Don't Confuse Engagement with User Experience
Mobile designer Luke Wroblewski captures the conundrum perfectly: What explains
the great "Android Engagement Mystery"?
The numbers don't lie. The Android operating system has been outselling Apple's iOS by nearly a 5:1 ratio. Android dominates "device share." Yet by virtually every meaningful metric that matters, Apple's users are reliably, revealingly and remarkably more engaged in ecommerce, browsing and apps than their Android counterparts.
Where Android jumped from 1.43% of Black Friday shopping traffic in 2010 to 4.92% this year, Apple's iOS pole-vaulted from 3.85% to 18.46%. Barely 3% of Adobe digital magazine downloads went to Androids, fully 97% were iOS.
Put harshly, Android sells disproportionately more devices that are used disproportionately less. What gives? Literally hundreds of billions of dollars rides on the answer(s). You can be sure Amazon and Microsoft are paying — and investing — disproportionate attention to the possibilities.
The mystery shouldn't be a mystery: Designing a great device is not the same as designing a great user experience. Designing a great user experience is not the same as designing greater engagement. While it's completely understandable why designers, product managers and marketers might conflate them, reality suggests that a great user experience doesn't necessarily generate engagement any more than meaningful engagement inherently assures a great user experience.
For example, Twitter (or LinkedIn) may represent a less enjoyable user experience than, say, Facebook but the nature of the engagement they facilitate might mean users spend more time, thought and care with them. In other words, user experience is not the same and must be measured/assessed differently than "utilization experience." To make a vulgar comparison, just because someone buys a lot of books doesn't mean those books are read. Just because someone has a lot of friends doesn't mean those friendships are nurtured, cultivated or honored.
No one would disagree that Apple has made great user experience an organizing principle for its design culture. But much of the firm's success arguably emerges from the experiential reality that its products, services and marketing efforts align around engagement behaviors — downloading music and apps, Siri, games, etc. Engagement is how people choose to get value from the user experiences their devices enable. Engagement represents the purposeful choices users make to get what they want. Engagement is smack at the intersection of commanding attention and taking action.
I'd argue that driving such engagement is at the core of Apple's user experience design sensibility. By contrast, engagement is what Android's UX designs enable. The difference between "driven" and "enabled" goes a long way in explaining the "utilization gaps" the statistics identify. Put another way, Apple's UX metric seems to encourage ROE — Return on Engagement — where Android emphasizes ease-of-use and opportunity. More vulgarly, Apple is an "active invitation" where Android offers a more "passive menu."
When engagement is treated like a UX feature or function instead of a defining sensibility, you get less of it. At risk of sounding "meta," one of the great design challenges innovators increasingly confront in increasingly competitive markets is how to get their best people to engage around engagement. You need to devote as much creativity and ingenuity around designing for engagement as you do for the entire user experience. A decade ago, companies hurt themselves by treating "interface design" as what you slapped on to your finished product. Today, innovators hurt themselves by treating "engagement" as a subset of the total UX. Don't make that mistake. Re-engage with engagement.