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User Interface Optional

Posted by gvix on August 1, 2005 at 10:48 PM PDT

It is common knowledge that mobile device applications require a special effort to define an interface for them. Minimal is not only in, but a required aspect of all such applications. But to me, the applications that are most likely to succeed are the ones that don't require any interface at all.

Ok, I lie. All applications will require an interface. An interface to start them and an interface to set basic settings, whatever they may be. But after that, the application should require no user input at all. Can you see where I am going? Applications that require the user to type things for each activity or scroll through horrendously long lists or have multiple pages for completing an interaction are going to fail.

Games are an exception, of course. Games require interactivity. But I am not too fond of business or productivity applications that require multiple user input. Even browsing on the mobile is a tedious activity. I have several 3G phones and the best one is a monolith that works best when I use the associated pointing device. The other phones require complex interactivity with the navigation button and your best teenager enthused SMS capabilities just to input a URL in the inbuilt browser. Would I use them to bid on ebay? Would I use them to register for a service which requires my details? No. I'd rather carry my 3.5 KG laptop with me than kill my fingers.

Mobile TV is a great idea. It has all the ingredients of what I say can be a successful application. Once started, it requires no user input (unless you classify watching the monitor as an input). But how long can I stare at the tiny screen without getting bleary eyed?

So, what is the solution? Here are some ideas...

-- The obvious. Creative applications that require minimum input. If you can't do that then see next point.

-- Design so that the user needs to spend the minimum amount of time interfacing with your application on the mobile. Have a web component that the user can interface with when required. The user can update the web profile/settings etc. and your application updates itself based on these settings.

-- Explore alternate user interfaces. Voice commands and Camera input are more important technologies for mobiles than traditional computers.


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