From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

CeBIT and Survey: Software Usability Under Scrutiny

Technodazzle was on display at the famous annual ceBIT international technology exhibition in Germany in March, often vying with usability. A recent study suggests manufacturers with profits on their mind would do well to let usability win. 

Navigation devices have come into the fore – 10 million were sold in 2007, according to distributor Ingram – and at the 2008 ceBIT they were in center place. A Washington Post article about the show said manufacturers presented devices with new software functions to make them easier to use. These include more realistic illustrations of the road ahead, and better advice on which lane to take when approaching complex intersections.

New models unveiled at ceBIT by Navigon and TomTom feature an overlay of colored arrows or lines on a perspective view of the intersection ahead to indicate lanes that lead in the correct direction. Drivers also see on-screen representations of the actual road signs to follow as an additional cue.

The article pointed out that some makers are struggling with the usability of their products, and it named Syngic. To indicate the best lane to use, the Sygic navigator shows a series of small arrows tucked into the corner of the map view, colored green for the correct lane and white for others. The article noted that is was not easy to distinguish the lights at a glance — especially on the small display of a mobile phone.

Mapfactor, which offers the Actis 3 and Actis 4 GPS receivers and also offers its Navigator software for PCs and PDAs,  also highlighted the road signs drivers should follow. It indicated bad lane choices by tiny red dots on a small grid beneath the map view. The article noted that these were hard to pick out at a glance.

CeBIT featured many other types of high-tech products, and each is likely to be rated for usability at several points  in its life. One manufacturer, MeMo, advocates evaluating usability well before a product reaches retailers’ shelves. It makes software that “enables automated usability tests at an early stage of development, without the involvement of real test persons,” according to its brochure. “Later, expensive corrections can thus be avoided right from the start, and there is also a positive effect on the results of conventional usability tests.”

A recent study conducted by venture capital firm Sand Hill Group and consulting company Neochange suggests that usability testing, whether automated or accomplished by humans, is likely to pay off in profits for software manufacturers.

In an article in March about the study, technology magazine InformationWeek noted that software companies try to drive interest in their offerings through steady upgrades to features and functionality. When it comes to realizing the value of a deployment, the study found software functionality barely mattered to consumers. As cited by 70 percent of 159 respondents, a user community’s effective adoption of the software was by far the top-ranking factor for realizing value. Sixteen percent of respondents ranked organizational change and 13 percent cited process alignment, while just 1 percent ranked software functionality as the top factor for realizing value.

Sources: CeBIT; Washington Post; Information Week