Pro Advice at Mobilize: "Study Toasters"

By September 22, 2008

A Thursday afternoon panel at GigaOM's Mobilize conference was "Thinking Experientially: What creates good mobile user experience?" Wired Gadget Lab Editor Dylan Tweney moderated this panel of mobile product specialists. The team was made up of Jason Devitt, CEO of cellular phone call and text tracking site Skydeck , entrepreneur Jyri Engestrom of Jaiku and now Google, Mobile Design Strategist Rachel Hinman of Adaptive Path, and Jeff Taylor of Hutchinson Whampoa /3. The popular approach to new mobile design seems to leave it at, "It's a PC that you carry in your pocket." This leads to keyboards with toddler-fingertip buttons, limping Internet and nauseating interfaces. The process of creating an intuitive, native mobile experience seems to be as easy as taming a rogue unicorn, judging by the mobile market today. The concensus of the panelists was that the structure of the wireless world is partly to blame. With a tangle of service providers, software developers, hardware manufacturers and others, the need to innovate is displaced by the need to make money as quickly as possible.

Of course, many allusions were made to the iPhone, the current darling of the User Interface/Experience (UI & UX, respectively) specialists. It certainly is the best example of a contemporary balance between feature (added value) and simplicity (intuitivity). With such a singular example of success, right now is a terrific opportunity for new handset competitors, according to Devitt. Hinman said, however, that instead of using iPhone as "a starting point," to see it instead as "an endpoint." It is possible that this type of "one-to-one" communication device has reached a point where a more complete overhaul of mobile design is necessary.

So instead of working towards a perfect shrunken PC, or another iPhone, the advice for great UX is predictably unorthodox. "Study toasters," says Taylor. A perfectly intuitive device is one that people do not even think of as a device. Devitt says, "get a simpler phone." If normal people can use your application, that is a winner.

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