Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Evolution Of The Mobile Phone User Experience

Frank Tyneski, Senior Director of Design and Human Factors for Kyocera Wireless discusses evolving UX of mobile devices ...

What are the biggest challenges to making a mobile phone easier to use?

I believe the biggest challenge is constantly reminding yourself (as a manufacturer) that you’re not designing phones for your industry technology peers. Mass market consumers -- and this includes business users as well as consumers -- who purchase mobile phones are seeking simplicity. Anything beyond the basic functions can compromise what is really important to them. The real challenge lies in understanding what customers want within various user segments and then inserting increased functionality without compromising their core usability desires. We're solving this equation by putting a heavy emphasis on the integration of research and design. In many cases, we are placing designers in the field and actually designing on location with target consumers to develop a better context of understanding for particular user groups and the environments in which they live, work and play.

After years of talk and endless hype, we know that people are using their mobile phones to do all kinds of tasks including text messaging, checking their e-mail, downloading ringtones, and even surfing the Web. But many users still complain about the user experience on their handsets. Many wireless industry insiders claim we're hitting a glass ceiling of mobile usability -- i.e. that the devices can't really do more than they do now (if they can even do that). Do you agree with this assessment?

Five years ago, the wireless shows like CTIA and 3GSM were peppered with forward-thinking concepts – essentially, non-working appearance models showing grand visions of the future. Back then, the industry’s future trajectory was visible to the general public. We've since realized those original visions, climaxing today with mobile music, TV, GPS, and more on relatively small devices. Now, manufacturers have shifted their vision and strategy toward convincing consumers that they can, in fact, deliver a complex group of wireless utilities with more grace and expertise than their competitors.

With future wireless concepts being less celebrated, there is a perception that the industry has hit a flat spot. However, in this case, perception is not reality. The mobile communications industry continues to be the equivalent of our 'jet age.' In comparison, I think we’ve only developed the propeller. This is not to say that mobile communications won't evolve to reveal some common denominators, but I think we're many years away from that.

The key is that it's not just about manufacturers advancing handsets in a silo while content providers and infrastructure providers make advancements in their silos. We, as an industry, need to pay particular attention to developing holistic user experiences, where devices, applications and infrastructure work harmoniously. This is the glass ceiling we’re pressing against, with much compression. I suppose it’s a good thing the glass is not in a fixed frame. It's continually being pushed upward, just not as quickly as some would like."    (Continued via InformationWeek)    [Usability Resources]

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