Monday, 13 January 2014

The user experience capital of the world is...Bangalore

You would have expected that Silicon Valley, with it's beating technological heart that drives innovation and development across the world, would be the centrepiece of the modern day user experience movement. But not so.

No in fact a quick glance at Google Trends reveals that this honour actually falls to Bangalore, capital of Karantaka state and India's fifth most populous urban region.

Hailed as India's own Silicon Valley Bangalore is itself at the centre of the technology world to the East and, like it's counterpart in California, is home to countless tech start-ups and several IT and communications giants that the Western world outsources to.

A closer look at the figures from Google is even more revealing. It shows that three of the top seven hotspots for user experience searches are in India, the same number as the American west coast, where San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle unsurprisngly feature. On the flip side it also reveals that despite many practices and terms finding their way across the Atlantic to Europe, only London registers any hotspot reading.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

iPhone (iOS) vs Android

Choosing between an iPhone or an Android device remains a big question for conscientious consumers. Recent figures from September 2013 show that Android holds a 55% market share in the UK with the iPhone (iOS) holding 31%.

The mobile is increasingly an extension of the owner, more so than it was last year. Or the year before that, or the year before that, and it will be greater still next year. And as mobile contracts, in the UK at least, tie you down to a minimum of two years your decision needs to be right. 

So what are the pros and cons of each? There's a big online debate out there and being responsible for a user experience team it's a conversation me and my team regularly have. Although on balance my team and others I speak sit firmly in the iPhone camp, over the last two years I have flirted between the iPhone, Android and recently back to the iPhone 5s. Here's why...

The iPhone and the software looks nicer

Like others I witnessed the rise of Android through the Samsung S2 and took the opportunity to try it out with the Samsung S3. At this point I'd had the iPhone, the 3G and the 4. I loved the simplicity of the iPhone (or more specifically the iOS software it runs on) and marvelled at the launch of the app store. It changed the mobile landscape forever. But I got bored of the limitations and Apple's insistence of tying everything you do to their environment. I wanted an escape and I was tempted by the stories of unlimited freedom afforded by Apple's new enemy.

Android, through the S3, delivered. On the first start up it was apparent how much more I could do. 

The first thing is the widgets. Rather than having to load an app each time you want content Andoid offers widgets that pull content from popular apps such as Facebook and Twitter and displays it on your 'home screen'. Likewise you can get weather reports, stock information and set your alarm clock all without needing to go into an app. 

However as these widgets come in varying sizes what you end up doing is creating too many pages on your home screen. So by saving time not loading apps you then take more time flicking between pages finding the content without going into the app. It also spoils the uniformity of design that iOS delivers, although I appreciate this may not be to everyone's tastes. But a uniform design is good practice because it breeds familiarity and this quickly allows you to scan for apps without thinking. The iPhone is much better at this.

In addition the default background to screens when moving around the Android software is black and the colour palette minimal. Altogether this combination does make for a less than pleasant experience when used on as regular a basis as it does on a phone.

My final point is that I found the S3 laggy, it was clunky and far less fluid than iOS, even when the version I was running was upgraded to Jellybean. The iPhone through iOS7 suffers from no such problem and is a pleasure to use. So much so that I find myself using the iPhone more for everyday purposes than I ever did with the S3.

Android offers a lot of flexibility...and a lot of settings to go with it

As I said the flexibility on Android is attractive. You can do more and change more. But herein lies it's problem. I don't for a moment think I got anywhere near as much out of my S3 as I could because I simply couldn't work out how to do it! You get screen after screen of options from the home screen; to the applications manager; to the apps themselves. Ultimately this ends in never quite knowing where to make the right changes. So I gave up trying. I used my S3 a lot, more than average I suspect due to my inquisitive nature, and it was just not easy or fun working it out. 

iOS apps look nicer and are easier to use

The above says all there is to know really. I expected apps from the same company to look the same and work as well from Google Play Store as it did through the App Store. The answer is they didn't. Some were close, some from the Play Store were clearly an after thought and some were downright dreadful. 

A good example is the Trainline. Although now improved from earlier versions it still suffers from an inferior interface and is slower at completing the same simple tasks on. 

Furthermore it's time consuming sorting through the junk that gets uploaded to the uncensored Play Store to find an app of real quality. I found I was downloading, briefly opening and immediately deleting apps at a rate Sebastian Vettel would have been proud of. Should you forget to delete these apps you'll be cursing it within a day or so as your phone grinds to a halt under the pressure from automatically downloaded updates that try and download regardless of whether you are on wi-fi, 3G or a bad signal in the middle of the countryside.

Apps from Apple's App Store abide by stricter standards for both ease of use and design. Yes it means that there is slightly less individuality between apps but it's the familiarity of the same design that makes them so much easier to use.

The Android market is fragmented

Why are the apps on the Play Store a lower quality you may ask? There are likely two reasons. Firstly the Play Store is uncensored, meaning anyone can create an app and get it on to the store with no real hurdles to overcome. Secondly so many different devices with varying technical specifications using Android for their software that it makes it very difficult for professionals like those in my team to deliver the same level of quality on every device. Varying processor speeds, screen sizes and even versions of Android itself make the capabilities of a Samsung S4 different to that of a basic entry level device, but all need to be catered for in one app.

This fragmentation model has made it very easy for Google to become the largest player in the mobile market and should be applauded, if not from a purely business point of view. However the experience the user gets on older or lower spec devices is questionable. 

Siri vs Google Now

The iPhone has always had a unique advantage in Siri. Often a well intentioned but poorly executed afterthought, Apple hit the nail on the head with the accuracy and usefulness of their voice recognition tool, in their case used as a personal assistant. Siri allows you to search the web, compose a text and arrange meetings without the need to touch the screen.

But Google are quickly making up ground and their latest release of the Google search application and Google Now on iOS and Android suggests they might just be on to a winner. Should Google succeed at integrating this properly on Android devices, particularly with the forthcoming release of Google Glass, it will be Apple's turn to step up to the plate and improve.


In conclusion i'm glad I came back to the iPhone. Don't get me wrong Android does have it's advantages, they're just not for me. Like for like the iPhone is just easier to use, better to look at and keeps you hooked for longer. It may not offer the same levels of customisation, but what you can customise is much easier to do. Finally the apps are of a better quality. The whole iPhone experience feels premium - a BMW or Jaguar compared to Android's Ford or Toyota. I've had both and i'm now certain that in future i'll be willing to pay more for the iPhone.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Mobile search optimisation

I've read a number of interesting figures recently that highlight the importance of optimising websites for mobile.

Did you know that 70% of mobile customers complete a search task within an hour? No. Well compare that to desktop consumers. 70% of desktop searchers complete their search tasks within a week.

Then there's the amount they spend. Mobile consumers now spend more than desktop users. The average order spend for mobile users stands at $96.92, whereas the desktop user spends $95.12.

And finally there's intent. 88% of mobile consumers will make a purchase within an hour of conducting their search.

What are the implications?

Simply put mobile users display a far greater intent to purchase than desktop users. They are accessing information on-the-go, in real time. They are looking or assistance to help drive their decision making and they are looking for it immediately. Their intent to purchase is that much higher.

A recent Mashable article lays out three simple, practical steps to optimising your site to take advantage of this opportunity:

1. You can use the same HTML for both your desktop and movie sites but alter the CSS to render the site according to the device being used. Ensure that your site is allowing access to the Google smartphone bot.

2. You may want to use different HTML for different devices. In which case ensure you use the vary HTTP header

3. You can purchase a mobile specific URL. The concerns about being penalised for duplicate content are largely a thing of the past.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Is Mobile Visual Search (MVS) the next big thing?

So after an absence of some two months thanks to the demands of moving house i'm able to return, albeit briefly, to sharing thoughts with Mr Cyberspace.

I was actually pleased to see an article on the appeal of QR codes in the Metro a couple of weeks back affirming the views from my most popular post on failed attempts at integrating QR codes into outdoor advertising, just as the adoption curve started to rise sharply back in late 2010. Certainly the grimaces I had on QR codes placed deep inside underground stations where there is no internet connection were not lost on everyone.

Although there are plenty of ways in which QR codes can be used creatively (there are some great examples of them being used in the restaurant and catering trade), sadly there are all too many instances where no thought is given to their placement or how consumers will interact with them. Often this comes down to lack of testing,for example can the barcode actually be read by the phone?

This, according to an increasing group, is where Mobile Visual Search (MVS) will take over the evolutionary reins from QR codes. Rather than relying on the ugly placement of a 2D black and white code to detract from a brands' wonderfully crafted packaging or marketing material MVS works using augmented reality that reads the environment around the consumer, the trigger being encoded into a picture such as an outdoor poster. The user simply points their smartphone at the poster/image and the brand then comes alive on the screen. The interaction is far stronger than any examples of QR codes I have seen to date and takes digital marketing beyond simply providing shortcuts.

Blippar is already one of the leading services in this space and their wonderful video captures the very essence of what MVS is all about. Take a look at the brands that are already using this technology and it's not difficult to see why, in a very short space of time, QR codes will be joining VHS on the technological scrapheap.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Starbucks will never know your first name

Today marked the UK launch of Starbucks' 'tell us your name drive', having been an established practice back home in America for some time. Rather than shouting out the coffee order you now get asked your name so they can shout that instead. Oh yeah, and today you got a free drink. But i'd put money on it not catching on in the way they intend and here's why...

Having been a barista for the in-house branches of Marks and Spencer cafes for 5 years (and what a glamorous 5 years  they were) whilst studying i'd like to think I know a thing or two about coffee shop customers. Plain and simply there are two customer types:

  1. Regulars who visit right at the start of the day and right at the end of the day
  2. Everyone else
The 'everyone else' group is the majority, and by some stretch. They are the definition of infrequent, at best. The Starbucks campaign is clearly targeted at the regulars, why would they want to know the name of someone who they won't see again, in that store at least.

And therein lies my point. At the cafe I worked at there was only one of us in Oxford. This means if customers preferred our product and service they could only be loyal to one shop in the city. We had a pretty stable team with below average staff turnover which meant that within 7 days a regular customer is likely to have had contact with each member of staff at least once. At this point remembering a customer's name becomes relevant and worthwhile. Why? Because relationships can then develop on an individual basis. After all that's what remembering a name is about...building a relationship.

I completely disagree with the approach Starbucks are taking. This is marketing for the sake of it. Because it looks good, it feels right. Not because they actually mean it. To make this actually work they must be sure that the customer is shop loyal, not just brand loyal. In most towns and cities there is now more than one Starbucks offering a standardised product. If customers like the product, they are likely to just use the most convenient shop.

Then there's staff turnover. Based on my experience at M&S i'd be comfortable saying that compared to the industry our staff turnover was below average. There is every chance that Starbucks' will be higher. One-to-one relationships will struggle to form and won't last, remembering a name becomes pointless. What's more the customer will become less likely to make the effort of establishing a relationship.

Then there's the staff themselves. If they don't care, why bother? If we are to use examples from our American cousins then the suggestion that staff can't even get the name right is evidence of this in itself.

Then there's the whole cultural differences between the US and ourselves. They're more outgoing, we're more conservative. This is well known.

If I was them? I would have rolled this out step by step. Start this off in the towns and cities where there is only one Starbucks so you know brand loyalty also equals shop loyalty. Test out the staff, pinpoint the advocates and use them as coaches to staff in other shops as a means of maintaining standards across the country, gradually building the program.

Without this I fear it simply won't catch on and at it's most cynical is a ploy to cut down queue waiting times. What are you most likely to respond to - your name, or a tall skinny latte with one shot, extra caramel, no cream and chocolate dusting?