Monthly Archives: August 2009

More Android Devices

There are already two Android-based devices on the market: the original T-Mobile G1 and the recently released MyTouch. Both built by HTC. On September 10th we should finally be seeing an android device by a second manufacturer – Motorola. This is big because now we are starting to see more commitment to the platform and because Motorola has the experience to create a great hardware + software combo. As noted a few months back, Motorola has heavily invested in Android as their platform of the future, which bodes well for Google and the others involved in the creation of the free/open-source Android.

Sweet. Now let’s see some additional devices based on Palm’s killer WebOS!

The Pre – Pretty Close

palm-preI recently test drove a Palm Pre for a week.  My goal was to shut my iPhone off and configure the Pre to connect to Outlook, grab my mail, connect to my online contacts, etc. – basically to set it up to be my only device for a period so I can see how it would function around a typical week.  Here are are few highlights that stood out for me:

  • The WebOS is sweet.  After a few hours I got very used to having multiple apps open and being able to switch between them on the fly.  No closing one app to open another as with my iPhone. This really stood out when running Pandora while doing other things. To me (and I think to a lot of people) multitasking is a biggie that sets this device apart from the competition. After using the Pre for a few days my iPhone felt kinda old and simple, like it was last year’s model.  One usability element that really stood out to me was the use of the touch-sensitive area under the screen – brilliant.  It basically supports additional “swipe” gestures that translate into a back button and application switching. I got used to this very quickly and found myself trying to do the same thing on the iPhone a few days later.
  • Notifications are cool.  This is a feature I remember standing out on the Danger OS (i.e. Sidekick) – notifications that show up on part of the screen but don’t take control. On the Pre you can continue doing what you are doing while being notified.  And a simple thumb gesture allows you to dismiss the notification or you can tap on the notification to find out more.  Very elegant.  I think some of the interaction still needs to be worked out though – multiple notifications seem to get hidden and become difficult to track.  Still better than the iPhone notifications though.Palm_webOS_SprintDashboard
  • The keyboard was tough.  I know a lot of people complain about the iPhone virtual keyboard, but I had a hard time getting used to the tiny keys on the Pre.  For how much room they fill up, they are not bad. But compared to the range of mobile device keyboards out there, the chicklets on the Pre were just OK.  It didn’t help that I have big hands, so the keyboard might be great for many other people.
  • The Sprint all-inclusive plan was quite good. When I went into the Sprint store holding my iPhone, one of the first things the store rep asked was if I had a corporate account. I said I wasn’t sure and they immediately offered me a 25% discount off my monthly service – so 1500 family minutes with unlimited data came out to under $100/month. Much better than a comparable AT&T family plan for the iPhone. And Sprint doesn’t jerk you around and charge you separately for text messages, navigation, video – they (rightly) just count this as data.
  • Sprint network was pretty good.  Very fast in Seattle, with very good coverage. Voice calls were very clear.
  • Battery life was not so great. I think this is due more to the 3G/4G network than to having multiple apps running simultaneously.  The device did get hot when using data – not unlike the iPhone 3GS.

Overall, I think the Pre has a lot of potential.  The WebOS is amazing – I like it better than the iPhone’s version of OSX.  I was less impressed by the hardware itself, but I think this will improve over time. For a first gen device, I think the Pre is great.  And I’m really excited to see the next improvements of the WebOS.

Creating Solid Mobile UX

The momentum of mobile application development has accelerated over the past year.Apps have increased the functionality of mobile devices, and the success of Apple’siPhone app store has lead the charge in the introduction of app stores on other platforms such as Android, Palm, Nokia, and soon Windows Mobile. A key element in the adoption of mobile apps is a focus the user experience. There are lots of good apps out there, but many more bad ones.

So how do you ensure creating a great mobile experience for users? There are two key ingredients: One is focus, the other is testing. “Focus” actually has multiple parts, including simplicity, consistency, and great performance. Taken together, these parts help pinpoint the core elements to meets users’ needs. Focus is especially important for clients that have existing sites or applications – there is often a strong push to include much of the functionality that a user would encounter on a desktop. But because mobile has many different interactions than the desktop – frequency and duration of use, context (e.g. riding the bus, walking downtown), and input methods – it important to focus on core elements that be engaged with during common “mobile” usage.

A great example of focus can be seen by comparing Amazon.com’s desktop homepage and their mobile iPhone app. The Amazon desktop experience (left) includes a dizzying range of information and functionality. The Amazon mobile app (right) includes only core elements – search, product information/reviews, one-click purchase. Picture 11

Edward Tufte nicely describes all the extra screen stuff as the “computer administration debris” – on mobile the content is the interface. Amazon has effectively minimized this debris and focused on content in their mobile app. By providing the core elements, mobile users can quickly and easily engage with Amazon’s extensive range of products and purchase them. Their mobile app is highly focused.

The other ingredient in ensuring your mobile app hits its mark is usability testing. Here the key is to have users engage with the app on the actual device and to have them complete authentic tasks. We like to have users sit or stand in the lab while interacting with the device. We record the device interface (either directly or using an emulator that runs on the observer’s computer) along with the user’s voice and facial expressions. Here we capture interaction issues as well as affective elements – how the user engages with the app, what gets them excited, etc. This provides a great opportunity to test out what features to include, along with highlighting issues that need to be addressed.

I’ve quickly described two core pieces in mobile app creation – focus and testing. It is important to note that there is a ton of thinking and decision making that goes into this process. But doing so helps ensure the best mobile experience possible.