Sunday, October 22, 2006

Style, function and the imperfect cellphone

Needing a UI overhaul for cell phones ...

"It's changed the way we talk to each other. It's turned us into multi-taskers. It's taught us how to text. It's revolutionized our jobs by allowing us to work on the move. It's democratized the news media by enabling passers-by to photograph extraordinary events. It's given us access to the Internet, e-mail, music, social networks, a camera, clock, diary and phone - all in one tiny box.

No object has had as dramatic an impact on our lives in the past decade as the cellphone. Only the computer comes close. But more of us use a cellphone, and our relationship with it is more intimate. The cellphone is one of the handful of personal objects - like a watch - that we take with us almost everywhere.

So why are they so badly designed? And we're not talking about dodgy network service here, but the phones themselves.

Perhaps you don't think there's a problem. If you're gazing lovingly at your cellphone, marveling at how simple it is to use, how pleasing to look at and to touch, then, of course, you'll consider it to be well designed. Though I've yet to meet anyone who agrees with you. Few questions are more likely to elicit groans and complaints than asking people what they think of their cellphones.

When I put that question to friends last week, their responses - the repeatable ones - went roughly like this: "I bought it as the best of a bad bunch." "Why do phones with good software look awful, and vice versa?" "The software's impossible. It'd take hours to figure out how to use this phone." "Why do they break so many basic design rules?"

Sadly, I agree. After a glum trawl around various stores, I bought my latest cellphone, like all of its predecessors, not because I liked it, but because it was the only one of the over-styled, over- complicated devices that I didn't dislike.

... All this could change if a dynamic new player entered the market, and the likeliest contender to do so is Apple. It's an open secret that Apple has been considering plans to launch a cellphone. Let's call it the iPhone. Ever protective of its brand, Apple is unlikely to introduce the iPhone until it is convinced that it has the best possible product, which would involve rethinking everything about the cellphone and how it works, including the role of the networks."    (Continued via International Herald Tribune)    [Usability Resources]

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