Book Review: Programming the iPhone User Experience by Toby Boudreaux

The title of this book offers a hint to the duality of information it offers. It tries to be both a programming book and a User Experience book, focused exclusively on the iPhone, and squeezed into a mere 165 pages. I think the book would have been more effective had it chosen one of these topics to focus on, but on many levels it still registers as a successful text which adds value to any iPhone developer.

I actually read this book twice: once when I first started out with iPhone development, and again nearly two months later, once I had a degree of comfort with the iPhone. Those were two completely different experiences. I would recommend waiting until you’re well into your first iPhone app before you read this book. There will still be time to fix any horrible user experience gaffes you have committed, and you’ll find the detailed code examples much more useful.

For the novice iPhone developer, the book hits you hard with a combination of information that is either too detailed to be of use now, or so basic, it doesn’t seem worth including in the book. There are detailed code examples of handling multi-touch swipes, and several pages earlier, there are diagrams with long lists of Cocoa class hierarchies. Neither of these were what I was expecting from a User Experience book, and neither were helpful in guiding me in crafting a good user experience for my first iPhone app.

More useful from the beginning were the discussions of Cooperative Single-Tasking (Chapter 5), Progressive Enhancement (Chapter 8 ) and UX Anti-Patterns (Chapter 9). These were filled with useful User Experience (UX) suggestions that could be applied right away to designing an iPhone app. Chapter 9 on anti-patterns is a particularly useful walk through an iPhone Hall of Shame, with some useful explanations of why these practices are wrong, and suggestions for what can be done instead.

Once I had more experience under my belt, both the Touch Patterns (Chapter 6) and the Interaction Patterns and Controls (Chapter 7) chapters with all their code examples were more useful. They play out like a reference text for adding features to your app. You want to make a custom scroller? There’s a code example for that. I even found the first three chapters more useful once I had experience with creating an iPhone app. These introductory chapters are often criticized for being fluff or filler, but they actually work as a useful checklist for your app, especially as it relates to the Mobile Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). Is it an Immersive Application or a Light Utility? Is it following the Mobile HIG guidelines for its class of app?

Programming the iPhone User Experience is a good iPhone book. Read it through once, absorb some UX do’s and dont’s, skip the detailed code examples that don’t apply to you now, and then come back to them later when you need them.

Disclaimer: I had a free copy of this book to review, which my Cocoaheads development user group received from O’Reilly to read and review.