How Do You Define Usability?
By Mike Masnick, Fri Apr 15 01:45:00 GMT 2005

A new report on mobile phone operating system usability has come out, but the conclusions only bring up more questions about how the company is defining usability.


The study was done by a company that claims to be focused on mobile usability, but the results of the study don't seem to really make sense based on what was studied.

First, they determined the usability of the interface based on how well new users could find, purchase, download and install a wallpaper or a ringtone on the phone. Considering that those things tend not to be the core reason why people use their mobile phones, it's hard to see how that defines the usability of the operating system. It's like determining the driveability of a car based on how complex it is to work the car stereo. It's certainly something that's useful to study, but to then claim it defines the overall usability is a stretch.

The second problem, which is a much bigger one, is that the study seems to confuse a number of different elements, mixing up the operating system, the handset and the operator. The study notes that it bought phones from the five national US mobile operators, all of whom have a very big say in the interface used on their phones (though, the interface isn't necessarily the same on all of the phones). However, the findings blame the operating system, rather than the design and setup the operator put in place. In other words, it would be like blaming Microsoft because AOL designed a website poorly, and the usability testers happened to be testing it on a Dell running Windows.

Studying and improving usability is very important -- but coming to conclusions not supported by the facts doesn't help anyone. There definitely are ways that usability on mobile phones can be improved, but it's unlikely you'll learn many of them from this particular study.