From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Usability Bypassed in Rush for Feature-Rich Cell Phones

It may have reached the point where cell phones couldn’t possibly be smaller or more laden with “bells and whistles.” The price is usability, according to a recent United Press International (UPI) article. It questions whether today’s phones have become too complicated and too small in the quest for trendiness.

The ergonomic approach to phone design would be to put user-friendliness first and trendiness last, but the industry appears to be taking the devices in the opposite direction.

In the UPI article, Neena Buck at StrategyAnalytics reports that cell phone users are starting to be suspicious and confused by their devices because of an overload of functions. These include cameras, MP3 players, radios, text- and image-storage functions, and Internet capabilities. Buck also notes that operators are pushing a range of supplementary technology so consumers can pump up the functions of their phone.

Buck points out that mobile telephones started out in the 1970s as brick-sized devices designed primarily for the business community. They became cheaper and smaller over the next 30 years. Affordability makes it possible for most people to own one, and surveys suggest most people do. They fit easily in the palm of a small hand. The Motorola Razr is so thin it slides easily in the back pocket of a tight pair of jeans. The Samsung X820 is even thinner.

Buck notes that the teen market is shaping the development of today’s overladen petite phones. According to a 2005 survey by Junior Research, nearly 50 percent of 13- to 16-year-olds now own cell phones, and they are reported to want phones with “cool” functions that also make a fashion statement.

Their demands mesh with the demands of operators, who make more profit from cell phone extras that require high bandwith, such as cameras and data transfer technology. Citing a report from SurfKitchen, a British company that delivers what it refers to as “a superior mobile end-user experience,” the UPI article points out that makers have loaded today’s phones with technology without sufficient thought about the interface with users. Although not wanting in functionality, the interfaces are poorly designed and confusing to use. In a 2005 Surfkitchen survey, not one mobile-phone user could identify the data services package on their phone due to poor usability.

In an article published recently by FierceWireless, SurfKitchen noted that if end users can’t access mobile content within 10 seconds, they won’t access it at all. Now that mobile operators have amassed a vast amount of content, according to SurfKitchen, the big problem is presenting it so end users can actually find it.

The UPI article points out that returning to simpler phones is not the answer because there is strong customer demand for feature-rich phones. It argues that the sophisticated technology must be packaged in such a way that customers can actually use it. This means more thought to ergonomics.

Sources: UPI; Surfkitchen; FierceWireless