Mformation Vice President Matt Bancroft argues the case for improved usability on Smartphones and other mobile devices
In the mobile world, we often judge the worth of a new device by whether or not it includes the latest new functions, or by how cool and sophisticated the user interface is. We often lose sight of whether or not these new capabilities are actually usable. The fact is that usability is more than a measure of rich functionality or a beautiful user interface. No matter how sophisticated or attractive, if something doesnt work well - especially at first touch or first use - it will not rate as highly usable. And even if it is the newest thing on the market, if it is not usable, it will (eventually) be considered not worth having.
Most consumer electronics and appliance manufacturers have learned this lesson the hard way, with the result that they now design their products with usability in mind. Today, the most popular cars, TVs, DVD/DVR devices, digital cameras, music players and even household appliances, are designed so that they work out of the box with minimal effort and without requiring elaborate setup. In contrast, most Smartphones have a huge array of functionality and services, as well as rich and attractive user interfaces, but they have not, historically, been designed with usability in mind.
For example, setting up a service like email to work on most of the currently available smart mobile devices can be frustratingly complex. The device itself may seem to be highly usable, but if the ability to send and receive email is one of the key selling points for the device, and the email application is complex to set up and use, that will negatively affect the perception of the overall usability of that device, regardless of what other bells and whistles that device might have.
The twiddling factor
Because of the above, measuring and improving usability has become increasingly important to the launch of new mobile devices and services. One good metric that can help us determine the usability of a new device or service is the twiddling factor. This is the number of steps that need to be taken, or settings that need to be manually set and reset, in order to use a particular service or capability. In a world where the number of available mobile services is growing exponentially, delivering those services has become an increasingly complex proposition. For a single service to work on a particular device, not only does the device need to be set up properly for that service, but a number of interconnected entities - from the application on the device, to the network, to any number of interconnected remote services used by the application - all need to work together as well. This is a complex task, and a significant amount of behind-the-scenes functionality is needed to reduce the amount of twiddling required during the lifecycle of that service. The aim of any well-designed mobile device management system should be to reduce this twiddling factor for the end user to a bare minimum - as close to zero as possible.
High usability = low twiddling factor
Overall usability embraces many factors. The richest customer experience (and the highest degree of usability) for any service comes, however, when that service can be used with little or no twiddling. Services that require a great deal of twiddling, either during setup or use, can never really be considered highly usable, regardless of their other attributes. To achieve a high degree of usability for new services in a connected world, the entire ecosystem needs to be designed for manageability - from the devices and services themselves, to the management systems supporting them. Support for usability capabilities such as plug-and-play, discovery, auto-configure, auto-repair and the like cannot just be features of individual devices, but rather, must become features of the entire mobile ecosystem.
Less twiddling = improved customer attitudes
Mformation recently undertook research in both the UK and the US to assess consumer attitudes about setting up their mobile phones and services. 4,000 interviews were completed for the survey, split equally between the two countries. The strength of user feeling was overwhelming. 61% of the mobile users interviewed said that phone setup is as frustrating as changing a bank account. Complexity is preventing uptake and usage of mobile applications and services. Basic services such as email (46%), Internet browsing (40%), Instant Messaging (30%) and picture messaging (29%) were among the top applications and services that people indicated dont always work when they first switch on their phone. And 61% indicated that they have stopped using certain mobile applications because they cannot solve problems with them.
The problem is not only affecting uptake of new mobile applications and services, but also, sales of new devices. 45% of the people interviewed indicated that complex setup issues are preventing them from upgrading to new, more sophisticated mobile phones. And 65% of respondents agreed that mobile operators are losing out, as people will not buy a new phone because of the time it takes to set up.
Customer attitudes could change swiftly, however, if setup becomes easier. 95% of consumers surveyed indicated that they would be more likely to try new mobile services if setup of these services was easier. And 88% agreed that they would use mobile services more if setup was less painful. Up and running straight out-of-the-box means exactly that, and our research shows that improving this aspect of the mobile phone buying experience will help to improve the fortunes of many players in our industry. The message from consumers is clear - phone setup is simply too complex. We need to reduce the twiddling factor.
Mobile Device Management
Mobile Device Management (MDM) technologies are already starting to meet these challenges. MDM systems help reduce the twiddling factor for mobile services and devices by enabling (hands-free) device and service activation, configuration and provisioning actions, with little or no input required from the end users, thus ensuring an optimal user experience without any twiddling at all.
As the devices, applications and services increase in complexity, MDM technologies work behind the scenes to ensure that this complexity is not exposed to the end users. And by providing an end-to-end view of the real state of services and the actual experience of the user, MDM technologies are providing all of the stakeholders with valuable insight into the overall usability of their offerings, ensuring usability improvements (and a reduced twiddling factor) with every new release. In the end, the users should only be exposed to the operations offered by a mobile service or application and nothing else - no setup, no configuration, no debugging, no repairingand definitely no twiddling.