Category Archives: Tablets

Anti-social people in glass houses…

The young generation today is constantly accused of being anti-social. Indeed, I have previously written about the evolution of communication in defence of those who sit in public with their friends whilst being glued to their mobile phones. But what I think is interesting is there is a hypocrisy at play here, especially when older generations are the ones accusing the younger generations of being anti-social or acting in some way in an inappropriate manner. More so, I put it to you that this “anti-social behaviour” is far from new to this generation and has, in fact, being going on for generations.

Take this scene, which I experienced in the local tax-avoiding coffee shop franchise the other day:

A family of 3 generations, all reading and not talking to each other

The above was a shining light moment on 3 generations and their natural habits. All three have gone out together to a social place, all three have subsequently engaged in their own media and are not engaging with each other. In the case of the grand-mother, she is reading the paper. The daughter is on her mobile and the grand-son is on a tablet device playing a game.

This little scene perfectly demonstrates my point. Three generations, three different media to distract themselves with and all three doing just that, rather than choosing to chat with each other. And this is the key point, we have been doing this for generations and it is merely the media we use to distract ourselves that marks us apart.

For my generation, we were accused of being anti-social because we had walkmans in the late eighties. We would sit with our giant microphone style headphones strapped to our heads, the music clearly audible to those around us. In the mid-nineties of course this had become phone calls and 100 character texts (and for a brief while, rather amusingly, paging). The beginning of the mobile phone era had begun. And in the mid-naughties (2000s) the iPhone changed everything again, enabling us to actually use the internet and social media reliably through a mobile device. The ‘look-down’ generation had arrived, perched on the edge of their seats, leaning over the small screen and typing messages to all of their friends rather than actually speaking to them as they had done before. Now the latest generation of children are glued to their tablet devices as well, playing all manner of app based games or absorbing the latest from the social-sphere.

But whilst our generations have suffered the accusations of the older generations, largely because our distractions were electronic, they were no different in their day and their own parents would no doubt have considered them anti-social little heathens, incapable of any sort of social engagement that didn’t involve pirate radio stations. The quintessentially British concept that you should not, under any circumstances, talk to other people in public unless you knew them has been bred over the generations. As the grand-mother in our picture shows us, she is just as happy to engage in reading the paper as the other two are in using their devices.

Of course, some people would try and say that reading the paper is a much more social thing to do, which is of course nonsense. The simple fact is that in this case we distract ourselves instead of talking to each other. The irony is that those on devices are probably talking to other people over ‘the network’ whereas in the past they were simply reading about the outside world and not actually engaging in anyone. And this irony is well documented. There are plenty of old films that show couples sitting together reading their individual papers or books and not talking to each other.

The reality is that each generation accuses the one after it of being anti-social. This happens because the latest generation use the latest media and the generation before them uses this as the excuse for criticism. The lesson to be learned is, if you’re going to be the one to assess someone else as being anti-social, make sure that you don’t do it yourself first…it is highly likely that you do in your own way!

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You are the Apple of my eye

Forgive this post as being a bit of a product review. For a while I had been thinking of writing a blog article comparing the Samsung Galaxy Tablet and the Apple iPad (the new / 3rd one), looking at practicalities. For years I have resisted being a Apple fan boy, under much pressure from good friends of mine who are some what blinkered to anything non-Apple. But in recent years I have found myself (and my family) becoming more and more Apple focused and I so I thought it would be more interesting to look at why this has been the case.

UX (User eXperience)

Like it or not, Apple are exceptionally good at creating very usable experiences, which are consistent across almost ever facet of their interfaces. One of the ways this is most noticeable is in the way apps are created for the app store. As Apple have a set of guidelines (both technical and design) that have to be met before an app is approved this means that all the apps in the store are, by and large, easy to use. There are no doubt exceptions that crept through the net, but apps in general feel well crafted and designed. In contrast, the Google Play store doesn’t seem to have the same level of checking and as a result my experience has been that apps on the android simply don’t have that extra level of class and usability.

The way the Apple screen is set out is also incredibly easy to understand. My 4 year old daughter was using it, unaided, to find and play her apps when she was 3 with no problems at all and the consistent nature of icons only on the main screens helps with this. One thing I do like about the Galaxy tablet is the ability to have widgets on the homepage as well as icons, but in a lot of cases they seem not to refresh without manual prompting, which is frustrating.

Above all of this, one of the things I like the most about the Mac system is that it is so customisable. I can set up my tracking pad on my laptop to do thing that I want to do so that I can zip around the programs with ease. Apple seem to have taken the view of ‘let’s put the user in charge’ where as Microsoft seem to have said ‘let’s show the user how it is done’.

Responsive

The Galaxy Tablet lacks the crisp responsiveness that the 3rd gen iPad provides. Both the iPad and iPhone are incredibly quick to respond to touch whereas the Galaxy often lags. Whilst the Galaxy S3 mobile is much better it lacks the edge that Apple have long established in their models.

Cloud

Once you have more than one Apple device then the main selling point is the iCloud. There are, of course, similar services now out their for non-Apple users that do a similar job, but because Apple devices can easily be linked to each other it makes the running of our lives so much easier. We now forego an up to date wall calendar as my wife uses the iPad and her iPhone to keep up with iCal and I use my iPhone and Mac Book to maintain my half of it. We know what is going on all the time so it is easy to make decisions. Sharing becomes much easier as well and photos / videos (the main stay of our record as our children grow up) are backed up automatically. Facetime means that if one of us is away then we can see the other for free and talk to our children, who are too young to really get how to use a phone. Of course there are plenty of non-Apple apps out there that do the same thing, but once you are on the Apple network everything is at your finger tips, so it is just easy.

Cost

One big problem with Apple is the cost. Whilst you could legitimately argue that you get what you pay for, and Apple products are superb, the cost is often disproportionate to the alternatives that other brands can offer. The story of the Magic Mouse is a good example, in that I simply cannot justify spending that much for a mouse when the only major selling point over other brands is that “it is cool”.

Brand

The fact that Apple products are cool is a key selling point. Apple’s biggest asset is that people aspire to own their products. There is a techy class system emerging and Apple is the equivalent of the upper class in many ways. I know a lot of people who own the iPhone simply because it is an iPhone, rather than because it will serve their personal needs better. From my point of view, it was the iCloud which made my decision when actually I think the Galaxy in many ways is a better phone. But the wider Apple package means that for me there was only one choice. And if I am honest, I also think that Apple products are really cool!

Summary

Albeit a very brief overview, one thing I have tried to establish is how easy to it is to get sucked into the Apple whirlpool, probably never to escape. Brand aside, what Apple have done is create a whole suite of integrated products that allow ease of use and convenience in running almost every facet of your technical life. I started out with every intention of staying quite agnostic to brand, but I have increasingly found myself falling in love with the world Apple have created, even if I am not in love with their prices. The biggest change for my family is that now, through Apple devices, we have started to create our family network. And this is quite key, because the world in the future will be like this. We, as family units, will have a network of devices that we need to talk to each other, share information and keep us in contact with one another. So far Apple is the only brand that provides this easily and under one seamless banner, but others will no doubt come. For me, the most significant thing is the consistency of their experience across their devices and software. You don’t need a user manual because you already know how to use them and they are often so  intuitive that a child can do it without instructions. We are an Apple household at the moment because it is easy to be one…although I still have my Samsung Galaxy Tablet to keep me grounded!

2013 – the year of the mobile

Recently E-Consultancy recently wrote about the ‘most exciting digital opportunity for marketers in the coming year’ being mobile optimisation. They are right, there is little doubt about that, and their stats are very compelling. They rightly mention that a wider mobile experience is necessary, considering the whole mobile strategy rather than simply creating a mobile site or making sure content works. But something I feel they don’t highlight enough is the need for a robust strategy that aims to understand the whole perspective, as every business is different and so are their customers.

Having run mobile strategies for large global brands, the importance of understanding the context, appetite and behaviour of their customers on mobile is paramount in approaching mobile optimisation of their digital assets. It isn’t just about making everything work well on mobile, although that is a big part of it, it is about understanding how your customers want to do things on mobile devices, because it is not the same for all customers across all businesses.

The first thing to understand about “mobile” is that it has more than one meaning. In the case of this article I am referring to mobile devices (i.e. the handsets) and also people being mobile (i.e. moving around). Understanding both of these in the context of your mobile strategy is extremely important because thinking about a user journey for your customer whilst they are in the queue at the station, whilst looking at their android phone, is going to be different to to your customer sat at home in the evening on their laptop or desktop computer.

Mindset and context are all important as it changes our expectations of a site and the behaviour we exhibit as users of devices is different because of this:

  • Mobile devices are what we call ‘sit forward’, in that you tend to be sat forward looking at them for a short period of time, whilst on the move. Your ideal user journey is therefore short, involves browsing by flicking quickly through things at pace and is often shallow. As a user you make a decision about whether the content is what you want very quickly and you expect the page to be visual rather than text based. The most important thing is that as a user they are often on the move so are time poor and want content quickly.
  • Tablet devices are what we call ‘sit back’, as usually we have a little more time to think about what we are doing and are also slightly more relaxed. Users therefore expect more on the page as they are more willing to spend a little time engaging with the content, but on touch screen devices it is important to make sure the experience is engaging, visual and information and intuitive otherwise it simply won’t fit the medium. Often these are ‘browsing’ journeys as people tend to ‘free wheel’ around content as their whim takes them.
  • Desktop (or laptop) computers are more ‘premeditated’ and often involve some amount of thought before engaging. For example, it might be a research task being undertaken and therefore a user is more targetted and focussed on what they are looking for. These journeys tend to require more information, more text (although still not too much) and longer periods of time on pages. Often multiple tabs would be open on the browser and users will keep pages open and flick between them. This is the detailed information journey that takes more time and really needs to make sense in terms of linking between content.

Although there is no 100% rule on how people use one device over another, the above is a good way of thinking about it as a start point and needs to be considered as part of planning a mobile strategy. It is important to understand what the key ‘must have’ points are and make sure they are facilitated in the mobile journey. But understanding that there is a different mindset to how we consume content depending on the device will ultimately lead to planning the content to be suitable for each channel.

Creating and understanding your personas is another key consideration. There are no hard and fast rules about how an audience behaves so one business cannot assume that their mobile website can work in the same way as another’s. In strategies I have managed we have spent a considerable amount of time understanding exactly how and when an expat would use his or her mobile and therefore what they would want to know at that time, versus when and where they would use a desktop or tablet. This was key in understanding the rapidity at which they not only want but need to access content and therefore how we make it available to them.

Another consideration that comes out of this understanding is the technical approach to take with optimising for mobile. Do you go for a mobile website, a responsive site or an app?

  • Mobile websites are separate sites, often with m.website.com as their URL. They exist as separate sites to the desktop site and they recognise that a fundamentally different experience is needed for mobile devices than for desktop sites. If your content needs to be detailed, in depth and very different on a desktop site to a mobile site then it is worth considering this approach, but remember that it requires additional maintenance, a whole different build and a different set of content.
  • Responsive websites are the new buzz word in digital, even though they have been around for a while. This is when you have a single website that dynamically changes itself to suit the resolution of the device being used to view it. A key consideration is ‘responsive experience’ rather than responsive design as it is both technically possible and often required (from a UX POV) to radically change the user experience depending on the device being used. The key thing about this approach is that it is one website for all and therefore the planning of this is quite key. Often starting from mobile first and building up is a good way to make sure that the mobile site has everything that is needed before working out how to pad out the desktop, rather than being left trying to work out how you would fit all the content from a desktop site onto a mobile screen.
  • Apps are the other main option. Everyone wants an app but there are key questions that you should ask yourself before building one; does the process I am building live by itself? do my users need to be able to do it offline? does it require features from a mobile device? does the app provide a solution for a genuine need? There are other questions as well, but if the answer to all of the above is ‘no’ then you shouldn’t have an app. Apps are designed to be ‘pockets’ of functionality, serving a specific need and allowing users to do this without needing regular connections to the internet or other resources.

Often a mobile strategy will include one or more of the above and I have excluded web apps from the list as they are arguably mobile websites. Understanding where your business sits and where it aims to sit in the future on the spectrum of the above is quite important. If your user-base is unlikely to use an app then focussing your effort on that area is really not the best course of action. However, if your research shows your future market will be interested and actively using apps then having it on the long-term plan is important.

Which leads me to my last major point; create a road-map. It is another one of the corporate buzz words but the concept is important. I like to think of a road-map as like looking down a lens. The stuff in the foreground (i.e. the next few months to a year) should be crisply in focus. You should know what you are doing in the next year and you should be planning in detail and working towards delivering it. The further away you look the less in focus it is, meaning that the further along your timeline you look the less defined your work is. This recognises that the further down the line you look the more uncertainty there is about what might change in the wider world. Setting an exact plan for the next five years would be silly as you are unable to respond to unforeseen changes, but also not having a general direction to work in would be equally silly because you can’t work towards anything and you can’t build the foundations for the bigger picture now.

And this brings us full circle, because without doing the robust planning and research for your strategy up front you can’t start to formulate short and long term goals, because you don’t know what your targets are. But with good planning and research you can predict, with reasonable certainty, what your future userbase is, how they will behave and in what way they will engage with your business across devices. Using this information you can plan your immediate actions and make sure they are working towards the long term picture, whilst making sure that the long term plan is clear but flexible in case things drastically change.

Does the mini iPad spell the end for the dedicated mobile site?

Like many, I remain a bit confused as to exactly what the target audience for the half size tablet is? Rather skeptically I have come to the conclusion that companies like Apple simply don’t feel they have enough products to flog, so with the impending festive period approaching the mini iPad is a way to make sure the Christmas party budget is suitably large again. But one thing that does occur is that Apple dipping their toe into the mid-sized device market probably spells the beginning of an influx of devices of this size.

As digital practitioners should we be particularly bothered by this? Well my view would be that there is one significant implication of this new sized tablet and that is that realistically it spells the end of the mobile website. What do I mean? Well realistically most normal ‘desktop’ websites can also be used quite easily by a tablet like the iPad and so many companies made the decision to have a specific mobile site to cater for the small mobile screen sizes. And this was a valid approach. The problem is that neither of the above two sites will be suitable for the mid sized tablet. The old problems of having to zoom in and out or scroll will occur on a ‘desktop’ site and a mobile site simply won’t be designed to fit the screen well.

For me, this is the moment that responsive websites are going to emerge as a clear favourite in place of a separate mobile site. Unless, of course, you happen to have a huge amount of money and resource available to create a mobile, midi and full sized site, this is surely going to be the only way to produce a site that will work for everyone, fit the screen well and not invoke a huge amount of maintenance. The shame about this is that mobile websites are specifically designed to be mobile experiences, complete with mobile related design and experience considerations. Responsive sites, although extremely cool and often a good experience, cannot cater specifically and separately for the mobile, midi or desktop experience and this means that potentially users are going to lose out in some way.

It will be interesting to see how the digital world responds to this size format in the next couple of years and if responsive sites will evolve into even more clever implementations. The challenge has certainly been laid down, so it is time for us UX practitioners to respond.

Tablet Devices #1 – what did the Roman’s ever do for us?

I have just bought myself an iPad 3, which is my first foray into actually owning a tablet device. Although I have used them at friends and at work since the first incarnation of Apple’s trend setting device emerged, until now I haven’t actually taken that leap. But when I was out having dinner with my wife the other day I also overheard a conversation where one woman said that she was thinking of replacing her ageing computer with an iPad. And this got me to wondering; why do we have such a fascination is with tablet devices?

The concept of a tablet isn’t exactly a new one. The Roman’s taught their children to read and write with wax tablets and used them to document and share ideas. It certainly saved carrying round reams of paper and was convenient to carry with you. Is this the reason why we like tablet devices, convenience? I think it is definitely a key part, but perhaps it is the evolution of the browsing experience which can also explain why we love them so much?

Back in the dark days of home computing, where a hulking great machine sat in a dim dark corner of the room, grunting away and squealing like a pig every time you went online, browsing was a very individual experience and largely confined to the realms of research. The internet was a reference point but not much more (unless you wanted to download an essay to submit as your own!). With the proliferation of home wi-fi networks though, we were suddenly able to sit in our comfy armchairs or lie on the bed with our heads buried in our shiny laptops instead, with no need to talk to anyone else at all. The evolution of the web from a research tool to an entertainment provider also meant we started to spend more time online, with social networks drawing more of us online with each passing day. But laptops simply aren’t the most ideal design for easy browsing (or for fitting on our laps whilst crushed into overly small train seats).

Smart phones were the next logical step, with people wanting to access their web experience whilst on the move, without having to haul around a laptop, but even today a lot of sites are simply not suitable for a good browsing experience. So along came tablet devices, with the ability to have a convenient and portable experience but on a full resolution screen. But more than that, suddenly we had a device designed to be ergonomically pleasing to use.

Tablets provide a portable experience, that feels natural, is convenient in size and easy to use. What I think is most amazing is that tablets, more than any other device, have started to bridge the age gap in using technology. The ease of use makes it simple for my 3 year old to sit and play on apps, or for my grandmother to read a news article. It is convenient to use in the car on journeys so our children can watch films in high definition or for me to take notes in a meeting. In short, it really is a master of all trades rather than a jack of one (to mix an analogy).

But what does all this mean for the digital world and how we develop websites? My next blog post will talk about how tablet devices have changed both the way in which we consume the internet and what we expect from it.