The state of mobile user experience – the collective response to the 2009 MEX Manifesto


On 19th and 20th May 2009, 100 of the mobile industry’s brightest minds – including representatives from all of the world’s major handset manufacturers and leading network operators – came together to define a collective response to the MEX Manifesto. Over 2 days in London, participants debated the 8 MEX Manifesto statements and worked side-by-side in a series of workshops to build a new blueprint for enhancing mobile user experience.

Below is a brief summary of the key takeaways from the 8 MEX Manifesto themes.

We’ll soon be publishing the official 2009 MEX Report, capturing the industry’s collaborative response to the MEX Manifesto through a combination of videos, presentations, sketches and written summaries. It is a great way to catch-up on the cutting edge of mobile user experience if you weren’t able to make it to the MEX Conference. Send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 1 – User interface design is key to leadership in application stores

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…current app stores are little more than glorified lists. They are time consuming to browse and innovative applications are often buried by poor interface design. The opportunity is for a next generation provider to transcend the traditional scrolling list and establish market leadership through innovative UI design, an open approach to commercial partnerships and advanced customer understanding.

Hampus Jakobsson, co-founder and Vice President of Business Development at TAT, opened the response to this Manifesto statement with a provocative appraisal of the failings of current application stores. According to Jakobsson, the first generation of app stores are merely the first steps towards a long-term goal of enabling advanced personalisation.

  • App stores are a means to an end not an end in themselves – deep personalisation is the goal and the current generation of app stores doesn’t yet come close to offering that capability.
  • The basic user interface methodology and list mechanisms employed by app stores are starting to limit content discovery as the app catalogues expand to tens of thousands of entries.
  • Personal recommendations will be key to future growth – an analogy was drawn with the hand-written reviews found in niche book stores.

The conference was then divided into 9 small workshop teams, each tasked with examining a different element of the application store experience in detail. The results from these workshop teams will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 2 – Achieving great tactile experience is a subtle art

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…the tactile nuances of mobile products are of much greater importance to customers than the industry realises. Adding a touchscreen does not automatically equate to better user experience. The overall customer experience will be enhanced through a combination of touchscreens, additional touch-enabled surfaces, haptics and introducing new materials for device casings, buttons and accessories.

This session was all about helping the industry to understand the importance of the often invisible tactile dimension in shaping mobile user experience. Christophe Ramstein, CTO of Immersion, gave a keynote intended to inspire users into thinking differently about tactility.

He begun his presentation by asking each person to hold the hand of the person next to them and lay their fingers on their upturned wrist, allowing them to feel the pulse of another human. Ramstein used this experience to emphasise how important and fundamental touch was for humans. He went on to explore its different applications in mobile, from the virtual tactility of haptic effects to the physical characteristics of devices.

  • Tactile experience has hitherto been a fixed entity in mobile – a user had a degree of choice when purchasing their device, but their tactile experience was then fixed for the lifetime of the handset. Haptics and adaptive materials are creating a new user experience dimension, providing designers with the ability to dynamically adapt this experience layer at the application and device level.
  • The growth of interfaces driven primarily through touchscreens is prompting a radical rethink of how users interact with mobile applications and services. In many cases, interfaces must be completely re-designed. Good tactile experience can help.
  • There are a number of interface elements which should never be abstracted into a soft interface, including essential mechanisms such as the power and reset buttons.

Further insights were provided when the conference went into the MEX breakout format, with 9 teams each taking an in-depth look at different aspects of the tactile experience. Some groups were given kits of cutting edge materials to stimulate their discussions, while others explored demo devices equipped with haptic technology. The results from these workshop teams will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 3 – Customer research methodology must be enhanced to close the reality gap

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…the industry must enhance its methodology for understanding customer experience and translating that knowledge into better mobile products. The continuing disconnect between the lifestyle of real customers and the experiences they’re offered points to an urgent need for new research methods and new ways of using that research within the product management structure.

Delivering great user experience starts with really understanding your customers. It was appropriate, therefore, that this session was first on the agenda at MEX.

Rachel Hinman, Experience Design Director at Adaptive Path, challenged the audience to think differently about user research. In particularly, she stressed the importance of recognising that everyone comes to the research process with a pre-defined agenda which can influence the eventual outcome. The best user research distances itself from these pre-conceptions and, instead of testing theories, it enables practitioners to discover completely new insights.

  • Research ‘in the wild’ and continue building on the research insights gathered ‘in the wild’. The more you remove yourself from the environment of your users, the further your research drifts from the path of accuracy.
  • Research toolkits can be useful, but remember the tools you use will start to influence the results of your work – toolkits should be constantly evolving.
  • Try to combine a variety of methods to get a 360 degree view of the user. One research method is not enough.

The full results and video from this session will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 4 – Changing economics will facilitate increased diversity in handset portfolios

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…too many manufacturers are trying to copy Apple by focusing their resources on developing a single ‘blockbuster’ handset. Greater long-term success will be achieved by creating a unifying software platform and using it to deliver a wide range of devices, differentiated by the user experience factors which really matter to customers: form factor, colour, price, usability and applications.

Andrew Muir Wood, a PhD student at Cambridge University’s Institute of Manufacturing, set the scene for this section of the agenda by providing an insight into current form factor and style trends in the mobile business. His research has enabled him to track handset trends over the last 13 years by overlaying hundreds of silhouette images on top of each other, building up a gradual picture of the dominant handset form factor at different times.

The results showed a surge in tablet-style touchscreen devices in recent months and highlighted the lack of consumer choice in even basic areas such as device colour.

John Forsyth, a member of the Symbian Foundation leadership team, then took up the challenge of trying to show a blueprint for efficiently developing a wider range of mobile products and delivering greater variety in consumer experience. He pointed to the inherent structural failings of the mobile business and an urgent need for revising the software platforms industry.

  • Touchscreen tablets are the fastest growing segment of the mobile business. Choice in colours and form factors, however, is not improving.
  • There are teams of thousands of engineers currently working on producing code which doesn’t translate directly into any new consumer benefits. They are primarily engaged in fixing problems which shouldn’t be there in the first place.
  • One of the most important areas for reducing development costs in mobile, thereby freeing investment for the user experience, is the ‘glue’ which binds software to hardware.
  • There’s a fundamental disconnect between the mobile industry’s understanding of user experience and how the customers themselves perceive it.

The conference was then split into small workshop groups and each team given a different task, ranging from constructing giant 3D diagrams of mobile user experience components to re-designing third party software eco-systems. The full results and video from this session will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 5 – Investment in input and display modalities must increase

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…enhanced input methods and font handling are key foundation technologies for revenue growth in mobile services. Combining these elements will allow customers to create, manipulate and share rich data more easily. With data-driven services now accounting for 20% of global mobile revenues and rising, investment in input and display modalities must increase to a similar percentage of R&D budgets.

This session attempted to look at the full circle of inputing and consuming data on mobile devices. Philippe Jeanrenaud, Marketing Director at input solutions specialist Nuance, responded with the first keynote. He cited social networking services, the explosion of messaging formats and increased business use of mobile devices as the drivers for better input methods.

He went on to highlight the importance of understanding the users’ contextual state when trying to provide them with the optimal input solution. By understanding their context, we can provide them with better, more accurate input recognition in both predictive text and speech input mechanisms.

Input mechanisms must be usable out-of-the-box and self-learning, so their quality continually improves. Philippe also stressed the importance of the user experience when things went wrong – 100 percent accuracy was never going to be achievable, so it must be as easy as possible to correct recognition mistakes or users will stop utilising advanced input methods.

Steve Martin, Vice President of Engineering at Monotype Imaging, took up the next part of the challenge, looking at how these new types of information could be effectively displayed and consumed on mobile devices. Steve talked about the importance of scalable typefaces when developing flexible mobile interfaces which look right in both landscape and portrait and at different screen resolutions.

He also identified some anomalies in user behaviour, where personalisation was sometimes prized over readability, with users choosing unusual typefaces because they reflected their personality.

Other key parts of his response included the importance of accurately displaying different alphabets, where even small character differences caused by insufficient screen resolution can alter the meaning of a word.

  • Input and display mechanisms are inextricably linked, with better displays prompting users to input more information and better input mechanisms requiring more advanced displays.
  • Language support is crucial to expanding the potential of data services in mobile. Many input and display mechanisms require substantial improvement before they can support even half of the world’s major languages and character sets.
  • Offering users a variety of input mechanisms in the same device can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. Users have greater choice over the most appropriate method, but the cognitive loading required to choose between these methods can have a negative effect on the experience.

In addition to the 2 keynotes, this session also included breakout groups for 9 small workshop teams. Each team was given a different challenge, ranging from re-designing mobile keyboards to creating the perfect mobile font. The results from these workshop teams will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 6 – The next billion customers are already here

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…the industry’s highly anticipated ‘next billion customers’ are already here, creating a wealth of new user experience requirements. While executives from established telecom markets continue talking about when opportunities may emerge in developing markets, innovative companies in these regions are already using their unique knowledge of local conditions to deliver what users want.

We felt it was time to move forward the discussion about ’emerging markets’. The ambition was to inspire delegates through 3 presentations which would ensure they came away from the session with an understanding that ’emerging markets’ is a homogenous, insufficient term to describe an incredibly diverse set of user needs and give them real examples of how mobile innovation is already happening in these countries.

Robert Fabricant, Vice President of Creative at Frog Design, shared the results of their project to raise awareness of HIV testing in South Africa. Frog worked with numerous local partners to design an overall experience across packaging, advertising, mobile applications and community healthcare support.

Robert stressed the importance of the industry moving from a focus on the experience ‘of the device’ to the experiences you can have ‘with the device’. Education and healthcare were 2 key areas he highlighted where mobile innovation can change lives, particularly in markets which have previous lacked technology. These lessons are also starting to flow back into the developed world.

Haslina Dawam, General Manager for Messaging and Support at Malaysia network operator Celcom, talked about the introduction of Zakat, a service allowing members of the Islamic community to make religious financial contributions from their mobile handsets.

As with Robert’s presentation, Haslina underlined the importance of the non-mobile elements in achieving a good user experience – in this case, it meant working closely with both religious community leaders (for Islamic compliance) and the government (for tax deductions) to ensure customer expectations were met.

Sian Townsend, user experience researcher for Google, set out 5 priorities for the mobile business in emerging markets: put aside assumptions, collaborate to gain local input, take a long-term view by investing in supporting infrastructure (e.g. universities and equipment), invest in user research and tap into local ingenuity – expect your services to be subverted and used in amazing ways you never expected.

  • Great mobile experiences are often as much about understanding and enhancing the non-mobile elements as they are about the nuances of cellular communication and mobile devices.
  • Embrace, understand and enhance the myriad ways in which your service will be adapted, subverted and changed by new markets – do not fear this process.
  • The flow of innovation is rapidly switching direction, with many of the most innovative mobile services in healthcare and education expected to start in the developing world and flow back to the developed world.

The full results and video from this session will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 7 – The delicate art of balancing commercial imperative and user experience

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…mobile advertising is not the only way to monetise applications and services. A more sustainable revenue source can be found by identifying where and how customers perceive value, focusing on user experience and creating a revenue model which reflects the reality of user behaviour.

Priya Prakash, recently appointed Director of Consumer Experience at Nokia, opened her response to this Manifesto by drawing on a comparison with ‘Man on Wire’, the documentary about wire-walker Philippe Petit’s famous display on a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Achieving great user experience and maximising commercial potential is a very difficult balance, but when it succeeds it is a thing of beauty.

She went on to examine various examples of how customers have very different perceptions of value: an iPhone customer, for instance, dissatisfied with the device because they were unable to get their old text messages archived before upgrading to the new version. The value was the personal content, not the hardware – no matter how sleek and expensive.

Priya delved further into various revenue models, highlighting examples of misleading value, such as ‘unlimited’ subscriptions and the reality of user purchasing behaviour.

  • A great UI will only take you so far, services must be backed by offers, continual merchandising and entrepreneurial invention.
  • Value means different things and comes in very different forms for customers. It can be artificially created and it changes over time. Expect users to take advantage of every free thing they can get their hands on before they are prepared to pay for something they really need.
  • Registration processes are a huge barrier to revenue generation. Significant gains can be made by refining this element of the user experience

The full results and video from this session will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).

MEX Manifesto No. 8 – Location data forms an integral part of user experience

Our MEX Manifesto statement and starting point for this section was as follows:

We believe…the potential for location to enrich the mobile user experience increases exponentially as the number of location-aware objects grows. Showing users where they are on a map or personalising data according to location is just the start. The ebb and flow of location data can itself form an integral part of the user experience.

This session explored the notion that location data is expanding beyond a contextual informant of the mobile user experience into something which can actually be consumed as an experience in itself.

Sandy Fershee, Founding Partner of user experience agency Frank First, gave the first response, citing examples of services which allowed emotions, healthcare data and transport information to be viewed through novel, location-influenced UIs.

Her exploration continued with discussion of the role of mobile devices in creating this new category of location-aware information and the flow back influence this information could have on the device environment itself – a UI which gave an indication of the ambient surroundings through subtly tapping into geo-tagged data in the virtual sphere.

Gareth Smith and Alia Sheikh of the Wombile Project provided another view. They asked the MEX audience to consider some fundamental aspects of how we think about location, using a mixture of signage, physical objects and stories to paint a picture of how our understanding of location can alter according to context and time.

They went on to suggest a platform which allows the anonymous aggregation of location data from mobile users, creating a virtual universe of people and objects which could be embedded into any number of games or applications. With the data abstracted from the individuals, the location stream of a particular person could form a gaming element for another user without either party ever needing to know that person.

  • Mobile devices are creating explosive growth in an entirely new category of data – location streams.
  • The first generation of location services have been about using these streams as a contextual informant. The next generation will see the streams themselves becoming consumable content.
  • Location isn’t just about place. It can be about history, people, movement and the relationships between objects.

The full results and video from this session will be published in the 2009 MEX Report – send an email to Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk) if you’d like to register your interest and we’ll contact as soon as the report is available to buy. (Please note, all MEX conference attendees will receive a copy as part of their attendance fee).


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