What is the state of user experience on the eve of the 2008 MEX conference?

Marek Pawlowski, PMNThis article by Marek Pawlowski, founder of MEX and Editorial Director at PMN, provides an overview of mobile user experience issues ahead of the MEX conference in London this week (27th – 28th May).

As we prepare to welcome the industry to London for our 4th annual MEX conference this week, I’ve been taking some time to think about what progress has been made and where the mobile business must continue to improve.

Our first MEX conference was held in September 2005 and, if I cast my mind back to my own mobile user experience, I remember I was using a Sony Ericsson P910. At the time, it was state-of-the-art: a touchscreen smartphone costing several hundred pounds.

Today I can walk into my nearest branch of Woolworths and buy a smaller, lighter and better specified handset from a niche manufacturer like Fly Mobile for GBP 50 on pre-pay.

The pace of innovation and the speed with which new technology filters down to low cost devices continues to amaze me.

It is just over three and half years since I organised our first MEX conference with a P910 and I am now relying on a Nokia N95. Every single feature has been increased by many orders of magnitude: the VGA camera has been replaced by a 5 megapixel camera, GPRS has been superseded by HSDPA, memory size and processor speeds have increased dramatically. It even has integrated GPS.

However, it drops calls more often, the battery lasts half the time I got from my P910 and a couple of weeks ago, the GPS navigation software tried to send me the wrong direction down a one-way street.

Rapid technological progress and user satisfaction rarely walk hand-in-hand.

Let’s not forget that people like us, with our N95s, iPhones and HTCs, are still an unusual minority and one with a particularly high tolerance for technical glitches.

The more the industry promises through billboards and TV adverts, the more we must concentrate on delivering an experience which meets expectations. We must also never lose sight of the basics which remain so important to so many people: if we allow new features to compromise the basic usability of voice calling and text messaging, we risk shaking the very foundations which underpin our industry.

That said, the desire for new services and consumers’ willingness to experiment with them has never been higher, but humans are by nature fickle, demanding and easily disappointed. We must ensure next generation mobile experiences work first time, every time. Too often industry players waste their time apportioning blame for broken experiences on each other, when the priority should be putting it right for the customer.

When I look at how the mobile business has evolved since we founded MEX, one of the most heartening trends is evidence the industry is finally waking up to the diverse scope of user experience.

It has been the central mission of MEX to hammer home the notion that a price plan can have just as much effect on user experience as the design of the home screen; an under-specified processor can have as much impact on the mobile web experience as the choice of browser software; and providing good advice at the point of sale can improve customer satisfaction as much as the latest handset design.

User experience is not just about designing a shiny new graphical interface. It is an approach, a way of putting customer-centred thinking at the heart of the mobile business and understanding the reality of how customers behave as individuals. Fundamentally, it is about being able to see the world through the customer’s eyes.

We can tell from the huge increase in the number and diversity of executives attending MEX each year that this message is starting to hit home. 2008 will be our largest ever conference, with attendees from 21 countries and all parts of the mobile value chain. Companies are starting to recognise user experience as a strategic priority for everyone in the organisation, from the CEO to professionals in the UI team.

By bringing together all of the people required to actually make change happen, MEX provides us with a unique opportunity. We have 2 days to work together collaboratively and define a response to our 10 point MEX Manifesto, a response which will set the mobile user experience agenda for the next 12 months.

We’ll have a team of analysts on-hand at the event to keep track of all the new ideas and insights. A couple of weeks after the conference, everyone who took part will receive a copy of the 2008 MEX Report, a detailed document summarising everything which was discussed.

If you’ve missed out on attending this year’s conference, the MEX Report is a great way to catch-up on the cutting edge of user experience thinking. It will be available for purchase to those who didn’t attend – please send me an email at marekpawlowski@pmn.co.uk if you’d like to pre-register for your copy and I’ll be in touch as soon as its ready.

Also, we are launching a new initiative – MEX Briefings – where we bring MEX insights direct to your offices. From the end of June, we’ll be touring the world with a programme of in-house seminars for companies that need to get up-to-date with the key trends in mobile user experience. These tailored sessions enable you to bring MEX into the heart of your organisation and come with a corporate license for the 2008 MEX Report. If you’d like to book one of these sessions for your company, please drop me an email at marekpawlowski@pmn.co.uk.

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