Tag Archives: usability

Mar 25

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Why Usability Matters: A Nokia Post Mortem

Andrew Orlowski has a detailed article in The Register that looks at why Nokia’s mobile ecosystem failed. It wasn’t because their Symbian software was faulty (the article states that Symbian devices actually performed better than others in terms of signal strength and battery life). According to the article, Symbian died because it lacked usability. Quoting from the page:

Nokia’s phones were considered uncompetitive in the marketplace, because new products from Apple and Android had raised the bar for ease of use, particularly for new data applications, and Nokia’s user experience was awful.

The UX matters: it’s the first thing potential customers see when a friend passes them their new phone in the pub. A well-designed UX is consistent, forgiving and rewarding; Nokia’s user experience was inconsistent, unforgiving and hostile.

This last point is especially salient. Apple’s focus on usability and user experience is one of the reasons they have been so successful with devices like the iPad 2. In order to succeed, device makers must deliver well designed products with great UX.

GigaOm delivered their own Symbian autopsy in which ex-Nokia designer Adam Greenfield stated that the cause of death was lack of taste. “There’s nobody with any taste in the decision-making echelons at Nokia,” he writes. Steve Jobs has made similar comments about a lack of taste in the tech sector in the past. Tasteful design and desirable user experiences matter more to consumers than hardware specs and processing power.

While UX is certainly a critical component of successful product development, we see another key factor that led to Nokia abandoning their mobile ecosystem – the rise of 3G and constantly connected devices. In our opinion, Nokia (and Palm, for that matter) got into trouble early in the 3G adoption curve. The company built a bevy of brilliant feature phones up until the 3G paradigm shift, but once technologies like email and mobile web arrived, Nokia failed to adapt in the ways consumers wanted. Its operating system could not handle these newer features and the entire platform stagnated. Eventually, the OS fell too far behind the rest of the market to save it. When people examine the end of the Symbian ecosystem, usability issues will certainly come up.

Great usability must work in concert with a nimble, adaptive corporation that can respond to (and hopefully initiate) tech trends. And this – by the way – is how Apple could one day fail. If a paradigm shift occurs outside Cupertino and Apple fails to pay attention to it, they could move quickly from market leader to tech laggard. As a final aside, placing widgets on homescreens is not something we consider a paradigm shift (hint, hint, Android). When a real computing sea change happens, the winners will be the companies that recognize it and react swiftly.

Mar 11

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Only Apple Could Make The iPad 2

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Apple iPad 2Country, Spock recalls an old Vulcan proverb that says, “Only Nixon could go to China.

I firmly believe that only Apple could deliver a device like the iPad 2. Their focus on usability and user experiences ushered in a post-PC paradigm in computing. The Cupertino company defined the tablet space and is expected to ship 30 million tablets in 2011. There is a reason other tablet makers don’t have Apple’s market share- their tablets just don’t measure up at this time.

I recently reviewed the Motorola Xoom, and in the first few seconds of interacting with it, it became clear that it was not an iPad. From the moment I picked it up, it just felt wrong. The first time use feels cumbersome and even languid. Motorola’s tablet asks me for account information – user names and passwords – before I can do anything with the device. When I pick up the iPad, it works – quickly and effortlessly. There are other differences, as well. Stability, for one. As the venerable Walt Mossberg puts it in his iPad 2 review: “[The iPad] never crashed in my tests, unlike every Android tablet I’ve tested.” Then, of course, there is the price point ($800? Really?). And finally, the news that Xoom owners will have to send their devices back to the manufacturer for a 4G upgrade. Quoting Dvice:

Poor Motorola Xoom. We all wanted to love you, but you may have popped out of the oven a bit too soon. If you want 4G LTE on your shiny new Xoom (goes on sale today), you’ll have to return it back to Motorola for the upgrade.

This debacle is more Motorola’s fault than Android’s. Someone at Motorola said that this tablet was ready to ship when it clearly wasn’t. Who is that guy? What motivated his decision making? At what point did making customers return their product for an upgrade seem like a good idea?

Hardware makers must innovate tablet technology while delivering fun, functional user experiences. The reviewers and consumers have weighed in and at this point only Apple can deliver a tablet worth waiting in line for.

Feb 28

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Is Your Cell Phone Making You 48% Dumber?

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox has a well written piece up today that looks at mobile usability. The post examines a recent article in the International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction that studies how screen size affects reading comprehension. The article found that “when reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex Web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores.” That means it is twice as hard to understand what you are reading on a mobile display.

A smaller screen hurts comprehension for two reasons:

* Users can see less at any given time. Thus, users must rely on their highly fallible memory when trying to understand anything that’s not fully explained within the viewable space.
o Less context = less understanding
* Users must move around the page more, using scrolling to refer to other parts of the content instead of simply glancing at the text. Scrolling introduces 3 problems:
o It takes more time, thus degrading memory.
o It diverts attention from the problem at hand to the secondary task of locating the required part of the page.
o It introduces the new problem of reacquiring the previous location on the page.

The study, performed by R.I. Singh and associates, highlights the need for mobile application developers to deliver clear, simple content to their users. Both the content and the UI must help people understand key messages of the application.

Oct 06

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Gadgets, UI/UX

What the Sony/Google TV Remote Coulda Shoulda Been

Hello readers.  Look at this remote.  Now at your hands.  Now back to the remote.  Now back to your hands.

Maybe it’s a joke.  Maybe it’s a clever ruse.  Maybe it’s a prototype.  Maybe it’s clever CGI like they used for Gollum.  I have no idea.  But the picture here (sourced from Engadget) is supposedly the remote control shipping with Sony’s TVs that have Google TV integrated inside.  It is, in a word, a monstrosity (my friend MG said it best, “My God, it’s full of buttons!”).

Here are all the things wrong with it, in a nutshell:

  • Big and ugly – the current era of product design is about sleekness, not low quality plastic.  Even the Xbox controller looks like it’s better made.
  • Requires two hands to operate at all times - should be one, with the option to go to two when necessary.  You should never go full handed, always stay half handed.
  • All keyboard buttons appear the same size - this thing has to be usable in the dark, which means physical cues are needed.  The “tab” button is where the “Q” should’ve been, so the user can anchor themselves around the keyboard without looking, every time.
  • All control buttons appear the same size – volume and channel change are the same, as are all playback buttons.  Buttons which are used most frequently should be physically differentiated.
  • Two identical joysticks – while I’ll go out on a limb and assume the extra joystick is actually useful/functional, it should be mildly different to the user’s touch.
  • Too many buttons – just like notes, there is such a thing as too many buttons.  And this has too many.

Now, since it’s so easy to complain, I’ll take this a step further with the XX things I’d have done with this remote:

  • Combo buttons + touchscreen – the 2nd gen Sonos controller is a simple version of a hybrid remote, I think this is a perfect time for it.  The physical buttons should control the basic navigation, especially playback controls, and volume.  The touchscreen could do the keyboard, advanced options, setup options, etc.  Even if it’d end up the same physical size as the one pictured here, it would be slicker and better received.
  • Glowing buttons - for advanced products that are going to work in a dark room, back-lit, glowing, light-up, etc buttons are a must-have.
  • Single handed operation – without a doubt I’d have the basic configuration work in a single hand, held in a traditional manner.  If the user has to tilt it to make the screen work, or some other kind of touchscreen is needed to make this happen, it’s worth it.
  • High quality materials - this is supposed to be la creme de la creme of TV products.  Whether it’s a single piece of aluminium or carbon fiber or any other “really nice” materials, I’d spare no expense on the first generation remote.
  • OR… dual remote + phone interfaces - first and foremost, I am *not* a fan of the vision that the smartphone makes a great remote control – it doesn’t.  BUT, if you could ship a really nice, simple, easy to use, high quality remote that offers 80-90% of the functionality, then let the user go to their phone for more advanced features when they want to, I’d call that a viable option.  Remember, you could do keyboard input with a 10-key, it’s worked on feature phones for years.

I’m still in the “shock and awe” phase of watching everything related to Google TV roll out the way it is.  Our post on “taste” applies quite a bit here, as I’ve yet to see an ounce of it related to these products, strategies, or efforts.  And I’m disappointed – this is exactly how we burn consumers on technology.  Too hard, not elegant, etc.