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Gimmicks vs Features

iphone-fingerprintThe new line of iPhones was recently unveiled (the 5S and the 5C) and included a feature I wasn’t sure about; a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone.  In fact, when I heard rumors of that a few weeks ago I assumed there was no way it was true, as it felt much to gimmicky for Apple to mess with.  However, after learning more about how it works it seems like a very convenient feature that should be useful for a lot of users.

The Samsung GS4

Conversely, the Samsung GS4 is loaded with gimmicks.  I’m a big fan of Samsung (currently using a Samsung laptop and tablet), but they seem to be slipping.  The GS4 is a beautiful, fast phone, but most of the “features” that it has are just silly.

  • Air Gesture: Wave your hand above the phone to do certain things.  Potentially helpful, I suppose, but not practical in most places.
  • Smart Scroll: Scroll your phone by tilting your phone or your head.  Again, potentially helpful but in reality it’s more pain that it’s worth.
  • Smart Pause: Videos pause when you look away.  Total gimmick, and doesn’t work at all if you wear glasses.

I had considered purchasing the GS4 when it came out, but I couldn’t get past the silliness of some of these features.  I’m glad I waited, as the features on the Droid Maxx and Moto X are much more practical.

The interesting battle coming up is convenience (the cool features on the Droid Maxx) versus security (easier locking/unlocking on the new iPhone), but that’s a topic for a different day.

How it relates to your website

Think about the items you’d like to have on your next website (or even on your current one).  Are they features or are they just gimmicks?

Common gimmicks to avoid

  • A rotating “slider” on your home page, simply because other people have them.  We use them on a good number of sites, and they can be quite helpful in getting your message out, but you need to have some reasons behind doing it.
  • Flashing items.  Don’t distract your visitors with items that move unnecessarily.
  • “Mystery meat navigation”.  If your navigation bar is “unique and groundbreaking”, it’s probably difficult to use too.
  • Skeuomorphism.  This is when you try to make digital items look like their physical counterparts.  Apple is cleaning it out on the new version of iOS (no more fake felt material in the game center, for example).  A common issue on websites is when you want to show a magazine with cool flipping pages, “just like a real magazine!”.  This is slower to load, harder to use, and often useless on mobile.  Quick and clean wins the day.
  • Trying to “protect” your images. While copyright infringement can be a serious problem in some industries, try to load fancy scripts to prevent people from downloading your images are annoying and unhelpful.  A common one is to replace the normal right-click menu with a cute message like “Don’t steal our images”.  This means that normal users are unable to right-click to print your page, or save it, or go back, etc.  Meanwhile, if someone really wants to grab your image they’ll just take a screenshot, or pull it from their cache, or any number of other means.
  • Trying to “protect” your email address. It was common a decade ago to do cool tricks and say things like “email me: mickey -at-”, or do some fancy JavaScript thing to protect them, or some combination of both.  Spammers have your address already, so just use a decent spam filter and don’t make life more difficult for the end user.
  • Auto-playing audio.  Want to get someone’s attention?  Have audio start playing when they access your site — background music, auto-started YouTube video, etc.  In most cases, they’ll close your site before they even see what you have to offer.

This doesn’t even get into old gimmicks (that have thankfully disappeared) such as “click to enter our site” pages, scrolling marquee text, hit counters, and things of that nature.

Give your users clean, easy to digest information, and keep things as simple as you can.  You can provide great content, awesome pictures, informative videos and whatever else you need, but get the clutter out of the way and your site will perform much better on every level.

About the Author

Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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