Monday, June 30, 2008

Mobile User Experience » the right information, at the right time

Getting information just in time ...

"The latest release of google maps added in location for all of us with GPS-free devices. This works just fine for me, as I know how to navigate so don’t go much for routing software anyway. I often pull out the maps when I am somewhere different from last time, so if I want to drive somewhere, now it gets me to the ballpark, at least. And for my other use case – search an area for restaurants, or tires or stencil ink – it’s perfect.

Except when it’s not. Saturday my wife and I took some bunnies orphaned from someone else’s lawnmower accident out to the woods to be released. They did fine. But getting there was too difficult. I popped open the map to remind myself how to get there. G-maps had an issue getting location, probably because we were down in the low-lands along the river, but I was fine and just used it like always, as a scrolling map. Found the location, then the app decided it knows where I am… and moves me over there.

Yeah, it was inaccurate by several miles. But regardless, I had manually scrolled and zoomed to someplace, and therefore I probably care about it. What possessed Google to disregard user input, and scroll me over to where they think I should be looking?

Similar things happen all too often on mobiles. While typing a text message, a full-screen alert interrupts you to say a new message has arrived, maybe destroying the current composition. It’s almost impossible to type web addresses on most phones, because the useful symbols are hidden away. It takes six keypresses to find out what call you just missed because you couldn’t get to the phone on time. It’s easier to accidentally completely delete a new MMS than to send it.

Not all of these happen to everyone, every day, but they are typical issues. These are the sorts of things I have to listen to when I tell people I am a mobile designer. And they are not just bad in some vague way because they annoy users, but because the device is ignoring context.

Yes, context again. Any time now, as we keep saying, context awareness is going to cause all sorts of neat things to be possible, but there is already some of it available, just by looking at the design of the software and interaction:

* Keep in mind the likely tasks of your application or function; feature all the important tasks, downgrade less-important ones, eliminate (or add barriers to) dangerous ones

* Focus on the important information. Show me the search results, or the map, or the incoming message. Advertising, upgrade messages, meta-data, network details, tips & tricks or almost anything else needs to be delayed, pushed towards the edge or hidden entirely.

* Help the user perform their tasks. When entering numbers, don’t let them type words. Limits are good, if they assist the user in completing a task. (We look forward to seeing robust input management return to most mobile browsers)."    (Continued via Little Springs Design)    [Usability Resources]

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