Tech & Work

Usability eye for the developer guy

When I think of software usability I think of that old chestnut: 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'.

COMMENTARY—When I think of software usability I think of that old chestnut: 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'.

It's true, most end-users — or "end-losers" as someone described them to me recently — are dumb. They don't know where the -any key" is, they don't have a clue of the complexity it sometimes takes to build software nor do they care for the hair that is pulled out, waist lines expanded and the unhealthy level of caffeine consumed to get software projects up and running.

However, it's not really the end users fault at all— they simply don't observe and understand computers the same way as hardened-coders, who commit hours each day coming to grips with software technology. And, when we're doing that as developers we sometimes forget that the mass of end users for whom we write are our customers. Feature bloated software with all the bells and whistles is a fun thing to create but if it's not what users want or need, then our software is bound to fail them.

The mobile space provides some perfect example of this at the moment. Builder AU is currently sifting through the range of mobile devices and platforms for which developers can now and could soon be coding for. The potential for these devices is exciting, for both business and consumers alike, but if the poor usability experiences many of these devices exhibit is not addressed then I fear that SMS will continue to be the only mobile data application the non-uber-geek majority out there will really care about. Why? — because it's simple.

Of course, it is not only the interface we have to blame for the limited interest in extended mobile capabilities. It also has a lot to do with cost, network and software platform incompatibilities, sub-standard carriage service and the dearth of poor devices that manufacturers released to the market.

Speaking from personal experience, my mobile phone is the runt in the litter when it comes to the technological devices I own. I have more strange and wonderful features built into my phone than Wonka could have dreamed up, but they're just too complicated to really bother to make it worth my while to use them. In the current state of mobile networks offers no guarantee that my phone will perform the basic function for which I bought it, placing and receive calls.

While it is important to develop applications with usability in mind, mobile development goes far beyond the interface. Its creators must start looking at the question of mobility as a whole if it's going to succeed. That includes the hardware, the network and the interface for it to truly win the hearts and minds of end users.

What do you think of usability and the mobile space? What changes does the industry need to make for greater acceptance and real world use of the applications that developers can write?

Drop me a line at editor@builderau.com.au or post your comments in our forums:

http://cgi.builderau.com.au/forum/index.php

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