What a good mobile user experience must have to make a device popular

Looking past the hardware and software required to make a good mobile device, it's the total package that determines how well they resonate with users.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
UI Design
Image: Google

Mobile devices are personal in nature and users react strongly to them. Smartphones and tablets are used in the hand while touching the screen, and this makes the user experience (UX) an important part of the package. People feel more directly involved using these mobile devices than most any other gadgets in the past.

The hardware used for these devices plays a role in how well a gadget is received by users, as does the system software used to drive them. That’s why enthusiasts of one platform or brand often come across as zealous about them. They feel a direct connection to them and it often shows in their interactions with others about them.

As important as hardware and software are to the popularity of a given device, due to the personal nature of mobile devices how they work together as a total package is what sets good gadgets apart from the rest. This package is what determines how good the UX is, and how well it works for the intended market.

There are some critical components to a good mobile UX. Even with the best hardware, the system software must address these to round out the offering to satisfy mobile device users.

Ready to roll

Mobile devices are used much differently than PCs (any platform). They are increasingly used for PC-like tasks, but often they do little things on the fly.

A good mobile UX is definitely a touchy-feely thing. It is operated best without a lot of thought, and that requires a consistent interface.

Taking the phone or tablet out and checking the email that's just arrived. Glancing at the text message to see if immediate action is required. Looking up something on the web. There are all sorts of quick functions that mobile devices fill.

This functionality requires the ability to take the device out and instantly do what's required. There can be no delays caused by the hardware nor software. A good mobile UX allows the user to do what's needed at a moment's notice, without glitches or delays.

Always the same

Taking out a mobile device to get stuff done, whether quick tasks previously mentioned or more involved work sessions, the user wants to find controls on the screen where they expect them. These devices are used in the hand by touch, and muscle memory quickly develops based on the location of the most frequently accessed controls.

This means it's not OK for controls to occasionally move. They need to be in the same place every time, accessed the same way, no matter what app might be running.

The goal is to have things on the display accessed without spending time looking around to find stuff. All interface elements should be where they were last time, and every time before that.

A good mobile UX is definitely a touchy-feely thing. It is operated best without a lot of thought, and that requires a consistent interface. System controls that are used regularly should not only always be in a fixed place, they should work the same way each time they are accessed; no changing the operation depending on what is in the foreground.

Set up properly out of the box

To produce a mobile device that instantly appeals to users, it's crucial that it must be useful right out of the box. The ability to configure the system to suit is important, but that doesn't eliminate the need to set defaults for the system stuff that fits the majority of users.

Most gadget users won't ever spend much time to customize or reconfigure primary system elements. They will use the device the entire time they have it just like it is when they unpack it and turn it on.

Tech-savvy users will find this deplorable, but it's a fact of life. That's why it is critical that mobile devices be configured for the majority of owners when shipped. If the default system configuration frustrates casual users, they will never feel comfortable with a given gadget.

Feeling comfortable with the total package is key to how popular a device will be. Jumping through hoops to make the latest gadget just like they want is fine for experienced users but not for the masses. Most people want to open the new device and use it with no fuss.

It's not easy

Getting these steps right seems like a simple task but history proves otherwise. Getting every piece of a gadget just right and making it work together as a seamless package is tough.

A good mobile device must be comfortable to users in such a way that they want to use it. They should have a desire to pick up the gadget and use it all the time. They must, and this is worth stressing, must feel the device is an extension of themselves. That can only happen if all of the criteria covered are met from the get go.

These criteria apply to all platforms and brands. They work together toward building that total package that separates the wannabe devices from the successful ones. Creating a good mobile UX that resonates with customers is not a hit or miss thing, it is the result of building a seamless system that makes most users comfortable to use.

It breaks down to making the system get out of (and stay out of) the way of the user. Creating a proper package with a good mobile UX is the difference between getting it mostly right and getting it right. Getting it right means having a wildly popular gadget with the customer loyalty that results in return customers.

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