Hampus Jakobsson is vice president of Business Development and co-founder for The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) in Sweden. TAT is one of those mobile software companies that makes everything on handsets just a tad easier to use and a lot more hip. Boasting clients that range from Sony Ericsson to Samsung, TAT is ahead of the game when it comes to enhancing the user experience. Hampus took time out to talk via e-mail about what exactly it is that make a user interface (UI) successful, and what’s next for mobile devices.
Wireless Week: What are some of the more important considerations when developing a UI?
Hampus Jakobsson: The planned and wanted use of the device and an understanding of the target group. If you keep this in mind, the industrial design, UI and functions follow easily.
Example: phone for commuting students = important factors: style, price, the ability to entertain oneself for 20-80 minutes while holding the device with possibly two hands comfortably = touch screen greater than 3.5 inches. No need to simplify things as the user ability and time is probably good, but important are things like the possibility to add and personalize with content. Now we can start crafting the interaction design and graphical style. To know country and culture is of course needed, but that is often part of the target group definition.
WW To what extent do you think cloud-based services and applications will have an effect on the way you approach handset design?
HJ: Cloud computing means the application, execution and possibly even the user interface description is stored and done on a server, and not on the mobile device. This gives a lot of benefits. For example, applications and UIs can be developed and released throughout the mobile handset’s life and if you change devices, you can keep the data. But it also gives the drawback that there is latency in the net, which gives each new request of info or data a small delay.
So the UI has to hide or make the small delay invisible when requesting new info. Try the Apple iDisk Help for the iPhone. There’s a Web page hidden as an app, but with small disturbing delays for each page change. The iPhone hides the internal latency of the OS when applications start the first time by loading a picture of the application. Try restarting your iPhone and start the Notes app and watch the first second.
But we can also benefit from being able to update and change the UI. We can fix bugs found after launch without any hassle for the user. But more interestingly maybe, we can have functions “hidden” that appear when either unlocked by paying, without having to change or test any code as it might already be on the device, or when the user is considered to have reached the skill set. In this way, when you start using the device, it can be dead simple to learn, but over time as you start to know it, more functions are added so that you could use the device as an expert.
WW Do you see 4G networks as facilitating more advanced handset functionality?
HJ: With higher bandwidth, video will become usable – watching in real-time, streaming video or TV, generating content such as through citizen journalism, but most of all interaction through video conferencing or buying things by seeing them in a video and clicking on them.
WW Do you think the iPhone fundamentally altered the dynamics of the carrier/OEM relationship?
HJ: Yes and no. I think it opened up the understanding for everyone that great devices get better bargain power towards the carriers for the OEM, but this was nothing new for the OEMs themselves. I think that the App Store showed the carriers that they can’t sit back and expect their vendors to do and bear all the cost of innovation, because either there will be little, from GSM-era ’til the iPhone, or it will not be usable across their portfolio and they will not get the better deal. That’s what happened with the iPhone.
WW Do you foresee a successful use case and business model for MIDs, netbooks, tablets and smartbooks?
HJ: I think they will succeed! But not as small laptops or bigger, smarter mobiles. Just as e-books are suddenly moving from ice-cold to hype, which is because a company like Amazon came up with a compelling product, which is a result of the device and the service. I think we will see new needs found and new verticals discovered. Too bad there are few OEMs that seem to understand that you should start with the question, “What valuable problem can we solve today?” instead of, “What can we do with this technology today?” That is why we see service companies, who understand the users’ needs, doing a lot of innovation now that the technology is mature.