Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mobile Usability: it ain't easy


Telecom Asia recently ran an article about useability

With more advanced services rolling out across the planet, ease-of-use is becoming crucial to their success, but today's user interfaces aren't quite cutting it. Solving that will be a complex task, but the place to start is the users - not just by asking them what they want in future, but what they're doing with their handsets now

As the mobile industry moves toward more advanced non-voice services, from MMS and instant messaging to mobile TV and video calls, the underlying mantra for manufacturers, operators and apps developers alike has been a strikingly contradictory one: offer simple, easy-to-use services using mind-bogglingly complex technology. That means shielding the user from all that state-of-the-art wizardry behind the scenes, and making any new service appear as though it's so simple even your Luddite great-uncle could figure it out - ideally without once having to consult a manual.

My partner in crime, Tomi Ahonen is quoted heavily in the article demonstrating his extensive knowledge of the mobile world...

However, says Tomi Ahonen, there's more to gauging end-user needs than giving them a phone and asking them to try out a new service. One of the handset industry's bigger problems, Ahonen says, is that they have not paid enough attention to user behavior in general toward handsets in a world where handsets are no longer just voice phones.

"The industry doesn't really get this - at least not yet," he told Wireless Asia. "They are trying, though, and they're doing as lot of research into it, which is a step forward. A few years ago, all this was irrelevant to them."

One thing many players are missing, he says, is the fact that the UI is just as much about the "cool" factor as it is about ease-of-use. "For example, phone owners consistently show off their phones in a social setting. You look at kids in McDonald's, what do they do? They pull their phones out of their pockets and put them on the table, and they'll pick up each other's phones to check out cool things they've downloaded, or try to put a high score on a game."

The point, he says, is that if manufacturers design cool-looking things for the UI, it adds to the user experience and the appeal of the device.

The other side of this, Ahonen adds, is to observe what people are using their handsets for that they used to do on other devices. "For example, many adults rely on phones as a watch," he says. "If I were a wristwatch manufacturer, I'd recognize that that phone digital interface is a rich environment to put a cool clock interface. You want that phone to look like a Rolex."

Tomi talks about how operators are dictating what goes into the phones to meet specific market segments

Ahonen notes that Orange became even more proactive last October when it released its "bible" for handset specs targeting different customer segments. "They released a segmentation blueprint for their next customer targets in 2006, and they told the manufacturers, 'this is our target, and you have to provide phones for us to meet these specs by this time.' They wanted more than just a customized hot button and a logo. And Orange told them, 'if you don't meet this target, we'll still sell your phone but we won't promote it'.

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