How mobile is your mobile user experience?

When you hear the term ‘mobile user experience’, it is quite natural to think first of a mobile phone. Sure, the form factors have evolved over the years (Andrew Muir Wood from Cambridge University will be presenting an illustration of just how much they’ve evolved at our MEX conference next week), but the term ‘mobile’ has always meant ‘mobile phone’. However, are we now reaching a point where we must expand the scope of ‘mobile user experience’ and embrace the new generation of participants joining cellular networks: from netbooks and USB modems to parking meters and wireless home appliances?

It is something we’ve touched on at previous MEX Conferences. Last year, for instance, one of our MEX Manifesto statements was entitled: ‘Handsets are no longer just for the hand’. It read: “The role of the mobile device is expanding beyond the hand. In fact, handsets are spending less time in our palms and instead finding a role at the centre of the room. This trend represents a major new user experience challenge and will require us to think of new ways to interact with mobile devices.”

The issue was re-awakened recently by Mike Short, a former MEX chairman, Vice President of Research and Development at Telefonica O2 and Honorary President of the Mobile Data Association. He wanted to challenge the MEX community to think about all the different devices which now fell within the scope of mobile user experience and the importance of making wireless products more useable, regardless of whether they are handsets, netbooks or any number of other appliances.

Mike proposed the following list as a starting point for devices which should warrant the attention of mobile user experience pioneers and we would be very interested to hear more suggestions:

  • Games player

  • Music station

  • Video playback

  • Mobile TV

  • Camera

  • Navigation System

  • Home sensor

  • Burglar alert

  • Water sensor

  • Smart Meter

  • Medical Instrument

  • Sports Aid

  • Mobile email

  • E Book/E reader

  • Dictionary

  • Translator

  • Brain trainer

  • Bus stop alert

  • Lottery ticket machine

  • Bar code or NFC display/reader

  • ATM display

  • Bank Account alerts/display

  • Messaging alerts

  • Interactive voting

  • Chat

  • Vending machine

  • Weather Station

  • Dog Collar

  • Alarm clock

  • Toy

Please feel free to make observations on these items or add your own by posting a comment to the MEX blog below.

This also raises a wider point about the convergence of digital industry. The mobile telecoms business has been a distinct entity for 30 years, enjoying a virtual monopoly on the creation and distribution of devices capable of wireless communication. However, this is now changing rapidly. Off-the-shelf wireless modems allow companies from across the digital spectrum to add cellular capabilities to their products.

Does the presence of a cellular connection define the user experience profile of a device? Can lessons learnt in mobile phone design really be of use to the manufacturer of a wireless heart monitor, simply because they run on the same network? Perhaps there is a tendency for those in the ‘traditional’ mobile business to assume their expertise in networks and air interfaces will enable them to dictate the pace of innovation for all devices running on cellular?

It is a debate I am keen to encourage and something we will be looking at closely for future MEX Conferences. It will be important for MEX itself to define what falls within the scope of mobile user experience as we prepare the years ahead.

What do you think? Please post your views to the blog using the link below.

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  1. 2
    Sarah Lipman

    Anything you carry with you, on you, is by definition “mobile”. It’s time to consider hearing aids, prescription glasses, physical supports (walkers, crutches, canes, wheelchairs), ostomy bags, IV poles… in short, anything that you might wear or carry not for its communication benefit, but for its ability to support or enhance your physical functioning.

    Not only is this a sensible way to expand our thinking about mobile, the ongoing “humanization” of mobile interfaces (eg., touch, gesture and voice inputs) implies an ultimate trend towards physically integrated communications, and the obvious starting point for that is with products that are already physically integrated.

    Not to mention that those who need the support devices probably have the most to gain by immediate integration!

    (I’d love to jump into a project relating to this, by the way, if anyone’s interested…)

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