We just finished a panel on mobile user experience with some excellent ideas about specific opportunities for startups to build mobile software. Here’s the rough transcript:
Dylan Tweney, Gadget Lab, Wired.com (moderator): Invoking the iPhone. The iPhone interface is beautiful. There it is…(Introduces panelists):
Jason Devitt, CEO, Skydeck
Jyri Engestrom, Entrepreneur, Google
Rachel Hinman, Mobile Design Strategist, Adaptive Path
Jeff Taylor, director of global marketing and product strategy, Hutchison Whampoa
Hinman: At its essence really what makes user experience is if your product is serving some sort of fundamental human need. Feature creep and loss of coherence come out of losing sight of serving needs.
Tweney: But some of good user experience is need creation, like Twitter and Jaiku and iPod.
Hinman: Confusing need with solution — Twitter came out of fascination with status.
Engestrom: We (at Jaiku) were more thinking about conversation. These services make commenting a lot more rapid.
Tweney: Can you create good user experience by changing the interface?
Devitt: There are lots of levers you can play with, but at the end of the day it’s holistic. Problem is when we can’t determine what the user’s experience is going to be getting to our application. Some of the most important pieces are beyond our control.
Tweney: Control means carriers. So for the carrier on the panel, why is the user experience so bad on so many handsets?
Taylor: We’re a very different carrier than most; we’ve had 3G for years. I’m not here to be an apologist, but the carrier is where the rubber hits the road. I think an awful lot centers around usability.
Hinman: People have Apple logos tattooed on them. You wouldn’t see someone with an AT&T logo. The Bell system still part of the carrier market.
Taylor: Unfortunately it encourages a short-term view where it’s very hard to get good outcomes.
Devitt: It’s not the carriers’ fault that nothing is as compelling as the iPhone. Ultimately it’s the OEMs. There are terrific people at Nokia, Samsung, etc, who will come up with stuff on the same level as Apple. But ultimately it’s an opportunity for other people who have software in their DNA.
Hinman: Think about the iPhone and the N95 not as a starting point but as an ending point. Thinking of a phone as a one-to-one communication device is brain-damaged — think of it as something to create, consume, and disseminate information.
Engestrom: I tend to think about things from the perspective of the social object — on Flickr, the photo, the service, is built around that. And I think the really cool part of the mobile space right now is new kinds of sensors, location, cameras that can read barcodes, accelerometers. Nokia’s introduction of cameraphones helped Flickr; now we need to think about services we can build in the cloud that take this new data and build social networks around them.
Taylor: You have to develop for mobile as an art form in itself. The other opportunity we see is to take the web and your community and map that into a three-dimensional context. Also, rather than building new consumer behaviors, let’s build into places they already go, like address books.
Engestrom: Look at metrics. When you have growth, you probably have a good user experience.
Hinman: Really exciting time to develop for mobile. You have the power to define what mobile experiences are. Startups can be more light on your feet and move quickly, and since a lot of these experiences are really broken, there’s a lot of opportunity.
Tweney: I second that, from a journalistic perspective it’s really interesting to cover mobile…do you have examples of great mobile experiences?
Devitt: Brand new company: Peek. Mobile email device that does nothing but email. Flip video camera, Kindle — devices that do one thing really well.
Taylor: I think the guys at Loopt have done an amazing job. They haven’t just jumped on this bandwagon now; they’ve been providing location services to very basic handsets for years. Very much grounded in the real world of normal people’s behavior.
Hinman: Oldie but goodie: Twitter. It does fulfill that need. When you get a Twitter from a friend it’s like a little gift. It’s taking those 140 characters and prisming them through a variety of devices. It’s not just about mobile. Also: virtual money. Hello Money, Empeza in Kenya — alternative money systems that allow people to have this service of utilizing the mobile phone in an entirely new way.
Engestrom: I come from Finland, a very different mobile environment. The biggest impact on me are the ones that are woven into my life — FinAir SMSs me if plane is late, I’ve done my checking by SMS for years, pay for parking by SMS, tram ticket by SMS. Maybe just picking up things from around the world and bringing them to a new market.