With a belief in the power of mobile user experience (UX) design, leading design firm frog design inc. is trying to pull off a win-win outcome for all stakeholders in the mobile ecosystem. Now, frog is ready to show its skills with its “Feel UX” Android smartphone experience for the Sharp’s AQUOS smartphones.
But is UX really a critical factor for promoting mobile content services among consumers? Answers Paul Pugh, VP – Creative, Software Innovation – at frog in an exclusive interview with Rakesh Raman, managing editor of RMN Digital.
Here it goes:
1. As ARPU levels of mobile operators continue to be low, are consumers ready to pay for non-voice services like mobile content?
Yes, but the question is, are they willing to give the operators that money. You see, customers give money to Apple and Google for applications, and they give money to Apple, Netflix and Amazon for media purchasing. Emerging music services like Rdio and Spotify are also taking money through the handsets.
Unfortunately, the operators have not yet built compelling services, and they have not yet been able to build strong customer-centric experiences either. The operators spend far too much time trying to lock customers in with complex offerings that only benefit the operators’ positions. Customers are now much more sophisticated, and they have a higher level of experience expectation that I think operators have trouble executing against.
2. What role can UX (user experience) play in promoting mobile content among consumers?
At this point, you cannot promote mobile content without great UX. The days of limited and closed offerings are over. Unless the operator is up for the challenge, it should just partner with a few known brands and get out of the customers’ way.
It’s not science that users will gravitate towards and adopt services that are easy-to-use and provide a fair exchange of value for money and customer data.
Inside the applications themselves, I think we should always strive for simplicity. You see things happening on the iPad, where traditional Windows/Mac developers are building stripped down versions of their applications that are still very powerful, but without a lot of the clutter and bloat that our desktop software had become. It’s like these applications have gone on a diet and are lean and healthy again. I think both Apple and Microsoft are now trying to promote this approach up and down their entire value chain. I think everybody wins with this strategy.
3. Can better UX help overcome the mobile form factor issue? If yes, how?
I think the “mobile form factor issue” was overcome by the introduction of touch. Touch engages the customer very efficiently of previous input manners. It’s fast and efficient. I think the limited screen size is not in fact a limitation. A good designer takes advantage of smaller screen real estate by displaying only what is necessary—and that’s good design. I personally use the Amazon mobile application for the majority of my online shopping now and prefer it to using the website.
4. What’s new about frog’s Feel UX option and is there a visible market demand for it?
It’s a fresh approach to making changes to Android. We strove to make a new integrated experience with Android, not inside or on top of it. Our motivations were pretty simple; make Android easier to use for new users and more powerful for advanced users.
We also wanted to give it a recognizable personality over competitor handsets. I absolutely think there is a market for it. iOS and Android are duking it out for worldwide adoption, and there is a huge population worldwide that is gravitating towards the smartphone and Android.
The revolution is just beginning and there is plenty of time and room for innovation. In addition, brand loyalty on Android is very low, so we hope to capture switchers from other Android manufacturers and iPhone users looking to switch to the Android experience. I think the market for good design is a constant, and there will always be a demand for it.
5. Will Feel UX be available only for the Android platform?
I can’t speak to Sharp’s platform plans but I can say that Feel UX is very much an Android design, and Feel UX celebrates/features aspects that make Android a great platform. I expect frog and Sharp to continue to build on the Feel UX experience, incorporate future features of Android, and also add in the things that we think are missing, or add more structure for users to find and adopt. If we were asked to create a design for another platform, the result might be very different. The user profiles would be different as well as the hardware configuration or norms of the software experience.
Windows Phone, for example, has such a different overall construct, that you wouldn’t want to alter it the same way as Android. We would instead observe how Windows Phone is being used and make a design that enhances the experience but still makes it a Windows Phone. I have been working on phone designs for the last five years and I never tire of it, because it feels we are on the front edge of UX design, hardware and content consumption; there is still a lot of work to do.
6. How will Feel UX help consumers, mobile content developers, handset makers and mobile network operators?
For consumers, we hope they love this handset for its ease-of-use and that the more they use it, the more it becomes a reflection of who they are. This is always great for the operator and handset manufacturers, because it builds brand loyalty–something that seems to be missing from the Android ecosystem.
For mobile content developers, we have tried to make it easier to find new apps and accessing installed apps will benefit from these features. Smartphones are about apps, so our design really puts them at the center of the experience rather than hiding one level below the home space. This sounds like a minimal change, but our belief is that this small move will greatly improve device usability and the app-centric nature of the device.
This interview is published under the RMN Digital’s “Thought Leaders” series in which top tech market leaders of the world express their views on different burning issues and market trends.