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Old 09-13-2005, 03:22 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Editorial: Learning curves hamper mobile adoption

What's the biggest hurdle for mobile computing device adoption? Why doesn't everyone want a pda or smartphone, when it does all the things they want? Why are they more likely to get a phone that plays music, or an ipod?

The bottom line answer is simple. It's not primarily the capabilities, nor is it even due to the cost. The primary reason that people don't buy pdas and smart phones is the learning curve. Too much work is required to learn how to use the devices and making it fit their own needs. And along the way, it's very likely that they will run into problems or bugs or user error that turns them into debuggers. They are likely to either get stuck, have to ask a tech friend, or contact the company for help.

If you weren't independently attracted to the idea of using the technology, would you really want to waste your time and thoughts and efforts on such a device? I don't think so. It really makes paper sound good for the average person when you put it that way.

What's the solution? Simple, foolproof, simpler, and simpler still. At some point, it's not about the features. If it's too complicated, it doesn't matter how wonderful it is. Most people dread setting up a VCR. How much more will they dread working with a computer in their pocket? If it's not easy (or at the very least sound easy -- like iPod) it won't catch on.

Just think about the original Palm devices. They became popular like wildfire. But they were simple. Not necessarily really a great user experience because of the displays and batteries, for example. But they were simple, and that matters more. They're not simple anymore, and the market is limited. Make a simple and powerful pda, even with just the basic capabilities of current pdas, and I am convinced it will sell if you do it right.

But maybe it's not possible to create something like that which is simple. Too many variation on things like desktop platforms 3rd party software you say. Well, find a way to stick to basics that will remain compatible and let go of the heavy duty features. It will work as long as the technology sounds bulletproof and simple, not behind the times.

Are you listening Access and Microsoft and Nokia?
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Old 09-13-2005, 03:44 PM   #2
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One company who got that right: Apple.
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Old 09-13-2005, 03:51 PM   #3
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Isn't the Zire 31 exactly what your asking for?
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Old 09-13-2005, 06:45 PM   #4
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The Blackberry is rather easy to use compared to the LifeDrive or WM devices. And that is why every non-geeky business man carries one in his pocket.
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Old 09-14-2005, 09:29 AM   #5
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Palm is still in teh driver's seat there. I wouldnt say Apple because they are more the marketing machine, not the 'lets do everything easy' as the first thuoght. They do, however, make pretty devices and software interfaces, thereby making it less intimidating for someone who doesnt know how, to pick up on how.

I agree with the fact that functionality should not come at teh cost of simplicity and good design. I feel that MS is one of the worst offenders, and palmSOurce right behind them. MS because their UI as a whole and in parts just outright sucks. Its not intuitive, and if not for the fact that people are more familiar with it across the board, it wouldnt be a good option in anyone's book. PS because the look and feel of the PalmOS shuold have been steered faster and more creatively from them rather than developers and licensees. The budding launcher market is one main item that shows to me that PS might have simplicity down, but not effectiveness.

Great article Bob. Nice thought for the day.
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Old 09-14-2005, 10:33 AM   #6
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Thanks Antoine.
BTW, Looks like you're typing on your Treo.
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Old 09-14-2005, 08:07 PM   #7
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Great editorial Bob. I agree that simplicity is an important factor in the learning curve. Usability should be first and foremost in User Interface design. When Jeff Hawkins, the father of the Palm spoke at MIT about his book and responded to an audience member's question about user interface design, he cited (IIRC) simplicity, repeatability, and hierachical menus.

Devices need to be intuitive, and they have to have the perception from day 1 that they're easy to use, or else they'll scare off or turn off your average user.

Whatever happened to the Zen of Palm and its commandments? The Balance of Features, the Sweet Spot, and the 80/20 rule? It's time to get back to the basics: Usability should be #1 for any company who wants their devices to appeal to mass markets.

The iPod is a perfect example, and coincidentally, it follows Jeff Hawkins' rules as anyone who has picked up an iPod and immediately felt comfortable using it has found out first hand. It illustrates that device usability and interface design follows Darwin's theory of evolution. Those manufacturers who make well designed devices with excellent usability are much more likely to survive, and those who do not will become extinct. How many iPod competitors are out there with horrible user interfaces? People are willing to pay somewhat of a premium for simplicity and usability over too many features. No wonder Apple has 75% market share of portable music players, and the user interface patent showdown between Microsoft, Apple, and Creative will be an interesting one to watch.
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