Giving the Gift of iOS

Last night something rather interesting happened, my Wife’s Grandmother was gifted on iPhone 4 for her birthday (12/21). She promptly called us to share her delight and to ask my Wife a few questions about usability. The very first thing the two of them wanted to do was to FaceTime chat with each other (they live in Portland, OR; we are in Seattle, WA).

This of course meant that my wife would have to get her Grandma to connect the iPhone to the WiFi network — by only talking her through it. What ensued was mildly amusing and frustrating for both my Wife and her Grandmother.

The problem they were having was two fold:

  1. The Grandmother was not used to typing on the iPhone keyboard.
  2. My Wife was glossing over key steps — assuming too much knowledge of the user.

Neither problem was either persons fault and eventually I had to help out a bit. Out of this though I want to give a few tips to readers — no doubt some of you will face these types of problems this Christmas.


First and foremost you need to understand that you are talking to a user that has no base understanding of iOS — telling them to press the home button is of no meaning to them. Be very clear and deliberate in the instructions you give. Do not tell them to press the ‘back button at the top’ — instead tell them to press the button with a point to the left at the top of the screen, the one that says “XYZ”.

This type of deliberate clarity will help users to understand what you are talking about with minimal frustration. Once they press it I like to let them know that this is the standard spot to press for “going back”. People pick this up faster than you would think.


Passwords are a bear to enter for new users. You can’t see what you are typing in most password fields and nothing is more tiring that constantly being told you typed the wrong password. There are a couple of easy ways to solve this:

  1. Send the user a text message with the password and teach them to copy and paste it. This works great for stuff that people likely will never have to enter in again (like WiFi passwords). Or if the password is particularly complex.
  2. Have them create a note in the notes app with the passwords and then they can copy and paste — be sure they delete this and that they don’t store passwords there.

Just because you never have problems typing in passwords on your iOS device doesn’t mean that others won’t have problems. They will. Being told they entered the wrong password multiple times in a row will turn a user off very quickly. 1


The blue arrows (you know the ones on the WiFi screen) cause a lot of problems. When you are teaching someone how to add their WiFi network they may mistakenly click the blue arrow instead of just the network name. Be sure to explain which spot to tap when you are walking people through things.

I often tell people to tap the network name, not the blue arrow. It can get confusing so make sure you know exactly what they are looking at.


Never just take the device and set it up for some one. It will cause three problems:

  1. They will not understand how to do this themselves.
  2. They will think things are more complex than they are.
  3. You will become the person they call every time they want to do something.

I hate taking a device from someone, but I it can also be agonizing to walk them through it — especially when something that would take you 15 seconds takes them 5 minutes. Just remember that you were there once and everyone needs to start somewhere. Patience is paramount.


Explain the home button. Explain that it is not a back button and that it will always take you to the home screen. Call it the home button. It is the simplest button on the phone, but that does not mean that a new user will know what it does.


Open the app store, get them logged in, and have them download a free app. Have them download something you think they will enjoy. The goal is to showcase the app store and show how easy it is to get more apps. Take the fear out of this process.


Show off something that will blow their minds. For my Wife’s Grandma it was FaceTime. For others the voice commands on the iPhone may do it. There are a ton of options — I like to show off the live weather radar you can get in apps, oh and find my device from Apple. If you know what the person is into then you should have no problem with this.


The biggest problem facing new users is the fear that they may ‘break’ the device. I like to start by telling people that there is nothing they can break unless they drop the device on concrete. Anything that they do can be undone with relative ease. Once people know that they don’t have to fear screwing up — well they tend to have fun.

This fear stems form Windows — the knowledge that if you plug that printer in to your USB port BEFORE you install drivers you will be in a world of hurt. Welcome these users to the Apple experience.

  1. Devs you really need to think about whether masking the password is necessary — most of the time you are only masking it from the person that already knows the password.
Originally posted for members on: December 23, 2010
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