Mobile = Shift For Designers and Consumers

Humans have always been obsessed with what they need to “take along” whether it’s going to work or play. The advances of mobile phones and apps has led many of us to shift activities we once did exclusively on a desktop/laptop to our smartphone. This is naturally followed by an increase in the number of places we carry out basic computing tasks; now in the car, at a restaurant, waiting for a flight, watching a child’s sporting event, etc. It’s growing quickly partly because people are relieved of trying to remember what they need to bring with. As long as you have your smartphone (Swiss army knife) you feel better prepared. I have been reading, debating and thinking deeply about mobile these last few months.

I attended two mobile sessions at the recent South by Southwest Interactive track (SxSW) in Austin. The first was entitled The UX of Mobile, with Barbara Ballard of Little Springs Design, Scott Jenson from Google, and Kyle Outlaw of Razorfish. I’ll cover the second panel called Time+Social+Location with Naveen Selvadurai from foursquare, Josh Babetski from MapQuest  and Greg Cypes from AIM in a later post.

This post mashes together notes from those panel sessions with what’s been brewing inside my brain and recorded in my Moleskine since last fall. It all runs together which makes it hard on the attribution front. The shape of my thoughts was obviously influenced by what’s out on the web and what was shared at SxSW. Thank you to all mobile thinkers.

In The UX of Mobile, the moderator kicked it off by asking each panelist to define user experience:

  • Allow users to reach goals
  • Think about the whole system, SMS
  • It’s everything that causes a user to not want to use your product; scrolling, buttons, etc.

Mobile today is hyper-focused on apps because the mobile browser is lacking (and because of Apple). When the mobile browser catches up to the app experience, there will be a monumental shift away from apps. The mobile web will be where things will get interesting and play out. But simply trying to put the web onto the phone (miniaturization) is not where the value lies. Mobile screens are a new window into the Internet. It’s the closest thing we have right now to wearable computing and so designs needs to account for mobility as well as personal connection. Design for interoperability, take advantage of mobile cache and leverage the cloud. One should design for the “mobile moment.”

  • Design knowing that interruptions are inevitable (the waiter comes to take your order)
  • A phone in your pocket can also be useful (vibrate to signal when you need to turn right or left)
  • Don’t bring the web to the mobile phone, bring the browser (Safari with iPhone/iPad, Chrome)

Mobile demands that you design for the screen. A smartphone has many more features available to the user than a desktop. Barbara Ballard ticked off a great list of things to be considered when designing for the mobile experience. Notations after → are my additions.

  • Gestures   Human
  • Accelerometer  →  Framing
  • Bluetooth  →  Extension
  • Camera  →  Pictures
  • Microphone  →  Voice
  • Location  →  Mapping
  • Address Book   →  Social
  • Calendar  →  Schedule

The mobile phones of today are closer to traveling ecosystems than operating systems. As such, usability testing for the small screen becomes more critical than browser designs. Designers/developers need to test in context, including social context; in short the real world. For me real world testing will mean getting out of the lab and test in cars, libraries, retail stores, restaurants, sporting venues etc. Internet connections are fairly reliable now; always on and fast. The cell phone carriers are not there yet. It’s better than the 9600 baud days, but not yet comparable to the speed we enjoy with today’s modems. When 4G arrives, we will be a heartbeat away from moving everything the mobile device. That will be a watershed moment.

The iPad is a Roaming Device, Not a Mobile Device

Pick up the April 2010 Wired magazine (I’d include a link but the paper version gets to me before the digital version; go figure) and turn to page 75. There’s an extremely insightful article by Steven Levy, Why the New Generation of Table Computers Changes Everything. In it he talks about how Steve Jobs is “writing the obituary for the computing paradigm” and how desktops will vanish and laptops will be used “primarily as base stations for syncing our iPads.”  While at SxSW I spent a lot of time with Ian Magnini, principle at MCD Partners in New York. We work closely on strategy, design and visioncasting. He turned to me and said.

The iPad will replace the magazine rack in your home. There will  be one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – Ian Magnani

I think he’s dead on. The iPad has a huge mobile drawback in that it can’t fit in your pocket or purse. So maybe it’s not cell phone mobile, but it could be the perfect “roaming device.” I can picture people using the iPad to read magazines, newspapers, books, then launch the browser to order groceries or do online banking all while sitting in a comfy Barcolounger. Battery life is 10 hours and taps return instantaneous responses. Keypad will be the big challenge.

As always, Jobs will ensure that the design experience will be outstanding. I have heard that there won’t be a calculator on the iPad at launch because he didn’t like the experience. It doesn’t matter. Once it’s right, it will be included in a future version.

Much more to come on Mobile.

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