Are mobile manufacturers ignoring UX?

The title of this blog entry asks a pretty bold question and before I get backlash from any mobile manufacturers let me explain.

I completely believe that smartphones and tablets ushered in a new age of User Experience (UX). When iPhones first hit the market, we suddenly had a tool that made all previous phones obsolete in terms of functionalities and possibilities and yet seemed very easy to use despite all the extras.

A few years later and we now have the market flooded with smart devices, various sized phones and tablets for every need. Most of us have thrown out our MP3 players, Palm Pilots and other electronic devices for one gadget that can do “anything” we need it too. The most common answers I get for any problem or situation from friends and family are:

  1. “There’s an app for that…”
  2. “I’m sure there’s an app for that…”
  3. “They should build an app for that…”
  4. “Wait until they come out with an app for that…”

So apps solve every problem? Well most, and even some we didn’t think of and no doubt that UX in app design is reaching new levels and surprising us everyday. Even mobile devices seem to be considering users needs more and more as they iterate the products constantly.

So what do mean by asking if mobile manufacturers have forgotten UX?

Well, the very definition of its name means the experience of the user, so good UX should cater to the best experience for the user, right?

And yet, since the first smart device hit the market there are 2 points of UX that have been ignored, or at least given less importance:

1. Battery life:

Probably the largest complaint made by anyone buying a smart device is that the battery life is too short and that they have to charge their phone various times a day (if used on a regular basis) and at least once a day for people who talk less.

I’ve even had a few first time owners telling me that they have to take their phone back to the store because they thought it was broken, whereupon I have to explain to them that it’s normal… smart devices just aren’t made to last the day. Sure, they can fly you to Mars while percolating the perfect cup of coffee, but only if you have a full battery and can get it done in less than 30 min (I exaggerate of course).

Seriously though, it’s a very serious situation if I have to spend a day at a conference tweeting away or checking my emails and at lunch time I have to run to the nearest plug only to find that they’re all occupied…

A good indication that it’s a problem is when you have conferences stating that one of their major features is an ample supply of plugs for you to recharge your batteries.

We seem to have gone back to the stone age of mobile devices in that sense.

Talking about “stones” brings me to my second UX problem with mobile devices:

2. Durability

We all remember those Nokia phones that you could throw out the window, run your car over or drop in the toilet (Come on… it happened to a lot of people) and it would keep running.

If it had fallen in water, opening it up and drying it with the hairdryer was enough to get it working again even if with a few little glitches, but it kept working.

Does it sound like I’m describing your latest smart device? Of course not, because your latest smart device can’t even survive an ant running across it.

If your 2-year-old gets a hold of it… say goodbye. If per chance all you get is a cracked screen and the phone still works, you’re still up a creek with no paddle because getting it repaired is no easy task and not exactly cheap, so you learn to live with it cracked… the amount of people I’ve seen with cracked screens…

Not to worry though, because nowadays the life-cycle of a smart device is roughly 2 years and manufacturers are already counting on that and avoid wasting time building anything that might last longer than that.

UX advice from Mercedes

In a recent article on UXMag about a conversion with 3 of the people responsible for Mercedes Benz’s UX we got a glimpse of how UX is important to the brand in manufacturing their cars. The bit in the article that spoke to me in particular was when Paolo Malabuyo  (Vice President of Advanced UX Design) makes the following statement:

Can you imagine having to pull over and restart a Mercedes after a fifteen minute drive ‘cause, well, a few things just went wrong? Completely unacceptable.

Makes sense of course for anyone who’s ever ridden in or driven a Mercedes, so why have we accepted anything less in our smart devices? We pay more and more for our smart devices and they have more power and prettier graphics, but the battery and durability issues do not seem to be a priority.

With this direction of thought smart device manufacturers are catering to a particular niche. Anyone looking for a phone to be used on a construction site or working on a farm is immediately cut out unless they’re just overseeing things.

Elder people might not consider the option because they won’t be bothered to charge the device so often and kids/teenagers will constantly keep breaking the devices forcing parents to either repeatedly dish out the cash for new devices or consider just keeping their kids away from the devices altogether.


I believe that smart device manufacturers are getting it right on so many levels but I would ask them to consider how many more people would adopt their technology if they had a devices that could last at least 5-7 days and could be dropped on the floor without breaking (Typing with 1 hand can cause a lot of these accidents 😉 ).

The manufacturer that solves this problem or at least tries to have the chance of becoming the Mercedes of smart devices and would take the UX to a whole new level that no smart device is doing right just yet.




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