Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tap, tap, tap...

The more one delves into usability on mobiles, the more it becomes apparent that we are stuck in our ways. Just as toothpaste is usually mint, so we have been stuck with mint.

Now, I'm sure that there is a logic to it. Yes. Perhaps we are willing to believe that the makers of toothpaste have done their market research and it always comes out mint. But how many of us have tried orange, or lemon, or any other non-mint flavour? (Thanks to some trailblazers like Green People, the big boys are catching on a giving us other flavours, though not in the UK yet.)

The same is probably true of usability testing. We ask users to try out interfaces that are essentially already decided, like mint toothpaste. The testing is about tweaking, or getting user acceptance. It isn't about trying alternatives to see what really works best.

In other words, we might test to see if a voicemail interface is usable. We are not asking what is the most usable interface for voicemail. There is a difference.

Someone decided that the interface for mobile menus is two buttons at the bottom of the screen. We can't have buttons on the side, or the top. Of course not. I'm sure that one-handed ergonomics says so. After all, we need our other hand to...well, do other things....stick in our ear hole perhaps...

Unless I'm an unusual user, which is possible, I have a hunch that being able to divert the phone straight to voicemail would be a useful feature. Of course it is, but it probably seldom gets used, except by really dedicated users. We all know the problem. Switching to divert-on-all is more than a few clicks on most phones. But why?

The same goes for keypads. We can settle for the standard 12-key alphanumeric, or we could settle for this...

...Fastap from DigitWireless...

Sure, not all operators are impressed. Perhaps no customers are asking for it and 700 million 12-key phones a year can't be wrong can they? Ditto, 1 billion tubes of mint toothpaste....

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