I HATE cellphone designers!!!!!!!

Well, not really. The back story is this, I just finished school and I’m in that “what does it all mean? where do i go from here?” phase and while being in this position I’ve started to work as a QA tester for a marketing company. Its my job to run through literally hundreds of cellphones a week, testing the newest WAP sites, interfaces and promotional items. Because it is costly to have hundreds of active cellphones around we use DeviceAnywhere, a virtual studio where a user has access to all handsets from the major US carriers. Onscreen you see a photo of the phone an you can use the phone as if it were in front of you. Even after working with the phones for a while I still ahve 5.to relearn the interface everytime with almost every phone. So with being exposed to a LOT of cell phones in the past weeks I have come to a few conclusions;

1.I would say just about 99% of cell phone interfaces are horrible and seem to be overly complicated. The iPhone is good but I would still put it in the 99% pile, but only partially so.

  1. ID/Engineers need to stop reinventing the wheel instead of improving upon it. What I mean is this, after looking at a phone after phone, I find it more confusing when designers try to reorganize keys. The worst examples
    are phones that do not contain symmetrical keys. It could make sense that the designers are trying to visually assign hierarchy or convey function but it becomes very confusing. A good design is one where you can pick up the phone and understand the interface in under 60 seconds. My favorite design was a Nokia flip phone where the keypad contained two shallow chevron profiles along the keys. It gave made the interface tactile making it possible to remember key placement which can be a good thing in low light situations.

  2. I am generalizing here, but I have not heard any design discussion about interface outside of GUI(gesture not graphic) taking place

  3. Alphanumeric keys or QWERTY, effing pick one! Going back to point #2 I have worked with handsets that contain extra buttons just so the company can have a QWERTY enabled handset. Prediction or dictionary function is a good thing to have on a saturday night when you are texting your drunk pals but its still not a sleek procedure. I find that it often gets in the way rather than helping.

5.I think I want to get into this field, user interface, but a lot of the work that is out there has to do with computer programmers. Suggestions?


The unfortunate reality is in 99% of the cases the people who design the hardware don’t talk to the people who design the software - sometimes it just isn’t possible cough Windows Mobile cough.

The other reality is that marketing people often require tons of functionality that people never use. More functionality = a more complex UI. The iPhone does a good job of filtering a lot of it out but then you get people flipping out that they can’t send MMS messages (even though they can still email pictures).

As far as keypads - different people like different things, so manufacturers will continue to make different devices with different layouts and form factors. What’s to say one is more “right” than another? The best companies can do is build a keypad, give it to users, get their feedback + statistical testing info (input speed, # of errors, etc) and try to optimize the shape/size and layout of the keys. Unfortunately when you try to cram the functionality of a 104 key computer keyboard into a device thats 2.5" wide, it’s very difficult. (Says the person who’s done 5 handheld device keypads in the past week.)

One day everything will be touch sensitive, wired into your brain, and will work the way you want. Until then just think of what things were like 5, 10, or 25 years ago. At least you don’t have to type a UNIX command every time you want to make a call.

TELNET DIALHOST +12125551234 /V /F -“Sally” :laughing:

how about a phone that is just a phone, you know for voice communication…

well yes, those phones are out there and just about every cell phone I have owned has been the basic, no frills phone. The only thing is that even those phones are horrible. Try saving a number on four of these types of phones. Its a lose lose situation. However, I will admit that the less features a phone has the easier it is to use.

great response. the scenario you describe make perfect sense. But I still have to wonder if actual keys is the solution. The iPhone is great to me becauase it breaks out of that thinking. But even still its all about touch input. There are other ways to input information and I wonder why the options havent been explored(or maybe they are and the design directors/engineers dont want anything new). Blackberry’s are somewhat ok because they use a indexed scroll wheel that doubles as a button.

Like I said - theres different solutions for different problems. Touch screens don’t have the benefit of tactile feedback. Haptic systems are improving, and the better they get the more you’ll see touch based systems developing. But they simply aren’t as fast as a hardware button keypad. You also can’t use a touch screen blind - how many people can dial a phone without needing to look at it? How many people can do that on a touch screen? (Don’t get me wrong - I own an Iphone and love it, but I can’t type NEARLY as fast as my girlfriend can on her Blackjack QWERTY).

What other options are you thinking about that haven’t been explored? I can almost guarantee you they’ve been explored quite a bit. Whether or not those types of concept products make it into production or not is another story.

There are slider phones (which are designed to conceal the UI you don’t want when you don’t need it), dual slider phones (one direction reveals the QWERTY, one reveals the numpad - not sure if any of these devices are on the market), you’ve got crazier ideas like voice input (nobody uses), and others.

Personally I think the real winner will be when someone comes up with accurate and realistic haptic/tactile feedback for a touch screen device.

Also there is a lot of patent protection around mobile devices. A lot of those slick ideas that Blackberry does can’t be repeated because of patents.

There’s one element to the equation that’s forgotten in this discussion…

The Carrier.

noted. and with that i have noticed that t-mobile has a better way about things than other carriers. I’m still learning about cell phones but I wonder if carriers use their own firmware within handsets.

@cyberdemon what else am i thinking about? I’m not totally sure and to refer to my orginal post, I am interested in exploring this option a bit more. In fact I am going to talk a good friend who is a programmer about the possibility of designing a different interface, what goes into making one, and if its possible to homebrew something.

Yes, carrier demands affect firmware within a device. I was actually suprised that companies bend over as much as they do for the carriers when I first stuck my nose into cell phones.

Apple seems to be making some good progress with this though.

i use pen and paper to save my numbers, i can write it large enough to read with out my reading glasses on, something only the iphone has realy adressed.

veeeeeeeery interesting ip. is there any reading or resources i can look into about all of this IP?

Not that I know of. I learned it “the hard way”.

The carrier/manufacturer battle is epic. You can get some very interesting stories from the trenches…especially when you get a few pints in people.

the great thing about the job that I am working now is that I get some first hand experience with that. Even though the company is the go between with companies and cellphone service providers I am able to gain some understand of the battle. If anything it’s made me realize how my specific training can compliment the position and that there are other avenues of design besides tangible objects.

totally agree here. As is common in other product areas too, the problem is that the person that makes the orders isnt the final customer, it is a buyer for a carrier/retail business/etc, which gives them incredible amounts of power. in my opinion this is a bad thing, because then you have marketing types that arent dipping their hands int he user research/trends that the cellphone company has done, and start asking for stuff thats gimmicky and useless just to put their smear on the product. this just bloats the UI (this happens with computers too…how many useless little programs and tools are added on by HP, Dell, etc?).

Apple, as only apple can do, said F that, im not being your b*tch. They could do that because their product was unlike anything available (from a style and UI standpoint). hopefully more cell phone companies will grow some balls and follow suit.

Actually, Apple is the only company that has the balls to do so. Don’t think for a minute that Moto, Nokia, etc. don’t have a whole pile of killer phone UI concepts in the vault. I know that I have a pile of sketches and concepts that are similar to iPhone, but there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell they would see the light of day. Mostly because of the Marketing morons you referred to.

Now ask me how I REALLY feel about this.

No, Apple is the only company with a strong enough halo effect to make these kind of demands and get away with it.

c’mon…you’re trying to tell me that if Nokia reeaaallllly wanted to sell the exact phone they wanted to they couldn’t flex their 1 billion phones a year muscle?

I don’t buy that Apple is the only company that has the “halo effect”. I buy that they’re the only company with the brass cajones at CEO that doesn’t listen to a bunch of Marketing bozos who’s core goal is to sell more minutes, not sell great phones.

  1. To answer your core question, yes there are programs in ID that are more oriented towards interaction design and there are programs specifically for interaction design.

In the cel industry, they probably hire more interaction designers than any other industry. They also have more test results and data than anyone else. Why they don’t use it properly is best explained by IP.

  1. There are alternative interfaces. Touch screens were in use in Asia for a couple years before the iPhone. I was slightly unimpressed by the iPhone because it resembled a NEC that I fooled with from HK.

I hate qwerty on phones. It’s so pointless. It’s not the fastest keyboard layout to begin with. Make is 1/10 scale and it’s impossible to touch type. I wish someone would just make a keypad FOR a small device with the keys layed out in a manner to type quickly and easily. As Don Norman told us all, the user will learn where the keys are almost as quickly as they will the more familiar layouts.

If you’re interested check out Fastap:


It’s an interesting premise - we’ve met with them a couple of times. The idea behind the technology as well as some of the built in error correction methodologies is pretty slick. The biggest problem is users are SO engrained into standard alpha or QWERTY layouts that new input methods confuse them.

Studies have shown that confusion caused by a new keypad/key layout is very short lived. I find when I can’t touch type, I’m just as confused as if they used a proprietary layout.