Wireless Wonders

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mobile fiddling...(idea #107)

I think it was Jakob Nielsen who first identified (in one of the earliest WAP usability field trials) that a great "use" for mobile phones (actually for WAP) was killing time. It is hard not to notice that anywhere you go where there are people sitting waiting, they are usually fiddling with their mobile phone. Of course, some of this "fiddling" is actually doing stuff, like sending messages, cleaning up the folders, and so on. Other times it's adjusting anything that can be adjusted - ring tones, wallpapers, themes etc.

I've done it many times myself - take out my phone, even though I have no new messages or calls or any other change brought to my attention, and just start fiddling with it. Some people just like touching their phone, spinning it round and so on - that's supposedly why Motorola made the PEBL - something with a satisfying touch, just like a real pebble.

However, on close inspection (i.e peeking) at what some people do with their phones, the fiddling is a kind of mindless playing around - poking, changing, reverting back, going up and down menus, swapping settings back and forth, and so on - plain fiddling about. We like to tell kids not to fiddle with things - the remote control, the car controls, the radio, the computer. We often then go and do it ourselves (which doesn't mean the kids can too!) It seems we are born to fiddle. No doubt, psychologists, mobile ergonomists (human factors?) and other ologists know what this is all about and I'm slow to catch up, but I think they may have missed something.

I wonder, have we fully embraced this fiddling-thingy within mobile design, or are we treating it as an exception? In other words, do we think that only idle hands (and fingers) want to fiddle, so give them a game like Snake, or a news feed to the home page, and endless other variants of "time killer" apps (including Nielsen's "nothing better to do" WAP browsing, which it still as tedious as it ever was). Or, should we literally make it easier and give more options for simply fiddling around with the phone (the UI is the app)? I think that a UI designed for fiddling would be a different one that a UI designed for task-driven interaction. We could have two UIs. A playing around one (in pink - the new black) and a doing-stuff one (in the usual doing-stuff palette). Of course, that probably breaks all the UI and usability "rules", which is why it's probably an idea worth exploring.

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At 2:58 AM, Anonymous Timo said...

The Nokia N90 is the ultimate fiddle object: both physically and digitally: almost like a rubiks cube.

At 3:13 AM, Blogger Anders Borg said...

There could be a random feature selector and lots of non-working buttons that the user could press.

Jokes aside:

Moving the games and information apps closer to the surface might make users fiddle with them more. E.g. by making one key press all installed applications should be listed.

There's a clear trend that initially after-market applications become pre-installed on phones, which is a good thing: More functionality and the right functionality, and less development cost for the manufacturer. Hence the cost for adding new fiddle-friendly functionality becomes cheaper over time.

Operators and application providers could also provide application bundles for download, to make it more appetizing for non-downloaders to actually download. E.g. casual games bundles, messaging bundles, mobile worker bundles, etc that would be downloaded easily and quickly and would provide a lot of ground for fiddling.


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