepage has consistently used a billboard technique a big ad of their latest and greatest. This oversize image towers above 4 smaller ads of products or news that are of the latest buzz.
Looking for something else? Use the large navigation bar at the top, which is divided into their core businesses: Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, as well as other important links, like the online store and support. The navigation bar also has a search field. The footer has ~10 links from retail stores to careers.
Apple’s billboard image seems to follow their overall marketing strategy creating buzz around their latest product. The delivery is so impressive that you take note. Even PC and Blackberry users can tell you about what is happening at Apple.
Their lack of content and links gives a clean look, but if you’re looking for lesser known products or services, you wonder if Apple still offers it.
Sprint’s homepage just went through a redesign and they’ve adopted a silver color scheme and main menu bar like Apple, as well as a billboard image that rotates, with the four smaller ads below. Unlike Apple they have broad menu terms and more navigational links with the majority of them above the fold. It is a more is more approach. They also offer intuitive action links like ‘Upgrade My Phone’ and ‘Sign up for eBill’ thus, answering visitors questions upon arrival. This is a very helpful technique. The four small ads enlarge upon rollover. Users expect to click on theses and go to details on the offering, not get an expansion of the ad it is a nice technique and a simple word of expand or enlarge would inform users.
Wait there is more. Sprint’s PalmPre has its own domain. This design speaks to me. A serene clean look that is image oriented with a touch of savvy tech self-scrolling ads. Then we move to an extreme, the Digital Lounge – done in black with vibrant graphics. The images range from photos to illustrations, some with a hard edge while others are Disney like. The Now Network is another extreme; what appears to be a homepage is actually a full screen interactive ad. Overwhelming at first appearance, though its unique style of Art Deco gone tech is well done. Variety can be nice except when users have to learn too many navigational systems and constantly have to adjust to different styles, formats, and colors.
For flow we’ll consider the navigation and page architecture. Ideally sites should have navigation that doesn’t make you hunt for what you’re looking for.
Apple’s large navigation bar at the top, has its main products and the essentials of store and support. It remains consistent in whichever section you are in. However, if you are looking for a less known product like MobileMe, you are confused as to where that may be. So I go to search and see it is under Mac. This is also confusing for MobileMe can be utilized by the iPhone and iPad as well as the Mac. Apple seems to compensate for this though, by placing its search function on the main navigation bar. Upon entering your search item a drop down appears with a short description and the logo of several possibilities.
Sprint’s main menu has a nice dropdown feature with the listing reading left to right, not blocking items underneath as vertical dropdowns do and the dark to light contrast reads well. Though when you click on Shop and Digital Lounge you move from a center aligned home page to secondary pages that are left aligned. Thus, the main navigational bar is not stationary. Plus, the Digital Lounge, has the same menu items on the bar, but in a different order. In Sprint’s shop section you have to enter your zip code before viewing their products. They may do this so not to have an unfair advantage over their external vendors, but from a user stand point it can be a barrier.
Apple has done well in structuring their pages. For instance on MobileMe, the first thing you focus on is the large image on the right and then its headline to the left. The marketing blurb below the headlines leads nicely into a call for action signup button. If you’re not sold yet, there are four sections below highlighting features of MobileMe with diagrams and ending with ‘Learn more >’ links. “This leaves no dead ends and keeps users browsing.” Also we see the familiar homepage structure of a billboard image and 4 smaller ads supporting it.
When moving to Sprint’s secondary pages (community and support) you lose many visual cues, thus taking longer to scan pages and having less incentive to click around. Of course this is not true with their Digital Lounge which draws users in with bright images set against a dark background. Many of the sections loose the multi-link menu that was on the bottom of the homepage, so users may find themselves returning to the homepage to get their barring.
Does aesthetics influence usability? Research shows that people perceive better looking interfaces as more usable. Attractive interfaces will make better first impressions and may even make their users more tolerable to problems.
Apple’s website aesthetics closely mirrors that of its products with a silver navigation bar, gentle gradients and a clean simplistic look. Apple has always worked on unifying the look and feel of its interface across its entire product line, from the hardware to software, and their website is no exception.
So how does Sprint fare in their aesthetics? They employ some nice tech features, though usability and presentation are not as prevalent.
Consistency is important because it allows you to develop usage patterns. This means that if your site has a consistent interface throughout, your users will learn how it works and will be able to navigate move quickly with little or no confusion.
So we already know Apple comes out ahead in this category. Apple does a great job of keeping the interface consistent. The whole site looks and feels the same throughout and the global navigation bar at the top is consistent on every page. Plus the bottom link menu is pretty consistent throughout the site. This means that the entire experience is very unified and coherent you know you’re on the same website wherever you go.
Sprint struggles here. Many of their sections have different look and feels as if they were separate websites. It’s really an ecosystem of websites hosted under the same domain with the creators as the masters of the site and the users at bay. Therefore the site doesn’t give users the benefit of consistency.
Sprint has well utilized subtle tech savvy. Though in regards to consistency – variety is nice, but in branding it can lead to an interactive identity crisis. Over the years Sprint.com has had many redesigns with simultaneous multiple look and feels – leading to a lack of coherent branding. The new redesign of their home page shows promise and if the integrate this style through the rest of their site, they will improve the user experience and their brand appeal.
Apple does have some navigational issues though Apple.com shares one unique look and feel that is appealing and clean. This style mirrors that of their products and services, thus impressing upon users a strong and positive identity at every point of contact.
Contact FluidUI to strengthen your interactive identity, 816.561.2315.
Want more, read Dmitry Fadeyev, Apple vs. Microsoft: A Website Usability Study.