Innovation Costs: a Lesson from iPhone’s Touchscreen

1 minute read

Yesterday evening I was out with two friends of mine. We were going to the cinema and as often happens the simplest way to buy a ticket was through a nice, automated touchscreen machine. It wasn’t the first time, so the process was quite smooth for us.


The touchscreen was awful. You touched in a position and the touch was detected sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right. Sometimes, not at all. A process that was by itself smooth and simple was made a pain by one single element that was of a lower quality. A problem that got even worse when we had to select the seatings, with their tiny buttons, one near the other.

Let’s put this in context: this is 2012. It’s 5 years after the iPhone changed the concept of touchscreen for the whole world. Yet, people, device makers and companies buy and use sub-quality touchscreens in their devices, somewhat fooled that “it’s the same”.

It’s not.

Now, if you go back to 2007, when the iPhone was out, there was an interesting disconnect: for many people that was “the first touchscreen device”, for others that was “just another touchscreen device”. Why this? Yes, of course, Apple’s PR machine was strong, but as often happens marketing must exist based on something real.

The reason is simple: the iPhone was actually the first device with a broad audience where the touchscreen worked flawlessly. That’s the huge step forward. It’s not just “a touchscreen” but “an expensive, high quality touchscreen”.

That’s an important difference that changes completely the usage of the device and the feeling of it. Changes completely a frustrating device to a simple and usable one. Because yes, you might spare $20 on each of your cinema ticketing machine, but is it really worth frustrating your users when they get in your cinema? Imagine the budget of any other action you will then have to take to balance that frustration, even just people that gets annoyed and go straight to the counter to buy the ticket instead of using the machine, and the added cost of a proper touchscreen vanishes.

This is one of the many hidden costs of a bad user experience.