I'm still trying to figure out what usability consultancy group User Centric are trying to prove with its usability study of the iPhone's keyboard compared to QWERTY and numeric phone keyboards.
Let me start off with the most glaring flaw as I see it with the study [emphasis mine]:
A total of 20 participants were brought in for one-on-one usability sessions with a moderator.
20?!? No matter how you cut it, that's a small sample.
All sent text messages at least 15 times per week.
So these people aren't heavy users, sending just two or three messages a day, depending on whether they're a five-day-a-week texters or seven-day-a-week texters. I don't send many text messages in a week but I send a lot more than that.
Ten of the participants owned a phone with a QWERTY keypad, and ten of the participants owned a phone with a numeric keypad.
OK, pretty even split, but ...
Those who owned a numeric keypad used the "multitap" method of entering text messages rather than predictive text. To multitap, a user must press a particular key on the numeric keypad multiple times to get the desired character to appear.
So these people don't use predictive, so they're not the brightest of the bunch.
None of the participants were iPhone owners ...
Although participants were given one minute to familiarize themselves with the iPhone's touch keyboard, their texting abilities on the iPhone were still at the novice level.
Sheesh, one minute. Who's ever grabbed a brand new phone and started sending messages after just taking a minute to familiarize themselves with the keyboard?
Throughout the study, we did notice limited improvements in keyboard comfort as users progressed through the tasks on the iPhone.
This is a throwaway statement but it's valueless because we don't know how long, on average, each user had with the iPhone.
Here's another loaded statement:
In general, participants took longer to enter text messages on the iPhone than on their own phone. Despite the keyboard similarities, QWERTY phone users took nearly twice as long to enter comparable messages on the iPhone compared to their own phone. On the other hand, multitappers did not experience a significant difference in the time it took them to type messages on the iPhone.
Hmm, wait a minute. That statement starts off by saying that participants took longer to type on the iPhone that their own phone and then goes on to say that the multitappers didn't experience a significant difference in the time the exercise took. Anyone else feeling a bias in this study?
Participants also made more typing errors on the iPhone. This phenomenon was expected since users had much more experience with their own phones.
Again, so what? What would have been interesting would have been to also give a phone with a QWERTY keyboard to the multitappers and a phone with a numeric keyboard to the QWERTY users and see how they got on with that.
My personal take of the study is that it's next to worthless. It doesn't really prove anything of value beyond:
- If someone doesn't pay for a gadget they're not invested in learning how to use it
- If you don't take the time to learn how to use something, then you can expect to have more trouble than someone who does take the time
If you're interested in reading more about the study, you can find it here.