Consumers can feel poor usability in communication devices with great intensity on a cell phone or new data enabled device. This is unlike a website, software application or operating system that involves more relaxed cognitive states (sitting down and learning the system). When you need to make a call, send a text message or web browse on a handset, what ease of use is and isn’t becomes clear. A large part of the design problem in mobile user experience is user environment (mental, physical and social). Think about the difference between sitting down with a cup of coffee watching windows pop up, pages move around and your ability to close windows, back up with the browser etc. Now think of holding a communication device and interacting with 1.5 inch screens while standing up, walking around or in the social presence of others. Usability in communication devices is a big deal.
A recent survey by MIT found that adults in the US rated cellphones the top of the list in technologies they hated but couldn’t live without:
“An annual Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey, known as the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, found that among adults asked what invention they hate most but can’t live without, 30 percent said the cell phone.
Alarm clocks were a close second, with 25 percent, followed by the television with 23 percent and razors with 14 percent. Microwave ovens, computers and answering machines also earned spots as detested technology”.
John Quain at e-week believes the popularity problems wireless technologies have been having in the US in the past few years (compared to Europe and Japan for instance) have to do with desirability.
“Part of the reason again is the added expense in a competitive market, but the main reason is simply that consumers don’t think they need it”.
The need to target actual user behavior in design requirements.
Field testing is essential for devices that are deeply embedded in the user’s physical and social context. New devices require vigorous and frequent usability tests. They also require fluid user interface specifications that can morph based on new user needs that emerge during usability test(s). This is especially true for localization of services when introducing new products into new markets.
Mobile devices also need to support “user-compatible” configuration.
Mitch Kapor (Lotus Notes founder) explained his frustration when trying to configure email settings on his new Nokia 3650 cell phone. His story serves as an important reminder of the need to make settings configuration “user- compatible”. More on Configuration Usability later…